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Shah-Kazemi (PT:I-1) – Absoluto

sexta-feira 30 de setembro de 2022


The first question that needs to be asked is whether the transcendent Absolute is in any way conceivable, in such a manner that one can speak of the “concept” thereof. If, as is maintained by Shankara  , the Absolute is “That from which words fall back,” that which ignorance (avidya  ) alone would attempt to define,1 then what function is served by the variety of names by which the Absolute is referred to—Brahman  , Atman  , Om  , Turiya?

Certainly, Shankara asserts that from the viewpoint of ignorance (avidya), the Absolute is inexplicable—anirukta (Absolute, 177). The attribution of “name and form” (nama-rupa  ) to the Absolute is, likewise, the result of ignorance. Name and form, like the erroneous conception of a snake in place of a rope, are destroyed when knowledge dawns; “hence the Absolute cannot be designated by any name, nor can it assume any form” (Absolute, 87).

Intrinsic knowledge of the Absolute can be acquired, but solely from the paramarthika perspective, that is, the viewpoint from the Absolute itself; while from the viewpoint of the relative, the vyavaharika perspective, the Absolute can only be viewed under the conditions of name and form. This distinction between the paramarthika and the vyavaharika perspectives is of the utmost importance, not just in respect of doctrinal formulations, but, as will be seen throughout this chapter, in respect of central ontological aspects of spiritual realization.

In answer to the question: is the Absolute Self designated by the name Atman, Shankara replies:

No it is not. . . . When the word Atman is used . . . to denote the inmost Self (PratyagAtman) . . . its function is to deny that the body or any other empirically knowable factor is the Self and to designate what is left as real, even though it cannot be expressed in words (Absolute, 144).

This answer points to the apophatic nature of all designations and definitions concerning the Absolute; to “define” something in Hindu logic (as in Western logic) means primarily to mark it off from other objects, thus to isolate it; definition (laksana) is thus different from characterization (visesana), that is, positively identifying the attributes which characterize a particular object. Thus, to say that the Absolute “is defined as Reality, Knowledge, Infinity” (Satyam  -Jnanam-Anantam), as it is in the Taittiriya Upanisad on which Shankara comments, means that the adjectives are “being used primarily not to characterize the Absolute positively but simply to mark it off from all else” (Absolute, 178).

Each element negates the non-transcendent dimensions that are implicit or conceivable in one or both of the other elements: to say that the Absolute is “Reality” means that its being “never fails,” in contrast to the forms of things which, being modifications, are existent at one time, only to “fail” at some other time; since, however, this may imply that the Absolute is a non-conscious material cause, the term Knowledge is included in the definition and this serves to cancel any such false notion; and then, since Knowledge may be mistaken for an empirical attribute of the intellect, it too needs to be conditioned—qua definition—by the term Infinity, as this negates any possibility of that bifurcation into subject and object which constitutes the necessary condition for empirical knowledge. Infinity is said to “characterize the Absolute by negating finitude,” whereas “the terms ‘Reality’ and ‘Knowledge’ characterize the Absolute (even if inadequately) by investing it with their own positive meanings” (Absolute, 182).

These “positive meanings” must still be understood from an apophatic viewpoint, in accordance with a central dialectical principle concerning knowledge of the Absolute, namely the double negation, neti, neti—“not thus, not thus.”2 Shankara illustrates this indirect manner of indicating the nature of the Absolute by means of a story about an idiot who was told that he was not a man; perturbed, he asked someone else the question: “What am I?” This person showed the idiot the classes of different beings, from minerals and plants upwards, explaining that he was none of them, and finally said: “So you are not anything that is not a man”: “[T]he Veda   proceeds in the same way as the one who showed the idiot that he was not a ‘not-man.’ It says ‘not thus, not thus,’ and says no more” (Absolute, 143).

For Shankara, communicable meaning is restricted within the following categories: genus, action, quality, and relation. Since the Absolute transcends these categories—it does not belong to any genus, performs no action, has no quality, and enters into no relation with “another” apart from itself—it “cannot be expressed by any word”:

[T]he Absolute is artificially referred to with the help of superimposed name, form, and action, and spoken of in exactly the way we refer to objects of perception. . . . But if the desire is to express the true nature of the Absolute, void of all external adjuncts and particularities, then it cannot be described by any positive means whatever. The only possible procedure then is to refer to it through a comprehensive denial of whatever positive characteristics have been attributed to it in previous teachings and to say “not thus, not thus” (Absolute, 141).

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