[Advaita-l] How to read puranas

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun May 22 22:18:00 CDT 2011

[was Re: buddha : according to purANas and other hindu-texts ]

On Sat, 21 May 2011, Siddhartha Krishna wrote:

> This goes back to the very basic question....which Purana's and how much 
> in them should be accepted by a Hindu?

All of it but it doesn't mean we have to read and interpret them in a 
literalist way.

The Mimamsakas divide shastra (primarily they talk about shruti but the 
principles apply mutatis mutandis to smrti also.) into mantra, 
vidhi/niShedha, and arthavAda.  Mantra is the formulas used in rituals. 
Although they have literal meanings, they are essentially meaningless for 
the purpose of interpretation because their meaning is in their use. 
vidhi (do this) and nishedha (don't do that) are the principle core. 
That should be the focus of our reading.  It is vidhi and nishedha that 
constitutes dharma.  The rest -- all the stories, history, legends etc. 
are arthavada.  There is no need to treat any of them as either fact or 
fiction but they are not useless either.  Their purpose is to remind us or 
exhort us or warn us about some vidhi or nishedha.  For instance look 
at one of your examples:

> Is the Pushan mentioned in the Isha Upanishad the same as the one whose 
> teeth were broken by Virabhadra in Bhagavatam?

This is in fact a canonical example of arthavada.  The Bhagavata has not 
invented this story. in Shruti (Shatapatha Brahmana also it says 
that Pushan is toothless.  This is supposed to be the reason why when in 
the yajna an offering is made to Pushan, it is to be in the form of charu 

In theory every story mentioned in puranas can similiarly be associated 
with some action or prohibition or the other.  This Mimamsaka framework is 
based on karma only.  Vedantins add jnana and upasana so there can be 
arthavada towards them too.

Applying this to the current discussion, whether or not the Buddha 
mentioned in puranas was real or not is immaterial.  The point of the 
story is clearly to prohibit Buddhist beliefs.  That's all.

> The list is 
> endless. Why we just don't dismiss all this with वेदबाह्याः स्मृतयः याश्च 
> काश्च कुदृष्टयः। सर्वास्ताः निष्फलाः प्रेत्य तमोनिष्ठा हि ताः स्मृताः? If we do so, 
> why we Sanatanis despise Swami Dayananda and his Arya Samaj so much? Or 
> was Namadev true when he said 800 years ago that if the Muslims are 
> one-eyed, the Hindus are blind (as they have derogatory stories against 
> their own Gods that they worship)?

If such people think that being the mindless slaves of some empty perfect 
abstraction has any value they are quite frankly not worth paying any 
attention to.  Our Devas are imperfect because they are all partial 
manifestations of the perfect truth.  Devas and men are in partnership, we 
by our prayers remove their imperfections and they by their prasad remove 

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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