[Advaita-l] Karl H. Potter - Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies - Vol III: Advaita Vedanta upto Samkara and his pupils

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 11 16:42:54 CST 2011

Potter's encyclopedic volumes on the Indian darsanas are typically at a high level of
scholarship. Even when I first encountered them, while I was impressed with the
overall quality of these volumes, I could not help taking issue with some of the views
and conclusions in the volume on Advaita Vedanta. I find that my take on these has
not changed after more than a decade.
For example, 
> 16. Or, for example, the view that one needs a distinct judgment to verify or 
> justify true knowledge (paratahprAmANyavAda) is worse than the view that true 
> knowledge justifies itself (svatahprAmANya); however, both these views are 
> ultimately inferior to the view that truth is not to be found in judgments, that 
> therefore one cannot attain ultimate understanding of truth through the 
> pramANas, or 'instrument of knowledge.'

I have a problem with the above. To state that "truth is not to be found in judgments"
and "one cannot attain ... through the pramANas" are the most superior views and to
present these as a standard corollary of traditional advaita vedAnta presents major
problems. For one thing, presented as such in English, it sounds too New Age-y and
doesn't truly capture how the advaita tradition talks of the pramANa-s. If by "truth"
one means Brahman, yes, we deny that one can "understand" Brahman through any
pramANa, but we do NOT deny the operation and validity of the pramANas for all
vyAvahArika truths. 

The above view also misunderstands svataHprAmANya in a crucial way, as also the
manner in which it has been applied in the advaita vedAnta tradition. It is not as if
only "true knowledge" justifies itself, as if "false knowledge" never justifies itself.
Rather, the point is that *ALL* knowledge, whether true or false in an ultimate
sense, always justifies itself. The flip side of the coin of svataH prAmANya is that
of parataH apramANa and the material of this coin, as it were, is the operation of

That is, *every* cognition is self-validating, but a later cognition can negate (bAdha)
an earlier one. Till such time as the self-validating later cognition arises, which
negates an earlier cognition, the earlier cognition stands self-validated *for that
cognizer*. That is the only way the rajju-sarpa nyAya is utilized by all advaita
authors. The perception of the sarpa is a pramANa in and of itself (svataH); it is
negated by another (parataH) cognition that the object is not sarpa, only rajju. The
cognition that it is rajju, in turn, is pramANa in and of itself (svataH). There is a
reason that Sankara bhagavatpAda often uses the term "antya pramANa" in the
context of brahmavidyA, for the ultimate a-bAdhya (or a-bAdhita) realization.
To recognize and accept that all pramANa-s presume a duality is not the same as
giving up the principle of svataH prAmANya on the final step  to non-duaity. As a
matter of fact, for a true knower of non-duality, the aparoksha jnAnI, the brahmavit
who is brahmaiva, the knowledge "ahaM brahmAsmi" IS valid in and of itself (svataH)
and continues to be valid through the rest of his or her natural life in this birth,
because it is never subject to negation or bAdha. 

For the paroksha knower, the knowledge "ahaM brahmAsmi", as conveyed through
Sruti or AcAryopadeSa or both, is also svataH pramANa. While regular life in duality
may seem to differ, there is always at least an implicit hierarchy of pramANa-s at
work and it is for the paroksha cognizer to work out the bAdha aspect for himself
or herself.
The question of giving up svataH prAmANya in favor of "non-judgment" does not
even arise for anybody, either for the aparoksha or the paroksha knower.
> 17. Or, again, atheism and agnosticism are worse views than theism; within 
> theism, again, monotheism is preferable to polytheism; but ultimately preferable 
> to all theisms is monism.
This, again, is a stretch. In my view, this is an adhyAsa of a view conditioned by
centuries of monotheism on to the logic, culture and milieu of traditional advaita,
which has never had any problems with polytheism and jumps directly to monism
(or non-dualism if you will), without building up a monotheism as being superior
to polytheism. In fact, the view that ISvara, who is really nirguNa brahman, can
take on an infinite number of guNa-s, leads directly from the monism of nirguNa
brahman to the happy polytheism of India, whether one wants to call it Vedism
or Brahman-ism or Hinduism. It completely bypasses the monotheistic insistence
upon one GOD, with numerous attributes. The one Brahman in advaita vedAnta
is without attributes,  but the minute you admit of attributes, there is no reason
to deny multiple Gods or even to state that a view of multiple Gods with multiple
attributes is inferior to a view of one God with multiple attributes. The last view
is completely alien to the logic of advaita vedAnta. Throughout the centuries of
advaita vedAnta, not a single leader of our tradition has felt it necessary to do so.
Not a single leader of our tradition has felt it necessary to denounce the "false
gods" of others, as opposed to the "true God" of our own. This is in complete
contrast to the prophets of the monotheistic religions.
> The 'dialectical' aspects of these last four examples of stages along the way 
> toward understanding explain why so many apparent contradictions - paradoxes, if 
> you will - are apparently condoned and indeed frequently celebrated in 
> Advaita...."

That is true, indeed. Certainly, the above points about pramANa-s and polytheism
are two of those seeming paradoxes in how we understand advaita vedAnta in
contemporary times!

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