Is the World Also Brahman according to Ð akara?
[Editor’s Note:] Professor Srinivasa Rao is teaching in the Department of Philosophy, University of Bengalore, Bengalore, India. This paper was presented to the International Conference celebrating the 1300th anniversary of Ð ankara at the Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA, 1992.
It is universally agreed that, according to Advaita, the world is sadasdvilaksana, or its nature is different from that of Brahman which is Sat. In complete disagreement with this well-accepted position, it is being argued in this paper that as far as its basic nature is concerned, the world is not different from Brahman according to Ð akara who is a major exponent of advaita. Although this paper is almost exclusively based on Ð akara’s Brahmasñ trabhª ya, its contents can be corroborated from other major works of Ð akara like the bhª yas on the major UpaniÑ ads.
It is well known that the Ð amkhyans are the foremost exponents of the view that the world which is jaa is produced by a cause called prakti which is also jaa. Even the most cursory reading of Ð akara’s works shows that he is totally opposed to this view. He repeats a number of times his conviction that it is not an insentient prakti but the sentient Brahman that is the cause of this world. Unmistakably he speaks of Brahman as the material as well as the efficient cause of the world. His thesis that the effect is really nothing other than the cause itself (ananya) makes it impossible either to regard anything other than sentient Brahman as the cause of the world or to regard the world as essentially different in nature from Brahman. We must note carefully that while the effect is not other than the cause, it is not also absolutely identical with it in his system since the characteristics of the effect are invariably not found to be the characteristics of the cause. This, perhaps, requires a little elaboration.
Gold, for example, is the cause of a gold bangle which has, say, a circular form. Even after being made into a circular bangle, gold still retains its essential nature as gold. Therefore, the effect (bangle) is not other than its cause (gold). But still, the characteristics of the effect (bangle) cannot be treated as belonging to its cause (gold). For instance, if we treat the characteristics of the bangle (like its circularity) as characterizing gold also, then everything that is gold (like a gold rectangle, for instance) should be circular, which is not the case. Circularity and rectangularity, although they definitely belong to gold, do not constitute the essential nature of gold. From "Gold is bangle" and "Bangle is circular" we cannot conclude: "Gold is circular." Features of bangles (as bangles) are simply never features of gold (as gold) although bangles are gold and nothing else. In the same way, the world, although an effect of Brahman and hence not other than Brahman, can still have features that do not characterize Brahman. It is too difficult to miss Ð akara’s numerous emphatic statements that Brahman constitutes the cause as well as the nature of the world (Jagata kª raam prakritÑ ca). Ð akara quite frequently speaks of the world as ‘Brahmapraktikª ’ This is the answer available from Ð akara’s writings to the problem of how an insentient world is produced from sentient Brahman. The world is of the nature of Brahman and hence it cannot be "illusory." That the world is not illusory for Ð akara can also be seen by an examination of how he uses the words "world" and "illusion" in his writings.
Ðakara uses three terms to refer to what later advaitins would call ‘empirical existence’ (the world): ‘jagat,’ ‘prapañca’ and ‘samsª ra.’ Apart from compound formations like ‘jagadutpatti,’ ‘jagadvyª pª ra,’ ‘jagatkª raa’ and so on, the basic term ‘jagat’ is used by Ð akara at least 117 times in the Brahmasñ trabhª ya alone. In the same work he uses the term ‘prapañca’ at least 20 times and the ‘samsª ra’ at least 27 times. If the world was really illusory (mithyª ) according to Ð akara, then why is it that he does not use compounds like ‘mithyª jagat,’ ‘mithyª prapañca,’ ‘prapañcamithyª tva,’ ‘jaganmithyª tva’ or ‘jagadbhr’ even once? Also, why is it that he uses the term ‘mithyª ’ directly only in connection with everything except the world? Hundreds of times does he use compounds like ‘mithyª jñª na,’ ‘mithyª jñª na-kalpita,’ ‘mithyª jñª nanimitta,’ ‘mithyª -jñª nanivtti,’ ‘mithyª jñª nabª dhana,’ ‘mithyª pralª pa,’ ‘mithyª buddhi,’ ‘mithyª pratyaya’ and ‘mithyª bhimª na,’ but he does not use a compound like ‘mithyª jagat’ or ‘mithyª prapañca’ even once. He uses the word ‘mithyª ’ only in connection with our wrong knowledge regarding the true nature of Brahman and not in connection with the world. He never speaks of the world as being ‘mithyª praktika’ or ‘mª yª praktika.’ In fact these terms are never used by him in the entire Brahmasã trabhª ya.
A careful reading of the entire first and second chapter of his Brahmasª trabhª ya reveals his position in clear terms. Exactly like the s~ nkhyan whom he is criticizing throughout these chapters, he also believes that this world is characterized by insentiency (jaatva). But while the s~ nkhyan believes an insentient mñ laprakti to be the cause of this world, Ð akara rejects that view as being opposed to Ñ ruti as well as reason and upholds Brahman as the cause of this world. In fact Ð akara does not grant the existence of anything that is totally insentient precisely because he does not grant the existence of anything other than the wholly sentient Brahman. Therefore it is quite astonishing to find a totally insentient prakti (called mª yª ) being foisted as the material cause of this insentient universe, and it is even more astonishing to find this view being attributed to Ð akara. The problems that arise when the world is believed to be ‘jaapraktika’ do not arise when it is regarded as ‘Brahmapraktika.’
If there can be really nothing other than sentient Brahman, even this world must at bottom be Brahman only and there will really be nothing that is opposed in nature to Brahman. Whatever is should perforce be of the nature of Brahman, and this agrees perfectly with Ð akara’s contention that the world is regarded as ‘Brahmapraktika’ or ‘Brahmasvabhª va’ a point which he repeatedly stresses in opposition to the S~ nkhyan contention that the world is essentially insentient in nature. Ð akara many times quotes approvingly the Upaniadic statement that Brahman brings forth the world out of Itself and withdraws it into Itself. This production of an insentient world out of sentient Brahman would be a problem only for those who believe in the existence of something genuinely insentient in nature and not for Ð akara for whom there is no such entity. Anything truly insentient would be radically different in nature from Brahman and therefore its existence would lead to an irreducible dualism. Also, the acceptance of such an entity would make sª nkhya a more satisfactory system insofar as it tries to account for a jaaprapañca in terms of a jaaprakti as its cause. Therefore, in rejecting the jaa-prakti of s~ nkhyans, Ð akara is rejecting anything that is truly insentient or is radically different in nature from Brahman being the cause of this universe. This means that for Ð akara what we ordinarily regard as jaa is not something that lacks sentiency but something that does not manifest sentiency. That is why he so readily speaks of the ‘production’ of sentient beings like scorpions from manifestly insentient objects like cow dung. Since sentiency or Brahman is all-pervasive, there can never be anything that lacks sentiency. Hence the customary distinction between sentient and insentient entities should be understood as referring to manifestation or non-manifestation of sentiency and not to the presence or absence of sentiency.
But is this really satisfactory? How can Brahman ‘produce’ an insentient world out of Itself without undergoing any kind of substantial change in Its sentient nature? How is such change possible in Brahman that is declared to be ‘changeless’ by Ñ ruti? This is the second problem. This is again a problem for the post-Ð ~ nkarites but not for Ð akara. It is because of the well known facts that according to Ð akara (a) a cause does not lose its essential nature when it gives rise to an effect which is why it is ‘not really other than’ the effect, and (b) the features of an effect do not invariably become the features of cause simply because a cause is not ‘other than’ its effects. Therefore we must keep (a) and (b) in mind while trying to understand Ð akara who makes apparently contradictory claims when he says both that Brahman is changeless and that Brahman changes into the world. Therefore I now ask: "What is this ‘change’ that is supposed to affect Brahman?" Upon becoming the world if Brahman ceases to still retain Its original nature of sentiency, then surely Brahman has undergone ‘change.’ Or, if Brahman retained Its essential sentience while giving rise to a world that is truly insentient, then also it is a ‘change’ in Brahman. But neither of the above is possible according to Ð akara. He clearly rules out the possibility of what is truly sentient changing into something truly insentient and vice versa. The second kind of ‘change’ also has to be ruled out because it would involve the emergence of an effect that is different in nature (and therefore different in kind also) from its cause a possibility clearly rejected as a conse-quence of Ð akara’s acceptance of anayatva between cause and effect.
Ð akara makes it very clear that when anything really changes there has to be a change in the very basic nature of that entity. Change is what produces ‘vastvanyatva’ (literally, ‘another-thing-ness’) and when Brahman becomes the world there is no such change of nature in It. The sentient Brahman remains sentient even when It has changed into the world very much as a gold ingot is still gold even when it has been made into rings, bangles and crowns. When gold is made into ornaments, its nature (svarã pa) does not change at all although it assumes different forms (rã pa). Here, assumption of different forms (rã pa) by gold is not at all incompatible with its original nature (svarã pa) of being gold. In short, change of ‘rã pa’ is not at all change of ‘svarã pa’ and therefore when Brahman assumes various ‘names and forms,’ that activity does not bring about any change in the original svarã pa’ and therefore when Brahman assumes various ‘names and forms,’ that activity does not bring about any change in the original svarã pa of Brahman as sentiency. If the imposition of any number of forms on gold fails to alter its essential nature as gold, how can the names and forms that Brahman imposes upon Itself bring about any change in Its basic nature? Ð akara openly uses the analogy of gold and gold ornaments, clay and clay objects to illustrate the making of this universe from out of Brahman. Ð akara makes a very interesting statement that Brahman is formless because It is the source of all forms. Therefore this world of ‘names and forms’ clearly exists and is not illusory. These ‘names and forms’ are of Brahman only and not of a prakti. Only, these names and forms do not constitute the essential nature of Brahman while Brahman very much constitutes the essential nature of this world. Ð akara clearly says that the import of ‘neti, neti’ is that names and forms do not truly characterize the basic nature of Brahman. That is, ‘neti, neti’ is more a statement of inapplicability of names and forms (i.e., the categories of the world) to Brahman than a statement of the non-existence of those names and forms.
Now we have to look at one last major problem the sublation of the world particularly because Ð akara speaks of the existence of this world at all times. He denies the world only as claimed to be existing as ‘distinct from’ or as ‘opposed’ (in nature) to Brahman. If such be the nature of the world according to him, we should naturally expect him not to subscribe to the thesis of sublation of any entity called the ‘world’ when Brahman is realized. This is again corroborated by him in various places. While refuting vijñª navª da he says that the clear difference of the objects of waking from those of dream is that the former are never sublated. It is also clear from his refutation of the thesis of ‘prapañcapravilaya’ (possibly of Maana) that the world is not sublated. The p~ rvapaka here is: While the world is of the nature of Brahman, Brahman is not of the nature of this world. Therefore Brahman must be realized by bringing about the ‘elimination of the world.’ Interestingly, Ð akara refutes here not the ground of the p~ rvapakin but only his conclusion about the ‘elimination of the world.’ He asks what this ‘elimination’ is and objects that a single j§ va does not have the power to bring about an elimination of the whole world. He further objects that in case a j§va has such power, the first liberated j§va would have eliminated the world completely and there would be no world at all now, which is absurd. Ð akara even makes an unequivocal statement that this world of names and forms produced by avidy~ is common to those who have realized Brahman as well as those who have not.
In conclusion, it may therefore be said thatÐakara does not perceive any inconsistency either in regarding sentient Brahman as the cause of the ‘insentient’ world or in thinking that Brahman ‘changes’ into the world without changing Its original nature. For him the world, being an effect of Brahman, is not other than Brahman since an effect is not other than its cause. This world, as an entity, is never sublated. Upon realizing Brahman, one still continues to perceive this world, but with a clear awareness that the names and forms he is cognizing do not constitute the basic nature of Brahman, Brahman in Its basic nature being essentially nirgua. I believe that such an understanding of Ð akara is fair and is also in perfect agreement with his writings. The view that the entire world is of the nature of Brahman (Brahmapraktika) essentially means that everything is of the same kind, nothing else of any other kind (other than Brahman) being possible. The names and forms do not succeed in making the world an entity of a kind different from Brahman. Nor does Brahman make Itself an entity of a different kind when It assumes names and forms, just as the ocean does not become anything different when it gives rise to waves, foam etc. It is the oneness (of the basic nature of everything) that is meant by the subtle notion of a-dvaita rather than the dry, literal and numerical notion of a single reality. Since ‘dvaita’ means not that there are just two realities but that reality is of two types, the denial of this view should naturally mean that there are no two types of reality and the word ‘advaita’ (literally, ‘non-two-ness’) means just that.
 Yath~ tu tarke~pi brahmaatvam nirvoum Ñakyate na pradh~n~d§n~m. SBSB, 1.1.5 (p. 21). Tasm~t sarvajñam brahma jagatak~raam na acetanam pradh~namanyadveti siddham. SBSB, 1.1.11 (p. 26). Prathame adhy~ye sarvajña sarvajña sarveÑvaro jagata utpattik~raam mtsuvar~daya iva ghaarucak~d§n~m.... Pradh~n~dik~raav~d~ aÑabdatvena nir~kt~. SBSB, 2.1.1 (p. 140).
 See SBSB, 1.1.2.
 Ananyatve api k~ryak~raayo k~ryasya k~ra~tmatvam na tu k~raasya k~ry~tmatvam ’~rambhaaÑabd~dibhya' ityatra vaky~ma. SBSB, 2.1.9 (p. 149).
Brahmª sya jagato nimittakª raam prakti cetyasya pakasya ª keî paÊ smî tinimittaÊ parihî taÊ . Tarkanimitta idª n§m ª keî paÊ parihî iyate. SBSB, 2.1.4 (p. 144).
Samastasya vastujª tasya brahmapraktikatvª bhyupagamª t. gama virodhastu prasiddha eva. Cetanam brahma jagatÊ kª raÖ am prakî tií cetyª gamatª tparyasya prasª dhitatvª t. SBSB, 2.1.6 (p. 147).
Ata ª gamavaí ena ª gamª nusª ritarkavaí ena ca cetanam brahma jagataÊ kª raÖ am prakî tií - ceti sthitam. SBSB, 2.1.11 (p. 152).
Ctanam brahma jagataÊ kª raÖ am prakî tií cetyasminnavadhª rite vedª rthe parairupakî iptª n-vilakî aÖ atvª d§nodoî ª n paryahª í idª cª rya. SBSB, 2.1.37 (p. 174).
Tathª nyepi "bhoktª bhogyam preritª ram ca matvª sarvam proktam trividam brahma me tat" iti samastasya bhogyabhoktî niyantî lakî aÖ sya prapañcasya brahmaikasvabhª vatª madh§yate. SBSB, 3.2.13 (p. 292).
 DÑyate hi loke cetanatvena prasiddhebhya puru~dibhyo vilaka~n~m keÑana-kh~d§n~mutpatti, acetanatvena ca prasiddhebhyo gomay~dibhyo vÑcik~d§n~m. SBSB, 2.1.6 (p. 147).
 Tatra yathõ cetanasya acetanabh~vo nopapadyate vilakaatv~t, evamacetanasy~pi cetana-bh~vo nopapadyate. SBSB, 2.1.6 (p. 148).
 Na ca viÑeadarÑanam~trea vastvanyatvam bhavati. Na hi devadatta sankucitahasta-p~da pras~ritahastap~daÑca viÑeea dÑyam~o api vastvanyatvam gacchati, sa eveti pratyabhi-jñ~n~t. SBSB, 2.1.18 (p. 162).
 ....sarvajña sarveÑvara jagata utpattik~raam, mtsuvar~daya iva ghaaruca k~d§n~m. SBSB, 2.1.1 (p. 140).
 ViÑeaÑca vik~ra. Avik~ram ca brahma. Sarvavik~rahetutv~t. Taittir§yopaniadbhª ya, 2.7 (p. 375).
 Neti net§tyasya ko artha? Na hi etasm~dbrahmao vyatiriktamast§tyato neti net§tyu-cyate.... SBSB, 3.2.22 (p. 301).
 Tatra Ñrut~dv~c~rambhaaÑabd~dd~r~ntikepi brahmavyatirekea k~ryaj~ta-sy~bh~va iti gamyate. SBSB, 2.1.14 (p. 154)...."Brahmaivedam sarvam," "}tmaivedam sarvam," Neha n~n~sti kiñky~ni....brahmavyatiriktam vastvantaram v~rayanti. SBSB, 3.2.36 (p. 306).
 Naivam j~garitopalabdham vastu sthambh~dikam kasy~ñcidapyavasth~y~m b~dhyate. SB-SB, 2.2.29 (p. 201).
 Brahmasvabhª vo hi prapañco na prapañcasvabhª vam brahma. Tena n~marãpapra-pañca-pravil~panena brahmatatv~vabodho bhavat§ti.... Ko ayam prapañcapravilayo n~ma?.... Tatra yadi t~vadvidyam~no ayam prapañco.... pthivy~dilakaa pravil~payitavya ityucyeta, sa puruam~tre~Ñakya pravil~payitumiti tat pravilayopadeÑo aÑakyaviaya eva sy~t. Ekena ca ~dimuk-tena pthivy~di pravilaya kta it§d~n§m pthivy~diÑãnyam jagadabhaviya.... SBSB, 3.2.21 (p. 297).
 Asti c~yam bhedakto mithy~vyavah~ro ye~m brahmatatv~danyatvena vastu vidyate ye~m ca n~sti. Bhadª rayakopaniadbhª ya, 3.5.1 (p. 188).