Causal Objection by Stephen H. Phillips, U. of Texas Philosophy East & West Vol 51, Number 4 2001 492-506 Abstract: The great Advaita Vedantin Sankara puts forth a mystic parallelism thesis that is identified and examined here: mystical and sensory experiences are epistemically parallel. Among the conclusions drawn are that the Advaita metaphysics precludes successful defense of a Brahman-centered philosophy on the basis of such a thesis because Advaita precludes a story about how the experience of its Brahman could arise. Thus Sankara needs "scripture" (sruti) to secure important parts of his view. A truly mystical Vedanta, in contrast, would not.
Sankara's parallelism of Brahman experience to sensory knowledge. Brahman is as an experiential object (visaya) something preexistent. Brahman preexists and mystical discovery parallel to the way sensory objects preexist sensory experience.
Sankara's commetary on Brahma-sutra 1.1.2 says that "experience," anubhava - meaning mystical experience, or in this case actual brahma-vidyā, "Brahman-knowledge," "immediate Brahman-experience," in the gloss of the commentators, brahma-sāksātkāra - is an epistemic foundation (pramāna) for Brahman-inquiry or Brahman-philosophy.
The truth or veridicality of veridical cognitions is dependent on the things they indicate, Sankara says. It is Brahman that makes a mystical Brahman-knowledge true or veridical, just as a preexistent pot makes the perceptual cognition "A pot" true or veridical.
Sankara also asserts that the teaching of the Upanisads is independently authoritative for the Brahman thesis, after the fashion of Mimāmsā But here, too, an at least quasi-mystical interpretation is at hand, in that "scripture," sruti (literally, "what has been heard"), is commonly held - and within Mimāsā as well as Vedanta - to be heard only by those who are mystics (or rsis (rishi) "seer-poets".
...perceptual knowledge has been held to be analyzable - by so-called externalists, both in India and in the West - in causal terms. But Advaita can tell no causal story about Brahman's reality giving rise to Brahman-knowledge, although we see from the quotations from Sankara above that his talk of a pre-existent Brahman and conditions of experience direct us to think about the mystical summum bonum in that way.
At this point we have to look again at Advaita's Brahman thesis, which I presented as dividing into a psychological part and a part that is ontological and cosmological. For the Advatin has a pretty good response available to the charge of causal disanalogy so long as she restricts herself to the psychological part of her view. Brahman-awareness is unlike sensory awareness, she says, in that Brahman-awareness is self-illuminating, nondual, an intransitive awareness, a state of consciousness, not a "consciousness-of," or, if transitive, a consciousness-of where the subject and object are the same. We have to remember that the parallelism thesis is an analogy, she could tell us, with the analogues differing in respect to subject/object identity. Nondual self-awareness is awareness that knows itself by being itself, where if one insists on causal language one would say, metaphorically) that it is its own cause. In sensory knowledge, in contrast, the perceiver and the perceived are distinct. Personally, I find this intelligible especially through reference to meditation, where if one is not thinking one becomes aware of being aware somehow very directly, and I think that something like that is what the Advaitin means. However, the cosmological and ontological portions of the Brahman thesis, the attributes of Brahman other than self-awareness, are not similarly defensible.
Even the small group of the earliest Upanisads, present diverse formulations of Brahman's nature and relation to the universe. Sankara's understanding of scripture is hardly the only way to understand these Upanisads, as is proved by the very existence of rival Vedānta philosophies, not to mention modern "archaeological" readings that do not presume the texts' sacredness.
But the Upanishads according to Sankara teach not dharma but knowledge of Brahman, which is dependent on Brahman as a preexistent reality, not on what people do. To be sure, there are conditions that are human prerequisites. But Brahman exists independently of human knowlwedge or mystical awareness, just as it transcends human action. The crucial Upanisadic sentences are descriptions, not injunctions or explanations of injunctions, since, like the objects of sensory perception, Brahman preexists such practices.
...to what is inquiry into Brahman consequent? Sankara's answer is a list of human qualifications - requirements of a mystic path -as the relation's prior term. But before giving this answer, he considers and rejects a Mimāmsaka-friendly proposal, to wit, that inquiry into Brahman is consequent to understanding the sacrifices and other acts of religious duty or dharma that Mimāmsakas see as part of their general perquisite (as learned Brāhmins) to teach. Sankara is denying this view that understanding dharma is a precondition for brahma-vidyā
But Sankara asserts a person has to fulfill difficult yogic requirements before the reality of Brahman can give rise to brahma-vidyā
Sankara does not have the speculative leeway to be fully mystically empiricist, because the ontological and cosmological attributes of Brahman are, for him, provided by sruti.
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