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Saguna Brahman and Krama Mukti in Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta


Note: This is the first of a three-part article series. Click below for the subsequent parts:

[Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

While it is quite well established that the ultimate reality (paramArtha tattva / parabrahman) in Shankara’s advaita vedanta is formless and devoid of any qualities (i.e., nirguNa), this system of philosophy accepts the reality of differences at a lower tier of truth. Hence, although the reality of the universe, multiplicity of the individual souls (jIvAtmas), and the auspicious qualities attributed to the paramAtman such as unlimited lordship, creatorship, freedom from sin, perfection, possession of a beautiful form etc are ultimately negated in the higher realm of truth called “pAramArthika dashA”, these are however accepted in the lower/empirical/worldly realm called “vyAvahArika dashA”.

It is noteworthy here that the empirical realm, to which belong such differences as “Ishvara vs. jIva”, “prescribed actions vs. prohibited actions” etc.,  is not to be dismissed right away as something totally irrelevant. Striving only from this lower realm through practices conducive to dharma does the individual soul obtain, through Ishvara’s grace, knowledge of the ultimate reality. Moreover, these differences are important for determining right conduct. After all, advaitins would agree that it is wrong for a woman to cohabit with someone other than her husband by citing non-difference!

On similar lines, saguNa brahman and upAsana on saguNa brahman are absolute within the vyAvahArika-realm in this advaitic system of philosophy. They are not to be determined by the individual’s whims and fantasies that are poorly justified by citing ultimate non-difference.

Through the rest of the articles concerning Shankara and Advaita in this blog, we have established the following fact: In the vyAvahArika dashA of advaita, Sriman Narayana/Lord Vishnu alone is the saguNa-brahman/Ishvara who is in essence the same parabrahman but with the upAdhis of shuddha-sattva.

We next proceed to reinforce further the irrefutable fact that Lord Vishnu alone, among the trinity, is accepted as the saguNa brahman in Shankara’s thought. We do so by disproving the following incorrect claims about Shankara’s advaita and this AcArya’s prasthAna-trayI-bhAShya propagated by some ignorant lay people on the internet:

Some, such as the aforementioned person, are now resorting to newer and more innovative ways to “explain away” evidence available in the public domain such as our blog here against their pet theories.To their frustration, it is crystal-clear that an honest reading of the prasthAna-trayI bhAShya lends no support to either the “Shanmata” theory or to any of their anti-Vishnu pro-Shaiva inclinations. One can be quite sure that they, in all honesty, themselves know this deep in their hearts. Perhaps due to their attachment to their popularity, fame, their reputation of infallibility built up among their cohorts etc., they find it hard to embrace the truth in front of the public. How can they indeed, for example, state publicly that they have spent decades of their life believing in and publicly practising and preaching an incorrect doctrine? To comfort themselves from this heartbreak and to retain their reputation built on falsehood, they have now resorted to the following bizarre claims to trick the minds of their followers:

  1. “Vishnu” in “viShNoH paramaM padaM” does not refer to any specific deity, in particular the shankha-cakra-gadA-dhArin. The same holds for “nArAyaNa” in “nArAyaNaH paro ‘vyaktAt” and “vAsudeva” in “paramArthatattvaM vAsudevAkhyaM

  2. The prashnopaniShad bhAShya shows Rudra and Vishnu as forms of prANa and that they are “mere functionaries”.

  3. Mukti in advaita has absolutely nothing to do with entering Vishnu’s loka called “vaikuNTha”.

Dispelling these above incorrect notions, we shall strengthen the position already established by our other write-ups. Here is a summary:

  1. “Vishnu” and “nArAyaNa” in “viShNoH paramaM padaM” and “nArAyaNaH paro avyaktAt” refers to the popular Lord Vishnu alone and none else. Not only is this evident from the works of Sarvajnatman, Chitsukha, and others, but also from Shankara’s commentary themselves. 

  2. Instances such as “vāsudevākhyaṃ para-brahmābhidheya-bhūtaṃ”, “ahaṃ paraṃ brahma vāsudevākhyaṃ” etc. identify the parabrahman with names of the saguNa/apara brahman Lord Vishnu because in essence He is indeed the highest tattva endowed with shuddha-sattva upAdhis. Such instances do not “prove that for Shankara, Vishnu/Narayana/Vasudeva is not the popular deity but the formless nirguNa caitanya”, as some people claim.

  3. Lord Vishnu, the saguNa-brahman, has an eternal form and an eternal place called “vaikuNTha” or “saguNa-brahma-loka” to which those who attain liberation through “krama-mukti” reach. By “eternality”, it is meant that this highest place of Vishnu exist across kalpas. It should be noted here that we do not contend that these are absolutely eternal in advaita. In advaita, vaikuNTha is also a product of nescience (avidyAtmaka), though existing beyond the effected universe. They are also said to be temporary in the pAramArthika level. This is due to the fact that the mukta, upon reaching the transcendental realm of Vaikuntha will realize his true nature and thus get complete liberation, ending all experience of duality.

The issue of the prashnopaniShad bhAShya (Rudra and Vishnu)

Persons proclaiming to be vedAntins are now claiming as follows, regarding Shankara’s Bhashya for Prashnopanishad 2.9, where Rudra and Vishnu are mentioned as the samhAra-kartA and jagat-pAlaka respecitvely:
...Vishnu (the benign form, as opposed to the valorous form of Rudra) is the Protector of the world.  Since the Creator, Protector and Destroyer are all said to be the forms of Prana we see that Rudra, named in the mantra itself, Vishnu not named in the mantra as well as the bhashya but named by Anandagiri, on the implication of the word 'vishnu' are all 'created' ones.
The Prana, Hiranyagarbha is the one manifested before them and the Puruṣa is the Supreme.   This Puruṣa is neither the Rdura or Vishnu or Hiranyagarbha (prajapati/prana).  In other words, Rudra and Vishnu are not the Supreme Brahman in this scheme of this upanishad.  Both these entities are within the creation.
Just as the Br.up. 1.4.11 talks about the creation of an aspect/mode of Rudra, so too the above referenced Praṣnopaniṣat mentions the creation of Rudra in the destroyer-function and the creation of Viṣṇu as the protector-function according to the Śaṇkara bhāṣya as commented by Ānandagiri.
I would like to say here that the editor Sri S.Subrahmanya sastri has taken objection to Anandagiri's remark and said in turn: the protector is rudra alone going by many vedic passages such as ghora and aghora, etc.  Quite amusingly, the narayanastra site which is promoting the idea that Shankara is a vaishnava, is vehemently against this editor for his criticizing Anandagiri and taking away Vishnu's status.  It is quite amusing to me because the retention of the vishnu status will be actually placing vishnu along side the other entities indra, rudra and surya.  Therefore as per that author, Shankara's intention is to say that the protector in that mantra is vishnu and Anandagiri is correctly expressing Shankara's mind.

What would indeed be quite amusing to the neutral reader is that such persons formally accept that Subramanya Sastri openly objected to Anandagiri and praise him, and yet try to claim a lineage to Shankara and Anandagiri! One can see the self-contradictory nature of their claims.
Let us come to the matter at hand. In his explanation, Anandagiri differentiates the forms like rudra, indra, and the rest of the world from the unique form that Iswara, saguNa brahman, according to advaita. The former are tAmasa or rAjasa (and hence, not saguNa forms worthy of upAsaNa).
If so, who is saguNa brahman here? That is referenced in the bhAShya itself. Shankara, in reference to rudra’s role as a destroyer, says, “tejasā vīryeṇa rudro'si saṃharan jagat”. But while referencing viShNu’s role as a protector, he says “tvameva jagataḥ saumyena rūpeṇa”. Please note this carefully in the Prasnopanishad Bhashya. Shankara uses the words “tvameva” and “saumyena rUpeNa” to denote vishNu’s role as a protector.
Note also that as per Shankara’s own Bhashya to Mundaka Upanishad (2.1.4), vishNu has all worlds as his body, all are his forms:
vishNu, or ananta, who is the primordial being, who has all the three worlds for His body, and who is the in-dwelling soul of all the beings" (Mundaka Upanishad bhAShya, 2.1.4).
Note that Shankara uses the term “eSha devo visnuH” in the bhAshya – the usage of “deva” indicates this is saguNa brahman that is being referred to here. In a response to a comment on the main page of this blog, we have already refuted the fertile imaginations of unworthy zealots who tried to establish that this “viShNu” here is not the popular Lakshmipati.
Let us come back to the Prashnopanishad Bhashya at hand. The usage of “tvameva” as opposed to “tvam” shows that while the Iswara, saguNa brahman, performs certain functions via his vibhUtIs rudra, indra, etc as indicated by “tejasA vIryeNa rudro’si samharan jagat”, he himself (tvameva) descends as viShNu, in a form which is pure sattva (saumyena rUpeNa) as opposed to the other deities whose forms are of rajas and tamas.
The following shruti (Kaivalyopanishad) also supports our explanation of Shankara's and Anandagiri's statement "tvameva jagataḥ saumyena rūpeṇa" - “viShNvAdirUpeNa” :
sa brahma sa sivah sendrah so'ksarah paramah svarat |
sa eva visnuh sa pranah sa kalo'gnih sa candramah || 1.8 ||
Note that the shruti lists the effects, brahmA, shivaH, indra, etc. and mentions Vishnu, the jagatkAraNa who is paraH avyaktAt separately. It occurs immediately after identifying paramAtma as "nIlakaNTha" and "trilocana" as well, so it indicates that this upanishad talks about viShNu only by those terms. This serves two purposes:
  1. Shankara's usage of "tvameva" refers to viShNu directly being saguNa brahman and "saumyena rUpeNa" referring to an aprAkR^ita divya mangala vigraha that is fit for upAsana.
  2. Also indicates that “nIlakaNTha”, “trilocana” etc. in this context refer to viShNu only, as we stated before.
So, Anandagiri’s TIka shows that on the one hand, duties like destruction, etc performed by Rudra are acts carried out by viShNu in reality with Rudra as his vibhUti. They are also his forms since the world is his body. But viShNu carries out protection via his own unique sattva form, ie, saguNa brahman verily descends for this purpose, as indicated by shankara by the usage of “tvameva soumya rUpeNa” which Anandagiri explains clearly as “viShNvAdirUpeNa”.
This is further evidenced in Shankara’s bhAshya for the sahasarnAma bhUta kR^it, bhUta bhR^it” – he says
bhūtakṛt = rajoguṇaṃ samāśritya viriñcirūpeṇa bhūtāni karotīti bhūtakṛt ; tamoguṇam āsthāya sa rudrātmanā bhūtāni kṛntati kṛṇoti hinastīti vā bhūtakṛt । ["bhUtakR^it" is one who creates beings by taking up the quality of rajas, in the body or form of Brahma. It also means one who kills/destroys beings by standing in the quality of tamas, as the antaryAmin of Rudra.] – note the usage of the words “viri~ncirUpeNa” and “rudrAtmanA”.
bhūtabhṛt = sattvaguṇam adhiṣṭhāya bhūtāni bibharti pālayati dhārayati poṣayati iti vā bhūtabhṛt । ["bhUtabhR^it" is one who bears, protects, and nourishes beings by being established in the quality of Sattva.]- Note the usage of “sattvaguNam adhiShThAya” and no terms like “viShNvAdi rUpeNa” or “viShNvAtmanA” which may suggest a trimUrti-aikyatva-vAda or trimUrty-uttIrNa-vAda that is resorted to by such uninformed “vedAntins” like the aforementioned.
At this juncture, it is quite apt to recall Shankara’s statement in the kAryAdhikaraNa of the Brahma Sutra Bhashya:

“param eva hi brahma viśuddha upādhisaṃbandhaṃ kvacit kaiścit vikāradharmaiḥ manomayatvādibhiḥ upāsanāya upadiśyamānam aparam iti sthitiḥ”

Here, Anandagiri explains “vishuddhopAdhi” as “sAttvikopAdhivishiShTa”. It is quite well known that scriptures show that among the trimUrtis, Vishnu alone possesses Shuddha-sattva. Shankara’s bhAShya to “bhUtakR^it bhUtabhR^it” in the Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya is alone enough to show that all vedantins accepted this fact originally. This point is enough to show that the saguNa brahman intended by Shankara and Anandagiri is Lord Vishnu only, as established elsewhere in this blog from other pramANas within the prasthAna-trayi bhAShyas. Even the popular internet “advaitin” who has lately been keeping himself busy with poor attempts at “refuting” our blog also concedes that among the trimUrtis, Vishnu is the one endowed with Sattva guNa (though he bizarrely claims that Rudra possesses “shuddha-tamas”, not knowing that this amounts to Rudra-nindA as the statement implies that Rudra does not even possess a speck of sattva!).

The aforementioned persono ignorantly quotes the vishvarUpa adhyAya without knowing it supports this position. The vishvarUpa shows the worlds as his body and everything in it. While Arjuna refers to the specific form of vishNu as “saumya” to indicate that this is uniquely sattva, and only possessed by bhagavAn, who has descended in this unique body with excellent qualities. All 3 bhAShyakAras – shankara, rAmAnuja and  mAdhva – agree to this.
And we must thank him for pointing out the connection between Sri Rudram and the vishvarUpa adhyAya. This we have ourselves pointed out elsewhere in this blog, that Sri Rudram extols sriman nArAyaNa only.
There can be many such objections against our position, for which we have fitting and logical answers. For the reader however, especially one who is new to Shankara’s prasthAna-trayI bhAShyas and the works of advaitins from Sureshvara to Madhusudana who aligned well with Shankara’s views, a clear understanding of Shankara’s position on saguNa brahman is necessary.
This is possible through a careful study of the AcArya’s commentaries to the kArya-adhikaraNa and the jagadvyApAra-adhikaraNa of the brahma sUtra (occurring respectively in third and fourth pAdas of the fourth adhyAya). We thus proceed to elaborate both in the succeeding section of this article.
The English translations provided here are based on George Thibaut’s work, but we have modified them accordingly wherever the translation does not do justice to the original in Sanskrit.

Vishnu as Saguna Brahman and Krama-mukti in Shankara’s Brahma Sutra Bhashya: Part I – The kAryAdhikaraNa section

In this section, the nature of destination of the “devAyana” (path of the deities) described in the Upanishads is explained. This is the path by which the mukta (liberated jIvAtmA) travels. Shankara explains that the goal of these muktas is the satya-loka of the four-faced Hiranyagarbha/Brahma. From there, upon the dissolution of satya-loka at the end of the kalpa, they reach the Supreme abode of Vishnu which is the abode of krama-mukti. In turn, they achieve final liberation in Vishnu’s abode, which is the realization of the essential nirguNa nature of saguNa brahman Vishnu, the Lord of the Universe.

Sutra Bhashya, 4.3.7

kāryaṃ bādarirasya gatyupapatteḥ | BBs_4,3.7 |

sa enānbrahma gamayati (chā. 4.15.5) iti atra vicikitsyate - kiṃ kāryam aparaṃ brahma gamayati āhosvit param eva avikṛtaṃ mukhyaṃ brahma iti /
kutaḥ saṃśayaḥ /
brahmaśabdaprayogāt gatiśruteḥ ca /
tatra kāryameva saguṇam aparaṃ brahma enān gamayati amānavaḥ puruṣa iti bādariḥ ācāryo manyate /
kutaḥ - asya gati upapatteḥ /
asya hi kāryabrahmaṇo gantavyatvam upapatteḥ /
asya hi kāryabrahmaṇo gantavyatvam upapadyate pradeśavattvāt /
na tu parasmin brahmaṇi gantṛtvaṃ gantavyatvaṃ gatiḥ vā avakalpate /
sarvagatatvāt pratyagātmatvāt ca gantṛṇām // 7 //

The issue raised in this sUtra is – where do the knowers of Brahman go via the path of the gods? As stated just earlier, Shankara says it is the satya-loka, the world of “brahmA” (masculine gender)and not the Supreme Brahman itself. The Supreme cannot be reached directly by the act of going for it is everywhere and is the innermost Self of all. To that, Shankara replies thus:

Sutra Bhashya, 4.3.8

viśeṣitatvāc ca | BBs_4,3.8 |

brahmalokāngamayati te teṣu brahmalokeṣu parāḥ parāvato vasanti' (bṛ. 6.2.15) iti ca śrutyantare viśeṣitatvāt kāryabrahmaviṣaya eva gatiḥ iti gamyate /
nahi bahuvacanena viśeṣaṇaṃ parasmin brahmaṇi avakalpate /
kārye tu avasthābheda upapatteḥ saṃbhavati bahuvacanam /
lokaśrutiḥ api vikāragocarāyāma eva saṃniveśaviśiṣṭāyāṃ bhogabhūmāvau āñjasī /
gauṇī tu anyatra 'brahmaiva loka eṣa samrāṭ' ityādiṣu /
adhikaraṇa adhikartavyanirdeśaḥ api parasmin brahmaṇi anāñjasaḥ syāt /

tasmāt kāryaviṣayameva idaṃ nayanam // 8 //

That the soul's going has for its object the effected Brahma (karyabrahmaviShaya), we conclude from another scriptural passage also which qualifies Brahman in a certain way, 'He leads them to the worlds of Brahman; in these worlds of Brahman they live for ever and ever' (Bri. Up. VI, 2, 15). For it would be impossible to qualify nirguNa brahman (parasmin brahmaNi) by means of the plural number ('worlds'); while the plural number may be applied to the effects of nirguNa brahman under mAya (kAryE) which may abide in different conditions like Brahma, etc (avasthAbhEda).--The term 'world' also can directly denote only some place of enjoyment falling within the sphere of effects and possessing the quality of being entered into, while it must be understood in a metaphorical sense in passages such as 'Brahman is that world '(Bri. Up. IV, 4, 23).--And also what the text says concerning an abode and some one abiding within it ('in these worlds of Brahman,' &c.), cannot be directly understood of the highest Brahman.--For all these reasons the leading of the souls has the effected Brahma (kAryaviSaya api brahmasabdo)  for its goal.

nanu kāryaviṣaye api brahmaśabdo na upapadyate samanvaye hi samastasya jagato janmādikāraṇaṃ sthāpitam iti /

Here, the stage is set for the next sutra. Since Shankara is effectively saying that the knowers of Brahman reach Brahma, the pUrvapakSa here is – but bAdarAyaNa says that Brahman is the cause of origination of the world, etc. Since the four-faced Brahma does not possess these characteristics, how can he be referred to as Brahman in the pramANas quoted by Shankara such as 'He leads them to the worlds of Brahman’, having accepted that the plural usage means it refers to the effected brahma?
atra ucyate -

Sutra Bhashya, 4.3.9

sāmīpyāt tu tadvyapadeśaḥ | BBs_4,3.9 |

tu śabda āśaṅkā vyāvṛttyarthaḥ /
parabrahmasāmīpyāt aparasya brahmaṇaḥ tasmin api brahmaśabdaprayogo na virudhyate /
param eva hi brahma viśuddha upādhisaṃbandhaṃ kvacit kaiścit vikāradharmaiḥ manomayatvādibhiḥ upāsanāya upadiśyamānam aparam iti sthitiḥ // 9 //

The word 'but' indicates the setting aside of the doubt.--As Brahma, who is not para or saguNa brahman (aparasya brahmaNa) is in proximity (sAmIpyAt)  to the highest brahman (parabrahman), there is nothing unreasonable in the word 'Brahman' being applied to the former (Brahma) also.

Special note: “aparasya brahmaNa” denotes Brahma, with the term “aparasya” meaning, either lower than saguNa brahman, or not saguNa brahman.

And now, the question will arise. How can one say that the highest (parabrahman) is in close proximity to Brahma since it is impossible to say nirguNa vastu is “close to anyone”? To that Shankara now answers by giving the definition of “Parabrahman” in the classical advaita way.

For when nirguNa Brahman (paraM eva hi brahma) is, for the purposes of pious meditation, described as possessing certain effected qualities--such as consisting of mind and the rest--which qualities depend on its connexion with certain pure limiting adjuncts; then it is what we call apara or lower (saguNa) Brahman.

Some who are opposed to this interpretation may make the following remark:

Purvapaksha - Brahma is said to be proximate to Parabrahman because he is saguna brahman who is rooted in Nirguna brahman. (Here, our opponent may explain "sAmIpyat" as the "ati-nikaTa" used by sarvaj~nAtman to claim brahma is saguNa brahman.)

To the above, our reply is as follows:

Siddhantha - this view does not stand. Firstly, Brahma is ruled out as saguNa brahman by Shankara in the viShNu-sahasranAma-bhAShya for "bhUta kR^it" where he explains brahma to be under rajo-guNa upAdhIs. Whereas, Anandagiri's explanation for the BSB "param eva hi vishuddha-upAdhi saMbandhaM" shows that Ishvara, as saguNa-brahman, has shuddha-sattva upAdhis. Thus interpreting brahma as saguNa brahman by claiming "sAmIpya" means nearness of Nirguna brahman would contradict. Secondly, if brahmA is saguNa brahman "rooted" in higher nature of nirguNa,  it would make Shankara’s bhAShya for the next sUtra nonsensical, where the AcArya says "after pralaya,  they along with hiraNyagarbha proceed to the param parishuddham viShNoH paramaM padam". Because, here another "paramaM padam" is used which would make the previous "parabrahmasAmIpya" redundant. It is also not feasible to interpret viShNu as nirguna brahman here if you accept sarvaj~nAtnan's "ati-nikaTa" statement. Because sarvaj~nAtman explains "paramaM padam" as ati-nikaTa nirguna tattva and murAreH (which he used instead of vishNu) to refer to saguNa brahman. Hence, that would contradict your own stand.

Special note: One might question how we interpret “aparasya brahmaNaH” as brahma and “aparam” here as saguNa brahman. The answer is because the context clearly warrants such a translation. Firstly, Shankara said that “aparasya brahmaNaH” is not verily the highest Brahman but is called so because of close proximity. Hence, “aparasya” means that Brahma is not the highest Brahman which has dual nature of saguNa and nirguNa. Then, Shankara takes up the pUrvapakSa as to how the highest Brahman can be present in close proximity since it is a nirguNa vastu. He says it is because this nirguNa brahman becomes saguNa under upAdhIs for the sake of upAsana. Hence, to differentiate nirguNa and saguNa brahman, he uses the term “aparam”. Here, he is differentiating the higher and lower natures of the supreme reality, viz., saguNa and nirguNa.

Since “aparasya brahmaNaH” has already been described as proximate and hence different from Brahman, and it has also been said that nirguNa vastu does not take up residence anywhere, the “param” and ”aparam” here only denotes the dual natures of the highest Brahman. Otherwise, if “aparam” here is taken as Brahma, we get the meaning “nirguNa brahman has become Brahma which is in close proximity to nirguNa brahman” which makes no sense since the crux of the siddhAntha is that nirguNa vastu does not take up abodes anywhere and cannot be reached.

Having established that the souls reach Brahma who is in proximity with saguNa brahman, Shankara considers the pUrvapakSa that Brahma Loka is subject to birth and death and hence cannot be the abode of no return, thus:

nanu kāryaprāptau anāvṛttiśravaṇaṃ na ghaṭate /
na hi parasmāt brahmaṇaḥ anyatra kvacit nityatāṃ saṃbhāvayanti /
darśayati ca devayānena pathā prasthitānām anāvṛttim /
'etena pratipadyamānā imaṃ mānavamāvartaṃ nāvartante' (chā. 4.15.6) iti teṣām iha na punarāvṛttiḥ asti 'tayordhvamāyannamṛtatvameti' (chā. 8.6.6), ka. 6.16) iti cet /
atra brūmaḥ -

But with the assumption of (attainment of) effected Brahma (kAryaprAptau) there does not agree what scripture says about the souls not returning; for there is no permanence anywhere apart from the highest Brahman, ie,  nirguNa vastu (parasmAt brahmaNah). And scripture declares that those who have set out on the road of the gods do not return, 'They who proceed on that path do not return to the life of man' (Kh. Up. IV, 15, 6); 'For them there is no return here' (Bri. Up. VI, 2, 15); 'Moving upwards by that a man reaches immortality' (Kh. Up. VIII, 6, 5).

Special Note: This sets the stage for the next sUtra. The pUrvapakSha raised here is, “Having established that the knowers of Brahman reach Brahma, is it not contradictory to the fact that Brahma’s worlds are mentioned in texts like the Gita to be subject to rebirth? What of the fact that these souls traversing the devAyana do not return?

Sutra Bhashya, 4.3.10

kāryātyaye tadadhyakṣeṇa sahātaḥ param abhidhānāt | BBs_4,3.10 |

kāryabrahmalokapralayapratyupasthāne sati tatra eva utpannasamyagdarśanāḥ santaḥ tat adhyakṣeṇa hiraṇyagarbheṇa sahātaḥ paraṃ pariśuddhaṃ viṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padaṃ pratipadyanta iti /
kramamuktiḥ anāvṛttyādi śruti abhidhānebhyo abhyupagantavyā /
na hi āñjasa eva gatipūrvikā paraprāptiḥ saṃbhavati iti upapaditam // 10 //

When the reabsorption of the effected Brahma’s world (kAryabrahmaloka) draws near, the souls in which meanwhile perfect knowledge has sprung up proceed, together with Hiranyagarbha (the aforesaid Brahma) the ruler of that world, to 'what is higher than that i.e. to the pure (as it is beyond prakrtri) highest place (as it is the abode of saguNa brahman) of Vishnu (saguNa Ishvara). This is the release by successive steps which we have to accept on the basis of the scriptural declarations about the non-return of the souls. For we have shown that the highest state of pAramArthika sath (para)  cannot be directly reached (paraprAptiH sambhavati iti upapaditam) by the act of going (na hi āñjasa eva gatipūrvikā).

Special note: Everything is self explanatory. Even shrI rAmAnuja says upAsakas first reach Brahma’s abode and then travel to srI vaikunta after pralaya, which is moksha sthAna. In the last line, “paraprAptiH” most definitely  refers to the paramArthika sath or nirguNa brahman since Shankara already  established that nirguNa vastu as it is, cannot be in proximity to Brahma, rather it is saguNa brahman, which is nirguNa brahman under sattva upAdhi. So, there can be no “going” to nirguNa brahman.

Some object here that in advaita-bhAShyas, “viShNoH paramaM padam” refers only to the nirguNa state and has nothing to do with Lakshmipati-Chaturbhuja Vishnu, the deity of the Vaishnavas. We will now show why they are wrong:

  1. Shankara’s qualification of “Vishnu” as “vAsudevAkhya” in Kathopanishad 1.3.9 itself is enough to stop such nonsensical claims. There is only one entity, the caturbhuja Vishnu that has “vAsudeva” as samAkhya in all shruti, smR^iti, purANa, nighaNTus, etc. Amarakosha says “(1\.1\.42)  padmanAbho madhuripurvAsudevastrivikramaH (1\.1\.43)  devakInandanaH shauriH shrIpatiH puruShottamaH”. Shruti says “brahmaNyo devakIputraH brahmaNyo madhusUdanaH” (Narayanopanishad).

  1. You only have “vAsudevAkhyaH” “viShNvAkhyaH” and “nArAyaNAkhyaH” in Shankara Bhashyas, referring to none but shrIpati as per texts from shruti to lexicons (nikaNDu-s) quoted above. One does not see “IshvarAkhyaH” “shivAkhyaH” “mahAdevAkhyaH” “rudrAkhyaH” “parameshvarAkhyaH” etc. in Shankara’s Bhashyas while referring to Brahman.

  1. Statements by other advaitins where they have replaced “viShNu” in “viShNoH paramaM padaM” with “murAri”, “nR^isiMha” etc:

    1. Mangala-shloka in Sarvajnatman’s saMkShepa shArIraka and the commentary of Shri Ramatirtha etc. which we have already explained here.

    1. As we have already explained here, agnicit puruShottama mishra, another commentator to Sarvajnatman’s above work, says that “Vishnu’s supreme state” refers to the ultimate state of sattvopAdhi-vishiShTa-jagatpAlaka-saguNa-brahman:
“atra murAriH sattvapradhAna-mAyA-pratibiMbitaM caitanyaM jagatpAlakaM viShNvAkhyaM tasya paramaM mAyAsaMbandharahitaM bimbAtmakaM padaM padyate gamyate j~nAyate vA mumukShubhiriti tat…”

(It must however be stressed that since Sarvajnatman describes the paramaM padaM as “ati-nikaTam”, it refers only to the nirguNa state that is the very essence of the paramAtman that is “ati-nikaTa” (very near) due to its presence as the antaryAmin. This is by no means weakens our side. Nor is this a contradicting evidence to what we have claimed so far. In other places, “paramaM padam” both the eternal realm as well as the supreme nirguNa condition, as Shankara holds in Gita Bhashya 18.62 etc.)

    1. Citsukha in the mangaLa-shloka to his bhAShyabhAvaprakAshika praises “nR^isiMhasya yogagamyaM paraM padam”.

  1. 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. We shall show this in detail in the next section. The reader who is in a hurry can read up the following sections in Shankara’s prasthAna-trayI bhAShyas and other advaitic works to get a  quick and accurate impression:

    1. Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya, 3.13.7 followed by 3.12.6.

    1. Brahma Sutra Bhashya, 1.1.24.
      1. Anandagiri/Govindananda’s comments therein.

    1. Brahma Sutra Bhashya, 4.4.18-20.

    1. Gita Bhashya, 15.4, 15.6, 18.62.
      1. Anandagiri’s gloss to 18.62 above.

    1. Madhusudana Sarasvati’s Advaita Siddhi and Gauda Brahmananda Saraswati’s Laghu Chandrika, Second paricCheda, brahmaNo nirAkAratva nirUpaNa (We can’t help but thank the person who attempted to refute us by quoting this text. We shall show later how this person totally misinterpreted this section).

    1. Madhusudana Sarasvati in Gudhartha Dipika, 8.15-16 and 7.24.

    1. Sridhara Swami in Srimad Bhagavata commentary, 2.5.39.

    1. Maheshvara Tirtha’s explanation of “brahmaloka” as Vaikuntha loka in rAmAyaNa bhAShya, bAla kANDa, prathama (first) sarga.

    1. Maheshvara Tirtha’s explanation of jaTAyu mokSha in AraNya kANDa.

    1. Narayana Bhattathiri’s description of Vaikuntha-pada in Narayaneeyam 7.4, and Desha Mangala’s commentary.

  1. Lastly, it is utter hypocrisy on the part of those who claim that “umAsahAyaM parameshvaraM” in kaivalya upaniShad refers to umApati-shiva alone, and nowhere in the Upanishads is Lakshmipati Vishnu mentioned! (See this article for our explanation of the Kaivalya Upanishad verse)

(Click here for the second part titled: “Vishnu as Saguna Brahman and Krama-mukti in Shankara’s Brahma Sutra Bhashya: Part II – The jagad-vyApAra-adhikaraNa section”)


    1. Dear HBB,
      Very clear and lucid explanations.


      1. Dear VM,

        Thank you very much. It was however, Aaryamaa's contributions that played a very large part in this article.


    2. Recently in the advaita lists, one of Veerashaiva's inner circle mates posted in the advaita list:

      This person is stubborn as a plank. HBB sent me a brilliant write-up on this issue a few months ago via private communication. The following is HBB's rebuttal:

      Argument: Shankara in Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya says for the nAma "sOma"- "umayA sahitaH shivo vA". Sureshvara says in Brihadaranyaka Vartika that the One Supreme Person alone is sung variously as "Hari", "Brahma", and "Pinaki". These two instances are specifically used by pro-Shaiva advaitins like you to say that Shankara is equating all deities.

      The Truth: Shankara does not equate Vishnu with Shiva in his bhAshyas. We should understand that the pUrvapakShin has quoted the vyAkhyAnaM and superimposed it with his per-conceived notion in mind.The fact is, Shankara says that these are names of Vishnu alone, as the Acharya says in the bhAShyam for "yAni nAmAni" occurring in the pUrva peeThika of the Sahasranama adhyaya:

      atra nAmasahasre AdityAdishabdAnAm arthAntare prasiddhAnAM AdityAdyarthAnAM tadvibhUtitvena tadabhedAt tasyaiva stutiriti prasiddhArthagrahaNe'pi tatstutitvam

      Purvapakshin: Now, why is this logic applied to the explanation of Soma to say that Shankara is actually saying that Shiva is a vibhUti of Vishnu, and hence the name sOma? Why not accept that Shankara is equating Shiva and Vishnu?

      Siddhanta: Elsewhere in the Vaishvanaradhikarana in the Brahma Sutras, Shankara says that devas such as Surya have only limited aishvaryam, and that aishvaryam bestowed on them by paramEshvaran, and that "bhIShAsmAd vAtaH pavate" etc. show this fact. Hence, it is clear that Shankara never equates Surya with Vishnu/Brahmam/Supreme Lord. He also says that Surya is not the Supreme Lord because the shruti/smRti talk about his origination and dissolution.

      (Aside: this is a clear straightforward evidence that Shankara could not have founded Shanmatas, since sauram is one of the Shanmatas. We can also use "nArAyaNAd rudro jAyate", "... nArAyaNE pralIyantE" etc. and his own Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Purushavidha Brahmana Bhashya where he says Rudra, the Pashupati, was created, to dismiss the claim that he accepted Shiva as supreme).

      Now, in the Sahasranama Bhashya, the pUrvapakShins say "Shivo vA" means that Shankara is equating Shiva and Vishnu. In other places , Shankara says:

      (for the nAma "vihAyasagati") - "vihAyasaM gatirASrayo&syeti vihAyasagatiH , viShNupadam , Adityo vA"

      ("IsanaH prANadaH prANaH...") - "prANitIti prANaH kShetraj~jaH paramAtmA vA , 'prANasya prANam ' iti SruteH muKyaprANo vA|"

      ("anirdEshyavapur viShNur vIrO anantO dhananjayaH") - "yaddigvijaye prabhUtaM dhanamajayattena dhanaMjayaH arjunaH , 'pANDavAnAM dhanaMjayaH ' iti bhagavadvacanAt"

      Note that Shankara references Aditya (AdityO vA), mukhyaprANa (mukhyaprANo vA) and Arjuna as he did in the case of Shiva (ShivO vA)! Is he then equating Aditya, Mukhyaprana, and even Arjuna to Vishnu? That would contradict his commentary in the Vaishvanara adhikaraNa etc. So, if we say he is equating Shiva to Vishnu, it also means Arjuna is Brahman as per Shankara (at a saguna level itself) since the same wording and logic is used for Dhananjaya as it is used for Soma! Hence, we have to go by the way of vibhUtitva to understand the bhAShyam without contradicting other places in not just prasthAna traya bhAShyams, but in the Sahasranama Bhashyam itself:

      tamoguNamAsthAya sa rudrAtmanA bhUtAni kRuntati kRuNoti hinastIti bhUtakRut (bhUtakRt bhUtabhRt bhAvo...)
      samyak pramardayati rudrakAlAdibhiH vibhUtibhiriti saMpramardanaH (Avartano nivRttAtmA... ahaH samvartakO vanhir anilO...)

      Shankara clearly uses the terma "rudrAtmaNa" and "RudrakAlAdhibhih vibhUti" - vishNu is the antaryAmin of Rudra, and the latter is his vibhUti.

    3. Contd from previous...

      Now, that bit of silly nonsense was resolved. Here, the samAdhAna for the claim that sureshvara equates brahma=vishnu=shiva (this was mentioned elsewhere on the net by the same person we believe):

      Shankara and Sureshvara makes it amply clear that Brahma is a Jiva. Trimurti aikya vAda is not favored in any way.

      "The One Lord, is sung variously as Hari, Brahma, and Pinaki" found in Suresvara's vArtika is to be understood in the spirit of the Vishnu Purana verse:

      sṛṣṭisthityantakaraṇīṃ brahmaviṣnuśivātmikāṃ /
      sa saṃjñā yāti bhagavān eka janārdanaḥ //

      What the Vishnu purana says is that the same Janardhana has become Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It only means that Janardhana is the antaryAmin of Brahma, sAkshAt Vishnu and the antaryAmin of Shiva. This is the logic of sAmAnAdhikaraNyam fully supported by the sAstras. Note how Arjuna says, “since you pervade everything, you ARE everything” in the 11th chapter of the Gita. This is due to antaryAmtiva of vishNu for advaitins like Shankara and Sureshvara, whereas Vishishtadvaitins use SharIrAtma bhAva.

      Note also Sureshvara's ordering: First Hari, then Brahma, and then Pinaki.

      Hari is vishNu, the Saguna Brahman and the destroyer of pApa karmas (harer harati pApAni) leading to krama mukti (for advaitins). So he is mentioned first.

      Brahma is his first son and the creator. He is mentioned second.

      Rudra is Brahma's son and is mentioned last of all by Sureshvara as "pinAki". This is because the etymological meaning of "pinAki" is "One who drinks the bliss of the supreme abode (vishNu's lotus feet/kalyAna guNas) and by using this name, Sureshvara is pointing out Rudra's status as one who provides knowledge of vishNu.

      This write-up by HBB should be sufficient to quash false arguments. Of course, these people will never learn, but that's besides the point. Important things is that vulnerable laypeople do not get tangled in these misinterpretations given by so-called "advaitins".

    4. This blog is great treasure to Vedantins interested in the real message of the Vedanta as understood by great acharyas. Would request the author to compile these carefully as a pdf and also release as ebooks. Sri Sankara's uncompromising positions on theism which are well represented by his disciples are not the source of theism for modern 'advaitins' whose hide their Vishnu dvesha through so-called liberal attitude to gods. If someone says that a 100 watts bulb is as bright as the Sun and sells it as liberalism, the person would become an object of ridicule. However, calling the perfect and supreme Vishnu Tattva realized by all true acharyas of Vedanta as the equal of other deities is considered liberal. This blog is truly an eye opener in this regard.

      1. Thank you for your comments. We store what we write, of course, but we believe uploading articles on the blog is enough and there is no need to publish e-books as well.

        We have some things planned for the future, but for now, we have certain commitments and hence are on a temporary hiatus. Will get to it eventually.

    5. Some comments regarding the kAryAdhikaraNa section bhAshya of Shankara.

      It appears to me that -

      1. brahmA (chaturmukha) is not Ishwara, but brahmA is lower brahman and also saguNa brahman. saguNa brahman is not used synonymously with Ishwara here.

      2. Highest brahman refers to both Ishwara and nirguNa brahman, who are referred interchangeably. As Ishwara, He creates and is omnipresent. As nirguNa brahman, It is described using negatives.

      3. Vishnu refers to both Ishwara and nirguNa brahman, but Vishnu does not refer to the lower brahman, who is brahmA/hiraNyagarbha. Madhusudhana Saraswati also says in his gItA bhAshya that Narayana refers to both saguNa brahman (Ishwara here!, not brahmA) and nirguNa brahman. Even in Vishnu sahasranAma, some names refer to Ishwara and others denote nirguNa brahman.

      4. It does not look like Shankara is hinting at a vaikuNTha here.

      5. It does not look like Shankara is completely consistent across all his bhAshyas.

      1. Names cannot denote nirguna brahman as it is an entity devoid of name, form, attributes etc. In the sahasranama, Shankara interprets certain names as referring to the essential (nirguna) nature of Vishnu (saguna). So when he says "Vishnu is beyond attrubutes", he means, "Vishn, the saguna brahman, is beyond attributes in his essential nature which is the nirguna brahman". The whole idea of upAsaNa in advaita is to realize nirguna Brahman through saguna.

        Brahma is certainly saguna Brahman in the sense that he is brahman under rajo guna upAdhis. Shiva is Brahman under tamo guna upAdhis. Vishnu alone is the highest as he is saguna Brahman under sattva upAdhis. This is well-known.

        It is in this sense that MS says Vishnu/Narayana refers to both saguna/nirguna brahman. Sridhara also says that amongst the trimurti, only Vishnu is wholly identical to Brahman since he is devoid of rajo/tamo guna upAdhIs.

        The krama mukti and subsequent nirgunatva is achievable via upAsaNa on the highest saguna Brahman/Ishvara which is under sattva upAdhis, and that is Vishnu. It cannot be achieved by dhyAna on Brahma and Shiva who are under rajo and tamo guna upAdhIs, hence, they are not identical to Brahman in that sense.

        Enough of this. Shankara's nd advaitic guru's positions have been well established many times as leaning towards Vaishnavism only.


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