Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta (was Re: An Open Letter to All)

Sankaran Kartik Jayanarayanan kartik at ECE.UTEXAS.EDU
Mon May 15 11:49:50 CDT 2000

On Thu, 11 May 2000, Raghavendra Hebbalalu wrote:

> > Ashoka is regarded as one of the greatest of
> > Buddhist kings.  In his
> > famous Shilalekha or rock edict he (calling himself
> > Devanampriya "beloved
> > of the Gods") urges respect for Brahmans and
> > Shramans.
> I wish to share a URL regarding this one. This is from
> 'Hindu Dharma' by shrii chandrashekarendra
> saraswathii. See what His Holiness has to say about
> devanampriyaH.

Thank you for the URL. Just in case the webpage is moved elsewhere and the
link is lost, I'm posting the relevant portions here:

To the jnanin who is united with the Paramatman the deities are not
entities outside of himself for they too have emanated from the same
Parmatman. Indeed, these deities inhere in him since he is dissolved in
the Paramatman to become the Paramatman. If he does not have such inward
experience of being dissolved in the Supreme Godhead, when he worships a
deity as an entity separate from him, he must do so regarding it as
integral to the Atman. Even if it be necessary to carry out all our
outward functions according a system based on differences, we must always
be conscious of the truth that in the end we will be united with that
fundamental Reality in which all these differences wil cease to exist. The
Brhadaranyaka Upanisad declares: "He who worships the deities as entities
entirely separate from him does not know the truth. For the gods he is
like a pasu (beast)". (1. 4. 10).

The word "pasu" is very meaningful here. In a superficial sense it means
one who does not possess the sixth sense of a human and lives on an animal
level. Let me tell you the inner meaning. Why do we keep a cow? Because it
gives us milk. That is why we feed it grass, oil cake, cottonseed and so
on. We offer oblations in the fire to please the gods. In return they
grant us blessings in the form of rain, crops, etc. These celestials, as
we have seen, are superior to us but they do not know the bliss that is
boundless. Indeed they are unaware of even a fraction of the bliss that a
jnanin who is but a mortal experiences.

The Taittiriya Upanisad (2. 8. 1) and the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad (4. 3.
33)deal with the ananda, bliss, experienced by various orders like bumans,
the fathers, the celestials. We have here something of an arithmetical
table on bliss. The bliss experienced by each order is a hundred times
greater than that experienced by the preceding one - it is all in the
ascending order. Among the celestials the degrees of bliss known to Indra,
Brhaspati and Prajapati are given separately. The highest bliss is
experienced by the jnanin, the bliss of knowing the Brahman (Brahmananda).
Thus the devas (celestials) are deficient in the matter of bliss. Also,
they do not make any effort to attain to the highest state of blessedness.
they look forward to the gains to be made from us, from the sacrifices we
perform from our worship. For this reason they do not like us humans to
become jnanins. This is clearly stated in the Brhadranyaka Upanisad: "The
celestials do not like humans who realise the Self" (1. 4. 10). Why? When
a man realises himself he will not perform any sacrifices and other rites
to please the deities.

Take the case of our domestic servant. We pay him a small wage and we know
that we will have to pay more if we appoint a new man in his place. He
wants to go to school, pass some examination or other so that, eventually,
he will be able to take some better job and do well in life. If he really
appeared for an examination, would we honestly like him to pass? No. We
would like him to fail. If he passes he will find a better job for himself
and have a better "status" than now. We may not find it easy to hire a new
servant on the same small wages. We are similarly situated in our
relationship to the celestials. They will not like us to become jnanins
because we will then cease to worship them.

If a jnanin is not dear to the devas, it follows that one who is not
jnanin is dear to them. In other words he who is dear to the gods is an
ajnanin. That is why in grammar an idiot ("murkha") has the name of
"devanampriya:" ("dear to the gods or celestials "). This term has its
source in the Upanisads. In his commentary on the Brahmasutra, Sankara
Bhagavatpada says to one who maintains that the Paramatman and the
jivatman (individual self) are different: "Idam tavad devanamapriyah
prastavyah" (This is what you idiot should be asked). You had probably
thought that "devanampriya" to be a big title of honour.

In the Asokan edicts the emperor is referred to as "devanampriya". Even
before the time of Asoka, Panini had said that the term meant an idiot.
For this reason it would be wrong to believe that the followers of the
Vedic religion in later times took the word to mean an idiot with the
deliberate intent of denigrating the Buddhist Asoka. Our Acarya, as I have
said earlier, refers in his commentary on the Brahmasutra to one who does
not know the true purpose of the Vedas as a "devanampriya", meaning by the
term an "idiot". But now in the Asokan edicts the same appellation in
given to one opposed to the Vedas, one who belongs to the non-vedic
Buddhist religion.

One who follows the Vedic tradition and becomes a jnanin by learning the
truths propounded in the Upanisads no longer performs sacrifices to please
the gods. No more will he be dear to them now. Since sacrifinces are
prohibited in Buddhism obviously the celestials do not like followers of
that religion. Then why is Asoka, who was a great supporter of Buddhism,
called "devanamapriya"? As a Buddhist he would not have performed Vedic
rituals, but at the same time he would not have come under the influence
of Vedanta to become a jnanin. Asoka must have earned the appellation of
"devanamapriya" in the sense that anyone who did not follow the teachings
of Vedanta does not become a jnanin.

(It is also likely that someone not acquainted with such matters, a
sculptor or a government official, must have inscribed the title
"devanampriya" thinking it to be highly complimentary to the emperor. )

When a man, dear to the celestials, ceases to perform sacrifices on
turning to the path of jnana, they place obstacles before him. We read in
the Puranas stories of the apsarases who disturb the sages in meditation
and austerities.

Until a man becomes a jnanin he keeps performing the rites intended for
the celestials. In return they bring him various benefits. They have to be
given their share of the oblations. If a man helps us we have to help him
in return. Is that not so? We have to help the celestials who bring us
rain and other benefits. That is why we perform sacrifices. Some Brahmin
or other gives the "havirbhaga" (a share in the oblations) to the devas,
doing so as a representative of us all. It is like one man paying taxes on
behalf of all.

To the celestials a person who performs Vedic rituals is like a milch cow.
When the cow goes dry what use is it to man (its owner)? The celestials
will be pleased with a person so long as he remains a milch cow
(performing sacrifices and other rites). If he ceases to be a milch cow
they will dislike him, cause him suffering. That means man is like a cow
to the devas in more that one sense: in the sense that he is ignorant (not
a jnanin); and in the sense that they do not protect him when he stops
performing rites (do we take care of a cow that has gone dry? ).

It is part of wisdom and enlightenment to realise that the gods are not
separate from us. Vedanta points a way to realise this truth, and shows us
how we may free ourselves from works and even worship of the gods and
reach the stage where there is no difference between us and all the rest.
Let me tell you about the great esteem in which Vedanta has been held in
this country.


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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