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interesting views from Dr. SMS Chari's Sribhasya class

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu)
Date: Wed Feb 14 1996 - 15:57:27 PST

I don't want to get into an advaita/viSishTAdvaita debate on this  
list, mostly due to reasons of availability of time. But I thought a  
few comments in response to Krishna Kalale's recent post were in  
order.

I don't doubt that the very purpose of the SrIbhAshya is to put  
forth a school of vedAnta different from advaita. For that matter,  
the purpose of the gauDapAdIya kArikAs and Sankara's bhAshyas is to  
establish a system of vedAnta that is different from the bhedAbheda  
of bhartr.prapanca and others.

Krishna Kalale wrote:

>>>>
This is further confirmed by the next sutra - janmaadyasya yathaha  
- from whom this universe is created, protected, in whom all this  
gets destroyed, etc. - is bramhan.  So the action of creation,  
destruction, protection become attributes of this bramhan - they are  
tatastha lakshanas - ie.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
incidental attributes not attributes of form of bramhan (they are 	
>>>>

advaita also characterizes this as tatastha lakshaNa, which is not  
necessarily the svarUpa lakshaNa of brahman.

>>>>
satyam jnanam anantham). Since action is indicated in creation etc., 
				^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
then bramhan is definitely not nirvishesha here.  Even Sri  
Sankaracharya accepts that bramhan here means ishwara  - who is  
Saguna who is ultimately not real - only relatively real as per  
advaita.
>>>>

AptakAmasya kA spr.hA? The actions of creation etc. are not  
essential to the real nature of brahman, which the brahmasUtra  
itself recognizes because it says creation is just sport. This is  
all that is meant by saying ISwara is only relatively real. This  
says nothing against the Entity that is ISwara, because in the  
ultimate analysis, ISwara IS brahman. Rather, the statement that  
ISwara is relatively real, is directed against our limited  
conception of ISwara as the creator, protector and destroyer. Such a  
conception of ISwara presumes creation to be an essential feature  
of brahman's svarUpa, which it plainly is not. Speaking purely  
logically, if we accept that creation etc. are not essential  
features of brahman's svarUpa, there is no reason why we should  
insist on the ultimate description of that brahman as being saguNa,  
is there? Where there is only One, how does differentiation even  
begin?

The whole question arises because of the firm statements in Sruti  
about the One which appears as Many, the Formless which has taken on  
Forms etc. In order to understand such statements on a logical  
basis, advaita constantly shifts back and forth between a  
vyAvahArika perspective and a pAramArthika perspective. This is  
required because of the analysis of various notions of causality.  
The same brahman is saguNa in vyAvahArika terms, because we are  
looking at the brahman as an object, different from one's Self.  
However, the idea that creation is not an essential feature of  
brahman opens a window, as it were, to the paramArtha truth of  
nirguNa brahman. This might be only an inference, on the part of  
advaita, about the Reality of nirguNa brahman, but advaita goes a  
step further and says that this can be realized directly by the  
seekers, if certain conditions are met (sAdhana catushTaya etc.).

Thus, for example, if creation is not an essential feature of  
brahman and the jIva is a creation, then what is the nature of the  
jIva's reality? To this, advaita says, in one analysis, the jIva's  
reality is brahman itself (jIvo brahmaiva nA para:), and in another  
analysis, there is no jIva, because individuality is dissolved. Thus  
a statement about moksha, "na sa punarAvartate" can be understood  
from both perspectives. From the vyAvahArika perspective, the jIva  
has "attained" brahman, and so does not return, because brahman is  
ever free. From the paramArtha perspective, there is no more  
individual jIva, so the question of return cannot even arise.

>>>>
Then where in the sutras is the nirvishesha aspects discussed???   
we will come to this in a different sutra and see whether it is  
really mentioned there. sribhasya's view is that this issue is never  
discussed in bramhasutras. the only sutra which talks close
to identity is the avibhagena drishtatvaat. this aspect will be  
examined in another mail.
>>>>

That should be interesting, at least for me. I don't know about the  
SrIbhAshya. From my understanding of SankarAcArya's bhAshyas, he  
does not describe nirguNa brahman much in his brahmasUtra-bhAshya.  
Most of advaita's arguments about nirguNa brahman stem from  
SankarAcArya's brh.hadAraNyakopanishad-bhAshya and  
chAndogyopanishad-bhAshya.

>>>>
NOTE:  As per advaita, major importance is not given to Bramha  
sutras and Bhagawadgita - since they are both paurusheya - ie. they  
are not unauthored like the Vedas or Upanishads.  Visisitadvaitins  
strongly uphold all the three canons - prasthana traya - ie.  
upanishads, bramhasutras, bhagawadgita.
>>>>

I think this requires some qualification. Of course, advaita  
upholds the superiority of the Sruti prasthAna, because of the  
mImAmsA principle that Sruti is the source material for the sUtras  
and smr.ti is to be understood in accordance with Sruti. But as far  
as vedAntic study is concerned, all three prasthAnas are considered  
with equal importance, and the bhAshyas on all three prasthAnas are  
studied by students at the advaita maThas.

I think we should also differentiate a little between the  
theological motive and the purely philosophical motive when  
analyzing advaita. From the practical point of view, for the layman,  
all of advaita *religion* is consistent with the gItAbhAshya of  
Sankara. And every sannyAsI starts out as a layman first. It may not  
be very well-known, but Sankara endorses SaraNAgati in the  
gItAbhAshya - "nishkAmya karmasya rahasyam ISwara SaraNatA" - the  
secret of nishkAmya karma is to take SaraNa with ISwara. Thus,  
bhakti, SraddhA  and SaraNAgati are highly valued, and that is the  
way it has been among smArtas and the advaita maThas since the time  
of Sankara. As far as daily religion is concerned, I cannot really  
distinguish anything very much different between smArtas and  
vaishNavas, except in the object of worship, and variations in  
custom. But the attitudes towards worship and other aspects of  
religion are very similar. The real differences arise from the fact  
that from the advaita analysis of brahman, it follows that all Forms  
equally belong to the Formless. That is why advaitins don't say  
that brahman's real form is in vaikuNTham alone or in kailAsam alone  
or in the SrIcakra bindu alone. This syncretism, if you will,  
between different kinds of worship is an important feature of  
advaita *religion*.


>>>>
The sutras are definitely non-descriptive and hence offer  
possibilitiies for different interpretations.  Atleast Sri  
Ramanuja's and Sri Shankara's commentaries are comparable since they  
atleast agree with the vishaya vakyas - upanishadic statement  
references.  In fact the interesting issue is the striking  
similarity between these bhasyas - except the maya issue, and  
nirvishesha issues!.  It is quite difficult to compare Sri Madhva  
bhasya and Sribhasya since their reference vedanta vakyas - are  
different and they have
a number of areas of disagreement regarding the very topic of the  
sutras.
>>>>

That is correct. I have lots of reservations about various aspects  
of Madhva's works. But note that in SankarAcArya's bhAshya, mAyA is  
described as "devAtma-Sakti". The whole discussion that fine-tunes  
mAyA as a philosophical concept is post-Sankaran, and to a certain  
extent, this fine-tuning is a consequence of debates among the  
various vedAnta traditions.

Regards,

S. Vidyasankar