[Advaita-l] A few observations on current discussion threads

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Mar 16 19:40:19 CDT 2007

I would like to tie together and comment upon a number of issues that seem 
to be exercising people's minds on the discussion threads currently going on 
in the list.

1. To begin with, I express a belief that all the participants on this list 
have great respect for the sampradAya. We may each have different exposures 
to and opinions about what is the sampradAya, but we all recognize the basic 
ingredients - a tradition based on the tripod of upanishat (Sruti), gItA 
(smRti) and the brahmasUtras (nyAya), carried forward primarily by sannyAsin 
teachers and scholars, and also a few householder scholars.

2. My own perspective on sampradAya is that it is dynamic and living, but it 
is not hostage to personalities. The force of personaity of some people 
leaves a greater impress than others, but that is part of the nature of 
things. Yes, Sankara bhagavatpAda is the prime figure in the sampradAya, but 
he himself does not claim that what he says is true because he is a 
brahmajnAnI. In all of the thousands of pages that his works run into, he 
has only one sentence that hints at his personal anubhava. He bases all his 
writing on the solid foundation of the upanishat texts.

3. It is only in this sense that we say Sruti is the highest authority for 
advaita vedAnta. To that extent, it is also mistaken to say that Sankara is 
THE greatest authority, for that opens a problem of placing a human 
individual over everything else. To say so is not to disrespect Sankara, but 
to present what the tradition says about itself and how it understands 
itself. I don't think anyone of us even unintentionally thinks that he or 
she can understand Sruti directly and sit in judgement over Sankara, unless 
he or she belongs to a different vedAnta school that is fundamentally 
different. On the other hand, it speaks volumes of the strength and 
resiliency of the advaita sampradAya that sureSvara, Sankara's own direct 
disciple, found it possible to add a corrective and critical comment to his 
guru's bhAshya, basing himself upon tradition.

4. I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the same text can 
have more than one interpretation, which may seem at odds with one another 
at first sight, but which turns out to be not a problem for advaita vedAnta 
upon closer examination. Others have already referred to the fact that 
Sankara bhagavatpAda himself gives slightly different explanations for 
bRhadAraNyaka 3.5.1 in the brahmasUtra bhAshya as compared to the 
corresponding upanishad bhAshya. There are many other places where he gives 
different explanations even within the same commentarial text, e.g. on the 
sUtra, SAstra-yonitvAt. One explanation hinges upon the equation brahman = 
SAstrasya yoniH (Brahman is the source of scripture), while the other 
explanation is based upon SAstra = brahmajnAnasya yoniH (Scripture is the 
source of Brahman-knowledge). When we take into account that brahman = 
jnAna, there seems to be a logical conflict between the two positions. 
However, there is no contradiction between these two explanations in his own 
horizon and to find a problem here is to not understand him at all.

5. In conclusion, I request list members to reflect very carefully upon what 
they say and what they perceive others as saying. I would also request 
members to try and bestow as much care as possible in choosing their words. 
Sometimes, form matters as much as (or perhaps more than) substance. I see 
some unnecessary build up of animosities and misunderstandings, which can be 

Best regards,

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