Preceptors of Advaita
Mimamsa and Sahitya Siromani
Srimad Bhagavad-gita emphasizes that the Lord Almighty incarnates in this world for the establishment of Dharma as and when necessary. Dharma can be established in many ways, namely, protecting the pious, destroying the wicked, removing ignorance, and establishing knowledge. Among such incarnations, in the dvaparayuga, Lord Vishnu was born as Vedavyasa in order to remove ignorance and establish knowledge on a firm basis. Out of the three basic energies (desire, action and knowledge) this avatara of Vishnu represents jnanasakti.
Born of Maharshi Parasara and Satyavatidevi, Vyasa is known by several names. We may refer to him as Vedavyasa, or merely Vyasa because he codified the Vedas into four sections, viz. Rig, Yajus, Sama and Atharva, and taught them to his four disciples, Pila, Vaisampayana, Jaimini and Sumantu respectively for the benefit of posterity. He is also known as Dvaipayana, because he was born in an island; Krishna as he was dark in colour, and more familiarly as Krishna-dvaipayana, combining both the names. As he performed tapas under a badara tree, he is referred to as Badarayana.
“Cogent presentation of truths spread out in different Sastras, directing the disciple to follow the tenets of our Dharma, and practising them himself rigidly, are said to be the chief characteristic of an ideal guru.”
Achinoti ca sastrartham achare sthapayatyapi
Svayamacharate yasmat tamacharyam pracakshate.
Sri Vyasa was a shining example of these qualities. Books written by him are so many and voluminous, and unsurpassed in depth of thought and elegance of expression, so much so that we are sometimes led to wonder whether one person could have found the time to write such a large variety of literature, and that perhaps several persons wrote these Volumes and passed them under the name of Vyasa. But there is no reason to doubt their authenticity, as both internal and external evidences go to prove that they were all the products of one mighty intellect.
There are six systems of Astika philosophy, namely, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purvamimamsa, and Uttaramimamsa or Vedanta. Out of these, Vyasa is the author of Brahma-sutra in respect the Vedanta philosophy of the Upanishads. This sutra is known by several names, such as vyasa-sutra, Brahma-sutra, Bhikshu-sutra and Vedanta-sutra. This consists of four adhyayas or sections and there are 555 sutras.
Sutras are brief and significant statements, that could be expanded and expounded by gurus and scholars to their disciples. Suchanat sutram
The word ‘sutra’ also means a thread used to string flowers into a garland. Sri Sankara, in his bhashya on the Brahma-sutra, says that the sentences of the Upanishads are strung together by the thread of these sutras, like flowers in a garland, and hence they are known as sutras.
(Brahma-sutra-bhashya of Sankara 1-2).
The Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Yoga and Sankhya systems of philosophy try to arrive at the ultimate truth by means of reasoning only. Purvamimamsa, although based on the authority of the Vedas, is unable to express the true import of the Upanishads, which form the final expression of the Vedas. To this extent, all these systems of philosophy are defective in arriving at the Atmatattva, the truth that is the Atman. To a careful student, it will be apparent that it is not possible to understand the ultimate truth that is Atman purely by intellectual arguments. At the same time, it has to be stated that the Upanishads are not in any way contrary to reasoning. To understand the Upanishadic thought, although human intelligence can be useful to a certain extent, we can never arrive at the ultimate truth through reasoning alone.
Evamapyavimokshaprasangah (Brahma-sutra, 2-1-11).
The following passage from the Mahabharata, namely, tarko’pratishthah srutayah vibhinnah, (Vana parva, 314-119) also confirms this view of the Brahma-sutra. If we examine the Vyasa-sutra we shall come to the conclusion that Advaita alone is their true import. We shall now explain a few sutras here:
“The state of liberation, according to Advaita philosophy, is the attainment of the one’s own disembodied nature of eternal bliss and knowledge—the removal of nescience. According to others, it is settling in a superior world with body, mind, and other senses. In the Vyasa-sutra, “sampadyavirbhavah svena sabdat” (4-4-1), the words “svena” and “avirbhava” clearly declare that the liberation is the manifestation of one’s own self. The same conclusion is arrived at in the succeeding sutras also, viz.
"brahmena jaiminirupanyasadibhyah” (4-4-5)
“cititanmatrena tadatmakatvadityaudulomih” (4-4-6)
“evamapyupanyasad purvabhavadavi - rodham badarayanah” (4-4-7)
The first sutra is an exposition of the view of Jaimini that the released soul gains all the highest qualities of the Saguna or qualified Brahman. The second is of Audulomin. According to him, the released soul is manifest as pure knowledge alone. The third is the view of Badarayana, according to which, there is no contradiction between the two above-mentioned views. Now, this reconciliation of Saguna and Nirguna states is exactly what the Advaitins maintain and others reject.
There is another sutra in the first-adhyaya,“sastradrstyatupadeso vamadevavat".
In this sutra, the sage vamadeva, on his realization of Brahman, declares that he is “Manu” and he is “Surya”. “I am all” is the Sastraic realization. “I am different from my fellow being” is the typically wordly knowledge. This distinction between wordly knowledge and Sastraic realization – the prominent feature of Advaita philosophy – is brought out in this sutra. (See Advaitaksharamalika, page 276).
Sri Sankara, in his Sutrabhashya, has explained in unambiguous terms that these sutras are definitely advaitic in their meaning. According to is bhashya, the theme of the first chapter is Samanvaya, that is, the true import of all the Upanishadic passages is the non-dual Atman. The second chapter is called Avirodha, that is there is no conflict between the import of the first chapter and other pramanas. The third chapter expounds the sadhana necessary to attain the knowledge of Atman or Brahman. The fourth chapter explains the nature of the result i.e. Phala, of the knowledge of Brahman. This, in brief, is the substance of the Brahma-sutra.
Similarly, Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhva and other acharyas also have written Bhashyas on the Brahma-sutra. It is an accepted tradition that no exposition can be treated as authoritative unless quotations from the Brahma-sutra can be given to support those views. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Brahma-sutra has given rise to a large volume of literature, consisting of Bhashyas, Tika, Vartika, Vivarana, etc. There are many books expounding Advaita philosophy based on the Brahma-sutra. Similarly, many books have been written on the Visishtadvaita and Dvaita aspects based on these the Sutra. Nothing more need to be said to show the importance of the Brahma-sutra for real understanding of the tattvas.
Itihasa and Puranas
As the Brahma-sutra was necessarily terse and brief and could not easily be understood by men of average intellect, Sri Vyasa wrote the Mahabharata and the eighteen Mahapuranas. These Itihasa-puranas enable one to understand better and appreciate the truths adumbrated in the Vedas and the Upanishads. It is said that the Vedas are really afraid of one who has not properly studied the itihasa-puranas, because such a one will misunderstand the truths.
Yascaturvedavidviprah puranam vetti
Narthatah tam drshtva bhayamapnoti
Vedo mam pratarishyati (Suta-samhita, 1-1.34)
Therefore, it follows that to expound the Vedas, a study of the Itihasa and Puranas is necessary. It is thus to the credit of Sri Vyasa that he wrote these puranas and the magnum opus, the Mahabharatha.
(1) Creation, (2) Dissolution, (3) Manvantara, (4) the Genealogy of the Surya and Chandravamsa, and (5) the story of the descendants of these Vamsas—these five are elaborately dealt with in the Puranas only with a view to explain clearly and in easy language the profound and ultimate truth of Atman and Brahman. It is, therefore, that in all these Puranas, under some pretext or other, compact and terse philosophic chapters are added, like precious gems n a jewel-box. For example,
* Brahma-gita in the Yajnavaibhavakanda of the Sutasamhita in the Skanda Purana.
* Jadopakhyana, comprising the 36th to 44th chapters of the Markandeyapuranam.
* Isvaragita in the uttara-kanda of Kurmapuranam.
* Srutigita, Uddhavagita, and other portions in Bhagavata.
* Bhagavadgita, Sanatsujatiyam and Moksadharmaprakaranam of Santi parva in the Mahabharata, etc.
The eighteen Mahapuranas
(1) Brahman, (2) Padmam, (3) Vaishnavam, (4) Saivam,(5) Bhagavatam, (6) Bhavishyam, (7) Naradiyam, (8) Markandeyam, (9) Agneyam, (10) Brahmavaivartam, (11) Lingam, (12) Varaham, (13) Skandam, (14) Vamanam (15) Kaurmam, (16) Matsyam, (17) Garudam, (18) Vayaviyam.
It is doubtful whether anyone in his life time would be able to study all these eighteen puranas containing 4,00,000 granthas. Of these eighteen Puranas, ten speak the glories of Siva, four of Mahavishnu, two of Brahman, one of Agni, and one of Surya.
kathyate dasabhirviprah puranaih
chaturbhih kathyate vishnuh dvabhyam
ekenagnistathaikena bhagavan candabhaskarah
The fact that the same author should have written several Puranas glorifying different gods is a positive proof that the vedas do not make any difference between one god and another and that all arrive at the same goal provided they worship with ekagrachintana (concentrated meditation) any one of the gods.
The Puranas explain, with detailed and interesting examples and stories, the different natures of dharma, and adharma, the importance of particular kshetras and punyanadis, the significant of different murtis and also particulars of anatomy and health precepts. In fact, these Puranas, form the sources from which we can study the culture, civilization, religious and social laws, and organization of our ancient period. Without the help of these, our ancient history will be full of dark patches, and we cannot rightly interpret our Vedic tenets and principles.
It is said that Sri Vyasa put forth his best effort in writing the itihasa, the Mahabharata. The harivamsa also is a section of the Mahabharatha. One cannot do enough justice by words to the important place this itihasa holds in the life and thought of the Hindus, so much so it has been called the fifth Veda.
bharatah panchama vedah; mahabharata panchaman;
It is also known as the Veda written by Krishna-dvaipayana. Sri Vyasa starts writing this itihasa by stating that “what is not mentioned in this itihasa cannot be found in any other book; and what is mentioned in other books can be found in this.”
The famous texts such as the Bhagavad-gita, sanatsujatiyam, Anugita and Mokshadharmaprakaranam of Santi parva, all of them help to explain and expound the thoughts expressed in the Upanishads. Further Viduraniti, Yakshaprasnam, Anusasanaparva, and others set forth the basic principles of Dharma and Codes of conduct. Vishnusahasranamam, Sivasahasranamam, and others sing the glories of the respective gods and promote bhakti. Rajadharmaprakaranam and Apaddharama-prakarana of Santi parva, speak of administrative principles. Thus, almost all aspects of human conduct, both individual and communal, are dealt within great detail, precision and authority.
The Mahabharata has been the source and inspiration of most of the Mahakavyas composed in India during the last several millenniums. Sriharsha’s Naishadham, Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniyam, Magha’s Sisupalavadham and Kalidasa’s Abhijnana-Sakuntalam, all owe their inspiration to the stories narrated in the Mahabharata. Kavi Kalidasa has bodily incorporated several sentences and ideas from the Mahabharata in his own works. The poet Bhasa also has based many of his dramas on this itihasa.
Sri Sankara, Sri Ramanuja and other acharyas have borrowed very liberally and quoted stanzas from the Mahabharata in their own Bhashyas.
How can we sing the praise of such a genius as Vedavyasa! We shall have to content ourselves with quoting below some slokas in praise of this great acharya.
“You poured the oil of Mahabharata and lit the lamp of our knowledge to shine brightly for ever. What return can we ever give you for this act of grace on your part? We can only bow down in adoration.”
namostu te vyasavisala buddhe
yena tvya bharatataila purnah
prajvalito jnanamaya pradipah
It is thus obvious that without the oil of Mahabharata the lamp of our knowledge will cease to burn.
“Even if one is learned in all the four Vedas and their auxiliary disciplines, one will not be considered a scholar if he has not mastered the Mahabharata.
yo vidyat caturo vedan
na chakyanamidam vidyat
naiva sa syat vichakshanah.
As is Vishnu among the gods, Brahmins among two-legged animals, chudamani among jewels, vajrayudham among weapons, mind among senses, even so is Mahabharata among Sastras.
tridasanam yatha vishnuh
dvipadam brahmano yatha
bhushananam ca sarvesham
indriyanam yatha manah
mahabharatamuttamam (Markandeya-Puranam, 1.4 & 5).
A Dharma-sastra by name Vyasasmriti and Vyasasiksha explaining the lakshana of the Vedas are also to be found in the name of Sri Vyasa.
Thus Sri Vedavyasa has written many books to expound the sacred truths contained in the Vedas and the Upanishads.
We have not seen Sri Vyasa face to face. But we are very lucky no in having in our midst the great scholar-saint, Sri Kamakoti-pithadhipati Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Pujyapadah at whose feet I dedicate this humble essay of mine.
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Preceptors of Advaita