Siddhantabindu - 3
by Madhusudana Sarasvati
[Commentary on Dasasloki of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada]
31. Objection (by the Tarkikas): The knower is the substratum of knowledge (i.e. the place where the knowledge rests). He is himself the agent and the enjoyer and, like a lamp, he illumines himself and everything else. So he does not need another witness as a pot does.
Note: According to the Tarkikas, the self is not itself sentient, but becomes a knower when the self comes into contact with an object through the mind and the senses. Therefore. they say, there is no need for another entity to be the witness; that is to say, to know the existence of the knower himself.
32. Ans: It is not so. Since the knower of a particular knowledge (who, according to Advaita, is the mind itself assuming the shape of the object known, with the reflection of consciousness in it) undergoes changes, he cannot be the witness of his own changes. What is an object of knowledge cannot be the knower. The knower of a particular knowledge is a changing entity (because he is different after the origin of that knowledge from what he was before) and is therefore himself an object of knowledge. Only a single changeless entity can be a witness of everything (of all changes). Note. According to Advaita, the self is pure consciousness. There are two kinds of knowledge. One is the eternal knowledge of the self or pure consciousness. This is always existent, even when there is no object to be known. The other is a particular knowledge which arises when the mind stretches out through the appropriate sense organ and takes the shape of a particular object. This knowledge has a beginning and an end. The question raised by the Tarkikas arises only because they do not accept the existence of an eternal pure consciousness. According to Advaita, the self (Atma or Brahman) is the witness of even the absence of knowledge in deep sleep. In deep sleep there is no knowledge of any particular object. That is to say, there is no knower of any particular knowledge. But the eternal pure consciousness, the self, is there in deep sleep also, and it is the witness of the absence of a knower of a particular knowledge.
33. Objection: We do not accept a single, immutable, attributeless witness because there is no authority for that.
34. Ans: Not so (there is authority). "Everything shines because of his shining ; because of his effulgence all these shine variously" (Katha Up. 2.2.15), "You cannot see the seer of sight' (Br. Up. 3.4.2), "He is never seen, but is the seer" (3.7.23), "There is no seer other than him" (3.7.23) - by such lofty authoritative state-ments in Vedanta it (the self) is itself anointed as the witness of everything.
35. Obj: It is indeed incomprehensible (like a magical trick) that, leaving aside the substrata of knowledge, which are free from deceit (or which are capable of undergoing changes), the lofty authority makes something that is fraudulent (or incapable of change) , and which is not the substratum of knowledge, the witness of everything.
36. Ans: True. This is indeed incomprehensible, like dream, because it is the play of nescience.
37. Obj: Even then, since a knowable object like pot is insentient, how can the mind be the substratum of knowledge?
38. Ans: The objection is not tenable. Since the mind is pure like a mirror, it can receive the reflection of pure consciousness (Brahman-Atman). Or, identity with pure consciousness is attributed to the mind because of superimposition on pure consciousness.
Note: The mind is the product of the sattva portion of all the five elements. It is therefore pure like a mirror and can take the reflection of consciousness just as a mirror takes the reflection of light. Or, it becomes identified withconsciousness on which it is superimposed. In either case, it appears to have consciousness, and can therefore be the substratum of knowledge.
39. Obj: How can an object without form and without parts have a reflection?
40. Ans: What is the incongruity in that? The causes of illusion are strange. The red colour of the Japa flower (China rose) is seen to be reflected in crystal, etc., even though the colour has no form. Sound is seen to have a reflection in the form of the echo. By common consent their reflections are not considered as different from the originals.
41. Obj: Even then, there can be a reflection only for an object that can be known by any of the sense-organs.
42. Ans: It is not so, because there is no such invariable rule. Even space which cannot be grasped by the senses and which is revealed only by the witness-consciousness is seen to be reflected in water, etc. But for such a reflection there would not be the appearance of great depth in mere knee-deep water. Even though the reflection of space is revealed by the witness-consciousness itself, the eye is needed for seeing the light and the clouds which are also reflected along with the space and also for seeing the medium of reflection.
43. By this is explained both the functioning and the non-functioning of the eye in an erroneous perception of the form 'The sky is blue'. Here the substratum (of the blueness) is the sky accompanied by light. Therefore it is to be understood that a form is needed only when a thing or its reflection is to be seen by the eye, and not otherwise.
Note. The erroneous perception of blueness in the sky occurs only when there is light and not when there is total darkness. The substratum of this blueness is therefore not the sky alone, but the sky accompanied by light. Similarly, the substratum of the illusory snake is the rope along with dim light, since the illusion of a snake does not appear when there is bright light or total darkness. For the illusion to appear, the rope must be seen in a general way as something lying in front. So also, the erroneous perception of blueness appears only when both the sky and the light are perceived. For the perception of the sky the eye is not needed, as it is a direct perception by the witness-consciousness. For the perception of the light the eye is needed. This is what is brought out above.
44. Question: All the same, what is the authority for saying that the self has a reflection?
45. Ans: 'He (Brahman) assumed the likeness of each form. That form of his was for revealing himself' (Br.Up2.5.19), 'The one and only Supreme Being dwells in each being; he appears as one and also as many, like the reflection of the moon in (various vessels of) water' (Brahmabindu Up. 12), Maya creates jiva and Isvara by reflection (of Brahman in itself' (Nrsimhottaratapini Up. 9), are the Sruti statements which support this conclusion. The statements such as 'He has entered here' (Br.Up.1.4.7), 'Having split this very end, he entered through this opening' (Ait. Up. 1.3.12), 'Having created it, he entered that itself' (Taitt.Up. 2.6.1) which speak of entering are not explainable otherwise (if reflection of the self is not accepted). The aphorisms of the great sage (Vyasa) such as 'And the (individual soul) is certainly a reflection (of the supreme Self)' (Br.Su. 2.3.50), 'Therefore the comparison with the sun's reflection, etc.,' (Br.Su. 3.2.18) are also authority for this.
46. The adherents of the reflection theory (the authors of Vivarana and Samkshepasarirakam and their followers) hold that the reflection is real. The adherents of the semblance theory (Sureshvaracharya and his followers) hold that it is 'mithya', that is, it cannot be described either as real or as unreal, like the rope-snake). There is however no dispute about the existence of the reflection itself. It is established by Sruti and by direct perception that the reflection is different from insentient things. Therefore it is established that the mind becomes a knower because of the reflection of the self in it and because of identification with the self.
Note: The Sruti statement 'This infinite entity that is identified with the intellect and is in the midst of the organs' (Br.Up.4.3.7) establishes that the jiva is sentient. Moreover direct perception also shows that every creature is sentient.
47. Obj: Besides, superimposition is not possible here. To explain: Is the not-self superimposed on the self, or is the self superimposed on the not-self? The first is not possible. Since the self does not have any general or special characteristics, is always self-effulgent, and has no similarity with the not-self, it cannot be the substratum of any superimposition.
Note: In the case of superimposition of snake on rope, the rope is known only in a general way as 'this object in front'. Its special characteristic, ropeness, is not known. It is not clearly seen because of the dim light. There is similarity in appearance between a snake and a rope which makes it possible for the rope to be mistaken for a snake. None of these conditions exist in the case of the self. It is devoid of all attributes (nirguna) and so there is no question of any general or special characteristics. It is always effulgent. The rope was mistaken for a snake because its real nature was obscured by the dimness of the light. But nothing can obscure the self. There can be no similarity whatsoever between the self and the not-self and so there is no possibility of their being mistaken for each other.
48. Objection contd: The second alternative - the self superimposed on the not-self, is also not tenable, since the not-self is admitted to be 'mithya' (not real). If an object that is not real is claimed to be the substratum of superimposition, then it results in the theory of the void. If (to avoid this difficulty), the not-self is claimed to be real, then it can never be sublated and so there is no possibility of liberation. A real object can never be negated, nor can it be destroyed by knowledge. The Srutis themselves say that the not-self is not real, as seen from the following quotations: "When the Supreme Nirguna Brahman, which appears also as the universe, is realized as identical with one's own self, then the knot of the heart is cut asunder, all doubts are resolved, and all results of actions (karma) are destroyed" (Mund. Up. 2.2.8). "By knowing that alone, one goes beyond death; there is no other way to liberation" (Sve. Up. 3.8), "The knower of the self crosses over sorrow" (Cha. Up. 7.1.3) - statements such as these indicate the unreality of the not-self by declaring that transmigratory existence is put an end to completely by knowledge.
49. "One only, without a second" (Cha. Up. 6.2.1), "Everything other than this is perishable" (Br. Up. 3.4.2), "There is no diversity whatsoever in it" (Br. Up. 4.4.19), "Now therefore the description, not this, not this" (Br. Up. 2.3.6) - such statements expressly declare the unreality of the not-self. The unreality is also inferred from the fact that the not-self is knowable, like the nacre-silver, etc.
50. Obj. contd: Only when the not-self is established to be superimposed on the self, can there be superimposition of the self on the not-self. The self can be said to have some defect or similarity, etc., only when it is established that the not-self is superimposed on it. Only thereafter (that is to say, only after it is established that the self has some defect or similarity with the not-self) can it be established that the not-self is superimposed on the self. Thus defects such as self-dependence, etc., arise.
Note: The objector proceeds on the assumption that there can be superimposition only if the substratum has some defect and some similarity with the object superimposed. This assumption is based on the fact that in the rope-snake example the rope which is the substratum has the defect of being in dim light and has similarity with a snake in appearance. In the nacre-silver example, the nacre has the defect of being at a distance and has similarity to silver in brightness. These two facts, defect and similarity, become known only after the illusory snake or silver is seen. So the objector says, firstly, that there can be superimposition on the self only if the self has a defect and a similarity with the superimposed object. Then he says that the existence of the defect and the similarity can be known only after the fact of superimposition is established. So the establishment of superimposition depends on the existence of defect and similarity and the establishment of the existence of defect and similarity depends on the establishment of superimposition. Thus the defects of self-dependence and mutual dependence arise.
51. Obj. contd: By this, the contention that the mutual superimposition of the self and the not-self cannot be debated because it is due to nescience, is refuted, since nescience is not logically possible in the self which is self-effulgent (pure consciousness). Moreover, is the nescience illusory or real? In the first alternative, how can defects such as self -dependence be avoided? (Nescience can be illusory only if it is superimposed on the self by nescience, which means there is the defect of self-dependence. If the superimposition is caused by another nescience, then there is the defect of infinite regress). In the second alternative, since nescience is real there can be no liberation. If everything is due to superimposition, there can be no distinction between illusion and right knowledge. To say that the same self is the means of knowledge, the object of knowledge, the knowledge itself and the knower is contradictory. If it is claimed that there is no contradiction, then it will become the same as vijnanavada (according to which everything is nothing but internal cognition).
52. Answer: Now we say: It is well known that every one has the knowledge in the form, "I am a man, I am an agent and experiencer, etc.". That is not a mere remembrance because it is directly experienced and is devoid of the cognition of difference (between himself and his body). Nor is it right knowledge, because it is contradicted by Sruti and reasoning.
Note: Knowledge is of two kinds, namely, remembrance and experience. The knowledge mentioned above is directly experienced and so it cannot be mere remembrance which relates only to something experienced previously. Experience is again of two kinds, illusory like that of nacre being taken for silver, and real like actual silver being recognized as silver. In the illusory knowledge there is non-cognition of difference between nacre and silver and this is due to some defect in the sense-organ, etc. In the right knowledge of silver as silver also there is non-cognition of difference, and this is because there is actually no difference between what is in front and what it is recognized to be. So non-cognition of difference is common to illusory as well as right knowledge. Therefore the opponent can contend that the knowledge "I am a man, etc." could be real, like the knowledge of real silver as silver, since no difference is cognized between the self and the body. This contention is refuted by pointing out that it is contradicted by Sruti and reasoning, as will be seen from the following paragraphs.
53. "The infinite entity that is identified with the intellect and is amid the organs" (Br. Up. 4.3.7), "This self is Brahman" (Br. Up. 2.5.19), "Brahman is Reality, Consciousness and Infinitude" (Tai. 2.1.1), "Brahman is Consciousness and Bliss" (Br. Up. (3.9.28), "The self that is free from sin" (Cha. 8.7.1), "The Brahman that is immediate and direct; the self that is within all" (Br. Up. 3.4.1), "That which transcends hunger and thirst, grief, delusion, decay and death" (Br. Up. 3.5.1), "He is untouched by whatever he sees in that state (of dream), for this infinite being is free from all attachment" (Br. Up. 4.3.15)—Sruti statements such as these declare that the self is not an agent nor an experiencer, and is itself Brahman which is of the nature of supreme bliss.
54. The knowledge common to every one in the form "I am a man, etc.", cannot be right knowledge (prama) because of the following reasons. Things which undergo change (such as the body) have necessarily to be limited in time, space and with respect to other objects and so they cannot be the self. (A thing which changes must perish some day and so it is limited in time. Change implies increase or decrease in size. This is not possible for an entity that is all-pervading and so it must be limited in space. it is also limited by other objects). The body cannot know itself, because the same entity cannot be both subject and object at the same time and so the relationship of seer and seen is not possible. The relationship of quality and its possessor is not possible between knowledge and the body, whether they are considered as different from each other or as non-different. In the view that knowledge is not eternal the difference between various knowledges, their non-existence after destruction and prior to origination, the relationship of inherence, and a genus 'knowledgeness' which is the common quality of all different knowledges (just as cowness is the common quality of all cows) will have to admitted, and that is cumbersome. If knowledge is accepted as only one (though the objects of knowledge are many) there will be simplicity. Differences in knowledge, such as 'knowledge of pot', 'knowledge of cloth' are only due to the different limiting adjuncts (pot and cloth). By itself knowledge is only one. The notion of origination and destruction of knowledge is only due to the necessity of relating the knowledge to the object of knowledge (since we have to say what a particular knowledge is about, such as knowledge of pot, etc.). The difference between one pot and another is known by itself without the need of referring to any adjunct, and there can be no difference of opinion on this matter (unlike knowledge where the adjunct, namely, object of knowledge has also to be specified). If knowledge which is only one (whatever may be the object of knowledge) is split up and considered as 'many knowledges', then space, time and the directions will also have to be considered as many (which is not accepted even by Tarkikas). Moreover, if agency, etc., are real, then there can be no liberation at all, because that which is the real nature of a thing can never be removed from it. If the self is not self-luminous, the universe will be blind (insentient). Being the object of supreme love of all, the self is of the nature of bliss (since what every living being wants is happiness). Therefore the self is devoid of qualities, eternal, self-luminous and of the nature of bliss.
55. Thus, since the only course left is to conclude that this (the cognition 'I am a man, etc.,') is only a delusion, it is necessary to postulate a proper cause for this delusion. That cause is found to be something whose existence is established as superimposed on the non-dual self, from the fact of the appearance of the dharmi (the entity who describes himself as 'I am a man, etc.). That cause is the indescribable ignorance which is experienced by the witness-consciousness in the form 'I do not know'. This is not of the nature of non-existence (in the form of mere absence of knowledge). Since it has been said that knowledge is eternal, there can never be absence of knowledge.
Note: Since it has been concluded that the cognition 'I am a man' is neither remembrance nor right knowledge, it follows that it is only a delusion (like the cognition of nacre as silver). Now we have to state the cause of this delusion. The cause has to be something that has the capacity not only to conceal the self, but also to make the self identify itself with the body and attribute to itself the qualities of being a man, an agent, experiencer, etc. This cause is nescience which cannot be described either as existent or as non-existent. This is the ignorance that is actually experienced when a person says 'I do not know'.
56. (If nescience is claimed to be only absence of knowledge of atman), then there will be self-contradiction if it is said that the dharmi, 'I' and the pratiyogi, absence of knowledge of the atman, are both known. Equally, there will be self-contradiction if it is said that neither of them is known, because the presence of a thing cannot be negated without knowing both the place where the thing is negated and the object that is negated; for example it cannot be said that there is no pot in a particular place unless that place and the pot are both known.
Note: This is another argument to show that nescience is not mere 'abhava' or absence of knowledge of atman, but is of the nature of a positive entity. At the same time, nescience cannot be categorized either as existent or as non-existent, and is indescribable (anirvachaniya).
57. This nescience cannot be of the nature of delusion, doubt or a succession of mental impressions caused by delusion or doubt, because it is directly experienced. Delusions, doubts and their impressions which relate to the past or to the future cannot be experienced directly at the present time. This nescience cannot be mere negation because it is something which covers or hides (the atman) and is the material cause of the delusion in the form 'I am a man, etc'. The self cannot be the cause of this delusion because it is immutable. Nor can the mind, etc., be the cause of the delusion, because they are themselves products of nescience.
58. Sruti statements such as--"(They realized) the power of the supreme Being which is concealed by its own gunas (or effects)" (Sve. 1.3), which speaks of the power as constituted of the gunas; "Know maya to be prakriti and the wielder of maya to be the supreme Lord" (Sve.4.10); "The supreme Being is perceived as having manifold forms because of maya" (Br. Up. 2.5.19); "They are covered by ignorance" (Ch. 8.3.2); "Covered by mist" (Tai. Sam. 18.104.22.168); "Then finally cessation of all maya": (Sve.1.10);-show that maya which is nescience, is indescribable, unreal, removable by the knowledge of the Reality, is the cause of the superimposition of itself and others (such as ego, mind, senses, body). Defects such as self-dependence do not arise here because nescience has no beginning and the self -luminous self is itself pure consciousness.
Note: The Sruti statements quoted above establish that nescience is not mere negation of knowledge and that at the same time it cannot be categorized either as real or as unreal. Since it is destroyed by knowledge it cannot be real. Since its effect, the world, is actually experienced, it is not unreal. It is therefore indescribable. It cannot be said that there is the defect of self-dependence on the ground that nescience is the cause of its own superimposition, because nescience has no beginning at all. Since the self is eternal, no such defect can arise with regard to it either.
59. Thus, the ego is superimposed on pure consciousness on which nescience has already been superimposed. On that are superimposed the qualities of the ego such as desire, resolve, etc., and the qualities of the sense organs such as one-eyedness, deafness, etc. Since the senses are not directly perceivable, they are themselves not superimposed. (No one says, "I am the eye or ear", but one may say, "I am one-eyed", or "I am deaf". Thus only the quality of the sense organs is superimposed and not the organ itself). On that the gross body is superimposed, but only with reference to its qualities, in the form, "I am a man". (The body is itself not superimposed, but only its qualities).
60. There is no superimposition of the body itself, because nobody has a perception in the form "I am this body". Only the qualities of the body such as stoutness, etc are superimposed.(One says "I am stout, I am lean, I am tall, etc. These are all qualities of the physical body and not of the self, but they are attributed to oneself by superimposition). On that there is the superimposition of the well-being or otherwise of son, wife, etc. (A man feels happy when his son, wife, etc, are happy and the opposite when they are unhappy. Thus there is the superimposition of the happiness, unhappiness, success, failure, etc of persons near and dear to him).