[Advaita-l] Knowledge, renunciation and varNASrama rules

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Tue Aug 10 13:39:48 CDT 2010

Dear Venkatesh,
I have changed the subject title, but this is mainly in response to recent posts
by you, regarding vedAnta knowledge, caste (varNa) and station in life (ASrama),
with particular attention to brahmasUtra bhAshya 3.4.20. 

> Adi Sankara says sanyasa asrama is must for brahmasamstha. Other
> asramas people commit sin if they do not perform duties . But these
> duties will not allow them to be Brahmasamstha. They cannot be
> Brahmasamstha. Only Sanyasi can be Brahmasamstha. 

That is correct. There is a very close correlation between brahmasaMsthA or
jnAna-nishThA and saMnyAsa in Sankara bhagavatpAda's teaching. Ideally,
only the saMnyAsin can be truly brahma-nishTha, although nowadays, most
people are content with arm-chair philosophizing and would like to cut down
the central importance given to saMnyAsa.

> Who can be sanyasi?
> Brahmins. not non dvijas definitely . How can they get Brahmavidya?

I see a little bit of fuzzy leap of logic here. Not all dvija-s are brAhmaNa. The
writings of Sankara bhagavatpAda and sureSvarAcArya are very clear in
recognizing that all dvija-s, not just brAhmaNa-s, have recourse to vaidika
saMnyAsa. Even the one reference in bRhadAraNyaka upanishad bhAshya,
where  Sankara bhagavatpAda seems to restrict saMnyAsa to brAhmaNa-s,
has been clarified in the vArttika by sureSvarAcArya, i.e. that the SAstra-s
allow saMnyAsa for all dvija-s. The history of the advaita vedAnta tradition
bears out how the SAstra has been practically applied, at least in south India
- there is the Vaishya Guru Matha in Haldipur in Karnataka, with its lineage of
saMnyAsI-s, and the Koviloor Mathalayam in Tamil Nadu, associated with the
trading Chettiar community, also with its own lineage. These institutions are
quite old and have maintained long-lasting relationships with the paramparA-s
of the more well-known advaita vedAnta maThas that are usually associated
with brAhmaNa communities.
> Vidura is exception case because he had good samskaras from previous
> births. Conclude non dvijas not eligibile for Brahmavidya.

>From the example of vidura, the fact remains that (a) even good saMskAras
from previous births do not ensure birth in a brAhmaNa family, and (b) there
are exceptions among those who are traditionally considered as being without
adhikAra for veda study. If you hold on too strongly to the fact such a person 
has no adhikAra, you might become blind to recognizing his or her exceptional
Having said this in a general fashion, I would like to go back to what Sankara
bhagavatpAda says in his bhAshya-s on sUtra-s 1.3.38 and 3.4.20. Let us take
sUtrabhAshya 1.3.38 first. After affirming that the adhyayana (detailed study)
of the veda has been denied to SUdra-s, Sankara bhagavatpAda also affirms 
that for those who gain knowledge through the saMskAra-s of previous births,
the result of Self-knowledge cannot be prohibited, because knowledge has a 
sure result (yeShaM punaH pUrva-kRta-saMskAra vaSAd vidura-dharmavyAdha
prabhRtInAM jnAnotpattis teshAM na Sakyate phalaprAptiH pratisheddhum,
jnAnasya aikAntika phalatvAt). He also notes that the itihAsa-purANa is open
to everybody (SrAvayec caturo varNAn iti ca itihAsa-purAna-adhigame cAtur-
varNyasya adhikAra-smaraNAt). So much for those who have adhikAra and 
those who are exceptions among those who do not have adhikAra. In this and
previous bhAshya passages on adhikAra, the focus is only on varNa and nothing
has been said yet about ASrama and how that is involved in gaining jnAna.

As mentioned earlier, you are correct about Sankara bhagavatpAda's conclusion
regarding brahmasaMsthA and saMnyAsa ASrama. Even if one holds that there
is no specific injunction to take up the state of the wanderer (parivrAjaka), one
cannot deny the characteristics of the renouncer (parAmarSe 'pi itareshAm
ASramANAM, pArivrAjyaM tAvad brahma-samsthatA-lakshaNaM labhyeta eva).

I would now like to draw your attention to the rest of the bhAshya passage in
3.4.20, where the bhagavatpAda mentions that bAdarAyaNa has discussed the
case for injunctions with regard to saMnyAsa without taking the jAbAla upanishat
into account. The jAbAlopanishat gives a direct injunction for taking up another
ASrama - vidyata eva tv ASramAntara-vidhi-SrutiH pratyakshA. He then quotes
the full jAbAla text about pArivrAjyam, which allows for sequential progression
from brahmacaryA to gRhastha to vAnaprastha to saMnyAsa or for direct taking
up of saMnyAsa from any of the previous stages.
Now it is possible to respond to this and say that even this sequential or direct
progression to saMnyAsa presumes the adhikAra belonging to dvija-s and that
brahmacaryA and vAnaprastha ASrama-s do not make sense for anybody else. 
The response to such a position on adhikAra is given by Sankara bhagavatpAda
himself in the same passage - pRthag vidhAnAd anadhikRtAnAM, "atha punar eva
vratI vA avratI vA, snAtako vA asnAtako vA, utsannAgnir anagniko vA" ityAdinA. 
Clearly, he sees the above jAbAlopanishat sentence as specifically applying to
the cases of exceptions, people without traditional adhikAra to take up vrata-s,
to be snAtaka-s or to establish the ritual fires. Inspite of the lack of adhikAra in
these regards, the jAbAlopanishat grants, indeed enjoins, the state of saMnyAsa
for those who have brahmajnAna. He further drives home this point by saying,
"brahmajnAna-paripAka-angatvAc ca pArivrAjyasya na anadhikRta-vishayatvam"
meaning that the state of pArivrAjya, i.e. saMnyAsa, has for its sole adhikAra
either brahma-jnAna or brahma-jijnAsA. (Later authors such as vidyAraNya
describe these as vidvat saMnyAsa and vividishA saMnyAsa.) When you take 
the bhAshya on sUtra-s 1.3.38 and 3.4.20 together, it is clear that adhikAra for
studying the veda and performing vaidIka rituals is different from the adhikAra
for brahma-jnAna and its attendant saMnyAsa. To say that only brAhmaNas by
birth can achieve liberation through Self-knowledge and that everybody else
has to be born a brAhmaNa in a future life before getting liberated from the
cycle of birth and death is not at all Sankara bhagavatpAda's intention. It is no
doubt a very attractive proposition for "conservative" tastes, while the apparent
lack of concern on Sankara's part for "social reform" through knowledge will be
jarring to "liberals", but neither side really understands the tradition very well.
The saMskAra-s that lead to Self-knowledge and liberation in a future birth do
not necessarily ensure future brAhmaNa or even just dvija births. The examples
of vidura and dharmavyAdha demonstrate this amply.

At this juncture, let me conclude with the comment on the word atha in the very
first sUtra - "nityAnitya-vastu-vivekaH ... ... ... teshu hi satsu ... Sakyate brahma
jijnAsituM jnAtuM ca, na viparyaye. ... sAdhana-sampatty Anantaryam upadiSyate"
- nowhere does Sankara bhagavatpAda say that only brAhmaNa-s or even only
dvija-s have the ability to develop the sAdhana sampat. Again, the examples of
vidura and dharmavyAdha demonstrate this amply. 


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