[Advaita-l] Bhutas and Tantra

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sat Aug 23 00:20:35 CDT 2003

[Was Re: A Strategy for Discussion on the Soundaryalahari Digest]

On Fri, 22 Aug 2003 bhaskar.yr at in.abb.com wrote:

> If we check one of the master pieces of shankara's gItAbhAshya (apart from
> introduction of new concept of bhakti  which has last bench occupation in
> other 2 major works (BS Bh. & Up. Bh.) there is an unanimous agreement
> among scholars that it is genuine work of shankara) , it is quite evident
> that shankara was no more a friend of tAntric sAdhanA-s.  Shankara clearly
> says in BG Bh - 9-25 & 17-4 that pujAs offered to ganapati, devi are tAmasi
> & therefore non-vedic ( bhutAni vinAyaka mAtrugaNAchaturbhaginyAdIni yAnti
> bhutEjyaH etc.).

In 9.25 Krishna Bhagvan is saying those who worship (other) Devatas go the
Devatas, those who worship the Pitrs go to the Pitrs and those who worship
the "Bhutas" go to them.

What are these Bhutas?  Literally the word means "being" so we are all
Bhutas.  However it usually used to mean a specific type of being.  Prof.
Van Buitenen in his Gita translation translates it as "ghoul" which has
connotations of evil to the English speaker.  In Gujarati, Bhuta also
means ghost or spirit but the feeling is more of mischief than evil.  When
my daughter gets overactive and starts destroying or knocking over things,
I call her Bhuta as much as a term of affection as scolding.  So perhaps a
more accurate English translation of the word would be pixie or sprite or
goblin.  In Western mythology such creatures can curse and harrass people
who they dislike but typically only on a small scale.

Shankaracharya explains Bhuta in much the same way in the passage you
quoted above.  Bhutas are "the hosts (ganas) of Vinayakas and Matrs, the
Four Sisters etc."

Vinayakas (note plural) are mentioned in the 7th prakarana of Yajnavalkya
Smrti which is called Vinayaka Kalpa.  It describes a ritual for subduing
these spirits which can cause trouble for Humans who anger them.  Note
Bhagavan the son of Shiva-Shakti is, as well as Vinayaka, called Ganapati
and Ganesh (lord of Ganas) and Vighneshwara (lord of obstacles.) He is the
commander and controller of these Vinayakas.

Matrs means Mothers but it specifically refers to a group of 16 Goddesses.
They are also known for causing barrenness in women, livestock and crops
if not properly propitiated.

Chaturabhagini means the Four Sisters.  But who this refers to I don't

So to summarize it is those spirits and Godlings who are worshipped only
out of fear of some bad luck if they are ignored which is being called
Tamasic here.  We cannot reduce the whole figures of Mataji and Ganesh
Bhagawan to such minor status.  The Vedic status of Devi is well
established in Shri Sukta etc.  In Chandogyopanishad Uma the dughter of
Himavan is said to be the giver of Brahmavidya.  Shankaracharya does not
make any complaint in that regard.  Similiarly mantras such as gaNAnAn
tvA... show the notion of Ganapati as the supreme being (whether as a
seperate entity or an aspect of Rudra) is quite ancient and far more than
folk spirit worship.

> As most of the scholars believe that soundaryalahari is a tAntric work &
> one can hardly find any references as regards to tantra sAdhana in major
> works of shankara.  So is the case with praprancha sAra, lalita triShati
> bhAshya which are ascribed shankara bhagavadpAda.

What is tantra?  Rather than a particular religion or philosophy it is a
particular approach or attitude towards religion and philosophy.  There
are many different varieties of Tantric ideology.  Some are non-Vedic but
some seem to have their origins in Vedic ideas.  It is quite plausible to
assume that Shankaracharya was against the non-vedic forms but open to
the Vedic ones like Shrividya.

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

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