The names ‘Nārāyaṇa’ and ‘Vāsudeva’ denote the Nirguṇa Brahman
The above topic is discussed in the sequel in the light of Shankara’s bhāṣyas with Sureshwara’s vārtika, Anandagiri’s gloss and Sāyana’s commentary.
ब्रह्मसूत्रभाष्यम् । द्वितीयः अध्यायः । प्रथमः पादः । स्मृत्यधिकरणम् । सूत्रम् १ – भाष्यम्
एवमप्यन्या ईश्वरकारणवादिन्यः स्मृतयोऽनवकाशाः प्रसज्येरन् ; ता उदाहरिष्यामः — ‘यत्तत्सूक्ष्ममविज्ञेयम्’ इति परं ब्रह्म प्रकृत्य, ‘स ह्यन्तरात्मा भूतानां क्षेत्रज्ञश्चेति कथ्यते’ इति चोक्त्वा, ‘तस्मादव्यक्तमुत्पन्नं त्रिगुणं द्विजसत्तम’ इत्याह ; तथान्यत्रापि ‘अव्यक्तं पुरुषे ब्रह्मन्निर्गुणे सम्प्रलीयते’ इत्याह ; ‘अतश्च संक्षेपमिमं शृणुध्वं नारायणः सर्वमिदं पुराणः । स सर्गकाले च करोति सर्वं संहारकाले च तदत्ति भूयः’ इति पुराणे ; भगवद्गीतासु च — ‘अहं कृत्स्नस्य जगतः प्रभवः प्रलयस्तथा’ (भ. गी. ७-६) इति ; परमात्मानमेव च प्रकृत्यापस्तम्बः पठति — ‘तस्मात्कायाः प्रभवन्ति सर्वे स मूलं शाश्वतिकः स नित्यः’ (ध. सू. १-८-२३-२) इति ।
The above cited verse from the smṛti is similar to the opening verse cited by Shankara in the introduction to the BGB:
नारायणः परोऽव्यक्तादण्डमव्यक्तसम्भवम् ।
अण्डस्यान्तस्त्विमे लोकाः सप्तद्वीपा च मेदिनी ॥
[From Narayana the avyakta emerged….]
The Bh.gita 13th chapter teaches the kṣetrajña, the knower-of-the-field, to be the very self of the jīva, the nirguṇa chaitanyam.
A smṛti cited in the foregoing says, the avyakta dissolves in the Puruṣa that is Nirguṇa.
Another smṛti says: The Narayana, the Ancient, creates everything and withdraws that.
In all these places the Cause, Narayana, is not identified as the consort of Lakshmi, resident of Vaikuntha, etc. This Narayana is also the kṣetrajna, the very self of the jiva.
Continues the above cited bhāṣya:
मनुना च ‘सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं सर्वभूतानि चात्मनि । सम्पश्यन्नात्मयाजी वै स्वाराज्यमधिगच्छति’ (मनु. स्मृ. १२-९१) इति सर्वात्मत्वदर्शनं प्रशंसता कापिलं मतं निन्द्यत इति गम्यते ; कपिलो हि न सर्वात्मत्वदर्शनमनुमन्यते, आत्मभेदाभ्युपगमात् । महाभारतेऽपि च — ‘बहवः पुरुषा ब्रह्मन्नुताहो एक एव तु’ इति विचार्य, ‘बहवः पुरुषा राजन्सांख्ययोगविचारिणाम्’ इति परपक्षमुपन्यस्य तद्व्युदासेन — ‘बहूनां पुरुषाणां हि यथैका योनिरुच्यते । तथा तं पुरुषं विश्वमाख्यास्यामि गुणाधिकम्’ इत्युपक्रम्य ‘ममान्तरात्मा तव च ये चान्ये देहसंस्थिताः । सर्वेषां साक्षिभूतोऽसौ न ग्राह्यः केनचित्क्वचित् ॥ विश्वमूर्धा विश्वभुजो विश्वपादाक्षिनासिकः । एकश्चरति भूतेषु स्वैरचारी यथासुखम्’ — इति सर्वात्मतैव निर्धारिता । श्रुतिश्च सर्वात्मतायां भवति — ‘यस्मिन्सर्वाणि भूतान्यात्मैवाभूद्विजानतः । तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः’ (ई. उ. ७) इत्येवंविधा ।
The sarvātmadarśanam, the one-only puruṣa as opposed to multiple beings, spoken of there in many texts cited above is the nirguna chaitanyam alone and not a saguna deity. This is the realization for mokṣa in Advaita. That chaitanyam is the witness, the sākṣī which Shankara specifies Nārāyaṇa to be in the Br.up.antaryāmi brahmaṇam 3.7.3 and teaches through the mahāvākya: ‘you are that antaryāmi.’ All these are about the niguna Brahman:
देवताकार्यकरणस्य ईश्वरसाक्षिमात्रसान्निध्येन हि नियमेन प्रवृत्तिनिवृत्ती स्याताम् ; य ईदृगीश्वरो नारायणाख्यः, पृथिवीं पृथिवीदेवताम्, यमयति नियमयति स्वव्यापारे, अन्तरः अभ्यन्तरस्तिष्ठन्, एष त आत्मा, ते तव, मम च सर्वभूतानां च इत्युपलक्षणार्थमेतत्, अन्तर्यामी यस्त्वया पृष्टः, अमृतः सर्वसंसारधर्मवर्जित इत्येतत् ॥
The Sureshwara vārtika for the above bhāṣyam annotates the BGB introductory verse too and also says:
The following part is taken from the http://narayanastra.blogspot.in/#h.e305a2ale1tc
My comments are stated in between [ ]
tasmai namostu devAya nirguNAya guNAtmane |
nArAyaNAya vishvAya devAnAM paramAtmane ||
[It specifies Narayana to be nirguna and the self of the guṇas. He is the adhiṣṭhānam of all the gunas and all duality, creation. This is exactly the way Shankara has stated in the BSB cited above. Anandagiri glosses on the above words of Sureshwara:]
na kevalaM purANAgamAbhyAMeva so.adhigamyate, kiM tu shrutyakSharair api ityarthaH | etameveti | sahasrashIrShaM devaM vishvAkShaM vishvashaMbhuvaM vishvaM nArAyaNaM devaM akSharaM paramaM padaM’ ityAdi mantraH vedavidbhir antaryAmiNaM uddishya viniyukto.ataH sa vaidikaH ityarthaH
Translation: (surEshvarAcArya explains here that) not only is nArAyaNa’s greatness known from Puranas and Agamas, but from Vedic mantras such as ‘sahasrashIrShaM devaM vishvAkShaM vishvashaMbhuvaM vishvaM nArAyaNaM devaM akSharaM paramaM padaM’ that serve to show this as the Vedic position.
This shows that the Narayana Sukta mantras praise the Puranic Vishnu only.
Moreover, in Sayanacarya’s commentary on the Narayana Sukta, we find the following statement pertaining to the mantra “nArAyaNaH paraM brahmA” etc: [TASyB:1]
“purANeShu nArAyaNashabdena vyavahriyamANo yaH parameshvaraH, sa eva ‘paraM’ utkR^iShTaM”
Translation: The Supreme Lord who is denoted by the term ‘nArAyaNa’ in the purANas – He alone is the Highest.
Hence, Sayana also understands the Narayana of the Narayana Sukta as the puranic nArAyaNa only.//
Anandagiri does not say anything about the ‘greatness’.
The above citations and translations are not only incomplete but also misleading. Here is what Sāyana says for those portions of the nārāyaṇa sūktam:
At the beginning itself Sayana says: āropitasya jagataḥ adhiṣṭhāna-vyatirekeṇa vāstavarūpābhāvāt. [Since the superimposed world has no reality apart from the substratum.]
Sāyana sets the tone for the delineation of the Nirguna Brahman in the Narayana sukta at the outset itself. And says the etymological meaning of the word ‘nārāyaṇa’ is shown in the purāṇs: nārāyaṇaśabasya nirvacanam purāṇeṣu darśitam:
आपो नारा इति प्रोक्ता, आपो वै नरसूनवः। अयनं तस्य ताः पूर्वं तेन नारायणः स्मृतः।।
This is purely an etymological verse for the name ‘nārāyaṇa’ and no way denotes a deity who is the consort of Lakshmi, etc. This is the ‘purāṇa prasiddhi’ that Anandagiri denotes in the Sureshvara vārtika commentary and not any deity.
Also, this is what Sayana says in that commentary for the sūkta:
//”purANeShu nArAyaNashabdena vyavahriyamANo yaH parameshvaraH, sa eva ‘paraM’ utkR^iShTaM” // (this part alone is cited by the blogger and the following part which is a continuation of the above sentence is cited by me here)
‘satyajñānānandādivākyaiḥ pratipādyasya brahmaṇaḥ tattvam. Ato nārāyaṇaḥ paraḥ para eva ātmā na tu aparo mūrtiviśeṣaḥ. tathā paro jyotih yadetat utkṛṣṭam jyotiśchandogaiH ‘paraM jyotirupasampadya’ ityāmnātam tadapi nārāyaṇa eva. Tasmāt nārāyaṇaḥ parmātmā’
All the above is decidedly about the nirguṇa svarūpam and not anything else. Sāyana explicitly says that the nārāyaṇa here is not any deity with form. And it is the svarūpa lakshana of Brahman: satyam jñānam anantam as per the Taittiriya upanishat. The last Chandogya shruti 8.3.4 he cites is a very important nirguṇa mantra for advaitins for it shows the svarūpa that the jiva realizes upon getting the samyag jñānam. One can see the Shankara bhashya for that.
The blogger has evidently, for obvious reasons, left out the crucial nirguna-establishing portions of the sāyana bhashya and tried to show to his unwary readers that Shankara, Sureshwara, Anandagiri and Sayana are all supporting a saguṇa deity called Vishnu/narayana in the bhashyas. The ‘purānic’ prasiddhi is also not what the blogger thinks to be but the Brahman that is given the name narayana for which sayana provides the puranic etymology. The author of the Tamil book ‘sankararum vaiṇavamum’ is the originator of the above misconceived idea.
Here is the translation for the above cited BSB where all the references Shankara makes from smriti are about the nirguna Brahman which is the non-dual, jiva svarupa-identical mahāvākya-specific entity and not at all a saguṇa deity. The ‘1000-heads,eyes, etc.’ expression is also about the Nirguna Brahman on which the adhyāropa is made deliberately by the shruti.
Brahma sutra bhāṣya: 2.1.1
//In one passage the highest Brahman is introduced as the subject of discussion, ‘That which is subtle and not to be known;’ the text then goes on, ‘That is the internal Self of the creatures, their soul,’ and after that remarks ‘From that sprang the Unevolved, consisting of the three gunas, O best of Brâhmanas.’ And in another place it is said that ‘the Unevolved is dissolved in the Person devoid of qualities, O Brâhmana.’–Thus we read also in the Purâna, ‘Hear thence this short statement: The ancient Nârâyana is all this; he produces the creation at the due time, and at the time of reabsorption he consumes it again.’ And so in the Bhagavadgîtâ also (VII, 6), ‘I am the origin and the place of reabsorption of the whole world.’ And Âpastamba too says with reference to the highest Self, ‘From him spring all bodies; he is the primary cause, he is eternal, he is unchangeable’ (Dharma Sûtra I, 8, 23, 2). In this way Smriti, in many places, declares the Lord to be the efficient as well as the material cause of the world. As the pûrvapakshin opposes us on the ground of Smriti, we reply to him on the ground of Smriti only; hence the line of defence taken up in the Sûtra.
Manu himself, where he glorifies the seeing of the one Self in everything (‘he who equally sees the Self in all beings and all beings in the Self, he as a sacrificer to the Self attains self-luminousness,’ i.e. becomes Brahman, Manu Smriti XII, 91), implicitly blames the doctrine of Kapila. For Kapila, by acknowledging a plurality of Selfs, does not admit the doctrine of there being one universal Self. In the Mahâbhârata also the question is raised whether there are many persons (souls) or one; thereupon the opinion of others is mentioned, ‘There are many persons, O King, according to the Sânkhya and Yoga philosophers;’ that opinion is controverted ‘just as there is one place of origin, (viz. the earth,) for many persons, so I will proclaim to you that universal person raised by his qualities;’ and, finally, it is declared that there is one universal Self, ‘He is the internal Self of me, of thee, and of all other embodied beings, the internal witness of all, not to be apprehended by any one. He the all-headed, all-armed, all-footed, all-eyed, all-nosed one moves through all beings according to his will and liking.’ And Scripture also declares that there is one universal Self, ‘When to a man who understands the Self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity?’ (Îs. Up 7); and other similar passages. //
Here is a passage from the BSB 3.2.17:
ब्रह्मसूत्रभाष्यम् । तृतीयः अध्यायः । द्वितीयः पादः । उभयलिङ्गाधिकरणम् । सूत्रम् १७ – भाष्यम्
दर्शयति च श्रुतिः पररूपप्रतिषेधेनैव ब्रह्म — निर्विशेषत्वात् — ‘अथात आदेशो नेति नेति’ (बृ. उ. २-३-६) ‘अन्यदेव तद्विदितादथो अविदितादधि’ (के. उ. १-३) ‘यतो वाचो निवर्तन्ते अप्राप्य मनसा सह’ (तै. उ. २-४-१) इत्येवमाद्या । बाष्कलिना च बाध्वः पृष्टः सन् अवचनेनैव ब्रह्म प्रोवाचेति श्रूयते — ‘स होवाचाधीहि भो इति स तूष्णीं बभूव तं ह द्वितीये तृतीये वा वचन उवाच ब्रूमः खलु त्वं तु न विजानासि । उपशान्तोऽयमात्मा’ इति । तथा स्मृतिष्वपि परप्रतिषेधेनैवोपदिश्यते — ‘ज्ञेयं यत्तत्प्रवक्ष्यामि यज्ज्ञात्वामृतमश्नुते । अनादिमत्परं ब्रह्म न सत्तन्नासदुच्यते’ (भ. गी. १३-१२) इत्येवमाद्यासु । तथा विश्वरूपधरो नारायणो नारदमुवाचेति स्मर्यते — ‘माया ह्येषा मया सृष्टा यन्मां पश्यसि नारद । सर्वभूतगुणैर्युक्तं नैवं मां ज्ञातुमर्हसि’ इति ॥१७ ॥
All the passages Shankara cites there are about Nirguna Brahman, denying all differences. Perhaps the best ever definition of nirguna Brahman from the veda itself is cited by Shankara here from an unidentified (by editors and scholars) source: the Bāṣkalī-Bādhvā dialogue. This says that Atman is quiescence. And the BG quote is also about the knowable Brahman which is nirguna brahman as opposed to the meditatable, upāsya, Brahman, which alone is saguna. And the passage ends with the Lord Narayana instructing Narada that He is to be known as nirguna Brahman alone and not with attributes. The above BSB is cited to show that Shankara, in the same breath, talks about the quiescent Brahman and Nārāyaṇa who Himself teaches that one ought not to know Him as endowed with guṇas and that the saguṇa world that is a projection is only out of Māya.
- (This scripture) also shows, and it is likewise stated in Smriti.
That Brahman is without any difference is proved by those scriptural passages also which expressly deny that it possesses any other characteristics; so, e.g. ‘Next follows the teaching by No, no’ (Bri. Up. II, 3, 6); ‘It is different from the known, it is also above the unknown’ (Ke. Up. I, 4); ‘From whence all speech, with the mind, turns away unable to reach it’ (Taitt. Up. II, 9). Of a similar purport is that scriptural passage which relates how Bâhva, being questioned about Brahman by Vashkalin, explained it to him by silence, ‘He said to him, “Learn Brahman, O friend,” and became silent. Then, on a second and third question, he replied, “I am teaching you indeed, but you do not understand. Silent is that Self.”‘ The same teaching is conveyed by those Smriti-texts which deny of Brahman all other characteristics; so, e.g. ‘I will proclaim that which is the object of knowledge, knowing which one reaches immortality; the highest Brahman without either beginning or end, which cannot be said either to be or not to be’ (Bha. Gîtâ XIII, 12). Of a similar purport is another Smriti-passage, according to which the omniform Nârâyana instructed Nârada, ‘The cause, O Nârada, of your seeing me endowed with the qualities of all beings is the Mâyâ emitted by me; do not cognize me as being such (in reality).’
Here is a concluding sentence from the BG introduction:
परमार्थतत्त्वं च वासुदेवाख्यं परं ब्रह्माभिधेयभूतं विशेषतः अभिव्यञ्जयत्..
Shankara says that the Paramārtha tattvam is Vāsudeva, who has the name Param Brahma. This is what is being especially taught in the Gitāśāstram. For those who have not had an exposure to the traditional teaching of Advaita the term ‘paramārtha tattvam’ is incomprehensible. That it means the Nirguṇa Brahman, the substratum of the world-duality and the jiva, is what that term means. So, the purport of the entire BG according to Shankara lies in the Nirguna Brahman called Vāsudeva. It is this Vāsudeva that is taught as ‘I am non-different from Vāsudeva’, a mahāvākya. Only those who have studied the Advaita shāstra under traditional Acharyas can understand the meanings of the terms: Vāsudeva, Nārāyaṇa, Viṣṇu, Ananta, mahāvākya, etc. Others who are outside the Advaita sampradaya invariably end up with erroneous understanding of these terms. For them these terms can mean no more than certain deity, resident of certain loka, consort of a deity, and so on. The concept of adhyāropa-apavāda and the mahāvākya with the terms tat and tvam are not understood unless one takes up a devoted study of the Advaita shastra under a traditional Acharya.
In the foregoing is shown that the usage of the names ‘Nārāyaṇa’ and ‘Vāsudeva’ in the Shankara Bhāṣya is to denote the Nirguna Brahman and not at all a saguna deity. The Nārāyaṇa sūktam and the Sāyana Bhāṣya eminently establish this, along with the antaryāmi brāhmaṇa of the Br.up. with the Bhāṣya and the Sureshvara vārtika with Anandagiri’s gloss. The ‘Purāna prasiddhi’ is not any deity but the etymology available in the Purāṇa for the name Nārayāna, Vāsudeva, etc. Shankara cites these verses from the Purāṇas in the Vishnusahasranāma bhāṣya for the names Nārayaṇa and Vāsudeva.
Om Tat Sat