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From: P. Dileepan (MFPD_at_UTCVM.BITNET)
Date: Sun May 22 1994 - 15:15:26 PDT

Dear Mani,
I am not at all well versed in any of the upanishads and the
interpretations offered by Sri Ramanuja, let alone Sankara and Suresa,
to be able to mount a challenge to Viday s attack and quote appropriate
references in doing so.  However, let me go ahead and say a few things
that I have heard in upanyaasams.  I am also sending this to India
through my wife and perhaps we can get some comments from
someone like Srivatsangachar.

> How does Advaita interpret "satyasya satyam" ("the Reality of
> Please tell me, because if Sankara's interpretation
> agrees with Visistadvaita's, it denies Advaita's fundamental
> premise, viz., the ultimate falsehood of the individual soul!
:Fundamental premise??!! Mani, the very first sentence of Sankara's
:Brahmasutra bhashya says "jIvo brahmaiva, nA parah"! Advaita is all
:about establishing the identity between the individual soul, jiva
:(Atman) and Brahman. Ultimate falsehood? I should think not, more so
:because right at the outset, Sankara declares "Brahma satyam"!

     If you have to establish the identity  between ...  jiva and
     Brahman  does that not necessarily imply dvaitam and not
     advaitam.  If there is only one there is no need for using the
     word  between.

> The Upanishad is stating here in not unclear terms that Brahman is
> real, and through His reality, He bestows reality to everything
> else -- the mass of jivas ("souls") and matter.  Why else would
> the teaching describe Brahman as one real among many reals? The
> Katha Upanishad says the same thing: "nityo nityAnAm, cetanaS
> cetanAnAm" ("Eternal among eternals, Soul among souls...")
> Advaita clearly cannot give this passage its due justice. By
> declaring that the world is "false" ("jagan mithya", to quote
> Vidya), the Advaitin goes against the grain of both perception
> and scripture.

:Advaita does this passage full justice, as it relies on assertions
:throughout the Upanishads that say that the one Brahman manifests
:Itself as the five prANas. Secondly, the Upanishad does not say that
:Brahman is "one real among many reals". Nay, it says much more than
:that. Satyasya satyam because, devoid of Brahman, everything else
:loses its reality.  Which is what Advaita asserts.

     The above does not challenge in anyway the understanding of
     many satyams from the phrase  satyasya satyam;  if anything it
     counters the claims of advaitam.   Devoid of brahman nothing
     can exist directly implies everything EXISTS with the association
     of brahman in a relationship similar to dEham and dEhi.  But
     advaitam says there is nothing other than brahman, no question
     of anything existing with or without brahman.  Visishtadvaitam
     is the only way you can explain  devoid of brahman nothing
     can exist.

:As for the "false"ness of this world - first let me make it clear that
:Advaita does not claim that this world is "false". It only says that it is
:illusory. Let us pause a minute here and go over the rope and snake
:analogy. A man sees a coiled rope in insufficient light and thinks it to
:be a snake, and is therefore afraid. Later, when he sees it again, he
:recognizes it as a rope, and realizes he was in error when he thought it
:to be a snake. However, till he realizes that his object of perception is
:not a snake, he still harbors the illusion that it is a snake i.e. he is under
:the influence of his own ignorance about the true identity of the thing,
:and is therefore under "mithyAtva". The same "snake" is later, at the
:moment of realization, understood to be a "rope".

     This is just a positive spin much favored by advaitees.  In no
     way does this prove advaitam or disprove Visishtadvaitam.

:Similarly, man thinks this world has an independent reality, and
:assumes that the pleasures and joys and frustrations and miseries he
:experiences here are somehow "real". It is this that is "mithyA". He
:does not realize "sarvam khalvidam brahma", which would give him

     Srivatsangachar says a story for this.  In a village there is a
     jamindhar.  He owned everything in the village.  So, when
     talking about this man the villagers say,  this jamindhar is the
     village, the village is nothing but the jamindar.   Can one
     conclude from this that the jamindar is the only inhabitant of the
     village.  If we have to accept the  snake  story as proof for
     advaitam, then they should accept this story as proof for
     dvaitam.    sarvam khalvidam brahma  is to be interpreted as
     everything exists only with the association of brahman, with
     emphasis upon  exists.

:If you want to find fault with Sankara's idea of Real as that which is
:eternal, and if you want to claim that there are other entities (other than
:Brahman) which are not eternal, but which are nevertheless real in an
:ultimate sense i.e. as Real as Brahman, please do so with appropriate
:scriptural references.

     There are references that clearly refer to two realities.  One eats
     the fruits of life and the other is free of all karma, etc.  As I said
     in the opening I am not familiar with exact references.

> It is in this context that we come to the disputed teaching,
> Sankara says that the words "Now follows the teaching, 'not this,
> not this'" ("atha AdeSo neti neti") negates all the previous
> descriptions as forms of the true Brahman.

:Because the description of Brahman as 'neti, neti', occurs not once in
:the Brihadarnyaka Upanishad, but several times. Specifically, in the
:mUrta amUrta brahmaNa, (II, 3, 6) the term "neti, neti" is not uttered
:by Yagnavalkya, but is a continuation of the dialogue between
:AjAtaSatru and GArgya from the first BrahmaNa of that adhyAya. It is
:here that the term "satyasya satyam" occurs, but then it is clear that in
:the context of this BrahmaNa, the word "satyam" is used not as
:rigorously as in the other verses. For example, the mortal is described
:as 'sat' and the immortal as 'tyad' at the beginning of the brahmaNa. But
:one can by no means harbor the notion that the Upanishad means the
:mortal to be as true as the immortal, because the final verse picks only
:the immortal prANa to be the true and then goes on to say that the truth
:of the prANas is because of the truth of Brahman. That is the true
:meaning of "satyasya satyam" - not the meaning you give as "one
:among many realities".

     If this is so, the great saints of yesteryears would have said, the
     only satyam is so and so...  But they chose to say  satyasya
     satyam,  implying several satyams.

:Getting back to "neti, neti" as Yagnavalkya says it - these are in the
:following - III, 9, 26; IV, 2, 4; IV, 4, 22; IV, 5, 15. Read IV, 5, 15
:carefully because it puts together all the Advaita concepts in one verse -
:        "For when there is duality as it were, then one sees the other,
:        one smells the other, ........, one knows the other; but when the
:        Self only is all this, how should he see another, how should he
:        smell another, how should he taste another, ......., how should he
:        know another? How should he know Him by whom he knows all
:        this?  That Self is to be described as 'No. No'! He is
:        incomprehensible,  ....."

     The duality referred here is the avidya that one has a separate
     existence free of brahman, not brahman is the only thing.

:Before one jumps and says "Aha, here is a mention of duality in the
:Upanishad", remember, Yagnavalkya is saying that duality persists
:only till the realization that Brahman alone is all this. Remember the
:key words are "duality as it were"!!

     Not correct interpretation.  In our day-to-day life when we talk
     about a family unit we understand husband, wife and children.
     That collection is considered ONE.  The oneness we have with
     brahman is like a husband and wife being a single entity.
     Between a husband and wife if duality exists then the marriage
     is only an illusion.  Likewise, if the oneness between the two
     distinct entities, jiva and paramathma, is not realized, then
     avidya persists.  This is not to be interpreted as there is only
     one,  not two.  In as much as two people make a husband-and-
     wife unity, the two entities, jiva and paramathma make up the
     eternal union.

> Ramanuja, following the interpretation of the Brahma-sutras, says
> that "not this, not this" means that these forms attributed to
> Brahman do not exhaust his Infinitude.  "Not just this, not only
> this", is what is meant. Just look at what Yajnavalkya says
> immediately after:
>       na hi etasmAd iti, na iti anyat param asti.
>       There is none higher than this, none away from this.
> The infinitiude of Brahman, the limitless glory of the Supreme
> Being is brought out by this apparent negative construction.
> Even Yajnavalkya can only partially measure the greatness of
> Brahman. S.S. Raghavachar writes, "It is not a denial of what is
> affirmed, but a denial of the denial of what is not affirmed in
> the finite affirmation at hand."  The Brahma-sutras distinctly
> says [3.2.21]:
>       The context denies the 'so-much-ness' only, because it
>       further declares repeatedly the abundance (of qualities).
>       prakrita etAvatvam hi pratiShedhati, tato bravIti bhUyah.
> *After* this, Yajnavalkya affirms the ultimate reality of all of
> this with the statement "He is the Reality of realities." How
> Sankara can read into this wonderful passage the illusory nature
> of the individual soul and the world astonishes me. I suppose
> this is what happens when a commentator takes four words out of
> context. [I will give Ramanuja's comments verbatim in a
> subsequent post.]

:As for the illusory nature of the individual soul, I have already pointed
:out that Sankara does not say that. Secondly he is not taking four words
:out of context. He is being totally faithful to the spirit of the teaching of
:the BrihadAraNyaka upanishad. In fact after the mUrta amUrta
:brahmaNa we do not find the term 'satyasya satyam' and Sankara is
:fully aware that the word 'sat' is being somewhat loosely used by
:Ajatasatru (not Yagnavalkya) in that verse. He therefore gives a
:consistent interpretation of "neti, neti" which occurs in five different
:places in the Upanishad.  Four of these references deny Ultimate
:Reality to anything but Brahman, who is knowledge and bliss. Sankara
:therefore interprets 'satyasya satyam' which occurs in only one of the
:'neti, neti' verses, consistently with the rest.

     In my opinion Mr. Vidya has completely ignored anwering
     Mani s discussion of  neti, neti.   The point is  neti  denies
     limiting the quality to just this or that, not deny existence of that
     quality altogether.


:Anyway, Ramnauja does a clever thing by not focussing on Vaishnava
:concepts in his philosophy, but then manages to bring in Vishnu as the
:Purusha/Brahman of the Upanishads as

     Not focusing on Vaishnava is because there was no dispute
     there.  The reason is not to surreptitiously bring vaishnavam in.
     This is a gross misrepresentation of our religious history.

:Sankara on the other hand, with his Smarta background that worships
:Siva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganapati and all the Gods of Hinduism as
:manifestations of the one Reality, is able to appreciate the truth of the
:Upanishads better.  This is not to deny bhakti, for Sankara is able to be
:a devout Vaishnava, a devout Saiva, a devout Sakta, all at the same
:time, by being an Advaitin! It is thus

     If nirguna brahmam is the only reality,  is not Sankara
     perpetrating a falsehood by impersonating a bhaktha by
     conjuring up saguna brahma.

:that Sankara is able to capture the soul of Hinduism better, by
:providing a synthesis of bhakti religions with a number of saguNa
:Brahmans that one has as "iShta devatA". Thus Sankara is consistent
:with the Upanishads, and consistent with the dominant tradition of
:Hinduism that worships all Gods. As an aside, it is this dominant
:tradition of considering all Gods as manifestations of One that allows
:devout Hindus to worship at the idgah of a Sufi saint or at a church, and
:still remain essentially Hindu.

     If anything it is Sri Ramanuja s prapatti religion that is
     practiced by hindus of all kind, including many who consider
     themselves as members of one of the Sankara matams.  They
     associate all kinds of sathva gunas with the Lord.  Like
     namaazhvaar says \bt avar avar thama thamthu \et people
     perform saranagathi in various forms to their iSta devatA within
     whom Lord Narayana resides and delivers the bhakthaas from
     their misery.


:Sankara says that in the first place it is wrong to say that Brahman is
:characterized by anything. Note again that this is being faithful to the
:Upanishads. As you yourself point out, the key word is nirviSeSa.
:Brahman IS knowledge, Brahman IS bliss, Brahman IS being, Brahman
:IS all this.  Brahman is not characterized by these. So the objection you
:raise against Advaita has no basis at all. It is not what the Upanishads
:say, it is not what Sankara says.
:Sankara would have no objections to Ramanuja's saying that Brahman
:has innumerable auspicious qualities, except that Sankara would tell
:him that it is wrong to think of Brahman as having qualities - Brahman
:IS tejas, Brahman IS satyam, Brahman is Anandam etc.

     Does this not imply that advaitees say brahman is one or more
     of these qualities?  The distinction they make between having a
     quality and being a quality leads the erroneous conclusion that
     brahman is acetanam as gunas are acetanam, is it not?

:What about the following - do you see any infinitude of attributes here?
:        "It is neither coarse, nor fine, neither short nor long, neither
:        red like fire nor fluid like water, it is without shadow, without
:        darkness, without air, without ether, without attachment, without
:        taste, without smell, without eyes, without ears, without speech,
:        without mind, without light, without breath, without a mouth,
:        without measure, having no within and no without, it devours
:        nothing and no one devours it." (Br. Up. III, 8, 8)

     This again must be interpreted as  neti  was interpreted earlier.
     There is no way one can interpret the  without  passages as
     brahman being nirguna.  Further a distinction is made between
      prLaya  kala and  srishti  kala.

:All this enumeration of 'withouts' is captured by Sankara and Suresvara
:in one word for the sake of conciseness, when they say 'nirviSeSha'.
:Note that if Yagnyavalkya says without darkness, he

     If nirviSeSha was intended, the great saints of the vedic period
     would have said so.  Sanakara is clearly overstepping what was
     intended.  The  withouts  only exclude those that are named.
     But  nirviSesha  extends the  withouts  to those that are not
     named as well.

> > For all
> > you know, Christianity or Islam may be the ultimate truth, and we
> > Hindus will never accept that.
> In general, I have little dispute with Advaitins who practice
> bhakti, or with devout theists such as Christians and Muslims
> (eternal damnation and other such difficulties aside).  I myself
> have worshipped in a Catholic church countless times, and view
> the God of Christianity, Islam, Vaishnavism, and Saivism to be
> essentially the same.  But the Brahman as defined by Advaita is

> one that I cannot stomach, both philosophically and religiously.

> Peace,
> Mani

:How can you say all that together? The God of Christianity and of
:Islam in particular is formless, attributeless. Muslims are so fanatic
:about it that they refuse to depict God even in painting, a concession
:that Chiristianity makes. If you can think of Allah or Jehovah to be the
:same God as Vishnu or Siva, it can only be in terms of Advaita's
:nirguNa Brahman. For Allah is precisely that - nirguNa. The Allah who
:gave the Koran and the one God who created the world in seven days as
:in Genesis, cannot be the same as the Vishnu who gave the Gita or the
:Siva who as Dakshinamoorthy teaches the world. You cannot logically
:say that the God of all these religions is essentially the same and at the
:same time find fault with Advaita for saying Brahman is nirguNa. For
:the sameness is the *nirguNa*ness that underlies all these
:manifestations of God.

     No,No,and NO.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in
     the Old Testament (OT) he Book of Genesis clearly says that
     God created man in the image of himself.  Is this not a clear
     statement of duality.  OT also describes Jehovah in terms of
     many gunas such as omnipotent, omniscient etc.  If advaitam is
     right what is the purpose of all this power.  If you are the only
     person in a town and that is the only town in a country and that
     is the only country in a world, then your omnipotence etc. are of
     no value.

:Brahman is nirguNa, is not being nihilistic but is the highest mode of
:being theistic. That is what Advaita sets forth and that is the real truth,
:that is the real basis for all spirituality.

      Brahman is nirguNa and that is the highest mode of theism  is
      the highest form of oxymoron I have ever  heard.