[Advaita-l] [advaitin] Works of Sri Vidyashankara

Venkatraghavan S agnimile at gmail.com
Mon Jan 2 17:56:19 CST 2017

Dear all,
Firstly, here is wishing everyone a very happy new year.

Good news. I have managed to find the ABORI edition where Prof. Karmarkar's
paper on the authorship of the Gita was published. Here is the link

I was initially reluctant from sharing my thoughts on the paper with the
group as I am in no way to qualified to question the erudite Professor, but
I am doing so having consulted with some esteemed list members, who thought
this may be of interest to a broader group. At the outset, I want to
clarify that no disrespect whatsoever is intended to the Professor or his

Having read the paper, I am sorry to say that I do not find the objections
to Shankara's authorship of the gIta bhAshya convincing at all. I have
tried to present the summary conclusions of Prof. Karmarkar and my replies

1) One of Prof. Karmarkar's objections is that in the introductory portion
of the Gita bhAshya, the whole description of Ishvara as NArAyaNa, VishNu,
etc., the reference to the six-fold jnAna-aishvarya shakti of Ishvara and
vaishNavIm svAm mAyAm,  do not appear quite in line with Shankara as an
advaitin. The passage, he says, looks more apt in the mouth of a
Vaishnavite or some follower of the Bhakti school proper.

This does not seem to take into account the practice of advaita vedAnta at
all - bhakti is very much accepted within the sphere of advaita practice
and is viewed as a means for chitta shuddhi which is a necessary
pre-requisite for the gain of advaita jnAna. The acknowledgment of Vishnu
as Bhagavan occurs in the Brahma sUtra bhAshya itself.

2) Prof Karmarkar goes on to say that Shankara scarcely refers to VedavyAsa
as Bhagavan and sarvajna in the Brahma sUtra bhAshya but the author of the
gIta bhAshya does so. However, he does not provide the number of instances
where VedavyAsa is referred to as sarvajna BhagavAn in the gIta bhAshya vs
the sUtra bhAshya to prove his point - now, if the argument was based on
the usage of the epithet in the gIta bhAshya and the scarcity of its usage
in the sUtra bhAshya, then it would be important to justify that argument
with statistics. Prof. Karmarkar fails to do so.

>From my search, the usage of the epithet "Bhagavan" when applied to
VedavyAsa appears twice in the gIta bhAshya - once in the introduction
section (which is referred to by Prof. Karmarkar) and once in the bhAshya
for sloka 2.21 (which is not). In comparison, the number of occasions the
sUtrakAra is referred to as BhagavAn / Bhagavata in sUtra bhAshya is thrice
by my count (once in BS 1.1.1 when Shankara calls the sUtrakAra as
"भगवान्सूत्रकारः", once in BS 3.4.8 as "भगवतो बादरायणस्य" and  once in
4.4.21 as "भगवान्बादरायण आचार्यः".) Prof. Karmarkar fails to mention the
other two occurrences in the sUtra bhAshya, and says that Shankara
uses this epithet in relation to BAdarAyaNa only once - in 4.4.21. Even
there he claims that, the use of Bhagavan is probably "an addition by some

In fact, as we have seen, Shankara uses this epithet thrice in the sUtra
bhAshya. One occurrence can be dismissed as the work of a copyist, but to
explain away three instances is difficult. Therefore, Prof. Karmarkar's
statement that "To Sankara, Upavarsa alone is Bhagavan proper" is unfounded
my view. Shankara's reference to vedavyAsa as Bhagavan is not out of
character, given what we see in the Brahma sUtra.

3) Prof. Karmarkar further states that the description of Ashvattha does
not tally between the gIta and KaTha bhAshyas. He says "the most important
point, however, is that 'अवाक्शाख:' is explained as
'स्वर्गनरकतिर्यक्प्रेतादिभि: शाखाभि:' " in the KaTha bhAshyam, whereas the
same term is explained in Gita 15.1 as "अध:शाखं महदहङ्कारतन्मात्रादय: शाखा
इवास्यधो भवन्तीति". Prof. Karmarkar says "It appears there can be no
justification for such variation in the interpretations, if both the
Bhasyas were by the same author".

However, in the next verse Gita 15.2, while explaining the line "अधश्चोर्ध्वं
प्रसृतास्तस्य शाखा" of the sloka, the author of the gIta bhAshya gives the
meaning as "अधः मनुष्यादिभ्यो यावत् स्थावरम् ऊर्ध्वं च यावत् ब्रह्मणः
विश्वसृजो धाम इत्येतदन्तं", which achieves the same meaning as the one
given for the kaTha bhAshyam. Therefore, the difference in variations
perceived by Prof. Karmarkar is because the explanation of the next gIta
verse is not taken into account.

4) The Professor then says that the reference to जलसूर्यक दृष्टान्त in gIta
bhAshya 15.7 is not relevant and that it is not in keeping with Shankara's
tendencies, as he "usually uses  सृगजल, रज्जुसर्प and उपाधि दृष्टान्तs".
However, there is an important reason why Shankara gives this example in
this sloka. This is one of the bhAshya portions where Shankara presents
both the AbhAsa vAda and avaccheda vAda as acceptable prakriyas within
advaita siddhAnta. Therefore, the usage of जलसूर्यक दृष्टान्त should be
viewed in parallel with the usage of घटाद्युपाधिपरिच्छिन्नो घटाद्याकाशः
immediately afterwards, as two alternative views of the jIva acceptable
within advaita siddhAnta. To complain that Shankara never uses the जलसूर्यक
दृष्टान्त is failing to appreciate the true reason for the usage.

5) Prof. Karmarkar points to sloka 13.12 's bhAshya that Shankara has split
the word अनादिमत्परं occurring in the verse as अनादिमत् + परम् as opposed
to अनादि + मत्परं which is Ramanuja's preference. Through this, he argues
that the author of the shAnkara bhAshya did so in response to Ramanuja's
commentary which must have preceded his. Therefore, Adi Shankara cannot
have been the author of the gIta bhAshya.

However, it is clear that the author of the gIta bhAshya is doing so in
response to a commentary that is earlier than his (and not Ramanuja),
because in the shAnkara bhAshya, the pUrvapaksha interpretation  is
described as अहं वासुदेवाख्या परा शक्तिर्यस्य तन्मत्परमिति. The pUrvapakshi
is saying by matparam, what Krishna means is "Me, the one endowed with the
highest power called paravAsudeva shakti". Shankar goes out of his way to
name the shakti as वासुदेवाख्या परा शक्ति.

Therefore, if the shAnkara gIta bhAshya had followerd RAmAnuja's, we
would expect the specific name of the shakti to be present in RAmAnuja's
bhAshya too. However, RAmAnuja does not specifically call this vAsudeva
shakti, he simply says अहं परो यस्य तत् मत्परं.  Therefore, this
specificity must have existed in some other pAncarAtra bhAshya of the gIta
that Shankara referred to when he wrote the gIta commentary.

Further, vedAnta desika, in commenting on RAmAnuja's bhAshya, quotes
Shankara's bhAshya in introducing the section where RAmAnuja talks about
Brahman being endowed with guNas (बृहत्वगुणयोगि / स्वत: शरीरादिभि:
परिच्छेदरहितं), with a view to refute Shankara's point that nirguNa Brahman
is being referred to in this verse.

Another point to be noted is that RAmAnuja translates sat and asat as kArya
and kAraNa, which is the meaning that Anandagiri gives - which is a simpler
interpretation of the sloka. Shankara could simply have used this meaning,
instead he takes a different meaning -  sat as existence and asat as
non-existence. Prof. Karmarkar states this must be from RAmAnuja's Brahma
sUtra bhAshya. He does acknowledge that it may be some other prior bhAshya
that Shankara had access to, but states there is no evidence of such a

Professor Daniel Ingalls, while remarking that BhAskara's commentary is
vociferously, even caustically different from Shankara's on certain sUtras,
also states that it is remarkably similar on several other sUtras. This
leads him to conclude that there must be a vrittikAra, a proto-commentator
which both of them have based their commentary on. This is in line with the
traditional view too. In my view, this could be the same source from which
RAmAnuja bases his brahma sUtra commentary too, explaining the similarity
of language between the gIta bhAshya and RAmAnuja's sUtra bhAshya.

6) Prof. Karmarkar also complains that the author of the gIta bhAshya
"ignores completely the first adhyAya of the Gita (46 slokas) and 10 slokas
of the second Adhyaya" and that "this goes against Shankara's method of
explanation" as  "in the case of the various section of the Upanishads
where even small introductory AkhyAyikas are introduced". It is
unthinkable, he says that Shankara could have given only a very inadequate
and short reference to the introductory portion of the Gita.

a) Firstly neither Shankara has ignored the stated portion nor has he
omitted giving an introduction to the gIta. In fact he has written an
upodghAta bhAshya introducing the gIta, after which he separately
summarises the verses that he has not commented upon, to present only the
message that is relevant to that topic at hand. What is the point in
writing page upon page commenting on which Kaurava and Pandava warrior blew
which conch, etc when that is completely irrelevant to the central message
of the Gita?
b) Secondly, Shankara does have form in ignoring portions of text that are
not of much relevance. For example, in the vaitathya prakaraNa of the
mANDUkya kArika, Shankara ignores kArikas 2.20 to 2.27 in his commentary
completely. Therefore, it would be incorrect to assert that Shankara
comments on every word of every text for which he writes a bhAshya.
c) Thirdly, the Professor remarks that some of the commentary of Shankara
in the gIta bhAshya is puerile, and that he is stating the obvious in doing
so. It appears that whatever the author of the gIta bhAshya does, he is
damned in the eyes of the Professor. If Shankara comments on obvious
passages where there is little room for commentary, the Professor remarks
that the commentary is puerile. If Shankara then ignores descriptions of
battle formation, names of warriors and their paraphernalia as irrelevant,
the Professor says that Shankara is ignoring the text.

7) Finally, there are a few minor nits that the Professor picks on, such as
Shankara not using the same name for the Gita in many places, or that he
does not name the devayAna / pitryAna in Chapter 8's commentary, or that he
sometimes refers to himself in the singular in the gIta bhAshya but at
least in my view, these are not major flaws that would necessitate a
conclusion questioning the authorship of the gIta itself.

In light of the above, I believe that the objections of Professor
Karmarkar's to Shankara's authorship are not very convincing.


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