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In search of Integral Paradigm of Knowledge: three Vedic Epistemologies

Author: Vladimir

Last Updated: June 5, 2012

“The central aim of Knowledge is the recovery of the Self,
of our true self-existence.”

Three Vedic Epistemologies

Vedic tradition designed many different epistemological frameworks, for the reality can be viewed from many different perspectives. To name only a few examples of such frameworks from the Brahmanic literature here: adhilokam, ‘an approach from the point of view of the worlds or levels of consciousness’, or adhijyautiṣam, ‘from the point of view of their energies’; or adhividyam, ‘from the point of view of dissemination of knowledge’; adhiprajam, ‘from the point of view of generations’; etc. etc. But the most famous of them were known as adhibhūta, adhidaiva and adhyātma.

Sri Aurobindo explains their meaning in a lucid manner in his essays on the Upanishads:

“In the ancient conception of the universe our material existence is formed from the five elemental states of Matter, the ethereal, aerial, fiery, liquid and solid; everything that has to do with our material existence is called the elemental, adhibhuta.
In this material there move non-material powers manifesting through the Mind-Force and Life-Force that work upon Matter, and these are called Gods or Devas; everything that has to do with the working of the non-material in us is called adhidaiva, that which pertains to the Gods.
But above the non-material powers, containing them, greater than they is the Self or Spirit, Atman, and everything that has to do with this highest existence in us is called the spiritual, adhyatma.”

In the Gita Sri Krishna also briefly defines them, introducing one more category: adhiyajña, the ‘secret Divine who receives the sacrifice’ in the heart of man which he assigns for himself:

akṣaraṃ brahma paramaṃ svabhāvo ’dhyātmam ucyate/
bhūtabhāvodbhavakaro visargaḥ karmasaṃjñitaḥ// 8.3
adhibhūtaṃ kṣaro bhāvaḥ puruṣaš cādhidaivatam/
adhiyajño ‘ham evātra dehe dehabhṛtāṃ vara// 8.4

“The Imperishable is the Transcendental Brahman. Adhyātma is of the Self-nature, svabhāva. Karma creates [all] in terms of past, present and future.
Adhibhūta is of Perishable nature; Puruṣa is [central in the perception] of Adhidaiva. But I reside in the body of those who are born here: Adhiyajña.”

Sri Aurobindo comments on this text in the Essays of the Gita:
“Akshara is the immutable Brahman, spirit or self, Atman; swabhava is the principle of the self, adhyātma, operative as the original nature of the being, “own way of becoming”, and this proceeds out of the self, the Akshara; Karma proceeds from that and is the creative movement, visarga, which brings all natural beings and all changing subjective and objective shapes of being into existence; the result of Karma therefore is all this mutable becoming, the changes of nature developed out of the original self-nature, kṣara bhāva out of svabhāva; Purusha is the soul, the divine element in the becoming, adhidaivata, by whose presence the workings of Karma become a sacrifice, yajña, to the Divine within; adhiyajña is this secret Divine who receives the sacrifice.”

To comprehend the relations between these epistemological frameworks we must look into their origin. Here I would briefly present a view on the fundamentals of Vedantic Philosophy.
The Self, Ātman, according to the Aitareya Upanishad, the Self-Existent Being, was alone at the beginning. This Self Being includes all the modes of Consciousness, Power and Delight within its own potential existence. Thus for the sake of manifestation it projects out of itself, as it were, the worlds for its future habitation, for the dwellers to live within them in the form of Purusha. Then it creates the dwellers within this habitat: the faculties of consciousness, which are coined out of the Primordial Purusha as his Word, Breath, Sight, Hearing, Mind etc. These faculties are projected into the habitat and thus Purusha becomes Universal. So the difference between the Primordial Purusha and the Universal one can be defined as follows: the Purusha who has all the faculties of Consciousness within himself is the Original Purusha, and the one who has his faculties dwelling in the Universe, in the habitat created by Atman, is the Universal Purusha, though it is one and the same Purusha. Literally it is said that the faculties of Consciousness plunged or fell into the Ocean of Inconscient mahaty arṇave prāpatan, and gradually by climbing back on the evolutionary ladder, as it were, recreated the individual form of Purusha. For without individual form of Purusha it would be impossible for them to come back to the Original one. So basically they recreate the Original Purusha within their habitat in the form of the Individual and thus fulfill their purpose. This plunge into the material Inconscient, this Sacrifice of the Original Purusha to become Universal first and then Individual in the evolutionary movement of the involved faculties of Consciousness creates the division within one Self-Existent Being, Atman, and what was known as true existence, satyam, becomes double in nature: ‘true and untrue’, satyam anṛtaṃ ca satyam abhavat, where Truth is complete and incomplete at the same time. On one side it is perceived as infinite and eternal, (indicating ādhyātmika epistemology), and on the other side as finite and temporal (indicating ādhibhautika epistemology). So when the faculties of Consciousness turn towards the inner Self-Existent Being, where there is no change in becoming, akṣara bhāva, in the Individual, through his self-realised nature svabhāva, they define the ādhyātmika epistemology, but when they turn towards the self-becoming of his outer nature, built out of the elements of the habitat, kṣara bhāva, developed out of his self-realised nature svabhāva, they represent adhibhūta approach to knowledge. But fundamentally there are only two entities: the Self, Atman, (inner and outer, akṣara and kṣara bhāva, approached through the dynamism of the individual, svabhāva) and the Consciousness (puruṣa with his major faculties) perceiving it.

Sri Aurobindo explains that all phenomena of existence whether they are of the outer material universe or of the inner realms of the Self have corresponding faculties of consciousness to cognize them: “The Unknown is not the Unknowable, it need not remain the unknown for us, unless we choose ignorance or persist in our first limitations. For to all things that are not unknowable, all things in the universe, there correspond in that universe faculties which can take cognisance of them, and in man, the microcosm, these faculties are always existent and at a certain stage capable of development. We may choose not to develop them; where they are partially developed, we may discourage and impose on them a kind of atrophy. But, fundamentally, all possible knowledge is knowledge within the power of humanity.”
So, there is nothing in this universe that cannot be known, for there is always consciousness present in the being to perceive it.

Thus we can call the education of faculties of consciousness Adhidaiva Education, where mind, life and body aim at and work for the realization of the Self (adhyātma) in its manifestation (adhibhūta).
Adhyātma Epistemology is the paradigm of our spiritual self-finding, of our higher nature of Consciousness, through the formation of true individual being in manifestation, svabhāva.
Adhibhūta Epistemology is the scientific, materialistic paradigm of knowledge, related to the outer phenomena of becoming, kṣara bhāva.

So the adhibhūta epistemology is quite clear for us what it actually represents. All the knowledge about the material universe and its functions by the means of the scientific methods is a framework for this epistemology, when the senses are turned outside and are gathering all the data through the outer measurement only.

So let us first deal with the adhidaiva and adhyātma epistemologies.

(see attachment)


An Integral Paradigm.pdf