Avadhoota & Paramahamsa (fwd)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Aug 15 09:16:35 CDT 2001

On Tue, 14 Aug 2001, Ravishankar Venkatraman wrote:

> By this definition then, we cannot call Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, a
> Paramahansa. He was married and was never a Sanyasi. I see this word being
> used for sanyasis who were jivanmuktas also. But, they may not have
> relinquished everything (as in the case of head of mutts). I think that has
> been used with Sri Ramakrishna who was a jivanmukta also the same way. Can
> it not be used for any jivanmukta as opposed to a jivanmukta with a
> particular life style?

The definition I gave is that given by Swami Vidyaranya in
jivanamuktiviveka.  Shankaracharya also extolls this type in
Kaupinyapanchaka etc.  According to Jivnamuktiviveka (and it has the
support of Dharmashastras) there are four types of sannyasi, bahudaka,
kuchitaka, hamsa, and paramahamsa. The first two types combine jnana with
karma to some extent.  They are equivalent to the tridandi type of
sannyasa that Vaishnavas practice etc.  The third type has given up karma
but still maintains the regulations and symbols of sannyasa ashrama succh
as danda etc.  The fourth and highest type is the paramahamsa and only he
can be called a jivanamukta.

Of course not everyone uses the term with precision and both paramhamsa
and avadhuta are used by non-advaita sampradayas too sch as the Naths you
mention below.

I question whether Ramakrishna was properly an Advaitin at all.  Let me
explain.  In Bengal then as now, there are two major religions.  One is
tantric worship of Mataji of the vamachari type.  The second is the
Vaishnavism of Chaitanya and his followers.  Amongst the learned, the
ultra-logical Navya Nyaya held sway.  The basic principle of Advaita
Vedanta would have been known by most cultured people but it did not have
the influence it had in say, the south of India. (True such stalwarts as
Swami Madhusudana Saraswati were Bengali but he lived and worked in

Bengal was also the epicenter of British rule.  Some Bengalis converted to
Western ways outright either becoming Christians or pseudo-Christians like
the Brahmo Samaj.  The orthodox responded by retreating inwards.  In the
middle there were a class of people who on the one hand, were deeply
attracted to Western thought and science, but on the other hand were proud
of their Indian heritage and resentful of colonialism.  They looked about
for an ideology which the Sahibs would not consider "primitive" but which
was authentically "Indian."

Tantrism was out.  Although it was quite philosophical, it also contained
elements such as beheading goats, meditating in graveyards and other
things objectionable to a Victorian prude.

Vaishnavism was out.  It was too simple and emotional.  (Ironically in the
shape of ISKCON it would turn out to be the most successful Hindu sect in
the west.)

One would think something like Navya Nyaya would appeal to "modern" people
but at that time Western logic hadn't progressed muh beyond Aristotle.
The kind of sophisticated linguistic and logical analysis of the
Tarkashastra were beyond the so they ignored it.  And so did their Indian
followers.  Besides the Pandits who specialized in it were to identified
with the "ancien regime" which was politically unpalatable to them.

Vedanta (usually without the Advaita prefix.  other forms were not well
known to most people.) had the advantage of being very prestigious in
Indian culture as well as extolled by Westerners such as Schopenhauer and
Max Muller.  "Mysticism" could be a convenient fig leaf for almost any
type of behavior.  So the new Bengali intellectuals flocked to Vedanta and
interpreted all aspects of Indian culture through its prism, actual facts
be damned.

This I think is what happened to Ramakrishna.  He was a typical Bengali
tantric saint.  As you point out he didn't take sannyasa which is the very
basis of Advaita sadhana.  His ardent Bhakti for Kali Mata is well known.
For the reasons I gave above, his followers retroactively remodelled him
as an Advaitin.  This was possible because there is some overlap between
some types of Tantra and Advaita Vedanta.  Both are non-dualistic.  The
Vamachari type of Tantra is non-Vedic but Shrividya is acceptable and
Shankaracharya is at least as famous for Shrividya works like
Prapanchasaara and Saundaryalahiri as for Vedantic works.  Also in Bengal
foth the Shaktas and Vaishnavas took Dashanami forms of sannyasa.
(Ramakrishna's guru was one Tota Puri was he not?)  So there was a
connection with Advaita tradition there too.  To further add to the
ambiguity, later members of the Ramakrishna mission were definitely
Advaitins even if their founder was not.

> There is an interesting episode about the meeting of Avadut Dattatreya and
> Gorakshanath, a great Siddha and the perfect one in nath sect. Siddha
> Gorakshanath, while roaming, reached the Girnar mountain, a favorite abode
> of Lord Dattatreya.

Last time I was in India, I went to Mt. Girnar (near Junagadh, Gujarat.)
Even today it is a favorite spot for Vairagis of all types.  Wandering
Sannyasis have a route they follow which over the course of several years
takes them all the way around India.  Girnar is the last stop before
Dwarka.  We saw some of these avadhutas.  They are admired by the locals
but also feared a little as their behavior can be quite unpredictable.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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