[Advaita-l] The Status and Role of Scripture in Advaita - Part 2

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Sun Apr 4 02:06:08 CDT 2010

*The Advaitin’s short response to the above objection: ***

An illustration: In a dream, I am imprisoned for an offence on a charge that
is bailable in law. I seek bail and a rich relative of mine offers to bail
me out and I am released from prison. The dream ends there.

Upon waking, am I still imprisoned? No. Am I concerned about seeking bail?
No. do I seek my rich relative’s help? No. Do I finally get the bail? No.  Am
I released from prison? No.

Similar is the situation of the soul, atman, in Vedanta. As taught by
Bhagavatpada Shankara, the atman is ever free and never was in bondage.
The   bondage  that is experienced, according to Sri Shankara, is due to
ignorance, avidya. While under the spell of ignorance, like myself under the
spell of sleep/dream in the above illustration, the bound person seeks to
get Himself released from samsaara and seeks the help of scripture. He
obtains this knowledge by the intervention of a compassionate Guru and gets
released from bondage.  Upon realization of his true nature, he knows that
he was never under bondage, ever free. The notion of having been bound is
only a phantom idea entertained under the spell of ignorance.

Now, comparing with the observation made upon the above illustration, the
notion of having been bound is only a phantom idea entertained under the
spell of ignorance (akin to the dream-imprisonment). The jeeva sought the
help of the scripture (akin to the rich relative of the dream) and gets
released (akin to the release from the prison due to the bail). Thus, in Sri
Shankara’s system, the scripture is valid only in the realm of ignorance,
just as the rich relative and the bail of the dream.  Upon becoming freed
from ignorance, is there any need or relevance of the scripture? No.  Upon
waking up from the dream, is there any need for seeking bail? Is there
imprisonment at all? No.  Upon waking I realize that I was never imprisoned
at all; upon atman-knowledge the ‘jeeva’ realizes that there was no bondage
ever. It is in this sense that Adi Shankara said that the scripture is valid
only in the state of vyavahaara. This is because in the paramarthic state
there is no bondage/samsara and no seeking to get released and therefore no
scripture.  Upon waking, if I ask my rich relative whether he had bailed me
out last night, he would only laugh at my foolishness, Similar is the
situation to hold that the scripture is valid in the state of paramartha.
This is the context of Adi Shankara’s denial of scripture in the state of
absolute reality.

Does Adi Shankara invalidate the Veda? He has made it amply clear, in no
uncertain terms, without being ambiguous, *that all religious duties,
adhering to the scriptural teaching is fully valid **prior **to a person
getting the knowledge of the supreme. His Brahmasutra and Bhagavad-Gita
commentaries contain such statements in several places.  *

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad iv.iii.22 teaches the state of deep sleep, in
response to the question of Janaka to expound the state of liberation. The
state of deep sleep where all differences, all things that bind a being to
the world, stand subdued. The jeeva is free from all bondage, as it were, in
that state. This state is taught as an illustration to the state of
liberation. Herein it is said:

//in this state a father is no father, a mother no mother, worlds no worlds,
the gods no gods, the Vedas no Vedas. In this state a thief is no thief, the
killer of a noble Brahmana, no killer, a chandala no chandala… a monk no
monk, a hermit no hermit. This form of the jeeva is untouched by good work
and untouched by evil work, for he is then beyond all the woes of his

Shankaracharya comments:

// …..Worlds, which are either won or to be won through rites, are no
worlds, owing to his dissociation from those rites, Similarly the gods, who
are a part of the rites, are no gods, because he transcends his relation to
those rites. The Vedas too, consisting of the braahmanas (a section of the
Vedic text), which describe the means, the goal and their relation, as well
as the mantras, and forming part of the rites, since they deal with them,
whether already read or yet to be read, are connected with a man through
those rites, Since he, the jeeva,  transcends  those rites, the Vedas too
are then no Vedas.//

This very Upanishad (iv.iv.13) teaches the *mode *of realization of the
truth thus:

*atmanam* ched vijaniyat *ayam asmi* iti purushah |

kim icchan kasya kamaya shariram anu sanjwaret ||*   *

*[*if a man knows the self as ‘I am this’, then desiring what and for whose
sake will he suffer in the wake of the body?]*  *

*As* taught herein, when a person realizes his true nature as Brahman, the
full, he is not in want of anything, this or other-worldly. The Vedas are
there as a means to secure for man the four objectives of life: dharma,
artha, kaama and moksha, Since this man has already attained the highest
goal, liberation, moksha, his dependence on the Veda ceases. This is what is
meant by Shankaracharya saying that the Veda has for its realm the state of
ignorance, vyavaharika. When the paramarthika is realized, where is the need
for the Veda?  thus, in that state, ‘the Veda is no Veda’ as the Veda itself
declares. If this is seen in the right perspective, one would not come up
with the baseless charge that ‘the advaitin has turned ungrateful to the
very Veda that took him to the plane of liberation.’

*An illustration would make this clear*:  All the schools that regard the
Veda as the basis for their systems agree that the householder has
scripturally ordained duties like agnihotra as a daily ritual. Supposing a
man practicing agnihotra as per the dictates of the
karma-ritualistic-portion of the Veda takes up sannyaasa, monkhood. He at
once becomes ineligible to practice agnihotra. The portion of the Veda
enjoining him to perform agnihotra as a daily ritual is no longer valid for
him.  For this reason could it be said that he has become ungrateful to that
portion of the Veda?  The case of a person attaining liberation and thereby
transcending the realm of the Vedic authority is similar.

*Gratitude **par excellence*:

The tradition of knowers of the truth bears out for itself their sublime
attitude towards the Veda and the Guru who have been instrumental in
securing the knowledge to them. We have in the panchadashi,(chapter vii –
297) a seminal work on advaita Vedanta, authored by a foremost acharya,
swami Vidyaranya, a sample of the unmatched gratitude expressed by a

aho x]]sˆ]m]ho x]]sˆ]m]ho g¶rurho g¶ru: |

aho $]]n]m]ho $]]n]m]ho s¶K|m]ho s¶K]m]/ || 7.297 ||

[The knower exclaims in joy and gratitude: ah! the scripture, ah! the
scripture! ah! the Guru, ah! the Guru! ah! the knowledge, ah! the knowledge
ah! the bliss ah! the bliss!!]

Let us have a look at the bhakti of bhagavan Himself. There is this famous
statement of Sri Ramachandra in the Yogavasishtha (6.128.102 to 105)

na vidher-na nishedhasya tvatprasaadaadayam prabhuh |

tathaapi tava vaakyam tu  karaniiyam hi sarvadaa  ||

Vedaagama-puraaneshu smrtishvapi mahaamune |

Guruvaakyam vidhih prokto nishedhas-tad-viparyayah ||

By thy grace, this individual (called Ramachandra) *is no longer bound by
injunctions and prohibitions. Y*et, thy word is ever to be obeyed. O great
sage!  everywhere – in the Vedas, aagamas, puraanas and smritis – it has
been prescribed that *the word of the Guru is the injunction and what is
contrary to it is the prohibition.*

Having submitted thus, Sri Rama, not being able to see any other way of
repaying the debt of benefaction of the attainment of the supreme goal
conferred on him by his Guru, *offered Himself to his Guru* by way of
placing the Guru's sacred feet on his own head; and instructed, in order to
steady the faith, all the people assembled, about *the unrivalled supremacy
of the glory of knowledge and the glory of the Guru, directly experienced by
Himself.  *

ityuktvaa charanau tasya vasishthasya mahaatmanah |

shirasaa  dhaarya sarvaatmaa sarvaan praaha ghRnaanidhih ||

sarve shrnvata bhardram vo nischayena sunischitam |

aatmajnaanaat param naasti gurorapi cha tadvidah  ||

Being Himself the spring of mercy and the self of all, Sri Rama proclaimed
:  'listen all of you, our firm conviction that is undoubtedly auspicious to
you all – there  is nothing higher than  the knowledge of the self; nor
anything higher than the Guru, the knower of the self.'


Sage Raikva, a knower of the Supreme self, is approached by king Jaanashruti
in an episode in the chandogya Upanishad. This sage Raikva, beyond the realm
of the Vedic injunctions and prohibitions, teaches the ultimate truth to the
king. Naturally, this teaching which is contained in the Upanishads
themselves, is enough proof to the fact that a knower does not ‘discard’ the
Veda in the sense of denigrating it. On the contrary he holds the Veda in
the highest esteem and bases his teaching of the truth to those who approach
him on the Veda.

In the srimad Bhaagavata purana we have the case of a knower by name Jada
bharata. In this case too, he is seen to be beyond the realm of the Vedic
injunctions and prohibitions.  Yet, when the Sauveera king Rahuugana
approaches him for the highest knowledge, the sage bestows it in the manner
of the Upanishads themselves.

Shankaracharya’ s are the oldest extant commentaries for the ten principal
Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgita. It is based on these
commentaries that the later Acharya’s  formulated their systems, although
not in agreement with him. He established matha-s in various parts of the
country for the propagation of the vedic wisdom. If, as the objector
contends, Shankara had ‘killed his mother, the Veda’, all these activities
of his would be unaccountable.  .

These are proofs to show that the charge that a Jnani deprecates the Veda is
sheer ignorance.
[ A book titled ‘Mata-traya-sameekshaa’ (kannada) authored by Dr.
Anandatirtha VyshampAyanAcharya Nagasampige, a noted Madhwa Scholar,
contains a section on ‘the common features of the three schools, advaita,
vishishtadvaita and dvaita.’  Herein is mentioned first and foremost: all
the three Acharyas have held the scripture (Veda) to be the basic foundation
for the structures that they have raised. ]

To be continued in Part 3

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