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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

That the later exponents of Vedanta

Two bright-feathered bosom friends Flit around one and the same tree; One of them tastes the sweet berries, The other without eating merely gazes down.


[Footnote 1: Cha. III. 14. 4.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid._ VII. 25. i; also Mu@n@daka II. 2. ii.]

[Footnote 3: Cha. VI. 10.]

[Footnote 4: Deussen's translation in _Philosophy of the Upanishads_, p. 164.]

[Footnote 5: B@rh. III. 8. i.]

[Footnote 6: S'vetas'vatara IV. 6, and Mu@n@daka III. i, 1, also Deussen's translation in _Philosophy of the Upanishads_, p. 177.]


But in spite of this apparent theistic tendency and the occasional use of the word _Is'a_ or _Is'ana_, there seems to be no doubt that theism in its true sense was never prominent, and this acknowledgement of a supreme Lord was also an offshoot of the exalted position of the atman as the supreme principle. Thus we read in Kau@sitaki Upani@sad 3. 9, "He is not great by good deeds nor low by evil deeds, but it is he makes one do good deeds whom he wants to raise, and makes him commit bad deeds whom he wants to lower down. He is the protector of the universe, he is the master of the world and the lord

of all; he is my soul (_atman_)." Thus the lord in spite of his greatness is still my soul. There are again other passages which regard Brahman as being at once immanent and transcendent. Thus it is said that there is that eternally existing tree whose roots grow upward and whose branches grow downward. All the universes are supported in it and no one can transcend it. This is that, "...from its fear the fire burns, the sun shines, and from its fear Indra, Vayu and Death the fifth (with the other two) run on [Footnote ref 1]."

If we overlook the different shades in the development of the conception of Brahman in the Upani@sads and look to the main currents, we find that the strongest current of thought which has found expression in the majority of the texts is this that the Atman or the Brahman is the only reality and that besides this everything else is unreal. The other current of thought which is to be found in many of the texts is the pantheistic creed that identifies the universe with the Atman or Brahman. The third current is that of theism which looks upon Brahman as the Lord controlling the world. It is because these ideas were still in the melting pot, in which none of them were systematically worked out, that the later exponents of Vedanta, S'a@nkara, Ramanuja, and others quarrelled over the meanings of texts in order to develop a consistent systematic philosophy out of them. Thus it is that the doctrine of Maya which is slightly hinted at once in B@rhadara@nyaka and thrice in S'vetas'vatara, becomes the foundation of S'a@nkara's philosophy of the Vedanta in which Brahman alone is real and all else beside him is unreal [Footnote ref 2].

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