Vivekananda &c.

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 23 20:31:44 UTC 1998

Palaniappa <Palaniappa at AOL.COM> wrote:


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

I hardly think this is the forum for discussing advaita philosophy in
great detail or for carrying on a caste war, but let us get off the
political horse and see what this implies. itihAsa usually means
mahAbhArata. purANa includes a number of texts. In the mahAbhArata is
the bhagavad gItA, which is the pre-eminent smRti for Sankara, and also
the mokshadharma. In the various purANas are other such texts, like
ashTAvakra gITA, Rbhu gItA, Siva gItA etc. (speaking only from the
advaitic perspective).

Functionally, what this means is that the teaching is accessible to
everybody through these texts, but not through the upanishads, which are
restricted for the twice-born. The spiritual knowledge is available
through the itihAsa and the purANa, if not from Sruti. To fully
appreciate all this, one has to understand the epistemological role of
Sruti and smRti in advaita vedAnta, but I won't enter into that now.
Suffice it to say that the basic attitude is very much like the one held
by specialists in any field. They simply don't want to spend time
talking to non-specialists. How one decides who is a specialist and who
is not, is a different issue, determined by the then accepted rules of
the game.

And moving away from Sankara, we see that many later teachers translated
the gItA into local languages, in order to provide easier access to
those who were denied a knowledge of Sanskrit. In doing so, they
consciously went against the conservative brahmin opinion of their
times. And there were other brahmins like basava in Karnataka, who
became leaders of movements that rejected all varNASrama distinctions.

I'm talking about an unfashionable thing here, but to say that
brahminical society heaped cruelty and torture on lower castes, until
the Christian missionaries came along, is not an accurate picture. There
is even less point in basing all this on Sankara and advaita. Read pUrva
mImAmsA literature instead, to get a better idea of the brahminical
discrimination against SUdras. And note that even in the mImAmsA sUtras,
there is a liberal line of thought which is presented through the mouths
of some very revered people (bAdarAyaNa argues that all human beings
have adhikAra). This is rejected in the siddhAnta, presented by other
very revered people (jaiminI and Atreya).

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

And note that sureSvara, Sankara's direct disciple, disagrees with his
teacher, and affirms that kshatriyas and vaiSyas can also take to
samnyAsa. This is in his vArttika on Sankara's bhAshya to the
bRhadAraNyaka upanishad. Neither brahminical thought as a whole, nor
Sankara and his disciple lineage in particular, is as monolithic and
rigid as is commonly assumed.

Sankara's arguments are directed mostly against the pUrva mImAmsA, and
to that extent, subverts some of the preconceptions of traditional
brahmin society. Sankara is interested in upholding the renouncer ideal
to brahmin society. But once somebody renounces, he is no longer a
brahmin in the conventional sense. He cannot officiate at Srauta
sacrifices, he cannot receive gifts at domestic rituals, etc. He can
only beg for food, and even that is only to survive.

In my opinion, to tell a poor, low-caste man to renounce the material
world is a bigger cruelty to him than to deny him scriptural knowledge.
There is a time and place for everything, and in Sankara's world, the
time and place were very different from what we expect or are used to
nowadays. The usual presumption is that by following one's own
svadharma, one attains a better birth in the next life. There may be
legitimate social and political arguments about it, but to present a
truly philosophical/religious argument, which is the only one an
advaitin would be interested in, try tackling the very doctrine of
karma. You will get the contemporary SankarAcAryas and other
fundamentalist Hindu leaders to listen, if you can do this.

Getting to the chAndogya story of satyakAma jAbAla, note that gautama
hAridrumata's logic is not like the following -

Perception: satyakAma spoke the truth.
Inference: therefore satyakAma is fit to be called a brahmin.

Rather, it is more like this -

Assumption: only a brahmin speaks the truth.
Perception: satyakAma spoke the truth.
Inference: therefore satyakAma must be a brahmin.

The assumption says a lot, and notwithstanding Sankara's somewhat naive
assumption about satyakAma's mother, his explanation is quite in keeping
with what the upanishad itself presumes. The only real place where one
can read more into an upanishad than from Sankara's commentary is the
bRhadAraNyaka reference to a daughter who is a paNDitA. This upanishad
presents some remarkable women, who ask pointed questions to
yAjnavalkya, so there is more to it than Sankara's view of "skilled in
household chores."

>Further, the expectation that zankara should affirm the right of zUdras
to the
>knowledge of Brahman is not based on any political correctness either.
>zankara's view is self-contradictory is pointed out by Ramanuja in a
>discussion of Brahmasutra 1.3.39 who says, "We must point out that the
>qualification of zUdras for the cognition of Brahman can in no way be
>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
>prohibition against the zUdras' access to Brahman and based on that
>zankara's advaita is wrong.

Yet, rAmAnuja has a reputation for being more liberal than Sankara. He
shouted out the liberating nArAyaNa mantra from the temple top, so that
even the SUdras could hear him. And for rAmAnuja, nArAyaNa is the
highest brahman. The text says something, the behavior shows something
else. Isn't this self-contradictory too?

Still, rAmAnuja is being entirely consistent according to his own terms.
These commentators simply do not use their commentaries for any purpose
other than exposition of traditional doctrine. And if part of
traditional doctrine means that some sections of society are
discriminated against, so be it. Their actions may be different, but
their texts won't compromise what they see as the integrity of the
tradition. There *is* the apaSUdrAdhikaraNa in the brahmasUtra. There
*is* the pApayoni statement in the gItA. Those who take these texts as
canonical will not directly refute them in their commentaries.


ps. The story of udanka is in the aSvamedhaparva of MBh. Sankara's
reference to it is in the 5th or 6th chapter of the metrical part of

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