Comparison of Advaita, Visistadvaita and Dvaita Sanskrit Talk at UC Berkeley
by Sri Bannanje Govindacharya – (a well-known scholar of Dvaita Vedanta)
I viewed the video and the talk. As could only be expected, the speaker, Sri Bannanje Govindachrya (BG) has largely misrepresented Advaita and taken that opportunity to caricature Advaita and present Dvaita as the flawless system. Some, of the many, ‘highlights’ of his talk are:
- Those who follow Shankara are doing that blindly and only those who are buddhijeevi-s (beings endowed with the thinking faculty) follow Ramanuja and Madhva.
- Historically, when Shankara arrived, the damage to the Vedic tradition was already done by the Buddhists, with royal patronage like that of Ashoka. People in India were waiting for a ‘saviour’ and Shankara arrived. Naturally he gained great following. Anyone in that place would have achieved that (implying that there is nothing special about Shankara).
- People in India have the tendency of blindly following a ‘pūrva Āchārya’ without questioning. They would simply tap their cheeks (an act of expressing devotion/respect among Indians). Such was Shankara’s following. Even after Ramanuja and Madhwa came and questioned and finished off Advaita, that blind following continues.
- BG: That the Atman is all-pervading is not supported by the Upanishad. That was the prevalent view among Naiyāyikas and Sāṅkhya-s. Shankara endorsed that alone with some modifications. That Atman is atomic, aṇu, alone is the vedic view.
- BG: When this view was brought out by Ramanuja and Madhva, Advaita met its end.
- BG: For Shankara, women are not eligible for mokṣa; they have to be born as men, and then become sannyasins and then alone get mokṣa.
[I am just pointing to Shankara’s commentary here:
māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye’pi syuḥ pāpayonayaḥ |
striyo vaiśyāstathā śūdrāste’pi yānti parāṁ gatim || Gītā – 9-32
9.32 For, O son of Prtha, even those who are born of sin – women, Vaisyas, as also śūdras, even they reach the highest Goal by taking shelter under Me.
Sri Shankara’s commentary –
मां हि यस्मात् पार्थ व्यपाश्रित्य माम् आश्रयत्वेन गृहीत्वा येऽपि स्युः भवेयुः पापयोनयः पापा योनिः येषां ते पापयोनयः पापजन्मानः । के ते इति, आह — स्त्रियः वैश्याः तथा शूद्राः तेऽपि यान्ति गच्छन्ति परां प्रकृष्टां गतिम् ॥
//English translation by Swami Gambhirananda (on Sri Sankaracharya’s Sanskrit Commentary)
9.32 Hi, for; O son of Prtha, ye api, even those; pāpayonayah syuh, who are born of sin;-as to who they are, the Lord says-striyah, women; vaisyāḥ, Vaisyas, tathā, as also; śūdrāḥ, śūdras; te api, even they; yānti, reach, go to; the parām, highest; gatim, Goal vyapāśritya, by taking shelter; mām, under Me-by accepting Me as their refuge.//
It should not be thought that Shankara is implying here that the above category of people will attain male, brāhmaṇa body and sannyāsa āśrama in a later birth and then attain the highest (mokśa). If such were the case, the very verse of the Lord will be useless, conveying nothing.
The Br.up. 6.5.1 refers to Maitreyī as a brahmavādinī मैत्रेयी ब्रह्मवादिनी बभूव. There is also the well-known case of Vācaknavī Gārgī (Br.up.5.1.1) referred to by Shankara in the Sūtrabhāṣya 18.104.22.168: रैक्ववाचक्नवीप्रभृतीनामेवंभूतानमपि ब्रह्मवित्त्वश्रुत्युपलब्धेः । The ‘api’ in the Bh.Gī.9.32 is significantly reflected in this sentence, where it is said ‘even’ those who have no eligibility for sannyāsa āśrama are known from the śruti to have attained the liberating knowledge.
In the Bh.Gītā 4.24 Shankara says that for some reason a Knower of the Self, is not able to leave his āśrama (e.g. household), he can continue there itself and still be a non-doer as his ignorance-born doership/enjoyership ideas have been destroyed by Knowledge:
त्यक्त्वा कर्मफलासङ्गं नित्यतृप्तो निराश्रयः ।
कर्मण्यभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि नैव किञ्चित्करोति सः ॥ २० ॥
त्यक्त्वा कर्मसु अभिमानं फलासङ्गं च यथोक्तेन ज्ञानेन नित्यतृप्तः निराकाङ्क्षो विषयेषु इत्यर्थः । निराश्रयः आश्रयरहितः, आश्रयो नाम यत् आश्रित्य पुरुषार्थं सिसाधयिषति, दृष्टादृष्टेष्टफलसाधनाश्रयरहित इत्यर्थः । विदुषा क्रियमाणं कर्म परमार्थतोऽकर्मैव, तस्य निष्क्रियात्मदर्शनसम्पन्नत्वात् । तेन एवंभूतेन स्वप्रयोजनाभावात् ससाधनं कर्म परित्यक्तव्यमेव इति प्राप्ते, ततः निर्गमासम्भवात् लोकसङ्ग्रहचिकीर्षया शिष्टविगर्हणापरिजिहीर्षया वा पूर्ववत् कर्मणि अभिप्रवृत्तोऽपि निष्क्रियात्मदर्शनसम्पन्नत्वात् नैव किञ्चित् करोति सः ॥
- BG says: Shankara was a Vaishnava. He never donned the bhasma. It is only those who follow him, out of delusion/ignorance, mouḍhya, don bhasma and portray Shankara in pictures as donning the bhasma.
- BG: In the explanation of Tat tvam asi, the meaning of Tat as Brahman is completely out of place; grammatically wrong. ‘Sa ātmā’ is in masculine and therefore, the ‘tat’ there can never be brahman which is neuter.
[Here are some comments on the above observation of BG:
It can be noted that that very section of the Chāndogya upaniṣad (chapter 6 where occurs the teaching of the Sadvidyā by Uddālaka to his son Śvetaketu) refers to the Supreme Brahman in all the three genders:
1. सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् Ch.up. 6.2.1. Here the words ‘Sat’, ‘ekam’ and ‘advitīyam’ , all in the neuter gender, refer to Brahman.
2. सेयं देवतैक्षत हन्ताहमिमास्तिस्रो देवता अनेन जीवेनात्मनानुप्रविश्य नामरूपें व्याकरवाणीति ॥ २ ॥ Ch.up. 6.3.2. Here the word ‘Seyam’ is a conjunction of two words ‘sā’ and ‘iyam’, both in the feminine gender, referring to the word ‘devatā’ contained in the conjunction ‘devataikṣata’. This word ‘devatā’ in the feminine, is referring to the Supreme Brahman, the creator of the Universe and who has entered the created universe as the jīva.
3. स य एषोऽणिमैतदात्म्यमिदं सर्वं तत्सत्यं स आत्मा तत्त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो
The commentary of Shankara for this is:
स यः सदाख्यः एषः उक्तः अणिमा अणुभावः जगतो मूलम् ऐतदात्म्यम् एतत्सदात्मा यस्य सर्वस्य तत् एतदात्म तस्य भावः ऐतदात्म्यम् । एतेन सदाख्येन आत्मना आत्मवत् सर्वमिदं जगत् । नान्योऽस्त्यस्यात्मासंसारी, ‘नान्यदतोऽस्ति द्रष्टृ नान्यदतोऽस्ति श्रोतृ’ (बृ. उ. ३-८-११) इत्यादिश्रुत्यन्तरात् । येन च आत्मना आत्मवत्सर्वमिदं जगत्, तदेव सदाख्यं कारणं सत्यं परमार्थसत् । अतः स एव आत्मा जगतः प्रत्यक्स्वरूपं सतत्त्वं याथात्म्यम्, आत्मशब्दस्य निरुपपदस्य प्रत्यगात्मनि गवादिशब्दवत् निरूढत्वात् । अतः तत् सत् त्वमसीति हे श्वेतकेतो इत्येवं प्रत्यायितः ..
The words highlighted in pink color show the Upanishadic and Shānkaran commentary for the reference to Brahman, Sat, in the masculine. It can also be noted that even Shankara uses the word ‘Sat’ alone, a word used by this very Upanisad to refer to Brahman.
Thus, the Upaniṣad itself is using, alternatively, the three genders to refer to the same entity, Brahman. In fact, the upaniṣad never uses the word ‘Brahman’ in this entire discourse. The words it uses to refer to Brahman are: Sat (neuter), Ātmā (masculine) and Devatā (feminine). So, there is absolutely nothing wrong in Shankara taking the word ‘tat’ in the above cited mantra as Brahman. It is quite correct grammatically.
Another instance of an Upaniṣad using two genders in the same mantra is found in the Māṇḍūkya upaniṣad 7th mantra:
नान्तःप्रज्ञं नबहिःप्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं नप्रज्ञानघनं नप्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् । अदृश्यमव्यवहार्यमग्राह्यमलक्षणमचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यमेकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥ ७
The mantra started off in the neuter gender and ends with the masculine. The word highlighted in pink is Ātmā in the masculine. All the other words used above to denote Brahman are in the neuter. Thus, just because two or three genders are found in a mantra there is no way they should refer to different entities alone. The above two instances are a glaring example for such a case. ]
- Shankara was a crypto buddhist. Madhva has proved this with several quotes from Buddhistic sources and compared them with Advaita.
[Questions to be asked: How can a ‘Vaiṣṇava’ be a Buddhist in disguise? How can the two co-exist in a person? And, will a Vaiṣṇava deny Omniscience and Omnipotence to Brahman (see BSB 2.1.14 of Shankara)? Did Madhva accept Shankara as a Vaishnava? Obviously no, since Madhva held Shankara to be a demon who was out to destroy Vaishnava dharma. No true Madhva would call Shankara a Vaishnava, in gross disobedience to his Acharya, (whether Ramanuja or Madhva).]
See this article on the subject: ‘Did Shankara prefer any deity?’ here:
- Shankara composed many hymns on Vishnu. All the other works that go by that name of Shankara are by his followers who also called themselves Shankaracharya. So, whether these are works of ‘mūla Shankaracharya’ or ‘nirmūla Shankaracharya’ is not known to anyone. (The sarcasm and the tone of caricature is so open for all to see in BG’s face when he says this.).
- BG: The development of Vedanta is akin to the development of Science. A scientist establishes a theory and a later theory replaces/ denounces that. So too in Vedanta. Advaita was first established only to be undone by the later Acharyas.
[ The case of science is different as it is based on tarka and pratyaksha alone. On the other hand Vedanta has the solid base of the Veda/upaniṣad. Veda Vyasa has aphorized ‘tarka apratiṣhṭhāmāt…’ 22.214.171.124 only to show that a conclusion based on mere tarka is always shaky, to be replaced by those more adept in tarka. But Vedanta doctrine, basing itself primarily on the Veda is not so.]
What was presented was only lopsided view of Advaita to the scholar-audience at the University.