Ravindra K S Choudhary
lies at the heart of every way of life and is truer in the
field of religion. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad teaches
that the Atman "should be realized - should be heard
of, reflected on, and meditated upon". The aim of Advaitic
sadhana is the realization of the Atman as one with Brahman.
Sadhana is essential in Advaita Vedanta. Brahman is absolute,
indeterminate, and beyond all modes of conceptualization.
Accordingly, Brahman cannot be realized unless the spiritual
aspirant transcends all categorical frameworks by attuning
one's mind to the Reality behind the facade of variety.
a spiritual discipline seems at first glance to be antithetical
to a logical or rational scheme of thought, which has predominantly
characterized traditional philosophical enterprise. It has
rightly been observed that "the culture which most of
us have inherited is too extroverted and too aggressively
intellectual to permit us to understand within a short time
what it all means to be a sadhaka, a practical aspirant for
a truth of which in our homes and colleges we were given an
inkling". Consequently, critics and sceptics are inclined
to consider spiritual discipline as illogical. Some even declare
that the course of sadhana eventually turns out to be the
destroyer of philosophy due to its nonrational character.
response to my work on a survey of the parallels between Wittgensteinian
philosophy and Advaita Vedanta,3 Daya Krishna, an eminent
contemporary Indian philosopher, in a letter dated 21 August
2007 wrote to me: "Advaitic Philosophy is essentially
related to Advaitic sadhana or the realization of Brahman,
which, as far as I am aware, neither Wittgenstein nor any
other school of Western philosophy demands, as such a demand
will destroy the philosophical enterprise fundamentally and
is against this background that I will discuss Advaitic sadhana
visàvis philosophical enterprise. In view
of the critical point raised by Daya Krishna, I will adopt
an affirmative approach towards sadhana,upholding it as a
virtue rather than as a destroyer of philosophical enterprise.
For, in reality, it is the harmony of the intellectual and
the spiritual that leads one towards Selfrealization.
does it appear that Advaita or any sadhana destroys philosophical
enterprise? This problem generally arises due to the conception
of philosophy taken by many Western traditions. Philosophy
in the West has been predominantly intellectual. It is therefore
argued that philosophy, being a logical and critical enterprise,
must remain confined to the rational explanation of things.
Since sadhanais regarded as belonging to the religiospiritual
sphere, mainstream Western philosophical traditions find it
uncomfortable. W T Stace says: "Philosophy is founded
upon reason. It is the effort to comprehend, to understand,
to grasp the reality of things intellectually. Therefore it
cannot admit anything higher than reason. To exalt intuition,
ecstasy, or rapture, above thought - this is death to philosophy."
an idea of philosophy, confined only to reason, is psychologically
onesided and can yield only a partial view of Reality.
As William James declares: "Our normal waking consciousness,
rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type
of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the
filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness
of our profound experiences remain beyond normal comprehension
just because our reason is habitually restricted to logical
thinking; it cannot penetrate into the realm of spirituality,
where Selfrealization actually occurs. Thus the philosophical
creed that relies exclusively on reason misses some vital
aspects of being and also of knowing. To quote Sri Aurobindo:
"Spiritual intuition is always a more luminous guide
than the discriminating reason, and spiritual intuition addresses
itself to us not only through reason, but through the rest
of our being as well, through the heart and life also."
is very likely to be mistakenly viewed as the destroyer of
philosophical enterprise, particularly "if we believe
in a thorough going aposteriorism". The Truth
or Reality is supposed here as something lying entirely outside
us, and we are set to acquire it through the processes of
thinking. The final outcome is a world view so fragmented
in itself that it sooner or later fails even to satisfy human
reason. The "world outside" view may serve our practical
purposes at the level of vyavahara, daily dealings,
but our reason itself, by way of inherent contradictions,
suggests a higher level of intuitive experience. Thus "Advaita
aims at directing one's thought beyond thought to an intuitive
realisation wherein knowing and being cease to have any difference."
As the emphasis here is not on what I know but on what I become,
the Advaitin goes beyond the usual limits of epistemology;
he wants the whole approach changed.
inbuilt spiritual aspiration involves an intuitively felt
unity of the Real, which transcends any reduction to rational
categories of thought. The intellectual construction in this
connection need not necessarily be regarded as fake but as
something significant leading towards transcendence. Reason
operates in distinctions and dichotomies, showing every now
and then its own limitations. There is thus a limit beyond
which rational thought must undergo a profound transformation;
otherwise it tends to turn into selfrefutation. When
thought goes deeper and deeper, without any discipline of
a higher order, it is in fact aiming at suicide, for "thought
is relational and discursive and if it ceases to be this,
it commits suicide." Thought need not commit suicide,
if it gets integrated into "a higher intuition"
(ibid.). And this is what actually happens to philosophical
enterprise when it is integrated with spiritual discipline.
Reason assimilated with higher intuition becomes a razorsharp
is the reason why Indian wisdom leans more towards realization
than reasoning, not by abnegating the role of the intellectual
understanding of things but by making it subservient to direct
intuition. In the Chhandogya Upanishad we witness the
whole gamut of sacrifices gradually transformed into subtler
concepts. We also find many meditations designed to lead the
spiritual aspirant from the gross to the subtle and to ever
subtler realms. This principle is the distinctive characteristic
of Eastern wisdom. Thought and things, form and matter, are
interrelated, and it is believed that "as is a person's
faith so does he become". Swami Vivekananda also concluded
that in "the Upanishads meditation on Brahman was thus
harmonized and identified with life and as a result the whole
of life became transformed into one single meditation."
the matter is understood thus, the bearings of sadhana on
philosophical thinking are just the opposite of destruction.
Sadhana does not really destroy philosophical enterprise but
transforms the latter into a higher intuitive experience,
thereby saving it from committing suicide. "This intuitive
experience", from the Advaitic standpoint, "is the
real test or criterion that tattva-jñana or
real philosophical knowledge has been attained." In this
way, the Advaitic sadhana can be regarded as the culmination
of all philosophizing.
and Spirituality Harmonized
is no point in thinking things just for the sake of an intellectual
adventure. Neither in the East nor in the West has philosophical
thinking been a thoroughly rational venture. Great philosophies
have not originated and developed simply as a rational response
to Reality. A philosopher penetratingly perceives a fault
line in the factuality, which gives rise to an intellectual
upheaval within him. A philosopher's dissatisfaction with
actualities prompts him or her to think upon things deeply.
That is why Swamiji not only admired the wisdom and compassion
of Buddha, but also regarded him as the sanest philosopher
the world has ever witnessed. It is no accident that Buddha's
Noble Eightfold Path begins with the "right outlook"
and culminates in the "right concentration".
Advaita philosophy is basically rooted in our spiritual urge,
one should not regard the philosophical thinking ingrained
in it as trivial. Different schools of Indian philosophy accord
importance to reason and spirituality in varying degrees.
For instance, compared to the Nyaya school, the Yoga school
has much to say on meditation and sadhana. Does this mean
that the Yoga school has no philosophical position at all?
It is, in fact, quite natural that these elements vary considerably
from one philosophy to another.
the contention that the Advaitin does not follow the proper
way of presenting philosophy due to his or her preoccupation
with sadhana, it can be argued that many of the great philosophers
of the West - like Socrates, Plato, Plotinus, St Augustine,
St Aquinas, Spinoza, and Kant, to mention a few - did also
present in their systems forms of spiritual disciplines much
akin to sadhana. The translation of the word "sadhana"
in the Western tradition is "contemplation", which
has an obvious religiospiritual connotation. Contemplation
has also been viewed there in the Advaitic spirit: "Knowledge
consisting in the partial or complete identification of the
knower with the object of knowledge with the consequent loss
of his own individuality." Contemplation is thus considered
in the Western tradition as "the highest stage of knowledge"
(ibid.), well above cognition and meditation.
can now understand why Bertrand Russell, in spite of all his
advocacy of a logical and scientific line of thought, begins
his History of Western Philosophy by saying:
The conceptions of life and the world which we call "philosophical"
are a product of two factors: one, inherited religious and
ethical conceptions; the other, the sort of investigation
which may be called "scientific", using this word
in its broadest sense. Individual philosophers have differed
widely in regard to the proportions in which these two factors
entered into their systems, but it is the presence of both,
in some degree, that characterizes philosophy.
points out further that in Plato, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas,
Descartes, Spinoza and Leibnitz there is an intimate blending
of religion and reasoning (45).
noteworthy is the fact that Russell qualified his "history
of philosophy" with the adjective "Western",
suggesting that there are philosophies other than Western.
But other historians have mostly omitted nonWestern philosophies.
Will Durant rightly says: "The worst sin of all - though
the critics do not seem to have noticed it - was the omission
of Chinese and Hindu philosophy."
philosophical position has a certain intellectual content
as well as some practical functions. The former makes it more
or less academic, whereas the latter concerns life's urges
and ideals. These two factors may be found in varying degrees
in particular philosophies, but neither of them can be totally
absent. Accordingly, Advaita Vedanta too has an intellectual
content that adds an academic or pedagogical side to it, commonly
known as "Advaita siddhanta". That is why
India has a rich and hoary tradition of Advaita teachings.
What an Advaitin transmits is not one's intuitive experience
in the original, for this sui generis experience cannot
be transmitted as such. However, Advaitins do have a philosophical
position, siddhanta, with regard to ordinary and spiritual
experiences. They defend and transmit it by making significant
use of logic and language. Their insights into Reality are,
in a sense, sustainable by reason. William James says: "In
spite of all their repudiation of articulate selfdescription,
mystical states in general assert a pretty distinct theoretic
drift. It is possible to give the outcome of the majority
of them in terms that point in definite philosophical directions.
One of these directions is optimism, and the other is monism."
mystical experience can be subject to human understanding
in a telling manner. When an Advaitin says that mystical experiences
cannot be explained through language, one does not simply
take leave of reason. One is not afraid to go beyond logic
and reason because one knows intuitively that the Reality
transcends rational thinking. The approach one adopts in realizing
the ultimate Reality is not nonrational but transrational.
An Advaitin's way of life and thought show that all reasoned
positions are meant for people still engrossed in the workaday
world. Life's ideal is the realization of one's Self, which
is identical with the ultimate Reality. This Advaitic realization
is achievable only after all circumscribed views are transcended.
Advaita as a philosophical position satisfies both the rational
and religious striving of humankind. In the Advaitic way of
life and thought theory and sadhana are not antithetical but
devoid of rational thinking amounts to what Wittgenstein calls
"private language". It does not seem to serve our
philosophical purpose at all, however useful it might be in
Selfrealization. The higher intuitive experience occurring
in sadhana is, as was stated above, of a sui generis
character, cannot be expressed through language; it is ineffable
and cannot be captured in any conceptual framework. Yet in
the philosophical position adopted by Advaitins we have, somehow,
an inkling of the Truth thus realized. The Advaitins have
not actually transmitted their intuitive experience of the
ultimate Truth for the simple reason that such an experience,
by its very nature, cannot be transmitted - "what they
transmitted were their views, their systems of thought."
too, in its turn, calls for a tinge of sadhanain order to
be authentic. Philosophy without actualization results in
nothing but sham and hypocrisy. Mere rational knowledge is
of little value if it does not lead one to the realization
of Reality. The process of thinking can never be free from
contemplation. Whenever we are set to think something deep
and thorough, we need first of all to be steadfastly concentrated.
Thus a philosopher can very well be a contemplative. Besides,
ethical preparation is equally important for Selfrealization.
Our thoughts are often motivated by egoistic desires. The
Katha Upanishad teaches: "One who has not desisted
from bad conduct, whose senses are not under control, whose
mind is not concentrated, whose mind is not free from anxiety,
cannot attain this Atman through knowledge." Sadhana
is an advanced course in pursuit of spiritual wisdom marked
by discipline and austerity.
makes similar demands on us as its true practitioners. In
the West there have also appeared certain profound thinkers
who can justly be called "philosophersadhakas".
Socrates was clearly one of them, and so were Plato, St Augustine,
Spinoza, Kant, and others. In his Republic, Plato has
summed up certain marks of the philosophic disposition: An
earnest desire to know the real, a strong dislike for falsehood,
contempt for bodily pleasures, indifference to money, highmindedness,
an immediate apprehension and a harmonious disposition. If
the true philosophic disposition is marked by such features,
then it is obviously very close and conducive to Advaita sadhana.