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Friday, October 2, 2015

DUALISM IN MONOTHEISM

I had faced a peculiar situation, on many occasions of my life. It usually happens in the midst of a conversation with friends. My certain friends will opine that ‘they believe in God very well, but not in Ghost/Witch/Demon’. After presenting their view they simply abandon that topic, refusing further discussion. Many a time, I had come up with an explanation. But nobody heeded me.

The doubt I try to raise in front of my friends was ‘If somebody can believe in the existence and activities of god, then, why can’t he believe in the existence and activities of a ghost or demon?

God is a supernatural agency. He is not bound by the limitations that the Nature presents to the common man. Instead He can do everything. His realm of activities and thought is beyond human comprehension. He is said to be the controller of nature. Thus there are many credits with him. Overwhelmed by these all, people believe and worship him. They think that God can do miracles to save them in their bad times… Ok. Let it be so. But…

The ethical angle of the problem:-

In every religion God is supposed to be utmost justful. He keeps high morality. He sets the moral rules for the devotees. Devotees are obliged to follow them rigidly. Those who deviate from the moral rules set forth by the god are destined to suffer its consequences in this world or in after life. Such are the common ethical concept. This in turn installs a duality in the religious belief.

When god guides the followers through the moral path, set forth by him, there automatically arises its opposite view, i.e. immorality. If there is ‘I’, then ‘Non-I’ is natural and both cannot be true at the same time, as per law of contradiction. When ethics exists, then un-ethics also exist. In the same way, if there is a supernatural agency which possess or imposes ethics exists, then there should be a super natural agency which possess or imposes un-ethics also must exist. These both ethical and unethical supernatural agencies usually exist at the same level, beyond the reach of human intellect[1].

So in every religion god, who imposes morality among his followers, accompanies a ‘villain god’, commonly known as demon/ghost, who continuously tries to deflect god’s followers from the ethical path. Whichever devotee follows the moral path set up by the god must also fear the non-ethical villain god, demon. Both god and demon can’t stand independently from each other[2]. It is the ethical part that clearly discerns the god from demon. Apart from the ethical and compassion level, both are almost at same level in their capabilities.

The ethical god constantly keeps his followers in vigil against the un-ethical tactics of his counterpart. What actually exists there is a kind of dualism; belief in the existence of a god and also demon, both are not bound by the natural limitations. Thus in monotheism there may be only a god, but not one and only one supernatural agency. Instead there are two or multiple[3] supernatural agencies. Among this multitude of supernatural agencies one is supposed to be god, another demon and the rest angels or spirits etc. The difference between them lies in the degree of power and quality attributed to them by the worshipper. 

In a strict mono supernatural agency worship god - demon, ethic – unethic division is impossible2. Existence and belief in two or more entities, like god – demon, having super natural abilities inherently carries dualistic or pluralistic notion. And during worship, a devotee should believe in both. If either of them is absent, then the second one losses its importance. If the world is full of ethics, which won’t lose in anyway, then why should there be a god, who imposes ethics upon the people, is needed? So a god - demon roles are complimentary, and nobody can believe solely in one of them only.  

Atheistic viewpoint:-

An atheist considers monotheism and polytheism in the same level. Inclusion of monotheism and polytheism in the same category is not at all a contradiction for them. They usually ask “if somebody believe in a single super natural agency, like god, then why can’t he believe in multiple super natural agencies, like in polytheism?’ What is the core difference between these two theisms? Further more if somebody believe that the demon or demy-god like figures (which stand above the level of human experience or the realm of senses) do exist along with a single god, then how can he blame others for their multi-god worship?

Monotheism and polytheism are in par level for an atheist. And as long as the ethical, un-ethical duality exists, god - demon duality also exists and nobody can escape from this dualistic idea.

Monism and Advaita Vedanta:-

Advaita Vedanta escapes from this dualistic notion, by proposing a single, non-dual Reality, Brahman, and two levels of its existence. First is known as Paramartha Satya, Ultimate truth[4] and second is known as Vyavahara Satya or Relative truth.

Phenomenal world is in relative truth level. God - asura, creation – destruction, sin – virtue and such type dualities exist at this plane of reality. But care should be taken for not to think this dualities as the ultimate. These dualities exist only in the phenomenal world, which is in relative plane of reality. In ultimate reality level there is no duality exists. Single non dual Brahman only exists in the ultimate truth level[5].



[1]  God cannot be the possessor of both ethics and un-ethics. If god has both, then He will automatically become a non-god being the possessor of two contradictory characters.
[2]  If there is only ethic all over the world, then we can’t define the term ‘ethic’ or recognize ethic as ethic. A definition implies negation of the opposite views.
[3]  Multiple super natural agencies may exist in religious beliefs. Angels, spirit, demy -god etc and such type demy-gods are also supernatural agencies. Their prominence with respect to god varies by different degrees. Yet they don’t become a non – super natural agency.
[4]  Ultimate truth/Absolute/infinite Being is a philosophical term for the empirical God and God is a theological name for the philosophical Absolute or ultimate truth.
[5]  In Advaita Vedanta. The abode of the gods is Nirguna Brahman. i.e. the gods which devotees worship daily, are not in the highest reality level. They have importance only in phenomenal world. When a devotee attains Brahma-vidya, he understood the relative nature of the deities and world. He himself becomes one with Brahman then.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New book (in Malayalam) "CHILA ARIYAPPEDATHA EDUKAL"

My new book (in Malayalam).
Autobiographical Notes of Hearing Handicapped person.

To buy copies visit Amazon.in => http://www.amazon.in/dp/9352357825

Front Cover:-



More purchase options will come up in future.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

CONSCIOUSNESS: THE SUBSTRATUM OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Are we seeing the objects around us like plants, animals, rocks, etc because we have eyes? Are we hearing various sounds from the outside world due to our ears? In the same way touch-skin, odour – nose, taste – tongue pairs also should be considered. Common man may answer ‘yes’ to each of this question, and that is correct in certain sense, but only to reach in a more correct answer afterwards. In a deep analysis we may understand that ‘something’ is always supporting our all sensations. We cannot sense even if our sense organs are healthy and working properly. Why a sleeping man does not hear noises around him? Why he not waking up by the moderate touch of others? People may say he is in deep sleep. Yet after waking up, he knew that he was sleeping. He does not sense other’s touches and sounds while sleeping. But he is able to remember a dream that he saw after waking up. Who sensed dream while the man was sleeping? Why did the man not sense touch and sound of others in the way he sensed dreams? Is it his mind that dreamt? Then can the mind exist and function when all of our senses remain idle?

If we analyse the cognitions thoroughly, we can understand that the substratum of our sensations and mental states is nothing but our consciousness. Consciousness works with external organs and internal organ (mind) to sense the external and internal sensations. In our waking state the external organs sense the phenomenal world and pass the sensation to the internal organ (manas). Internal organ passes these sensations to the consciousness, one at a time, avoiding simultaneous perceptions[1]. These are the steps to cognize an external object. In dream, mind conveys some memory impressions to the consciousness and in deep sleep no communication happens at all. Thus all cognitions depend on consciousness. We can’t cognize anything, mental or physical, without having consciousness. So what really exists? The external world or the consciousness?

Here a classification may be applied. On one side we have ‘consciousness’ and on the other, external objects. To sense the latter, we must need the former. In such a scenario, one may interpret the situation in the following manner. If ‘something’ depends on ‘another something’ for its existence/manifestation, or more clearly, if we sense a secondary entity (external world) only through a primary entity (consciousness), then the secondary entity can be said to be the manifestation or modification of the primary entity! In other words, when the existence of something depends solely on another thing, then the latter will have more validity and reality than the former. Then the secondary entity (external world) may not exist as an objective reality independent of the consciousness. Subjective consciousness itself can be said to be the objective external world. Perceiver and perceived is same, we can say. Subject - object classification is not there, ultimately.

This theory that ‘consciousness is the ultimate reality’ can be found prominently in the teachings of the Upanishads, Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism.



[1]  Though not simultaneous, it is said elsewhere that the transfer of perceptions from mind to the consciousness is so fast like a needle piercing each page of a book at a time, when we push the needle into the book.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

THE UPANISHADS AND TEACHING OF SRI BUDDHA - PART 2

Two levels of reality as per Sri Buddha:-

Like Upanishads, Buddha has admitted two levels of the same truth/reality[1] and expressed about them directly or indirectly in certain occasions. Let us quote a frequent claim of Buddha from Brahma Jwala Sutta.

“These, O brethren, are those other things, profound, difficult to realize, hard to understand, tranquillizing, sweet, not to be grasped by mere logic, subtle, comprehensible only by the wise, which the Tathagata, having himself realized and seen face to face, hath set forth; and it is concerning these that they who would rightly praise the Tathagata in accordance with the truth, should speak.[2]

In this Sutta, it is said that there is ‘something’ that is very difficult to understand, beyond the logic and comprehensible only to the wise. This assertion indirectly points to the two levels of the reality. One of them is comprehensible only to the wise and difficult to comprehend by the ‘others’. Buddha has achieved it, as per Brahma jwala sutta. I.e., Buddha has ‘realized[3]’ that, which is difficult to comprehend for the un-wise and who uses logic to apprehend things and theories. So the Buddha was not in the plane of reality in which ‘others’ reside. Buddha is in a higher plane. Then in which plane of reality, the common man, (who are not competent to achieve the reality that Thathagata has achieved) resides. Of course, they will be in a lower plane to which Buddha has achieved. Thus there must be two level of reality[4].

The second proof for the existence of two planes of reality is the indication about the ‘nama-rupa’. The Thathagata had discoursed about nama-rupa (Name and Form) many times. As per this, the objects that we see in the mundane world exist just as nama-rupa. Everything in the world is in constant flux. They are in ‘coming into’ and ‘passing by’ state always. So they have no ultimate existence. They are devoid of essence. Because of these reasons the mundane world is expressible only in name and form (nama-rupa). In the ultimate sense the mundane world is surely in the low plane of reality. Then where is this continuously changing mundane world is rooted? There must be such an ultimate plane of reality upon which the mundane plane exists and here, we again get two planes of ultimate reality[5].

The Upanishads also says that the external world exist as name and form only. Upanishads give a simile for this. There are many things made up of clay like pot, bowl, etc. But we know, the pot and bowl are mere names decided by their form, and the thing by which the pot and bowl were made up of is clay. So clay is the root or substratum of all things that are made up of clay, and by knowing clay we will know the essence of everything made up of clay. This indicates that the cause (clay) and effects (pot, bowl, etc.) are same and the transformation happened to the cause is able to indicate by a name, by noticing the form of transformation. This transformation is known as ‘effect’. In fact, cause is not different from effect. This is the idea narrated in the Chandogya Upanishad between the conversation between Uddhalaka Aruni and his son Svetaketu.

“Through which, the unheard of becomes heard, the un-thought of becomes thought of, the unknown becomes known?’ (Svetaketu asked,) ‘O venerable sir, in what way is that instruction imparted?’

“O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of earth, all things made of earth become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Earth as such is the reality.”

“O good looking one, as by knowing a lump of gold, all things made of gold become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Gold as such is the reality.”

“O good looking one, as by knowing a nail-cutter, all things made of iron become known: All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Iron as such is the reality. O good looking one, thus is that instruction.”

The idea of nama-rupa is mentioned in many other parts of Upanishad collection. It is such a well established doctrine and this also indicates that there are two planes of ultimate reality.

The root of nama-rupa as per Buddhism and the Upanishads:-

Which is the root of nama-rupa, as per Buddhism? This question also answers to another unavoidable question - ‘where the mundane world has its seat?’ In this case, the Upanishads are clear on their stand that Brahman is the substratum of the external world and objects, known by the nama-rupa. According to Buddha, in the Kevaddha sutta, Avidya/ignorance is the root of nama-rupa.

“Once upon a time, Kevaddha, there occurred to a certain brother in this very company of the brethren, a doubt on the following point: “Where now do these four great elements – earth, water, fire, and wind – pass away, leaving no trace behind ?”

The Bhikkhu seeking the answer went to the great kings, king of kings. i.e, Sakka, great gods and finally to the Great Brahma. But everyone was helpless. Then the Great Brahma send the Bhikkhu to the Gotama, the Buddha and the exalted one answers to the Bhikkhu thus:

“Now the question, brother, should not be put as you have put it. Instead of asking where the four great elements cease, leaving no trace behind, you should have asked:

Where do earth, water, fire, and wind,
And long and short, and fine and coarse,
Pure and impure, no footing find?
Where is it that both name and form,
Die out, leaving no trace behind?

On that the answer is: “The intellect of Arhatship, the invisible, the endless, accessible from every side --

‘There is it that earth, water, fire, and wind,
And long and short, and fine and coarse,
Pure and impure, no footing find.
There is it that both name and form
Die out, leaving no trace behind.
When intellection ceases they all also cease.’

Thus spake the Exalted One. And Kevaddha, the young householder, pleased at heart, rejoiced at the spoken word.”

The name and form do not find footing in the ‘Intellect of the Arhatship’ and when intellect ceases, everything cease, Kevaddha Sutta says. So when name and form exists, and so do the external world, its footing should be on the Intellect (which contains ignorance) of common man, before he acquire Arhatship. Here a question arises. What is the specialty of the ‘Intellect of Arhatship’ compared to the intellect of others who have not attained the Arhatship? Obviously both person's Intellect can’t be same. Since the nama-rupa is in mundane world, the nama-rupa must die out in ‘something’, that is trans-mundane. Nama-rupa cannot die out in anything that is not trans-mundane. So the ‘Intellect of the arhatship’ must be transcendental, trans-mundane and beyond the realm of logic and senses.

The mundane world and the objects contained in it are composed of the four primary elements, viz earth, water, fire and air. Kevaddha Sutta says that the four elements do not find their footing in ‘Intellect of Arhatship’. This implies that prior to attaining arhatship, for a bhikkhu, four elements (and mundane world) have their root on the intellect, or on something that co-exist with intellect, of the Bhikkhu. But a Bhikkhu’s intellect is not like the Intellect of the Arhat. The former has the intellect with ignorance co-exists with it. Due to this, the four elements and the mundane world find their foot on the ignorance. However, when the Bhikkhu attains Arhatship, the ignorance cease to exist and only pure intellect shines forth from the Arhat (Bhikkhu). Then the mundane world, nama-rupa and the four elements die out.

This whole discussion means, prior to arhatship attainment Nama-rupa has its root in the ignorance/avidya of the Bhikshu. But Avidya cannot exist alone because it is a dependent factor; an unreal factor. All unreals have to depend on a real. So Avidya must exist with an ultimate reality (Nirvana). When avidya becomes exhausted and die out, then Nama-rupa also cease to exist and only Intellect shines forth then.

What will happen after the mundane world and four elements die out in intellect? We may assume that, from the time of Arhatship achievement, nothing more found their foot on the Intellect (of Arhat). Only pure Intellect shines forth. Arhat experiences / realizes supreme bliss, thereon.

If we replace the ‘Intellect of the Arhatship’ with Consciousness, we will get the doctrine of Upanishads[6]. It is stated in many Upanishads that external world and everything has its existence in Brahman. (The thing to note here is that, when we suppose the Brahman as the substratum of everything, we get an Absolutist theory and when we suppose Intellect as the substratum of everything, we get an Idealistic theory).

“It is this heart (intellect), and this mind that were stated earlier. It is sentience, ruler ship, secular knowledge, presence of mind, retentiveness, sense-perception, fortitude, thinking, genius, mental suffering, memory, ascertainment, resolution, life-activities, hankering, passion, and such others. All these verily are the names of Consciousness.”

“This one is (inferior) Brahman; this god Indra, this is Prajapati; this is all these gods and this is these five great elements, viz earth, air, ether, water, fire; and this is all big creatures…… those that are born of egg, of wombs, of moisture and of the earth, viz horses, cattle, men, elephants, and all creatures that moving or flying, and in addition, whatsoever is immovable: all these are impelled by consciousness; all these have consciousness as the giver of their reality; the universe has consciousness as its eye, and consciousness is its end. Consciousness is Brahman.[7]

In the first stanza it is said that all of the mental phenomena, that falls in the domain of consciousness includes the Intellect[8]. The second stanza says that what all we sees in the world have their root in consciousness, which include the Intellect as per previous sloka.

In the Upanishads Brahman and Intellect are distinguished separately, by Advaitins. But not so, with other Vedantic schools. The above Aitareya sloka have been rendered in a different meaning in some translations.

This god Brahma, and this god Indra, …… these five great elements (earth, air, ether, water, fire), …… creatures born from the egg, from the womb, and from perspiration, sprouting plants, horses, cows, men, elephants, and whatever breaths, whether moving or flying, and in addition, whatsoever is immovable: all this is led by Intellect, and is supported on Intellect. The world is led by Intellect. Intellect is the support. Intellect is the highest reality.[9]

This is a different rendering of meaning from the non-advaitic standpoint and we know that there were different opinions on the exact teaching of the Upanishads as to whether it is professing non-duality or duality. This example indicates that the difference merely did not confine to the non-dual – dual aspect. Instead differences have been cropped into other areas also.

Here we may safely suggest that, Buddha might have been initiated into the Vedic teaching in the early days of his boyhood and studentship because that was the common custom among the nobles. This brings him in touch with the Upanishad doctrine. So there are ample reasons to propose that the Buddha may have substituted the unchanging Consciousness of Upanishads with the Intellect because the ‘unchanging character’ of the former is not in line with his doctrine of dependent origination[10]. Intellect cannot be argued as unchanging, making his theory safe and intact. On the other hand, the Buddha made the consciousness in complementary with the nama-rupa[11].

Anyway there is no hard and fast distinction between the Upanishadic doctrine regarding nama-rupa and Buddha’s doctrine about nama-rupa and its footing on the Intellect. Both are similar in the outlook and the minor difference, if someone feel, are due to the peculiar presentment of the doctrine in the Buddha’s discourse.

Buddha on indestructible consciousness:-

Potthapada Sutta is very interesting in many respects. It comments about the ten uncertainties to which Buddha did not answer and the soul – consciousness theory of the heretics is also touched upon. Then there is interesting long discussion on Consciousness and it states; passing consciousnesses. At the end of the passing consciousnesses Buddha assumes a ‘summit of consciousness’ which will not pass away, instead will remain unaffected.

In Potthapada Sutta, Buddha states several states of consciousness which passes away after the attainment of a higher level consciousness than current one. This process goes on as follows:-

1st, Consciousness due to the detachment[12].
2nd, Consciousness born of concentration[13].
3rd, Concentration of the bliss of equanimity.
4th, Consciousness of the absence of pain and ease.
5th, Consciousness of being only concerned with the infinity of space.
6th, Consciousness of everything being within the sphere of the infinity of cognition.
7th Consciousness of unreality as the object of his thought.

And at the end come the description about the final consciousness, which ends in a trance.

“So from the time, Potthapada, that the Bhikkhu is thus conscious in a way brought about by himself (from the time of the First Rapture), he goes on from one stage to the next, and from that to the next until he reaches the summit of consciousness. And when he is on the summit, it may occur to him: “To be thinking at all is the inferior state. There better not to be thinking. Were I to go on thinking and fancying, these ideas, these states of consciousness, I have reached to, would pass away, but others, coarser ones, might arise. So I will neither think nor fancy anymore.” And he does not. And to him neither thinking any more, nor fancying, the ideas, the states of consciousness, he had, pass away; and no others, coarser than they, arise. So he falls into trance[14]. Thus is it, Potthapada, that the attainment of the cessation of conscious ideas takes place step by step.”

The steps that Buddha described are almost similar to the steps of Yoga and Meditation practice, existed before him, and elaborated by Buddhist masters. In the summit of consciousness, the trance, into which the Bhikkhu falls in, may be akin to the state of Samadhi, as told by Yogins. In the Upanishads, consciousness is equated with Brahman in many places.

This summit of consciousness is not at all akin to the consciousness that is complementary to the nama-rupa. Then, is this akin to the consciousness mentioned in the Upanishads? No way to get an answer because such a question is not touched upon. Not just this question, but in the bulk collection of the discourses, that Buddha had with disciples, the word ‘Upanishads’ is mentioned nowhere!



[1] Corresponding to the Paramarthika and Vyavaharika Satya of Advaita Vedanta.
[2] Ironically enough, in Tevigga Sutta, Sri Buddha says, ‘Because none of the Brahmins have seen the Brahman face to face, how can we believe that there is such an entity?’. This teaching has lost its all weight as he himself says that he realized something which is beyond the grasp of logic and can realize only for the wise. Or was Buddha really criticizing the Upanishadic Brahman in Tevigga Sutta?
[3] Buddha did not achieve this highest truth, instead he realized it. That mean, he did not attain anything from outside to get into this highest level. He just realized something which is already present in him! Upanishads also says everything is divine and we have to ‘realize’ it.
[4] “The teaching of Buddha is based on two truths, the mundane and the ultimate. Those who do not know the distinction between these two truths do not understand the profound meaning in the teaching of the Buddha.” (XXII. 15 6)
[5] The two planes of ultimate reality are mere logical. It is not a real distinction. There are no two levels for the Ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is single.  
[6] In Buddhist Suttas nama-rupa and consciousness are complimentary. One cannot exist without the other.
[7] Aitareya Upanishad. III.i.2-3. (This is a translation from the Advaitic standpoint).
[8] Purely psychological factors are mentioned in the Upanishads.
[9] ‘A history of Indian Philosophy: The creative period’ – S K Belvalker and R D Ranade.
[10] Buddha cannot propose an unchanging consciousness in which nama-rupa find its foot because that will shake his very theory of ‘constant flux’ and ‘momentariness’. Whenever the Buddha talked about consciousness, the Thathagata made consciousness in complimentary with the nama-rupa, without which it cannot exist and sustain, thus keeping his dependent origination theory intact. When we assign intellect as the root of nama-rupa, there is enough gap to escape from the eternalism.
[11] “What must there be , in order that there may be name and material form? Whence come name and material form? – consciousness must be in order that there may be name and material form; from consciousness come name and material form. – What must be there In order that there may be consciousness? Whence comes consciousness? Name and material form must be, in order that there may be consciousness; from name and material form comes consciousness. Then my disciples, the Bodhisatti Vipassi thought: consciousness conversely depends on name and material form: the chain goes no farther.” --- Mahapadhana Sutta, Digha NIkhaya.
[12] “……Then that idea, (that consciousness) of lusts that he had before passes away. And thereupon there arises within him a subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace arising from detachment, and he becomes a person to whom that idea is consciously present.”
[13] “……Then that subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace arising from detachment, that he just had, passes away. And thereupon there arises a subtle, but actual, consciousness of the joy and peace born of concentration.”
[14] Trance means ‘ecstatic delight’.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE UPANISHADS AND TEACHING OF THE SRI BUDDHA - PART 1

Approving or reformulating the theories of the thinkers of anterior period, is not at all a fault of the thinkers or philosophers of the posterior period, because thought development is a continuous and dynamic process. Thought cannot mature within a short span of time. Thought need time to perfect itself. Thought of a single person or a handful of people may develop rapidly at an astonishing pace. But thought of a society or a circle of thinkers cannot progress that much easily. As new ideas arise in the circle/society, supporters and detractor will sprang up here and there. Then there happen vigorous debates and challenges among them. Amidst these heated contests and controversies, the theory or theories that stand high will pass to the next generations. There such theories will undergo the same course of contest and controversies which its predecessor idea/ideas had underwent. This process will continue endlessly unless the culture or civilization never interrupted by an internal or external disasters. And fortunately Indian civilization, culture and philosophy are unaltered since its inception and have not succumbed to any external threats so far. It successfully overcame every obstacles posed by the detractors.

All of the Indian philosophical streams are not exclusive to each another. But in fact, they are in a mesh. They are interrelated in the most natural way because they have co-existed and co-operated since the dawn of Indian civilization. They had undergone severe debates with one another to test the calibre and agility of their doctrine. Though this debates, they came to realize the weak and strong points of their own system and in order to fix the drawbacks of the system, they have not refused to accept certain contents of the opposite theories, into their own system. Then a synthesis follows. This is a common trend existed in the Indian philosophic circle. Common ideas are to be found in every philosophic doctrine. The differences between them, being minor, did not damage the underlying unity of the Indian philosophical systems.

It is often believed that Sri Buddha totally despised the Vedic teaching and set up a new religion[1]. But to say, Buddha set up a new religion, is totally baseless. Of course Buddha vehemently opposed the sacrificial outlook of certain Vedic rituals, but at the same time he was very much inclined to the knowledge based portions and teachings of that Vedic collection known as ‘The Upanishads’. Buddha has not uttered even a word against the Upanishads. In fact, most of the Buddha’s teaching and doctrines can be traced back to the Upanishads. Both the Upanishads and Buddha were similar in their opposition to certain ritualistic practices and the main doctrine of Upanishads being ‘tatvamasi’, do not draw strict boundary between different varnas[2].

As we see in the following pages, many of the teachings of Sri Buddha are derived from the Upanishads. It is quite non-controversial because nobody can formulate a full-fledged doctrine, like that of Sri Buddha, which has no anterior existence, either in part or full, in the other religious or secular texts. In fact, Sri Buddha explained the teachings of Upanishads in a new outlook and terminology. The core teaching of Buddha is almost akin to the Upanishads teachings. 

Dependent origination (Pratitya-samutpada):-

Sri Buddha always tried to avoid giving affirmative or negative answers to certain (metaphysical) questions in order to avoid the extremes of eternalism and annihilationism, and to walk strictly through the Middle Way. As an example, for the question ‘Does the self exist after death or does it not exist?’, Buddha gave a thick silence as the reply because he knew that if he give ‘Yes’, it will interpret as promoting the ‘Eternalism’. On the other hand, if he give ‘No’, he will be promoting the annihilation theory. So he remained silent.

Buddha knew that what all exist in this mundane world, does not exist ultimately, and also, they did not non-exist totally. Then what is happening to them? The answer of Buddha was ‘they change from one state to another state continuously’. In other words, they are always ‘becoming’. Depending on the previous conditions, new one arises. And after that another one arises. In short, everything in the mundane world is in dependent nature and thus devoid of ultimate existence. They are expressible only in Name and Form (nama-rupa). This was the position of Buddha regarding the mundane world. He always tread through the Middle Way, which effectively denied eternal and annihilation theories.

Among Upanishads, the famous ‘Madhu vidya’ is in the oldest Brihadaranyaka Upanishad[3]. It is taught by the sage Dydhyach[4]. Though this teaching is elaborate in the Upanishad, this doctrine’s origin is in Rigveda. ‘Madhu-vidya’ teaching is multifarious. But the main theme is that, everything in the world is interconnected with one another. Let us quote from the commentary of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Sankaracharya.

“Because there is mutual helpfulness among the parts of the universe including the earth, and because it is common experience that those things which are mutually helpful spring from the same cause, are of the same genus and dissolve into the same thing, therefore this universe consisting of the earth etc., on account of mutual helpfulness among .its parts, must be like that. This is the meaning which is expressed in this section…[5]

Another learned scholar comments upon Madhu-vidya as follows:-

“…… Sage Dadhyach who is introduced in the Brihadaranyaka, as having held the doctrine of the mutual interdependence of things, because all of them are indissolubly connected in and through the Self. To quote from the ‘History of Indian Philosophy Volume II’, all things are in mutuum commercium, because they are bound together by the same vinculum substantiate, namely, the Self. The earth, says Dadhyach, is the honey of all beings, and all beings are the honey of the earth, just because the same lustrous and immortal Self inhabits them both. The fire is the essence of all things, and all things are the essence of fire, just because the immortal self is the essence of both. Similarly, are the wind, the sun, the space, the moon, the lightning, the thunder, the ether, and even law, truth, and humanity the essence of all things whatsoever, and all things are the essence thereof, inasmuch as the same law, the same element, the same indissoluble bond connects them both…[6]

It is a repeating theme in Upanishads that phenomenal world (and the objects exist there) has its seat in Brahman. Brahman (with Maya) is its cause and all others are its effect. And this cause and effect is different (in the case of Nama-Rupa) and same (in the case of Essence). By knowing the nature of Gold (cause), we can grasp the nature of every ornament (effect) that is made up of Gold. In the same way, by knowing the Brahman (cause), we can understand everything arise from it (effect). All that arose from Brahman exist only as just nama-rupa, name and form. Nothing in the external world has independent existence. Instead they depend on each other and live in a relative existence. Everything has its ultimate existence in the transcendental/nirguna Brahman only.

Anatman/No-Soul theory:-

This is one of the natural outcomes of dependent origination theory. As per dependent origination theory, there is no ‘is’ or ‘is not’, no ‘being’ or ‘not being’, but only ‘becoming’. Everything in this world is changing continuously. Since a permanent and unchanging Atman cannot fulfill the ‘constant flux’ parameter, dependent origination theory give birth to the no-atman (Anatman) theory. According to this, there is no permanent entity, in the phenomenal world, that does not undergo change. This was Buddha’s firm doctrine. But there is a doubt shrouded here. Does Buddha propound the ‘anatman theory’ regarding the relative, mundane world only? Or was he applying this theory for both the mundane and trans-mundane (transcendental) plane[7]?

If Buddha’s position was former, i.e, there is no unchanging principle named Jivatman (or simply Atman) in human (relative plane of reality), then we must say that it is in accord with the Upanishads, if we admit that the central theme of the Upanishads is non-duality between Jivatman (Atman) and Paramatman ( Brahman)[8]. In fact, the Upanishads also propound that there is no ultimate individual soul (Jivatman/Atman) in human. Our thought about an unchanging entity like Atman in us and presumption that it is the true ultimate reality/Atman, is due to the avidya or ignorance in us. Buddha also suggested that there is no Atman inside us permanently. What we feel as Atman is a collective idea that our bodily functions give birth (i.e, Soul is a term that we gives for the combined operation of five skandas[9]) and this thought can be annulled by practicing eight fold path and realizing the four noble truths. Here Buddha clearly admits that ‘people may feel something, like an Atman, in them and they may experience this thing as unchanging’. That is, Buddha was not rejecting that ‘the people will not feel anything like Atman in them’. Instead Buddha was asserting that ‘the people may feel something like a Jivatman in them, but that conclusion is utterly wrong’. This was Buddha’s position[10] and this is similar with the Upanishad teaching.

The Upanishads says that the thought about an individual Soul (Jivatman/Atman) in human, is a product of avidya/ignorance[11]. By acquiring knowledge and practicing meditation, the people can get rid of the ignorance and then subsequently from the clutch of individual soul concept. He then realizes the supreme soul, Brahman. Likewise Buddha advocated his followers that ‘there is no real Atman inside body and if they feel so, they have to practice the noble eight fold path to get rid of that feeling’. The similarity in the stands of the Upanishads and Sri Budhha is indeed clear. 

Now come to the former stand. Was Buddha advocating that there is no supreme soul (Paramatman or any such equivalent concept) beyond the realm of mundane world, by rejecting the individual Atman? Actually, the rejection of the individual soul does not warrant the rejection of the supreme soul, especially since the Buddha have asserted many times that he had attained a highest level of existence, which is difficult to comprehend, beyond the realm of logic and only wise can attain[12]. Furthermore the state of Nirvana is oft said to be akin to the Brahman, though opposition views are also raised. Yet both the Brahman and Nirvana is a state where the aspirant can enjoy supreme bliss. The path that leads to this bliss is also somewhat same in both traditions. Upanishad lays importance to austerity, knowledge, discrimination, reflection (reasoning) and meditation. Buddhist way also includes many of these in a different style like understanding the four noble truths, practicing the noble eight fold path, meditation, self control, etc.

There are practical difficulties to reject an ultimate reality because relative, by default, indicates the existence of an Absolute. Without an absolute, relative cannot exist and sustain. While Buddha admit the changing character of the external world, he must have posited an absolute, without which relative cannot sustain. On the other hand if we think, all that exists is relative only, then we cannot distinguish and recognize relative as relative. Further more if there is no ultimate reality, then a Bhikshu will always be in the loopof Samsara; he will never attain Nirvana.

Yamakami Sogen points to the ultimate reality that Buddhists posits in later times,

While condemning as rank heresy, the theories of a universal creator and of an individual soul (hinatman), Buddhism not only acknowledges the permanence of the noumenal ego, but actually enjoins its adherents to train themselves in such a manner as to be able to attain union with the Great Soul of the universe, the technical term for which is Mahatman. The locus classicus for this injunction is a well known passage in Asanga’s Mahayanasutralankara sastra where it is recommended to the aspirant to Buddhahood to look upon the Universe as a mere conglomeration of conformations (samskaras), devoid of an ego and fraught with suffering, and to take refuge from the bane of individualism in the mightily advantageous doctrine of Mahatman.[13]

Also Buddha is often said to be propounded that, Buddha has attained a state of existence which is difficult to comprehend for the common man, who are un-wise[14]. But Buddha is not ready to explain the details because of the metaphysical character of the ‘existence’. Buddha’s teachings usually confines to the experimental world.




[1] The Buddha’s opposition to the Vedas is regarding the animal sacrifices contained in the texts. Buddha has approved that ‘the original and unaltered text of the Vedas as Apaurusheya’.
“The Buddhists have been equally deceived with Brahmins, in the estimate they have formed of the character of the Rishis. The power attributed to these revered sages by Buddhists is scarcely inferior to that of the Arhats, which we shall have to notice at greater length by and bye. By Sinhalese authors, they are represented as being possessed of superhuman attributes. In seeking to obtain Nirvana, it is great advantage of having been a Rishi in a former birth…… But Buddha denied that the Brahmans were then in the possession of the real Veda. He said that it was given in the time of Kasyapa (a former supreme Buddha) to certain Rishis, who, by the practise of severe austerities, had acquired the power of seeing Divine Bliss. They were Attako, Vamako, Vamadevo, Wessamitto, Yamataggi, Angiraso, Bharaddwajo, Wasetto, Kassapo and Bhagu. The Vedas that were revealed to these Rishis were subsequently altered by Brahmans, so that they are now made to defend the sacrifice of animals, and to oppose the doctrine of Buddha. It is on account of this departure from the truth, that Buddha refused to pay them any respect.”
—“The Sacred books of Buddhists compared with history and modern science” by Robert Spence Hardy. Page 30-31.
[2] Many non-Brahmin philosophers were prominently featured in the Upanishads and in Buddhist Sangha. The Upanishad teaching that ‘in the ultimate reality level, everyone is same’ had influenced the elites of that period and we hear sudra king Janasruti getting philosophical knowledge from the ascetic Rakva in Chandogya Upanishad and Sathyakama Jabala, even belongs to an unclear lineage, gets knowledge from the guru.
[3] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Section V. This is a long chapter and cannot quote here.
[4] Rigveda I.116.12
[5] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Sankarabhashya. Section 5.
[6] A constructive survey of Upanishadic Philosophy – R D Ranade. Page 52.
[7] This becomes a major concern especially as the Upanishads propose two states of reality; Relative reality (like external world), and a non-dual Ultimate reality, Brahman. As per the Upanishads, everything in relative reality has no independent existence of their own and their existence is rooted in the absolute reality, Brahman. So… was Buddha saying that there is no relative reality, called Jivatman, or ultimate reality, called Paramatman or Brahman? Or was he saying just, there is no relative reality, Jivatman?
[8] There are scholars, who argue that the Upanishads propose not the non-dual nature of Jivatman and Paramatman, but duality between them. But this article takes for granted that the Upanishadic doctrine is based on non-duality.
[9] Material form, sensations, perceptions, volition and consciousness are five Skandas in Buddhism.
[10] “The Tathagata sometimes taught that the atman exists and at other times he taught that the atman does not exist. When he preached that the atman exists and is to be the receiver of misery or happiness in the .successive life as the reward of its own Karma, his object was to save men from falling into the heresy of Nihilism (Uccheda-vada). When he taught that there is no atman in the sense of a creator or perceiver or an absolutely free agent, apart from the conventional name given to the aggregate of the five skandas, his object was to save men from falling into the opposite, heresy of Eternalism (Sasvata-vada). Now which of these two views represents the truth? It is doubtless the doctrine of the denial of atman. This doctrine, which is so difficult to understand, was not intended by Buddha for the ears of those whose intellect is dull and in whom the root of goodness has not thriven. And why? Because such men by hearing the doctrine of Anatman would have been sure to fall into the heresy of Nihilism. The two doctrines were preached by Buddha for two very different objects. He taught the existence of atman when he wanted to impart to his hearers the conventional doctrine; he taught the doctrine of anatman when he wanted to impart to them the transcendental doctrine.” – Prajnaparamita Sastra, Nagarjuna.

“The existence of the atman and of the Dharmas (i.e, of the Ego and of the phenomenal world) is affirmed in the Sacred Canon only provisionally and hypothetically, and never in the sense of their possessing a real and permanent nature.” -- Dharmapala in his commentary on the Vijnanamatra-sastra. (Both quotes citing from ‘Systems of Buddhistic thought’, by Yamakami Sogen.)
[11] Brahman reflecting on avidya is the Jiva, while Brahman reflecting on Maya is the Isvara.
[12] Brahma Jwala Sutta.
[13] Systems of Buddhistic Thought – Yamakami Sogen. Page 24.
[14] “… Into the mind of the exalted one, while he tarried, retired in solitude, came this thought: ‘I have penetrated this deep truth, which is difficult to perceive and difficult to understand, peace giving, sublime, which transcends all thought, deeply significant, which only the wise can grasp… For man, who moves in an earthly sphere, and has his place and finds his enjoyment in an earthly sphere, it will be very difficult to grasp this matter…” – Mahavagga. i.,5,2.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

UPANISHADS AND INDIAN PHILOSOPHICAL SYSTEMS - 1


Upanishads are those parts of Vedic literature that contains philosophic teaching. It is usually called as Vedanta (end part of Vedas). There are many Upanishads and they are composed not by a single sage, but by many. Also the beginning to the completion of Upanishad composition may span wide period; say 500 - 1000 years, minimum.

Commonly eleven Upanishads are considered as the ‘Principle Upanishads’. Yet, this is not a hard rule. It is generally held so because Sri Sankaracharya wrote commentaries for these eleven Upanishads. They are Isa, Kena, Katha, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Mundaka, Mandukya, Prasna, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka and Svetasvatara. There are other important Upanishads outside this group, among which Kausitaki and Maitrayani Upanishads are of special important.

The main content of all of the Upanishads is ‘Brahma-vidya’. Upanishads helps the aspirant to realize Brahman, the highest and ultimate reality, with the help of a teacher. Upanishads gives only secondary importance to meditation and karma.

The Upanishads are a store house of various philosophical ideas. All of the literature and philosophies that come to prevalent, after the composition of Upanishads, in the Indian tradition, have been tremendously influenced by the Upanishads and carries Upanishadic ideas in them. Be it Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist or Ajivika literature or philosophy, a serious reader will of course find the Upanishad ideas scattered here and there, in their literature.

Here is a modest attempt to show the influence of the Upanishads on the post-Upanishadic Indian Philosophy and religious systems.

Upanishads and Samkhya philosophy:-

Samkhya philosophy is the oldest philosophy of India. It is supposed to be formed at the end period of the principle Upanishad composition. It advocates dualism and realism. It is generally believed that initially Samkhya philosophy was theistic in outlook, but later turned to atheistic[1]. Samkhya posits intelligent purusha at one end, and the unintelligent prakriti/pradhana/avyakta on the other end. The interrelation between them so happens due to the ignorance in the Jiva, and when Jiva get enlightened by acquiring knowledge, he realizes himself as the pure Purusha.

Samkhya propose s three gunas by which all things are composed. They are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. All of the things in world, mental and physical, are composed of these three elements. The origin of these gunas is in the Chandogya Upanishad. There, it is described as three colors and three elements; fire, water and earth.

“The red color that (gross) fire has, that is the color of (subtle) fire. That which is the white color (of the gross fire), that is of (subtle) water. That which is the black color (of the gross fire), that is the color of (subtle) earth. (Thus) vanishes the firehood of fire. All transformation has speech as its basis, and it is name only. Those which are true are the three colors alone.”

The meaning of verse is simple. External objects composed of the fire, water, earth are just names; i.e., in name and form (namarupa) only. What is the basis of all these external objects (name & forms) are the three gunas/colors. There is no doubt that Samkhya tenet of ‘sattva – rajas – tamas’ is indicated here.

Samkhya philosophers map their doctrine even back to Rigveda. There, in 10th mandala, Pradhana is mentioned as ‘unborn’, as per them.

“The waters, they received that germ primeval wherein the Gods were gathered all together.
It rested set upon the unborn's navel, that One wherein abide all things existing.[2]

Samkhya categories are mentioned in Katha Upanishad.

“Beyond the senses…… is the mind; beyond the mind is intellect; beyond intellect is the Great Atman; beyond the Great Atman is the Avyakta; beyond Avyakta is the great Purusha; while beyond Purusha there is nothing else.[3]

The hymn clearly shows leaning toward Samkhya philosophy. This will be evident if one compares the verse with Samkhya karika of Isvara Krishna. Mundaka Upanishad also contains verses[4] that are pointing to Sankhya Philosophy. Svetasvatara Upanishad contains typical Samkhya nomenclatures like Pradhana, Avyakta, etc[5]. These all clearly maps the Samkhya doctrine with the Upanishads.

Upanishads and Yoga system:-

Though Upanishads pay primary importance to ‘knowledge’ to realize Brahman, meditation and rituals play subordinate roles in this process. They are able to prepare the aspirant up to a particular level. Though there are verses[6] in Katha Upanishad, which are suggestive to indicate a Yoga system in its early phases, Svetasvatara Upanishad gives ample references to a well developed Yoga system.

“Keeping the three (head, neck and chest) up straight, the body erect, and with the help of the mind, withdrawing the senses into the heart, the wise one crosses over all the fearsome waters with the boat of Brahman (Omkara)…… Moderate and disciplined in all his activities, the wise person regulates his breath (in the seat of meditation) and when it has become gentle, he breaths out through the nostrils. Like controlling a chariot drawn by wild horses, he holds the mind single pointed and alert…… Concentrate the mind in a place like a windless cave, a place that is clean, even, free from pebbles, fire or sand, which is not noisy or near a water source, a place that is pleasing to the eyes and conducive to the mind.[7]

After explaining the progress, and symptoms of the upcoming perfection attainment[8], the Upanishad describes the final goal as follows.

“Just as a metal disc covered with earth shines as full of light when cleaned well, so too the embodied being, realizing the truth of the Self, becomes non-dual, fulfilled and free from sorrow…… When the Yogi, with the mind absorbed here in meditation, realizes the Truth (Brahman) verily as the Self (Atman) like a lamp (effulgent), knowing the divine Being as unborn, eternal and free of all modifications, he is released from all bondages.[9]

The description of the Yoga system as expounded in the Svetasvatara Upanishad is thus.

Yogic meditation in Upanishads:-

There are several verses about the meditation practice, which is an essential element of the Yoga system, in Upanishads. A few of them are commenting upon here.

“This letter (Om), indeed, is the (inferior) Brahman (Hiranyagarbha), and this letter is, indeed, the supreme Brahman. Anybody, who, (while) meditating on this letter, wants any of the two, to him comes that… This medium is the best; this medium is the supreme (and the inferior) Brahman. Meditating on the medium, one becomes adorable in the world of Brahman.[10]

“There are indeed three worlds, the world of men, the world of Manes, and the world of Gods. This world of men is to be won through the son alone, and by no other rite; the world of the Manes through rites; and the world of the gods through meditation. The world of the Gods is the best of the worlds. Therefore they praise meditation.[11] 

“It is not comprehended through the eye, nor through speech, nor through the other senses; nor is It attained through austerity or Karma. Since one becomes purified in mind through the favorableness of the intellect, therefore can one see that indivisible Self through meditation.[12]

We also find a definition, akin to the definition of Yoga, in Katha Upanishad.

“When the five senses of knowledge come to rest together with the mind, and the intellect, too, does not function. That state they call the highest… They consider that keeping of the senses steady as Yoga. One becomes vigilant at that time, for Yoga is subject to growth and decay.[13]

Since the importance of Yoga or meditation is not up to the level of knowledge, to realize Brahman, Upanishad sage is saying that the Yoga is subjected to growth and decay; one has to perform it continuously for it to grow or sustain; else, it will decay. But knowledge about Brahman is not so; once an aspirant attain Brahma-vidya, it will never fade away.

Long before the Yoga system was written down, as a treatise by Rishi Patanjali, Upanishadic sages have well versed and practiced meditation and austerities to realize the supreme reality. Today, Yoga is as prominent as Advaita Vedanta, for realizing the ultimate truth, Brahman.

Upanishads and Nyaya-Vaiseshika Pluralism:-

These realistic schools propose that there are multiple souls which are co-eternal with the God. They list many reasons for the existence of God[14] and being realists Nyaya claims, object and (its) qualities are different, not same as like the idealists think. Nyaya have developed sixteen categories and stresses much on the syllogism to arrive in the correct knowledge. Nyaya philosophy is systematically expounded in the Nyaya-sutra of Rishi Gotama. Vatsayana, Udyotakara, Vacaspati Misra and Udayana are the major writers and commentators on this sutra and other related treatises. Nyaya and Vaiseshika systems are considered as the sister philosophical sects in Indian philosophy. Differences between these systems are meager and so, they do not invite different treatments.

As one may expect, seeds of Nyaya-Vaiseshika system is in the Upanishadic teaching. Monism and dualism, of course cannot satisfy the thinking minds, of that period. What they sees when they look around, in the phenomenal world, is a full-fledged pluralism. While monism states that there is a single substratum lies behind these all pluralist phenomena and the pluralism is an imposed aspect on this single substratum, many cannot agree with it because to know the existence of this single ultimate substratum, special intuitive knowledge is needed. From the experimental or phenomenal point of view such a single substratum cannot prove realistically, but only theoretically. (To realize this single substratum one has to transcend the realm of phenomenal existence, which is not an easy task for commoners). Hence some disagree with the supreme Brahman concept and came out with their own theories. The emergence of pluralist schools of Vaiseshika and Nyaya is here. Of these Vaiseshika is more ancient school than Nyaya.

Matters are composed of eternal atoms and we cannot destroy them, as per Rishi Kanada, the founder of Vaiseshika System[15]. Thought Upanishadic teaching is fundamentally monistic and, transcendental idealistic, the pluralistic and realistic speculations are also commented upon in them; (or we may say that certain Upanishad passages can be interpreted as supportive to pluralism). However, in Upanishads, these comments are supposed to be from the phenomenal point of view; not from the ultimate truth’s point of view. From the ultimate truth’s standpoint, Brahman is one without a second; there is no plurality. But from the phenomenal point of view pluralistic ideas can exist and it is not in contradiction with the absolute idealism of Upanishadic teaching.

Thus Mundaka Upanishad says:

“That thing that is such is true: As from a fire fully ablaze, fly off sparks in their thousands that are akin to the fire, similarly O good-looking one, from the Imperishable originates different kinds of creatures and into It again they merge.[16]

Here the creation and dissolution is from and into the same thing, the Imperishable (Brahman). As long as this creation, sustenance and dissolution, have a relative and dependent (on Brahman) outlook, as stated in the Upanishad text, we may take it in the ‘real’ sense, which clearly matches to the Nyaya – Vaiseshika school’s philosophy. Roots of pluralistic ideas are also found in the Vedas.  

Purva Mimamsa doctrine and Upanishads:-

Though Upanishads falls in Jnana tradition, which gives more importance to the knowledge over the ritual performance, there are passages in various Upanishads extolling the importance of karma or rituals, in Brahman realization. Yet it is very much evident that, the Upanishads considers ‘Jnana’ as superior to anything else to realize the ultimate reality, Brahman.

Mundaka Upanishad points to the importance of rituals[17].

“That thing that is such is true. The Karmas that the wise discovered in the mantras are accomplished variously, where the three Vedic duties get united. You perform them forever with the desire for the true results. This is your path leading to the fruits of karma acquired by yourselves…… When the fire begins set ablaze, the flame shoots up, one should offer the oblations into that part that is in between the right and the left.[18]

Mundaka Upanishad further says that, if agnihotra sacrifice is not performed properly, then the future seven worlds of the non-performer will be destroyed. Agnihotra rite is said to be of that much importance.

“It (agnihotra) destroys the seven worlds of that man whose agnihotra sacrifice is without Darsa and Paunamasa rites, devoid of caturmasya, bereft of Agrayana, unblest with guests, goes unperformed, is unaccomplished by Vaisvadeva rite, and is performed perfunctorily.[19]

Upanishad further says that performer of all prescribed sacrifices will get into the place of the lord.

“These oblations turn into the rays of the sun and taking him up they lead him, who performs the rites in these shining flames at the proper time, to where the single lord of the gods presides over all…… Saying ‘come, come’, uttering pleasing sounds such as, ‘this is your well-earned, virtuous path which leads to heaven’, and offering him adoration, the scintillating oblations carry the sacrifice along the rays of the sun.[20]

Ritual performance, the trademark of the Purva Mimamsa tradition, was prevalent in India from the dawn of Indian civilization. Anyone reading the Rigveda, may understand it amply. By the period of Upanishads, the importance of ritualistic tradition dented considerably, though did not vanish fully.

Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta in Upasnishads:-

Advaita Vedanta elements in Upanishads:-

In Advaita Vedanta individual self and supreme self are one and same. Individual self is the reflection of the supreme self on avidya, which is in the Jiva. When this avidya becomes exhausted, individual self become aware of its supreme status and realize the Brahman. In short, as per Advaita Vedanta, we all are already liberated beings. But due to avidya we are not aware of it. When we acquire Brahma-vidya, we will realize our default supreme nature, or the divinity within us. This is the nutshell of Advaita Vedanta.

We may find several passages in the Upanishad collection about the non-dual nature of Atman and Brahman. In fact, though several philosophical ideas are present in the Upanishads, the prominent teaching of the Upanishads is the non-dual, absolute monism of Advaita Vedanta.

In Chandogya upanishad, Uddalaka Aruni teaches his son Svetaketu about the nature of Self as’Tat tvam asi’ or ‘You are that’.

“…… O good looking one, of this person when he departs, (the organ of) speech is withdrawn into the mind, mind into the vital force, vital force into the fire, and fire into the supreme deity…… That which is this subtle essence, all this has got That as the Self, That is Truth, That is the Self, Thou art That, O Svetaketu.[21]

Monism is in full force in the portion of Aruni’s teaching. This same teaching (‘Tat tvam asi’) in a varied form, can be found in the entry gate of the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece. There the word inscribed as ‘know thyself’!!

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that individual self and the supreme self (Brahman) are same, though they may appear to be different in the relative point of view; i.e, in phenomenal world.

“…… The lord of the maya (notions superimposed by ignorance) is perceived as manifold, for to Him are yoked ten organs, nay, hundreds of them. He is the organs; He is ten and thousands – many and infinite. That Brahman is without prior or posterior, without interior or exterior. This self, the perceiver of everything, is Brahman. This is the teaching.[22]

In Katha Upanisahad, Yama convinces Naciketas that whoever does not realize this non-dual nature of the supreme self, will take birth again and again in this world.

“What indeed is here, is there; what is there, is here likewise. He, who sees as though there is difference here, goes from death to death.[23]

Yama further instructs Naciketas that how the single ultimate reality, Brahman, appear as multifarious in the phenomenal world, due to the avidya of Jiva. In that way, It is untouched by the limited nature of phenomenal world.

“Just as fire, though one, having entered the world assumes separate forms in respect of different shapes, similarly, the Self inside all beings, though one, assumes a form in respect of each shape; and (yet) it is outside…… As air, though one, having entered into this world, assumes separate forms in respect of different shapes, similarly, the Self inside all beings, though one, assumes a form in respect of each shape; and (yet) It is outside.[24]

And after realizing the non-dual nature of Brahman, by discerning Its multifarious appearances, Atman becomes one with Brahman.

“Eternal peace is for those – and not for others – who are discriminating and who realize in their hearts Him who – being one, the controller, and the inner self of all – makes a single form multifarious.[25]

Upanishads are full of monistic ideas which are the basis of Advaita Vedanta philosophy.

Visishtadvaita or qualified monism:-

Upanishadic accounts of ultimate reality are often impersonal, attribute-less. But personified accounts of ultimate reality are also available, occasionally, where qualified monism may aptly fits.

In qualified monism, ultimate reality is not devoid of qualities, but with qualities. Devotion is the major element of this spiritual system. In Mundaka Upanishad, the ultimate reality Purusha is mentioned with qualities, which is the usual method of qualified Monism.

“When the seer sees the Purusha – the golden-hued creator, lord, and the source of the inferior Brahman – then the illuminated one completely shakes off both merit and demerit, becomes taintless, and attains absolute equality.[26]

In numerous other passages also, ultimate reality is ascribed with attributes.

Bheda vada or dualism:-

Dualism states that individual soul and supreme soul are completely different. They are neither same nor part of one in another. Yet the individual soul depends on the supreme soul for the liberation.

There are verses in the Upanishads which may interpret as pointing to the un-relatedness of individual and supreme soul. A major verse among them is in Mundaka Upanishad; two birds sitting on a tree, one of which is eating the fruits, but the other bird just looking at the first one, dispassionately. This portion has its origin in Rigveda.

“Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names, cling to the same tree. Of course, one eats the fruit of divergent tastes and the other looks on without eating…… On the same tree, the individual soul is drowned (ie stuck), as it were; and so it moans, being worried by its impotence. When it sees thus the other, the adored Lord and His glory, then it becomes liberated from sorrow…… When the seer sees the Purusha – the golden hued, creator, lord, and the source of the inferior Brahman – then the illuminated one completely shakes off both merit and demerit, becomes taintless, and attains absolute equality.[27]

Here, ‘eating the fruit’ symbolizes that the bird is enjoying his karmaphala for the past actions and is entangled in the riddle of birth-death. Then he sees the other bird, the Supreme self, and began to adore it, and thus coming out of the Samsara. Here individual and supreme soul is different, but individual soul depends on the supreme soul for its liberation.

Saivism and Bhakti Marga in Upanishads:-

Bhakti as a way for liberation (Moksha-marga) has existed in India from the time of Rigveda. In the hymns attributed to Varuna[28], we will feel the ardent devotion of the worshipper. Varuna is described as, the Sun as his eyes, sky as garment and storm as his breath. Also Varuna is harsh to the evildoers and kind if they seek penance.

“Before this Varuna may we be sinless him who shows mercy even to the sinner-
While we are keeping Aditi's ordinances. Preserve us evermore, ye Gods, with blessings.[29]

There are numerous other hymns that show the immense worshipping mood of the devotee towards Varuna. S Radhakrishnan has aptly said about the devotee’s mental mood towards Varuna.

“The theism of the Vaishnavas and the Bhagatavas, with its emphasis on bhakti, is to be traced to the Vedic worship of Varuna, with its consciousness of sin and trust in divine forgiveness…[30]

Among Upanishads, it is Svetasvatara that contains clear cut Bhakti (devotion) elements. Saivism is the predominant feature of Svetasvatara Upanishad.

“Know that nature is surely maya and the Lord of maya is Mahesvara, the supreme lord. This whole world is verily filled by His limbs…… By realizing the one Lord who presides over every womb, in whom everything exists and merges, who bestows boons, and who is self-effulgent and adorable, one attains supreme peace…… May Rudra who is the origin of all deities and the source of all their powers, who is all knowing and the Lord of the entire universe, who initially brought into being Hiranyagarbha, endow us with auspicious (noble) thoughts.[31]

Siva is the protector and sustainer, and by the unconditional devotion towards him, the worshipper will achieve the final goal of liberation from all bondages.

“Since you are birthless, a person who is frightened (of samsara) takes refuge in You. O Rudra, protect me always with Your face that is turned southwards.[32]

“Realizing the Siva to be hidden in all beings like the subtle essence of ghee that rises to the surface, knowing that God to be the one entity that encompasses the entire universe, one becomes free of all bondages.[33]

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, another level of devotion is visible; it is towards the inner ruler or Antaryamin. There Yajnavalkya praises the Antaryamin as the one who inhabit in the earth (without the earth knowing him), water (without water knowing him), in the fire, etc.

Devotion theme is present in other texts also, especially in Katha Upanishad. It is suffice to say here that the Bhakti as a way to moksha was prevalent in India from Rigvedic times and it reached in zenith in Srimad Bhagavat Gita.

Carvaka elements in Upanishads?

This is a disputed and interesting question. Can we find materialistic elements in Upanishads? Almost all opinions tend to be negative because Upanishad teaching is strictly in spiritual level, not in materialistic level. Though certain names, including Carvaka, mentioned in Upanishads, all of them are name-presentation only; it is not a teaching.

Even being so, there are certain portions which may be interpretable as carrying materialistic idea. Thus in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the great sage Yanjavalkya is talking to his wife, Maitreyi that ‘it is for its own sake that Self perform everything’.  

“He said. It is not for the sake of the husband, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake, that he is loved. It is not for the sake of wife, my dear, that she is loved, but for one’s own sake that she is loved. It is not for the sake of the sons, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of wealth, my dear, that it is loved, but for one’s own sake it is loved. It is not for the sake of the Brahmana, my dear that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of the Kshatriya, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved. It is not for the sake of worlds, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of Gods, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of beings, m dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved. It is not for the sake of all, my dear, that all is loved, but for one’s own sake that it is loved. The self, my dear Maitreyi, should be realized – should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realization of the self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.[34]

This portion of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is often pointed as supportive to the Carvaka system. ‘Whatever we do in real life is said to be for the sake of our own soul’. Though this portion does not openly propose that pleasure is the primary goal, there is ample gap to interpret the above verse as not discouraging the hedonism of Carvakas. There are some ‘pleasure seeking’ elements in the above lines, which may be in agreement with the Carvaka trait. So interpreting this verse in line with the materialism may not be totally baseless.

But, the credibility of this deductive reasoning loses its clout when the reader proceeds further with the Upanishad. Yajnavalkya’s other teachings have disputed the deducted materialistic claims very well. So interpreting this portion of Brihadaranyaka as supportive to Carvakas is neither sure nor final.

Furthermore, the ending verse of this portion is in agreement with Vedantic conception. It advices the student to ‘hear’ the teaching about the soul from a teacher, then internally perceive[35] the truth contained in the teaching, and finally, take the assistance of meditation[36], to establish the knowledge about Brahman and realize It.

Even in the celebrated story of ‘Prajapati – Indra – Virocana’[37], at first Prajapati says to Indra and Virocana, who enquired to Prajapati about Self/Atman, that “body is the Self… When the body is well adorned, attired and clean, then Self also will be well adorned, attired and clean.”

On hearing this reply Virocana was satisfied and walked away. But Indra did not. He scrutinized the reply and again went back to Prajapati to ask further questions. In the following portion of the Upanishad, Indra comes to understand that, what actually the Self is. Here is a hint about the Carvakas. Virocana and his followers, who believed Prajapati’s answer, ‘body is the Self’, might have acted and lived accordingly.

As we saw above, materialistic elements are very weak in Upanishads. The central teaching of Upanishads is Brahma-vidya only.


[1] And at the end of 1500 AD, Vijnanabhikshu has revived the theistic Samkhya.
[2] Rigveda 10.82.6
[3] Katha Upanishad. I.iii.9-10
[4] Mundaka Upanishad. I.i.8-9
[5] Svetasvatara Upanishad I.8 & I.10.
[6] Katha Upanishad II.iv.8
[7] Svetasvatara Upanishad. II.8-10
[8] Svetasvatara Upanishad. II.11-13
[9] Svetasvatara Upanishad. II.14-15
[10] Katha Upanishad. I.ii.15-16
[11] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. I.V.16
[12] Mundaka Upanishad. III.i.8
[13] Katha Upansiahd. II.iii.10-11
[14] A detailed account of these reason are furnished in Kishor Kumar Chakrabarti’s ‘Classical Indian philosophy of Mind: the Nyaya dualist tradition’.
[15] Though we say, Rishi Kanad is the founder of Vaiseshika system, that means that he gave a systematic structure for the, then prevalent, pluralistic ideas. Pluralism must have been existed even before Rishi Kanada.
[16] Mundaka Upanishad II.i.1
[17] Peculiar enough, this Upanishad also contains passages that denounce the ritual performance.
[18] Mundaka Upanishad. I.ii.1-2
[19] Mundaka Upanishad. I.ii.3
[20] Mundaka Upanishad. I.ii.5-6
[21] Chandogya Upanishad VI.8.6-7
[22] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad II.v.18
[23] Katha Upanishad. II.i.10
[24] Katha Upanishad. II.ii.9-10
[25] Katha Upanishad. II.ii.12
[26] Mundaka Upanishad. III.i.3
[27] Mundaka Upanishad. III.i.1-3
[28] Rigveda VIII.41
[29] Rigveda VII.87.7
[30] Indian Philosophy, Vol 1, Page 52
[31] Svetasvatara Upanishad. IV.10-12
[32] Svetasvatara Upanishad. IV.21
[33] Svetasvatara Upanishad. IV.16
[34] Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. II.IV.5
[35] Internal perception is often equated to ‘reflection’.
[36] Meditation is helpful to desist from bondage, before Brahman-realization, and keep the mind calm and quiet, after Brahman-realization. The verse is not indicating that meditation has a prominent place to realize Brahman, but may be said to enjoy a subordinate role.  
[37] Chandogya Upanishad. VIII.8.3