[Advaita-l] structured approach to learning advaita

Rajaram Venkataramani rajaramvenk at gmail.com
Sat May 28 16:49:09 CDT 2011

On the need for sanskrit to learn advaita or any school of vedanta, acharyas
tend to apply rules of logic and grammar in their commentaries. They bring
out meanings by taking different roots of the words. If one does not have
the foundation strong in nyaya, vyakaharana and nirukta, how does one get
it? I agree that one can get the essence of the teachings through
translations and upanyasams. But will one have a strong foundation in
tattva-jnana without a solid foundation?

For example, in his commentary to BG 5.7 (sarvabhutatmabhutatma),
Madhusudana Saraswati says "If one takes the meaning of the compound to be
atma (self) becoming (bhuta) atma (self) of all (sarva bhuta), as this sense
is already conveyed in sarvabhutatma, the compound bhutatma becomes
redundant. But this problem is not there if the meaning is self (atma) of
insentient (sarvabhuta) and sentient (bhutatma)". At first sight, it seems
he is not only pointing out the defect in the way Sridhara Swami and
Ramanujacharya split sarvabhutatmabhutatma but also Sankara. If we go by the
translation of Alladi Mahadev Sastry, Krishna Warrier and Swami
Gambhirananda, they all with slight variation translate Sankara bhashyam to
this verse as atma (self) becoming (bhuta) atma (self) of all (sarva bhuta).
I expected pata-bheda within the tradition but did not expect faulting a
purvacharya. So, I checked up the original verses in the British Library
with the help of a local scholar and found that there are two readings of
Sankara bhashya for this verse. One has atma bhuta without visarga and the
other has atma bhuta: with visarga. When we take atma bhuta without visarga,
then the translation of self becoming the self of all applies, which is what
the abovementioned translators have done. Then Madhusudana Saraswati's apt
criticism of redundancy is equally applicable to Sankara. But when we take
atma bhuta: with visarga, Sankara's bhashya reads as "sarvabhutatma
sarvesham brahmadinam sthambhaparyantanam bhutanam atmabhuta: atma
pratyakcetano yasya sa: sarvabhutatmabhutatma samyagdarshi-ityartha:" In
this reading, all the words from sarvesham to bhutanam are adjectives of
atmabhuta:, which is nominative. Then the translation would then be
"sarvabhutatma is he whose inner consciousness, the Self, is the self of all
living entities from brahman to a grass; a complete seer is the meaning".
Sankara is equating atma  (pratyakchetana) with this atma bhuta:. In this
case, Madhusudana Saraswati's criticism of redundancy will not apply to
Sankara. This is an example of the importance of not totally relying on
translation. Can one understand maha-vakyas or for that matter any other
valkya without a grounding in mimamsa, nirukta and vyakaharana?

When I asked the question, my intent was to understand how the sampradaya
structures or in the past structured teaching of advaita vedanta.

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