[Advaita-l] The Status and Role of Scripture in Advaita - Part 3

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Mon Apr 5 01:04:06 CDT 2010

Thus, to say that Adi Shankara has damned  scripture is born out of:

   1. An incorrect study of the scripture.
   2. An incorrect understanding of the scripture.
   3. An incorrect study of Adi Shankara’s commentaries.
   4. An incorrect understanding of his system.

In fact in several places Adi Shankara has stressed that ‘the Upanishads are
the only means for us to gain the knowledge of the supreme’. He pays the
richest possible tributes to the scripture, coming from the depths of his
heart in sentences like these: न हि उपेक्षितव्यमिति श्रुतिः अनुकम्पया आह
मातृवत् ! अतिसूक्ष्मविषयत्वाज्ज्ञेयस्य ।‘the Veda, like a compassionate
mother, exhorts us not to neglect knowledge of the Atman…..’ (Kathopanishad
commentary: 1.3.14) , ...मातृपितृसहस्रेभ्योऽपि हितैषिणा वेदेन उपदिष्टं
आत्मैकत्वदर्शनं ‘the Veda, more beneficent  than  a thousand fathers and
mothers teaches the vision of Advaita…’  (ibid. 2.1.15) etc.

If only we are able to see the difference in the standpoints (of bondage,
vyavaharic and paramarthic reality), there would be no confusion and the
inappropriate charge that Adi Shankara is a ‘killer of his mother’.

*Illustration 2:*  A pole-vaulter uses the pole to vault Himself to a
height.  Upon reaching the height, he drops the pole and gently lands. If he
were to think, upon reaching the height: ‘Oh! Is it not the pole that has
vaulted me to this height? Would it not be ‘ingratitude’ to the pole if I
were to drop it?’, he would not land at all; he would only fall awkwardly.

The case of the scripture is similar to the pole in the above illustration.
It helps the aspirant to know the truth and be free.  just as the pole is no
longer part of the vaulter’s post-landing state, the scripture is no longer
a part of the post-realization reality. The scripture pertains to the
pre-realization era of ignorance. It serves its purpose and gets sublated
along with the world. There is no question of ingratitude. The scripture is
a part of the world created by God. It is meant to give the aspirant
realization and that is all. A man uses a boat to cross a river. Once he has
alighted on the other bank, he leaves the boat and proceeds on his way; he
does not carry the boat with him.

*Illustration 3*: In the growth and ripening of a banana, its skin plays a
vital role.  Yet when it comes to eating the ripe banana, one would not
think ‘after all this skin has protected and nurtured the banana. To discard
it would be ingratitude, So it would be best to eat the fruit along with the
skin.’  it would only be sensible to remove the skin and eat the fruit,
Similar is the case with the Veda. After it has given its fruit of
self-realization to the aspirant, it ceases to be a means any longer for
self-knowledge to that aspirant. He might very well use the Veda to teach

*Illustration 4:*  When a building is coming up, scaffoldings are erected.
Only with the help of these it is possible to complete the building. When it
comes to occupying the building one will have to remove the scaffoldings and
make room for people to live there. It would be foolish to say: after all,
the scaffoldings have supported the ceiling during the curing period and so
to remove them would be gross ingratitude to them’.

*Illustration 5:*  A boy spends a decade in a school. When the time comes to
leave the school he would not think: this school has helped me acquire
knowledge and grow in manners and skills. I must never leave the school’.
Once the purpose of the school is done, one will have to leave it and
proceed further. One cannot permanently remain in the school however noble
it might be.

*We* have seen several illustrations, both scriptural and worldly, to show
how a means will have to be left after the end has been reached and how it
is no ingratitude to do so; it is only natural that such a course takes

*The *scripture is neither untrue nor unrevelatory to the advaitin. It is
very much true in its own realm and certainly revelatory; only on the basis
of the scripture does an aspirant comes to know of the truth and gets
liberated. It is like the sense organs. The eye is the only valid organ in
determining the forms and colors of objects. It is useless in knowing sound
or smell, So too, the Veda is the sole authority in gaining the knowledge of
the self. It ceases to be so once the knowledge has been gained. It is like
the eye that has performed its function of securing the knowledge of say a
flower. One need not use the eye to know the colour of the same flower
again. While in the case of the eye it is useful in knowing the colour and
form of another flower, the case of the Veda in the matter of the self is
not so; there is no another self to know. Once the knowledge of the self is
had, the Veda as the means ceases to be so for that aspirant.

*The* state of liberation according to Adi Shankara is the secondless one
pure consciousness that does not have any divisions. In such a state it is
meaningless to talk of differences like scripture and the reader of
scripture. It is in this context that one has to understand the
non-availability of scripture in the paramarthic state. It is not a lacuna;
it is rather a case of transcending the scripture after making use of it for
the purpose it is meant for. The various illustrations above make this point
amply clear.

// 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//

*This* comment is partly responded to in the foregoing. As to the ‘damning’
by Adi Shankara of  all sources of valid knowledge including
perception….here is a short response:

In the kathopanishad (ii.1.1) there is a passage:

पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत्स्वयम्भूः तस्मात् पराङ्पश्यति नान्तरात्मन्...

//The lord damned the senses to be outgoing as a result of which  man sees
only the objective world and does not cognize the inner self. Some rare
daring person withdraws the senses with great effort and succeeds in getting
the ‘vision’ of the self. //

*So,* we see that it is not Adi Shankara who has damned the sense perception
to the vyavaharika (realm of ignorance) but the Upanishad itself teaches
that the creator lord has ‘damned’ the sense organs to be outward turned.
>From this it is clear that the area of operation of the senses is the
outside world and not the atman. That the senses are to be completely
restrained and subdued in order to get the ‘vision’ of the self is also
taught by this Upanishad in the passage ii.3.10:

//When the five senses along with the mind are stilled and the intellect
also does not function, such a state is called the supreme state. This the
knowers consider to be the state of yoga. //

This state is stated by the Upanishad to be the ideal condition for knowing
the self.
*The* conclusion of this short study is: the sense organs are valid only in
the realm of ignorance where ‘one sees something other than Himself’.  But
the transcendental state of knowledge is one where ‘one does not see
anything other than the self’. This is the declaration of the Chandogya
Upanishad in the context of ‘bhuma vidya’. This is the context of Adi
Shankara’s words in his preamble to the commentary to the Brahma sutras.

(To be continued and concluded in Part 4)

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