The authors of Advaita Vedānta maintain that God, the impersonal brahman, is the only reality and that each hint of dualism or pluralism is due to māyā ‘illusion’. In other words, the absolute, the brahman, is the only reality and everything else (including the material world and the conscious beings within it) only seems to exist, due to māyā, but is not ultimately real. Due to the the Advaita Vedānta’s absolute monism, the brahman cannot have any quality, as any quality would introduce a duality in the singular nature of the brahman. Thus, given that the brahman is the only reality and that it is absolutely simple (since any complexity would entail plurality) it cannot contain any intentional knowledge*, since any such knowledge would be necessary articulated according to the distinction between a knowing subject and the objects it knows and exactly such distinction is considered illusory by Advaita Vedānta authors.
(I have been asked to write a short introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and would like to test it on you, dear readers. Any comment or criticism would be more than welcome!)
In its full-fledged form, the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (henceforth VV) is a Vedāntic school, thus one which accepts the authority of the Upaniṣads, the Brahmasūtra and the Bhagavadgītā and which recognises a form of God as brahman (on the various ways of understanding God in India, see here). The full-fledged VV accepts also further groups of texts, namely on the one hand the Pañcarātra (a group of Vaiṣṇava texts prescribing personal and temple rituals, see Leach 2012, and, here) and on the other the Tamil devotional poems collected in the Divyaprabandham.
A non-intelligible entity cannot be conceived to exist. But, if the world needs to be known in order to exist, we need to postulate a non-partial perspective out of which it can be known. Since the perspectives of all human beings (as well as those of other animals, I would add) are necessarily partial and cannot be reconciled (how could one reconcile our perspective of the world with that of a bat?), this perspective needs to be God.
Opponents coming from the Advaita field figure often in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi, which shows that even before Rāmānuja Vaiṣṇava authors were taking seriously the challenge of Advaita. Even more interesting is the way Yāmuna answers to them. Let us see some examples concerning the concept of self (ātman):
[Obj.:] But the fact of being a cogniser is the fact of performing the action of cognising and this implies modifications and is (typical of) insentient things and belongs to the sense of Ego.
Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta authors claim that the whole world is made of the brahman and that everything else is nothing but a qualification of it/Him.
This philosophical-theological concept, it will be immediately evident, crashes against the (Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika) idea of a rigidly divided ontology, with substances being altogether different from qualities. In other words, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika world if seen from outside is similar to the world of today’s folk ontology, the one influenced by scientism, while its structure resembles the one of Aristotle’s ontology.
खपुष्पं भवत्सिद्धान्त इत्यादिप्रयोगेषु तु भाट्टानां पुष्पे खसम्बन्धित्वारोपेण आरोपितखपुष्पपदार्थनिष्ठासत्त्वादीनां सिद्धान्ते सत्त्वेन प्रयोगः । इदं न खपुष्पम् इत्यत्र तु पुरोवर्त्तिनो ज्ञानाविषयत्वभाव एवार्थः स्यात् । इति तन्मते आरोपविषयता शब्दजन्यविकल्पवृत्तिविषयता चालीकस्याङ्गीक्रियेते , तथैव तस्य अभावात्मकधर्म्माश्रयत्वमपि । अत एव तद्रीत्या अलीकलक्षणं किं स्यात् इति चिन्तनीयम् , न हि तन्नये मनोवृत्तिविषयत्वसामान्याभावोलीके इति । कालासम्बन्धस्तु तल्लक्षणं वक्तुं शक्यते ।
वेदान्तिनां नये तुच्छस्याध्यारोपाविषयत्वात् कथञ्चिच्छब्दमहिम्ना शशशृङ्गपदेन विकल्पात्मकमनोवृत्तौ जातायामलीकत्वस्य विषयत्वमङ्गीक्रियते । तथापि विकल्पस्य ज्ञानत्वानङ्गीकारात् ज्ञानाविषयत्वमलीकस्य सम्भवति । अथापि विकल्पस्य ज्ञानाद्विविच्य प्रदर्शनाय तैः सत्त्वेन प्रतीत्यनर्हम् अलीकम् इत्युच्यते । उक्तानर्हताया अवच्छेदकञ्च किञ्चिद्वक्तव्यम् इति अत एव तन्नये तदेवावच्छेदकं तल्लक्षणं – सर्व्वदेशकालवृत्त्यत्यन्ताभावप्रतियोगित्वे सत्युत्पत्त्यादिशून्यत्वम् – इति सम्भवति ।
अथवा – उक्तप्रतियोगित्वे सति कालासम्बन्धित्वमेवालीकत्वं तदस्तु ।
तार्किकनये तु अलीकस्य ज्ञानसामान्याविषयत्वम् इति तन्नये न विकल्पवृत्तिरङ्गीक्रियते इति प्राप्तम् । अत एव ज्ञानाविषयत्वमेवालीकलक्षणम् । कालासम्बन्धित्वं वा ।
एतेषु सर्व्वेषु पक्षेषु इदं चिन्त्यं यत् –
तत्तन्मते तुच्छस्य यल्लक्षणं ज्ञानाविषयत्वदि तत् किं तुच्छे वर्त्तते न वा । वर्त्तते चेत् तस्यापि स्वरूपं प्राप्तं , नास्ति चेत् कथं तस्य तुच्छत्वम् ।
– इति ;
तुच्छस्यापदार्थत्वेनैव भेदप्रतियोगित्वादिभावधर्म्मानाश्रयत्वे सति पदार्थेषु तद्व्यावृत्तिः कथं सिद्ध्येत । तदसिद्धौ पदार्थानां तुच्छाभेदेनालीकत्वमापतेत् , तत्सिद्धौ च तुच्छे प्रतियोगित्वादिकमङ्गीकर्त्तव्यमापतेत् ।
– इति च ।
(My friend, Sudipta Munsi brought this post from the Bharatiya Vidvat Parisat to my notice and obtained permission from the author to cross-post it on this blog. Except for his name, the learned author, Srimallalitalalita, prefers to remain anonymous.)
Little is known about the Vātsīputrīyas who are an ancient (3rd c.) group of Buddhists mostly known because of their pudgalavāda ‘doctrine about the [existence of] persons’. Since they seem to be referred to only in connection with this teaching, I was surprised to find them mentioned by Veṅkaṭanātha in 14th c. South India.
Was Rāmānuja the first author of the Vedāntisation of the current(s) which later became well-known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta? Possibly yes. But, one might suggest that there are many Upaniṣadic quotations also in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi and that Rāmānuja’s Śrībhāṣya seems to speak to an already well-established audience, and I wonder how could this have been the case if he were the first one attempting the Vedāntisation…
Is the world existent at every time?
The 175th Philosophers’ Carnival is ahead of schedule, here. It links to interesting posts, mostly on epistemology of testimony, philosophy of language, modal logic, ethics and theology, which are all more or less my favourite topics. Thus, I guess I should not complain about the lack of diversity in the posts mentioned.