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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

The main idea of the Vedanta philosophy


The main idea of the Vedanta philosophy.

The main idea of the advaita (non-dualistic) Vedanta philosophy as taught by the @S'a@kara school is this, that the ultimate and absolute truth is the self, which is one, though appearing as many in different individuals. The world also as apart from us the individuals has no reality and has no other truth to show than this self. All other events, mental or physical, are but passing appearances, while the only absolute and unchangeable truth underlying them all is the self. While other systems investigated the pramanas only to examine how far they could determine the objective truth of things or our attitude in practical life towards them, Vedanta sought to reach beneath the surface of appearances, and enquired after the final and ultimate truth underlying the microcosm and the macrocosm, the subject and the object. The famous instruction of @S'vetaketu, the most important Vedanta text (mahavakya) says, "That art thou, O S'vetaketu." This comprehension of my self as the ultimate truth is the highest knowledge, for when this knowledge is once produced, our cognition of world-appearances will automatically cease. Unless the mind is chastened and purged of all passions and desires, the soul cannot comprehend this truth; but when this is once done, and the soul is anxious for salvation by a knowledge of the highest truth, the preceptor instructs him, "That art thou." At once he becomes the truth itself, which

is at once identical with pure bliss and pure intelligence; all ordinary notions and cognitions of diversity and of the

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[Footnote 1: All that is important in S'a@nkara's commentary of the _Brahma-sutras_ has been excellently systematized by Deussen in his _System of the Vedanta_; it is therefore unnecessary for me to give any long account of this part. Most of what follows has been taken from the writings of his followers.]

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many cease; there is no duality, no notion of mine and thane; the vast illusion of this world process is extinct in him, and he shines forth as the one, the truth, the Brahman. All Hindu systems believed that when man attained salvation, he became divested of all world-consciousness, or of all consciousness of himself and his interests, and was thus reduced to his own original purity untouched by all sensations, perceptions, feelings and willing, but there the idea was this that when man had no bonds of karma and no desire and attachment with the world and had known the nature of his self as absolutely free and unattached to the world and his own psychosis, he became emancipated from the world and all his connections with the world ceased, though the world continued as ever the same with others. The external world was a reality with them; the unreality or illusion consisted in want of true knowledge about the real nature of the self, on account of which the self foolishly identified itself with world-experiences, worldly joys and world-events, and performed good and bad works accordingly. The force of accumulated karmas led him to undergo the experiences brought about by them. While reaping the fruits of past karmas he, as ignorant as ever of his own self, worked again under the delusion of a false relationship between himself and the world, and so the world process ran on. Mufti (salvation) meant the dissociation of the self from the subjective psychosis and the world. This condition of the pure state of self was regarded as an unconscious one by Nyaya-Vais'e@sika and Mima@msa, and as a state of pure intelligence by Sa@mkhya and Yoga. But with Vedanta the case is different, for it held that the world as such has no real existence at all, but is only an illusory imagination which lasts till the moment when true knowledge is acquired. As soon as we come to know that the one truth is the self, the Brahman, all our illusory perceptions representing the world as a field of experience cease. This happens not because the connections of the self with the world cease, but because the appearance of the world process does not represent the ultimate and highest truth about it. All our notions about the abiding diversified world (lasting though they may be from beginningless time) are false in the sense that they do not represent the real truth about it. We not only do not know what we ourselves really are, but do not also know what the world about us is. We take our ordinary experiences of the world as representing


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