Why should we seek to become the bráhman, since the Veda states that we already are?
The revealed words, which later, after many centuries of oral tradition, became Scripture, seem to carry within them profound contradictions.
For example, the Veda affirms that, in brâhman, being and thinking are one, absolutely one.
How can there be then, on the one hand, very real and well hidden, the bráhman, absolutely one, being and thought, and on the other hand, in the world, men, who are also thinking, conscious beings, and who think of themselves as individual, finite, separate beings?
Let’s be logical.
Either men are not really bráhman or they arei.
If men are not really bráhman, then what are they, since everything is in bráhman, and everything is bráhman? Are they only an illusion, or even just nothing, a mere nothingness?
If they really are bráhman, then why do they think of themselves as individuals and as separate from it/her? Or even, why do they think of themselves as the only existing and thinking ones, the bráhman her- or itself being in their eyes only an illusion…
Shouldn’t their thought and being be ‘naturally’ united with the thought and being of the bráhman because it/she is absolutely one?
If being and thinking are part of the essence of the bráhman, how is it that thinking beings, conscious beings, can so easily doubt that they are already, in some way, bráhman?
For it is a common observation. The individual soul (jīva) feels a thousand miles away from being bráhman because she is overwhelmed by her obvious narrowness, by her limits. She is suffocated by the consciousness of the determinations (upādhi) that she undergoes, by her incarnation in a body.
If one adopts the path, particularly developed by Śaṅkaraii, of the identity of the self (of man) and of the Self (of bráhman), then one must conclude that these limits, these narrownesses, these determinations are only illusion, they are only « names and forms projected in it by nescience » (avidyā–pratyupasthāpita nāma-rūpa).
Nescience is what best defines the human condition. Man, who is supposed to be bráhman, does not even suspect it, and his conscience is in full confusion. All planes (reality, illusion, names, forms) are superimposed. This superposition (adhyāsa) seems innate, natural, consubstantial.
Where does this metaphysical illusion, this confusion come from?
Could it have been deposited in man from the very beginning, by the Creator?
But then, why this deliberate deception, and to what end?
Another hypothesis: if the Creator is not at the origin of this illusion, this confusion, this ignorance, would they come from an even deeper source?
If the Creator is not responsible for them, it is because they are already there, came before Him, and are immanent, and present not only in creation, but also in Him.
What? How could bráhman be in such ignorance, such confusion, even partial? Isn’t It/He/She supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient?
It is however a path of reflection that must necessarily be considered if we want to exempt bráhman from having deliberately created confusion and ignorance in its/her/his Creation…
You have to face the alternative.
« Indeed, either the bráhman would be ‘affected’ by nescience, in the sense that the individual living being is affected, and it/she would then become a kind of super-jīva, the Great Ignorant, the Great Suffering and the Great Transmigrant. Or it/she would not be fooled by its/her own māyā, which it/she would use above all as an instrument to create, abuse and torment souls, which would then be like toys or puppets in its/her hands. »iii
This alternative led, from the 10th century onwards, to the creation of two schools of thought, the « school of Bhāmati » and the « school of Vivaraṇa ». Both are in the tradition of Śaṅkara and advocate respectively the idea that nescience is « rooted in the living individual » (jīvāśritā), or that the notion of nescience is « rooted in bráhman » (brahmāśritā).
Who is the bearer of nescience? Man or bráhman?
In fact we don’t know. Nobody decides. And speculation in this respect seems futile.
A famous formula sums up this vanity: sad-asad-anirvacanīyā, « impossible to determine (अनिर्वचनीय anirvacanīyā), either as existing (sad) or as non-existent (asad)« .
This idea that there is something inexplicable often comes up.
So is the illusion, māyā, real or not?
Answer: « It is neither real nor unreal. Since the world appears, māyā is not unreal. But since māyā is contradicted by the knowledge of the Self, it is not real either.
So what is she? As she cannot be both real and non-real, she is inexplicable, indeterminable, anirvacanīyā. iv
What is inexplicable, we must not stop there. It must be transcended. We must go higher.
If the body, the mind, the life itself are māyā, one must seek liberation (mokṣa), to reach the eternal nature of the Self.
» ‘The Self (ātman), who is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from suffering, free from hunger and thirst, whose desires are reality, whose intentions are reality, – it is He whom one should seek, He whom one should desire to understand. He obtains all the worlds and all the desires, the one who discovers the Self and understands it’, thus spoke Prajāpati. »v
But how do you do it in practice?
It is enough to be perplexed, enough to get lost…
« From this Self we can only say ‘neither… nor…’. It is elusive because it cannot be grasped. »vi
« This Self is neither this nor that. »vii
« Neither… nor… » neti neti, नेति .
We don’t know what this Self is, but we know that this Self, – we are it.
« This is the Self, This you are. »viii
Famous formula, – one of the « great words », with « I am bráhman » ix.
You are the Self. You are That.
In its context: « It is what is the fine essence (aṇiman), the whole has it as its essence (etad-ātmaka), it is reality, it is the Self (ātman). You are that (tat tvam asi), Ṡvetaku. » x
You are That, and nothing else.
« But if someone worships another deity, thinking, ‘He is one, I am another,’ he doesn’t know. Like cattle, he is for the gods. » xi
This Vedic formula is reminiscent of that of the Psalmist: « Man in his luxury does not understand, he is like dumb cattle. »xii
But the nuance is a bit different. In the psalm, the mutity (of man) stems from his lack of understanding. In the Upaniṣad, the lack of knowledge (of man) leads to mutity (of the gods).
The logic of the absolute identity of the self and the Self leads us to ask the question again, in crude terms: What does the idea of the nescience of bráhman imply?
Could it be that its/her omniscience is fundamentally limited, for example to what has been, and to what is, leaving the space of possibilities wide open?
Could it be that Creation, still in the process of unfolding, has an essential role in the emergence of a future knowledge, not yet happened, not yet known?
Could it be that the great narrative of Cosmogenesis can only be understood by putting it in parallel with the development of a Psychogenesis (of the world)?
From another angle :
Does the Supreme Lord (parameśvara) use māyā as an instrument to unfold the universe, while remaining hidden, in His own order, in His own kingdom?
Or would He be the (sacrificial) « victim » of His own māyā?
Or, yet another hypothesis, would He be the « architect » of a māyā that would cover at the same time man, the world and Himself?
Would He have deliberately planned, as an essential condition of the great cosmo-theandric psychodrama, His own letting go?
In this case, would the determinations, names and forms (upādhi and nāma-rūpa) that are imposed on men and living beings have similar forms for bráhman?
For example, would His ‘clemency’, His ‘rigor’, His ‘intelligence’, His ‘wisdom’, which are all ‘names’ or ‘attributes’ of the supreme divinity (I am quoting here names and attributes which are found in Judaism) be the nāma-rūpa of bráhman?
Names and forms (nāma-rūpa) are supposed to be contained in bráhman like a block of clay that contains the infinity of shapes that the potter can draw from it.
There would therefore be names and forms in the latent state, and names and forms in the manifest state.
But why this radical difference?
In other words, what animates the ‘potter’? Why does he model this particular vase and not another one?
Does he make his choices freely, and just by chance?
And by the way, who is this potter? The bráhman? Or only one of its/her forms (rūpa)?
No. The bráhman created ‘in Herself’, – in Hebrew it sounds like: אַךְ בָּך, akh bakhxiii , the possibility of a Potter, and the power of Clay. Why is this? Because She does not yet know who She will be, nor what She would like to become?
Being « everything », She is infinitely powerful, but in order for acts to emerge from this infinite Power, a seed, a will is still needed. Where would this seed, this will come from?
Every will comes from a desire, which reveals a lack, Schopenhauer taught us.xiv
The bráhman is everything, so what is It/She missing?
The only logical possibility that is left : the bráhman is missing « missing ».
It/She lacks desire.
In fact, one of Its/Her names is akāma, « without desire ».
« In It/Her », there is therefore this lack, this absence of desire, because It/She is fullness, because It/She is already Everything.
But if the bráhman were only akāma, « without desire », then there would be nothing, no act, no will, no world, no man, nothing.
Indeed, we need to understand akāma in another way.
If It/She is a-kāma, « without desire », It/She is also « a- » , « without » (the privative a- in Sanskrit).
If It/She is « a- » or « without », it is because in It/Her there is a lack. A metaphysical lack.
It/She lacks Its/Her own lack.
Lacking of a lack, It/She desires to desire, It/She wishes to desire.
In It/She comes the desire, the will, wherever It/She is a-, wherever It/She is « without », wherever It/She is « not »-this or « not »-that, neti neti.
The bráhman, confronted with the immanent presence, « in It/Her », of that « lack », of that « a- » , is then confronted with the apparent separation of Its/Her being (sat) and Its/Her thought (cit).
In philosophical terms, « thought » finds in front of itself « being », a « being » in its raw state.
This raw being, which is not « thought », which is « unthought » (a-cit), having no or no more internal unity, fragments, dissolves, incarnates itself in an unlimited diversity of bodies.
These fragments of the being of the bráhman are like pieces of a hologram. Each one of them is the Whole, but less well defined, more blurred. But also, coming from the unlimited bráhman, each of them has its own unlimited power.
Thought does not divide, it augments, it multiplies itself, it generates.
Thoughts are alive. They are not like the inert pieces of a broken pot, but like the begotten children of living beings.
On the same question, Śaṅkara proposes yet another idea, that of gambling.
As happens in the life of an idle King, the Supreme Lord was able to create His Creation by play (līlā).
But this metaphor still brings us back to lack. The bráhman is the only reality, but this reality possesses an emptiness, an idleness, – hence some room to play.
It is necessary to reinterpret the essential unity of the bráhman and the living man (jīva), the unity of the Supreme Self and the Incarnate Self. It is the unity resulting from fullness and lack.
The incarnate self acts and suffers. The supreme Self is beyond « evil » and beyond « the other », – beyond any Other, therefore, but It is not beyond its own lack of lack.
The Self is creator, omniscient, omnipotent, in relation to all that was, and all that is, in act. But He is not omnipotent in relation to what is in potency, to all that will be or might be, and to all that will exist only because it is already and will continue to be part of His own lack, and of the desire that this lack will create. This lack, this desire, yet to come, will be like a means for the bráhman to surpass itself/herself, to surpass its/her own infinity.
The bráhman is like « a block of salt is, without interior or exterior, it is only a whole block of flavor (eka rasa). So is this Self (ātman), without interior or exterior, it is only a whole block of knowledge ».xv
It is a new confirmation. The bráhman is here three times « without ». Without interior. Without exterior. Without any taste other than the taste of salt alone.
It is a sad and dry infinity, frankly, deep down, that of an infinite block of salt.
In addition, the infinite thirst that such an infinite block of salt may generate, is obviously still missing here.
iThere may be other assumptions as well. After considering the impossibility of deciding on this first alternative, a third way will have to be considered, the one that man is the potential bráhman but not the actual bráhman. Conversely, the bráhman is also in potency, and in this potency he is man.
iiŚaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings. Transl. by Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013
iiiMichel Hulin. Śaṅkara and non-duality. Ed. Bayard. Paris, 2001, p.92
ivŚaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings.Transl. by Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013, p.30
vChāndogya-upaniṣad 8.7.1. Translation in French by Alyette Degrâces (adapted and modified by myself in English) . Ed. Fayard. 2014, p. 199
viBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 3.9.26 and 4.5.15. Transl. by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p. 275 and p. 298.
viiBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 3.9.26 cited by Śaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings. Trad. Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013, p. 39.
viiiChāndogya-upaniṣad 6.8.7 cited by Śaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings. Trad. Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013, p. 47.
xChāndogya-upaniṣad 8.6.7. Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p. 176
xiBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 1.4.10. Transl. by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p.233
xivCf. A. Schopenhauer. The world as will and representation.
xvBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 4.5.13. Transl. by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p.298