[Advaita-l] The Status and Role of Scripture in Advaita - Part 1

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Apr 4 01:51:34 CDT 2010

ShriGurubhyo namaH

*The Status and Role of Scripture in Advaita ***

*- A study in reply to a Dvaita objection.***

In the system of Advaita Vedanta, the Only Absolute Reality is Brahman.  The
world and the jiva are only appearances on the Substratum Brahman.  Those
who are not thoroughly familiar with the system of Advaita often raise an
objection: What is the status of the Veda, Shruti (Scripture)?  If Scripture
is not admitted to be the Absolute Brahman and regarded as belonging to the
relative world, how can such a seemingly real scripture give the releasing

Such questions are taken up in the present article for a reply.  In order to
make the study a focused one, a real-time objection, from the Dvaita
(Madhwa) school, is considered for analysis.

[Author's Note: The main body of this blogpost has already appeared as a
comment by this author.  In view of the topical importance of the subject,
this blogpost is presented with a new title.]

The following objection has been extracted from a BlogSpot:


// The notion of vyavaharika satya, or truth from the purely provisional or
empirical level of practical life as distinguished from the ultimate truth
or parmarthika satya was first given by the Mahayana Buddhists and then
subsequently surreptitiously incorporated into their philosophy by the

In the present post, I will just mention some of the things the Dvaitin
Vadiraja says about this theory. [All quotes from the book "Vadiraja's
refutation of Shankara's non-dualism"(trans. Prof. L. Stafford Betty, with
an introduction by Dr B.N.K. Sharma). The commentary, of Stafford Betty, is
largely based on the commentary of Vadiraja's traditional commentator
Visvendratirtha, according to Stafford Betty.]

But first a few words about Vadiraja. Sharma calls him the most facile
writer in Dvaita literature. His fine poetic faculty and human touch, the
quick flashes of his wit and humour, his apt analogies from life and
literature, and his racy way of putting things have made him the most
popular and enthusiastically applauded writer in Dvaita literature according
to Sharma.

And Stafford Betty says:
*I personally find that most of Vadiraja's arguments are potentially as
disconcerting to the sophisticated Non-dualist philosopher of our own day as
they probably were to Vadiraja's original auditors....Anyone interested in
putting Non-Dualism to the twin philosophical tests of internal consistency
and reality-consistency could hardly do better than acquaint Himself with
Vadiraja's merciless dialectic. His methodology is of the most modern and
potentially devastating sort: it is what Western philosophers call the
reductio ad absurdum, and what Indian philosophers picturesquely describe as
"slaying one's enemy with his own sword"...one thing must be granted, I
think, by all: Advaita has met a most formidable opponent. *

In what follows, words in square brackets are mine.

But now, on to what Vadiraja says:

On Vyavaharika satya:

*[Comments Vadiraja:]Moreover, why don't you openly acknowledge that this
nebulous term ("vyavaharika") renders Scripture untrue and
unrevelatory?...Why don't you ever come out and say within an assembly, "All
these words about the Lord and about religious duty are untrue and
unrevelatory! If you are afraid to say that it is obvious that Scripture is
unauthoritative, then the fault would be compounded because the censure of
scripture is veiled; in that way, you fool, there is additional deception of
good people... *

*And when the same vyavaharika doctrine opposing both (identity and
difference) texts alike, sets aside their validly, then how can you abandon
the many difference texts in favour of a few identity texts? Your texts
would deserve to be invalidated because not conforming to the rule imposed
by your own vyavaharika doctrine, which nullified all texts. If not, why is
a Buddhist, valuing the few scriptural statements favourable to him,
ignoring all the rest of Scripture opposed to him--why is he not right while
you, sir, are? Hence, this filthy demoness of a sophistry (the vyavaharika
doctrine) is not to be brought into an assembly of the wise. *

*And again: *

*[Comments Vadiraja:]One who is afflicted with a mania producing conviction
in an inextinguishable "Great Illusion", who moreover declares, while
posturing as one grounded on the Scriptures, a belief in the world's
depravity based on the depraved condition of the all assisting Scriptures
kills his own mother! I believe he gets amusement by bringing harm to
everyone. *

Comment on above [by Stafford Betty]: *He says that a Non-dualist is like a
man who kills his own mother: while he claims an enormous debt to the
scriptures, as a man to his mother, he at the same time nullifies their
worth by saying they are vyavaharika--a classic instance of "biting the hand
that feeds you." He also says that the Non-dualist is sadistically crazed.
He is like one who gets pleasure from showing all that they are but phantoms
acting out their parts on an unreal stage. He undermines their confidence
that what they do has any real significance. In short, he is the enemy of
the people. For these reasons, and for all the others listed above, the
vyavaharika doctrine is fallacious, and the doctrine of difference carries
the argument. *

[Vadiraja is in fact making a very valid point. In his commentary to the
Vedanta sutra, Adi Shankar damns all sources of valid knowledge; this
includes the damnation of perception and inference but, strangely enough,
also of scriptural knowledge since from the point of view of the ultimate
truth (paramarthika satya) even the Veda is false; this of course makes
Shankar's assertions self-contradictory-Rashmun]

The Advaitin's response to the above commences from Part 2

(to be continued)

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