By MuslimAnswers.net Team
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم
We were pointed to an article or part of a talk entitled: “What is Vedanta?” by the 19th century Hindu monk “Swami Vivekananda”. The article is very short, but since it presents the central theme of the Advaita philosophy, we would like to make a few comments about it. In the article itself, the monk says that there are a number of philosophical streams within Hinduism concerning the topic of the underlying nature of reality, but we can only say something about the particular viewpoint put forth by the monk, and other competing views will have to wait for other articles. The comments of the monk are in italics, ours in normal font.
All the books contained in the Upanishads have one subject, one task before them — to prove the following theme: “Just as by the knowledge of one lump of clay we have the knowledge of all the clay in the universe, so what is that, knowing which we know everything in the universe?”
First of all, this would seem to promote a pantheistic rather than panentheistic conception of reality – but this depends on what the word ‘Universe’ is taken to mean in here. If it is taken to mean the observable Universe only, then it is promoting a type of pantheism, but if it includes what is other than the observable Universe, and includes what is “beyond” it, then it could be said that there is a reference to panentheism in here. Some may consider that this is an artificial distinction, but in fact it does play an important part in many discussions, since we have seen Hindus complaining that to present their religion as pantheism is incorrect, and that the truth is that the Divine is “immersed within” the Universe, but also exists “outside” of it.
Second, we note that with the “lump of clay” analogy, the initial supposition is towards “Hulool” [In-dwelling] already, since it presupposes that there is a base and fundamental unity of all existence, and that our job is merely to find out what is the characteristic or trait by means of which we can deduce this alleged in-dwelling. Thus, the conclusion is spelled out before the faculties of the senses and of the perceptive mind are put to work, and this, for us, is a major problem that will become more and more obvious as we move on.
And they claim that this whole universe is one, that it is one Being manifesting itself in all these various forms. It is this Being, the Sat, which has become converted into all this — the universe, man, soul, and everything that exists.
The “they” in here refers to the Advaitists. In many places, it would have been given some other type of epithets, such as “Consciousness” and so forth, but at least in this case, the speaker has been forthcoming enough to say that it is a “Being”, so at least some confusion has been eliminated by means of this definition.
How came that Sat which is unchangeable, as they admit (for that which is absolute is unchangeable), came to be changed into that which is changeable, and perishable? … according to the Advaitists proper… the whole universe is the apparent evolution of God. God is the material cause of this universe, but not really, only apparently.
So they say that the apparent evolutions in God are only apparent changes, not real ones. What strikes us as noteworthy is that the apparent changes occur to God Himself, not to the “false” Universe. It means that the “locus” for apparent changes and for apparent modality is God Himself, while what would be expected is that false events can only subsist in false objects – unless their position is that God Himself is “false”, which does not strike us as plausible in here; after all, falsity of any type cannot be imputed to the Divine Being, and if it is imputed, the imputation itself is false. Anyway, the confusion remains: Apparent/False states of evolution should appear only in apparent/false loci, not in the “Absolutely True Being”.
There seems also to be an unresolved issue with definitions in here as well: “Apparent” seems to mean “false” through and through. It may be reworded by some to mean “ultimately false”, but it would be false nonetheless.
And another comment is needed about this “material cause” phrase. This would seem to connect the Advaitins to the gross materialists and atheists in a certain way, by saying that all the dimensions in the Universe, its changes, etc., are due to “material cause and effect”, the only difference being that the gross atheist sees this materialism-only doctrine as literally true, while the Hindu rebuffs that and says that it is actually false, while at the same time also rejecting creation.
We see then, that the skeptic would only have to say that he tried the Hindu spiritual exercises and meditations aimed at pinpointing the alleged “Divine Unity” in all that is, and he was unable to find such a unity manifesting within himself, and that as a result, the skeptic has now become a full-blown Atheist. As we can see, the line separating one from the other is not that great when “material cause” is used as the basis for existence.
The celebrated illustration used is that of the rope and the snake, where the rope appeared to be the snake, but was not really so. The rope did not really change into the snake. Even so this whole universe as it exists is that Being. It is unchanged, and all the changes we see in it are only apparent.
This would only serve to reinforce our original opinion above: The meaning of apparent is “ultimately false upon closer inspection”, or some other similar statement. Concerning the rope and the snake, we say that both exist within the realm of possibilities, as does the mind of the seer, and his senses, which is what gives rise to such possibilities. Otherwise, the false perception pointed out in here cannot occur at all.
These changes are caused by Desha, Kâla and Nimitta (space, time, and causation), or, according to a higher psychological generalization, by Nâma and Rupa (name and form)
Name and form are given to things because there is real differentiation between things in the Universe. If someone were to say that this differentiation is false, then they are denying time, space, and causation (or let us say it more precisely, correlation) even as relative dimensional categories. It would seem to be difficult to see in such a case how the “true lack of change of the Universe” can be seen as true, when all that we have to work with are false tools.
Again, it is not, the Vedantists say, that there is something as phenomenon and something as noumenon… Ignorance or Mâyâ, as it is called, is the cause of all this phenomenon — the Absolute, the Unchangeable, being taken as this manifested universe.
Noumenon means a thing as it is in itself. They are positing the actual non-existence of everything in the observable Universe; and not only that, but its impossibility to exist. We can agree that time, space, and the dimensions have no self-subsisting, independent existence, but we cannot say that they have no relational existence at all, that they have no contingent existence. Otherwise, even ignorance itself cannot possibly exist. For where can ignorance have a locus except in that with is possible in existence?
After all, ignorance cannot exist in that which is “logically absurd” since the “absurd” cannot possibly exist to begin with. It can also not be said that the Supreme Deity is a “locus for ignorance”, since that is again a contradiction in terms. So, ignorance can only subsist in the possible existents.
If they say that ignorance is only relatively true just as the dimensions of the Universe are relatively true, but not ultimately so, what the Muslim says is that it is exactly this relative character of the different objects, states, and events of the Universe that need Creation, not an “apparent modification of the Ultimate Truth”. If they were totally incapable of existing, then there would have been no creating them to begin with.
And then there is again the problem as to what “apparent” means in here. We see that there was a clear-cut rejection as to there being any phenomenon/noumenon distinction in truth, and that reality is in fact “one thing as it is in itself”. This would again seem to imply that apparent means “outright false” in the sense of impossible in existence – this extends not only to apparent objects of existence, but also to apparent mental states. But if ignorance is impossible in existence, then only true knowledge would exist, and analogies such as the rope/snake analogy would have no meaning at all. There is no way to circumvent this fact.
If there were only one existence throughout, how could it be that I am one, and you are one, and so forth? We are all one, and the cause of evil is the perception of duality.
Again, it seems to be that the assumption of absolute unity has been made, and the deduction is subsequently made that whatever is sensed with the organs must be false. Thus, it would seem to be that the main problems coming out of this ideology is that the absolute mental supposition is made, and everything else that is in contravention to this, either from the sense organs or our minds, is posited as false.
But of course, this would lead to another series of problems, for the initial mode of the Universe cannot be visualized except with our sense organs. To say that the organs we are using are false, and that the information they give us is also false gives no scope for “truth” to enter into the picture at all. And the concept of “absolute truth” is farthest from this discussion, for if the sense organs are false, how can there be a common “locus” between a hypothetical absolutely true awareness or consciousness “within” us and these absolutely false perceptions and senses that give rise to ignorance?
…this differentiation of matter, these phenomena, are, as it were, for a time, hiding the real nature of man; but the latter really has not been changed at all. In the lowest worm, as well as in the highest human being, the same divine nature is present. The worm form is the lower form in which the divinity has been more overshadowed by Mâyâ; that is the highest form in which it has been least overshadowed.
We suppose they meant “man is the highest form in which it has been least overshadowed”. It would seem to imply that ignorance is of different levels and types. This would only favor our main idea, that of different possible existents having distinct characteristics that qualify one from the other. While the Hindu accepts that the Divine Being possesses Absolute Knowledge, he does not seem to realize that gradations of ignorance and delusion point to possibilities, not to intrinsically impossible states.
For a time, as it were, the whole of this phenomenal world will disappear for him, and he will realise what he is. But so long as the karma of this body remains, he will have to live. This state, when the veil has vanished and yet the body remains for some time, is what the Vedantists call the Jivanmukti, the living freedom. If a man is deluded by a mirage for some time, and one day the mirage disappears — if it comes back again the next day, or at some future time, he will not be deluded.
It would seem to be that the Advaitins have conflated true knowledge of a thing with All-Comprehensive cognizance of that thing. Thus, it does not have to be that since I know something to be undoubtedly true, that it means that my cognizance of it is absolute. Thus, there can be created true knowledge, and there is nothing impossible in that.
The example of the mirage which we learn is false is only due to our sequential knowledge expanding based on our experiences, and these ultimately come from the conglomeration of our sense and thinking organs. It is not that absolute knowledge concerning the reality of this mirage has dawned upon us – as a small example, we can hypothetically imagine a situation where the person perhaps forgets that the image he is seeing is a mirage, and acts in an incorrect manner based on the slip-up. But such possibilities cannot be imputed on the “Cognizance of Absolute Knowledge”. This is one of the main problems with the analogy that the “veil of ignorance has vanished, but the body remains for some time.”
So when the Vedantist has realised his own nature, the whole world has vanished for him. It will come back again, but no more the same world of misery. The prison of misery has become changed into Sat, Chit, Ânanda — Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute — and the attainment of this is the goal of the Advaita Philosophy.
Again, it seems to us, and Allah knows best, that the Advaitins and all those who think like them, have eliminated the category of “possible/contingent existence”, and only have two absolute categories, that of the absolutely impossible, and that of the absolutely necessary in existence, and have posited that since they exist, then they must be in the latter category. But this is a type of extremism, akin to the extremism of the atheist who a priori has only two categories for existence, the absolutely impossible and the possible in existence, or perhaps he considers only the possible in existence and nothing else.
We would like to make one additional comment before we finish. If one holds on to a panentheistic viewpoint of “all existence”, what they are saying then is that a “part of God” is the Universe (however that “part” is defined and modified by delusion, etc.), while the “rest of God” subsists outside of the Universe, our job being to “reabsorb” ourselves into the “Full Divinity” through the acquisition of knowledge and the removals of the veils of ignorance. [The difference between this and a full “pantheistic” view is that the pantheist thinks that “God” and “Universe” are “absolutely identical” to one another.]
We had already discussed many of the problems from the “creation’s side” with respect to this panentheistic assumption, but we can also say something else: We see that above, the being they call “God” is already partitioned, so one cannot say that we are dealing with the Divine Being whatsoever, but with something compounded.
And we would also not be able to run away from the supposition that “God” created the Universe with this “part of Himself”, and this would make the “Divine Being” simply a molder of already existing material, and would make Himself a malleable Being, both of which grossly go against the very conception of the True God.
Rather, the truth, as taught in Islam, is that Allah creates that which is possible in existence, and defines every single one of the relative and dimensional characteristics, as per His Will, Power, and Knowledge, without it being a “part of His Self”. This is because the absolutely impossible in existence is simply that (i.e. its existence is absolutely impossible), while the absolutely necessary in existence cannot be attributed with changes (as even the Hindu monk above acknowledged.)
So this was a small commentary on the tract by “Swami Vivekananda”; we are certain that there are many more concepts tied to this ideology that have yet to be discussed by us, since they were hidden within this tract, but they will definitely be dealt with whenever they come in other instances. We pray for the guidance of all those who seek it, and may Allah’s blessings nd peace be upon Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, his family and Companions.