Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada: Commentator Par Excellence

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                Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada
               Commentator Par Excellence


 The Acharya's bhashya on the Brahmasutras is the fruit of the
 austerities of all scholars. Those who taste this elixir will know no
 birth, no death.

 Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, famous for his profound knowledge in all
 branches of learning, has been acclaimed by all men of letters as the
 commentator par excellence of Prasthana Traya. This consists of the
 Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavatpada's
 commentaries, which deal with matters of deep import, shine as
 examples of a majestic and magnificent work.


 Sri Bhagavatpada has categorically established in his commentary that
 liberation is attained only through knowledge of the Self, and not by
 a combination of karma and jnana. Even inconsistencies apparent in
 some of the passages in the Brahma Sutras, Upanishads and the
 Bhagavad Gita have been cleared by the Bhagavatpada by his deep and
 thorough elucidation.

 In the Bhagavad Gita, we have passages, such as Karamanyevadhikaraste
 ma phaleshu kadachana, kuru karmaiva tasmat tvam, which emphasize the
 importance of karma for mankind. We also have other verses which
 declare Yad jnatva amrutamasnute, and Tato mam tatvato jnatva. These
 uphold the path of jnana as the means to liberation. Hence some
 people may wonder whether it is not the Lord's intention that only a
 combination of karma and jnana will lead to liberation.

 These inconsistencies were explained away by the Bhagavatpada who
 said that the two paths, namely the path of karma and the path of
 jnana, apply to persons of different categories. He wrote in his
 commentary on the Gita: "The path of karma concerns the
 unenlightened, while the path of jnana is preceded by the abandonment
 of all karmas for the enlightened."

 In the same way, he corrected the wrong impressions based on a
 superficial reading of some passages in the Isavasyopanishad. In his
 commentary, he argued that the two paths are not advocated for all
 desirous of liberation. Indeed, the applicability of each path
 depends on the individual qualification. Thus he said there was no
 inconsistency in the text.

 Individual Soul and Brahman

 The Bhagavatpada held that in reality the individual soul and the
 universal Brahman are not different.  Non-dualism was criticized by
 some people relying on passages in the Brahma Sutras which appeared
 to suggest duality as, for example, Bedavyapadesacchanya, Adhikamtu
 bheda nirdesat, Netaronupapatteh.

 Here the Bhagavatpada said that the duality is fictitious. In his
 sutra bhashya, he argued: "The supreme self (Brahman) conditioned by
 the adjuncts, such as the body, sense organs, mind and intellect, is
 viewed by the immature as an embodied soul."

 When the oneness of Brahman is grasped, as the Mahavakya Tatvamasi
 proclaims, the distinctions of the doer and the deed, as commonly
 understood, is negated.  Similarly, once the identity of jiva and
 Brahman is experienced, liberation ensues putting an end to all

 Bhagavan Badarayana upheld that the entire manifested world is
 nothing but the Supreme Self (Brahman). This view is challenged by
 many people who argue: "If Brahman is accepted as the sole reality,
 all arguments or proofs leading to direct knowledge in the world of
 duality are meaningless. Even the scriptures dealing with do's and
 don'ts become redundant. So too the Moksha Sastra. Similarly, if
 everything other than Brahman is unreal, the Srutis are unreal. Then
 how can one support the truth propounded by the Srutis that Atman
 alone is real?".

 The Bhagavatpada has fully answered these objections.  All empirical
 activities, the prescriptions and prohibitions of the Upanishads to
 attain liberation are relevant only till the dawn of non-dual
 experience. Is it not true that the experiences of the dream state
 become illusory on waking?

 In the same way, the experiences before illumination are true until
 we attain oneness with the Brahman.

 The argument that Srutis are illusory and therefore cannot lead one
 to liberation is unfounded. In the pre-awakened state, the illusory
 nature of the Srutis does not arise at all. They are real then, and
 there is no incongruity in this.

 If it is argued that the Vedas, in fact, are illusory, even then what
 harm is there? Do we not come across deaths due to grief which is
 nothing but illusion?

 Similarly, does not one get the knowledge of having become rich
 through a dream which is entirely an illusion?

 In this context, there is a Sruti pramana which says that if, during
 the performance of the rites for desired results, the agent sees a
 woman in a dream, he should know that those rites will be fruitful
 because of the vision.

 The experience of the dreamer is real in that state, as even an
 illusory means of knowledge can produce that experience. The state of
 acquired wealth is an illusion brought by a dream which is also an
 illusion.  There is therefore nothing wrong in the exposition of
 jiva-Brahman identity.

 Canonical Interpretations

 The Bhagavatpada's Sutra bhashya follows in several places the
 commentary by Sabaraswami in the first part of the Vedas, the
 Karmakanda. All scholars say that Sabaraswami's commentary is
 authentic. Similarly, none will doubt the authenticity of
 Bhagavatpada's commentary.

 Both parts of Mimamsa, namely the first part relating to the Vedas
 dealing with karmas and the second dealing with the Brahman,
 generally take sentences from the Vedas and attempt to establish the
 correct meaning. There is no doubt in this respect among the learned
 men. But in dealing with each adhikarana (section) and particular
 Veda vakyas, the Acharya's bhashya alone should be the authority. In
 canonical interpretations, the Bhagavatpada's intellectual acumen is

 In the section on Anandamaya, there is a sentence, Anyontara
 atmanandamayah. Here is the word Anandamayah. Does it refer to jiva
 or Brahman? Many scholars conclude that it refers to Brahman. The
 Bhagavatpada, too, while initially pointing out to this view,
 dismisses it as incorrect on the basis of Sruti pramana, Brahma
 puccham pratishtha. He asked whether the word Brahma in this passage
 was a part of Anandamaya, or its independent state as Brahman, the

 He concluded in favor of the latter, namely the independent plenary

 The sutra, Atah eva pranah was introduced to explain the meaning of
 prana occurring in the Vedas. There is no dispute about this. But
 doubts have been raised about the meaning of prana in the sutra. Some
 people think that this prana in the sutra refers to Sruti texts, such
 as Prana bandhanam hi saumya manah, Pranasya pranam (O amiable One,
 the mind is tethered to prana, vital force of the vital force), but
 this is not a graceful interpretation of Badarayana sutra.

 A sutra is required only when doubt arises about the meaning of a
 word in the Sruti. In regard to Pranasya pranam, there is no doubt,
 as not only the word, but the chapter is different. In the Udgita
 section, we find a sentence, Katama sa devateti, Pranah iti ho
 vacha. Here the Bhagavatpada says that the sutra on prana was
 introduced to clarify and confirm that this word refers to Brahman in
 the text.

 Next the sutra, Kampanath (because of vibration) is taken up to
 decide which sruti text is under reference. But no such text occurs
 with the word kampana. Therefore the Bhagavatpada said that sutra is
 introduced to deal with that Sruti in which a word with an equal
 meaning has been used, namely: Yadidam kimcha jagat sarvam prana
 ejati nisrutam, Mahadbhayam vajramudyatam ya etat viduramrutaste
 bhavanti.  (Whatever universe there is, it has emerged and vibrates
 because of prana that is a great terror like an uplifted
 thunderbolt. Those who know this become immortal.)

 View and Counter-View

 It is the general practice that when a point is discussed under any
 section, the question is posed first, followed by an answer. In some
 cases the conclusion is stated, assuming that the opposition has been
 ruled out. But in the fourth chapter in the third pada (part), called
 Karyadhikarana, an entirely different order has been followed.

 Here the final view comes first, and then the opponent's view. Taken
 on face value, it would appear that what is stated first is the
 opposition and what follows is the conclusion. But the Bhagavatpada
 has explained clearly and at great length that the general practice
 has not been followed in this instance.

 Despite all these intricacies, Sri Madhavacharya in his Sankara
 Digvijaya has paid high tribute to the Bhagavatpada's commentary as
 being so lucid and valuable that one can overcome the birth and death
 cycle by learning it. He says: "The Acharya's bhashya is the fruit of
 the austerities of all scholars. It is a bunch of flowers that adorns
 the tresses of Vedamata. It is the immeasurable merit of the Brahma
 Sutras. It is the treasure house of Vagdevi designed for her own
 delight. Those who taste this elixir will know no birth, no death."

 - Jagadguru Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamigal,
the present Peethadhipati of Sringeri Sarada Peetha and 36th in the
line of succession from Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada wrote this article
for TATTVALOKA April 1988 issue.  This article has been reproduced as
translated by K. N. Vedanarayanan and M. V. B. S. Sarma, Bombay.

[SVBF Logo]

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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