advaita and Buddhism

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 15 20:36:49 CDT 1999

Sankaran Panchapagesan <panchap at ICSL.UCLA.EDU> wrote:

>        In the gItA bhAshya (translation by Alladi Mahadeva Shastri) in
>the commentary to the second chapter where he begins, Sankara first puts
>forward the arguments of those opponents who hold that moksha can be
>achived by a combination of works and knowledge, and then refutes this.
>When the opponent's views are stated, he finishes by saying something like
>"this is clearly tantamount to claiming that sacrifices which though
>involving cruelty to animals, etc.  do not incur sin." He then begins his
>argument by saying "This is *wrong* since....", and then argues that works
>cannot lead to liberation by themselves.
>        It is not clear since Sankara does not say anything definite on
>animal sacrifice as such after this. Also, comparing Alladi mahadeva
>Shastri's and Krishna Warrier's translations of the gItA bhAshya at this
>point, I see that they are slightly different. But in his opponent's view
>he includes the view that Animal sacrifice conjoined in the Veda does not
>result in sin, and then proceeds to refute the objection.

It is important to note here that Sankara's arguments are made in the
context of the jnAna-karma-samuccayavAda. It is not Sankara's intention to
show that Vedic karma is dhArmic. On the other hand, it is his intention to
show that all karma, including Vedic karma, presupposes avidyA and kAma,
due to which it is impossible to mix the two disciplines of karma and jnAna.

It seems clear that the opponent presented in this passage is someone who
is reacting to the charge (from the Buddhist/Jain?) that Vedic sacrifice
involves animal killing. What Sankara is interested in is to separate out
the realm of operation of the karmakANDa and the jnAnakANDa. The theme
returns again and again everywhere in his works. The upshot of this is - so
long as one is not ready to tread the difficult path of jnAnayoga, one has
a duty to perform enjoined karma. The emphasis is not really on whether the
said karma involves himsA or not. It is more on the readiness or otherwise
for jnAna. Actually, if you think about it, all karma involves at least
some himsA to something or someone. Sankara doesn't bring this up in the
gItAbhAshya, but he does discuss it elsewhere. If I remember in which text
does this, I'll post it here.

>        As I said, the main reason why I believe Sankara was against
>animal sacrifice is because his biography portrays him as a hindu reformer
>because of whom wide-spread animal sacrifices ceased. In one Indology
>mailing list, Vidyasankar said that AcAryas' arguments in their works need
>not alaways reflect their actual attitudes.

What I meant there was that one should not take a particular text in
isolation and come to conclusion about what people believed. Oftentimes, an
argument is made in the limited context of a prior objection, and it is
only necessary to address the issues raised in that particular objection.
One should not extrapolate from that argument to contemporary times, based
on our own assumptions and ways of thinking that may have been alien to
ancient authors.


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