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Ontology according to Vedanta (Vedānta)

de Swāmi Siddheswarānanda

em 25 Mai 2008

  The other systems of Hindu thought endeavoured, each by a different way, to determine the objective truth of things. Vedānta attempts to reach the truth by formulating the problem thus: ‘In this whole spectacle - where is the Real?’ With that it took up the fundamental question and, by proceeding to its investigation, it not only discovered various perspectives of the Real, but it also found valid proof with the help of which one succeeds in defining and apprehending the highest Truth. For Vedānta that Truth is the ontological Reality (paramārthika satta), under which aspect the Reality is immutable: No change can affect it.

It will now be appropriate to expound the doctrine which, in a sense, is the corner-stone of the philosophy of Vedānta:

The ultimate Truth, the absolute Truth, is the Self;
and this Self, although manifesting itself in innumerable individualities,
is one and unique.


The world in which we live, move and have our being,
has no other reality
than that which the Self confers on it.


The other systems of Hindu thought endeavoured, each by a different way, to determine the objective truth of things. Vedānta attempts to reach the truth by formulating the problem thus: ‘In this whole spectacle - where is the Real?’ With that it took up the fundamental question and, by proceeding to its investigation, it not only discovered various perspectives of the Real, but it also found valid proof with the help of which one succeeds in defining and apprehending the highest Truth. For Vedānta that Truth is the ontological Reality (paramārthika satta), under which aspect the Reality is immutable: No change can affect it.

Brahman or Ātman
is the metaphysical basis of the manifested universe.
From that height the world forms
but the second order of the reality.


The empirical reality (vyavaharika satta), limited by the space-time continuum, is contingent: It exists only there where the laws of causality apply. If one crosses this border, if one goes on to the limit - and it is in turīya that one reaches there - the world is rigorously annihilated. Therefore, from the paramārthika position the manifested world does not have an absolute value. However, as long as the range of phenomena is unfolding, it assumes in our eyes the aspect of the Real.
Between the two categories of phenomenal existence - thoughts and objects - the mind strengthens a tendency which is natural to it: It assigns to objects a greater degree of reality than to thoughts, for the objects appear to possess a particular characteristic - stability - which thoughts are totally lacking. That is how we consider the outer world to be real, while attributing to the inner world - that altogether ideal construction - only a lower degree of reality, because of the very evanescent character of thoughts. However, we are constantly living in a ‘mental’ world and, at every moment of our life, we are trying to coordinate the internal thoughts with the external objects.
The subjective world (asmaj jagat) and the objective world (yusmaj jagat) form the warp (the former) and the woof (the latter) with which we are weaving our experience of the world (vyavahara), so to speak. And Ātman is successively identified with the buddhi (the higher reason), the buddhi with the mind (manas), the mind with the ‘I’-sense (ahaṃkāra), and the internal organ (antahkārana), in the impulse that carries it along, outwards, finally identifies itself with the gross body (deha). The jīva (the living individuality) then becomes aware that, with respect to himself, the objects that surround him possess a higher reality. He thus brings to bear all his affective power on them. The round of transmigration (saṃsāra) is set going and, while passing through an interminable series of trials and sufferings, the mind is ever asking itself the same question: ‘Where is the Real?’ So the errors have all one and the same cause: They all proceed from a misconception! We have failed to recognize this essential truth:

With respect to the Self both objects and thoughts
do not have a greater or lesser value.


It is this fundamental error which has, somehow, created multiplicity there where there is only the One without a second.
As soon as we have recourse to discrimination for releasing the ultimate Truth, we are making an ascertainment of the highest importance:

The intuition of the Reality is prior to all our thoughts.

Certainly, the intuition of Brahman-Ātman appears in the shape of the sensible world, but, since this appearance alternately arises and subsides, we do not have the right to take it for the ultimate Truth.
Apart from this second order of reality, Vedānta recognizes a third one: the illusory reality (pratibhasika satta). In the West such terminology does not fail, at first sight, to provoke some surprise. Nevertheless it does relate to a reality, for, as long as we have an experience of this type, we do not have the least feeling of being the victim of an illusion.
The illusions may be classed under three main headings:

a. The individual illusion: In the twilight I mistake a piece of rope for a snake, or a piece of nacre for a silver coin. The illusion is short-lived. As soon as it disappears, I find that the piece of silver or the snake were only the simple creations of my mind. From that experience I draw an important conclusion: The mind has the faculty to divide itself and to project an order of phenomena outside itself in such a way that to me, in the present moment, objects that do not really exist, assume a temporary form, and that I behave towards them as if they were real.

b. The collective illusion: For example, those that are produced by a magician. If it is claimed that the proof of the reality of a thing lies in the fact that that thing is perceived simultaneously by several persons, collective illusions go beyond the individual sphere to which experiences of the first type were limited, for in the case of the magician - we allude to the rope trick - numerous spectators witness the performance. Here the experience is no longer private. It is collective. Once the performance is over, the spectators realize that, in the end, absolutely nothing has happened. Besides, the camera will provide irrefutable proof of it: All that this crowd saw was really nothing but a simple, mental creation. The internal organ, therefore, has the property to produce a certain type of phenomena in which the two categories of existence that are inevitably associated with empirical life, i.e. thoughts and objects, are clearly and distinctly presented to experience.

c. The dream illusion: As long as the dream illusion lasts, it is a reality of the waking state. The dream has to end, so that we may recognize its unreal character. But, during the illusion, the actor and the scene which is being enacted, are situated on the same level: They have exactly the same degree of reality. Moreover, all the characters that have a role in the comedy or drama of the dream, participate in the spectacle in the same quality as the main actor. This in contrast with the experience of the snake which is private, or with the rope trick which is public, for, in the latter case, a gathering - which is, none the less, limited - is perceiving the spectacle. In the dream illusion the dreamer himself is playing an unlimited number of roles: Those of all the personages that fill the dream. And the ego of the dream - modified or multiplied - lives, moves and has its being in a world which, itself, is as real as this ego. Once the dream is broken, we keep the persistent impression that the mind, of its own, created an experience within a universe that was, in and by itself, complete.

In studying these three kinds of phenomena, Hindu metaphysics does not stop at their illusory aspect. It rather applies itself to bringing out the following fact: One and the same substance has the capacity to present itself, at the same time, as subject and as object, without its essential nature being affected by it. This substance is the mind. In fact, the mind has not been altered in any way by the various series of temporary manifestations. When these manifestations are over, the mind remains as before. So we have lived through an experience in a world that was altogether made up, without having had the faintest awareness that it was only an illusion. And now, even in the waking state, an intuition of the truth compels us to pose the question:

Is there a basis which is common to all the various phenomena that we
are perceiving now, in the waking state? -
And, if that basis exists, how can it be known as the Reality?


To establish the Reality is, in fact, the goal of all true philosophy.
Vedānta, then, arrived at the conclusion that the Real is the Truth, which fulfils the following three conditions. This Truth must be:

- free from contradictions;
- so evident that it can do without any proof;
- universal in the broadest sense of the term.

If such a strict criterion is applied, then only Brahman is real, and this Brahman is identical with Ātman, the Self which dwells in the human individuality. This, then, is the discovery expressed by the sacred formula (mahāvākya) of the Upaniṣads: ‘Tat tvam asi’ (‘That thou, too, art!’). If this Knowledge becomes clear in us, then the cognition of the phenomenal world is extinguished at the same time, and the nature of the Soul is realized as ‘sat-chit-ānanda’ (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute).
The other systems of Hindu philosophy maintained that, in the state of liberation, the Soul recovers its original purity, although the world as such continues to exist. To all of them release (mukti) meant that, in the highest experience, the Self finds itself dissociated from both subjective ideation and the objective world. The Self, free from all alloy, was therefore held by the schools of Nyāya-Vaishesika and Mīmāṃsā to be non-consciousness, and by Sāṃkhya and Yoga to be pure Intelligence. On this point Vedānta separates itself from all the preceding systems and, by a dialectical method, it proves that the world only exists in relation with illusory imagination. The two of them arise together, they both last together, and they both disappear together. As soon as the Knowledge (jñāna) arises, the One remains to the exclusion of everything else. It happens like that - not because the rapports between the Self and the world have been abolished - but because the appearance of the cosmic process (saṃsāra) does not represent the ultimate Truth.
The perception of the world in normal experience is equated with the illusory perception of a silver coin, an illusion which occurs with respect to a piece of nacre for as long as the ‘perceived’ is considered to be real. But when the illusion has gone, what becomes of the belief in the reality of the silver coin? As soon as the erroneous knowledge has been recognized as such, its spell is altogether ruined. Nothing can revivify the illusion - It has been killed:

To know the truth and to destroy the error
is one and the same thing!


Let us therefore give up searching for the origin of the illusion - rather, let us try to put an end to it! There is nothing better to be done by us. We will never know how the illusion is related to the Reality, Brahman, for the very moment when the Truth is realized, there will no longer be any reason for ‘demonstrating’ the illusion. From that moment it will be in vain to try to discover an intermediate ‘link’ between Knowledge and ignorance.
The Upaniṣads also affirm that Truth is one, and Śaṅkara adds in his commentaries that multiplicity is not an ‘error’ - Multiplicity is ‘māyā’. Moreover, māyā was at no moment connected with Brahman, whether with respect to the cosmos or with respect to the individualities, for such a connection has never been established within time. Māyā exists only in so far as the error continues. So it is not a ‘real’ entity which has produced the ‘real’ appearance of the world. Māyā is a category where the three divisions of formal logic are being scoffed at: Being (sat), non-Being (asat), and the principle of the excluded middle term. One cannot say, therefore, that māyā ‘is’, nor that māyā ‘is not’. Dreams and illusory cognitions provide a very clear demonstration of that:

The factor which creates the illusion
is of the same duration as the illusion.


Brahman is in no way affected by this illusory and temporary connection, because, in the end, it is not a real connection. It is not a matter of a real link, but only of a simple appearance.

Excerpt from the writings by Swāmi Siddheswarānanda (1897-1957) of the Ramakrishna Order of India.
[For further reading see also: 'The Metaphysical Intuition: seeing God with open eyes' by Swāmi Siddheswarānanda. Monkfish Book Publishing, USA, 2006.]
   


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