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Saguna Brahman and Krama Mukti in Shankara's Advaita Vedanta - Part 2


The second (current article), third (click here), and fourth (click here) parts of this article series (click here for the first part) shows that Shankara’s system of advaita vedAnta as enunciated in his prasthAna trayI bhAShya-s has nothing in conflict with and in fact strongly supports the notion of an eternal abode called Vaikuntha where those who reach do not return. We shall establish this by showing the following:

  1. There are very clear statements of Shankara to support the theory of an eternal loka for saguNa brahman. In addition, there are several supporting statements that when strung together lend further support. It can be shown that there is no room for these to be taken figuratively to mean something else.

  1. In addition, an analysis of key sections in Shankara’s Gita and Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashyas reveals that this eternal loka belongs to Lord Vishnu, and that those who are on the path of no return reach that place.

  1. There are innumerable statements by various advaitins such as Sridhara, Madhusudana Sarasvati, Gauda Brahmananda, Maheshvara Tirtha, Narayana Bhatta, Desha Mangala, etc. to show advaita’s acceptance of Vishnu’s Vaikuntha of the aforementioned nature as a realm beyond saMsAra.

  1. To deny the existence of Vishnu’s loka that is beyond the satya loka and not subject to dissolution is tantamount to saying that Advaitins are aprAmANika-s who ignore the shAstra.

  1. Even non-Vaishnava commentators such as Sayana explain “viShNoH paramaM padaM” as a reference to Vaikuntha-loka. Moreover according to Sayana, the R^ik where this mantra occurs is about the popular deity Vishnu who took trivikrama avatAra, thus establishing that “viShNu” in “viShNoH paramaM padaM” is the popular Lord Vishnu only.

We need to clarify an important stance one has to take while analyzing the commentaries by Advaitins to shruti and smR^iti. There are adversaries who claim such things as:

“...whatever has been stated by Madhusudana in his commentary to the Bhagavadgita or any other commentator for any other work like the SrimadbhAgavatam on the topic of ‘eternal loka’, stands overruled by the above statement of the Advaita Siddhi.”

(Note: These “other commentators” that this adversary refers to are Sridhara and Maheshvara Tirtha, who are also advaitins to the core.)

It is requested that readers be not held at sway by the above line of thinking while reading this article. Here is our reply to those who resort to such modes of arguing: It is absurd to claim that Madhusudana Sarasvati’s words in Advaita Siddhi overrules his own Bhagavad Gita commentary, or that advaitins who commented on the Ramayana/Bhagavata compromised the core tenets of advaita for something else. There is a tendency among the uninformed to think that advaitins like Shankara, Madhusudana Sarasvati, Maheshvara Tirtha, Sridhara Swami etc. wore differently coloured hats while commenting on different portions of śruti / smṛti / itihāsa / purāṇa. Contrary to that we, even as Vishishtadvaitins, believe that these advaitic authors were consistent and true to their hearts everywhere. Unlike the modern ‘Shankarites’ who conduct themselves variously to suit different purposes according to "antaḥ śāktaḥ bahiḥ śaivaḥ loke vaiṣṇavaḥ", we believe that these early advaitAcArya-s fall under the "mahAtma" category according to the following saying:

"manas anyat vacas anyat kāryam anyad durātmanām । manas ekaṃ vacas ekaṃ karmaṇyekaṃ mahātmanām ॥",

even though they may not have been infallible with respect to the logical fallacies of advaita as a darshana.

Anyhow, why not say instead that Madhusudana Sarasvati's Gudhartha Dipika commentary on the Bhagavad Gita overrules what was stated in Advaita Siddhi? Unlike our adversaries, we need not resort to such desperate arguments to establish our position. We can, and have, done justice to all available evidence and reconciled them without ignoring anything that seems to run contrary to our position as unimportant, as one will see in this article.

Vishnu as Saguna Brahman and Krama-mukti in Shankara’s Brahma Sutra Bhashya: Part II – The jagad-vyApAra-adhikaraNa section

In this section of the Brahma Sutra Bhashya (BSB), Shankara raises the following question: “Do those saguNopAsaka-s, who attain Ishvara-sAyujya through the knowledge of qualified Brahman (saguNa vidyA) attain unlimited Lordship, or is their Lordship subject to certain limitations? This section is for two main purposes:

  1. To show why the pUrvapakSha (prima facie) view that the aishvarya (Lordship) is unlimited must be rejected, based on Shruti, Smriti, etc.

  1. To show why the Purvapakshin’s remark “limited aishvarya means return to saMsAra” must be rejected.

In this section, one of the reasons given by Shankara for limited Lordship is that the shruti talks about Lordship for saguNopAsaka-s only within the material realm.

Shankara then continues his argument as follows: Now, the Lordship of the Highest Lord is confined not only to the material realm since He exists in an eternal form beyond it. We have evidence from both Shruti and Smriti for this fact. And it cannot be stated that those who have no intent, by virtue of the absence of any such vidhi (rule), to obtain the Lordship of the eternal abode. Hence, their Lordship is limited to the material world while the Lordship of the Highest Lord extends beyond it.

In this context, it is important to analyze in detail Shankara’s commentaries not only to the related sUtra-s, but also to the shruti and smR^iti texts given in support of this “eternal form of the Lord unconnected with the effected universe” that Shankara refers to.

There are other arguments that Shankara gives for the limitedness of aishvarya for those who attain sAyujya. These are: (a) The aishvarya of these devotees cannot extend to creation ofthe universe etc. since it would lead to a position where there are multiple Ishvaras. (b) The scripture moreover declares that only their enjoyment is equivalent to that of the Highest Lord. These are unrelated to our present article and hence we shall not examine them.

Below are the sUtra-s that are of interest to the present topic, the Sanskrit text of Shankara’s commentary with English translations given underneath.

Sutra Bhashya 4.4.19-20

vikārāvarti ca tathā hi sthitim āha | BBs_4,4.19 |

vikārāvartyapi ca nityamuktaṃ pārameśvaraṃ rūpaṃ na kevalaṃ vikāramātragocaraṃ savitṛmaṇḍalādi adhiṣṭhānam /
tathā hi asya dvirūpāṃ sthitim āha āmnāyaḥ 'tāvānasya mahimā tato jyāyāṃśca puruṣaḥ /
pādo 'sya sarvā bhūtāni, tripādasyāmṛtaṃ divi' (chā. 3.12.6) iti evamādiḥ /
na ca tat nirvikāraṃ rūpam itara ālambanāḥ prāpnuvanti iti śakyaṃ vaktum atatkratutvāt teṣām /
ataḥ ca yathā eva dvirūpe parameśvare nirguṇaṃ rūpam anavāpya saguṇa eva avatiṣṭhanta evaṃ saguṇaḥ api niravagraham aiśvaryam anavāpya sāvagraha eva avatiṣṭhanta iti draṣṭavyam // 19 //

Moreover, according to scripture, there is also an eternal form of the Highest Lord which does not abide in effects; He is not only the ruling soul of the spheres of the sun and so on which lie within the sphere of what is effected (in other words, he does not merely dwell as inner ruler of sun, etc, but also has an abode and form beyond prakR^ti).

For the text declares His abiding in a twofold form, as follows: 'Such is the greatness of it; greater than it is the Person. One foot of him are all beings; three feet of him is what is immortal in its own self-effulgence' (Ch. Up. III, 12, 6). And it cannot be maintained that that form of Him which is beyond modification, ie, beyond time (nirvikAra) is obtained by those who upAsaka-s intending to reach His other forms (ie, the effects like sun, etc); for intent is not placed on the former.

Hence, just as he (the Saguna Upasaka) does not reach (directly) the attributeless (nirguNa) nature of the double-natured Highest Lord, stopping at that form which is distinguished by qualities (saguNa), even in obtaining the Saguna form of the Lord, the upAsaka stops at limited aishvarya (in the form of rulership over certain spheres within the effected universe) and does not obtain the unlimited aishvarya of Ishvara.

darśayataś caivaṃ pratyakṣānumāne | BBs_4,4.20 |

darśayataḥ ca vikāra āvartitvaṃ parasya jyotiṣaḥ śruti smṛtī /
'na tatra sūryo bhāti na candratārakaṃ nemā vidyuto bhānti kuto 'yamagniḥ' (kaṭha. 5.15, śvetā. 6.14, muṇḍa. 2.2.10) iti /
'na tadbhāsayate sūryo na śaśāṅ ko na pāvakaḥ' (gī. 15.6) iti ca /
tat evaṃ vikāra āvartitvaṃ parasya jyotiṣaḥ prasiddham iti abhiprāyaḥ // 20 //

Scripture and Smriti both declare that the highest light does not abide within effected things, 'The sun does not shine there, nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings, and much less this fire' (Mu. Up. II, 2, 10). 'The sun does not illume it, nor the moon, nor fire' (Bha. Gîtâ XV, 6).--The Sûtra is meant to show that the non-abiding of the highest light within effected things is a well-known circumstance.


Here, Shankara’s statements look very indirect and can cause much confusion if the context is not understood properly. We shall now address the key areas that need to be clarified:

Question: What does ‘obtaining a certain form of the Lord’ mean here?

Answer: The context is established by the bhAShya for the first sUtra in this adhikaraNa (section) i.e., BSB 4.4.17. Here, Shankara raises a question on the issue of saguNopAsaka-s attaining sAyujya with the Highest Lord:

ye saguṇabrahma upāsanāt saha eva manasā īśvarasāyujyaṃ vrajanti kiṃ teṣāṃ niravagraham aiśvaryaṃ bhavati āhosvit sāvagraham iti saṃśayaḥ

In the next Sutra (BSB, 4.4.18), Shankara talks about attaining Lordship over certain spheres as “obtaining the Lord of the mind” etc. It is specifically to be understood that “obtaining the Lord of the manas” here means “obtaining the rulership of manas, on account of obtaining sAyujya with the Lord, who happens to be the ruler of the manas”:

ādhikāriko yaḥ savitṛmaṇḍalādiṣu viśeṣa āyataneṣu avasthitaḥ para īśvaraḥ tadāyatta eva iyaṃ svārājyaprāptiḥ ucyate /
yatkāraṇam anantaram 'āpnoti manasaspatim' (tai. 1.6.2) ityāha /
yo hi sarvamanasāṃ patiḥ pūrvasiddha īśvaraḥ taṃ prāpnoti iti etat uktaṃ bhavati /
tat anusāreṇa eva ca anantaram 'vākpatiścakṣuṣpatiḥ śrotrapatirvijñānapatiśca bhavati' (tai. 1.6.2) ityāha /
evam anyatra api yathāsaṃbhavaṃ nityasiddha īśvara āyattam eva itareṣām aiśvaryaṃ yojayitavyam // 18 //

It is stated that the individual soul’s rulership is dependent on the Him,  who is eternally perfect (nityasiddha). And He, who officiates in certain special places within the material universe such as the sphere of the sun (ādhikāriko yaḥ savitṛmaṇḍalādiṣu viśeṣa āyataneṣu avasthitaḥ) lets the individual soul enjoy rulership of these spheres through sAyujya.

Question: Why does the Sutra all of a sudden seem to bring up the case of Ishvara’s existence independent of creation?

Answer: The Sutra brings this up in order to prevent the pUrvapakSha position that the rulership of the individual soul can be absolute, since He can, in the aforementioned manner (BSB, 4.4.18) enjoy the rulership of every sphere in the material universe. The current Sutra sets aside this conclusion, saying even if the rulership of every sphere within the material universe is admitted to the seeker of saguNa brahman through sAyujya, the aishvarya is not unlimited. For, the Sutra says, the Highest Lord is not only the ruler of the material universe, but is also the ruler of realms beyond (vikArAvartI). For this purpose only, the Sutra brings up the case of the eternal abode and eternal form of the Lord unconnected with creation (nityamuktaM parameshvaraM rUpam, nirvikAraM rUpam).

Question: Why does the Sutra say that the individual soul does not obtain the eternal form of the Lord? Does that mean that saguNopAsaka-s do not reach an eternal realm and remain only within the material universe, subject to rebirth? Moreover, the Sutra says that the saguNopAsaka-s are not intent on the eternal form of the Lord, how is that possible, since saguNopAsaka-s, as per your theory, reach the eternal Vaikuntha loka where the Lord exists with an eternal form?

Answer: An apparent contradiction indeed to our position, but arising out of lack of attention to the context!! One must also read the sub-commentaries of Anandagiri (nyAyanirNaya TIkA) and Anubhuti Svarupacharya (prakaTArtha vivaraNa) to dispel this apparent position contradictory to various shruti, smR^iti, and purANa texts that talk about upAsaka-s being granted to reach the eternal realm of vaikuNTha.

Take the context first. We already showed that “obtaining the Lord of such and such a form” refers to obtaining and enjoying rulership over the sphere in which the stated form of the Lord is said to exist. Hence, this portion of the commentary only means that the attainer of sAyujya-mukti does not attain rulership over the eternal realm of the Lord, but only rulership over the material universe, thus limiting his aishvarya.

Next, we need to look at what is meant by saying “these saguNopAsaka-s do not have their intention set on the nirvikAra form of the Lord”. For this, Anandagiri’s Tika (nyAyanirNaya) and Anubhuti Svarupacarya’s Prakatartha Vivarana say that due to the lack of a rule in the shruti for obtaining such a Lordship, there is no intent on the part of the upAsaka-s:

niratiśayaiśvaryavadīśvaropāsakāstadātmatāṃ prāptāḥ sātiśayaiśvaryavanto bhavantītiyayuktaṃ tadātmatvavirodhādityāśaṅkya brahmaikye’api saguṇaprāptānāṃ nirguṇaprāptyabhāvavadetadyuktamiti vaktuṃ brahmaṇo dvairūpyamāha - vikārāvartīti (nyāyanirṇaya, 4.4.19)

[The following doubt is raised: “It is not befitting to say that those who attain sAyujya with a being that is endowed with unlimited rulership attains limited rulership, because the two are of contradictory nature.” The section is begun by Shankara showing the twofold form of Saguna Brahman (vikAra and nirvikAra) to answer as follows: “Just as those who obtain saguNa brahman do not attain the nirguNa state (immediately) even though Brahman is one, what we have stated makes is in fact fitting very well.”]

astu brahmaṇo vikārāvartirūpaṃ tathāpi kiṃ syāt, tatrāha - naceti । vastutastathātve’api yathopāsanameva tatprāptirupāsanaṃ ca vidhyadhīnaṃ niravagrahamahattvādidharmasya copāstyagocaratvādanupāsitasyāprāptiriti phalitamāha - ataśceti । (nyāyanirṇaya, 4.4.19)

[“You say there is an eternal changeless form of (Saguna) Brahman. Be that as it may. So what?” - This question is answered thus: “In reality, even though it is so (that the Saguna Brahman has an eternal form), the general rule of ‘obtaining of exactly the same form (i.e., rulership) as per the nature of upAsana’ is dependent on the specific rules in scripture. In the absence of a scriptural-based specification of obtaining such forms as unlimited Lordship etc. through upAsana, there is no attainment of what is not meditated upon.”]

nanūpāsyasya brahmaṇo niraṅkuśamaiśvaryamasti ; tatkimiti tadupāsanānna prāpyata ityāśaṅkya vyabhicāramāha - vikārāvarti ceti । yadyadbrahmaṇo rūpaṃ tatsarvamupāsakena prāptavyamiti na niyama ityarthaḥ ॥ (prakaṭārtha vivaraṇa, 4.4.19)

[By the section beginning with “and moreoer, there is an eternal form disconnected with the material universe” etc., the following doubt is answered: “But the object of worship, (Saguna) Brahman, is endowed with unlimited rulership. Why is that rulership not obtained by worshiping it (Brahman)?” The meaning is, there is no rule to say that *every* form of (Saguna) Brahman is obtainable to the worshiper.]

Question: How do you say that the Sutra Bhashya shows Ishvara’s existence beyond material creation?

Answer: To show the existence of this eternal form, Shankara gives the example of Gayatri-brahma-vidya in the Chandogya Upanishad which declares that while only one quarter of the Highest is saMsAra-maNDala, three quarters of it are immortal and in a realm beyond saMsAra-maNDala:

tāvānasya mahimā tato jyāyāṃśca puruṣaḥ
pādo 'sya sarvā bhūtāni, tripādasyāmṛtaṃ divi

[Such is the greatness of it; greater than it is the Person. One foot of him are all beings; three feet of him is what is immortal and in its own self-effulgence (Chandogya Upanishad, 3.12.6).]

The commentary to the next Sutra gives two other examples:

na tatra sūryo bhāti na candratārakaṃ nemā vidyuto bhānti kuto 'yamagniḥ'

[The sun does not shine there, nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings, and much less this fire' (Mundaka Upanishad, 2.2.10, occurs also in Katha Upanishad, 5.15  and Svetasvatara Upanishad, 6.14).]

na tadbhāsayate sūryo na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ

[The sun does not illume it, nor the moon, nor fire (Bhagavad Gita, 15.6)]

Here, we should also cite Shankara’s Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya, where the Acharya says that *the deity Vishnu* is the destination intended for those who are liberated, due to *no chance of returning* for those who reach Him:

muktānāṃ paramā gatiḥ – muktānāṃ paramā prakṛṣṭā gatirgantavyā devatā punarāvṛttyasaṃbhavāttadgatasyeti muktānāṃ paramāgatiḥ । ‘māmupetya tu kaunteya punarjanma na vidyate’ iti bhagavadvacanam ।

For the Bhagavad Gita verse (8.16) cited by Shankara in the above commentary, one should refer to Madhusudana’s commentary which we have explained under the next part in this article series to get a clear picture.

Question: Well, what answer do you have to the objection that terms like “nirvikAra rUpa”, “vikArAvartI” etc., refer to formless Nirguna Brahman (Chaitanyam) state and not some eternal form of Vishnu in an eternal abode called Vaikuntha?

Answer:  Again, our position fits the context whereas the position that you state does not. Here is the reason:

The entire section talks about the niravagraha aishvarya which can belong to Saguna Brahman alone, and hence the scriptural statements quoted (Chandogya Upanishad, Mundaka/Katha, Gita) etc. refer to forms of Saguna Brahman only.

The existence of the two-fold saguNa/nirguNa brahman has already been discussed in great detail in the kAryAdhikaraNa section itself, in 4.3.14. There is no need prove this again, especially with a Sutra (4.4.20) dedicated to it establish it from shruti and smR^iti. Hence, what is covered in 4.4.20 must be a new topic in the sUtra bhAShya, not something that was not introduced in the previous adhikaraNa-s.

Moreover, note the reason and the comparison Shankara gives with Saguna Upasakas not attaining Nirguna Brahman (immediately). Shankara does not say “Behing Saguna Upasakas, they do not attain Nirguna Brahman; Hence, the aishvaryam is limited.” The Acharya instead says “Just as they do not reach Nirguna Brahman, being Saguna Upasakas, even in the obtaining of sAyujya with the Saguna form, they are limited.”

The whole point behind bringing the eternal vikArAvartin form of the Highest Lord to attention at this juncture is to show that the Highest Lord’s aishvarya is not limited to the effected universe. It would be absurd to say “the rulership of the Lord extends to His Nirguna nature”, while from the point of the attributeless state all duality is false and there is nothing to rule over.

Question: What about Anandagiri’s statement in the final Sutra (4.4.22) that the rulership of the saguNa upAsaka is limited to one kalpa? Does it not harm your position by implying that your vaikuNTha which the saguNa upAsaka reaches is within the satya loka only, and that this loka is subject to dissolution?

Answer: This is easy to address. Rulership lasting for one kalpa makes sense, since the rulership is over certain spheres within the material universe. Hence, it is temporary. It may be that at the end of this rulership, the upAsaka attains nirguNa mukti by the grace of the Ishvara. That does not mean that the eternal world necessarily is destroyed from the point of view of the individual souls yet to be liberated in the vyAvahArika realm.

Question: Okay. It is clear that Saguna Brahman does have an eternal form and an eternal abode that is Sri Vaikuntha from a cursory glance (more pramANa-s to be provided later). If so, what is the nature of the antaryAmin of all creatures from the vyAvahArika perspective? Is it Saguna or Nirguna Brahman, and does it have a form or not?

Answer:  There are some who mistake advaita in a manner that they think statements like “AhaM AtmA guDAkesha” refer only to nirguNa tattva as the Self and not Saguna Brahman. This is an erroneous understanding. As has been stated already, Nirguna Brahman under shuddhasattva upAdhi-s is Saguna Brahman. Thus,  in the vyAvahArika sath, it is Saguna Brahman that is the antaryAmin of all. Shankara has also explicitly made clear in his bhAShyas that Saguna Brahman is the indweller of the sun, etc besides having an eternal abode.
So, statements like “ahaM AtmA guDAkesha” mean, “the self of all entities is that Saguna Brahman (krishNa) who is Nirguna Brahman under shuddhasattva upAdhi-s”. Hence, “vAsudevaH sarvam” for instance means that a mahAtmA must recognize that all beings have that one Self, which is Nirguna Brahman under sattva upAdhi-s and hence called “vAsudeva”.
This antaryAmin saguna Brahman is nArAyaNa according to both Shankara who says “nArayaNaH paro ‘vyaktAt” and Madhusudhana who quotes “eko ha vai nArAyaNa AsIt, na brahmA, na ca shankaraH” in his Advaita Siddhi. Prior to creation, nArAyaNa, the Saguna Brahman, is full of auspicious attributes which make him Ishvara but does not have a specific form. However, He assumes forms like Krishna, Rama, etc after creation which are shuddhasattva in nature, or gentle (saumya) and this is different from the beings like Brahma, Rudra, etc whose nature is rAjasa/tAmasa. Of course, the fact that nArAyaNa prior to sR^iShTi has no form does not negate the fact that – 1) He is Saguna Brahman qualified by attributes, 2) He nonetheless does have an eternal form in Vaikuntha which is not subject to creation and destruction, 3) He assumes numerous forms like Rama, Krishna, etc and occupies various abodes within the Universe as well after creation.

Question: Thus far, what you have given as an argument for Shankara’s acceptance of “an eternal abode beyond destruction belonging to Vishnu the Saguna Brahman” is weak. The inferences are a bit indirect. It looks like there are some hidden assumptions as well. Should you not show direct statements?

Answer: Very well. For this purpose, we now begin two new sections “Evidence from Gayatri-brahmavidya in Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya”, and “Evidence in Shankara’s Bhagavad Gita Bhashya” where we have shown direct statements by Shankara supporting the notion of an eternal abode for Saguna Brahman Vishnu. In addition to that, we have dedicated the entire next part of this series titled “Acceptance of Vaikuntha as an eternal loka by other Advaitins” showing a continuous tradition of advaitic authors accepting the existence of an eternal loka for Vishnu.

Evidence from Gayatri-brahmavidya in Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya

The khANDa 12 and khANDa 13 of the third adhyAya of Chandogya Upanishad concerns itself with an exposition of what is known as gAyatrI brahma vidyA. Let us examine Shankara’s commentary to the following portion of the mantra:

atha yad ataḥ paro divo jyotir dīpyate viśvataḥpṛṣṭheṣu sarvataḥpṛṣṭheṣv anuttameṣūttameṣu lokeṣu (ChUp, 3.13.7)

atha yadasau vidvānsvargaṃ lokaṃ vīrapuruṣasevanātpratipadyate /
yaccoktaṃ tripādasyāmṛtaṃ divīti tat… viśvataḥ pṛṣṭheṣvityetasya vyākhyāna sarvataḥ pṛṣṭheṣviti /
saṃsārāduparītyarthaḥ /
saṃsāra eva hi sarvaḥ /
asaṃsāriṇa ekatvānnirbhedatvācca /
anuttameṣu tatpuruṣasamāsāśaṅkānivṛttaya āhottameṣu lokeṣviti

Translation: Now, what is described as the “heavenly abode of Brahman” (mentioned in the previous mantra as the result of the brahmavidyA) that is to be obtained by the knower (of brahman) through upAsana on the vIrapuruSha-s (i.e., the dvArapAlaka-s of Brahman situated in the heart, mentioned in the previous mantra) has also been described as “three quarters of it are imperishable, established in its own self-effulgence” in the previous kANDa. That Brahman is now described as the “jyotis” which shines above the universe, above everything, in the highest worlds, beyond which there are no worlds.

Note several points here. First, Shankara clearly says that the brahmaprApti arising from the Gayatri-Brahmavidya, a form of Saguna Vidya, is described as “a heavenly abode”. Is Shankara intending an abode within the material universe, or an abode of an eternal nature beyond material existence? Surely the latter, since by saying “yaccoktaṃ tripādasyāmṛtaṃ divīti tat“ Shankara brings up the immortality of this “svargaloka” (hence not to be confused with the ordinary svarga-loka of Indra, etc.) by a connection with the imperishable three-quarters that was just described in 3.12.6. Also, the three quarters do not include even the satyaloka, since “vishvAnibhUtAni” in 3.12.6 which Shankara explains as “tejobannAdIni sthAvarajaN^gamAdIni” (fire, food, air, etc. constituting plants, animals, etc.) has to include Brahma, who has been declared by Shankara as a bhUta (being that comes into existence during the course of creation) in innumerable places in the Bhagavad Gita Bhashya etc. Also, “saMsArAdupari” also shows that these unmatched Highest loka-s are beyond saMsAra that includes all material existence. Brahma’s saMsAritva has been declared by Shankara in many places, for example in Sutra Bhashya, 1.3.30 and in 1.1.4.

We also have confirmation from Anandagiri who says in the Chandogya-Bhashya-Tika that it is saguNa-brahman here who for the purpose of upAsana described as the resident of these transcendental loka-s:
tasya upāsyatvārthaṃ saṃsārādupariṣṭādavasthānamuktaṃ । (Anandagiri in 3.13.7)

This is revealed more clearly by Madhusudana as “śrīvaikuṇṭhasthaṃ sarvayogidhyeyaṃ” in Gita 7.24-25. We have discussed this in the next part of this article series.

Again, do we have statements from Shankara himself that the description in this passage is a description of sopAdhika saguNa brahman and not of nirupAdhika state? Affirmative, since Shankara has dealt with this passage again in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya, 1.1.24 where Gayatri-Brahmavidya is discussed:

yaduktaṃ niṣpradeśasya brahmaṇaḥ pradeśaviśeṣakalpanā nopapadyata iti /

nāyaṃ doṣaḥ /
niṣpradeśasyāpi brahmaṇa upādhiviśeṣasaṃbandhātpradeśaviśeṣakalpanopapatteḥ /
tathāhi- ādityo, cakṣuṣi, hṛdaye, iti pradeśaviśeṣasaṃbandhāni brahmaṇa upāsanāni śrūyante /
etena 'viśvataḥpṛṣṭheṣu' ityādhārabahutvamupapāditam /

Translation: Against the further objection that the omnipresent Brahman cannot be viewed as bounded by heaven we remark that the assignment, to Brahman, of a special locality is not contrary to reason because it subserves the purpose of upAsana. Nor does it avail anything to say that it is impossible to assign any place to Brahman because Brahman is out of connexion with all place. For it is possible to make such an assumption, because Brahman is connected with certain limiting adjuncts. Accordingly Scripture speaks of different kinds of devout meditation on Brahman as specially connected with certain localities, such as the sun, the eye, the heart. For the same reason it is also possible to attribute to Brahman a multiplicity of abodes, as is done in the clause (quoted above) 'higher than all.'

Note: by “limiting adjuncts” or “upAdhivisheShasaMbandhAt” we need to take it as “sattva upAdhi-s in the context of upAsana. While all beings are nirguna Brahman under rajo/tamo guNa upAdhi-s, Vishnu alone is under shuddhasattvaupAdhi-s and hence he alone is worthy of upAsana as Saguna Brahman for liberation. This has already been pointed out by Anandagiri in his TIka on to Shankara’s BSB, in the kAryAdhikaraNa section, and identified as Vishnu by agnicit puruShottama mishra as well in his commentary to the introductory (invocatory) verse of Sarvajnatman’s saMkShepa shArIraka.

To those who say that the vaikuNTha vAsin and vaikuNTha loka must be subject to pralaya in Advaita Vedanta because of its association with a certain place, we have the same reply as Shankara. The statements of Shankara in Mundakopanishad 3.2.6 to the effect that Brahman cannot be associated with a specific place is in the context of sadyomukti/jIvanmukti that constitutes immediate realization of Nirguna Brahman.

Anandagiri (in nyAyanirNaya) and Govindananda (in ratnaprabhA) confirm here that the Sutra talks about a form of Saguna Brahman beyond the saMsAra maNDala. Hence, it is clear that this form exists beyond Satya loka.

Shankara’s comment “pradeśaviśeṣasaṃbandhāni brahmaṇa upāsanāni śrūyante / etena 'viśvataḥpṛṣṭheṣu' ityādhārabahutvamupapāditam” and Anandagiri’s statement “tasya upāsyatvārthaṃ saṃsārādupariṣṭādavasthānamuktaṃ ।”, where they have mentioned that Saguna Brahman assumes a form in a transcendental abode that is beyond the saMsAramaNDala for the purpose of upAsana/dhyAna by yogins/Saguna Bhaktas. This form of the saguNabrahman and His abode are revealed to be that of Shri Vishnu and Shri Vaikuntha in the comment “śrīvaikuṇṭhasthaṃ sarvayogidhyeyaṃ” etc. by Madhusudana Saraswati in Gudhartha Dipika while commenting on Bhagavad Gita 7.24-25.

Evidence in Shankara’s Bhagavad Gita Bhashya

There are several places in the Bhagavad Gita Bhashya where Shankara introduces the notion of an eternal abode for Saguna Brahman, Vishnu. We have already seen the case of Gita 15.6 being quoted in BSB 4.4.20 as a pramANa for the eternal form of the Highest Lord. Further confirmation that this is Vishnu’s paramaM padaM is obtained in the corresponding section of Shankara’s Bhagavad Gita Bhashya:

tataḥ paścāt yat padaṃ vaiṣṇavaṃ tat parimārgitavyam, parimārgaṇam anveṣaṇaṃ jñātavyam ity arthaḥ | yasmin pade gatāḥ praviṣṭā na nivartanti nāvartante bhūyaḥ punaḥ saṃsārāya | (BGBh, 15.4)

Translation: After that, the Supreme abode (followed by the state) associated with Vishnu must be sought after and known. Those who go i.e., enter into that abode do not return again to the state of material existence and rebirth.

tad eva padaṃ punar viśeṣyate -

na tad bhāsayate sūryo na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ |
yad gatvā na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṃ mama ||BhG_15.6||

tat dhāmeti vyavahitena dhāmnā saṃbadhyate | tad dhāma tejo-rūpaṃ padaṃ na bhāsayate sūrya ādityaḥ sarvāvabhāsana-śaktimattve 'pi sati | tathā na śaśāṅkaś candraḥ, na pāvako nāgnir api | yad dhāma vaiṣṇavaṃ padaṃ gatvā prāpya na nivartante, yac ca sūryādir na bhāsayate, tad dhāma padaṃ paramaṃ viṣṇor mama padam ||BhGS_15.6||

Translation: That abode is once again described. Neither the sun that is capable of illuminating the entire sky, nor the moon, nor fire illuminates that self-effulgent abode. Those who obtain that abode, associated with Vishnu, enter into it and do not return. That abode, which even the sun etc. do not illuminate, is my, Vishnu’s, highest abode.

Right after 15.6, Shankara raises the objection “But it is well-known that if one can go to a certain place, returning is always possible. How do we say for sure that there is no return of those?” and answers it in the next few verses by saying that these upAsakas attain nirguNa prApti at the end by giving the pot-sky analogy of avaccheda-vAda pakSha as well as the water-reflection analogy of AbhAsa-vAda pakSha. Note that there won’t be any such serious objection deserving a long explanation if “prApti”, “gamana”, “pravesha” etc. (respectively, “attainment”, “reaching”, and “entering”) only meant nirguNa-brahman realization. The idea is that they attain saguNa Ishvara, who is Vishnu and then attain His highest state, ie, nirguNatattva.

Let us take a look at another instance in the Gita Bhashya:

tameva śaraṇaṃ gaccha sarvabhāvena bhārata।
tatprasādātparāṃ śāntiṃ sthānaṃ prāpsyasi śāśvatam।।18.62।।

tameva īśvaraṃ śaraṇam āśrayaṃ saṃsārārtiharaṇārthaṃ gaccha āśraya sarvabhāvena sarvātmanā he bhārata। tataḥ tatprasādāt īśvarānugrahāt parāṃ prakṛṣṭāṃ śāntim uparatiṃ sthānaṃ ca mama viṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padaṃ prāpsyasi śāśvataṃ nityam। ।।18.62।।

muktāstiṣṭhantyasminniti sthānam (ānandagiri)

Translation: Take refuge in Him the Lord alone with your whole being for getting rid of your mundane sufferings O scion of the Bharata dynasty. Through His grace, i.e., through the Lord’s grace, you will attain the supreme peace, i.e. highest tranquility, and the eternal Abode associated with Me i.e., Vishnu’s paramaM padam.

From the following closely-related purANika verse, it is evident that the Gita verse in question (18.62, above) says that the mukta reaches the eternal Vaikuntha Loka. Note the second half of both the Gita verse and the below:

ato hi vaiṣṇavā lokāḥ nityāste cetanātmakāḥ ।
matprasādātparāṃ śāntiṃ sthānaṃ prāpsyasi śāśvatam ॥

Translation: “Hence, these Vaishnava-worlds are eternal, and of the nature of the sentient. By my grace, you will attain supreme peace and the eternal Abode.”

The above verse is quoted as pramANa for vaikuNTha and discussed by Madhusudana and Gauda Brahmananda Saraswati in Advaitasiddhi and Laghucandrika respectively (dvitIya pariccheda, page 745 Anantakrishna Sastri’s edition). We shall discuss this portion of Advaitasiddhi/Laghucandrika in further detail shortly.

Coming back, the two verses show that “viShNoH paramaM padam” in Shankara’s commentary means not only the liberated state, but also the attainment of Vaikuntha-loka.

Note that if the term “sthAnam” itself meant only “quiescent state of Nirguna Brahman”, Shankara would not have added a cakAra as in “parāṃ prakṛṣṭāṃ śāntim uparatiṃ sthānaṃ ca mama viṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padaṃ”. The presence of cakAra shows the attainment of Saguna Brahman’s world only, where two things are said to be attained: (a) The supreme peace due to permanent remedy from the disease of mundane existence, and (b) the place of Vishnu, the Saguna Brahman beyond saMsAra.

Also note here that Anandagiri has explained “sthAnam” (Abode) as “the (place) where the liberated ones reside”. The usage of plural “liberated ones” (muktAH) indicates an eternal realm where a plurality liberated Jivas reside makes it inappropriate to associate “Vishnu’s highest padam” exclusively with nirguNaprApti, a state where there is no plurality.

Another point is also noteworthy here. In places where an interpretation in the secondary sense as “realization” i.e., “svarUpa-pratipatti” is warranted for the terms “prApti”, “gamana” etc., Shankara’s explanation is seen to be explicit and markedly different:

'brahmavidāpnoti param'(tai. 2.1.1) ityādiṣu tu satyapi āpnoteḥ gatyarthatve varṇitena nyāyena deśāntaraprāpti asaṃbhavāt svarūpapratipattiḥ eva iyam avidyā adhyāropita nāma rūpa pravilaya apekṣayā abhidhīyate 'brahmaiva sanbrahmāpyeti' (bṛ. 4.4.7) ityādivat iti draṣṭavyam /

Nowhere in the Bhagavad Gita Bhashya where statements like “attainment of Vishnu’s paramaM padam” (8.21, 15.6, 18.56, 18.62), “attaining Me” (8.16, 9.25) etc. are mentioned, Shankara takes this route to say that the “attainment” is to be strictly taken in a secondary sense as “realization of the Atman’s true nature” or as “brahmaiva lokam” etc. In fact, Shankara explains “gatvA” as “prApya” in one place “prApya” as “gatvA” in another in the Gita Bhashya, instead of “AtmasvarUpaM pratipAdya” etc.

Also, recall Shankara’s explanation of “muktAnAM paramA gatiH” in the Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya, which we have explained above in this article.

[Note: For those who believe in modern translations, note that both Alladi Mahadeva Shastri as well as Swami Gambhirananda, who are non-Vaishnava modern-day translators, have used the term “abode” both in 15.6 and 18.62 in their respective translations of Shankara’s Bhagavad Gita Bhashya.]

Continued in Part 3 and Part 4 of this series.