Vivekananda &c.

Palaniappa Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Mon Mar 23 03:54:12 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-03-21 15:49:49 EST, vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM writes:

<< If you read Sankara's brahmasUtrabhAshya carefully however, you will see
 that right after he quotes the smRtis denying study of the Veda to
 SUdras, Sankara admits that some, like vidura and dharmavyAdha, gain
 self-knowledge through other means. In other words, he is clear that
 tradition prohibits scriptural learning to SUdras, but allows both that
 scriptural knowledge is not necessarily spiritual knowledge and that
 spiritual knowledge is available through non-Sruti sources. And Sankara
 also ultimately devalues scriptural knowledge in relation to spiritual
 (self-)knowledge, something that is unthinkable for most others.>>

I do not think this is right. Commenting on Brahmasutra 1.3.34, responding to
the opponents' view that "smRti moreover speaks of vidUra and others who were
born from zUdra mothers as possessing eminent knowledge.-Hence the zUdra has a
claim to the knowledge of Brahman", zankara says:

"To this we reply that the zUdras have no such claim, on account of their not
studying the Veda. A person who has studied the Veda and understood its sense
is indeed qualified for Vedic matters; but a zUdra does not study the Veda,
for such a study demands as its antecedent the upanayana-ceremony, and that
ceremony belongs to the three (higher) castes only. The mere circumstance of
being in a condition of desire does not furnish a reason for qualification, if
capability is absent. Mere temporal capability again does not constitute a
reason for qualification, spiritual capability being required in spiritual
matters. And spiritual capability is (in the case of the zUdras) excluded by
their being excluded from the study of the Veda.-The Vedic statement,
moreover, that the zUdra is unfit for sacrifices intimates , because founded
on reasoning, that he is unfit for knowledge also; for the argumentation is
the same in both cases."

One cannot be more emphatic than this w.r.t to denying spiritual knowledge to
the zUdras.

Regarding the case of vidUra he says in his commentary on Brahmasutra 1.3.39,
"The prohibitions of hearing and studying the Veda already imply the
prohibition of the knowledge and performance of Vedic matters; there are
however, express prohibitions also, such as 'he is not to impart knowledge to
the zUdra,' and 'to the twice-born belong study, sacrifice, and the bestowal
of gifts.'-From those zUdras, however, who like Vidura and 'the religious
hunter,' acquire knowledge in consequence of the after effects of former
deeds, the fruit of their knowledge cannot be withheld, since knowledge in all
cases brings about its fruit. smRti, moreover, declares that all the four
castes are qualified for acquiring the knowledge of the itihAsas and purANas;
compare the passage, 'He is to teach the four castes' (mahAbh.).-It remains,
however, a settled point that they do not possess any such qualification with
regard to the Veda."

Thus, according to zankara's commentary on Brahmasutra, zUdras are excluded
from spiritual knowledge. The only knowledge they are entitled to is the
knowledge of itihAsas and purANas. His acceptance of the zUdras' access to
itihAsas and purANas is not revolutionary either. It has been there for a long

One should note that in his Brahmasutra commentary he does not deny access to
spiritual knowledge to kSatriyas and vaizyas. But in his own work upadeza
sAhasrI, his narrow-mindedness is very clear.

Vidyasankar writes
<<In upadeSasAhasrI, Sankara emphasizes not that the teacher should be a
 brAhmaNa by caste, but that the teacher should be one who knows brahman.
 The two need not be the same thing. One could say that only he who knows
 brahman is a true brAhmaNa, but this does not really address the issue.
 However, Sankara presumes that the student is a brAhmaNa, but the actual
 qualifications he seeks in a student are quite different. Sankara also
 makes varNa irrelevant (and even non-existent) for him who knows
 brahman. There is a seed of revolutionary thought in it, which has
 indeed been developed by people like Narayana Guru of Kerala, but there
 is no point in finding fault with Sankara himself for not having been a
 social revolutionary. His way of affirming universality is through
 renouncing society, not by reforming it nor by a political statement
 that all men are equal.>>

Vidyasankar is right that zankara explicitly does not state that the teacher
has to be a Brahmin. However, in the prose section of upadeza sAhasrI, in
Chapter I on "How to enlighten the pupil", zankara says:

"1. Now we shall explain how to teach the means to final release for the
benefit of seekers thereafter with faith and desire.

2. The means to final release is knowledge [of Brahman]. It should be
repeatedly related to the pupil until it is firmy grasped, if he is
dispassionate toward all things non-eternal which are attained by means [other
than knowledge]; if he has abandoned the desire for sons, wealth, and worlds
and reached the state of a paramahaMsa wandering ascetic; if he is endowed
with tranquility, self-control, compassion, and so forth; if he is possessed
of the qualities of a pupil which are well known from the scriptures; if he is
a Brahmin who is [internally and externally] pure; if he approaches his
teacher in the prescribed manner; if his caste, profession, behavior,
knowledge [of the Veda], and family have been examined.

3. The zruti also says:
"Having scrutinized [the worlds that are built up by action, a Brahmin should
arrive at indifference....For the sake of this knowledge let him go, with fuel
in hand, to a spiritual teacher who is learned in the scriptures and
established in Brahman. To him who has approached properly, whose thought is
calm, who has reached tranquility, the man of knowledge teaches] in its very
truth that knowledge of Brahman [by which he knows the Imperishable}" (muND.
up. I,2,12-13);
for when knowledge [of Brahman] is firmly grasped, it is conducive to one's
own beatitude and to the continuity [of knowledge of Brahman]."

One should note that the student must meet each of the qualifications
prescribed in 2.  zankara does not simply presume that the student is a
Brahmin, he actively makes sure he is none but a Brahmin. He does not have to
be a revolutionary to include kSatriyas and vaizyas. He can just prescribe
what he has admitted in his commentary on Brahmasutra.

The qualifications set by zankara means that even paramahaMsas [wandering
ascetics] are to be denied the knowledge of Brahman if they are not Brahmins.
This seems to contradict Vidyasankar's statement <<His way of affirming
universality is through renouncing society, not by reforming it nor by a
political statement that all men are equal.>> Obviously, zankara is interested
in the brahminhood of even those who have renounced the society.

Certainly, muNDaka upaniSad classifies Vedas as lower knowledge and the
knowledge by which the Undecaying is apprehended to be higher. But since
zankara will allow only Brahmins to be students (which means that in the world
of zankara, teachers will have to be Brahmins as well, because, the teacher
must have been a student earlier.), only Brahmins can attain the higher

Further, the expectation that zankara should affirm the right of zUdras to the
knowledge of Brahman is not based on any political correctness either. That
zankara's view is self-contradictory is pointed out by Ramanuja in a lengthy
discussion of Brahmasutra 1.3.39 who says, "We must point out that the non-
qualification of zUdras for the cognition of Brahman can in no way be asserted
by those who hold that a Brahman consisting of pure non-differentiated
intelligence constitutes the sole reality; that everything is false; that all
bondage is unreal; that such bondage may be put an end to by the mere
cognition of the true nature of Reality." Ironically, Ramanuja accepts the
prohibition against the zUdras' access to Brahman and based on that argues
zankara's advaita is wrong.

I apologize for the length of this posting. As for "universal" thoughts in
South India, before zankara's time, I shall do it in a separate posting.


S. Palaniappan



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