Review of article on Shankara – Part 6, and final


A tarka (reasoning, argumentation) is required for the analysis of anubhava, as both SSS and RB agree – consistent with Shankara’s position. That is, language and thought, needless to say, have a role to play, chiefly for exposition and analysis.

However, after two long, dense paragraphs RB contends: “If the tarka required to examine anubhava is itself completely dependent on ´sruti, then by no means is anubhava the ‘kingpin’ of pram¯”

Prior to this, SSS was quoted as maintaining that “for this unique tarka all universal anubhavas or experiences (intuitive experiences) themselves are the support.” The author states that this affirmation  involves circular  argumentation, and that to say that Shankara interprets the Vedas  as being consistent with anubhava is wrong, the truth being the opposite: anubhava is consistent with the Vedas: “it should be clear that according to Sure´svar¯ac¯arya, the direct realization is directly from just ´sruti itself, thus satisfying the criteria for it to be a pram¯an.a…. The direct realization of the self is from ´sruti alone.” 

‘Sruti alone’ – unaided? What about a/the particular mind that may or may not be ripe so as to capture the meaning of the sruti? Mind, that is, and the experience of anubhava which, it may be said, brings about the transformation of that mind:

“Brahman… is realized only through the scriptures and in Samadhi” – ‘Brahma Sutras’ (Bashya), 2.1.14 (transl. Swami  Vireswarananda; Advaita Ashrama, 1993). The Swami could have written: ‘anubhava’ instead of ‘samadhi’, unless he meant sahaja samadhi.

The Vedas are literature (‘language and thought’), even if enlightened literature – they are mithya. A prepared mind – potentially or actually enlightened or awakened – is required to extract, to see what the import of any part of the sruti is. The other way around, which is what RB states in the quotation just made, is ‘putting the cart before the horse’, an allegation he made against SSS and referred to previously. The argument we are putting forward as a defence of SSS’s stance is a repetition of what was said towards the end of the 5th part of this Review: “It is not a question of challenging the Vedas, or of ‘independent thinking’ but, rather, of taking them as a basis for reflection and inspiration”. In essence mind is intellection (buddhi) – Consciousness-atman.

Which is the king-pin, the text itself, or the grasping of the text? This last is akhandakara-vritti, which destroys every other vritti and affords direct perception of reality (saksatkara). As to sastra-yonitvat, which is the third aphorism of the Brahmasutras “(Brahman is not known from any other source since) the scriptures alone are the means of Brahman knowledge”, it can be interpreted as Brahman being omniscient because of Its being the source of the scriptures, as Swami Vireswarananda has indicated in his translation of the sutra (referred to above). Thus, reality, Consciousness is first, whence Its manifestations in all realms.

What was SSS guilty of, one may ask, since, as he wrote in ‘Intuition of Reality’ (p.104), “The highest Truth can be known only by means of suggestion of the S’ruti or an Acharya by making use of one’s own purified mind alone.” Supposedly, RB is not satisfied with such a ‘weak’ acknowledgment of the role of sruti on the part of SSS. On the other hand, he cannot really object to the mention of a ‘purified mind’  (antahkarana suddhi) as a prerequisite – which is not the same thing as ‘the will of the person’, as RB attributes to SSS in this context.

RB takes again SSS to task in the final two sections of his article: 5) ‘AVIDYA and MAYA’, and 6) ‘“COMPARATIVE BASHYA STUDIES” AND OTHER SUCH DISEASES’.

Under 5) RB notes an inconsistency in SSS, since the latter had previously stated that avidya and maya are not synonyms, while in another context the same said that “To avoid confusion, we shall restrict the use of words avidy¯a and m¯ay¯a to denote ignorance and name and form respectively”. The author insists in the equivalence of both terms, as they occur in many texts: ”… note that even in these passages avidy¯a is not a “subjective” ignorance, but something which transcends subjectiveness and objectiveness. Otherwise we will be placed in the absurd position of claiming that a subjective error, i.e., avidy¯a, is causing an objective reality, i.e., m¯ay¯a (name and form)”.

By ‘objective reality’ one understands, of course, phenomena, and  this is nothing else than mithya, even though RB considers maya as both ontic and epistemic, unlike avidya. In this connection, SSS would agree with his statement: “While the terms are used to mean different things in some contexts, they can also mean the exactly same thing in some other contexts”.

Under section 6) (listed above), we read: “Brahmavidy¯a is a result of hearing and cogitating over ´sruti v¯akyas. Bh¯as. yas are merely meant to help understand some of the subtle points in the ´sruti, which we may overlook. One should not develop the disease of comparing different bh¯as. yas, and cataloguing every difference in their dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s. Such pedantic exercises merely serve to distract from the main thrust of the works, namely the advaita tattva. No doubt there are some differences found in the expositions of various authors. However, thinking that there is an “original and true” method to be found by such pedantic studies of various works is a mere chimera. It merely serves to reinforce the reality of Ambrose Bierces definition of learning as “the ignorance of the studious”.

Those are strong words, particularly when intended for such person as Sri Satchidanandendra. Finding and making a painstaking exposition of an ‘original and true method’, which RB in a demeaning way calls ‘pedantic’, refers to the exhaustive work carried out by SSS throughout his whole career with respect of the traditional method accepted by Shankaracharia and based on the import of the sentence in the Bh.G. Bh. Xlll.13: ‘For there is the saying of those who know the true tradition, “That which cannot be expressed (in its true form directly) is expressed (indirectly) through false attribution and subsequent retraction”’.

In his Introduction to his monumental work, ‘The Method of the Vedanta’, SSS writes: “Efforts have also been made, within the limits of the author’s capacity, to bring out how the Veda and reason and immediate intuition co-operate together… [along with] an earnest seeker… (and how the Upanishads derive their authority) from their power to lead ultimately to a direct experience of the Self, arising from the cancellation of all play of the empirical means of knowledge with their objects”. Further: “Empty dialectic based on perception and inference alone (sushka-tarka) amount to nothing more than personal opinion, and has no place in this discipline… ‘authoritative means of knowledge’ (pramana) is applied (not to the reasoning itself but) to that direct experience in which reasoning must invariably culminate if it is to be called upanishadic in the proper sense of the term”. There is the key.

Towards the end of the long article, RB goes into considerable detail concerning the ‘reaction’ of the ‘Tradition’ to SSS’s works, some in favour and some against. To explain why SSS misunderstood Shankara, he lists 1) lack of formal training in Sampradayic subjects (nyaya and purva mimamsa), and 2) his (along with Krishnaswamy Iyer, his mentor) basic training was a  Western education.

Before the Conclusion, RB ends with the statement: “No doubt SSS’s textual analysis skills are excellent, but the problem I see with SSS’s writings is his obsession with terminology, rather than philosophy. Indeed none of his works are about the philosophy of advaita, but are oriented almost exclusively towards contradicting previous commentators of ´Sa˙nkar¯ac¯arya”.

And in the Conclusion he adds: “I feel Padmap¯ad¯ac¯arya has been meted out a grave injustice by many authors, including SSS, who have largely misunderstood him. The difference between Padmap¯ada and SSS is that the former is a philosopher, while the latter is a textual analyst”.

Final comment: To try and make a competent and thorough defence of Swami Satchidananandendra as against the allegations or criticisms of  him by Ramakrishna Balasubrahmanian contained in this article, would require an erudition and, presumably, a formal training in ‘Sampradayic subjects’ of which this writer is sadly bereft.