[Advaita-l] Are Vedic Characters and events fictitious?

Kathirasan K brahmasatyam at gmail.com
Fri Jul 20 02:13:04 CDT 2012

Namaste ji,

Interestingly another episode of the akhyayika involving Naciketa, his
father & Yama appears in the Taittiriya Brahmana. But this time the
teachings and details are slightly different from the Katha Upanishad
version. I am not sure if this would change our perception of historicity &

Kathirasan K

On 15 July 2012 20:35, V Subrahmanian <v.subrahmanian at gmail.com> wrote:

> We find a number of characters like men, women, children, devas, rishis,
> etc. mentioned in the Vedas.   Most of the time these are associated with
> several incidents/events too.  Since Vedantins follow the anAditva and
> apauruSheyatva of the Vedas, a question arises as to whether these
> persons/events are fictitious or real ones.  For, if we agree that they are
> real ones we look for a historicity, a time frame in  which these events
> have taken place and the persons have lived.  To take them as fictitious
> would leave us with a kind of disbelief in the Vedas itself, sometimes.
>  Many
> would like to see these as arthavAda-s, eulogies, or AkhyAyikA-s or
> stories.
> For example in the Kathopanishad bhashya at the beginning itself Shankara
> mentions the story narrated in the upanishad as a background for the
> teaching of the Self, is an AkhyAyikaa for the stuti of the teaching/vidyA.
> Yet we see that these events/characters are not simply ignored to give the
> prime place for the teaching of the tattva.  It would be interesting to see
> how Shankara has commented upon or used these characters/events in the
> Upanishads.
>    - In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.10 there is the teaching
>    pertaining to the ‘creation’ of the Veda-s by Brahman.  The mantra reads
>    thus:
> स यथार्द्रैंधाग्नेरभ्याहितात् पृथग्धूमा विनिश्चरन्त्येवं वा अरेऽस्य महतो
> भूतस्य निश्वसितमेतद्यदृग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्वाङ्गिरस इतिहासः पुराणं
> विद्या उपनिषदः श्लोकाः सूत्राण्यनुव्याख्यानानि व्याख्यानान्यस्यैवैतानि
> निश्वसितानि ॥
> //”As from a fire kindled with wet fuel various kinds of smoke  issue
> forth, even so, my dear, the Rig—Veda, the Yajur-Veda,  the Sama-Veda, the
> Atharvangirasa,  history  (itihaasa), mythology (purANa), the arts (vidyA),
> the Upanishads, verses  (slokas), aphorisms (sUtras), elucidations
> (anuvyAkhyAnas) and  explanations (vyAkhyAnas) are like the breath of this
> infinite  Reality. From this Supreme Self are all these, indeed, breathed
> forth.//
> Sri Shankaracharya, while commenting on this mantra, writes for the word
> इतिहासः of the Upanishad: ‘such as the dialogue, etc. between UrvashI and
> PurUravas -   उर्वशी हाप्सरा.’ (Shatapatha brAhmaNa
> The Editor of this edition of the Bhashyam, Sri S.Subrahmanya Shastri, in
> the foot notes writes:
> इतिहासः पुराणम् इत्यादौ भाष्ये वेदगत-अर्थवादरूपाणि पुरावृत्तानि
> ग्राह्याणीत्युक्तम् । भारतादीनामनादिवेदप्रतिपाद्यत्वासंभवात् ।
> //By the terms ‘itihAsa and purANam’ of the mantra, the BhAshya intends to
> say: those statements contained in the Veda-s, as having ‘occurred’ in the
> ancient times are to be taken.  However, the texts of the MahAbhArata, etc.
> cannot be regarded to be included by these Vedic terms as it would be
> unreasonable to hold that they have their source in the Vedas.//
>    - It would be interesting to note in the Kathopanishat, for this opening
>    mantra:
> // Vajasravasa, desiring rewards, performed the Visvajit sacrifice, in
> which he gave away all his property.  He had a son named Nachiketa. // the
> Acharya starts the commentary with the words:
> //तत्राख्यायिका विद्यास्तुत्यर्था । // The *story* there is by way of
> eulogizing the knowledge.//
> Here is just one instance where Shankaracharya considers the UpaniShadic
> character Nachiketas as a ‘real’, human, character:  In the UpaniShat there
> is a mantra 1.1.2 that says this Nachiketas is a ‘kumAra’, a small boy.
> Shankara comments: तं ह नचिकेतसं कुमारं प्रथमवयसं सन्तं
> अप्राप्तजननशक्तिं बालमेव
> ….( while still in the prime of life, still not adolescent, still a mere
> boy…) By the word अप्राप्तजननशक्तिम् Shankara means: the boy has not
> attained the capacity to procreate.  Now, we see that the Upanishad is
> describing Nachiketas as a ‘kumaara’ and Shankara explaining it in these
> terms.  It is evident that unless Shankara considers this character
> Nachiketas as a ‘real’ person, He would not give out such a down-to-earth
> explanation to inform us the physical stature of the boy.  Such examples
> abound.
>    - In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Shankara often goes into an in-depth
>    psychological analysis of the personalities involved.  The
>    Janaka-Yajnavalkya conversations offer a rich ground for Shankara to
> probe
>    into the working of the minds of Janaka and Yajnavalkya based on a
> sentence
>    of the Upanishad.
>    - In the Brahmasutra there is the 'apadhUdrAdhikaraNam (1.3.34-38).
>    Here the first sutra is: शुगस्य तदनाद्रवश्रवणात् तदाद्रवणात् सूच्यते हि
>>    Here a sentence from the samvargavidyA of the Chandogya Upanishad is
> taken
>    up for discussion.  ’अह हारेत्वा शूद्र तवैव सह गोभिरस्तु’ (छा.४.२.३)
> Here
>    we have a word 'shUdra' in the form of addressing a King named
> jAnashruti.
>    It would appear that the word shUdra applies to the King's varNa.  But
> the
>    siddhAntin clarifies that such is not the case.  The word has a
> derivative
>    meaning and not the popular meaning here.  On hearing the utterance of
> the
>    swan, 'Hullo, who is this one, insignificant as he is, of whom you
> speak as
>    though he were like Raikva of the chariot?', which was a personal
>    disparagement for him, the King jAnashruti, grandson of Putra, was
> struck
>    with grief ('shuk').  Raikva hinted at this grief by using the word
>    'shUdra', thereby revealing his own power of 'clairvoyance'.  A few more
>    derivative meanings of this word 'shUdra' are given in the Bhashyam to
>    conclude that jAnashruti was NOT a shUdra in fact.   The next sUtra
> goes on
>    to prove that this king was indeed a kShatriya.  Here the names of
> certain
>    kShatriyas like AbhipratArin (son of Kakshasena) of the line of
>    Chitraratha, a brahmachArin , Shaunaka of the line of Kapi and the
> incident
>    when they were being served by a cook are discussed. In the context
> another
>    shruti passage, from the Taittiriya brAhmaNa 22.12.5 is cited which
> gives
>    the name of the KApeya-s and Chitraratha.  And the bhashya says:* for
>    the people of the same lineage generally have the priests of a common
>    descent. *
>    - In the subsequent sutra 1.3.37 the episode of jAbAla is taken up to
>    say: Gautama was inclined to instruct satyakAma when the absence of
>    shUdrahood had been ascertained.
>    - In the 'pratardanAdhikaraNam' of the brahmasutra 1.1.28-31 we have yet
>    another instance to show that the Vedic characters  and events are
> taken up
>    for discussion and determination of something that is not directly the
>    teaching of Atma/BrahmavidyA.  There is an episode in the KauShitaki
>    upanishad where we have Indra the teacher giving instruction of the
> Self to
>    pratardana, the famous son of DivodAsa.  The discussion is about whether
>    the teaching was that of prANa or a divine soul (devatA) or a jiva or
> the
>    supreme Brahman.  The adhikarana takes up various arguments to finally
>    conclude that the teaching is about the supreme Brahman.  In the run up
> to
>    this the personality of Indira is taken up for analysis.
>    - In the Jivanmuktiviveka Swami Vidyaranya takes up for detailed
>    analysis the events and details concerned with Sage Yajnavalkya, as
>    reported in the Brihadaranyaka upanishad so as to determine the kind of
>    person he was and takes up the conclusions of the analysis to establish
> the
>    need for vAsanaakShaya and manonAsha for the experience of jivanmukti.
>  From a sample of such instances of the Advaita Acharyas' bhashya-s we can
> conclude that the various characters and events discussed in the
> Veda/Upanishads are treated as though they are certain real ones and not
> merely fictitious ones deserving no significant treatment.  Even though
> these characters and episodes ar esometimes termed as 'AkhyAyika-s'
> occurring in the primary teaching of Brahman-Atman, a number of important
> corollaries are arrived at by analyzing these events/characters, that are
> not necessarily brahmavidyA.  The determination of the term shUdra cited
> about stands as a fine example.
> subrahmanian.v
> ·
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