The Two Schools of the Vedânta.
Equivocal Passages in the Upanishads.
IN laying before you a short outline of the Vedânta- philosophy, I had several times to call your attention to what I called the equivocality which is perceptible in the Upanishads, and likewise in the Vedântasûtras. In one sense everything that exists may be considered as Brahman, only veiled by nescience, while in another sense nothing that exists is Brahman in its true and real character. This equivocality applies with particular force to the individual soul and to the Creator. The individual soul would be nothing if it were not Brahman, yet nothing of what is predicated of the individual soul can be predicated of Brahman. A great portion of the Vedânta-sûtras is occupied with what may be called philosophical exegesis, that is, with an attempt to determine whether certain passages in the Upanishads refer to the individual soul or to Brahman. Considering that the individual soul has been and will be, in fact always is, Brahman, if only it knew it, it is generally possible to argue that what is said of the individual soul, is in the end said of Brahman. The same applies to the personal God, the Creator, or as he is commonly called, Îsvara, the Lord. He, too, is in reality Brahman, so that here again many things predicated of him may in the end be referred to Brahman, the Supreme Being, in its non-phenomenal character.
This amphiboly of thought and expression has found its final expression in the two schools which for many centuries have claimed to be the true representatives of the Vedânta, that of Saṅkara and that of Râmânuga. I have generally followed the guidance of Saṅkara, as he seems to me to carry the Vedânta doctrine to the highest point, but I feel bound to say that Professor Thibaut has proved that Râmânuga is on many points the more faithful interpreter of the Vedânta-sûtras. Saṅkara is the more philosophical head, while Râmânuga has become the successful founder of one of the most popular religious sects, chiefly, it seems, because he did not carry the Vedânta to its last consequences, and because he managed to reconcile his more metaphysical speculations with the religious worship of certain popular deities, which he was ready to accept as symbolical representations of the Universal Godhead. Nor was Râmânuga a mere dissentient from Saṅkara. He claimed for his interpretation of the Vedânta the authority of philosophers more ancient even than Saṅkara, and, of course, the authority of the Vedânta-sûtras themselves, if only rightly understood. Râmânuga's followers do not possess now, so far as I know, manuscripts of any of these more ancient commentaries, but there is no reason to doubt that Bodhâyana and other philosophers to whom Râmânuga appeals, were real characters and in their time influential teachers of the Vedânta.
Saṅkara and Râmânuga.
Râmânuga and Saṅkara agree, of course, on many points, yet the points on which they differ possess a peculiar interest. They are not mere matters of interpretation with regard to the Sûtras or the Upanishads, but involve important principles. Both are strictly monistic philosophers, or, at all events, try hard to be so. They both hold that there exists and that there can exist but one Absolute Being, which supports all, comprehends all, and must help to explain all. They differ, however, as to the way in which the phenomenal universe is to be explained. Saṅkara is the more consistent monist. According to him, Brahman or Paramâtman, the Highest Self, is always one and the same, it cannot change, and therefore all the diversity of the phenomenal world is phenomenal only, or, as it may also be called, illusory, the result of avidyâ or of unavoidable nescience. They both hold that whatever is real in this unreal world is Brahman. Without Brahman even this unreal world would be impossible, or, as we should say, there could be nothing phenomenal, unless there was something noumenal. But as there can be no change or variance in the Supreme Being, the varying phenomena of the outer world, as well as the individual souls that are born into the world, are not to be considered either as portions or as modifications of Brahman. They are things that could not be without Brahman; their deepest self lies in Brahman; but what they appear to be is, according to Saṅkara, the result of nescience, of erroneous perception and equally erroneous conception. Here Râmânuga differs. He admits that all that really exists is Brahman, and that there is and can be nothing besides Brahman, but he does not ascribe the elements of plurality in the phenomenal world, including individual souls, to nescience, but to Brahman itself.
Brahman becomes in fact, in the mind of Râmânuga, not only the cause, but the real source of all that exists, and according to him the variety of the phenomenal world is a manifestation of what lies hidden in Brahman. All that thinks and all that does not think, the kit and the akit, are real modes (prakâra) of Brahman. He is the antaryâmin, the inward ruler of the material and the immaterial world. All individual souls are real manifestations of the unseen Brahman, and will preserve their individual character through all time and eternity. Râmânuga admits the great renovations of the world. At the end of each kalpa, all that exists is wrapt up for a time (during the pralaya) in Brahman, to appear again as soon as Brahman wills a new world (kalpa). The individual souls will then be once more embodied, and receive bodies according to their good or evil deeds in a former life. Their final reward is an approach to Brahman, as described in the old Upanishads, and a life in a celestial paradise free from all danger of a return to a new birth. There is nothing higher than that, according to Râmânuga.
Saṅkara's Brahman on the contrary is entirely free from differences, and does not contain in itself the seeds of the phenomenal world. It is without qualities. Not even thought can be predicated of Brahman, though intelligence constitutes its essence. All that seems manifold and endowed with qualities is the result of Avidyâ or Nescience, a power which cannot be called either real or unreal; a power that is altogether inconceivable, but the workings of which are seen in the phenomenal world. What is called Îsvara or the Lord by Râmânuga is, according to Saṅkara, Brahman, as represented by Avidyâ or Mâyâ, a personal creator and ruler of the world. This which with Râmânuga is the Supreme Being, is in the eyes of Saṅkara the Lower Brahman only, the qualified or phenomenal Brahman. This distinction between the Param and the Aparam Brahman, the Higher and the Lower Brahman, does not exist for Râmânuga, while it forms, the essential feature of Saṅkara's Vedântism. According to Saṅkara, individual souls with their experience of an objective world, and that objective world itself, are all false and the result of Avidyâ; they possess what is called a vyâvahârika or practical reality, but the individual souls (gîva) as soon as they become enlightened, cease to identify themselves with their bodies, their senses, and their intellect, and perceive and enjoy their pure original Brahmahood. They then, after having paid their debt for former deeds and misdeeds, after having enjoyed their rewards in the presence of the qualified Brahman and in a celestial paradise, reach final rest in Brahman. Or they may even in this life enter at once into their rest in Brahman, if only they have learnt from the Vedânta that their true Self is the same and has always been the same as the Highest Self, and the Highest Brahman.
What has often been quoted as the shortest summary of the Vedânta in a couple of lines, represents the Vedânta of Saṅkara, not of Râmânuga.
‘In half a couplet I will declare what has been declared in millions of volumes,
Brahma is true, the world is false, the soul is Brahma and is nothing else.’
Slokârdhena pravakshyâmi yad uktam granthakotibhih
Brahma satyam gagan mithyâ, gîvo brahmaiva nâparam1.
This is really a very perfect summary. It means: What truly and really exists is Brahman, the One Absolute Being; the world is false, or rather is not what it seems to be; that is, everything that is presented to us by the senses is phenomenal and relative, and can be nothing else. The soul again, or rather every man's soul, though it may seem to be this or that, is in reality nothing but Brahman.
This is the quintessence of the Vedânta; the only thing wanting in it is an account as to how the phenomenal and the individual comes to be at all, and in what relation it stands to what is absolutely real, to Brahman.
It is on this point Saṅkara and Râmânuga differ, Râmânuga holding the theory of evolution, the Parinâma-vâda, Saṅkara the theory of illusion, the Vivarta-vâda.
Intimately connected with this difference between the two great Vedântist teachers, is another difference as to the nature of God, as the Creator of the world. Râmânuga knows but one Brahman, and this, according to him, is the Lord, who creates and rules the world. Saṅkara admits two Brahmans, the lower and the higher, though in their essence they are but one.
Great as these differences on certain points of the Vedânta-philosophy may seem between Saṅkara and Râmânuga, they vanish if we enter more deeply into this ancient problem. Or rather we can see that the two meant much the same, though they expressed themselves in different ways. Though Saṅkara looks upon the individual soul and the personal God or Îsvara as, like everything else, the result of Avidyâ, nescience, or Mâyâ, illusion, we must remember that what he calls unreal is no more than what we should call phenomenal. His vyâvahârika, or practical world, is no more unreal than our phenomenal world, though we distinguish it from the noumenal, or the Ding an sich. It is as real as anything presented to us by our senses ever can be. Nor is the vyâvahârika or phenomenal God more unreal than the God whom we ignorantly worship. Avidyâ or nescience with Saṅkara produces really the same effect as parinâma or evolution with Râmânuga. With him there always remains the unanswered question why Brahman, the perfect Being, the only Being that can claim reality, should ever have been subjected to parinâma or change, why, as Plato asks in the Sophist and the Parmenides, the one should ever have become many; while Saṅkara is more honest in confessing, though indirectly, our ignorance in ascribing all that we cannot understand in the phenomenal world to that principle of Nescience which is inherent in our nature, nay without which we should not be what we are. To know this Avidyâ constitutes the highest wisdom which we can reach in this life, whether we follow the teaching of Saṅkara or Râmânuga, of Sokrates or St. Paul. The old problem remains the same whether we say that the unchangeable Brahman is changed, though we are ignorant how, or whether we say that it is due to ignorance that the unchangeable Brahman seems to be changed. We have to choose between accepting Avidyâ as a fact not to be accounted for, or accepting change in the perfect Being as a fact not to be accounted for. This, however, would carry us into fields of philosophy which have never been cultivated by Indian thinkers, and where they would decline to follow us.
But whatever we may think of their Vedântic speculations, we cannot but admire the fearless consistency with which these ancient philosophers, and more particularly Saṅkara, argue from their premisses. If Brahman is all in all, they say—if Brahman is the only real Being—then the world also must be Brahman, the only question being, how? Saṅkara is quite consistent when he says that without Brahman the world would be impossible, just as we should say that without the absolutely real the relatively real would be impossible. And it is very important to observe that the Vedântist does not go so far as certain Buddhist philosophers who look upon the phenomenal world as simply nothing. No, their world is real, only it is not what it seems to be. Saṅkara claims for the phenomenal world a reality sufficient for all practical purposes (vyâavahârika), sufficient to determine our practical life, our moral obligations, nay even our belief in a manifested or revealed God.
There is a veil, but the Vedânta-philosophy teaches us that the eternal light behind it can always be perceived more or less darkly, or more or less clearly, through philosophical knowledge. It can be perceived, because in reality it is always there. It has been said that the personal or manifested God of the Vedântists, whether they call Him Îsvara, Lord, or any other name, possesses no absolute, but a relative reality only—that he is, in fact, the result of Avidyâ or Nescience. This is true. But this so-called relative reality is again sufficient for all practical and religious purposes. It is as real as anything, when known by us, can be real. It is as real as anything that is called real in ordinary language. The few only who have grasped the reality of the One Absolute Being, have any right to say that it is not absolutely real. The Vedântist is very careful to distinguish between two kinds of reality. There is absolute reality which belongs to Brahman only; there is phenomenal reality which belongs to God or Îsvara as Creator and to all which he created as known to us; and there is besides, what he would call utter emptiness or sûnyatva, which with the Buddhists represents the essence of the world, but which the Vedâantist classes with the mirage of the desert, the horns of a hare, or the son of a barren woman. Whenever he is asked whether he looks upon the Creator and his works as not absolutely real, he always falls back on this that the Creator and the creation are the Absolute itself, only seeming to be conditioned. The phenomenal attaches to their appearance only, which translated into our language would mean that we can know God only as He is revealed in His works or as He appears to our human understanding, but never in His absolute reality. Only while with us the absence of knowledge is subjective, with the Hindu it has become an objective power. He would say to the modern Agnostic: We quite agree with you as far as facts are concerned, but while you are satisfied with the mere statement that we, as human beings, are nescient, we in India have asked the further question, whence that Nescience, or what has made us nescient, or what is the cause, for a cause there must be, that we cannot know the Absolute, such as it is. By calling that cause Avidyâ or Mâyâ the Agnostics might say that the Vedântists do not gain much; still they gain this, that this universal Agnosis is recognised as a cause, and as distinct both from the subject, as knowing, and from the objects, as known. We should probably say that the cause of Agnosis or of our limited and conditional knowledge lies in the subject, or in the very nature of what we mean by knowledge, and it was from this very point of view that Kant determined the limits and conditions of knowledge as peculiar to the human mind.
Though by a different way, the Vedântist arrived really in the end at the same result as Kant and more recent philosophers who hold with Kant that ‘our experience supplies us only with modes of the Unconditioned as presented under the conditions of our consciousness.’ It is these conditions or limitations of human consciousness which were expressed in India by Avidyâ. Sometimes this Avidyâ is represented as a power within the Divine (devâtma-sakti, Vedântasâra, p. 4); sometimes, by a kind of mythological metamorphosis, the Avidyâ or Mâyâ has become personified, a power, as it were, independent of ourselves, yet determining us in every act of sensuous intuition and rational conception. When the Vedântist says that the relative reality of the world is vyâvahârika, that is practical or sufficient for all practical purposes, we should probably say that ‘though reality under the forms of our consciousness is but a conditioned effect of the absolute reality, yet this conditioned effect stands in indissoluble relation with its unconditioned cause, and being equally persistent with it, so long as the conditions persist, is to consciousness supplying these conditions, equally real.’
It may seem strange to find the results of the philosophy of Kant and his followers thus anticipated under varying expressions in the Upanishads and in the Vedânta-philosophy of ancient India. The treatment of these world-old problems differs no doubt in the hands of modern and ancient thinkers, but the starting-points are really the same, and the final results are much the same. In these comparisons we cannot expect the advantages which a really genealogical treatment of religious and philosophical problems yields us. We cannot go back by a continuous road from Kant to Saṅkara, as if going back from pupil to teacher, or even from antagonists to the authorities which they criticise or attack. But when that treatment is impossible, what I call the analogical treatment is often very useful. As it is useful to compare the popular legends and superstitious customs of people who lived in Europe and Australia, and between whom no genealogical relationship is conceivable, it is instructive also to watch the philosophical problems, as they have been treated independently in different times and in localities between which no intellectual contact can possibly be suspected. At first no doubt the language and the method of the Upanishads seem so strange that any comparison with the philosophical language and method of our hemisphere seems out of the question. It sounds strange to us when the Upanishads speak of the soul emerging from the veins, ascending to the moon, and after a long and dangerous journey approaching at last the throne of God; it sounds stranger still when the soul is made to say to a personal God, ‘I am what Thou art, Thou art the Self, I am the Self, Thou art the True, I am the True.’ Yet it is only the old Eleatic argument carried out consistently, that if there is but one Infinite or one God, the soul also can in its true essence be nothing but God. Religions which are founded on a belief in a transcendent yet personal God, naturally shrink from this conclusion as irreverent and as almost impious. Yet this is their own fault. They have first created an unapproachable Deity, and they are afterwards afraid to approach it; they have made an abyss between the human and the divine, and they dare not cross it. This was not so in the early centuries of Christianity. Remembering the words of Christ, 'Εγὼ ϵ̓ν αὐτοι̑ς, καὶ σὺ ϵ̓ν ϵ̓μοί,ἵνα ὠ̑σιν τϵτϵλϵιωμϵ́νοι ϵἰς ἕν, ‘I in them and thou in me, that they be made perfect in one,’ Athanasius declared, De Incarn. Verbi Dei, 54, Aὐτὸς (ό του̑ θϵου̑ λόγος) ϵ̓πηνθρώπησϵν ἵνα ἠμϵι̑ς θϵοποιηθω̑μϵν,‘He, the Logos or Word of God, became man that we might become God.’ In more recent times also similar ideas have found expression in sacred poetry, though more or less veiled in metaphorical language. Not more than 200 years ago there was that noble school of Christian Platonists who rendered Cambridge famous in all Christendom. They thought the same thoughts and used almost the same language as the authors of the Upanishads 2000 years ago, and as the Indian Vedânta-philosophers about 1000 years ago, nay as some solitary thinkers to be found at Benares to the present day. The following lines of Henry More might have been written by a Vedânta-philosopher in India:
‘Hence the soul's nature we may plainly see:
A beam it is of the Intellectual Sun.
A ray indeed of that Aeternity,
But such a ray as when it first out shone
From a free light its shining date begun.’
‘But yet, my Muse, still take an higher flight,
Sing of Platonick Faith in the first Good,
That faith that doth our souls to God unite
So strongly, tightly, that the rapid flood
Of this swift flux of things, nor with foul mud
Can stain, nor strike us off from th' unity
Wherein we steadfast stand, unshaked, unmoved,
Engrafted by a deep vitality,
The prop and stay of things in God's benignity.’
The Vedânta-philosophy, as we saw, is very rich in similes and metaphors, but no philosophy has at the same time so courageously removed all metaphorical veils, when the whole truth had to be revealed, as the Vedânta, particularly in the mouth of Saṅkara. And what is peculiar to the Vedâanta is that, with all its boldness in speaking unmetaphorical language, it has never ceased to be a religion.
The Vedânta sanctioned a belief in Brahman as a masculine, as an objective deity, or as an Îsvara, the Lord, the creator and ruler of the world. It went even further and encouraged a worship of the Highest Brahman under certain pratîkas, that is, under certain names or forms or persons, nay even under the names of popular deities. It prescribed certain means of grace, and thereby introduced a system of moral discipline, the absence of which in purely metaphysical systems, is often urged as their most dangerous characteristic. The Vedântist would say that the truly enlightened and released soul, after finding its true home in Brahman, could not possibly commit sin or even claim merit for its good deeds. We read (Brih. Âr. IV. 4, 23), ‘He who has found the trace or the footstep (of Brahman) is not sullied by any evil deed,’ And again: ‘He that knows it, after having become quiet, satisfied, patient, and collected, sees self in Self, sees all as Self. Evil, does not burn him, he burns all evil. Free from evil, free from spots, free from doubt, he becomes a true Brâhmana, his self is at rest in the Highest Self.’
Moral Character of the. Vedânta.
To guard against the dangers of self-deceit, the Vedântists prescribe a very strict moral discipline as the essential condition of the obtainment of the highest knowledge. In the Upanishads (Brih. Âr. IV. 4, 22) we read: ‘Brâhmans seek to know Him by the study of the Veda, by sacrifice, by gifts, by penance, by fasting, and he who knows Him becomes a sage. Wishing for that world (of Brahman) only, they leave their homes as mendicants. The people of old, knowing this, did not wish for offspring. What shall we do with offspring, they said, we who have this Self and are no longer of this world? And having risen above the desire for sons, wealth, and new worlds, they wander about as mendicants.’
Here you find again in the Upanishad all the germs of Buddhism. The recognised name of mendicant, Bhikshu, is the name afterwards adopted by the followers of Buddha.
The danger that liberty of the spirit might degenerate into licence, existed no doubt in India as elsewhere. But nowhere were greater precautions taken against it than in India. First of all there was the probation, through which every youth had to pass for years in the house of his spiritual teacher. Then followed the life of the married man or householder, strictly regulated by priestly control. And then only when old age approached, began the time of spiritual freedom, the life in the forest, which brought release from ceremonial and religious restriction, but at the same time, strict discipline, nay more than discipline, penance of every kind, torture of the body, and strictly regulated meditation.
Six requirements were considered essential before a Brâhman could hope to attain true knowledge, viz. tranquillity (sama), taming of the passions (dama), resignation (uparati), patience (titikshâ), collection (samâdhi), and faith (sraddhâ). All these preparatory stages are minutely described, and their object is throughout to draw the thoughts away from things external, and to produce a desire for spiritual freedom (mumukshatva), and to open the eyes of the soul to its true nature. It must be clearly understood that all these means of grace, whether external, such as sacrifice, study, penance, or internal, such as patience, collection, and faith, cannot by themselves produce true knowledge, but that they serve to prepare the mind to receive that knowledge.
It is well known that in India the perfect absorption of thought into the supreme spirit is accompanied, or rather preceded, by a number of more or less painful practices, which are fully described in their ancient catechisms (in the Yoga-sûtras, &c.), and which continue to be practised to the present day in India. I believe that from a pathological point of view there is nothing mysterious in any of the strange effects produced by restraining or regulating the breathing, fixing the eyes on certain points, sitting in peculiar positions, and abstaining from food. But these things, which have of late attracted so much attention, are of small interest to the philosopher, and are apt to lead to much self-deceit, if not to intentional deception. The Hindus themselves are quite familiar with the extraordinary performances of some of their Yogins or so-called Mahâtmas, and it is quite right that medical men should carefully study this subject in India, to find out what is true and what is not. To represent these performances as essential parts of ancient Hindu philosophy, as has lately been done by the admirers of Tibetan Mahâtmas, is a great mistake.
It is likewise a mistake to suppose that the ancient Hindus looked upon the Upanishads or the Vedântasûtras as something secret or esoteric. Esoteric mysteries seem to me much more of a modern invention than an ancient institution. The more we become familar with the ancient literature of the East, the less we find of Oriental mysteries, of esoteric wisdom, of Isis veiled or unveiled. The profanum vulgus, or the outsiders, if there were any, consisted chiefly of those who wished to stay outside, or who excluded themselves by deficiencies either of knowledge or of character. In Greece also no one was admitted to the schools of the Pythagoreans without undergoing some kind of preparation. But to require a qualifying examination is very different from exclusiveness or concealment. The Pythagoreans had different classes of students; naturally, as we have Bachelors and Masters of Arts; and if some of these were called ϵ̓σωτϵρικοί and others ϵ̓ξωτϵρικοί, that meant no more at first than that the latter were still on the outskirts of philosophical studies, while the former had been admitted to the more advanced classes. The Pythagoreans had even a distinctive dress, they observed a restricted diet, and are said to have abstained from flesh, except at sacrifices, from fish, and from beans. Some observed celibacy, and had all things in common. These regulations varied at different times and in different countries where the Pythagorean doctrines had spread. But nowhere do we hear of any doctrines being withheld from those who were willing to fulfil the conditions imposed on all who desired admission to the brotherhood. If this constitutes mystery or esoteric teaching, we might as well speak of the mysteries of astronomy, because people ignorant of mathematics are excluded from it, or of the esoteric wisdom of the students of Comparative Mythology, because a knowledge of Sanskrit is a sine quâ non. Even the Greek Mysteries, whatever they became in the end, were originally no more than rites and doctrines handed down at the solemn gatherings, of certain families or clans or societies, where no one had access but those who had acquired a right of membership. It is true that such societies are apt to degenerate into secret societies, and that limited admission soon becomes exclusiveness. But if outsiders imagined that these so-called mysteries contained any profound wisdom and were meant to veil secrets which it seemed dangerous to divulge, they were probably as much deceived as people are in our days if they imagine that doctrines of esoteric wisdom have been handed down by the Freemasons from the days of Solomon, and are now confided to the safe keeping of the Prince of Wales.
It is quite true that the doctrine of the Upanishads is called Rahasya, that is, secret, but it is secret in one sense only, that is to say, no one was taught the Upanishads in ancient times, who had not passed through the previous discipline of the two stages of life, that of the student, and that of the householder, or who had not decided from the first on leading a life of study and chastity. This secrecy was easy when there existed as yet no books, and when therefore those who wished to study the Upanishads had to find a teacher to teach them. Such a teacher would naturally communicate his knowledge to men only who had attained the proper age, or had fulfilled other necessary conditions. Thus we read at the end of the Samhitâ-Upanishad in the Aitareya-âranyaka, ‘Let no one tell these Samhitâs to any one who is not a resident pupil, who has not been with his teacher at least one year, and who is not himself to become an instructor. Thus say the teachers.’
As to the study of the Vedânta-sûtras, I know of no restriction, particularly at a time when MSS. had become more widely accessible, and when numerous commentaries and glosses enabled students to acquire a knowledge of this system of philosophy even by themselves. Nay, it is certainly curious that while the ordinary education and the study of the Veda was restricted to the three upper classes, we read again and again of members of the fourth class, mere Sûdras, sharing the knowledge of the Vedânta, and joining; the rank of the mendicants or Bhikshus.
Difference between India and Greece.
What constitutes, however, the most important difference between the ancient Vedânta-philosophy in India, and similar philosophies in Greece, is the theological character retained by the former, while the latter tended more and more to become ethical and political rather than theological. With regard to metaphysical speculations the Eleatic philosophers, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, and Melissus, come nearest to the Vedânta-philosophers. Xenophanes may still be called almost entirely theological. He speaks of Zeus as the Supreme Being, as all in all. In fact, he represents the same stage of thought which is represented as the lower knowledge in the Vedânta, a belief in Brahman, as masculine, which, to judge from the Upanishads themselves, was in India also earlier than a belief in Brahman as neuter. This belief left the individual soul face to face with the universal, but objective deity, it had not yet reached to the knowledge of the oneness of the Âtman and the Brahman. Xenophanes retains his belief in Zeus, though his Zeus is very different from the Zeus of Homer. He is first of all the only God, neither in form nor in thought like unto mortals. Thus Xenophanes argues:
‘If God is the strongest of all things, he must be one, for if there were two or more, he would not be the strongest and best of all things.’
(Εἰ δ᾽ ἔστιν ὀ θϵὸς ἁπάντων κράτιστον, ἕνα ϕησὶν αὐτὸν προσήκϵιν ϵἰ̑ναι· ϵἰ γὰρ δύο ἢ πλϵίους ϵἰ̑ϵν οὐκ ἂν ἔ τι κράτιστον καὶ βϵ́λτιστον αὐτὸν ϵἰναι πάντων. Clem. Strom. v. 601 c.)
He must also be immoveable and unchangeable (ἀκινητός or aparinata). And again:
‘He revolves everything in his mind without effort.’
(᾽Αλλ᾽ ἀπάνϵυθϵ πόνοιο νόου ϕρϵνὶ πάντα κραδαίνϵι. Simpl. Phys. 6 a, m.)
‘He is altogether mind and thought, and eternal.’
(Συμπάντα τ᾽ ϵἰναι (τὸν θϵὸν) νου̑ν καὶ ϕρόνησιν καὶ ἀΐδιον. Diog. ix. 19.)
‘He sees altogether, he thinks altogether, he hears altogether.’
(Οὐ̑λος ὁρᾳ̑, οὐ̑λος δϵ̀ νοϵι̑, οὐ̑λοςδϵ́ τ̕ ἀκούϵι.)
So far Xenophanes is still theological. He has not gone beyond the conception of Brahman, as the supreme and only Being; his Zeus is still a masculine, and a personal deity.
In some of the utterances, however, that are ascribed to Xenophanes, he goes beyond. Plato at least ascribes to Xenophanes as well as to his successors, the philosophical tenet that all things are many in name, but in nature one2, which reminds one strongly of the Sat, or τὸ ὄν, of the Upanishads, that becomes manifold by name and form. Cicero, however (Acad. ii. 37, 118), states clearly that Xenophanes took this one to be God.
(Xenophanes unum esse omnia neque id esse mutabile et id esse Deum, neque natum unquam et sempiternum.)
Even the argument which we found in the Upanishads, that what is cannot have sprung from what is not, is ascribed to Xenophanes also, who calls this One and All, which truly exists, unborn, unchangeable, imperishable, eternal,—all attributes that could easily be matched in the Upanishads. Like the Upanishads, Xenophanes insists on the One and All being intelligent (kaitanya, λογικόν), the only doubtful point being whether Xenophanes went so far as his successors in surrendering altogether its divine or Zeus-like character. According to Sextus (Hyp. Pyrrh. i. 225) it would seem that this was not the case. ‘Xenophanes,’ he writes, ‘held that the All was one and that God was congenital (συμϕυής) with all things,’ or, as we should say, that God was immanent in the world. That Xenophanes conceived of this Being as σϕαιροϵιδής, or spherical, is well known, but it hardly conveys any definite meaning to our mind; and you will find that ancient as well as modern authorities are by no means agreed as to whether Xenophanes considered the world as limited or unlimited3.
What is preserved to us of the physical philosophy of Xenophanes seems to be quite apart from his metaphysical principles. For while from his metaphysical point of view all was one, uniform and unchangeable, from his physical point of view he is said to have considered earth, or earth and water, as the origin of all things (ϵ̓κ γαίης γὰρ, πάντα, καὶ ϵἰς γη̑ πάντα τϵλϵυτᾳ̑, Fragm. 8), ‘All things are from the earth, and all things end in the earth:’ and πάντϵς γὰρ γαίης τϵ καὶ ὕδατος ϵ̓γϵνόμϵσθα, Sext. Emp. adv. Math. ix. 361, and γη̑ καὶ ὕδωρ πάνθ̕ ὅσσα γίνονται ἠδϵ̀ ϕύονται, Simpl. Phys. fol. 41 a.
‘Earth and water are all things, whatever is born or grows.’
Xenophanes is also credited with the statement that the earth arose from air and fire—theories which again might easily be matched in the Upanishads. But the essential point on which Xenophanes and the Upanishads agree is the first conception of the One Being, as the substance of everything, though that conception has not yet become purely metaphysical, but is, like the Brahman in the older Upanishads, still surrounded by a kind of religious halo.
On this point Parmenides marks a decided advance in the Eleatic school, the same advance which we observed in the later Upanishads. With him the concept of the One Being has become entirely metaphysical. It is no longer God, in the ordinary sense of the word, as little as the Highest Brahman is God, though whatever there is real in God, is the Highest Brahman. In the definition and description of this One Being, Parmenides goes even beyond the Vedânta, and we see here once more how the dialectic flexibility of the Greek mind outstrips the dogmatic positiveness of the Hindu mind. According to Parmenides, what is, is; what is not, can neither be conceived nor enunciated. What is, cannot have a beginning or an end4. It is whole, unique, unmoved and at rest. We cannot say that it was or will be, but only that it is, for how could it have become anything but itself? Not from not being, for that is not, and cannot bring forth; nor from being, for this would never bring forth anything but itself. And this ὄν cannot have parts, for there is nothing different from it by which its parts could be separated. All space is filled by it, and it is there immoveable, always in the same place, by itself and like itself. Nor is thinking different from being5, because there is, nothing but being, and thinking is thinking of being. It is curious that Parmenides will not have this Being to be infinite, because he looks even upon infinity as something imperfect, because not having definite limits. In fact, this Real Being of Parmenides is by no means immaterial; we can best explain it by the simile we met with in the Upanishads, that all that is made of clay, is clay, differing only by name and form. Parmenides does not deny that these forms and names exist in the phenomenal world, he only insists on the uncertainty of the evidence which the senses offer us of these forms and names. And as in the Upanishads this erroneous knowledge or nescience is sometimes called tamas or darkness, as opposed to the light (tegas) of true knowledge, we find that Parmenides also speaks of darkness (νὺξ ἀδαής) as the cause of erroneous, and of light (αἰθϵ́ριον πυ̑ρ) as the cause of true knowledge.
We thus see how the level of thought reached by the earlier Eleatics, is much the same as that of the earlier Upanishads. They both start from religious ideas, and end in metaphysical conceptions, they both have arrived at the highest abstraction of τὸ ὄν, the Sk. Sat, as the only reality; they both have learnt to look upon the manifold of experience as doubtful, as phenomenal, if not erroneous, and as the result of name and form (μορϕὰς ὀνομάζϵιν, nâmarûpa). But he differences between the two are considerable also. The Eleatic philosophers are Greeks with a strong belief in personal individuality. They tell us little about the soul, and its relation to the One Being, still less do they suggest any means by which the soul could become one with it, and recognise its original identity with it. There are some passages (Zeller, p. 488) in which it seems as if Parmenides had believed in a migration of souls, but this idea does not assume with him the importance which it had, for instance, among the Pythagoreans. The psychological questions are thrown into the background by the metaphysical problems, which the Eleatic philosophers wished to solve, while in the Upanishads the psychological question is always the more prominent.