Vedanta (Hindu Mysticism)

Eastern Mysticism 2

Abdul Hadi W. M.




Mysticism in India is a branch of the ‘darsana’ (view, wisdom, philosophy). The sources of ‘darsana’ are Veda and Upanishad.

There are six orthodox schools in the Indian Darsana, commonly known as ‘Sad Darsana’ (Six views): Nyaya, Vaishesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta (the last teaching of Veda).

The Common ideas

in Indian Philosophy:

1. The doctrine of samsara (suffering) or metempsychosis.

2. The doctrine of the eternity of the soul (atman), retrospectively as well as prospectively. But a distnction is made between ‘the supreme universal soul’ (paramatman) and ‘the individual soul’ (jivatman). Some schools refused to believe in the atman, except as a temporarily isolated Ithrough ignorance or avidya) portion of the Paramatman.

3. The doctrine of the eternity of matter, primordial substance (prakrti) from which the universe was cyclically evolved. Matter may be gross matter, in the sense accepted by the materialist (Carvaka) or it may be merely the soul overspread by what was called maya (illusion). The latter was more general belief and profoundly influenced Indian life.

4. It was believed that the soul was only able to express consicousness in the thought, or by the use of any other faculty.

5. The union of soul and body is productive of bondage, and in the case of human being, of misery.

6. In view of all the preceding beliefs, heaven and hells were necessary to accomplish the working out of the consequences of acts, that is, karma. To this end was acccepted the belief in a series of births and deaths such as made it posssible for man to receive the due wages of his sins or the reward of his good deeds.

7. Beyond all heaven and hells – both equally undesirerable, since no heaven was conceived as a permanent state, since the end of happiness is necessaarily misery – lay the various stages of bliss described as (a) salokya (being in the same place with Brahman); (b) Samipya (being near to Brahman); (c) Sarupya (partaking of the likenesss of Brahman); (d) and Sayyujya (completest union with Brahman).

Consumanation of all this is called Nirvana or Nirguna, a negative state not to be confused with the idea of extinction, but rather conceived of as absolute qualitiness, the surrender of all supposed separateness, the ‘sliding of the drew-drop into the Ocean.

Sad Darsana

The six orthodox schools will fall into three pair: (1) Nyaya and Vaishesika; (2) Samkhya and Yoga; (3) Purva Mimamsa (Mimamsaka) and Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta).

1. Nyaya, the system usually placed first, signifies

ingoing or analysis. It is really nych more a system of logic than a school of philosophy. Logic is presented in the Nyaya system as the necessary means for furnishing ‘ a correct method of philosophical enquiry into all the objects and subjects of human knowledge.

2. Vaishesika is, in probability, much older than Nyaya.

The system extends the logical method of Nyaya to physical investigations, maintaining the reality of souls as well as of such things as space, time, and atoms. According to the Vaishesika’s philosophers, the world is supposedly formed by aggregation of atoms which, although unnumerable and eternal, are not infinite. Some exponents of the system give as a kind of dualism in which eternal atoms, causeless as well as eternal souls, or with the supreme soul.

3. Samkhya, which signifies ‘number’, or ‘synthesis’, is

the oldest of the philosopical systems. This school is frankly dualistic, asserting the fundamental impossibility of explaining consciousness in term of matter. On the one hand are postulated an innumerable, though not infinite, number of uncreated souls, eternally separate one from tge other. On the other hand is everactve potentiality of Nature (Prakrti) the produses, the eternal, rootless evolver. This latter is conceived of as a subtle, elementary essence made up of three constituent qualities, or gunas (Triguna): sattva (goodness), rajas (passion, activity) and tamas (darkness, stolidity). From this Prakrti, thus conceived, everything is produced. But this is only when Prakrti is in union with the soul, Purusha. In later Hinduism Prakrti becomes a real Mother Nature and is identified with the female energy (cakti) of Civa. The first product of the association of Purusha and Prakrti is conscousness (mahat and its manifestations — buddhi). Then are created in turn the five subtle element of ether, air, earth, light and water. After this come the five organs of sense and five organs of actiob. Thus is formed the subtle body, which accompanies the soul from one existence to another and ‘is, therefore, the real principle of metempsychosis. The subtle body, held in bondage by the union, herein learn its misery and endeavors to escape.

4. Yoga, which means ‘yoking’, i.e. withe the divine,

is a pactical concession to those who were unable or unwillng to endure the stark pessimism of the Samkhya. It id concession in two respects: first, in the acceptance of a Supreme Being – whence the system is sometimes called the theistic Samkhya — and secondly in providing a practical disciple where by the soul may be united with this Supreme Being.

In brief, Yoga is an art for the securing of the larger

vision and for the acquiring of power – latent in all men, but commonly unrealised – through which the lower self is conquered and the transcendenal self set free for fellowship with God (Brahman, Isvara. Paramaciva).

5. Purva-mimamsa (the earlier investigation) or

Mimamsaka, and some time known as the karma mimamsa, is a system of Vedic interpretation ascribed to Jaimini. Mimamsaka, like the Yoga, an essensially practical system, teaching the authoriyy of the Veda, the ceremonial duty of man in reference to sacrifies, and the method by which these are to be offered.

6. Vedanta, that is the end of the Veda, whose

alternative name of Uttara-mimamsa (the later investigations) shows its connection philosopically with the Mimamsa of Jaimini. Vedanta is a school, represents a definite gathering up of the philosophical doctrines of the Upanishad in an attempt to frame a system which will embrace them all. But the formulation of Vedanta extends over a long period of literary history, down t the time of the most celebrated exponent, the great Sri Sankara of the 7th – 8th cendtury A. D. It has also in modern times been the philosophic creed of Indian teacher such as Ram Krishna Parahamsa and Svami Vivekananda.

Vedantism is really a kind of pantheistic monism,

expressing its main tenet and such term as advaita (non-dualism), and such Upanishadic phrase as “Brahma exists truly, the world falsely; the soul is only Brahman and no ther”. And “ All this universe indeed is Brahman; from him does it prpceed; into him it is dissolved; in him it breathes.”

All else but Brahman is maya or illusion (maya).



The ultimate cause of all such false impression is avidya (ignorance), simply postulate, but does not in any way seek to account for. It is this ignorance, which prevents the soul from recognizing that the empirical world is mere maya, or illusion.

Thus to the Vedantist the universe is like a mirage, which the soul, under the influence of desire (trishna or thirst) fancies it perceives just as the panting hart sees – before it sheets of water in the fatamorgana (miraga-trishna or deer-thirst).

The illusion vanishes as it by magic, when the scales fall from eyes, on the acquisition of true knowledge. Then the semblance of any distinction between the soul and God disappears and salvation (moksha) the chief end of man, is attained.

All schools of Vedanta to be based upon the Upanishad. The teaching of Upanishad is predominantly monistic through it is not easy to determine what particular form of monism is taught. The former of this schools, Badarayana (2nd century B. C.) in the Vedanta Sutra, refute the dualistic view of Samkhya.

In the Sutra of Badarayana, there is reference to as many as seven Vedantic teachers and he alludes to difference view among them in respects of essensial points like the nature of moksha and the need of samkyasa for the spiritual aspirant.

Vedanta Sutra or Brahma Sutra is the basis for the famous exegesis of Sri Sankara (7th – 8th century A. D. ). The commentary of Ramanuja, a qualified Vedantist of the twelfth century, differs in many particulars from Sri Sankara.

It is natural that, in addition to the orthodox schools which we have described, attempts were made here and there to found eclectic systems of philosophy by the combination of elements borrowed from two or more of the Darsana.

A favourite combination was that which used the systems of the Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta to make a new school. The piece eclecticism appears first in one of tthe Upanishad, Svetastara Upanishad, in which the supreme spirit is idenfied with Siva (Civa). More fullly it appears in Bhagavad Gita or Divine Song.

Quotations from the Upanishad

From the” Mundaka Upanishad”:

“My son! There is nothing in this world that is not God (Brahman). He is action, purity, everlasting Spirit. Find Him in the cavern, gnaw the knot of ignorance (avidya).

Shining, yet hidden, Spirit lives in the cavern. Everything that sways, breathe, opens, closes, lives in Spirit; beyond learning, beyond everything, better than anything, living, unliving.

It is the undying blazing Spirit, thet seed of all seeds, wherein lay hidden the world and all its creatures. It is life, speech, mind, reality, immortality.

From the “Chandogya Upanishad”:

In this body, in this town of Spirit, there is a little house shaped like a lotus and a little that house there is a little space…There is as much in that little space within the heart as there is in the whole world outside. Heaven, earth, fire, wind, sun, moon, lightning, stars, whatever is and whatever is not, everything is there. What lies in that space does not decay when the body decays, not does it fall when the body fall. The space is the home of Spirit. Every desire is there. Self is there, beyond decay, and death, sin and sorrow, hunger and thirst; His aim truth, His will truth.

My son! Though you do not find that Being in the world. He is there. That Being is the seed; all else but His expression. He is truth. He is Self, Shwetaketu!! You are that (Tat tvam asi).

Commentary: Man is the house of Spirit; in a sense he is Dpirit for ‘you are that’. The self he thinks he knows is not his true self; it is an empirical, phenomenal self, conscious only in fits and starts, unstable, subject to change, decay, and death; it has no fixed identity.

Within man dwells however, a Greater Self, the Atman, which is immortal and unchanging, a divine light; the unsleeping seer, the true Self. This self is present in all, yet distinct from all. It is a universal self and at the same time a

Happold (1970), “ The splendid Hindu vision of the spiritual nature of the universe and of man tended to result in an exaggerated otherworldliness, and too great emphasis on the virtue of passivity as opposed to action.

From the “Katha Upanishad”:

The Self knows all, is not born, does not die, is not the effect of any cause; is eternal, sel-existent, imperishable, ancient. How can the killing of the body kill Him. He who thinks that He kills, he who thinks that He is killed, is ignorant. He does not kill nor is He killed. The Self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest. He lives in all hearts.

As we described in the previous chapter, Vedanta is the system developed by Badarayana’s Vedanta Sutra. This is mainly based on the Upanishad teachings.

Different commentators interpret the Vedanta differently. There are mainly three systems: (1) the Advaita or absolute monism of Sri Sankara; (2) the Visista advaita or differential monism or qualified monism of Ramanuja; (3) the Dvaita or dualism of Sri Madhva.

We will mainly focus on (1) the nature of ultimate reality; (2) the nature of human spirit and the relation between ultimate reality and human spirit; (3) the nature of world and the relation between ultimate reality and world.

  1. Nature of Brahman or the Ultimate Reality : According to Sri Sankara, the ultimate reality is Para Brahman means highers Brahman. This is Nirguna and Nirvishesa Brahman, means Brahman without attributes or quality. According to Sri Sankara, Saguna and Savishesa Brahman is ‘apara Brahman’, means reality with quality and attribute ios a lower Brahman. This apara (lower) Brahman is uneal and it is due to Maya (illusion) or avidya (ignorance).

According to Ramanuja the ultimate realitu is saguna and savishesa Brahman and it is the real Brahman and not apara Brahman due to Maya.

According to Sri Madhva also real Brahman is saguna dan savishesa Brahman.

  1. Nature of Jiwva and its relation to Brahman: Jiva in

Vedanta mean human spirit. According to Sri Sankara, jiva is identical with Brahman and in reality Brahman itself conditioned by limiting adjuncts due to avidya or Maya. According to Ramanuja, jiva is an ontologicall entity different from Brahman. Jiva is amsa or part of Brahman and it is relation of essential attribute to its substance. This is difference cum non difference. According to Sri Madhva , there is no organic relation between Brahman and Jiva. Only some attributes are similar to Brahman and Jiva, and is absolutely different from Brahman.


3. Nature of world (jagat) and its relation to Brahman:

According to Sri Shankara Shankara, Brahman is both the instrumental and material cause of the universer. Apart from Brahman, the jagat has no existence. So Jagat is unreal and illusory manifestation of the real being due to avidya and Maya. According to Ramanuja, also Brahman is the instrumental cause and the material cause of the universe. But according to him the jagat is real as there is a causal relation between Brahman and jagat. Casual relation means different state of the same substance. According to Sri Madhva, Brahman is only the instrmental cause and the material cause is prakrti. Universe or Jagat is real but absolutely different from Brahman.

The evolution of the world is conceived as various stages in Vedanta. The stages are described as manistestations of kosha or body, i.e. the body of the atman . The manifestations consist in six stages:

1. At the centre there is atman or ultimate reality;

2. Then ananda maya consist of bliss,

3. Next vijnana maya consist of wisdom,

4. Then mano maya means mind,

5. Then prana maya or life,

6. The last is called Annamaya or food.

As a philosopical system, Vedanta is one of the Hindu’s philosophy most closest to the religion of India. It deals with the religiois and philosophical speculations of Upanishad.

Samkara’s Advaita

or Non-Dualism Vedanta

Sri Samkara is generally assigned to the eight century (788-820 AD). His sysmtem is traceable to Karika-sutra of Gaudapada (8th century AD and Mandukya Upanishad. He is a thinker of the first rank ini Vedantism. But he says that he is merely expounding what is contained in the Vedas.

In the indtroduction to his commentary on the Vedanta-sutra he asks whether there is anything in experience which may be regarded as fountational. Our senses may be deceive us, our memory may be an illusion (maya). The forms of the world may be pure fancy. The objects of knowledge may be open tp doubt, but the doubter himself cannot be doubted. “All the means of knowledge exist only as dependen on self experience and since such experience is its own proof there is no necessity for prving the existense of self. It cannot be proved because it is the basis of all proof. The self is self estblished and is different from all else, physical and mental. As is self-established and is different from all elsem physical and mental. As the subject is not the object. It has being in itself and for itself. It is undifferenttiated conscioussness, which remains unaffected even when the body is reduced tpo ashes and the mind perishes. The self (atman) is existence, knowledge, and bliss. It is universal and unfinite.

The object-world is dependent. It is changing but is not a mental fiction. We perceive objects; we do not invent the corresponding ideas. The world perceived is as real as the individual perceiver. Samkara repudiates the subjectivism of the Buddhis Idealist (Yogacara). He also holds that the world is not non-existent. It is not abhava (non-existent) or sunya (void). Nevertheless, the world is not ultimate reality.

Our ignorance (avidya) is born of a confusion of the transcendental subject (atman) with empirical existence (anatman).

When we start from the cosmic-end, as it were, we find that the world is bound up by the categories of space, time, and cause. These are not self-contained or self-consistents. They point to something unalterable and absolute, which remains identical with itself in all its manifestations.

Brahman is the basis and ground of all experience. Brahman is different from the space-time-cause world. Brahman has nothing similar to it, nothing different from it, and no internal differentation, for all thsese are empirical distinction. Brahman is the non-empirical, the non-subjective, the wholly other, but it is not non-being. It is the highest being.

With Samkara, atman is the same as Brahman, the essense of the subject, the deepest part of our being, is one with essense of the world.

The empirical world cannot exist by itself. It is wholly dependent on Brahman, but the changes of the empirical order do not affect the integrity of Brahman. The world depends on Brahman, but Brahman depends on nothing. Ignorance affects our whole empirical being. It is another name for finitude.

To remove ignorance is to realisise the truth. We reach wisdom when error is disssipated. The highest representation of the absolute being through logical categories is Isvara, the creator and governor of the universe, Brahman cast through the molds of logic, is Isvara or Saguna Brahman (Brahman with qualities), determinate Brahman. Brahman, as the Absolute as nirguna Brahman (qualityless Brahman) is the basis of the phenomenal world, presided over by Isvara. In this universe, we have God (Isvara), selves and the world.

The individual self (atman) is the agent of activity. It is the universalself or Atman limoited or inviduated by the object. It is connected with buddhi or understanding, and this connection lasts until release is attained.

By the practice of ethical virtues and by the pursuit of devotion and knowledge we reach the goal of self-realization (moksa). Moksa (self-realization or freedom) is the direct realization of the truth which has been there from eternity. On the attainment of freedom nothing happens to the world. Only our view of it changes. Moksa is not the dissolution of the world but is the displacement of a false outlook (avidya) by the right outlook , wisdom (vidya).


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