Shankara and Krishna

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Mon Dec 2 20:01:52 CST 1996

On Sun, 1 Dec 1996, Sankar Jayanarayanan wrote:

> Now my question is: Shankara's contention is that a shudra *cannot*
> achieve the highest since he has no access to knowledge of shruti. But
> Krishna says that even a shudra can achieve the highest goal by
> surrendering to him, though the shudra may have no knowledge of shruti.
> The two opinions appear to contradict each other. What is the right way to
> resolve this? Also, is there a third opinion on the subject?

We must remember that the question of adhikAra to study the vedas goes
hand in hand with the concept of rebirth. A SUdra was assumed to attain a
better birth in the next life, provided (s)he abided by the
varNa-dharma meant for him/her. The standard interpretation of the gItA
verse is that the act of surrender procures a better birth, which in the
case of the SUdra means dvijatvam. Surrender does not wipe out all
previous karma, because ISvara still has to hand out karma-phala
impartially. Besides, the gItA does not say that the prapanna immediately
attains moksha. There is presumably a time period over which the
fruits of surrender are seen. Then, in the birth as a dvija, there is the
adhikAra to study the Vedas. Besides, everybody is allowed to read the
smr.tis, which is mostly the itihAsa-purANa literature, and attain
knowledge thereby. The gItA, the mokshadharma and other similar sections
in the mahAbhArata and the purANas are presumably the texts for

This may sound harsh, but we have to understand Sankara on his own terms.
The notion of samskAras and karma of the previous birth leading to a varNa
in this birth is pretty much assumed.

> Someone posted a translation of Shankara's commentary on Gita (9.32)
> in soc.religion.vaishnava:
>     Why O Partha? Those who are born by virtue of sin, who are they?
>     Namely women, vaishyas, sudras. Even they attain sadgati by
>     surrendering to me.
> What exactly is Shankara's view on the subject of the shudra's
> competence to brahma-vidya?

The way is through itihAsa-purANas. If I remember right, Sankara says this
in the commentary to the apaSUdrAdhikaraNa of the sUtras.


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