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Saguna Brahman and Krama Mukti in Shankara's Advaita Vedanta - Part 3

Acceptance of Vaikuntha as an eternal loka by Advaitins other than Shankara


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Sridhara (and Citsukha):

Both in the commentaries to Srimad Bhagavatam and Vishnu Purana, the advaitic commentator Sridhara has supported the notion of Vaikuntha. It is to be noted that Sridhara says in the Vishnu Purana commentary that he is closely following the explanations given by Citsukha (in a work that is not available to us today):

śrīmaccitsukhayogimukhyāracita vyākhyāṃ nirīkṣya sphuṭaṃ
tanmārgeṇa subodhasaṃgrahavatīmātmaprakāśābhidām ।
śrīmadviṣṇupurāṇasāravivṛtiḥ karttā yatiḥ śrīdhara
svāmī sadgurupādapadmamadhūpaḥ sādhusvadhīśuddhaye ॥

(Introductory shloka)

Let us take a look at Sridhara’s commentary to Srimad Bhagavatam 2.5.39:

"brahmaloko vaikuṇṭhākhyaḥ sanātano nityaḥ na tu sṛjyaprapañcāntarvartī ityarthaḥ"

[“Brahmaloka” is the abode that is called “Vaikuntha”, which is always existing, and not inside the created universe.]

This is such a clear statement that cannot be explained away by adversaries in any other manner. It is well-known that Satya-loka and other lokas are created, as showin in Bhagavad Gita, 8.16-19. The identification “vaikuNThAkhyaH” is significant as well since it specifies the name of this eternal abode.

Note that the advaitins always use “Akhya” – “vishNavAkhya”, “vaikunThAkhya”, “nArAyaNAkhya” to denote both the highest being to be attained and the highest abode of attainment. The reason for using “Akhya” is to show that these refer to Saguna Brahman and His abode which are the highest object of attainment *with names* (and hence can be called – “Akhya”). This is as opposed to that highest object of attainment without names – ie, the nirguNa tattva which is attributeless, nameless and without a second.
There is no “kailAsAkhyA” or “rudrAkhyA” because this deity and its abode are not the highest in the vyAvahArika sat.

Next, we look at the commentary to the following shloka-s in Vishnu Purana, where the origin of Ganga and the residence of Dhruva etc. are mentioned as Vishnupada. In five verses, this Vishnupada is eulogised as verily the Supreme Abode of Vishnu, even though it exists in the material universe:

nirdhūtadoṣapaṅkānāṃ yatīnāṃ saṃyatātmanām /
sthānaṃ tatparamaṃ vipra puṇyapāpaparikṣaye // ViP_2,8.99 //

apuṇyapuṇyoparame kṣīṇāśeṣāptihetavaḥ /
yatra gatvā na śocanti tadviṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padam // ViP_2,8.100 //

dharmadhruvādyāstiṣṭhanti yatra te lokasākṣiṇaḥ /
tatsārṣṭyotpanna[tatsāmyotpanna]yogardhistadviṣṇoḥ paramaṃpadam // ViP_2,8.101 //

yatrotametatprotaṃ ca yadbhūtaṃ sacarācaram /
bhavyaṃ ya viśvaṃ maitreya tadviṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padam // ViP_2,8.102 //

divīva cakṣurātataṃyogināṃ tanmayātmanām /
vivekajñānadṛṣṭaṃ ca tadviṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padam // ViP_2,8.103 //

Translation: This is that excellent place of Vishnu to which those repair in whom all sources of pain are extinct, in consequence of the cessation of the consequences of good and bad deeds, and where they never sorrow more. There abide Dharma, Dhruva, and other spectators of the world, radiant with the superhuman faculties of Vishńu, acquired through religious meditation; and there are fastened and inwoven to all that is, and all that shall ever be, animate or inanimate. The seat of Vishnu is contemplated by the wisdom of the Yogis, identified with supreme light, as the radiant eye of heaven.

Sridhara’s Commentary:

taddhi vairājasya hṛdayanāḍīsthānam । atastadantaryāmiṇo viṣṇoḥ sthānam । ataḥ kramamuktisthānamapi tat sākṣānmokṣasthānatvena varṇayati nirdhūtadoṣeti pañcabhiḥ ॥99॥

Translation: That (Vishnu’s post in the material universe, called viShNupada, located between the saptaR^iShimaNDala and dhruva described in the previous shloka-s) is the vein of the heart of the virAT-puruSha. Hence, it is the place of his inner controller Vishnu. For this reason, even though this viShNupada is a location in the material universe associated with krama-mukti or liberation in stages, *it is sung as sAkShAt-mokSha-sthAna i.e., the very abode of liberation* in the following five shlokas.

tatsāmyāt tena viṣṇunā samānaiśvaryeṇa ॥101॥

Translation: (The muktas) owing to sAmya or nearness to Vishnu, (obtain) a Lordship equal to that of Him.

divīva cakṣuriti… anena tadviṣṇoriti mantrārthaḥ sūcitaḥ ॥ 103॥

Translation: By this shloka, the mantra “tadviShNoH paramaM padam” occurring in the Rigveda, where the same words “divIva cakShuH” are found, is explained.

The meaning of the first portion of the commentary is this: Even though the Vishnupada where the river Ganga originates is in the material universe subject to mahA-pralaya, it is a place belonging to the realm of Hiranyagarbha’s satya-loka where krama-mukti is attained by Yogins. Hence it is praised with the bhAva of the very abode of final liberation associated with Vishnu.

Note that Sridhara distinguishes krama-mukti-sthAna Vishnupada, a location in the created universe, with sAkShAt-mokSha-sthAna that is Vishnu’s Parmaam Padam. Note also that this Vishnupada is (a) described by Sridhara as Viraj’s hR^idayanADIsthAna, the place where his antaryAmin Vishnu resides. (b) described in the subsequent shloka-s as the place where the river Ganga originates from Vishnu’s left toenail. This put to rest any doubt against associating “viShNoH paramaM padam” with the four-armed deity. Further, as many have observed, the Rigvedic mantra explained in these verses occurs in the context where Vishnu’s three strides during his trivikrama-avatAra is mentioned.

Even Sayana, while commenting on the Rig Veda, identifies this section with the popular Lord Vishnu who took the trivikrama/vAmana avatAra-s to take three strides. Moreover, Sayana explains “paramaM padam” as “svargasthAna” i.e., heavenly abode!

Note also Sridhara’s mention of samAnaishvarya with Vishnu for those who attain sAyujya.

Hence, this vishNupada is part of the stages that saguNopAsaka-s go through, while attaining satyaloka. Hence the vaikuNTha proper that is beyond the material universe.
It cannot be argued that this “sAkShAt-mokSha-sthAna” is nirguNa mokSha since it is being compared to vishNupada, a place of duality in the material universe. Neither can it be said that this vishNupada is the actual shrI vaikuNTha as opposed to an intermediary abode of vishNu because if so, it negates the fact that mukta-s reach satyaloka. Hence, this vishNupada is part of the stages of karmamukti whereby mukta-s reach satya loka and then after pralaya, reach shrI vaikuNTha  that is beyond the material universe, the “sAkShAt-moksha-sthAna” (which has been compared with vishNupada).

Sridhara’s introductory shloka showing he followed Citsukha also points to the strong possibility that a preceptor as significant as Citsukha in the history of Advaita Vedanta has given a commentary in the same manner.

Madhusudana (Gudhartha Dipika):

In the Gudhartha Dipika, Madhusudana has specified the Lord’s eternal form in Vaikuntha-loka that is meditated upon by all Yogins was shown before Devaki and Vasudeva during His birth as Krishna:

“nanu janmakāle'pi sarvayogidhyeyaṃ śrīvaikuṇṭhasthamaiśvarameva rūpamāvirbhāvitavati...”

(Gudhartha Dipika, 7.24)

In 8.15, Madhusudana says that those who obtain the Lord, reach Him and after enjoyment in His Abode, reaches the attributeless state. The Acharya also states that this is kramamukti only:

...mahātmānaḥ rajastamomalarahitāntaḥkaraṇāḥ śuddhasattvāḥ samutpannasamyagdarśanā mallokabhogānte paramāṃ sarvotkṛṣṭāṃ saṃsiddhiṃ muktiṃ gatāste। atra māṃ prāpya siddhiṃ gatā iti vadatopāsakānāṃ kramamuktirdarśitā ।।8.15।।

Translation: “The great Atmas whose minds are devoid of the qualities of rajas and tamas and hence is of the nature of Pure sattva, having samyagdarshana or clear vision arisen in their minds, after enjoyment in My Abode, reach the Highest state of perfection called ‘mukti’”. (Thus says Bhagavan Sri Krishna). Here, by saying “Having attained me, they go to to the highest state of perfection”, kramamukti is shown for worshippers of Saguna Brahman.

(Gudhartha Dipika, 8.15)

“Having attained Me” – Here, “Me” signifies Krishna or Vishnu. “They go to the highest state of perfection” – This refers to “paramaM padam”. Thus, “tad vishNoH paramaM padam” is explained as “they attain the Saguna Brahman Vishnu and then the highest state of nirguNa mukti”. Remember that “paramaM padaM” is explained by Shankara (Katha Upanishad Bhashya, 1.3.9) as “prakR^iShTam padaM sthAnaM satattvamityetat”, which indicates both an abode as well as the state attained therein due to the grace of Ishvara, Vishnu.

Note that Madhusudana does not use “malloka-kShaye” (i.e., “after the destruction of my abode”) to indicate the end of Saguna Moksha. This indicates that Vaikuntha loka is indestructible even in pralaya and only from the point of view of Nirguna Mukti its existence ceases along with all duality.

In the commentary to the next verse (8.16), it is stated that those who reach various abodes, include the abode of the four-faced Brahma, have to be born again i.e., they have a finite lifetime and a finite result which they enjoy and exhaust. After stating this, Madhusudana explains as follows:

kiṃ tadvadeva tvāṃ prāptānāmapi punarāvṛttirnetyāha -- māmīśvaramekamupetya tu। tuśabdo lokāntaravailakṣaṇyadyotanārtho'vadhāraṇārtho vā। māmeva prāpya nirvṛtānāṃ he kaunteya mātṛto'pi prasiddhamahānubhāva, punarjanma na vidyate।

Translation: Arjuna asks: “Why is it not that similarly those who reach You also are born again?” For which Krishna replies “On the other hand, those who reach Me alone the Lord (are not born again)”. The usage of tu (“On the other hand”) is to show (dyotanArtha) the dissimilarity (vailakShaNya) of other worlds (lokAntara) from Vishnu’s transcendental Abode and for emphasis (avadhAraNa).

(Gudhartha Dipika, 8.16)

This is self-explanatory. Next, Madhusudana explains that those who reach Hiranyagarbha’s loka with Panchagni Vidya lacking samyagdarshana will certainly be returning, while those who reach the same loka with as a fruit of krama-mukti and saguNavidyAupAsana will proceed to liberation.

Note that when Madhusudana says that Vishnu’s Abode is of a different nature than other abodes such as Brahma etc. (lokAntaravailakShaNya), it is clear that it cannot be inside the material universe.

Madhusudana then introduces the purpose behind the succeeding verses that explain how the universe is created and destroyed during Brahma’s lifetime. The purpose, says the Acharya, is to explain that the reason behind why it was stated that all the worlds (other than Vishnu’s Abode) are subject to return. That reason is kAlaparicchinnatva (limitedness in time):

brahmalokasahitāḥ sarve lokāḥ punarāvartinaḥ kasmātkālaparicchinnatvādityāha
(Gudhartha Dipika, 8.17)


The commentaries to 8.18 and 8.19 explain the process of the creation and dissolution of the worlds and the timescales. These are self-explanatory.

Also to note, nowhere does Madhusudana say that Vishnu’s transcendental abode is also subject to this kind of limitedness in time. If Madhusudana considered Vishnu’s Vaikuntha to be so, it would have been necessary for him to clarify in this manner: “Even though Bhagavan Vishnu’s loka is also subject to limitedness in time, those who attain it go to the Supreme State”, because it was stated that the reason for the return of these other worlds is their time-limitedness.

After this, in 8.20, Madhusudana finally says that the reason behind Brahma’s creation and destruction is because Brahma considers (abhimAnitva) himself (due to avidyA i.e., nescience) to be a created Being, while the Supreme Lord, who is not subject to avidyA is not of that nature:

hiraṇyagarbhasya tu kāryasya bhūtābhimānitvāttadutpattivināśābhyāṃ yuktāvevotpattivināśau natu tadanabhimānino'kāryasya parameśvarasyeti bhāvaḥ

(Gudhartha Dipika, 8.20)

Note that Madhusudana says that the Supreme Lord is akArya while Hiranyagarbha is kArya, establishing that the Vishnu in Advaita is higher than Hiranyagarbha and his creation such as Rudra, etc.

Even Dhanapati Suri, who in other places disagrees with the interpretations of Madhusudana, explains “mAm upetya” (attaining Me) as “mAm Ishvaram upetya madbhAvaM sArUpyAdhikam ApAdya” thus agreeing Saguna Mukti or Krama Mukti involves sArUpya, i.e., attaining a form similar to Vishnu’s.

Madhusudana and Gauda Brahmananda Saraswati (Advaita Siddhi/Laghucandrika):

Let us come to the case of Advaita Siddhi that some desperate Vishnu-haters quote to try and show that Vishnu’s Vaikuntha is subject to destruction. First of all, Advaita Siddhi and Gudhartha Dipika are the work of the same author, Madhusudana. Moreover, Advaita Siddhi has been quoted by Madhusudana himself in Gudhartha Dipika: “advaita-siddhau siddhānta-bindau ca vistaraḥ” (2.18), “vistaras tv advaita-siddhau draṣṭavyaḥ” (5.16), “...ity ādy advaita-siddhāv anusandheyam” (5.16). Hence, it would be strange and confused to say that Madhusudana contradicted himself in two different works, and also quoted one in the other.

Those who think in the above manner fail to see the middle-ground given to Vaikuntha in Advaita, compared to the extremes of (i) the material universe, which is created at a certain time and destroyed a finite amount of time later, and (ii) the nirguNa-state, which exists in always in the past, present, and future from the pAramArthika viewpoint. There is a certain kind of eternality associated with Vaikuntha, that it exists in the past, present, and future in the vyAvahArika viewpoint but is anitya since avidyA and the vyAvahArika viewpoint themselves are not eternal. The context in Advaita Siddhi, which is a reply to Dvaitins, is to show that nothing that has a form and is distinguished by qualities can possess the absolute pAramArthika eternality.

Moreover, if we take a careful analysis of the passage quoted by our desperate adversary, it becomes immediately clear that both Gauda Brahmananda (in Laghucandrika, sub-commentary of Advaita Siddhi) and Madhusudana agree that Vaikuntha is eternal *in vyAvahArika viewpoint*.

Let us hence examine these passages carefully. Note that Madhusudana takes up the eternality of Vaikuntha question in the context where the non-eternality of avidyA is discussed:

na ca avidyāyāmeva vyabhicāraḥ ; tasyā apyanityatvena vyabhicārāhāvāt । …. । etena bhagavallokāderapi nityatvamapāstam । na ca

"ato hi vaiṣṇavā lokā nityāste cetanātmakāḥ ।
matprasādāt parāṃ śāntiṃ sthānaṃ prāpsyasi śāśvatam ॥"

ityādyāgamavirodhaḥ ; tasyāvāntarapralayasthatvaparatvāt ।

(Advaita Siddhi, 2nd Pariccheda, p. 745 of
MM Anantakrishna Sastry’s edition)

Translation: There is no violation/contradiction (on the point of eternality) in the case of nescience itself, since even nescience is admitted to be non-eternal… By this, even the Abodes of the Supreme Lord are declared to be non-eternal. It does not contradict the Puranic verse quoted, since “eternality” there means continued existence between two universal dissolutions, or continued existence during intermediate dissolutions.

Note that the verse discussed by Madhusudana Saraswati has a parallel with Gita 18.62, as we have explained above. This itself shows that the subject matter of Gita 18.62, which talks about liberation, has to be the Vaikuntha abode.

Secondly, we believe that “avAntarapralayastha” has to be interpreted as “existence in between two mahApralaya-s”, since it agrees with the Laghucandrika as we will shortly discuss. Even if “avAntarapralayastha” is to be taken as “existence during intermediate pralaya” (in which the first three worlds bhU, bhuvaH, suvaH are destroyed), it does no harm. For, the upAsaka-s who reach satyaloka that is not destroyed in the intermediary dissolution attain Nirguna Brahma Siddhi through Krama-mukti, and hence there is some sort of nityatva them.

Let us now examine the Laghucandrika portion explaining this part of Advaita Siddhi:

cetanātmakāḥ āvaraṇabāhulyaśūnyāḥ ।

Translation: (In the Puranic verse about eternal Vishnu worlds quoted by Madhusudana,) the term “cetanAtmakAH” (literally, “of sentient nature”) means “not having a multitude of envelopes” (AvaraNabAhulyashUnyAH).

Several smR^iti-s, itihAsa-s, and purANa-s say that the universe or brahmANDa that includes satyaloka is enveloped by eight coverings, each several times as great in volume as the previous one: the five elements (pa~ncamahAbhUta-s), ahaN^kAra, mahAn, and mUla-prakR^iti. Anyone conversant with this can immediately cognise that from the above explanation, the eternal Vishnu worlds in question exist outside the brahmANDa that includes the satyaloka of Brahma.

Next, Laghucandrika shows what sort of “eternality” these Vaikuntha-lokas possess:

tasya uktāgamasthanityādipadasya । avāntareti


"ātmā vā idameka evāgra āsīnnānyatkiñcanamiṣat",

"eko ha vai nārāyaṇa āsīt na brahmā neśāno nāpo nāgnīṣomau na ime dyāvāpṛthivī na nakṣatrāṇi na sūryaḥ"

ityādiśrutibhiḥ pralaye sakalakāryasaṃskāropahitamāyāvaccinnacinmātrasattāmuktvā

"sa īkṣata lokānnu sṛjā iti sa imān lokānasṛjat । so'kāmayat"

ityādinā tasya dhyānāntasthasyetyādi puruṣāścaturdaśā jāyantetyādi pañcatanmātrāṇi mahābhūtānītyādinā ca sarvalokaghaṭitaprapañcasṛṣṭeruktatvāt,

"yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante yatprayantabhisaṃviśanti suṣuptikāle sakale vilīne etasmādātmanaḥ sarve vedāḥ sarve devāḥ sarvāṇi ca bhūtāni vyuccaranti"

ityādiśruteḥ bhūtatvāvaccedena brahmajanyatvanāśyatvakalpane lāghavāt abhautika vaikuṇṭhaloke mānābhāvāt anāditvena śrutiyuktisiddhamāyādibhinnajaḍatvāvaccedena lāghavāt brahmopādānakatvāt sopādānakamātrasyāvidyakatvenāvidyānāśyatvāt jaḍasāmānyasya vināśitvamityuktavākyasthaṃ nityādipadamavāntarapralayasthaparamiti bhāvaḥ ।

Purport (for the last paragraph above): The cited shrutivAkya-s show that the limitation of (i.e., notion of/characterisation as) “bhUta”, while associating naturally (lAghavAt) with the creation and destruction of the universe from Brahman, cannot be considered to exist/associated with (mAnAbhAvAt) the Vaikuntha worlds that are abhautika (not of the nature of bhUta-s). Hence, their eternality is declared. But this is just like the eternality of avidyA, which shruti also declares in the statement “gauranAdyantavatI” (quoted by Madhusudana in the immediately preceding lines). However, since even these Vaikuntha worlds are also avidyAtmaka, they cease along with avidyA after Nirguna Brahman realisation.

(Laghucandrika, from the same source as above)

It is amusing to see desperate ones mistranslating “abhautikavaikuNThaloke mAnAbhAvAt” as “pramANAbhAvAt” i.e., there is no pramANa for abhautika vaikuNTha loka.

Note that if Madhusudana/Gauda Brahmananda meant that Vaikuntha is eternal only up to the point of pralaya, Laghucandrika must have stated “Vaikuntha worlds are destroyed after Brahma’s kalpa” and shown shruti/smR^iti passages to that effect.

To summarize, advaita posits the idea is that Shri Vaikuntha is beyond the material universe and is not subject to pralaya. That way, it is eternal as compared to other things in the vyAvahArika. But since even this Sri Vaikuntha is a product of mAyA from the view of the pAramArthika sat, it is anitya as compared to pAramArthika sat. And this is what Madhusudhana was arguing with Dvaitins about – since Dvaitins consider Shri Vaikuntha as absolute eternal reality, Madhusudhana was merely arguing that any reference to its nityatva only pertain to its immunity to pralaya and that it is non-eternal *in comparison with paramArthika sath* only.


Maheshvara Tirtha:

This Advaitin has written a commentary called “tattvadIpika” or “tIrtha” on Valmiki’s Ramayana

In this commentary, this Acharya too supports the existence of Vaikuntha as a mokShapurI, a place where krama-mukti is attained. We have quoted these occurrences below, with our translations:

Bala Kanda, Sarga 1:

Verse:

gavāṃ koṭyayutaṃ datvā brahmalokaṃ prayāsyati ।

Translation: After bestowing hundreds of thousands of cows and immense wealth, (Rama) will return to Brahmaloka

Commentary:

brahmaiva lokaḥ taṃ paramātmasvarūpaṃ saguṇasya brahmaṇo viṣṇoḥ svasya lokaṃ vaikuṇṭhākhyaṃ ca (Bala Kanda, 1.92)

Translation: “Brahmaloka” here means the state of the Supreme Aatman, as in the Shruti “Brahman is the world”. It also means, (Rama will depart to) the Abode known as “Vaikuntha” associated Himself i.e., Vishnu, who is Saguna Brahman.

Nothing needs much explanation here. Saguna Brahman is identified as Lord Vishnu and is associated with Sri Vaikuntha. The commentator is following Shankara’s observation that “paramaM padam” can refer to both a sthAna and a tattva – hence, “brahmaiva lokaH” refers to the essential nirguNa state of saguNa Ishvara (rAma) as well as the eternal abode of saguNa Ishvara which is called shrI vaikuNTha. Saguna Brahman is identified as Lord Vishnu and is associated with Sri Vaikuntha. The commentary also shows that the commentator subscribes to Advaita philosophy only.

Also notice the usage of “Akhya” with reference to saguNa tattva again. As explained already, “Akhya” is used by advaitins only in context with Saguna Brahman’s names and abodes as it is verily Nirguna Brahman under sattva upAdhi-s assuming names and forms for meditation.

In the next shloka, we show an esoteric meaning given by the commentator in addition to the literal one. Note the mention of Vishnu’s transcendental Abode as “the unconquerable”, and that its existence is supported by the shruti:

Ayodhya Kanda, Sarga 40 (Sumitra’s words to Lakshmana):

Shloka:

rāmaṃ daśarathaṃ viddhi māṃ viddhi janakātmajām।
ayodhyāmaṭavīṃ vidhdi gaccha tāta yathāsukham।।

Translation: (To Lakshmana she said) Regard Rama as Dasaratha, Sita as me and the forest as Ayodhya. My child, go in peace.

Commentary:

yadvā rāmaṃ daśaḥ pakṣī ratho yasya taṃ daśarathaṃ viṣṇuṃ viddhi । "daśaḥ pakṣī vihaṅgamaḥ " iti halāyudhaḥ । janakātmajāṃ māṃ lakṣmīṃ viddhi । aṭavīm ayodhyāṃ yoddhumaśakyām viṣṇupurīṃ viddhi । "devānāṃ pūrayodhyā" iti śruteḥ ।

Translation: Additionally, know Rama to be Lord Vishnu whose vehicle (ratha) is dasha i.e., the bird (Garuda). The Halayudha’s lexicon declares “dasha” to be synonymous with “bird”. Consider the daughter of Janaka, i.e., Sita, to be “mA” which is another name of Lakshmi. Consider the forest to be the unconquerable (ayodhyA) Abode of Vishnu. The shruti (Taittiriya Aranyaka) says “the unconquerable city of the deities”.

In the next instance, we have a clear mention of Lord Rama giving liberation to Jatayu. The abode attained by Jatayu is mentioned to be “the one bearing the name Vaikuntha”. Also to be noted is the mention

Aranya Kanda, Sarga 68 (Jatayu Moksha):

Shloka:

yā gatiryajñaśīlānāmāhitāgneśca yā gatiḥ।।
aparāvartināṃ yā ca yā ca bhūmipradāyinām।
mayā tvaṃ samanujñāto gaccha lokānanuttamān।।
gṛdhrarāja mahāsattva saṃskṛtaśca mayā vraja।

Translation: O mighty lord of the birds by my grace attain the state of those who perform sacrifices, who kindle and maintain sacrificial fires, who beat no retreat and who offer land in charity. Purified by my offering of fire, you may depart for the best of the worlds.

Commentary:

yā gatiriti ślokadvayamekaṃ vākyam । gatiḥ gamyata iti gatiḥ, loka ityarthaḥ । yajñaśīlādīnāṃ lokamārgeṇa aparāvartināṃ punarāvṛttirahitānāṃ muktānāṃ lokān । pūjāyāṃ bahuvacanam । lokaṃ vaikuṇṭhākhyaṃ vraja prāpnuhītyarthaḥ । "tiraścāṃ prāptaṃ dvijottama । tasmānmama prasādena viṣṇulokamavāpsyasi ।।" iti। "sugrīvo hanumānṛkṣo gajo gṛdhro vaṇikpathaḥ।" ityādau muktamadhyaparigaṇanācca jaṭāyuṣo muktiprāptissiddhetyavagamyate iti। aparāvartināṃ saṅgrāme iti śeṣaḥ। gamyata iti gatiḥ lokaḥ। yajñaśīlānāṃ lokān krameṇa prāpya madanujñātassan anuttamān yebhyaḥ pare uttamā na santi tān lokān brahmalokān kramamuktidān gaccha। anena saṅkalpamātrātkarmānadhikṛtatiraścassādhanahīnasyāpi tallokadānena bhagavānrāmaḥ svasvarūpāṃśe māyayāvṛtajñāna iti pralapatāṃ mukhaṃ dhvastam, śokādi tu naṭanamityuktamevāsakṛt। taduktaṃ- "saṃskāramakarottasya rāmo brahmavidhānataḥ। svapadaṃ ca dadau tasmai sopi rāmaprasādataḥ।।
haressāmānyarūpeṇa prayayau paramaṃ padam ।।" iti jaṭāyuṣaṃ prakramya pādme। etena tiraścāmapi snehādinā dehādi yuktamiti dhvanitam। sārūpyamuktilābhaścoktaḥ। mayā madrūpeṇa sāmānyaharirūpeṇa।। (Aranya Kanda, 68.29-31.)

Here, the commentator says that Jatayu, traversing through the heavens occupied by those who have accumulated merit through performing Yajnas, attained the worlds of the liberated, and says that they do not return to mundane existence. The commentator then cites two verses from the Puranas to show that Jatayu obtained liberation and not the lower svarga-s from which those who obtain them return:

"tiraścāṃ prāptaṃ dvijottama । tasmānmama prasādena viṣṇulokamavāpsyasi ।।"

[It (Vishnuloka) was obtained by animals (such as Jatayu etc.). Hence, by my grace, you will attain (that) Vishnuloka.]

"sugrīvo hanumānṛkṣo gajo gṛdhro vaṇikpathaḥ।"

[Sugriva, Hanuman, the bear (Jambavan), the elephant (Gajendra), the vulture (Jatayu), and the merchant (were liberated).]

Then, the commentator says that these “Abodes” of Vishnu are places where kramamukti is granted (kramamuktidAn) and that they exist above all loka-s and beyond them there are no other worlds (anuttamān yebhyaḥ pare uttamā na santi tān lokān).

Note that this is an anuvAda or upabrahmaNa of the shruti passage in Gayatri-Brahmavidya that we discussed above:

viśvataḥpṛṣṭheṣu sarvataḥpṛṣṭheṣv anuttameṣūttameṣu lokeṣu (ChUp, 3.13.7)

The commentator says then that this episode, by showing that Rama was able to grant liberation even to animals by mere resolution (saN^kalpa) strikes at the face of those who claim that Rama was a mere human being subject to avidyA. The expression of grief etc., is mere acting done for play.

The commentator next shows shloka-s from Padma Purana to prove that Jatayu attained sArUpya (Vishnu’s form), thus explaining “mayA” (literally “by me”) in the current Ramayana shloka as “madrUpeNa sAmAnyaharirUpeNa” (“with My, i.e., the form of Sri Hari, as it is conventionally understood”) and then kramamukti in Vaikuntha:

"saṃskāramakarottasya rāmo brahmavidhānataḥ। svapadaṃ ca dadau tasmai sopi rāmaprasādataḥ।।
haressāmānyarūpeṇa prayayau paramaṃ padam ।।"

[Rama performed the last rights for Jatayu and bestowed His own Abode upon him. And he (Jatayu) obtaining by the grace of Sri Rama, with the form of Sri Hari as conventionally understood, attained the Supreme Abode.]

Note the parallel with “tadviShNoH paramaM padam” in the bolded portion. Moreover, by saying "vaikuNThAkhya loka" earlier, the Acharya proved that there was a loka involved. By saying “haressAmAnyarupeNa prayayau” and "sArUpyamukti", it is clear that the mukta attains a form of shuddhasattva similar to the Lord (thus showing Vishnu, the Ishvara has an eternal form) and that "paramam padam” can also involve kramamukti.

Narayana Bhatta:

This Advaitic author, belonging to the Kerala country, lived about 500 years ago. He has written nArAyaNeeyam, a summary of the Srimad Bhagavatam in 100 decads (dashaka-s) of verses. The very first verse shows the author’s purpose is to explain weighty Vedantic ideas and the purport of all shruti. There is a commentary available to this work by Desamangala, another Advaitin who obviously lived a little later than Narayana Bhatta. Like early Advaitins, Narayana Bhatta advocates Vishnu’s supremacy over Brahma, Siva, etc. and informs us that Shankara considered Vishnu alone as Saguna Brahman (90th dashaka, 5th verse)

This work too supports the fact that Vishnu’s eternal form exists in Vaikuntha that is beyond the Samsara Mandala. Let us take the following verses:

māyā yatra kadāpi no vikurute bhāte jagadbhyo bahiḥ     
śokakrodhavimohasādhvasamukhā bhāvāstu dūraṃ gatāḥ ।     
sāndrānandajharī ca yatra paramajyotiḥprakāśātmake     
tatte dhāma vibhāvitaṃ vijayate vaikuṇṭharūpaṃ vibho ॥ 7.4 ॥

Translation: Oh Lord ! Vaikunhtaloka is the embodiment of that supreme light emanating from Thy divine form and it outshines all other worlds. In it there is no Maya or illusion, no room for emotions like sorrow, rage, ignorance or fear. Herein is only the continuous outpouring of complete happiness. Thou revealed to Brahma, this supreme abode of Vaikuntha shining beyond all comparison.

In the commentary to the above shloka, Deshamangala shows the connection to the shruti verse “tatra sUryo na bhAti…” etc. that shows neither the sun, nor the moon, nor fire illuminates Vishnu’s Vaikuntha Abode, and that it is of the essence of Brahma-Jyotis that illuminates these mundane sources of light. Note that Shankara has quoted such shruti verses in the jagad-vyApAra-adhikaraNa section as a pramANa for the Supreme Lord’s form that does not abide in the created universe (vikArAvartirUpam):

paraṃjyotiḥprakāśātmake nātraādityacandrādijyotiṣāṃ prakāśaḥ, kintu teṣāmapi prakāṣakaṃ jyotiḥ pramajyotiḥ, ādityādiprakāśakatvaṃ jyotirbrahma, tadevaprakāśo yatra sa paramajyotiḥprakāśaḥ, tadātmake tādṛśasvarūpe ।

The next three verses show the liberated souls attaining sArUpya with Vishnu and Lakshmi being ever-present with Vishnu in Vaikuntha:

yasminnāma caturbhujā harimaṇiśyāmāvadātatviṣo
nānābhūṣaṇaratnadīpitadiśo rājadvimānālayāḥ ।     
bhaktiprāptatathāvidhonnatapadā dīvyanti divyā janā-
statte dhāma nirastasarvaśamalaṃ vaikuṇṭharūpaṃ jayet ॥ 7.5 ॥

Translation: Herein the divine souls who are four-armed and who shine with the radiance of blue sapphire lit up by the precious gems in the ornaments that adorn them, live in shining aerial cars. Their extreme devotion to Thee has earned them a place in this high abode. May this immaculate abode of Thine outshine all else.

nānādivyavadhūjanairabhivṛtā vidyullatātulyayā
viśvonmādanahṛdyagātralatayā     vidyotitāśāntarā ।    
tvatpādāmbujasaurabhaikakutukāllakśmīḥ      svayaṃ lakśyate     
yasmin vismayanīyadivyavibhavā tatte padaṃ      dehi me ॥7.6 ॥

Translation: In this divine abode Goddess Mahalakshmi, who illuminates the entire world with her bewitching, dazzling form like a streak of lightning, is seen inhaling the aroma of Thy lotus feet surrounded by her retinue of celestial maidens. Oh Lord ! Please bless me and grant me a place in this wonderful abode of Thine.

tatraivaṃ pratidarśite nijapade ratnāsanādhyāsitaṃ
bhāsvatkoṭi lasatkirīṭa kaṭakādyākalpadīprākṛti ।
śrīvatsānkitamātta kaustubhamaṇicchāyāruṇaṃ kāraṇaṃ     
viśveṣāṃ tava rūpamaikśata vidhistatte vibho bhātu me ॥ 7.7 ॥

Translation: Oh Lord ! Thy divine form in Vaikuntaloka revealed to Brahma (as a result of his prayers) is the root cause of the universe. God Brahma had a supreme vision of Thee seated on the throne set with precious jewels. Thy divine form adorned by the crown sparkling with the brilliance of a crore suns; Thy bracelets and other ornaments, the Srivatsa mark and the red Kausthubha jewel were all revealed to Brahma in their full splendour. May Thou grant me this very same supreme vision.

Hence, Vishnu’s eternal Vaikuntha loka is accepted in this work as well, with support from shruti.

(Continued in Part 4)

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