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Saguna and Nirguna Brahman, Shlokas from Vaishnava Literature(3)

   The ultimate reality is generally spoken of by philosophers as being either 
    the Saguna Brahman- one with attributes, and the Nirguna Brahman which  
    is without any attribute whatsoever. Although, Shankara's Advaita
    accepts the Nirguna Brahman as the Absolute Reality, it is to be noted that
    Shankara does not treat the Saguna Brahman as a fictitious entity or a mere
    figment of imagination. He says:

     nirguNam apisadbrahma nAmarUpagatiguNaih saguNam upAsanArtham tatra tatra
     upadishyate |

     Although Brahman is Nirguna, yet for purpose of meditation (upAsanA)
     the SaguNa Brahman endowed with qualities like name, form, etc, is 

     The Saguna Brahman is said to be the Nirguna Brahman associated with 
     Maya.   If Shankara thus treats the Saguna Brahman as a modification of the  
     Nirguna Brahman, the converse is the case with Vaishnava philosophers like

     Jayatirtha, the famous author of Nyayasudha, which is a truly remarkable 
     commentary on the Anuvyakhyana of Madhva, summarizes the different views 
     on Brahman  supported by the Upanishads.  

     sarvANyapi hi vedAntavAkyAnyasankhyeyakalyANaguNAkAram 
     sakaladoShagandhavidhuram ekarUpameva param brahma 
     nArAyaNAkhyam pratipAdayanti | 

     All Vedantic texts proclaim with one voice the majesty of the Supreme 
     Brahman called Narayana as being filled with an infinite number of auspicious 
     attributes and free from all imperfections.

     Jayatirtha continues:

     vishiShTatayA |

     (The same Narayana) is spoken of negatively (in the Upanishads) as 
      being free from blemishes  such as sin, suffering and liability 
       to material embodiment. 

     kAnicit sarvaparityAgena tasyaivopAdAnAya advitIyatvena |

     (The same Narayana) is spoken of as the only Absolute Nondual Reality 
     which must be sought to the exclusion of everything else. 

     Besides, these two views mentioned above, Jayatirtha mentions a few other 
     interpretations of Brahman according to the Upanishads. Thus he tries to  
     show that although these divergent views on Brahman, including the Nirguna 
     nature of Brahman, are expressed by different passages of the Upanishads, 
     all the views may be taken to describe the same God, Narayana.      

     Madhva's school interprets Vedantic passages speaking of the Nirguna Brahman
    as descriptions which only assert that Brahman is completely free of any kind
    of worldly attributes, which are not blemishless. But this does not preclude
     Brahman from having divine attributes, attributes which are not results of 
     the gunas Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.    

   Vinoba Bhave talks of the Saguna Brahman (Qualified Brahman)  and Nirguna Brahman  
    (Nonqualified Brahman) as one and the same. In his book, "Talks on the Gita",
     he says:

       ``Again and again that night, I thought of Sankaracarya, of the power of his
         Jnana, his divine certitude in Advaita, the extraordinary, glowing vairagya,
         nonattachment, which convinced him that samsara, this phenomenal life was 
         all false, of the majesty of his language and the boundless help I have          
         received from him. All night long these images stood before me. Then I 
         realized how nirguna is filled to the brim with saguna. Even seeing him
         face to face would not have evoked such love. Even Nirguna is filled with

     Vinoba is absolutely right. Even if a person exclusively meditates on the 
     Nirguna Brahman, when asked to impart this knowledge in a positive way, as  
     opposed to a negative definition such as ``Neti Neti", he will undoubtedly 
     describe it as Saguna: as AUM, Krishna, Rama, Shiva, etc. The great sage
     Shuka was an established monist from birth and by the time he met the king
     Parikshit, he was steeped in the experience of the Nirguna Brahman. Yet, 
     he derived great transcendental pleasure in narrating the Bhagavatam which
     is full of the glories of the divine Vaasudeva. Such is the nature of Krishna
     bhakti. Even the ultimate Brahman experience seems insignificant 
     compared to the transcendental bliss obtained by continuously drinking the
     nectar of reciting and listening to Krishna's pastimes and panegyrics    
     addressing  Him.   

     Shankara's Advaita emphasizes Jnana. The term Jnana is often misunderstood
     to be intellectual scholarship.  Shankara decries such  theoretical  
     knowledge in his Vivekacudamani :

     vAgvaikharI shabdajharI shastravyAkhyAnakaushalam  
     vaiduShyam viduShAm tadvadbhuktaye na tu muktaye ||

     Being learned, skill in using words, knowledge of a 
     large vocabulary, and skill in expounding the 
     Shastras (scriptures), are all meant for giving superficial pleasure and
     are certainly not meant for mukti or liberation.    
                                  (Shankaracharya's Vivekacudamani, Verse 58)

     shabdajAlam mahAraNyam cittabhramaNakAraNam
     atah prayatnAj JnAtavyam tattvajnaistattvamAtmanah  ||

     An elaborate network of words is similar to a thick forest where the mind 
     might get lost in wandering (endlessly). Therefore, those who know this 
     fact (about words) must undertake an effort to experience Brahman.  
                                  (Shankaracharya's Vivekacudamani, Verse 60)

     On the other hand, Shankara speaks very highly of the path of Bhakti:

     mokShakAraNasAmagryAm bhaktireva garIyasI  
     svasvarUpAnusandhAnam bhaktirityabhidhIyate  ||   

      Among all paths to liberation (moksha), Bhakti (devotion) is the best.  
      Striving to know one's true nature is called Bhakti.    
                                  (Shankaracharya's Vivekacudamani, Verse 31)

      Thus, according to Shankara, the objective of Bhakti is the same as that
      of Jnana. However,  according to Vaishnava philosophy, Jnana is subsumed 
      by Bhakti. Jayatirtha defines Jnana to be the 
       realization or vision of the Supreme God Hari and the knowledge of His 
       greatness. Bhakti is the combination of Jnana so defined with love for 

       asmin shAstre yatra yatra Jnanasya mokShasAdhanamucyate, tatra tatra 
       Jnanamiti padena bhaktirIyate lakshyate, kutah ? sambandhAt | Jnanasya
       bhaktibhAgatvAt | mAhAtmyaJnanasnehasamudAyo hi bhaktirityuktam | 
       In this work, wherever Jnana is spoken of as leading to Moksha, Bhakti 
       is to be understood. How? By relation. Jnana is  part of Bhakti. 
       The knowledge of the greatness of God combined with love for God is indeed
                                           (Nyayasudha of Jayatirtha)
       The greatness of Krishna can be understood by listening to (or reading
       about) His pastimes. This also leads gradually to attachment to Krishna
       and one thus becomes established in Bhakti.

       shrRNvatAm svakathAh kRShNah puNyashravaNakIrtanah
       hRdyantahstho hyabhadrANi vidhunoti suhRtsatAm     || 

       Krishna, singing and hearing Whose praises is holy, resides in the hearts 
       of those who listen to His glories, and removes all inauspiciousness          
       therefrom, He being the Friend of all saintly people. 
                                          (Bhagavata, Skandha 1, Ch. 2, Verse 17)

       naShTaprAyeShvabhadreShu nityam bhAgavatasevaya  |
       bhagavatyuttamashloke bhaktirbhavati naiShThikI  ||

       When their hearts have been almost completely cleansed by service 
       rendered to devotees (Bhagavatas), an unflinching devotion to 
        Krishna arises, who is praised by transcendental hymns. 
                                          (Bhagavata, Skandha 1, Ch. 2, Verse 18)

       tadA rajastamobhAvAh kAmalobhAdayashca ye  |
       ceta etairanAviddham sthitam sattve prasIdati  ||

       Then, the gunas rajas and tamas, the passions lust, greed, etc., will no
       longer disturb the mind and one is established in sattva and attains 
                                          (Bhagavata, Skandha 1, Ch. 2, Verse 19)

       evam prasannamanaso bhagavadbhaktiyogatah   |
       bhagavattattvaviJnAnam muktasangasya jAyate ||

       The person, who has thus obtained happiness by means of devotion to 
       Krishna and who is free from all (worldly) attachments, will directly 
       perceive the true nature of God.    
                                          (Bhagavata, Skandha 1, Ch. 2, Verse 20)
 NOTE :    I have used the following as a transliteration key.  
           (the obvious sounds have been omitted for brevity) :

           A - as in mAtA; a - as in aditi; i - as in visheSh;
           I - as in Ishwar; e - as in keshava;    
           o - as in govinda ; u - as in puruSha; U - as in citrakUTa;

           c - as cidambara; ch - as in chAyA ; 
           d - as in dAmodara;  D - as in pandit  ;  dh - as in dharma;
           t - as in trivikrama;   T - as in kUTa or pATalIputra; 
           th- as in shrInAth; Th - as in ViThala; N - as in nArAyaNa;
           l - as in BAla;  L - as in MuraLi;   
           sh - as in shrI; s - as in samsAra; Sh - as in ViShNu or visheSh;


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