SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya: 2. 16.

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Sat Nov 14 02:58:32 CST 1998

In verses 2. 12-15, we saw that the Atman is One and eternal, so that one
should be neutral to happiness and sorrow, and not give way to Soka
(grief) and moha (delusion). This and the next post in this series will
cover the commentary on verse 2. 16, a very important one in the gItA.



Verse -

nAsato vidyate bhAvo nAbhAvo vidyate sataH |
ubhayor api dRshTo 'ntas tv anayos tattvadarSibhiH || 2. 16 ||

nAsato = na asataH - not from/of the unreal
vidyate - is known
bhAvo - being/becoming/existence
nAbhAvo = na abhAvaH - no non-being/non-existence
vidyate - is known
sataH - from/of the real
ubhayoH api anayoH - of both these
dRshTaH - has been seen
antaH - the end, the truth
tattvadarSibhiH - by those who see the Truth.

The nature of being is never known of the unreal. The real is never known
not to exist. This truth about both the real and the unreal has been
perceived by those who see the Truth (tattva).

Notes -

The form sataH/asataH is used both in the ablative and the genitive cases,
so that a translation can use either "from" or "of" as the relevant
preposition. SankarAcArya uses the genitive (possessive) case in his

Commentary -

That which is not to be known, like heat and cold, along with its cause,
has no real existence.

Cold and heat, along with their cause, cannot be shown to have real
existence, when examined according to valid means of cognition (pramANa).
It is simply a transformation, and a transformation is only temporary.
For example, a pot is never seen apart from the clay of which it is
constituted. Similarly, no transformation is to be seen apart from its
cause. Hence, the transformation is ultimately unreal. Before being born
and after being destroyed, an effect, like a pot, is not seen apart from
the clay. In turn, the clay (which is the cause of the pot) is not seen
apart from *its* cause. Thus, all effected states are ultimately unreal.

Notes -

The analogy of the pot made of clay is another standard one in Advaita
texts. The reference here is obviously to the chAndogya upanishad, where
uddAlaka AruNi teaches his son, Svetaketu, that pure Being (Sat) is alone
real and that all transformation is simply verbal (vAcArambhaNaM
nAmadheyo vikAraH ... mRttikety eva satyam etc). We will see how
SankaracArya handles the many dimensions of the words sat and asat.

Commentary -

If one objects that by holding effects along with their causes to be
unreal, this view reduces to one of, "everything is unreal," we say, not
so. For, in every cognition, one actually obtains two kinds of
understanding (buddhi-dvaya) - that of the real (sat), and that of the
unreal (asat). The understanding of that which is real is immutable. The
understanding of that which is unreal is mutable. These cognitions of
the real and the unreal, in the same substratum, are available to all, in
every cognition (samAnAdhikaraNa). The example appropriate here is not
like "blue lotus," but as in "the pot is," "the cloth is," "the elephant
is," and similarly everywhere (i.e. in every cognition). Of these two, the
understanding of pot etc. is changeable, as has been demonstrated. Not so
with the understanding of existence (sat) itself. Thus, the cognition of
pot and the rest is unreal, being changeable, but the cognition of
existence itself is constant and is real.

Notes -

This is a tersely argued passage, requiring some background explanation.
It is a standard argument proposed by SankarAcArya, that in every
cognition, everyone cognizes "Existence" and this cognition remains
constant throughout the entire gamut of human experiences. On the other
hand, the cognition of an effected state changes with place and time. This
epistemological distinction leads to an ontological division between that
which is real and that which is unreal. As many other philosophical
traditions have recognized, epistemology and ontology are shadow doubles
of each other.

We must then note the rule of samAnAdhikaraNa, which is common to many
schools of Indian philosophy. Here, two different attributes are placed in
the same locus. The term samAnAdhikaraNa is sometimes translated as
"coordinate predication." In the example of "blue lotus," the quality of
"blue-ness" and the quality of "lotus-ness" are seen in the same object,
so that one can talk of the "blue lotus." There is nothing very
extraordinary about this, people do this as a matter of course, e.g.
"plastic box," "wooden table," "infant girl" etc. Blue-ness and lotus-ness
are non-contradictory, and one may safely attribute both to the same
object. "Real" and "unreal" are, however, contradictory things, and cannot
be attributed to the same locus simultaneously. Instead of walking away
from here with a "common sense" view of what is real, SankarAcArya
institutes a fine process of questioning what exactly is "real" and what
is not. When we say, "this is a pot," what is never contradicted/changed
is the fact of existence, which remains constant. The "pot" itself, on the
other hand, is a lump of clay before being shaped into a pot, and is
simply pieces of clay when it is broken. The clay, in turn, is nothing but
a mixture of various earthy substances. The earth, in its turn, arises
from something else. In the traditional cosmological accounts, earth is
said to arise from water, water arises from fire, fire from air, air from
space, and space from Brahman. From a modern scientific viewpoint,
everything reduces to fundamental particles of matter, which are in turn,
only a form of stored energy. Whatever the view of this material
transformation may be, SankarAcArya's position is clear - ultimately, no
entity is real apart from the ultimate Brahman. Therefore, in the
brahmasUtra bhAshya, SankarAcArya uses the term
"satya-anRte-maithunI-kRtya" - having conjoined the real and the unreal.
>From an epistemological viewpoint, he has shown that all cognitions
involve cognition of the real (Existence) and cognition of the unreal
(change/effects). This has ontological implications, so that one may now
define the Real to be that which is changeless, i.e. Brahman.


To be continued ...

"bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam"
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