[Advaita-l] Re: Is Knowledge result of Prabdha karma ??

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 21 14:08:48 CST 2003

Srikrishna Ghadiyaram <srikrishna_ghadiyaram at yahoo.com> wrote:

>But, what about this specific sloka quoted from
>upadEsa sAhasrI ? This is also an accepted source of
>Sankara's teaching. What does he mean here ? It looks
>like a contradiction of sorts. I do not see any need
>to search for a hidden meaning in this direct
>reference to prarabdha karma. Let me know how to
>justify this statement.

Srikrishna, this is a genuine question on your part, and I must thank you 
for drawing attention to this verse from upadeSasAhasrI.

The way I read it is as follows. It is clear that the fourth verse chapter 
(tattva-jnAna-svabhAva prakaraNam) of this text is structured as a dialogue 
with a pUrvapakshin, as seen in the words, "pRcchAmo vas tad ucyatAm" 
(translation: "we ask you, please respond").

As it is a very small chapter with only 5 verses, we can discuss the whole 
chapter, to understand what is being said here. The topic under discussion 
is the question of how knowledge can exist in an embodied state of the 
knower. In other words, it addresses the notion that physical death is a 
necessary result of Self-knowledge.

In the first verse, Sankara BhagavatpAda begins by asking his opponent how 
(kathaM) will the seed (bIjaM) of the I-feeling (ahaM-pratyaya), after being 
burnt (uShTaM) by the fire (vahni) of the not-I-feeling (nAhaM-pratyaya), 
germinate (prarohati) new karma. The second verse continues the thought, and 
says that the supposed germination (prarohaH) is already seen (dRShTa-vat), 
so that for the knower, on its cessation (tan nirodhe), it does not generate 
another new karma (na anya karmA sa iShyate). So, he asks (pRcchAmaH) the 
opponent (vaH) how (kathaM) it (continued performance of new karma) is 
possible (tat syAt), and invites him to respond (tad ucyatAm).

The opponent responds by saying that the knowledge (jnAnam), which has the 
real as its object (sad viShayaM) has been generated in your current body 
(tvayi dehAdyArambha). Therefore one must perform karma (kuryAt karma), 
experiencing the fruits (abhibhUya phalaM). Knowledge (jnAna) finally arises 
at the end (ante jnAnam udbhavet).

Now, we all know that it is a cardinal principle of Sankara BhagavatpAda's 
teaching that there is no such thing as knowledge that arises after death, 
at the end of karma, which is supposed to be performed as long as one lives. 
Rather, he teaches that the rise of Self-knowledge is in this body itself 
and that this itself puts an end to karma. The question then becomes how the 
body, which is a product of karma, continues to coexist with knowledge. 
Inasmuch as the knowledge has arisen when the Self-knower is in this current 
embodied state, Sankara admits that the knowledge which has the real as its 
object (jnAnaM sad viShayaM) can be seen as a result of the Arabdha karma, 
just as the experiences in this body are the result of the same Arabdha 
karma. Without accepting this, there is no possibility of jIvanmukti. Note 
also that he is referring here to knowledge that has an object, even if the 
object is "the real". The knowledge that is completely beyond karma is also 
beyond distinctions of subject and object, knower and known. That is not 
directly mentioned here, for that is associated by Sankara with the term 
sadyo-mukti, not with jIvan-mukti.

He then concludes by saying that he (sa) who has (bhaved yasya) the 
knowledge (jnAnam) in the Self (Atmani), that removes the knowledge of 
body-consciousness (dehAtmajnAna bAdhakam), just as strong and sure as the 
prior knowledge of body-consciousness (deha-Atma-jnAna-vat), is liberated 
(mucyate), even if he doesn't desire it (na icchann api). That is to say, 
when Self-knowledge and the concomittant state of complete 
non-identification with the body is as sure as the prior state of 
identification with the body, then liberation is automatic. It does not 
matter whether the particular body physically continues or not.

The reason that physical embodiment and knowledge can coexist is that the 
process of acquiring the knowledge that has the real as its object involves 
the fruit of the karma that results in the current embodiment. Sankara 
accepts only that much. All other fruits of karma are burnt by 
Self-knowledge. The body passes on when the momentum of the prior karma dies 
out, that is all. This verse should not be interpreted to mean that 
Self-knowledge, which is beyond the distinction of viShaya and viShayin, is 
a result of action, simply because that is never Sankara's intention.

Best regards,

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