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Universe As Consciousness Entity – Teaching Of Gaudapada

Some scientists have put forward an extremely idealistic view of the universe as consciousness, without leaving any role for the physical objects in determining reality. This finds resonance with the theory of ‘Ajativada’, expressed by Sri Gaudapada in his well known Mandukya Karika, the explanatory verses on the Mandukya Upanishad.

Vijnanavada, an idealistic school of Buddhism, also proposes a similar idea but it associates consciousness with vijnana, a momentary mental mode. Gaudapada has shown plainly the distinction between these two classic philosophical theories in his work, the closer look of which is essential to know the subtle nuances of each view.

First, Gaudapada takes into consideration the opinion of the realists, who advocate physical objects outside the purview of consciousness should have a cause. Hence, we have to admit the existence of the physical objects, being the cause of the awareness. In other words, the production of consciousness is feasible only with physical reality. This opinion is repudiated by adherents of Vijnanavada, who argue that the external object, which is supposed to be the cause of the knowledge, itself has no existence from the standpoint of ultimate reality. How? Adi Shankaracharya explains this – If the reality is pursued successively till words and notions cease, one does not perceive any external cause of knowledge at all. An example is cited to this effect – A jar, which is supposed to be the cause of the knowledge of jar has no reality apart from mud, its cause. As we go on to pursue reality in this manner, we end up with ad infinitum. Hence, no cause of knowledge can be perceived in the physical plane. So, the Buddhists declare that the vijnana, the consciousness in the form of mental mode has no contact with objects and hence, an object has no existence.

The Advaita Vedantins persist on this matter and argue further that even a false apprehension of the illusory object in the form of a mental mode is also not possible. They conceive of independent consciousness, which does not have any contact with the so-called ‘mind.’ They also contend that if objects are false, the knowledge about the object is also false. Hence, the apprehension of such false knowledge in the form of Vijnana is also false. Sri Gaudapada summarizes his conclusion in this phrase – ‘Tasmanna jayate cittam cittadrishyam na jayate; therefore, neither the mind nor the objects perceived by the mind are ever born.’ This is the essence of Ajativada proposed by him.

Then what is the absolute reality, the substratum of all unreal ideas of creation and the like? Sri Gaudapada describes it in glowing terms –

It is consciousness – birthless, motionless and non-material, as well as tranquil and non-dual – which has the semblance of birth, appears to move, and simulates a substance.

This duality, possessed of subject and object, is a mere vibration of consciousness. And consciousness is objectless; hence it is declared to be eternally without relations.

However, this Advaitic view does not find acceptance among scientists who would not extend their idea of consciousness beyond the ‘cognitive apprehension,’ called in common language as ‘the mind’. They, by doing so, fail to appreciated the fact that the mind, which is but an apprehension of ‘false’ external objects, itself is false and hence, the ‘real’ consciousness should be traced to an independent entity.

Source Prabuddha Bharata August 2021, page 15 – 16.