Importance of Puranas in the Advaita tradition

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Apr 17 15:00:00 CDT 2000

On Sun, 9 Apr 2000, Ashish Chandra wrote:

> The same objection can come from (if it is not already there) about the
> depiction of Bhagawan Vishnu in our Puranas as having incarnated as Buddha
> to teach a false doctrine to the Asuras. I am not sure but I recall reading
> somewhere (?) that Balaraama was an incarnation of Vishnu and that there
> might have been a switch between Buddha and Balaraama at a later date.

It's not really the same situation because the story of Buddha avatar
being to delude the Asuras occurs in several Puranas.  Plus there is
independent confirmation from the dashavatar stutis of kavis such as
Kshemendra and Jayadeva.

> might be just some article I have read and if any members know of anything
> similar, please post. But then some other Puranas describe him as an avataar
> of Shesh Naag.

I haven't heard of this.

> True. But witness the mention of Mohammed in Bhavishya Puran[1] and then
> there is the mention of viktAvati (Queen Victoria)! I guess my question
> would be if there is any "authentic set" of the eighteen puraanas that few
> would have a problem accepting. The BORI version of Mahaabhaarat is probably
> considered very authentic. Is there a similar "set" of Puraanas. Even if
> this be of little consequence to the Advaita tradition, at least such a set
> would prevent people from believing in things like Allopanishad and Yesu
> Upanishad, which would incidentally be considered Sruti.

The Kashiraj Trust is attempting to publish critical editions of the
Puranas and have done so for several already.  However the critical
methodology has its own assumptions which should also bear scrutiny.  It
assumes that works were composed as single, coherent entities.  Our
tradition supports that view somewhat in that we believe Maharshi Veda
Vyasa composed all 18 Puranas at the dawn of the Kali yuga and they were
recited by Suta Pauranik to the assembled sages in Naimisharanya.  But
even there, there is the theme that it isn't a new work that is being
produced but ancient traditions which are being restated and retold.

For a concrete example, take the Bhagavadgita.  A large part of its
importance (particularly to Vaishnavas) comes from it being the direct
word of God to Arjuna.  However it really isn't.  In the context of the
Mahabharata, it Sanjays' report to Dhrtarashtra about what Krishna
Bhagawan said to Arjuna.  This in turn is Maharshi Vyas's report of what
Sanjay said to Dhrtarashtra which in turn is recited by Lomaharshana to
Janamajeya (the descendant of Arjuna.)  Going in the opposite direction
Krishna Bhagawan tells Arjuna that what he is being told is not new but a
restatement of what He had previously told Vivasvata who passed it to Manu
and Ikshvaku.  (Arjunas ancestors.)  So the Gita is not something which
was said to one person at one point in time but really something beyond
time which was experienced accross time.  And a few days ago there was a
quote of Sita Devi where she mentions how she has already participated in
the Ramayana.  That's the difference between tradition and history.

I feel that using the current critical methods of approaching the shastras
do not fully acknowledge the importance of tradition while literal
attempts to read the shastras as history also distort the truth.  So I
would like to propose a third way.  When weighing the measure of a
particular work, we should ask how big of an impact did it have?  The
works which have attracted commentators or critics are the important ones.
The ones that just gathered dust in libraries are not important even if
they are more "authentic." From this viewpoint the fact that the Bhavishya
Purana mentions Queen Victoria is irrelevant because noone did anything
with that information.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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