[Advaita-l] Advaita and Narakam

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Thu Mar 18 10:55:38 CST 2004

I received a personal reply to my posting on this thread. Since I feel
the points in the email were very relevant, I've decided to post it to
the list along with my reply.

> --- S Jayanarayanan <sjayana at yahoo.com> wrote:
> > Strangely, the word "niraya" is a mostly Buddhist term for hell.
> The word is found in Mahabharata (many times), in Puranic literature
> (One reference I have is in Padma Purana 6.236) and in smriti
> literature (see Parashara smriti).

I'm not disputing that the term is used in Hindu literature, but that
it is used way more by the Buddhists who prefer the term "niraya" to
"naraka". In fact, an internet search for "niraya" in google almost
exclusively lists Buddhist websites (90%). If you read a book on
Buddhism, the word for hell will almost certainly be "niraya".

What I'm trying to say is that Buddhist terminology did influence
Vedanta during Shankara's time.

For instance, the term "shUnya" is definitely to found in texts
pre-dating Buddhism, but it's usage is "standard Buddhist terminology".
So when Shankara says (I think in his upadeshasaahasrii) that "action
is shUnya in the Atman", I feel it is almost certainly an influence of
Buddhist terminology (NOT philosophy). During Shankara's time, several
philosophical terms were stated in Buddhist terminology, revealing that
Buddhism was a force to reckon with for any serious philosopher.

> Ofcourse the concept is all over the place.
> > Svarga/naraka may simply constitute the experience of 
> > pleasure/pain in various births.
> The Kathopanishat considers it a loka. Even Shankara's bhAShya
> suggests
> that. Yama thinks that svargaloka and unimpeded desire-fulfulling in
> 'martyaloka' are different (he offers these two as alternative boons
> to
> Nachiketa). Also see Gita: te taM bhuktvA svargalokaM vishAlaM xINe
> puNye martyalokaM vishanti | The Maitreyi-araNyaka, Kaushitaki also
> have references.
> Regarding the narakas, the IshAvAsya and Brihadaranyaka refer to
> andhaHtamas as the destiny of some folks (though not in Shankara's
> interpretation). The Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana and other Puranas all
> refer to different narakas (raurava etc, including andhatamas, which
> is
> obtained due to avidyA) as separate "lokas"; different from our earth
> and as being 'below' (whatever that means), and where a particular
> soul
> resides for a stipulated time period.

If I remember right, the description in VishhNu PurANa of the various
hells starting with raurava, ends with, "Heaven and hell are but states
of the mind" - thereby implying that svarga and naraka are subjective
and not objective worlds. If someone has the VP with him, he may be
able to verify this. 

> See Umamaheshvara samvAda in
> MBh.
> One might take all of this figuratively, but I don't see the need.


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