Swami Krishnananda Saraswati of The Divine Life left his mortal coil on this day in 2001. He tells us in his explication of the chAndogya Upanishad that “With the present state of (our) mind it is not possible to understand what the perception of a Jivanmukta could be. We can only have comparisons, illustrations and analogies. But what actually it is, it is not possible for us to understand.”
Nevertheless, for a seeker on the Knowledge path, the topic whether the visible world (which does not exist in reality even now) will continue to appear after Self-realization or not, whether it would disappear like the proverbial snake on the rope or will continue to show up like the ghostly water in a mirage is ever evocative. That is, at least, until the final tipping point happens. The interest in this topic cannot be said to be driven by mere idle academic curiosity. There is a genuine internal “urge” in every seeker to measure up oneself in assessing whether one’s own understanding of the Advaitic doctrine has remained at an intellectual level or has percolated down viscerally. Perception of a world can be a very easily testable “Marker” toward such an end.
As I was reading recently the Chapter 4: Phala adhyAya of the brahma sUtra bhAShya, I found very clear and categorical statements made by Shankara with regard to the perception of a Self-realized individual. What he writes there can serve undoubtedly as a “yardstick” for all those who opine that they have “realized” the Self.
A reference to sensory perception of a world comes up prominently at three places in the Chapter 4 and I am presenting below those three instances (A, B, & C).
Keyword: Perception (of an external world by the senses).
A. Shankara writes at 4.1.3, BSB:
न विरुद्धगुणयोरन्योन्यात्मत्वसम्भव इति, नायं दोषः, विरुद्धगुणताया मिथ्यात्वोपपत्तेः । … … संसारिणः संसारित्वापोहेन ईश्वरात्मत्वं प्रतिपिपादयिषितमिति । एवं च सति अद्वैतेश्वरस्य अपहतपाप्मत्वादिगुणता विपरीतगुणता तु इतरस्य मिथ्येति व्यवतिष्ठते । यदप्युक्तम् — अधिकार्यभावः प्रत्यक्षादिविरोधश्चेति, तदप्यसत् , प्राक्प्रबोधात् संसारित्वाभ्युपगमात् , तद्विषयत्वाच्च प्रत्यक्षादिव्यवहारस्य ; ‘यत्र त्वस्य सर्वमात्मैवाभूत्तत्केन कं पश्येत्’ (बृ. उ. २ । ४ । १४) इत्यादिना हि प्रबोधे प्रत्यक्षाद्यभावं दर्शयति । प्रत्यक्षाद्यभावे श्रुतेरप्यभावप्रसङ्ग इति चेत् , न, इष्टत्वात् ; ‘अत्र पिताऽपिता भवति’ (बृ. उ. ४ । ३ । २२) इत्युपक्रम्य, ‘वेदा अवेदाः’ (बृ. उ. ४ । ३ । २२) इति वचनात् इष्यत एव अस्माभिः श्रुतेरप्यभावः प्रबोधे । कस्य पुनरयम् अप्रबोध इति चेत् , यस्त्वं पृच्छसि तस्य ते — इति वदामः । ननु अहमीश्वर एवोक्तः श्रुत्या — यद्येवं प्रतिबुद्धोऽसि, नास्ति कस्यचिदप्रबोधः । योऽपि दोषश्चोद्यते कैश्चित् — अविद्यया किल आत्मनः सद्वितीयत्वात् अद्वैतानुपपत्तिरिति, सोऽपि एतेन प्रत्युक्तः ।
It was argued that the two things of opposite characteristics cannot be identical with each other. That is nothing damaging as the reasonable position is that the opposition in characteristics is unreal. … … We hold that the scriptures aim at establishing the identity of the transmigrating soul with God Himself by removing from the soul all vestiges of transmigration. From this point of view it becomes affirmed that God is possessed of the characteristics of being untouched by sins etc., and that the opposite characteristics of the soul are unreal.
The criticism is also unfounded that no one will be left over to practise the Vedantic path and that direct perception etc. will be outraged. For the transmigratory state is conceded before enlightenment, and the activities like perception are confined within that state only, because texts as this, “But when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one see and through what?” (Br. 2.4.14), point out the absence of perception etc. in the state of enlightenment.
Opponent: In the absence of perception etc. the Vedas also will cease to exist.
Vedantin: That is no defect, since that position is admitted by us. For according to the texts starting with, “In this state the father is no father” and ending with “The Vedas are no Vedas” (Br. 4.3.22), we do admit the absence of the Vedas themselves in the state of enlightenment.
Opponent: Who is it then that has this unenlightenment?
Vedantin : We say that it is you yourself who ask thus.
Opponent: Is it not stated by the Upanishads that I am God?
Vedantin: If that is so, you are already an enlightened man, and so nobody has unenlightenment. Hereby is also refuted the criticism of some people who say that the Self becomes associated with a second entity owing to the very presence of nescience, so that non-dualism becomes untenable. [Swami Gambhirananda adds a note here: Nescience is indeterminate and hence ceases to exist on the rise of enlightenment.]
In simple words:
- [There is an] absence of perception etc. in the state of enlightenment.
- Activities like perception are possible only as long as the seeker is still in ignorance of the Truth.
- It is legit to say that the two entities jIva and brahman, though having opposite characteristics, are identical only because the individual is unreal.
- The individual will be identical to the Self only after the individuating qualities [of the ‘self’] are removed.
- None need to apprehend that Vedas (and teachers) will disappear and hence the Self-knowledge would not anymore be available because, as Shankara assures, the Knowledgebase will continue to exist as long as there is ignorance.
- Ignorance exists only for one who thinks that he is ignorant (i.e. ‘I am a separate and a limited self’).
The Points # 3 and 4 above particularly invalidate any reason on the part of a seeker to presume, IMHO, that s/he is, already brahman, so long as she continues to be a separate self. IOW, one cannot be both a separate ‘self’ and brahman simultaneously.
B. Shankara writers at 4.2.14, BSB:
न हि अशरीरं गच्छन्तं सर्वभूतानि द्रष्टुं शक्नुयुः
[While discussing Suka’s movement] Nobody can have any visual perception when a disembodied soul moves on.
In simple words:
- Attainment of Self-realization is disembodiment. While discussing a real life example of Maharshi Vyasa’s son, Suka, the observation is made that as a Self-realized man, one cannot have any visual perception in that state. Once again this establishes that sensory perception of a visible world does not exist for a Self-realized individual.
C. Shankara writers at 4.3.14, BSB:
परस्मादनन्यत्वेऽपि जीवस्य सर्वव्यवहारलोपप्रसङ्गः, प्रत्यक्षादिप्रमाणाप्रवृत्तेरिति चेत् — न, प्राक्प्रबोधात् स्वप्नव्यवहारवत् तदुपपत्तेः ; शास्त्रं च ‘यत्र हि द्वैतमिव भवति तदितर इतरं पश्यति’ (बृ. उ. २ । ४ । १४) इत्यादिना अप्रबुद्धविषये प्रत्यक्षादिव्यवहारमुक्त्वा, पुनः प्रबुद्धविषये — ‘यत्र त्वस्य सर्वमात्मैवाभूत्तत्केन कं पश्येत्’ (बृ. उ. २ । ४ । १४) इत्यादिना तदभावं दर्शयति । तदेवं परब्रह्मविदो गन्तव्यादिविज्ञानस्य वाधितत्वात् न कथञ्चन गतिरुपपादयितुं शक्या ।
Opponent: Even if the soul be non-different from the supreme Brahman, this will only result in the annulment of all human dealings (including the scriptural instruction), for then there can be no application of the means of knowledge like perception etc.
Vedantin: Not so, for that is possible before enlightenment like the behaviour in a dream before awakening. The scripture also speaks of the use of perception etc. in the case of the unenlightened man in the text, “Because when there is duality, as it were, then one sees something” (Br. 2.4.14, 4.5.15); and then it shows the absence of this in the case of an enlightened man, “But when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one see and through what?” (ibid) etc. Thus since the notion of Brahman as a goal to be reached and such other ideas are eliminated for one who has realized the supreme Brahman, any movement cannot be asserted in his case in any way.
In simple words:
- After an elaborate discussion on the teaching and approaches towards a qualified brahman (saguNa) and attributeless brahman (nirguNa), and the stress by Shankara that the nirguNa brahman cannot be a “goal” to be reached, the opponent raises a question on the usefulness of actions, learning, scripture etc. in case no difference is stated to be present between an individual and the Supreme Self. The opponent also contends that such a stance would “result in the annulment of all human dealings (including the scriptural instruction), for then there can be no application of the means of knowledge like perception etc.”
Shankara makes it abundantly clear that all actions, perception etc. are valid and work only prior to awakening. He asserts that “The scripture also speaks of the use of perception etc. in the case of the unenlightened man.” He explains that all such actions that happen before Enlightenment are like actions taking place in a dream – i.e. unreal. Therefore, for a third time Shankara denies the possibility of perceiving a world in a post-Enlightenment situation.
[All translations given above are adopted from “BSB of Shri ShankarAcArya” by Swami Gambhirananda, 1965.]