Advaita and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Tue Apr 8 09:47:30 CDT 2003

On Mon, 7 Apr 2003, kalyan chakravarthy wrote:

> Namaskaaram,
> Many a time I have heard that the brihadaranyka upanishad is the greatest of
> the upanishads? Is this right? If yes, then great in what sense? Size or
> content or both?

In size certainly it is one of the longest.  That is because as I
mentioned before it is embedded in the Shatapathabrahmana and also
contains Aranyaka type material.  In content how can you say one upanishad
is greater than another?  They all speak of Brahman.

> Though the traditional schools say that vedas are eternal,
> some people consider the brihadaranyaka upanishad as oldest. How far is this
> true from a neutral point of view?

I don't think any reputable historian would go as far as saying it is
_the_ oldest but historically it belongs to the earliest period based on
the language, subject matter, continuity with the Brahmana-texts etc.  The
vamshabrahmanas at the end of each kanda show that many generations passed
before it reached its present form.

> It is generally accepted that the comprehensive Advaita philosophy started
> with Sri Adi Shankara. But if one considers the fact that the brihadaranyaka
> upanishad is much older and contains many direct and explicit non-dualistic
> statements, can it be said that Advaita traces its origin to the days of the
> brihadaranyaka upanishad?(In case it is accepted that this upanishad is the
> oldest and was written/emerged at a certain point of time in history).

Because of the need to handwrite manuscripts and enviromental factors (e.g
termites have destroyed more of our heritage than 100 invaders) if a work
lost interest it quickly passed into oblivion.  It is not that
Shankaracharya was the first exponent of Advaita Vedanta but his work
totally eclipsed his predecessors.  However we do have some quotations,
fragments etc. of earlier authors and there is no reason to suppose this
line does not go all the way back to the upanishads.  However that doesn't
mean Advaita Vedanta was exactly the same in every detail then as now.
The Rshis were inspired to know Brahman.  They discussed it amongst
themselves, some views were accepted and some rejected.  This was also the
beginning of the various sampradayas.  We see this in the Brahmasutras in
many places e.g. 1.4.19-23.  Perhaps we can say Rshis Ashmarathya,
Audolomi, and Kashakrtsna are early examples of a Vishishtadvaitin,
Dvaitin, and Advaitin respectively.

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

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