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The exposition of the Vedanta philosophy online

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EXPOSITION



Ol" THE



VEDANTA PHILOSOPHY,



BY



H. T. COLEBROOKE, ESQ., E.R.S.,

&C. &C. &.C.

DIRECTOR UP THE ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN

AND IRELAND,

VINDICATED;

BEING A

iiefutatton of certain tfufcUafiei! iUmarftg

OF

COLONEL VANS KENNEDY,

PRESIDENT OF THE BOMBAY BRANCH OF THE ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY.



SIR GRAVES C. HAUGHTON, Knt. K.H., M.A., F.R.S

&C. &c. &c.



*' Amicus enim Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis arnica Veritas."



■led from the Asiatic Journal for November 1835, and containing some
Paragraphs and Notes omitted in that Journal for xvant of room.)



LONDON



M.DCCC.XXXV.



/ JJ2



4-44- ft,



LONDON:

Printed by J. L. Cox and Sons, £">, Great Qujeii Street,
LincoluVuin Fields.



INTRODUCTION.



Controversy is always painful ; and would be worse than
useless, if it did not lead to the removal of error, and even, occa-
sionally, to the discovery #f truth. As the writer believes that
both these ends have, to a certain degree, been attained in the
following remarks, he has had a few copies printed off separately
for his private friends, as well as for the use of scholars. The
limits assigned to such letters in a Journal caused a few paragraphs
and notes to be omitted, which will be now found incorporated
in the following pages, as the writer deemed their insertion neces-
sary to complete his views of the various subjects of which he
has treated. Had the Vklanta philosophy been the only point
of consideration, it would hardly have been of sufficient impor-
tance to have called for this separate impression ; but, as other
topics of more general interest have arisen out of that question,
it seemed to him advisable, particularly as it supplied the
unavoidable omissions of his published letter, to put the whole
in that form that might at once give them a chap.ee of more
general perusal, as well as of deliberate consideration. A few
verbal inaccuracies that occurred in the hurrv of its first publi-
cation have been corrected.

An Appendix has been added with the special view of eluci-
dating the question of Cause and Effect ; as well as of demon-
strating the absurdity of the celebrated ancient maxim, ex
nihilo, nihil fit.

London, 3d November, 1835.



n



THE VEDANTA SYSTEM.

Reply of Sir Graves IIaugiitox to Colonel Vans Kennedy.



Addressed to the Editor of the Asiatic Journal.

Sir : In the last number of your Journal, I find a letter addressed to you

by Colonel Vans Kennedy, the object of which is to refute certain remarks of
mine accompanying his paper on the Vcddnta philosophy, published in the
third volume of the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society. My first feel-
ing was not to put forth anything in reply ; further consideration, however, led
me to deviate from the course which I should otherwise be disposed to follow.
I reflected, that silence might be construed into an admission that Colonel
Kennedy's arguments were valid, and his assertions correct; besides which, it
appeared to me that justice to Mr. Colebrooke's reputation for accuracy, and
to my own motives for defending him, with the respect due to those which
influenced the Council of the Royal Asiatic Society in ordering my sentiments
to be printed, rendered it almost imperative on me to draw up the remarks
contained in this letter. Here, I feel myself taken at a disadvantage, from
having been, for a long time past, in a state of health which unfits me for any
literary exertion.

With regret I perceive, that the observations, to which allusion has been
made, were not accepted in a spirit resembling that which gave them utterance.
I can appeal with confidence to my published remarks, and to the members
who were present when I delivered them, that nothing was said, or indicated
by tone or manner, which should have caused to Colonel Kennedy the slightest
pain had he been even present. My observations were restricted to the expres-
sion of my conviction, that Mr. Colebrooke hail been misunderstood ; and
that the Hindus really had a word in the Sanscrit language equivalent to mat-
ter ; indeed, so much was my whole feeling opposed to anything calculated to
five offence, that I spoke of Colonel Kennedy as an able and learned writer.
Those sentiments were delivered on the impulse of the moment, and without
premeditation, as the scope of his argument had been unknown to me, until
the paper was read before the Society. It seemed a subject for regret that the
meeting, which happened to be numerous, should carry away, at its separation,
any impression unfavourable to Mr Colebrooke; for, recollections left on my
mind by the perusal of his paper, some years before, satisfied me that he had
been misunderstood. I was the more desirous of counteracting any misappre-
hension on the subject, as Mr. Colebrooke was disabled by loss of sight and
general infirmity from making any reply to Colonel Kennedy.

The Council of the Royal Asiatic Society (I speak from some years' personal
experience) has always been guided by motives of the strictest impartiality ;
and has invariably endeavoured to foster a spirit of research and investigation
into whatever relates to the ancient or modern condition of the East; and
when it has made public any observations that seemed of themselves question-
able, it has taken every pains that they should be so qualified as not to lead to

B



2 The VSddnta Syste?n.

a hasty and an immature decision. Acting upon these principles, the Council
referred some remarks made by Mr. Money, Secretary to the Bombay Branch of
the Society, on an interpretation of a Greek inscription by the Baron Silvestre
de Sacy, to that very eminent scholar himself; and his reply will be found at
the end of Mr. Money's remarks, in the very same fasciculus of the Transactions
containing Colonel Kennedy's essay. If the Baron's letter is made to follow
Mr. Money's paper, whilst most of my remarks precede Colonel Kennedy's
essay, the difference must be attributed solely to the unanimous conviction of
those members of the Council, who were present when Colonel Kennedy's
paper was ordered to be published, that his views were altogether erroneous,
and that the attack on their venerable director required special notice. The
publication, therefore, of Colonel's Kennedy's essay is, of itself, a decisive
proof of the strict impartiality which regulates the proceedings of the Council
of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Guided by these considerations, the Council of the Royal Asiatic Society or-
dered, what you had reported as spoken on the occasion, to be printed with
Colonel Kennedy's paper. The ill-health of our Director rendered the secre-
tary the only official organ of the society, and, while filling that office, my reply,
consequently, proceeded no less from the necessity of performing its duties
than from admiration of Mr. Colebrooke's rare talents, mingled with sympathy
for his sufferings, which did not allow him even to defend himself from a simple
misconception. Though acting under the impulse of the moment, I felt that,
in addressing a public assembly on one of the most abstruse points of Hindu
metaphysics, — one in which few persons take an interest, and on which fewer
still possess any definite notions, — it was desirable to put the argument in that
form which would admit of general comprehension. The meeting at large
understood that Mr. Colebrooke was represented by Colonel Kennedy to be in
error, though but few possessed the requisite data in order to form a correct
judgment on the points of difference. It was evident that the patience of the
meeting was nearly exhausted in listening to the long extracts from the mystic
metaphysicians of Germany, with which that essay concluded; and that the
only chance left of rousing the attention of the members was to follow the
homely recommendation given by that eminent physician and philosopher,
Dr. Matthew Baillie, when assisting in a consultation with some of his pro-
fessional brethren ; and I accordingly endeavoured to give my auditors " a
mouthful of common sense." For this reason, I refrained from the use of
technical terms, and scholastic forms of illustration. In accordance with
this view, my reply was limited to. the maintaining of two positions ; the first,
that Mr. Colebrooke comprehended the sense of his author; the second, that
the Hindus had, contrary to Colonel Kennedy's opinion, a word for matter.
What I said on the occasion was received with approbation, for all were gra-
tified to find that their venerable director was in the right. Subsequently, when
the Council of our Society determined that my sentiments should be prefixed to
Colonel Kennedy's essay, it appeared requisite that something more special
should be given regarding certain points, on which I had not thought proper
to touch in addressing a public assembly ; and the last paragraph and note
were therefore added. It was evidently necessary that these should be in
keeping with the rest, so that the whole argument might preserve a popular
form ; for I have always entertained the persuasion, that the strength of an
argument consists in its own cogency, and not in an array of technical phrases,
which can be understood only by the initiated few.

Unwilling to rely on my own judgment, where the reputation of the Royal



Reply of Sir Graves Haitghion to Col. Vans Kennedy. 3

Asiatic Society, as well as that of Mr. Colebrooke, was concerned, I referred
the whole subject to the late Rammohun Roy. It will probably be conceded
by all persons acquainted with such matters, that it would have been difficult
to find a man more competent to pronounce an opinion on the question at
issuti than that gifted individual.

Profoundly versed in the literature and philosophy of his own country, him-
self an expounder in English of the VSddnta philosophy, both by a reference
to the Vcdas and the comments written to explain them, he was the very
man to be considered as the ductor dubitantium. Rammohun Roy reiterated
on this occasion his high admiration of Mr. Colebrooke's perfect acquaintance
with Indian literature, which he had so often expressed in public* and private;
and deelarcd his entire concurrence in the manner in which Mr. Colebrooke
had described the VSddnta philosophy. He also gave his approval of my re-
marks. To substantiate his opinion, he pointed out two passages in his own
works, one of which fully supported Mr. Colebrooke's interpretation, " that,
according to the VSddnta philosophy, God was not only the efficient but the
material cause of the universe." Those passagesf were printed with my
remarks, by way of corroboration : no allusion is, however, made to them
by Colonel Kennedy.

Having given this explanation of the causes that led to my remarks, and
their subsequent publication by the order of the Council of the Society, I
now proceed to adduce arguments in proof that Mr. Colebrooke has really
been misapprehended by Colonel Kennedy. If I did not do so more explicitly
before, the reason will appear in the foregoing statement, wherein the object
of my published remarks has been shewn, and my conviction that all who
took any interest in the subject could themselves refer to Mr. Colebrooke's
own publications.

It is known to every one acquainted with Indian literature, that Mr. Cole-
brooke has given, in distinct publications, in the Asiatic Researches of Cal-
cutta, and in the Transactions of our own Society, which he founded, and of
which he accepted the office of director, some masterly translations of original
works, and many admirable essays on the language, the literature, and the
philosophy of the Hindus. In all these he had undertaken to be the expositor,
and not the critic, of the works he brought before the public. Acting on this
principle, he has seldom, by any expression, given his own opinion of his
author. It will shortly be seen, however, that, by a fortunate departure from
his usual reserve, he has left a record of his opinion of the Vedanta philoso-
phy that removes all doubt as to his own conception of its nature; and, con-
sequently, should it appear to be, as Colonel Kennedy asserts, a system of
gross and material pantheism in the writings of Mr. Colebrooke, such an
inference must be deduced from the expressions of its Indian interpreters,
who are faithfully rendered by him.

* The following is an extract from the report of the Anniversary Meeting of the Royal Asiatic
Society, held on the 11th of May 1833, as given in the Asiatic Journal for July of that year :— " The
Raja Rammohun Roy, in rising to propose the vote of thanks to Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Esq.,
director of the Society, said, that he could not allow himself to do so without stating his high opinion
of Mr. Colebrooke's talents and character; he might, indeed, say, that he never knew any person who
stood higher in his estimation than that venerable gentleman. It had long been the opinion of learned
Hindus, the taja observed, that it was impossible for Europeans to acquire a profound and accurate
knowledge of the Sanscrit language, and it was Mr. Colebrooke's translations of the Dium Bhiga and the
MUdcthard, the two most esteemed commentaries on the Hindu law of inheritance, which first con-
vinced him of the contrary, and proved to him that it was possible for Europeans to acquire a know-
ledge of Sanscrit equally comprehensive and correct with the natives of India."

t Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. iii. p. 413—414.



4 The Vtddnta System.

I shall now briefly reply to such of Colonel Kennedy's remarks as seem to
require attention.

Colonel Kennedy, in repeating his assertion that " the essay in question
exhibits a system of the grossest pantheism," and in supporting it by extracts
which he has given from Mr. Colebrooke's essay, overlooks what he ought to
know, that a refutation had already been given of such an opinion by the quo-
tation made from Rammohun Roy's Abridgment of the Veddnt, which leaves
no doubt that the Vedantins themselves assert the Deity to be the efficient as
well as the material cause of the universe. The consequence, therefore, that
ensues, according to Colonel Kennedy, namely, that the Vcddnta system is one
of " gross materialism," must be referred to the Vedantins themselves. The
imputation cannot in any way lie against Mr. Colebrooke, and, had Colonel
Kennedy been more diligent, he would have found, that, in the instance where
Mr. Colebrooke has departed from his usual reserve, he has expressed himself
as follows: — " The latter {Uttara Mimdnsd), commonly called Vcddnta, and
attributed to Vyasa, deduces, from the text of the Indian scriptures, a
refined psychology, which goes to a denial of a material world."* He ought
not likewise to have founded a new chargef of inconsistency upon an objection
already unanswerably refuted. If there be inconsistency, it must be referred
to the native commentators, from whom the passages are drawn, and not to
Mr. Colebrooke.

Colonel Kennedy has adduced a few passages from the comments of Sankara
and the Sutras of Vyasa, where the word may a is employed, and he thence
infers that the doctrine of mere illusion, which is so much insisted upon in
modern expositions of the Vcddnta system (both written and oral), is the true
and ancient one, contrary to the declaration of Mr. Colebrooke. That, how-
ever, this is a misconception on the part of Colonel Kennedy, will, I think,
appear quite evident from the following considerations. In those ancient
Sutras or memorial verses, and in Sankara's comment upon them, the Deity,
orBitAHM, is represented as the sole source of every thing. Individuality is
denied to all other existing things. All the phenomena of physical nature
result merely from the exertion of his energy (salcti), likewise called nature
(prakriti), and illusion (mdyd). This energy, nature, or illusion, is to be con-
sidered as unreal, because there is nothing but Brahm; and it is real, inas-
much as it is the cause of every thing we behold about us.

These words, therefore, so restricted, are not to be taken in the sense they
are employed in dictionaries or other systems. Energy, nature, or illusion, is
further qualified by being called unborn (aja), and it is also termed ignorance
(avidydX), when visible nature is taken for a real essence by minds unen-
lightened by divine knowledge. Energy, nature, or illusion, therefore, cannot
be said to be anything essential, but it is something actual. Hence, these three
words are not the terms for a power, a state, or an abstraction personified by
the abuse of language, but are intended to intimate something certainly that
never before entered the head of any other than a Hindu philosopher, and
which, for want of a better term, we must call an actuality; that is, some-
thing possessing potentiality, but destitute of essentiality, and busily employed
in presenting to the Deity, while he is in calm repose, all the phenomena de-
pendent upon sensation, thought, and the contemplation of the visible world,
and causing him to behold himself diversified into an infinite but fallacious

* Tram. Royal Asiatic Society, vol. i. p. 19. i Vide Co\- Kennedy's letter, p. 98.

t As these five terms are quoted by Colonel Kennedy himself, I have been particular in their expla-
nation.



Reply of Sir Graves Haughton to Col. Vans Kennedy. 5

individuality- Such is the ancient doctrine. How different is this from that
which it lias been represented by modern writers, when the Deity is summa-
rily described as the cause of all things, and all appearances to be mere juggle
and illusion ! In this last sense, the word " illusion " is only employed to
represent an abstract idea. It is true that maya, in its common acceptation,
implies illusion; but it has been shewn that it is not the only term employed
to express this something which the Vcduntins consider as indescribable, but is
employed, along with the words "energy" (salcti) and " nature" {prakriti), to
modify their meaning. Muyd is not to be considered as illusion, but as that
sort of self-induced hypostasis of the Deity, by which he presents to himself
the whole of animate and inanimate nature. Energy, nature, or illusion, is,
therefore, that self-induced condition, which, according to the Vcddntins, arises
in the Deity when he wills to diversify himself, and says, u I may become
many." Hence, the object of all divine knowledge, according to the Vcdun-
tins, is to overcome the illusion produced by the consciousness of individua-
lity; and to arrive at the great conviction that individual soul and the Deity
are not distinct; and that man, discovering his divine origin, which had been
hid from him by energy, nature, or illusion, may become certain that " I am
Brahm."

Dr. J. Taylor, in his appendix to the Prabod'h Chandro* daya, which contains
a tolerably fair account of the Vedanta philosophy, but in which he has blended
the ancient and modern doctrines, felt the full difficulty of interpreting the
sense of mdya; he, accordingly, calls it " motion ;" and, in his note, "nega-
tion " and " falsehood," as will be seen in the following extracts :

" The question, how does desire or volition arise in this simple Being, forms
the subject of many disputes; and I believe that even the subtlety of Hindu
metaphysics has not yet furnished a satisfactory reply.

" The motion which results from this desire is denominated Maia, which
signifies false, illusory, what has no real existence.* In popular language, it
denotes nature, or the principle from which sensible things proceed; and in
mythology it is known under the names Saraswati, Parvati, &c, the consorts
of Bramha, Siv, &c, and who are also considered the Sactis, or powers, of
their respective lords. The motion which is thus excited is the immediate
cause of creation. It is declared in the Fed, ' that God as Maia creates the
world.' "

Two hundred years earlier, Henry Lord, a chaplain in the East-India Com-
pany's Service, translated mdya, " passion or affection."

Indeed, with all these facts before him, it is difficult to conceive how Colonel
Kennedy could suppose that the word maya implied mere illusion ; and I shall
now quote from his own essay a passage which will shew that he himself did
not take it in any such sense. He says : " But the Vcddnticas at the same time
maintain, as the preceding quotations will have fully shewn, that, though in a
certain sense the production of worldly appearances maybe ascribed to the
Supreme Being, as they proceed from h\sjiat, still he must not be considered
as being the immediate cause of them.

" The thus separating his energy from the Supreme Being, and giving to it
an independent power, is certainly one of the most incomprehensible concep-
tions that ever occurred to a philosopher ."f

All these reasons should have made Colonel Vans Kennedy more cautious

* " I am not quite certain as to the etymology of this word, but I am told that it ha*, two meanings, —
negation and falsehood." This account is termed, by Col. Kennedy, " succinct but correct." — Hindu
Mythology, p. 1 oC).

+ Tram. Royal Asiatic Society, vol. iii. p. 410.



G The I'&ldnta Syste?7i.

in censuring a scholar of Mr. Colcbrooke's known accuracy; and he should
have given that gentleman the benefit of the reasonable interpretation which
he has claimed for himself, in the following passage, extracted from his letter :
" I farther remarked, that, in reading Veddnta works, the utmost care should
be taken not to be misled by the language in which its doctrine is expressed,
or by the illustrations adduced in its explanation; for, otherwise, it would
appear to be a system of pure materialism, notwithstanding the clearest texts
to the contrary. These observations surely deserved some attention, before
Sir G. C. Haughton undertook to shew that I had mistaken the view given of
the Vcdanta system in Mr. Colcbrooke's essay ; for I doubt much whether Sir
G. C. Haughton has himself been able to form a clear conception of the subject
discussed in that essay ."f

It must be, indeed, clear from all that has been said, that such a system, if
it be even perfectly comprehensible, cannot be represented by language, but
must be inferred by the mind from the principles already laid down. The
Vcddntins themselves have felt the full force of the difficulty, as will be seen
from the following extract from Dr. Taylor's work : — " It (mdyd) is sometimes,
however, represented as having a real existence ; but this means only that it
exists as motion or energy, and not as Being. This will explain the ambiguous
terms by which it is expressed in several parts of the translations, as where it
is affirmed that Maia is neither true nor false. It is not true, because it has
no essence ; and it is not false, because it exists as the power of the universal
Being."

Even if we select the term mdyd as the only true representative of this sys-
tem, still it must be felt, after all that has been said, that it is not intended to
mean ' illusion,' but that which raises illusive appearances in our minds. It
has the same relation to illusion, that a type has to its impressions, a sub-
stance to its shadow, and a panorama to the effects it produces on the mind of
the spectator. In some points, muyd bears a resemblance to the noumenon,
that is the cause of phenomena, in the philosophy of Kant, and which he
invented to obviate the popular objection to the system of Berkeley, who made
spirits and ideas the sum of all things. The Veddnta system represents the
Deity covering himself with nature (mdyd), as with a mask, for his amusement ;
anil if the spiritual nature of the doctrine be borne in mind, it is not very
much misrepresented by Pope, when, speaking of the Universe, he says : —

" Whose body Nature is, and God the soul."

All that has been said will shew that Mr. Colebrooke was right ; and, that
your readers may feel fully assured that in the preceding remarks I have not
slurred the questions at issue, I reprint, even at the expense of prolixity, Col.
Kennedy's charge against Mr. Colebrooke and myself: —

" For it is evident that the late secretary did not even understand the ques-
tion in dispute between Mr. Colebrooke and myself, as it was to this quotation
from Mr. Colcbrooke's Essay on the Veddnta system that the secretary's re-


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