[Advaita-l] "dharma" in the alaatashaanti prakaraNa of the Maa.Kaa

Siva Senani Nori sivasenani at yahoo.com
Wed Jun 13 05:31:59 CDT 2007

Dear Sri Guy Werlings, praNAm.

----- Original Message ----
From: Guy Werlings werlings.guy at wanadoo.fr

> Now my question to he learned Sanskrit scholars of the A-List is: "how come may one equate 
> "dharma" and "jIva", or derive one from the other. I have not found any trace of "dharma" having the
> possible meaning of "jIva".

Without pretending to be a scholar in Sanskrit, I attempt to address the issue raised by you, which far from being odd is valid (as per Yaska, every meaning of every word can be, and so must be, explained etymologically) and of high interest because it touches a topic not often discussed.

First, it is true that in the alAtaSAntiprakaraNa, the word dharma often - but not always - refers to the self / Atman / jiva; second, it is also true that the vyutpatti (etymology) has not been given by Sri Sankaracharya; and finally, it is a contradiction of siddhAnta to make a bahuvrihi compound of the word dharma - by saying that which has some dharma - attribute - is dharmah, that is a jiva.

This paradox resolves itself when we see that GuaDapAdAchArya is using Buddhist terminology to disprove the thesis of the Buddhist nihilists; since the usage is Buddhist, the vyutpatti contradicts the siddhanta of advaita and so Sri Sankara ignores the vyutpatti and merely says "AtmAkhya dharmah" (that dharma which is called Atma - gloss on 4-81).

The above thesis needs proof of the following:
1. The usage is same as the Buddhist usage - first show what the sense is, and then show that it is the same as used by Buddhists.
2. alAtaSAntiprakaraNa's object is to refute the Buddhist nihilists
3. Circumstantial evidence in support - that other scholars studiously avoid this sense of the word dharma while analysing the word because of this complication.

With the hope that the extended length of this post would be tolerated, here is the proof:

1. In addition to the twelve kArikas quoted by Sri Guy Werlings, the word dharma is used in twelve other kArikas as well (2-25, 3-1, 4-1, 4-6, 4-8, 4-10, 4-21, 4-33, 4-41, 4-46, 4-54, 4-97). Out of these twenty four instances, in one instance (2-25) it means the vedic rites as used by the purvamImAmsA school; out of the twenty three other occasions, in 17 it means self / atman / jiva, in five (4-21, 4-33, 4-41, 4-54, 4-82) means some kind of an element (with an elephant being cited as an example by Sri Sankara in 4-41), and in one kArika (4-99), it occurs twice meaning "element" in the first half, and the self in the second half. The explanations given by Sri Sankara include 'Atman', 'bAhyadharma' [as opposed to cit] (4-54),  'vishayAntaram' (4-99, 1st half), dvaitavastu (4-82) and hastyAdIn (4-41). From a holistic analysis of the fourth prakarana it emerges that the word dharmah is intended to mean, a vastu, padArtha or vishaya, or an element in general, and the Atman in
 particular. Compare this with one of the Buddhist usages (p5, P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, Vol I, Part I): "Another meaning of dharma peculiar to the Buddhist system is 'an element of existence', i.e. of matter, mind and forces". Mahamopadhyaya P. V. Kane gave five references in support of the above. This definition of "an element of existence" fits the usage in the alAtaSAntiprakaraNa like a glove, so much so that Sri GauDapAdAchAya uses dharma in the place of bhAva - precisely 'an element of existence'. Karikas 4-6 and 3-20 are exactly identical except the "bhava" in the advaita prakarana (the third one) is replaced by dharma is 4-6 and Sri Sankara does not offer any remarks on 4-6 merely observing that the karika has already been commentated on.

2. In the introduction to the fourth chapter, Sri Sankara says that the siddhanta was established in the three previous chapters and now in this fourth chapter the views of the dualists and the [Buddhist] nihilists are refuted and indicates that, to that purpose, some material is repeated. Indeed quite a few kArikas are repeated in the fourth chapter - and as we have seen 3-20 has been reproduced after changing one word. Much of the material in the chapter is a clear refutation of the nihilist view, and 4-99 mentions Buddha explicitly "na etad Buddhena bhAshitam". From the analysis of where the word is used, what is striking is that except in 3-1, the usage of the word to mean ' an element of existence' or self is restricted to the fourth chapter alone; and there earlier kArikas when used are adapted to the specific terminology being used. Thus it is clear that outside this particular prakaraNa dharma is not used in the sense of self or an element of existence, and an
 attempt is made here to use the word in that sense - in other words, use the Buddhist terminology itself in refuting their theory.

3. The most puzzling aspect of Sri Guy Werlings question was that Dharma is a much analysed word. The first example to illustrate the difficulty of translation is 'dharma'; the sense it takes is a long list - and yet, this sense of 'an element of existence' is not usually given. I first checked MM Sri P. V. Kane's seminal History of Dharmasastra (in a long discussion, a single line refers to this usage at the end). While he counts the number of times the word occurs in the Rig Veda samhita (53), and mentions that it occurs hundreds of times in the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads, and even mentions the unusual usage (to mean 'apurva' as used by the purva-mimamsakas in Br. U. 2-5-11), he ignores the two usages mentioned by Sri Srinivasa Murthy on the list (KaTha Upanishad, 1-1-21 and 2-1-14) where "dharma" means jivas. In his commentary on kaTha 1-1-21, Sri Sankara does not give the etymological derivation, but simply says 'dharmAkhya Atman', (the Atman called as
 dharma). Coming back to Sri Kane it is not as if he focuses on the dharmasastra and ignores the Upanishads - as a Mahamahopadhyaya and a learned scholar it hardly needs mentioning that he has a thorough mastery of the Upanishads. Actually, he quotes quite profusely from the Upanishads and SA~Nkara bhAshya throughout his extra-ordinary work, but he is quiet on the two kaTha references. In fact these two, along with the Br. U. 2-5-11 are the only instances in the entier corpus of the vedas, where the word dharma takes a sense not mentioned in the long list of meanings usually given. Swami Harshananda of Sri Ramakrishna Math in his small booklet on Dharma mentions all three. The long list of meanings in Monier Williams does not include the present sense. I have heard or read at least ten other scholarly lectures / papers concerning dharma, which I cannot immediately refer, but nowhere was this sense highlighted. It is reminiscent of 'devAnAm piye' (the way king Ashoka
 referred to himself in his edicts)  - anyone with a basic knowledge of Sanskrit would think it means 'one dear to gods', however the correct meaning as per traditional Sanskrit scholars is 'a fool' - such is the treatment of Buddhist notions. To me, the absence of discussion on the usage of dharma in the alAtaSAntiprakaraNa, shows that the traditional scholars viewed it as the incorrect Buddhist usage, resorted to by Sri gauDapAdAchArya so that the misled can be corrected, but that it did not merit a discussion or explanation.


Sick sense of humor? Visit Yahoo! TV's 
Comedy with an Edge to see what's on, when. 

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list