[Advaita-l] Shankara and Madhusudhana

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue Jul 26 01:49:02 CDT 2011

On Wed, 20 Jul 2011, Venkata sriram P wrote:

> As regards Swami Vivekananda too, he was an highly misunderstood 
> personality because of his rational outlook.  Vivekananda never 
> criticised Sankara. Infact, he was an ardent admirer of Sankara and his 
> letters speak of his respect. 

Many of the missionaries also said flattering things about Shankaracharya 
(or Ramakrishna and Vivekananda for that matter!)  But look at the actions 
not the words.
> Vivekananda's opinion was that the philosophy of Sankara couldn't reach 
> the masses unlike that of Buddha & Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu owing to 
> the strict adherence of varNa Ashrama rules.   

> According to Sankara & acharyas of traditional advaita siddhanta, 
> shudras are not eligible to study vedanta and sankara clearly prohibits 
> this which is evident from apaHShUdrAdhikaraNa.   And hence, a seemingly 
> apavAda against Sankara.

Shudras are not eligible to learn Vedanta _through_the_vedas_.  But 
Shankaracharya specifically says that they may do so via itihasa and 
puranas (which include the Gita.)  In fact the logic of what jnana is 
according to Advaita Vedanta demands that it cannot be connected to a 
specific body and its attributes such as varna gender etc.  He 
specifically gives the examples of Vidura and Dharmavyadha as Shudras who 
were jnAnis.  In the Brhadaranyakopanishadbhashya, the woman Gargi 
Vachaknavi is also explictly referred to as a jnani.

This is why the idea that the philosophy of Shankara didn't reach the 
masses is bogus.  No he didn't spread Sanskrit into the villages.  (But 
villagers never read Buddhist sutras either.) but through the medium of 
Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Bhagavata etc. Advaitic ideas _were_ known 

To understand why Vivekananda didn't grasp this, one needs to understand 
the social politics of colonial India.  His primary audience were the 
"Brown Englishmen" coming out of Macauleys schools.  Despite his fondest 
hopes, the brown Englishmen did not want to leave Hinduism but neither did 
they want to give up their comfortable places in the babucracy.  Their 
white masters considered popular Hinduism as "medieval superstition" so so 
did they.  Those same masters did have some good things to say about the 
Vedas and particularly the Upanishads so their "reformed" Hinduism had to 
be based on those only.  Vivekanandas innovation over earlier reformers 
was to insert the notions of 19th century Romanticism into the mix.  This 
required turning Shankaracharya into the strawman of the navel-gazing 
egghead philosopher who is contrasted with the passionate man of action.

Obviously it worked quite well as many people do look to the Vivekanandist 
"karma yogi" as an ideal even today but for this particular modern, 
rational person, his ideas seem rather old-fashioned and irrelevant.  I am 
an astika today because I think tradition is more likely to survive the test of
time than attempts to latch on to the fads of the day.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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