[Advaita-l] Importance of Sampradaya
shyam_md at yahoo.com
Tue Aug 11 21:02:22 CDT 2009
I fully agree with your Vedanta teacher, and my humble namaskarams to Him or Her.
Who told you that in our sampradaya we do not question the teacher - in fact we are very much encouraged to - nay, we are specifically instructed to question the teacher till our doubts get resolved - this is exactly what shravanam and mananam entails - atmavare shrotavya mantavya... this degree of freedom of questioning I would say is almost unique to our sampradaya - doubt is encouraged provided it is encompassed by a broader matrix of shraddha - in both the teacher and the teaching. Only then can learning take place.
These were 2 posts written by me on the "advaitin" list-forum in response to a discussion on a related topic and I am reproducing it here for what its worth. Some of the points raised are relevant only to what was being discussed at the time, but I have chosen not to edit those sections in the interest of continuity of the post.
There seem to three issues
a. Does Advaita Vedanta adopt a rigid/absolute stance when it comes to declaring
the Vedas as the only pramana for self-knowledge?
b. As followers of this tradition then, how do we view or reconcile this fact
with other spiritual traditions?
c. Do all spiritual traditions say the identical truth in different ways
With regards to the first question - there can simply be no two opinions that
the Shruti the Smrti as well as Shankara's bhashyas (as well as Sureshwara's
vartikas for that matter) all repeatedly, consistently and categorically affirm
that the ONLY means of knowledge of Brahman, or self-knowledge, is the Shastra.
There is no leeway that allows for any other pramana besides the Shastra to be
operational in leading to self-knowledge - mystic experiences included.
In BrahmaSutra 2.1.27 "tu shruteh shabdamulatvat"
Shankara in his bhashya here also clarifies "...partlessness is accepted on
account of its very mention in the Upanishads and the Upanishads are the ONLY
authority about It" and further "So what need has one to argue that the nature
of Brahman, whjose power is beyond all thought, cannot be ascertained UNLESS it
be through the Vedas?" and moreover "Hence a supersensuous thing is truly known
from the Vedic source ALONE".
In a different part the famous sutra BS 1.1.3 "Shastra yonitvat"
Sastra is the ONLY pramana for knowing Brahman.
It is only from the Sastra that Brahman is known.
Similarly in innumerable instances in the Introduction to the Br.Up for example,
in the Upadesha Sahasri, in the Sutrabhashyas, etc Shankara explicitly affirms
that the knowledge of Brahman can be obtained ONLY from the Shastras.
It is important to again note in this instance that the Vedas are not scriptures
authored by Rishis based on their personal experiences or "revelations". They
are not even authored by the SUpreme Lord Himself. They are simply imparted by
the Supreme Being at the beginning of each cycle of creation without effort as
in breathing out. (The Br.Up 3.4.10 refers to the VedAs as verily the breath of
Brahman) So even the Lord does not have any liberty in "creating" the Vedas - he
has to impart them in strictly and exactly the same way as they were in the
previous kalpa since beginnigless time. So unlike other spiritual traditions our
faith in the VedAs is not based on the circular logic that the VedAs are true
because God created them and God is true because the VedAs says so" - it is
precisely in this sense that the VedAs are considered to be coeval with
beginningless Creation - and hence are called `apaurusheya'
So a firmrooted and unswerving faith in the VedAs - which is termed being an
"astika" - is central to any seeker in advaita vedanta. "shraddhavan labhate
jnanam" in the words of Bhagwan KrishnA.
Certainly the vaidika margA is not one easy to obtain. In the words of the
Vivekachudamani "For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so is
a male body; rarer than that is Brahmanahood; rarer still is the attachment to
the path of Vedic religion" So one can certainly be grateful and privileged to
come into the fold of a tradition that is based on the Vedic path.
It is very likely that persons such as Ramana Maharishi or Nisargadatta who were
born into a Vaidkia tradition had prior births of exposure to the vaidkia marga
- in fact Ramana had stated as much, and has at the same time acknowledged the
VedAs as being the source of knowledge of Oneness with the Supreme. Similarly
many of the modern Westerners who write about Oneness and the like (Tolle,
Walsch, Chopra) have themselves acknowledge - some more halfheartedly - that
they have been exposed to "numerous" source of Eastern philosophy in this birth.
Now the question is raised: does our faith in the VedAs as being the sole
pramanA for self-knowledge then mean we condemn or reject the validity of other
The answer is no - we do not. Every spiritual tradition has validity in and of
itself. And the correct interpretation of what the tenets of a given spiritual
system are is best left to the proponents of that system. Hoisting advaitic
interpretations to scattered statements in their scriptures, is in my view
unjustified. Ishwara's Order is perfect and it will ever ensure that a sincere
devout seeker belonging to any tradition - be it Abrahamic, Sikh, Jain, dvaitic,
etc - will never be forsaken. As per the doctrine of karma each person is born
in a religion and environment suitable for his or her own further
advancement."tasyaahaM na praNashyaami sa cha me na praNashyati" This is
Krishna's resounding promise - that My devotee I shall never forsake. How He
navigates their journey to salvation is not our concern. The following is an
excerpt from the SutaSamhita/Skanda PurAnA
" Listen with faith, O sages, to what I say as to the truth of the various
paths. Vedas, DharmaShastras, Puranas, Vedangas and minor Vedas; ...........the
Pashpuata, Soma, Bhairava and other ligamas with their hundred varieties;
Vaishnava and Brahma agamas ; the agamas of the Baddhas and the Arhats;
.........the Tarka-sastras in all their vastness; the profound Mimamsa, as also
Sankhya and Yoga : all these and many more Shastras, the Omniscient Divine Being
has made in brief. It is only by the Grace of Rudra that Devas like Brahmas and
Vishnu, Siddhas, Yakshas, Rakshasas, Munis and men make the Shastras again, in
brief or in extenso. The wise say that each of these sastras is intended for a
particular class according to the individual qualification, not all for one. As
all streams ultimately empty themselves into the ocean, so all these paths
ultimately lead to the Mahesvara Himself. Worshipped in what form soever by
people as ordained in their respective scriptures, He assumes that form and
takes the devotee on to the next higher step. By His Grace man attains to
superior paths. The Divine Being worshipped in the form in which He is
represented in these paths takes the devotee step hy step onward to the path of
the Veda. The form which the Divine Being assumes in the path of the Veda is the
immediate cause of salvation. Even there the form of the Divine Being as
represented hy the ritualistic portion of the Veda only stimulates a longing for
knowledge while worshipped in the form presented in the theosophical portion He
leads the devotee to moksha through wisdom. As the highest salvation is only of
one kind, the knowledge wliich leads to it must be of one kind and of one kind
onlv. The Vedanta treats of Shankara as the non.dual Atman. No other path treats
of Him directly as the Vedanta does. Therefore knowledge produced by the Veda is
alone wisdom. Knowledge obtained by other means is avidya, unwisdom. The other
paths cannot themselves lead to moksha, they are serviceable only as leading to
it through the intervening steps. Mahadeva, as known by the Vedanta, directly
gives moksha; as known and worshipped in the other paths. He leads to moksha hy
gradually taking the soul on to the direct path. Wherefore he who treads the
path of the Vedanta should not change it for any other. For those who tread the
path of the Veda, nothing is hard to attain. There alone lie the supreme mukti.
Wherefore the different paths are useful to the different individuals for whom
they are specially intended. Whenever other paths are opposed to the Vedanta in
their theories as to the nature of Isvara, as to the cause of bondage, as to the
cause of the Universe, as to mukti, and as to what constitutes wisdom, and so
on, those theories, to be sure, have been furnished in accordance with the
prevailing desires of the ignorant whose minds are darkened by the mighty
delusion, not because they are absolutely true in themselves, but because they
serve, by holding out some legitimate pleasures, to ultimately bring them round
to the right path when their sins have been washed away in the waters of the
more or less pure morality therein inculcated. As man allures an erratic cow by
holding out grass, so does Mahesvara first hold out some pleasures and then
gives supreme wisdom as the mind becomes perfected. 'Thus these paths, laid out
as they are by Shiva, are all of them true and serviceable. How can Shiva be a
deceiver? He is supremely merciful, omniscient, and altogether stainless. Yet,
of all the paths, the path of the Veda is the best, as conducing to all good.".
WHen we try to interpret other scriptures based on our own knowledge of VedAntA
we undermine the ability of acknowledged Masters of that tradition to interpret
it in the way they see fit. Would the Pope or any minister or bishop preach
AdvaitA or acknowledge that someone like Ramana achieved salvation without first
accepting Christ as His one True God and Savior? Would a Maulvi consider that
someone like Amritananda Ma who rejected the idea that Allah was the one and
only true God and Reality had achieved the status of Total Oneness with the
Supreme. Do we feel that our ability to interpret Buddhist thought is better
than hundreds of Great Buddhist masters who in trying to interpret the teachings
of the BuddhA founded various schools and subschools of Buddhism itself. Isnt
what MahAvirA taught best left to someone who has devoted his lifetime in the
pursuit of the JainA mArgA, and who will never acknowledge Satyam-JnAnam-Anantam
Brahman as taught by the Upanishads? How, without such knowledge, Ishwara will
enable the emancipation of the varied followers of all these different faiths
need not be our concern. Every devout follower whatsoever be his faith will by
the strength of his devotion develop the qualities of ahimsA, amanitvam,
adambhitvam, arjavam, kshanti, shama, dama, brahmacharyam, and so forth and
gradually also total vairagyAm which really are the gateways to MokshA - be it
videhamukti or kramamukti. So while a Vedantic student who is caught up in his
own system's intellectual superiority may choose to never progress beyond a
lifetime of intellectual pursuit and jugglery, and fritter away this life
without taking the effort at inculcating shadsampatti, a devout Muslim for
example may instead make use of this lifetime far more effectively in working
towards his emancipation, by a strict adherence to the principles of his own
religious faith, without ever wondering about the intricacies of ajahallakshana,
We need not dilute the import of nor attempt to reinterpret our own scriptures
in order to accomodate or provide bypass routes for non-believers of our
traditions - it is quite unnecessary (and in many ways patronizing).
For example - the oft-quoted rishibhir bahudha geetam - what does this statement
mean? Does this mean that all religions speak of the One Reality in different
ways? Absolutely not! What Krishna is indicating here that IN THE VEDAS various
mantra-drshtAs such as Vashishta have described the One Reality in many ways and
so has the author of the BrahmasutrAs - BAdArayana. One cannot now reinterpret
this and say this also applies to proponents of every other belief system in the
world like Islam and BahAi etc. Another oft quoted mantra of all-inclusiveness
is "ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti" Let us examine the entire sloka here
"Indram mitram varunam agni mahuradho divyah Sa suparno garutman Ekam sat vipra
bahudha vadanti agnim yamam matariswanam ahuh" They call it Indra, Mitra,
Varuna, Agni as well as Garutman of heavenly plumage. Truth or Reality is One,
but the learned (Brahmanas) refer to it in different names like agni, yama,
This is a mantra from the Rig VedA which affirms that all the deities that are
worshipped in the ritualistic section of the VedAs are in reality varied forms
of the one ParamAtman. It does not mean that every religion's version of "Real"
or the concept of what Reality is, is necessarily the same or identical. What
separates the Vedic path from others is that most of the other religions will
say - "Believe in my God or be prepared to spend eternity in Hell".
Can the testimony of certain self-realized Masters be considered a equally valid
pramana? Yes - as long as such testimony is in line with the VedAntA - and again
here it is not the testimony itself that is the pramAna but the oneness of such
a testimony with what VedAntA affirms that becomes the pramAnA - for example if
a self-realized soul were to proclaim that there is no Ultimate Eternal Reality,
then such a teaching and the teacher is best ignored by us. For example the
BuddhA would certainly be considered Self-Realized in the same manner as we
would consider hundreds of other Masters. And yet we find Bhagwan Shankara
saying the BuddhA was incoherent, deluded, and malicious - all in one sweeping
statement! So if someone acknowledged as one of the Greatest Sages of our times
can be so charactized by our beloved AchAryA then we should certainly question
if we as ignorant jivAs have the capacity to trust any achAryA who does not base
or at least reconcile his own teachings and experience with the VedAs.
We have a lot of ground to cover in our own as yet fragile hold on the Truth and
in the severely limited time we have in this human birth to understand and
assimilate VedantA which we have fortunately been privileged to be learning in a
sampradaya which has been preserved since time immemorial. Let us conserve our
efforts and energies in that, instead of trying to find similarities with the
hundred other prominent religious faiths in the world, or wondering about the
mechanism of those we find "self-realized", seemingly bereft of the benefit of
direct Vedic teaching.
Again, my sincere thoughts only - I respect the fact that these may neither be
aligned with the majority nor necessarily considered popular. My apologies for
its inadvertent length and/or if it offends anyone's beliefsystems!
I wanted to touch on two points - one of which I forgot to mention in my last
post and the other, in response to the question Nair-ji raised.
The first is the one that Respected Shastr-ji pointed out - which is the
adhikartvam for jnAnA for those considered unfit or unqualified for the study of
the VedAs.(Brahmasutra 1.3.38). Here Shankara does admit that such persons, as a
result of good works done in their past lives, can indeed gain self-knowledge
from the ItihAsAs and PurAnAs, instead of directly from the VedAs. The point to
be noted here is that theseÂ scriptures are indeedÂ based on the VedAs alone,
and have the VedAs alone as their source.
For example - this is how the RAmAyanA is presented-
Vedavedye pare pumsi Jate Dasarathatmaje
Vedah Pracetasadasit Saksadramayanatmana
"As the Supreme Being, who is so exalted as to be known by the Vedas, was born
the son of Dasaratha, the Vedas themselves took birth as the child of Valmiki
[in the form of the Ramayana]."
And of course the MahAbhAratA is popularly referred to as the fifth VedA.
So one can see that the PuranAs, and even the itihAsAs,Â are nothing but the
VedAs in essence.
On a side note, in this context about VidurA, it is interesting to note the
words of the Wise VidurA himself in the MahAbhAratA, Note here how the King, a
kshartiyA, and recognizes and acknowledges, ViDurAchArya who by birth is a
ShudrA, as his teacher, and how ViduRa himself, though Wise, responds by a
adherence to Dharma....the following passage well illustrates the concept of
DharmA in our tradition.
Dhritarashtra said: If there is anything still left unsaid by thee, O Vidura,
say it then, as I am ready to listen to thee. The discourse is, indeed,
Vidura said: O Dhritarashtra, O thou of the Bharata race, that ancient and
immortal Rishi Sanat-sujata who, leading a life of perpetual celibacy, has said
that there is no Death. That foremost of all intelligent persons will expound to
thee all the doubts in thy mind, both expressed and unexpressed.
Dhritarashtra said: Do thou not know what that immortal Rishi will say unto me?
O Vidura, do thou say it, if indeed, thou hast that degree of wisdom.
Vidura said: I am born in the Sudra order and, therefore, do not venture to say
more than what I have already said. The understanding, however, of that Rishi,
leading a life of celibacy, is regarded by me to be infinite. He that is a
Brahmana by birth, by discoursing on even the profoundest mysteries, never
incurs the censure of the gods. It is for this alone that I do not discourse to
thee, upon the subject.
Dhritarashtra said: Tell me, O Vidura, how with this body of mine I can meet
with that ancient and immortal one (Sanat-sujata)?
Vaisampayana said: Then Vidura began to think of that Rishi of rigid vows. And
knowing that he was thought of, the Rishi, O Bharata, showed himself there.
Vidura then received him with the rites prescribed by ordinance. And then after
having rested a while, the Rishi was seated at his ease.
Vidura addressed him, saying: O illustrious one, there is a doubt in
Dhritarashtra's mind which is incapable of being explained away by me. It
behoveth thee, therefore, to expound it, so that listening to thy discourse,
this chief of men may tide over all his sorrows, and to that gain and loss, what
is agreeable and what disagreeable, decrepitude and death, fright and jealousy,
hunger and thirst, pride and prosperity, dislike, sleep, lust and wrath, and
decrease and increase may all be borne by him."
The second point has to do with Nair-ji's poser below about mystics. Mystics are
certainly not a 20th or 21st century phenomenon! From Meerabai to Sant Kabir to
Guru Nanak to Sant Tukaram there are hundreds of thousands of mystics who have
ever graced our land. Shankara in the Sutrabhashyas does make a reference to
them [- I had previously quoted this, not too long ago,Â but i think it is worth
repeating here again -]
Purvapakshin: Your account does not leave open the possibility of the authority
of the Smrti-texts, such as the Yoga Sutras and the Samkhya source-texts, or the
authority of rishis like Kapila. The Samkhya is also not concerned with things
that are "to be done" but only with true knowledge, which is the means to
release. But there is no room in your account for the texts of the Samkhya and
so they thereby become meaningless. Since many people cannot understand the
meaning of the shruti-texts, they rely on the Smrti-texts, which are composed by
recognized authorities (prakhyata-pranatr). And the knowledge (jnana) of such
men, like Kapila, is said to be unobstructed (aprahita) like that of the rishi
Siddanta: If we admit your doctrine, then it, in turn, will render other
Smrti-doctrines useless (like the "Vedantic" portions of the Gita, e.g.). And it
is not possible for someone to perceive (upalabhate) super-sensory (ati-indriya)
objects (artha) without the aid of revelation (shrutim-antarena), because there
are no means (nimitta) to do so.
Purvapakshin: It is possible in the case of siddhas like Kapila because they
have unobstructed (aprahita) knowledge (jnana).
Answer: No, because powers (siddhi) such as super-sensory perception are
dependent upon certain practices (anushthana) and such practices are
characterized by things that are "to be done" (codana).
Nor can we count on some recognized (prasiddha) sage (mahatmya) like Kapila,
since even here there will be no foundation, because the teachings of these
recognized sages (mahatmya), as well as the founders of the other schools
(tirthakara, i.e., the Buddha, Mahavira, etc.), all mutually contradict one
Besides, even assuming that we can trust in the authority of these siddhas,
because they instruct by way of so many different doctrines (bahu-siddhanta),
their teachings will all be in conflict (vipratipatti) with one another. And
then, as people are multiform (vaishvarupa) in their opinion (mati), (if we
accept these teachings) the undesirable consequence (prasanga) will follow that
truth (tattva) will be unregulated and without basis (avyapasthana). The Vedic
revelation, on the other hand, is an absolutely independent (nirapeksham) and
self-constituting authority (svarthe pramanyam). But human dicta
(purusha-vacasam) are dependent upon an external basis and mediated (vyavahita)
by memory (smrti) and discourse (vaktr).
(Brahma Sutra Bhashya 2.1.1)
Shankara concludes this section with a very categorical assertion -
"We have thus established the perfection of this - our knowledge- which reposes
on the Upanishads, and as apart from it perfect knowledge is impossible, its
disregard would lead to 'absence of final release' of the transmigrating souls."
As far as Namasmarana and Kaliyuga is concerned consider that statement to be eulogistic at best - albeit certainly a wonderful means to achieving chittashuddhi and chitta-naischalyam, (like with everything else) when adopted with the right attitude and devotion.
Shri Gurubhyoh namah
--- On Tue, 8/11/09, Michael Shepherd <michael at shepherd87.fsnet.co.uk> wrote:
From: Michael Shepherd <michael at shepherd87.fsnet.co.uk>
Subject: Re: [Advaita-l] Importance of Sampradaya
To: "A discussion group for Advaita Vedanta" <advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org>
Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2009, 7:25 PM
The way that Shantananda answered this was that truth belongs to all, and
that Veda, as truth, are to be found in every religion; but not so easily
re-discovered in some religions. Yet some individuals find their way (e.g.
the mystics, who seem to find universality in any religion).
His implication was that language can be a factor in obscuring truth; he
recommended Sanskrit to non-Hindus for this reason, as an aid.
He said there were quick ways to liberation, and slow ways, and hard ways
and easy ways...but seemed to imply that it wasn't a major issue; primarily
individual karma !
From: advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
[mailto:advaita-l-bounces at lists.advaita-vedanta.org]On Behalf Of Anjana
Sent: 11 August 2009 22:21
To: advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
Subject: [Advaita-l] Importance of Sampradaya
My Vedanta teacher often reiterates the importance of traditional Sampradaya
teaching methods as the ONLY way to self-knowledge....
A few doubts arise in my mind regarding this although Sampradaya asks that
we do not question the teacher! what about all those masters who achieved
moksha through following the non-hindu religions? what about the concept of
constant Namasmarana being the easiest way to achieve liberation in the Kali
i would appreciate your views on this..anjana
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