We certainly believe that we live in the noon of the human civilization where the sun of knowledge is at its zenith. Twenty first century has shown us many things. We have settled into an age of ultra-fast communication and super-fast transportation. We have invented telescopes that has made it possible to peek into the depths of the cosmos and we have invented the electron microscopes that have enabled us to magnify the atomic and the subatomic realms to the comfort of our visible sight. An age where we are well able to write our assignments on highly advanced portable machines rather than a piece of paper. All this may just appear to be magic to a man of antiquity. Now imagine a man somehow leaping through the dimensions of space time from ancient antiquity to the twenty first century. He would at the very first instance of his arrival be terrified of all he sees. But in due time of his visit he will be greatly fascinated by the advancements that we now witness. Let us imagine that man to be a philosopher, although it highly less probable for a man to be a time traveler and that too a philosopher. But any ways bear with me for a little more.
What is that a philosopher of antiquity would be most interested to know when he leaps through a millennium or more of space-time. If I were him I would be most interested in the most fundamental question of all the time that has passed and all the time that is yet to pass. The fundamental question of the reason of our very existence, if any. The question has troubled mankind from the very beginning. The existence of transcendence is a common belief that pervaded all the prehistoric thought. It was prevalent among most remotely associated tribes around the world. By building miniature versions of the cosmos, the Pawnee in the Northern Americas created sacred places. Rituals to renew life and sustain the world were a central part of the religion of Hupa. Through their bond with gods, the Warao believed that everything is connected. The Sami people of the North-Western Europe believed their shamans had the power to visit other worlds. The natural and supernatural worlds are intertwined in the religion of the San bushmen of the South African continent. According to the Baiga of the Central India, the gods created us to act as guardians of the Earth. in the Dreaming, Aboriginal Australians see the creation as ever present. The Maori and Polynesian people explain the origin of death. For Ainu, everything, even a rock has a spirit. Now one must imagine the significance of so many examples of the pre-historic religious beliefs. First is that all these beliefs have their common roots in the inquisition of the contemporary supernatural phenomenon, so as it appeared to the ancients. Secondly, these fundamental beliefs through gradual interaction and refinement over a course of many centuries helped build the foundations of the modern day religions and their philosophies. Our concern for this assignment is the Indian Philosophy and its religious movements with the particularity of the concepts of Jiva, Jagat and Brahman in the Vedanta School.
The Indian Subcontinent from the very beginning has been plagued with the idea of liberation or the Moksha. The belief in the bondage of the human soul to an unreal, materialistic world has always been the locus of all philosophical and religious debates in this part of the world. And the need for the soul's liberation from this bondage has been the matter of primary concern. The Indian religions share this belief to a certain extent with their middle eastern and western counterparts. But that is not the topic of our concern this day. Our primary concern in this assignment is the ontological arguments of the Advaita Vedanta of the revered Shankarachrya and Vishisht Advaita Vedanta of the revered Ramanujacharya and the comparison between them. The rules of writing the assignment all though bound me not to use such long references in the text but the utmost relevance of it with our concerned topic has forced me to include it anyway.
“To Be Or Not To Be”: Spoken by Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1
"To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d."
With this beautiful soliloquy written by Shakespeare and spoken by Hamlet in the play with the same name, we will start discussing the Vedanta Metaphysics of Jiva, Jagat and Brahman.
The Advaita Vedanta focusses mainly on the basic concepts like Brahman, Atman, Vidya(knowledge), Avidya(ignorance), Maya, Karma and Moksha.
Brahman is the Ultimate, Supreme Reality. Brahman is eternal. Brahman is beyond words. It is beyond names and forms. Brahman cannot be perceived nor could it be described by words. It is beyond senses and intellect. It is indefinable. However, if at all it has to be described; Brahman can be considered as Pure Consciousness.
In Vedanta philosophy, the svaroop of Brahman is referred to as Sachchidananda. Brahman is Sachchidananda i.e. Sat-Chitta-Ananda(Pure Existence-Pure Consciousness-Pure Bliss). Brahman is eternal, immutable, inexpressible and unthinkable pure-existence, but it is not the cause or the creator of the universe.
Atman is the inmost Self or Spirit of man but different from the ‘empirical ego’. Atman is the fundamental, ultimate, eternal, immutable pure consciousness. Thus, it appears that Brahman is the ultimate reality behind all world-objects and Atman is pure spirit in all beings. Truly speaking, both Brahman and Atman are not different realities. They are identical. For practical purposes, they are referred to separately, which they are not. They are the eternal, all-pervading realities underlying all existence. They are two different ‘labels’ for one and the same reality behind all the objects, all matter, all beings of the universe.
Maya is the unique power (shakti) of Brahman. Maya is trigunatmika; it has three gunas or attributes. But Shuddha Brahman is nirguna and is free from attributes. Shuddha Nirguna Brahman alone is the Supreme Reality. When Nirguna Brahman comes to acquiesce Maya and acknowledges the gunas of maya, it is known as Saguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is God, the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. Saguna Brahman is Ishvara or a ‘personal god.’ Man worships gods in different forms and names.
Brahman manifests itself in the world with the help of Maya. The world and the world objects come into existence due to the power of maya. Maya and its creation is termed illusory. It does not mean that the world is not real. Unreality and illusion are different. An illusion may not be an unreality for an illusion is grounded in reality. Reality is that which exists on its own. Maya is dependent on Brahman. Maya has created the world of appearances. So the world is illusion. But this does not mean at all that the world is non-existent. The Advaita Vedanta, with the help of the famous “rope–snake” illustration, maintains that ‘it is neither ultimately real, nor wholly unreal, illusory and non-existent.’
Avidya (ignorance) has its seat in the human intellect. Avidya means not only absence of knowledge, but also erroneous knowledge. A man trapped in Avidya does not know what is real and thinks that the appearances are real. An individual identifies himself with empirical self. He equates his existence with the physical body. Under the influence of Maya and Avidya, he dissociates himself from the Ultimate Reality. When the man acquires knowledge, the duality of the self and Brahman disappears. He realizes that the self is really one with Brahman. This realization of the self puts an end to the ignorance (avidya).
The definitions above give us a basic picture of Shankara's Advaita Vedanta. We shall now move into details regarding Jiva, Jagat, Brahman and Mithya(maya).
Advaita Vedanta is non-dualism or monism, the doctrine that declares that there is but one reality, that the individual Self and the Brahman are one.
Shankaracharya defines the fundamental tenet of Advaita Vedanta thus:
brahma satyam jagan mithya
jivo brahmaiva napara
Brahman is the Reality, the universe is an illusion,
The living being is Brahman alone, none else.
Shankaracharya above has stated that there is no duality even in form, all that we experience in our present state is illusion. Shankaracharya's statement that the world (Jagat) is illusion (Mithya) has earned an equivalent criticism as has it been praised. According to the Advaita Vedantins, the word Mithya has been wrongly translated into illusion or Maya. According to them these translations do not completely define all the dimensions of the word Mithya as they falsely misinterpret it as something unreal alone. They say that this universe or the Jagat is relatively as unreal as the dream state(Pratibhashika Satya) is to the waking state (Vyavharika Satya). When we are in a dream it is highly unlikely that we realize that it is different from reality. As long as we are in the dream we perceive the dream to be the absolute reality. It is only when we wake up that we realize that what all we witnessed in the dream was unreal. Similarly the Advaita Vedantins argue that the waking state that we assume to be the absolute reality is part of a higher unified reality(Paramarthika Satya) that we can only realize when we wake up into it. It is unified in the sense that as the space time in the waking state is a unified whole as compared to the individual dream space time but with the individuality preserved, similarly the Paramarthika Satya is the unification of all the individual consciousnesses into a higher unified consciousness called the Brahman. It is this Brahman alone that is reality according to Shankaracharya, all else being unreal or the superimposition of Jiva and Jagat over the Brahman. This general outline of the Jiva-Jagat-Brahman concept shall be further elucidated with the help of Upanishads. The Upanishads have laid out this scheme in such a way that the method of enquiry ultimately culminates in the realization that the One Reality, Brahman, alone manifests as the triad of jiva, jagat and Ishwara. While every Upanishad has this scheme inlaid, yet, it is the Mandukya Upanishad that lends itself to a most patent manner of discerning this scheme.
The Mandukya Upanishad declares at the beginning that everything, the jiva included, is Brahman.