[Advaita-l] Knowledge, renunciation and varNASrama rules

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 12 15:09:05 CDT 2010

The message that I posted a second time also got truncated on the web archive but
came through whole to my inbox, so I'm not sure in what form other list members
got it. In any case, the conclusion that I was driving at seems to be unclear to more
than a few readers, so let me add a few points.
> 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"

In very plain words, what I mean by the above is the following. According to the most
traditional and orthodox stance adopted by Sankara bhagavatpAda, saMnyAsa or the
state of pArivrAjya is incumbent upon ANY brahmajnAnI, irrespective of his or her prior
station in life. The jAbAlopanishat provides for (a) sequential progression to saMnyAsa
and (b) direct jump to saMnyAsa from any previous stage. This is with respect to those
who have the traditional adhikAra for the stages of brahmacaryA (i.e. veda adhyayana),
gRhastha and vAnaprastha ASrama-s. The upanishat then takes up the more general
case, so as to address the position of those who do NOT have the traditional adhikAra
for vaidIka karmA-s. As per Sankara bhagavatpAda's citation of this upanishat in the
sUtrabhAshya 3.4.20, the upanishat sentence "vratI vA, avratI vA, snAtako vA asnAtako
vA, ..." is adequate to cover ALL those who lack the adhikAra for vaidIka karmA. He
merely says "pRthag vidhAnAd anadhikRtAnAm". He does not restrict this "anadhikRta"
group to dvija males without adhikAra, such as a widower or a boy who has not been
invested with the yajnopavIta. The category of "anadhikRta" people for whom the jAbAla
upanishat prescribes saMnyAsa includes any and all human beings who do not have an
adhikAra for vaidika karmA, but who have the requisite vairAgya and jnAna to take up
saMnyAsa. The upanishat itself goes on to further specify, "yad ahar eva virajet tad ahar
eva pravrajet" - one should set forth and renounce everything (pravrajet) on the same
day (yad ahar eva ... tad ahar eva) as one attains the deepest dispassion (virajet).

Rules of proper behavior and doing the action that is appropriate to one's birth and status
in life all apply prior to brahma-jijnAsA. A different set of rules govern those who take
up saMnyAsa wishing to gain brahmajnAna (vividishA saMnyAsa). In the case of vidvat
saMnyAsa, the renunciation of everything by the brahmajnAnI, no rules really apply. The
man of society who thinks with respect to vidvat saMnyAsin-s, "this saMnyAsin was born
a SUdra, that one is a woman," etc. is merely being a fool and exhibiting his ignorance of
the true tradition of saMnyAsa. The most orthodox SankarAcArya institutions in India have
historically recognized those who are born non-dvija males, but are eligible for saMnyAsa.
They have also endorsed the taking up of saMnyAsa by such people. On the other hand,
they have also been known to NOT endorse formal saMnyAsa for even a brAhmaNa born
man who is not ready for saMnyAsa. One can list more than one name and date in this
respect, if one wants to do a census of such cases. Rather than a "break from orthodoxy"
or an "innovation", this is, in fact, the true face of the vedAnta tradition. That is where the
matter ends, at least for me.

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