What is adhikAra? (fwd)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Jun 1 13:44:54 CDT 1998

On Fri, 15 May 1998, Ravi Mayavaram wrote:

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Fri, 15 May 1998 12:48:06 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan <vidya at cco.caltech.edu>
> To: Ravi Mayavaram <msr at reddy20.tamu.edu>
> Subject: What is adhikAra?
> Hello Ravi,
> Here is something to be forwarded to the mailing list. I thought of
> sending this after I rejoin the list later in June, but I see that there
> is a need for a timely statement of certain things. - Vidyasankar
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Sarasvati (vAcAm devatA) is the most compassionate Goddess. She graces all
> living beings by her immediate presence, in the form of thoughts and
> words. She graces everybody, from the most flowery poet to the most
> illiterate fool. She is also the most misused, mistreated and
> misunderstood by human beings. But take care, all Goddesses have an
> unpleasant side to their graceful nature - words can be double-edged
> swords.
> When talking of any philosophy, we must be very careful of what words we
> choose to use and what they mean. In the last week, there has been talk of
> something called "mokshAdhikAra" on this list, starting from the threads
> on viprataa, saadhanaa, and vedAdhikAra. The term "mokshAdhikAra" is a
> misnomer, and I haven't seen it used by any traditional author. To see why
> this is so, it is worth investigating what adhikAra is. Let us go back to
> the relevant brahmasUtras and SrI SankarAcArya's bhAshya thereon. I will
> also quote a small portion from the bhagavad gItA bhAshya.

I don't know if I have all the old messages but I only see the term
Mokshadhikara used once.  I agree it is a misnomer.  However the question
that was pose is what kind of person can achieve Moksha and this is not as
clear cut as it may seem even if we leave out the question of Adhikar.
Just as we all have the Adhikar to become millionaires but only the ones
who turn off the TV and get off the couch will have an actual chance.
Does ones caste have an effect on your chances for Moksha?  Prof. Grimes
for reasons known only to him thought not but this goes against the

> To begin with, let us be clear that the sUtras insist upon the
> requisite samskAras for study of the veda. The bhAshya points out that
> this means upanayana and other rites leading to proper vedic study.
> Then, there is the example of satyakAma jAbAla, who does not know the
> identity of his father. He says so, quite truthfully, to the teacher
> whom he approaches, and is accepted, as he does not waver from the
> truth. Now, before accepting him, the teacher does say, "only a
> brAhmaNa can never waver from the truth," thereby indicating that this
> is an assumption that needs no questioning. However, note also that
> the teacher instituted no further enquiry about satyakAma's parentage.

But we may ask, if parentage was not important, why did Satyakama bring it

> The fact that he spoke the truth was enough to prove to him that here
> was a brAhmaNa boy, fit for taking on as a student. And we must
> presume that satyakAma was taken through the upanayana and other
> samskAras when he was admitted as a student. [1] It is upanayana which
> makes one a dvija (a "twice-born").

If we are going to presume that, why not also presume Satyakama was asked
other questions or his teacher observed other things?  After all when
arthavada occurs in the Vedas it is only to further a particular point
(i.e praise of truth in this case.)  It doesn't necessarily have to
provide the whole story.

> Before we take this to mean
> something tangible for today's world, let us first ask ourselves
> (especially those on this list who are of brAhmaNa birth) if we have
> always spoken the truth. If yes, and this is really so, I salute you.
> If no, let us honestly accept that birth in a brAhmaNa family does not
> entitle one to any presumptions.

You are right.  There is no one here who can claim never to have lied.
However part of the Brahman worldview is the ideal of never telling lies.
Despite reality falling short of the ideal, that we feel an obligation to
be truthful (bluntness on my part is because I value truth over peoples
feelings) gives us the right to presume.  This applies to other situations
too.  For instance, despite only one person on this list meeting the
minimum qualifications for Vedantic sadhana, we presume to talk about
Moksha etc.

> Then, the brahmasUtra draws attention to the fact that those not entitled
> to study of the veda are prohibited from SravaNa (hearing) adhyayana
> (study) and artha (understanding the meaning), as per the sMRti. Here,
> there are a number of sMRtis which do so, which are duly quoted by
> SankarAcArya and commentators belonging to other traditions. Note,
> however, that this restriction/prohibition (pratishedha) is meant mainly
> with reference to study of the veda. Taking the pUrva mImAMsA sUtras into
> account, this also applies to the capacity of a person to act as yajamAn
> or as a purohita at a yajna. [2]

I don't think so.  It's pretty clear from the Brahmasutra text that it is
the Vedantic texts which are being discussed.  If it was a matter already
covered by the Purva Mimamsa, the Brahmasutras would suffer from the fault
of redundancy.  The disagreement between Maharshi Jaimini and Maharshi
Badarayana is on the adhikara of the Devas.  They are in agreement on the
subject of Shudras.

> However, when it comes to the question
> of moksha, SankarAcArya is most definite - brahmAtmaikya-jnAnenaiva, na
> kiMcit karmakoTibhiH - moksha is purely from the knowledge of the identity
> of Atman with brahman, not through the performance of millions of rituals.
> Rightaway, this undermines the criterion of adhikAra to some extent.

Yes, but Adhikara is only partially the point.

> SrI AcArya also has something more important to say on the topic of
> moksha, and who gets it. Here is the full quotation - "pUrvakRta saMskAra
> vaSAd vidura dharmavyAdha prabhRtInAm jnAnotpattiH teshAm na Sakyate phala
> prAptiH pratibaddhum. jnAnasya-ekAntika phalatvAt." This means, "due to
> previously done saMskAras, those like vidura and dharmavyAdha acquire
> jnAna. [3] It is not possible to prohibit the attainment of the relevant
> fruit, as the result of jnAna is liberation." The rules about SUdras,
> then, have important exceptions. Note that rAmAnujAcArya and bhAskara take
> up this point for great criticism in their systems, but really, this is
> not a dUshaNam, but a bhUshaNam of the advaita-darSana.

As Anand pointed out, the purvakrt samskaras refer to previous lives so
their is no contradiction in the rules.


> When the brahmasUtra raises the question of adhikAra, it is only
> in the context of veda study. This is by no means identical to moksha -
> one can study the veda for thousands of births, and still not get jnAna;
> or one may be in a state where veda study is prohibited, and still attain
> jnAna. Do not underestimate the power of jnAna to burn all the accumulated
> karmas. The present birth is only due to prArabdha karma which has to run
> its course.

Nevertheless the sutras clearly state that Brahman is known
_from_the_vedas_.  Thus Vedadhikar does become relevant to Moksha albeit

> When this has been said more than a thousand years ago, where is the need
> for us, in this day and age, to get into all sorts of uncomfortable
> positions about it?

And this is the crux of the matter.  Some people for various reasons are
uncomfortable with the idea that Vedanta is not universal in the way they
think it ought to be.  My question is why?  And can we justify rewriting
history because it doesn't suit our tastes?

> Even in the chAndogya upanishad, there is the term
> brahmabandhu, for one who is born in a brAhmaNa family, but has no
> knowledge. The vast majority of those who call themselves brAhmaNas today
> are really only brahmabandhus. On the other hand, I have no doubt at all
> that there are those of non-brAhmaNa birth who have jnAna. yo brahma
> jAnAti sa eva brAhmaNaH. It is only an unproductive arrogance which
> prevents the acknowledgement of this fact.

Again this "unproductive arrogance" is something that exists and has
existed for a long long time.  The evidence is tremendous.  What is
special about today that it should change?

> Finally, note that there are two purushArthas that are involved in all
> such discussions of veda study - dharma and moksha. I suggest that all the
> contentious issues (most notably, those relating to caste) in modern
> reinterpretations of ancient Indian schools of thought arise due to a
> confusion between the two. This is another instance of adhyAsa, and
> everybody seems guilty of it, both those who see caste as an outmoded form
> of social organization and those who defend the notion of determining
> caste by birth. If one sees that dharma is not synonymous with moksha, the
> debate becomes mostly superfluous, at least from the standpoint of advaita
> vedAnta.

The confusion between Dharma and Moksha is hardly a new one.  After all
isn't an important part of the Mahabharata called Mokshadharma?  In fact
this is one of the central problems of Vedanta and a main reason for the
split between different schools.  Advaita Vedanta makes it clear that the
two are not synonyms but as we have seen there is overlap even here.

> This may be "unrealistic" for today's social and political
> purposes, but so be it. Whoever said that advaita vedAnta has to be
> "realistic"?

It may not need to be realistic but to be deserving of any kind of
intellectual respect, it needs to be consistent.  And for a philosophy
that claims to serve Truth and the destruction of illusion to be used
as an agent of obfuscation, well the word blasphemy is not to strong.
This whole topic arose when an alleged scholar called the idea that caste
has relevance to Vedanta "unvedantic."  This is blatantly untrue.  What I
have hoped to show, is a more accurate picture.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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