Forums Chat Annouce Calender Remote

Vishnu Purana (was Re: The Theism of the Upanishads)

[I have to reply in parts to Mani's previous postings, because of the  
protracted  nature of this discussion.  I have tried to partition my reply  
according to the continuity of thought in each topic. ]

In the discusssion we have been having on Advaita and Visishtadvaita,  
certain themes stand out. Mani maintains that Advaita borrows a lot from  
non-Upanishadic sources. {To his credit, he acknowledges that  
Visishtadvaita borrows non-Vedic elements too, when he says that Advaita  
borrows more than Visishtadvaita does.} Specifically, the Advaitic  
definition of the Nirguna Brahman, according to Visishtadvaita and  
consequently according to Mani, is completely wrong, fundamentally flawed  
and nothing but delusion. More specifically, it is claimed that Advaita  
has borrowed the concept of Nirguna Brahman from Buddhism, and is  
therefore nothing but Buddism in disguise. In other words, though Advaita  
is perceived to be the dominant philosophy of the Vedanta, it is Buddhism  
masquerading as Vedanta. 

Mani's contention is that Brahman is always Saguna. There exists a  
tradition of conceiving this Highest Brahman as Saguna, which is traced to  
Bodhayana, one of the early commentators on the Vedanta, whose work is  
however available only in quotations from later writers. Therefore, the  
argument goes, the Vedantic Nirguna Brahman which is the Advaita  
tradition, is a borrowal from Buddhism which can specifically be traced to  
Gaudapada (6th-7th cent. A.D.), paramaguru (guru's guru) of  Sankara, if  
not earlier. 

I, on the other hand, maintain that Nirguna Brahman as the Highest ideal  
of Vedanta goes back to the Upanishads themselves. The Upanishadic  
description of Brahman as Neti, neti is interpreted by Sankara to mean  
that no determining characteristic (nirviSesha) can be asserted of this  
Brahman, except that It exists. In other words, by definition Brahman is  
Existence. Therfore, It is the only eternal. The Upanishads themselves  
also support this interpretation when they say things like "sadeva ....  
AsIt" - Existence alone was, and define this "sat" as Brahman. As regards  
the supposed borrowal from Buddhism, I shall deal with it in a subsequent  
posting of mine.

Furthermore, Mani tries to suggest indirectly that Sankara and his  
disciple Suresvara slip into the practice of calling Vishnu the Supreme  
Brahman, inspite of themselves. Now Vishnu is popularly identified as  
Saguna, with "ananta kalyana gunas" - infinite auspicious attributes.  
Therefore, even though Sankara maintains Nirguna Brahman to be the  
Highest, he must have been himself a Vaishnava. Sankara's bhashya on the  
Bhagavat Gita is cited here as testimony. Thus - 

I - 	I do not deny the Vedic predilection towards Vaishnavism. 
Mani -  Thank you. This is the primary point I was trying to make, and 
	that too, only in response to your claim that the preeminence of 
	Vishnu in Vedantic thought (both Sankara's and Ramanuja's) was 
	without cause.

Firstly, I never ever stated that the preeminence of Vishnu in Vedantic  
thought was without cause. Mani is reading more in my statements than  
there is in them. Secondly, Sankara's usage of the word "Vishnu" is in  
keeping with the spirit of the Vedic tradition. Vishnu means  
all-pervading. For Sankara, Vishnu and Brahman denote the same  
philosophical entity - the Brahman, which is ultimately Nirguna, but is  
Saguna when exercising the mysterious power of Maya. For that matter,  
Sankara's frequent use of the word "Iswara" can be equally well cited to  
"prove" that he is Saiva. On the other hand, at least one of the specific  
aims of Ramanuja's philosophy is to find Upanishadic sanction for Agamic  
thought, specifically the Pancharatra tradition. In the process, the  
description of Brahman as Nirguna is diluted to mean "above the three  
gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas." Therefore, I have always maintained  
that Vedic Vaishnavism is one thing, Pancharatra and Bhagavata Vaishnavism  
is another. I shall elaborate on this below. 

Mani's view of Sankara's Vaishnavism is sought to be buttressed by - 

Mani -     Look at his [Sankara's] comments on a verse from the Gita:
	 	6.47. Among even these yogins, he who, full of faith,
 		worships Me, his inner self, absorbed in Me---him I
 		deem the most integrated.
 		Commentary: Among all the yogins who meditate on the 
		Rudras, Adityas, etc, he who 'worships Me'---serves Me
 		with his inner self or whose inner self is absorbed in
		Me, Vasudeva, and who is full of faith, i.e., who is a
	 	believer---is considered by Me the foremost or the best
 		of the integrated.
		Sankara goes much further than the text in saying that 
		exclusive devotion to Vasudeva makes one the foremost of 
I -	 Isn't Vasudeva Samkara among Rudras, etc.? The enumeration of 
	 Rudras, Adityas etc. is just to draw the reader's attention to 
Mani - 	You're really stretching it here, Vidya.  The enumeration of the
	Rudras, Adityas, etc., is to show how inconsequential they are in
	comparison to Vasudeva.

Really, Mani? If this is the view you attribute to Sankara, what quarrel  
do you have with him in the first place? The use of "inconsequential" and  
"exclusive" suggests sectarian narrowness. This is the first time I have  
seen such sectarianism being attributed to Sankara. In any case, it is  
amusing to see that Sankara who has been claimed till now by the Saiva and  
Sakta sectarians, is also being claimed to suggest a Vaishnava  
sectarianism. Which only goes to prove my point that Sankara is above all  
sectarian considerations, so much so that each sect of 'Hinduism' finds  
statements conducive to its own world-view in his writings. 

What exactly do I mean by "Vedic predilection towards Vaishnavism"? To be  
sure, the Vedas (which includes the Upanishads) mention and extol Vishnu  
as the Supreme God. Among the auxiliary texts to the Vedas are the  
Itihasa-PurANas. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the two Itihasas and  
the Vishnu PurANa is one of the major Puranas of the Vedic tradition. Let  
us see what the Vishnu Purana has to say. (Ref. :- A. K. Banerjee - The  
Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana - in History of Philosophy Eastern  
and Western, vol. I, edited by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan)

In the beginning of this purANa, Maitreya, the student asks ParASara, his  
guru, to explain the ultimate truth about the origin, sustenance,  
regulation and end of this jagat. ParASara replies, "The world originated  
from Vishnu; it is in Him that this jagat is samsthitam; He is the sole  
sustainer and controller of the world, and in truth, the world is He." He  
goes on to say "Hiranyagarbha, Hari, Samkara, Vasudeva, Siva, Achyuta,  
Narayana, Brahma and all such significant divine names are applied to Him  
and Him alone." Furthermore, the Veda-vadins, the Vedanta-vadins,  
Vaishnavas, Saivas, Pancharatrins, Bhagavatas, Pasupatas, Yogins, and all  
other sects really worship the same Vishnu, though in different names and  
forms, and all exclusiveness, sectarian bigotry and narrowness are born  
out of ignorance. 

Well and fine. This is perfectly neutral and acceptable to Vedantins of  
all stripes and colors. Important to note is the fact that even in the  
Vishnu Purana, Vaishnavas, Pancharatrins and Bhagavatas are identified as  
different sects. I would suggest that these Vaishnavas are the Vedic  
Vaishnavas, thereby identifiable as separate from the other two sects.  
Similarly by Saivas are probably meant Vedic Saivas, thereby distinct from  
Pasupatas who are also Siva worshippers, but non-Vedic in origin. The  
Saivas and Vaishnavas are distinguishable from Veda-vadins only by  
assuming that the Veda-vadins are the ritualists. Therefore, by  
Veda-vadins and Vedanta-vadins, the Purana probably meant the predecessors  
of the later PUrva mImAmsA and Vedanta (uttara mImAmsA) systems  
respectively. A bold assertion could be probably made about the identity  
of the Vedanta-vadins. Since Advaita was the dominant tradition of Vedanta  
till Ramanuja's time, by Vedanta-vadins are meant the pre-Samkaran  
Advaitins. How far is this statement valid? 

ParASara goes on to describe Vishnu and the world-process in more detail.  
Vishnu is the Absolute Spirit. It is the sole ground for this  
world-process, which passes through cycles of creation, development and  
dissolution. This Absolute Spirit is IN ITSELF above the highest concepts  
of human understanding, without any form or color, or any other  
determining characteristic, without any special predicate in terms of  
which It can be positively conceived, wihout any temporal qualities such  
as birth, change, death, decay or destruction. This Absolute Spirit is  
infinite, eternal, changeless, effortless, attributeless. Nothing can be  
said of It except that It Eternally Exists. This is the ultimate nature of  
Vishnu - "tad Vishno: paramam padam."

Maitreya now asks the classic doubt of all Vedanta - how is it that this  
changeless, attributeless, indeterminate, Vishnu manifests Itself? Is the  
world-origination an active creation? If so, how can Vishnu be effortless?  
Origination of the world implies change. Then how is Vishnu changeless?  
ParASara's answer is also classic of Vedanta - the question is above human  
understanding; it is due to an inscrutable, inexplicable power called  
mAyA-Sakti, which makes possible what is logically impossible to our  
discursive knowledge. The rest of the Purana goes on to explain the  
development and dissolution of the world in generic Samkhya terms, similar  
to the Bhagavat Gita, and the various incarnations in human form. 

Now Mani, don't you see exactly the Nirguna Brahman of Advaita in the  
description of the Vishnu Purana? Do you see the absence in the ultimate  
description of Vishnu as possessing splendor, bliss, jyoti, and other  
auspicious qualities, as well as the absence of a description as  
"satyakama, satyasankalpa" etc.? Do you see the inscrutability, the  
inexplicability, the "anirvachaniya" nature of Maya, exactly as in  
Advaita? If Maya were not inexplicable, why does ParASara hesitate to say  
that it is a real power of Vishnu? Why doesn't he say that manifestation  
and world-origination is a conscious act of will as you would have it?  
Also, do you see why ParASara is counted in the Advaita tradition as one  
of its earliest gurus? Do you see a very simple reason for Sankara to  
quote the Vishnu Purana - that it presents Nirguna Brahman (Vishnu) as the  
highest truth? Most importantly, do you see the existence of the major  
tenets of Advaita prior to Sankara, prior to Gaudapada, and completely  
independent of Buddhism? 

According to your interpretation of Sankara's Gita-bhashya, exclusive  
devotion to Vasudeva is stressed to show how inconsequential the others  
are. This is totally alien to Advaita, though it fits in well with  
sectarian Vaishnavism. Also, the Vishnu Purana's use of the term vAsudeva  
is different, and fits in with Advaita rather than modern Vaishnavism. It  
is not vasudevasya suta: vAsudeva: but ya: deva: sarve vasati iti  
vAsudeva: - He who is immanent eternally in all. I am sure you will have  
no problem in accepting the Immanence of Vasudeva in the world - it is one  
of your cardinal tenets. In the Purana however, Vasudeva is not Saguna but  
another name for the Nirguna Vishnu just described. In terms of the  
Purana, Atman : Brahman :: Vasudeva : Vishnu. Vasudeva eternally  
transcends the world and is immanent in it. Also no "soul's soul"  
sophistry here - Vasudeva is the All-Soul; the self of every being is  
Vasudeva. Thus Vasudeva is yet another name for the Nirguna Brahman. This  
is nothing but the cardinal tenet of Advaita. Which is why it streses the  
identity of the Atman immanent in every being with the Brahman which  
transcends the world. 

Need I point out that Advaita does not depend on this Purana as authority?  
It is the other way round - according to the Purana, the Nirguna Brahman  
is the "paramam padam" - the ultimate description of Vishnu. It is not  
just the ekamevAdvitIyam of your interpretation, but of Advaita's. The  
minimum this points to is that there existed a tradition of Advaita at the  
time of composition of this Purana. Furthermore, this tradition is  
sufficiently dominant to be presented as the starting point for explaining  
the jagat. The inexplicability of mAyA is affirmed. Now what do you say  
about "prachanna bauddham"? 


Advertise with us!
This site is part of Dharma Universe LLC websites.
Copyrighted 2009-2015, Dharma Universe.