Old topics

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Apr 9 02:15:27 CDT 2003

On Tue, 8 Apr 2003, Sanjay Verma wrote:

> Pranam to all,
> Previously there was some discussion on the sources of authority in the
> Advaita Vedanta tradition, which began with the subject "Statements in
> our Shastras" and grew from there to various corollary topics.
> 1) Bhagavad Gita
> I had asserted that the Bhagavad Gita holds a special place in the
> tradition. I claimed that although it is considered part of the
> Mahabharata from a literary standpoint, that spiritually it is not given
> the same treatment as other Smriti texts. My view was emphatically
> refuted.

I had hoped it was crystal clear but evidently you are still confused
about what I said and didn't say.  I am not doubting the popularity of the
Gita.  I am not saying it isn't an important Vedantic text.  What I
emphatically _am_ saying is that those shlokas dealing with caste have
zero bearing on the issue.

> I submit the following for further consideration:
> a) The following is from the book "Shankara and Adhyasa-Bhashya" by
> Professor S. K. Ramachandra Rao (copyright 2002) on page 64 in the
> chapter entitled "What did he rely on?":
> "It is obvious, both from an analysis of these citations and from his
> own acknowledged preferences, that Shruti for him means the concluding
> portions of the Vedic lore which also contain the final import of the
> scriptural tradition viz. the Upanishads (or the Vedanta).

No it is not obvious at all.  Shankaracharya is talking about jnana.  So
of course he quotes the parts relevant to jnana.  What does Prof. Rao
expect him to quote, texts on table tennis?  When the occasion to talk
about karma comes, he doesn't quote the upanishads but the texts relevant
to the subject like the Mimamsa sutras in the discussion on smrti below.
Furthermore he doesn't hesitate to use Vedantic statements found elsewhere
in the Shruti where appropriate i.e. in the bhashya on Ishopanishad 2.
where the Taittireya Aranyaka is quoted.

> "As one belonging to the doctrinal fold well within the broad Vedic
> tradition, he also relies on some secondary sources like the Sutras of
> Asvalayana, Katyayana and Apastamba, the two great epics Ramayana and
> Mahabharata, some Puranas (e.g., Markandeya), and some socio-religious
> treatises (dharma-shastras like the one by Manu). His reliance on them,
> however is negligible and casual. The exception is the Bhagavad-Gita,
> from which he quotes frequently, and which he looks upon as an important
> source.

An important source yes, but not one of singular importance.

> It is well-known that there is a commentary on this work
> ascribed to him. But he does not recognize it as a part of the epic,
> Mahabharata, as is usually understood."

I wonder how Prof. Rao came to such a strange conclusion?  In the
introduction to his Gitabhashya, Shankaracharya says the Gita is

vedavyAsah sarvajno bhagavAn gItAkhyaih saptabhih shlokashataih
upanibandhah |

Now true he doesn't explicitly say that same Veda Vyas is the author of
the Mahabharata but why should he need to spell out a fact known to even
little children?  The works and authors that consider the Gita to be part
of the Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata are too numerous to count.  The
onus is on Prof. Rao to defend such an odd surmise.

> b) In the "Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Shankaracharya" as translated by
> Swami Gambhirananda (Advaita Ashrama), the following is from the
> foreword, as written by Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan (Director, Center for
> Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras):
> "The Bhagavad-Gita comes next only to the Upanishads. It is given a
> status which is almost equal to that of the Upanishads. As embodying the
> teachings of Sri Krishna, and as constituting the cream of the Epic
> Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita occupies a unique place in the Vedantic
> tradition. A popular verse compares the Upanishads to the cows, the
> Bhagavad-Gita to the milk, Sri Krishna to the milkman, Arjuna, the
> Pandava hero, to the calf, and the wise people to the partakers of the
> milk. Sri Shankara describes the Bhagavad-Gita as the quintessence of
> the teaching of the entire Veda (samasta-vedartha-sarasangraha-bhutam)."

Then how do you explain Shankaracharya also wrote a prakarana called
sarvavedantasarasangrah?  This is poetic hyperbole that's all.

> c) The following is from the opening pages of the pocket edition of the
> Bhagavad Gita, printed by Gita Press, Gorakhpur:
> “Sri Vedavyasa, after describing the Gita in the Mahabharata, said in the end: --
> “Gita sugita kartavya kimanyaih shastravistraih | Ya svayam
> padmanabhasya mukhpadmadvinihsrita ||
> I draw attention to the second part of the first line, which is
> translated as follows:
> “What is the use of studying other elaborate scriptures?”
> “Moreover, the Lord Himself also described its glory a the end of the
> Gita (vide Chapter XVIII verses 68 to 71).”
> I draw attention especially to verses 68 and 69:
> He who imparts this transcendent secret to My devotee, nurturing utmost
> devotion to Me, will doubtlessly attain Me. (BG 18:68)
> None among men, other than he, does a deed dearer to Me; nor is there in
> the world one dearer to Me. (BG 18:69)

You can find similiar passages at the end of the Shivamahimnastotra,
Chandipath and many other places.  It is called phalashruti and it is a
kind of advertising if you will.  Remember shankaracharya also commented
on the Vishnusahasranama, Anugita and Sanatasujatiyam from the
Mahabharata.  He also quotes from the Mokshadharma, Shantiparva and
Striparva in the course of the Gitabhashya.

> 2) Shruti versus Smriti
> The reason I had raised the issue of the Bhagavad Gita's status in the
> Vedanta tradition was because of some statements in the Shastras and
> whether or not we should continue to follow them.
> The following is from Adi Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brahma
> Sutras (II.i.1) where the Vedantin position is expressed as follows:
> " 'With the help of the Smritis, we shall meet the arguments of those
> who take their stand on the Smritis'. It was shown earlier that the
> Upanishads have for their purport God as the cause. In a case of
> conflict among the Smritis themselves, when it become incumbent to
> accept some and reject others, the Smritis agreeing with the Upanishads
> are to be accepted as valid, while the others are not to be relied on.
> Thus it has been said in the course of determining the validity of the
> means of knowledge: 'When a Smriti contradicts a Vedic text, it is not
> to be relied on (and ought to be rejected); for a Vedic text can be
> inferred to exist as the basis of a Smriti passage only when there is no
> such contradiction' (Jai. Su I.iii.3)."

Again you are reading the words but completely missing their point.  This
is a rejoinder against those who say the Kapilasmrti (i.e. Samkhya/Yoga)
should be considered authoritative because it is also the work of an
ancient sage of legendary renown.  The siddhanta is no because
Samkhya/Yoga teachings (i.e. pradhana as the cause) contradict Vedic
statements that Brahman is the cause.

> This is the point I was trying to make: that some texts do hold more
> weight than others, and that when there is a conflict Shruti texts
> supercede what is asserted in the Smriti texts. All this leads to the
> following

> 3) Caste Determination
> As was overtly acknowledged in this discussion group (without
> refutation), the Prasthana Treya are: 1) Upanishads, 2) Bhagavad Gita,
> 3) Brahma Sutras, and as I put forth a list of Upanishads to which no
> one objected (except that the Katha Upanishad was listed twice), I
> submit the "Sri Vajrasucika Upanishad of the Sama Veda" which directly
> discusses caste determination:

I didn't respond to that message but I did repeatedly tell you that your
foolish fundamentalist insistence on a fixed canon is methodologically
bogus.  There are far more than 108 works which go by the name upanishad.
Which are real and which are late forgeries?  Just because
"Allahopanishad" suggests you should visit Mecca does that mean Navaratri
etc. are suddenly invalid?  To determine "genuineness" (a contentious
idea) we should look at history.  The "big ten" upanishads are undoubtedly
real because every single acharya has commented on them.  There are
several others which have been atleast mentioned by multiple people.  Now
I ask you to use some common sense.  If this Vajrasuchika (it's name alone
should cause you to suspect something) is real part of the revered Shruti
and moreover is the "smoking gun" about the caste system, how do you
explain the total pindrop silence about it in the literary tradition?  The
fact is the only reason anyone knows anything about it is because
Radhakrishnan put it in his book.

> 4) "An Advaitin Never Lies"
> The above statement was made in response to my narration that my
> grandfather changed our family name after partition when we moved from
> Multan to U.P.
> First, I never asserted that my grandfather was an advaitin.

No, only that he was a liar.

> Second, even in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas had to obscure their
> identity for one year to fulfill the terms of a bet. Furthermore, in the
> final battle, I believe it was Dharmaraja who uttered, "Ashvathama is
> dead" to intentionally deceive his opponent (intentionally misleading
> his opponent to believe that his son had died, rather than Ashvathama
> being the name of an elephant, so as to startle his opponent with
> grief). Furthermore, the Pandavas violated many rules of war (e.g.,
> striking an unarmed person from behind) using the justification of doing
> what was necessary to win the war (the bigger picture of upholding
> dharma).

And what was the upshot?  That same Ashvatthama slaughtered all the
children of the Pandavas.  Only Parikshit was saved by the grace of
Krishna Bhagavan.  You should read the Mahabharata sometime.  It delves
deeply into moral dilemnas and their consequences.

Thus we see the terrible fruits of karma.  Evil deeds beget more evil
deeds.  This is why the shastras say (a motto adoped by the Republic of
India) that in the end only truth prevails.

> An act of commission is different than an act of omission. Obscuring
> one's identity for survival (anyone with even a cursory knowledge of
> Indian history should be aware of the massive bloodshed that took place
> during partition) is different than actively telling a lie. One should
> be careful not to pass judgment about what another person does during
> wartime to ensure survival.

Many of the people I've met through my mothers Sai Baba group are Sindhis
and I've heard some harrowing tales of those times.  (Though they don't
seem to have felt the need to change names.)

And yes we should pass judgement.  Right now a war is going on between
the US and Iraq.  It is particularly in the chaos of war that you should
think deeply about your own actions and the actions of others.  Why do you
think Bhagavan chose to instruct Arjuna on the battlefield?

> Furthermore, in Brahma Sutras (III.iv.30),
> it states with references to prohibitions:
> "...when a calamity befalls, all kinds of food can be eaten
> indiscriminately by the enlightened and unenlightened alike: 'Just as a
> lotus leaf is not drenched by water, so also a man, who eats food from
> wherever he gets it when life is in jeopardy, is not affected by sin.' "
> The point here being that in a calamity allowances (on the issue of what
> is considered righteous) are made for survival.

Well what about now? What calamity are you in now as a doctor in
prosperous, independent India?

> Furthermore, I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to
> dignify such a statement with a response. Such attacks on family lineage
> are more appropriate for political mudslinging and not appropriate for
> intellectual discussions and/or debates.

You brought it up not me.  Why is it mudslinging if it causes people to
doubt his reliability?

> It has already been made clear that at least one person believes that
> Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s teachings do not accurately represent Vedanta. I
> do not know on what grounds this conclusion was made (the only
> explanation offered being his mother's judgment). However, if (and I
> emphasize IF) this is based on the experience of the bhajan groups that
> many Sri Sathya Sai Baba devotees attend, then one has grossly
> misunderstood the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

I've met hundreds of his followers (and Shirdi Sai Babas') including some
people who knew him before you were born.  How fortunate I've now come
across the only person who really understands his teachings.  Today must
be my lucky day :-)

> Finally, we can go around and around on this without any conclusion, but
> I assert

Feel free to assert as much as you like.  Conclusions come from facts.

> Professor Rao (mentioned above) describes Shankara's attitude on
> ‘experience’ as follows: "He would reject the evidence of all other
> means of knowledge, if personal experience warranted a detail. He also
> recognizes that in such matters as spiritual attainments one's own
> experience is solely authoritative: it cannot be disputed by another,
> with all the armor of correct knowledge at his command." [This Prof. Rao
> concludes from Brahma Sutras (4, 1, 15) ]

The bhashya on 4.1.15 says nothing of the sort.  But I'll leave it to you
to find out what it actually does say.

> So, let us share our
> respective perspectives, and provide illuminating information if we
> believe another person’s perspective is missing the mark, but let us not
> get lost in asserting that one person’s view is “right” or “wrong”.

Hear hear.  And let doctors drop all that medical mumbo-jumbo and talk
only in words a simpleton can understand.  And if I choose to say that
cancer is caused by constipation then they should share my perspective and
not judge it as right or wrong.  (Because if they try and correct me it is
only because they are puffed up with pride in their shiny stethoscopes and
diplomas.)  I  have watched many medical dramas on TV so I am their equal
in every way.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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