[Advaita-l] 'iti' in the vAcArambhaNa shruti

Venkatraghavan S agnimile at gmail.com
Tue Feb 13 07:29:56 EST 2018

Is the word 'iti' in the vAcArambhaNa shruti ignored in shankara bhAShya?

There is a criticism of ShankarAchArya made by certain philosophers - that
his interpretation of the vAcArambhaNa shruti, both in the ChAndogya
bhAShya and ArambhaNAdhikaraNam of the brahma sUtra, ignores the word 'iti'
in the original ChAndogya mantras (6.1.4-6).

In the ChAndogya bhAShya, he says "परमार्थतो मृत्तिकेत्येव मृत्तिकैव तु
सत्यं वस्त्वस्ति" and in the brahma sUtra he uses "मृत्तिकेत्येव सत्यम्" in
the sense of मृत्तिकैव - that is, the word इति appears to be simply glossed
over in both places. The veda never uses a word in vain. Thus to firstly
ignore the word इति in his interpretation and then to state that the cause
alone is real, not the effect, and use this mantra as a basis to argue for
the mithyAtva of the world - is an erroneous conclusion with far-reaching
implications drawn from a flawed premise.

However, that criticism is unwarranted. In a book titled
वाचारम्भणश्रुत्यर्थविवेचनम्, published by the Sringeri Sharada Peetham,
answers to this criticism are provided. I will present my understanding of
the answer here, but people conversant with Sanskrit are encouraged to read
the original.

Shankaracharya in the brahma sUtra says "एकेन मृत्पिण्डेन
*परमार्थतो मृदात्मना* विज्ञातेन सर्वं मृन्मयं घटशरावोदञ्चनादिकं
*मृदात्मकत्वाविशेषाद्वि*ज्ञातं भवेत् |  यतो वाचारम्भणं विकारो नामधेयम् —
वाचैव केवलमस्तीत्यारभ्यते — विकारः घटः शराव उदञ्चनं चेति ; न तु
वस्तुवृत्तेन विकारो नाम कश्चिदस्ति ; नामधेयमात्रं ह्येतदनृतम् ;
मृत्तिकेत्येव सत्यम् ".

Two phrases here need close attention. By परमार्थतो मृदात्मना (it is
fundamentally clay), used in connection with मृत्पिण्डं, the lump of clay,
ShankarAchArya is drawing a distinction between the lump of clay and clay -
That is, it is not through the knowledge of the lump of clay (ie as a lump
of clay), by which all items made from clay are known, but it is by the
specific knowledge of the reality of the lump of clay *as clay *that every
effect of clay is known.

Secondly, by मृदात्मकत्वाविशेषात्, ShankarAchArya is making the same
connection with effects of clay such as a jar, pot, bucket etc. That is,
their nature as clay being the same as the fundamental nature of the clay
lump, by knowing the lump of clay *as clay*, one knows all effects of clay.

To understand how this interpretation in the bhAShya is derived from the
use of इति in the mantra, one needs to look at the context of these three
upaniShad mantras.

The sixth chapter of ChAndogya starts with a question - येनाश्रुतं श्रुतं
भवत्यमतं मतमविज्ञातं विज्ञातमिति - What is that thing, hearing which,
everything unheard is heard, thinking which, everything unthought is
thought, and knowing which, everything unknown is known?  In the world, by
knowing a thing, one can know only that thing. By knowing A, how can B be

To prove the possibility of such a knowledge, the teacher introduces the
examples of clay, gold and iron and the implements made using those
materials - by knowing the material cause, one automatically knows the
fundamental nature of all things fashioned from that cause.

The original mantra says "यथा एकेन मृत्पिण्डेन सर्वं मृन्मयं विज्ञातं
स्यात्" - knowing one lump of clay, all effects of clay are known. However,
a lump of clay is different from a pot, which is different from a bucket
and a jar - one is a shapeless lump, the others are specific shapes and
sizes. All, including the lump of clay, are products of clay. How can
knowing one product (the lump) be sufficient to know all other products
(pots, etc.)?

The answer to this question is in the nature of the vijnAna, the real
knowledge, of the lump of clay. It is in knowing the lump, *as clay - that,
is the true purpose of the word **इति*. मृत्पिण्डं मृत्तिका *इति *विज्ञानेन
सर्वं मृन्मयं विज्ञातं स्यात्.

Without the word इति, all that would be proven is that only the cause is
real (मृत्तिका एव सत्यं) and the effect is unreal (विकारो नामधेयं),
however, the logical basis for एकविज्ञानेन सर्व विज्ञानं would not be
proven. That can only occur when the nature of the effect (products of
clay, are real only as clay - मृन्मयं मृद्रूपेणैव वस्तुभूतं) is revealed in
the विज्ञानं as non-different from the cause (मृन्मयं मृत्तिका इति). If
only the cause is real (मृत्तिका एव सत्यं), knowing the cause will reveal
only the cause, for there are no effects at all. Only कारणविज्ञानेन
कारणज्ञानम् is proven. Therefore, the explanation is only complete with the
word इति, which serves to reveal that the effects are real *only as* the
cause. By knowing one effect is real only as the cause, we know the reality
of all effects of the same cause - all effects are known by knowing that
one thing.

An example is given in the वाचारम्भणश्रुत्यर्थविवेचनम् - the author
compares a rope snake with a shell and says that by knowing the real shell,
one does not have the knowledge of the (unreal) rope snake, because the
rope snake is fundamentally different from the shell. Therefore, three
things are intended to be conveyed here in order to answer the central
question of the sixth chapter of ChAndogya - 1) only one entity (the cause)
is real, the other (the effect) is unreal and 2) the effect is not
different from the cause 3) by knowing the fundamental nature of any one
effect as the cause, one knows all effects.

Returning to ShankarAchArya's bhAShya, having made this crucial point using
परमार्थतो मृदात्मना firstly in relation to the lump of clay and
secondly with respect to the effects, Shankara does not choose to repeat
the same point in the commentary on मृत्तिकेत्येव सत्यम्. As a result, it
appears as though he is glossing over the word इति here. However, to
the discerning reader, Shankara's explanation is preupposed by the word in
the mantra.

The same argument applies in the commentary of the ChAndogya bhAShya.
ShankarAchArya says there - यथा लोके एकेन मृत्पिण्डेन घटशरावादिकारणभूतेन
विज्ञातेन सर्वमन्यत्तद्विकारजातं मृन्मयं मृद्विकारजातं विज्ञातं स्यात् ।

The word भूतं in the bhAShya is to indicate reality of the substance under
discussion, and thus by कारणभूतं, ShankarAchArya is indicating that it is
the cause that is real. The author of वाचारम्भणश्रुत्यर्थविवेचनम्
interprets this as "एकमृत्पिण्डस्य यत्कारणमृत्त्वेन विज्ञानं तद्धि तस्य
वस्तुतत्त्वविज्ञानम्" - only the knowledge of the lump of clay as its
cause, clay, is the knowledge of the fundamental essence of that object.
Thus the word भूतेन of the ChAndogya bhAShya is equivalent to परमार्थत: of
the sUtrabhAShya and the word रुचककुम्भादिकारणम् of the ChAndogya is
equivalent to मृदात्मना because the the cause of a pot, etc. is the clay.
The portion of the mantra "वाचारम्भणं विकारो नामधेयं" is to prove the
unreality of the effect and the portion "मृत्तिकेत्येव सत्यम्" is to prove
that a) only the cause is real (एव) and b) the real knowledge of the effect
is *as the cause* (इति).

Taken together, the mantra is saying, just like by knowing the clay lump as
clay (यथा मृत्कारणानन्यन्त्वेन विज्ञानेन), every effect of clay is known
(सर्वं मृन्मयं विज्ञातं स्यात्), there is this ultimate cause, knowing
which, everything can be known. What that ultimate cause is and how it can
be known, form the subject matter of the rest of the 6th Chapter of the


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