[Advaita-l] Apaurusheyatva of Veda

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 9 10:03:46 CDT 2011

> Kindly clarify what are the justifications shankara provides for vedA-s 
> apaurusheyatva, as far I remember here in this adhikaraNa shankara talks 
> about veda nityatva (eternality) and not about veda apaurusheyatva per se 
> and adhikAra of devata-s in obtaining brahma jnana. 

Sankara bhagavatpAda does not have to provide a fresh justification for holding
that the veda is apaurusheya. The pUrva mImAMsaka-s had already refuted the
nyAya argument and the bauddha/jaina argument about the presumed/inferred
author(s) of the veda texts. That said, Sankara bhagavatpAda has no problem in
accepting that the vedas were breathed out of brahman (sUtrabhAshya 1.1.3),
and we can point out that this is not the same as authorship in a conventional
sense. At the same time, it should be remembered that in the list of everything
that was breathed out of brahman, the veda itself includes acknowledged non-
apaurusheya texts, e.g. itihAsa-purANa, sUtra, vyAkhyAna, etc. Being the breath
of brahman does not make these other texts apaurusheya. Being the breath of
brahman also does not make the veda texts not-apaurusheya.

mahato bhUtasya niHSvasitatvAn na vedAnAM paurusheyatva-prasangaH, nApy
anyAnAM SAstra-granthANAm itihAsa-purANAdInAm apaurusheyatva-prasangaH. 
Hopefully, you will see why this is so, based on further explanation below.
> One more doubt, if all the words & its svara-s (intonations) of veda-s 
> are apaurusheya why some say Rig veda is the 'oldest' among veda-s?? why 

I am with Sri Lalitaalaalitah in this. Traditionally, Rgveda is counted first in any
list of the veda-s, but this implies nothing about age for those with a traditional
view of the vedas and their apaurusheyatva. Those who assign a historical age
to the veda texts do not quite subscribe to the apaurusheyatva of the veda. This
idea of giving dates to the veda texts started with European observes of Indian
religions and cultures and has been taken up without critical reflection by Indian
thinkers in the last two centuries too. It is time we addressed core assumptions
and attitudes, and this list is as good a forum as any, to do so.
There seems to be a lot of misapprehension about what apaurusheyatva of the 
veda is, who asserts it, on what grounds, what problems it is meant to solve
and what problems it might create in turn. I will attempt to convey a bit of an
overview below.
It does not take any special blindness of belief to appreciate the strength of the
mImAMsA argument on this count. Every religion in this world has its scriptures.
Those that say that the universe was created by a superior being called God tend
to view their own scripture as the word of that God. A special revelation is claimed
to have been made to one special human, e.g. Moses with the commandments,
Muhammad with the Koran etc. Those that do not have any room for a creator
God, e.g. buddhism, attribute their scriptures to a historical/mythical person, e.g.
gautama/siddhArtha the buddha. In all these cases, the truth-value of the said
scripture text becomes an assertion based on the authoritativeness of a special
human being, e.g. Moses or Muhammad or Buddha.
Now note that every religiously inclined human being, in spite of his or her own
faith, still wants some manner of proof of the existence of God/gods. This is
where logic enters. The creationist views tend to apply standard tools of logic,
e.g. the process of perception, inference, comparison etc. and thereby attempt
to prove the existence of a God as a creator through logical means. This avoids
the following circularity - (my) God exists because (my) scripture says so, and
(my) scripture is true because it is the word of (my) God. Rather, by coming up
with a logical proof for the existence of (my) God, I can conceivably ground the
authoritativeness of (my) scripture on that God. In fact, this approach creates the 
problem that I have ended up subordinating the authority of my scripture to the
strength of the logic that I have used to prove the existence of a creator God.
When human beings change their thinking to reject the logic used in a previous
era, that threatens the authority of scripture in a very basic and fundamental

(Aside: This is a major reason why many people in Europe and America have
such a major problem with the development of science and the challenges raised
to the texts of their established religions. In America, especially, the current debate
is all about evolution vs. creationism in a literal Biblical sense. The logic generally
accepted in society has changed, from that inspired by Augustine and Thomas
of Aquinas to that inspired by Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. People who
use iPads and benefit from modern medicines cannot shake off a feeling that
the sciences involved in these modern developments challenge fundamental
beliefs and conceptions of their religions.  The authority of the Bible and the
authority of Christianity are fundamentally at stake, which is why there is such
an impassioned cultural, social and political debate happening.)

Within the sanAtana dharma traditions, we have the nyAya view that the vedas
were composed by ISvara. The Indian naiyyAyika-s also took an approach similar
to that taken by Judaic, Christian and Muslim thinkers elsewhere in the world and
came up with logical proofs for the existence of ISvara as the creator of the world.
Asserting the veda as the scripture given by this ISvara establishes the authority
of the veda for this way of thinking. Again, the problem is the same - the authority
of the veda is on the shaky ground of the logic used by the naiyyAyika to prove the
existence of ISvara. All the problems mentioned above, for Judaism, Christianity
and Islam would apply to the nyAya approach as well.
For religions like Buddhism, which do not talk of a creator God, the authority of 
their scripture is dependent on the authoritativeness of the buddha. Therefore,
they have to assert that buddha was all knowing and all powerful. For a non-
buddhist, it would be very easy to find a lot of faults with this, reject this claim
of knowledge and power and thereby refuse to accept the authority of buddhist
texts. The same kind of argument used by the buddhist to deny the existence
of a creator God and thereby the authority of the theistic religions can be used
by the adherents of the theistic religions to deny the idea that any human being
can be all-knowing, including the buddha, and thereby the authority of Buddhism.

The pUrva mImAMsaka takes a completely different approach from all the above.
In addition to the problems associated with the strength or weakness of the logic 
used to establish a creator God, the mImAMsaka notes that all the others are still
quite dependent on an assertion of the special-ness of particular human beings.
The buddhist has to assert the special nature of the buddha. The Muslim has to
assert the special nature of Muhammad, the Jew of Moses, and so on. The Indian
naiyyAyika, likewise, also has to assert the special nature of the Rshi-s to whom
the vedas were revealed. After all, even if a given scripture is to be accepted as
the composition of a special creator God, the nature of the transmission of the
said scripture to human beings via one or more special messengers still remains
unexplained. It is a matter of belief in particular human beings, pure and simple.

I will address in a second post how the pUrva mImAMsaka addresses this problem,
after a short description of the nature of proof and validity in the pUrva and uttara
mImAMsA systems.
> the same maNtra with different svara-s?? rigveda maNtra svara-s are 
> widely different from yajurveda maNtra-s. For example gAyatri maNtra...we 
> say gAyatri maNtra drashtAra is rishi vishvAmitra, which of the maNtra he 
> has seen first?? is it rigveda gAyatri maNtra or yajurveda gAyatri 
> maNtra?? Moreover, at the end of bruhadAraNyaka there is a big list of 
> jnAni rishi-s (obviously jnani-s names, which we know very well like 
> shankara, ramaNa etc. missing here) with their father & grand father names 
> and there is plenty of stories in veda bhAga & various diologues between 
> shishya-guru, father-son etc. on various topics and there is a mention of 
> tools like nail cutter etc. dont you think all these prompt us to think 
> that veda-s composed at certain point of time & after all these incidents 
> & characters. 

I will take these up in a separate, third, post and deal with the historicity or
otherwise of names and places mentioned in the vedas. 

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