The Doctrine of Illusion vs. Vaishnavism

By Aprakrita Bhaktisaranga Goswami
As published in The Harmonist (Sree Sajjanatoshani)
Edited by Paramahamsa Paribrajakacharyya Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj

DECEMBER 16, 1934

Shankara and some of his followers have taken exception to Vaishnavism alleging that it is opposed to the Vedas. Sankara's interpretation is known as 'Kevaladwaita' or Absolute Monism which may be philosophically summed up as follows;-

  1. The individual soul is nothing but pure and all-pervading 'Brahma' which eternally exists as the absolute entity. All plurality is false and unreal and superimposed upon Brahma. It is only 'Maya' which makes us see plurality. But 'Maya' itself has no independent existence.
  2. 'Moksha' is attained by the knowledge of the identity of Brahma and Jiva (individual soul).

Shankara appeared in the latter half of the 8th century, long after Adi Vishnu Swami who had flourished but two centuries before the birth of Christ when his presence was urgently required to put new life into Brahmanism by propagating this interpretation of illusion or 'Maya'. His views had an undoubted efficacy for his times to prevent the abuses of Buddhism, Jainism and other heterodox systems on the one hand and so-called orthodox systems which maintained the efficiency of mechanical ritualistic and sacrificial practices on the other. Shankara claims his interpretation to be pure orthodox. But if the distinction between the orthodox and the heterodox schools be due to the negation of God, 'Kevaladwaita' system ceases to be orthodox. No doubt the impersonal interpretation of Sankara, in order to accommodate less intelligent people, admitted a personal God as a primitive step to his goal. But a god was after all of an illusory and second-rate importance in his system. The Theistic element, far from being a fundamental point, is nothing but a mere appendage and a temporary measure leading to his impersonal interpretation. He took up the particular parts of Vedanta and deduced from them an impersonal system conniving at or explaining away in a far-fetched manner those parts which did not suit his purpose.

Then appeared Ramanujacharyya (born in Shaka 938 corresponding to 1016 A.C.) who refuted this Mayavada interpretation and introduced the worship of Lakshmi-Narayana in his 'Vishistadwaita' System (qualified Monism). He was followed by Madhwacharya (1197 A.C. to 1276 A.C.) who established devotion to the supreme Lord Sree Krishna as being the summum bonum of our life, and propagated this Theistic interpretation throughout the length and breadth of this country.

If you target the entity of Godhead into impersonality, the question of love ceases there, as love is not possible with a non-entity. Love can have place only when the lover and the beloved are real entities. All the Vaishnavite schools alike maintain, therefore, that bhakti is the means of attaining the eternal service of the Supreme Lord Sree Krishna Who is possessed of infinite power and all auspicious attributes. The individual souls who are atomic and infinite in number and the inanimate world are all real, and their individual distinction can never be lost. All Vaishnava Acharyyas direct their efforts, therefore, in refuting the 'Mayavad' interpretation which, they say, is the croaking of human ambition to crush Godhead under its heel and triumph over His ruin. They condemn subservience to Maya with equal vehemence and go so far as to call 'Shankara' a mere incarnation of the 'Madhyamika' or a disguised 'Buddha'.

The eternal function is that which unchangeable and suitable for all time, place and persons,-- that which has for its only support the one Supreme Purusha (Purushottama). In the sphere of pure cognition 'Purusha' implies the dominating activity. The reciprocal term to 'Purusha' is 'Prakriti' whose function is to be dominated by the 'Purusha'. The eternal function may be located either in reference to 'Purusha' or 'Prakriti. In this world we find ourselves in exclusive relationships with the dominated, but are apt to regard ourselves as intended to be possessors of dominion.

As a matter of fact, however, the eternal function of the jiva is not directed to the enjoyment of power but to the service of the Possessor and Source of Power, the Real Entity (Bastaba Bastu) of the Bhagabatam, as distinct from the plurality of entities that are the products of power. The Source of power is not identical with power when they are dealt separately. The Bhagabatam does not tell us of the function of the non-absolute changeable products of physical power, primarily, but of the function of eternal entities. The terms used to designate the two groups of entities are 'Prakrita' (products of physical nature) and 'A-pra-krita (transcendental entities).

The entities that are knowable to man are products of physical nature which are made cognisable to him by the same agency. The organs of knowledge and object of knowledge are all of them part and parcel of the mundane power. They never take us beyond the jurisdiction of that power. All philosophy accordingly aims at the elimination of our present activity consisting of the triple texture of mundane stuff in the forms of knowledge, knower and known in order to get the Source of Power.

The cognitive function of our senses under the lead of mind is always confined to the phenomena of physical nature. The empiricist is perpetually limited to the inconclusive examination of the temporary transformations of physical nature. Such examination of the triple-textured activity cannot lead to Indivisible Absolute Knowledge Who has chance of manifesting His Appearance to our consciousness only on the elimination of the non-absolute cognitive function. The transitory quality is found on this mundane plane. This transitory activity cannot certainly be designated as the eternal function.

That which transcends the 'a-tat' (non-absolute) is 'Tat' (Absolute), the Real Indivisible Knowledge. He is quite different from the so-called knowledge obtained by us as worldly enjoyers or as abstainers from worldly enjoyment. Inanimation offers itself to our consciousness as the goal at the point where the faculty of enjoyment is sought to be artificially extinguished by its own help. The triple mundane condition of knower, knowledge and known forms the contents of the empiric cognitive function by means of the mind and the senses. This activity creates all the difference and discord. It is the real impediment in the way of the establishment of the reign of universal harmony. In the attempt to avoid the barrier of limitation the monistic principle is sought to be established by dint of destructive metaphysical argumentation.

Monistic Philosophy seeks to relive us from the partially bad consequences of our separate free existence by extinguishing the triple texture of mundane activity. It proposes to effect its purpose by the perfection of physical processes by which it expects to bring about the merging of all manifestations in the one unmanifest non-active cognition. Those conclusions are the products of imagination and do not touch the real issue. They are the products of the operation of the Deluding Potency as the result of our refusal to receive the enlightening meaning of the words of the scriptures. Were this not so, our pure spiritual essence would find Vasudeva in everything. The opening verse of the Bhagabatam instructs us to address our prayers to the Ultimate Truth as distinct from the mundane, who cannot be realised except by His Own Light. Those who realise Him by His service are many. There are eternal distinctive individual personalities of servitors in the realm of the Absolute. Hence Sankara's theory is untenable.