SankarAcArya's bhagavad gItA bhAshya: 2. 19-20

E. Lisot lisot at UTDALLAS.EDU
Tue Jun 8 08:35:21 CDT 1999

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Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

> My earlier response to this seems to have vanished into cyber-limbo for the
> time being, so I apologize if two copies of this appear on this list.
> Charles Wikner <WIKNER at NACDH4.NAC.AC.ZA> wrote:
> >A few points on the second pAda:
> >
> >(1) While Warrier has an avagraha negating bhavitA, four other
> >    editions to hand, as well as Jacob's Concordance, show a
> >    space (i.e. bhavitA without the negation).  Which form is
> >    generally accepted as correct?
> The practice of putting avagraha in the sandhi between bhUtvA and abhavitA
> seems to be a modern one, a sign of how academic transliteration into Roman
> script has affected nAgarI script in reverse. My impression is that
> manuscripts generally use avagraha only to show the elided akAra after the
> visarga. In the absence of this avagraha, both readings would be possible,
> depending upon how one splits the words in the verse.
> According to SankarAcArya's commentary, the reading should be abhavitA,
> which is the one I've adopted. He explains bhUtvA = bhavanakriyAM anubhUya,
> paScAd abhavitA = abhAvaM gantA. This reading also seems to make more sense
> to me, while the word bhavanakriyA prompted the translation "come into
> being." And the words "vA na" capture the meaning of abhUtvA bhavitA, in
> addition to bhUtvA abhavitA.
> If the reading were bhavitA, instead of abhavitA, one has to split this pada
> as follows - bhUtvA na bhavitA vA bhUyaH. This seems very problematic to me,
> as it would imply "or, having once been, it does not come into being
> again." The "or" would indicate an alternative to the statement in the first
> pada of the verse. This rules out rebirth, but leaves room for the first
> "birth," whereas the point is that the Atman is never born.
> >
> >(2) I usually consider dhAtu /bhU as punctual and dhAtu /as as
> >    durative/stative (that's personal, and may be wrong!), so I
> >    have difficulty associating /bhU with the Immutable.  Since
> I usually do the same too. Within the spectrum of being and becoming, one
> has to choose!
> >    /as does not have all lakAra and /bhU fills in the gaps, can
> >    one treat bhUtvA and bhavitA as derived from /as rather than
> >    /bhU, to replace "come into being" (which jars) with "been"?
> >    (e.g....having [always] existed, It will not cease to exist.)
> I would have done so too, except that the text and the commentary seem to
> approach this from a slightly different angle. This ties in with the comment
> on "vA na" below. I must also draw attention to verse 2. 26 (... enaM
> nityajAtaM nityaM vA manyase mRtam, etc.). It seems to have gone generally
> unnoticed that after spending so much effort on describing the Atman as
> unborn, immutable etc., the gItA still shows Krishna as leaving room for
> Arjuna to think otherwise.
> Therefore, the only way to interpret 2. 20, is to take it that the popular,
> uninvestigated notions of "birth" and "death" are assumed and that the Atman
> is being described accordingly. The general confusion about it all arises
> from mistaking the Atman to be dead when the body dies, or born when a body
> is born. Thus, if one were to assume that the Atman is born, i.e. comes into
> being, apparently from non-being, then it is denied that the Atman ever goes
> back to the state of non-being. Conversely, if one considers the Atman to
> die, i.e. to pass into non-being, from a state of being, then it is denied
> that the Atman will ever come back to a state of being. {This interpretation
> also properly takes into account the word "again" (bhUyaH) in the verse. If
> there were no assumption that the Atman once was not, but now is (bhUtvA),
> the word bhUyaH is not justified.} Taken together, the listener is forced to
> see that there are only two possibilities - either the Atman always is or
> always is not.
> Now, the commentary on 2. 18 has already pointed out that the Atman is self-
> established (svataH siddha), without granting which there can be no talk of
> anything. Therefore, the Atman cannot possibly be always non-existent, which
> leads to the descriptions aja, nitya etc. Thus, the argument attacks the
> assumption that something could die or be born and still be considered
> "existent." And this goes back to the argument about sat (real) and asat
> (unreal) in verse 2. 16, so that all that is seemingly born and seemingly
> dies is shown to be ultimately unreal. This seems to be a somewhat
> roundabout way of going about it, but the purpose is to point out that all
> becoming needs being as the basic ground. Although this argument about a
> substratum (adhishThAna) is not explicitly made here, it seems to be
> implicit in the structure of the argument. I haven't still stopped
> marvelling at the wonderful word-play in this verse, and the meaning that
> the commentator has extracted out of it - AScaryavat paSyAmi.
> >
> >(3) My understanding of Sankara's comment on "vA na" is that the
> >    converse also holds true, i.e. having [never] existed, it
> >    will not come into existence.  This seems to echo verse 16.
> >    (Possibly translate "vA na" as "and vice versa".)
> Great suggestion. Now, why didn't I think of that?!! A. Mahadeva Sastri
> translates as "nor the reverse," but "vice versa" does sound better.
> >
> >This verse (and a few others in the gItA) are in anuSTubh meter:
> >is there any significance or explanation for this?
> Isn't this meter trishTubh?
> In this instance, the meter change could simply be due to the quotation of
> part of the kaTha text. The other notable instance where the change occurs
> is in the 11th chapter, describing the viSvarUpa darSana. The Sloka meter is
> resumed only after Krishna resumes the human form that is familiar to
> Arjuna. The poetic effect of changing the meter is to convey Arjuna's sense
> of grandeur, tinged with fright. The changes of meter do mark off the
> moments of critical transition and the effect is something to be heard when
> recited out loud.
> >
> >I am thoroughly enjoying this series of posts - thanks for sharing them!
> Thanks! I look forward to more of your comments in the future, as I know
> they are based upon a keen understanding of Sanskrit grammar. The
> translation could only benefit by them. It is certainly a daunting task, and
> I hope my effort does not hinder understanding, even if it does not further
> it.
> Regards,
> Vidyasankar

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