karma and upAsana (was Re: Shiva sutras)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Aug 1 06:53:46 CDT 2002

On Wed, 31 Jul 2002, Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian wrote:

> Jaldhar,
> Karma is not the same as upAsana.

Agreed.  As you say below it is in a kind of intermediate position.  But
it still maintains a subject-object duality so in terms of the dual
division of th Vedas it belongs to karmakanda not jnanakanda.  Some later
acharyas suggest upasanakanda as a seperate division might be a better
classification but as far as I know Shankaracharya doesn't do this.

>  The ishA upanishhad
> specifically distinguishes both. It admonishes
> practice of karma alone or upAsana alone.

Not quite.  See below.

> Please see
> sha.nkaras commentary on that. Proper practice of
> karma + upAsana will lead to brahma loka, as per the
> IshA and also the brahma sUtras.

This is discussed in the bhashya on Ishopanishad verses 9-1 which I would
translate as

A blinding darkness is entered into by those who only practice avidya.
Into greater darkness go those who only practice vidya. (9)

avidya means karma.  Shankaracharya explains that because the performers
of karma do not perceive the true nature of Brahman hidden by their false
notions of duality they are as if blind.  The second pada is puzzling.
those who practice vidya (meditation) go into greater darkness.  Why is
this?  If one takes up meditation while neglecting ones nityakarma, far
from any benefit one actually accrues sin and ones sadhana regresses.  Why?

Different results are gained by vidya, and different results by avidya.
This we have heard from the wise men who taught us. (10)

Karma and meditation have different purposes so one cannot be a substitute
for the other.

Vidya and avidya, he who knows these two together
Crosses over death through avidya and gets immortality through vidya. (11)

Rather upasana has to be done together with karma.  By doing only ones'
obligatory karmas without regard to reward, one is released from death and
rebirth (which are consequences of desire.)  By meditation on a particular
form of God one becomes identical with Him and this is called amrita
(immortality.)  The upasanavadins are of two types.

A blinding darkness is entered into by those who only meditate on the Unborn.
Into greater darkness go those who only meditate on the Born. (12)

Some (the Samkhyas) focus their upasana on the unborn or unmanifest
Prakriti.  Others (the Yogis) do upasana to Purusha who is manifest as
Hiranyagarbha.  Both these darshanas are dualistic.  They maintain that
Purusha and Prakriti are totally distinct.  Thus they too are blind.

Different results are gained by meditation on the Unborn, and different results by meditation on the Born.
This we have heard from the wise men who taught us. (13)

Different types of Upasana have different results so they must be
practiced in unison (i.e to a common end) one cnnot pick just the one or
the other.

The Unborn and Destruction, he who knows these two together
Crosses over death through Destruction and gets immortality through the Unborn. (14)

What was called Born or manifest (Sambhuta) is here called Destruction
(Vinasha) because whatever is born dies and whatever dies is reborn.
Brahman pervades both the Manifest and Unmanifest and he who knows they
are one becomes immortal.

verses 15 and 16, are a prayer to the Sun which is typical upasana but
note the last line of 16:

That person who is there in the Sun is my own Self.

When upasana goes beyond the duality of subject and object, then only it
is jnana.

The above is predicated on the assumption that vidya means upasana which
is something different from jnana.  Three darshanas are refuted.  The
Mahayajnikas (Mimamsakas) who believe in karma only, the Samkhyas and the
Yogis who believe in different kinds of upasana only.  Another
possiblility held by some Vedantins like Bhartraprapancha is jnana and
karma (either just upasana or all karma) should be combined
(jnanakarmasamucchayavada.) Shankaracharya (S) debates an opponent (O) of
this type at the end of the bhashya which I paraphrase thusly:

O:  Shouldn't the references to the word vidya be taken to mean the
supreme knowledge?  And amrita to mean true immortality (i.e. freedom from
death?  After all these are the meanings of the words.

S:  Didn't the verses of the upanishad make it absolutely clear that jnana
is totally opposite to karma and the two cannot be combined?

O: Ok but perhaps there is a shastraic exception for upasana.  Just as the
shastras lay down the general rule "Do not kill any living thing." but one
can kill animals in i.e. a somayajna, maybe one should avoid karma in
general but it is alright to follow those karmas which lead to knowledge
of the self.

S: No because e.g. Kathopanishad 1.2.4 explicitly says "What the wise know
as avidya and vidya are far apart and in contradiction to each other,
leading to different outcomes."  So this case cannot be considered an
exception to a general rule.

O:  But verse 11 says vidya and avidya are to be known together.

S: No becuase the two differ in their causes (avidya is caused by
identification with ahamkara, vidya by knowledge of ones true self.),
their natures (avidya takes the form of a multitude of actions while vidya
involves renunciation of action.) and effects (avidya and vidya lead to
different worlds and different states after death.) The two are completely

O:  So Shruti says on the one hand vidya and avidya go together and on the
other hand they are opposites.  Is this just a mystical way of saying both
viewpoints are true?

S:  Well that's just absurd.  How can opposite viewpoints mean the same

O:  Perhaps the meaning is we should follow the path of karma (avidya)
and then the path of jnana (vidya) in succession.

S: If you are saying the ignorant should follow the path of karma until
such time as they get enlightened then sure we agree with that.  But if
you are saying karma is a necessary first step before jnana or the
practioner of jnana needs to then practice karma if he hasn't already
done so, then no because knowledge extinguishes ignorance.  When a person
observes that "fire is hot" no amount of persuading that "fire is cold"
can convince him.  Verse 7 of this upanishad states "When to the jnani all
beings become his own self, what delusion or sorrow is there for he who
sees only oneness?"  Delusion and sorrow are the hallmarks of ignorance.
karma is its product.  If ignorance does not exist for a jnani then how is
karma possible?

S: As for immortality, it is relative.  The practicers of karma and upasana
reach the heavenly worlds and become as Gods only until the end of the
world-cycle and the pralaya.  Moksha which is Total freedom from rebirth
only comes through jnana.  If it were not so and vidya was equivalent
to jnana, then the prayers for success on the path [e.g.in verse 15 and
18] would not make sense [because they are from the standpoint of one who
has vidya.  If he had already reached the goal, why pray for success on
the path?]

S: Therefore the siddhanta is upasana belongs with karma not with jnana.

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

>From  Thu Aug  1 09:15:01 2002
Message-Id: <THU.1.AUG.2002.091501.0700.>
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2002 09:15:01 -0700
Reply-To: venky at oreka.com
To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
From: "Venkatesh ." <venky at OREKA.COM>
Subject: Weekly page from Hindu Dharma: Sankara and Non- Vedantic Systems

This week's page from Hindu Dharma (see note at bottom) is "Sankara and Non- Vedantic Systems" from "Mimamasa - Karmamarga". The original page can be found at http://www.kamakoti.org/hindudharma/part12/chap5.htm.

Next week, you will be emailed "Sankhya" (from "Mimamasa - Karmamarga")

Best regards
for kamakoti.org

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Sankara and Non- Vedantic Systems
from Mimamasa - Karmamarga, Hindu Dharma

      The Acarya views the last stage or asrama in a man's life as the years during which he renounces Vedic works and devotes himself to meditation and metaphysical inquiry. But, unlike the Buddha, he does not want Vedic karma to be given up in the earlier stages. According to him, only after a man cleanses his consciousness through years of Vedic rituals is he to become exclusively devoted Atmic inquiry. First accept the karma that Mimamsa asks us to perform and finally give up that very karma as suggested by Buddhism.

 The Acarya goes along with systems like Buddhism, Mimamsa, Sankhya, and Nyaya up to a point. He accepts them on a certain level, but on another level he disapproves of them. Each of these systems regards one aspect of truth to be final. Our Acarya harmonises them all into a single whole Truth.

Hindu Dharma is a translation of two volumes of the well known Tamil Book "Deivatthin Kural", which, in turn, is a book of 6 volumes that contains talks of His Holiness Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswamiji of Kanchipuram. The entire book is available online at http://www.kamakoti.org/ .

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