for a little more detail on pramaaNa-s and some other terms used here.
Why monistic (Advaitic) interpretations are meaningless
Why the claim about sublation of duality (Dvaita) is unacceptable
It is sometimes asked how, given the predominance of monistic
interpretations for some of the sacred Veda texts which are given
superlative importance, and due to historical reasons, Tattvavaada is
sustainable -- does it even have a basis in the canonical works, or is
it just chimerical, an exercise in idle sophistry that has no real and
valid basis and support from fact?
To attempt an answer, we first consider a mundane example to illustrate an important point. You may remember having seen the movie 'Robocop', which was released in 1987 or thereabouts. One of the things about the movie that made an impression in people's minds was its scenes where a pair of actors playing newscasters read out fictitious news reports that caricatured television reporting in the U.S. That was quite well done, but in one place, there was an ersatz item about some terrorists who had got hold of a "three-megaton neutron bomb" and were threatening to use it unless their demands were fulfilled.
This particular part was where the movie's science advisors fell down on their jobs. There is no such thing in the world as a three-megaton neutron bomb, and there cannot be. Why?
There are two major physical effects arising out of any nuclear detonation: the "blast effect," and the "radiation effect." The former denotes the actual explosive force produced by the bomb, which is similar to that seen in conventional explosions, although of much greater magnitude. The second is the radiation that is released into the environment as a result of the explosion, and is unique to nuclear devices.
Now, neutron bombs are devices where the blast effect is sought to be minimized and the radiation effect maximized. Thus, a neutron bomb has a low yield compared to many other nuclear devices, but has a high radiation effect, particularly in terms of neutron flux (thus its formal name, Enhanced Radiation Weapon, or ERW).
Anyway, coming back to the point, an explosive yield of three megatons (of TNT) means a very large blast effect, and is quite, quite, antithetical to the very concept of a neutron bomb, which is the maximization of radiation at low blast yields. Bombs of yields beyond a few kilotons of TNT equivalent are not considered to be ERWs, at all; thus, a "three-megaton neutron bomb" is totally impossible, by the very notions involved. Shaastra uses the term `sva-vyAhata', meaning "contradicted in itself," to describe this condition.
Why monistic interpretations are meaningless (sva-vyAhata)
Now, the reason that somewhat unconnected example was brought up was
to make the point that non-Tattvavaada explanations of things said in
scriptures tend to involve entities similar to a "three-megaton
neutron bomb." They appear superficially plausible and satisfactory at
first, but in many a case, if one looks closely, the whole thing's a
phony, and just cannot be what is claimed for it.
In shaastra, there are more traditional examples that invoke the same concept of logical impossibility that we have seen above. A standard one that is often quoted is a "shasha-vishhANa" -- horn of a rabbit. There exist rabbits, and there exist horns, but the two are not found together, and any description that invokes the two as part of one entity is totally incorrect. Similarly, we have "gagana-kusuma" (flower in the sky), "vandhyA-suta" (childless woman's son), and "kUrma-roma" (hair on a tortoise). There are said to be subtle differences between these examples, but we won't dwell on this subject.
Srimad Achaarya has unequivocally stated:
na hi kashchidapi abhedAgamaH | sa.nti cha bhede sarvAgamAH |
There is never even a single instance of an abheda-Agama; all Agamas show bheda [only].
bheda = difference;
abheda = identity;
Agama = flawless scriptural text
Now, this is known for several reasons. For one thing, it is not claimed even by proponents of monism that their doctrine is shown everywhere in scripture; even they only claim that some quotes from scripture show abheda, while the rest -- a very large number -- do not, or show bheda unequivocally. They then try to say that the ones that show abheda are the important ones, and the ones that state difference are merely repeating what is already known, for the purpose of putting down the preliminary and false hypothesis -- in a manner similar to stating an incorrect notion exactly before disproving it.
This concept of scriptural understanding is like that of a three-megaton neutron bomb; it fails to hold up on detailed examination.
As noted in the Dvaita FAQ, there are three kinds of anu-pramaaNa, or sources of exact knowledge:
pratyaksha (direct observation);
Agama (texts without flaw).
Now, scripture itself is not an independent pramANa, for it needs one to observe -- if I cannot observe and read scripture, I cannot know what it has to say. Thus, pratyaksha is the upajiivya (refer FAQ!) for Agama. Without pratyaksha being fully valid, Agama cannot even be cognised, let alone being considered valid.
Does direct observation support abheda, or bheda? Clearly, it supports bheda only. No one has any experience otherwise. We do not realize identity with the Lord in our daily experience. To quote Ananda Tiirtha again:
na hi ahaM sarvaGYaH, sarveshvaro, nirduHkho, nirdoshhaH -- iti vA kasyachid anubhavaH? -- asti cha tadviparyayeNAnubhavaH |
No one experiences: "I am all-knowing, the Lord of all, free from pain, free from flaw -- thus. The opposite of these is (always) the experience."
Thus, the upajiivya pramaaNa to the Agama that is supposed to be telling us that we and the Lord are actually identical, is actually telling is quite the opposite. But this means that the Agama is in a state of upajiivya-virodha, a flaw that makes it unacceptable. To quote Ananda Tiirtha again:
na cha anubhava virodhe Agamasya prAmANyam.h |
Scripture is not valid when opposed to direct experience.
If someone brings up a scripture saying I am the President of the United States, I will immediately and effortlessly denounce it as bunk, because it is completely opposed to my own experience which tells me clearly that I am not. So also, if someone interprets scripture to mean that I am the President of the United States, then I will with equal facility deny that interpretation of scripture as well, even if the text itself is acceptable to me otherwise. Whatever be any other apparent reason -- grammatical, contextual, traditional, logical, etc., etc., given for such interpretation, it is still completely unsatisfactory to me because I find it opposed to my own native and valid experience. Consider the weight of valid experience of the reality of the world we live in and of ourselves with all of us and the case becomes impossible to deny.
One can argue that carried to an extreme, this reasoning can invalidate all Agama authority, because the latter has perforce to depend upon pratyaksha for cognition. On detailed examination, however, this objection is not correct. While pratyaksha is supreme in its own field of valid world experience, on concepts and entities beyond its ken, such as sin, heaven and hell and the nature of the divine being, its relationship with the soul etc., Agama has to be conceded its own unique and rightful authority. But when an Agama text is interpreted in such a manner as to be in total opposition to world experience, such a meaning has to be given up for being totally unacceptable to world experience.
This, one finds, is the state of all scriptures and scriptural references said to speak of monism.
Why the claim of sublation of duality is unacceptable
Let us explore again the concept of monistic interpretation of
scripture. As one recalls, the claim is that there are both monistic
and dualistic references in the scriptures, and that the monistic ones
are more important; the dualistic ones are there to re-state the
already-known misconceptions for the purpose of refutation.
However, how is dualism already known?
The reality of the universe may be considered already-known. Accepted. But, how does one know, for instance, that oneself and the Lord Vishnu are both ultimately different? -- this is said to be the incorrect understanding refuted, and must be known first, if the refutation by Agama texts is to make any sense at all.
Difference of two things as one is known only if the two things are known also. One knows oneself, so that part's all right; how does one know of Vishnu (which we call the Supreme Being)?
One does not know Vishnu from direct experience; one cannot see, touch, smell, hear, or taste Him. Ananda Tiirtha adds:
na cha anumAnAt.h tat.h siddhiH | viparyayeNApi anumAtuM shakyatvAt.h |
The existence of Vishnu cannot be shown by inference, because the opposite inference (i.e., the inexistence of Vishnu) can also be made. Thus, Vishnu is not known from direct experience; He is also not known from inference. Therefore, He can only be known through scripture.
Given this, it follows that the notion of dualism that scripture refutes, has itself come from scripture! Since Vishnu is not known to us at all except from scripture, it follows that His difference from us cannot be known to us from any source except scripture, either.
Therefore, dualistic references in scriptures must come in two kinds:
1> Those that create the false notion in the first place.
2> Those that are re-statements of the false notion thus created, to help the monistic statements remove it.
The existence of these two kinds would mean that scripture actually plays a kind of wicked game with us, by first confusing us and then removing the confusion of its own creation. This is an unprecedented conclusion, and raises serious doubts if we can consider scripture to be a valid source of knowledge, at all -- if it is given to making mischief, and intentionally misleads us only to correct us later, how do we know it will not lead us from one incorrect understanding to another incorrect understanding, or from correct understanding to incorrect understanding, etc.? Once the integrity of scripture is seriously compromised in this fashion, one cannot justify its use at all.
However, monists generally do not accept that dualistic references come in two types; they say all such are of the second type only.
Then, that amounts to saying that scripture is putting down a false notion that we never had in the first place! -- is this meaningful?
Therefore, whichever way one looks at it, this notion of the monistic references correcting the dualistic references is fraught with error at the very root.
In addition to the basic errors in the notion, there are others as
well. For one thing, it is always the case that whenever a false
notion is stated and sublated by the truth, the two are presented
within the same coherent context -- if someone has the incorrect idea
that 2+2=5, then a proper way to correct this idea is to say: "You
think that two and two make five, but this is not so; two and two
actually make four." A coherence in context is absolutely essential,
for one to argue that two opposing statements are not contradictory,
but are re-stating an error and correcting it, respectively.
However, with monistic and dualistic statements, do we see such coherence? No, we do not. The monist has no choice but to claim, for instance, to claim that a dualistic reference "dvA suparNA sayujA sakhAyA" in the Rg Veda is sublated by the "tat tvam asi" monistic reference in the Saama Veda. However, given the disparity in the texts, in the contexts of the statements, and the complete absence of a total coherence or overall meaning, how can one understand that the monistic statement sublates the dualistic one?
In fact, how is this notion justified, that in case of contradiction, the monistic quote is the one that must win out? What stops us from saying that the scriptures state the incorrect understanding of monism and denounce it? Srimad Achaarya in fact says they do; consistently and within the same context, they often bring up monistic notions and then show them to be incorrect, in various ways.
One may ask, how is this possible? After all, since we do not know Vishnu, we cannot know identity with Him yet; besides, we also accept that our experience does not show identity with Him. Thus, how can we even have the incorrect understanding of monism?
To this, Srimad Achaarya answers by saying that if one arrogates to oneself any property of the Lord, then one may have assumed identity with Him -- thus, it is possible for one to be in complete ignorance of Him and yet assume His unique quality and thus assume His mantle -- this is what scripture opposes. In fact, since knowledge of His quality assures us that He is completely different from us, such false understanding can only arise if one does not know Him, or knows Him incorrectly.
Thus, scripture may be said to actually do the reverse of what the monists claim -- it actually removes our false notions of having the Lord's unique and irreproducible qualities, and thus conveys dualism.
By doing so, scripture uniformly conveys the Supremacy of the Lord, and that such is the import of all scripture is known from scriptural references themselves.
Therefore, Srimad Achaarya states:
vishhNu-sarvottamattvaM eva mahA-tAtparyaM sarvAgamAnAm.h |
The Supremacy of Vishnu alone is the only chief purport of all Agama-s.
Some of the reasons for the rejection of the monistic view we have seen above. Above and beyond all of these, however, is the fact that any so-called monistic quote is actually a misunderstanding of the purport of scripture, and that properly interpreted, such quotes yield dualism only.
For instance, in several instances, as noted elsewhere, Srimad Achaarya shows that the monistic interpretation of quotes is completely incorrect and implausible. Such cannot be justified based on logic, consistency of interpretation, or any other competent notion. For instance, consider the famous "tattvamasi" quote from the Chhaandogya, which is claimed to be a monistic reference.
The context is that a boy called Shwetaketu goes to a Guru and learns the scriptures from him for a period of twelve years. He returns a man, and boasts to his father UddhALaka that he has now mastered them completely. The father realizes that the son's boastful nature must be got rid of, and asks him to subsist with only water for fifteen days. At the end of that time, he asks Shwetaketu again to show off his prowess, and the latter, weak with starvation, is unable to do so.
After this, Shwetaketu has a meal and recovers from his ordeal, upon which UddhALaka proceeds to instruct him, saying: "sa AtmA.atattvamasi shwetaketo" nine times.
Now, consider the context: if it had been UddhALaka's intention to tell Shwetaketu that he was the Lord Himself, why not do so straightaway? Why was it necessary to starve, weaken, and humiliate him first? On the other hand, if it was necessary to show him that he was not the Lord, by any means, that he was completely different and inferior, then such a ploy made sense.
In addition, if the purport of the instruction was monism, why then did there have to be nine statements to that effect? If two entities are different from each other, then one can have nine statements, each pointing out an aspect of difference, but if the two are actually identical, then a simple one-time statement "this is that" suffices.
In addition, it is also the case that the actual examples that UddhALaka gave in support of each instruction do not support the notion of monism in the least.
Therefore, in the cases of "aham brahmaasmi," "tattvamasi," etc., the so-called abheda vaakya-s are all misinterpreted to yield their erroneous conclusions of monism. In addition to that, there are a host of problems with the monistic outlook, some of which we have seen above. (This presentation is by no means either exhaustive or even adequate.)
Quite unfortunately, there has been a strong lopsided tradition of
studying Indian philosophical systems, where Advaita is thought to be
the end-all of all Vedantic thought. There are several reasons for
this, some of them being the language barrier -- most Tattvavaada
works are inaccessible because of being in Sanskrit which many do not
understand, or in not-widely-spoken languages like Kannada, etc. One
hopes that these problems will be remedied, and that anyone who has
the interest to learn the truth will be given an opportunity to do
yo vipralaMbha viparIta-mati prabhUtAn.h |
vAdAnnirasta kR^itavAn.h bhuvi tattvavAdam.h |
sarveshvaro haririti pratipAdaya.ntam.h |
Ana.ndatIrthamunivaryaM ahaM namAmi ||
That school which defeats all doctrines born out of ignorance and negative tendencies, is Tattvavaada; Ananda Tiirtha, the revered among saints, who proclaimed the Supremacy of Hari, I salute.
Back to shaastra index
This section is a modified version of a posting to the Dvaita mailing list by Shrisha Rao, with some corrections by N.A.P.S. Rao.
Created April 13, 1996; last updated June 13, 1996