[Advaita-l] How to begin studying Advaita Vedanta : post 1 of 3

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Mon Jan 25 16:54:15 CST 2010

On Tue, 19 Jan 2010, chetan nagaraja wrote:

>         Is learning sanskrit necessary, for understanding Advaita.

Strictly speaking nothing is absolutely necessary because Brahman is 
indewelling in all.  But Advaita Vedanta is a practical method for those 
who have not understood Brahman as all.  Here are some reasons why knowing 
some Sanskrit is needed.

1.  The obvious fact that the shastras of Advaita Vedanta are written in 
Sanskrit.  Sure you can use translations but as noted previously, 
translations are of varying quality.

2. Sanskrit has united people from vastly different backgrounds.  Consider 
Shankaracharya was from Kerala.  His Guru Govindacharya was from Kashmir 
and his Guru Gaudapadacharya was from Bengal.  How else could the Advaita 
siddhanta pass from one to the other?

3.  If you have received this wonderful gift isn't it your responsibility 
as part of amity towards all beings to pass it on to others who may also 
seek liberation from samsara?  Sometimes a word is all it takes to propel 
a person from ignorance to sainthood.  But if you leave teaching to 
"professional" Gurus and Pandits alone, you might miss countless 
opportunities to teach others.  Remember the Gurus of today were the 
shishyas of yesterday and the shishyas of today are the Gurus of tomorrow.

> Is it really necessary to know english to understand physics.

A bad analogy I think.  Mathematics is the "language" of physics and all 
higher sciences.  At this moment I'm taking a course in discrete 
mathematics even though I am well past college age because it is necessary 
for me to advance in my professional field of Computer Science.  All 
scientists may not know English very well but you can bet all know 

> Have not 
> the Japanese invented quite a lot of technology with Japanese itself.

Yes and no.  They have invented a lot of technology that uses Japanese but 
the underlying code is in the same computer languages such as C++, Java, 
Visual Basic, etc. as used in the West or India or anywhere else.  And it 
should be noted that the syntax of all the languages I mentioned is based 
on English.  As far as I know there is not one popular computer language 
based on a human language other than English.

Sanskrit (its very name means "perfected" or "systematized" is perhaps 
best understood as a technical jargon as a natural language.  From early 
times it had a detailed specification (the ashtadhyayi of Panini) 
unmatched anywhere until the late 19th century.

> Even
> Acharya Shanakara's "Bhaja Govindam" indicates  the false value of
> language.

Ah but this is a perfect example.

For those who don't know, the story supposedly behind the composition of 
the stotra called Mohamudgara popularly known as Bhaja Govindam after its 
refrain is that Shankaracharya was travelling with his shishyas when they 
came across an old man sitting under a tree learning Panini. 
Spontaneously they composed this stotra teaching Brahmavidya.  (The first 
12 shlokas are by Shankaracharya himself, the remaining 14 by his 

The refrain is:

bhaja govindaM bhaja govindaM bhaja govindaM mUDhamate |
saMprapte sannihite kAle na hi na hi rakShati DukR^i~n karaNe. ||

"Worship[1] Govinda[2] worship Govinda, worship Govinda you fool,
at your time of death you will not be protected by DukR^i~n[3]"

[1] bhaja means serve, adore, or worship.

[2] Shankaracharyas Guru was Govinda Bhagavadpada and Govinda is a name of 
Krshna Bhagavan.  So it is a double meaning: worship God or the Guru.

[3] This is a sUtra from pANini's dhAtupaTha (the section of grammar that 
deals with verbal roots.)

It is a very common misunderstanding of this shloka to take it to mean 
that one should not waste time with pointless secular facts and 
concentrate on "spirituality."

But as you delve into the context a different picture appears. 
Shankaracharya has made his views on vyAkaraNa explicit in the bhashya on 
Chandogyopanishad 7.1.2

vyakaraNena hi padAdivibhAgashaH R^igvedAdayo GYAyante |

"Vyakarana by breaking up [text] into nouns and verbs etc. is the means of
understanding Rgveda etc."

The person who wrote that could not have been anti-language study.  It is 
true that Advaita Vedanta recognizes languages power to beguile and 
obscure but that is all the _more_ reason to study it well in order to 
tame it.

Back to the grammarian, The problem with DukR^i~n is that it is very 
basic.  Shankaracharya is telling him, if you have waited till the end of 
your days to begin learning the "ABCs" as it were, you have truly wasted 
your life.  bhakti and bhakta are from the same root as bhaja.  We call a 
bhakta dasa or servant (of God.)  Who is a better servant, the one who 
tries to understand and diligently carry out his masters wishes, or the 
one who just flatters him?  Being the dasa of Govinda requires more than a 
DukR^i~n level of knowledge and one should acquire it as soon as possible.

> To know Advaita is different and to Expereince Advaita is
> different.

Yes that is true.  One can know all kind of facts but without anubhava 
(experience) of jnana it means nothing.  But at the same time, experience 
without understanding is useless.  In fact we have glimpses of the 
non-dual state all the time (as in i.e. deep sleep.) but mukti or 
liberation from samsara only happens when one understands the experience. 
This is why an ideal Guru is said to be one who is shrotriya (learned in 
shastras) _and_ brahmanishtha (firmly established in Brahman.)

> And finally it does not mean one cannot experience Advaita
> without first knowing  it. True knowledge  comes through experience.

But you said knowledge and experience are different?

> Hence I
> request the enlightneed ones on this list  to explain to people like us who
> find sankrit difficult , the method to experience Advaita.

Assuming you got such an explanation, how would you know if the person was 
telling you the truth unless you had the means to verify it for yourself?

The method of experiencing Advaita Vedanta is to systematically seperate 
untruth from truth.  There is no shortcut I'm afraid.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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