DR.MOHAMMAD MAROOF SHAH
So many misunderstandings about religions and philosophies of Indian subcontinent continue down to this day despite the protests and clarifications of stalwart scholars including AKC. Original understanding of key doctrines as received and preserved by the community of faithful and great sages/Masters of traditions is not easy to access in popular fora or literature. This applies to major religions and esoteric currents in dialogue here. Rare it is to get to know first order Sufi metaphysicians who would explain the scripture or traditional canon in comprehensive sense that would satisfy the brightest and the subtlest minds. The same applies to Vedanta and other traditions that have thrived in the Indian subcontinent. Transposing key terms like Atman, Brahman, jnan in Sufi soil ( Absolute/Reality/Haqq centric irfan oriented endeavor) one may better appreciate the point that the following discussion in the context of a modern classic on ancient wisdom should interest all and the sundry from any religious or philosophical background.
Does Vedanta demand we need to perceive something to qualify as aarif or jnani? Does it require from us the experience of a particular state called Samadhi as a qualification for liberation? Does it demand a secret adventure into the higher worlds or states of consciousness as a prerequisite for entering into the Kingdom of God or final beatitude? I think the answer to all these questions is no. The only thing that is clearly needed from us is receptivity or passivity towards the real which in turn demands transcendence of egoistic attachments or possessive mentality or object directed consciousness and thus sense of agency or doership. When one achieves such innocence all distinctions dissolve, Maya becomes Brahman, subject becomes object or knowing becomes being. The duality of appearance and reality or world and the Beyond gets transcended and we land in what Rumi calls “placeless place” or “trackless track” and just are in pristine repose of be-ing with all hopes, dreams, aspirations, objects coming to nought. Our little world gets rounded off with a sleep, with a death of our choosing so that there can be no new death as future or re-birth has no meaning now, for a supremely innocent self that is content to be nothing, to drop off from the temporality of rounds of rebirths. Again, we have seen, that we are not invited into explorations in the unknown through torturing the body or the mind but only to let ourselves be usurped by ever new revelation of the real without imposing any demand from our side. As the pure subject term I comes to rest in itself rejecting the temptation to project outwards, rejecting the need to posit, possess and move towards objects, the world there, This becomes That or Aham Brahmsi (Sufi Hallajian Ana’l Haq) is realized. As Som Raj Gupta phrases it in his monumental commentary on Sankara’s exegetical work The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man:
The unmanifest is the Brahman of thought and the manifest is the maya of thought. When they become one to the man of calm, they get, so to say, transformed into Brahman. When the wise man sees no difference between Samadhi and the wakeful state, Brahman and the world, then alone does he become the knower of Brahman. As long as he prefers one to the other, death will not fail to make him its victim .
Gupta further elaborates:
It is only when the manifest and the unmanifest reveal themselves as one that reality is reached. Reality is to be seen not only in this state but also in the world. Heaven is not to be perceived in heaven alone but also in hell and what comes between the two… One has to find knowledge in ignorance itself. For in truth there is no difference between the two and between their respective correlates, Brahman and maya.
Who is qualified to be Veda-vit or have jnana? Attention to this question will further illuminate the logic of the Beyond in Advaita Vedanta or Sankara and show that hankering for the greener pastures of the Beyond is a disqualification. One must consent to be nothing. Humility is the royal road but as long as one thinks that one is going to achieve something for the self by means of humility one is deluded. This point is admirably made by Otto in his classic study on Sankar and Eckhart. Gupta building directly on primary sources elaborates similar point in his pithy manner:
Jnana means samatvtam, equality between the manifest and the unmanifest, between bondage and release, between Samadhi and mundane life, between God the world. Brahman is not an object to be attained to. It is only samata, equality. You attain the world and the abyss; you lose the world and the abyss. When their attainment and loss become one for you, then you become Brahman. Then alone are you free.
Man must not seek eternity or immortality supposed to be in the Beyond. One must look alike at the mortal life and the immortal bliss to attain real immortality. One must consent to be thoroughly impoverished and thus relinquish everything, worldly or heavenly and this demands death before dying, a prescription for travelers on the path that we find advocated across traditions. “For the already dead alone there is no more death. He who seeks the eternal, the abyss, will not escape death.” “The reality that is sought in the reality as yajna, as mortality. Man is to live as mortal, as the constant giver, and die as the giver. To die constantly and to die for ever as consciousness of death is immortality. That is the truth that the Upanisad prays for as Gupta repeatedly emphasizes. The Isa Upanisad’s dictum exhorting one to remember what one did at the time of death is brilliantly interpreted by Gupta in the following words.
All our life our actions conceal us from ourselves. To remember our actions at the time of death will expose the hollowness of our actions, their futility against the inevitability of our ultimate undoing. This kind of remembrance liberates us from the bondage of doership and its illusions. He who has liberated himself from doership alone comes to terms with the truth of our mortality- only he can die into immortality, for, to repeat the point already made, immortality is nothing else than genuine acceptance of mortality.
Transcendentalism leaves us with an unhappy consciousness to accomplish something, to move from the world to the Beyond by various means. “For the seer of oneness, of samatvam, sameness, and for the seer of sameness there remains no desire to fulfill, no action to do, no destination to arrive at, no purpose to accomplish. He is a kratakrryta, one who has done all that was to be done.” Ashtavakra in lesser known classic Ashtavakra Gita is emphatic on the point that he has no purpose to accomplish and no unfinished job.
Vedanta pleads for transcending the dualism of stasis and ekstasis. Ekstasis is always haunted by what it leaves behind, the world of the inert and the active, earth and the middle region. In Gupta’s words:
For transcendence is always informed by from, it can’t leave it behind. Activity is the tension between the arche and the telos, transcendence is the movement from one to the other. They are dualities, only the inert earth is being- in- itself, is death- in- itself. The nonduality of Brahman is , of course, altogether different; Brahman doesn’t exclude the other. It includes the other. Brahman-knowledge dawns on man when all becomes his own Self.
Search for transcendence is not the search for unknown, for a reality that is accessible to a few only. As Gupta explains both known and unknown must be discarded, both knowledge and ignorance must be transcended as they are opposites and not one. It is only in absolute receptivity or innocence that one is truly available for reality to find it, to usurp it. And this alone constitutes salvation for Upanisads and Sankara.
The question is in relation to what does what is the world designated as unreal or less real. The simple answer is the World as experienced by the enlightened and called Brahman. Since experience of “transcendence” is also an experience in the world and experiencing it entitles one to judge other experiences it should be clear that there is no such thing as positing an abstraction, a world of forms beyond the experiencing subject.
The thesis of the abstract Beyond in Vedantic context is superfluous from another point of view which states that the Self is the knownest of the known, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear. There can be no possibility of doubt with respect to God according to the Quran. Now when we say the Beyond one thinks of something that could possibly be questioned. However if Brahman can’t be doubted when understood as the essence of everything, as depredicated reality or isness how do we understand the difference between faith and disbelief? Again the question loses its significance in all transcending Totality of Nonduality. There is no distinction between knowledge and ignorance; the very distinction is a product of ignorance. As Ramakishna has stated: “There is another state in which God reveals to His devotee that Brahman is beyond both and knowledge and ignorance. Who so sees Me, transcends speech and silence.” Nietzsche probably wished to drive home the same point by asserting the need of freedom from slavery of truth and liberation from the need to get liberated and being true to life lived in gay abandon or here and now and guarding against abstractions or binarism of this world and otherworld.
Dr. Mohammad Maroof Shah is an author and Columnist, interested in the the interface of philosophy, literature, religion and mysticism