[Advaita-l] About the term in 'Ishwara' in Advaita - a brief note

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Mon Apr 9 09:57:08 CDT 2012

> We know that Br. Up. states that one who worships the deity thinking I am
> one and He is another is like an animal to the deity. By this, it teaches
> that one should worship the deity as non-different from the Self and not as

No, this passage of the bRhadAraNyaka is not to be treated as an injunction 
regarding worship of any kind at all. There is no vidhi pertaining to knowledge
of the content, "ahaM brahmAsmi". All that the upanishat is saying is that he 
who has this realization himself becomes the AtmA of all the deva-s, whereas
he who does not know this is like a paSu for the various devatA-s.

What is said here of Self-knowledge goes far beyong worshipping a deity as
an external object or as non-different from the Self. It has to do with the very
immediate realization, the aparoksha-anubhUti, "I am the Self of all this", like
vAmadeva, who is named in the upanishat, just before the passage you have
quoted. Note that Sankara bhagavatpAda says in the kena bhAshya, AtmAnam
eva nirviSeshaM brahma viddhi, in the same passage that is being quoted here. 
> an external object. That will reduce the deity to "idam" or mere "jadam". I
> think that it is the same principle that is taught here using niyama and
> parisankhya vidhis as indicated by Sankara. 
There is no vidhi in the kenopanishad bhAshya passage in question. All that
Sankara bhagavatpAda has done is that he has used the words niyama and
parisaMkhyA, because they capture the priniciple behind the upanishat's
teaching. "Know that to be brahman" (tad eva brahma tvaM viddhi) is the
primary sentence. It is not a vidhi at all, because there can be NO vidhi for
brahmAtmajnAna, simply because jnAna is not the result of any action, while
a vidhi can only pertain to an action that needs to be carried out. Sankara
has argued this point forcefully in many different places in his bhAshya-s.
The part of the upanishat that says, "not what is worshipped here" (nedaM
yad idam upAsate) has been interpreted as either a niyama, to restrictively
indicate that brahman is different from an upAsya, or as a parisaMkhyA, to
exclude wrong notions of what is brahman from what the upanishat intends
- anya-brahma-buddhi says the bhAshya. The word vidhi is conspicuous by
its absence in this passage. Wherever Sankara bhagavatpAda interprets an
upanishat text as conveying a vidhi, he most explicitly tells us so, e.g. look
in this list's archives between September and December 2006 for threads
with the title "Yoga and Advaita Vedanta".
I do not have Kadalangudi Sastrigal's book with me, but I would be extremely
surprised if he says that Sankara talks of a vidhi for brahmajnAna here. I can
almost guarantee that he doesn't say so. What has been done in the bhAshya
is to use the terminology niyama and parisaMkhyA, in the sense of restriction/
exclusion, but without implying any injunction here. I would think that the
Sastrigal has explained what the words niyama and parisaMkhyA are meant
to indicate, by referring to the corresponding vidhi-s, because there is a well
known pUrva mImAMsA application of these two words. 

And in the same bhAshya passage, earlier on, we see that Sankara has taken
pains to separate out what is meant by the term brahman here from upAsya 
deities - anya upAsyo vishNur ISvara indraH prANo vA brahma bhavitum
arhati, na tv AtmA, loka-pratyaya-virodhAt .... tAm etAm ASankAM Sishya-
lingena upalakshya tad vAkyAd vA Aha - mA evaM SankishThAH. Anticipating
a notion that perhaps another object of worship, such as Vishnu or Isvara or
Indra or Prana is to be known as brahman, the upanishat goes ahead and 
teaches the truth of the AtmA, nedaM yad idam upAsate - not that which is 
worshipped here. 
In summary, if you think brahman is out there as a Ruler or Controller of the
universe, and that yourself as the jIva are somebody else, the ruled or the
controlled, if you make the slightest distinction here, you do not truly know
brahman. It is easy to say that Sankara teaches ISvara to be the same as
brahman, the same as the Self (capital S). The most pertinent question to
ask here is, what is your conception of your self (small s) in relation to that
brahman/ISvara? And to truly understand what is being taught in advaita,
you need to empty yourself of any prior concepts you may have about these
questions. Unless you understand that it is the small-s-self that needs to
give up its self-misconceptions and realize that it has always been, is and
will always be the capital-S-Self, there is no progress in advaita. The habit
of thinking and writing in English is a big handicap in this, which is why I
emphasize the need to go back to the Sanskrit texts. 
ps. Sengaku Mayeda, in his translation of the upadeSasAhasrI, also mistakes
this kenabhAshya usage of the word parisaMkhyAna and thinks this refers in
some way to what is taught as the parisaMkhyAna meditation in the third
prose chapter of upadeSasAhasrI. Needless to say, what the bhAshya means
by the word parisaMkhyAna here serves merely as a general "exclusion of all
that is not intended by the upanishat here". I mention this as an aside, because
the mere occurrence of a word need not mean what people (no matter how
scholarly they are) may think it means. 		 	   		  

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list