Essential Advaita works

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Sep 26 00:35:08 CDT 2002

[Was Re: Neti yoga]

On Mon, 23 Sep 2002, nanda chandran wrote:

> As noted before Shankara’s baashyams on the Upanishads, Gita and Brahma
> Sutras are voluminous – so is the Bhaamati being a commentary on the
> Sareeraka Baashyam. Also the problem of “toeing the line” of the original
> authors suffers from one major constraint : Shankara will have to explain
> Advaita in the context of the texts he is commenting upon and thus might not
> be able to systemically expound Advaita in the way he wants it – simply put
> he does not have absolute control.

It should be obvious from reading his words, that the way he wants to read
the texts is precisely according to the original authors.  So he would not
view this as a constraint I don't think.

> In contrast to these voluminous texts, the Upadesha Saahasri is relatively
> shorter. Also since Shankara has absolute freedom he systematically expounds
> Advaita in the way he wants it. So a work like Upadesha Saahasri is packed
> fully with the quintessence of Advaita in a systematic way while in his
> commentaries such information is scattered. For example like many of this
> list I too initially thought that according to Advaita the “knower” is the
> Atman – but such an understanding is negated for a higher understanding in
> the Upadesha Saahasri. I’m sure you’ll find similar clarification about the
> knower in the baashyams too – but where? – just that it is not in the right
> place for clarification as the exposition of Advaita in these texts is not
> really systematic. As a result most of us suffer from a misunderstanding of
> the Vedaanta.
> If people would only read this work, many of the theories presented here on
> this as Advaitic will disappear.

Yes that's true.  It should be noted that there is a danger in the
prakaranas too (especially from later authors) that too much is assumed
which can also lead readers astray.

> Also irrespective of how many ever books that we read, still to a great
> extent, authority in expounding Vedaanta will depend on how correctly we’ve
> understood these texts. But a non-jnaani who has “understood Vedaanta” at
> best can only understand unreality and have a right conception of reality.
> It is only a jnaani who truly knows reality and can expound it right.

The way I approach the shastras is as a record of the experiences of
jnanis.  One has to literally get into a text as if one were a character,
join in the debates as if sitting right there.

> Are we jnaanis? No. Are we aachaaryaas of the tradition? No. Are we at least
> traditional renunciates who live the Vedaantic way of life? No. Even the
> traditional grhasta life is beyond us. So at the least let us accept our
> limitations in humility.

I have a big problem with accepting limitations because most people are
too ready to do this.  If Brahman is without limit and we want to become
one with Brahman, how can thinking of limits help?  Some of our great
Rshis have been arrogant.  When King Janaka offered a 1000 cows to the one
who could best explain Brahmavidya, Maharshi Yajnavalkya strod in and
claimed them while others hung back.  That is the arrogance bornof
confidence and there is nothing wrong with it in my book.  Sure we may not
be living the proper way of life right now but that doesn't mean we never
will or there aren't substantial steps we can take in that direction.

> For those interested in understanding classical Advaita, for all practical
> purposes – intellectual and spiritual - I would suggest four books :
> Vedaantasaara of Sadaananda – suggested to me by Giri a long time ago, this
> is a must for all beginners.

I would substitute the Vedanta Paribhasha of Dharmaraja Adhvarindra but
that's just my personal opinion.

> Mandukya Kaarikaa of Gaudapaada – teaches four main things : 1. the falsity
> of the world, 2. the falsity of the phenomenal self, 3. the part of the
> phenomenal self which represents reality and 4. the way to attain reality.
> To understand Gaudapaada, is to lose the conceptualizing tendency of the
> mind and zero in on one’s own self.
> Upadesha Saahasri of Shankaraachaarya – here the concentration is mainly in
> understanding our self and that part of the self which represents reality –
> the arguments are much deeper than Gaudapaada’s - intellectual neti, neti
> par excellence.
> Vivekachoodaamani of Shankara – here we have a practical systematic path to
> supplement the intellectual understanding established in the previous work,
> to effect liberation – this is more a yogic/meditational neti, neti.
> IMO almost everything spiritually useful in Advaita – intellectual and
> meditational – is contained in these works. The Ramakrishna Mission has
> superb translations of all four works – in India none of them costs more
> than Rs 25.

I would add the Brahmasutrabhashya despite its' volume and less organized
nature.  After all the rest of Advaita Vedanta revolves around it.

I would also suggest that anyone who really wants to understand Advaita
Vedanta in context familiarize themselves with karmakanda.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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