Satadushani – Introduction – Part-4


The SatadUshaNi is an important classic of Visishtadvaita Vedantha composed by Swami Desikan, in which as the title suggests, one hundred philosophical issues have been chosen for systematic criticism directed against the school of Advaita.

This is a continuation from Part-1 which could be read using the link:




VIII Substance of the Work

The sixty-six Vadas, though each one of them deals with a specific controversial issue, may be grouped under the following eight broad headings:

  • 1.Pramanas
  • 2. Perception and Difference
  • 3. The nature of Consciousness (Anubhuthi)
  • 4. The Individual Self and the Absolute
  • 5. The Nirguna Brahman
  • 6. Universe
  • 7. The doctrine of Avidya
  • 8. Sadhana and Mukti

The discussion regarding the Pramanas is confined to the controversial issue whether the pramanas that are not absolutely real could be an evidence of what is real (Vada 30). The Advaitin’s view is that pramanas, even though illusory in character, can reveal what is ultimately real. The main argument adduced in support of it is that such a thing is found possible in our ordinary experience when a rope, for instance, which is mistaken for a snake, causes fear. This view is critically examined in all its aspects and the conclusion reached is that what is not real can never reveal what is real. It is also pointed out that if the pramanas do not have a real existence, metaphysical discussion cannot be carried on (Vada 9). On the same ground, it is also held that scripture too cannot be claimed as the ultimate authority in spiritual matters in so far as there is nothing to distinguish it from the so-called non-authoritative sacred texts of the Buddhists (Vada 14). Nor is it possible to claim a superior validity to scripture over perception in case a conflict arises between the two, as scripture, like perception, has for its source avidya-a defect (Vada 29)

The discussion on ‘ Perception and Difference ’ centres round the important epistemological issue, viz., whether perception reveals pure ‘Being’ or difference. The prima facie view that comes up for criticism here is that perception is of the one real, difference being subsequently superimposed thereon. The nerve of the argument put forth in support of this claim is that difference being a relative notion is dependent for its cognition on the knowledge of its counter-correlate and substrate while ‘ Being ’ is not so. Secondly, the concept of difference when subjected to logical examination does not stand the test and as such it is not real. Both the aspects of the problem are discussed at great length with particular reference to the examination of the dialectic on difference. The conclusion reached is that difference is real and is logically intelligible and it is also revealed in perception (Vadas 12 and 13). In this connection, the theory of determinate and indeterminate perception is also discussed (Vada 11) and the correct definition of the nirvikalpaka and savikalpaka perception as understood by the Visistadvaita school of thought is pointed out.

The discussion on the ‘ Nature of Consciousness ’ is mainly confined to an examination of the Advaitin’s contentions that consciousness is identical with Reality, that it is indeterminate in character, that it is a self-luminous, homogeneous whole which is neither produced nor destroyed, and lastly that it is identical with the very self in us. The arguments, mostly in the form of inferences, that are put forth in support of these contentions are critically examined and refuted by showing the logical fallacies involved in them and also their opposition to the ordinary experience on the one hand and scriptural texts on the other. The criticism is mainly based on the theory that consciousness is that which involves the duality of the subject and the object and, as such, it is the characteristic feature of the self. It is determine in character. Although it is self luminous, it is not absolutely unknowable. It is not one, but many and is subject to change in the form of contraction and expansion. (Vadas to, 20, 21-25).

The discussion on ‘The Individual Self and the Absolute’ covers the most important ontological issue, viz., whether or not the individual self is identical with the Absolute. The Advaitin who answers it in the affirmative maintains that the individual self is the Absolute ‘conditioned by nescience (avidya) and with the removal of avidy the finite self becomes identical with the Absolute. The true self then is one only, and not many. The plurality ofthe individual self may be due to the reflection of the Absolute in the internal organs-the product of avidya-comparable to the reflection of the single moon in the waves; or it may be due to the Absolute which is pure, consciousness being conditioned by the internal organs in the same way as cosmic ether is conditioned by pot etc. These arguments are discussed in great detail and set aside on the ground that they are directly in conflict with our experience and secondly that they do not have the support of scriptural texts. The conclusions reached are that the entity denoted by the notion ‘ I ’ is the individual self, that it is the knower, that it is different from individual to individual and lastly that it is not identical with the Absolute, though, it is organically related to it (Vadas 26, 27, 36 and 37).

The discussion on ‘ Brahman ’ is confined to the fundamental ontological issue whether Brahman is saguna or nirguna in character (Vada 52). This issue is examined at great length with particular reference to the Advaitin’s contention that the Upanisadic text referring to Brahman as satyam, Jnanam,  and Anantam conveys an impartite and non-relational sense, akhandartha (Vida 38). It is pointed out that neither the scriptural texts in general nor the smrti texts nor the Vedanta-sutras teach the doctrine of nirguna Brahman (Vadas 48 and 66). It is also urged that if Brahman is devoid of all characteristics, it cannot be conceived as blissful (andanda) and eternal (Vadas 57-58).

The discussion on the ‘Universe’ bears on three important issues:

  • (i) the illusory character of the universe,
  • (ii) the relationship of the universe to the Brahman, and
  • (iii) the concept of causality.

Regarding the first, the various arguments of the Advaitin to prove the illusoriness of the universe are examined and are shown to be untenable (Vadas 15, 16 and 17). Regarding the second issue, the question is raised whether or not Brahman is the material cause; and if so, in what sense. Parinama-vada is upheld as against the vivarta-vada of the Advaitin, which is shown to be defective (vadas 53-54). As regards the last point, the famous dialectic ol’ the Advaitin on the concept of causality is critically considered and it is proved that the concept is logically intelligible (Vada 55).

The discussion of the doctrine of Avidya which is very comprehensive is concerned with the demonstration of its untenability from different points of view. First, its very nature (svarupa) is unintelligible. Secondly, its description as something inexplicable is a self-contradiction. Thirdly, it cannot be established by any pramanas. Fourthly, neither Brahman nor the jiva can be its locus. Fifthly, its function as obscuring the true nature of the Reality is unintelligible. Sixthly, the removal of nescience by true knowledge is untenable. Lastly, the very conception of its cessation is a riddle (Vadas 19, 35, 39-44)

The last heading  Sadhana and Mukti covers mainly the issues arising out of the interpretation of the first sutra of Badarayana.The most important of these refers to the question whether the sadhana-catustaya accepted by Samkara does invariably precede Brahma-Jijnasa. The view of the Advaitin is subjected to a detailed critical examination and it is shown that the discrimination between eternal and non-eternal, etc., is possible only after the study of the Vedanta, but not prior to it. What therefore precedes Brahma-Jijnasa is the study of the Purva-Mimamsa (Vida 8). To establish this theory, the relationship between the Purva and Uttara-Mimamsa is discussed a elaborately and it is proved that the two constitute one integral whole (Vada 3). The place of karma in the philosophic discipline is also considered and it is established that the performance of karma is obligatory on every individual and is the direct means to Vedanta or the knowledge of Brahman (Vada 6). The issue whether knowledge alone is the means to moksa is also discussed and it is pointed out that knowledge generated by the Upanisadic texts cannot be the means to moksa in so far as it does not remove avidya(Vida 4). In this connection the theory of Jivanmukti and the state of Individual self in the state of moksa are also discussed (Vadas 31 and 51).
These are some of the important topics that have, been discussed in the Satadusani. In the following posts an attempt is made to give an exposition of the arguments on these various topics as contained in Vedanta Desika’s Satadusani in the order in which they have been set out above under the eight headings.

Source text written by:  Sri SMS Chari

to be continued….


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