[Advaita-l] Karl H. Potter - Encyclopedia of India Philosophies - Vol III: Advaita upto Samakara and his pupils - email 2 - on Mahavakyas - negative explanations

Siva Senani Nori sivasenani at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 10 10:18:52 CST 2011

Continuing from my earlier post, here is what Potter has to say about the 

"Let us consider "that art thou." ... the context suggests that by "that" the 
sentence refers to Brahman, by "thou" it refers to Svetaketu's self, and by 
"art" it is indicated that these two elements are identical. However, this 
straightforward explanation presents several problmes for the Advaitin. For one 
thing, Samkara explains in several places that Brahman is ineffable in the sense 
that words (even "Brahman") cannot denote It directly. It would seem to follow 
that If "that" means Brahman it must mean it indirectly, consistently with 
Samkara's thesis...." (p59)

"It is not Samkara's contention that Brahman cannot be indicated by words - what 
he is saying is that Brahman cannot be directly designated by any word. However, 
It can be indirectly designated  for example, by the word, "I." The word "I" 
directly denotes my ego (ahamkAra), but since the ego is a reflection of the 
true Self [note the difference between Self and self, as used by Potter - NSS], 
as the mirror image is a reflection of the fact reflected in it, one can use the 
word "I" non-metaphorically to indicate the Self.... Now, if one truly 
appreciates the difference between self and Self and understands the nature of 
the Self, one will also appreciate why no word can directly designate It. All 
words indicate particulars [vyakti? - NSS] by means of alluding to them through 
the universals [jAti? - NSS] that characterise them. But no individuals 
characterise the true Self - It is "not this, not this". So, if one says "that 
art thou," knowing the truth about the Self, it follows that he is not using the 
words "that" and "thou" to directly denote Brahman." (p60)

"Which leaves us still seeking understanding of what "that art thou" means. 
Suresvara is perhaps the most helpful writer on this point. He asks us to 
consider a sentence like "the space in the pot is the space in the sky". Read 
literally, this sentence is false - the space in the pot is there where the pot 
sits, the space in the sky somewhere else and unconfined, and so on. Yet the 
sentence indicates something beyond the direct meaning of its terms, namely, 
that both the pot space and the sky space are aspects of space **simpliciter** 
[Latin for simply or naturally, that is without qualification - NSS]. Thus the 
sentence points beyond its literal meaning, and Suresvara emphasises that it 
does so immediately - that one does not have to reflect on it to appreciate this 
meaning it has provided; one already knows the difference between space 
simpliciter and confined parts of spaces. The analogy with "that art thou" is 

Notice that this refutes certain interpretations of "that art thou" that might 
seem tempting or obvious. Of these, the most common is to suppose that "that art 
thou"  means that Sevatketu's self (jiva) is identical with his true Self of 
Brahman. The sentence does not mean that. Indeed, on Advaita tenets, the jiva is 
a product of ignorance or mAyA, whereas the true Self of Brahman is not, so they 
are quite distinct, and it would be as false to identify them as it would be 
identify the space in the pot with that outside the pot.

Nor does "that art thou" assert that one Reality goes under two names, for 
examples, "Self" and "Brahman." For one thing, the sentence is not about names. 
And "that" and "thou" do not name the one Reality directly.

Suresvara explains the function of "that art thou" as a negative one. That the 
sentence cannot be interpreted literally should be evident when one reflects 
that the designation of "that" excludes thou and the designation of "thou" 
excludes that and yet they are identified in the sentence. So we are immediately 
led to forget the literal meaning as well as the figurative ones [earlier 
Potter notes that Samkara refutes that a figurative meaning be taken for 
tattvamasi like in the sentence "Devadatta is a lion" as such a statement 
presupposes the knoweldge that Devadatta and the Lion are different whereas the 
Mahavakya presupposes knowledge of identity] inasmuch as this is an identity 
statement, and given proper preparation we should immediately grasp the sense of 
the statement even though no literal "translation" is possible. This grasping 
will necessarily be accompanied by a realisation that no words, which is to say 
no properties, properly apply to that which is conveyed through the sentence." 
(p60, 61)

Summarisation of Chandogyopanishadbhashya by Potter, VI.16
"... Its [the just concluded chapter's] point was to eliminate the 
misconceptions that the Self is the agent or enjoyer and to teach that the 
jivAtman is the entity that is referred to by the word "thou" in "That art thou, 
Svetaketu"...." (p267)

Summarisation of Naishkarmyasiddhi by Potter, Book Two.
"1. In this Book the author will set right certain misunderstandings concerning 
the meaning of the great sentences of the scripture, starting with those which 
relate to the word "thou" in "that art thou." (p538)

"....What "I am Brahman" does is to negate the ego sense; just as "that stump is 
a man" negates the idea of stump....And when the idea of the ego sense is 
negated, since it is the only root of our relation with duality, all duality 
ceases." (p538)

"The word "I" in "I am Brahman" has a secondary or figurative sense, analogous 
to the sense that "I" has in the sentence "I knew nothing" spoken by one who has 
woken up from a deep sleep; in both cases "I" has its secondary (lakshaNa) 
meaning the highest Self...."

Sorry about the length of the post, but wanted to put everything related 

N. Siva Senani

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