Judaism and Buddhism.
IT is strange that the two religions in which we find nothing or next to nothing about the immortality of the soul or its approach to the throne of God or its life in the realm of light, should be the Jewish and the Buddhist, the one pre-eminently monotheistic, the other, in the eyes of the Brâhmans, almost purely atheistic. The Old Testament is almost silent, and to be silent on such a subject admits of one interpretation only. The Buddhists, however, go even beyond this. Whatever the popular superstitions of the Buddhists may have been in India and other countries, Buddha himself declared in the most decided way that it was useless, nay, wrong to ask the question what becomes of the departed after death. When questioned on the subject, Buddha declined to give any answer. From all the other religions of the world, however, with these two exceptions, we receive one and the same answer, namely, that the highest blessedness of the soul after death consists in its approaching the presence of God, possibly in singing praises and offering worship to the Supreme Being.
The Vedânta Doctrine on True Immortality.
There is one religion only which has made a definite advance beyond this point. In other religions we meet indeed with occasional longings for something beyond this mere assembling round the throne of a Supreme Being, and singing praises to his name; nor have protests been wanting from very early times against the idea of a God sitting on a throne and having a right and left hand. But though these old anthropomorphic ideas, sanctioned by creeds and catechisms, have been rejected again and again, nothing has been placed in their stead, and they naturally rise up anew with every new rising generation. In India alone the human mind has soared beyond this point, at first by guesses and postulates, such as we find in some of the Upanishads, afterwards by strict reasoning, such as we find in the Vedânta-sûtras, and still more in the commentary of Saṅkara. The Vedânta, whether we call it a religion or a philosophy, has completely broken with the effete anthropomorphic conception of God and of the soul as approaching the throne of God, and has opened vistas which were unknown to the greatest thinkers of Europe.
These struggles after a pure conception of Deity began at a very early time. I have often quoted the passage where a Vedic poet says—
‘That which is one, the poets call by many names, They call it Agni, Yama, Mâtarisvan.’
(Rv. I. 164, 46.)
You observe how that which is spoken of as one is here, as early as the hymns of the Rig-veda, no longer a masculine, no longer personal, in the human sense of the word; it has not even a name.
Personality, a Limitation of the Godhead.
No doubt this step will by many be considered not as a step in advance, but as a backward step. We often hear it said that an impersonal God is no God at all. And yet, if we use our words wisely, if we do not simply repeat words, but try to realise their meaning, we can easily understand why even those ancient seekers after truth declined to ascribe human personality to the Deity. People are apt to forget that human personality always implies limitation. Hence all the personal gods of ancient mythology were limited. Jupiter was not Apollo, Indra was not Agni. When people speak of human personality, they often include in it every kind of limitation, not only age, sex, language, nationality, inherited character, knowledge, but also outward appearance and facial expression. All these qualifications were applied to the ancient gods, but with the dawn of a higher conception of the Deity a reaction set in. The earliest philosophers of Greece, who were religious even more than philosophical teachers, protested, as for instance, through the mouth of Xenophanes, against the belief that God, if taken as the highest Deity, could be supposed to be like unto man in body or mind. Even at the present day the Bishop of London thought it right and necessary to warn a Christian congregation against the danger of ascribing personality, in its ordinary meaning, to God. ‘There is a sense,’ he says1, ‘in which we cannot ascribe personality to the Unknown Absolute Being; for our personality is of necessity compassed with limitations, and from these limitations we find it impossible to separate our conception of person. When we speak of God as a person, we cannot but acknowledge that this personality far transcends our conceptions.… If to deny personality to Him is to assimilate Him to a blind and dead rule, we cannot but repudiate such denial altogether. If to deny personality to Him is to assert His incomprehensibility, we are ready at once to acknowledge our weakness and incapacity.’
It is strange that people should not see that we must learn, with regard to personality, exactly the same lesson which we have had to learn with regard to all other human qualities, when we attempt to transfer them to God. We may say that God is wise and just, holy and pitiful, but He is all this in a sense which passes human understanding. In the same way, when we say that God is personal, we must learn that His personality must be high above any human personality, high above our understanding, always supposing that we understand what we mean when we speak of our own personality. Some people say that the Deity must be at least personal; yes, but at the same time the Deity must be at least above all those limitations which are inseparable from human personality.
We may be fully convinced that God cannot be personal in the human sense of the word, and yet as soon as we place ourselves in any relation to God, we must for the time being conceive Him as personal. We cannot divest ourselves of our human nature. We know that the sun does not rise, but we cannot help seeing it rise. We know that the sky is not blue, and yet we cannot help seeing it blue. Even the Bishop can only tell us how not to think about God, but how to think about Him except as personal he does not tell us. When we see Xenophanes attempting to represent this Supreme Being as σϕαιροϵιδής, or like a ball, we see what any attempts of this kind would lead to. The same intellectual struggle which we can watch in the words of a living Bishop, we can follow also in the later utterances of the Vedic poets. They found in their ancient faith names of ever so many personal gods, but they began to see that these were all but imperfect names of that which alone is, the Unknown Absolute Being, as Dr. Temple calls it, the Ekam sat of the Vedic sages.
Struggle for higher conception of the Godhead.
How then was the Ekam sat, τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ ὄν, to be called? Many names were attempted. Some Vedic sages called it Prâna, that is breath, which comes nearest to the Greek ψυχή, breath or spirit or soul. Others confessed their inability to comprehend it under any name. That it is, and that it is one, is readily admitted. But as to any definite knowledge or definite name of it, the Vedic sages declare their ignorance quite as readily as any modern agnostic. This true agnosticism, this docta ignorantia of mediaeval divines, this consciousness of man's utter helplessness and inability to arrive at any knowledge of God, is most touchingly expressed by some of these ancient Vedic poets.
I shall quote some of their utterances.
Rv. X. 82, 7. ‘You will not find Him who has created these things; something else stands between you and Him. Enveloped in mist and with faltering voices the poets walk along, rejoicing in life.’
Rv. I.164, 4–6. ‘Who has seen the First-born, when He who had no bones, i.e. no form, bore him that had bones. The life, the blood, and the soul of the earth—where are they? Who went to ask it to one who knew it? Simple-minded, not comprehending it in my mind, I ask for the hidden places of the gods.…Ignorant I ask the knowing sages, that I, the not-knowing, may know, what is the One in the form of the Unborn which has settled these six spaces.’
Still stronger is this confession as repeated again and again in the Upanishads.
For instance, Svet. Up. IV. 19. ‘No one has grasped Him above, or across, or in the middle. There is no likeness of Him whose name is Great Glory.’
Or, Mund. Up. III. 1, 8. ‘He is not apprehended by the eye, nor by speech, nor by the other senses, not by penance or good works.’
Ken. Up. I. 3. ‘Thy eye does not go thither, nor speech, nor mind. We do not know, we do not understand, how any one can teach it. It is different from the known, it is also above the unknown, thus we have heard from those of old who taught us this.’
Khând. Up. IV. 3, 6. ‘Mortals see Him not, though He dwells in many places.’
In the Taitt. Up. II. 4, it is said that words turn back from it with the mind, without having reached it—and in another place, Kath. Up. III. 15, it is distinctly called nameless, intangible, formless, imperishable. And again, Mund. Up. I, 1, 6, invisible, and not to be grasped.
These very doubts and perplexities are most touching. I doubt whether we find anything like them anywhere else. On one point only these ancient searchers after God seem to have no doubt whatever, namely, that this Being is one and without a second. We saw it when the poet said, ‘That which is one the poets call it in many ways,’ and in the Upanishads, this One without a second becomes a constant name of the Supreme Being. Thus the Kath. Up. V. 12, says: ‘There is one ruler, the soul within all things, who makes the one form manifold.’ And the Svetâsvatara-Up. VI. 11, adds: ‘He is the one God, hidden in all things, all-pervading, the soul within all beings, watching over all works, dwelling in all, the witness, the perceiver, the only one, free from all qualities, He is the one ruler of many who (seem to act, but really); do not act.’
The Khând. Up. VI. 2, 1, says: ‘In the beginning there was that only which is, one only, without a second;’ and the Brih. Âr. Up. IV. 3, 32, adds: ‘That one seer (subject) is an ocean, and without any duality.’
Mund. Up. II. 2, 5. ‘In Him the heaven, the earth, and the sky are woven, the mind also with all the senses. Know Him alone as the Self, and leave off other names. He is the bridge of the Immortal, i.e. the bridge by which we reach our own immortality.’
These are mere gropings, gropings in the dark, no doubt; but even thus, where do we see such gropings after God except in India?
The human mind, however, cannot long go on without names, and some of the names given to the One Unknowable and Unnameable Being, which we shall now have to examine, have caused and are still causing great difficulty.
Name for the highest Godhead, Brahman.
One of the best-known names is Brahman, originally a neuter, but used often promiscuously as a masculine also. It would be an immense help if we were certain of the etymology of Brahman. We should then know, what is always most important, its first conception, for it is clear, and philosophers ought by this time to have learnt it, that every word must have meant at first that which it means etymologically. Many attempts have been made to discover the etymology of Brahman, but neither that nor the successive growth of its meanings can be ascertained with perfect certainty. It has been supposed2 that certain passages in the Katha-Upanishad (II 13; VI. 17) were meant to imply a derivation of brahman from the root barh or brih, to tear off, as if brahman meant at first what was torn off or separated, absolutum; but there is no other evidence for the existence of this line of thought in India. Others have derived brahman from the root barh or brih, in the sense of swelling or growing. Thus Dr. Haug, in his paper on Brahman und die Brahmanen, published in 1871, supposed that brahman must have meant originally what grows, and he saw a proof of this in the corresponding Zend word Baresman (Barsom), a bundle of twigs (virgae) used by the priests, particularly at the Izeshan sacrifices. He then assigns to brahman the more abstract meaning of growth and welfare, and what causes growth and welfare, namely, sacred songs. In this way he holds that brahman came to mean the Veda, the holy word. Lastly, he assigns to brahman the meaning of force as manifested in nature, and that of universal force, or the Supreme Being, that which, according to Saṅkara, ‘is eternal, pure, intelligent, free, omniscient and omnipotent.’
When by a well-known grammatical process this neuter bráhman (nom. brahma) is changed into the masculine brahmán (nom. brahmâ), it comes to mean a man conversant with Brahman, a member of the priestly caste; secondly, a priest charged with the special duty of superintending the sacrifice, but likewise the personal creator, the universal force conceived as a personal god, the same as Pragâati, and in later times one of the Trimûrti, Brahmán, Vishnu, and Siva. So far Dr. Haug.
Dr. Muir, in his Sanskrit Texts, i. p. 240, starts from bráhman in the sense of prayer, hymn, while he takes the derivative masculine brahmán as meaning one who prays, a poet or sage, then a priest in general, and lastly a priest charged with special duties.
Professor Roth also takes the original sense of Brahman to have been prayer, not, however, praise or thanksgiving, but that kind of invocation which, with the force of will directed to the god, desires to draw him to the worshipper, and to obtain satisfaction from him.
I must confess that the hymns of the Veda, as we now read them, are hardly so full of fervent devotion that they could well be called outbursts. And there always remains the question why the creative force of the universe should have been called by the same name. It seems to me that the idea of creative force or propelling power might well have been expressed by Bráhman, as derived from a root barb3, to break forth, or to drive forth; but the other bráhman, before it came to mean hymn or prayer, seems to have had the more general meaning of speech or word. There are indeed a few indications left to show that the root barh had the meaning of uttering or speaking. Brihas-pati, who is also called Brahmanas-pati, is often explained as Vâkas-pati, the lord of speech, so that brih seems to have been a synonym of vâk. But what is still more important is that the Latin verbum, as I pointed out many years ago, can be traced back letter by letter to the same root. Nay, if we accept vridh as a parallel form of vrih, the English word also can claim the same origin. It would seem therefore that bráhman meant originally utterance, word, and then only hymn, and the sacred word, the Veda, while when it is used in the sense of creative force, it would have been conceived originally as, that which utters or throws forth or manifests. Tempting as it is, we can hardly suppose that the ancient framers of the Sanskrit language had any suspicion of the identity of the Logos prophorikós and endiáthetos of the Stoics, or of the world as word or thought, the Logos of the Creator. But that they had some recollection of brahman having originally meant word, can be proved by several passages from the Veda. I do not attach any importance to such passages as Brih. Âr. IV. 1, 2, vâg vai Brahma, speech is Brahma, for Brahman is here in the same way identified with prâna, breath, manas mind, âditya, sun, and many other things. But when we read, Rv. I. 164, 35, Brahmâ ayám vâkáh paramám vyóma, what can be the meaning of Brahmâ masc. being called here the highest heaven, or, it may be, the highest woof, of speech, if there had not been some connection between bráhman and vâk? There is another important passage in a hymn addressed to Brihaspati, the lord of speech, where we read, X. 71, 1 ‘O Brihaspati (lord of brih or speech), when men, giving names, sent forth the first beginning of speech, then whatever was best and faultless in them, hidden within them, became manifested through desire.’ I believe therefore that the word brahman had a double history, one beginning with brahman, as neuter, τὸ ὄντως ὄν, the propelling force of the universe, and leading on to Brahman, masc., as the creator of the world, who causes all things to burst forth, later one of the Hindu Triad or Trimûrti, consisting of Brahman, Siva, and Vishnu; the other beginning with bráh-man, word or utterance, and gradually restricted to brahman, hymn of praise, accompanied by sacrificial offerings, and then, with change of gender and accent, brahmán, he who utters, prays, and sacrifices, a member of the priestly caste.
Bráhman, even when used as a neuter, is often followed by masculine forms. And there are many passages where it must remain doubtful whether Brahman was conceived as an impersonal force, or as a personal being, nay, as both at the same time. Thus we read, Taitt. Up. III. 1, 1: ‘That from whence these beings are born, that by which when born they live, that into which they enter at their death, try to know that, that is Brahman.’
In the Atharva-veda X. 2, 25, we read: ‘By whom was this earth ordered, by whom was the upper sky created? By whom was this uplifted?’ &c.
The answer is: ‘By Brahma was this earth ordered,’ &c.
Sometimes Brahman is identified with Prâna, breath, as in Brih. Âr. Up. III. (s), 9, 9: ‘He asked, who is the one God? Yâgñavalkya replied: Breath or spirit, and he is Brahman.’
Sometimes again it is said that Prâna, spirit, arose from Brahman, as when we read, Mund. Up. II. 1, 8: ‘Brahman swells by means of heat; hence is produced food (or matter), from food breath (prâna), mind,’ &c.
However, this Brahman is only one out of many names, each representing an attempt to arrive at the concept of a Supreme Being, free, as much as possible, from all mythological elements, free from purely human qualities, free also from sex or gender.
Another of these names is Purusha, which means originally man or person. Thus we read, Mund. Up. II. 1, 1–3: ‘As from a blazing fire sparks, being like fire, fly forth a thousandfold, thus are various beings brought forth from the Imperishable, and return thither also. That heavenly Person (Purusha) is without body, he is both within and without, not produced, without breath and without mind, higher than the high, imperishable. From him is born breath, (spirit), mind, and all organs of sense, ether, air, light, water, and the earth, the support of all.’
Nothing in fact is, to my mind, more interesting than to watch these repeated attempts at arriving at higher and higher, purer and purer, concepts of deity. These so-called heathens knew as well as we do, that their ancient names were imperfect and unworthy of the deity, and though every new attempt proved but a new failure, yet the very attempts are creditable, and if we consider the time and the circumstances under which these struggles took place, there can hardly be a sight in the whole history of the human mind more strongly appealing to our sympathy, and more truly deserving of our most careful study. Some people may say, that all this lies behind us, but for that very reason that it lies behind us, it ought to make us look behind us; that is to say, it ought to make us true historians, for after all, history is looking back, and while looking back on the past of the human race, reading in it our own history. Every one of us has had to pass through that very phase of thought through which the ancient Rishis passed when the early names and concepts of God were perceived to be too narrow, too human, too mythological.
As we had to learn, and have still to learn, that God is a spirit, the Vedic Indians also spoke of the highest deity as Prâna, here no longer used in the sense of breath, but of spirit, as for instance, in a hymn of the Atharva-veda, XI. 4, addressed to Prâna, where we read: ‘Prâna is the Lord of all that does and does not breathe…Do not turn away from me, O Prâna, thou art no other than I.’
Let us translate Prâna by Spirit or Divine Spirit, and this would read: ‘The Divine Spirit is Lord of all…O Divine Spirit, do not turn away from me; thou art no other than I.’
Again, we read in the Prasna-Up. II. 13: ‘All this is in the power of Prâna, whatever exists in the three heavens. Protect us as a mother protects her sons, and give us happiness and wisdom.’
In the Kaush. Up. III. 8 we find a still more important statement: ‘He, the Prâna, the Spirit, is the keeper of the world, he is the king of the world, he is the lord of the universe, he is my self, thus let it be known.’ In our own language this would mean: The Divine Spirit rules the world, and in Him we live and move and have our being.
As to Purusha, though it generally means man, yet, when applied to the highest Deity, we can only translate it by Person, freed from all that is purely human, although occasionally endowed with attributes which belong properly to human beings only. There is this constant conflict going on in the minds of the Brâhmans which is going on in our own minds also. They want to exclude all that is limited and conditional, all that is human and personal, from their concept of deity, and yet their language will not submit, and the masculine god constantly prevails over the neuter.
Purusha, we are told in a famous hymn of the Rig-veda, X. 90, has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet. This is clearly metaphorical and mythological. But immediately afterwards the poet says: ‘Purusha is all this, what has been and what will be.’
Then follows a curious passage, in which the creation of the world is represented as a sacrifice of this Purusha, in which from his mind arose the moon, from his eye the sun, from his mouth Indra. Again, from his breath Vâyu, the wind. In the same hymn occurs the earliest reference to the four castes, when we are told that the Brâhmana was his mouth, his arms became the Râganya, the warrior caste, his legs the Vaisya, while the Sûdra was produced from his feet.
Other Names of the Supreme Being, Skambha.
There are many more names of a similar kind. Skambha, literally the support, becomes a name of the Supreme Being. Thus we read in the Atharva-veda: ‘Skambha is all that is animated, whatever breathes and whatever shuts the eyes.’
In the Rig-veda Skambha is mentioned as the support of the sky. In the Atharva-veda X. 7, 7, Skambha is celebrated as supreme. Pragâpati, it is said, rested on Skambha, when he made the worlds firm. The thirty-three gods are supposed to form the limbs of his body (27), the whole world rests on him, he has established heaven and earth, and he pervades the universe (35). Darkness is separated from him, he is removed from all evil (40).
In these and many other different ways the Indian mind tried to free itself more and more from the earlier imagery of Physical Religion, and it reached in Brahman, in Purusha, in Prâna, in Skambha the most abstract phase of thought that can find expression in any human language.
These words are, in fact, far more abstract, and less personal than other names which likewise occur in the Veda, and which we should, perhaps, feel more readily inclined to tolerate in, our own religious language, such as, for instance, Pragâpati, lord of creatures, Visvakarman, the maker of all things, Svayambhû, the self-existing, names which satisfied the Vedic thinkers for a time, but for a time only, till they were all replaced by Brahman, as a neuter, as that which is the cause of all things, the Infinite and Divine, in its widest and highest sense.
Names for the Soul.
But while this process of divesting the Divine of all its imperfect attributes was going on, there was another even more important process which we can likewise watch in the language of the Veda, and which has for its object the Soul, or the Infinite in man.
After asking what constituted the true essence of Divinity, the early thinkers began to ask themselves what constituted the true essence of Humanity.
Language at first supplied the name of Ego, the Sanskrit aham. This was probably in its origin no more than a demonstrative pronoun, meaning like the Greek ὅδϵ, this man there, without committing the speaker to anything more. Man said I am I, as he had made the Godhead say, I am I. But it was soon perceived that what was meant by this I, included many mere accidents, was in fact the result of external circumstances, was dependent on the body, on life, on age, on sex, on experience, on character, and knowledge, and signified not a simple, but a most composite being.
Sometimes what constituted man, was called by the same name as the. Deity, prâna, spirit, or asu, vital breath, also gûva, the living soul, and manas, the mind. Still all these names expressed different sides of the Ego only, and none of them satisfied the Indian thinkers for any length of time. They were searching for something behind all this, and they tried to grasp it by a new name, by the name of Âtman. This Âtman is again very difficult to explain etymologically. It is supposed to have meant originally breath, then soul, then self, as a substantive, till like ipse or αὐτός it became the recognised reflexive pronoun. Many scholars identify this âtmán with the A. S. æđm, the O.H.G. âdum, Athem or Odem in modern German, but both the radical and the derivative portions of the word are by no means satisfactorily made out.
When âhtman is used as the name of the true essence of man, it is difficult to say whether it was taken over in its meaning of breath, or whether it had already become the pronoun self, and was taken over in that sense, to take the place of Aham, Ego, I. It is generally translated by soul, and in many places this is no doubt the right translation. Only soul itself has so many meanings on account of its many attributes, and several of them are so inapplicable to Âtman, that I prefer to translate âtman by Self, that is the true essence of man, free, as yet, from all attributes.
Âtman represents in fact on the side of subjective humanity what Brahman represents on the side of objective Divinity; it was the most abstract name for what I call the infinite or the divine in man.
Of course there have been philosophers in ancient times, and there are philosophers even now who deny that there is something divine in man, as they deny that there is something divine in nature. By divine in man I mean as yet no more than the non-phenomenal agent on whom the phenomenal attributes of feeling, thinking, and willing depend. To the Hindu philosophers this agent was self-evident (svayam-prakâsa), and this may still be called the common-sense view of the matter. But even the most critical philosophers who deny the reality of anything that does not come into immediate contact with the senses, will have to admit that the phenomena of feeling, thinking, and willing are conditioned on something, and that that something must be as real at least as the phenomena which are conditioned by it.
This Self, however, was not discovered in a day. We see in the Upanishads many attempts to discover and grasp it. I shall give you at least one extract, a kind of allegory representing the search after the true Self in man. It is a valuable fragment of the most primitive psychology, and as such deserves to be quoted in full.
Dialogue from the Khândogya-Upanishad.
It is a dialogue in the Khâandogya-Upanishad, VIII. 7, that is supposed to have taken place between Pragâpati, the lord of creation, and Indra, as representing the Devas, the bright gods, and Virokana, representing the Asuras, who are here mentioned in their later character already, namely, as the opponents of the Devas.
Pragâpati is said to have uttered the following sentence: ‘The Self (Âtman) free from sin, free from age, from death and grief, from hunger and thirst, which desires nothing but what it ought to desire, and imagines nothing but what it ought to imagine, that is what we must search out, that is what we must try to understand. He who has searched out that Self and understands it, obtains all worlds and desires’—that is, final beatitude.
The Devas (the gods) and the Asuras (the demons) both heard these words, and said: ‘Well, let us search for that Self by which, if one has searched it out, all worlds and all desires are obtained.’
Thus saying, Indra went from the Devas, Virokana from the Asuras, and both, without having communicated with each other, approached Pragâpati, holding fuel in their hands, as is the custom with pupils approaching their master.
They dwelt there as pupils for thirty-two years. (This reflects the early life in India, when pupils had to serve their masters for many years, almost as menial servants, in order to induce them to communicate their knowledge.)
After Indra and Virokana had dwelt with Pragâpati for thirty-two years, Pragâpati at last turned to them to ask:
‘For what purpose have you both been dwelling here?’
They replied that they had heard the saying of Pragâpati, and that they had both dwelt near him, because they wished to know the Self.
Pragâpati, however, like many of the ancient sages, does not show himself inclined to part with his knowledge at once. He gives them several answers which, though not exactly wrong, are equivocal and open to a wrong interpretation.
He says first of all: ‘The person (purusha) that is seen in the eye, that is the Self. This is what I have said. This is the immortal, the fearless, this is Brahman.’
If his pupils had understood this as meant for the person that sees through the eye, or out of the eye, they would have received a right though indirect idea of the Self. But when they thought that the reflection of man in the eye of another person was meant, they were wrong. And they evidently took it in the latter sense, for they asked: ‘Sir, he who is perceived in the water, and he who is perceived in a mirror, who is he?’
He replied: ‘He, the Self himself indeed is seen in all these.’
‘Look at yourself in a pan of water, and whatever you do not understand of yourself, come and tell me.’
They looked in the water-pan. Then Pragâpati said to them:
‘What do you see?’
They said: ‘We both see the Self thus altogether, a picture even to the very hairs and nails.’
Pragâpati said to them: ‘After you have adorned yourselves, have put on your best clothes and cleansed yourselves, look again into the water-pan.’
They, after having adorned themselves, having put on their best clothes and cleansed themselves, looked into the water-pan.
Pragâpati said: ‘What do you see?’
They said: ‘Just as we are, well adorned, with our best clothes and clean, thus we are both there, Sir, well adorned, with our best clothes and clean.’
Pragâpati said: ‘That is the Self, this is the immortal, the fearless,, this is Brahman.’
They both went away, satisfied in their hearts.
And Pragâpati, looking after them, said: ‘They both go away without having perceived and without having known the Self, and whoever of these two, whether Devas or Asuras, will follow this doctrine (upanishad) will perish.’
Now Virokana, satisfied in his heart, went to the Asuras and preached that doctrine to them, that the Self alone is to be worshipped, that the Self alone is to be served, and that he who worships the Self and serves the Self, gains both worlds, this and the next.
Therefore they call even now a man who does not give alms here, who has no faith, and offers no sacrifices, an Asura, for this is the doctrine of the Asuras. They deck out the body of the dead with perfumes, flowers, and fine raiment, by way of ornament, and think they will thus conquer the world.
But Indra, before he had returned to the Devas, saw this difficulty. As this Self (the shadow in the water) is well adorned, when the body is well adorned, well dressed when the body is well dressed, well cleaned when the body is well cleaned, that Self will also be blind if the body is blind, lame if the body is lame, crippled if the body is crippled, and perish in fact as soon as the body perishes. Therefore I see no good in this doctrine.
Taking fuel in his hand he came again as a pupil to Pragâpati. Pragâpati said to him: ‘Maghavat, as you went away with Virokana, satisfied in your heart, for what purpose did you come back?’
He said: ‘Sir, as this Self is well adorned when the body is well adorned, well dressed when the body is well dressed, well cleaned when the body is well cleaned, that Self will also be blind if the body is blind, lame if the body is lame, crippled if the body is crippled, and perish in fact as soon as the body perishes. Therefore I see no good in this doctrine.’
So it is indeed, Maghavat,’ replied Pragâpati, ‘but I shall explain him (the true Self) further to you. Live with me another thirty-two years.’ He lived with him another thirty-two years, and then Pragâpati said:
‘He who moves about happy in dreams, he is the Self, this is the immortal, the fearless, this is Brahman.’
Then Indra went away satisfied in his heart. But before he had returned to the Devas, he saw this difficulty. ‘Although it is true that that Self is not blind, even if the body is blind, nor lame if the body is lame, though it is true that that Self is not rendered faulty by the faults of it (the body), nor struck when it (the body) is struck, nor lamed when it is lamed, yet it is as if they struck him (the Self) in dreams, as if they chased him. He becomes even conscious, as it were, of pain and sheds tears (in his dreams). Therefore I see no good in this.’
Taking fuel in his hands, he went again as a pupil to Pragâpati. Pragâpati said to him: ‘Maghavat, as you went away satisfied in your heart, for what purpose did you come back?’
He said: ‘Sir, although it is true that that Self is not blind even if the body is blind, nor lame if the body is lame, though it is true that that Self is not rendered faulty by the faults of the body, nor struck when it (the body) is struck, nor lamed when it is lamed, yet it is as if they struck him (the Self) in dreams, as if they chased him. He becomes even conscious, as it, were, of pain and sheds tears. Therefore I see no good in this.’
‘So it is indeed, Maghavat,’ replied Pragâpati, ‘but I shall explain him (the true Self) further to you. Live with me another thirty-two years.’ He lived with him another thirty-two years. Then Pragâpati said: ‘When a man, being asleep, reposing, and at perfect rest, sees no dreams, that is the Self, this is the immortal, the fearless, this is Brahman.’
Then Indra went away satisfied in his heart. But before he had returned to the Devas he saw this difficulty. ‘In truth he thus does not know himself (his Self) that he is I, nor does he know anything that exists. He is gone to utter annihilation. I see no good in this.’
Taking fuel in his hand, he went once more as a pupil to Pragâpati. Pragâpati said to him: ‘Maghavat, as you went away satisfied in your heart, for what purpose did you come back?’
He said: ‘Sir, in that way he does not know himself that he is I, nor does he know anything that exists. He is gone to utter annihilation. I see no good in this.’
‘So it is indeed, Maghavat,’ replied Pragâpati, ‘but I shall explain him (the true Self) further to you, and nothing more than this. Live here other five years.’
He lived there other five years. This made in all one hundred and one years, and therefore it is said that Indra Maghavat lived one hundred and one years as a pupil with Pragâpati.
Pragâpati said to him: ‘Maghavat, this body is mortal and always held by death. It is the abode of that Self which is immortal and without body. When in the body (by thinking this body is I and I am this body), the Self is held by pleasure and pain. So long as he is in the body, he cannot get free from pleasure and pain. But when he is free of the body (when he knows himself different from the body) then neither pleasure nor pain touches him. The wind is without body, the cloud, lightning, and thunder are without body (without hands, feet, &c.). Now as these, arising from this heavenly ether (space), appear in their own form, as soon as, they have approached the highest light, thus does that serene being, arising from this body, appear in its own form, as soon as it has approached the highest light (the knowledge of Self). He (in that state) is the highest person (uttama pûrusha). He moves about there laughing (or eating), playing, and rejoicing (in his mind), be it with women, carriages, or relatives, never minding that body into which he was born.
‘Like a horse attached to a cart, so is the spirit (prâna, pragñâtman) attached to this body.
‘Now where the sight has entered into the void (the open space, the black pupil of the eye) there is the person of the eye, the eye itself is but the instrument of seeing. He who knows, let me smell this, he is the Self, the nose is but the instrument of smelling. He who knows, let me say this, he is the Self, the tongue is but the instrument of saying. He who knows, let me hear this, he is the Self, the ear is but the instrument of hearing.
‘He who knows, let me think this, he is the Self, the mind is but the divine eye. He, the Self, seeing these pleasures (which to others are hidden like a buried treasure of gold) through his divine eye, i.e. through the mind,—rejoices.
‘The Devas who are in the world of Brahman meditate on that Self (as taught by Pragâpati to Indra, and by Indra to the Devas). Therefore all worlds belong to them, and all desires. He who knows that Self and understands it, obtains all worlds and all desires.’ Thus said Pragâpati, yea, thus said Pragâpati.
This is a kind of psychological legend which in spite of certain expressions that strike us as strange, perhaps as unintelligible, it would be difficult to match in any ancient literature. Are there many people even now, after more than two thousand years have elapsed, that trouble themselves about these questions? If a man goes so far as to speak about his Ego, he begins to consider himself something of a philosopher. But it enters into the mind of very few thinkers, and even of philosophers by profession, to ask what this Ego is, what it can be and what it cannot be, what lies behind it, what is its real substance. Language supplies them with the name of soul ready made. ‘I have a soul,’ they say, but who or what it is that has a soul, and whence that soul originates, does not trouble them much. They may speak of I and of I myself, but who and what that self is which they call my self, and who the my is to whom that self belongs, is but seldom asked. No Hindu philosopher would say, I have an Âtman or a soul. And here we find these ancient thinkers in India, clearly perceiving the question that has to be asked, and answering it too better than it has ever been answered. It may be said we all know that our garments have nothing to do with our self, and that not philosophers only, but people at large, have learnt even in the nursery that their body is but a garment and has nothing to do with their soul. But there are garments and garments. A man may say that he is the same when he is eighty years old and when he was eight weeks old, that his body has changed, but not his self. Sex too is but one of many garments which we wear in this life. Now a Vedântist might ask, if a man were born again as a woman, would his self be still the same, would he be the self-same person? Other such garments are language, nationality, religion. A Vedântist might ask, supposing that a man in the next life were denuded of all these coverings, would he still be the self-same person? We may imagine that we have an answer ready for all these questions, or that they deserve no answer at all from wise people such as we are, and yet when we ask ourselves the simple question how we hope to meet the souls of those who have been dear to us in this life, we shall find that our ideas of a soul have to be divested of many garments, have to be purified quite as much as the ideas of the questioners in the ancient Upanishad. Old as these questioners are, distant as they are from us, strange as their language may sound to us, they may still become to us at least Friends in Council.
That the legend which I translated for you from the Upanishads is an old legend, or that something like it existed before the chapter in our Upanishad was composed, we may conclude from the passage where it said: ‘Therefore it is said,’ or more literally, that is what they say, ‘Maghavat lived one hundred and one years as a pupil of Pragâpati.’ On the other hand, the legend cannot be ascribed to the earliest Vedic literature, for in the hymns Indra is a supreme god who would scorn the idea of becoming the pupil of Pragâpati. This Pragâpati, i.e. the lord of creatures, or of all created things, is himself, as we saw, a later deity, a personification of the creative force, a name of the supreme, yet of a personal and more or less mythological deity.
But whatever the origin of this legend may have been, we have it here in one of the old and recognised Upanishads, and can hardly place it later than the time of Plato and his pupils. I call it a psychological legend, because it seems to have preserved to us some of the earliest attempts of Indian thought to conceive and to name what we without much reflection call by the inherited name of soul. You may remember that certain anthropologists hold the opinion that the first conception of soul had everywhere, and more particularly among savage races, been that of a shadow, nay that some savages believed even now that the shadow was the soul of a living man, and that therefore a corpse threw no shadow. I wonder that anthropologists have never quoted our Dialogue in support of their opinion; only that in this case it is held not by uncivilised, but by a highly civilised race, and is held by it, only in order to be refuted.
The next opinion also that the soul is that which in sleep, and as it were, without the body, sees visions in dreams, might be quoted in support of another opinion, often put forward by anthropologists, that the first idea of a soul, as without the body, arose from dreams, and that even now certain savage races believe that in a dream the soul leaves the body and travels about by itself. This may be so in isolated cases; we saw, however, that the real origin of the name and concept of soul was far more rational, that people took breath, the tangible sign of the agent within, as the name of the soul, divesting it in time of all that was incompatible with an invisible agent. But however that may be, anthropologists may possibly begin to see that the Veda also contains remnants of ancient thought, though it likewise supplies a warning against too rapid generalisation and against seeing in the Veda a complete picture of savage, or what they call primitive, man.
Deductions from the Dialogue.
But now let us see what the later Vedânta philosophy makes out of this legend. The legend itself, as we find it in the Upanishad, shows already that there was a higher purpose in it than simply to show that the soul was not a mere appearance, not the picture reflected in the eye, not the shadow in the water, not the person dreaming a dream, or losing all consciousness in dreamless sleep. One of Pragâpati's pupils, Virokana, is no doubt satisfied with the idea that the body as seen reflected in the eye or in the water is the self, is what a man really is. But Indra is not. He is not satisfied even with the soul being the person in a dream, for, he says, that even in a dream a man becomes conscious of pain, and actually sheds tears, and that therefore, if the soul were a dream, it would not be perfect, it would not be free from suffering. Nay, if it is said that the soul is the person in a deep and dreamless sleep, even that would not satisfy Indra, for, in that case, as he says, all consciousness would be gone, he would not know, as he expresses it, that he, the self, is I, or that there is a myself.
Pragâpati then gives him the highest instruction which he can communicate, by saying that the soul can become free by knowledge only, that it exists by knowledge only, by knowing itself as free from the body and all other limitations. It then can rise from the body, a serene being in its own form, and approach the highest light, the highest knowledge, the knowledge that its own Self is the Highest, is in fact the Divine Self.
So far all would be intelligible. It would not require death to free the soul from the body, knowledge would effect that liberation far better, and leave the soul even in this life a mere spectator of its bodily abode, of its bodily joys and its bodily sufferings, a silent spectator even of the decay and death of the body.
But the Vedânta philosopher is not so easily satisfied; and I think it will be interesting and give you a better idea of the philosophical acumen of the Vedântist, if I read you Saṅkara's treatment of our psychological legend. This is, of course, a much later phase of thought, at least as late as the seventh century A.D. Yet what is recent and modern in India, is not so recent and modern with us.
Saṅkara, the commentator on the Vedânta-sûtra, is much exercised when he has to discuss this Dialogue between Pragâpati, Indra, and Virokana on the true nature of the self, or man's soul. There is an apparent want of truthfulness on the part of Pragâpati, he thinks, in conveying to his pupils a false impression of the real nature of the Âtman or the human soul, and its relation to Brahman, the Highest Deity. It is quite true that his words admit of two meanings, a wrong one and a right one; still Pragâpati knows that one at least of his pupils, Virokana, when he returns to the Asuras has not understood them in their true sense; and yet he lets him depart.
Next comes a more important difficulty. Pragâpati had promised to teach what the true Âtman is, the immortal, the fearless, the Self which is free from sin, free from old age, from death and grief, from hunger and thirst; but his answers seem to apply to the individual Self only. Thus when he says at first that the person as seen in the eye is the Self (ya esho'kshini drisyate), it is quite clear that Virokana takes this for the small image or the reflection which a man sees of himself in the pupil of his friend's eye. And he therefore asks whether the Self that is perceived as reflected in the eye, is the same as that which is perceived as reflected in the water or in a mirror. Pragâpati assents, though evidently with a mental reservation. He had not meant from the first the small figure reflected in the eye, but the seer within the eye, looking out from the eye, the seer, as the subject of all seeing, who sees, and may be said to be seen in the eye. Still, as in an indirect way even the reflection in the eye may be called the reflection of the true Âtman, he invites Virokana to test his assertion by a kind of experiment, an experiment that ought to have opened his eyes, but did not. He asks both his pupils to look at their images in the water or in a mirror, first as they are, and again after they have adorned themselves. He thought they would have perceived that these outward adornments could not possibly constitute their own self, as little as the body, but the experiment is lost on them. While Pragâpati means that in whatever reflection they see themselves, they see, though hidden, their true Self, they imagine that what they see, namely the body, reflected in the water, even the body with its adornments, is their true Self. Pragâpati is sorry for them, and that he was not entirely responsible for their mistake, is shown soon after by the doubts that arise in the mind of at least one of his pupils. For while Virokana returns to the Asuras to teach them that the body, such as it is seen reflected in the water, even with its adornments, is the Self, Indra hesitates, and returns to Pragâpati. He asks how the body reflected in the water can be the Self, proclaimed by Pragâpati, and of which he had said that it was perfect and free from all defects, seeing that if the body is crippled its image in the water also is crippled, so that if that were the Self, the Self would not be what it must be, perfect and immortal, but would perish, whenever the body perishes.
Exactly the same happens again in the second lesson. No doubt, the person in a dream is free from certain defects of the body—a blind person if in a dream sees, a deaf person hears. But even thus, he also seems liable to suffering, for he actually may cry in a dream. Therefore even the dreaming soul cannot be the true Self perfect and free from all suffering.
When in his third lesson Pragâpati calls the soul in the deepest sleep the Self, because it then suffers no longer from anything, Indra replies that in that case the soul knows nothing at all, and is gone to destruction (vinâsam eva upeti).
It is only at this last moment that Pragâpati, like other sages of antiquity, reveals his full knowledge to his pupil. The true Self, he says, has nothing to do with the body. For the body is mortal, but the Self is not mortal. The Self dwells in the body, and as long as he thinks that the body is I and I am this body, the Self is enthralled by pleasure and pain, it is not the perfect, it is not the immortal Self. But as soon as the Self knows that he is independent of the body and becomes free from it, not by death, but by knowledge, then he suffers no longer; neither pain nor pleasure can touch him. When he has approached this highest light of knowledge, then there is perfect serenity. He knows himself to be the highest Self, and therefore is the highest Self, and though while life lasts, he moves about among the pleasant sights of the world, he does not mind them, they concern his body only or his bodily self, his Ego, and he has learnt that all this is not himself, not his Self, not his absolute Self.
But there remains a far greater difficulty which the commentators have to solve, and which they do solve each in his own way. To us the story of Pragâpati is simply an old legend, originally intended, it would seem, to teach no more than that there was a soul in man, and that that soul was independent of the body. That would have been quite enough wisdom for early days, particularly if we are right in supposing that the belief in the soul as a shadow or a dream was a popular belief current at the time, and that it really required refutation. But when at a later time this legend had to be used for higher purposes, when what had to be taught about the soul was not only that it was not the body, nor its appearance, nor its shadow, nor the vision of a dream, but that it was something higher, that it could ascend to the world of Brahman and enjoy perfect happiness before his throne, nay, when it was discovered at a still later time, that the soul could go beyond the throne of Brahman and share once more the very essence of Brahman, then new difficulties arose. These difficulties were carefully considered by Saṅkara and other Vedântist philosophers, and they still form a subject on which different sections of the Vedântist school of philosophy hold divergent views.
The principal difficulty was to determine what was the true relation of the individual soul to Brahman, whether there was any essential difference between the two, and whether when it was said that the soul was perfect, fearless, and immortal, this could apply to the individual soul. This view that the individual soul is meant, is upheld in the Vedânta philosophy by what is called the Pûrvapakshin, a most excellent institution in Indian philosophy. This Pûrvapakshin is an imaginary person who is privileged in every disputed question to say all that can possibly be said against the view finally to be upheld. He is allowed every possible freedom in objecting, as long as he is not entirely absurd; he is something like the man of straw whom modern writers like to set up in their arguments in order to be able to demolish him with great credit to themselves. From the Hindu point of view, however, these objections are like piles, to be driven in by every blow that is aimed at them, and meant in the end to support the true conclusion that is to be built up upon them. Frequently the objections contained in the pûrvapaksha are bonâ fide objections, and may, have been held by different authorities, though in the end they have all to be demolished, their demolition thus serving the useful purpose of guarding the doctrine that has to be established against every imaginable objection.
In our case the objector says that it is the individual that must be meant as the object of Pragâpati's teaching. The seer in the eye, he says, or the person that is seen in the eye, is referred to again and again as the same entity in the clauses which follow, when it is said, ‘I shall explain him still further to you,’ and in the explanations which follow, it is the individual soul in its different states (in dreams or in deep sleep) which is referred to, so that the clauses attached to both these explanations, viz. that is the perfect, the immortal, the faultless, that is Brahman, can refer to the individual soul only, which is said to be free from sin and the like. After that, when Pragâpati has discovered a flaw in the condition of the soul in deep sleep also, he enters on a further explanation. He blames the soul's connexion with the body, and finally declares that it is the individual, soul, but only after it has risen from out the body. Hence the opponent argues that the text admits the possibility of the qualities of the highest Self belonging to the individual soul.
Sanṅkara, however, proceeds at once to controvert this opinion, though we shall see that the original words of Pragâpati certainly lend themselves to the opponent's interpretation. We do not admit, he says, that it is the individual soul in its phenomenal reality that is the highest self, but only the individual soul, in so far as its true nature has become manifest within it (âvirbhûtasvarûpa), that is to say, after, by means of true knowledge, it has ceased to be an individual soul, or after it has recovered its absolute reality. This equivocality runs through the whole system of the Vedânta as conceived by Sanṅkara. Pragâpati could apparently assert a number of things of the individual self, which properly apply to the highest Self only, because in its true nature, that is after having recovered a knowledge of its true nature, the individual self is really the highest Self, and in fact never was anything else. Saๅkara says, this very expression (‘whose true nature has become manifest’) qualifies the individual soul with reference to its previous state. Therefore Pragâpati must be understood to speak at first of the seer, characterised by the eye, and then to show in the passage treating of the reflection in the water or the mirror, that he, the seer, has not his true Self in the body or in the reflection of the body. Pragâpati then refers to this seer again as the subject to be explained, saying, ‘I shall explain him further,’ and having then spoken of him as subject to the states of dreaming and of sleeping a deep sleep, he finally explains the individual soul in its real nature, that is, in, so far as it is the highest Brahman, not in so far as it appears to be an individual soul. The highest light mentioned in the passage last quoted, as what is to be approached, is nothing else but the highest Brahman which is distinguished by such attributes as perfection, freedom from sin, freedom from old age, from death, and all imperfections and desires. All these are qualities which cannot be ascribed to the individual soul or to the Ego in the body. They belong to the Highest Being only. It is this Highest Being, this Brahman alone, that constitutes the essence of the individual soul, while its phenomenal aspect which depends on fictitious limitations and conditions (upâdhis) or on Nescience cannot be its real nature. For as long as the individual soul does not free itself from Nescience, or a belief in duality, it takes something else for itself.
True knowledge of the Self, or true self-knowledge, expresses itself in the words, ‘Thou art That,’ or ‘I am Brahman,’ the nature of Brahman being unchangeable, eternal cognition. Until that stage has been reached, the individual soul remains the individual soul, fettered by the body, by the organs of sense, nay, even by the mind and its various functions. It is by means of Sruti or revelation alone, and by the knowledge derived from it, that the soul perceives that it is not the body, that it is not the senses, that it is not the mind, that it forms no part of the transmigratory process, but that it is and always has been, the True, the Real, τὸ ὄν, the Self whose nature is pure intelligence. When once lifted above the vain conceit of being one with the body, with the organs of sense and with the mind, it becomes or it knows itself to be and always to have been the Self, the Self whose nature is unchanging, eternal intelligence. This is declared in such passages as, ‘He who knows the highest Brahman, becomes even Brahman. And this is the real nature of the individual soul, by means of which it arises from the body and appears in its own form.’
The True Nature of the Individual Soul.
Here a new objection is raised? How, it is asked, can we speak of the manifestation of the true nature (svarûpa) of that which is unchanging and eternal? How, in fact, can we speak of it as being hidden for a time, and then only reappearing in its own form or in its true nature? Of gold and similar substances, the true nature of which becomes hidden, while its specific qualities are rendered non-apparent by their contact with some other substance, it may indeed be said that their true nature was hidden, and is rendered manifest when they are cleaned by the application of some acid substance. So it may be said likewise, that the stars, whose light during daytime is overpowered by the superior brilliancy of the sun, become manifest in their true nature at night when the overpowering sun has departed. But it is impossible to speak of an analogous overpowering of the eternal light of intelligence by any agency whatsoever, since it is free from all contact. How then did this momentous change take place?
The Phenomenal and the Real.
In our own philosophical language we might express the same question by asking, How did the real become phenomenal, and how can the phenomenal become real again? or, in other words, How was the infinite changed into the finite, how was the eternal changed into the temporal, and how can the temporal regain its eternal nature? or, to put it into more familiar language, How was this world created, and how can it be uncreated again?
We must remember that, like the Eleatic philosophers, the ancient Vedântists also started with that unchangeable conviction that God, or the Supreme Being, or Brahman, as it is called in India, is one and all, and that there can be nothing besides. This is the most absolute Monism. If it is called Pantheism, there is nothing to object, and we shall find the same Pantheism in some of the most perfect religions of the world, in all which hold that God is or will be All in All, and that if there really existed anything besides, He would no longer be infinite, omnipresent, and omnipotent, He would no longer be God in the highest sense. There is, of course, a great difference between saying that all things have their true being in and from God, and saying that all things, as we see them, are God. Or, to put it in another way, as soon as we say that there is a phenomenal world, we imply by necessity that there is also a non-phenomenal, a noumenal, or an absolutely real world, just as when we say darkness, we imply light. Whoever speaks of anything relative, conditioned, or contingent, admits at the same time something non-relative, non-conditioned, non-contingent, something which we call real, absolute, eternal, divine, or any other name. It is easy enough for the human understanding to create a noumenal or non-phenomenal world; it is, in fact, no more than applying to our experience the law of causality, and saying that there must be a cause for everything, and that that cause or that Creator is the One Absolute Being. But when we have done that, then comes the real problem, namely, how was the cause ever changed into an effect, how did the absolute become relative, how did the noumenal become phenomenal? or, to put it into more theological language, how was this world created? It took a long time before the human mind could bring itself to confess its utter impotence and ignorance on this point, its agnosticism, its Docta ignorantia, as Cardinal Cusanus called it. And it seems to me extremely interesting to watch the various efforts of the human mind in every part of the world to solve this greatest and oldest riddle before it was finally given up.
The Indian Vedântist treats this question chiefly from the subjective point of view. He does not ask at once how the world was created, but first of all, how the individual soul came to be what it is, and how its belief in an objective created world arose. Before there arises the knowledge of separateness, he says, or aloofness of the soul from the body, the nature of the individual soul, which consists in the light of sight and all the rest, is as it were not separate from the so-called Upâdhis, or limiting conditions such as body, senses, mind, sense-objects, and perception. Similarly as in a pure rock-crystal when placed near a red rose, its true nature, which consists in transparency and perfect whiteness, is, before its separateness has been grasped, as it were non-separate from its limiting conditions (the Upâdhis), that is, the red rose, while, when its separateness has once been grasped, according to legitimate authority, the rock-crystal reassumes at once its true nature, transparency and whiteness, though, in reality, it always was transparent and white,—in the same manner there arises in the individual soul which is not separate as yet from the limiting conditions (Upâdhi) of the body and all the rest, knowledge of separateness and aloofness, produced by Sruti; there follows the resurrection of the Âtman from the body, the realisation of its true nature, by means of true knowledge, and the comprehension of the one and only Âtman. Thus the embodied and non-embodied states of the Self are due entirely to discrimination and non-discrimination, as it is said (Katha-Up. I. 2, 22): ‘Bodyless within the bodies.’ This non-difference between the embodied and non-embodied state is recorded in the Smriti also (Bhag. Gîtâ, XIII. 31) when it is said: ‘O Friend, though dwelling in the body, it (the Âtman, the Self or the soul) does not act and is not tainted.’
The Atman unchanged amidst the changes of the World.
You see now that what Saṅkara wishes to bring out, and what he thinks is implied in the language of the Upanishads, is that the Âtman is always the same, and that the apparent difference between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul is simply the result of wrong knowledge, of Nescience, but is not due to any reality. He is very anxious to show that Pragâpati also in the teaching which he imparted to Indra and Virokana could not have meant anything else. Pragâpati, he says, after having referred to the individual or living soul (the gîva), seen, or rather seeing, in the eye, &c., continues, ‘This is (if you only knew it) the immortal, the fearless, this is Brahman.’ He argues that if the seer in the eye, the individual seer, were in reality different from Brahman, the immortal and fearless, it would not be co-ordinated (as it is by Pragâpati) with the immortal, the fearless Brahman. The reflected Self, on the other hand, is not spoken of as he who is characterised by the eye (the seer within the eye), for that would indeed render Pragâpati obnoxious to the reproach of saying deceitful things.
Saṅkara, however, is honest enough to tell us that his explanation is not the only one that has been proposed. Others, he tells us, think that Pragâpati speaks throughout of the free and faultless Self (Âtman), not of the individual soul at all. But he points out that the pronouns used in the text point clearly to two subjects, the individual soul on the one hand, and the highest soul on the other; and all that we have to learn is that the individual soul is not what it seems to be; just as, for our own peace of mind, we have to find out that what seemed to us a serpent, and then frightened us, is not a serpent, but a rope, and need not frighten us any more.
Nescience or Avidyâ the Cause of Phenomenal Semblance.
There are others again, he continues, some of our own friends (possibly the followers of Râmânuga), who hold that the individual soul, as such, is absolutely real; but to this he objects, remarking that the whole of the Vedânta-sûtras are intended to show that the one Supreme Being only is the highest and eternal intelligent reality, and that it is only the result of Nescience if we imagine that the many individual souls may claim any independent reality. It comes to this, that according to Saṅkara, the highest Self may for a time be called different from the individual soul, but the individual soul is never substantially anything but the highest Self, except through its own temporary Nescience. This slight concession of a temporary reality of the individual soul seemed necessary to Saṅkara, who, after all, is not only a philosopher, but a theologian also, because the Veda, which in his eyes is infallible, gives all its sacrificial and moral precepts for individual souls, whose existence is thereby taken for established, though no doubt such precepts are chiefly meant for persons who do not yet possess the full knowledge of the Self.
There are many more points connected with the relation of the individual to the Highest Self, which Sanṅkara argues out most minutely, but we need not here dwell on them any longer, as we shall have to return to that subject when treating of the systematic philosophy of Sanṅkara. What distinguishes Sanṅkara's view on the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, is the complete Henosis or oneness which according to him always exists, but in the individual soul may for a time be darkened by Nescience. There are other modes of union also which he fully discusses, but which in the end he rejects. Thus referring to the teaching of Âsmarathya (I. 4, 20), Sanṅkara argues, ‘If the individual soul were different from the Highest Self, the knowledge of the Highest Soul would not imply the knowledge of the individual soul, and thus the promise given in one of the Upanishads, that through the knowledge of the one thing (the Highest Soul) everything is to be known, would not be fulfilled.’ He does not admit that the individual soul can be called in any sense the creation of the Highest Soul, though the reason which he gives is again theological rather than philosophical. Ho says that .when the Veda relates the creation of fire and the other elements, it does never at the same time relate any separate creation of the individual soul. A Vedântist, therefore, has, as Sanṅkara argues, no right to look on the soul as a created thing, as a product of the Highest Self, different from the latter. You see how this question can be argued ad infinitum, and it was argued ad infinitum by various schools of Vedânta philosophers.
Satyabhedavâda and Bhedâbhedavâda.
Two names were given to these different views, one the Satyabhedavâda, the teaching of real separation or difference between the individual and the Highest Self, the other the Bhedâbhedavâda, the teaching of both separation and of non-separation. They both admit that the individual soul and the universal soul are essentially one. The difference between them turns on the question whether the individual soul, before it arrives at the knowledge of its true nature, may be called independent, something by itself, or not. A very popular simile used is that of fire and sparks. As the sparks, it is said4, issuing from a fire are not absolutely different from the fire, because they participate in the nature of fire, and, on the other hand, are not absolutely non-different, because in that case they would not be distinguishable either from the fire or from each other, so the individual souls also, if considered as effects of Brahman, are neither absolutely different from Brahman, for that would mean that they are not of the nature of intelligence (i.e. Brahman), nor absolutely non-different from Brahman, because in that case they would not be distinguished from each other, also because, if they were identical with Brahman and therefore omniscient, it would be useless to give people any instruction, such as the Upanishads give. You see that Indian philosophers excel in their similes and illustrations, and this idea of the souls being scintillations of God will meet us again and again in other religions also.
In fact, these thoughts of the Upanishads could not be expressed more correctly in our own language than they were by Henry More, the famous Cambridge theologian, when he says:—
‘A spark or ray of the Divinity
Clouded in earthy fogs, yclad in clay,
A precious drop, sunk from Eternity,
Spilt on the ground, or rather slunk away;
For then we fell when we ᾽gan first to assay
By stealth of our own selves something to been,
Uncentring ourselves from our great Stay,
Which fondly we new liberty did ween,
And from that prank right jolly wights ourselves did deem.’
Those who defend the other theory, the Satyabhedavâda, argue as follows: The individual soul is for a time absolutely different from the Highest Self. But it is spoken of in the Upanishads as non-different, because after having purified itself by means of knowledge and meditation it may pass out of the body and become once more one with the Highest Self. The text of the Upanishads thus transfers a future state of non-difference to that time when difference still actually exists. Thus the Pañkarâtrikas say: Up to the moment of emancipation being reached, the soul and the Highest Self are different. But the emancipated or enlightened soul is no longer different from the Highest Self, since there is no further cause of difference.
The Approach of the Soul to Brahman.
If we keep this idea clearly in view, we may now return to the first legend which we examined, and which was taken from the Brihadâranyaka-Upanishad. You may remember that there also we saw philosophical ideas grafted on ancient legends. The journey of the soul on the Path of the Fathers to the moon was evidently an old legend. From the moon, as you may remember, the soul was supposed to return to a new life, after its merits had been exhausted. In fact the Path of the Fathers did not lead out of what is called Samsâra, the course of the world, the circle of cosmic existence, the succession of births and deaths. We do not read here, at the end of the chapter, that ‘there is no return.’
The next step was the belief in a Devayâna, the Path of the Gods, which really led to eternal blessedness, without any return to a renewed cosmic existence. We left the soul standing before the throne of Brahman, and enjoying perfect happiness in that divine presence. Nothing more is said in the old Upanishads. It is generally admitted, however, that even those who at first go on the Path of the Fathers, and return from the moon to enter upon a new cycle of life, may in the end attain higher knowledge and then proceed further on the Path of the Gods till they reach the presence of Brahman. The Upanishad ends with one more paragraph stating that those who know neither of these two roads become worms, birds, and creeping things. This is all which the old Upanishads had to say. But after the psychological speculation had led the Indian mind to a new conception of the soul, as something no longer limited by the trammels of earthly individuality, the very idea of an approach of that soul to the throne on which Brahman sat became unmeaning.
Brahman was no longer an objective Being that could be approached as a king is approached by a subject, and thus we find in another Upanishad, the KaushĂtaki, where the same legend is told of the soul advancing on the road of the gods till it reaches the throne of Brahman, quite a new idea coming in, the idea on which the whole of Sanṅkara's Vedântism hinges. The legendary framework is indeed preserved in full detail, but when the soul has once placed one foot on the throne of Brahman, Brahman, you may remember, is represented as saying, ‘Who art thou?’ Then, after some more or less intelligible utterances, comes the bold and startling answer of the soul: ‘I am what thou art. Thou art the Self, I am the Self. Thou art the True (satyam), I am the True.’
And when Brahman asks once more, ‘What then is the True, τὸ ὄν?’ the soul replies: ‘What is different from the gods (you see that Brahman is here no longer considered as a mere god), and what is different from the senses (namely the phenomenal world), that is Sat, τὸ ὄν, but the gods and the senses are tyam, or it.’
This is a mere play on words (of which the old philosophers in India as well as in Greece are very fond). Sattyam (for satyam) is a regular derivative, meaning truth, but by dividing it into Sat, τὸ ὄν, and tya, it, the Upanishad wished to show that Brahman is what we should call both the absolutely and the relatively Real, the phenomenal as well as the noumenal universe. And thus the Upanishad concludes: ‘Therefore by that name of Sattya is called all this, whatever there is. All this thou art.’
Identity of the Soul with Brahman.
You see in this Upanishad a decided advance beyond the older Upanishads. Brahman is no longer a god, not even the Supreme God; his place is taken by Brahman, neuter, the essence of all things; and the soul, knowing that it is no longer separated from that essence, learns the highest lesson of the whole Vedânta doctrine, Tat tvam asi, ‘Thou art that,’ that is to say, ‘Thou, who for a time didst seem to be something by thyself, art that, art really nothing apart from the divine essence.’ To know Brahman is to be Brahman, or, as we should say, ‘in knowledge of Him standeth our eternal life.’ Therefore even the idea of an approach of the individual towards the universal soul has to be surrendered. As soon as the true knowledge has been gained, the two, as by lightning, are known to be one, and therefore are one; an approach of the one towards the other is no longer conceivable. The Vedântist, however, does not only assert all this, but he has ever so many arguments in store to prove with scholastic and sometimes sophistic ingenuity that the individual soul could never in reality be anything separate from the Highest Being, and that the distinction between a Higher and a Lower Brahman is temporary only, and dependent on our knowledge or ignorance, that the Highest Being or Brahman can be one only, and not two, as it might appear when a distinction is made between the Lower and Higher Brahman. Almost in the same words as the Eleatic5 philosophers and the German Mystics of the fourteenth century, the Vedântist argues that it would be self-contradictory to admit that there could be anything besides the Infinite or Brahman, which is All in All, and that therefore the soul also cannot be anything different from it, can never claim a separate and independent existence.
Secondly, as Brahman has to be conceived as perfect, and therefore as unchangeable, the soul cannot be conceived as a real modification or deterioration of Brahman.
Thirdly, as Brahman has neither beginning nor end, neither can it have any parts6; therefore the soul cannot be a part of Brahman, but the whole of Brahman must be present in every individual soul. This is the same as the teaching of Plotinus, who held with equal consistency that the True Being is totally present in every part of the universe. He is said to have written a whole book on this subject. Dr. Henry More calls this theory the Holenmerian, from the Greek οὐσία ὁλϵνμϵρής, an essence that is all in each part.
So much on what the Upanishads hint and what Vedântist philosophers, such as Sanṅkara, try to establish by logical argument as to the true nature of the soul and its relation to the Divine and Absolute Being. From a purely logical point of view, Sanṅkara's position seems to me impregnable, and when so rigorous a logician as Schopenhauer declares his complete submission to Sanṅkara's arguments, there is no fear of their being upset by other logicians.