[Advaita-l] Brahma Sutra-supreme brahman

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Thu Apr 1 14:56:27 CST 2004

On Wed, 31 Mar 2004, Ramesh Badisa wrote:

> My question is why the highest place here is referred as place of Vishnu,

This is not some invention by Swami Shivananda.  Shankaracharya does
indeed call moksha ViShnoh param padam and Swami Shivananda has accurately
translated it as "the highest place of Vishnu"

Why describe Brahman with this particular formulation?

One theory is based on the tradition that Shankaracharya himself had
Vishnu Bhagavan (Bhagavan Lakshmi-Nrsimha to be precise) as his
ishtadevata.  Although today most smartas are shakta/shaivas (and indeed
confused with such) we actually revere all the Vedic Gods so this indeed
is possible.

Another possible reason is Shankaracharya is showing the depth of his
Vedic knowledge.  The avatara of Vishnu Bhagavan as Vamana is an ancient
one.  I don't have access to the Rgvedic text itself but here is Prof.
Wendy O'Flahertys' translation ("Hindu Myths" P. 176) of Rgveda I.154.5

Would that I might reach his dear dwelling place, where men who love the
Gods, become intoxicated; there one is joined with the wide-strider,Vishnu,
in His highest place, the fountain of honey.

"Honey" -- Madhu refers to the secret of immortality.  In
Brhadaranyakopanishad Madhukanda tells how Rshi Dadhichi taught the
madhuvidya to the Ashvins and became immortal even though Indra cut off
his head for it.  The intoxication is that caused by Soma which is also
honey.  In this sukta, Vishnu Bhagavan is compared to the Sun who in three
steps (sunrise, noon, and sunset)  leaps up the highest heaven, brings
down the soma and plants in the ground (where it grows in the moonlight.
Soma is identified with the moon.)

That book also mentions a passage from Shatapatha Brahmana where it says
the Asuras had overcome the Devas and reduced them to poverty.  They
begged for enough land for Vishnu Bhagavan to take three steps in order to
perform the yajna.  (For the vedi or altar is three paces in length.)
They granted it thinking Vishnu is a dwarf how much land could it be? but
Vishnu Bhagavan stretched out to cover the whole earth (Recall also from
the Purushasukta: "He covers all this and ten fingers beyond.") thereby
tricking the Asuras out of their conquests.

You are probably familiar with the Puranic version of this story.  The
Asura king Bali took up Dharma and thereby overcame the Devas.  Vishnu
Bhagavan came to his court in the form of a Brahmana boy (or dwarf) and
asked for a boon of three steps of land.  It was granted and He
immediately expanded covering the worlds in two steps.  The wise Asura
Bali realized who his visitor was and humbly offered his head as the third
step.  Now Bali reigns in naraka where Vishnu Bhagavan joins him during

So viShnoh paramam padam can be read in two ways.  As the "highest place"
from which Vishnu Bhagavan brings the soma or amrta that confers immortality.
As the upanishad makes clear this madhu is jnana.  Or it means the
"ultimate step" of Vishnu.  Bali became immortal not by becoming a world
conqueror (chakravarti) but by shedding ego and offering everything to
Bhagavan including his very head.  You can see that this seemingly simple
phrase is actually rich in Vedantic meaning.

> Interestingly enough, in second chapter of Brahma Sutras, some sutras refute
> both pasupata (the Mahesvara) II.2.37 onwards and  the Bhagavata systems,
> II.II.2.42 onwards.

I translated the bhashya on the sutras related to the refutation
of the Bhagavatas a while back, check the archives.  It is interesting to
note that Shankaracharya refutes the 4 vyuha theory and the non-Vedic
origins of the Pancharatra Agamas but is quite conciliatry taking pains to
note that he is not criticizing the idea of worship but only the
philosophical aspects.  In the same vein, his main problem with the
Pashupatas is that they do not consider Ishvara to be the creator only the
observer of the world which is a kind of dualism similiar to the
samkhya/yoga type.

Incidently tomorrow is Vamana dvadashi and the story of Vamana avatar
from the Bhagavata etc. should be read.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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