Was Sri Madhusudana Saraswati a Bigot?
Sri Madhusūdana Saraswati (MS), the famed author of the Advaita Siddhi, the Gūḍhārtha dīpikā (GD) and several other works is very well known to be an ardent devotee of Viṣṇu. His verse, at the beginning of his GD 13th chapter is:
ध्यानाभ्यासवशीकृतेन मनसा तन्निर्गुणं निष्क्रियं
ज्योतिः किञ्चन योगिनो यदि परं पश्यन्ति पश्यन्तु ते ।
अस्माकं तु तदेव लोचनचमत्काराय भूयाच्चिरं
कालिन्दीपुलिनोदरे किमपि यन्नीलं महो धावति ॥
// By means of the mind brought under control by the practice of meditation, Yogis behold the Supreme Light that is free from attributes and activity. Let them do so.
But I am quite contented with the vision of the luminous blue deity, Krishna, who wanders about the banks of the river Kālindī. //
speaks of his saguṇa bhakti. In his Bhagavadgitā commentary (GD) he waxes eloquence on his Viṣṇu bhakti just one example of which is:
भगवन्तं वासुदेवं सकलसौन्दर्यसारनिधानमानन्दघनविग्रहं द्विभुजं चतुर्भुजं वा समस्तजनमनोमोहिनीं मुरलीमन्तिमनोहरैः सप्तभिः स्वरैरापूरयन्तं वा दरकमलकौमोदकीरथाङ्गसङ्गिपाणिपल्लवं वा नरसिंहराघवादिरूपं वा यथादर्शितविश्वरूपं वा ध्यायन्तः चिन्तयन्त उपासते…मय्यावेशितचेतसां….
[MS gives a enchanting description of the Lord Viṣṇu in His various forms as the ones fit for a devotee/aspirant to fix his mind on.]
Yet, MS, has left no trace of doubt that he was not a bigot. While his iṣṭa devatā bhakti was for Viṣṇu, he has not displayed the least intolerance that would normally go with a vaiṣṇava or even a śaiva. MS has emerged as a true Advaitin whose primary, fundamental, allegiance was with the Advaitic Nirguṇa Brahman which is devoid of any attributes. In the sequel are shown a few instances from the works of MS in evidence of his mature thinking:
- In the BG 6.47 the Lord teaches:
योगिनामपि सर्वेषां मद्गतेनान्तरात्मना ।
श्रद्धावान्भजते यो मां स मे युक्ततमो मतः ॥ ४७ ॥
// 6.47 Even among all the yogis, he who adores Me with his mind fixed on Me and with faith, he is considered by Me to be the best of the yogis. //
In the commentary of Sri Shankaracharya we have:
6.47 Api, even; sarveṣām yoginām, among all the yogis, among those who are immersed in meditation on Rudra, Āditya, and others; yah, he who; bhajate, adores; mām, Me; antarātmanā,with his mind; madgatena, fixed on Me, concentrated on Me who am Vāsudeva; and sraddhāvān, with faith, becoming filled with faith; sah, he; is matah, considered; me, by Me; to be yukta-tamah, the best of the yogis, engaged in Yoga most intensely.
While most people, especially vaiṣṇava bigots, take the words ‘Rudra’ in the above commentary to refer to Lord Śiva, MS, of his own accord, even though the verse of the BG does not contain that word, chooses to write in his GD: योगिनां वसुरुद्रादित्यादिक्षुद्रदेवताभक्तानां सर्वेषामपि मध्ये मयि भगवति..[Among all the yogins who are devoted to the lowly deities such as the vasu-s, rudra-s and āditya-s, he who is devoted to Me…] MS does not take the word ‘Rudra’ (and ‘Aditya’) in Shankara’s commentary to mean the well known Lord Śiva etc. He gives the correct clarification by taking them to mean the gaṇas such as the eight vasus, the eleven rudras and the twelve ādityas. See an article on this topic here: http://www.mediafire.com/view/610a95362eprvy3/Reference_to_Rudra_and_Āditya_in_the_Bh.g.pdf
- The opening (invocatory) verse of the Advaitasiddhi of MS is rendered thus by him:
सत्यज्ञानसुखात्मकः श्रुतिशिखोत्थाखण्डधीगोचरः ।
मोक्षं प्राप्त इव स्वयं विजयते विष्णुर्विकल्पोज्झितः ॥ इति ।
‘The verse says ‘Viṣṇu’ (Brahman) who is innately satyam, jñānam and sukham, is the abode of the universe consisting of the unreal dvaita of knower, knowing and known conjured up by māyā, and owing to the akhaṇḍkāravṛtti-based realization of His native ānanda svarūpa, being freed from the apparent bondage shines as though liberated, free from all the vikalpa-s.’
Here MS is depicting ‘Viṣṇu’ as the way Brahman is done in Advaita: Brahman alone, owing to ignorance of its own nature, appears as a bound jīva, samsārin, and owing to the knowledge of its true nature, is liberated as though. A vaiṣṇava who is a bigot and a fanatic would never bear to think of the Lord to be subject to avidyā and therefore a samsārin.
- In the same work Advaita siddhi, MS has denied eternality to Viṣṇu lokas such as vaikuṇṭha. He admits only relative permanence to those loka-s. For a vaiṣṇava who is a fanatic the reality and permanence of vaikuṇṭha are non-negotiable. However MS does not admit of such lokas as being outside the purview of creation-dissolution cycle. He does not also admit of a real form for Iśvara/Brahman. See an article on this topic here: https://adbhutam.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/madhusudana-saraswati-misrepresented/
- A vaiṣṇava who is a fanatic does not admit of the oneness of Śiva and Viṣṇu and the non-difference of the trimūrtis consisting Śiva, Viṣṇu and Brahmā. For MS, however, the idea of Hari-Hara abheda and the trimūrti aikya are quite scriptural and therefore, admissible. MS has commented upon the famous work ‘Mahimna stotram’ of Puṣpadanta as applying to both Śiva and Viṣṇu. At the end of the work MS composes a few verses depicting the Hari-Hara abheda:
भूतिभूषितदेहाय द्विजराजेन राजते ।
एकात्मने नमो नित्यं हरये च हराय च ॥ ६
Obeisance ever to Him, who is resplendent with His body adorned with vibhūti, ashes, and is of the complexion of camphor (or having the moon on His head), the One Atman that is both Hara and Hari.
हरिशंकरयोरभेदबोधो भवतु क्षुद्रधियामपीति यत्नात् ।
उभयार्थतया मयेदमुक्तं सुधियः साधुतयैव शोधयन्तु ॥ १
[With the benediction that the understanding of non-difference between Hari and Shankara may rise even in those with a lowly intellect have I, with effort, commented on the Shivamanhima stotra verses in dual-meaning mode (as applying to Hari and Hara). Let the noble ones accept this as admissible alone.]
See this page too for more inputs about Madhusudana Saraswati’s vision:
MS’s trimūrti aikya approval is expressed in this verse-commentary of the Mahimna stotra:
बहलरजसे विश्वोत्पत्तौ भवाय नमो नमः
प्रबलतमसे तत्संहारे हराय नमो नमः ।
जनसुखकृते सत्त्वोद्रिक्तौ मृडाय नमो नमः
प्रमहसिपदे निस्त्रैगुण्ये शिवाय नमो नमः ॥३०॥
[Salutation to Brahmā in whom rajas preponderates for the creation of the universe, salutation to Rudra in whom Tama preponderates for the destruction of the same. Salutatio to Viṣṇu in whom Sattva preponderates for giving happiness to the people (by preservation of the created universe). Salutation to Śiva who is effulgent and beyond the three attributes. ]
The last line of the above verse is explained by Madhusudana thus:
प्रमहसिपदे निस्त्रैगुण्ये शिवाय नमो नमः – निर्गतं त्रैगुण्यं यस्मात्न्निस्त्रैगुण्यं तस्मिन्पदे पदनीये तत्पदप्राप्तििमित्तम् । कीदृशे ? प्रमहसि प्रकष्टं मायया अनभिभूतं महो ज्योिर्स्मिन्स्था । सर्वोत्तमप्रकाशरूपत्रिगुणशून्यमोक्षनिमित्तमित्यर्थः ।शिवाय – निस्त्रैगुण्यमङ्गलस्वरूपाय ’शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते ’ इति श्रुतेः । प्रमहसि पदे सथिताय इति वा । हरिपक्षेऽप्येवम् ।
The above means: ‘Shiva’ is the tattvam, the Turiya, which transcends the three guṇas. Why is Shiva to be prostrated? With a view to attain Him, His state. What is His nature, state? The Supreme Consciousness, effulgence, unaffected, untouched by māyā is what He is .[Alternatively, He is established in such an effulgence.] That is the supreme state of mokṣa which is free of all three guṇas. For the word ‘Shiva’ the author cites the Mandukya 7th mantra: ‘shivam advaitam chaturtham manyante’ That pure auspicious essence that is free of the three guṇas which is non-dual, called the ‘fourth’ (Turiya).
Having explained thus to refer to Hara, Shiva, the commentator Madhusudana Saraswato, for whom Hari and Hara are non-different, says: the above explanation applies to Hari too in exactly the same manner. Thus, for Madhusūdana the Supreme Brahman can be called Hari or Hara. It makes no difference for the advaitin.
In conclusion, we cannot but bow in admiration to Madhusūdana Saraswati’s broad vision that is conspicuous by its freedom from narrow-mindedness that is characterized by fanaticism and bigotry. MS, just like the venerable Advaita Achārya Shankara (who too steered clear of all fanaticism and bigotry by expressing Hari-Hara abheda and trimūrti aikya in his various works including the Viṣṇu sahasra nāma bhāṣyam) stands firm in the tradition of Advaita Acharyas.
Om Tat Sat