Questions on History of Advaita

Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian rbalasub at ECN.PURDUE.EDU
Fri Feb 21 11:13:16 CST 1997

Kartik wrote:

> I wish to know the Vedantic concept of Saguna Brahman well, since my only
> sadhana is daily prayer. I would very much appreciate any responses to my
> question: Saguna Brahman is obviously our own (mis)conception of
> Nirguna Brahman. So if we do not worship Saguna Brahman or if we do not care
> to "think" of Nirguna Brahman, does Saguna Brahman exist?

[ ... ]

> Shankara agrees that devotion to Saguna Brahman is Vedantic, but still,
> he doesn't say that Ishvara is seen as distinct from our own (mis)conceptions
> of Nirguna Brahman.
> To put my question more clearly: does Ishvara exist if I don't believe in him?

The answer with sR^ishTi-dR^ishTi would of course be trivial. However we all
know now that the shruti passages are explained better by dR^ishTi-sR^ishTi :-).
An explanation in terms of this would be as follows: Suppose in a dream you
feel hungry and ask someone where a restaraunt is and you want to go there to
satisfy you hunger. Is there a restaraunt or not? Should you believe him?
Similarly the sages have said that there is someone called Ishvara and
devotion to him can get rid of delusion (remember the tiger in dream analogy of
shrI sureshvarAchArya?). The veda-s also say so. It's up to you to believe it or
not. That's why the mAnasollAsa says that the vedAnta though itself "unreal"
can enable one to get rid of delusion (chapter VIII, I think). A similar analogy
(the tiger example) is given in the naishkarmya siddhi.

It can be seen from the GK that the so called objective reality which we seem
to perceive cannot be meaningfully distinguished or given more reality than
the corresponding, so called mental constructs. Note that the fact these
are mental constructs is known only _after_ waking up. As long as one is bound
by causality the only way is to follow logic and shruti. Mere intellectual
conviction about the unreality of the world is not enough! What I am trying to
say is that one can't reason out things like in the GK, and theorize that one
can do anything he pleases since it's all unreal anyway. Anyway, some of the
answers given by the GK need more thinking and effort than the usual
sR^ishTI-dR^ishTi. However it's worth it, since it points out the self i.e.,
the substratum, most immediately and naturally. That is why the mANDUkya is
considered the premier upanishhad. Chapter VIII of the mAnasollAsa also has very
good points to make in this regard and you may want to read that.

> >      (The shaalagraama is a sacred stone in which VishhNu is said
> >       to be present. As such, it is universally worshipped by
> >       devotees of VishhNu regardless of their affiliations.)
> >
> According to the Vishnu Purana, Shalagrama is a sacred pilgrimage spot
> for worshippers of Vishnu. But presently, no one knows its location, and
> it has remained untraceable for a long time.
> Nowadays, Shalagrama is worshipped as a sacred stone.

The shAlagrAma is not a mere sacred stone, it is the Lord himself. Of course in
the final sense the Lord is everywhere. However this is something special, and
thus special niyama-s have to be observed by those who have this in their
house. The story goes something like this. There was this asura (I have
forgotten his name) who was married to tulasi. Now Tulasi was a great devotee
of Lord Hari and I think the asura also was a devotee of the Lord. The deva-s
request shiva to kill the asura and he finds it difficult due to the power of
Tulasi. So Lord Hari violates her chastity and shiva kills the asura. But in
the process Tulasi curses him to change into a stone with worms inhabiting the
stone. So in fact the best shAlagrAma is one which has more worms! Anyway, the
shAlagrAma is a part of the pa.nchAyatana pUjA of smArta-s. I can write an
article about this pUjA, the rules associated with it an outline of the
procedure and the philosophy behind it, if there is any interest in this type
of thing.


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