Consciousness in visishtadvaita

Mani Varadarajan mani at SHASTA.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jan 13 18:11:38 EST 1999

Martin Gansten wrote:
> "jnanasvarupamityetavannirdesyam cannot be taken to mean that the atman *is*
> pure knowledge, but that the knowledge characteristic for the atman is a
> svarupanirupanadharma 'an attribute describing the proper form' ... the
> tenet that jnana is an attribute, not the essence, is fundamental to R.'s
> doctrine."

> So my question is: have I misunderstood Chari's (or
> Desika's) intentions in making consciousness the substance of the atman, or
> is this a post-Ramanuja doctrine of visishtadvaita, or is van Buitenen just
> a little rash in completely denying jnana the role of a substance/essence?
> Many thanks in advance,
> Martin Gansten

In Visishtadvaita, there are two kinds of consciosness,
attributive and substantive.  The attributive is known
as "dharma-bhUta-jnAna", and is liable to contraction
or expansion.  The substantive is known as "svarUpa-bhUta-jnAna"
and is immutable.

Fundamentally, the individual self is a "knower", not mere
knowledge as held in schools of Advaita.  The substantive
consciousness is how the self knows itself -- it is what
gives it its "I" consciousness, and fundamental to Visishtadvaita
is the belief that all conscious entities experience this
"I" at all times.

The attributive consciousness is how the self knows things
other than itself.  Consciousness is like light; it is a
means to know other things.  The attributive consciousness
is liable to expansion and contraction, corresponding
directly to one's karma.  If one is a tree, insect, or some
other "low" life form, the theory is that one's attributive
consciousness is extremely contracted, and unable to know
much. In the state of liberation, on the other hand, one's
attributive consciousness is infinite (just as God's is),
and one has complete knowledge of everything.  This is how
the liberated individual can remain finite in substance,
yet can experience the same bliss as God.

So van Buitenen's statement is correct. "Knowledge" does
not define the jIva, but it is a fundamental attribute of
its svarUpa; because its consciousness is so important to
its existence as "I", it is sometimes described as knowledge
itself.  However, the jIva is correctly an entity which has
knowledge as a primary attribute; it is a _knower_ (and a
doer, and a mode of God, etc.)


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