Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Arvind Sharma's book on Sleep as a State of Consciousness

Thanks to a request of a dear friend of mine, I could read parts of this book again and write this review.

This post, and the ones following it, are on the book Sleep As a State of Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta by Arvind Sharma. As the title explains, Prof. Sharma delves deeply into the avasthatraya aspect of Advaita. Prof. Sharma says in the introduction that "understanding this aspect of Advaita is the first, and possibly most important aspect of Advaita".

The book is organized as to how various philosophers of ancient and moden India --who have cast their long shadows on Advaita-- have thought of, and reasoned about the aspect of avasthatraya(the trichotomy of states), in Advaita.

In concrete, the contents of the book are as follows:
  • sleep in Prasthanatraya
  • sleep in Mandukyacharica (or Mandukya Upanishad)
  • sleep in Sankara Advaita
  • sleep in Later Advaita
  • sleep in Moden Advaita

    Prasthanatraya is the three texts: Upanishads, Brahmasutras and BhagavadGita. The Mandukya Upanishad is one of the Upanishads, on which Gaudapada who preceeded Sankara (to whom Sankara originally wanted to be a disciple of?), is said to have a written a commentary, which in turn had a special influence of Advaita. Sankara of course, is the exegete from 8th century who cast, possibly the longest shadow on Advaita, Vedanta, Sanatana Dharma, and other Indic religions.

    The later Advaita is about the points of view of Sureshwara, Padmapada --who were famous disciples of Sankara and set up the Vivarna school-- and Vacaspati Misra of the 9th and 10th century --who set up the rival Bhamati school-- and others. The two schools differ on various aspects: (1) "where does ignorance originate from": According to Vivarna, Brahman-Atman is the locus of avidya. Bhamati, on the other hand holds that jiva is the locus of avidya. (2)The other difference is the question of "the preexistence of Brahman vis-a-vis the creation" (did the creation of Brahman preceed the creation? If so how?). Another major later-Advaitin is Vidyaranya of the 14th century, who arguing about the characterizations of bliss experienced by human beings, explained on the blissful nature of dreamless-sleep. The chapter has points of views of other later-Advaitins, namely: Sadananda and Dharmaraja.

    In the modern Advaita, the discussion is mainly about Swami Krishnananda (of the Divine Life Society), Ramana Maharishi.

    In the introduction itself, Prof. Sharma asks,

    This monograph deals with the question of sleep in Advaita Vedanta. But the theme presupposes that the phenomen of sleep is an issue of some kind for Advaita Vedanta in particular, or Indian philosophy in general. For the reader who does not share this presupposition, such questions as the following will naturally arise: 'why should philosophers be concerned with sleep as an epistemological or religious problem? Why are Indian philosophers concerned with it? Why do Advaita philosophers view sleep as an important philosophical dilemma, and why are they losing sleep over it?'

    Giving a reply to the above question, Prof. Sharma smartly makes an analogy of Advaita with Physics and Chemistry. In Physics, the material world is reduced to either matter or energy. Chemistry on the other hand, reduces substances to the periodic elements. In a similar way, Prof. Sharma says, Advaita reduces the multiplicity of human experience into the avasthatraya, so that some "reasonable analysis" could be done. Prof. Sharma points out that this classification is extremely rational and experiential and not necessarily revelational or scriptural. (My posts on Prof. Sharma's other books: on his book on Advaita Vedanta and on his book on the experiential approach to Advaita.)

    from the Sankhya yoga of Gita:

    II.69: What is night to all beings, therein the self controlled one is awake. When all beings are awake, that is the night of the sage who sees.

    To be continued...
  • 1 comment:

    sj said...

    Lots of information! I had never followed the rebirth of Advaita under Sankaracharya, but this short chronology gives a lot of insight.

    I look forward to your continued part .....