ADVAITA SAMKHYA
Three Realities

The Doctrine of Nonexistence

[Whiteboard]
Figure 13.1: The Five Doctrines of Advaita Samkhya

The Five Doctrines

Philosophies expound their view of reality through their doctrines.  In Advaita Samkhya, there are five such doctrines.  They progressively explain the nature of reality.  Unlike Dvaita Samkhya, Advaita Samkhya begins with the doctrine of nonexistence (shunyavada). [1]

The Empty Origin

The doctrine of nonexistence states that the unqualified source (nirguna brahman) is the infinite point of origin (ananta muladesha).  The term “nirguna” consists of “without” (nis) and “quality” (guna) and means “unqualified.”   It’s synonymous with “emptiness” (shunyata) and “isolation” (kaivalya).  They refer to the background void (shunya) within which everything arises.

The Doctrine of Preexistence

[Whiteboard]
Figure 13.2: The Five Doctrines of Advaita Samkhya
[Levels of Being]
Figure 14: Three Levels of Being

Levels of Being

The subsequent theory (corollary) of the doctrine of nonexistence is the doctrine of preexistence (satkaryavada). [2]  It states that the effect (karya) preexists as primary causes, or seeds (bijas), within the origin (mula).  They’re neither created nor destroyed but transition through the states of existence.  Hence, the doctrine implies different levels of being. [3]  Each of which corresponds to a conjugation of the Sanskrit verb “to be” (as).

  1. The origin is seedless nonexistence (nirbija asat).
  2. Its seeds are undifferentiated, unmanifest potential existence (nirvikalpa, avyakta syat).
  3. Their effect is differentiated, manifest existence (savikalpa, vyakta sat).

Ground of Existence

In this context, nonexistence isn’t the opposite of existence.  Rather, it’s the ground of existence.  To explain, the word “existence” is derived from the Latin “come into being” (existere). [4]  This indicates that something has transitioned from nonexistence to existence.  Of course, things don’t arise directly from nonexistence.  But they do arise indirectly through potential existence.

Levels of Reality

[Levels of Reality]
Figure 15: Three Realities

Advaita Samkhya posits three truths, or realities (satya traya) [5].  They correspond to the levels of being found in the doctrine of preexistence (satkaryavada) [2].

  1. The origin (mula) is the absolute reality (paramarthika satya).
  2. Its seeds (bijas) are the primary reality (pradhanika satya).
  3. Their effect (karya) is the transactional reality (vyavaharika satya).

Of the three realities, the absolute reality is the only reality.  However, the other two realities aren’t separate from it.  Just as waves aren’t separate from the ocean.  So, they’re not falsity (mithya).  The transactional reality is contained within the primary reality, which in turn, is contained within the absolute reality.  This threefold scheme is necessary to accurately describe our experience of life.

Levels of Self

[Levels of Self]
Figure 16: Three Levels of Self

The three selves (atma traya) [6] correspond to the three realities (satya traya) [5].

  1. The supreme self (paramatman) is the empty self (shunyatman), devoid of all qualities (nirguna).  It’s the absolute reality (paramarthika satya). 
  2. The thread-self (sutratman) is the “the soul which passes like a thread through the universe.” [7]  It’s the primary reality (pradhanika satya). 
  3. The living self (jivatman) is the transmigrating swan (samsarana hamsa).  It’s the transactional reality (vyavaharika satya).

Types of Theism

[Types of Theism]
Figure 17: Three Types of Theism

Theism is the belief in a deity or deities.  In Advaita Samkhya, all is the source (brahman). [8]  So, the question arises, “Is the source a deity?”  This must be addressed according to the three realities (satya traya) [5].

  1. The absolute reality (paramarthika satya) is the unqualified source (nirguna brahman). [9]  This is seedless nonexistence (nirbija asat). [3]  It has no direct relationship with manifestation.  At this level, the source cannot be viewed as a deity because the necessary qualities (gunas) are concealed.
  2. The primary reality (pradhanika satya) is the threefold source (triguna brahman). [9]  However, its three aspects are united (samyukta) and only appear separate during manifestation.  This is undifferentiated, unmanifest potential existence (nirvikalpa, avyakta syat). [3]  At this level, the source could be viewed as a singular transcendent deity.
  3. The transactional reality (vyavaharika satya) is the sevenfold source (saptaguna brahman). [9]  This is differentiated, manifest existence (savikalpa, vyakta sat). [3]  It’s the domain of the living beings (jivas).  At this level, the source could be viewed as an immanent pantheon of deities (devas).

In summary, the absolute reality is neither transcendent nor immanent.  In this sense, Advaita Samkhya is nontheistic.  Except it includes a transcendent, primary reality, making it subsequently monotheistic.  Furthermore, it includes an immanent, transactional reality, making it subsequently pantheistic.  This nested hierarchy of nontheism, monotheism, and pantheism is a type of panentheism.  Thus, Advaita Samkhya appeals to a wide audience.

References

  1. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 3.1.
  2. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 3.3.
  3. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 3.4.
  4. Oxford Languages. (n.d.). “existence”. Oxford Languages Dictionary. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2020. https://www.google.com/search?&q=existence+definition.
  5. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 3.5.
  6. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 3.6.
  7. Monier-Williams, M. (1899). “sutratman”. Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary. https://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/2020/web/webtc/indexcaller.php?input=itrans&citation=sUtrAtman.
  8. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 7.1.
  9. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 4.19.