A Myth About Sankara (was Re: [Advaita-l] jnAna-vijnAna, ...)
shyam_md at yahoo.com
Mon Mar 19 11:48:21 CDT 2007
Rather than respond individually i thought of making just a couple of points based on my understanding.
First of all, the issue of hierarchy.
Hierarchy is always with reference to similar entities. So while 1,2,3 can be a hierarchy 1,2,3 and g cannot be - g is not in the same category as 1,2, and 3.
To say shruti is a pramana means that what the shruti asserts is an independent means of knowledge. It is not meant that a logical conclusion derived on the basis of what the shruti says is the means - the very fact "tat tvam asi" that is asserted by the shruti is the means. A logical framework is needed only to understand what is implied here.
Now the hierarchy of pramanas does exist which gives the shruti, in other words the vedopanishads - being apaurusheya - the pride of place, and the smrti/puranas/itihasas a auxilarry status (- in the Chandogyopanisad they are called the fifth veda.)
This constitutes the hierarchy as far as pramanas go.
Now bhashyas or expositions or commentaries of what Ma Shruti is conveying is needed for adhikaris who are not uttama. Three towering spiritually blessed personas have written expositions on what they find to be the correct interpretation of the pramana - Adi Shankara, Ramanujacharya as well as Madhavacharya. These bhashyas in themselves are never pramana. Each of these expositions has given rise of course to parallel streams of philosophic thought and content. Of these what we all are together trying to learn/understand is advaita for which the first exponent is Adi Shankara. The status Adi itself refers to him being the first, the foremost. This does not mean that before him no one taught/learnt/understood advaita - it simply means that he was the first at least from the standpoint of our yuga or times to explore the subject-matter in an extremely systematic manner. The way traditional advaita or vedanta is taught today by anyone in the sampradaya - is fully based on
methodologies that were expounded by Bhagwan Shankara alone.
So when we talk of the hierarchy of pramanas it is incorrect in my opinion to mix up Adi Shankaracarya's bhashyas with them and say they occupy a lower status because nobody's bhashyas are even remotely in the same category.
Having said that, what Shankara's bhashyas talk about is the correct interpretation of the shruti/smrti. Let us not as students of advaita harbor the slightest doubt on this score. This is because once we open the gates to doubt whether Shankara's intepretation of the shruti is valid or correct, then whose interpretation we accept becomes a matter of choice for our intellect to make - our very intellects which are steeped in avidya. An intellectual giant such as Madhavacharya is actually renowned to have read and mastered 21 alternative philosophies including advaita(he was intially a student of advaita) before propounding his own intepretations into a phiolosophy - and still differed from Shankara - and in my humble opinion - still didnt get it right. It would take most of us mortals at the very least a few more hundred chances at a human birth before we even come to that level. So to loow ourselves the liberty of sitting in judgement about the validity or otherwise of a
latter-day Acharya is an exercise we are better off avoiding. So when i read something in a vartika, lets say, on the B.Up just as an example, anything that says what Shankara said about a very minor topic is "durukta" and quotes shruti/smrti as a support - this particular topic is best left alone by me - it is never something that is central to the understanding of vedanta.
For followers of advaita tradition Adi Shankara's interpretation have to be accepted in toto. there is no choice in this regard. If someone, lets say five hundred years after Adi Shankara, expounds an interpretation of Ma Shruti not fully in line with what Adi Shankara has said, then for us as students of advaita there is no question of what the status of that particular interpretation should be.
Secondly this issue of adhikartvam. First of all how does one quantify adhikaritvam or to put it differently how does one grade a adhikari into uttama, madhyama, etc.
In Vedanta it is on the basis of the six-fold qualifications - that is very well-known to all.
These qualifications call for a mind which is alert and available for the teaching. This adhikaritvam has nothing to do with being an expert in logic or excelling hairsplitting over mundane issues. By contrast the latter only helps strengthen the ego and leads one away from the goal. What helps one evolve as a adhikari is simplyfying the mind, making the ego lighter by a few hundred pounds, gaining an understanding of our ego's infinitesmal limitation, and above all developing parabhakti, an incessant devotion to Ishwara and a severe longing to be one with Him.
Now certainly vichara is needed. And a detailed study of vedanta and the different prakriyas is needed as well. Now in this what is needed is a competent Guru who is a shrotriya brahmanishta and a systematic study of the upanishads, the Gita, the Brahmasutras with Shankara's exhaustively detailed commentary as well as some important auxilarry texts such as the atmabodha, the upadesa sahasri, etc.
This coupled with adhikartvam will suffice to lead us to the goal.
If adhikartvam is lacking, then more elaborate reading and getting caught up in grammar and logic is not necessarily going to improve the adhikartvam. Taking a dispassionate look into one's inner equipment and identifying the numerous areas where i can improve is the need of the hour. So if Shankara's bhasyas are not enough for me to understand tat tvam asi then i am afraid a detailed study of Sureshwaracharya's vartikas or reading other glosses and tikas is not going to help either. What is lacking is what needs to be corrected. That there are so many different works is a blessing for a student because it helps keep the "rasa", the interest, that there is something else to read, even though it is saying the same thing. So that one doesnt have to keep reading tattvabodha for 10 years! But in doing that if we are to get caught up in the inconsistencies in the different works (which constitute less than 0.01% of any of these works) and lose sight of the consistent message
of Adi Shankara that all of them contain, then it is a sad loss.
So to say Shankara's bhasyas are for uttama adhikaris and madhyama adhikaris may better benefit from some other glosses or tikas is totally unjustifiable. If Shankara's bhashyas were obtruse this may well be the case, but if anything they are eminently understandable and detailed, and what is more remarkable consistent. To also claim that Shankara left somethings unexpounded "such as the importance of yoga!" is also unjustified and is arrogating to onself "what Shankara may have thought" - Shankara left nothing to chance not a single stone was left unturned not a single verse however mundane it may seem was left uncommented - lest there may be any oppurtunity for doubt for error in a seekers mind - such a monument of karuna!!
Vedanta at heart is a very simple truth - you are nonseparate from the whole. "All" that is needed is a simple focussed devoted mind to grasp. There is nothing complex about it. It is not like a complex equation that you need mega-volumes of interpretations to help you grasp. If the reception is unclear please do not change the channel, adjust your own equipment.
A very happy and auspicious Ugaadi and Gudi Padwa to all.
Shri Gurubhyo namah
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