A Critique on Some Views of M. Hiriyanna

A paper titled “The Perspective of Practical Vedānta in the Works of M. Hiriyanna” was presented by Arjun Bharadwaj at the international conference “New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge” (NFSI) on 12th June 2017 organized by the Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth. The current article contains excerpts from the paper.

Hiryanna seems to subscribe to the traditional view of sarva-mukti [1] (simultaneous liberation for all) and places videha-mukti [2] (liberation upon passing away of the physical body) as a further culmination of jīvanmukti.  He says that these are also the aspirations of a jīvanmukta. These views that do not occur in the works of Gauḍapāda, Śaṅkara or Sureśvara, have crept in the post-Śaṅkara period in the advaitic schools. Philosophers in the advaitic tradition belonging to the post-Śaṅkara consider the existence of a tinge of ignorance (avidyā-leśa) even in a realised person - jīvanmukta, thus nullifying the ideal of mukti itself. These add a mystical dimension to  Vedānta and contradict its practical view that is based on universal human experience.

Sarva-mukti is held as an ideal by Bhartṛprapañca, the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism and some advaitins. In essence, it means that “no one, whatever his qualifications and however far he may advance on the path to it, will attain mokṣa  until all are qualified for it”. There are shades of differences in the treatment of sarva-mukti by the Buddhist and the Vedāntic schools. In the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism, attaining mokṣa or nirvāṇa consists in attaining Buddhahood i.e., the state of Buddha. A person, who is short of this state is called a bodhisattva or ‘the Buddha-to-be'. The peculiar consideration here is that the bodhisattva does not seek salvation, i.e., Buddhahood for himself, but his compassion for the world makes him wait until he can take everyone on to the path to perfection. Thus, in essence, the bodhisattva places his own enlightenment at the service of others in order to help them reach the same goal [3].  This seems like a poetic consideration and an ideal situation where the world is free of all imperfections.

In Bhartṛprapañca’s school of thought, there is one cosmic soul, the apara-Brahman and the jīvas are but manifestations of it. Thus, there is only one soul to be liberated, that is the cosmic one. No jīva can reach the spiritual goal apart from others. The finite selves (jīva-s) need to realize their oneness with the cosmic soul and the oneness of all being as Brahman. Thus, it follows that the individual souls (jīva-s) can only contribute to the liberation of that one cosmic soul, which will not occur until the last jīva is also successful. Different schools of advaita too are divided in this matter.

In the first instance, Hiriyanna in his essays has identified two types of men – those who are mere creatures of impulse and appetite and those in whom the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is irrepressible and have a desire for self-conquest [2]. He says that only the latter are qualified to enter upon a course of Vedāntic discipline. Even among those who enter such a discipline, only a few might graduate through the successive stages of Vedāntic training. Thus, in the first place, Vedāntic discipline is not meant for all and not everyone might be successful in the pursuit. This shows that liberation to all, i.e., sarva-mukti is merely a positive wish or a fantasy, and is not possible in reality. A detailed discussion on the problem of sarva-mukti is presented by T.P. Ramachandran in his book on M.Hiriyanna [3].

A jīvanmukta, sees the world as no different from himself and an absolute world, that is a product of time and space, does not exist to him in reality. It’s relative existence is captured by the word ‘māyā’, as popularly used in the Vedāntic tradition but the word does not mean an absolute negation of the world. It means that in the eyes of a jīvanmukta, who is consciously aware of the true nature of things and his own Self, the physical and transitory world has no real value. Sarva-mukti and Videha-mukti border on the thought of jagat-satya, i.e., an absolute existence of the world. Only when an absolute reality of the world is considered, will the existence and liberation of other jīva-s and the passing away of the body of the realized person come into question. Videha-mukti also adds a mystical dimension to the purpose and process of the Vedānta by considering physical death as a major event. A jīvanmukta who has realized the ultimate Truth and consciously experiences the eternal Bliss, the True Nature, has transcended the world and his body, which is also a part of the world. Thus, videha-mukti and sarva-mukti, that are associated with the passing away of the physical body and liberation of the world are not concerns of the jīvanmukta. The Gītā too attests this and places jīvanmukti as the real goal and nothing beyond it (‘ihaiva parimucyate’). Only a non- jīvanmukta sees the body of the jīvanmukta passing away, but the jīvanmukta himself does not see it so. An immediate parallel to his is the suṣupti state (deep sleep), where we are in a state of bliss and unaware of physical and mental joys and sorrows.  The difference is that a jīvanmukta has consciously attained that state and the state endures in him. Thus, the final goal is jīvanmukti and not the assumed further stage called the ‘videha-mukti’ as said by Hiriyanna. (Śaṅkara in his works classifies jīvanmukti as sadyomukti i.e., liberation in the present life and names 'videha-mukti' as gauṇamukti, i.e., a lesser form/ conception of liberation. Thus, jīvanmukti  is the practical ideal in Śaṅkara's view too)

In the second stage of the training of a Vedāntin, Hiriyanna recommends the practice of upāsana, meditative contemplation on the oneness of the particular and the universal. Although upāsana’ need not necessarily involve meditating upon the form of a deity, it is one of the easiest means of devotion for a devotee. Devotion to a deity is not indispensable for the pursuit of Vedānta but can be seen as a stepping stone. The Absolute entity, the Brahman is a fourth transcendental entity beyond the triad of the individual, the world and God. Some exceptional men may even by-pass the stage of upāsana in their training, but these stages are recommended for ordinary men with a spiritual inclination. The fact that devotion is not indispensable to Vedānta only proves that it transcends even religion and is not tied to a specific culture, though it was realized in its fullest form in the Indian culture and a clear exposition of the process and the product have been documented.

Thanks to Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh for his inputs




[1] Hiriyanna M, Indian Conception of Values, Kavyalaya Publishers (Mysore: 1975), pages 292-312

[2] Hiriyanna M, The Training of The Vedantin, The Karnataka (Bangalore: 1917)

[3] Ramachandran T. P., The Builders of Indian Philosophy Series - M.Hiriyanna , Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers (New Delhi: 2001)




Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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