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Yusmad-asmad relation

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Yuṣmad-asmad Relation as Starting Point in Philosphy

Čedomil Veljačić


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Dinka Pignon


It is often surprising to experience anew the revealing power of old classical texts of human wisdom and art. Sometimes, as soon as you open them, you get the impression of re-discovering some essential point which seems to have remained neglected in standard interpretations. Thus, for instance, the opening page of Aristotle's Metaphysics remains for me the most beautiful masterpiece of the Greek classical literary style, and beyond that, the text that follows in the first book of Metaphysics on the history of the pre-Socratic hylozoist philosophy, is still to day more revealing for my understanding than most of the later studies on the subject. What I find in the first book of Metaphysics and in Aristotle's book of Psychology, corresponds essentially, though in a less extensive and clear form, to the contents that I had to re-discover for myself as a student of Indian philosophy in the Chāndogya and Bṛhadāraṇ yaka upanisads on the same subject, outside of the great navigable stream of the mahāvākyāni, in the backwaters, so to say.

From the purely aesthetical point of view you may take it for granted and quite naturally, that such feelings of almost inexhaustible freshness can be inspired by old texts when we approach them in their integrity, not just in order to check a few references here and there, but without any pre-conceived purpose, as when you feel like going for a walk or a pleasure trip to a peculiar place. But we must take for granted also that the business-man in science—and there will always be a good deal of them in philosophy too, though at the moment their number seems slightly to decrease—the business-man will remark, with a certain right, that a good deal of such romantic dilettantism has to be ascribed to our own adventurist and imaginative mood alone. Here, among you, in India, I cannot pretend more than to be a dilettante and adventurous reader of such books as Śaṅkara-bhāṣya. You can therefore ask me: What do you imagine to be able to discover when you open the Brahma-sūtra Śaṅkara-bhāṣya? But should it not be enough for a philosopher to discover anywhere something of what he had imagined even before to be existing somewhere, or even to find an incentive for his own imagination in such a book?

What I wish to express in the continuation is an observation of this kind, an observation which, I presume, has not remained completely unnoticed before; yet it seems to acquire a particular importance of actuality for the view-point from which my generation of European philosophers approach the basic problem of philosophizing as a whole.

I am far from any attempt to interpret, or to re-interpret, Śaṅkarācārya whose system of thought I have not studied thoroughly enough but whose achievements I yet dare appreciate highly from what I know of and about it. I have translated into my mother-tongue (Yugoslav) Ātma-bodha and Upadeśa-saharsī. But the most striking impression that Śaṅkara's philosophy has made on me is contained in the first two terms of the long opening compositum of the Samavayādhyāya in his Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya. They are: Yuṣmad-asmad as determining the basic relation of viṣaya and viṣayin (or the subject-object relation determined by the terms You and I). When I read it for the first time it was enough to make me feel giddy, due to my immediate associations with European, mainly existentialist philosophies. Should we not have come a long time ago to the idea to try to replace Uddālaka's tad and Aristotle's tode-ti ("this-there", the abstract object) by yuṣmad, a personal and subjective "you", since this is very obviously the primordially most adequate reference to asmad (or "me" as subject). Nobody has as yet seriously doubted of it that the other, as the first correlate to myself, are you and not it.

Another point in the same connection is Śaṅkara's explanation that "nobody ever acts or is concerned with a mere body which is not superimposed by the notion of the self" (anadhyast ātman-bhāvena dehena) and the immediately following interpretation of the psychological state in which a person "does not differ from animals" in the process of cognition (vijñāne): "As animals when their senses of hearing and other senses are brought into relation with sound and other sense elements, if there is produced a cognition of sound and other sense data that are unfavourable, recede from them, and if they are favourable, approach them; and as they, seeing a man approach with a stick held aloft in his hand, begin to run away thinking "he desires to beat me", but seeing him with his hand filled with green grass, proceed towards him, in the same way…… in the case of man, though of cultivated mind…… the empirical usage relating to means and objects of valid knowledge is similar to that of animals"—that is, "valid" knowledge is of teleological origin and its purposefulness depends obviously from the primordial intuition of the existential yusmad-asmad relation. It is a socio-biological response to the appeal of the other, conducive to communion, possible only as yuṣmad, and never as pure abstract tad—or object-relation.

One may add that for the same reason this has to be considered as a false knowledge, superimposed by social conventionality—as we use to say today. This is exactly the point on which it seems to me that the yuṣmad-asmad relation inserts itself in the essential metaphysical position of Śaṅkara.

At the end of the Samanvayādhyāya the scope of "all vedānta" is defined accordingly when Śaṅkarāchārya says that "this beginningless and endless natural process of superimposition, in the form of erroneous conception causes both acting and enjoying (kartṛtva-bhoktṛtvapravartakaḥ) as directly experienced by the entire world."—This is the "cause of all evil" and therefore only "acquiring the knowledge of the unity of the self", can remove it—because the evil, just as a fragmentary consciousness of the self, can arise only in a person, be it asmad or yuṣmad, me or the other man, but never in any-thing else. And that is why "all the vedānta is commenced," concludes Śaṅkara. As I understand it, the stress is laid on the reciprocal relation between persons as the primordial source of adhyāsa, and not on the subject-object relation. Thus the visaya-visayin relation from the first sentence of the Samanvayādhyāya is brought at the end to the kartṛtva-bhoktṛtva personal relation as its efficient cause of pravartaka.

II

The problem of comparative philosophy, in which I am most interested in this connection, is: How far from, or how close to this initial yuṣmad-asmad criterion are we today in Europe in our endeavours to reshape the fundamental ontological proof of our own existence in the world? Let me first remind you that the contemporary philosophy of existence—in its attempts of an un-orthodox and 'destructive' return to the ancient sources of human wisdom, in Greece and beyond, in the Asian East—has, among others, started from re-translating the Greek terms Logos more adherently to its proper etymology as 'discourse' and not any longer as 'Reason' or 'Spirit', a meaning that became familiar to us mainly due to the mediaeval Christian tradition.

Further, the ontological proof has already re-appeared in a modern bhedābheda shape. The 'split' produced by knowledge in the sat-cit awareness of self-being in our human reality is basically meant to serve the re-approaching tendency to communication with the other person, and not merely to serve the mind in its functional de-severing (dis-joining) subjects and objects, or rather subjects from objects. Existentially there is no pure 'and' relation, relation without a preceding intentional commitment, not even in the process of logical thought. It is still more important to state that in the epistemological subject-object relation there is no actual reference to being. The principle that "Being cannot be predicted" was well known and carefully respected by the mediaeval Christian scholastic logicians. Being is inseparately inherent to all consciousness of entities. Within the sat-cit there is no ontological spirit. Only an epistemological bheda can take place, and in so far it was properly determined by Śaṅkara in the same context as mithyā-jñāna-nimitta. Against any relative, reflective and discoursive process of cognisance sat-cit remains a permanently 'unsplit' or abheda background of being. This is, in a few words, the clearly enough acquired position resulting from our modern phenomenological analysis of 'pure experience' in the European, both German and French, philosophy of the twentieth century. So far at least we have implicitly laid the foundation for replacing the accent from the tad-viṣaya to the more primordial yuṣmad-viṣaya perspective in humanistic philosophy.

The deeper I try to read and to re-read Śaṅkara's Bhāṣya, everything continues to range itself for my understanding around this cardinal existential point. If Śaṅkarācārya did not think so, then I do, thanks partly to misunderstood coincidences in intentions. I wish to give here only one small example of my way of reading Śaṅkara as I do it for my own delight. This example does not refer to any of the accidental or peripheric expressions of his geniality, but to the classically recognized central point of his approach to the theological problem in the vedānta, to what is termed usually, though always with some reserve, as his "rationalism".

At the beginning of Samanvayādhikaraṇa (commentary on the fourth Brahma-sūtra), Śaṅkara rejects the basic position of Jaimini (sūtra I, 2, I): "The veda having action (kriyā) as their purpose, the portions in it which do not indicate any action, are purposeless." From the long and famous argumentation by Śaṅkara against this view-point I have chosen the following few statements:

Brahma-vidyā (or the knowledge of Being, as we would say to-day in the West) "does not depend upon any kind of operation by man………….It is not possible to imagine by any method of reasoning that brahman or the knowledge of brahman is supplementary to action, as being an object of the act of knowing."—"Between the intuition of brahman and being the all-comprising self there is no intermediate act." The realization that brahman is not "an object but the inner self, removes the distinction between objects to be known, the knower, and the act of knowing, as imagined through nescience."

This is what we in Europe traditionally have tried to express by the principle that "Being cannot be predicted," that the epistemological process of cognizing objects by subjects does not penetrate at all into the sphere of actual being, and that in the rational discursive process of knowledge, as determined by the rules of logic, "being" remains the unnecessary or "superfluous" element of non-seizable transcendence which can be understood only by some other way of human realization, if at all. Kant considers that we may attain to the sphere of transcendence only by our Practical Reason which is medium of ethical insight, because this is the way of freedom. Śaṅkara speaks of the "final release which is of the nature of the eternally free self." For this reason "the knowledge of the self results in its own fruit," as Śaṅkara says, or in the realization of one's own being whose irrational aspect is more and more stressed by the contemporary philosophy of existence.

It is in this connection, finally, that we in Europe realize the advantage of a yuṣmad-viṣaya as a less "objectified" and less "estranged" entity, less "alienated" by mithyā-jñāna from the true and authentic self toward which we still hope to find the way through our fragmentary and "obscured" asmad-consciousness. The Jīvātman may still recognize a "mirroring" of itself when contemplating the world as the field (gocara) of yuṣmad, but it never will reach this height of intuited reflection in an abstract tad-viṣaya region. Of this we have become fully aware today, also in Europe.