[The author of this article is Swami Vidyanand Sarasvati (formerly L.D. Dikshit). His is a well-known name in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab where for about two decades he had served as Principal of Colleges. The Vice-President of India nominated him as a Fellow of the Punjab University. For several years he was closely associated with Gurukul Kangri University.
He writes in the aphoristic style, and as a creator of sutras, he is second to none. His thinking is at once powerful and individualistic. His bold announcements of his theories merit high accolade.
He differs from the school of Sankara. Without having any recourse to Saiva Siddhantam, he has arrived at the conclusions already reached by it. This is of supreme importance to the Saiva Siddhantin. This article is from his “Satsiddhanta Vimarsha (Theory of Reality). Ed.]
The Individual Souls and Their Relation to Brahman
Soul is non-different from or identical with God.
According to non-dualism the individual souls have no-existence of their own. As a matter of fact, there is no reality except the Supreme Being who is the source of the manifold appearances which owe their origin to the pluralising power of Maya. “In the beginning”, says the author of Panchadashi, “the Supreme Spirit, without a second, blissful and absolutely perfect, Himself assumed the form of the world, and Himself entered into it, assuming the form of individual souls through the instrumentality of his own Maya.”1 Thus an individual soul is in its essence non-different from Brahma, its individuality being due to apparent limitation. Bondage consists in its consciousness of limitation, and freedom from this consciousness is real freedom or salvation. The Supreme /Spirit, by its very nature, is absolute reason or bliss. It is the adjunct of avidya or ignorance which apparently limits the infinitude of the Self, and thereby reduces it to the position of jiva or an empirical ego limited or Individualised in its character. Thus the jivas, being no other than Brahma conditioned by its adjuncts, their individuality is a borrowed and, in one sense, illusory individuality.
The teory is further explained by saying that Brahma does not undergo any change or form and there is no question, therefore, of its getting transformed into anything else. The jiva is not a manifestation of Brahma, nor any portion of it, but only Brahma in empirical dress. IT is Brahma conditioned by avidya. Each jiva has its own knowing apparatus and moves in a small world of its own. It has its own joys and sorrows, its own individual existence. Through Brahma is one, the souls are many. Both Gaudapada and Shankar believe in the plurality of empirical selves. But, in truth, there is no jiva. It is all false creation or mere appearance. The mutable forms and names do not appertain to the essence of individual soul but are really separable adjuncts erroneously imputed to them.
We now proceed with the objections that may be urged against this view-
God and Soul- both are eternal and distinct from each other.
There is no dispute about the Supreme Being and the souls existing simultaneously and et distinctly form the time of eternity. But it does not necessitate that the relation between the two should be that of cause and effect or substance and attribute. Howsoever the effect may be originally present in the cause, the cause always precedes the effect and in that case, the exact simultaneity of the two cannot be established. Jiva cannot be the effect of Brahma, also because in that case, He (Brahma) would become ‘Vikari’ or changeable, whereas He is essentially unchangeable.
The Soul is without a beginning or an end. Individual souls are co-eternal with Brahma. But the admission of the souls as existing side by with Brahma does not in any way clash with the position of Brahma who being infinite and unlimited in his character is pre-eminently greater than the rest. If Brahma alone is real, there is no room for the distinction of a God who as ‘Karmadhyaksha’ rules and the world and the souls ruled by him.
According to Madhva, we cannot say that Brahma is one but appears as many because of adjuncts or upadhies. If he is conditioned by upadhies, he cannot be realised from them, for his association with upadhies will be permanent. If upadhies are the product of ignorance, then ignorance will be of the nature of Brahma. If they were different, then we will have dualism of Brahma and ignorance. If it is argued that ignorance is the quality of “jiva” we are in a vicious circle. There is no “jiva”, without ‘avidya’ and no ‘avidya’ without ‘jiva.
That the individual souls had a beginning in time, and owed their existence to the creative activity of God is equally open to serious objections. A thing having a beginning is likely to have an end, for extinction is but the reverse process of origination. It a thing can come out of nothing it has only to retrace its steps to revert to nothing. Stepping into existence and stepping out of it stand exactly on the same footing. The admission that a thing had a beginning in time implies that its existence is determined by a conjunction of conditions, so that the withdrawal of some of the conditions would entail its extinction. Immortality of soul is thus hardly compatible with the denial of its eternal existence.
Then again, why did an individual soul come into being for the first time at a particular moment of time and not another? There is nothing peculiar in any particular moment in the stream of time-continuum by reference to which you can explain why in particular it should be the starting time of the creation of souls; time in itself is indifferent to this great transition. The only way of meeting this problem may be by saying that he creation of individual souls being purposive, it took place when the necessary materials for the fulfilment of that purpose became available. But a little consideration shows the untenability of this position. In the first place, the ascription of creative purpose to God carries with it the ascription of mutability to his nature, and implies, furthermore, that He may have a want which requires to be satisfied. In the second place, a thing which owes its existence to an external purpose may cease to exist with the cessation of that purpose. In the third place, how can you ascribe any purpose to God? He can have no purpose of his own directed towards an unrealised end, for He is ever perfect. For these and similar other reasons it is difficult to accept the position that one fine morning God said ‘let there be so many individual souls’ and forthwith they came into existence.
The following aphorisms contain further arguments in support fo the view that God and souls cannot be identical.
Because of different attributes (God and soul are not identical).
According to Ramanuja, Brahmas endowed with a number of auspicious qualities. He is all pervading, all powerful, all-knowing and all merciful Lord of the universe. Nothing evil can be ascribed to him. He transcends all limitations, and controls everything. Those passages in the scriptures that seem to lay down that he is devoid of all attributes really import that the low and limited attributes appropriate to mundane objects cannot be ascribed to him.
Souls and the rest of the world, though pervaded by the Supreme Being, are distinct from him; and being different from him in form and character, they can never be identical with him. The attributes of God cannot be predicated of the soul. While God is a dimensionless unity, all active and pervading, the souls are dimensionless units pervaded by God. Both are conscious entities. But they are identified and distinguished on account of three attributes-the capacity to know, the capacity to do and the capacity to enjoy pleasure and pain.2 These three tendencies are manifested, while in bondage, into six attributes; desire, avarice, volition, pleasure, pain and cognition. The Supreme Being, on the other hand, is the Absolute Self, free from ignorance and all other vices and never subject to the reward or punishment of any actions. The Supreme Being, being omnipresent and omniscient is above all confusion, but the soul with its limited knowledge often falls into ignorance.
The Mundaka Upanishad, while distinguishing between God, soul and matter says, “God is refulgent, pure, bodiless, all-pervading inside and outside all, uncreated, free from the bondage of birth and death and unaffected by inspiration, expiration, body and mind. He is all-bright. These are the attributes. The soul is finer than the eternal and imperishable materiaradica. But god is finer than the soul, the finest of all.”5
Commenting on Vedanta Darshana (1.2.22), Shankar quotes the same verse from the Mundaka Upanishad and says: “The distinctive attributes mentioned here, such as being of heavenly nature, and so on can in no way belong to the individual soul”. So far he is right. Btu then his prejudice prevails, and in his usual style, he adds a phrase, not at all consistent with the occasion: “which erroneously considers itself to be limited by name and form as represented by Nescience”. By a little distortion like this, he changed the true spirit and meaning of the Darshana as well as the Upanishad.
The relation between the substance and the attributes does not coincide with the relation between God and soul. The free nature of the soul, the whole doctrine of the cycle of life and death, pain and pleasure and the consciousness within, show that the soul is not a mere attribute of God.
On account of the law of relativity.
It was Descarte who said that “we cannot have the idea of finiteness if we did not have the idea of infinity (God).” The reverse is also equally true. And much more if God is all powerful, there must be someone who should be relatively less powerful. If there is one who is all pervading, there must be someone who is not so or something which is pervaded by him; for the pervader and the pervaded cannot be identical. We cannot conceive the existence of the Prajapati (Ruler of the people) without the co-existence of the people to be ruled, a teacher without the taught, a preceptor without the disciple, a deity without the devotee and so forth. Likewise, if there is the Brahman who is Supreme, there must be some entity or entities who should be subordinate to him. And it is they which are known as ‘jivas’ or souls. Certainly, the same entity cannot contain opposite or contradictory attributes.
On account of distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped.
Devotion or Bhakti is a relationship of trust and love to God. It is loving attachment to God. Narada defines it as intense love for God. For Shandilya, it is supreme longing for God.,6 It is Ishwarapranidhana, of yoga sutra. Devotion thus implies a duality between the worshipper and the worshipped. The distinction between the creature and creator is the ontological basis of Bhakti. AS a matter of fact, profound faith in God and belief in redemption requires us to assume three entities-the soul which has to be redeemed, the fetter (Prakariti) which binds it and from which it has to be redeemed and God, the Supreme Being who is to release it from bondage. Even those who, otherwise, advocate non-duality or ‘advaita’, have to admit that “the truth is non-duality; but duality is essential for the sake of worship”. Again “Before the rise of knowledge, duality is misleading, but when our understanding is enlightened, we perceive that duality is more beautiful than even non-duality and is conceived so that there might be worship”.
If God and soul were identical, no meaning would be left in the word ‘devotion.’ The same being cannot be both-the deity as well as devotee. Who should worship or adore whom? Obviously, my worshipping or adoring myself would be simply ridiculous. If I am God myself but, being conditioned by ignorance, in bondage, whom should I approach for release, for, there is none else except myself. Even Shankaracharya does not preclude the necessity of worship. Commenting on Satyadharmaya is Ishopanishad, he says, “By worshipping you, who is all truth, I have been wedded to truth”. Worship necessarily implies the existence of duality-the worshipper and the worshipped who are to be regarded as eternally different. When Madhva says that Bhakti consists of a continual flow of love for the Lord, he spells out its details, saying that “it is continual thinking of God, leaving all other things aside.” Madhava has here very clearly admitted the existence of three entities-‘jiva’, the thinker (meditator); ‘God’, the object of concentration (meditation) and ‘other things’ (Prakriti).
On account of desire for emancipation.
All of us entertain a keen desire for emancipation. The Supreme Being is free from bondage. Ignorance is the cause of bondage. It is through ignorance that we have become bound; knowledge will cure it by taking us to the other side. When that happens, nature (Prakriti) will fall at our feet, and we will enjoy trampling on it. No more is there life, therefore, no more is there death. No more enjoyment, therefore, no more misery. It is bliss unspeakable. What we call good and happiness here, are but particles of that bliss. And His eternal bliss is our goal.
If we had been God ourselves why should we all aspire for freedom from bondage. But we know that we have to undergo transmigration from one body to another and finally, when we are sufficiently purified, we attain emancipation. Hence our prayer to lead us from death to immortality. In the state of immortality also, the soul does not lose its individuality, and after the prescribed period comes again into bondage. And this cycle of bondage and emancipation goes on.
Establishing the distinction between God and soul, the Upanishad says, “The soul becomes happy after its communion with God who is all bliss.” Had God and soul been one and the same, it could not have been said that the soul becomes happy when it becomes one with God. WE often talk of union with God and union always takes place between two distinct objects.
Madhava believes in a personal God endowed with qualities and characters. When He is said to be nirguna, all that is meant is that he is not associated with the qualities and attributes of Prakriti. He is saguna in that he admits the presence of auspicious spiritual qualities. Each one of his qualities is boundless. He is the author of the acts of creation, preservation, destruction, governance, knowledge, bondage and release. Madhva holds that if all souls were identical, then there would be no difference between the emancipated and the unemancipated ones. If all difference is due to ignorance, then God who is free form ignorance will perceive himself as one with all individual souls and experience there sufferings. Baldeva Vidyabhushan has written a commentary on Vedanta Sutras, known as Govinda Bhashya, supporting the doctrine of dualism ascribed to Audulomi. According to this view the jivas are essentially different from God. Owing to their connection with body and mind, they become subject to impure ideas from which they can free themselves only by the acquisition of self-knowledge and the performance of devotional meditation; and when they are so purified they attain salvation and become one with God. The non-difference which is sometimes indicated in the scriptures does, according to this view, refer to a possible future state, viz the state, of salvation. While the view about the merger of the soul with God in the state of salvation may be disputed (and left for discussion at some later stage), two things are abundantly clear: firstly, the soul is originally distinct from God; and secondly, the desire and efforts on its part to be free from bondage prove that it knows that it lacks the qualities of God. Both these conclusions testify that God and soul are not identical.
On account of injunctions and inhibitions being meaningful.
The scriptures ordain certain things to be done and certain others to be desisted from. For instance: Thou shalt speak the truth; thou shalt not covet what belongs to others etc. Does Brahma need to know (what is good action and what is bad one)? Why should the immortal God-the fountain head of all bliss-pray (Relieve me from the cycle of birth and death and lead me to emancipation. It is always the needy who ask for something. As a matter of fact, all this relates to the individual; whose ignorance binds it in the mortal body.
The soul (Atman) is something different from the body as well as the mind. Those who study the English language, are often confused or deluded by the words, soul and mind. Our soul is entirely different from our mind. What we called manas, the western people called soul. They never had the idea of soul until they got it through Sanskrit philosophy, some two hundred years ago. The body is here, beyond that is the mind, yet the mind is not the soul. Actually, mind is the fine or subtle body, the ‘sukshma sharira’ which goes on from birth to birth; and behind the mind is the soul, often designated by western scholars as ‘self’. The soul goes, through birth and death, accompanied by the mind or the ‘sukshma sharira’. It is only when it has attained emancipation through knowledge that this going from birth to death and from death to birth ceases for it. During the period of dissolution also, the soul remains without the subtle body of ‘sukshma sharira’.
It there be no difference between the individual souls and the absolute spirit, no instructions are needed to impress upon them that they are essentially non-different from or identical with the Absolute; for a real identification can never be disturbed. If the difference really exists, all instructions calculated to impress upon them otherwise would be futile; for no amount of instructions can eliminate a difference which is inherent in their nature. It is suggested that the conscious attainment of immortality depends upon our realising that we are not the poor limited creatures that we seem to be, but the divinities upon earth appearing under conditions of time and space which can fetter us only so long as we remain ignorant of our real nature, just as a prince brought up in the house of a poor man remains unconscious of his royal dignity so long as he labours under the false impression that he is a poor man’s on. This analogy may be apt in the case of a prince who, being human with all his limitations, can be ignorant of his reality, but no in the case of the omniscient and omnipotent Supreme Being.
Man is subject to different sets of laws. He cannot disobey the law of gravitation. If he is unsupported in mid-air, the must fall to the ground like a stone. As a living organism he is subject to various biological laws which he cannot afford to violate. These laws he shares with the animals. But there are laws which he does not share with animals-laws which he can disobey, if he so chooses. These are ethical or moral laws-laws of Dharma or laws of right or wrong. Nothing is wholly good and nothing is wholly bad. The two-good and evil-pervade the world throughout. The famous English poet, Alexander Pope, said, in his ‘Essay on Man’-
Virous and vicious every man must be,
Few in the extreme, but all in degree.
The couplet while warning us to be careful in judging others makes it clear that we human beings are far from being perfect like the Supreme Being who is all virtuous.
The soul is possessed of free will which, when exercised, leads it sometimes to Prakriti and sometimes to Brahma. To quote Alexander Pope once again-
Two things in human nature reign,
Passion to urge and reason to restrain.
This freedom to act, this individuality of the soul and its limitations take it round the whole circle of life and death. It cannot be in relation to Brahma who, in its very nature, is eternal, pure, all knowing and ever free. Freedom always means the non-restriction of path, and in that case, for one who is not all-knowing, there is an equal probability of being deluded on a wrong path as of following the right one for the soul, the two courses are open-the once leading to Prakriti with all its pleasures and pains and the other to Brahma the source of all bliss. Hence all the injunctions and inhibitions.
On account of the fruition of actions.
Man is held responsible for the works-good or bad-done by him. If all are the transformation or appearance of Brahma, how is it that we do not make animals accountable for their evil deeds? What is that which distinguishes a man from the lower animals? It is not at all possible for an animal to do otherwise than what it is dictated to it by its actual nature-by its impulses and passions. But the case is different with man. He could have, had he only paused and deliberated, seen the consequences of his impulsive actions which he had indulged in. There was, in him, a possibility for a better course of action than what he had done, and this possibility he had ignored. Why did he, in following his evil impulse, stoop to an animal satisfaction? It is for this that we hold the man responsible for his evil deeds and punish him for them. An infinite possibility either for good or for evil is always present in him. But with an animal, the case stands differently; because all of us are not one entity or identical with each other or non-different from one Supreme Being.
If God had desired to create a world of automata there would have been no evil, no failure. God could have eliminated evil if he had so wished by denying us freedom of choice. Evil is there because we sometimes abuse free will. If the world is a machine, then the individual has no meaning. He is not free until he is capable of creative activity. Without creative freedom man cannot produce either a paradise or desolation on earth. God permits evil because he does not interfere with human choice.
God is spoken of as one who presides over actions and supervises the operation of the law of Karma. There must be no miscarriage of justice, nor any frustration of the inexorable law of Karma. Men must be the rewards and punishments at the right time and place. Naturally, therefore, a great deal of design must enter into the creation of the world. He provides the souls with various forms of bodies which belong to different species of beings possessing a definite arrangement of organs and are, therefore, are capable of constituting the abodes of fruition. His creating all creatures in forms and conditions corresponding to and retributive of their deeds is just what entitles him to be called the cause of fruits of actions. The Mimansakas speak of an invisible potency which is said to connect the rewards and punishments with the doers of the deeds.
The law of Karma has nothing in common with the popular idea that rewards and punishments are dependent on the arbitrary will of God. If God predestines us for weal or woe regardless of what we do, it is no use bothering about what we do. Karma is not predestination. If the law of Karma is the will of the highest wisdom and God is the sovereign who works the law, then our future may be regarded indifferently as either the fulfilment of the saw or a gift of God.
But all ethical rules become meaningless if the world is divine and everything is God. Then there is no excuse for our interfering with the sacred activities of the pickpocket or the assassin. At a time when people are doing devil’s work under divine sanction and consoling themselves by attributing everything to God, the acceptance of the doctrine of monism is doing incalculable harm to human society. Who can punish whom when the offender and the judge are one and the same Brahman?
Divine laws cannot be evaded. Every act, every thought is weighed in the invisible but universal scales of justice. The day of judgement is not in the remote future, but here and how: and none can escape it. But, if I were to sit for judgement on myself, I should not be expected to punish myself for anything done by me. The diversity we see in the wold shows that there is a divinity, distinct from us, which shapes our ends in the light of our actin. The world is the scene of an active struggle between good and evil in which God is deeply interested. He pours out his wealth of love in helping man to resist all that makes for error, ugliness and evil. As God is completely good and his love is boundless. He is concerned about the suffering of the world.
If god is the only absolute reality, it must be assumed that in the Absolute mind good and evil, which are so obvious in the world on equal terms are reconciled or are made consistent with each other. If the Absolute mind is held to be all good which vanishes from the absolute point of view in proportion as we succeed in attaining that outlook. This to the realist will be an encouragement to moral laxity, an apology for the abominable.
The difference of pleasure and pain cannot be explained without plurality of Souls, distinct from Brahma.
The difficulty appears still more insuperable when we come to deal with the problem of the inequality of human happiness. Individual beings in this world are found endowed with different amounts of knowledge, power, pleasure, pain etc. It can hardly be denied that this inequality is, to a great extent, determined by the differences in the conditions, capacities and susceptibilities characterising different individuals from the very outset. The Vedantic doctrine that individual souls are non-different from Brahma is inconsistent with the assertion that, when considered from a relative standpoint, they are to be regarded as different from one another. Even conceding that the empirical diversity of individual souls is not inconsistent with their ultimate unity inasmuch as they are essentially non-different from the Supreme Spirit, the existence of misery as an almost invariable concomitant of individual existence throws considerable doubt on the assertion of this identity; for, does not the Vedantic position imply that in making the individual souls subject to misery, the Supreme Spirit has done mischief to himself? It is not perhaps too much to say that two persons are not equally happy or equally miserable. Nobody can, at the same time, assert that, as a state of feeling, pain is not antithetic to pleasure one, being the object of aversion and the other of desire. Even the Vedantists admit that ultimately God is the regulator of pleasures and pains. But he does not make all persons equally happy. We might have imputed partiality or cruelty to God, had he caused pleasure and pains in an arbitrary way. But the supposition that different persons are from their birth placed under unequal circumstances and endowed with different capacities and dispositions irrespective of their actions and dispositions in the past is itself inconsonant with our idea of justice. As a matter of fact, just as rain is necessary for seeds to sprout and grow up into plants and trees and then to produce their fruits-sweet or sour-even so God creates an atmosphere that would be most congenial for the souls to reap the sweet or bitter consequences of their actions. When different seeds produce different crops, we cannot hold the clouds responsible for the difference, although without showers of rain they might not have fructified.
Conceding that the present differences are due to the vestiges of actions performed in the past, it may be asked if these streams of actions had a beginning in time. If they had, the difficulty really recurs a few steps back and, on the whole, remains as insoluble as before; for, differences in the initial stage require as much explanation as present differences, and perhaps more, for as they are ex hypothesi primordial, we cannot fall back upon the past to account for them.
Now, if the Jivas (souls) are being created by God, these primordial or connate differences require some justification or explanation, in the absence of which, it may very well be contended that the Creator is neither impartial nor merciful. You cannot get over the difficulty by saying that although the differences. So far as the present life is concerned, appear to be primordial, they are really derivative, being the effects of differences in actions performed in the past lives: for, assuming that the individual souls had an origin in time, the difficulty is sure to recur only a few steps back. Thus the problem is only shifted but not solved; for, it you admit an original diversity in the conditions, capacities and disposition of different individuals affecting their happiness in the course of life, the impartiality of the Creator remains as questionable as ever.
It is any rate indubitable that subjection to some amount of misery is the inevitable result of worldly life. Now, if that be so, and if the individual beings are but creatures set afloat by the Creator, it seems to be at least questionable whether the epithet ‘merciful’ is properly applicable to Him. In the next place, considering the limited character of individual existence, as maintained in this system, one may suspect that if salvation involves complete freedom from pain as one of its constituent elements, the individual souls cannot, on this view, attain that state except by undergoing complete annihilation. If the individuals sprang out of nothing they may ultimately revert to it, and this is a prospect which is certainly neither covetable nor encouraging.
To prove the identity of the same individual both before and after sleep, Shankar argues that otherwise the man waking up could not have begun again the same works which he had left unfinished before he went to sleep This brings into light what was really working in the mind of Shankar when he said that “a piece of work half done by one man cannot be brought into completion by a different man.” Shankar speaks of memory here. The works themselves cannot exercise the memory. It is, therefore, the Self which does it, recollects his past and connects it with the present. Memory is the distinguishing characteristic attribute of the Self. That makes every man accountable for his works. The ‘past’ or ‘present’ are applicable only to the individual soul and not to the eternal and all-pervading Supreme Being.
In fact the concept of the eternity of soul, distinct from God, coupled with the doctrine of metempsychosis furnishes the only reasonable hypothesis to enable us to answer all such questions. This world is not the scene of a constant flow of new individuals, so that he who comes into it ever came before, and once out of it, will never return. As a matter of fact, the present birth is one among a series of successive births through which an individual passes until he reaches the end of his journey. This course of metempsychosis can only be put an end to by the attainment of knowledge which enables the individual to attain freedom.