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
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.
(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",
``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
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;