[Advaita-l] yAvad adhikAram avasthitir AdhikArikANAm - 2

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Tue May 11 17:51:31 CDT 2010

The previous post on this topic can be found at


To briefly recap the material presented in the previous post, an objector

to advaita says that knowledge of brahman does not guarantee freedom
from embodiment. Many sages who certainly had brahman-knowledge 
were reborn for carrying out various tasks, e.g. apAntaratamas who was
born as kRshNa dvaipAyana (i.e. veda-vyAsa) etc. So, perhaps brahman
knowledge may lead to liberation for some, but not for others. 

This pUrvapaksha is essentially the same as claiming that these are
exceptions to the rule, but the pUrvapakshin does not agree that such
exceptions prove the rule. Instead, he argues that these exceptions
invalidate the generality of a rule that brahman-knowledge is the means
to freedom from embodiment. Sankara bhagavatpAda's response to this
argument is begun with this post. As in the previous post, I will give the
original text of the commentary and a free (not verbatim) translation,
followed by my own notes and comments.


ata uttaram ucyate. na. teshAm apAntaratamaH prabhRtInAM veda-
pravartanAdishu loka-sthiti-hetushu adhikAreshu niyuktAnAm
adhikAra-tantratv-AsthiteH. [*]


[* - The edition of the sUtrabhAshya that I use has this reading.
I feel it should be adhikAra-tantrattvAd-AsthiteH or adhikAra-
tantra-avasthiteH or adhikAra-tantrattvAd-avasthiteH.]


The answer (to the pUrvapaksha argument) is: No. In the cases of
apAntaratamas (i.e. kRshNa-dvaipAyana or veda-vyAsa) and others,
who were responsible for spreading the veda and for ensuring the
welfare of the world, their continued embodiments were dependent 
upon that very responsibility. 


yathA asau bhagavAn savitA sahasrayuga paryantaM jagato
'dhikAraM caritvA tad avasAna udaya-astamaya-varjitaM
kaivalyam anubhavati. "atha tata Urdhva udetya naiva
udetA na astametA ekala eva madhye sthAtA" iti SruteH.
yathA ca vartamAnA brahmavida Arabdha-bhoga-kshaye
kaivalyam anubhavanti. "tasya tAvad eva ciram yAvan
na vimokshye 'tha saMpatsye" iti SruteH.


The Sun, the progenitor, continues to be the overlord of the world
for thousands of ages, and at the end, is in isolation (kaivalya),
devoid of the phenomena of rising and setting. This is affirmed in
the Sruti sentence, "Going beyond this, he does not rise, nor set;
he stays at the center, alone" (chAndogya upanishat 3.11.1). Also,
knowers of brahman continue in the body till the experience resulting
from prior action ends and then they experience isolation (kaivalya).
This is affirmed in the Sruti, "for him the delay is only so long as the
body continues, then he is perfect." (chAndogya upanishat 6.14.2)


evam apAntaratamaH prabhRtayo 'py ISvarAH parameSvareNa
teshu teshv adhikAreshu niyuktAs santas satyapi samyag-
darSane kaivalya-hetAv akshINa-karmANo yAvad adhikAram
avatishThante. tad avasAne ca apavRjyanta ity aviruddham.
sakRt-pravRttam eva hi te phala-dAnAya karmASayam ati-
vAhayantas svAtantryeNa eva gRhAd iva gRhAntaram anyam
anyaM dehaM saMcarantas svAdhikAra-nirvartanAya
aparimushita-smRtaya eva dehendriya-prakRti-vaSitvAn
nirmAya dehAn yugapat krameNa vA adhitishThanti. na ca ete
jAti-smarA ity ucyante "ta eva ete" iti smRti-prasiddheH.


Similarly, apAntaratamas and others, who are of lordly nature, being
ordered into several responsibilities by the supreme lord, continue to
be embodied for as long as necessary, although they have the perfect
vision (samyag-darSana) that is the cause of final isolation (kaivalya-
hetu). It is non-contradictory that they achieve the final liberation from
embodiment at the end of discharging their responsibilities. Having begun
their work once, they have their bodily matter and senses under control
and create multiple bodies for themselves, whether in orderly sequence 
(krameNa) or simultaneously (yugapat), without the memories being
clouded, as if they are merely going from one house to another, in order
to finish their tasks. As it is said of them, "these are verily those", it is not
that they merely recollect their previous embodiments. 


yathA ca sulabhA nAma brahmavAdinI janakena vivaditu-kAmA avyudasya
svaM dehaM jAnakaM deham AviSya vyudya tena paScAt svam eva deham
AviveSa iti smaryate.

It is remembered that sulabhA, the (woman) expert on brahman, wanting
to enter into a disputation with janaka, subtly entered janaka's body for
this purpose and then returned to her own after finishing her disputation
with him. 

My notes: In this commentary, Sankara bhagavatpAda explicitly compares
the cases of continued embodiment of sages like vyAsa (apAntaratamas)
to that of brahman-knowers who continue to be embodied till the natural
extinction of the fruits of prior karmA. In the case of brahman-knowers
amongst us, the reason for continued embodiment is that the body which
was born as a result of prior karmA has already arisen and continues till
the momentum of the fruits of that karmA continues. In the case of the
sages of old who are brahman-knowers, they are said to have been given
explicit responsibilities for the welfare of the world by the Lord and as long
as those responsibilities continue, so long do they remain embodied. Thus,
if it is argued that these instances of sages who took on new bodies are
exceptions that prove the rule of brahman-knowledge leading to liberation
from embodiment, then it should also be held that every knower of brahman
who continues to remain living is a similar exception and it should be held
that the physical body should literally vanish with the rise of brahman-
knowledge. If the continued appearance of a jnAnI in a physical body is
not contradictory of liberating brahman-knowledge, then the continued
embodiment of the ancient sages is also not contradictory of liberating

The only specialty of the sages is that they are credited with their own
independent control over their bodies and senses and can therefore create
multiple bodies for their purposes. There is no limitation that they are tied
to one body at a time, as they are admitted to enliven several bodies at the
same time (yugapat). Their memories are not clouded due to this. The
example given for a sage inhabiting several bodies simultaneously is that of
the woman knower of brahman, sulabhA, whose disputation with janaka by
subtly possessing his body is recounted in the SAntiparva of mahAbhArata.
In the epic, this event is described as a feat that was possible due to the
yogic powers of sulabhA. The same example is given in the Sankaravijaya
texts that ascribe the same powers to Sankara too in the parakAya-praveSa

Implicit in the above bhAshya passage are many unstated axioms about how
rebirths occur and how they are related to karmA, which are standard in all
Hindu thought. More explicitly, I see Sankara bhagavatpAda reserving the
word kaivalya to describe the disembodied state, specially after physical death.
He uses this both to describe the state of the sun-god, savitA, after the death
of the physical world (which is the sun's body, as it were) and for the sages,
after the end of discharging their responsibilities and there is no more need for
their physical embodiment. 

The rest of this bhAshya passage will be covered in future posts.

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