[Advaita-l] Yoga and Advaita Vedanta - 7

Vidyasankar Sundaresan svidyasankar at hotmail.com
Sat Nov 4 12:10:41 CST 2006

We left the discussion of Yoga in the brahmasUtra (BS) and its bhAshya 
(BSBh) with an examination of the sUtras concerning Asana (posture), dhyAna 
(continuous contemplation), acalatva (steadiness) and ekAgrata 
(one-pointedness). In the next few posts, I will present relevant passages 
from the bhagavadgItA bhAshya (BGBh), that bears upon these issues. After 
this, I will move on to an examination of the upanishad bhAshyas.

Instead of the standard order of the limbs of yoga (yama, niyama, Asana etc. 
up to samAdhi), I will organize the discussion according to the relevant 
quotations made in BSBh. In BSBh 4.7.10, Sankara bhagavatpAda quotes gItA 
6.11 - Sucau deSe pratishThApya sthiram Asanam AtmanaH, so I will begin from 
there and wind my way through the bhAshya.

Before proceeding, here is a thought that may interest list members. Before 
the Europeans introduced the arts of printing and book-binding to India, our 
culture never conceived of a book in the way that is familiar to us today. 
Typically, a "book" consisted of individual leaves bunched between two stiff 
plates, with a hole punched in the center, through which a string was 
threaded and tied up. All of this changed when we started printing in India.

However, technology is changing human expectations today such that reading 
something on the internet will eventually compete very strongly with, if not 
completely replace, the printed and bound book. When reading an article on a 
website, we encounter many links embedded in there. Something that catches 
our attention prompts us to click on a link, which takes us to another page 
and we can keep going from page to page. At some point we may decide to go 
back to the original starting page and follow a different link from there. 
The internet-enabled society has appropriated the word "navigate" to refer 
to this process of reading websites. Interestingly, this means that even if 
you print out articles from web pages, you have to punch holes into loose 
pages and put them together in a binder. The resulting collection is 
reminiscent of our older times and is very different from a book written by 
one or two authors, edited by a professional editor and printed by a 
publishing house. To reproduce this online reading experience with the 
printed hard copy means that we have to organize and read the hard copies in 
a very different manner from a bound book.

I increasingly find that this is a very apt analogy for how one should read 
Sankara bhagavatpAda's bhAshya-s. If one takes a passage in the BSBh, there 
are references to various vishaya-vAkyas (sentences from the Sruti and smRti 
that form the subject matter of that sUtra). Sometimes, the same sentences 
are referenced under a different sUtra also, which connects together the two 
different perspectives offered by each sUtra. From either place within BSBh, 
I can follow a "link" to the corresponding upanishad or smRti text and to 
the bhAshya on it (if there is one by Sankara bhagavatpAda on that text). 
Now, the passage in that bhAshya is very likely to have "links" to other 
upanishad texts or the gItA. Following a path of links in this fashion helps 
us paint the grand picture and shows us in what sense the bhAshyakAra has 
linked the various prasthAna traya source texts together. This process gives 
us much better insight than a process of reading each bhAshya in isolation. 
At least, I have found this to be the case.

This also throws an interesting perspective on most of the issues raised by 
academic scholarly discussions on whether this or that text was actually 
written by Sankara bhagavatpAda. What one scholar sees as evidence of change 
in Sankara's thinking over time is seen by another scholar as evidence of 
different people being authors of the relevant texts. If we view the texts 
as if we are reading a lot of related webpages instead, what emerges is 
actually a very coherent picture of what constitutes the thought and 
teaching of Sankara bhagavatpAda. In my opinion, this methodology will give 
much better handles on whether a text is authentically attributed to Sankara 
or not, rather than counting how many times the word mAyA is used as opposed 
to avidyA. From the little that I have read in this fashion, I am left with 
a sense of deep wonder at the vastness of both breadth and depth in Sankara 
bhagavatpAda's works. One lifetime is not enough to even read all that he 
has written in the bhAshyas, let alone assimilate it all properly.

Let me stop here with that sentiment. I will take the up the details of the 
BGBh and other upanishad bhAshyas from the next post.

SrI gurubhyo namaH,

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