[Advaita-l] Re: Questions on Isavasya

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Sat Aug 5 10:14:51 CDT 2006

In this post, I will take up the issue of why the indeclinable word "svid" 
is said to be "anarthaka." This mail is heavy on Sanskrit vocabulary and 
grammar, so if it is not your cup of tea, please skip reading it!

If you look up a good Sanskrit dictionary, you will find that one of the 
meanings of the word "anartha" is "having not that (but another) meaning." 
In other words, anartha can mean "anya artha."

Usually, -svid is used as a suffix to a preposition, to indicate a question 
or doubt. This is the case in classical Sanskrit, and is sometimes found 
with this meaning in the veda too, e.g. bRhadAraNyaka (3.1.1). However, the 
word carries a different sense in the ISAvAsya context.

The ISAvAsya bhAshya clearly says, kasyasvid = kasyacit (anybody's). The 
intention of the text here is to teach not to covet anybody's wealth, 
whether one's own (svasya) or others (parasya). Sankara bhagavatpAda begins 
the next sentence with an athavA (or) and proceeds to give an alternative 
meaning for the entire sentence, where again, kasyasvid = kasyacit.

Now, if he had really intended to say that svid is completely meaningless, 
he would not have proceeded to give a meaning for the term. Note also that 
when he uses the word "anarthaka" he says it neutrally, without categorizing 
it as a dosha or anything. That is why I say that he intends the word 
"anartha" in its lesser known connotation of "another meaning."

Perhaps, the usual difference in meaning between -svid and -cit will be best 
illustrated by translating the above bRhadAraNyaka reference. In this text, 
King Janaka asks himself,

kaH svid eshAM brAhmaNAnAm anUcAnatamaH? - Who among these brAhmaNa-s is 
most superior?

and he resolves to give that person a thousand cows.

If he had used -cit instead, the question would have been,

kaScid eshAM brAhmaNAnam anUcAnatamaH? - Is there anyone among these 
brAhmaNa-s who is most superior?

The two questions can have very different answers. In the -svid case, Janaka 
has to pick one among the assembled group of brAhmaNa-s, rate him to be the 
most superior, and therefore to give him a thousand cows. In the -cit case, 
Janaka can decide that none of the assembled brAhmaNa-s is superior enough 
to be given a thousand cows. As you can see, -svid leads to a relative 
grading of superiority, whereas -cit leads to an absolute grading.

In the ISAvAsya verse, the teaching is to not covet anybody's wealth - it is 
an absolute teaching, not relative, which is why although the verse uses 
-svid, it is interpreted as being equivalent to -cit. In other words, the 
indeclinable word (nipAta) carries a different meaning than what one would 
normally assume, hence "anarthaka."

A similar explanation of "anarthaka" applies to "nAma" also, in the 
commentary on the verse beginning "asuryA nAma." The word "nAma" is usually 
indicative of a name, e.g. "vidyASankara SarmA nAma aham asmi - My name is 
Vidyasankar." In this sentence, I indicate my specific name. I would not 
say, "engineer nAma aham asmi" because that is a description of an 
educational or occupational qualification.

However, in the ISAvAsya, the said verse describes the worlds, rather than 
giving them names. Therefore, "nAma" is "anarthaka," in that it carries a 
different meaning than what is usually associated with it in regular 
Sanskrit usage.

One might ask why we should accept Sankara's interpretation and exempt words 
in the Veda from carrying their usual meanings in regular Sanskrit usage. In 
this context, please remember that Panini exempts chandas, the Vedic 
language from the rules of grammar of regular Sanskrit. Sankara bhagavatpAda 
takes this as such in his works.

For example, at the beginning of taittirIya upanishat, the word used is 
SIkshA (dIgha svara, with the long I-vowel), not SikshA (hrasva svara, with 
the short i-vowel) and Sankara simply makes a note here, "dairghyaM 
chAndasam," i.e. the lengthening of the vowel is a feature of Vedic language 

Given this situation, I fail to see why rules of classical Sanskrit should 
be made to apply to Vedic texts. It simply doesn't make sense. Take for 
example, the verse,

RtaM satyaM param brahma purushaM kRshNapingalam |
UrdhvaretaM virUpAkshaM viSvarUpAya vai namaH ||

(RtaM is pronounced Rta(g)M in taittirIya yajurveda recitation.)

Notice the mixing of accusative (dvitIyA vibhakti, every word upto 
virUpAksham) and dative (caturthI vibhakti, in viSvarUpAya) cases with 
respect to the same referent in the sentence. By norms of classical 
Sanskrit, it is a dosha (fault), but is it, really? On the other hand, isn't 
it actually a dosha on our part to apply such grammar rules to the veda?

Throughout the world, the following is typical of literalist interpreters of 
any scripture, and the dvaitins are literalists par excellence when it comes 
to vedAnta. They assume that some given thing is a dosha, while also holding 
that the scripture is beyond all dosha-s. Then, when they find what they 
assume to be a dosha in scripture, they work out a convoluted interpretation 
of the scripture so as to make it not-dosha. They never question whether 
their "dosha" assumption is valid.

Not so with Sankara bhagavatpAda. When he finds punarukti (repetition) in a 
text, he does not say that each time the word or sentence occurs, it means 
something completely different. Rather, he says that the repetition is for 
emphasis or for the purpose of repeating the same teaching with different 
examples, e.g. sa AtmA tat tvam asi in chAndogya. He concentrates on the 
spirit of the scriptural text. He does not get bogged down in the letter of 
the text, but he doesn't neglect it either. He explains it in a simple, 
straightforward fashion and very easily brings his reader back to the 
intended spirit. Of course, literalists find this kind of textual analysis 
very annoying.

More in subsequent posts,

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