Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sankaradeva’s Philosophy: A Bare Introduction



Sankaradeva’s philosophy is a very real philosophy. By ‘real’ we mean that, here, neither the world is figmental nor is the embodied personality, a mere emergent phenomenon. Both are real. But, there is discussion on the nature of this reality—specifically on what constitutes the essential nature of the entities (tattva) known as unconscious (jada) and conscious (caitanya).  The entities of the jada category are found to be wholly material; the caitanya is purely spiritual. And this difference between them is critical. It determines worship in Sankaradeva. 

There is a search for the supreme entity. This entity is Isvara (God, the Lord). He is caitanya. He is termed as the supreme truth (satya). He is pure personality (purusa). The living beings (jiva) are also, in truth, pure personalities. They are entities in their own right, only they are not the supreme entity. The jivas, it may be mentioned here, although subject to affective influences, have a lot of free will and they can put this free will to whatever use they want. In fact, one of the main reasons behind the troubles of the jiva is that he puts his free will to bad use.  

It is only God, the supreme entity, who is the cause of the world. ‘World’ here refers to the entire material creation and not merely the earth (or even the universe). Perhaps ‘cosmos’ would be a better word than ‘world’ to serve as the analog for the jagat of the text which is also conceptualized as some sort of a ‘cosmic egg’ or, in more literal terms, ‘the egg formed by the supreme spirit’ (brahmanda). We have elaborate passages in the Bhagavata, particularly in the third book—and these are taken up for rendering by Sankaradeva and his community of renderers—, dealing specifically with the creation of this ‘cosmic egg.’ There is a process of material evolution there which would surely appear interesting to the members of the scientific community. What makes the study of this process more exciting is that it seems to have striking microcosmic, i.e. embryological, linkages. 

God is the initiator of this process of material evolution that rolls out to make the creation. The aim of this study is to make the learner aware of the nature of his surrounding reality—both internal as well as external. It is to awaken in him the realization that it is only the entities of the unconscious, jada category that are subject to this evolution and that, being spiritual, he is not subject to such an evolution at all. This paves the way for pure devotion to God, the head of the spiritual family. Naturally, one has to stop emulating the material units and take charge of the microcosm as a spiritual personality.

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