Can Plurality Come From Unity?

Nārada asks where the world, full of so many amazing specifics, comes from.

Brahmā says it comes from Brahman (“Great Being”) – and the fascinating thing is that this great being is “beyond specification” (“Beyond qualities” – nirguṇa) – because if it can be specified or qualified, then it must be delimitable, and then its greatness is not beyond measure.

Then Nārada asks a very big philosophical question which is a very troublesome riddle for Buddhist and Monist schools: “How is it possible that qualities come from something without qualities?”

It seems Brahmā is saying that the Great Being cannot be qualified at all, which is what Buddhists and Monists say. So Nārada asks for clarification, with this question.

Brahmā answers that the Great Being has Great Power (śakti), and this power has various qualities, so the riddle is solved. Buddhists and Monists cannot give this answer because it goes against their fundamental tenant that the Great Being is absolutely one – if it has power, then, they argue, this power is distinct and different from it, so it is no longer absolutely one.

Bhāgavatam is distinct from Buddhism and Monism because it explains from the outset that the Great Being is “Advaya Jñāna” – which means that it is consciousness (jñāna) in which pluralities (dvaya) are not significant (advaya). In other words, it is a unified whole, with distinct intrinsic parts. So it describes the fullest conception of Brahman (the “Great Being”) as Bhagavān, the possessor of Great Potency.

Potency or Power is śakti – sometimes called “energy” – which is defined as, “the means by which an agent accomplishes an objective.”

Bhāgavatam describes the Great Being not just as “consciousness” (brahman) but as “a conscious entity” (Paramātmā). It is consciousness, and it can use consciousness to perceive and act upon itself, which it manifests in various ways – thus producing the world with so much variety and specificity.

[This conversation between Brahmā and Nārada comes from Chapter Five of Part Two of Bhāgavata Purāṇa. You can read it in my translation: Creating the Creator.]

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8 Comments

  1. To be fair Vic, I thought I’d clarify the Buddhist view as it is in fact different to what you say.

    Buddhists believe that the notion itself of a ‘Great Being’ is illusionary and useless as they believe in a third way! They withdraw from attempting to even view things in terms of duality i.e. they reject that there is a Great Being that is one with everything, whilst also rejecting the opposite, that all of creation is just an illusion of emptiness/nothing either.

    Buddhist believe in the middle way which dictates that the world and it’s various qualities are actually just an ever changing PROCESS, in-between existence and non existence; arising and passing away.

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    1. I agree, you are right in saying that Buddhists believe in kṣana-vāda (the theory of every-changing momentary existence). It is very similar to monism in general, though as you rightly pointed out, different in details. It is a completely illogical theory, more illogical than advaita-vāda monism. Neither buddhism nor monism can logically explain how the manifold reality we experience right now could arise from their concept of ultimate reality (for the monists it is an absolutely homogeneous latent consciousness called brahman – “Great Being”; and for the budhists it is an absolutely indescribable entity which is neither a thing nor not a thing). The buddhists are more illogical than the monists, because they have the additional flaw of not being able to explain how any continuity persists from one moment to the next. Their theory cannot explain memory, for example. If you would like to explore the details of these flaws in buddhism, please research how the Nyāyā school of India argued against it.

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    1. Please explain what “dualism” is. If it is “lack of clarity” then what is it’s cause. Furthermore, please give an example where lack of clarity gives extra detail. In practical experience we find exactly the opposite.

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  2. Yes good question – what is dualism and how does it create lack of clarity! Personally I think the root of the whole problem arises when you start seeing things in terms of duality (or even premises).

    Duality creates a never ending illusionary mental trap. When you’ve fallen into giving something a premise or seeing everything as ‘this’ or ‘that’, you start seeing the world through the illusion of the ‘I’. It’s the difference between illuminating or seeing things like a candle vs through ‘an eye’ (pun intended lol). Once you see through this duality, rather than see things as they are you can easily fall into illusionary logical twists like those of Nyaya arguments.

    Hence why the Buddhists don’t even get involved with duality as it requires a premise which acts as a mental impression (or sankhara) that taints your view.

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  3. Essentially , the mind is the lens through which we experience the world. If we go down the route of creating an opinion on top of this then desire forms, which ultimately clouds our interpretations. But if we just purely observe and see things as they are without opinion or judgement then we activate an equanimous mind that’s let’s us see more clearly. Understanding is then established through experience (wisdom), whereas our intellect (knowledge) is only used to structure and communicate this.

    However, I can see how it can seem illogical to many on the surface. You do have to basically retire all your opinions to be totally equanimous but like with all these things it’s best understood through experience (something like vipassana meditation).

    Anyway hope that makes sense and I appreciate your time on this, namaste.

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    1. The Yoga darśan agrees entirely, as does most other Indian schools, including Vedānta, that the mind has to clarified, and then it can have valid pratyakṣa (direct experience). But where we seem to differ from Buddhism is that we do not say that the direct experience will defy logic. Logic will finally make sense when the direct experience is clear. And it is therefore possible to explain this direct experience to others, and help others come to it.

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