Ramakrishna: His life and sayings
Ekam advitîyam. One without a Second.
If you ask, what then is real in all things and in every individual soul? the answer is, Brahman, the One without a Second, the One besides whom there is nothing; but this answer can be understood by those only who know Avidyâ, and by knowing it have destroyed it. Others believe that the world is this or that, and that they themselves are this and that. Man thinks that he is an Ego dwelling in the body, seeing and hearing, comprehending and reasoning, reasoning and acting, while with the strict Vedântist the true Self lies deep below the Ego, or the Aham, which belongs to the world of illusion. As an Ego, man has become already an actor and enjoyer, instead of remaining a distant witness of the world. He is then carried along into the Samsâra, the concourse of the world; he becomes the creature or the slave of his accumulated acts (karman), and goes on from change to change, till in the end he discovers the true Brahman which alone really exists, and which as being himself is called Âtman or Self, and at the same time Paramâtman, or the Highest, Âtman and Brahman, both being one and the same thing. Good works may be helpful in producing a proper state of mind for receiving this knowledge, but it is by knowledge alone that men can be saved and obtain Mukti, freedom, and not by good works. This salvation or freedom finds expression in the celebrated
words Tat tvam asi, thou art that, i.e. thou art not thou, but that, i.e. the only existing Brahman; the Âtman, the Self, and the Brahman are one and the same.
Strange as Samkara's monism may seem to us, yet the current idea that God created the world out of nothing can, strictly speaking, mean nothing else than that nothing can ever exist by the side of God, that God, out of His own energy, supplied both the material and the efficient cause of the world. Râmânuga is less exacting. He is at one with Samkara in admitting that there can be only one thing real, namely Brahman, but he allows what Samkara strenuously denies, that Brahman possesses attributes. His chief attribute, according to Râmânuga, is thought or intelligence, but he is likewise allowed to possess omnipotence, omniscience, love, and other good qualities. He is allowed to possess within himself certain powers (saktis), the seeds of plurality, so that both the material objects of our experience and the individual souls (gîvas) may be considered as real modifications of the real Brahman, and not merely as phenomena or illusions (mâyâ). In this modified capacity Brahman is spoken of as Îsvara, the Lord, and both the thinking (kit) and the unthinking world (akit) are supposed to constitute his body. He is then called the Antaryâmin, the ruler within, so that both the objects and the souls which he controls are entitled in their individuality to an independent reality, which, as we saw, Samkara boldly denies. Though Râmânuga also would hardly accept our idea of creation, he teaches evolution or a process by which all that existed potentially
or in a subtile invisible form in the one Brahman, while in its undeveloped state (pralaya), becomes visible, material, objective, and individual in this phenomenal world. Could our evolutionists have wished for a better ancestor ? Their phraseology may be different, but what is meant is the same. Râmânuga distinguishes between Brahman as a cause and Brahman as an effect, but he teaches at the same time that cause and effect are always the same, though what we call cause undergoes parinâma, i.e. development, in order to become what we call effect. Instead of holding with Samkara that we are deceived about Brahman, that we turn it aside or invert it (vivarta) while under the sway of Nescience, Râmânuga teaches that Brahman really changes, that what is potential in him at first, becomes real and objective at last. Another important difference between the two is that while Samkara's highest goal consists in Brahman recovering itself by knowledge, Râmânuga recognises the merit of good works, and allows a pure soul to rise by successive stages to the world of Brahman, to enjoy there perfect felicity without fear of new births or of further transmigration. With him, as with us, the soul is really supposed to approach the throne of Brahman, to become like Brahman, and participate in all his powers except one, that of creating, that is, sending forth the phenomenal world, governing it, and absorbing it again when the time comes. Thus not only does Râmânuga, allow individuality to individual souls, but likewise to Îsvara, the Lord, the personal God, while with Samkara a personal god would be as unreal as a personal soul, both becoming real only in their recovered identity.
What Râmânuga thus represents as the highest truth and as the highest goal to be reached by a man seeking for salvation, is not altogether rejected by Samkara. It is tolerated, but it is looked upon by him as Lower Knowledge, the personal Brahman as the Lower Brahman. That Brahman is called aparam, lower, and sagunam, qualified, and being a merely personal God, he is often worshipped by Râmânuga and his numerous followers, even under such popular names as Vishnu or Nârâyana. With Samkara that personal Îsvara or Lord would be conceived as the pratika, the outward face or appearance only, we might almost say as the persona or the πρόσωπον of the Godhead, and his worship (upâsanâ), though ignorant, is tolerated and even recommended as practically useful. The Jewish and the Christian idea of God would be in his eyes the same, a pratika or persona of the Godhead. A worship of that .God makes the God to be what he is worshipped as (Ved. Sûtra III, 4, 52), and, such as it is, it may lead the pious and virtuous man to eternal happiness. But it is true knowledge alone that can produce eternal salvation, that is, recovered Brahmanhood, and this, even in this life (gîvan mukti), with freedom from karman (works) and from all further transmigration after death, in fact with freedom from the law of causality. It seems strange that the followers of these two schools of Vedânta have so long lived in peace and harmony together, though differing on what we should consider the most essential points, whether of philosophy or religion. The followers of Samkara do not accuse the followers of Râmânuga of downright error (mithyâdarsana), but
of Nescience only, or of, humanly speaking, inevitable Avidyâ. Even the phenomenal world and the individual souls, though due to Avidyâ, are not, as we saw, considered as empty or false; they are phenomenal, but have their reality in Brahman, if only our eyes, by the withdrawal of Avidyâ., are opened to see the truth. What is phenomenal is not nothing, but is always the appearance of that which is and remains real, whether we call it the Brahman, the Âtman, the Absolute, the Unknowable, or, in Kantian language, das Ding an sich. Besides, it is recognised, even by the strictest monists, that for all practical purposes (vyavahâra) the phenomenal world may be treated as real. It could not even seem to exist (videri) unless it had its real foundation in Brahman. The only riddle that remains is Avidyâ or Nescience, often called Mâyâ or illusion. Samkara himself will not say that it is or that it is not real. All he can say is that it is there, and that it is the aim of the Vedânta-philosophy to annihilate it by Vidyâ, Nescience by science, proving thereby, it would seem, that Avidyâ is not real.
At first sight this Vedânta-philosophy is, no doubt, startling, but after some time one grows so familiar with it and becomes so fond of it that one wonders why it should not have been discovered by the philosophers of any other country. It seems to solve all difficulties but one, to adapt itself to any other philosophy, nay, to every kind of religion which does not intrench itself behind the ramparts of revelation and miracle. The difficulty is to find a natural approach to it from the position which we occupy in looking at philosophical and religious problems. I tried before to open
one of its doors by asking the question, what is the cause of all things? and we met with the answer that that cause must be one, without a second, because the very presence of a second would limit and condition that which is to be unlimited and unconditioned. We saw how, in order to explain what cannot be doubted, namely, the constant changes in the world by which we are surrounded, Avidyâ or Nescience was called in to explain what cannot be denied --the variety of our sensations. It is curious only that what the Greek philosophers called the logoi, the thoughts or names as archetypes of all phenomenal things, were by the Vedânta treated not as the expressions of Divine Wisdom or of Sophia, but as Nâma-rûpa, names and forms, the result of Nescience or Avidyâ. This Greek conception, apparently the very opposite of that of the Vedânta, is nevertheless the same, only looked at from a lower and higher point of view. Nâma-rûpa, names and forms, and Logoi, names and what is named, express the same idea, namely, that as words are thoughts realised, the whole creation is the word or the expression of eternal thoughts, whether of Brahman or of the Godhead, or, in another version, that the world represents the idea in its dialectic progress from mere being to the highest manifestations of thought. That Brahman can easily be proved to have originally meant word, makes the coincidence between Vedânta, Neo-Platonism, and Christian philosophy still more striking, though it would be hazardous to think of any historical connexion between these ancient conceptions of a rational universe. Lest it should be supposed that I had assimilated the Hindu idea
of the word, as being with Brahman and becoming the origin of the world, too closely to the Greek conception of the Logos, I subjoin a literal translation of a passage in Samkara's commentary (p. 96, 1). He holds that Brahman is pure intelligence, and when the opponent remarks that intelligence is possible only if there are objects of intelligence, he replies: 'As the sun would shine even if there were no objects to illuminate, Brahman would be intelligence even if there were no objects on which to exercise his intelligence. Such an object, however, exists even before the creation, namely, Nâma-rûpa, the names and forms, as yet undeveloped, but striving for development (avyâkrite, vyâkikîrshite), that is the words of the Veda living in the mind of the creator even before the creation 1.' Might not this have been written by Plato himself?
80:1 See Deussen, Das System des Vedânta, pp. 75, 147.
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