BhagavAn Vishnu and the advaitins
Anand V. Hudli
anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 1 16:22:53 CDT 1999
The pancharAtra system should be distinguished from another system
that is rooted in the worship of Vishnu - the BhAgavata. A bhAgavata
is a devotee of Vishnu or BhagavAn. This is a broad definition and
indeed Bhagavatism is not a homogenous group but has many different
sub-groups. The Vedic/brahminical form of Bhagavatism is quite ancient
and can be traced back to the Vedas. For example, the aitareya brAhmaNa
of the R^ig Veda makes the following opening remark:
agnirvai devAnAmavamo viShNuh paramah | tadantarA sarvA devatAh ||
"Agni is the lowest and Vishnu is the highest among Gods. All other
gods occupy positions that are in between."
Again, we have the Vedic statement :
yajno vai vishhNuH - Vishnu is indeed the sacrifice (yajna).
Besides, we have splendid hymns to Vishnu in the Vedas, for example,
R^ig Veda 1.22, 1.154, 1.156, etc. By this it is clear that Vishnu
is certainly a Vedic deity.
The bhAgavata purANa which played a vital role in the rise of Bhagavatism
in the medieval times displays a vedAntic influence. Even MadhusUdana
Sarasvati wrote a commentary on the first verse of the bhAgavata.
Many among advaitins, especially from the Maharashtra-Karnataka area,
(including yours truly) call themselves smArta-bhAgavatas or smArtas
following the bhAgavata sampradAya. The deities of ViTThala-Rakhmayi
(Krishna-Rukmini) of Pandharpur exert a powerful influence over the
region and have been the inspiration of many philosopher-saints such as
Sant Jnaneshvar, Eknath, etc. who are predominantly advaitic, and also
poet-saints (dAsa's) such as Purandara-dAsa, many of whom are more closely
aligned with the MAdhva school.
I remember having read in one of BNK Sharma's books that ChitsukhAchArya is
said to have written a commentary on the BhAgavata and that the work is now
lost. The importance of bhakti that the bhAgavata upholds cannot be
denied. Maharashtra, for example, witnessed a long succession of saints who
preached a synthesis of bhakti and jnAna for about five centuries. Sant
Jnaneshwar, Sant Tukaram, Sant Eknath, and Sant Namdev were some of these
saints, who were deeply influenced by the BhAgavata. Eknath, for example,
has written a commentary in Marathi on the 11th skandha of the bhAgavata.
To my mind, it appears that the pancharAtra system is clearly non-vedic
(although it may not be so much anti-vedic) but bhAgavatism or at least
parts of bhAgavatism are based on the Vedas. And the worship of Vishnu
is itself sanctioned by the Vedas.
Advaitins do not accept a hierarchy among Gods as Vaishnavas do. Sometimes,
this position is incorrectly represented by saying that advaitins are
shaivas, especially since the external marks of vibhUti and rudrAksha's
seem to justify such an opinion. The fact is that advaitins regard the
different deities extolled in the Vedas, purANas, and other sources as
being non-different from each other. As far as advaita is concerned, it
does not matter whether one chooses to worship Vishnu or Shiva or Indra
or some other deity so long as such worship is sAttvika or vaidika. In the
daily panchAyatana pUjA, gaNesha, devI, Shiva, sUrya, and VishhNu are
all worshipped. A tantric work called prapanchasAra is attributed to
Shankara, but I am not sure whether such attribution is accepted by all
More information about the Advaita-l mailing list