JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Philosophy of Mimansa and Vedanta.

§ 5.

1. The Mimansa-Darcanam (system of investigation) is divided into two closely related parts: the Karamimansa (investigation of actions) -- the practical, and the Brahmamimansa (investigation of Brahma), or Vedanta -- the speculative. This system of doctrines is looked upon as the most ancient form of Hindu Philosophy, though some authors, like Colebrooke, are of opinion that it is of later origin than the other systems, since it deals polemically with them. Be this as it may, it is certain that this system professes to be the orthodox Philosophy of the Brahminical religion, that it constantly appeals to passages of the Vedas in proof of its theories, and refers to a certain number of the Upanishads as the source from which it is derived. For this reason we give it the first place in our exposition.

2. The object of the Karamimansa (of which Gaimini is said to be the author) is to interpret rightly the maxims of the sacred books, to explain the contradictions that appear in them, and by careful inquiry to determine exactly what are the religious obligations really imposed by the Vedas. At the same time it sets forth the motives and the purpose of these obligations, namely, the deliverance from sin, and the attainment of blessing and proportionate happiness through the fulfilment of duty. It is thus no more than an exegesis of the sacred books, and possesses but little interest for the philosopher. It is otherwise with the Brahmamimansa or Vedanta Philosophy; in this the speculative element is predominant.

3. The Vedanta is a fully developed system of Pantheism at once mystical and idealistic. "What is, is Brahma (God); what is not Brahma is nothing;" such is the fundamental teaching of the Vedantists. Brahma is the Infinite, and as such he alone has being. The multitudinous objects of the universe, inasmuch as multitudinous, are nonexistent -- mere non-being. The objects seen by us in their individuality and in their multiplicity appear to us different from Brahma and from one another, but this is a mere deception -- we are still far from real knowledge. Brahma alone has being, he is One without another, unchangeable, eternal, unspeakable, Lord, Spirit, Truth, Wisdom, Bliss. As Spirit, he is the indivisible unity of all being, the whole, but not anything of the whole. To admit that Brahma could produce anything distinct from himself would be to admit in him a principle of finiteness and limitation, since what is distinct from him must be finite; and thus he would cease to be infinite. Brahma is Being, and being out of him there is none.

4. What is called the created universe is no more than an unfolding of the divine being, or rather a transformation of Brahma in varying forms. Brahma is at once the efficient and the material cause of the world. He is at once that which is changed and that by which change is effected. As milk is transformed into curds, and water into ice, so does Brahma transform himself variously. As the spider spins her web from out herself, as the sea sends forth its foam, so does Brahma produce all things from himself, and transforms himself in them. This transformation is effected by successive processes. First comes aether; out of this is formed the air; out of air water; out of water the earth. In this wise the Universe comes to be.

5. Although Brahma is the being of all things, the subject in every change, yet in himself he is not affected by change or transformation. In his own being he is infinitely raised above all things. He takes every form, but his own being has no determined form, nor does it occupy any determined place. He is like pure space; all things exist and move in him, but he is not himself changed thereby. And as his being enters into all things without undergoing change in those transformations, so does he take all things again into himself without any accession to his being. The elements come forth from God in determined order; in the same order do they return to him. But no increase of perfection thereby accrues to Brahma, for this return to him is merely the undoing of his previous transformations.

6. In this theory creation is merely a sport of Brahma with himself; our notion of all matter rests upon a delusion -- in fact, matter is itself deception (Maya). The conservation and duration of the universe is no more than the sheen and shadow of Brahma's eternal existence. Nothing of it all has real existence or continuance. It is a mere appearance which soon vanishes in the abyss of the Divine unity. Brahma is at once the generating and the destroying power. There is no essential difference between things in the world. All are forms of Brahma transformations. Our sense cognition is but a delusion; it has no truth, no reality.

7. To the human soul, however, the Vedantists allot a special place in their system. The soul is indeed one in being with Brahma, but it is not a transformation of Brahma, it is a part of him. The soul is a spark shot forth from the eternal spirit, it is therefore of immortal nature like Brahma himself. Birth and death affect it not; it is not born, neither does it die. It is not immediately united with the body. The Vedantists seek to remove the soul as far as possible from contact with the body, and for this reason they will not admit an immediate union between them.

8. They therefore distinguish between the subtle invisible body -- Lingasarira, and the material body -- Sthulasarira. The soul is immediately invested by the invisible body, and through this is united to the material body. In the body immediately investing it the soul is enclosed as in a sheath, but this sheath is itself formed of three successive envelopes. The inmost is the rational, then follows the imaginative, and lastly the vital part. This triple envelope is in time enveloped by the material body.

9. This union with a material body is an evil for the soul, not an advantage; for by this connection it is held fast in the domain of delusion, it is deprived of the repose towards which it naturally aspires, and is made to act and to suffer. Brahma reposes eternally in himself, and finds bliss in this repose. The soul is destined to a like repose and a like bliss; but of this it is deprived by its union with the body, and is forced into action and to suffering. The action and the sufferings of this life are not, then, to be attributed to the soul's own nature -- they are occasioned by the body and its organs. Thus the material body is like a chain which confines the soul to a state wholly at variance with its nature.

10. Since the soul is one in being with Brahma, in fact only a part of Brahma, there can be no question of independent action, nor consequently of free self-determination. Brahma is the principle of being in the soul, he is the one principle of its action also. "Brahma alone works in me. I myself am without will or act." Brahma is not, however, for this reason the author of evil. The transmigrations of the soul have been going on throughout eternity. Each new life of the soul is determined in all respects, even to its moral condition, by that which immediately preceded. Every soul brings with it into this life special predispositions, and according to these predispositions the moral character of its activity during its earthiy career is determined. Brabma can act in each individual man only after the manner which the moral predispositions received from an antecedent life require. This being so, it is evident that guilt for evil deeds lies on man alone. Brahma has no part therein.

11. To turn again to the consideration of the relations between soul and body: since the union of the soul with the material body is not a natural condition of the soul, it follows that the task devolving upon the soul in life is to free itself from the burden of the body, and again become one with Brahma. This brings us to the practical part of the Vedantist theories. Deliverance is the highest object after which the soul can strive and must strive -- this is the fundamental principle of the practical teaching of the Vedanta. Deliverance is the highest moral duty; the question next arises how this deliverance is to be attained.

12. The deliverance of the soul is attained by "knowledge," i.e., by the perfect comprehension of Brahma, which involves an apprehension of the truth that the soul is one with Brahma, and with all that emanates from him or has part in his being. This knowledge, according to the Vedantists, is of the mystical not of the rational order. It is reached by immediate intuition. In immediate mystical contemplation of Brahma, and in the consciousness thence arising of the soul's oneness with him, and of the oneness with him of all other things, consists the deliverance of the soul -- the highest end of the soul's life here below. In this deliverance by mystical contemplation the soul attains that quietude and bliss to which it naturally tends. In its union with the body it has lost its repose and thereby lost the happiness to which it naturally aspires, but it recovers both when, in mystical contemplation, it emancipates itself from the burden of the body and again unites itself to Brahma.

13. In accordance with these theories the Vedantists teach that the supreme end of man is to be attained by the practices of a mystical asceticism. The process of the deliverance of the soul through "knowledge" must begin with works of penance and sacrifice. Without these the first step in this deliverance is impossible. In the next place, the soul must withdraw from the world of sense -- the domain of illusion, and become concentrated within itselF. As long as it expends itself on the phantoms of sense, deliverance is out of the question; it must turn from these and fix its gaze upon itself. Through this concentration of the soul within itself we reach the third stage in the process of deliverance -- repose in God. In this state the soul maintains itself entirely passive and merely permits God to work in it. It "leaves itself" to God. This condition of soul is described by the Vedantists as tranquil bearing, self-control, endurance, special sitting and standing attitude, holding of the breath, focussing of thought, faith.

14. This, then, is the mystical process of deliverance. When this has been completed, final deliverance in the knowledge of Brahma follows of itself. When the soul has succeeded in giving itself wholly to God, the light of contemplation dawns upon it, the spirit shines within it in its native brilliancy, the soul recognise itself as the immaculate Brahma; it perceives all other things to be one with Brahma; it is united with God; it knows no longer, it is itself knowledge. Like the river which loses itself in the sea the soul loses itself in God. Knowing Brahma it becomes Brahma himself. "All illusion is at an end, the soul in all things sees only Brahma." In this wise has it reached quietude and bliss. The deliverance of the soul through contemplation of God means, then, complete identification with the God-head, absorption into the Divine Being. Individual personality is something to be got rid of, it must be sacrificed in order that man may come forth from the flame of the holocaust a part of the Universal Divine Spirit.

15. The man who has reached this condition of complete emancipation has become, by the fact, cleansed of all sin and made independent of all moral law. As soon as he reaches "knowledge" his past sins are wiped out, and future misdeeds are not admissible. Water does not moisten the leaf of the lotus, neither does sin touch the soul that knows God. It is sinless and cannot sin. There is no vice left nor any virtue. For virtue too is a fetter, and it matters not that the fetter should be of gold rather than of iron; eternal liberty admits of neither. Evil disappears and so also does every virtue with the activity corresponding to it; the soul is raised above both alike, it has entered into rest. The Yogi (perfect contemplative) has therefore no account to render; he is as independent as the Divine nature itself.

16. The eschatology of the Vedantists is in keeping with these principles. Entire deliverance, complete absorption of the soul in Brahma, is impossible here below. Perfect Emancipation, complete quietude and bliss in God, is attainable only after the death of the body. But different souls enter into different states after death. The Yogi properly so-called, i.e., the man who has reached such perfection of knowledge as is possible on earth, enters immediately into the Divine Being, is absorbed into it, and is not subject to further change. But the soul whose "knowledge" has been imperfect, which can reach only Brahma's home, but is not prepared for absorption into his being, remains invested after death with its invisible body, is not, indeed, subject to further change during the duration of the world now existing, but may be subject to it in the new worlds that are to follow, unless exempted by special favour of Brahma.

17. As to other souls, those, to wit, which have not followed the ways of mystical asceticism -- they too, invested with the inner or invisible body, enter, after death, into other spheres, to receive the reward of their good or evil deeds. Sinners are condemned to various regions of punishment where Tschitragupta, and other mythological personages hold rule in the realms of Yama (Death). The virtuous, on the other hand, ascend into the moon, and there enjoy the reward of their good deeds. But they have yet to return to this world, and to enter again into new bodies. They are still subject to the conditions involved in the transmigration of souls. The cycle of change from one body to another must last till they enter at length upon the path of mystical asceticism, and by the process of self-deliverance enter into eternal rest.

18. Such, in outline, are the doctrines of the Vedanta. They are, in truth, what they purport to be -- the speculative development of the religious notions of tbe Vedas. They are, in their entirety, a characteristic product of the Eastern Mind. This indolent quietism, this merging of the personal spirit in the universal divinity, this contempt of activity, this emancipation of the sage from the requirements of the moral law -- all these things bear upon them the stamp of Oriental thought. They mark, as we shall see later, the characteristio difference between the Oriental and the Greek Philosophy.

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