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Saguna Brahman and Krama Mukti in Shankara's Advaita Vedanta - Part 4 (Addenda)

Previous parts: [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

Addendum 1: vAsudeva/viShNu as paramArtha tattva

It has thus been established clearly in this four-part series thus far that Shankara’s advaita vedAnta accepts none other than Lord Vishnu to be the saguNa brahman.

Frivolous objections against this, such as pointing out that “viShNu” is explained as “vyApanashIla” (all-pervading) by Shankara to ‘establish’ that lakShmIpati is not meant, do not hold any water. Shankara’s insistence on the samAkhya (appellation/proper noun) “vAsudeva” when he explains “viShNoH” as “vyApanashIlasya… vAsudevAkhyasya” instantly sets aside such gibberish. No serious devotee of Vishnu understands Him to be limited in space and time and “not vyApanashIla”.

Then comes the genius of a contention that none other than jnAnottama, the author of the candrikA commentary on Sureshvara’s naiShkarmyasiddhi, is wrong in explaining “Vishnu” found in the verse dedicating the work to His guru:


viṣṇoḥ padānugāṃ yāṃ nikhila bhava nudaṃ śaṅkaro'vāpa yogāt
sarvajñaṃ brahma saṃsthaṃ munigaṇaiḥ sahitaṃ samyag abhyarcya bhaktyā ।
vidyāṃ gaṅgām ivāhaṃ pravara guṇa nidheḥ prāpya vedānta dīptāṃ
kāruṇyāt tām avocaṃ jani mṛti nivaha dhvastaye duḥkhitebhyaḥ ॥

(Naishkarmyasiddhi, 4.76)

viṣṇorvyāpino jagatkāraṇasya padamadhiṣṭhānaṃ saccidānandaikarasamanugaccatīti viṣṇoḥ padānugā vidyā । gaṅgāpi viṣṇoḥ puruṣottamasya caraṇamanusṛtya gaccatīti "vāmapadāṅguṣṭhanakhasroto vinirgatām"-iti smaraṇāt ।

(Jnanottama’s Chandrika on the above verse)

It is no surprise, considering it is coming from a person who considers Narayana Bhatta and Deshamangala to be petty peddlers and for whom even Panini is guilty of making errors. Coming back, the above verse by Sureshvara is a beautiful word play comparing Ganga to Vedantic knowledge, and is also a double entendre on the name 'Shankara', which stands for both the name of the Acharya as well as Rudra who bears the Ganga as his crown. So is "padAnuga" too a word play dwelling on two meanings - Ganga's abiding place (lotus feet of viShNu) as well as the supreme inherent nature (adhiShThAnam)  as nirguNa caitanya that the saguNa brahman (viShNu) abides in (by virtue of sattva upAdhIs).

padam - refers to seat or basis (adhiSThAnam) of this saguNa brahman, whose only essence (ekarasaM) is the reality-consciousness-bliss (sacchidananda) i.e., paramArtha sat/nirguNa tattva.

Hence, "padAnugA" refers to that brahma vidyA that "follows" (figuratively, as it were) the reality-consciousness-bliss, the true nature of (viShNor vyApanashIlasya jagatkAraNasya) the saguNa-brahman Lord Vishnu, who is the all-pervading creator of the universe. (nirguNa brahman cannot have attributes such as sarvavyApakatva and jagatkAraNatva).

Jnanottama’s commentary continues further thus:

yāmevaṃvidhāṃ vidyāṃ gaṅgāṃ ca bhagavatpādācāryaḥ parameśvaraśca yogasāmarthyādavāpa tamācāryaṃ sarvajñaṃ brahmasaṃsthaṃ munigaṇaiḥ sahitaṃ bhaktyā samyagabhyarcya tasmātpravaraguṇanidher ācāryāt tāṃ vedāntadīptāṃ parameśvaraṃ samabhyarcya tasmādbhagīratho vedāntadīptāṃ sitāsite "imaṃ me gaṅge" ityādi vedāntapratipādyāṃ gaṅgāmiva sākalyena ahaṃ prāpya ārthibhyaḥ sakāraṇasaṃsāra nivṛttaye avocam ityarthaḥ ।
(Jnanottama’s Candrika)

Here, a few things are to be noted:

1) By comparing Shiva and Adi Shankara and saying both are subordinate to Vishnu, jnAnottama establishes that Shiva is only a realised guru according to advaita tradition. It is of no use to say that a realised guru is equal to Brahman, because even according to advaita tradition, these gurus - Shiva and Adi Shankara - are realised because they are saguNopAsaka-s and meditate on Vishnu. Just because they understand the nirguNa tattva does not mean they become saguNa brahman or that their bodies are worthy of meditation in the same manner as saguNa brahman.

2) Note that jnAnottama uses "bhagavadpAda" and "parameshvara" as comparable names of Adi Shankara and Shiva. Here, "bhagavadpAda" denotes the jnAna (by the definition of “bhagavAn” in Vishnu Purana) and viShNu-bhakti of Adi Shankara by which he became famously known. So, a comparison only implies that the name "parameshvara" for Shiva also has the same meaning, ie, Shiva is called "parameshvara" because he has the parama-aishvaryam of jnAna and viShNu-bhakti. Therefore, this "Ishvaratvam" of Shiva is NOT saguNa-Ishvaratva of viShNu, but only in terms of jnAna.

Therefore, when Shankara uses the term "sarvaj~na Ishvara" in the kenopaniShad for Shiva, he implies that Shiva is a realised guru due to his jnAna and not that he is saguNa Ishvara.

There is no conflict whatsoever with Shankara’s explanation in Katha Upanishad 1.3.9. And it is of no avail to lament that this interpretation unnecessarily induces an intermediate state in KU 1.3.9, and that this is damaging to our position since it would mean that the “Purusha” described in 1.3.11 is not Vishnu, since:

  1. There is no problem because this Highest State is described as that of i.e., associated with/belonging to vAsudevAkhya viShNu, and NOT as “Higher than vAsudevAkhya viShNu” (which by the way, was the interpretation resorted to only by Appayya Dikshita etc  and even by this mistaken interpretation, Appayya himself has accepted that “vAsudeva” refers to the Lord of Lakshmi only and not a nirguNa tattva, as he was trying to prove something higher than that vAsudeva existed. Thus modern day shaivAdvaitin-s are contradicting their paramaguru as well by claiming the opposite!).

  1. Moreover, for the name “kathitaH” in Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya, Shankara asserts that the shruti passage in contention “puruShAnna paraM ki~ncit kAShThA sA parA gatiH” (KU, 1.3.11) is associated with Lord Vishnu only.

Even in Kathopanishad Bhashya for the verse in question (KU, 1.3.9), Shankara associates an abode with Saguna Brahman Vishnu who has the name Vasudeva. In the commentary, Shankara explains “padam” as “sthAnaM” i.e., place as well as “satattvamityetat”, i.e., the nature of the Highest self:

vāsudevākhyasya paramaṃ prakṛṣṭaṃ padaṃ sthānaṃ satattvamityetadyadasāvāpnoti vidvān

This again points to kramamukti in Advaita Vedanta, where the knower of (Saguna) Brahman attains sthAnam, a realm beyond saMsAra, and reaches final liberation there, reaching the satattvam, true nature, of the all-pervading Saguna Brahman Vishnu. If “padam” only meant a “state”, the usage of “sthAnam” would be redundant.

In Shankara’s advaita, it is indeed saguNa brahman Lord Vishnu who is Ishvara and whose essential nature as nirguNa brahman is rather unsullied by His association with shuddha-sattva upAdhis. On the other hand, jIvas from Brhma, Rudra, Indra, upto grass, who though non-different from that nirguNa brahman, are created beings conditioned by upAdhis of rajas and tamas and subject to the effects of puNya and pApa.

This is the reason why we find statements such as “paraM brahma vAsudevAkhyam” (the Supreme Brahman, called vAsudeva - BG, 10.8), “viShNorvAsudevAkhyasya paramaM padaM” (Katha Up. 1.3.9) etc. in Shankara’s commentary. Again, what is meant here is that the Highest pure consciousness devoid of all limiting adjuncts, can indeed be described as the Highest Lord who bears the name viShNu, nArAyaNa etc., because the upAdhi-s that differentiate the former from the latter are of the nature of pure sattva. Shankara/Anandagiri (in the kAryAdhikaraNa section of the Brahma Sutra Bhashya) and other advaitic authors such as Agnicit Purushottama Misra (in the commentary to the first verse of Sarvajnatman’s Samksepa Sariraka) have stuck to this position.

There is no need anymore for us to repeat this crystal-clear siddhAnta of Shankara in many different ways.

Addendum 2: Purushottama in Bhagavad Gita Bhashya, the issue of loka-prasiddhi

Using the same line of argument, we can settle yet another silly objection raised by small-minded people: That the being described as “Purushottama” in Bhagavad Gita (15.18)  is not any saguNa deity Vishnu, but nirguNa brahman. The reason given by them is that the verse in question describes this Purushottama as Higher than ‘kShara’ and ‘akShara’, and that Shankara says the verse describes Parabrahman as nirupAdhika. The following is conveniently ignored, without any explanation:

The fact that Shankara mentions that this name Purushottama of the Highest Being is popular among His devotees and poets. Madhusudana as well refers to the verse “hariryathaikaH puruShottamaH smR^itaH” of kAlidAsa describing Lakshmipati Vishnu in Raghuvamsa.

Even a novice in these matters will find it absurd to assert that poets sang about nirguNa brahman with names like “puruShottama” and that these names are reverentially used by a brand of nirguNa-upAsakas described as “bhakta-janAH” who have nothing to do with the worship of Lakshmipati Vishnu!

How are we to explain this apparent anomaly? We need to resort to the logic used in Addendum 1 again: That these vyutpatti-s, describing the nirupAdhika nature of paramArtha-tattva, are befitting to the name “Purushottama” of Lord Vishnu the Lakshmipati, since His essential nature is unsullied owing to the purity of the associated upAdhi-s. Only in this manner, the whole portion of the commentary to BG 15.18 can be satisfactorily explained.

Addendum 3: On the issue of samAkhya and lakShmIpatitva of viShNu in Shankara’s works

We have also repeatedly pointed out the following fact: While words like “vAsudevAkhya”, “viShNvAkhya”, “nArAyaNAkhya” etc. are used by Shankara to describe the Brahman of the Upanishads, the names popularly associated with anya-devatas are never used.

It is amusing to see those full of avarice, in response to the above insurmountable challenge of ours, going to great lengths to show how Shankara uses such terms as “shiva” (an adjective, which means ‘pure/auspicious’) to describe the Upanishadic brahman, while our original challenge was to show, if there exist, references to “shivAkhya”, “rudrAkhya”, “maheshvarAkhya” etc in Shankara’s works. Acting as if there is no difference between qualifying something as “shiva” and “shivAkhyaH” will be of any avail in front of a knowledgeable unbiased audience. The former warrants an etymological (yaugika) interpretation as “auspicious”, while the latter warrants the interpretation “that which bears the name shiva” which would have been a clear reference to the trident-bearing consort of pArvatI as the Highest.

Such persons who are incapable of seeing these intricacies or deliberately play-act in a manner to divert their audience’s attention from these finer points do not deserve to be called an ‘opponent in debate’!

Equally deserving of ridicule is the statement that Shankara does not intend Lakshmipati since he does not refer to lakShmIpatitva while explaining the name ‘viShNu’ in Vishnu-Sahasranama Bhashya. There are a number of references in the Sahasranama Bhashya itself to show that the being held by Shankara to be ‘Vishnu’ is none but the consort of Lakshmi:

“maheśvāso mahībhartā śrīnivāsaḥ” - yasya vakṣasyanapāyinī śrīrvasati saḥ śrīnivāsaḥ

  • He is Srinivasa, in whose chest Sri i.e., Lakshmi, who never separates from Him, resides.

śrīvatsavakṣā śrīvāsaḥ” - śrīvatsasaṃj'jaṃ cihnamasya vakṣasi sthitamiti śrīvatsavakṣāḥ। asya vakṣasi śrīranapāyinī vasatīti ṣrīvāsaḥ

  • He is Srivatsavaksha,  in whose chest the mark called ‘Srivatsa’ is located. He is Srivasa, since in that mark Sri (Lakshmi), who never separates from Him, resides.

“nārasiṃhavapuḥ śrīmān” - yasya vakṣasi nityaṃ vasati śrīḥ saḥ ṣrīmān

  • He is Sriman, in whose chest Sri (Lakshmi) always resides.

“sarvalakṣaṇalakṣaṇyo lakṣmīvān” - lakṣmīrasya vakṣasi nityaṃ vasatīti lakṣmīvān

  • He is Lakshmivan, in whose chest Lakshmi always resides.

“mādhavaḥ” - māyāḥ ṣriyāḥ dhavaḥ patiḥ mādhavaḥ ; madhuvidyāvabodhyatvādvā।

  • He is Madhava, who is the husband of mA the Goddess Shri, and also because He is to be known through the Madhu Vidya of the Upanishads.

It is foolish to expect Shankara to specify lakShmIpatitva and other form-related characteristics of the Highest Lord while explaining every name. According to the bhAShya, each name signifies only certain characteristics, though they all belong to the One Being called Lord Vishnu who possesses innumerable characteristics. Hence, only those qualities that are considered to be based upon the vyutpatti (etymology/inner meaning) of the name viShNu are explained under viShNu, while lakShmIpatitva and other characteristics related to rUpa are described elsewhere wherever it is warranted.

Also, take a look at Shankara’s explanation for “mAdhavaH”. He says that the being who is the Husband of shrI/mA/lakShmI is the Being who is to be known through the Upanishadic madhuvidyA. What more is needed for a neutral reader to be convinced that the Upanishadic Saguna Brahman is none but Lakshmipati for Shankara?

It would be a fruitless and endless effort to keep shooting down red herrings thrown at us by those who can be best described as bhagavattattvAsahiShNavaH - those who do not tolerate the Truth about Bhagavan Sriman Narayana.