The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12
Brahmanism and the Monistic Theory
We can say
immediately that the Monistic Theory is the basis of all the Indian
Sacred Books: Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita. The main philosophical
question that Indian seers pose is: Where does this universe come from?
With what substance is it made? From whence does man come? How can he
live? Who directs him? Et cetera.
believe in Cosmic Unity. It means that everything in this world springs
forth from one source, that is, the Supreme Being.
"In the beginning
there was Existence, One only, without a second. Some say that in the
beginning there was non-existence only, and that, out of that, the
universe was born. But how could such a thing be? How could existence be
born of non-existence? No, my son, in the beginning there was Existence
alone - one only, without a second. He, the One, thought to himself: Let
me be many, let me grow forth. Thus, out of himself he projected the
universe; he entered in every being. All that is has itself in him
alone. Of all thing he is the subtle essence. He is the truth. He is the
Self. And that, Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU".
conceived that the soul of man, his Atman, is identical to Brahman.
Brahman is the Universal Spirit, while Atman is the true Self of each
individual. Atman and Brahman are identical. We can find our Atman in
our innermost heart by stripping off everything external, that is to
say, by introspection. We can find Brahman, the power which presents
itself to us materialized in all existing things, which creates,
sustains, preserves, and receives back into itself all worlds also by
introspection, and generalization. We will find that, at last, Brahman
is equal to the Atman, our most essential being, our individual self,
Thus, all the
thoughts of the Upanishads move around these two fundamental ideas.
These are (1) the Brahman, and (2) the Atman, The Brahman, conceived as
the cosmic principle of the universe, the Atman as the psychical, the
Self in our innermost heart. But the Brahman, in the last resort, is
equal to the Atman. So the fundamental thought of the Upanishads may be
expressed by this equation:
Or by this great
(Chand. 6,7 f.)
These ideas are
plainly expressed, such as found in the Chandogya Upanishad. (Chandogya
Upanishad. 6.10 1, 2, 3), (Philosophical Language):
"These rivers, my
dear, flow, the eastern toward the east, the western toward the west.
They go just from the ocean to the ocean. They become the ocean itself.
As there they know not "I am this one", "I am that one", even so, indeed
my dear, all creatures here, though they have come forth from Being,
know not "we have come forth from Being." Whatever they are in this
world, whether tiger, or lion, or wolf, or boar, or worm, or fly, or
gnat, or mosquito, that they become.
That which is the
finest essence - this whole world has that as its soul. That is Reality.
that is Atman (soul). That Art Thou, Svetaketu. (Chandogya Upanishad,-6.
10. 1,2,3).or expressed in metaphor (Metaphorical Language):
spider ejects and retracts (the threads),
plants shoot forth on the earth,
hairs on the head and body of the living man,
the Imperishable, all that is here.
sparks from the well-kindled fire,
nature akin to it, spring forth in their thousands;
dear sir, from the Imperishable
beings of many kinds go forth,
return into him.
Or expressed in
Mythologies. (Mythological Language).
A late Rig Vedic
hymn describes the creation of the world as a dismemberment of a cosmic
man, Purusa, in a primeval sacrifice, and, from the parts of his body,
were made the cosmos and the four classes of the society, the Brahmin,
emanating from his mouth, the Ksatriya (kingly and warrior class) from
his arms, the Vaisya (merchants) from his thighs, the Sudra (low caste)
from his feet.(Rig Veda, X, 90)
Purusha, The Rig Veda uses also the term Prajapati.
The myth of the
dismemberment of the Primeval Man into the world in India has its
counterpart in many others countries, such as the myth of Bangu in
China, of Ymir in ancient Scandinavia), of Yima in Iran, of Uranus in
Greece, of Tiamat in Babylonia or of Mbombo of Center and Southern
Africa et cetera.
Finally, it can
be expressed symbolically in the forms of yantras or mandalas
We find in these
mandalas the point, or bindu, serving as a center, the triangle, the
circle, and the square.
The bindu can be
considered as "an ultimate figure beyond which energy cannot be
condensed. It is an appropriate symbol of the first principle, the One.
Therefore, the bindu is a 'Whole', or 'Full' (purna), the
undifferentiated, all-embracing reservoir of the infinite. With these
associations, the bindu symbol is viewed in cosmological term, as the
creative matrix of the universe, the 'world-seed' (visva-bija), the
point of origin and return of cosmological processes. Metaphysically,
the bindu represent the unity of the static (male, Siva) and the kinetic
(female, Sakti) cosmic principles, which expand to create the infinite
universe of matter and spirit".
Whereas the bindu
is the gathering-up of forces, the circle represents the cyclical
forces, the contraction and expansion of astronomical revolution, and
the round of cosmic rhythms.
Most frequent are
the diagrams formed by inter-penetration of two triangles, to form a
star-hexagon: the upward pointing 'male' and the downward pointing
'female' generate the concept of the fusion of polarities, the male and
female, spirit and matter, the static and the kinetic in a perfect state
of unity. The numerical equivalent of this figure is 6.
astakona (a figure with eight angles) results from the superposition of
square on square; its allusion is to the number 8, a sign of infinity
and associated with the eight directions of space and the endless cycle
"The square is
the fundamental format of most yantras. It is the substratum, the
receptacle and base of the manifest world. The square denotes the
terrestrial world which must be transcended. Its prosaic regularity is
contained by the compass points of the four cardinal directions, and its
numerical equivalent is 4.
Four is a symbol
of the world extended into four directions, uniting in its horizontal
and vertical directions pairs of opposites, and representing the
totality of space. The square is the form of order and perfection, the
'support' of the yantra figure".
In sum, all
Yantra or Mandala tend to suggest only one thing: the return to the
center. 'Such a return shifts the center of the personality from a
fragmented awareness of his ego-centric consciousness to cosmo-centric
wholeness, and brings about the union of the individual and cosmic
consciousness (Siva-Sakti). It means the death of the profane self, the
perishable phenomenal ego, and a rebirth to an eternal deathless state
In our body, we
can find this center. It is located in the top of our head, in the place
called the city of Brahman, or the heart, or the little house having the
shape of a lotus. It is also commonly named as the Sahasrara Chakra, the
seat of the Absolute (Siva-Sakti).
Now, we call it:
The Third Ventricle.
"Within the city
of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart
there is a little house. This house has a shape of a lotus, and within
it dwells that which is to be sought after, and inquired about, and
What, then, is
that which dwells in this house, this lotus of the heart?
Even so large as
the universe outside is the universe within the lotus of the heart.
Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, the moon, the lightning and all
the stars. Whatever is in macrocosm is in this microcosm.
Though old age
comes to the body, the lotus of the heart does not grow old. It does not
die with the death of the body. the lotus of the heart, where Brahman
resides with all his glory - that, and not the body, is the true city of
The lotus of the
heart, the bindu, can finally be equated with the sound-syllable Om,
with its associations with the universe in all its manifestations. "In
the Brhadaranyaka Up. (2,1.19) there is a metaphor of a spider sitting
at the center of the web, issuing and reabsorbing its threads in
concentric circles, all held at one point..."This apparently single
metaphor also condenses the essence of the Indian thought: all existence
is governed by a single principle, and the point of origin of the
supreme consciousness is simultaneously an infinite reservoir of
collective energy, from which everything issues, and into which
everything returns. This Center is the One, "the potential All-point"
which not only serves as a bridge but is Cosmic Unity underlying the
physical diversity of the world...".
In sum, we see
that Indian seers frequently use the symbol of the Center and concentric
circles to represent the world.
" The bindu,
sacred point of origin and return, with concentric circles symbolized
the eternal cycles of cosmic evolution and involution. The goal of the
adept is his own involution to the center, the ultimate point of
psycho-cosmic integration, where he discovers his link with the Whole."
Man, every man,
is destined to become one with the Whole. This implies that we should
evolve from the "unreal self" to the state of eternal union, or "true
self". This can be done only in many lives. This is why Hinduism
postulates the 'Transmigration' of the souls. Hinduism admits also that
everything happened to us in our life depends on what we have done in
this life or in our past life. This is called the law of Karma.
Thus, for a
Hindu, the goal of life is to find truth, is the quest for the real, for
the unity of the diversified world, in brief, for the key of the
universe. Many of us know already these three verses of the Brih. Up.
the unreal lead me to the real.
darkness lead me to the light.
death lead me to immortality.'
contained already in our body; the entire universe is already in this;
we have not to find anywhere the topic of our study:
body is Mount Meru
encircled by the seven continents;
rivers are there too,
seas, the mountains, the plains,
gods of the fields.
are to be seen in it, monks,
deities presiding over them.
stars are there, and the planets,
sun together with the moon;
too are the two cosmic forces:
which destroys, that which creates;
the elements: ether,
fire, water and earth.
your body are all things
exist in the three worlds,
performing their prescribed functions
who knows this
is held to be a true yogi.
All this view
reminds us these verses of Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
crammed with heaven,
every common bush afire with God,
he who sees takes off his shoes."
According to the
Upanishads, the Real Self in man, is God; Atman is Brahman. Everything
external is considered as not-self, or Maya, or Illusion, or Avidya, or
Samsara, or Prakriti. This reminds us of the theory of Parmenides, of
Plato, of Kant and of Schopenhauer. According to Parmenides, this entire
universe of change is merely phenomenal. Plato considered it as a world
of shadows. In the phraseology of Kant, they are not "things in
themselves" but only apparitions. For the Hindus, the "I" is a delusion,
the individual is merely phenomenal, and the only reality is the
Infinite One - "That art Thou". For Schopenhauer," Whoever is able to
say this to himself, with regard to every being with whom he comes in
contact," - "Whoever is clear-eyed and clear-souled enough to see that
we are all members of one organism, all of us little currents in an
ocean of will, - "he is certain of all virtue and blessedness, and is on
the direct road to salvation".
urged us toward self-fulfillmentt. It means that we should realize our
Essence. Is it not the theory of entelechy that Aristotle professed?
So we must
advance, penetrating deeper and deeper into the kernel of the living
being, to the self of life, of mind and of knowledge.
In the kernel of
our life, we will see our metaphysical I, our divine self, persisting in
untarnished purity through all the aberrations of human nature, eternal
blessed, - in a word, our Atman.
I would like to
repeat after Troy Wilson Organ, author of The Hindu Quest for the
Perfection of Man, that "there are no opinions required to be held in
order to be a Hindu, unless it be the notion that Man-the-Less must
become Man-the-More, that man is the deity -in-posse: "O man you are
born for perfection" sang an ancient sage.
And it also
recalls me of this verse of the Svetasvatara Upanishad: "That Eternal
which rests in the Self should be known. Truly there is nothing beyond
this to be known."
Hinduism as Mysticism
We have said that
everything in this world come from one Cosmic Stuff. Be it called as
Supreme Being, or Ultimate Reality, or Brahman, we must know that this
world is created by the Substance of this Ultimate Reality and not ex
nihilo, not 'from nothing'. This is the doctrine of universal immanence
of an intellectual monism. The Brihad Aranyaka Up. 188.8.131.52 said: "As
all the spokes are held together in the hug and felly of a wheel, just
so in this Soul all things, all gods, all worlds, all breathing things,
all shelves are held together". It also said: "As the spider might come
out with his thread, as small sparks come forth from the fire, even so
from this Soul come forth all vital energies (prana), all worlds, all
gods, all beings". (Brihad Aranyaka Up.2.1.20). Monism is then the
ruling conception of the world, for the world is identical with Atman.
"Atman alone is the whole world." (Chand. 7.25.2).
If the Eternal is
a man, the world is then his members (Rig Veda X, 90). If the Eternal is
a spider, the world will be the threads coming out of its body (Brihad
Aranyaka Up. 2. 1. 20). If the Eternal is the earth, the world will be
herbs arising from it (Mundaka Up. 1,7). The Eternal and the world are
like salt and water. When salt is dissolved in the water, where is
water, there is salt. (Chand. Up. 6,13; 1,3).
notions in mind, the mystics can have two ways of thinking:
(1) Or they
consider Brahman as the whole world. "Brahma, indeed, is this immortal.
Brahma before, Brahma behind, to right and to left. Stretched forth
below and above, Brahma, indeed is this whole world" (Mundaka Up. 2.
11). "Om! This syllable is this whole world. Its further explanation is:
The past, the present, the future - everything is just the word Om. And
whatever else that transcends three-fold time - that, too, is just the
word Om. For truly, everything here is Brahma. This self (Atman) is
Brahma." (Mandukya Upa. 1. 1 - Taittirya Up, 1.8.1). "As fire (Agni) he
warms. He is the sun (Surya). He is the beautiful rain (Parjanya). He is
the wind (Vayu). He is the earth, matter (rayi), God (deva). Being (sat)
and non-Being (asat), and what is immortal. (Prasna Up. 2.5)." He
entered in here, even to the fingernail-tip, as a razor in a razor case,
or fire in a fire holder (i.e. the fire-wood) (Brih. Up. 1.4. 7)
(2) Or they
consider Brahman, or Atman as the core, the kernel of everything. "This
Soul of mine, within the heart is smaller than a grain of rice, or a
barley-corn, or a mustard-seed or a grain of millet, or the kernel of a
grain of millet; this Soul of mine within the heart is greater than the
earth, greater than the atmosphere, greater than the sky, greater than
these worlds." (Chand. Up. 3.14.3). "He is your soul, which is in all
things... Explain to me him who is just the Brahma present and not
beyond our ken, him who is the Soul in all things" (Brih. Up. 3.4.2).
"He is your Soul, the Inner Controller, The Immortal (Brih. 3. 7. 7. See
also Brih, 3. 7, Chand. Up. 6, 12, 3 and 6, 13, 3). "Verily, Kapya, he
who knows that thread and the so-called Inner Controller knows Brahma,
he knows the worlds, he knows the gods, he knows the Vedas, he knows
created things, he knows the Soul, he knows everything,"(Brihah Aranyaka
Up. 7,1). "He is the key to all knowledge. "(The thirteen principal
Upanishads translated from the Sanskrit, by Robert Ernest Hume p. 30).
"That supreme object is just this Brahma, this Atman, who is in the
world, who is the Great Self, the ground of oneself. He is the highest
object of knowledge." (Ib. p. 30). "That Art Thou" (Chand. Up. 6.8. 16)
"Reality is One.
Diversity and manifestations are only an appearance." (The Thirteen
Principal Upanishads translated from the Sanskrit, by Robert Ernest
Hume, p. 36).
is on earth no diversity.
death after death,
perceives here seeming diversity.
unity only is It to be looked upon
indemonstrable enduring Being"
(Brih. 4.4. 19-20)
Inner Soul (Antaratman) of all things...
Who makes his one form manifold"
According to the
Kathaka Upa. 3.1, the Supreme and the individual self are distinguished
as light and shadow, and according to 2.23, the knowledge of the Atman
depends upon a kind of free grace:
the man whom he chooses is he comprehended,
the Atman reveals his essence.
The Philosophy of the Upanishads, 1966, Dover Publications, Inc., New
York, p. 177)
S'vetas'vatara, God and the Soul, though their original identity is not
denied, are clearly distinguished from one another. In S'vetas'vatara 4.
6,7 it is said:
bright-feathered bosom friends
around one and the same tree;
them tastes the sweet berries,
other, without eating, merely gazes down.
a tree the spirit, depressed,
weakness mourns, a prey to illusion,
it gazes worshipping on the might
majesty of the other, then its grief departs.
The Philosophy of the Upanishads, p. 177)
" Hinduism quests
for reality and for spirituality. Spirituality is the striving for
realities and values which always elude man. Spirituality is
self-transcendence. The spiritual is the Perfecting of Man, the
Divinizing (sic) of Man, for in Hinduism, the metaphysical axiological
principles of divinity and humanity tend to blend into one another.
Hinduism deifies man and humanizes God. The spiritual man is the man in
process toward the god-man.".
Man as a self is
a thing aspiring to Being. Man becomes what he is. his is-ness is his
becoming. He is a becoming, not a being. His "being" is becoming-ness.
his is-ness is in process such that he never is the finality of beast or
god. He creatively discovers what he is, and he discovers creatively
what he can become. The self is always infinitely more than it would be
if it were only what it is.
"To find God, man
must looked inside. "The yogi is testing an hypothesis: that the deepest
truth is opened only to those who turn their attention inward, and in
this experiment the physical senses, so useful elsewhere, can be nothing
but busy-bodies. "the senses turn outward," observe the Upanishads. "man
therefore, looks toward what is outside, and sees not the inward being.
Rare is the wise man who... shuts his eyes to outward things and so
beholds the glory of the Atman within.'
years later the Bhagavad-Gita takes up the theme like an echo:
joy is inward,
come to Brahman
And knows Nirvana".
To find God
hidden everywhere, in everything, is the true knowledge:
forth from Brahman,
Himself finds Brahman.
To know our
essence, to know that Brahman has a living abode in our self is the sine
qua non condition of becoming saints and seers
person of the measure of a thumb is the Inner Soul (Antaratman),
seated in the heart of creature.
framed by the heart, by the thought, by the mind,
They who know that become immortal."
(Svetasvatara Up. 3,13)
knowing what is therein, Brahma-knowers become merged in Brahma,
intent thereon, liberated from the womb
(i.e. from rebirth) (Svet. 1.7)
Eternal should be known as present in the self (Atmasamstha). Truly
there is nothing higher than that to be known,
When one recognizes the enjoyer, the
object of enjoyment, and the universal Actuator, All has been said. This
is the threefold Brahma." (Svetas. 1. 12)
Theory in Hinduism has a famous conclusion for Man: Man is God himself.
Tat Tvam Asi. (Chand. Up. 6.9.4 - 6.10.3 - 6.11.3. 6.12.3 - 6.13. 3 -
6.14.3 - 6.15.3 - 6.16.3 - 6.8.5.)
great, unborn Soul,
undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless, is Brahma. Verily Brahma is
fearless. He who knows this becomes the fearless Brahma." (Brih. Up.
verily, who knows that
supreme Brahma, becomes very Brahma" (Mundaka Up.2.9).
In the title to
his Latin translation, 'Oupnekhat,' Anquetil Duperron set this sentence
evidently as the summary of the contents of the Upanishads: 'Quisquis
Deum intelligit, Deus fit,'' 'whoever knows God, becomes God.'
In India, many
saints and seers are, in fact, living illustrations of the Monistic
Theory and Mysticism. As proof, a summary of Shankara's life will
corroborate this idea.
Shankara was born
in the late Eighth Century. He is best known for his doctrine of
absolute or unqualified monism, or absolute nonduality, which, briefly
stated, is that Brahman alone is real, the phenomenal world is unreal or
mere illusion. The individual soul has no reality apart from Brahman,
though caught by maya or illusion ; they, as well as the world around
them, seem to have a kind of reality. This is due to ignorance of the
alone reality of Brahman. This being so, salvation or moksha comes in
the knowledge of the identity of the individual soul with the world
Shankara had a
prodigious memory; anything his teachers said stuck in his mind forever.
What the average student learned in twelve years Shankara learned in
His teacher was
Govindapada, a most realized man on earth, a man who had traveled inward
into himself, to the very core of his being. Shankara implored
Govindapada to make him heir to the knowledge of self-realization.
taught him four sutras:
Prajnnam Brahma Brahman is pure
Ayamatma Brahma Soul is Brahman
Tat tvam Asi You are
Aham Brahsmasmi I am Brahman.
At the age of
twelve, Shankara was sent by his teacher to Banares to teach people on
how they could understand their real selves. Indeed, his tender age,
coupled with his extensive knowledge and deep insight, astounded all who
came to see him. From that time onward, Shankara became known as Acharya
(Teacher) or Shankaracharya.
Shankarachyaka turned the tide of atheism. He compiled commentaries on
the Brahma Sutra, Bhagavad Gita, and the principle Upanishads, all of
which explained the non-dual substance, Brahman, as the ultimate
reality. Shankaracharya comments on the nature of Brahman as that which
is beyond the senses, impersonal, formless, eternal, and unchangeable,
as the summum bonum of the Absolute Truth. According to Shankaracharya,
that which is known as the Atma or soul is but a covered portion or
illusioned part of the Supreme Brahman. That illusion, says
Shankaracharya, is due to the veil of maya, which is created out of
ignorance or forgetfulness of the True Self.
theory of illusion states that, although the Absolute Truth is never
transformed, we think that it is so, which is an illusion.
Shankaracharya did not believe in the transformation of the energy of
the Absolute. Acceptance of the transformation of energy would have
necessitated the acceptance of the Personality of the Absolute Truth or
the personal existence of God- full-fledged theism. According to
Shankaracharya we ourselves are God. When the veil of ignorance is
removed, man will realize his complete identity as being inseparable
from the Supreme Being or God.
conviction was that the spiritual substance, Brahman, is supra-mundane
-separate from the gross and subtle bodies of mind and intelligence in
this world. Shankaracharya further stressed that mukti, or liberation
from the cycle of birth and death, is possible only when the living
being renounces his relationship with the material world. Shankaracharya
says that the concept of "I" and "Mine"- I am an individual and these
are my possessions: wife, children, property, etc.- are the causes of
bondage to material existence and must be forsaken. Thus, the bulk of
his followers were, and continue to be, celibate. Therefore, it is
apparent that Shankaracharya was the partisan of Adwaita-vedanta. He
stressed that the main purpose of the Vedas is this: Brahman alone is
real; the phenomenal world is an illusion; and the individual soul is
identical with Brahman. For him, rituals can lead only to karma- both
good and bad, which prevents one from attaining self-realization. Then
the only goal of the Vedas is Brahman.
died at the age of thirty-two.
Thus, we see that
Shankaracharya devoted his whole life to illustrating the Monistic
Theory and Mysticism.
Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 1971, The Pocket Book
Edition, p. 339.
Troy Wilson Organ, The Hindu Quest for the Perfection of Man,
1970, Ohio University Athens, Ohio, p. 4.
The thirteen principal Upanishads translated from the Sanskrit,
by Robert Ernest Hume, Geoffrey Cumberlege Oxford University Press,
1951, p. 1,2, 21.
Troy Wilson Organ,The Hindu Quest for the Perfection of Man,
1970. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, p.64
Bhagavad Gita, translated by Swami Prabhavananda, and Christopher
Isherwood, Nancy Wilson Ross, Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, a
Clarion Book, Published by Simon and Shuster, New York, 10020, 1969, p.
Robert Ernest Hume,The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, 1988, Delhi
Oxford University press, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, p. 377.
Troy Wilson Organ, The Hindu Quest for the Perfection of Man,
1970, Ohio University Athens, Ohio, p. 4.
translated by Swami Prabhavananda, and Christopher Isherwood, Nancy
Wilson Ross, Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, a Clarion Book,
Published by Simon and Shuster, New York, 10020, 1969, p. 12.
Preface | Chapters:
10 11 12