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November 2019

Professor Max Muller Explains Vedanta

 

At first sight this Vedanta-philosophy is, no doubt, startling, but after some time one grows so familiar with it and becomes so fond of it that one wonders why it should not have been discovered by the philosophers of any other country. It seems to solve all difficulties but one, to adapt itself to any other philosophy, nay, to every kind of religion which does not entrench itself behind the ramparts of revelation and miracle. The difficulty is to find a natural approach to it from the position which we occupy in looking at philosophical and religious problems.

I tried before to open one of its doors by asking the question, what is the cause of all things? and we met with the answer that that cause must be one, without a second, because the very presence of a second would limit and condition that which is to be unlimited and unconditioned. We saw how, in order to explain what cannot be doubted, namely, the constant changes in the world by which we are surrounded, Avidya or Nescience was called in to explain what cannot be denied the variety of our sensations. It is curious only that what the Greek philosophers called the logoi, the thoughts or names as archetypes of all phenomenal things, were by the Vedanta treated not as the expressions of Divine Wisdom or of Sophia, but as Nama-rupa, names and forms, the result of Nescience or Avidya. This Greek conception, apparently the very opposite of that of the Vedanta, is nevertheless the same, only looked at from a lower and higher point of view. Nama-rupa, names and forms, and Logoi, names and what is named, express the same idea, namely, that as words are thoughts realised, the whole creation is the word or the expression of eternal thoughts, whether of Brahman or of the Godhead, or, in another version, that the world represents the idea in its dialectic progress from mere being to the highest manifestations of thought. That Brahman can easily be proved to have originally meant Word, makes the coincidence between Vedanta, Neo-Platonism, and Christian philosophy still more striking, though it would be hazardous to think of any historical connexion between these ancient conceptions of a rational universe.

Lest it should be supposed that I had assimilated the Hindu idea of the word, as being with Brahman and becoming the origin of the world, too closely to the Greek conception of the Logos, I subjoin a literal translation of a passage in Shankara’s commentary. He holds that Brahman is pure intelligence, and when the opponent remarks that intelligence is possible only if there are objects of intelligence, he replies: ‘As the sun would shine even if there were no objects to illuminate, Brahman would be intelligence even if there were no objects on which to exercise his intelligence. Such an object, however, exists even before the creation, namely, Nama-rupa, the names and forms, as yet undeveloped, but striving for development (avyâkŗte vyâkkikîrshite), that is the words of the Veda living in the mind of the creator even before the creation. Might not this have been written by Plato himself?

 


 

 

 

 

Friedrich Max Muller [1823 – 1900] is the world-renowned translator of the Vedas into English and German. He is the author of the Life of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. He was the Editor of the 50-volume Sacred Books of the East series. His other works include the translation of the Upanishads, Hitopadesha, and so on.