Saturday, March 8, 2008

Brahma Sutra; Shankara Bhashya -1


agnâna timirândasya gnânânjanashalâkayâ |
chakshurunmîlitam yêna tasmai srî guravê namaha ||

I bow to the divine Guru,
who by the application of the collyrium of knowledge,
opens the eyes of one blinded
by the disease of ignorance.

Shankaram ShankarAchAryam KEshavam BAdarAyanam

SUtrabhAshya kritau vandE Bhagavantau punah punah

Vedanta philosophy acknowledges the Prasthana Trayi as its three authoritative primary sources. The texts comprising the Prasthana Trayi are the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma Sutra. The Upanishads are the sruti prasthana, the revealed texts (sruti - that which is heard); the Bhagavadgita is the smriti prasthana, composed by sages based on their understanding of the Vedas (smriti - that which is remembered); the Brahma Sutra is the nyaya prasthana, the logical text that sets forth the philosophy systematically (nyaya - logic/order). No study of Vedanta is considered complete without a close examination of the Prasthana Trayi.

While the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita are authoritative Vedanta texts, it is in the Brahma Sutra that the teachings of Vedanta are set forth in a systematic and logical order. The Brahma Sutra is known by many names: it is also called the Vedanta Sutra, Uttara-mimamsa Sutra, Shariraka Sutra and the Bhikshu Sutra. Indian tradition identifies Badrayana, the author of the Brahma Sutra, with Vyasa, the compiler of the Vedas.

The term Badarayana interestingly means the person dwelling in the forest of badri (berry) trees – refers to a person leading a life of austerity.

The Upanishads seem to be full of contradictions at first. They do not contain consistent system of thought. Sri Vyasa systematised the thoughts or philosophy of the Upanishads in his Brahma Sutras. The Sutras reconcile the conflicting statements of the Upanishads. In reality there are no conflicts for the thinker. Sutras are concise aphorisms. They give the essence of the arguments on a topic. Maximum of thought is compressed or condensed into these Sutras in as few words as possible.

AlpAksharam asandigdhaM sAravad vishvatomukham

Astobhyam anavadyaM cha sUtraM sUtravido viduH

Those learned in the sUtra-s define a sUtra as follows : pithy (using fewest possible words), unambiguous, laying out all the essential aspects of each topic, and dealing with all aspects of the question, free of repetitiveness and flaw (both grammatical and logical).

The work consists of 4 Adhyayas (chapters), 16 Padas (sections), 223 Adhikaranas (topics) and 555 Sutras (aphorisms). The four chapters each correspond to the four parts of the vidhi BrahmavAre drshtavya; shrotavya, mantavya and nidhidhyasitavya

· Shrotavya corresponds to chap 1 which is samanvaya adhyaya In this chapter which is on 'harmony' (Samanvaya), Badarayana teachers that the Vedantic texts, taken as a whole, have for there purport Brahman, the non-dual Reality.

· Mantavya corresponds to chap 2 which is avirodha adhyaya. In this chapter, Badarayana discusses the objections that may be raised against the metaphysics of Vedanta. The principal objector is the follower of the Samkhya system. Great attention is paid to the Samkhya because it comes very close to Vedanta.

· Nidhidhyasitvya corresponds to chap 3 which is sadhana adhyaya. In this chapter, Badarayana discusses the means to release, sadhana.

· And

· Drshtavya corresponds to chap 4 which is phala adhyaya

Each chapter contains four Padas. Each Pada contains Adhikaranas. Each Adhikarana has separate question to discuss. The first four Adhikaranas of the first chapter all have only one sutra each and are very, very important – they are referred to as chatusutri and comprise the traditional cornerstone of the teaching.

The Bhashya of Sri Sankara on Brahma Sutras is known as Shariraka Bhashya [– the brahma sutras themselves are also called shariraka sutras] – the word sariraka refers to the indweller of the shareera or the dehi in other words the jivatman who is nondifferent from Brahman or the Paramatman. His school of thought is Kevala Advaita. The Bhashya of Sri Ramanuja who founded the Visishtadvaita School is called Sri Bhashya. The commentary of Sri Nimbarkacharya is known as Vedanta- parijata-saurabha. Sri Vallabhacharya expounded his system of philosophy of Suddhadvaita (pure monism) and his commentary on the Brahma Sutras is known as Anu Bhashya.

Of commentaries on the Brahma Sutram, Shankara's commentary stands pre-eminent in elaborating advaita vedanta according to his tradition, or sampradaya. Whilst there is doubt regarding authorship of some of the works attributed to shankara, there is universal agreement in the tradition that the bhAsyam on brahma sUtram was compsed by Adi Shankaracharya. This is evidenced by the fact that the genesis of post shankara schools arises from sub-commentaries on primarily his brahma sutra bhASyam. In these sub- commentaries (of which the so-called bhAmati and vivaraNa schools are most recognised), the authors profess to be elaborating on Adi Shankara's system of advaita, and clearly identify Adi Shankara as the author of the bhASyam.

The tika considered to be closest to the spirit of the Shankara-bhashyas is the Ratnaprabha by Govindananda Saraswati. Another very important and mightily extensive teeka is the Bhamati by Vachaspati Mishra. Anandagiri has also written a well-known teeka called Nyaya Nirnaya. Subcommentaries to the Bhamati have included the Kalpataru written by Amalananda and subsequently the Parimala written by Appaya Dikshitar. Subcommentaries to the Ratnaprabha have been included the Purnanandi by Purnandada – but only covering the first four sutras. Another commentary is called the pancapAdikA written by Padmapadacarya which has a sub-commentary named vivaraNa, by PrakASAtman.

The name Ratna-prabha signifies a Ratna - i.e. a precious stone - in this case Shankara's bhashya, which shines even brighter, whose colour (red for ruby) is made more pronounced when the light - Prabha - of that teeka falls on it.

There is a interesting story of how the Bhamati derives its name:

Vachaspati Mishra's gor married during the writing of this commentary and was so much involved in it that he completely forgot that he has a wife.

The wife loved him so much that she didn't want to disturb him. Years passed - nay an entire lifetime. She continued to serve him dutifully, take every care, but not to disturb, not to say that, "I am here, and what you are doing?" But Vachaspati Mishra was so involved, so totally, that he not only forgot about his wife: he was not even aware who brings the food, comes in the evening and lights the lamp, etc.

Then finally one night came when his commentary was complete. Just the last word he was to write, and he had taken a vow, and when the commentary is complete he will become a sannyasin. This was his only duty that has to be fulfilled. Now, for the first time he became aware of the surroundings and looked at his beautiful but aging wife, who already had silver streaks in her hair, and asked her "Who are you?". His wife said, "Now that you have asked, I must say that years back you had brought me as your wife, but you were so much involved, so much committed to your work, I didn't like to interrupt or disturb you." Vachaspati was profoundly moved. The wife asked, "What is the matter?" He said, " I am at a loss, because the commentary is complete and I am a sannyasin. I cannot be a householder; I cannot be your husband. The commentary is complete, and I had taken a vow and now there is no time for me, I am going to leave immediately. Why didn't you tell me before? I could have fulfilled my duties towards you. How can I ever repay you your love, your devotion?" So he called his commentary on the Shankarabhashya of the Brahmasutras, Bhamati. Bhamati was the name of his wife.

General introduction:

There is a Vedic vidhi –Svadhyayo adhyetavya : One’s own Veda has to be studied.

Similarly there is another vidhi – “AtmavAre Shrotavya Mantavya..” we have a vedic vidhi.

What is special about this vidhi? The answer is that for this particular vidhi we need vichara or enquiry. Unlike the karmakanda portion where the vidhis purely involve karma, in order to gain something, wheras here the vidhi is with regards to oneself.

Now, atma is oneself. It is prasiddha. Everyone knows himself as “I am” IN fact it the ONLY thing that is universally known. What does Vedanta have to do with knowledge of oneself.

The answer is that the Atma is both known and unknown – both prasiddha and aprasiddha. An example of something that the shastras deal with that is completely unknown - is Svarga (heaven) for example – knowledge about this can never be the subject of enquiry.

What can be enquired into is always something that is somewhat known but not completely known.

In the case of Atma – being the asmat-pratyaya – or I-sense – its knowledge is samanyata as I am “aham asmi” but unfortunately is also viparitah as “I am sukhi, I am dukhi, I am samsari” etc In other words, there is never any lack of cognition about myself as “I am” but what I take myself to be is erroneous. Hence alone Atma is “fit” to be an object of enquiry.

“OK, let us grant that Atma is an object of enquiry. Fine. What does Shastra have anything to do with this? If I want to know about Svarga or Brahmaloka – I can look at what Shastra says. You are telling me my knowledge about myself is viparita – I don’t think it is but suppose I accept that – now what does Shastra have anything to do with this? If I need to know myself, then I need to do something to better know myself. You are telling me I don’t know myself and you are suggesting I go read a book to find out!”

- this is a common doubt.

Atma is to be gained exclusively through the Shastra – Atma-shastraikyagmayatvat”

This is an extremely crucial point that will be borne out in the study of this scripture.

While the pramAta or knower is equipped or capable of knowing everything else in this Universe, to know his own swaroopam he is helpless. Why? Not because he is incapable, but because he simply lacks the tools. There is no other means of knowing the Atma. So if he goes on enquiring “who am I” or keeps on meditating upon “who am I” without the help of the Shastra, there is never going to be any answer.

Atma cannot give him an answer - for the Atma there is never any ignorance – there is neither a quest nor an answer. The only gateway for this poor pramata is the Mother Shruti.

Hence when they say it is available for mind, available for pramana it does not mean Atma is beyond mind – in fact nothing is beyond Atma! –

Between the pramatr-swaroopa the Atma and the pramana – the Shastra there is a pratipadhaka-pratipadhya sambandha. Hence the text of Vedanta, being the pramana, becomes an object of enquiry.

(To be continued..)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Posted by: thechildinthebreast

Heaven, Brahma-Loka, can be known. It is a golden world. We are expelled from Heaven when we sound an "I" for the first time. A separate "I" cannot stay in Heaven, and we pass out through the gates, which close firmly behind us. This can be remembered. Some advaitins say that Brahma-Loka, Siva-Loka, and Visnu-Loka are all part of the illusion, and merely aspects of the vyavaharika.

Atman has separated from Brahman. That is due to ignorance. Atman looks out, and is that awesome consciousness within us which is looking out. Because Atman is everything he identifies with whatever he sees. Atman is pure consciousness, and everything else is consciousness, therefore Atman identifies everything he is conscious of... as himself. What Atman does not know is that the Shakti has unfolded herself as space-air-fire-water-earth and entered into them. Space, akasha, is universal mind, inner space is individual mind. Air, vayu, prana, is the medium of the causal world, and has the power of animating the unmanifest, bringing being into manifestation, turning mere forms and mechanisms into apparently living things, including spirits. Fire, light, tejas, is the projection from Isvara which reflects in the mind to create the appearance and forms of the world. In Water, ap, are the characters in the drama, the illusory people and selves in the world, their natures, hopes, desires and loves. Earth, prithivi, is associated with the physical bodies of everything. When Shakti-Maya presents a person, a character, a part in the drama, before Atman, he identifies with it, and becomes the jiva. If Shakti-Maya presents a spirit before Atman he becomes a spirit, if she presents a god before Atman he becomes a god, and so on. The Shakti is playing with the Atman, and sometimes it is apparently very painful. When the pain or folly becomes too great, Atman will turn completely around and look back into himself and remembers himself. The end of ignorance.

Does the Shastra tell the Atman to disengage with the Prakriti of Shakti-Maya? I suspect not. The Shastra tells the jiva to do so, and that is not quite the same thing? The Shastra therefore has to be understood as a theoretical aid to the education of the jiva only. Who can teach the jiva that he does not even exist? Who can demonstrate the illusory nature of space-air-fire-water-light? Who can demonstrate that Shakti-Maya is playing mercilessly with the Atman? Who can establish the sakshin and purusha witnesses who alone can see that prakriti is unreal? .... only the power of the guru. The shastra cannot do anything. And finally who can separate the jiva from the Atman? Only the Atman himself by divesting himself of ignorance. The jiva is Atman identified with what he is not. Being identified with anything in the play of Shakti-Maya is ignorance. Atman is not in space, Atman is not in mind. Atman is beyond mind. When Brahman sleeps his Shakti awakes, when Brahman awakes, the Shakti sleeps. Nothing can change while Brahman is dreaming. We are all part of the dream of Brahman. We all have to wait for him to awake. Who can awaken Brahman?

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