Swami Sri Satchidananadendra Saraswati Maharaj has blessed the Adhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya with one more original work in Sanskrit. This attempt is unique in that it reduces all the seemingly various methods of presentation employed in the different Upanishads to the only comprehensive method which lays bare the true nature of Vedic Revelation of the self-existing Reality of Brahman which for ever shines forth as the witnessing Self in all being.
In his learned Introduction in English, Sri Swamiji has explained at great length how this traditional method elucidates the central theme of the Upanishads and convincingly reconciles all apparently conflicting doctrines in these sacred works. He has also given us a brief account of the history of Vedantic thought as far as available from the remotest time, and promises to bring this narration down to our own time in the second volume of this valuable work.
One fact emerges from this brief summary of the different Vedantic Schools prior and subsequent to Sabkara and his great preceptor Gaudapada. Side by side with the tradition of absolutism which these two grate teachers have indelibly perpetuated in their work there were other monistic schools which claimed to represent the original Upanishadic teachings. Except for one honorable exception in Suresvaracarya, all other post Sankara, advaitins, even while professing to explain Sankara, have succumbed either to the influence of the ancient monists or to that of the later dualistic Vedantins and thus lost sight of the only method which holds the key to the right understanding of the Upanishadic teaching. Swamiji had made this point abundantly clear through his critical appreciations of the various schools examined in the body of the present work. It is our firm conviction that this is the first attempt of its kind, and that it is sure to revolutionize many of the current notions regarding the true nature of Sankara’s Vedanta.
The Introduction is thus in itself a solid contribution to Vedantic thought, and therefore, at the suggestion of some of our friends we are bringing it out as a separate publication for the benefit of those who would have a handy book at a moderate price, containing in a nut-shell the most up-to-date reliable information of Sankara-Vedanta pure and simple, purged of all later accretions, while also giving a critical account of the distinctive features of the sub commentaries of the most important advaitic thinkers.
The Working Committee of the Karyalaya are highly grateful to the several ladies and gentlemen who have made the publication of this first volume possible through their generous contributions. Our warm thanks are due especially to the following possible personages : His Holiness Sri Sankaracarya of Sringeri Sarada Peeth who made a voluntary donation at the time of his visit to the Karyalaya as a token of his blessings for the thriving of this publication Sri T. Manjunatha Iyer, Coffee Planter, Mysore and Sri V. Rama Murthy, Architect and Engineer, Narasimharaja Colony, Bangalore, both of whom have made a magnanimous contribution that covered almost half the printing expenses to a gentleman of Bombay who while continuing his liberal aid, prefers to remain anonymous to Smt. Mattur Lakshmidevamma, Shimonga, to Sri. Khode Isvara Sa of Bangalore and to Devata Sri Ramayya Setty, Bangalore.
Our thanks are due to Ved. Br. Sri. Parakkaje Subramanya Bhatta, Vedanta Siromani, and pandita Pravara Br. Sri. H. Ananta Murty Sastrigal, who read the manuscript and offered useful suggetions. Br. Sri H. S. lakshninarasimha Murthy, Adhyatma-vidya-Praveena, Pandit, Adhyatma College, Holenarsipur, has helped in correcting the proof-sheets and Sri D. Venkatesiah, M.A. has co-operated in writing out a fair copy of the English Introduction. Prof. M. Yamunacharya, M. A. has kindly obliged us by going through the manuscript once.
To all those who have helped in this connection His Holiness Sri Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati has asked us to record his heart felt Narayana smaranams.
The Adhyatma Prakasha Press have taken every great pains to promote his work by employing a special compositor for setting the Devanagari and English types. They have secured new English types specially for this publication. Our deep felt thanks are due to them.
We apologize for the many printing mistake that have crept in. they could not be avoided for many reasons chief of which are the failing eye sight of our Swamiji and the usual handicaps from which our small press could not escape. For all these and other defects we crave the indulgence of the readers interested in this publication striving to present the Unique Method of Vedanta for the first time in its pristine glory.
Modem students of the Upanishads are often bewildered by the numerous conflicting opinions of research-scholars, no less than by the various presentations of the system of thought contained in those sacred works. Which is the genuine system of Vedanta, if there be any, contained in the classical Upanishads, and what is the method, if there be one, adopted therein to develop that system? Is there any unity of teaching, as claimed by tradition, in these Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma-Sutras? Would it be possible to determine the system of Vedanta by an independent study of the Upanishads or with the help of the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma-Sutras? Or, if we are obliged to take any interpreter as a safe guide in this matter, how is he to be spotted? And on what principles are we to determine his system itself, in case we happen to have various accounts of it clashing with one another? And finally, if we do light upon a system of Vedanta, what is the value to be attached to it, based as it is on the Vedas, when compared to the advanced philosophies of modern independent thinkers of the West?
Both to the orthodox pundits of the several schools of Vedanta, and to that section of our college-educated young men who invariably look to research-scholars for inspiration in such matters, it is a matter of indifference how these and other kindred questions are answered. The former look on their respective Bhashyakaras as an authority beyond all doubt and dispute, and armed to the teeth with quotations and principles of exegesis and scholastic logic, they are ever ready to defend their views against all opposition. And the latter group rest content with voicing forth the opinion of the particular scholar whom they admire most. The present treatise, however, is intended for the orthodox section of critical students of Vedanta who are not biased either way, but are earnestly seeking after any real help in arriving at a satisfactory conclusion in the matter.
2. INDEPENDENT STUDY OF THE PRASTHANAS FRUITLESS
Scholars are divided in their opinion as to whether or not students of the three Prasthanas of Vedanta to wit, the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma-Sutras should be guided by a particular commentator. In the body of the present work (Chapter two), I have explained why an independent study of these three divisions of Vedantic works is not likely to be helpful in ascertaining either the system presented therein or the method adopted to work it out. Modem scholars, eastern or western, have come pretty much to the same conclusion though for different reasons. Here are some specimens of their pronouncements:-
(1) “A system of the Upanishads, strictly speaking, does not exist. For these treatises are not the work of a single genius, but the total philosophical product of an entire epoch.”
(2) “ ‘There is little that is spiritual in all this’ ; ‘this empty intellectual conception, void of spirituality, is the highest form that the Indian mind is capable of’.”
(3) “ If anything is evident even on a cursory review of the Upanishads - and the impression so created is only strengthened by a more careful investigation it is that they do not constitute a systematic whole.”
“If we understand by philosophy a philosophical system coherent in all its parts, free from all contradictions and allowing room for all the different statements made in all the chief Upanishads, a philosophy of the Upanishads cannot even be spoken of.”
(4) “For gaining an insight into the early growth of Indian philosophic thought, this period (the Upanishadic period) is in fact the most valuable; though of systematized philosophy, in our sense of the word, it contains, as yet, little or nothing.”
“With us a philosophy always means something systematic, while what we find here (in the Upanishads) are philosophic rhapsodies rather than consecutive treatises.”
(5) “The Upanishads had no set theory of philosophy or dogmatic scheme of theology to propound. They hint at the truth in life, but not as yet in science or philosophy. So numerous are their suggestions of truth, so various are their guesses at God, that almost anybody may seek in them what he wants and find what he seeks, and every school of dogmatics may congratulate itself on finding its own doctrine in the sayings of the Upanishads.”
(6) “ The difficulty of assuring oneself that any interpretation is absolutely the right one is enhanced by the fact that germs of diverse kinds of thoughts are found scattered over the Upanishads which are not worked out in a systematic manner.”
“Under these circumstances it is necessary that a modem interpreter of the Upanishads should turn a deaf ear to the absolute claims of these exponents, and look upon the Upanishads not as a systematic treatise but as a repository of diverse currents of thought the melting pot in which all later philosophic ideas were still in a state of fusion.”
So much for the Upanishads independently studied. And what about the Gita? I shall begin with a quotation from Swami Vivekananda:
“Than the Gita no better commentary on the Vedas has been written or can be written. The essence of the Srutis, or of the Upanishads, is hard to be understood, seeing that there are so many commentators, each one trying to interpret in his own way. Then the Lord Himself comes, He who is the inspirer of the Srutis, to show us the meaning of them, as the preacher of the Gita, and today India wants nothing better, the world wants nothing better than that method of interpretation.”
And yet, this divine commentary, has met with no better fate at the hands of not only indigenous commentators, but also of the scholars who charge them with being warped by preconceived notions! The warring interpretations of the former are well known to our readers. I shall therefore rest content with exhibiting very briefly what the independent interpreters of the Gita, have got to say. An extract from Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s ‘Indian Philosophy’, will be quite sufficient, in my opinion, for our present purpose.
1. “Finding that the Gita is not a consistent piece of doctrine, different writers try to account for it in different ways. Garbe and Hopkins suppose that several writers in different centuries have been at work upon it. According to Garbe the original Gita was written in the second century B.C. as a theistic tract, based on the Sankhya Yoga, though in the second century A.D. it was adopted by the upholders of the Upanishad monism. ‘These two doctrines - the theistic and the pantheistic are mixed up with each other, and follow each other, sometimes quite unconnected and sometimes loosely connected. And it is not the case that the one is represented as a lower exoteric and the other as the higher esoteric doctrine Hopkins makes the Gita a Krshnaite version of a Vishnuite poem, which was itself a late Upanishad. Keith believes that it was originally an Upanishad of the type of Svetasvatara, but was later adopted to the cult of Krshna. Holtzmann looks upon it as Vishnuite remodeling of a pantheistic poem. Barnett thinks that different streams of tradition became confused in the mind of the author. Deussen makes it a late product of the degeneration of the monistic thought of the Upanishads belonging to a period of transition from theism to realistic atheism.”
Radhakrishnan himself is of the opinion that “There is no need to accept any of these conjectures. The Gita is an application of the Upanishad ideal to the new situations which arose at the time of the Mahabharata. In adapting the idealism of the Upanishads to a theistically minded people, it attempts to derive a religion from the Upanishad philosophy.”
2. Prof. Dasgupta writes:
“I suppose it has been amply proved that, in the light of un-contradicted tradition of the Mahabharata and the Panca-Ratra literature, the Gita is to be regarded as a work of the Bhagavata school, and an internal analysis of the work also shows that the Gita is neither an ordinary Sankhya nor a Vedanta work, but represents some older system wherein the views of an earlier school of Sankhya are mixed up with Vedantic ideas different from the Vedanta as interpreted by Sankara.”
Let us now turn to the Brahma-Sutras. The difficulty in determining their purport independently is too obvious to require any proof. Attempts have been made, however, to ascertain whether or not they faithfully interpret the import of the Upanishads with equally jejune results. I shall quote a few opinions of scholars who have studied the problem, from different standpoints.
1. George Thibaut, who has translated the Vedanta Sutras with Sankara’s Bhashya, says:
“There are, moreover, other facts in the history of Indian Philosophy and theology which help us better to appreciate the possibility of Badarayana’s Sutras already setting forth a doctrine that lays greater stress on the personal character of the highest being than is in agreement with the prevailing tendency of the Upanishads. That the pure doctrine of these ancient Brahminical treatises underwent at a rather early period amalgamations with beliefs which most probably had sprung up in altogether different priestly or non-priestly communities is a well-known circumstance. The attempts of a certain (?) set of Indian commentators to explain it (the Bhagavadgita) as setting forth pure Vedanta i.e. the pure doctrine of the Upanishads, may simply be set aside. But this same Bhagavadgita is quoted in Badarayana’s-Sutras (at least according to the unanimous explanations of the most eminent scholiasts of different schools) as inferior to Sruti only in authority. The Sutras, moreover, refer in different places to certain Vedantic portions of the Mahabharata, especially the twelfth book, several of which represent forms of Vedanta distinctly differing from Sankara’s teaching, and closely related to the system of the Bhagavatas.
Facts of this nature from entering into the details of which we are prevented by want of space tend to mitigate the prima facie strangeness of the assumption that the Vedantic Sutras, which occupy an intermediate position between the Upanishads and Sankara, should yet diverge in their teaching from both.”
2. Deussen who had explained the Sutras in accordance with his own light had this to say on the subject:
“The Sutras become a connected whole only through the explanations interwoven among them by oral or written exposition. For, without this the 555 Sutras consisting for the most part of two or three words each, in which our author lays down the whole Vedanta system, are utterly unintelligible, especially as they contain, not so much the leading words of the sys- tem, as the catch words, for the memory to grasp, and these seldom exhibit the main matter, but frequently something quite subordinate, have often a quite general indeterminate form, which fits the most different circumstances and leaves everything to the interpreter.”
3. And Radhakrishnan writes thus:
“The Sutras are unintelligible by themselves, and leave everything to the interpreter. They refuse, Proteus like, to be caught in any definite shape. Their teaching is interpreted some- times in the bright hues of personal theism, sometimes in the grey abstractions of absolutism.”
4. Another Indian scholar writes as follows:
“It seems that Badarayana, the writer of the Brahma-Sutras, was probably more a theist, than an absolutist like his commentator Sankara.”
“A study of the extant commentaries on the Brahma-Sutras of Badarayana by the adherents of different schools of thought leaves us convinced that these Sutras were regarded by all as condensations of the teaching of the Upanishads.”
I trust that the above extracts will be quite sufficient to convince the readers that the peculiar method of approach adopted by the research-scholars, has uniformly acted as a self imposed barrier in their way into the heart of the three Prasthanas. They start, in the first place, with a firm conviction that there can be no philosophy in the Upanishads, and, in the second place, feel sure that a historical development of thought can be traced from the Upanishadic period down to our own times, and hence that it is a wild-goose chase to go in search of a sys- tem common to all the three divisions of Vedantic works as the orthodox pundits do. They are, moreover, obsessed by the idea that philosophy in the western sense is the only one possible in the nature of things, that speculation is the only means of ascertaining truth and that eternal truths as contrasted with growing theoretical truths are beyond human ken. It is therefore most unlikely that the western way of thinking can ever aspire to appreciate genuine Vedanta, so long as the fundamental attitude and the traditional methods of the Upanishads and kindred writings are not taken into account.
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