Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Vishista advaita in brief


Let's now see the philosophy of vishista advaita in brief. It wouldn't be wrong to say that this is the first of the entire set of vaishnava vedanta philosophies. The main propounder of this philosophy is Ramanuja. Ramanuja did study under an advaita guru but deviated and hence the birth of the new system.

This system tries to merge vaishnava philosophy with vedanta. It is but a fact that before Ramanuja and Bhaskara, there was only the system of Advaita propagated by Sankara. Ramanuja does mention about getting the commentary of Bodhaayana on the Brahma Sutras but the copy Ramanuja got was a mutilated one and it is also tough to trace out the same as Ramanuja doesn't give many quotations from that vritti in his Sri Bhashya. So as to this system being traditional and followed from time immemorial, it is under doubt and cannot be concluded.

The vishista advaita system bases itself mainly on the Sri Bhashya, the magnum opus of Ramanuja. Other important authors in this school are Vedanta Desika, Sudarshana Suri whose sub commentary srutha prakashika on the Sri Bhashya was preserved by Vedanta Desika and ranga ramanuja who wrote the upanishad bhashyas.

Ramanuja hasn't commented on the upanishads but he has discussed many upanishad vakyas in his sri bhashya. For upanishads, we do have the commentary of ranga ramanuja.

The basic philosophy of Vishista advaita is thus:

There are three distinct entities: Jeeva - the various individual beings who are associated with a particular body-mind complex, jada - the insentient entities in the world and Ishwara - creator, protector who is Vishnu and termed in scriptures as Brahman.

The Brahman of vishista advaita is not formless and partless, instead he has the parts of jeevas and jadaas. Vishnu's body is made up of jeevas and jadaas - thus the relation between jeeva-jada & Vishnu is that of Shareera shareeri bhaava. The way to realize is to surrender totally unto Vishnu which is termed as prapatti.

Vedanta in general speaks about four types of mukthi or moksha:
1. Salokya - getting the loka of the Lord
2. Sameepya - getting near the Lord as his servant
3. Saroopya - getting the same form as that of the Lord
4. Sayujya - merging into the Lord

Vishistadvaita believes in sameepya mukthi or getting close to Vishnu in Vaikunta. The jeeva can never become the Lord because he is different from the Lord and he is just a part of the Lord.

Thus the advaitic sruthi statements are with respect to the Lord as a whole & the dvaitic statements are with respect to the jeevas-jadas. Thus both are true. Vishistadvaita believes that it is only by their system that there can be true justice to all sruthi statements (both advaitic and dvaitic).

Since Brahman is qualified by jeevas and jadas, therefore this system is termed as Vishista advaita. Brahman is not nirguna but possesses infinite gunas.

To sum up:
1. Brahman is Vishnu
2. Vishnu has parts of jeevas and jadas
3. Mukthi is being near to vishnu and doing service to him
4. Mukthi is achieved through prapatti or surrender


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Advaita Vedanta in brief


Humble salutations to all.

Today we will discuss in brief Advaita Vedanta. It is not possible of explain such a vast system in short but still we will try to discuss just the core of Advaita Vedanta.

It is but a fact that Advaita Vedanta has the most number of followers. As we have already discussed, Advaita Vedanta bases itself on the Gaudapada Karika (Gaudapaada was Sankara's guru Govindapaada's Guru -- who wrote a karika on the Mandukya Upanishad) and the works of Sankaracharya.

The list of Sankara's works are exhaustive but in general he wrote bhashyas on the dasha upanishads (isa, kena, katha, prashna, mundaka, maandukya, taittirya, aitareya, chandogya and brihadaranya), Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. He also wrote prakarana granthas or works explaining just a particular part of the entire philosophy but not the entire philosophy. Some of his most famous prakarana granthas are Vivekachoodamani, Upadesa Sahasri, Dakshinamurthy Astakam etc.

Sankara had four main disciples who are:
1. Padmapaada who wrote the work Panchapaadika which is an exposition of the contents of the Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Sankara.
2. Haastamalaka who wrote the short work Hastaamalakeeya which is said to have been commented upon by the Guru Adi Sankaracharya.
3. Totaka who wrote the Totakaastakam
4. Sureshwaracharya who is known as the Vartikakaara -- wrote Vartikas on Sankara's Brihadaranyaka and Taittiriya Upanishad bhashyas, Dakshinamurthy astakam of Sankara, Panchikaranam of Sankara & an independent Vedantic treatise called Naishkarmya Siddhi.

There are many acharyas who have been writing works on Advaita from centuries and even to date. The latest works of Advaita can be said to be works of Sacchidanandendra Saraswathi of Holenarsipur, M M Anantakrishna Sastri's works, Advaitamoda of Vasudeva Sastri Abhayankar, Vivekachoodamani commentary of Swami Chandrasekhara Bharathi of Sringeri and Soundarya Lahari commentary of Swami Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi of Kanchi.

Let us now try to see the basics of Advaita Vedanta.

The word Advaita means "one without second" or "no duality". As per Advaita, there is no two entities. There is only one real entity called as Brahman in the Upanishads. This one alone really exists. It is from this one that other things seem to have been created. The creation is only a seeming one and not a real one. The one entity is eternal and changeless. There cannot be any creation from the changeless entity. There is nothing apart from the one entity for that one entity to create other things. This is supported by Chandogya statement "sadeva soumya idam agre aaseet, ekam eva adviteeyam" --- the entity alone existed prior to creation.

Since before creation, that one entity alone existed -- therefore creation is not possible out of something other than that entity of Brahman. Brahman is also changeless as if it changes, it will become non-eternal. Since no change is possible from Brahman, Brahman cannot create anything out of itself. Thus the creation that we see which sruthi propounds as having come from Brahman is not a real one but just an empirical one. The creation is thus an adhyaaropa or superimposition on the ultimate reality of Brahman. This theory of apparent creation from Brahman is called Vivarta vaada. The best example of vivarta is that of seeing snake in the rope. There is no real snake in the rope created but snake is just an illusion apparently seen in the rope.

Similarly the world is never really created from Brahman but just seems to be created out of Brahman.

Brahman is of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. Brahman has to be Existence because if it doesn't exist, it cannot be eternal. That Brahman is eternal has to be accepted on the basis of sruthi as well as yukthi. Yukthi shows that since we see something in the world -- that something needs to have a real creator or an apparent creation from a creator who is the substratum of the creation. Thus the substratum has to be existent and cannot be a void or shoonya. Thus Brahman is SAT or existence. If Brahman has to exist, it needs to experience its own existence or it needs to be conscious of its existence. Thus Brahman has to be of the nature of Consciousness. That which is existence and consciousness has to be blissful as well because when we are conscious of something, then we get bliss out of that thing. Thus that which is ever conscious of its own existence has to be blissful.

Thus Brahman is of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.

Our own very nature or the "I" that pulsates in each one of us is Consciousness. Since this Consciousness is eternal and ever present -- it has to be one with Brahman. Because there is no duality in Brahman, thus there cannot be two consciousness but only one. Since there can be only one Consciousness, therefore we all are Brahman alone. "WE" here is only at the empirical level but the Consciousness underlying each one of us is the same only as there cannot be multiple Consciousness.

Thus we all are the reality of Brahman, one without a second.

Then why do we not get bliss of ourselves??? This is because we seem to have forgotten our nature of Brahman. This is called Avidya or Maya or ignorance. Ignorance cannot really be spoken about or explained because it is not a reality. A person can never forget his own existence but still he seems to have forgotten his nature of Brahman because else he would be blissful which he is not currently. Thus avidya is said to be anirvachaneeya or inexplicable.

This avidya is not a real entity but only seems to be present -- this seeming avidya vanishes when a person gets knowledge that "I am brahman" by contemplating on it continuously.

Thus avidya vanishes through scriptural knowledge that "I am brahman" and experiencing Brahman as the underlying substratum of everything that seems to be present.

Advaita is summarized by sankara in a half-verse thus

Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithyaa Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Parah

1. Brahman is the ultimate reality
2. The world is only an illusion in Brahman
3. Jeeva or individual existence is nothing but Brahman alone.

We will see into the intricate details of Advaita at a later time after going through the summary of each of the sub schools of Vedanta.

Humble salutations to all.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Different Vedantic Schools


Prostrations to all.

Today we will try to see the different vedantic schools. Vedanta is a subjectic science and is the science of the knowledge of the ultimate reality of Brahman.

But reality is perceived in different ways by people at different levels. A person might see it in a different way than other another person as per the level he is currently in. As Sankara says in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya, Jnaana or knowledge of the reality is Vasthu Tantra and not karthru tantra meaning that it depends only on Brahman and not on the perceiver. But still as is the mind, so is the perception of the reality limited by the mind. As per Sankara's statement and as per the Upanishads, Brahman is the ultimate non-dual reality of the nature of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss absolute.

The system which propounds that Brahman alone exists and other things are mere illusions in Brahman is called Advaita Vedanta. Advaita means that which is devoid of duality or one alone.

This philosophy can be traced back to Yoga Vasistha which is a teaching to Rama by Vasistha (even though certain later vedantic acharyas claim that this is not that ancient work), the Upanishads, Gita and Brahma Sutra.

But this philosophy of Advaita was clearly expounded by Gaudapada in his karikas on the Mandukya Upanishad. It was further carried on by none other than Adi Sankaracharya through the various bhashyas, prakarana granthas and anusandhaana granthas.

This philosophy of Advaita is really tough to apprehend and even if a person is able to apprehend it, he may not be able to implement it in its full. Thus different other systems of Vedanta started coming each of which was propagated by an acharya and each system claiming that it is the system that is the true interpretation of Vedanta.

Vedanta in general was known through the prasthaana trayas which are Upanishads (10 of which are major ones and have been commented by Adi Sankaracharya), Bhagavad Gita (which is a part of the Mahabharatha) and the Brahma Sutras authored by Veda Vyaasa.

Each system of Vedanta was based on commentaries on the prasthana trayas by respective acharyas.

The below are the main sub schools of Vedanta, their propounders or creators and main commentaries on the same:

1. Advaita Vedanta -- Adi Sankaracharya -- bhashyas on dasha Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra bhasya called Shaareraka Mimamsa bhashya.
2. Vishista Advaita Vedanta -- Ramanujacharya -- bhashya on Bhagavad Gita, three bhashyas on Brahma Sutra (Vedanta saara which is smallest, Vedanta deepa which is medium and his magnum opus called Sri Bhashya) -- Ramanuja didn't comment on the Upanishads but does deal with meanings of certain upanishad vakyas in his Sri Bhashya -- Ranga ramanuja, a later vishishta advaitin, commented on the Upanishads.
3. Dvaita Vedanta -- Madhvacharya -- bhashyas on major upanishads, gita bhashya and three bhashyas on Brahma Sutra (Nyaaya vivarana, anu bhaashya and a metrical commentary criticising other systems of Vedanta).
4. Bheda abhedha Vedanta -- Bhaskaracharya -- bhashya on the brahma sutra.
5. Dvaita advaita Vedanta -- Nimbarkacharya -- bhashya on the brahma sutra.
6. Shuddha advaita Vedanta -- Vallabhacharya -- bhashya on Bhagavad Gita and brahma sutras (commentary on brahma sutras was not complete and was completed by his son).
7. Achintya bhedha abhedha Vedanta -- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu -- commentary on brahma sutras written by baladeva)

As to the summary of these systems, we will see these in future postings.

Prostrations to all.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Moksha --- Vedantic view


Let us now try to analyze Moksha or liberation as per Vedanta. We all are familiar with the word MOKSHA which means liberation.

What is liberation?
Getting rid of bondages is liberation.

Thus liberation is valid as long as bondage is valid. If there is no bondage, then there is no liberation as well. Thus we have to first understand that moksha is there only for the seeker who considers himself as bonded.

Bondage is what leads a person to sorrows and sufferings. Once a person considers himself as bonded by time, he becomes limited by time. This limited feeling causes him to have sorrow. Thus bondage is limited-ness which causes sorrows and sufferings.

Liberation -> getting rid of bondage -> getting rid of limited-ness -> getting rid of sorrows and sufferings.

In Vedantic terminology, moksha -> poorna dukha nivritti.

Here we come to a subtle and controversial topic as to whether moksha is sukha praapthi or dukha nivritti. Many acharyas have answered for and against each of these.

We feel dukha all around and at all times. Thus moksha has to be dukha nivritti. But when this dukha is removed, there will be poorna sukha or aananda of the Self (bliss). Thus dukha nivritti in turn leads to sukha praapthi or aananda praapthi. Therefore moksha can be said to be dukha nivritti leading to aananda.

Moksha -> dukha nivritti leading to aananda anubhava.

Sukha even something which is newly attained will be temporary and hence sukha is permanent only if it is inherent and always present in the seeker. Dukha also similarly has to be illusory if it has to be removed. Since dukha nivritti is moksha, therefore dukha is mithyaa or unreal. Thus dukha nivritti is also only an illusion. This illusion is not really valid but it is valid as long as the seeker experiences dukha. Thus moksha is valid only for that person who is in bandha.

Mundaka Upanishad thus summarizes moksha

Sa yo ha vai tat paramam brahma veda brahmaiva bhavathi
tarathi shokam tarathi paapmaanam guhaagranthibhyo vimuktho amrito bhavathi

He who knows the ultimate reality of Brahman verily becomes Brahman. He overcomes sorrows, sins and having got rid of the three knots of the heart, he becomes immortal.