The Life Divine—Chapters 1-7 (New Delhi, at Shubhra Ketu Foundation) - Session 8: Chapter 5 (2 May 2008)

There is a very interesting review of The Life Divine written by Amal Kiran, which describes his impression of the reading of the book Life Divine, and he says after reading the book one feels that the author of this book is also the author of the universe. Now this sentence is very important because one of the ways by which one can read this book is to consider what is the drift of argument of the whole book, how does it proceed, what is the method of argumentation? There is one word, which might give some clue to this question, – the design of the universe. It is as if, we are asking in our bewilderment: what is all this surrounding me? There is so much variety, so many mountains, rivers, gulfs, so much hustle-bustle and I don’t understand if there is any design in this. Can there be any kind of a clue by which I can relate all this to each other, see the trend to which all this is moving, find out where we are, in what direction are we to move forward, what is all this here around? If we ask this question and then read the book then the argument will seem to be flowing in a certain pattern. There are as I have said earlier many ways of expounding philosophy and take for example this very question of the individual. If we are to study merely what is the individual, the exposition would be different. If you are asking the question, what is the destiny of the individual? The exposition would be different, although the two are quite related to each other. But the drift of the book is the design of the world. The argument basically is what is happening in this world? Why things are happening as they do, is there any meaning in it, if so what is the meaning? And it is in that context that it becomes inevitable to ask the question, what is the ultimate Reality, in the light of which all this is happening? So if the metaphysical book was simply, what is the nature of the Ultimate Reality, the method by which the question can be detailed would be of one kind, but if the question is – what is the design of this world then many questions will remain common but the drift of the argument will be different and that is why when we read this book with many preconceptions as to what philosophical books ought to be then you may find bewilderment. The question about the destiny of the individual is connected with the design of the world. We are here on the earth, we are supposed to be doing something in this world and we do not know what we are supposed to do, we do not know what is the direction in which we are to go? That is why the question of the destiny of the individual becomes important. Now this question is connected actually with not only the individual, but we started actually with the whole humanity. The whole of humanity is aspiring and that was the starting point. The whole of humanity seems to be moving forward, busy with something and the question was what is all this happening here? It is there that Sri Aurobindo takes up the question and the whole book is in that context. So having grasped as to what humanity is striving to do and having found that what is humanity striving to do is connected with the Ultimate Reality, Sri Aurobindo has given in the 4th chapter a description of the Ultimate Reality, where he speaks of the omnipresent Reality. And he says that unless you understand the nature of the Ultimate Reality, you won’t understand why humanity is doing what it is doing, and you won’t understand why individuals are striving to do what they are doing. So having understood somewhat what humanity is striving to do and how that striving is justified in the light of the nature of the Ultimate Reality, Sri Aurobindo comes closer to this question of what each individual is now striving to do and what is his role to play in this world. It is in that context that the next three chapters are written. In fact the main subject of all the three is the same, – the individual. Here The Destiny of the Individual, Man in the Universe, and the third is The Ego and the Dualities all the three are centred on the question of the individual. You should take up a book like Ethics of Spinoza; this is one of the standard works of metaphysics. And if you see how that book begins, although the title of the book is Ethics, in a sense you might say the purpose of the book is to tell the individual what he ought to be doing. It is in a sense something similar to the main purpose of this book. But the starting point of the book is the description of the Ultimate Reality, it starts with some definitions. It says that there is ultimately substance. Now you might say that he assumes that there is substance. But he starts with it and he defines substance as that which exists in itself and that which can be conceived through itself. That which exists in itself and it can be conceived through itself, this is the definition of substance and ultimately he says that substance is God, God is one who exists in itself and who can be conceived through itself. And he says this concept is incorrigible, you can’t correct it further, – this is his ontological argument. If you strain your thought and try to see what is the nature of thought you will find that thought can only think of substance, at the highest level, thought can only think of substance. This is something like Parmenides, who said that it does not exist, cannot be thought of, then what can you think of – that which exists. Now if that existence is dependent upon some other existence then you have to think of that, if it depends on other existence, you have to think of that, until you arrive at a point which exists by itself. So thought can rest only in that which exists in itself and if it exists in itself, it can’t be conceived through another thing. If it exists in itself, it can only be thought through itself. So he says this idea which I am presenting as a starting point is incorrigible, all metaphysical thought should start with this. The self-existent, which can be thought only through itself and which thought can never deny; therefore according to him, to think is to think of God as self-existent. To think, that is to say God is something that is the highest that thought can envisage, there is nothing more, nothing less, God is the only thing of which you can envisage at the highest. Now this is supposed to be the most cogent starting point of metaphysical thought. In a sense you might say that The Life Divine also begins with a statement of that kind. The very first sentence where Sri Aurobindo deals with: “The earliest preoccupation of man is also the highest that the thought can envisage.” But the drift is different. He speaks of this in the context of finding what mankind is doing on this earth. What is the drift of this mankind, what is the design of this world? So in a sense you might say, it is a larger question in which the metaphysics of the Ultimate Reality is only a kind of a consideration, of a part of the problem. Of course, it is that in the light of which you can understand what the world is doing, that is why it is the 4th chapter which gives the description of the omnipresent Reality, does not start with it. It is in the 4th chapter that Sri Aurobindo gives us the idea of the omnipresent Reality. And Sri Aurobindo does not give the description of the omnipresent Reality merely in terms of what can be thought. He gives a description of the Ultimate Reality, omnipresent Reality in the context of what can be experienced as the highest. So it is not merely something which can be thought but which can be verified in experience. That is why in a sense you might say ontological argument can be criticised only on one basis that in thought you cannot doubt God, but God may not be existing, and that you can disprove only by saying that in experience also God exists. It’s not only the highest that thought can envisage, God is also, when you try to examine the experiences, at the highest level of experience, of course, it’s not ordinary experience; in ordinary experience you can never experience God. So Sri Aurobindo has prepared the ground saying that it is only when you enlarge your experience that you can ultimately arrive at an experience of the omnipresent Reality. In a sense therefore he has shown that that which is highest in thought is also the highest in experience, in that sense you might say that one cycle of the argument is completed and now we are moving on this second lap of the journey. But the second lap of the journey has a connection with the starting point. It is a consideration of understanding the design of this world. In this design having seen the Ultimate Reality as it is, we are trying to relate that reality with all that we are seeing. If reality is Sachchidananda as it has been said so far, it is omnipresent, it is that which is the supreme, and he says this supreme is indefinable, because whatever words you use are inadequate. You experience it as the pure existent, you can even experience it as non-existent and yet you can see it paratpara as the transcendental. You see it as active; you see it as inactive, inactive-active reality – such is the nature of the Ultimate Reality.

Now Sri Aurobindo in the first paragraph of this chapter, he summarises that starting point. So let us read first of all this first paragraph.

An omnipresent Reality is the truth of all life and existence whether absolute or relative, whether corporeal or incorporeal, whether animate or inanimate, whether intelligent or unintelligent; and in all its infinitely varying and even constantly opposed self-expressions, from the contradictions nearest to our ordinary experience to those remotest antinomies which lose themselves on the verges of the Ineffable, the Reality is one and not a sum or concourse. From that all variations begin.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual

The Reality is one and not a sum or concourse, – this sentence is very important. There is a view that Reality is whole. This statement is different from saying reality is one, and this makes a lot of difference in metaphysical thought.

Let me go back to Spinoza. According to Spinoza, the substance which exists by itself must be capable of explaining everything else, or everything else must depend upon that which exists in itself. All that exists must be a part of that. You see that transition, all can be explained in terms of that which exists by itself. Now the argument is, but all must be part of that, the moment you use the word part, it means the reality must be whole. But if you say Reality is one, which explains all, it’s a different kind of statement. And Sri Aurobindo says, the Reality is not a sum, is not a concourse, it’s not mingling of all together and making one full apple. What is the nature of that Reality, it’s omnipresent, it’s everywhere. It is omnipresent but it is that which has spread everywhere, it is not constituted by all, it constitutes all. This is the distinction between what is called pantheism and theism. According to pantheism the totality of the world is the whole, that whole is God. God is nothing but all things put together, so that you can say, all is God or God is all. Theism maintains that Reality is also transcendental; all is only the manifestation or expansion, but that which is expanded is in itself unmanifest and can remain unmanifest, that was the meaning when we say Reality is inactive in itself, yet it expands into activity. The two are not contradictory to each` other, but if you don’t say Reality is transcendental of all, you are reducing Reality only to all. When you say Reality is transcendental it means that it is the source of all but it is not itself the creation of all, it’s not constituted of all; it constitutes all.

The omnipresent reality is a reality which is transcendental and yet it is immanent and not only immanent but it is also all. So, according to theism God is both transcendent and immanent. But according to this theory which you are now studying, reality is transcendental, immanent and also all, pantheism and this theism are both reconciled. According to theistic philosophy, basically Christian philosophy is theistic philosophy. God is everywhere in the world but God is not the world but it is not itself the all.

Now these distinctions are very necessary to understand because the speciality of this Vedantic philosophy is to be grasped. There are three concepts of Ultimate Reality in the history of thought, – deistic theory, pantheistic theory and theistic theory. According to deistic theory, God is transcendental and he is not at all present in the world. He creates the world but leaves the world as it is. He commands over it, he is a judge who sits upon everybody but He himself is not present in the world. Divine is not only supra-cosmic according to that theory but also extra-cosmic. He is outside the world, not only above the world but also outside the world. Reality is extra-cosmic.

Question: Christianity is deistic?

Answer: It is theistic but it wavers. You see theoretically, it says God is both transcendent and also in the universe, but since it is not also all, it is not pantheistic at all then what happens? In a certain sense He is extra-cosmic, in a certain sense. This is one of the very important distinctions which you will come across even in this chapter itself. What is the nature of the Ultimate Reality?

According to theism as I said, God is both transcendent and immanent, but by being immanent, God is still somewhat different from all; in that sense it is extra-cosmic. There is something in him which is different from here. According to deism God is not present at all in the world. God is entirely extra-cosmic, it’s purely deistic.

Question: Which would be a deistic theology?

Answer: All religions today are theistic, which we know. In the historical development of religions there was at one time an idea that God creates the world but is not in the world, he leaves the world to be ruled by its own laws. As I said, even the theistic God is in a sense deistic. In so far as it says that it is in all, it’s not all, so in certain respects it is outside the world. But there are theories where it says that God is only a judge, he sits outside the world, he does not participate in the world. This is where Christianity when it developed its own theory, pointed out that God plays a role in the history of mankind. God not only presides over the world but he enters into the world that is why Christ is a historical development.

So the immanence of God is shown by the fact that Christ is immanent and God plays a role in the shaping of the world. He is not only a judge above the world, he even comes down in the world, helps the world, opens the gate to God, it plays an imminent role. So according to theism God is both transcendent and immanent. According to pantheism God is not transcendental at all, it is all, all is God. God is nothing but all that you see but put together.

Now the Vedantic Advaita synthesises all the three, – deism, theism, pantheism. God in a sense is transcendental. As Sri Krishna says in the 9th chapter: ‘They are all in Me but I am not in them’. So there is something in Reality which certainly transcends and yet by saying that the world is also Himself. God is immanent and God is all, in that sense but it is not confined only to that statement. In other words as we have seen several times, Reality as described in Advaita is at once Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara. These three words indicate all that is to be said about the omnipresent reality. It is Brahman in the sense it is the essence. Now by its definition essence must be that which transcends the manifestation. If it is essence, even if all manifestation is reduced to zero, that essence will remain. The very notion of essence means, essence is by nature transcendental but the very nature of essence means that it is He who spreads everywhere, He is both. So Brahman is a concept which says the essence, the very word Brahman is what, etymologically the word Brahman is that which moves out, that which expands, that’s the very meaning of the word Brahman that which expands. So Brahman is that essence which expands, is the fundamental substance. But the word substance has become very ambiguous, so one will not use that word substance in that sense. You can say the Brahman is the self-existent. What is the definition of Spinoza? That which exists in itself, he calls it substance. He starts with the definition of substance. So Brahman is that which is the essence and which expands. Purusha is that who enters into expansion. He is not only expansion but he also enters into expansion. He is the one, who is vasa, vas, the word Purusha is nothing but pur plus vasa, pur is the field – expansion, push is vas that which dwells. Push is vas, you know in Sanskrit pu and va have a relationship. So the word Purusha is actually the one who dwells, vasati; sah yah vasati puri, sah Purusha that which lives in the field is Purusha. So you will find in the expression of The Life Divine very often the transcendental has entered into the form, it’s a very important expression. The transcendental, or the Reality or the supreme has entered into the form. Form is not only that which has expanded from itself but he has also entered into it and it is that who rules over it, – Ishwara. He is not only one who dwells in it but also rules over it. He rules over it and who enjoys it, because its very nature is delight. In expansion he is joyful, in dwelling in the form he is joyful, in ruling he is joyful. Like Shri Krishna moving about everywhere mischievously, because he rules over the world and nothing beyond him, so you might say he is like a dictator, fiat, moving about anywhere, any problem that you propose to Him, gets a solution to it, so it’s a quality of the Ishwara – who is Lord of everything. You go to Him and say give me this, He will give you, tathastu, because He can give it and nobody else can give. That is why it is said: who are you begging to in this world, those who can never give, why don’t you go to Him, He is the only one who can give. Why Gopis should go after Him is because He is the only one who can give them what they want, nobody else can give anything, only He can give and that is the highest teaching actually; the highest secret.

As Sri Aurobindo says, if one knows how to be profited in this world, he should see only one thing – don’t go about begging here, that is all we are doing in this world, they are begging in the world and begging of those who can never give. You beg of Him, who can give really, He is Ishwara, He himself is the expanding power, He is all. He is the true joy; that is why the first sentence of the Ishopanishad, Ishavasyam idam sarvam yat kinchit jagatyam jagat, all that is in the world is the habitation for the Lord. Actually we are thinking we are actually habiting but it is vasya, it is not vasati, vasya, this is the whole world for the habitation, it’s not the habitation, all this is here is for the habitation of the Lord. Therefore if you want to enjoy, leave it to Him, ten tyaktena bhunjitha. Therefore if you really want to enjoy, you leave it to Him, give everything to Him that is the only secret of enjoyment, otherwise you will never enjoy anything, unless you do that and it is His property. So you are coveting everything but actually it is His. So why do you want to covet His property? When you give it up to Him, everything is yours. This is the concept in the Upanishad, this is the concept in the Veda and this is the concept in what is called Vedanta. All Vedanta describes Reality as the essence, which can expand and expands and therefore He is all, He is in all – Purusha, and He rules over all being Ishwara. So He is described as Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara. And these three words are used in the Upanishads very carefully. But because we do not know the essential meaning of each one, we take them to be interchangeable, in a sense they are, but if you want to have specific meaning of each then you should say this Reality is essence, which expands into all, which dwells into all and which Lords over all; this is the nature of the Ultimate Reality and this is the omnipresent Reality. And this is what Sri Aurobindo describes here in the first paragraph, I will read again.

An omnipresent Reality is the truth of all life and existence whether absolute or relative, whether corporeal or incorporeal, whether animate or inanimate, whether intelligent or unintelligent; and in all its infinitely varying and even constantly opposed self-expressions, from the contradictions nearest to our ordinary experience to those remotest antinomies which lose themselves on the verges of the Ineffable, the Reality is one and not a sum or concourse. From that all variations begin, in that all variations consist, to that all variations return.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual

Now this word ‘all variations begin’ is a very important expression. Reality is one and therefore in the ordinary sense, it is the same. You might say Reality is one therefore the same. If it is one and the same then it has no principle variation but if you examine all the variations, you find nothing but that. As we have said yesterday, seven rays are nothing but that very white light, it is the same and yet all variations start from it. It is the same, it is one and yet all. It is the same and yet many.

Now these seem to be contradictions, that’s why Sri Aurobindo says: all the antinomies are all reconciled and they all become one, such is the nature of Reality. In fact on this subject there has been a tremendous debate in the whole history of philosophy. If Reality is transcendental, how can it be ever immanent? If it is transcendental, how can it be all, not only immanent, how can it be itself all. If it is one how can it be all, if it is one how can it be many, if it is inactive how can it be active, if it is existent how can it be non-existent, if it is free how can it be bound, these are all antinomies. And as we have said yesterday, if white light is seven colours, if that is the nature of it, although by words they seem to be opposite of each other but actually they are not opposite of each other. One and many are not opposite of each other because when we say Reality is one, what do we mean? What is the word-meaning of the word one? Is it one which is more than zero and less than two, then it can’t be many? If by one we mean, one figure, this is one, it can’t be many. But is that the meaning that we attend to the one? When I say it is essence, what is the meaning of essence? If you reflect on the idea of essence, you find essence can be the essence only if it is more than essence. Very concept of essence means, the word essence has a meaning only if there is more than essence. So the very notion of essence itself says it is not one, it is more than one. Such is the very nature of Reality, therefore one and all are not opposite of each other. Essence of all is one, is the same, is that essence – Brahman, but it is also that which his all. The two words seem to be opposite in our language but you must define or you must try to find another language that Sri Aurobindo says that to be able to describe Vedanta, you require a different language, this language that you are using is not at all applicable to it.

You see very beautiful, if you open 2ndchapter, of the 2nd volume, the 2nd paragraph of this chapter, in the middle. “In order to express this experience or this idea with any nearness a language has to be created which is at once intuitively metaphysical and revealingly poetic, admitting significant and living images as the vehicle of a close, suggestive and vivid indication, – a language such as we find hammered out into a subtle and pregnant massiveness in the Veda and the Upanishads. In the ordinary tongue of metaphysical thought we have to be content with a distant indication, an approximation by abstractions, which may still be of some service to our intellect, for it is this kind of speech which suits our method of logical and rational understanding; but if it is to be of real service, the intellect must consent to pass out of the bounds of a finite logic and accustom itself to the logic of the Infinite.”

So this is the condition on which we use these words ‘Reality is one and then say it can’t be all’, what do you mean by it? By one, we do not mean one that is more than zero and less than two, that’s not the meaning of one when we say that it is essence, by one we mean essence. Reality is not merely essence, it is always more than essence then only we can say it is essence. There is a beautiful sentence of Plato where he says: Reality far exceeds essence in dignity and power. This is one of the best definitions of Reality that you find in Plato. ‘Reality far exceeds essence, both in dignity and power’. If by essence we mean the pure existence then power is Chit and dignity is Ananda. So it means that Plato describes Reality as Sachchidananda, exceeds essence, essence is existence Sat, both in power and dignity. Power means is a word which we use in India also is Chit-Shakti, and dignity is fundamentally a word of Ananda. All dignity is aishwarya; all aishwarya is enjoyment, power of enjoyment. One who may be living in a big palace but does not enjoy, it is not aishwarya element, aishwarya is power of enjoyment, ananda. One who enjoys the ananda. So aishwarya is dignity, so Plato uses his own terms and he says Reality far exceeds essence, it is essence but it far exceeds the essence and that is the meaning of essence, essence means that always exceeds it, both in power and dignity. So you might say Plato ultimately after all the searching of the ocean of the world, he ultimately comes to realise that Reality is essence, dignity and power – is Sachchidananda. So this very word Sachchidananda itself is a complex term, it’s not a simple term, sat, chit and ananda three are clubbed together, this is the marvel of the Sanskrit language, it created a language in which three words are put together. It is acceptable in Sanskrit language to speak of Sachchidananda. Even the word Brahma for example, I told you, the very word Brahman means that which is essence and that which expands, both the meanings are involved in the very word Brahman. Therefore as Sri Aurobindo says that Upanishad discovered such words, which have this complex meaning, but in other languages when you say that Reality is one, we immediately say it can’t be many. If you were to say Reality is essence, not one, don’t say essence, one, you just say it is essence then you can say it can be many there can be variation, because essence remains the same in spite of variations that is the meaning of essence. So variation is not opposed to essence. Alright, so it is that in which all variations, the word variation is very important. The entire design of the world, that is what I was saying, we are trying to find out what is the design of the world? Having done so far we have found out that there is one essence in all variations, all variations start from that Reality. There is a Reality, which you cannot describe either as existence nor is non-existence, nor as one, nor as many, nor as one, nor as all and yet it is all, it is liberty, it is such a freedom, it is bound neither by freedom nor by bondage. If it is only liberty, it is bound only to liberty, if it is incapable of bondage, it means it cannot be bound; therefore that limitation exists in him. If he is truly free that even if he is bound, he still remains free, then only he can really be free. If he is only free and can never become bound, then there is also a limitation. So such is the reality, such is the omnipresent Reality that we see all around. When it is said in the Vedantic yoga, you should contemplate on the Brahman, so what is contemplation? What is meditation on Brahman? This first paragraph is the meditation on Brahman. Meditation means all ideas which are connected with a subject, the subject must be the same one in all meditation, meditation is all concentration. When different ideas pertaining to the same subject are all woven together and put together, processed by which all the ideas relevant to that subject are woven together and fixed on that object that is meditation. So when we say, we have to contemplate on the Brahman, how shall we contemplate on the Brahman, this is the definition, this is the contemplation, you might say the first paragraph is the contemplation, dhyana on the Ultimate Reality. An omnipresent Reality, I will repeat again because this is dhyana, in dhyana you can repeat the same words, same words, again and again then only it becomes fixed. “An omnipresent Reality is the truth of all life and existence whether absolute or relative, whether corporeal or incorporeal, whether animate or inanimate, whether intelligent or unintelligent; and in all its infinitely varying and even constantly opposed self-expressions, from the contradictions nearest to our ordinary experience to those remotest antinomies which lose themselves on the verges of the Ineffable, the Reality is one and not a sum or concourse. From that all variations begin, in that all variations consist, to that all variations return. All affirmations are denied only to lead to a wider affirmation of the same Reality. All antinomies confront each other in order to recognise one Truth in their opposed aspects and embrace by the way of conflict their mutual Unity.”

One of the great antinomies in the world is Reality as spaceless and timeless and Reality as space and time. This is one of the antinomies, Reality is timeless and spaceless and yet you say Reality is all time and all space. The two are opposed to each other. And yet it is by these antinomies, you try to express that Reality. If Reality is only space and time, it can’t be ultimate, it is limited, if it is only timeless and spaceless incapable of space and time, it is also limited. If you want to say it is the omnipresent, all Reality without any limitation whatsoever, you have got to say it is spaceless and timeless, it is space and time, then only you have given a good definition. So all antinomies are all surpassed in that Reality, that which is the cause, that which itself is uncaused, cause of all and itself uncaused is another antinomy. It is the cause of all but itself uncaused. It is free, it is bound then only it is beyond freedom and beyond bondage, then it is truly free. It is unity and yet more than unity. If it is only unity, it is a whole, but unity has got to be more than unity. The wholeness is achieved because it is the same principle which is manifested in the whole; therefore the starting point must be more than that. So it is unity and more than unity. If you really think quite clearly there is no self-contradiction. It is only when we limit our self and use our words as if they are chains, fetters, of our thoughts then only there is a difficulty.

All metaphysical battles as Sri Aurobindo says are verbal, if you try to look behind the words and try to see what they really want to indicate, quarrels will cease. What is the basic argument of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta? This is also Advaita Vedanta. Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is also Advaita Vedanta; Shankara’s is also called Advaita Vedanta. What is the difference? According to Shankara, Reality being one, it can never be all. Why, because it is one. Reality is one therefore it cannot be many. How can it be? If it is one, it can’t be many, it is very clear. Therefore it says Shankara’s philosophy is logically pure, impeccable. Why? Because it says very clearly that if it is one, it can’t be many. If it is one, it can’t be all. And who can deny this proposition, logically and yet it is faulty on two grounds. First of all it defines one as a piece of wood, which cannot be many. If it is a piece of wood, if one means piece of wood then of course you can say, it can’t be many but if it is not a piece of wood, if its essence then why should variations not arise out of this? Therefore that logic is what Sri Aurobindo calls finite logic. It is a logic which is true of finite objects. There you can argue, if it is only one article, it can’t be two; one pebble cannot be two, unless you bring another pebble and add to it then only it can become two. But this is Krishna who can become Radha himself. He himself is anya, such is the nature of reality. So even though it is said that Shankara’s philosophy is logical, you can see that when you go into the depth of it, it ceases to be logical. Not only that but the second difficulty of his logic is that even though he says Reality being one can’t be all, he admits all exists. He is obliged to admit because multiplicity is seen everywhere. First of all he says, all exists, you cannot deny it. But since all can never have existed and yet it exists, it means there must be something wrong, it must be an illusion. He does not deny all, he does not deny many. He believes that jiva, – the individual is a fact, multiplicity is a fact. Therefore he calls it vyavaharika satta, all this is a fact and he does not deny vyavaharika satta, a practical reality, he does not deny but ultimately it is not. Therefore it is an illusion. Therefore he gives an example of a rope and snake. To the bewildered man the snake is there, only when he is awakened, he finds it is only rope but he has seen the snake, hallucinatory he has seen the snake. Similarly he says you do see that but you see multiplicity. Actually multiplicity doesn’t exist. What you see is only the Reality. Now therefore, it may have to say that Shankracharya, although Advaitin, is obliged to accept two things, – ultimate reality and that which appears to be an illusion. So reality is two-fold not pure Advaita, he is obliged to have dualism and therefore contradictory of his own position, Reality is only one. And yet he ends by saying: Reality is two, – one which is illusory Reality and one which is real Reality, so it means there is dualism therefore logically is untenable. There are two mistakes in his philosophy, although they are supposed to be logically most impeccable and yet impeccable because he says very clearly in any case one can’t be many, one can’t be all, impeccable logic. But then he has got to say, all exists because of the fact you are perceiving all, how can you say, no. You see that it is many, here you do find individuals x, y, z, not only all, seeing flowers and creatures and mountains but also individuals, who are in quest and there is a tremendous feeling – I am bound, I am bound, I am bound. Such human beings do exist, that is the meaning of individuals. Individual by definition is a particular, who has a sense of being bound. This one doesn’t have, it also is a particular, it does not have the sense it is bound but you and I are also particulars but we have the sense that we are bound. For this chapter it is very necessary to read Shankara’s philosophy, although faulty, so I will take your permission to read two or three paragraphs which are given in The Life Divine itself, which I consider to be the most authentic explanation of Shankara’s philosophy. There is a chapter called Reality and the Cosmic Illusion.

In the philosophy of Shankara one feels the presence of a conflict, an opposition which this powerful intellect has stated with full force and masterfully arranged rather than solved with any finality,—the conflict of an intuition intensely aware of an absolute transcendent and inmost Reality and a strong intellectual reason regarding the world with a keen and vigorous rational intelligence. The intellect of the thinker regards the phenomenal world from the standpoint of the reason; reason is there the judge and the authority and no suprarational authority can prevail against it: but behind the phenomenal world is a transcendent Reality which the intuition alone can see; there reason—at least a finite dividing limited reason—cannot prevail against the intuitive experience, it cannot even relate the two, it cannot therefore solve the mystery of the universe. The reason has to affirm the reality of the phenomenal existence, to affirm its truths as valid; but they are valid only in that phenomenal existence. This phenomenal existence is real because it is a temporal phenomenon of the eternal Existence, the Reality: but it is not itself that Reality and, when we pass beyond the phenomenon to the Real, it still exists but is no longer valid to our consciousness; it is therefore unreal. Shankara takes up this contradiction, this opposition which is normal to our mental consciousness when it becomes aware of both sides of existence and stands between them; he resolves it by obliging the reason to recognise its limits, in which its unimpaired sovereignty is left to it within its own cosmic province, and to acquiesce in the soul’s intuition of the transcendent Reality and to support, by a dialectic which ends by dissolving the whole cosmic phenomenal and rational-practical edifice of things, its escape from the limitations constructed and imposed on the mind by Maya. The explanation of cosmic existence by which this is brought about seems to be—or so we may translate it to our understanding, for there have been different expositions of this profound and subtle philosophy,—that there is a Transcendence which is for ever self-existent and immutable and a world which is only phenomenal and temporal. The eternal Reality manifests itself in regard to the phenomenal world as Self and Ishwara. The Ishwara by his Maya, his power of phenomenal creation, constructs this world as a temporal phenomenon, and this phenomenon of things which do not exist in the utterly Real is imposed by Maya through our conceptive and perceptive consciousness on the superconscient or purely self-conscient Reality. Brahman the Reality appears in the phenomenal existence as the Self of the living individual; but when the individuality of the individual is dissolved by intuitive knowledge, the phenomenal being is released into self-being: it is no longer subject to Maya and by its release from the appearance of individuality it is extinguished in the Reality; but the world continues to exist without beginning or end as the Mayic creation of the Ishwara.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality and the Cosmic Illusion

This is the best exposition in a few lines; everything that Shankara has said, is masterfully expounded. If it is un understandable you should say it is un understandable because that is the very nature of that philosophy, – it is un understandable. Let us try to understand as much as we can. Anyone who has studied Shankara will find, for my M.A, I had specialisation for Shankara’s philosophy, and I was struggling to expound Shankara’s philosophy, but when I read this paragraph, I found I had no other better way of expounding Shankara’s philosophy. Now let me try to explain the marvel of this whole issue.

Sri Aurobindo says that Shankara’s philosophy can be described as a philosophy of Advaita. Secondly it can be stated to be a philosophy of mayavada, or a theory which expounds the origin of the universe in Maya, therefore it is mayavada. It is Advaita because it says that Reality is only one. Then you might say according to Shankara the expression what is the ultimate reality is even not admissible, you should say what is reality, not what is ultimate reality because if you say there is a Ultimate Reality, it means there must be something else, although of a lesser order but there must be something other than Ultimate Reality. But if there is only one reality, one without the second and there is nothing else at all, it must be regarded as Reality. What is reality? And yet he admits that you should speak of Ultimate Reality because there is Maya and the one reality which exists is other than Maya; not only other than Maya but is the source of Maya, therefore Ultimate Reality. So you can justify when we speak of Ultimate Reality in Shankara’s philosophy. And yet you have to say Shankara admits only one Reality. Now this itself is a kind of a perplexing statement, but as Sri Aurobindo says, you cannot avoid this perplexity because that is what he ultimately says. It is like saying: look there are two things, only one, he starts by saying, look there are two things then he says not even only, – one thing. There is a state of consciousness, where you find that this world palpably exists; he admits that there is an experience where this world palpably exists. There is the world of multiplicity which he calls prapancha, this whole world is prapancha, repetition of fivefold reality, pancha mahabhutas, so prapancha, nothing but repetition of pancha mahabhutas everywhere. Whole world is prapancha. There is not only all, there is not only all, all is nothing but a sum or concourse of all particulars. This world is nothing but particulars. Everything in the world, this flower, everything is particular; sum of all is the world. Among these there are some individuals who say: I am bound, I am bound, I am bound. Therefore there is not only all but there are many, see it’s very interesting that these two words are used in philosophy – all and many and what is the distinction? All refers to everything that is in the world, every particular in the world because the world consists only of particulars, everything that we see is particular. But among these particulars some experience that they are bound and there is a large number of such people, therefore they are called many. So all and many exist, they are undeniable. So the first starting point is that this is the world of all particulars put together and in this world there are many individuals, – jivas. He uses the word jiva also because his Vedantic philosophy, and in Vedantic philosophy you must remember is a commentary on a sutra, which is called Bāḍarāyaṇa Sutra, Vedanta Sutra. And Bāḍarāyaṇa Sutra has been interpreted by all the acharyas, who are also in conflict with each other. That is to say there is a book which is called Vedanta Sutra. This Vedanta Sutra is nothing but a statement of the summary of Upanishads but given in aphoristic terms. Aphoristic terms means they are very short sentences, which you cannot normally understand without a commentary. So there is a book called Vedanta Sutra, which was composed by a philosopher called Bāḍarāyaṇa, who was an authority on Vedanta. In other words who was the authority of what is contained in the Upanishads because Upanishads are called Vedanta. But this Vedanta Sutra is not Upanishad itself. It contains in aphoristic terms the summary and the substance and pith of the Upanishads. Now this Bāḍarāyaṇa Vedanta is the most celebrated work in Indian philosophy. All those who want to understand Upanishads, they try to understand through this Vedanta Sutra. But as I said sutra itself is aphoristic, you cannot easily understand it. Therefore in India there has arisen a series of commentaries on this. Now all the philosophers who have made commentaries on this Vedanta Sutra are all called acharyas and they are all called Vedantins. And five of them are very important ones and each one of them differs from the other. There is Shankracharya, acharya called Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Vallabhacharya, Nimbarkacharya. And then there is a final, is Sri Chaitanya, who is not called acharya but he is also a great Vedantin. He gave his own sixth interpretation. Now in the Vedanta Sutra the following words are used always, – Brahman, Ishwara, Maya, Avidya, Jiva and illusion, these words have been used. Therefore in all these philosophies there has got to be commentary upon these six words. So in Shankara’s philosophy also the word Jiva is used and he has his own commentary on the word Jiva. According to him the word Jiva means that individual who is the agent and the knower. The other particulars are not agents and knower’s. It’s a question only about these individuals, particulars, – we who are all particulars and our special characteristic is that we are knower’s and agents of action. Somehow we always feel responsible to life’s witness, sense of responsibility. Because I am the agent of action, I can deny action and I can do the action, and I am the knower. I can cognise objects. Animals have cognition but they don’t know they are cognising. We know we are cognisors, it’s a speciality of the individuals. So Jiva is characterised by the quality of the agent of action and as the knower.

Now such individuals exist, you cannot deny, it’s a fact. You and I, we constantly know and act, we know it very well, nobody can deny it. That’s why Sri Aurobindo says: it is an experience of the reason that this world is present to us, there are Jivas also, it is undeniable. As Sri Aurobindo says the reason this is undeniable but when you enter into a supreme experience of Reality, all this exists but they are invalid. It’s a very subtle statement. These things are still seen but invalid. It’s an accurate description of Shankara’s philosophy. It does not say things evaporate. The prapancha is seen, you see mountains and rivers and human beings floating about, fleeting about but they are not found to be valid; when you ask what is the difference between that which is and yet which is not valid, so he says: swapna. Swapna is that which is seen but vanishes when you are awake, it’s no more valid. Now you may say that it is not only like swapna, because swapna is only analogically true, because I see all these things not in swapna avastha , I see all in visuals, physical, in waking state, I see all this. So he says it exists but as vyavaharika. Vyavaharika means that I can deal with them, I can walk on the road, I can talk to people, I can observe the things for my practical affairs, I can transact with them; but ultimately when I go into that state of consciousness, which is paramarthika, param artha, – parmarthik is param artha. When I go to that state which is parama, where highest fulfilment is obtained, therefore parmarthik, Artha means the end, – ultimate object. So when the ultimate end or object is realised there I find this world still exists but it is invalid, I don’t find any meaning at all. It is somewhat like, when you are in a film, cinema show going on and you remember something happening in your house, what is happening in the house is quite dreamy, what is very vivid is what is happening in the story before your eyes. That which is there and when you come out of the cinema show, the cinema show seems to be all melting away and your home again becomes very, very real. These are two different states of consciousness, which we all have experienced. So he says when you go to the parmarthik satta, all this is there but there is no meaning, no validity. So that which is there but not valid is itself in the epistemology very important category.

Normally in epistemology that which exists must be also valid. That which exists, really exists but that which exists and yet it doesn’t have validity, it’s a very special category. And Shankara says that there is a category and he introduces a new category. In the whole philosophical history he has introduced a new category – experience of fact, which is not valid. Anyway, this is the position that he says is of this whole world, there I am no more seeking. Uptil now I was seeking, I was thinking I was bound but there I have found, so how can I be seeking. What I have now found, all seeking ceases. What I was seeing I am bound, even bondage ceases, there is no bondage, nothing, no bounds, at all now. Ego fails, it no more exists, I don’t recognise myself.

So according to Shankara in that experience not only that I cease to be bound but I find I was never bound. One more step, that reality, when I really see it was never bound, that which was invalid in my experience, that was bound but that reality was never bound and that reality was never seeking to be free, it was always free. That one which I was seeking is invalid.

At that time the world also as it was there, is there but is no more valid and ultimately you can withdraw from it to such an extent forever and ever and go to the inactive reality, where there is no prapancha at all, activity at all. It is a pure luminosity, complete quietude. Inactive Brahman is a real experience and such is the reality. Now this is all that is Shankara’s basic philosophy, now having done this two or three questions remain for Shankara to answer. This world, prapancha is certainly present to all of us, you give to it parmarthik satta distinguished from it to vyavaharika satta; you say it is vyavaharika satta, satta means existing. So it is not something not existing, it exists but vyavaharik, only for practical purposes, it exists. So the question is to explain how this vyavaharik world came to exist? If you at all say it exists, if you say it never existed, it does not exist, you never saw it then there is no question of extending it. But Shankara does admit that this world exists, although ultimately found to be invalid but it exists. If it exists the question is how did it come to exist?

So his answer is that there is a power, that power is called Maya and that power creates this world. This is one answer, now you ask further. Where is this Maya? It must be in the Brahman because Brahman is the only Reality. So the answer is Maya is in the Brahman. Logically he has got to answer, if Maya, even for temporary beings, creates this world, it must have somewhere locus of it. So he admits Maya is in Brahman and he admits that all this world is nothing but which has a source in Brahman. He does not deny it, because how can you deny it, only one Reality, you have got to say that this world comes out of Brahman.

Who is individual, who is bound, all that struggling, you and I trying to find out Shankara’s philosophy, trying to deliberate it, who are we? So he says: we all individuals have two parts, – body, life and mind and there is a Jiva. Jiva identifies itself with body, life and mind; this is what he calls adhyasa. Super imposition of body, life and mind on the Jiva is called adhyasa. How does it come to do adhyasa, it is not itself the body, life and mind. But how does it come to superimpose? It must have power to superimpose that power by which super imposition is made is called avidya. Avidya is ignorance; there is a power of ignorance. It’s a power, which creates body, life and mind in that respect it is Maya, it creates body, life and mind. All body, life and mind is actually created as parts in the world, prapancha. So avidya participates like Maya, it is the same as Maya, creates body, life and mind. Then it does the second task, not only creates but superimposes body, life and mind on Jiva, it projects and superimposes. It is a creative power; it is a power of superimposition, – that is avidya. Not only that but this power avidya, not only superimposes body, life and mind on Jiva but even superimposes the whole world on the Reality, not only Jiva but also on the Reality. Body, life and mind are superimposed on my Jiva but the whole world I superimpose on the Reality. Therefore when I look about in the whole world, I don’t see the Reality, I only see prapancha and as far as my body, life and mind are concerned, they are superimposed on myself, therefore I don’t see myself actually, I am ignorant of myself, I am Jiva.

Now what happens further, when I am awakened and there is a long process of awakening and what is the process of awakening? I must first study Vedanta, it’s a method of awakening, you may also call it Shruti, I hear. You must have the hearing of the word Brahma, and you must create in you the desire to know the Brahman, therefore Vedanta Sutra begins with atha Brahma jigaysa, start with this, I begin with this, I want to know the Brahman then, I learn Vedanta and I find that this world, I find myself all the time thinking is due to ignorance, I am ignorant, it’s another awakening, all this. As long as you are really ignorant, you don’t even suspect you are ignorant. I was in the beginning not even suspecting that I am ignorant. But now when I read the Vedanta, I become awakened that I am ignorant and because of ignorance I see all multiplicity and all all. Actually speaking there is only one Reality – Brahman, which is one without the second, luminous, which is Sachchidananda, absolutely quiet. This is what I come to learn. So first of all I learn it, in the form of thought – vichara. Now this vichara is first of all a vichara, which dwells upon discrimination. I now come to see that this Brahman is different from all that I see, so viveka is the first and fundamental thing to do that is why Shankaracharya wrote a book called Vivekachuramani – you discriminate between the Brahman, which is one and the world, which is multiple. Brahman is unborn and Jiva he thinks I am born and Jiva which believes I am body, life and mind; whereas there is nobody born and there is no body, life and mind and nothing to superimpose; all this is grasped in my thought. Now this grasp is to be considered, manana, shravana to be followed by manana. Between sravana and manana, all this vichara, power of vichara, viveka is involved, then you think about it, manana. You sit down every day and say: I am not the body, I am not the life, I am not the body, I am not the life, I am not the mind, I am not the ego. This is negative, I am the Brahman, I am the Brahman, I am the Brahman, repeat manana, constantly repeat, also repeat this world is a superimposition upon the Brahman. This world does not exist, this world is not the Brahman, discriminate between this world and the Brahman, then say Brahman is not this world, this world is not the Brahman, constantly reflect upon it, then nididhyasana, go on and on and on, all the time remain meditating upon it constantly, nididhyasana then it promises; if you do it, you will have by this very process one day all this will disappear, all this will be found to be valid. This is the promise of Yoga, it does happen. This is verified, if you follow this method, this is a method, if you follow this method a day will come, when you will be awakened and you will find you are no more body, life and mind and no more in this world. This world doesn’t exist; you may see the world, no more valid, what is valid is only stupendous silence, – nishabda, wordless silence. For some time you may say that all this is invalid and therefore you say this is unreal, at a higher stage you may say it is tuccha, trifle, it is another higher state in which you say it is all tuccha, all trifle. At a still higher level you say, it is not there at all, there is no more reference to it even, if it does not exist, how can you refer to it? Then if you ask the question: how did all this come about? Answer is whatever answers I had given earlier are all to be cancelled. How can the Brahman which is absolutely stupendous silence, how can it be Maya? Maya doesn’t exist, therefore to say that all this came out of Maya; this answer is to be cancelled. You may not even cancel it but there is no need for it, it’s not there at all, so what is it to be cancelled? But earlier you said Maya, when? It’s only eternity here; there was no time when Maya existed, no time when you asked this question, no time when I answered this question. If you still insist I have to say: my dear friend, it can’t be explained, it is inexplicable. A philosophy which aims at explaining, ultimately answers it is inexplicable. This world could never come into existence, it has never come into existence, it has never come into existence, yet it stares at you, therefore you can say this world is inexplicable, adhyasa is inexplicable, your Jiva hood is inexplicable, your seeking of freedom is inexplicable, it never existed, none is bound, none to be freed, it is only ever free Brahman and there is no other answer possible, can you give any other answer, there is no other answer possible. This, you might say, is Shankara’s philosophy, whether it satisfies or not satisfies but this is all that can be said at the most.