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

Siva Senani Nori sivasenani at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 11 20:07:08 CST 2011

Dear Sri Vidyasankar 

Thank you for your email. I was unable to spot where I was getting carried away 
by Potter - I was just too busy admiring the scholarship and the scope of this 
series. A 100 years back, Ganganath Jha attempted this kind of survey in his 
Indian Thought series; apart from him, scholars seemed reluctant to take on such 
a task. I fully agree with both of what you said. The one about no judgements is 
certainly new-agey.

There are a few more provocative stances which I hope to post over the next few 
days or weeks.

N. Siva Senani

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan <svidyasankar at hotmail.com>
To: sivasenani at yahoo.com
Sent: Sat, February 12, 2011 4:02:50 AM
Subject: RE: [Advaita-l] Karl H. Potter - Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies - 
Vol III: Advaita Vedanta upto Samkara and his pupils

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 volume, I could not help taking issue with some of the 
and conclusions in the volume on Advaita Vedanta. I find that my take on these 
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, 
> 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 
and "one cannot attain ... through the pramANas" are the most superior views and 
present these as a standard corollary of traditional advaita vedAnta presents 
problems. For one thing, presented as such in English, it sounds too New Age-y 
doesn't truly capture how the advaita tradition talks of the pramANa-s. If by 
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 
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 
of parataH apramANa and the material of this coin, as it were, is the operation 

That is, *every* cognition is self-validating, but a later cognition can negate 
an earlier one. Till such time as the self-validating later cognition arises, 
negates an earlier cognition, the earlier cognition stands self-validated *for 
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 
negated by another (parataH) cognition that the object is not sarpa, only rajju. 
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 
matter of fact, for a true knower of non-duality, the aparoksha jnAnI, the 
who is brahmaiva, the knowledge "ahaM brahmAsmi" IS valid in and of itself 
and continues to be valid through the rest of his or her natural life in this 
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 
may seem to differ, there is always at least an implicit hierarchy of pramANa-s 
work and it is for the paroksha cognizer to work out the bAdha aspect for 
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 
> to all theisms is monism.
This, again, is a stretch. In my view, this is an adhyAsa of a view conditioned 
centuries of monotheism on to the logic, culture and milieu of traditional 
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 
to deny multiple Gods or even to state that a view of multiple Gods with 
attributes is inferior to a view of one God with multiple attributes. The last 
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 
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, 
> 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!


More information about the Advaita-l mailing list