Vedanta and intellect

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 14 15:47:50 CST 2000

Sorry for the late response. I was travelling and didn't have the
text with me to post a response.

The dialogue between YAgnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi (how a woman
could be one of the participants in one of the most profoundest
dialogues on brahma vidhya in the Upanishads itself is a subject for
those discussing the dharma shAstrams to ponder about!) starts off with
Maitreyi requesting YAgnavalkya to teach him about that which is immortal.

YAgnavalkya starts off saying, "Lo, verily, not for the love of a
husband is a husband dear, but for the love of the self a husband
is dear".

The same way he says - wife, sons, wealth, brahminhood, kshatriyahood
etc are not dear for themselves, but for the love of the self are
all these dear.

Finally he says, "Lo, verily, not for love of all is all dear, but
for the love of the self is all dear".

After this he says that it is the self that should be seen, hearkened
to, thought on, pondered on - which would lead to knowledge of the

Then he says that brahminhood has deserted him, who knows brahminhood
in anything in anything other than the self.

This IMO, is one of the vital-est of the expositions of brahma vidhya
found anywhere - not really surprising as YAgnavalkya is without
doubt one of the greatest thinkers BhArath has known.

There are two ways to interpret this passage and both in a sense are
right. I've seen translators, commentators - use either of the

The first one is psychological - it's the one I put forth. It's due
to the sense of self - individuality - developed due to relation
with the world from childhood, that everything becomes dear to one.
For it is on dependance on the "I", that "you" and "that" exist.
With Atma vichAram the falseness of our empirical self is
revealed and thus the transcendental non-dual doctrine emerges.
Brahminhood, which is restricted to one's lifetime and limited by
death, is thus only with respect to the empirical self is not an
absolute truth.

Yes, a consistent interpretation can be made this way. I think
"A primer on Hinduism", authored by a former principal of Vivekananda
college, Madras and published by Ramakrishna Mutt, takes this line.

The second interpretation is more metaphysical. The central doctrine
of Advaitam is that we're the Atman in essence - non-dual and one
without a second. But then we're not aware of this and our whole
life is a cycle of desire and gratification. We desire spouse,
children, wealth etc On attaining them we are gratified. Failure
to obtain leads to pain and suffering. And even that which we obtain,
by the law of diminishing returns, the satisfaction obtained too
doesn't last and leads to pain. But this doesn't deter us
- for till we die we keep desiring something. Not for nothing does
the shruti say that the world moves by the power of desire! Desire
and its gratification is the stuff of life.

But then if we're the Atman, how can we desire such stuff?

Some VedAntists think that the Self bound by empirical life, actually
wishes to regain its true form. But unaware of its true nature, it
mistakenly grasps for that which is not itself. Every desire is but
actually the desire of the Self to regain its true nature, which it
doesn't realize.

This way too can YAgnavalkya's, "it's for the sake of the Self is
everything dear", be explained.

Ofcourse, a combination of both views too can be used to interpret
the dialogue. As long as you know which to relate to the transient
and which to relate to the eternal, you're on safe ground.
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>From ADVAITA-L at LISTS.ADVAITA-VEDANTA.ORG Sat Jan 15 15:54:51 2000
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 15:54:51 PST
Reply-To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
To: List for advaita vedanta as taught by Shri Shankara
From: nanda chandran <vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Kalupahanas' contentious statements (Was Re: question)
Comments: To: ADVAITA-L at
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Though I'm not an expert on the subject, I'll make a few
suggestions based on whatever limited knowledge I possess.

NAgArjuna is the most important philosopher in the MahAyAna
Buddhist tradition. He's the founder of the MAdhyamaka school.
I've been studying works on him for the last two years and
AFAIK, no single work by any author on the subject has done
full justice in expounding his philosophy.

NAgArjuna who teaches the middle way is not very easy to
understand. He tries to forge a middle path between the two
extremes of nihilism and absolutism. Translators or scholars
expounding his doctrine though professing to expound the middle
way, inevitably incline towards one extreme or the other.

NAgArjuna, in my current understanding (which itself might
undergo transformation in the future), is to be understood
in three stages - the mAyam or illusion of reason, the mAyam of
language and the mAyam of the Self. All the three stages are to
be understood in the said order and as one ascends to the next
stage, the previous stage stands negated, with the final
negation being the last stage itself - which leads to cessation
of thought.

TRV Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism still stands as one
of the most scholarly works on the subject. But IMO, though
he finely explains the first stage (the illusion of reason),
he doesn't carry it forward to its logical end - the next two
stages - and as a result represents MAdhyamaka as absolutism.
But it is a solid book to start with in understanding the nature
of the MAdhyamaka dialectic.

Earlier works by authors like Stcherbatsky also make NAgArjuna
an absolutist. Kamaleshwar Bhattacharya's translation
of VigrahavyAvartani too offers an absolutist exposition.

A few works based on the Tibetean tradition, like the Fundamental
Wisdom of the Middle Way by Jay Garfield, though seem to partially
grasp the first two stages, fail in the third. They try to make an end of
emptiness (shUnyata) itself ie they try to make it that NAgArjuna taught the
doctrine of the No-Self - even when the catushkoti is the fourfold negation
- neither Self, nor Non-Self, nor neither, nor both. This is what happens
when you do not
let go of logic when it has been negated - for if you stick to logic
it will only lead you to one of the two extremes. Though I've not
personally read them, works of John Hopkins on emptiness, too seem
to incline towards this end.

A not so popular work translating the MAdhyamaka ShAstram, the
VigrahavyAvartani and the ShUnyata Shatpati is by Ramnath Pandeya
and Manju. In the first 20 - 30 pages of their introduction they
very clearly explain the second stage - the illusion of language.

So this work with Murti's book, should give one a very good
understanding of NAgArjuna. With a bit of one's own thinking, one
should be able to understand the third stage as well.

I've not read David Kalupahana's work on NAgArjuna. But I recently
bought a book by him on the history of Buddhist philosophy. This is
supposed to be a revision of an earlier work with the same title and
even according to him, he's changed his mind on quite a few things.
But as he's a scholar who's devoted some thirty years on the subject,
I would think he'd something valuable to contribute to our understanding.

He actually accuses NAgArjuna's most famous commentator, Chandrakirti,
of having a VedAntic slant! So we should not be surprised that Murti
and Stcherbatsky, who relied on Chandrakirti, have portrayed the great
bauddha AchArya as an absolutist.

Kalupahana also accuses Sthrimati and Dharmakirti of misinterpreting
their respective AchAryas - VAsubandhu and DignAga - who he considers
as being loyal to NAgArjuna.

So the best bet might be to study the texts in their original Sanskrit. For
those who have the interest and the intellect, I'm sure that the most mature
works of the three great bauddha AchAryas - NAgArjuna, VAsubandhu and
DignAga - being MAdhyamaka ShAstram, VijnAptimAtrasiddhi and
PramAnasamuccayam - will be very illuminating. Between them, the three
brAhmana converts - the first a Telugu, the second a Punjabi and the last a
Tamilian from
KAnchipuram - have produced some of the subtlest works of Indian philosophy.
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