saguNa and nirguNa are the same

Sankaran Jayanarayanan kartik at ECE.UTEXAS.EDU
Mon Nov 15 13:04:08 CST 1999

Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian <ramakris at EROLS.COM> wrote:

> Ravi wrote:
> <<This is my understanding.  Please do correct me.
> What is known as saguNa-brahman in vyaavahaarika is realized by
> j~naani
> as nirguNa-brahman in paaramaarthika. In that sense, they are the
> same.
> In the paaramaarthika satyam there is only nirguNa brahman and that
> state is beyond duality.>>

I believe so, too.

> My point is the following:
> In the sUtra-bhAshhya I referred to before, sha.nkara makes it clear
> that saying brahman is nirguNa is the same as the "neti-neti"
> instruction found in the upanishhads. Here, the aspirant is pointed
> out the error in superimposing qualities on the single brahman.
> Whereas saguNa-upAsana *automatically* assumes that the sAdhaka is
> ignorant and has already superimposed qualities on brahman, be it
> Krishna, agni or indra. Surely, the veda-s talk about saguNa-upAsana,
> but that is for sAdhaka-s of lower caliber, who are unable to grasp
> the neti-neti teaching.

But in the VishhNusahasranaama (around the 91st verse), VishhNu is
referred to as "GuNabhR^it.h" and "ni.rguNaH". The commentary by Shankara
for these two names are (I don't have the translated work with me, so they
may not be absolutely accurate):

GuNabhR^it.h : One who is the support of the GuNas.
ni.rguNaH : one who is beyond the 3 guNas of prakR^iti -- sattva, rajas
and tamas.

Note that the term "ni.rguNa" is used in exactly the same sense as in all
the bhaashhyas. According to Madhusuudana sarasvatii, saguNa brahman has
*only* the sattva guNa (as per Anand's posting regarding this -- in a
newsgroup). The One who is being worshipped in this verse is no doubt
ni.rguNa brahman, who is without ANY guNa whatsoever (including the sattva
guNa.) So there is scope for the worship of ni.rguNa brahman, after all

> The only way "saguNa-upAsana" can be reconciled with GYAna is
> indicated in the mAnasollAsa, verse 1.30:
> IshvaraH guruH AtmA- iti mUrti-bheda-vibhAgine |
> vyomavadyApta-dehAya daxiNAmUrtaye namaH ||
> To him who manifests in the different forms of Ishvara, guru and
> Atman,
> To him who has a body like ether,
> Salutations, to [that] Dakshinamuti.
> The first half-verse points out that Dakshinamurti is manifested as
> Ishvara, Guru and the self. In case any one doubts whether duality is
> being asserted here, the second verse quickly  points out that the
> difference is *imaginary*, by giving the analogy of ether.
> It seems to me that this is the only way "saguNa-upAsana" can be
> reconciled with GYAna. It is not really the upAsana understood in the
> common sense. It is different! It is realizing that the differences in
> guru, Ishvara and Atman are imaginary. Thus they say surrender to
> Ishvara  is the same as GYAna. The surrender here is realizing "sarvam
> vishhNu-mayam jagat" and differences are *imaginary*. It is not
> thinking or imagining that ones own actions are "done by vishhNu" or
> "I do not act, [substitute your favorite God] only acts".  That's only
> a delusion on top of a delusion and can never be reconciled with
> GYAna. If someone worships vishhNu thinking "he is one, and I am
> another" that *cannot* be reconciled with GYAna. Remember what
> sha.nkara says in his kenabhAshhya 1.5. na-idam upAsate - says the
> kena verse very clearly. sha.nkaras bhAshhya for this is a must-read.

But there is also a popular shloka in the advaita tradition which goes:
"guruH brahmaa guruH vishhNuH guruH devomaheshvaraH .
guruH saakshaat.h paraM brahma tasmai shrii gurave namaH .. "

"The Guru is Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. My salutations to the Guru who is
the supreme Brahman Itself."

The Guru is extolled as not only the saguNa brahman, but the ni.rguNa
brahman also (I assume "paraMbrahma" must refer to the ni.rguNa brahman).
So there cannot be any difference between the two, if they both refer to
the Guru.

> As far as I can see the prabodhasudhAkara's version of "nirguNa" is
> vastly different from what the sUtra bhAshhya or the upanishhad
> bhAshhya-s say. At the very minimum, it is extremely vague on this
> point. This is very clear from the fact that it gives examples like
> sporting with many gopis simultaneously as a proof of "nirguNa"! The
> yogashAstras say very clearly that such powers can be attained by even
> mere mortals, by the right practices. How can this ever prove
> vishhNu's "nirguNAtvam"? Finally it finishes with the saguNa-upAsana
> as commonly understood, i.e., worshiping vishhNu as an object (exactly
> what the kena bhAshhya rejects!). Note that I am not saying that
> prabodhasudhAkara absolutely cannot be reconciled with the sUtra
> bhAshhya. But it seems to me that it is rather far-fetched that
> sha.nkara wrote this. I am aware that it is in the Vani-Vilas edition,
> but still I find it very hard to believe!

I'm not sure whether or not the verse was from a genuine work of Shankara,
but it seems to be well within the precepts of advaita. I felt I
understood the (*lack of*) distinction between saguNa and ni.rguNa brahman
only after reading the posting by Anand.

> Any comments welcome.
> Rama


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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