[Advaita-l] Yoga and Advaita Vedanta - 4
svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Oct 16 18:57:46 CDT 2006
In the last three posts on this subject, we saw that Sankara bhagavatpAda
sets apart yoga and vedAnta in BSBh 2.1.3, while quoting YS and referring
positively to the actualization of powers obtained by yoga practice in BSBh
At this juncture, one can ask, why is there so much ambiguity about all
this? Is Sankara for or against yoga?
It is also possible to say, as some academic scholars have done, that
Sankara misunderstands/misinterprets yoga.
A third argument is to say, there is really no difference, yoga is the same
as advaita, because ultimately the Oneness of brahman is to be experienced
through yoga practice. In this thinking, advaita is theory and yoga is
A fourth argument is to say, Sankara bhagavatpAda teaches nothing other than
knowledge (jnAna) as the means to moksha, so there is ultimately no place
for yoga in advaita vedAnta.
That all the above are mistaken in various ways will be the thesis of this
and subsequent posts in this subject. To begin with, a question as to
whether Sankara is for or against yoga is meaningless. He is neither "for"
nor "not for" nor "against" nor "not against" yoga. This is acknowledged by
Sankara himself and resolved very clearly in his works. Both yoga and
sAMkhya are accepted partially, where they do not conflict with the veda.
Both yoga and sAMkhya are rejected partially, where they do conflict with
the veda. The same logic, acceptance as per agreement with the veda and
rejection as per conflict with the veda, is applied to all other smRti
As Sankara bhagavatpAda says towards the end of BSBh 2.1.3, "upakurvantu"
(let them help) - as far as helping the mumukshu to realize the truth, any
system of thought may be helpful, but the vedAnta texts remain the deciding
factor on what vedAntins accept or reject. To overlook this and to claim
that Sankara misunderstands or misrepresents sAMkhya and yoga is quite
wrong. Such a position reveals only one's own misunderstanding of both the
thought and the history of the sAMkhya, yoga and advaita vedAnta systems.
To say that advaita is theory and yoga is practice, with the experience of
brahman to be obtained through yoga, is another fallacious argument. It
constructs a false unity around what are actually two distinct systems of
philosophy. It achieves this false unity only by devaluing both advaita
vedAnta practice and yoga theory. After all, there are both theory and
practice within advaita vedAnta and there are both theory and practice
within yoga. Yes, within advaita, there is a clear culmination of knowledge
(jnAna) in one's own experience (anubhava), but this personal experience
does not guarantee the truth or otherwise of the advaita nature of brahman.
There can be a wide spectrum of experience, depending on each person's
eligibility (adhikAra). The true vedAntin therefore relies primarily on
Sruti pramANa and then adduces logical arguments (yukti) around it. One's
own anubhava is not a sure basis for building a philosophical argument, but
at the same time, this anubhava is not something that another person can
question. We will see in later posts where yoga fits in this context.
All the above discussion also is enough to set aside the fourth argument
described above. On Sankara bhagavatpAda's own acknowledgement, there is
partial acceptance and partial rejection of yoga. Hence, there is indeed
some place for yoga within advaita vedAnta. In various places, he explains
how various practices generally associated with yoga help towards
realization. In the next couple of posts, I will cover all the remaining
important references in BSBh that help us understand how and where exactly
yoga fits in with advaita vedAnta as taught in the sUtra and the bhAshya.
SrI gurubhyo namaH,
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