35.2 THE LIGHT OF ALL LIGHTS - 2
(Summary of Br. U. (4.3.6. 4.3.7. etc.) Bhashya by Adi Shankara)
The above few paragraphs take care of the major objections from the CarvAka school of Philosophy. Now Shankara takes time to refute objections on this topic from the different Buddhist schools. Four schools of Traditional Buddhism are considered by him: namely, Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Yogachara and Madhyamika. Of these the first three tantamount to holding that buddhi, the intellect, is the Atman (though their way of saying it is : Atman is in the form of a flow of Momentary Consciousness ‘kshaNika-vijnAna-pravAhaH’). The last one (MAdhyamika) holds that Atman is ShUnya, emptiness. Shankaracharya dismisses this last school by saying that it is contradicted by all the evidences of knowledge and so he does not spend time refuting it. He handles possible objections from the other three schools, in his Bhashya of the next Mantra in Br. Upanishad, namely 4.3.7 below. (Incidentally some modern scholars of Buddhism do not agree to this interpretation of Buddhism by Shankara and other traditional Vedanta Acaryas).
Katama Atmeti; yo’yam vijnAna-mayaH prANeshhu hRdyAntarjyotiH purushhaH; sa samAnaH san-nubhau lokau anusamcarati, dhyAyatIva lElAyatIva; sa hi svapno bhUtvA lokam-atikrAmati mRtyo rUpANi.
‘Which (one of the many) is that Self?’. ‘This infinite entity Purushha that is identified with the intellect and is in the midst of the organs, the self-effulgent light within the heart (intellect). Assuming the likeness of the intellect, it moves between the two worlds, it thinks, as it were, and moves, as it were. Being identified with dream it transcends the world – the forms of death (ignorance etc.)’
First note that it is wrong to say ‘Light illumines itself’. For this implies that Light as illuminator is the Subject and Light as the illumined is the object. One and the same entity cannot be both subject and object. The eyes can see everything but themselves. That is why the statement of light illuminating itself is wrong. What does ‘Illumination’ mean? Illumination means uncovering (‘anAvRta) of what is covered (AvRta) and not manifest. In other words, Light illumines itself is equivalent to saying, the AvRta light becomes anAvRta light! ‘Illumining’ is an action at a point of time. So before that action took place ‘light’ must have been AvRta and after that action ‘Light’ must be ‘anAvRta’. But such a thing is absurd; there are no two avasthAs (states) for Light. Therefore it is not an object of illumination! In advaita language and parlance, ‘Atman knows itself’ is thus a wrong statement. (Incidentally this is a mistake that invariably occurs when people claim the Atman to be recognisable as a jyoti in nirvikalpa-samAdhi).
Light in Vedanta is that, in the presence of which things are known and in the absence of which things are not known. Light is the illuminator of any object. Each of the external lights described earlier, like the Sun, The Moon, the Fire, and the Sound is only a relative or empirical light. Even sense organs and Mind are Lights. But none of these is the Ultimate Light. Because all these lights do the function of being a light only when Consciousness is there. Each Light itself is an object for Consciousness. Light itself is known only by the ultimate Light of Consciousness.
This Consciousness, though all-pervading, is to be recognised or is noticeable or spottable only in one’s own mind. That is why the text says ‘hRdi’ – in the heart. ShankaracArya makes it clear that the heart is the physical heart and nothing else. This physical heart is the location of the Mind. (Note that we always say ‘heart-felt thanks!). The VAcyArtha (Primary meaning) is the physical heart. The lakshyArtha (Secondary meaning) is the Mind which is located in the heart. Thus Atman obtains in the Mind as the witness of all thoughts and actions (sarva-vRtti-sAkshI). This is the meaning of the text saying that the Atma-jyoti obtains in the heart (hRdi). Also note that to say that Atman is ‘in’ the heart would confine it and so is wrong. Recall the AcArya’s Atma-bodha shloka:
sadA sarvagato’pyAtmA na sarvatra avabhAsate /
buddhau eva avabhAseta svaccheshhu pratibimbavat //.