Narach Philosophy

THE VEDANTA SYSTEM


After Yoga comes Vedanta, the last of the six systems of Hindu Philosophy, based on the character of the soul. We have seen how we begin with the Sankhya, with its idea of Prakrti as the supreme creator of things, all except the soul and rise by clear gradations of thought to the idea of the importance of God in Yoga. But all that has to be stated so far is implied in the Sankhya itself, and all that the other systems have done is to explain or amplify its idea and, even as the Bhagavad Gita tells us, there is no essential difference between Sankhya and Yoga.

The Sankhya frankly dualistic in its conception of Prakrti and purusha (or the individual soul) as two separate entities; and, while it has no objection to the existence of God in terms of liberated soul who has nothing whatever to do with anything in the world, and can neither create nor cause anything t be done, it points out that such a God can be of little us to man; and maintains that the freedom of the soul from the bondage of life can be achieved only by means of self knowledge and renunciation of action. It believes that there is no joy in life, for what is called joy is, according to it, but a form of pain; and this pain is caused by action, which is a characteristic of all things in the world. It tries to explain how we can put an end to action, stating that when a person does not engage in any new actions, the impressions of previous actions, which are the cause of further action, become fainter and fainter, till at last they totally disappear, and the soul becomes for ever free. But it does not succeed in establishing its theory, because, even as the Mimansa tells us, there can be no total extinction of action, and something of it will always remain.

In addition to this there are a number of other gaps of thought in the Sankhya, and so the other systems do not hesitate to take a somewhat different point of view; for instance, the Nyaya and the Vaiseshika refer to the soul as an actor, while the Mimansa explains that it is both an actor and a non-actor, acting so long as it dwells in the body, and ceasing to act when it departs; and so their answer to the question of freedom from the bondage of life is not the same as that of the Sankhya. Yoga, however, while differing from the Sankhya in holding that there is joy in life, and many great things can be achieved by means of concentration of thought and effort, is at one with that system in maintaining that our ultimate goal, however far off is a total renunciation of action. Also, like the Sankhya, it makes an attempt to explain how there can be an absolute cessation of action. It, however, gives an important place to God, whom it conceives to be a special kind of purusha (or the individual soul), in the same manner as is suggested by the Sankhya itself for it does not conceive of Him as a creator in any real sense of the term; but it believes that devotion to this God makes for concentration of thought and effort and success in everything. Yoga accordingly gives us the idea of a personal God, but does not essentially take us any further in our quest.

There are thus a number of gaps of thought in these systems; and though a number of points have been amplified or explained, the essential problem still remains, and needs to be tackled from an entirely new point of view; and the solution, so far as it is humanly possible to solve such a problem is provided by Vedanta.

The meaning of Vedanta: It is commonly believed that the word Vedanta (Veda-anta) means "complete knowledge of the Veda"; but the opening Sutra of this system which, as in the case of the other systems, describes its principal subject-matter, tells us that it is an inquiry into the nature of Brahma or God; and that, as the Mimdnsci has told us, is not the subject-matter of the Vedas. The Vedas, we are told, deal not with the problem of God or even the soul, though there may be stray references to them too but chiefly with the great laws of Nature and their application to the life of man. This is what the Bhagavad Gita says too; for it tells us that the Vedas deal with the three Gunas or attributes of the objects of Nature, and so it is necessary to go beyond them, and to understand the soul. Hence, as the idea of God corresponds to that of the human soul, for there appears to be no other equally satisfactory way of understanding it. Vedanta, dealing as it does with the nature of Brahma or God, cannot be restricted even to a complete knowledge of the Vedas, the subject-matter of which is so different.

This would explain why the references to the Vedas in the Bhagavad Gita are not very eulogistic. The discourse of the Gita takes us beyond the Vedas to the idea of God and the soul.

It would accordingly be more correct to interpret the word (Veda-anta) as "(anta, "end, out-skirt") that which is the end (or is at the end) of the Vedas"; and so would correspond to the idea of the smrti, which refers to post-Vedic literature, and is distinguished from the sruti, which refers to the Vedas and all that relates directly to them. Indeed the subject-matter of the smrti, as distinguished from the sruti, is the nature of God and the soul and, as it is said to follow the latter, so may Vedanta be said to come at the end of the Vedas; and it may be of interest to observe that there are a number of references to the Smrtis in the Sutras. Thus, as Vedanta is based on the character of the soul, it comes after Yoga, based on the character of the intellect.

A new aspect of Yoga: We have observed that it is not possible to conceive of the soul as pure soul, and so it is necessary to understand its idea in terms of the different faculties of man; and, as the highest of these is the intellect, it is often considered in its light, and the two are, for practical purposes, identified. Now, as Vedanta is based on the character of the soul, and Yoga on that of the intellect, it means that there should be a great deal in common between them, and the two may even be identified. But we find that their essential conclusions are very different. Hence, if what has been stated here be correct, there should be another way of looking at Yoga, different from what has been given in the Sutras.

The character of the Bhagavad Gita: The colophon or inscription at the end of each chapter of the Bhagavad Gita describes it as acknowledge of Brahma in the sastra (or sacred book) of Yoga; and we find that it really deals with Brahma, and at the same time each of its chapters is said to have a bearing on Yoga.

Indeed, Krishna has been described as Supreme Brahma as well as the God of Yoga (Yogesvara), and yet his idea is not the same as that of Isvara or God as given in the Yoga-Sutra for though the latter conceives of a personal God, He is not spoken of as a creator anywhere, whereas Krshna is referred to as such again and again. He is a personal as well as an impersonal deity, the knowable and the unknowable united together into one. He is the Supreme Intelligence identified with the Supreme Soul, and can be understood only by the soul of man when it realizes the highest Truth; and it is for this reason that he is spoken of as the author of Vedanta, the knower of the Vedas, greater than Brahma himself, nay, his very abode, for it is by means of the intellect alone that we can understand the idea of the soul and of God in his manifest form, that is, as characterised by certain attributes. There is thus another way of looking at Yoga, different from the system described in the Sutras; and there are a number of references to it in the Mahabharata. It gives us a personal idea of God, as distinguished from his impersonal conception as Brahma in the Vedanta Sutras; and, as the whole idea is based essentially on the intellect, it is called by the name of Yoga: only we should remember that the intellect in this case is for practical purposes identified with the soul, whereas in the case of the Yoga-Sutras it is intellect conceived in its own character as such. There are undoubted points of contact between the two conceptions, and to that extent the idea of the Yoga-Sutras would coincide with that of the Vedanta-Sutras, or the idea of Yoga in the Mahabharata; otherwise they would be different. On the other hand, the Krshna-idea of God would include the personal idea of God in the Yoga-Sutras as well as the idea of Brahma in Vedanta.

This is indeed, the idea of Krshna in the Bhagavad Gita; but, as the whole work is a synthesis of all the great systems of philosophy, and it contains certain apparent points of conflict too, which can be resolved only when we look at the problem in the light of these systems.

Vedanta and the Mimansa: We have observed that the Mimansa is based on the character of ahankara or the I-as- an-actor; but that can be conceived to be a separate entity only when the soul is regarded as a non-actor. When, however, we think of the soul as an actor itself, the idea of ahankara can only be merged into it; and it can retain its separate character only in its secondary sense as abhimana or egoism, which must disappear before the soul can understand its true character as soul The idea of ahankara in this secondary sense still continues to be used in literature.

This is the idea of Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, in the story of the Mahabharata. He personifies abhimana, while Arjuna is the human soul; and the whole story of the life and character of each centres round these ideas. This has already been explained.

Thus ahankara, in its original sense as the I-as-an-actor, is only an aspect of the soul; and, as the Mimansa is based on the character of the former, and Vedanta on that of the latter, the former is also called Purva-Mimansa, and the latter Uttara-Mimansa, or the first and latter part of philosophy. We also find that the Mimansa deals with the subject-matter of the Vedas and the method of their interpretation, while Vedanta deals with the problem of God and the soul, or what comes "at the end of the Vedas"; and it is for this reason that the one refers widely to the sruti, and the other to the smrti. Again, the Mimansa tells us that the gods of the Vedas are nothing but the great forms and forces of Nature; and it is the idea of these powers, working in accordance with a law that is conceived to be good, intelligent, as well as conducive to joy of life, that has been evolved into that of Brahma or the God of Vedanta.

Vedanta and the other systems; an alternative solution: We have seen how the chief ideas of the Sankhya have been explained or expanded by the other systems, so that the Yoga solution of the eternal problem of life, namely, freedom from the bondage of the world is practically the same as that of the Sankhya. We have also seen the main idea of this system in regard to the character of the soul and the manner of its obtaining freedom; and the reason why it fails to carry conviction is that it is impossible to agree that there can be a total annihilation of action, so that the soul cannot at any time divest itself of its "subtle body", made up of the constituents of Prakrti, and become its own self as pure soul again.

It is at this points that Vedanta directs its chief criticism. It maintains that if, as it is generally agreed, the soul cannot, at any stage, be separated from its "subtle body", it cannot be regarded as altogether different from all that is in Prakrti or Nature, for the "subtle body" is said to be composed of seventeen parts, the essence of the intellect, mind, the ten senses, and the five properties of the five "elements". It is there when the soul abides in a body on earth and is said to live, and it accompanies it also after death; and the only difference between the two states of life, on earth and after death, is that the "subtle body" comes to be associated with the five great "elements" of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether in the one case, and is without them in the other. In the latter case it is also without ahankara or the I-as-an-actor, for no action, in the sense in which we understand the term, takes place.

The conclusion of Vedanta: Accordingly is that the soul and Nature belong essentially to the same class; and, if it is possible to hold, as the Sankhya and the other systems do that matter (the senses and the "elements" and their properties) is formed out of the mind, we can conceive of Prakrti itself as emanating from Brahma. Indeed, Vedanta conceives of Brahma as Prakrti and soul taken together as one, for the two are forever inseparable both in a state of rest and action; and when life evolves or there is action emerging out of a state of rest, the great forces of Nature, from the intellect down to the "elements", issue forth; but each of them contains within itself an essence of the energy of the soul as well. The latter has power to permeate everything, but is associated with them in various degrees: for instance, we cannot associate it so clearly with the "elements" as with the mind and the intellect. It cannot be separated from its "subtle body", and is said to live when it comes to abide in the midst of the "elements" which constitute the basis of its physical body; and it passes away when it leaves these behind, and goes to dwell in some other world beyond; and is finally merged in Brahma, the fountain source from which all things arise, and into which they enter at the end.