Vedanta Questions and Answers
by Swami Sivananda
1. WHAT IS ANUBANDHA-CHATUSHTAYA?
This is the fourfold theme of Vedanta Philosophy. The first is the discussion about the Adhikari or the fit student of Vedanta. The student should have the necessary qualifications of the Sadhana-chatushtaya. The second is the discussion regarding the Vishaya or the main subject of the Vedanta. The Subject treated of is Brahman or the Absolute. The third theme is Sambandha or the relation that exists between the subject-matter and the text, i.e., the coherent exposition of the subject. The fourth is Phala or the fruit of the study of Vedanta. The fruit hereof is Moksha or Liberation.
2. IN WHAT WAY KARMA AND UPASANA PREPARE THE ASPIRANT FOR VEDANTA?
Karma is performance of one's own prescribed duty without the desire for any fruit therefrom. This removes the Mala or the impurity that is in the mind. Upasana is worship and contemplation of Saguna Brahman. This removes the Vikshepa or the tossing or the distraction present in the mind. Only after removing these two defects can one take up the study of the Vedanta in order to remove the last defect, viz., Avarana or veil of ignorance.
3. GIVE THE BEST DEFINITION OF BRAHMAN AND EXPLAIN ITS MEANING.
The best definition of the nature of Brahman is 'Satchidananda'. Sat is eternal existence. Chit is eternal and infinite consciousness. Ananda is eternal bliss. This existence, consciousness and bliss are really one and indicate the transcendental character of the Absolute.
4. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAYA AND AVIDYA?
Maya is the cause, whereas Avidya is the effect. Maya qualifies Isvara but does not limit him. Maya is the Viseshana and not the constituent of Isvara's existence. But Avidya is an Upadhi, a limitation, which enters into the very constitution of the Jiva. Maya is Suddha Sattva, Avidya is Malina Sattva or Sattva mixed with Rajas and Tamas. Maya is cosmic, Avidya is individual. Maya allows cosmic consciousness in Isvara. But Avidya limits the Jiva to body-consciousness.
5. WHAT IS THE VAIRAGYA?
True Vairagya is born of discrimination and not of mere failure in life. Real dispassion is the effect of the perception of the impermanence of things, the falsity of the existence of happiness in objects, the knowledge of the distinction between reality and appearance. This Vairagya goes even up to Brahma-Loka, the highest phenomenal manifestation, and discards it as a dry straw. In other words. Vairagya is distaste for everything that is objective.
6. WHAT IS JAHAD-AJAHAD-LAKSHANA? HOW IS IT APPLIED IN VEDANTA?
This literally means 'leaving and taking'. For example, in a statement like 'This is that Devadatta', the words 'this' and 'that', though in fact signify immediate and remote objects respectively, are known to indicate one common person Devadatta. The differences denoted by the two adjectives are rejected in order to identify the single person called Devadatta. This illustration is applied in Vedanta to identify the essential meanings of the words 'Tvam' and 'Tat' in the declaration of the Upanishad 'Tat Tvam Asi'. The limitations characteristic of the Jiva and Isvara are discarded and the underlying substratum, namely, the one consciousness which is unlimited is taken up as the sole reality.
7. WHAT IS SRAVANA-CHATUSHTYA?
This is the fourfold process of Self-realisation, beginning with Sravana or hearing of the Vedantic Truth from the Guru, Manana or deep thinking and reflection over what is heard, Nididhyasana or profound meditation on the Self, and ending with Sakshatkara or realisation.
8. EXPLAIN THE THEORY OF THE EVOLUTION OF THE UNIVERSE.
There is an indescribable power in Brahman called Mula-Prakriti. This consists of three Gunas or modes called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Originally it is in Samya-Avastha or the state of equilibrium. It divides itself into Maya, Avidya and Tamasi through the three modes respectively. Maya gives rise to Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat. Avidya gives rise to the individual Jivas. Tamasi divides itself into Avarana and Vikshepa. Avarana is twofold; viz., Asattva Avarana and Abhana Avarana. The Vikshepa Sakti gives rise to the five Tanmatras, viz., Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha. The Antahkarana is formed of the collective totality of the Sattva portion of these Tanmatras. The Prana is made up of the collective totality of the Rajasic portion of these Tanmatras. The Jnana Indriyas and the Karma Indriyas are respectively formed of the Sattvic and the Rajasic portions of these Tanmatras differently. The five gross elements, viz., sky, air, fire, water and earth are the effects of the quintuplication of the Tamasic portion of these Tanmatras. Thus is the creation of the universe.
9. WHAT IS DUHKHA PARAMPARA?
This is the genealogy of pain. The original cause of all trouble is Ajnana or ignorance. From Ajnana comes Aviveka or non-discrimination. From Aviveka comes Ahamkara or egoism. From Ahamkara arises Raga-Dvesha or love and hatred towards objects. Raga and Dvesha beget Karma or action guided by its parents. Karma causes Janma or birth and from birth as an embodied being arises pain. Hence the cause must be destroyed in order to destroy the effect.
10. WHY IS NOT PAIN THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF THE ATMAN?
The essential nature of a thing is called Svabhava. Its existence is called Svarupa. We cannot separate Svabhava from Svarupa. If pain is the Svabhava of the Self, destruction of pain would mean the destruction of Svabhava itself, i.e., the destruction of the Atman or the Self. To destroy the sweetness of sugar, the sugar itself has to be destroyed. Because destruction of the Atman is an absurd idea, and because destruction of pain is the only purpose of all endeavours, pain cannot be the essential nature of the Atman.
11. PROVE THAT SAT, CHIT AND ANANDA ARE ONE AND THAT THEY INDICATE INFINITY.
Sat is existence. Existence has a value only when it is conscious, for consciousness can never be separated from existence as we see from our own experience. Since pain is the effect of a want, and since want is absent in Brahman because of its secondlessness, bliss must be the nature of Brahman. To put it concisely, consciousness which is bliss exists. Satchidananda indicates infinity, because everything that is finite is perishable. Because Satchidananda is imperishable, it must be infinite.
12. SHOW THAT ATMAN IS DIFFERENT FROM THE THREE STATES.
In the dreaming state the waking state is not experienced. Yet, one feels his existence in dream. Hence waking state is different from the Self. In the deep sleep state dream is not experienced. Yet the Self does exist in deep sleep as testified by the remembrance of the nature of sleep later on. Hence, the Self is different from the dreaming condition. In sleep there is the awareness of the absence of everything. Nothingness is the object of the sleep-consciousness. This proves that the sleep-consciousness is unlimited. Unlimited consciousness must be objectless Self-Consciousness. Since such an absolute consciousness exists, and since awareness of existence is antagonistic to ignorance, the ignorance experienced in sleep cannot be the Atman. Further, in Samadhi, the Self is experienced as different from the sleeping state.
13. IN WHAT WAY KNOWLEDGE OF BRAHMAN IS DIFFERENT FROM ORDINARY KNOWLEDGE?
In ordinary knowledge there is the knowledge of something which is different from the knower. Hence this knowledge is not unlimited and therefore perishable. But knowledge of Brahman is eternal knowledge, which means the union of the knower and the known. This is called infinite knowledge, knowledge, not of something, but pure knowledge merely without an object of knowledge.
14. WHY BRAHMA-JNANA ALONE CAN BRING ABOUT MOKSHA AND THERE IS NO OTHER WAY?
Moksha is the realisation of the existence of unlimited bliss. Anything short of the realisation of absoluteness is not Moksha. There is no other way of attaining this state than knowledge. Absoluteness cannot be achieved through individualistic striving and no kind of relationship can be developed with the Absolute, because every relation limits absoluteness. Hence the only way is knowledge of this eternal Fact, simple awareness, and not any other way, because it goes against absoluteness.
15. WHAT ARE ADHYAROPA AND APAVADA?
Adhyaropa is the superimposition of something unreal on something real. In Vedanta it is the superimposition of the world on Brahman. Apavada is the refutation of this ignorant notion through Vichara or self-analysis and introspection based on Viveka or right discrimination between the Real Brahman and the unreal appearance of the universe.
16. WHAT ARE (I) PARAMARTHIKA, (II) VYAVAHARIKA AND (III) PRATIBHASIKA SATTAS?
Paramarthika Satta is absolute reality. From the human standpoint the deep sleep state is Paramarthika Satta. Really this is the Turiya or the Atman. This state may be compared to the ocean. Vyavaharika Satta is relative reality or the world experienced in the waking condition. This state may be compared to the wave of an ocean. Pratibhasika Satta is apparent or illusory reality or the experience of the dreaming state. This may be compared to the foam arising from the wave of the ocean. Just as the foam is based on the wave and the wave on the ocean and the coolness of the ocean is seen in the wave and the foam also, the Paramarthika Satta is the basis of the other two and the nature of Satchidananda which belongs to this is seen in the other two also.
17. WHAT ARE (I) SAMSAYABHAVANA, (II) ASAMBHAVANA AND (III) VIPARITABHAVANA?
Samsayabhavana is the doubt whether the Atman described in the different sections of the Sruti is one or different. Asambhavana is the notion of impossibility of the unreality of Jiva, Isvara and Jagat in the face of their clearly perceived difference. Viparitabhavana is the persistent idea that the world is real in spite of hearing the meaning of various arguments against it. These three defects are removed through Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana
18. WHAT ARE SHAD LINGAS?
These are the six methods of ascertaining the meaning of a text. They are (i) Upakrama-Upasamhara Ekavakyata or the unity between the ideas expounded in the beginning and the end, (ii) Abhyasa or repetition of an idea several times, (iii) Apurvata or the uncommon nature of the subject treated of, i.e., uniqueness of the subject, (iv) Arthavada or glorification of the fruit of the study and practice of what is expounded; (v) Upapatti or illustration or reasoning; and (vi) Phala or the fruit of the treatment.
19. WHAT ARE (I) PURUSHA TANTRA AND (II) VASTU TANTRA? EXPLAIN THESE WITH REFERENCE TO VEDANTA.
Purusha Tantra is dependent on the subject of action. To see God or only stone in the image in a temple is left to the will of the person concerned. Hence it is called Purusha Tantra as it is based on the will of the subject. To see one moon or two moons is not left to the subject, because one cannot see two moons and proclaim that there are two moons simply because it is his will. Moon is one, though someone may wish that it must be two. Hence this is called Vastu Tantra as it is dependent on the object itself and not on the percipient. Knowledge of Brahman is Vastu Tantra because Brahman should be known as it really is and not as one likes. All other methods like Yoga and Upasana are Purusha Tantra because they are dependent on the caprice of the individual. Only Brahma-Jnana is free from such capriciousness.
20. WHY KARMA IS NOT ANTAGONISTIC TO AVIDYA?
Avidya is ignorance of Non-Duality and perception of duality. Karma is not possible without the perception of duality and hence it is not against Avidya.
21. WHY SVARUPA-JNANA CANNOT REMOVE IGNORANCE? HOW, THEN, IS IGNORANCE DESTROYED?
Svarupa-Jnana is indivisible indifferent consciousness. It is not concerned with either the existence or the nonexistence of ignorance. There is Svarupa-Jnana in deep sleep, but the destruction of ignorance is not effected in this state. Removal of ignorance is possible only by an active consciousness by raising the Brahmakara Vritti and hence only the waking state is useful for this purpose. The waking consciousness may itself be unreal when compared with the Absolute Consciousness, but to remove an unreal ignorance this unreal consciousness is sufficient.
22. WHAT ARE (I) KRAMA SRISHTI AND (II) YUGAPAT SRISHTI?
Krama Srishti is the progressive creation of the universe (Vide No. 8). Yugapat-Srishti is the sudden or simultaneous appearance of the universe. The former theory is expounded only for the sake of the ignorant people who cannot understand that the whole universe is an absolute unreality based sheerly on the ignorance of the true existence of the one undivided reality. The latter theory holds that there is no creation at all in reality, that the appearance of the universe is an absurdity like the teeth of a crow, and that the moment ignorance is destroyed by the assertion of the nature of Brahman everywhere the whole universe will shine as the one Brahman.
23. PROVE THAT THE SELF EXISTS IN PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
The present body has come from previous action. And this previous action could not have been done by the present body since this body is the effect of that action. Hence a previous body must have existed. This same Self must have performed that action previously through another body, for one cannot experience the effects of some other's action. That previous body must have come out of some other previous action done through some other body still and thus ad infinitum. Hence the Self must have existed since eternity. The present actions will give rise to a future body. And this future effect is to be experienced by this very Self. The actions performed by the future body must again be experienced in a further future. Thus the Self exists in the infinite future also. Hence the Self exists in past, present and future.
24. WHAT ARE THE SEVEN JNANA BHUMIKAS?
Subhechha or wishing to become good.
Vicharana or the state of enquiry.
Tanumanasi or the condition of the thinness of the mind.
Sattvapatti or the attainment of the light and purity of Sattva.
Asamasakti or the complete detachment from every object.
Padartha-Abhavana or the non-perception of materiality in things, i. e, perception of the spirit or the essence of things.
Turiya or the last state of Jivanmukti where the individual realises the Absolute, are the seven states of Jnana.
25. WHAT ARE (I) PRAMANA GRANTHA AND (II) PRAMEYA GRANTHA?
Pramana Grantha is a text book which deals with the proofs of knowledge. It mainly consists of logic and argumentation. Examples are Khandana-khanda-khadya and Advaita Siddhi. Prameya Grantha is a textbook which deals with the object of knowledge, viz., God, Brahman or Atman. Examples are the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita.
26. WHAT ARE (I) VRITTI VYAPTI AND (II) PHALA VYAPTI?
Vritti Vyapti is the pervasion of the psychosis or the mental modification over an object in the process of the perception of something external. Phala Vyapti is the pervasion of the effect of the consciousness of the Self which follows the Vritti in the process of perception. In the case of internal cognitions, i.e., awareness of the mental modifications, Vritti Vyapti takes the form of remembrance or inference, because here no perception of an external object is necessary. In the case of Brahma-Jnana, however, there is no Phala-Vyapti, because Brahman does not require another light to illumine itself.
27. EXPLAIN ASTI, BHATI, PRIYA, NAMA, RUPA.
Asti, Bhati and Priya are the characteristics of the Self which exists, shines and is dear. This is the same as Satchidananda. These are eternal characteristics which belong to Infinite Being. But Nama and Rupa are name and form which are only apparent and are the characteristics of the world which is perishable.
28. WHAT IS AVACHHEDA VADA? WHAT IS PRATIBIMBA VADA?
Avachheda Vada is the theory of division or the doctrine of limitation. It holds that the Jivas are parts or limited portions of Isvara. According to this theory it would mean that all the miserable experiences of the Jivas also must exist in Isvara in a collective form. Hence the theory of Pratibimba or reflection was developed which says that the Jivas are reflections of Isvara in the lakes of the minds, and hence the pains of the Jivas cannot affect since a reflection affects the original.
29. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MOKSHA?
Moksha is Atyantika-Duhkha-Nivritti or absolute cessation of pain and Paramananda-Prapti or attainment of supreme bliss.
30. QUOTE FOUR DECLARATIONS OF THE UPANISHADS REGARDING THE FRUIT OF VEDANTIC NIDIDHYASANA.
Brahmavid Apnoti Param, The knower of Brahman attains the Highest. Brahmavid Brahmaiva BhavatiThe knower of Brahman becomes Brahman Itself. Tarati Sokam AtmavidThe knower of the Self crosses over sorrow. Brahma-samastho Amritatvametione who is established in Brahman attains Immortality.