[Advaita-l] The Evolution of Advaita from Shankara till Date

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sat May 17 02:11:36 CDT 2008

On Fri, 16 May 2008, Ramanathan P wrote:

> I have a couple of questions regarding the Shastra based tradition, in 
> particular the stress on karma kanda.
> Whenever we speak of karma kanda in the Vedas, it seems to primarily 
> discuss rituals, hence of primary importance to Brahmanas alone (?).

And in theory kshatriyas and vaishyas too though not in practice.

> majority of karma-kanda is irrelevant to the majority of people, at 
> least explicitly they are not allowed to partake of that 
> 'vyavaharik-sadhana'.

Right but why restrict the analysis to Vedas only?  The purana and itihasa 
are based on the essence of Vedas and are not so restricted.  They are the 
source of most of what is called Hinduism today even for Brahmanas. 
Furthermore even to restrict the analysis to books is too narrow. 
Historically most Hindus have learnt their dharma from their parents and 
elders.  That this is not always written down doesn't affect its validity 
in the slightest.

> To add to this, traditional systems do not seem to emphasize that all 
> varnas have scope to attain to moksha while at the same time demanding 
> that varnas are birth-determined.

Yes and no.  While the brahmasutras in 1.3.34-38 clearly uphold the idea 
that only the dvijas are entitled to knowledge through Vedic study, 
Shankaracharya at the end of the bhashya on that adhikarana says the Shudras
are also entitled.  He gives Vidura and Dharmavyadha (from the 
Mahabharata) as two examples of Shudras who were Jnanis.  There is no 
contradiction there because in Advaita Vedanta dharma (which following 
the Bhatta Mimamsakas consists of karma) is not the cause of 
moksha.  Dharma is important as when practiced without selfishness it 
removes the obstacles which prevent moksha but dharma and moksha are 
conceptually totally different things.  No one doubts that non-dvijas are 
also capable of realizing Brahman so if they cannot do it through the 
Vedas, there must be some other upaya.

The flip side of this is you cannot use the criteria of moksha to judge 

> Hence the whole scope of karma-kanda 
> tradition bound vedanta seems only for a minority. How does the 
> tradition give direction to non-Brahmanas, who cannot do the rituals or 
> learn the Vedas? By doing their svadharma and learning subsidiary 
> scriptures (and essence of Vedas through them), can all seek moksha in 
> this life? Is the option open to all, irrespective of the social 
> varna-dharma they are to fulfill?

Yes exactly.

> The question then is also confronted with the fact that only sannyasis 
> can attain mukthi. Here again the tradition does not allow sudras 
> (determined by birth) to go through the ashrama-system and possibly 
> become sannyasis. Another trouble.

Again only by a restricted understanding of sannyasi.  Certainly there are 
some orders which are open to Dvijas only or even Brahmanas only but 
there is also historical evidence of orders and mathas even amongst the 
Dashanamis which had different criteria.

Also even if one has not formally taken sannyasa but possesses the 
lakshanas of sannyasa he is a de facto sannyasi.  This is discussed inter 
alia in Brahma sutra 3.4.36-39 which analyzes whether the sannyasa ashrama 
is required for moksha or not.  The siddhanta is that it is not.  We have 
to be careful about interpreting this.  It most emphatically does not mean 
that a grhastha who just feels "spiritual" is capable of moksha.  It means 
one who posesses vairagya, jnana etc. but does not have the danda, 
kamandalu etc is a sannyasi.  Membership in a formal guru-parampara is the 
best way of acheiving the goals of sannyasa to be sure (and vital if there 
is teaching involved.) but for the goal of moksha it is not essential.

> The neo-schools cannot partake of these traditional positions, hence 
> have to go around them to reach everyone. These points today may just be 
> formal and external; yet when tradition was bound to such, neo-Vedanta 
> (Vivekananda till Date) in its development had to formally avoid them. 
> The sampradaya marketed well for the Brahmanas by having entire Vedas 
> meticulously describing their duties, for the sake of upasana, etc. It 
> would have been nice if it showed the same interest for the sudras, etc.

I maintain that it has shown interest, perhaps not perfectly but not 
meagrely either.  But often in these debates we look for evidence in the 
wrong places.

> Neo-schools like the RKMath, I 
> believe, have substituted the traditional karma-system with others; for 
> instance, they try to make service into the primary upasana. Whatever be 
> the influences, it would be hard to say that it is NOT possible for such 
> karma to be upasana whereas rituals alone can. Rituals have heaven for 
> side-result,

The kind of ritual the Advaitin is interested in does not seek rewards 
(upto and including heaven) even as a side-result. It is performed 
nihsvartha and with ishwararpanabuddhi only.

> and service may have some social ideology for its 
> underlying motivation. In spite of such, they may still purify the mind, 
> etc.

No because it explicitly deals with opposites such as joy and sorrow which 
are the very things the sannyasi is trying to transcend.

Grhasthas can and should try and improve the world around them.  And this 
is another pernicious thing about the modern ideology.  Advertantly or not 
they are letting people off the hook by teaching them they can outsource 
their responsibilities to some swami.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list