Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fr. Ivo Coelho, Applying Lonergan's Method


A Dialectic of Some Interpretations of Sankara

Draft 2: for blog, 15 November 2007 Ivo Coelho, SDB

Note: This attempt at dialectic arose as the tail end of an article entitled “Lonergan and Indian Thought” due to appear in the Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia. Because the article was becoming too long, and chiefly because I could not see my way through, I cut it off, hoping to work it out into an independent article. The attempt remains radically incomplete, but I present it here at the request of Paul Allen, hoping to elicit discussion, contributions, and even dialectic.

I note that I need to study better Radhakrishnan, Hiriyanna, Mahadevan, Chatterjee and Datta, and De Smet, and that I should keep Mayeda only if I can get more substantial matter by him. The topics for dialectical comparison could be theology, metaphysics and cognitional theory. I will also have to do evaluation history better, asking already there whether the process was under the guidance of intellectual, moral and religious conversion.

I am also toying with the idea of recasting the whole attempt in terms of Interpretation and History (tracing the genetic links between Radhakrishnan, Mahadevan, Chatterjee and Datta, and the dialectic between De Smet and Mayeda). Dialectic could then go immediately to (assembly and) completion.

This is a lone and lame attempt at dialectic.[1] It is obviously a lone attempt. It is also lame, because, as is well known, Lonergan designed his functional specialty dialectic to be carried out in a team. However, ever the realist, he also spoke about interim attempts: let everyone do what he can, and indicate what more ought to be done to complement his efforts.[2] So here I am, doing what I can.

The matter of dialectic is conflicts, so I thought I would attempt to do dialectic on a rather well-known conflict of interpretation in the field of Indian thought: the interpretation of Sankara’s Advaita, or Sankara on the relation between Brahman and the world. Now I must admit at the outset that my Sanskrit does not extend beyond a nodding familiarity with terms that are commonly used in courses and texts of Indian philosophy. however, it seems to me that Lonergan’s distinction of functional specialties might allow for a critique that does not presuppose knowledge of the original languages, for the good reason that dialectical differences are rooted in differing fundamental options rather than in data. At any rate, this is my justification for undertaking the present exploratory survey with conflicting interpretations of Sankara as the subject matter.

A complete investigation would involve research, interpretation, history, dialectic and foundations. Research would involve the drawing up of a complete bibliography at the very least, beginning from the writings of Sankara, down through the various historical commentaries and polemical writings, to contemporary interpretations. Interpretation would call for a study of each of these. History would put these interpretations together to discover what was going forward (where ‘what was going forward’ is to be understood comprehensively to include not only developments but also aberrations), for over time we can expect a historical unfolding of the potentialities of positions as well as counterpositions resulting in development of the former and reversal of the latter. Dialectic, finally, would pull together the results of history to first complete them, and then compare, reduce, classify, select, distinguish positions and counterpositions, develop positions and reverse counterpositions.[3]

My efforts here would have to be complemented by the same process carried out by a group of 3 or more investigators. There should follow a second level dialectic, in which the results of the process are then themselves subjected to the process of assembly, completion, comparison, reduction, classification, selection, distinguishing positions and counterpositions, developing positions and reversing counterpositions. A third level involves a subject-to-subject encounter between the members of the team, and then dialectic becomes dialogue.

Assembly and Completion

The first step is to assemble the various interpretations of Sankara. These are, of course, very many. But my attempt to demonstrate dialectic would not be completely vitiated if I were to limit myself to a few: Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, T.M.P. Mahadevan, Satishchandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta, Richard De Smet and Sengaku Mayeda. For the same reason, I trust I will be forgiven if I base this attempt on ‘spot samplings’ of these authors rather than comprehensive and scholarly interpretations as would be required even by a full and proper use of the method.

A second step would be to complete the interpretations. Completion, in Lonergan’s peculiar sense, involves adding evaluative interpretation and history, picking out the good things and their opposites. This is what we usually do when we write articles and reviews, but Lonergan has a slightly technical suggestion to make: “To determine the legitimacy of any development calls for evaluational history; one has to ask whether or not the process was under the guidance of intellectual, moral, and religious conversion.”[4]

In what follows I combine these first two steps, assembly and completion.

1. Radhakrishnan[RI1]

The problem. In his 1952 exposition of Sankara, Radhakrishnan states that we have to harmonize two sets of statements in the Upanisads, one of which affirms the identity of Brahman, the individual soul and the world, while the other distinguishes them.[5]

The ontological status of the world. Radhakrishnan talks very clearly about the one-sided dependence of the world on Brahman.[6] “The world does not exist of itself. It is derived from and dependent on Brahman and so is less real than Brahman.”[7]

According to Radhakrishnan, Sankara explains this one-sided dependence by means of the analogies of the rope/snake and the magician. “Ś. suggests that the world is an appearance due to ignorance and so this appearance does not affect the cause in any way, even as a magician is not affected by the illusion he creates for others.”[8] Radhakrishnan hastens to clarify the word appearance: “Since the appearance is not factual, it is sometimes imagined that the world is not factual. But Ś. himself explains that the illustrations have only a limited application and are not to be extended to all points.”[9]

While using the word ‘appearance,’ Radhakrishnan takes issue with the word ‘illusion,’ making it abundantly clear that the world is not to be regarded as merely a fruit of our imagination. “Ś. regards the world as maya which is wrongly translated as illusion. The world is unreal when viewed apart from its basis in the ultimate reality or Brahman. When viewed in its relation to Brahman, we find that all this is Brahman….”[10] Radhakrishnan makes a distinction between pratibhasika, vyavaharika and paramarthika. “The world is not of the nature of an illusion, pratibhasika, which is contradicted by later experiences. The world is not contradicted on the empirical stage. It is vyavaharika…. We cannot be sure that it will not be contradicted at some later stage. What really persists in all experience is being, sat and not its forms. This being forms the substratum of all objective forms.”[11] And again: “The waking and the dream worlds are both unreal in the strict metaphysical sense in that they involve duality and are objective but this is not to reduce a waking experience to a dream state. There is nothing to support the view that the entire manifold universe is illusory in character. The tangible objects which we see around us are not the objects of our imagination. The world is distinguished from such self-contradictory entities as the son of a barren woman and dreams and illusions. S. takes pains to repudiate the view of mentalism advocated by the Vijnana-vadins. Whatever the outside world depends on, it does not depend on the human mind…. The object of consciousness is not the same as the consciousness of the object…. The object seen is independent of perception.”[12]

Radhakrishnan does, however, occasionally flirt with the word illusion: “Even if the world be an illusion, the maker of the illusion is not the individual subject but the divine Lord…. Commenting on II.4.20, S. clearly makes out that the individual soul is not responsible for the world of objects…. If life is an illusion it is one that lasts endlessly…. It is shared by all human beings…. It is difficult to draw a distinction between such an illusion and reality.”[13]

He also describes the world as anirvacaniya: “When the appearance of the world is said to be anirvacaniya, all that is meant is that it is unique. We cannot describe it as existent or non-existent. The world is said to be sad-asad-vilaksana and not non-existent.”[14]

Definitions of truth and reality. Radhakrishnan clearly admits, therefore, the relative and dependent reality of the world. The problem is that he does use the language of appearance, though being somewhat more careful about the word illusion. The controlling factors in his usage are his understanding of the term ‘true,’ which he seems to regard as interchangeable with the term ‘real.’ Thus he says: “A thing is said to be true only so long as it is not contradicted.”[15] If the true/real is what is not contradicted, then it follows that the only true/real is the Absolutely Real; all other levels are not ultimately true/real. Thus:“[s]ince the world-appearance is found to be non-existing at the rise of right knowledge, it is not true.”[16] “The world is sat because it exists for a time; it is asat for it does not exist for all time….”[17] At best, it is, as was said above, sad-asad-vilaksana.

The distinction between the illusory and the empirical can, in my opinion, be sustained. If human knowing consists of experiencing, understanding and judging, the data pertaining to an illusion is exclusively the content of imagination and memory, while the data pertaining to the empirical world includes the data of sense. Again, an object of imagination or thought can be affirmed, but is still tied down by relativity to the subject; an object in the empirical world is free from such relativity, in the sense that its reality does not depend upon our cognitional activity.[18]

Clearly, again, there is a difference between the empirical and the Absolutely Real: it is the difference between what is real as a mere matter of fact, and what is real in its own right. What is real as a mere matter of fact, has conditions which happen to be fulfilled. What is real in its own right, svartha has, instead, no conditions; it simply exists; it is svayambhu, svastika. It seems to me that Radhakrishnan does not have the sophisticated and differentiated awareness of cognitional process that would enable him to grasp the implications of this distinction. Such a distinction could have been a starting point, for example, for explaining the one-sided dependence of the world on Brahman, but Radhakrishnan does not realize this and so feels obliged to resort to the language of appearance.

Radhakrishnan is no naïve realist who would regard the real as what is attained by the senses alone. Is he an idealist? Does he hold that, w.r.t. the empirical world, we know appearances but not reality? He has reserved the terms ‘real’ and ‘true’ for the Absolutely Real. By ‘true’ he understands what is not contradicted. Such a position leads logically to the conclusion that the world is unreal, and that we know only appearances but not reality. However, to his credit, he makes a distinction between different levels of reality and different usages of ‘real.’ Thus he can maintain that the world is relative and dependent reality, or that it is both real and unreal, falling somewhere between utter unreality and the supreme reality of Brahman. Where some Western idealists are unable to affirm that we attain reality because of their implicit acceptance of the naïve realist criterion of reality, Radhakrishnan calls the world ‘appearance’ because of his definition of truth. His distinction between different usages of ‘real’ and ‘true’ could well have allowed him to avoid the word ‘appearance’ altogether, and he does in fact register his unwillingness to use the word ‘illusion,’ but he fails in the end to make a clean break from such language, indicating a degree of unsureness in his largely acceptable position. A study of his position w.r.t. the status of the individual soul would serve to confirm or negate this hypothesis.[19]

Radhakrishnan fails to distinguish between the true affirmation which is eternally valid, and the event or fact to which it refers, which may be contingent. He is, as has been pointed out also by De Smet, rather too fascinated by Hegel, as is revealed even by his use of the word ‘sublation’ … [INCW 367.] He is no naïve realist; his problem is that, like the Western idealist, he is poor on judgment, and does not have enough respect or appreciation for the judgment of fact. Thus he tends to neglect the virtually unconditioned in favour of the absolutely unconditioned. It is either his own good sense, or perhaps the text of Sankara, that enables him to recognize the relative reality of the empirical, contingent, changing world.

Radhakrishnan has plenty to say about the process of knowing in Sankara. He even compares him with Western thinkers. He says he is closest to Bradley. [S.] Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy (Bombay: Blackie & Son, 1977, first published 1923) 2:524.]

2. Mahadevan (1968)

The problem. Mahadevan’s way of stating the problem is that the Upanisads speak of Brahman as nirguna, qualityless, as well as saguna, with qualities; how are we to reconcile these two views?

Ontological status of the world. Sankara postulates two standpoints, the paramarthika and the vyavaharika. “The supreme truth is that Brahman is non-dual and relationless. It alone is; there is nothing real besides it.” [Ref.] From our standpoint, however, Brahman appears as God, as cause of the world.

Mahadevan has no hesitation in using the words ‘illusory appearance’ and vivarta (which he translates as phenomenal appearance): there is no real causation; the world is an illusory appearance in Brahman, as snake in the rope. “This doctrine is known as vivarta-vada (the theory of phenomenal appearance) which is to be distinguished from its rival, parinama-vada (the theory of transformation).”[20]

Does this mean that the world of our experience is simply false or non-existent? No, for Mahadevan assigns at least relative reality to the empirical world, and distinguishes such reality from that of dreams and delusions. “To the facts of the empirical world belong only relative reality; and empirical knowledge is but relatively true…. Less valid than empirical knowledge is the knowledge that pertains to such fanciful objects as those of dream and delusion. Thus, reality is said to be threefold: absolute (paramarthika), empirical (vyavaharika), and apparent (pratibhasika).”[21]

Definitions of true and real. As in Radhakrishnan, the controlling factors are Mahadevan’s definitions of true and real. “True or valid knowledge is defined as that knowledge which has for its content what is unsublated and unestablished by any other means. Unsublatability or non-contradiction and novelty are the characteristics of truth.”[22] Clearly here the true is not what is known in correct judgment; what is partial or sublatable is not true; only what is full or unsublatable is true. “Judged by these characteristics, nothing other than Brahman-knowledge can be true.”[23] Somewhat like Radhakrishnan, Mahadevan opts for vivarta-vada because he sees it as the only alternative to parinama-vada.

3. Chatterjee and Datta

The problem. Chatterjee and Datta state the problem in the following way: the Upanisads tell us both that Brahman is creator and material cause of the world, and that there is no multiplicity.[24]

Ontological status of the world. A further statement of the problem already reveals an outline of the preferred solution of our authors: “These two kinds of statements about the world and God naturally present a puzzle. Is God really the creator of the world and the world also therefore real? Or, is there really no creation and is the world of objects a mere appearance?”[25] The alternatives presented here must be noted: the choice is between regarding creation/world as real or as mere appearance. Sankara makes the latter choice, according to our two authors: “Sankara holds that God does not undergo any real change, change is only apparent, not real.”[26] Like Mahadevan, Chatterjee and Datta do not hesitate to attribute vivarta-vada to Sankara: “Illusory modification of any substance, as of the rope into the snake is called vivarta, and real modification, as of milk into curd, is called parinama. Sankara’s theory of creation, as described above, is, therefore, known as vivarta-vada and is distinguished from the Sankhya theory of evolution (by the real modification of prakrti) which is called parinama-vada.”[27] The theory of vivarta enables Sankara to defend the nature of God as conscious cause (unlike Ramanuja who admits that matter is a part of God), and also the transcendence of God (if matter is the whole of God, then the whole of God is changed into the world). “Whether God changes partly or wholly, if change be real, then God is not a permanent, unchanging reality. He then ceases to be God. These difficulties are avoided by vivarta-vada according to which change is apparent.”[28]

What exactly do Chatterjee and Datta understand by ‘appearance,’ ‘illusion,’ vivarta? Some light is cast on the matter by their list of Sankara’s attempts to refute theories of creation opposed to the upanisadic teaching. Sankara rejects the Sankhya, Vaisesika and Buddhist theories. His rejection of the Buddhist vijnanavada theory (subjective idealism), which holds that the world is an illusory product of the imagination, like a dream, is especially noteworthy because of what it reveals about Sankara’s own position about the reality of the world:

  1. The existence of external objects cannot be denied because they are perceived to exist by all persons.
  2. If immediate experience is disbelieved, then even the reality of mental states must be disbelieved.
  3. To say that the ideas of the mind illusorily appear as external objects is meaningless unless at least something external is admitted to be real. Otherwise it would be as good as saying that a certain man looks like the child of a barren woman.
  4. There is a difference between dream objects and perceived objects: the former are contradicted by waking experience, while the latter are not.[29]

According to Chatterjee and Datta, then, Sankara clearly upholds the validity of immediate experience: it cannot be denied outright. Whatever be the way our authors understand the word ‘illusion,’ they accept Sankara’s distinction between the world of external objects and the total unreality and non-existence of ‘the child of a barren woman.’ However, they can also say: atheists regard the world alone as real; theists regard both world and God as real; while the Absolute monism of Sankara regards only God as real, indicating once again an unwillingness or else an inability to take fully seriously the analogical range of meanings of the term ‘real.’[30]

Meaning of the term ‘real.’ As in Radhakrishnan and Mahadevan, then, the controlling factor is the definition of ‘real.’ “Persistence or pervasion (anuvritti) is the criterion of the real, particularity or exclusion (vyabhicara) that of the unreal.”[31] According to this criterion, only Brahman is real; the world of objects is unreal. Still, this world is not utterly unreal. “These objects cannot be called real in so far as they are particular and changing; but they are not surely utterly unreal like the son of a barren woman, since existence as such shines even through their appearance, and is present in them. In view of this they can be described as neither real, nor unreal. They are indescribable (anirvacaniya). The world of appearance as a whole, and the power of ignorance (maya or avidya) which conjures up such a puzzling world, are also indescribable in this sense.”[32] More clearly, our authors present the following distinctions:

  1. The utterly unreal: child of a barren mother.
  2. Objects of possible and actual experience.
    1. Those that appear momentarily in illusions and dreams, but are contradicted by waking experience. Pratibhasika satta or apparent existence.
    2. Those that appear in normal waking experience – particular and changing objects which form the basis of our ordinary life and practice, but which cannot be accepted by reason as completely real, because they exhibit contradiction and are open to future contradiction. Vyavaharika satta or practical or empirical or virtual existence.
    3. Pure existence, which is neither contradicted nor contradictable. Paramarthika satta or supreme existence.[33]

Chatterjee and Datta go one step further than Radhakrishnan and Mahadevan when they give us an idea of what they understand by ‘objectivity.’ “Objectivity is granted by the Advaitin to both the normal world and the illusory object, by admitting creation in both cases. In this the Advaitin is more realistic than ordinary realists. He differs from them in holding that objectivity does not imply reality, nor that unreality implies subjectivity…. On the contrary, on the strength of the arguments already mentioned, every object which is particular and changeful is shown by him to have a contradictory nature, and therefore, to be not real in the sense in which pure existence is.”[34] This disjunction between objectivity and reality is quite in keeping with the Chatterjee-Datta definition of the term ‘real,’ for once ‘real’ is defined in terms of the supremely real, and if the existence of external objects is upheld, it follows that one has to make a distinction between objectivity and reality. What is at stake is a properly worked out meaning for the word real, a meaning that is not univocal but analogical. While accepting with Sankara the relative reality of the empirical world, Chatterjee and Datta are forced by their desire to defend the ‘unity’ of Brahman, as well as their lack of a theory of analogy, to call the world ‘illusion’ and ‘appearance.’

4. Mayeda

Ontological status of the world. Like Chatterjee and Datta, Mayeda outlines Sankara’s criticism of Buddhism. Sankara, he points out, regards Buddhism as a nihilist doctrine.[35] In contrast to Chatterjee and Datta, however, Mayeda holds that Sankara accepts (1) the Buddhist denial of real existence of external objects, and (2) the Buddhist acceptance of the reality of consciousness.[36] Where then does Sankara differ from the Buddhists?

The difference is that he rejects the Vijnanavada theory of the momentariness of consciousness, and insists that Ultimate Reality is non-dual.[37] Both the systems, says Mayeda, “equally assert the non-reality of the phenomenal world” and both therefore “belong to a similar monistic standpoint.”[38] By ‘monism’ or ‘illusionistic monism,’ Mayeda seems to mean the non-reality of the phenomenal world and the reality of consciousness (whether eternal and permanent or momentary). Such an understanding of monism is somewhat different from that of Chatterjee and Datta: when they call Sankara a monist, they mean that he upholds the unicity of Brahman; they do speak about the illusory nature of the empirical world, but they also insist on giving it a grade of reality.

5. De Smet

Ontological status of the world. De Smet maintains that Sankara was teaching wisdom, and that his language was evaluative rather than metaphysical. His key distinction was between what is primary and what is secondary. The primary is sat, which is the unchanging real or the REAL, i.e. Brahman. The secondary is asat, which is the changing real or the un-REAL, i.e. the world.[39] “As for a corresponding philosophy of man and the world, we should not search for one in his writings, for he explicitly considered that as secondary and did not mean to produce one. What he had to say on the subject of man and the world was merely consequential upon what he meant to say about God, and is expressed for the most part in negative or relative terms.”[40]

Still De Smet can say: Sankara held “that man and the world cannot be truly comprehended apart from, and independently of, God, for they depend entirely upon him as upon their total cause; that since they are totally his effects, they are nothing by themselves, …; and that, therefore they are neither sheer non-being nor being in the highest sense of the term (sad-asad-vilaksana).[41]

There are negative, essential as well as causal/relational definitions (tatastha-laksana) of Brahman. The causal/relation definitions posit Brahman as the Root of the universe, total Cause of their being. There is a risk here of anthropomorphism, and so we need to approach them with the teaching of negativity and maximality. Since Brahman is changeless and transcendent, these relations are not ontological but only logical. They are not intrinsic attributes (visesana) but extrinsic denominators (upadhi).[42]

Between creatures and Brahman there is a relation of tadatmya, having That as one’s Atman. Tadatmya is not peculiar to the jivatman but is the founding relation which imbues all effects of Brahman. It is characterized by non-reciprocity, dependence, indwelling, non-otherness, distinction and extrinsic denominativity. Non-reciprocity, for example, means that names and forms (finite realities) have their Atman in Brahman alone, but that Brahman has not its Atman in them (on TU 2.6.1). It is their supreme Self because it is their innermost omniscient and total Cause. Extrinsic denominativity means that effects are not illusory; however, they are neither intrinsic parts nor additive adjuncts but extrinsic indicators.[43]

De Smet believes that Sankara teaches the ontological reality of the effects. The mutation of Sankarism into mayavada, he says, took place only with Vimuktatman. In the largest number of instances Sankara uses maya in the sense of extraordinary power. When he does use it in the sense of magic, it is only by way of comparison.[44]

De Smet would accept the distinctions made by Radhakrishnan, Mahadevan and Chatterjee-Datta between the pratibhasika, the vyvaharika and the paramarthika. Borrowing from J.F. Pessein, however, reframes them in the following more precise way:

  1. Brahman is SAT, REAL. It is the only REAL, since there cannot be two or more REALS. Hence Brahman is A-sat, UN-real, i.e. totally unlike what we normally call sat, real. But it is not a-sat, un-real, in the manner of a mirage. Neither is it A-SAT, UN-REAL, like the son of a barren woman.
  2. The world is sat, real, in the ordinary sense of the term. It is neither SAT nor ASAT. It is SAT-ASAT-vilaksana, i.e. undefinable by the terms SAT or ASAT taken in their supreme or perfect sense.
  3. Prior to creation, when it is not yet real in the ordinary sense, it is identical with SAT, as St Thomas clearly states. After creation, its sat is a totally caused, dependent, relative reality which cannot stand without the constant creative immanence in it of Brahman as its supreme ATMAN.
  4. Avidya consists
    1. In viewing the world as asat, unreal, as the mayavadin Buddhists do. [The Buddhists deny even a relative reality to the world.]
    2. In viewing the world as REAL, SAT, existing in its own right through the independent and underived reality of its material causes: cf. Vaisesika or Samkhya.
    3. In identifying the world with the soul or with Brahman: this is the error of pantheism. [None of the authors I have studied do this.]
    4. In failing to see Brahman as the Atman and Ground of every derived reality, and seeing it only as Absolute, excluding even the possibility of derived existence: this is the error of acosmism.
  5. For Sankara, the characteristics of SAT are self-existence and immutability, while those of a-SAT are dependent existence and mutability.[45]

Perception. Vedantins consider the first five pramanas as secondary. Sense perception is primary in time, but not in truth value. Though superior to dream knowledge, it can err, cf. the many instances of illusory perception. Besides, it is only concerned with passing, contingent realities.[46] Perception cannot grasp the metaphysical depth in things, i.e. their total dependence on their Cause. In this sense it is Avidya, lacking the complement and finality which sruti alone can give. Still, it is valid in its own right. Sruti will not cancel its content, but only its pretention of having reached exhaustively the yathatmya of things.[47]

Understanding. “‘Knowledge results from the sources of valid knowing (pramana) whose objects are the existent things as they are in reality….’ (on BS 1.1.4). This objective identity (yathatmya) is not easy to attain.” “The yatha in yathatmya suggests that knowledge must be similar to the things known. Not a few Indian thinkers held a mirror theory of knowledge. [Cf. Radhakrishnan] Sankara had surmounted this naïve realism. For him intellection is interpretation, either of sense-data or of the successive words of sentences. The intellect has the power of ‘considering them as a whole’ (… on TU 2.3.). It is dynamically synthetic. It can unify all the indications it receives and it is by the synthetic unity of the resulting knowledge that the latter is similar to the known reality.”[48] Of all the authors considered, De Smet may be the only one to point out to intellection / understanding in Sankara, though perhaps the others would readily concede to the activity of interpretation in Sankara. At any rate, De Smet rejects the mirror theory of knowledge in favour of human knowing as a structure that includes not only experiencing but also understanding. The similarity to the known is attained on the level of understanding rather than of experiencing, and perhaps the knowledge of that similarity is attained in judgment, about which De Smet is not so clear or abundant.


We move on now to the third step in dialectic, comparison. Comparison, for Lonergan, is a question of finding affinities and oppositions.

Radhakrishnan refers to the world as appearance, but hesitates to use the word illusion, and does not seem to use the word vivarta. However, he rather clearly upholds the relative reality of the empirical world. Mahadevan refers to the world as illusory appearance, and uses the word vivarta. Still he, like Radhakrishnan, upholds the relative reality of the empirical world. Chatterjee and Datta agree with Mahadevan in referring to the world as vivarta or illusory appearance. They also agree with him in upholding the relative reality of the empirical world. However, where Mahadevan calls Sankara non-dualist, and never uses the word monist, these two authors refer to Sankara as an absolute monist (‘absolute’ in contrast to the ‘qualified’ monism of Ramanuja).

All the above authors agree on the meaning of the word ‘real’: the real is the unsublatable. All of them draw the conclusion that what can be sublated is in some way unreal. However, since there are degrees of such unreality, since they distinguish with Sankara between the utter unreality of the son of a barren woman and dreams and illusions on the one hand, and the empirical world on the other, they call the empirical world both real and unreal, sad-asad-vilaksana.

De Smet agrees that the word ‘Real’ is to be applied in its supreme sense only to Brahman. In contrast to Brahman, the world of empirical realities is only relatively real, dependent, having That as its Atman. It is therefore un-Real though not un-real. The son of a barren woman, instead, is Un-real, not even real in the sense in which the world is real.

However, De Smet steers clear of all usage of vivarta, ‘illusion’ or ‘appearance.’ Radhakrishnan, Mahadevan and Chatterjee-Datta instead uphold the relative reality of the world and still end up calling the world an appearance. Is this significant? And where does the difference lie? I think it lies in the fact that De Smet knows another way of defending the changelessness of Brahman. This way involves a doctrine of analogy, or the purification of the relational definitions of Brahman from their anthropological connotations by a process of negation and maximality. Such a doctrine enables De Smet to regards the relations as well as their terms as upadhis in the sense of extrinsic denominators. In this he finds support in St Thomas Aquinas’ suggestion that the Creator-creature relationship is a non-reciprocal one, real from the side of the creature but merely logical from the side of the Creator.

It is Mayeda who has a somewhat different interpretation of Sankara. In contrast to the authors discussed above, he says without hesitation and qualification that Sankara teaches the non-reality of the phenomenal world. Where Chatterjee and Datta teach that Sankara upolds the existence, if not the reality, of external objects against the Vijnanavadins, Mayeda maintains that both Sankara and the Vijnanavadins deny the reality of external objects.

Again Mayeda, like Chatterjee and Datta, calls Sankara an absolute monist. However, he distinguishes the realist monism[RI2] of Badarayana from the illusionistic absolute monism of Sankara. The difference lies in the ontological status of the external world, and Mayeda does not hesitate to align Sankara with (Vijnanavada) Buddhism in this regard. The difference between Sankara and Buddhism is regarding the nature of consciousness: Sankara insists on maintaining, with the sruti, the eternal, unchangeable and non-dual nature of the Atman.


Reduction is a question of grouping the many affinities and oppositions further, discovering their common roots. The common roots would be presence or absence of intellectual, moral or religious conversion.

The differences between Radhakrishnan, Mahadevan and Chatterjee and Datta seem to me to be largely terminological. All three agree in assigning a relative reality to the world. All three feel obliged to consider the world an appearance, in order to defend the unicity and nirguna (qualityless) character of Brahman.

Radhakrishnan, however, is the one who is clearest about the one-sided dependence of the world on Brahman. In this he is in agreement with De Smet.

Whether or not Sankara used the terms vivarta and maya can be settled by careful appeal to the texts.[49] However, we need to explore (1) the first group’s willingness to use the language of appearance; (2) De Smet’s rejection of such language; (3) Mayeda’s position that Sankara, like the Buddhist Vijnanavadins, teaches the non-reality of the phenomenal world.[50]

We are asking ourselves about the roots of the above set of statements in presence or absence of intellectual, moral or religious conversion. I propose that we take for granted the presence, unless clearly indicated, of moral and religious conversion, and concentrate on intellectual conversion alone. Is the first group’s use of the language of appearance (‘the world, though not utterly unreal, is an appearance’) rooted in intellectual conversion? Is De Smet’s refusal to use the language of appearance rooted in intellectual conversion? Is Mayeda’s position that Sankara teaches the non-reality of the phenomenal world rooted in intellectual conversion?

Some members of the first group go so far as to distinguish objectivity from reality. They grant objectivity to both the external world and illusions. If they are talking in terms of what Lonergan calls experiential objectivity, this position would be perfect. However, they fail to distinguish between experiential, normative and absolute objectivity, and the principal notion of objectivity that arises, not as the term of a single judgment, but in a patterned series of judgments. Further, these members are unable to identify the objective with the real because of what they regard as a scriptural definition of the ‘real’ as the unsublatable. I would consider them, therefore, as being involved in what Lonergan calls the basic counterpositions. De Smet’s position, instead, would be rooted in intellectual conversion: having distinguished various meanings of the word real, he sees no need to regard the world as appearance, or to distinguish the objective and factual from the real. More work would have to be done on Mayeda to determine the meanings he assigns to knowing, being and objectivity, but I would hazard the guess that he is involved in the basic counterpositions. As Hiriyanna has pointed out at length, and as Radhakrishnan mentions in passing, even if life is an illusion, it is one that lasts endlessly, it is shared by all human beings, and it is difficult to draw a distinction between such an illusion and reality.[51] Or as Wittgenstein has pointed out somewhere, the children of idealists also go to school and sit on stools.

Classification and Selection

Classification and selection have to be done together, for classification is a question of identifying which of the affinities and oppositions result from dialectically opposed horizons, and which have other grounds, while selection is a question of picking the former and dismissing the latter.

The terminological differences are not dialectical. They can be solved by appeal to the texts. The differences on the status of the world (whether or not to call it appearance, illusion, phenomenal) are dialectical, being rooted in presence or absence of intellectual conversion. We therefore dismiss the terminological differences between Radhakrishnan, Mahadevan and Chatterjee-Datta, and select the latter set of differences.

Distinguishing positions and counterpositions

I have already indicated that I would regard Radhakrishnan and co. as well as Mayeda as being involved in the counterpositions, while I would regard De Smet as being free of the counterpositions.

Developing positions and reversing counterpositions.

The vyavaharika could be identified with the realm of proportionate being. It is the objective of experiencing, understanding and judging. It is the realm of the changing, the contingent, the parartha.

A proper interpretation of Sankara would have to first about the realm of meaning within which he writes. De Smet, for example, suggests that his writing is evaluational, and not directly metaphysical.

The counterpositions:

  1. Human knowing on the level of the vyavaharika is not properly differentiated. However, the theory of error might give some indications.
  2. Being / reality is not the objective of the pure desire to know; it is that which completely satiates the desire to know. Anything less is not being / reality in the proper sense, or else it is reality / appearance / illusion.
  3. Knowing on the level of the vyavaharika (or proportionate being) is valid, but it attains reality / appearance / illusion. There is an objectivity that is attained on the level of experience alone. There is also an objectivity that is attained in correct judgment, e.g. in correct perception.

There is, in fact, no need for Radhakrishnan and co. to use the language of appearance or illusion. A better grasp of analogy, as well as of the one-sided dependence of the world on Brahman, would give them the possibility of upholding the unicity and changelessness of Brahman without appealing to such usage. The result would be an interpretation of Sankara that is more harmonious, more in line with what seems to me the basic ‘realist’ thrust of these authors. As for Mayeda, … As far as De Smet is concerned, …

[MY ATTEMPT ENDS HERE! One thing that became very clear to me in the course of this attempt was my own level of self-appropriation. Obviously there is much I have to do to really attain especially intellectual conversion…]

[1] The only attempt to apply the method as a whole may be found in T.J. Tekippe, ed. Papal Infallibility: An Application of Lonergan’s Theological Method (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1983). For some thinking about the application, cf. I. Coelho, “Implementations of Lonergan’s Method: A Critique.” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 15/3 (2004) 379-404; “Applying Lonergan’s Method: The Case of an Indian Theology.” Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies 22/1 (2004) 1-22; and “Lonergan’s Method: A Proposal for Implementation,” paper presented at the Second International Lonergan Conference, Regis College, Toronto, 2 August 2004.

[2] MT 137-138.

[3] MT 249.

[4] MT 302. Cf. also MT 312: “there can be many kinds of developments… to know them, one has to study and analyze concrete historical processes while, to know their legitimacy, one has to turn to evaluational history and assign them their place in the dialectic of the presence and absence of intellectual, moral, and religious conversion.”

[5] S. Radhakrishnan, ed. History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, vol. 1 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1952) 272.

[6] S. Radhakrishnan, tr. and intr., The Brahma Sutra: The Philosophy of the Spiritual Life (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960) 33.

[7] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 32-33; cf. also 31, 139, 141.

[8] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33.

[9] Radhakrishnan The Brahma Sutra 141.

[10] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33-34.

[11] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33.

[12] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 137-138.

[13] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 138. Compare M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000) 349-351; 360-361; 361-364. There is a surprising degree of agreement between Radhakrishnan and Hiriyanna on this point.

[14] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33.

[15] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33.

[16] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33.

[17] Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 33.

[18] B. Lonergan, “Cognitional Structure,” Collection, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan vol. 4, ed. F.E. Crowe and R.M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988) 213.

[19] Lonergan, “Cognitional Structure” 216ff. The idealist distinguishes between reality and appearance. By appearance he does not mean any illusion or hallucination. He means the shapes and colours that we see. By reality he means what is meant by the naïve realist (= object of a single cognitional operation). He is thus able to say: I do not know reality; but I know what appears. I do not know whether or not the field is really green; but I know it appears green to me. (The idealist expects to find the real on the level of sense; he knows he does not find it there; he despairs and says he knows only appearances.)

[20] T.M.P. Mahadevan, Sankaracharya (New Delhi: National Book Trust of India, 1968) 59.

[21] T.M.P. Mahadevan, Invitation to Indian Philosophy (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1982, first published 1974) 382.

[22] Mahadevan, Invitation to Indian Philosophy 382.

[23] Mahadevan, Invitation to Indian Philosophy 382.

[24] S. Chatterjee and D. Datta, An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1984, first published 1939) 361.

[25] Chatterjee and Datta 361.

[26] Chatterjee and Datta 372.

[27] Chatterjee and Datta 372.

[28] Chatterjee and Datta 374.

[29] Chatterjee and Datta 365. Cf. 387: “It will be quite clear now that Sankara does not deny the world even in the second or practical aspect, like a subjective idealist who reduces it to a mere idea of the perceiving individual, and who does not allow it extramental existence. This will be further evident from the way in which he refutes the subjectivism of the Vijnanavadin….”

[30] Chatterjee and Datta 393.

[31] Chatterjee and Datta 381.

[32] Chatterjee and Datta 382.

[33] Chatterjee and Datta 386-387.

[34] Chatterjee and Datta 385.

[35] Sengaku Mayeda, “Sankara and Buddhism,” New Perspectives on Advaita Vedanta: Essays in Commemoration of Professor Richard De Smet, SJ, ed. B.J. Malkovsky (Leiden / Boston / Köln: Brill, 2000) 20.

[36] Mayeda 22-23. Note that Mayeda implicitly translates mayavada as the non-reality of the phenomenal world.

[37] Mayeda 23-24.

[38] Mayeda 25.

[39] R. De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada),” Religious Hinduism, ed. R. De Smet and J. Neuner (Allahabad: St Paul Publications, 1964) 54.

[40] De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)” (1964) 61.

[41] De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)” (1964) 61.

[42] R. De Smet, “Forward Steps in Sankara Research,” Darshana International 26/3 (1987) 39.

[43] R. De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)” Religious Hinduism, ed. R. De Smet and J. Neuner, 4th ed. (Mumbai: St Pauls, 1996) 89-90.

[44] De Smet, “Forward Steps in Sankara Research” 43. Cf. R. De Smet, “Maya or Ajnana,” Indian Philosophical Annual (Madras) 2 (1966) 220-225.

[45] R. De Smet, “Sankara Vedanta and Christian Theology.” Review of Darsana 1/1 (1980) 37-38.

[46] De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)” (1964) 55.

[47] De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)” (1996) 86.

[48] De Smet, “Sankara’s Non-Dualism (Advaita-Vada)” (1996) 87.

[49] Several scholars have pointed out already that Sankara did not use the term vivarta; that was a contribution of one of his followers. Again, scholars have pointed out that, while Sankara did use the term maya, it was again one of his commentators, Vimuktatman, who worked out a theory of mayavada.

[50] Could this difference be explained away by saying that, while the former admit the existence, objectivity and factuality of the external world, they also, like Mayeda deny absolute reality to it? The point could be settled by asking whether or not the Vijnanavadins made any attempts to ascribe existence, objectivity or factuality to the external world.

[51] M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000) 349-351; 360-361; 361-364. Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra 138.

[RI1]Study better R’s first exposition of Sankara, in Indian Philosophy vol. 2. 1923. Distinguish from his second presentation of 1952. Use DS if necessary.

[RI2]What would a realist monism look like?


Anonymous said...

maya may mean un real, whereas
Brahm refers more appropriately to Illusion.....

The confusion begins here.... Maya or Brahm....

If you were to ask me... there is more to Brahm than meets the eye... Yo9u ought to explore this dimension....

Bon Voyage.....

Sneha Gupta said...

Nice Blog and good information.