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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Eight

Continued from Part Seven

 

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SPHOTA

Two Aspects of the Word

As mentioned earlier in the series, the first two khandas of the Vakyapadiya cover subjects such as grammar as also the philosophy of grammar and linguistics, focusing on the word (Sabda) and meaning (Artha).

The first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) of Vakyapadiya introduces the concept of Sadba-sphota and gives the outline of its general philosophy; and, its distinction from sound (Dhvani, Nada). By Sabda Sphota, Bhartrhari refers to that inner unity of Sabda (word or sentence) which conveys the meaning (Artha).

The text explains a complete sentence as the intent of the speaker, which is unerringly grasped, directly and immediately, by the listener (Sphota). And, that it is not the same as Nada (non-linguistic sound or that which expresses) or Dhvani (intonation) which act as a carrier to convey the intended meaning.  Here, in Grammar (in contrast to Tantra and to the classical theories of Indian music), Nada signifies the gross sound which results from a collection of subtle Dhvani-s.

***

After establishing , in the opening Karika-s (Shastra-aramba), that Sabda–tattva (Word-principle) is verily the Brahman, the ultimate truth which is beyond space or time; and declaring that Sabda Brahman (Supreme word principle) is One (ekam eva), is imperishable (Akshara)  and is identical with the highest Reality –Para Brahman, Bhartrhari takes up the question of language and  meaning.

(Anadi-nidhanam Brahma sabda-tattvam yad-aksharam / vivartate artha-bhavena prakriya jagato yatah – VP. 1.1)

Bhartrhari begins his discussion on words and meaning (VP: 1.44-49) by stating that in the words which are expressive, Grammarians see two aspects :  one, the cause of all words, and another, the kind of words used to convey a meaning.  These two , though appearing to be separate, are ,in fact, not distant from each other; they, in truth, are one. The Supreme Word principle and the spoken word are in a similar relationship – as that between the fire which is inherent in the firewood, and that which is made manifest through rubbing fire-sticks together.

dvāv upādānaśabdeṣu śabdau śabdavido viduḥ /
eko nimittaṃ śabdānām aparo ‘rthe prayujyate -VP:1.44
avibhakto vibhaktebhyo jāyate ‘rthasya vācakaḥ /
śabdas tatrārtharūpātmā saṃbandham upagacchati – VP: 1.45
ātmabhedaṃ tayoḥ ke cid astīty āhuḥ purāṇagāḥ /
buddhibhedād abhinnasya bhedam eke pracakṣate –  VP:1.46
araṇisthaṃ yathā jyotiḥ prakāśāntarakāraṇam /
tadvac chabdo ‘pi buddhisthaḥ śrutīnāṃ kāraṇaṃ pṛthak – VP: 1.47
vitarkitaḥ purā buddhyā kva cid arthe niveśitaḥ /
karaṇebhyo vivṛttena dhvaninā so ‘nugṛhyate – VP: 1.48
nādasya kramajātatvān na pūrvo na paraś ca saḥ /
akramaḥ kramarūpeṇa bhedavān iva jāyate – VP:1.49

[Translation of Shri K Raghavan Pillai

Words are of two kinds — one, the cause of all words, and another, the kind of words used to convey a meaning.  Some consider that there is an intrinsic difference between them, according to others, the second type is only a manifested form of the first the Supreme Word principle and the spoken word are in a relationship similar to that between the fire which is inherent in the firewood, and that which is made manifest through rubbing fire-sticks together. The potential fire in the kindling wood, once inflamed, illuminates itself as well as other objects. Like the light concealed in the piece of kindling wood is the cause of the manifestation (prakāśa) of another [light].  It is the same way in which the mental word is the cause of every audible word.

The nada or the uttered sound is only the Sphota or the Word-principle in manifest form. But the manifested word has characteristics of its own which are not – of the Sphota (44-49)

In the next kārikās it is claimed that although the distinction between the mental and the audible words may be useful for the description of a verbal communication, from the ontological point of view it is invalid. It is the indivisible word that acquires succession in the phonemes (Varna) as if being differentiated. Modifications, which the mental word is subject to in the course of audible manifestation, have the same character as the changes which the reflection of an object undergoes because of the movement of water.

pratibimbaṃ yathānyatra sthitaṃ toyakriyāvaśāt /
tatpravṛttim ivānveti sa dharmaḥ sphoṭanādayoḥ // VP:1.50 //]

**

Here, Bhartrhari, just as Patanjali, begins with the observation that the words or sentences (Sabda) can be viewed in two ways or as having two aspects (upādāna-śabdesu): One; as sound patterns (Dhvani); and, the other as its cause and essence (Artha).

[Patanjali had said:  Sphota is both internal and external. The internal form of Sphota is the innate essence of the word-meaning. The external aspect of Sphota is the uttered sound which is perceived by the sense organs. It merely serves to manifest the inner Sphota with its inherent word-meaning. But, for Patanjali, Sphota could be a letter (Varna) or a fixed pattern of letters (Pada).]

 (i) The gross sound pattern, Dhvani or Nada, is a sequence of sounds. Those sounds are employed to convey or to give an audible form to the intent of the speaker.  Those audible sounds through their divisions and time sequence, produced one after another by the speech organs, act as means (upaya) or as vehicles to transport the intent of the speaker. Such quanta of sound-sequences (words) might create an impression as though they are independent; and, the meaning intended to be conveyed by them (Sphota) comprises several parts. But, in truth, the individual words have no separate existence; and, both the sentence and its meaning (Sphota) are part-less.

.[ pade na varna vidyante varnesva avayaya na cha / vakyat padanam atyantam pravibhago na kascha na // VP 174]

According to Bhartrhari, the letter-sounds have a limited range. Each sound helps in gaining a better understanding of its next. The first one could be vague ; and , the next one little more clear and so on, until the last one, aided by the accumulated  impression created by all the preceding perceptions, finally reveals the complete meaning (Sphota)  with precision and distinctness.

(ii) The second; the essence or the meaning-bearing aspect of the language is called the Sphota. It is through that Sphota the meaning (Artha) of the sentence, as a whole, flashes forth.

Bhartrhari envisages Sphota “as that internal aspect, which is a timeless and part-less (avibhakta) linguistic symbol, to which meaning is attached”. Here, Sphota represents the true intent, purpose of the sentence (Sabda), while Dhvani the articulated sound-pattern, in its physical aspect, acts as a carrier to manifest the Sphota.

(ii) These two – Dhvani and Sphota – though appearing to be separate are, in fact, intimately related through a natural process (Yogyata). The former (Dhvani), acts as the outer garment or as an instrument in order to convey the inner essence of the word (Sphota).

Thus, a word has a dual power; one to indicate itself and the other to indicate the thing symbolized by it. It is like the power of fire:  to   reveal itself and at the same time to reveal other things.It is both the revealer and the revealed  (prakasha and prakasyatvam).

[Earlier, Panini had also mentioned that it is through conveying the own form first, the word conveys its meaning –  svam rūpam  śabdasya  aśabdasamjñā (Pā.1.1.68) ]

**

Though the Sphota is revealed in stages by each succeeding sound; it is, by itself, ‘one and indivisible’. The sounds uttered (words) are merely parts of a sentence that aid to reveal this Sphota. Bhartrhari asserts that it is the cognition of the Sphota in its entirety that is important in understanding the complete and true meaning of a sentence.

While the audible noise may vary depending on the speaker’s mode of utterance, Sphota as the meaning-unit of speech is not subject to such variations.

[ For instance; the sound of the word Ghata (gh, a, t and a) can be produced in any number of ways, either naturally (prakrta) or in a modified manner (vikruta). That word can be uttered slowly (vilambita), a little more quickly (madhyama) or even very quickly (druta).The variations in speed or in the mode of utterance are called vritti. The vritti might vary the form in which the word is uttered (Dhvani); but , it does not alter the content and the sense (Sphota) of the word.

Again; a pot in bright light can be seen clearly. The pot could be seen for a longer time if clear light continues to fall on it. The visibility of the pot depends on the quality of light that falls on it. The variation in the quality of light does not alter the very nature or the status of the pot.

Similarly, the change in speed or accent or mode of uttering a word (vritti) does not alter its Sphota. The physical aspect of the word that is the quality of its sound (Dhvani) might vary ; but , its Sphota remains unchanged.]

Obviously, Sphota is viewed here as a changeless element of speech, the inner unity which holds together the meaning. But, Bhartrhari does not define the term precisely.

[The commentators surmise that the ancient concept of Pranava (Om-kara) might have provided the inspiration to come up with the Sphota concept. In fact, Sphota is often identified with Pranava; and is taken as the imperishable Vak, the speech-principle (Vak-tattva).]

**

Bhartrhari explains the relation between the Sphota and Nada through an analogy of reflection of the moon on the surface of water. The relation between the object (moon) and its image (reflection) is because of the reflective surface (water). And the movement of the reflection might not necessarily be because of the movement of the object (moon). He says; just as the reflection on the water might give an impression as though the moon  (object) is rippling and moving, similarly the Sphota takes on the properties of uttered speech ( sequence, loudness or softness and so on) in which it is manifested. According to this view, the reflection acquires the qualities of the object.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the essence or the thought (Sphota) and the form of its manifestation (Nada or Dhvani  – the letters or sounds). They are the two halves of one entity; and, are not distinct and separable (ekasaivatmano bhedau sabda-artha-vapathak sthitau – VP.2.31) The  realization of this special kind of relation arises  due to the function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

[Some scholars have pointed out that Bhartrhari’s position is closer to the notion of reflection (Abhasa) formulated by the Trika philosophers of Kashmir. In this viewpoint, the Shaktis and their material forms as words are identical with the Absolute. The relationship between the two is described as that between the mirror and its reflection. That is; the latter can have no independent existence without the former. And, yet the latter also has a reality which is somehow identical with the former.]

[Bhartrhari at another place clarifies (VP.1.59): ‘Two aspects of a word (upādānaśabda), distinguished artificially and perceived as separate, indicate different activities, without contradiction’.  It means that all the elements extracted from the word in the course of linguistic analysis are ultimately unreal. But they are valid in their own context. The elements that are relevant in the context of one activity may not be valid in the context of another. That is to say; each kind of activity, i.e. each kind of communicative situation, has its own reality which in some way might differ from the realities of other situations.

bhedenāvagṛhītau dvau śabdadharmāv apoddhṛtau/ bhedakāryeṣu hetutvam avirodhena gacchataḥ  (VP.1.59)  ]

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Sphota:

The technical term Sphota does not easily translate into English. Sometimes, the term ‘symbol’ is used for Sphota in the sense of its function as a linguistic sign. Some scholars have tried to equate Sphota with the Greek concept of Logos, which stands for an Idea as well as for word. But such explanations too seem rather inadequate.

The term Sphota is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Sphut’ which means ‘to burst forth’; but, it also describes what ’is revealed’ or ’is made explicit’. Sphota can also refer to the abstract or conceptual form of an audible word. Say, as when the idea or the meaning bursts or flashes on the mind after one hears /grasps the sounds that are uttered.

[Harsha V. Dehejia remarks : translated wrongly as ‘explosion’; Sphota could ideally be understood as ‘blossoming’]

In Grammar and in Indian linguistic theory, the term Sphota is of prime importance. Nageshabhatta in his Sphota-vada describes Sphota as an entity which is manifested by spoken letters or sounds (sphutati prakashate artho asmad iti sphotah). In a similar manner, Sri Madhava in his Sarva-darshana-samgraha, defines Sphota as that which is manifested or revealed by the Varna (phonemes): sphutyate vyajyate varnairiti sphotah’.  Sri Madhava describes Sphota in two ways. The first as: that from which the meaning bursts forth or shines forth. And, the second as: an entity that is manifested by the spoken letters and sounds.

To put it in another way; Sphota, in its linguistic sense, refers to that element which expresses a meaning (word). In its second sense, it is something that is made explicit by letters or sounds (meaning). Thus, the Sphota may be thought of as a kind of two-sided coin. On the one side, it is manifested by the word sound; and on the other side, it simultaneously reveals the word meaning. It is both the word and its meaning.

Bhartrhari also deals with Sphota at two levels: one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. The Sphota here is more than a theory of language.  The principle that is involved here is: the Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form. The Sphota, Sabda-Brahman, the manifester as Logos or Word, is the power through which the Lord manifests in the universe. Liberation is achieved when one attains unity with that ‘supreme word principle’. Within this theory, consciousness and thought are intertwined; and Grammar becomes a path to liberation. This metaphysical Sphota-vada is a monistic philosophy based in Sanskrit grammar.

At the empirical level, Bhartrhari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He deals with the word and the sound distinctions; the word meaning; the unitary nature of the whole sentence; the word-object connection; and the levels of speech, etc. His focus is on cognition and on language.

Bhartrhari also says that Sphota is both external (bahya) and internal (abhayantara). And again, in understanding Sphota as an external entity we have to understand it in the form of universal (Jati) and individual or specific (Vyakti).

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Communication of thought

If the letters  float away and disappear the instant we utter them and if each sound is replaced by another in quick succession, then one can hardly perceive the sentence as a whole. And the question that comes up is – how does one grasp  a sentence and its meaning in full?

Bhartrhari explains, at first, the sentence exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity or Sphota. In the process of giving a form to a thought, he produces a series of different sounds in a sequence where one sound follows its previous one. It might look as though those word-sounds are separated in time and space. But, they are indeed part and parcel of one and the same single entity – the sentence. The communication of a sentence and its meaning is not complete until the last word is uttered. Thus, though the word-sounds reach the listener in a sequence, eventually they all merge into one ; and, are grasped by the listener as a single unit. The same Sphota which originated in speaker’s mind re-manifests in listener’s mind, conveying the intended meaning.

The listener grasps the intent of the speaker as a whole; and the understanding is like an instantaneous flash of insight (prathibha). Just as the sentence (the symbol – Sphota) is an integral unit, the meaning signified by it is also unitary. That is; the sentence is an integral unit; and, its meaning which is grasped through intuition (pratibha) is also a single unit (Vakya-sphota)). According to Bhartrhari, Sphota is an auditory image of the sentence.  It is indivisible and without inner-sequence.

This, rather crudely put, is the concept called Sphota – the sentence just as its meaning being taken as an integral symbol; and its meaning bursting forth in a flash of understanding.

Bhartrhari held the view that the sentence is not a mere collection (Sabda-samghatah) or an ordered series of words. The sentence with its words is to be taken as single part-less linguistic unit (eko’navayavah s’abdah); and, not as a jumble of fragments. A sentence is a sequence-less, part-less unity that gets expressed or manifested in a sequential and temporal utterance. He maintained that the primary function of the words is to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning – (Arthah sahabhuteshu vartate – VP.2.115). Ultimately, the meaning of the words depend upon the overall meaning of the sentence (rupam sarva-pada-artham vakyartha nibamdhanam-VP.2.324)

[At another place, Bhartrhari observes: All differences presuppose a unity (abheda-purvaka hi bhedah); and, where there are differences and parts, there is an underlying unity. Otherwise the one would not be related to the other; and, each would constitute a world by itself.

Abheda-pūrvakā bhedāḥ kalpitā vākya-vādibhiḥ / bheda-pūrvān abhedāṃs tu manyante pada-darśinaḥ // VP. 2.57// ]

Just as a root or a suffix by itself has no meaning, so also the meanings of individual words have no independent existence. Bhartrhari asserts that a word consisting letters and syllables cannot, on its own, directly convey the meaning/ intent of the speaker. The words are somewhat like intermediate steps to arrive at the meaning of the sentences.

[That does not mean that Bhartrhari denies the validity of individual words or their meaning; but, what is in question is their significance. They are secondary in relation to the Sphota, which is the real object of cognition.

Bhartrhari accepts the fact that a word is vital in a sentence; and, can have multiple meanings. The role and the particular desired meaning of the word depend on the intent of the speaker and the context in which it is employed. He explains this through an analogy: the human eye which has the natural power of seeing many things at a time, but it can see a particular object, clearly,  only when the individual decides and focuses his attention to see that object.]

Bhartrhari argues; in a linguistic analysis, artificial extraction of parts from an integral unit (apoddhāra) – splitting up of a sentence into word and then on into roots, suffixes and syllables, syntaxes etc – might be a useful exercise for study of a language and its grammar; but, such fragmented approach serves hardly any purpose; and, surely it is not suitable in the real world where men and women live, transact (vyāpāra) and communicate verbally (Vyavahara). He says that in a   speech situation, where the speaker communicates her/his ideas and the listener grasps the uttered speech, the communication is always through complete statement. The speaker thinks; communicates; and, the listener grasps and understands those series of word- sounds as a single unit.

Bhartrhari says, those who know the language well, do listen to the sentence. And those who do not know the language may hear words only as sound bites.  Sphota, in essence, is the real experience of listening to a sentence as a whole and grasping its meaning through perception.  It is said; meaning is not something that can be inferred; but, it is actually being perceived.

Bhartrhari compares the communication through language (by use of sentences) to creation of a painting. Bhartrhari describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture : “ when an artist wishes to paint a figure of a man , he first visualizes the object and its spirit as a composite unit  ; then , as of a figure having parts; and, thereafter, gradually, in a sequence , he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.

Mandana Misra in his Sphota-siddhi (a Vritti, commentary, on Bhatrhari’s Vakyapadiya) offers the example of the viewing-experience of a painting, in order to illustrate the relation that exists between a sentence and its words. He points out that when we view a picture, it is conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. Similarly, he says, the composite image presented by a piece of cloth is a whole; and, it is quite distinct from the particular threads and colours that have gone into making of it.

That is to say; a painter conceives a picture in his mind; and, thereafter gives its parts a substance on the canvass by using variety of strokes, different colours, varying shades etc. Which means; an artist paints the picture in parts though he visualizes it as a single image. The viewer of the painting, rightly, also takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit; and , he  does not look for individual strokes, shades etc or the permutation of such details that went into making the picture.  

Similar is the case with the sentence and individual words employed to compose it.

*

For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is not merely the vehicle of meaning or of thought. Thought anchors language; and, the language anchors thought. According to Bhartrhari, the speech and thought are two aspects of the same principle (Vak). In this way, he says, there are no essential differences between a linguistic unit and its meaning or the thought it conveys. That is to say; the perfect communication is when there is complete identity between sentence (or word) and its meaning.

Sphota refers to that ‘non-differentiated language principle’; and, that later gave rise to the theory of Sabda-advaita (word monism).

[Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya recognized and gave credence only to the sentence-Sphota (Vakya-Sphota). But, the latter Grammarians split up the concept into various divisions; and, came up with various sorts of Sphota-s. For instance; Nagesabhatta in his Parama-laghu-manjusha enumerates as many as eight varieties of Sphota, such as: Varna-sphota; Pada-sphota; Vakya-sphota; Varna-jati-sphota; Pada-jati-sphota; Vakya-jati-sphota; Akhanda-pada-sphota; and Akhanda-vakya-sphota.

Of those eightfold varieties of Sphota-s, it is only the last mentioned, the Akhanda-vakya-sphota (sentence as the undivided linguistic unit, the conveyer of meaning), that corresponds to the essential nature of Sphota doctrine as envisioned by Bhartrhari. The rest are mere classroom-exercises. It is said; though the other seven divisions have no real merit of their own, they still serve some practical purpose. They enable the beginner to learn and to know the true nature of Akhanda-vakya-sphota.]

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Process of cognition and theories of error

In the traditional Schools of Indian philosophy (say; as in Samkhya, Advaita or even in Buddhism) there is a sharp distinction between the states of ignorance (A-vidya) and enlightenment (kaivalya, Moksha or Nirvana). A person is either bound or is liberated; but, there is no intermediate stage. Similarly, in the Schools of Logic (Nyaya) also, the valid means of knowledge (Pramana) either reveal the object completely or do not reveal at all.

The approach adopted by Bhartrhari in explaining the process of true cognition is significantly different from that of the other Schools. Bhartrhari argues that perception need not always be an ‘all–or-nothing process’. It could very well be a graded one. There could be vagueness initially; but, the perception could improve as one tries to gain clarity of the object. That is to say; the process of revelation could start from the indeterminate stage and progress, in steps, to the determinate stage. At each successive step, it gains increasing clarity. It begins from complete ignorance, passes through partial knowledge and ends up in a complete knowledge.

Thus, the position of Bhartrhari is that the overcoming of error is a perceptual process by progressing through degrees of positive approximations. Even invalid cognitions can sometimes lead to valid knowledge ( say , as in trial-and-error). Initial errors or vagueness could gradually and positively be overcome by an increasingly clearer cognition of the word form or Sphota. That is to say; the true cognition, established by direct perception, could take place , initially, through a series of possible errors; but, finally leading to the truth.

And, that also takes care of the objections raised by the Mimamasa School which accused the Sphota of being a mere guesswork.

[In Advaita, the true–final cognition is achieved through a process of reasoning and inference; and, not by perception. The Grammarians, in contrast, hold the view that the final cognition of Sphota is by perfect perception Prathibha; and, not through inference. Mandana explaining the Sphota point of view says: the revelation of an object clearly or vaguely is by direct perception. In the case of the other means of knowledge there is either apprehension of the object or not at all.]

Mandana in his Sphotasiddhi agrees with Bhartrhari’s stand   that the final and the clear perception of the Sphota could possibly be achieved after rectifying  a series of probable errors.

Bhartrhari’s position is in stark contrast to that of Sri Sankara wherein the overcoming of the error (A-vidya) is a process of inference in which there are no approximations or degrees of errors. In Advaita Vedanta, there can only be a ‘True’ or ‘False’ cognition, with no gradation in between. Here, error is overcome by a single negation. According to Sri Sankara, the error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely and effectively replaced at once by true knowledge.

Thus, Bhartrhari’s stand marks a significant departure from the Vedanta School where the validity of a means of cognition (Pramana) is judged by its ability or otherwise either to provide for a clear apprehension of the object or not at all. And, there is no room for vagueness or for improving upon an error in stages.

That is to say; Advaita usually describes the error in terms of negation (such as when it is said it is not a snake). The Grammarians, on the other hand, explain the error (vagueness of perception), positively, as a step that , if overcome by increasingly clear cognition, could finally lead to true and complete understanding (Sphota).

The nature and process of comprehension of Sphota   is illustrated by Bhartrhari and other grammarians by means of various analogies.

: – A jeweler, examining a jewel or precious stone, has to look it steadily for some time, to enable him to gain a familiarity with its genuineness, its details  and as also its probable value. With his first reading he acquires a knowledge of the general features of the gem. Each subsequent examination thereafter helps him to ascertain the true nature and quality of the gem.  And the final assessment, aided by the results gained through the previous ones, will enable him to evaluate and to determine, with certainty, the true quality and the exact value of the gem, completely and clearly.

: – Bhartrhari   gives the example of a student attempting to learn by-heart a verse or an anuvaka (a passage of a text) by repeated reading/recitation. Each such attempt helps him to retain the text or a part of it in his memory, to an extent.  It is the last reading aided by the impressions left behind by the previous attempts that helps him to commit to his memory the verse or the passage correctly and fully.

: – Bhartrhari offers another example of a tree which when viewed from a distance might appear like an elephant. But, that apparent mistake would be eliminated if one keeps gazing at the object intensely. And, one would eventually recognize it as a tree, which is its true form. In this instance also, the valid cognition is achieved by erasing a series of errors.

Mandana Misra, in his commentary, remarks that such correction – moving from error to the true – might not necessarily be explained away by factors such as change in distance. That is because, he says, even by standing at the same spot and looking at the object intensely one would be able to gain the right perspective of the object. He explains   : ‘it is the previous cognitions (in this case an elephant) leaving progressively clearer residual impressions, which become the cause of clear perception of the tree’.

Similarly, in Bhartrhari’s theory of language, the object of cognition (sentence), at first, is heard in the form of a word. But finally, through further cognitions ; with the subsequent words providing increased clarity; and , with the utterance of the last word, the total import of the sentence is grasped clearly (Sphota).

It is said; the Sphota theory was developed by Bhartrhari as a foil to the Mimamsa. In contrast to Mimamsa, Bhartrhari asserts that ‘primary linguistic unit is the undivided sentence (Vakya-Sphota). The individual words are merely hints or stepping stones to the complete meaning of sentence (Vakya).

: – And there is the much battered case of a coil of rope being mistaken for a snake. The perception of a rope as a snake is an error. But, the true perception results by negating that error through a series of increasingly clearer perceptions (Sphota) – (as in the case of elephant-tree analogy) . 

:- And, Sesa Krsna, a philosopher and commentator belonging to the early part of the sixteenth century, in his Sphota-tattva-nirupana, a treatise on the Sphota doctrine, offers another illustration.

He says that when a person utters a sound ka with the intention of saying Kamalam (a lotus), we know that he is trying to say a word beginning with Ka. And, when he utters the next syllable Ma, we have another clue; and, we can guess the word a little more clearly. Now, that eliminates the possibility of all the words not beginning with Kama.  Still, the word is not quite clear. We do not know whether he is going to say Kamanam or Kamalam. It is only when the last sound lam is uttered that we come to know the word fully and clearly. It is by the perception of the last letter; we reach at a valid cognition. Thus, the function of the letters is to build up the higher unit (in this case, the word).

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Pratibha

Bhartrhari in the Karikas (2.143-152) of his Vakyapadiya discusses his concept of Prathibha – intuition or flash of understanding.

The basic principle of Bhartrhari’s theory of language is that the complete utterance of the sentence, as a whole, is a unit of speech; and, it should be considered as a single unity. The words, though meaningful, are fractional parts of a sentence. The complete sentence-meaning might be produced by the combination of such parts; but, the whole is simply not the sum of the parts. The sentence and its meaning is essentially an indivisible unit.

We understand the full meaning of a sentence immediately, only, after the speaker finishes the sentence. Thereafter, the complete meaning of the sentence is grasped, as a unity, instantly (pratyaksha), in a flash of insight (Prathibha).

Viccheda grahane arthanam prathibhanyaiva jayate I vakyartha iti tam aahuh padarthair upapadita II – VP.2.143

That Prathibha or flash is not a mere piece of knowledge. It is the wisdom or flash of understanding which guides a person to right understanding (prajnya) and right conduct (iti-kartavyata). Such instinctive awareness is in everyone’s experience. Even the birds and animals have that basic instinct, acquired directly or through recollection of it (samskara or Vasana).  All beings act upon and depend on that inborn intuition (Prathibha).  Even the language-competence and performance is also an inborn virtue (Pratibha) in Man. It is through the power (Shakthi) of that Pratibha the total meaning of the part-less (avibhakta) sentence (AkhandaVakya-sphota) flashes forth.

And yet, that innate instinctive awareness (Prathibha) possessed by all beings cannot be precisely defined in words (anakhyena); pinpointing ‘this is that’- (idam tad iti sanyesam anakyena katham cha na).

[ Mammatacharya ( Kāvyaprakāśa, 11th century) while dealing with poetics , observes  :  the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya;  it needs intuition or Prathibha.  He calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. ]

That intuitive wisdom which reveals the dynamic inter-relatedness of all things comes to a person through maturity, experience (anubhava), reasoning (yukthi) and learning ( from Shastras and Grammar). At another place, Bhartrhari remarks: “insight attains clarity through  diverse traditional views (prajna vivekam labhate bhinnair Agama-darshanin -VP: 2.484). Such wisdom, it is said, is derived from six sources (sadvidhā): nature (Svabhava); action (acharana); practice (abhyasa); meditation or contemplation (yoga); invisible causes (adrsta); and, instructions handed down by the wise (upapāditām)

Svabhāva-acharaṇā-abhyāsa- yogā-adṛṣṭa-upapāditām / viśiṣṭopahitāṃ ceti pratibhāṃ ṣaḍvidhāṃ viduḥ (VP : 2.152 )

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For and against the Sphota-vada

Over the centuries, the Sphota concept was hotly debated among  various Schools of thought. There were those who supported the Sphota-vada; and, there were many others who criticized and opposed it bitterly.

Among the former (Sphotavadins), the more prominent were: Yaska; Patanjali; Mandana Misra; Nagesabhatta; scholars of the Kashmir-Shaiva School; some Yoga-commentators; and, of course Bhartrhari who was the champion of the Sphota-vada. But, somehow, those who opposed the Sphota-vada not only outnumbered its supporters but also were more influential. The anti-Sphotavadins included such eminent philosophers as: Upavarsha; scholars of Samkhya, Nyaya and Vaiseshika Schools; scholars of Shaiva siddantha; Mimamsakas – Sabaraswamin, Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara; Sri Ramanuja; Sri Madhva; Sri Jiva Goswami; Vachaspathi Misra; and, most notably Sri Sankara.

The early Mimamsa School which strongly defended Varna-vada argued that the individual word or the letter (Varna) is the prime substance of Vak (speech). The School of the Grammarians, on the other hand, advocated Sphota-vada to explain the mysterious manner by which the sentence-meaning is conveyed. They put forward Sphota as a process of cognition which culminates in the intuitive perception (Prathibha) of the Absolute as Sabda –Brahman.

In the later periods, these two points of view became the major platforms for debates and discussion among the various Schools of Indian philosophy as also among the Schools of Grammar and language.

 *

In the earlier part of this series we have seen the objections raised against the Sphota concept  by the Samkhya and the Mimamsa scholars prior to the time of Bhartrhari. Let’s now see few major observations made by both the pro and anti Sphotavadins after the time of Bhartrhari (Ca.450 CE).

 : – Kaumarila Bhatta, a noted Mimamsa Scholar (7th -8th century) attacked the manner in which the Sphota phenomenon was supposed to reveal the meaning of word-sounds (Sabda). Kaumarila argued that the word (Sabda), whether be it individual or be it a part of sentence, is nothing more than a collection of articulated-sounds or spoken words. And, it is with this collection of sounds alone that the meaning is associated. The listener grasps the sounds of the words and their meaning. There is nothing else here, he said, one need not, without reason, assume a mystical process of Sphota etc.

: – Mandana Misra, a contemporary of Kaumarila Bhatta, however, refuted the stand of his senior Mimamsaka; and, said that Kaumarila’s stand was rather frivolous. Mandana, in support of the Sphota doctrine, wrote a brilliant commentary (Sphota-siddhi) based Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya. He supported Bhartrhari’s presumption of the whole being prior to the parts; as also the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He agreed with Bhartrhari that it is not the individual words but the complete thought of the sentence that ultimately matters.

As mentioned earlier, Mandana also offered the example of a painting conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. And, also of the appreciation of a piece of cloth, as whole; and, not as mere collection of threads and colours that are woven into it. He says: This aspect is brought out clearly by Bhartrhari.

:- The Jain philosopher Prabhachandra in his Prameya-kamala-marthanda attempted  to reconcile the two opposing views; and, came up with his own doctrine of ‘Interminacy’ (syavada, anekantavada), which, essentially, was a principle that encouraged acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given issue as being multiple dimensions of one and the same object.

:- As regards the Buddhists , while Dharmakirti attacked Bhartrhari, another Buddhist scholar Dignaga seemed to be highly influenced by Bhartrhari ; and quoted verses from Vakyapadiya in support of his own arguments concerning grammatical distinctions between two words having different nominal endings and those with identical endings. Finally, Dignaga agreed with Bhartrhari that meaning of a sentence (vakyartha) is grasped through intuition (prathibha

: – Sri Sankara in his commentary on Brahma Sutra (1.3.28) argued against the stand of the Sphotavadins. He adopted the view taken by the highly revered ancient philosopher Upavarsha (Ca.500 BCE) who had earlier rejected the Sphota-vada. While brushing aside the Sphota concept, Upavarsha had remarked: ‘that all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, it’s articulated elements (Varna) alone that make the unity’.  Upavarsha had in turn come up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which, the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phoneme = Varna) alone are real constituents of a word. He said sounds are only Varnas; and, there is no need for assuming a Sphota.

Sri Sankara adopted the statement of Upavarsha “words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varnas)”. He agreed with Upavarsha; and supported Varna- vada while rejecting the Sphota-vada (Sankara Bhashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28).

Sri Sankara did not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, said the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds and the context.  Here, he remarks: Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘but, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna)- varna eva tu sabddh id bhagavan Upavarsah (BS: 1.3.28). And, therefore, he said , there is no need to bring in the concept of Sphota to decide upon the meaning of the word when it can be derived directly from the Varna-s that form the word.

And then, Sri Sankara went on to build his own arguments to oppose the Sphota vada, based on what he called ‘the tradition of the Masters’- (Acharya –sampradayokti-purvakam siddantam aaha varna iti).

According to him, only the individual letters are perceived; and, they are combined through inference of the mind into word aggregate. Because the psychological process is one of inference and not of perception, there can be no degrees of cognition. According to Sri Sankara, the inference Pramana is an all–or-nothing process. The error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely replaced, all at once, by a new inferential construction of mind or by a super-conscious intuition of Brahman.

:-  The other Acharyas and commentators also toed the line of Bhagavan Upavarsha and Sri Sankara; and, supported Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada. Vacaspati Misra, who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, also rejected the Sphota theory. He came up with his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vada; and, said the understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring to it, in a separate act of lakshana or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.

In the recent times, the Sphota doctrine has received much attention from the scholars of linguistics – both in the West and in the East. It has been duly recognized as one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. As the noted scholar Bimal K. Matilal observes: “Even today this theory is widely recognized among modern linguists as the most complete investigation into the profundities of language, making a considerable contribution to the Philosophy of Language, the Psychology of Speech, and especially Semiotics”.

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Bhartrhari, while discussing about Sphota, put forth his theory to explain the process and the stages through which the thought in the speaker’s mind gets transformed into audible speech.

In the next part let’s look at those levels of Language

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Continued in

Next Part

References and Sources

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 – edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Of Many Heroes: An Indian Essay in Literary Historiographyby G. N. Devy
  3. Time in Hinduismby Harold Coward
  4. Bhartṛhari, the Grammarianby Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  5. The Study of Vakyapadiya– Dr. K Raghavan Piliai Volume I (Motilal Banarsidas; 1971)
  6. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bhartṛhari and Heideggerby Sebastian Alackapally
  7. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Soundby Guy L. Beck
  8. Bhartrhari (ca. 450-510)by Madhav Deshpande
  9. Bhartrihariby Stephanie Theodorou
  10. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysisby Harold G. Coward
  11. Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartahariby Harold G. Coward
  12. Sequence from Patanjali to Post _modernityby  V. Ashok.
  13. The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
  14. Sphota theory of Bhartrhari
  15. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgensteinedited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  16. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topicsby John Geeverghese Arapura
  17. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regainedby William S. Haney
  18. The Advaita Vedānta of Brahma-siddhiby Allen Wright Thrasher
  19. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First… Edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  20. Bhartṛhari – from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  21. Sri Venkateswara Univrsity Oriental Journal Volumes XXX-XXXi 1987 – 1988
  22. Studies in the Kāśikāvṛtti: The Section on Pratyāhāras: Critical Edition …edited by Pascale Haag, Vincenzo Vergiani
  23. Proceedings of the Lecture Series on Våkyapadiya and Indian Philosophy of Languages- (31.1.08 to 2.2.08)
  24. Encyclopaedia for the world psychologists 1. A – D ; Edited by H. L. Kalia
  25. Linguistic philosophy of Yaska- Sodhganga
  26. https://archive.org/stream/Vakyapadiya/vakyapadiya#page/n105/mode/1up
  27. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/31822/8/08_chapter%202.pdf
  28. ALL IMAGES ARE FROM INTERNET
 
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Bhagavad-Gita Multiple interpretations- Part One

 

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Bhagavad-Gita, by all accounts, is rather an unusual text.

Bhagavad-Gita, is revered as one among the exalted triad of the fundamental philosophical texts (Prasthana traya) of the Sanatana Dharma; the other two being the principal Upanishads and the Brahma Sutra which is the condensed essence of Upanishads . The Gita is accorded the position of Sadhana Prasthana (practical text); and, is regarded as the starting point of remembered tradition the Smriti Prasthāna.

[Sruti is the directly perceived truth, hence more authoritative. Smriti is the heard or meditated upon tradition that follows the Sruti.]

: – And yet; the Bhagavad-Gita is located within the Mahabharata, an Epic which is classified as Ithihasa, a narration of the past events. The Gita is conceived and developed as a solution to the climax of a Dharmic dilemma that emerges during the course of the Epic. As van Buitenen said; it was not an independent text that somehow wandered into the epic.  Mahabharata as Ithihasa is classified as Smriti, while the Bhagavad-Gita imbedded within it is assigned a superior and an exclusive position of a Sruti, though it deviates, in some respects, from the traditional Sruti format.

[However, the famous philosopher Dr. Surendranath Dasgupta in his monumental History of Indian philosophy makes an interesting observation. In the Rig Veda, he observes, Vishnu is called as Gopa, Sipivishta, Urukrama, etc., but not as Narayana. Then he goes on to say, similarly, Bhagavad Gita does not use the term Narayana; but, the Mahabharata identifies Narayana with Vishnu. This, according to him, could show that Bhagavad Gita was composed much before Mahabharata tale was reduced to writing. He opines, Bhagavad Gita was composed when Narayana was yet to be equated with Vishnu.

In contrast to that, Eknath Easwaran asserts that the Gita was composed much later under the realities of a new age. It ‘is not an integral part of the Mahabharata. It is essentially an Upanishad, and my conjecture is that it was set down by an inspired seer and inserted into the epic (later).’]

: – Though Bhagavad-Gita appears as a part of the Mahabharata, it is studied and commented upon as an independent text, complete in itself. All the Acharyas who wrote Bhashya-s (commentary) on the Gita regarded it as a Sruti; and a source text of valid knowledge.  It was even considered as the fifth Veda (Panchama Veda); and, cited as a Pramana (a text of undisputed authority) on a range of questions.

: – The conversation (Samvada) that takes place in the Gita is not very lengthy, not exceeding 700 verses; and yet, it caused thousands of commentaries over the centuries.

[ The Bhishma Parva (the Sixth Parva in Mahabharata) is spread over 124 Adhyayas (chapters), in 4 sub (upa) Parvas (sections) ; and, having in all 5,381 shlokas (verses). Within that massive Parva, the Bhagavad-gita  is just about 700 shlokas, contained in 18 Adhyayas (starting from the 25th and ending after 42nd chapter of the Bhishma Parva), which appear under the third Sub-Prava (Bhagavat-Gita Parva). Thus, Bhagavad-gita forms a very small portion of the Bhishma Parva; but, its value and significance is immensely huge – ‘A little shrine within a vast temple’.]

:-  Gita regards the Absolute Reality  as Brahman to which nothing can be attributed ; as well as Saguna Brahman , a divinity with most adorable qualities; and also as an ideal human being in the form of Krishna, the manifest Brahman. Gita refers to all the three forms without contradictions. They all are viewed as the different aspects of the One or THAT which is beyond –Tat Param

[Gita does not mention the term Avatar at all. Perhaps the concept of Avatar was then yet to be evolved. But, the seeds of an idea of a God who descends and takes forms on earth are present- sambhavami  yuge-yuge.]

: – As a philosophical text, Bhagavad-Gita is a part of the basic source-book of the Vedanta which speaks in terms of Brahman, the Absolute, infinite and eternal. But as a religious Book, it could even be reckoned as a Vaishnava text, since it regards Vishnu (Krishna) as the Supreme Lord of the Universe. And, it is closely associated with the Srimad-Bhagavata and related traditions of Vaishnava doctrine. Thus, Bhagavad-Gita is not only the revelation by Krishna, but also the revelation of Krishna as the Supreme Being.

 [However , the scholars of the Kashmir Shaiva School, such as Rajanak Ramkanth (Sarvatobhadra – 850 AD); Bhatta Bhaskara (Bhagavad-Gita Tika – 900 AD); and, Abhinavgupta (Bhagavadgitarth Samgraha – 950 to 1050AD) interpreted Bhagavad-Gita from the Shaiva point of view and regard it as the one among the Shaiva-Agama class of texts.]

: – At another level, the Gita could even be seen as a personal god in conversation with a human being. The involvement of a divine being (as an inspiring leader) on an earthly battlefield and asking the warrior to carry on the fight is truly interesting. It, somehow, seems to mark the limits of the human; and , to point to the nature of war, prompted by god, as an avoidable necessity for restoration of moral order (Dharma) on the earth.

This view, needless to say, is highly debatable.

[The Samkhya concept of the Purusha and Parakrti; the passive and the active; the   inspirer and the doer, runs throughout the Indian texts in one form or the other.  The Nara-Narayana is the classic model of this concept. Here too, Krishna (Narayana) does not fight; but, motivates Arjuna (Nara) the warrior to carry on the fight. Krishna is the awakener (the Sun).]

:-  The  religion , which for whatever reasons,  is known as ‘Hinduism’ does not have a Book  per se;   but therein , the Gita has come to be recognized as a Holy Book upon which one swears to ’tell the truth , the whole truth and nothing but truth’.

: – Further, while the other ancient Indian texts are gradually fading out of the discussions among the common people, the Bhagavad-Gita and its ‘message’ is still being debated, with some fervor . And, no other Sanskrit work approaches the Bhagavad-Gita in the influence it has exerted in the West as the chief philosophical statement of Hinduism.

: – The narrative structure of the Gita is rather peculiar, as the scholar Devdutt Pattanaik points out in his My Gita:

dritharastra-sanjayaWe never actually hear what Krishna told Arjuna. We simply overhear what Sanjaya transmitted faithfully to the blind king Dhritarashtra in the comforts of the palace, having witnessed all that occurred on the distant battlefield, thanks to his telepathic sight. The Gita we overhear is essentially that which is narrated by a man with no authority but with a distant sight (Sanjaya) to a man with no sight but with full authority (Dhritarashtra). This peculiar structure of the narrative draws attention to the vast gap between what is told and what is heard.

Krishna and Sanjaya may speak exactly the same words, but while Krishna knows what he is talking about, Sanjaya does not. Krishna is the source, while Sanjaya is merely a transmitter. Likewise, what Sanjaya hears is different from what Arjuna hears and what Dhritarashtra hears.

Sanjaya hears the words, but does not bother with the meaning. Arjuna is a seeker and so he de-codes what he hears in order to find a solution to his problem. Arjuna, during the ‘conversation’, asks many questions and clarifications’, to ensure that the he properly understands the purport of the ‘discourse’.

 In contrast, Dhritarashtra remains silent throughout. In fact, Dhritarashtra is not interested in what Krishna has to say; but is rather fearful of what Krishna might do to his children, the Kauravas.

: – As regards the treatment of its subjects, the Bhagavad-Gita describes itself as the essence of all the Upanishads. The Upanishads by their very nature are philosophical speculations transcending the physical world. The Gita on the other hand teaches about living a worthwhile, meaningful life in the world among fellow beings – Jivana- Dharma – Yoga.

:- Further, the Upanishads which aspire to understand the essential nature of all things in the Universe and in the individual, as also the relation between the two , emphasize the superiority of knowledge (Jnana) over action (karma). In the Gita, Krishna on the other hand, asks Arjuna to follow the path of action and to act decisively. The confused Arjuna, naturally, queries Krishna for a clear direction: ’Oh, Janardhana, if you consider Knowledge (Jnana) to be superior to action, why then do you instruct me to perform this terrible act?’   (BG.  3. 1 – 2).

The Gita does not seem to favor renunciation or total withdrawal from the world resulting in inactivity, nivritti. Instead the Gita teaches a sort of Jnana that endorses renunciation of desires, of fruits of action. It advocates activity pravritti with the renunciation of the fruits of action. Gita terms it as ‘inaction in action and action in inaction’ (4.18). That is, performing acts according to ones calling, with equanimity; and, relinquishing the fruits of one’s actions.

anaashrita karma phalam kaaryam karma karoti yah
sa sannyaasi ca yogi ca na niragnir na ca akriyaha

One who does not depend on the fruits of action but does the work which is his duty. He is a sanyaasi and also a yogi, not the one who has renounced fire (rituals) and not one who (merely) does nothing (Bg. 6.1)

yoga yukto vishuddhaatmaa vijitaatmaa jitenriyaha
sarva bhutaatma bhutaatmaa kurvan api na lipyate

He who  by following Yoga, has purified the mind; has controlled the mind;  has controlled the senses; sees his own Self in all beings; and, does not get tainted even if he does work (Bg. 5.7)

 [Krishna, of course, succeeds in reconciling the deep chasm between the two paths or approaches (Jnana and karma) by introducing the unique concept of internal renunciation, as opposed to external renunciation.

By reconciling otherwise two contradictory ideas, Krishna offers a realistic system which intertwines performance of one’s responsibilities in life without getting too attached to it. It cautions that an un-restrained desire for the fruits of one’s action, more often than not, leads to major blunders in decision making, both in personal and social life.

In this way, the Bhagavad-Gita adheres to both the ideals. It supports involvement in the performance of one’s social and moral responsibilities according to ones Dharma in life; and, at the same time it endorses the Upanishad ideal of self-realization which leads to liberation from confines of relative existence.  ]

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Manifold paths

The Gita begins with a response to Arjuna entering a state of despondency just at the time when he was required to perform. This is the initial problem of the Gita. Krishna’s teaching will, in later stages, cover several other paths or approaches to life; but, the initial focus is on the problem of action, with Karma Yoga as the solution. It is self-less performance with equanimity; equal acceptance of pleasure and pain; and, renouncing fruits of one’s action.

Jnana Yoga is the discipline of knowledge of Self; recognizing ones true identity. It also means knowing clearly; realizing one’s own divinity; and, also seeing the divine in human and the earthly.

The first-half of the Gita essentially teaches a combination of Karma-yoga and Jnana-yoga – to act selflessly with true knowledge of the reality. Here, Equanimity serves as a foundation standing upon which one can look beyond and reach for a reality that is totally different, the Absolute.

Though the wise one fights battles, he does it with composure and with lack of enmity or hate or self-interest. The enemy, after all, is as much a manifestation of God as the warrior is.

The Bhakti-yoga is the path of love, complete surrender in guileless faith, and absolute devotion to the divine. It aims to experience the splendor of the divine in all its manifestations (Lila), and immerse in its delight (Ananda).

The Dhyana–yoga or Raja-yoga, the Royal way, is the discipline of meditation, withdrawing the senses, calming the mind and clearing it of confusions and other delusions. It seems to be based in the eight-fold (Astanga) Yoga system of the Sage Patanjali, though there are no explicit references to  it; and, there are also no separate verses or chapters devoted to this discipline

Arjuna begins in bewilderment and depression; and at the end, stands up to fight his cousins with composure.

[One of the commentators observes: assuming that the Gita was an insertion into the Epic; and, given the fact that the great battle did eventually take place, the outcome of the Gita could not have been different. Arjuna had to fight, in any case.]

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Synthesis

It appears that the Bhagavad-Gita was composed during a vibrant period when growing verities of options for attaining liberation (Moksha) from confines of human limitations were hotly debated and ardently explored.

Bhagavad-Gita frequently refers to the fundamental philosophical concepts of Smakhya and Yoga Darshana-s. It is also based in many Upanishads providing verities of solutions to human predicaments, as also suggesting pointers to the understanding of the Universe, the individual and the relation that  exists between the two. The Bhagavad-Gita, in that process, draws upon many sources.

In that progression, the Bhagavad-Gita elaborates on the varied disciplines and paths of Jnana (knowledge), Karma (action), and Bhakti (devotion) as also Yoga for attainment of the highest good. The text calls itself Yoga-shastra – the science and knowledge of Yoga.   The term Yoga is used in Gita in a variety of senses. And, Yoga here also stands for Marga, the path; be it the path of knowledge (Jnana-yoga), devotion (Bhakthi-yoga) or the path of action (Karma-yoga). In all these paths, the essential message of renouncing the fruits of action is stressed. The Gita does not explicitly support one Yoga over the other. It rather extols one Yoga then another or a combination of Yogas. It is to be understood as a many-sided system with various elements harmonized.

Does not seem to favor a particular path

The discourse on those subjects, however, is not arranged in a systematic manner. The Gita gathers and combines different trains of ideas just as it finds them in traditionally accepted Schools, without much effort to harmonize them. The text does not seem to hold up a single discipline or path as its ‘true message’. And, such ambiguity in its ‘message’ or the adaptability of ‘its message’  to different Schools of Philosophy and to the circumstances in life  has led to plethora of interpretations, each claiming that it has certainly grasped the ‘true message ‘of the Bhagavad-Gita.

One can even say that the scope for deriving varied types of  interpretations becomes possible mainly because of the unique virtue of the Gita which allows each reader  to discover its essence, in his or her own manner, at his or her own pace and terms.

Deciphering its meaning and its ‘true’ philosophical intent is neither easy nor simple. Some of the greatest minds have grappled with the philosophical problems present in it.

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The ways of reading the Gita

There are several ways of reading Bhagavad-Gita. It can be read as a literary work or poetry of merit with allegorical imagery; it can be read as a part of Oriental studies; and, it can also be read as a philosophical work.

As a work of literature, its literary or poetical aspects would be discussed and the allegories would be highlighted. As a work of Indology, its historical background and linguistic aspects would be examined. Such a scrutiny would focus on the date of its composition; on speculations about its plausible author or author/s; or on the question of its relation to the context of the Mahabharata-events. 

But, it is the study and explanations of Gita’s philosophical outlook, its conceptual structure and speculations about its ‘true message’ that has given rise to diverse stand points and multiple interpretations. Such interpretations over the centuries have been so diverse and   so complicated, one wonders whether they all were referring to one and the same text.

The Gita’s adaptability to different kinds of philosophical interpretation is partly caused by the effort of its composer/s to bind within it the tenets of several philosophical schools (Darshana-s) including Samkhya, Yoga and the devotional aspects of the then emerging Bhakthi traditions. That, to an extent, injected ambiguities and incompatibilities in reading and interpreting the text.

The phenomenon of multiple interpretations of the Gita has continued over the long centuries. At different times or phases in the history, fresh interpretations of the ‘true message ‘of the Gita sprang up, each in the context of its own times, environment and preferred attitudes. Each successive interpretation of the Gita was at variance with its previous one.  And yet, what is most amazing is that each of those varied interpretations is valid in its own context.

That is to say; each commentator has diligently gone about in putting forth his honest understanding of the ‘true message’ of the Gita. Each commentary of the Gita is thus a subjective view of the text. The ‘message of the Gita’ might indeed be all of those assorted interpretations; and, even be more.

The quest for objective truth or the real truth of the Gita is still very much on, even thousands of years after it was uttered on a distant battle field, amidst two huge armies raring to go at each other.

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Quest for objective truth

The quest for objective truth – (what did Krishna say, exactly?) – is another cause for emergence of multiple interpretations and countless number of commentaries. In the zeal to uphold his own interpretation as the objective truth of the Bhagavad-Gita, each commentator, somehow, seemed to get intolerant of the ones that differed from his own. That, in a way, is rather uncharacteristic of the Indian tradition which accommodates within itself and harmonizes various seemingly contrary positions.

All the branches of Indian traditions, notably the Jain, have always tried to adopt the concept of Anekāntavāda which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject. The Buddha too said that merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions; it would be prudent to approach each issue from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika).

[Devadatta Kali (David Nelson) in the introduction to his very well written work Svetasvataropanisad: the Knowledge That Liberates writes:

Although the Indian thinkers are not immune to disputation , by and large , their culture has valued the principle of accommodation and acceptance…Throughout the centuries of Indian philosophical traditions , the differing views have often been seen as just that – as differing views of a single reality that lies beyond human power of articulation. The tendency has often been to harmonize opposing views as distinct parts of a larger whole whose fullness lies well beyond the reach of mere perception or reason. It needs to be stressed that the primary purpose of sacred literature is to impart spiritual knowledge, not to fuel intellectual or sectarian debate – or to create confusion.]

The basic idea here is that the reality could be perceived differently from diverse points of view; and, that no single point of view should be taken to be the complete truth, to the exclusion of all others. The varied views could either be taken together to comprise the complete truth or as different dimensions of a single reality.

Bhagavad-Gita is a multi-layered text with many avenues for exploration.  I, therefore, reckon that an Anekāntavāda approach would be more appropriate in understanding its manifold message, rather than steam- pressing it into a particular mold.

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Is there a need to seek for the ‘objective-truth?’

That again begs the question: is there a need to seek for the ‘objective-truth’ of the Gita? Because, there is a danger that such monolithic one’s own ‘objective–truth’ might shut out the options of myriad other plausible meanings. Thus, a purely objective view, despite its merit, seems to limit itself to a particular slot.

There is, therefore, surely some merit in subjective approach to the study and understanding of the Gita. In fact, some have suggested that each could try to compose his own Gita according to her/his own understanding and inclination. As Shri Devdutt Pattanaik observes: The quest for subjective truth (how does The Gita make sense to me?) allows each (after listening to the various Gita-s around him/her) to discover one’s own Gita at his or her own pace, on his or her own terms.

The Gita itself seems to advocate subjectivity. Bhagavad-Gita in its structure and narration adopts the idea of free-will.   At the conclusion of his discourse, Krishna counsels Arjuna to reflect on what has been said, and then do as he rightly feels.

For instance; Krishna says that his teaching can be perceived directly (Pratyaksha-avagamam) according to one’s understanding (BG.9.2)

And again, in Chapter 12 of the Gita, Krishna counsels:

Fix your mind on me alone, and absorb your consciousness in me; thus you shall surely abide in me. If you cannot fix your consciousness steadily upon me, then aspire to reach me through repeated yoga practice. O Dhananjaya, if you are incapable of even that, embrace the path of action, for which I am the highest goal, since by acting for me you shall attain perfection. But if you are unable to follow even that path of refuge in me through acts devoted to me, then give up the fruits of all your actions, thus restraining yourself. Knowledge is superior to practice; meditation is superior to knowledge; and, relinquishing the fruits of action is higher than meditation, as tranquility soon follows such relinquishment.

What really is the true vision or Darshana of this ancient, sacred and marvelous treatise named Bhagavad-Gita, the song celestial?

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Pluralism of the Gita

The multiple interpretations or pluralisms of approaches in understanding the Bhagavad-Gita have an extensive and illustrious history. During that long period, different aspects of the Gita came into the fore; new meanings were read into its passages; and attempts were made to adopt its ‘message’ to suit new or emerging situations.

The history of the interpretations of the Gita can broadly be considered under the following heads:

: – The Acharyas

The medieval period starting with Sri Sankara ( 8th century)  followed by  the  Bhashyas of Sri Ramanuja , Sri Madhwa and other Acharyas as also  that of Abhinavagupta analyzed and commented upon the Gita in terms of the traditional Vedanta concepts of Advaita, Visistadavaita and Davaita;   and assigned primacy either to Jnana (knowledge) or to  Bhakti ( devotion) or to Karma ( action) . Each scholar went  according to the  principal philosophical precept of his School of thought , while sidelining the other plausible interpretations .

Santa Jnanesvar or Jnanadeva (1274-1297) of Maharashtra in his celebrated rendition of the Bhagavad-Gita – Jnaneshwari (Bhavarth Deepika) – taught  the path of loving and guileless devotion (Akritrim Bhakthi) and self-less action as the true way. He said that everyone should perform his/her duty lovingly as a Yajna and offer his or her actions as flowers at the feet of the Lord. According to Jnanadeva; it is through such Bhakthi and Bhakthi alone that the Supreme Reality can be realized

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: – The Colonial period

The period starting with the middle of the 18th Century when the English, German and French translations of the Bhagavad-Gita , captured the attention of the intellectuals as also that of the general-readers, widened the range of its readership as also the scope for its varied interpretations. Initially, Bhagavad-Gita gained publicity mainly as a rare cultural object retrieved from the unknown past of the distant East; and , in particular , as ’a curious specimen of mythology and an authentic standard of the faith and religious opinions of the Hindoos’.

: – That was followed by study of the Gita as a literary work. It proved to be a major influence on Romantic literature in Europe and Britain.

: – And, to the intellectuals and philosophers in the West, the Gita provided a perceptive view of the Hindu philosophy.  Among the scholars, the linguistic study of the Sanskrit text of the Gita; the historicity of the Mahabharata event; the questions of its authenticity and its date; the enquiry into its plausible author /authors and so on were widely discussed.

:-  The Gita evoked a different sort of reaction among the Christian Missionaries , They saw in it a possibility ’ to encourage a form of monotheist ‘Unitarianism’ ; to draw Hinduism away from the polytheism  ascribed to the Vedas’;  and,  to pave  way to spread Christianity in India.

:-  As the English and French translations of the Gita began to gather attention from among the educated class of the Colonial India of the 19th Century , it led to review and re-assessment of the principles of the Hindu philosophy and the practices of its faiths . The Western educated intellectuals and social reformers such as Raja Ram Mohun Roy regarded it as the essence of all Shastrus; and. interpreted Gita as a message for self-less action.

Though the Brahmo Samaj did not seem to have got the Gita translated , Debendranath Tagore tried interpreting Gita , in the Biblical mode,  as a sort of allegory depicting  the final battle (Armageddon) between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

: – The Western scholars

Following its translations into European languages, the Gita gained a sort of territorial transcendence, spreading its influence beyond Asia. The Gita came to be regarded by the western scholars as a universally acclaimed text.

Among the Western scholars, the Bhagavad-Gita came to be looked upon as the authentic essence of Hinduism. And, and it became the most influential work on Indian thought. The German philosopher William Von Humboldt called Gita: the most beautiful, perhaps the only true philosophical song existing in any known language –the deepest and most elevated text the world has ever seen.  He was fascinated by its concept of Dharma delineated in various layers.    Similarly, TH Griffith saw Yoga taught in the Gita as the discipline of life, giving a deep insight into the ebb and flow of human desires and aspirations. And, the German Indologist JW Huer described Gita as a ‘work of imperishable significance’ calling upon people to ‘master the riddle of life’.

Max Muller too believed ‘that textual authority of Gita should have pride of place in official knowledge about India’; but, he placed Gita next to Vedas in its authority and importance.

 

: – The Theosophists

The Theosophists recognized the Bhagavad-Gita as one of the major spiritual texts of the world.  Among the Theosophists, the allegorical approach with its esoteric and philosophical interpretations gained more importance. The historical and mythological context was kept in the background just to explain the context of the Gita. According to them, Krishna in the Gita represented Logos the objective expression of the Absolute; while Arjuna represented the Monad, Nara, the whole of mankind rather than as a single person.

They explained life as an evolutionary process in which an individual evolves from lower to higher, from grosser physical forms to subtle spiritual forms of beings. The Gita, according to Theosophists is a framework for such a progression.

Theosophists interpreted the concept of one’s duty in terms of the Sva-dharma. They presented the world as a conditioned reality similar   to a huge game in which each piece must move in accordance with the rules governing its movements in order to keep the game going.

: – Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda while in the West compared Krishna’s teachings to that of Jesus. And, while at Home   he spoke about the inner battles in human heart and mind. And he also described Krishna and Arjuna as men of action who could provide inspiration to reform and rejuvenate the Indian society that was fast degenerating into chaos and confusion. He also called for resistance against British oppression.

While laying more importance on the Gita’s larger allegorical meaning, Swami Vivekananda acknowledged the validity of historical research. But, he also said that mere discussion on   the historical aspects of the Gita cannot help one in acquisition of dharma, or moral righteousness’. The idea is: the Bhagavad-Gita is not merely a historically specific conversation; but, it is an ongoing teaching that has universal relevance. It is a process taking place all the times in each ones heart.

 He remarked:

 “One thing should be especially remembered here, that there is no connection between these historical researches and our real aim, which is the knowledge that leads to the acquirement of Dharma. Even if the historicity of the whole thing is proved to be absolutely false today, it will not in the least be any loss to us. Then what is the use of so much historical research, you may ask. It has its use, because we have to get at the truth; it will not do for us to remain bound by wrong ideas born of ignorance.”

: – The Nationalists in the Freedom movement

While the Theosophists tried to provide allegorical and esoteric interpretations of Gita as spiritual struggles, the Nationalists in the Colonial India of the 19th and early 20th century mainly from Bengal and Maharashtra saw it in quite another manner.

The freedom movement gave a great impetus to the study of Gita. Many saw it as national symbol that held within its bosom answers to the burning questions of colonial India. The Key word from the Gita taken by the nationalists was Loka-sangraha – welfare or involvement in the world. That phrase occurs only two times in the Gita (3.20, 25). Then,  there also came into use an  expression that is not found in the Gita . It gained much currency in the 20th century – Nish-Kama-karma, self-less action. Linking of these concepts with national movement for Independence and social reforms did much to bring forth Gita into popular debates. The nationalists promoted Gita as a central work of a rising Indian national ethos.

It is indeed remarkable that so many of India’s political and intellectual leaders of the last century and a half wrote detailed and extensive commentaries on the Gita. There were two broad categories of interpretations. One; as a sort of romantic allegorical  visions of the battle against forces of lower tendencies such as greed, ego, selfishness etc; and, the other, as an authentic source of state craft that prompted to reconsider the nature of politics itself . The latter, led to gathering support for reform efforts and for justifying a fight against the British rule for attaining independence.

Among the former category, Bamkim Chandra Chattopadyaya (1836-1894) provided great inspiration for the National movement, giving impetus to the concept of Motherland as the Goddess India, Mother India. He also depicted Krishna as the ideal person who exemplifies human virtues – a god-like person who was earthly wise and sublimely spiritual in his core. He projected Gita as an answer to West’s technological domination; and as India’s stand  asserting  the merits of  ancient wisdom in the face of colonial oppression.

Sri Aurobindo, who followed Bamkim Chandra, regarded Gita as an absolutely splendid revelation holding forth a Universal message.  He advised that Gita should be approached by forgetting all the religious and academic arguments that highlight or decry one Yoga (paths) or the other. The integrated vision of the Gita, he said, transcends all such limited interpretations.  He envisioned  Gita as a divine action, where the battle field (Krukshetra) is in the heart and soul of every human being. Each one of us, potentially brave, fights in his or her own way with the confronting doubts, desperation, fears and frustrations. Krishna is the one, hidden behind the veils of our psyche and mind, who reveals the mysteries of life. Sri Aurobindo stressed that in the present age it was necessary to understand the Dharma, Karma and Yogas in contemporary sense.

The more militant among the Indian nationalists projected India as the Motherland and Krishna as Avatar who rescued the nation from jaws of A-dharma and to establish Dharma. They accepted the call of the Gita for righteous struggle for national independence, even if it might require violence.  The new battlefield, according to them, was the British Raj; and , they found in Gita a strong support for engaged social and political action, the karma yoga.

Lokamanya Bal Gangaadhar Tilak, who at that time was imprisoned in Burma, presented Gita as an allegory for fighting a just war that historical circumstances had forced upon Indian nation and Indian people.

Even  while calling for a just war (Dharma-yuddha), these commentaries  did maintain a sense of composure and detachment. Just as Arjuna did not regard his warring cousins as foes, the British were also  not targeted as the ‘enemy’; not because of fear but in the interest of generating a broad theoretical principle for establishing a basis  for their political ideology and its strategy. Such an approach allowed Indian leaders to outline a political framework that would serve them well even beyond and after imperialism.

At the same time, at the ground level, there were also groups, organized or otherwise, that believed in disruptive violence as the effective means for overthrowing the alien imperialist power. 

In either case, the Gita provided a stable point of conceptual references, even while there was a range of multiple interpretations on the related issues.

: – Gandhi

Though all the nationalist leaders agreed that purposeful action was needed to attain independence, the form that such action should take, however, remained a point of heated contention. This is where the faith and the views of Mohandas Gandhi become very significant.

Gandhi called the Bhagavad-Gita his ‘dictionary of daily reference’ and his ‘Mother.’ He spoke and wrote widely on it throughout his career. Gandhi, in contrast to other major nationalist leaders, held no commitment more important than his principle of non-violence. But, he ran into a serious interpretive problem because in the course of the Gita Krishna persuades the reluctant warrior Arjuna to take part in an internecine disastrous battle.

Gandhi believed that the message of the Mahabharata itself was the virtues of non-violence; and, the Gita which was but a small segment of it carried a similar message. He wrote:

the author of the Mahabharata has not established the necessity of physical warfare; on the contrary he has proved its futility. He made the victors shed tears of sorrow and repentance; and has left them nothing but legacy of misery.

The question whether the true teaching of the Gita favors violence or non-violence became vitally important to Gandhi. He needed a clear , firm and an honest answer to anchor his faith in his struggle for India’s freedom ; to provide a principled public resistance; and, above all to ensure the authenticity of his inner spiritual life. The Gita, as he understood and practiced, was the foundation of his struggle without hatred, without passion (Nish-Kama-karma) with the attitude ‘mine is but to fight for my meaning, no matter whether I win or lose.’

And, that led Gandhi to offer a particularly distinct interpretation of the Bhagavad-Gita, where Krishna instead of asking Arjuna to fight the war, instructs him to ‘fight the battle within the self; to battle passion and selfishness’.

According to Gandhi, Gita demonstrates the futility of violence; and its true message is non-violence and peace. At the end of the Mahabharata, nearly everyone on both sides is killed. Supporting  Gandhi’s view, ‘The epic’, writes Amartya Sen, ‘ends largely as a tragedy, with a lamentation about death and carnage, and there is anguish and grief … It is hard not to see in this something of a vindication of Arjuna’s profound doubts.’

The battlefield, Gandhi argued, must be taken as an interior one, where the forces of good and evil are locked in never-ending struggle.  The Bhagavad-Gita, he said, is not about the battle that is waged on the field of dirt soaked in blood; but, it is about the ever going conflict within the human heart between the forces of good and evil.

Gandhi said; when Krishna asked to fight, he meant fighting ones lower impulses and not to cling to its rewards; to overcome any self-interested inclinations; and,  to carry out his own righteous duty. One must be equally disposed to ones enemy as to oneself.

Gandhi based his own authority as an interpreter of the Gita on his personal endeavor “to enforce the meaning in my own conduct for an unbroken period of forty years.” Gandhi also claimed that the Gita was not a Hindu work, but rather one of “pure ethics,” which a person of any faith might read and follow.

Gandhi firmly believed that complete renunciation is not possible without total observance of Ahimsa (non-violence) in every form and shape.

Gandhi said that if one has to fight, one should fight non-violently.  Thus, Violence and denial of violence became major issues for debate and action.

Gandhi’s faith in Ahimsa as the core of the Gita gave rise to Satyagraha as an effective means to express one’s protest and to offer resistance without indulging in violence. According to him, a Satyagrahi should be willing to die like a soldier (Kshatriya) for the cause of India’s independence. Satyagraha was Gandhi’s unique contribution to fight against oppression and injustice.

This was in sharp contrast to the interpretation offered by the leaders of India’s nationalist movement such as Sri Aurobindo and others to fight a just war for liberating the Motherland. In fact, during Second War Sri Aurobindo called on Indian people to support the British in its war efforts and fight along with the British against fascist Germany.

: – Aldous Huxley

Similarly, in Aldous Huxley’s famous introduction to the translation of the Gita by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita, Hollywood: M. Rodd Co., 1944) which was published just after the end of World War II, the questions of war, violence gained special significance. Writing in the midst of a war of destruction and violence on an unprecedented scale, Huxley re-read and re-imagined the Gita in a mode which rejected the utter need to kill. He, like Gandhi, emphasized that the true message of the Gita is not violence; but, on the contrary, the futility and uselessness of violence, self-destruction; and, the harm it can bring upon whole generations.

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: – Allegorical Interpretations

Since the early periods the allegorical interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita have been in vogue, by looking upon Kurukshetra as not a mere geographical region or historic battle.

Abhinavagupta, in his Gitartha-sangraha, a commentary on Bhagavad-Gita, refers to a tradition of interpreting Kurushetra as zone of war that takes place between the righteous and un-righteous tendencies within the human body.  According to him, Kurushetra is something more than a geographical venue where a battle took place among the cousins and their supporters.

Similar allegorical interpretations of the Gita became quite a regular feature by the turn of the nineteenth century; and it has been carried forward ever since. Such interpretations fall in to two broad categories: One, to battle against forces of lower tendencies such as greed, ego, selfishness etc; and, the other, to gather support for reform efforts and for justifying a fight against the British rule for attaining independence.

For Sri Aurobindo, ‘the physical fact of war is only an outward manifestation of a general principle of life. The war symbolizes all aspects of struggle that takes place all the time, both in our inner and outer living.. Life is a battle and a field of death; this is Kurukshetra’.

For Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Kurushetra signified Dharmakshetra, a just war against oppressive foreign rule.

Edwin Arnold too referred to Kurukshetra as human body, the field where Life disports.

Gandhi followed Arnold’s interpretation that Kurukshetra is where an eternal struggle is taking place within us.

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The present-day

In the present day, the discussions about Bhagavad-Gita in terms of Advaita – Dvaita; or Jnana-Karma-Bhakti have become very rare. The focus is now more on Gita’s stand on the question of violence; whether it advocates or shuns violence; the efficacy or the moral justification for resorting to violence as a vehicle for expressing one’s protest against the establishment.

There are a notable few who adopted the Gandhian method of Ahimsa to fight against oppression. The celebrated ones among such votaries of non-violence are:  the HH the Dalai Lama the spiritual leader of the displaced Tibetans who firmly believes that the all-embracing ‘concept’ of Ahimsa is the proper solution for any human conflict; Dr. Martin Lather King who led the civil disobedience movement against racial discrimination; and, Aung San Suu Kyi the Burmese nationalist leader who influenced by the philosophy of non-violence of the Buddha and of Gandhi chose non-violence as an expedient political tool in her struggle for democracy and human rights.

In India, we have the dauntless lady Irom Sharmila from Manipur who during August 2016 quit  her 16 long years of fast demanding repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.  We also have Anna Hazare who largely adopted non-violent protests and hunger strikes (a la Gandhi)   in his struggles to promote rural development, to increase government transparency, and to investigate and punish corruption in public life etc.  And, there is Medha Patkar, the resolute social activist and social reformer, ever engaged in various protests.  These and such other well-meaning protesters, sadly, have not met with much success.

Apart from these and few others there is hardly any who has earnestly adopted Ahimhsa in her/his struggle against injustice. The Gandhian way seems to be losing its ground in India. This seems to reflect the state of our being; the times we live in; and, the values we cherish.

Let’s take, for instance, the Indian situation.

The India of the present-day is no longer under foreign rule. It is now governed by the political parties elected by the Indian citizens. The question is:  whether one is entitled or justified for expressing dissent in a violent manner. The question was answered by a resounding YES by the Naxalite and such other militant groups. They sought to find moral justification for taking up arms by quoting Bhagavad-Gita.

A similar justification is made out by the Jihadist terrorist groups who, strangely, also quote the Gita for carrying out their violent attacks.

Even the protests involving inter state river-water disputes, social injustice etc is marked by violence and vandalism destroying public property.

: – There are also those who denounce the ‘message of the Gita’ for various reasons.

For instance:

 Mahatma Jotiba Phule (1827-1890) who was a pioneer in raising awareness of the rights of the Shudras and Ati-shudras (OBC and SC, as classified now) regarded Manu Smruti and the Gita as signs of slavery (Gulamgiri).

Dr. BR Ambedkar, in his essay, Krishna and His Gita, wrote, ‘The philosophic defense offered by the Bhagavad Gita of the Kshatriya’s duty to kill is, to say the least, puerile.’

The infamous Wendy Doniger has said: “The Bhagavad-Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think. Throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war. The Gita is a dishonest book.”

And, Meghnad Desai, economist and politician, in his Who wrote Bhagavad-Gita, declared the Gita as ‘unsuitable to modern India’ whose Constitution commits it to ‘a world of social equity and democratic freedoms. The Kurukshetra war was fought over land dispute and Krishna’s sermon to Arjuna to fulfill his caste obligation. The message of the Gita is casteist and misogynist and as such profoundly in opposition to the spirit of modern India.’

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: – The other views

There have, therefore, been many intellectuals who condemn what is presumed to be ‘the message of the Gita’.

They question:  how can a spiritual being command one to wage a war knowing well the disaster that a war would bring upon the society at large and on the women and children in particular?

As regards the question of Nishkama karma (selfless action), as the scholar Easwaran writes:

the Gita’s focus is relentlessly on the doer’s attitude while he dispenses his Dharmic duty, not on what he actually does to others and its human impact. Krishna is thus able to ask Arjuna to perform ‘all actions for my sake, completely absorbed in the Self, and without expectations, fight!’

As VR Narla put it, ‘while action without seeking some personal gain can be noble, action without any care for its evil consequences to other men [is] reprehensible, even diabolical.

In The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen too finds this problematic: ‘Krishna argues that Arjuna must do his duty, come what may, and in this case he has a duty to fight, no matter what results from it … Why should we want only to “fare forward” and not also “fare well”?

Many wonder, how could the essential teaching of the great scripture be as simple and blatant as to favor war and violence? These wise scholars sought to encourage the readers/listeners to look beyond the obvious; to delve deep; and , to un-fathom its metaphorical allegorical message.

Such bewilderment stems essentially from anxiety, dilemma and loss of direction; but not necessarily from fear or cowardice.

*

Apart from the questions of violence and war, the Gita is of much  significance to the present-day world – a reflective person cannot act confidently without a thorough knowledge of the rightness of the motive and effect. Action and knowledge are very efficacious when combined with love or devotion.       

 [Abhinavagupta in his Bhagavadgitarth Samgraha asserts that Jana and karma are not two things.]

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The Dynamic way

Whichever way you look at it, the Gita is admirably amenable to multiple interpretations.   Its ‘real meaning’ (whatever be it) need not be restricted to either Jnana or Karma or Bhakti or even to violence or non-violence. The Gita could very well be read without imposing upon it one’s own interpretations. One needs:  to be aware of; to recognize; and, to acknowledge its various other plausible interpretations.

Laurie L .Patton in her essay: The failure of the Allegory – Notes on Textual Violence in Bhagavad Gita ( see under section titled  Beyond Allegory: Toward a Dynamic Interpretation of the Exhortation to Fight) included in the book Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts edited by John Renard , speaks about a ‘dynamic way of reading ’ where one would be constantly aware of the other plausible interpretations  as one chooses a particular interpretation. She concludes her very scholarly discussion on varied interpretations of the Gita with the words:

Read in this way, one can engage many possible meanings of the Gita within the clear boundaries of the verse. However, a reader would not be obsessed with the “real” meaning, nor would she be trapped by the literal meaning or the spiritual meaning, or any other possible meaning in between.

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The Bhagavad-Gita is not an abstract theological valuable story, but is a discourse through which are woven many insights, allegories and directions which provide a broader and a meaningful vision of life. It is particularly relevant when one is placed in the very cauldron of life; facing conflicting situations; and when one is confronted with multiple choices.

 When a society enters chaos it does not usually return to its earlier status; but, will re-invent itself; and, ushers in a new society with its own moral, cultural and social references.

In the next segment of this article, let us discus in fair detail each of the above streams of the interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita.

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Continued in Part Two

References and sources

  1. Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and Images of the Hindu Tradition: by Catherine A. Robinson
  2. The Bhagavad Gita and the West: The Esoteric Significance of the Bhagavad-Gita by Rudolf Steiner
  3. Exploring the Bhagavad Gitā: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning by Ithamar Theodor
  4. The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students by Jeaneane D. Fowler
  5. Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts by John Renard
  6. The Failure of Allegory: Notes on Textual Violence and the Bhagavad Gita by Laurie L. Patton
  7. A Comparative Study of the Commentaries on The Bhagavadgītā by T. G. Mainkar
  8. Bhagavad-Gita in Mahabharata Translated and Edited by J. A. B. van Buitenen
  9. My Gitaby Devdutt Pattanaik
  10. The Bhagavad-Gita and modern thought introduction by Shruti Kapila and Faisal Devji
  1. The quest for objective truth – Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita Edited by Robert Neil Minor
  2. Who Wrote Bhagavad-Gita by Meghnad Desai
  3. Da’ud ibn Tamam ibn Ibrahim al-Shawn – The Bhagavad Gita interpreted – Edited by Daud Shawni
  4. A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 2 by Dr. Surendranath Dasgupta

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Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Bhagavad-Gita, General Interest

 

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Bodhayana the Vrttikara – Part One

Baudhayana- Bodhayana

1.1. Baudhayana is a very celebrated name in the long line of scholars of very ancient India. There have been many eminent persons in various fields of study going by the name of Baudhayana. It is also said that Bodhayana is the Southern form of Baudhayana. Further, the name Baudhayana itself stands for ‘descendent of Budha or Bodha’.

1.2. To start with, there is a single reference to one Jara-Bodha in the Rig Veda: Jara-bodha tad vividdhi vise-vise yagniyaya stoman rudraya   drisikam (RV 1.27.10). He is praised as a hero of high knowledge and wide fame; and, one who awakens others.  The term Bodha is also used in the sense of illumination, awakening. Thus, it is deduced that the name Jara Bodha (Bodha the elder)   might refer to a sage who was alert in his ripe old age. And as an adjective, Jara Bodha gives the meaning ‘attending to the invocation’.

1.3. Bodha is also the name of a Risi in the Mantra Patha (2. 16, 14). And, Budhi-putri is the name of a female descendent of Bodha. She is mentioned in the last Vamsa (list of teachers) of Madhyamdina recession of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (6. 4, 31) as the pupil of the Rishi Salankayaniputra.

1.4. There is also mention of Prati-Bodha along with Bodha in two passages of the Atharvaveda (AV: 5.30.10; and 8.1.3). Prati-Bodha, it is said, refers to a Rishi possessed with ‘mystic intelligence’.

Kena Upanishad (Section 2.4 ) states that one attains the realization (matam) the Oneness  of all that permeates and pervades the whole of existence by the inner awakening , a kind of intuition or  reflective perception (pratibodha-viditam matam ).

Pratibodha-viditam matam amrtatvam hi vindate I Atmana vindate viryam vidyaya vindate amrtam /4/

The names Bodha and Prati- Bodha obviously refer to persons having alert, watchful mind and a sort of intuition.

1.5. And, there is also a Prati-Bodha-Putra who is said to be the son of a female descendent of Prati Bodha. She is mentioned as a teacher in the Aitareya Aranyaka (3 1, 5) and Sankyayana Aranyaka (7.13).

Baudhayana-s as Sutrakara-s

2.1. In the later Vedic literature, there are references to Baudhayana as the earliest of the Sutrakaras; his successors being Bharadwaja, Apastamba and Hiranyakeshin.

2.2. In the development of Vedic lore, the Vedanga-s (the limbs of the Vedas) plays a very important role. There are six Angas or explanatory limbs, to the Vedas: the Siksha and Vyakarana of Panini; the Chhandas of Pingalacharya; the Nirukta of Yaskacharya; the Jyotisha of Garga; and, the Kalpas authored by various Rishis.

Regarding the Kalpa, each of the four divisions of the Vedas has its own special Kalpa Sutra.  They are meant to guide the daily life and conduct of those affiliated to its division.

2.3. There are several Schools and traditions of Kalpa Sutras; and are ascribed to various Rishis. Among the Kalpa Sutras, the Asvalayana, Sankhyana and the Sambhavya belong to the Rig-Veda. The Mashaka, Latyayana, Drahyayana, Gobhila and Khadirai belong to the Sama-Veda. The Katyayana and Paraskarai belong to the Sukla Yajur-Veda. The Apastamba, Hiranyakesi, Bodhayana, Bharadvaja, Manava, Vaikhanasa and the Kathaka belong to the Krishna Yajur-Veda. The Vaitana and the Kaushika belong to the Atharva-Veda.

3.1. These Kalpa Sutras are generally divided into three or four divisions: Srauta, Grihya and Dharma; and when it is divided into four divisions, the Sulbha Sutra is included.

Generally, the set of Kalpa Sutra texts include: Grihya-sutra (relating to domestic rituals); Srauta-sutra (relating to formal Yajnas); and, Dharma-sutra (relating to code of conduct, ethics, customs and laws).

3.2. The Sulba-sutra (derived out of the root ‘ Sulb’ meaning ‘ to measure or to mete out’) relates to mathematical calculations involved in construction of Yajna altars (vedi, chiti) , Kamya Agnis (fire places) and platforms); and specification of the implements used in Yajna (yajna-ayudha).

3.3. Thus, Kalpa sutras by their nature are supplementary texts affiliated to the main division of a Veda.

4.1. The Sulba Sutra needs special mention. The Sulbha sutras are the oldest geometrical treaties which represent in coded form. It represents the much older and traditional Indian mathematics. The Sulba Sutras are considered to date from 800 to 200 BCE. There are four, named after their authors: Baudhayana (800 BCE), Manava (750 BCE), Apastamba (600 BCE), and Katyayana (200 BCE).

[Please check:

http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/HistTopics/Indian_sulbasutras.html ]

4.2. The oldest among them is said to be Baudhayana Sulbha sutra.  It is believed to have been compiled by or composed by Baudhayana.  Or, more precisely, it belonged to the School of Bodhayana or was compiled by the descendents or followers of Bodhayana. It belongs to Taittiriya Samhita of Krishna Yajurveda; and is the 19th Prashna or Chapter of the Baudhayana Srauta Sutra, the oldest sutra of Taittiriya recession.

Sutras ascribed to Baudhayana

5.1. Apart from Sulba Sutra, the list of sages associated with Srauta, Grihya and Dharma Sutras, includes Baudhayana . He is regarded the earliest of the Sutrakaras; the first to compose the Kalpa Sutras of the Taittiriya Samhita He was followed by Bharadwaja, Apastamba and Hiranyakeshin.

5.2. Thus, the name Bodhayana or Baudhayana (who originally was said to belong to Kanva Shakha of Shukla Yajurveda)  is associated with each of the Kalpa Sutras classified under the Taittiriya Shakha of Krishna Yajurveda. The Sutras ascribed to Baudhayana are six in number: the Srauta Sutra; the Karmanta Sutra; the Dvividha Sutra; the Grihya Sutra; the Dharma Sutra; and the Sulbha Sutra.

Age of the Sutras associated with Baudhayana

6.1. As regards the age of the Sutras associated with Baudhayana:

(a) Among the Srauta Sutras the Baudhayana Srauta Sutra, the one composed by Baudhayana or his followers,   is considered the oldest. Some say, in all probability, it is older than some of the Brahmanas, such as the Gopatha Brahmana. And, it is regarded as one of the most important texts of the late Vedic period in general.  They are among the earliest texts of the sutra genre, perhaps compiled in the 8th to 7th centuries BCE

(b) And, the Baudhayana Grihya Sutra is oldest Sutra of the Taittiriya ;  and,  it  mentions  Kanva  Baudhayana  as the maker of the Pravachana  , while it names  Apastamba , Vaikhanasa,  and Satyasadhi  Hiranyakeshin  as   Sutra-karas,  the compilers of Sutras  . Among them, Bodhayana the Pravachana-kara is respected as a teacher par excellence, and as the originator of the whole system of instructions among its followers. Bodhayana the Pravachana-kara is placed above the Sutra-karas, the compilers of the Sutras.

(c) Dharma sutras of Gautama, Apastamba, Baudhayana and Vashita are assigned to 600 to 300 BCE.

(d) The Sulbha Sutras of Baudhayana are placed around 800 BCE. It deals with Vedic Geometry and is said to contain the first use of what has come to be known as Pythagorean theorem , quadratic equations ; finding a circle whose area is the same as that of a square (the reverse of squaring the circle); as also the calculation of the square-root of 2 correct to five decimal places; and so on.

[ dīrghasyākaayā rajjuh pārśvamānī, tiryadam mānī, cha yatpthagbhute kurutastadubhayā karoti

A rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together.]

[Please also check:

http://glimpse2u.weebly.com/baudhayana.html]

https://mysteriesexplored.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/baudhayana-pythagoras-theorem-world-guru-of-mathematics-part-8/ ]

6.2. Thus, the Sutras ascribed to Bodhayana or Baudhayana are spread over long centuries generally accepted as ranging from 800 BCE to 300 BCE. These texts cannot obviously be the works of a single person, but could be the descendents and followers of Baudhayana School or tradition.

[The noted scholar R L Kashyap in his Date of the Rigveda  argues: The Shulba Sūtrā texts of Baudhāyana, Ashvalāyana etc., can be dated 3100-2000 BCE; 1900 BCE is the drying up of Sarasvati and the end of Vedic age. The Vedic civilisation ended, as indicated by the Harappa ruins, due to ecological causes, draughts and desertification. There was no invasion by anyone.]

The other Baudhayana –s

7.1. Away from Baudhayana the Sutrakara, down the line, there were numerous others who went by the name of Baudhayana or Bodhayana. For instance:

(a) A certain Bodhayana makes his appearance in the Mahabharata.  In an interesting episode , Bodhayana a Rishi happens to  meet Krishna in the dead of the night  on the battle field ; and requests Krishna to name after him (Bodhayana)  the Amavasya (no moon night) that occurs one day prior to the normal Amavasya .  On the Bodhayana Amavasya, generally, those who follow Bodhayana Sutras offer oblation (tarpana)  to their  departed ancestors (Pitris) .

(b) Further away from all these, there is a Bodhayana in the 6th -7th century AD. He is said to be the author of a farce or a satirical comedy titled Bhagavadajjukam (The saint-courtesan) which hilariously pictures the confusions and absurd situations that follow when the souls of a hermit and a courtesan get interchanged. The monk and his transformation as a courtesan by the exchange of souls give enough scope for amusement as also to ridicule the hypocrisy  and to  puncture the vanity that shrouds the ‘high society’. The work also exposes the practices of sham mendicants and lampoons the degeneration of the contemporary society.

Bhagavadajjukam of this Bodhayana is one of the earliest farces and it is often clubbed with the Mattavilasa-prahasana of the Pallava King Mahendravarman since both the works are mentioned in the Mamndur inscription of the Pallava ruler.

Bodhayana the Vrttikara

8.1. But, the present article is not about any of the Baudhayana-s or Bodhayana-s mentioned above. The Bodhayana about whom we are about to discuss is the Bodhayana the Vrttikara. He is the celebrated author of the Vrtti (a short gloss explaining the Sutras  in a little more, extended manner, but not as extensively as a Bhashya, a full blown commentary) on the Brahma-sutras, the guidebook to understanding Vedanta. His Vrtti is of cardinal importance to the history of Sri Vaishnava philosophy.

8.2. Not much is known for certain about Bodhayana, other than his authorship of the Vritti.  However, a tradition holds that Bodhayana was a direct disciple of Vyasa. We do not know that for certain. But, whatever be the case, Bodhayana the Vrttikara was certainly a great teacher of Vedanta; and is always referred to with great respect.

8.3.  And, in any case, he was not one among the many Bodhayana-s who were associated with Srauta, Grihya, Dharma and Sulba Sutras which are surmised to range between 800 BCE and 600 BCE. Bodhayana’s Vrtti is a commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra; and the Brahma Sutra, in turn, is dated around 200 BCE. Some scholars opine that Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in or around the fifth century AD.

Bodhayana- Upavarsha

9.1. There is much debate concerning the relation between Bodhayana and Upavarsha another Vrttikara.   There are even suggestions which make out that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the names of one and the same person.

[ For more on Upavarsha the Vrttikara , please check:

https://sreenivasaraos.com/2015/09/17/about-upavarsha-part-two/]

(a). A  Vedanta text of a much later period Prapancha-hrdaya mentions that Bodhayana wrote a very detailed commentary titled Krtakoti on  all the twenty parts of Mimamsa, covering both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa (Mimamsa sutra 12 parts and Samkarshana-kanda 4 parts , all ascribed to Jaimini; together with  the Brahma sutra 4 parts ascribed to Badarayana). It was also said that the commentary on Brahma sutra (Brahma–sutra Vrtti), in particular, was quite detailed. Since the commentary covers both karma and jnana kanda-s, Bodhayana was respected as an adept in both aspects of Mimamsa.

It was said that these three works were unified under a title called Krtakoti. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it.

Tad grantha bahulya –bhayad upekshya kimchid samsksiptam Upavarshena krtam (Prapanchahrdaya .45)

And later, it is said, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

All these works of Bodhayana are dispersed and lost; and none is available now. Since Sri Ramanuja quoted from Bodhayana’s commentary on Brahma sutra it could be taken that the rare fragments of those texts were extant until his time (11th century). But, his commentaries on Mimamsa sutra were lost much earlier; and had passed out of existence by the time of Kumarila Bhatta (Ca. 700 A D).

According to this version Upavarsha was a successor to Bodhayana.

[That doesn’t look quite plausible since Upavarsha is generally dated around 400 BCE and Bodhayana the Vrttikara is placed around 5th century A D]

(b) . There are versions that identify Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

There are also traditions which recognize Krtakoti as the name of an author. According to Avanti-sundari-katha of Dandin, Krtakoti was the name of Upavarsha who was also known as Bodhayana.   And, also according to Manimekhalai, Krtakoti was a scholar of Mimamsa and was reckoned along with Vyasa and Jaimini. And, in the Sanskrit lexicon Vaijayanti, Krtakoti-kavi is said to be another name of Upavarsha]

(c) Apart from that, some scholars believed that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the two names of one and the same person; and Bodhayana might have been the Gotra name of Upavarsha.

The great scholar Sri Vedanta Desika (14th century) in his Tattvatika, a commentary on Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya, identified Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

Vrttikarasya Bodhayanasyiva hi Upavarsha iti syan nama

It is surmised that Sri Vedanta Desika might have come to that conclusion because ‘Bodhayana’ might have been the Gotra of Upavarsha. The other reason could be that the Vedanta scholars frequently referred to a Vrttikara, without, however, mentioning his name. In the process, both Upavarsha and Bodhayana were each addressed as Vrttikara. There might have been a mix-up.

In any case, Sri Vedanta Desika does not cite any authority or a tradition in support of statement.

(d) Sri Ramanuja, who reckons Bodhayana as being the foremost among his Purava-acharya-s (Past Masters of his tradition Viz. Bodhayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Baruchi) does not, anywhere, equate Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(e) Another reason for not identifying Bodhayana with Upavarsha is the stand taken by their followers on the question of the unity or otherwise of the Mimamsa as a whole.

It is said; Bodhayana laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kandas; as   the two together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).   He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesizes jnana and karma.  This was also the position taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.

 Sri Sankara, on the other hand, did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

Bodhayana’s position also meant that Purva and Uttara Mimamsa are two sections of the same text.

But, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement  Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and UttaraSri Sankara presents his commentary as a sort of Mimamsa by calling it as Vedanta-mimamsa. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa. He did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text.

Sri Sankara maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consist injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved. Jnana-kanda is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.   Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

Sri Sankara generally followed the explanations provided by Upavarsha. And, these were not the same as the views attributed to Bodhayana.  Naturally, these led to doctrinal differences between Sri Ramanuja and Sri Sankara.

(e) .Thus, the Advaita School believes that Bodhayana is different from Upavarsha.  That is also quite possible because of the vast time difference between the two. While Upavarsha may belong to about the fourth century BCE, Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth or the sixth century AD.

It, therefore, seems safe to assume that Upavarsha, Krtakoti and Bodhayana as being three different persons.

In the next part, let’s talk about the thoughts of Bodhayana as reflected in the fragments quoted in Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya.

Lotus

Continued

 In the

 Next Part

Sources and References

  1. 1. Vedic index of names and subjects II (i912) by Arthur Anthony MacDonnell
  2. 2. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  3. The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 3: Advaita Vedanta Up to … edited by Karl H. Potter
 
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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha

 

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About Upavarsha … Part Three

Continued from Part Two

 

 Upavarsha – Bodhayana

1.1. Sri Sankara, in his commentary on Brahma sutras, adopts a particular way of presentation. On each subject (vishaya), he first gives one interpretation and then follows it up by the other interpretation. It is explained; the first one represents the opposing views (purva-paksha) of ‘others’ (apare); and, it is meant to be rejected.  But, Sri Sankara does not quote the opposing views nor does he mention the name of the opponent. He merely sums up, raises them as the views of ‘others’, and finally dismisses them. Sri Sankara’s own views are presented in the later set of interpretation.

1.2. In contrast, Sri Sankara whenever he refers to the views of Upavarsha not only he mentions the Vrttikara by name but also treats him with great respect, as Bhagavan. Sri Sankara in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) quotes the views of Upavarsha as being authoritative.  Following his lead, the latter Sub-commentators of Advaita School, Anandajnana and Govindananda, recognize Upavarsha as the most eminent Vrttikara.

1.3. Similarly, in the Mimamsa School also, Sabarasvamin a noted Mimamsaka, in his Bhashya (Sabara bhashya) on the fifth sutra of Mimamsa sutra of Jaimini refers to a Vrttikara prior to his (Sabara’s) time, without, of course, mentioning his name. At the same time, in his Bhashya on the same sutra (1.1.5), Sabarasvamin refers to Upavarsha by name addressing him with the epithet ‘Bhagavan’. It, therefore, seems reasonable to conclude that the Vrttikara referred to by Sabara was not Upavarsha.  And yet; it is not clear who that Vrttikara was.

[An unfortunate feature of the traditional texts is that they do not mention the names of the old teachers-commentators whose opinions are being quoted. Such practice might have been an idiom of a well-understood literary etiquette. But, it has led to needless debates and speculations.  Very often, it is left to a commentator who comes perhaps a century or more later to tell us that (let’s say) Sri Sankara actually meant such-and–such commentator when he said ‘someone ‘or ‘others’. Similar is the position with regard to those commentators that are referred to as ‘Vrttikara ‘or ‘Vakyakara’ without mentioning their names or the titles of their texts.  There is therefore always an element of skepticism associated with such sub-commentaries. ]

1.4. The Advaita scholar, Govindananda in his Ratna-prabha explains that the ‘others’ (apare) referred by Sri Sankara in his Bhashya does actually, stands for the Vrttikara Bodhayana.  Another Advaita scholar Anandagiri agrees with this identification.

1.5. The Advaita School, thus, believes that Upavarsha and Bodhayana are two different persons.  And, the other dimension of the debate is that many wonder whether the terms ‘others ‘or ‘some’ truly refer to Bodhayana. That debate is still not concluded.

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Bodhayana

2.1. The mention of Bodhayana in this and similar other contexts give rise to number of questions such as: Who was this Bodhayana? What were his views? Why Bodhayana and Upavarsha are often mentioned in the same breath? Do the names Bodhayana and Upavarsha refer to one and the same person; or they two different persons? And so on.

2.2. Bodhayana is a very celebrated name in the long line of scholars of very ancient India. There have been many eminent persons in various fields of study going by the name of Bodhayana. It is also said that Bodhayana is the southern form of Baudhayana. Further, the name Baudhayana itself stands for ‘descendent of Budha or Bodha’. The linage of Bodhayana stretches at least from about 800 BCE to 200 BCE.

But for the limited purpose of our discussion here, let us confine to Bodhayana the Vrttikara.  His commentary on the Brahma sutra was recognized as an authority by many teachers of the later period, particularly by Sri Ramanuja.

2.3. And again, not much is known for certain about Bodhayana, other than his authorship of the Vritti (commentary) on the Brahma-sutras, the guidebook to understanding Vedanta. This Vritti is of cardinal importance to the history of Sri Vaishnava philosophy, because Sri Ramanuja mentioned that he followed the interpretations of Bodhayana while commenting on the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana.

In the opening verse of Sri Bhashya, Sri Ramanuja mentions: ‘The previous masters have abridged the detailed commentary on Brahma sutra which had been composed by Bhagavad Bodhayana. The words of the sutra will be explained in accordance with their views.

(Bhagavad Bhodayana kritam vistirnam Brahma-sutra – vrttim purvacharyah samskipuh I tan-mata-anusarena sutraksarani vyakhyasyante II)

2.4. In the Sri Bhashya of Sri Ramanuja, Bodhayana is generally addressed as Vrttikara, the commentator. He quotes the views of the Vrttikara Bodhayana seven times.

The interpretations of Bodhayana are traditionally respected by the followers of Sri Ramanuja. And, their tradition regards Bodhayana second only to the author of Brahma sutra (Badarayana). Yet; the commentary of Bodhayana is not extant today, apart from its fragments quoted by Sri Ramanuja. Sri Ramanuja quoted the above seven comments of the Vrttikara Bodhayana. And, these are his only words that have survived.

Even though they are few in number, each of them expresses a special point of Bodhayana’s thought.

2.5. As regards time of Bodhayana, the scholars surmise that the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth century (?) A D.

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Bodhayana-Upavarsha

3.1.   As mentioned earlier, the Advaita School believes that Bodhayana is different from Upavarsha.  That is also quite possible because of the vast time difference between the two. While Upavarsha may belong to about the fourth century BCE, Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth or the sixth century AD.

3.2. However, there are very interesting references and comments linking Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(a) A  Vedanta text of a much later period Prapancha-hrdaya mentions that Bodhayana wrote a very detailed commentary titled Krtakoti on  all the twenty parts of Mimamsa, covering both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa (Mimamsa sutra 12 parts and Samkarshana-kanda 4 parts – ascribed to Jaimini; together with  the Brahma sutra 4 parts ascribed to Badarayana). It was also said that the commentary on Brahma sutra (Brahma–sutra Vrtti), in particular, was quite detailed.

It was said that these three works were unified under a title called Krtakoti. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it.

Tad grantha bahulya –bhayad upekshya kimchid samsksiptam Upavarshena krtam (Prapanchahrdaya .45)

And later, it is said, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

But, all those works ascribed Bodhayana are dispersed and lost; and none is available now. Since Sri Ramanuja quoted from the condensed version of Bodhayana’s commentary on Brahma sutra, it could be said the rare fragments of those texts were extant until his time (11th century). But, Bodhayana commentaries on Mimamsa sutra, if any, were lost much earlier; and had passed out of existence by the time of Kaumarila Bhatta (8th century).

(b) There is also a tradition which recognizes Krtakoti as the name of an author. According to Avanti-sundari-katha of Dandin, Krtakoti was the name of Upavarsha who was also known as Bodhayana.   And, also according to Manimekhalai, Krtakoti was a scholar of Mimamsa and was reckoned along with Vyasa and Jaimini. And, in the Sanskrit lexicon Vaijayanti, Krtakoti-kavi is said to be another name of Upavarsha]

(c) There is another complication. Some scholars believe that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the two names of one and the same person; and Bodhayana might have been the Gotra name of Upavarsha. The great scholar Sri Vedanta Desika (14th century) in his Tattvatika, a commentary on Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya, identified Bodhayana with Upavarsha- Vrttikarasya Bodhayanasyiva hi Upavarsha iti syan nama.

It is surmised that Sri Vedanta Desika might have come to conclusion because ‘Bodhayana’ might have been the Gotra of Upavarsha. The other reason could be that the Vedanta scholars frequently referred to a Vrttikara, without, however, mentioning his name. In the process, both Upavarsha and Bodhayana were each addressed as Vrttikara. There might have been a mix-up. In any case, Sri Vedanta Desika does not cite any authority or a tradition in support of statement.

(d) Sri Ramanuja reckons Bodhayana as being the foremost among his Purava-acharya-s (Past Masters of his tradition) Viz. Bodhayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Baruchi. But, he does not, anywhere, equate Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(e) Another reason for not identifying Bodhayana with Upavarsha is the stand taken by their followers on the question of the unity or otherwise of the Mimamsa as a whole.

It is said; Bodhayana laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kandas; as   the two together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).   He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesizes jnana and karma.  This was also the position taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.

 Sri Sankara, on the other hand, did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

(f) Bodhayana’s position also meant that Purva and Uttara Mimamsa are two sections of the same text.

But, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and Uttara. Sri Sankara presents his commentary as a sort of Mimamsa by calling it as Vedanta-mimamsa. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa. He did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text.

Sri Sankara maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consist injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved. Jnana-kanda is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.   Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

Sri Sankara generally followed the explanations provided by Upavarsha. And, these were not the same as the views attributed to Bodhayana.  Naturally, these led to doctrinal differences between Sri Ramanuja and Sri Sankara.

(g) It, therefore, seems safe to assume that Upavarsha, Krtakoti and Bodhayana as being three different persons.

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Sphota – Varna

4.1. Sri Sankara, in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya, mentions Upavarsha on two occasions. First, in the commentary on the Sutra at 3.3.53 which discusses the existence of Atman (We have talked about this aspect in the earlier part of this article).

And, the second, in a passage   comments on the Sutra which deals with the doctrine of words (Varna Vada). At the end of the discussion, he states: Bhagavan Upavarsha says the words (Pada) are none other than the various letter-sounds (Varna). He agrees with Upavarsha. Before that, he goes through the opposing view (Purva-paksha) put forward by a Sphotavadin a votary of the Sphota theory.

4.2. Sri Sankara, of course, does not usally name the Purvapakshin the one who hold the opposing view point. Accordingly, in the commentary on the Sutra in question also he does not name or specify the Sphotavadin who in the present case is the Purvapakshin. But his commentators identify the Sphotavadin with the Grammarian (Vyakarana-kara) Bhartrhari who generally is referred by the epithet

5.1. Bhartrhari (c. 450-510 CE?) was a Grammarian and also a philosopher. He was well versed in the study of Mimamsa and Vedanta. In the citation to the  later editions of the text Bhartrhari  is celebrated as a great Grammarian ( Maha-vaiyyakarana) , Great poet (Maha-kavi) , Yogi (Maha Yogi) , a great warrior  (Maharaja) and the ruler of Avanti (Avantisvara)  who composed Vakyapadiya   (iti Sri Bhartrhari virachitam Vakyapadiyam ).

5.2. In his celebrated work the Vakyapadiya (a treatise on sentences and words) Bhartrhari expounded the Sphota-vada (doctrine of Sphota) which had its origins in the germ-ideas mentioned in ancient texts.

6.1. The term ‘Sphota’ does not easily translate into English, as it usually happens.  The Sphota is derived from the root ‘sphut‘ which means ‘to burst’, but it also describes what ’is revealed’ or ’is made explicit’. Sphota can also refer to the abstract or conceptual form of an audible word. Sphota is somewhat similar to the Ancient Greek concept of logos or Word.

[ The Sphota theory is one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. The Sphota concept was developed over long periods; but, it was fully put forward by Bharthrhari .

The earliest historical figure who dealt with linguistic study seems to be Sakalya, the author of the Pada-paatha of Rig-Veda, and who is mentioned by Panini. Sakalya is credited with breaking down the Samhita (the original text of the verses) into words, identifying the separate elements of compound words. Later, Brihad-devata attributed to Saunaka said that a sentence is made up of words; and the words, in turn, are made of phonemes (Varna).

Nagesha Bhatta (author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada) identifies Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rule, as the originator of the Sphota concept.  Bharthrhari quotes Yaska as mentioning that another ancient authority, the sage Audumbarayana together with Varttaksa held views similar to the Sphota theory. Yaska had mentioned (Nirukta: 1-2) about a theory suggested by Audumbarayana that a sentence or an utterance is primary and is a whole,  an indivisible unit of language. Audumbarayana, it appears, had also mentioned that the four-fold classification of words into : noun, verb, upasarga and nipata does not hold good(2). And therefore, Bharthrhari claimed that the views of these ancients support his own theory –Sphota-vada.

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 [But, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana; and, had went  to talk about Bhava – the being and becoming of  verbs from their roots’ and about their transformations (Vikara) .]

In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.  Perhaps, this claim provided the model upon which the Vyakarana philosophers based their concept of Sphota. Indeed Sphota is often identified with Pranava.

 Bharthrhari maintained that the primary function of the words was to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning.  The sentence with its words is to be taken as an integral unit; and, not as a clutter of fragments. Bharthrhari argued that for the purpose of linguistic analysis it might be fine to split the sentence into words, then into the roots and suffixes of the words, syntaxes etc. Such analytical splitting might be useful for study of language and its grammar.

But, such fragmented approach is surely not suitable in the real world where men and women live, communicate and transact. In a speech-situation where the speaker communicates ones ideas and the listener grasps his/her speech, it is necessary that the utterance has to be complete. The speaker communicates and the listener understands his/her utterance as a single unit. The listener grasps it as a whole; and the understanding is like an instantaneous flash of insight (prathibha). Just as the meaning derived from the sentence is unitary, the symbol (the sentence) which signifies it is also an integral unit.  Its meaning is experienced, known through perception. This, rather roughly put, is the concept called Sphota – the sentence being taken as an integral symbol.

Let’s say, when a painter conceives a picture in his mind and gives it a substance on the canvass he does use variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. But, that does not mean one has to look for individual strokes shades etc. or as a permutation of those that went in to make the picture. The viewer, rightly, takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit.

 Bharthrhari says those who know the language well, listen to the sentence. And those who do not know the language may hear words only as sound bits.  Sphota in essence is the real experience of listening to a sentence as a whole and grasping its meaning through perception.]

6.2. In his Sarva-darshana-samgraha, Sri Madhava (generally accepted as the pre-ascetic name of Sri Vidyaranya who was the Jagadguru of Sri Sringeri Mutt from 1380 to 1386) describes Sphota in two ways. The first as: that from which the meaning bursts forth or shines forth. And, the second as: an entity that is manifested by the spoken letters and sounds. Sphota may, thus, be conceived as a two sided coin. On the one side it is manifested by the word-sound; and, on the other it simultaneously reveals word meaning.

6.3. In philosophical terms, Sphota may be described as the transcendent ground on which the spoken syllables (Varna) and conveyed meanings (Artha) find their unity as word or Sabda. To put it in another way, that which expresses a meaning; or the process of expressing a meaning through a word could be called Sphota.

7.1. Bhartrhari deals with Sphota at two levels: one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. . Sphota refers to the ‘non-differentiated language principle’. This gave rise to the theory of “word monism – Sabda-advaita. The theory is that Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form. The Sphota, Sabda-Brahman, manifested as Logos or Word, is the power through which the Lord manifests in the universe. Liberation is achieved when one attains unity with that ‘supreme word principle’. Within this theory, consciousness and thought are intertwined; and Grammar becomes a path to liberation. Sphota-vada is a monistic (Advaita) philosophy based on Sanskrit grammar (as per Swami Vivekananda’s   explanation).

7.2. At the empirical level, Bhartrhari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He deals with the word and the sound distinctions; the word meaning; the unitary nature of the whole sentence; the word object connection; and the levels of speech, etc. His focus is on cognition and language.

8.1. Bhartrhari explains : If the letters  float away and disappear the instant we utter them and if each sound is replaced by another in quick succession, then one can hardly perceive the word  or a sentence as a whole. And the question that comes up is- then, how does one grasp the meaning of a word or of a sentence?

Bhartrhari goes on to say that a sentence is not a mere collection of words or an ordered series of words. A sentence-Sphota is the primary unit of meaning. A sentence is a sequence-less, part-less whole that gets expressed or manifested in a sequential and temporal utterance. A word or sentence is grasped as a unity by intuition (pratibha). According to Bhartrhari, Sphota is an auditory image of word. It is indivisible and without inner-sequence.

8.2. Bhartrhari explains that initially the word exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity, but is manifested as a sequence of different sounds, giving raise to the appearance of differentiation. Bhartrhari states: “All difference presupposes a unity”; and where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other or each would constitute a world by itself.

8.3. For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is  the vehicle of meaning or of thought. Thought anchors language and the language anchors thought. In this way, there are no essential differences between a linguistic unit and its meaning or the thought it conveys.

[Bhartrhari argues that the words do not designate the objects in the external world directly (sakshat), but indirectly through the intervention (upadana) of universals which are mental, and which reside in words. Universals which are thus intimately connected with the language and mind, on the one hand, and with the whole of existence, on the other, constitute the basis of our knowledge of the external world.]

9.1. However, Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-vada; and, argued all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.  By rejecting the Sphota -theory ,  Upavarsha , in effect , dismissed its notion that  every act of creation and every sound that issues forth in the universe is the duplication of the initial Big Bang. When we utter a sound or word the Big Bang is duplicating itself in our mind.

(For that reason, some Western scholars call Upavarsha the Fred Hoyle of ancient India.)

9.2. Upavarsha, in turn, came up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes =Varna-s) alone are real constituents of a word.  He said: what is called as a ‘word’ (Sabda) is its individual letters – (for instance the word ‘gauh’ – cow is made of ‘g’, ’au’ and ‘h’). He decaled sounds are only Varna -s; and, there is no need for a Sphota.

9.3. The position so taken by  Upavarsha opposes the Sphota doctrine (Sphota Vada) which is based in the philosophical principle which  in effect says that ‘gauh’ is the essence of the word; and, its individual letter-sounds are artificially distinct from that word.

[10 .1. The Sphota theory developed by Bhartrhari had its supporters as also its opponents.

The main opposition seems to have come from Mimamsa School. Sabarasvamin presents Upavarsha’s views in his Mimamsa-sutrabhasya. But, pointed attack came in the later periods, particularly in the works of Kaumarila Bhatta, a noted Mimamsa Scholar (7th -8th century). He attacked the manner in which the Sphota phenomenon was supposed to reveal the meaning of word-sounds (Sabda). Kaumarila argued that the word (Sabda), whether be it individual or be a part of sentence, is nothing more than a collection of word-sounds or spoken words . And, it is with this collection of sounds alone that the meaning is associated. The listener grasps the sound of the words and their meaning. There is nothing else here, he said, one need not assume a mystical process of Sphota etc. Kaumarila the Mimamsaka was, thus, in agreement with Upavarsha on the issue of Sphota.

10.2. Interestingly, the support to Bhartrhari also came from another Mimamsa Scholar Mandana Misra, a contemporary of Kaumarila Bhatta. Mandana wrote a brilliant book (Sphota-siddhi) based Bhartrhari’s Vakya-padiya. He supported Bhartrhari’s presumption of the whole being prior to the parts as also the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He agreed with Bhartrhari, it is not the individual words but the complete thought of the sentence that ultimately matters.

Mandana offers the example of a picture. He points out that in our perception of a picture; it is conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. Similarly when we perceive a piece of cloth our cognition is of the cloth as whole; and it is quite distinct from the particular threads and colors involved.

He says: This aspect is brought out clearly by Bhartrhari who describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture:  “when a painter wishes to paint a figure having parts like that of a man, he first sees it gradually in a sequence , then as the object of a single cognition ; and then he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.

10.3. The Jain philosopher Prabhachandra in his Prameya-kamala-marthanda attempts to reconcile the two opposing views; and, comes up with his own doctrine of ‘Interminacy’ (syavada, anekantavada),which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject]

[ Devadatta Kali (David Nelson) in the introduction to his very well written work Svetasvataropanisad: The Knowledge That Liberates, writes:

Although the Indian thinkers are not immune to disputation , by and large , their culture has valued the principle of accommodation and acceptance and acceptance…Throughout the centuries of Indian philosophical traditions , the differing views have often been seen as just that – as differing views of a single reality that lies beyond human power of articulation. The tendency has often been to harmonize opposing views as distinct parts of a larger whole whose fullness lies well beyond the reach of mere perception or reason. It needs to be stressed that the primary purpose of sacred literature is to impart spiritual knowledge, not to fuel intellectual or sectarian debate – or to create confusion.]

11.1. Sri Sankara refers to Upavarsha as the originator of Varna-vada, which contrasted with Sphota-vada of Bhartrhari. Sri Sankara agrees with Upavarsha and supports Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada (Sankara Bhashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28). He does not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, says the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds and the context.  Here, he remarks: Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘but, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna)- varna eva tu sabddh id bhagavan upavarsah (BS: 1.3.28).

11.2. He then follows up with a debate on whether the words are letter-sounds of this kind or whether they are Sphota. And then built up his own arguments to oppose the Sphota vada, based on what he calls ‘the tradition of the Masters’- (Acharya –sampradayokti-purvakam siddantam aaha varna iti).

11.3. While he agrees that the word is nothing other than letter-sounds (Varna) Sri Sankara does not seem to be emphatic. On the question why a letter-sound (say, ’a’) should be heard differently according to its utterances, Sri Sankara explains that such differences are duo the conditions (Upadi) imposed externally or from elsewhere. Otherwise (Athava – meaning or) the differences could be due to intonation; and not necessarily due to the letter-sounds. And, therefore, he says, there is no weakness in our contention.  And, there is no need, he says, to bring in the concept of Sphota to decide upon the meaning of the word when it can be derived directly from the Varna-s that form the word.

The scholars believe, here, Sri Sankara, was not putting forth an original argument, but was merely condensing the previous refutations of the Sphota theory.

11.4. In his argument in favor of Varna Vada, Sri Sankara says: only the individual letters are perceived; and, they are combined through inference of the mind into word aggregate. Because the psychological process is one of inference and not of perception, there can be no degree of cognition. According to Sri Sankara, the inference Pramana is all –or-nothing process*. The error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely replaced all at once by a new inferential construction of mind or by a super-conscious intuition of Brahman.

[* According to almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy, the valid means of knowledge (Pramana) other than perception either reveal the object completely or do not reveal at all. However, Bhartrhari argues that perception need not always be an ‘all–or-nothing processes’. There could be vagueness initially; but, the perception could improve as one tries to gain clarity of an object (say as a distant tree or committing a stanza after repeated attempts).

According to Bhartrhari , each sound helps in understanding meaning bit by bit, at first vaguely, the next one little more clearly, and so on, until the last sound, aided by the preceding impressions, finally revea1.s the meaning with clarity and distinctness. The Sphota is revealed in stages by each succeeding sound, but by itself it is indivisible. It is comprehended in a process which begins with complete ignorance, passes through partial understanding, and ends in complete knowledge (dyana)

Bhartrhari asserts that it is the cognition of the Sphota in its entirety that is important in understanding meaning. That is not to say that we do not cognize the individual letters or sounds, but that they are secondary in relation to the Sphota, which is the real object of cognition.

This point is very important to Sphota theory in its contention that error due to vagueness of perception of initial letters can gradually and positively be overcome. It is also crucial for the Sphota theory in its contention that the existence of Sphota is not guesswork, as Mimamsaka-s maintain, but is a proved by direct and clear perception.]

11.5. The other Acharyas and commentators also toed the line of Bhagavan Upavarsha and Sri Sankara; and, supported Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada. Vacaspati Misra, who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, also rejected the Sphota theory. He came up with his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vada; and, said the understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring to it, in a separate act of lakshana or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.

12.1. Thus, the Vedic Vak as Sabda-Brahman became the object of philosophical debate during the later periods. The early Mimamsa School which championed Varna-vada argued that the individual word or the letter (Varna) as the prime substance of Vak. The School of the Grammarians, on the other hand, put forth Sphota-vada which developed the notion of Sphota to explain the mysterious manner by which meaning is conveyed in sentence. They explained Sphota as a process of cognition which culminates in the intuitive perception of the Absolute as Sabda –Brahman. These two are the main platforms for the discussion of the Indian philosophy of language.

12.2. Two principle Schools, Mimamsa and the School of Grammarians (Vaiyyakarani) have made huge contributions to the study of language and the philosophy of Grammar and of language. And, both were particularly interested in Sabda. Both believed that Sabda is eternal and manifests itself; and, is not created. They, however, differ on the view in regard to Sabda and the meaning (artha).

13.1. Bhagavan Upavarsha, whoever he might have been, was indeed an intellectual giant of his times. He was a worthy successor to the remarkable sage-scholars such as Badarayana and Jaimini. His contribution to the development of Indian thought is enormous.

13.2. Many however feel that Upavarsha   could have given little more thought to the Sphota theory instead of dismissing it off-hand. That perhaps could have leant a greater impetus to the growth of rational thinking within the Indian philosophical traditions.

[For more on Bhartrhari and the Sphota theory, please visit

http://www.iep.utm.edu/b/bhartrihari.htm ]

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Sources and References

  1. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 3: Advaita Vedanta Up to … edited by Karl H. Potter
 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha

 

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An-atta: On Self and Non-self

Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

 Form your various blogs I noted that Buddha thought [1] everything in the universe is changing except the change; [2] consciousness is nebulous and cannot be defined. Probably Buddha did not discuss the existence or non existence of God or he had a clear opinion?

Recently I read a book in Telugu authored by one Buddha Ghosha which said that Buddha believed that there is nothing like “self”? Is it correct?

Saying that there is nothing called soul which is constant is different from saying soul is self but also changes [evolves], splits [as water drop lets in a river] and recombines [as genes do] is different. What is the correct position of Buddha?

May I expect a small blog or knol on this?

Thanks,

DMR Sekhar.

 

Dear Shri Sekhar, That is a tough one; and is a much debated one too. I am neither qualified nor I claim to have the right answers. Let me try.

1.1. The subject you mentioned refers to the Buddhist concept of Anatta (an-atman or an-atmavada) meaning the doctrine of no-permanent soul. The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all  suffering is in regarding the “self” as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

The Buddha a few days after his first discourse at Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi, speaks about his concept of Anatta in his second discourse ‘Anatta-lakkhana –sutta’. The teaching instructs one not to identify self with ‘”Any kind of feeling whatever…Any kind of perception whatever…Any kind of determination whatever… Any kind of consciousness whatever…”

Rupam (material form) is an-atta (not the self); vedana (sensation) is an-atta; sanna (perception) is an-atta; samkhara (pre-dispositions) is an-atta; vinnanam (consciousness ) is an-atta (not the self) “ …” whether past, future, or present; whether gross or subtle; whether in oneself or in others; whether inferior or superior: whether far or near; must, with right understanding of things as they really are, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine. This is not I. This is not my self …”

Please recall the five aggregates or the skandas that I mentioned in my post Consciousness- a Buddhist view. None of the skandas or all of it is construed as one’s self.

1.2. The Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”.In other words, it seems to suggest that there is no “self” apart from the process.

2.1. However, it must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. It seems to me that in the Buddhist view, self/soul is not perceived as a permanent  entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. Because, according to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is in constant flux and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts. As Abhidhamma kosa explains that there is no soul apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”.

2.2. The Buddha favored a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. “Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

2.3. Thus, it appears to me, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as ‘no soul’ or ‘self does not exist at all ‘is rather misleading. An-atta, I reckon, means ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’.

The Buddha did not deny a soul; but maintained that it was not the ultimate reality (dharmataa). He seemed to imply that an-atta, whatever that term meant, was not The Truth (dharma). An-atta, I reckon, (just as a-dvaita), is a negative expression pointing to the un-definable positive ultimate reality (dharmataa).

3.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. But, in fact, the Buddha did explain  why he chose not to give out a partial answer of either  ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The Sutta Nipaata (6.400) elaborately narrates the context and the reason for the Buddha’s silence. I am mentioning its substance in a brief and a summarized form:

Vacchagotta the wanderer questions the Master “what have you to say about the existence of self (atta)?” The Exalted One was silent. Vacchagotta   again questioned “Is there no such thing as the self?” .The Exalted One was silent. At which Vacchagotta just walked out.

Soon thereafter, venerable Ananda the disciple enquires the Master why he chose to be silent.

The Master explains:

“Ananda, if when asked   ‘Does the self exists?’ had I replied to him ‘yes, the self exists’ I would then be siding with all those Samanas and Brahmanas who regard soul as eternal and unchanging (eternalists).And, that reply  would have also been not consistent with my knowledge that all things are impermanent….”

“Had I replied; ‘no, the self does not exist ‘I would then be siding all those Samanas and Brahmanas who are annihilationist (those who view death as the annihilation of consciousness).And, that reply would have added to the bewilderment of Vacchagotta who was already bewildered. He would have exclaimed in disgruntle ‘Formerly I had a self; but now I have one no more’ …”

3.2. In case the Buddha sided with the annihilationist that would have led to denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc.

3.3. Thus, the Buddha rejected the two extremes concepts of ‘Permanent Self’, and ‘Annihilation’.

3.4. The an-atta doctrine, undoubtedly, is extremely difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments.

4.1. The Buddhism believes that the self is a changing phenomenon. It is like a raindrop. When it is in the ocean it is a part of the ocean ; when it evaporates it becomes a part of the cloud; and, when it rains it becomes a part of stream or a lake or a well. It is its functions and relationship which give form to its character.

4.2. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable which is the true self. The Upanishads too chose to describe the Truth as that which cannot be apprehended by mind. They also said (in almost the same words) the correct view is to assert ‘This is not mine; this am I not; this is not my self’.  Both the Buddha and the Upanishads refused to be attached to an identity.

To put it in another way, The Vedanta’s call of realizing ones true identity -is a philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation of letting go all identities is an  objective prescription.

4.3. By negating identity with the conditioned skandas (in his second discourse: Anatta-lakkhana-sutta) the Buddha was pointing to the unconditioned impersonal nature of true self. That was also the view of the Upanishads.

5.1. Both accept that attaining liberation is the aim; rather than merely understanding what liberation is all about. Both accept that conceptual thinking is part of the problem; and therefore philosophy too must eventually be transcended or let go. Because, ultimately it is one’s experience that truly matters. Experience is the key.

Therefore, both the Buddha and Sri Shankara asserted that the truest test of all is one’s own experience.

5.2. The difference between the two, as I mentioned elsewhere, was that Sri Shankara described the reality from outside, as it were, because that is the only perspective from which it can be understood as One. Sri Shankara was basically a philosopher; and as all philosophers do, he looks upon the whole of reality objectively and attempts to comprehend its structure. It is as if the philosophizing intellect takes a look at the whole of existence from outside of it.

5.3. But the Buddha, the yogi, was describing his experience. He realized (just as Sri Ramana)  that one cannot get outside of reality and describe it as an object; because one is inseparable from that reality. He also believed too much philosophizing and clinging to ideas is an obstruction to enlightenment. He advocated: let go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts.

Regards

References

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.010.than.html

http://budsas.110mb.com/ebud/ebdha215.htm

http://www.buddhanet.net/buddhism-self.htm

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy

 

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Who was Upavarsa ..?

Upavarsha is one of the remarkable sage-scholars who come through the mists of ancient Indian traditions. And, again, not much is known about him.

Upavarsha is recognized as one of the earliest and most authoritative thinkers of the Vedanta and Mimamsa Schools of thought. He is placed next only to the author of the Brahma sutra.  Among the many commentaries on Brahma sutra the one by Upavarsha was most highly regarded.  It is believed that the words of Sri Sankara explain the correct account of Upavarsha’s doctrines. He is quoted twice by Sri Sankara in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53).  

Upavarsha was  looked upon as an authority by all branches of Vedanta Schools; and  is respected in the Mimamsa School also. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara treat the ancientVrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘ (Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara calls Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’

[ A Vritti is a short gloss explaining the aphorisms in a more elaborate way, but not as extensively as a Bhashya. A Vrttikara is thus a commentator on traditional texts. The most well known of the Vrttikara-s are Upavarsha and Bodhayana.]

Upavarsha’s time is surmised to be  around 200 BCE. We come to know Upavarsha through references to his views by Sri Sankara and others. He was an intellectual giant of his times. He is credited with being the first to divide the Vedic lore into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section).

As said ;the earliest Acharya to have commented upon Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra is believed to be Upavarsha.  His sub-commentary (Vritti) on Brahma Sutra is titled asSariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara and his disciples make frequent references to the works of Vrittikara-s, commentators on the   Brahma Sutra; and, in particular to Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti of sage Upavarsha.

It is said; the ancient commentator Sabaraswamy drew upon Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra. Another ancient writer Sundarapandya is also said to have commented in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara too relied upon Upavarsha‘s Vritti for his commentary on Brahma Sutra. In addition, Sri Sankara followed the sub-commentary of Sundarapandya.  It is said; the doctrine   elaborated by Sri Sankara in his Adhyasa Bashya stemmed out of the germ ideas put forth by Upavarsha and Sundarapandya ( among others ) . It is not surprising that Sri Sankara held both the teachers in such high regard.

Sri Sankara regards Upavarsha a forerunner of his own tradition (sampradaya). He displaysenormous reverence towards Upavarsha and addresses him as Bhagavan and Sampradaya vit , the upholder of the right tradition, just in the manner he addresses the Great Badarayana.  Sri Sankara addressed Jaimini, Sabara and other Mimasakas only as teachers (Acharya). 

Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, mentions the six means of knowledge (cognition) advocated by Upavarsha. These are, briefly: Pratyaksha(immediate); Anumana (inference) ; Sabda (verbal or textual testimony ); Upamana(analogy);  Artha-patti (presumption) ; and , Abhava  (non- apprehension).  He remarks that the Vrittika-kara   (Upavarsha) believes that these six modes of acquiring knowledge are valid only until the Self is ascertained. 

But, once the subject-object differentiation is erased they no longer matter. He therefore makes a distinction between relative knowledge (sesha-jnana) and absolute knowledge (a-sesha-jnana). Upavarsha, he says, believes that absolute knowledge is attainable through Adyaropa or Apavada (adyaropa-apavada-ubhayam nishprapancham prapanchate). Sundarapandya explains; the attribute-less Brahman can be described by the method of superimposition followed by its withdrawal. The Absolute knowledge, however, is neither the process of superimposition nor is it the negation.  Incidentally, Sundarapandya is also believed to have contemplated on the concept of Maya and on the pristine nature of Brahman without Maya.

[The Adhyaropa-Apavada method of logic pioneered by Upavarsha consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing that assumption, after a discussion. ]

Apart from delineating the six means of knowledge that were adopted by the later Advaita Schools, Upavarsha is believed to have initiated a discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. Svatah pramana: true knowledge is valid by itself; not made valid or invalid by external conditions (sva-karya-karane svatah pramanyam jnanasya).

 [As a general rule ,  knowledge (except memory) is taken to be valid on its own strength , unless invalidated by contrary knowledge. (memory is not considered valid knowledge as it is dependent on previous cognition or impressions which might get faded or distorted ; and , so is the dream.)]

There is a view that Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa were initially two independent treaties authored by Jaimini and Badarayana respectively; and, were later put together with suitable emendations by someone described as Vyasa – “the arranger”.  And, Upavarsha the Vrttikara commented upon the text in that combined form.  

Sri Sankara refers to a discussion held by Upavarsha on the nature of Self in Brahma Sutra (3.3.53). And, the same discussion appears in the commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra(1.1.5). Further Sri Sankara mentions:  ‘ Bhagavan Upavarsha has written a Vrtti on Purva Mimamsa. And, in that, he is referring to his another Vrtti on Saririka Mimamsa  (Brahma Sutra) ’.

 Ata Eva Bhagavata Upavarshena Prathame Tantre I Atma-stitv-abhidhana-prasaktau Sarirake Vakshyamaha ityuddharaha Krutaha II (3.3.53)

This suggests that Upavarsha may have commented  on both Purva and Uttara Mimamsa.

Sri Sankara whenever he refers to Upavarsha treats him with great respect and quotes his views in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) as being authoritative. And the latter Sub-commentators of Advaita School, Anandajnana and Govindananda, recognize  Upavarsha as the Vrttikara.

Sri Sankara, in his commentary on Brahma sutra, adopted a particular way of presentation. On each subject (vishaya), he first gives one interpretation and then follows it up by the other interpretation. It is explained; the first one is given as the opposing views (purva-paksha) of ‘others’ (apare); and, it is meant to be rejected.  But, Sri Sankara does not quote the opposing views; he merely sums up, raises them as the views of ‘others’, and finally dismisses them. Sri Sankara’s own views are presented in the later set of interpretation.

The later scholars, Anandajnana and Govindananda, explain that the ‘others’ referred by Sri Sankara, actually, stands for the Vrttikara Bodhayana. The Advaita School, thus, believes that Upavarsha and Bodhayana are two different persons.  And, the other dimesion of the  debate is  whether the terms  ‘others ‘ or ‘some’ truly refer to Bodhayana . That debate  is still not concluded.

Similarly , Savarasvamin a noted Mimasaka in his bhashya (Savara bhashya) on the fifth sutra of Mimamsa sutra of Jaimini refers to a Vrttikara prior to his (Savara’s) time, without, of course, mentioning his name. In the bhashya on the same sutra (1.1.5), Savarasvamin also refers to Upavarsha by name and with the epithet ‘bhagavan’. It is not clear who that Vrittikara was. But, he, in any case , was not Upavarsha. 

[An unfortunate feature of the traditional texts is that they do not mention the names of the old teachers-commentators whose opinions are being quoted. Such practice might have been an idiom of a well-understood literary etiquette. But, it has led to needless debates and speculations.  Very often, it is left to a commentator who comes perhaps a century or more later to tell us that (let’s say) Sri Sankara actually meant such-and–such commentator when he said ‘some one ‘or ‘others’. Similar is the position with regard to those commentators that are referred to as ‘Vrttikara ‘ or ‘Vakyakara’ without mentioning their names .  There is therefore always an element of scepticism associated with such sub-commentaries. ]

Bodhayana, it is said, laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kandas; as   the two together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).   He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesises jnana and karma. Sri Sankara who did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana. 

Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the two sections are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consists injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved. Jnana-kanda is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.   Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

There is  an alternate view that Upavarsha was a successor to Bodhayana. It is said that   Bodhayana wrote a Bhashya titled ‘Krtakoti’ on the Brahma Sutra. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it. And later, it is believed, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

But, there is also a belief that the names Upavarsha and Bodhayana refer to one and the same person ; and , Bodhayana might have been the linage, Gotra name, of Upavarsha. Sri Vedanta Deshika supported the view in his Tattvatika

  (Vrttikarasya  bhodhayanasiva  hi Upavarsa iti syan nama  ) .

This School beleives that  Bodhayana’s theory of assigning equal importance to Karma andJnana Kandas was adopted by Yadavaprakasha, Sri Ramanuja’s teacher. Bodhayana, it is said, had recognized  that Jnana and Karma Kandas  together constitute the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva). 

Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya quotes the views of the Vrttikara Bodhayana seven times. In the opening verse of Sri Bhashya, Sri Ramanuja says: ‘The previous masters have abridged the detailed commentary on Brahma sutra which had been composed by Bhagavad Bodhayana. The words of the sutra will be explained in accordance with their views. “(Bhagavad Bhodayana kritam vistirnam Brahma-sutra – vrttim purvacharyah samskipuh I tan-mata-anusarena sutraksarani vyakhyasyante II)  

Sadly, Bodhayana’s vrtti is no longer extant.

***

Sri Sankara indicates that Upavarsha’s commentary on Brahma Sutra was called Sariraka –mimamsa – vritti (but that work is now lost). Sri Sankara perhaps adopted the term Sarirakafrom Upavarsha; and, titled his own Bhasya on Brahma Sutra as Sariraka –mimamsa – Bhashya.

Upavarsha is believed to have held the view that Brahman is the source, the ground and the goal of all universes. Sri Sankara and Padmapada expanded on this view. Upavarsha is quoted as explaining the term ‘Brahma-jignasa’ as Brhmane jignasa, meaning the enquiry for Brahman. Sri Sankara and others remark that when Vrittikara (Upavarsha) says that the enquiry is for Brahman, he is right…, for, knowledge of Brahman is indeed the fruit of this enquiry.

Padmapada says that Upavarsha explained the word ‘atha’  as referring to that ‘ after the enquiry into the antecedent condition’, the enquiry into Brahman  follows ( Ref :panchapadika ). 

It is said; Upavarsha developed a theory on Atman (Atma-vada).  He emphasized that the postulation of “self” as distinct from body and the mental process was rather inevitable. He argued that   the self cannot in any manner be revealed to another person; but, it cannot be denied by oneself either. It is affirmed by introspection, but that process cannot itself be regarded as self.

As for the proof of the existence of Atman, Upavarsha holds the view that Atman is known by perception as it is the object of ‘I’.

A verse quoted in Nyayamanjari of Jayanta of the Nyaya School (dated around ninth century) cites the Atman-theory of ‘the followers of Upavarsha’ (Aupavarsha): ‘they understand the Atman to be directly perceptible (pratyaksha) ;  For Atman can be known by ‘I’ consciousness.

 [Tatra pratyaksham atmanam Aupavarsha prapedire I aham-pratyaya-gamyatvat svayuthya api kechana II]

The argument seems to be that the existence of Atman need not be proved by reasoning or verbal arguments. It is in each one’s own experience. Self is the consciousness of being. This was also the faith of the later Mimamsa school of Kumarila Bhatta.

Sri Sankara too adopted the proposition of Upavarsha. Sri Sankara explained: “For all men are conscious that the Atman (self) exists. No one ever thinks ‘I do not exist’ “. At another place (BS : 1.1.1), he says that the inner-self (pratyagatma) is the object of “I consciousness’ (asmat-pratyaya-vishaya); and, that it is directly perceptible (aparoksha).

Sri Sankara expanded further on the Atman-theory of Upavarsha, and extended it to the Supreme Self, transcending the individual.

***

Some people   call Upavarsha the Fred Hoyle of ancient India  , in the sense that both rejected the Big Bang theory. Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-vada , which in essence said that every act of creation and every sound that issues forth in the universe is the duplication of the initial Big Bang. When we utter a sound or word the Big Bang is duplicating itself in our mind.

Bhartrihari (c. 450-510 CE?) expanding on an ancient idea is said to have propounded Sphota-vada In his famous work the Vakyapadiya.

The term ‘sphota’ does not easily translate into English, as it usually happens.  The Sphota is derived from the root ‘sphut’ which means ‘to burst’, but it also describes what ’is revealed’ or  ‘is made explicit’. Sphota can also refer to the abstract or conceptual form of an audible word. Sphota is somewhat similar to the Ancient Greek concept of logos or Word.

Sphota is also interpreted to mean that from which the meaning bursts forth, shines forth etc. To put it in another way, that which expresses a meaning; or the process of expressing a meaning through a word is called sphota.

Bhartrihari deals with Sphota at two levels : one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. The theory is that Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form . The Sphota, Sabda-brahman , the manifester as Logos or Word, is the power through which the Lord manifests in  the universe. Liberation is achieved when one attains unity with that ‘supreme word principle’. Within this theory, consciousness and thought are intertwined; and Grammar becomes a path to liberation. Sphota-vada is a monistic philosophy based on Sanskrit grammar. (Swami Vivekananda’s explanation).

At the empirical level, Bhartrihari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He deals with the word and the sound distinctions; the word meaning; the unitary nature of the whole sentence; the word object connection; and the levels of speech, etc. His focus is on cognition and language.

If the letters  float away and disappear the instant we utter them and if each sound is replaced by another in quick succession, then one can hardly perceive the word  or a sentence as a whole. And the question that comes up is- then , how does one grasp the meaning of a word or of a sentence?

Bhartrihari held the view that the sentence is not a collection of words or an ordered series of words . A sentence-sphota is the primary unit of meaning. A sentence is a sequence_ less, part_ less whole that gets expressed or manifested in a sequential and temporal utterance. A word or sentence is grasped as a unity by  intuition (pratibha). According to Bhartrhari, sphota is an auditory image of word. It is indivisible and without inner-sequence.

 Bhartrihari explains that initially the word exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity but is manifested as a sequence of different sounds, giving raise to the appearance of differentiation. Bhartrhari states: “All difference presupposes a unity”;  and where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other or each would constitute a world by itself.

For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is not the vehicle of meaning or of thought. Thought anchors language and  the language anchors thought. In this way , there are no essential differences between a linguistic unit and its meaning or the thought it conveys. Sphota refers to the” non-differentiated language principle”. This gave raise to  the theory of “word monism“.

However, Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-Vada. He in turn came up with his theory of  Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes -varnas) alone are real constituents of a word. He said sounds are only Varnas and there is no need for a sphota.

Sri Sankara refers to Upavarsha as the originator of Varna-vada, which contrasted with Spotavada of Bhartrhari. According to Varna- vada, the Varna-s, phoneme (speech sounds) , alone are real constituents of the word; and there is nothing else in the word apart from Varna-s.

Sri Sankara remarks (BS: 1.3.28): Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘But, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna). He then follows up with a debate on whether the words are letter-sounds of this kind or whether they are Sphota. 

Sri Sankara supported Varna vada as against Spotavada (Sankara Bashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28) ; and followed Upavarsha . He did not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, said the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds  and the context. But, Sri Sankara, the scholars believe, was not putting forth an original argument, but was  merely condensing the previous refutations of the Sphota theory.

The other Acharyas and commentators too toed a similar line and did not approve the Sphota theory.Vacaspati Mishra who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, too rejected the Sphota  theory . He came up with  his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vadaand said the understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring to it, in a separate act of lakshana or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.

***

Upavarsha, whoever he might have been, was indeed an intellectual giant of his times. He was a worthy successor to the remarkable sage-scholars such as Badarayana and Jaimini. His contribution to the development of Indian thought is enormous.

Many however feel that by dismissing off-hand the Sphota theory he derailed the growth of rational thinking within the Indian philosophy.

 

[For more on Bhartrhari  and the Sphota  theory , please visit

http://www.iep.utm.edu/b/bhartrihari.htm ]

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Indian Philosophy

 

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