saguNa and nirguNa are the same

Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian ramakris at EROLS.COM
Mon Nov 22 16:43:33 CST 1999


S: sha.nkara
Up: upanishhad
BSBh: brahma-sUtra-bhAshhya


I would like to summarize Anand's points in a few sentences
and examine them in the light of the bhAshhya-s.


1. saguNa-upAsana leads to kramamukti. kramamukti implies
going to brahmaloka, from which there is no return. The souls
in brahmaloka merge with brahman at the end of the kalpa,
along with hiraNyagarbha. See BSBh for 4.4.22.

2. The description of brahman as nirguNa is the "neti-neti"
process in the upanishhads, which destroys avidyA in a
competent seeker. This GYAna leads to jIvanmukti.

3. Since, a cessation of births and deaths occurs due to both,
although in a different manner, both can said to be the "same"
in this sense. I.e., we have saguNa-nirguNaiyoraikyam.


I'll first give an outline of my understanding, as a series of
"claims". I'll justify my claims separately. This approach
will help in two ways: the first is that it summarizes my
understanding. The second is that is any of my claims is
wrong, it can be easily pointed out.

claim 1: jIvanmukti is attained by GYAna alone. It need not
and should not be combined with karma.

claim 2: saguNopAsana or meditation on Gods leads to
kramamukti. saguNopAsana has to necessarily be combined with
karma. Only when saguNopAsana combined with karma leads to
kramamukti. saguNopAsana without karma leads to undesirable

claim 3: saguNopAsana by itself does not lead to mukti, it is
absolutely dependent on the realization of unconditioned
brahman. Just before the end of the yuga, the souls in
brahma-loka attain knowledge of the unconditioned brahman or

Justification for claim 1:

This is somewhat obvious, so I don't want to waste words here.
However, to be complete we may consult upadeshasAhasrI 1.2-24.
This is a summary of S's position, which can be found in many
places in his bhAshhya-s.

Justification for claim 2:

This is broken into a series of "sub-claims" for convenience
(my convenience of course :->).

a. saguNopAsana leads to kramamukti

In a previous post on kramamukti, I have given references from
the PB-s on how kramamukti is achieved by saguNopAsana. Anand
has also mentioned this in his post, so I'll skip this.

b. but, suguNopAsana has to be combined with karma:

Refer Isha Up bhAshhya verse 9. Sha.nkara clearly mentions
that meditation and karma have to be combined, to wit:

tatrAvAntara-phala-bhedaM vidyAkarmaNoH samuchchaya-
kAraNamAha| anyathA phalavad-aphalavatoH
sannihitayor-a.nga-a.ngitaiva syAdityarthaH |

The reason for combining vidyA and karma is the difference in
the subdivision of [their] respective fruits. If one bore the
fruit while the other did not, the associated [karma and
vidyA] would be understood as having the relation of a part
and the whole.

Note that the vidyA here denotes meditation and NOT GYAna.

Please also read the bhAshhya to the next verse. S continues
in the verse 11:

yata evamato vidyAM cha-avidyAM cha devatAGYAnaM karma
chetyarthaH yastadetadubhayaM sahaikena purushheNa-anushhTeyaM
veda samuchchayakAriNa evaikapurushhArthasambandaH krameNa
syAdityuchyate -

Therefore, who knows vidyA and avidyA to be knowledge of the
devatA and karma, who knows that both have to be performed by
the same person, who performs both, by steps the [desired]
goal occurs in the same person.

The "desired goal" is *destruction of sins through karma* and
*identification with the upAsanA devatA through upAsana*. It
is clear that karma+upAsana leads to kramamukti in the same
verse, where S interprets "amR^itam ashnute" as devtAtmabhAvam
or identification with the upAsanA devatA. Thus it is clear
kramamukti is a "two-step" process, namely destruction of sins
through karma and identity with the devatA by upAsana. This is
totally different from GYAna which acts alone and is immediate
in it's "results".

Please read the bhAshhyas to verses 8-11 carefully. karma is
an *integral* part of saguNa-upAsana.

In many places in the BSBh also, S points out clearly that
unless a man renounces and engages in the triad of shravaNa
etc, he *has* to perform karma. Conversely, when S talks about
GYAna, he always talks about renunciation and the triad of
shravaNa, etc. Never, ever, does he talk about renunciation
followed by upAsana.

c. saguNopAsnana without karma is undesirable:

Refer bhAshhya to verse 9 of the Isha Up.

Justification for claim 3:

In the bhAshhya to 4.4.22, we have

tadAshrayaNenaiva hi saguNasharaNAnAmpy-anAvR^itisiddhiriti |

The "non-return" of the people who have taken refuge in
saguNabrahman is because they also attain that [the
unqualified] (just before the end of the yuga).

Note also the bhAshhya to sUtra 4.3.10.


Since saguNopAsana is absolutely co-dependent on karma and
finally dependent on "the unqualified brahman", we cannot say
saguNopAsana and GYAna are the "same". All we can say is that
they finally lead to same result, but with clear understanding
of the difference. One involves upAsana and the other involves
GYAna. The two are **vastly different**.

If we say saguNa and nirguNa are the same just because the
"final results" are the same, we must also admit karma and
GYAna to be the same. Note that we can say karma finally leads
to mukti and indeed S himself points this out in the bhAshhya
to 4.1.18. Here sha.nkara clearly says that we can say karma
leads to mukti, *if it is understood* that karma is followed
later by shravaNa etc.

Note that I am NOT saying there is a saguNa brahman and
another nirguNa brahman. Kartik, in particular seems to have
misunderstood me as saying so. The point is that the same
brahman appears *as if* possessed of attributes. When engaged
in saguNopAsana, the deity and the worshiped are completely
different. That is why it is called upAsana! When are the
worshiper and worshiped "the same"? Only when the limiting
adjuncts of *both* are removed. But, that is the same as GYAna
and vastly different from upAsana. In fact there is no scope
for upAsana to be combined with GYAna. The two vastly
different. I hope this clears up things a bit.

There is a story in the yoga vAshiisTha to illustrate this.
VashishhTha perfoms a great penance and Lord Siva appears
before him. VashishhTha praises him with a stotra and declines
Lord Siva's offer of granting any boon. Instead he asks him
"What is the truth?" Siva replies "Neither Hari nor Hara are
the truth." He then instructs him on Atma-vidyA.

What is the meaning of this story? Lord Siva says Siva or
Vishhnu who are brahman limited by adjuncts are not the
ultimate truth. When the limiting adjuncts are removed, that
is the "unqualified" brahman. All this means is that the same
brahman appears *as if* possessed by attributes and only in
this sense can be said to be the qualified brahman also. This,
however, seems to be **completely different** from what the
prabodasudhAkara is saying. In any case, we cannot say that
the effect of saguNopAsana are GYAna are the "same" for the
reasons I gave above.

This is not splitting hairs by any means. I think it's an
important point. Any comments welcome.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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