Vivekananda &c.

Palaniappa Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Mon Mar 23 16:54:53 UTC 1998

In a message dated 98-03-23 04:53:52 EST, jhr at ELIDOR.DEMON.CO.UK writes:

<< I wonder if there is not a confusion here. I do not have access to the
texts quoted below, but it seems to me, in quotation, that the reference here
may well be to SCHOLARLY ERUDITION rather than what we would call "spiritual

There is no confusion here. The whole discussion is about brahmavidya.

<<At the same time, I see that Shankara makes no attempt to water down verse
9.32 of the Bhagavad Gita in his commentary. This verse explicitly asserts
that the "supreme state" (paraa.m gati.m) is open to women and Shudras too,
and Shankara merely rephrases the assertion, substituting "gacchanti" for
"yaanti" and "prk.rshtaa.m" for "paraa.m".>>

BG 9.32 states,
"They who take refuge in me, son of  pRthA,
Even if they are born of those whose wombs are evil (i.e. those of low
Women, vaizyas, even zUdras,
Also go to the highest goal."

BG 9.33 says
"How much more easily then, th e pure BrAhmans
And the devoted royal seers!
Having attained this impermanent and unhappy world,
Devote thyself to me."

The translation is by Winthrop Sargeant. It is easy to introduce your own
views when the text commented on is a cryptic one like Brahmasutra or when you
are writing your own text like upadeza sAhasrI. Consider the story of
satyakAma jAbAla in chAndogya upaniSad IV. 4. When satyakAma, an obviously
illegitimate child, asks his mother jabAlA "Of what family am I?". She
replies, " I do not know, my child, of what family you are. In my youth, when
I went about a great deal, as a maid servant, I got you. So I do not know of
what family you are. However, I am jabAlA by name and you are satyakAma by
name. So you may speak of yorself as satyakAma jAbAla (the son of jabAlA).
(According to S. Radhakrishnan,  zankara says that the mother had no time to
ascertain about her gotra or family as she had to move about much in her
husband's house, attending upon guests.) When satyakAma goes to haridrumat
gautama and requests to be accepted as a student, the teacher asks him, "Of
what family are you, my dear?". When satyakAma tells the teacher what his
mother had told him, the teacher says, "None but a BrAhmaNa could thus
explain. Bring the fuel, my dear, I will receive you, as a pupil. Thou has not
departed from the truth." Here one can interpret (1) irrespective of birth, a
person who speaks the truth is a brahmin  or (2) because satyakAma spoke the
truth he must be of brahmin parentage. zankara chose the latter. To avoid the
parallel with the story of vidUra, he interprets the mother to be a wife
instead of maid-servant. And to explain away the lack of knowledge of gotra,
he says mother had no time to ascertain the gotra of her husband. Obviously,
if satyakAma were to be a brahmin, he will be patrilineal.

It is considerably more difficult to do such contrived explanations when you
are commenting on an explicit text such as BG 9.32. zankara had to either
disregard these two verses as interpolations (Obviously they are linked in
their content) or explain it and hope nobody from the group (women, vaizyas,
and zUdras) would have the access to the texts and the temerity to challenge
the status quo. He probably chose the latter.

What is interesting is the concept of all women as born of evil wombs
(pApayonayaH). Obviously for the author of BG, the wombs of vaizya women and
zUdra women are permanently evil. But the wombs of brahmin and kshatriya women
are only temporarily evil. When they conceive/give birth to a male they become
puNya wombs while at other times they are evil wombs. Or they are normally
puNya wombs but when they conceive/give birth to female children, they become
pApa wombs.

<<He was undoubtedly a man of his time - as we all are! - but I feel that one
can over-emphasise his arid traditionalism, unless, of course, one includes
such verses as the above from the Bhagavad Gita in his "tradition".>>

He was not being magnanimous but just constrained by the nature of the text he
was commenting on. See the comment above.

<<Ramakrishna too behaved rather unbecomingly to our eyes in leaping away when
his feet were touched in devotion by an ex-courtisan. But these are surely
minor warts on great men, who could afford a few little conditioned weaknesses
from their past environment. Would that we all had such minor blemishes! >>

Calling these minor blemishes especially zankara's is to deny the unjust
misery and cruelty that had been inflicted upon millions and millions of
Indians under the system which was being given intellectual support by zankara
and others of his ilk. Let me ask this question. In a hypothetical situation
in which an upper caste mob is lynching a zUdra who might have come into an
area where Vedic recitation was going on (out of curiosity or innocent desire
to know what Vedas were all about) what do you think zankara would have done?
You think he would have tried to save the poor zUdra?

One should thank Roman Catholic and Protestant missionary activity, but for
which the oppression of the lower castes in zankara's native Kerala (which
even Vivekananda seemed to have commented on as noted in a post by P.
Narendran) and other places like Tamilnadu  would have continued even more
vigourously than it is now. No wonder when scheduled castes try to convert to
other religions, zankaracharyas and other Hindu fundamentalists want to ban

Scholarship is pursuit of truth. Truth can make one free. It can also make one


S. Palaniappan

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