A few questions

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Fri Jan 10 01:39:47 CST 1997

Dennis Waite wrote:


> 1) Where can I find material relating to the teaching on creation being
> brought into existence by sound (ahaM) and on the mechanism by which sound
> arises (parA, madhyamA, pashyantI, vaikharI)? The only reference I have
> found, to the latter part, was a bit in the chandogya upanishad.h.

I do not think you will find any references to the four stages of sound in
any of the principal upanishads. These stages of sound, namely parA,
madhyamA, paSyantI and vaikharI, are seen first in Bhartr.hari's
commentary on grammar, I believe. You will find "vAgvai brahma" (I forget
the reference) and "vAcArambhaNam vikAro nAmadheyam" (chAndogya), but
there is not much more on creation from sound, in the principal

Interestingly, the SvetASvatara does not even consider sound or word in
its list of causes in the second verse. Time, inherent nature, necessity,
chance, the elements, the womb and the person or some combination of all
these are considered and rejected in favor of brahman, but sound is not
mentioned at all.

> 2) Any thought on references to the topic of volition and the mechanism of
> action (vR^itti, pravR^itti and saMvR^itti)?

Again, I have the feeling that these terms do not occur per se in the
upanishads themselves. I'll check and post again if I find something.

> 3) What about the 'properties' of purushha (ahetu, nitya, vyApi, anAshrita,
> svatantra, nirguna, aviveki, visheshha, chetana, akriya, aliN^ga, anavayava)?

All over the kaTha, muNDaka, and praSna. Scattered but frequent references
in chAndogya and br.hadAraNyaka. S. Radhakrishnan's "The Principal
Upanishads" is a handy reference, if for nothing else but the fact that
the Sanskrit text of major upanishads are given along with the translation
and interpretation.

> 4) One final question (if I have not overstepped my welcome!), and I'd be
> happy if someone can refer me to a web page, relates to the apparent
> different 'schools' of advaita. I have noted passing references in many of

I have been meaning to update the advaita home page
(http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~vidya/advaita) to address these
issues, but haven't found the time to do justice to the job. When this
list was started, I mentioned that I might have it ready soon, but "soon"
does not seem to have arrived yet. I'll let list members know when it is

I assume you are not talking of just the *bhAmati* and *vivaraNa* schools
of post-Sankaran advaita, but rather of the various *vAdas* e.g. ajAti,
sr.shTi-dr.shTi and dr.shTi-sr.shTi, with respect to creation.

> the posts to this group and they usually assume that the reader will already
> be familiar with them. The FAQ doesn't seem to precisely address the
> question unless I have overlooked it, and I haven't succeeded in finding
> these details on the web sites I have looked at. It seems, for example, that
> some advaitins, such as the school I attend, clearly state that there 'IS' a
> creation, albeit an illusary one (mayaa, lila etc); that it exists but is
> none other than the Self. On the other hand, someone I have communicated
> with over the net states equally positively that there is no such thing as a
> creation and actually implied that the teaching I am receiving is
> effectively dvaita. There do seem to be a number of slightly different views
> on this and other topics from the posts I have read on the list. I would
> very much appreciate a simple list of the different schools and a brief
> statement of their essential points of difference. Does such a thing already
> exist somewhere? It would seem to be a useful thing for the FAQ if not.

Most advaitins admit ajAti (i.e. no creation) in the pAramArthika sense,
and sr.shTi-dr.shTi in the vyAvahArika sense. To my knowledge, there is
only one author, prakASAnanda sarasvatI, who talks of creation in terms of
dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAda.

sr.shTi-dr.shTi vAda :-
I'll come back to dr.shTi-sr.shTi later. Meanwhile, whether of the bhAmatI
or of the vivaraNa school, most authors start off assuming the universe.
>From the perspective of the student, this makes sense, because everybody
starts off by observing a universe distinct from "oneself", and believing
that this observed universe has a distinct reality apart from "oneself".
So long as this "oneself" is identified by the observer, not with the
Atman, but with anAtman, advaitins would say, `yes, there is a difference
between the observed ("the universe" which, by the way, is wrongly
perceived) and the observer (the "oneself" which is wrongly identified).'
At this stage, there is still ignorance about the true nature of external
things and oneself. Taking this ignorance into account, and referring to
the IkshaNa-Sruti (tadaikshta, bahusyAm prajAyeya - this sentence occurs
everywhere there is talk of creation, as in the sad-vidyA section of the
chAndogya), the universe is held to be created by brahman in His capacity
as ISvara. This is the sr.shTi-dr.shTi vAda, i.e. the universe that is
seen has been created by ISvara. sr.shTi (creation) is therefore prior to
dr.shTi (perception). In other words, advaita will defend the view that a
thing has to exist beforehand for it to be perceived.

However, it is pointed out that to even talk of creation, one has to
assume avidyA, and one has to admit of mAyA, as the power of ISvara.
Still, it is denied that this mAyA has an independent existence or reality
of its own, and is absolutely dependent on brahman, which is the only
reality. It is this position that differentiates advaita vedAnta from the
dualistic sAm.khya, although some authors of the bhAmatI school write in
such a way as to make this distinction very fuzzy indeed. Inasmuch as the
only independent cause is brahman as ISvara, and so far as it is held
that the mAyA disappears when brahman is truly known, this view is still
non-dual in its teaching. This notion of ISvara, as saguNa brahman, who is
different from the creation, is therefore described as the
"taTastha-lakshaNa" - a temporary description for the purposes of
explaining creation to those who seek an explanation. This temporary
description does not mean that non-duality is compromised. It is only this
view that explains the fact that throughout the ages, advaitins have by
and large been very devoutly religious people, who worship their chosen
deity. They do not think that this affects non-duality in any way. So much
for vyavahAra.

ajAti vAda :-
The notion that mAyA has no reality in itself, and that brahman is the
only real, allows the sr.shTi-dr.shTi vAdin to "graduate", so to speak, to
ajAtivAda, the view that no creation really occured ever. Although one
initially starts looking for brahman from an ontological perspective, this
search for origins is ultimately futile, as far as moksha is concerned.
When the house is on fire, one first searches for water to put the fire
out. Only after the fire is put out does one search for the causes of the
fire. Similarly, if the questioner's goal is moksha, advaita points out
that there is no moksha till the Atman is properly known as brahman
itself. Therefore, understand the Atman first, questions about creation
can wait. Until now, the questioner has been concerned mainly with
explaining the external world, which (s)he knows only through the
operation of the senses. The identity propounded by the upanishads
(between the Atman and brahman) opens up an even more fascinating inner
world that is not seen by the eye, not heard by the ear and not felt by
touch. It is this inner search that allows the sAdhaka to acquire the
jnAna to deny mAyA any reality whatsover. At this stage, brahman, which
was previously understood to be with attributes, is really understood in
its essence. This essential nature of brahman is described as
"svarUpa-lakshaNa" - a description that captures the real nature of
brahman. When brahman is apprehended as the nirguNa, without any
attributes, mAyA completely disappears. The universe too, consequently has
to disappear. This is the most difficult thing for anybody to understand
and accept, because the senses constantly seem to remind one of the
presence of the universe. But then, the unitary understanding of brahman
as identical to the Atman occurs only at the turIya state, not in the
jAgrat, svapna and sushupti states. As the mANDUkya upanishad reminds us,
the turIya is adr.shTam, avyavahAryam, agrAhyam, alakshaNam, acintyam,
avyapadeSyam, ekAtma-pratyaya-sAram, prapancopaSamam, SAntam, Sivam,

Most of these terms and their significance will be known to everybody
here. As far as creation theories are concerned, the most important
adjective here, in my opinion, is prapancopaSamam - that into which the
world is resolved. This indicates that in the turIya state, there is no
more external world perceived as separate from oneself, because the
mistaken identification of the Atman with anAtman has ceased. The
"oneself" that was previously talked about doesn't exist anymore, and the
world external to this "oneself" also does not exist anymore. Only the
One Atman remains. It is only at this stage that it makes sense to talk of
ajAti. The word "prapancopaSamam" indicates that the world-in-itself has
no existence. It is as if this world that was previously seen as
external to "oneself", along with the "oneself" that was previously
mistakenly identified with things other than the Atman, is now resolved
into the Atman, the one and only Reality.

The same idea is mentioned in the br.hadAraNyaka - "yatra tvasya sarvam
AtmaivAbhUt, tatra kena kam paSyet?" etc. leading to "vijnAtAram are kena
vijAnIyAt?" In the state of non-duality, the Atman itself is the whole
world; there is nothing other than this Atman, so talk of a world external
to this Atman does not even arise. The questions posed by the
br.hadAraNyaka indicate that there are no senses of sight, smell, touch
etc. that can operate at this state. Hence the question, "vijnAtAram are
kena vijAnIyAt?" - how is the knower to be known? i.e. not through the
senses, as there are no senses that operate here. I will restrict the
urge to indulge in poetic fancy about the ineffable nature of this
vijnAtA, and the experience that defies words. Reverting to our concern
about creation, we can say this much. So long as the question of creation
does not even arise when the identity of Atman with brahman is known,
ajAtivAda follows. After all, this Atman is eternal, unborn and undying,
admitting of no divisions. As the prapanca has been resolved (upaSamanam)
into this Atman itself, prapanca is not created. This is the paramArtha.
Returning to the vyavahAra, we come back to the jAgrat, svapna and
sushupti states, where sr.shTi-dr.shTi vAda explains creation. Again,
non-duality is not compromised.

Thus, provisionally explaining creation in terms of sr.shTi-dr.shTi
vAda, and then denying that creation is a real event, by means of ajAti
vAda, is the only way traditional advaita vedAntins will handle creation.
This approach also closely follows the adhyAropa-apavAda method, and is
closely tied to the vyavahAra and paramArtha ways of understanding
reality. So far as the paramArtha is held to be the only Real, ajAti is
upheld. sr.shTi-dr.shTi is accepted only in the vyAvahAric sense, and
needs to be transcended along with the rest of vyavahAra, for the sake of

To the best of my knowledge, the description given above closely follows
Sankara, sureSvara, Anandagiri and others who are the most celebrated
teachers in the advaita tradition. Thus, advaita vedAnta has no desire to
claim an illusory "oneness" in the realm of vyavahAra. The duality in
the vyAvahAric world is accepted, but only as a thing that needs to be
properly understood as lacking any eternality, and finally to be
transcended in the paramArtha. It is only in paramArtha that difference is
denied, but this is because vyavahAra itself loses its significance here.
The entities that seem to exist as separate in vyavahAra are no longer
seen as separate things; they have all been resolved into the SAntam,
Sivam, advaitam. Thus, advaita vedAnta is "idealistic" to one who
is a "realist" or a "logical positivist", but it will defend "realism"
when confronted with a "subjective idealist".

This description of advaita holds true for those authors who want to
approach the paramArtha through the vyavahAra, i.e. go from
sr.shTi-dr.shTi to ajAti. There are other authors like SrIharsha, citsukha
and sukhaprakASa, who care not a whit for vyavahAra, and do not feel the
need to even talk about creation. These authors are masters of dialectic,
much like nAgArjuna, and are interested in demolishing the logical
premises of any question or definition that presupposes duality. As an
aside, these authors are quite aware that their method is very close to
the bauddha one, but they categorically assert brahman as the only
absolute, and still find fault with nAgArjuna for not asserting the
existence of one absolute.

dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAda :-
This brings me to the last vAda, namely dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAda. This is the
view mainly of one author - prakASAnanda (ca. 16th century CE). This vAda
is described in prakASAnanda's *vedAnta-siddhAnta-muktAvalI*. This author
also wrote texts on SrIvidyA, such as *tArAbhakti-tarangiNI*. His view
does not have much use for the vyavahAra-paramArtha distinction accepted
by most advaitins. The individual jIva in its capacity as individual is
asserted to create its objects of perception. The famous question, "if a
tree fell in the forest, and nobody heard it, did it make a sound?" seems
to knock the bottom out of this view. But prakASAnanda would reply that so
long as there was no observer, there was no forest, no tree, hence no
question of its falling down nor of its making any sound. This vAda comes
close to many schools of subjective idealism and also to the buddhist
vijnAnavAda. It also seems to throw up the most interesting logical
paradoxes that are familiar to those involved in interpretations of
quantum mechanics, e.g. the act of observation itself causing a particular
collapse of a wave function, thus creating its outcome, in some sense, and
the absolute necessity of the observer in any description of an event.

But I digress here. However relevant it might seem to modern science, the
dr.shTi-sr.shTi view is not accepted by most advaita vedAntins. To begin
with, this view is a significant departure from SankarAcArya himself. The
first objection to this would be that it flies in the face of all
pramANas, such as perception, inference etc. A thing has to exist, in
whatever sense, for it to be observed. The other objection to
prakASAnanda's answer would most probably be that this view can be taken
as denying brahman Itself, leading to all sorts of logical contradictions.
Does prakASAnanda explicitly deny the vyavahAra-paramArtha distinction? He
cannot, because then moksha would not be different from samsAra, which is
again close to the bauddha equations of samvr.ti and paramArtha, and of
samsAra and nirvANa. Whether the bauddha SUnyatA is different from the
advaita brahman or not, every advaita vedAntin wants to set himself apart
from the buddhist in this regard. For the typical advaita vedAntin,
dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAda is unnecessary for paramArtha; ajAtivAda explains
paramArtha better. Its only use then, can be for vyavahAra. Given the
axiom that brahman always exists, it follows for the sake of vyavahAra,
that brahman as ISvara is the universal witness. Even if no ordinary
living being heard the tree falling, ISvara always observes all, and
hence, provisionally accepting prakASAnanda's dr.shti-sr.shTi vAda, it
must be allowed that there was some sound when it fell. Does prakASAnanda
deny that brahman exists, for the sake of vyavahAra, as ISvara?

I don't know prakASAnanda's answer, but I think that he cannot, so long as
he allows that brahman exists in the forms of observers and observed. If
ISvara exists in the vyAvahAric sense, then is he the creator of the
universe or not? If yes, dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAda is contradicted, for it
holds that an individual observer also creates that which he observes.
This takes away from the creatorship of ISvara. If it is said that the
jIva and ISvara are both brahman and the created entity is also
brahman (since everything is brahman, anyway), so that the creation by a
jIva does not contradict ISvara's creatorship, the objection to this would
be that such a view ends up partitioning brahman into several different
real entities, but brahman cannot be so divided. If ISvara is said not to
be the creator, then this view contradicts Sruti. Besides, what is the
practical use of admitting such an ISvara?

I might be simplifying these arguments here somewhat, but that is because
I am  still not very familiar with prakASAnanda's reasoning. I would like
to end on a note of caution against reading too much into the names of
these vAdas. The names are meant to capture the most significant thread
of discussion in each vAda, but it is easy to be misled into an analysis
of the respective positions that concentrates only on their names and
forgets all the other allied arguments that are not specifically mentioned
in the name. Each vAda touches upon every issue that is of concern to the
advaita vedAntin, but in slightly different ways. Also, a dvaitin of the
AnandatIrtha school is necessarily a sr.shTi-dr.shTi vAdin, in his own
way. but he can never be a dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAdin. An advaitin, on the
other hand, may find nothing wrong with dr.shTi-sr.shTi vAda, although
few among them seem to be. There might be a few contemporary advaitins who
develop prakASAnanda's line of reasoning, but if there are, I don't know
of them. Most of them will accept sr.shTi-dr.shTi and some of them will
talk of ajAti, but all advaitins will accept the basic Atman = brahman
equation as axiomatic truth. According to my understanding, no true
advaitin can deny ajAtivAda, although he may rarely talk of it, and he
probably will not actively teach it to anybody but the most advanced

Personally, I feel that the sr.shTi-dr.shTi vAda is truer to the spirit of
religion that has a place for devotion, although an advaita vedAntin need
not insist upon it. In other words, commensensical ideas of creation can
be modified to some extent. I can give the employees of Sun Microsystems
credit for creating this computer, and I don't have to invoke ISvara to
explain the existence of this computer, except in a roundabout sense. In
any case, by the time the argument for ISvara is done, the computer ceases
to have any significance in and of itself. If I feel the urge to
accomodate quantum physics into a philosophy of advaita, dr.shTi-sr.shTi
might provide a way, although I am not completely sure how. In the final
analysis, as long as moksha remains the prime issue around which every
discussion revolves, ajAti always remains, and every true advaitin returns
to ajAti, whatever other vAda he uses to talk of vyavahAra.

With apologies for the rather long post,


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