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Re: A Question for Sri Vidyasankar

From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan (vidya_at_cco.caltech.edu)
Date: Thu Sep 11 1997 - 10:15:03 PDT

Dear Sri Jagannath Bharadwaj, 

To the best of my knowledge, advaita AcAryas have not entered into a
discussion along the lines raised by you at all. From a grammatical
viewpoint, just as Siva, gaNeSa etc. have etymological meanings, as
auspiciousness, lord of the gaNas, etc. the name nArAyaNa also has such a
meaning, i.e. support/refuge of all men. In other words, in the Sanskrit
language, these names can all serve as common nouns. So it is not as if
some are exclusively common nouns and some exclusively proper nouns. 

In the vedArthasangraha, SrI rAmAnujAcArya draws attention to the
taittirIya AraNyaka, and says that nArAyaNa represents the cause, while
Siva, indra and others represent the level of effects. If I remember the
text right, he also includes the name vishNu in the level of effects. As
far as the advaitin is concerned, there can be no objection to this
statement, but it should be pointed out that in advaita, the ultimate
cause is the nirguNa brahman. We say that name and form do not
characterize the parabrahman, so that anything with form is in the level
of effects. Therefore, while advaitins will also say that nArAyaNa is the
cause, they de-emphasize the form, i.e. the four-armed,
sleeping-on-AdiSesha, holding-conch-and-discus form is still a form, and
therefore on the level of effects. According to us, the essential nature
of nArAyaNa is not all this, but pure consciousness. Now, the essential
nature of any jIva is also pure consciousness, and realization of this
constitutes moksha. Moreover, this pure consciousness is beyond name or
form, so it does not matter much to advaitins whether It is called
nArAyaNa or sadASiva. Both names refer to the same reality, but different
sages call it by different names. That is why, philosophical debates
aside, almost any advaita teacher will say that the essentially formless
One takes on form, in order to bless the devotee. The only thing to
remember is that this taking on of form is not an ultimately "real" event,
so that it does not limit the Lord at all. 

Regards,
Vidyasankar