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Foundations of the Epistemology of Advaitavednta

Dr.G.Narayanan, Reader in Vedanta, S.S.U.S R/C Thiruvananthapuram Epistemology presupposes the real existence of at least two factors: the existence of subject and object. Almost all systems of thought were aware of this fact while framing their epistemology. In some Buddhist schools and advaitavednta., the status of the knower and the known is considered as unreal. Still there exist fundamental differences in the constitution of the subject and the object. This paper attempts an examination of the formation of advaita epistemology-specifically the formation of subjectivity, objectivity, relation between them, knowledge and reality.

Reality
The well-known dictum of advaitavednta says that Brahman is the only reality; universe is not real and the individual self is Brahman itself.1 This popular saying plainly explains the advaita position. For being a Vedic system of thought advaita developed this peculiar concept of reality from Upanishads. This was not formed out of a single Upanishad and the word Brahman expresses not a single concept. The anirvacanya concept of yjavalkya2, the equation of satya, jna and ananta of taitirypaniat3, the prajana brahma of aitareya4, sarvam

khalu idam brahma5, ayamtmbrahma6, sadevasomyedam7, tatvamasi8, aham brahmsmi 9, avyavahrya prapacpaama,10etc. were utilised to build the concept Brahman. These upaniadic ideas of
reality and self were synthesised to form the idea of advaita Brahman, which is ultimately satya jna and ananta.11

Again, this Brahman never becomes an object of sense organs. According to

taitirypaniat, even mind, the controller of sense organs, too could not reflect it. Still
Brahman is considered as directly cognisable. According to chndogyopaniat, the universe formed out of Brahman is mere names and forms. Hence they have no reality and they are

mithy - illusory. These assumptions lead to certain dilemma that when Brahman is the only
real that have true existence- sat, and it is not an object of knowledge then how who will know it. To put it plainly, the metaphysics of advaitavednta does not accept another real knower or object apart from Brahman and Brahman is neither a knower nor an object. This makes epistemology impossible. Without epistemology the existence of Brahman and its utility cannot be proved. This dilemma forced advaitin to build an epistemology around the undifferentiated, indefinable Brahman that never becomes the object of knowledge or knower at any time.

The theory developed from satyam, jnam, anantham Brahma, and Prajana Brahma says

that Brahman is pure Knowledge. Vidyraya in his pacadai explained that only the object undergo changes, not the Knowledge- samvid.12 Though the objects differ the cognition or knowledge or samvid never differ.13 Here the samvid or cognition is separated from the object and treated in a general sense. This process presupposes the actual existence and relation between a subject and object'. akara, the founder of the system, himself was

aware of the problem and handled the same in his bhy-s.

Subjectivity (Eii)
Realising the importance of epistemology and the role of duality i.e. knower and object, akara conferred empirical objectivity to Brahman. It is an object of knowledge of Iego14. The second part of the above sited dictum says the sameness of Brahman and self. This transformation of Brahman to the knower is due to adhysa and for that reason mithy.

The self in association with body becomes dk and the rest forms the dya or the object of

dk. As the subjectivity being a result of mistaken identity of Brahman and antakaraa, the
cognitions arising out of this are considered as mithy. akara tries to establish the

subjectivity, karttva, in adhysabhya. He emphasises that only those persons who relies on

the mistaken identity becomes a dk since his sense organs alone seek for their respective

objects. There for the virakta is not a dk.

The idea is further clarified in pacadai. Vidyraya identifies manomayakoa as karta that causes the cognition of ahanta and mamata on the body, and the enjoyer, vijnamayakoa15 as

bhokta. This is an expansion of akaras adhysabhya. Vidyraya had made it clear that the
Brahman is pure knowledge-anubhti- hence never can be an object of knowledge. There for

the individual self jva is both subject and object of knowledge.

The objectivity (i)


The objectviaya-is conceived as inert. akara in the ankgrantha of adhysabhya tried

to examine the mutually exclusive nature of viaya and viayi. Though they are mutually exclusive, entirely different and opposite in all respects; they were cognised as unified due to adhysa- dharmdhysa and dharmyadhysa.16 This fundamental concept of adhysa provides

validity to worldly conventions, which are controlled by the kart individual self. Thus as

long as adhysa continues the cognitions as well as there results have utility and validity.

There for the pram-s, and their results are valid in this worldly affair.

The adhysabhya thus builds the actual foundation of the epistemology of

advaitavednta retaining the essential non- duality of Brahman by providing logical duality of
unreal subject and object. [Adhysabhya is also called pramabhaya] But still the Brahman is

kept out of the reach of pram-s for not being kart, bhokt or viaya. At the same time moka is accepted as the realisation of Brahman.

Epistemology
The real of advaitavednta is impersonal Brahman and it is not kart, bhokt or viaya. Such an object cannot be reviewed by any of the means of knowledge and an enquiry of it is impossible. Hence akara accepted its temporary karttva as the lambana of the cognition aham.17 tman is known in the form of this individual self, which is not its real form. Hence
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the Brahman can be reached through this jva. Up to this stage the concepts of advaitavednta resembles the views of idealists who gave no room for objective reality any validity. While considering Brahman as the aim of jijsa, akara states that it is a vastu and an individual cannot alter or modify it.18 He further states that this brahmavidya is

vastutantantra like pramastra.19 Knowledge is a result of pram-s.20 This sounds like the

voice of a realist. Dr D.M Datta observes that In epistemology akara and many of his followers advocate a theory of realism, which chiefly distinguishes advaitins from their opponents21. At the same time Satprakasananda says that ...the vedantic view of the physical world resembles naive realism, which is also called commonsense, natural or intuitive realism. But the similarity is on the surface. Underneath, there is an immense gulf of difference between two [Vedanta and realism]. According to both, the physical objects exist independently of the individual mind and senses, which apprehend them directly as they are. Besides this, there is little in common between realism and Vedanta. 22 Comparing the views of Datta and Satprakasananda we can see that there is some confusion in the treatment of this peculiar problem. It is clear that akara view have some similarity with empirical realism. As rightly observed by Satprakasananda, the similarity ends where it has begun, because, the subject and object in advaitavednta is ultimately unreal and

depended on Brahman, the undifferentiated ultimate reality. Advaitavednta advocate this theory because of its metaphysics that claim Brahman as undifferentiated and non-dual. The

moka is the result of direct experience of Brahman, particularly transcendental. Hence


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Brahman is conceived as an object as the object of knowledge accepted by a realist like Nayyayika. But this view is far different from the view of Nayyayika-s where both are independent and absolutely real. Actually advaitavednta rejects the view of both subjective idealists and epistemic dualists.23

Advaitavednta is an idealist system of thought. Yet they present their metaphysical


reality as a vastu. A vastu can be an object for some times but not always. Further this vastu is knowledge itself. The differentiation and presentation of Brahman as vastu and Knowledge is the corner stone of advaita epistemology. As vastu it functions as the substratum, cause, subject and object. This is the function of sat. This idea is clearly explained in the bhya on sadviya in chndogyopaniat. As Knowledge, it is given as the result

of the experience of mumuku, which is none other than him. This realisation leads to the

end of difference, subjectivity, objectivity and the conventions created by the unreal adhysa

and to the application of pram-s.Thus the epistemology of advaitavednta serves all the practical functions similar to the ones that accepted by the realists. The scheme of direct cognition- samsargnavaghi nirvikalpakajna
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- of Brahman developed to explain the

experience of undifferentiated Brahman, because only direct undifferentiated experience is possible on undifferentiated Brahman.

Conclusion
akaras conclusion of samanvaydhikaraabhya describes well the epistemological
position of advaitins.25 akara was aware of the pitfalls of the epistemology that built on
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duality. To establish the non-duality he had to negate the reality of duality. But without duality nothing is possible and the philosophy becomes useless. Hence he utilised the vulnerability of common perceptual experiences to quash the ultimate validity of such cognitions. Then using the same method of negated dualist realistic epistemology he built a new scheme which has only practical value up to a certain stage. His argument was that the dualist epistemology built either on svataprmyata or parataprmayata [in the case of perception] were prone to errors and hence could not provide the right knowledge of the real. He deducted the reason of this to the primary misconception- adhysa. Adhysa and its effects rule the kingdom of duality. All these cease to exist with the realisation of the reality of self. Thus the epistemology developed by akara satisfies the practical needs of duality as well as the ultimate non-duality of Brahman

Notes and References 1. i VMxl V x{&**


2. Bhadrayaka upaniad III-iv-2;II-iii-6 3. Taittiriya upaniad II-i-1 4. Aitareyopaniad III-i-3 5. Chndogyopaniad III-xiv-1 6. Mdukyopaniad -2 7. Chndogyopaniad VI-ii-1 8. Ibid-VI-ix-3 9. Bhadrayaka upaniad I-iv-10 10. Mdukyopaniad -12 11. nkarabhya on Taittirya upaniad II-i-1 12. Pachadai I-3 13. Ibid I-4 14.

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15. Pachadai 3-2,6. 16.

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[Knowledge, on the other hand, is the result of the different means of (right) knowledge, and those have for their objects existing things ; knowledge can therefore not be either made or not made or modified, but depends entirely on existing things, BSSB Trans G Thibau .p.35}
21. The six ways of Knowing, Datta. D.M, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, Lendon; 1932, P.98. 22. The methods of Knowledge,Satprakasananda,Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta; 1995,P.64 23. Ibid P.65 24.

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