Advaita and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Vidyasankar vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 8 14:29:03 CDT 2003

>Many a time I have heard that the brihadaranyka upanishad is the greatest
>the upanishads? Is this right? If yes, then great in what sense? Size or
>content or both? Though the traditional schools say that vedas are eternal,
>some people consider the brihadaranyaka upanishad as oldest. How far is
>true from a neutral point of view?

If we are to give relative dates to the upanishad texts, chAndogya and
taittirIya would in many respects be older. Quite apart from modern text-
critical scholarship that tries to assign dates to the Vedas, there is the
old Indian tradition that the Sukla yajurveda (of which the bRhadAraNyaka
upanishad is a part) is a reworking of mantra and brAhmaNa materials that
used to be mixed together in the kRshNa yajurveda (of which the taittirIya
is a part).

>It is generally accepted that the comprehensive Advaita philosophy started
>with Sri Adi Shankara. But if one considers the fact that the

But Adi Sankara himself says he comes from a long sampradAya. In fact, he
says in the gItA commentary that even one who is very well learned in the
texts is to be considered ignorant, if he does not have the force of
tradition behind him.

>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
>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).

Advaita as a school of thought certainly is to be traced back to this and
several other upanishad texts. In my opinion, bRhadAraNyaka is a favorite
text of Sankaracharya's. Even the cultural features of the Advaita
tradition go back to this text. For example, Sankara insists that qualities
like Sama, dama, uparati, titikshA and samAdhAna, along with renunciation
(pravrajyA), are prerequisites for embarking upon vedAntic study. These are
noun forms of the adjectives in bRhadAraNyaka 4.4.20-22 (SAnta, dAnta,
uparata, titikshu and samAhita), and the verb pravrajanti.


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