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Sunday, March 21, 2021

Adi Sankara and C S Lewis - comparison of their concepts

 It is surprising that so many people know Aristotle but not Adi Sankara. Adi Sankara’s intellectual prowess has to be experienced by reading his philosophical discussions. His devotional writings (hymns) are equally impressive particularly for its poetry. Even what little I have read is amazing.

In our relationship to this world and cosmos, Adi Sankara asks us to jump from the world we experience through our sense perceptions to a different plane which requires intuitiveness,insight and faith. Logic cannot move us from the world of asat (not Real), tamas (ignorance) and mrtyu (death) to the world of sat (ultimate reality or truth), jyoti (light or knowledge) and amrita (non-death or bliss). We do not even know what that place is, because “ eyes cannot get there, nor can speech, nor mind”.

To Sankara, this world is real but “apparent real”, from one point of view. But from another spiritual cosmic point of view, it is not  “real” . It is a ‘”reflected real” like the same sun showing up in different pots of water. He used a special word called mithya, which is not the opposite of real, but an “apparent real”.

 Chandogya Upanishad says: “All this is Brahman”. Sankara said; “ brahman is the only real (satyam); the cosmos is mithya. Jivan is nothing but Brahman”. He said so because, everything exists on a base which is beyond and behind this cosmos. That constant is nirguna brahman. That is envisioned by our senses in  forms as saguna brahman, when individual life (jivan) comes into being. If there were no jivan to think about all this, cosmos will still exist.

For a jivan to reach the brahman, it must first comprehend the atman, which is the spiritual awareness factor in oneself and then jump to the Brahman. Sankara argues that atman (Self) is different from the mind because this Self (atman) understands several states of mind such as “I am sad, I am happy” etc., It is also common experience for all of us to feel “I know this” and “I do not know this”. Therefore, knowledge and absence of knowledge themselves are objects of knowledge of a “knower”. The Self of man (Atman) is that knower. Thinking cannot reveal Atman because the process of knowledge depends on a knower (Atman). Atman must be posited before knowledge. Atman is the “witness” and the light of the witness.

Now, I jump to a modern Christian scholar C.S.Lewis, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He taught at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He has written several books, most of them in support of his faith in Christianity. His most well-known book is The Chronicles of Narnia. In his book with the title Mere Christianity, he spends the first two chapters establishing that just as there are Natural Laws (for example, Laws of Gravity)  in the physical world there are Natural Laws in the moral sphere. It is amazing that his logic in establishing the existence of an unseen moral force is similar to that used by Vedic scholars and saints, notably Adi Sankara.

Just as there are physical laws of nature, there are laws of Human Nature. C S Lewis starts by stating that we all know that we cannot choose to disobey laws of physical nature. If we do, the results will be definite and disastrous. But we can choose to disobey laws of human nature, which deals with human behavior in relation to others, other lives. These laws relate to whether we behave decently towards others. Most normal people will know that they are disobeying decent norms of behavior when they actually do. That is why they will ask for an excuse (excuse me), or explain why they did what they did, get into an argument to show that they are on the right (which means they know what wrong is) or tell you that you are wrong. In other words, that person was aware of right and wrong.

Or take an example of a situation in which I could have helped you but did not, because if I did I would have gotten into difficulty.  In other words, I ought to have acted one way; but I did not. When I behave in a way I ought not to have, “something” tells me that I was wrong. That “moral” voice says that I should have overridden my selfish “inhibition” and done the morally right thing.

Where did this knowledge of moral principle of right and wrong come from and how? In C S Lewis’s words: “There is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of human behavior and yet quite real – a real law which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.” He then asks; “What is behind this?”

He answers as follows: “ Obviously there is a law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey”. This cannot be found by observation of facts alone. It is inside us. It influences us and commands us. It is shown in our behavior.

That unwritten origin of moral law of human nature, we know intuitively is a universal mind which is conscious and “has purpose and prefers one thing to another”. Though not exactly the same as the description of Atman by Adi Sankara, this definition of the moral force, which C S Lewis calls God is not much different.

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