In my last blog I had written that Vedanta, which is pure philosophy, does, at times, compromise with the existing belief system relating to rebirth, karma and accepts them. Having written, I checked up with Swami Tattwavidananda Saraswati whether my understanding was right. Swamiji pointed out that it is not as though Vedanta makes a compromise, but it accepts these as a lower level of truth. He also drew my attention to two levels of truth, higher and lower, as termed by Swami Vivekananda. Birth, death, rebirth, karma etc are accepted in Vedanta only tentatively, just to go along with the popular beliefs. Ultimately, their existence is denied.
This triggered a few more ideas on the negatability of universe.
A common question in religion and philosophy is about the material with which the universe is made of. It is about the material, not only of the inanimate matter around us, but also for the sentient beings, their minds, and their thoughts.
Logicians readily say that it is all atoms, paramāṇu-s, based on what we see with the five senses, which themselves are the products of the mystical material under question. The Maker is the all-knowing, all-powerful God who makes use of the material to make the universe, including sentient and non-sentient. Atoms are the material cause, the upādāna kāranam, they say, and the Maker is the instrumental cause like a potter in the case of a pot.
Vedanta questions this. If the material were to be paramāṇu-s, as the logicians contend, then it would imply that the Maker is something different from the material he is handling, that there is something beyond him and so he cannot be called all-encompassing, all-pervading and be qualified for all such epithets. If A is different from B, then A is delimited by B. The maker would thus be a limited personality, however powerful he may be.
The question may also be posed in a different way. If the maker were to be a nirākāra and nirguṇa entity how is creation possible? nirākāra is something which is pure consciousness, without a defined body with limbs etc. nirguṇa is something without guṇa-s. Even creation is not a task of this maker (which is called Brahman in neuter gender). If Brahman were to be merely saguṇa, i.e. one with attributes, tasks and duties to create, sustain and recycle the universe, then It cannot be called non-dual, because like all other manufacturers It is taking some material from outside and fashioning the universe.
Vedanta relies on śruti here. The śruti says: ‘bahusyāṃ prajāyeya’ (taittiriya Upanishad) – ‘I will become many’. It means that what all we see as sentient and insentient things is another form of Brahman. That is why birth, death, rebirth, karma etc are tentatively accepted as noted above. Otherwise, it will be difficult for a sādhaka to start thinking that there is no birth. This is told to him at a later stage. (From this point of view, Ramana Maharshi may be a difficult choice for sādhaka-s to start with as he starts at the higher level, as Vivekananda would say).
Anyway, regarding the material for the universe, the śruti says that Brahman itself is the material. How is this process? A good portion of the second chapter of brahma sutra-s is devoted to deny the origin of the universe from the insentient prakRRiti as the logicians and also the sāṅkhya-s argued. Vedanta says that creation is from an unchanging Brahman. One may suggest that a part or a limb of Brahman may undergo this modification as universe. This is also not accepted. Brahman is one and non-dual – ekamevādvitīyam. It has no limbs.
If the whole of Brahman modifies itself as the universe, as we sometimes simplistically understand, then Brahman is automatically and effortlessly revealed to us. All the Vedic teachings about quest for Brahman and all the teachers would be irrelevant and redundant (Br. Su. 2-1-26, Shankara’s comment).
The subsequent sutra (Br.Su.2-1-28) gives the example of sleep. Mind creates its own universe in the sleep without any external material. Here comes the proposition of māyā, a power coeval with Brahman and which makes the universe appear. māyā, then is the material cause and the efficient cause for the universe. It is called the abhinna-nimitta-upādāna kāraṇam.
If the Brahman were changeless even after the so-called creation, it follows that the creation itself is an appearance. Just as all the beings created by the mind in sleep dissolve when the person gets up, likewise, all the creation dissolves (laya) when the seeker realizes the Self. However, it has a greater degree of reality than a dream. It is real at the transactional level; it gets negated only when a higher truth, i.e. Brahman is understood.
In the case of other darśana-s (like Yoga), kaivalyam (enlightenment) is the resolution of the guṇa-s into their cause i.e. prakṛti, (puruṣārthaśūnyānāṃ guṇānāṃ pratiprasavaḥ kaivalyam – Yoga Sutra 4-34). The three guṇa-s are known to be the constituents of prakṛti, which is also accepted by the vedantins. But this prakṛti is not independent of Brahman, as in the case of sāṅkhya and yoga say, but an appearance on Brahman Itself. That is why vedantins talk of pravilāpa (negation) and not pratiprasava (resolution into the cause). The five kośa-s as we call them get negated and pure consciousness (chit) remains. Even in the other paradigm of śarīra-traya (the three bodies – gross, subtle and causal), the process of negation is same. The three bodies are negated and only consciousness remains.
This laya or negation is similar to the negation of snake when the reality of the rope is known. The disappearance of snake is simultaneous with the knowledge of the rope. That is the pravilāpa of the snake.