Defense of later advaitin-s (was An advaita vedAnta toolkit, etc)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Sun Sep 27 21:55:48 CDT 1998

To Ramakrishnan's points, one must add the evidence of brahmasUtra bhAshya
1. 4. 2-3, where SankarAcArya says,

"avidyAtmikA hi bIjaSaktiH avyakta Sabda nirdeSyA parameSvara-ASrayA

and the evidence of bhagavad gItA bhAshya 7. 4, where,

"ahaMkAraH ity avidyA-saMyuktam-avyaktam | .... ahaMkAra-vAsanAvat
avyaktam mUlakAraNam ahaMkAraH ity ucyate .... iti iyaM yathoktA
prakRtiH me mama aiSvarI mAyASaktiH ashTadhA bhinnA"

The term "avyakta" refers to an unmanifested root-state of the material
universe, which is indicated by the terms mUla-kAraNa and bIja-Sakti. It
is also called avyAkRta nAmarUpa in other places in SankarAcArya's works.
Notice that in both the bhAshyas quoted above, avidyA is closely
associated with this avyakta, and so is mAyA, and it is also made
dependent upon ISvara. It seems to me that this is one reason why later
authors talked of a mUlA-avidyA.

Another point I wish to make is that the (external) sandhi mithyA + ajnAna
is grammatically correct, even if SankarAcArya did not intend it that way.
Besides, such multiple explanations are a standard feature of Sanskritic
philosophical writing. For example, in the bRhadAraNyaka upanishad, there
is a passage, nityonityAnAm etc. Depending upon whether this sandhi is
split as nityaH + nityAnAm, or as nityaH + anityAnAm, one gets different
meanings. Both are found in authors from the same tradition, or even in
works of the same author. This does not indicate inconsistency or internal
contradiction in that author's philosophical views, but it is simply an
acknowledgement of multiple textual interpretations allowed by accepted
norms of grammar.

If this is the case with sandhi, a more complex case holds for samAsa. One
only needs to read SankarAcArya's explanation for the brahmasUtra 1. 1. 3
(SAstrayonitvAt), to see how this works. According to one explanation,
Brahman is the source (yoni) of scripture (SAstra). According to another
explanation, scripture (SAstra) is the source (yoni) of brahma-vidyA.
SankarAcArya simply gives both explanations, without indicating that he
prefers one over the other. In both cases, the property of "SAstrayonitva"
belongs to Brahman, but the meaning of this property is quite different in
each individual case. The first explanation also goes exactly counter
to the pUrva mImAMsA view of scripture, while the second explanation is
easily acceptable to pUrva mImAMsA assumptions. This is very clever
Advaita pedagogy, provided of course, that one knows the Sanskrit
language. In one shot, the master vedAntin both sets apart his own
position from that of another school, and also partially co-opts the view
of that other school, suitably adjusted to his own interpretation.


ps. external sandhi = simple addition of two words, according to rules of
    phonetic combination. In external sandhi, the last syllable of the
    first word gets modified according to the character of the first
    syllable of the second word. Internal sandhi is more complicated.

    samAsa = combination of two words, to make a compound word, which has
    its own meaning, apart from that of its constituent parts.

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list