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Re: Couple of Questions

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu)
Date: Wed Feb 14 1996 - 23:03:34 PST

> (1) Why surrender to a Saguna Brahman if it does not really exist?

This thing about "really exist" has to be understood in proper perspective. 
In the advaita theory of two truths, saguNa brahman exists and it is 
necessary to surrender to ISwara in the vyAvahArika level. It is only the
paramArtha truth that nothing but nirguNa brahman exists. So long as one
lives in and deals with the vyavahAra level, ISwara SaraNa is a superior
means of gaining knowledge and is necessary for nishkAmya karma. In the 
paramArtha level, there is no karma at all. Finally, it is also not unknwon
in advaita theory to say that the nirguNa brahman takes on guNas out of 
ahetuka dayA - uncaused compassion.

This will answer the second question about ocean and waves in Sankara's
stotram. Different kinds of analogies are used to describe the relationship
between jIva and brahman. Ocean and waves, sparks from a fire, prototype 
and image etc. Each analogy captures something of the relationship, and
leaves out other aspects, according to advaita. The separation of and the
dependence of the jIva upon brahman in vyAvahArika satya is well accepted
in advaita. What is denied is the apparent independence of the jIva. 

In response to V. Sundar's quotation of the nAsadIya sUkta: 

It is very difficult to understand the nAsadIya sUkta literally. To understand
it metaphorically is the only way out. But our understanding of metaphors 
is itself based upon our own differing perspectives. For example, the last
two lines of the nAsadIya sUkta again pertain to creation, but seem to end
upon a note of skepticism. 

Creation by the One is generally explained as desire (kAma in the nAsadIya,
tadaikshata bahusyAm in an upanishad) on the part of the One to differentiate.
Well, this is again metaphorical language, if you take into account the 
question AptakAmasya kA spr.hA? No desires can really be attributed to 
brahman, because brahman lacks absolutely nothing. It is to resolve such
apparent contradictory statements in Sruti that one needs a system of
exegesis. Which system of vedAnta is "right" is a question of our own 
individual taste, and maybe also force of circumstances, like being born into
a smArta or a vaishNava family!

As for the assertion that Vishnu alone existed before creation, that is again
consistent with advaita, except for the fact that advaita denies that creation
involves any real transformation of Vishnu's swaroopa. Because brahman is
without parts, changeless, eternal etc. The only objection that Sankara
makes to pAncarAtrins is in their theory of causality as applied to creation
from and by brahman. 

Vidyasankar