The term ‘Purushottama’ is very familiar for those who are versed in the Bhagavadgita. It occurs in the famous 15th chapter, verily called by that name therein. From the concluding verses and the bhāṣyam of that chapter it would be clear that the Purushottama Tattva is not any different from the Turiya of the Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. There, in that upanishad, the Turiya or Chaturtham, is described in the seventh mantra, as that which is transcending the other three pādas – the two kārya pādas namely the waking and the dream worlds along with the bhokta jiva there, and the one kāraṇa pāda that is the sleep state. In their cosmic form the three entities in these pādas are termed ‘virāṭ, hiraṇyagarbha and Īśwara’. The Turiya is beyond the duality of kārya and kāraṇa, completely unconnected with samsāra. It is by the direct realization, aparokṣa jnāṇam, of this Turiya as oneself does one attain liberation. The seventh mantra there says; sa ātmā sa vijneyaḥ’ = this is the Self which has to be realized.
The BG 15th chapter too specifies the Purushottama as transcending the kṣara and akṣara states which are the kārya and kāraṇa tattvas. At the penultimate verse, no.19, we have:
यो मामेवमसंमूढो जानाति पुरुषोत्तमम् ।
स सर्वविद्भजति मां सर्वभावेन भारत ॥ १९ ॥
यः माम् ईश्वरं यथोक्तविशेषणम् एवं यथोक्तेन प्रकारेण असंमूढः संमोहवर्जितः सन् जानाति ‘अयम् अहम् अस्मि’ इति पुरुषोत्तमं सः सर्ववित् सर्वात्मना सर्वं वेत्तीति सर्वज्ञः सर्वभूतस्थं भजति मां सर्वभावेन सर्वात्मतया हे भारत ॥
English translation by Swami Gambhirananda
15.19 O scion of the Bharata dynasty, he who, being free from delusion, knows Me the supreme Person thus, he is all-knowing and adores Me with his whole being.
Commentary, in part, of Shankara:
15.19 Bharata, O scion of the Bharata dynasty; yah, he who; asammūḍhaḥ, being free from delusion; jānāti, knows; mam, Me, God, having the aforesaid qualifications; purusottamam, the supreme Person; evam, thus, in the way described, as ‘I am this One’; sah, he; is sarva-vit, all-knowing- he knows everything through self-identification with all-, i.e. (he becomes) omniscient; and bhajati, adores; mām, Me, existing in all things; sarva-bhāvena, with his whole being, i.e. with his mind fixed on Me as the Self of all..
This underlined part is the stamp of Advaita Nirguna Brahman that Shankara never fails to impress in his commentary to such verses/statements, whether it is the BG or the Upanishads. The realization in the form of ‘I am this (Purushottama/Vāsudeva)’ is the liberating knowledge, otherwise popular as ‘aham brahma asmi’. This knowledge that one is not the finite samsārin with body-mind complex and the attendant miseries of bondage but the Infinite upādhi-free Supreme Consciousness that is ever liberated, never bound – is the one that Vedanta teaches according to Advaita.
Shankara confirms the above, by even explicitly referring to his own BG Bhāṣya, in the Chandogya Upanishad bhāṣya 8.12.3:
इत्येवंप्रकारं प्रजापतिनेव मघवान् यथोक्तेन क्रमेण ‘नासि त्वं देहेन्द्रियादिधर्मा तत्त्वमसीति’ प्रतिबोधितः सन् स एष सम्प्रसादो जीवोऽस्माच्छरीरादाकाशादिव वाय्वादयः समुत्थाय देहादिविलक्षणमात्मनो रूपमवगम्य देहात्मभावनां हित्वेत्येतत्, स्वेन रूपेण सदात्मनैवाभिनिष्पद्यत इति व्याख्यातं पुरस्तात् । स येन स्वेन रूपेण सम्प्रसादोऽभिनिष्पद्यते — प्राक्प्रतिबोधात् तद्भ्रान्तिनिमित्तात्सर्पो भवति यथा रज्जुः, पश्चात्कृतप्रकाशा रज्ज्वात्मना स्वेन रूपेणाभिनिष्पद्यते, एवं च स उत्तमपुरुषः उत्तमश्चासौ पुरुषश्चेत्युत्तमपुरुषः स एव उत्तमपुरुषः । अक्षिस्वप्नपुरुषौ व्यक्तौ अव्यक्तश्च सुषुप्तः समस्तः सम्प्रसन्नः अशरीरश्च स्वेन रूपेणेति । एषामेव स्वेन रूपेणावस्थितः क्षराक्षरौ व्याकृताव्याकृतावपेक्ष्य उत्तमपुरुषः ; कृतनिर्वचनो हि अयं गीतासु ।
In this crucial bhāṣhya passage Shankara never teaches the Uttamapuruṣa (Puruṣottama of the BG 15th ch.) as any deity by whatever name but the very nature of the j’iva divested of all upādhis:
(translation of Swami Gambhirananda p.658 Advaita Āśrama publication):
//Just as Indra was enlightened by Prajāpati through the process stated before, (so) when eṣaḥ samprasādaḥ, this tranquil one is enlightened by the instruction., ‘Thou art not possessed of the qualities of the body and the organs, but thou art That’; then that tranquil one, the individual soul, samutthāya, after rising up; asmāt śarīrāt, from this body, like wind from the sky, having understood his true nature as different from the body etc., i.e. having given up the idea of the body as the Self; abhiniṣpadyate, becomes established, svena rūpeṇa, in his own true nature, as Existence which is his own Self. This has been explained before (Ch.up.7.12.1)
As before one’s enlightenment a rope becomes a snake owing to error, (but) after being revealed it becomes established in its true nature as the rope, similarly saḥ, he – the real nature in which the tranquil one becomes established -, is the uttamaḥ puruṣaḥ, supreme Person. He who is uttamaḥ, the highest and also puruṣaḥ, the Puruṣa, is the supreme Person, who Himself becomes manifest as the Persons in the eye and in dream, (but) in deep-sleep remains unmanifest, and has His organs fully withdrawn, and who, again, in His true nature is tranquil and unembodied. Of these, this one who is established in His own nature is the highest Person as compared with the perishable and the imperishable, the manifest and the unmanifest,. This has indeed been clearly stated in the Bh.Gitā 15th ch.16-18 verses.) //
One can easily see that in the above bhāṣyam Shankara has taught that the Chandogya Upanishad teaching of the mahāvākya culminates in the jiva realizing his true state as Purushottama. Shankara nowhere teaches this uttama puruṣa to be any deity called by any name. The Purushottama is also not any person. He also rightly shows the correspondence of this shruti passage with the Bh.Gita 15th chapter verses. One can also recognize the similarity with the Māṇḍūkya teaching too. What is noteworthy is the specification by Shankara in the BGB 15.19 the mode of realization as ‘I am this one’ (I am He) in the manner of ‘I am Vāsudevaḥ’ which is also the same with the Chandogya Upanishad teaching of tattvamasi and the above cited uttama puruṣa as the true nature of the jiva. It would also be pertinent to note two Vishnupurāṇa verses Shankara cites in the Vishnu sahasranāma bhāṣya introduction:
सकलमिदमहं च वासुदेवः
परमपुमान्परमेश्वरः स एकः ।
इति मतिरचला भवत्यनन्ते
हृदयगते व्रज तान्विहाय दूरात् ॥ 3.7.32 ||
[‘All this including me is nothing but Vāsudeva, the supreme Person (uttama puruṣaḥ), the supreme Ishwara, One alone.’ He who has fixed his mind thus in the Infinite Brahman that is established in his heart (‘yo veda nihitam guhāyām parame vyoman’ of the Taittiriya which teaches that the Supreme has to be realized in the heart) – will never be touched by death, samsāra).
Shankara cites another verse from the same Vishnupurāṇa in that introduction, a little later:
अहं हरिः सर्वमिदं जनार्द्दनो नान्यत् ततः कारणकार्य्यजातम् ।
ईदृङूमनो यस्य न तस्य भूयो भवोद्भवा द्वन्द्वगदा भवन्ति ।। 1.22.86 ।।
(‘I am Hari, all this (universe) is Janārdana, there is none other than Him as cause-effect combine. He who has thus realized will never be caught in samsāra.) Here too one can note the Māṇḍūkya scheme of ’cause-effect dual’ which consists of the manifest (kṣara) and the unmanifest (akṣara). The BG 15th chapter ‘Purushottama’ is also reflected here in the word ‘parama pumān’ in the first cited verse.
The above study establishes that the ‘Purushottama’ of the BG 15th ch., the Turiya of the Mandukya, the uttama purusha of the Chandogya, the Vāsudeva, Hari and Janārdana of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa are all none other than the true nature of the jiva/jagat which is Nirguna Brahman and never any deity or person unlike what is generally assumed by those who have no initiation into the Vedānta. Shankara has left the typical Advaitin’s mark, ‘I am He’, in all these above cited references.
Om Tat Sat