My Namaskars to everyone.
Is Sankara Vedanta Scientific is everyone’s question. I am making my views clear here. I am saying No, No, No! I am bound to explain why I said “No” thrice, in my second part.
When you say Sankara Vedanta, there are two parts to it; Sankara and Vedanta. We have a fair idea of who Sankara is. Was there such a person called Sankara, did he live in the BC or in the 4th century AD? However, popular dates for his existence place him between 788 – 820 AD. Because stories about Sankara, his Sankara Digvijayam, stories of his victory, are like the Suras and Hadis in Islam. They cause embarassment. For a man to have lived until he is 32 and in this time, travel to Assam and Kashmir and compose more than 300 Sanskrit works etc is a fact not very easy to believe
This is because it is only about four centuries after his death that many of these biographies came out. Whether it is Madhviya Sankara Vijayam, there is also a Kerala related Sankara Vijayam. All these biographies state that there was a person named Sankara. He composed many works, that he spread Advaita Vedanta… He is the one who propagated it clearly.
Here I want to state two-three things clearly. Whether Sankara existed or not is not a matter of debate. Whether he existed or not is not an issue at all. This is like asking whether Krishna or Jesus existed or not. Whether Krishna existed or not does not make any difference… if he did not exist it would have been better.
So, whether Sankara existed, or his history, is not a subject that I have an intention of going into. My engagement will be with the essence of what is called Advaita Vedanta, purported to have been formulated by this person named Sankara. I will only examine its scientific basis.
We know that Vedanta means the end of the vedas. When we speak of the vedas, there are samhitas, brahmanas, aranyakas and upanishads. There is a widely held assertion that Sankara Vedanta is the essence of the Upanishads. That is almost 100% wrong. Because our upanishads are not enunciating or propagating any one particular notion at all. There is a story of 1180 upanishads. There is another story of 108 upanishads or Mukhya Upanishads as Arun said before. There is a story of 13 upanishads.
In 1686, Dara Shikoh, the son of Shah Jahan, translated 80 upanishads into Persian. What we know widely now are the Dashopanishad. Even in this, there is a difference in some lists as to which Upanishads should be taken as part of the dashopanishad. The lists in South India are sometimes not the same as those in North India. But we know from Sukumar Azhikode and others that these 10 are Isa, Aitreya, Kena, Katha, Mandukya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Taittriya and so on. For all these 10 Upanishads, Sankara has written commentaries.
Badarayana’s Brahmasutra claims to summarise the basic philosophical and spiritual ideas in all these 10 Upanishads. There are about 550 aphorisms in this work. We can also call them 550 sentences. In this what Badarayana did was to take out from the ideas that lay scattered in all the Upanishads; those philiosophical tenets and ideas that appealed to him and make a book. There is no Advaita Vedanta in Badarayana’s Brahmasutra. Even if you look at the Upanishads overall, there is no Advaita Vedanta.
Now, even if you were to look at the vedas also, Advaita Vedanta or Sankara’s Maya argument is not there. So, how Sankara chose his Advaita or Maya argument is a topic I have left for the second part of my talk, where I will examine it scientifically.
We take the Mahavakyas of the Upanishads as the most important part. Concepts like Ayam Atma Brahma, Aham Brahmasmi are from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Then there is Tatvamasi which is from the Chandogya Upanishad. Prajnanam Brahma is from the Aitreya Upanishad. Sarvam Khalvidam Brahman is from the Svetasvatara Upanishad. And so many…
Then Vivekachudamani purportedly written by Sankara himself from which he mentions the Ultimate Truth as Jagan Mithya, Jivo Brahmaiva Naparah. Taking many ideas like the above, it is asserted that Advaita Vedanta has the support of the Upanishads. I want to bring to your attention, as it is the first 10 mins. Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta or Maya Siddhanta is an open challenge to reality. The Maya argument is like spitting on the face of lived reality. There is no validity or utility for this in our day to day life or in our thought environments. Its only an intellectual exercise without rhyme or reason. There is something like that is what is going to be the argument of my opponent I assume. I am definitely ready.
In Sankara’s Vedanta or in his Advaita, is there something that we need is a question to be asked? It spread a careless attitude., or it is something which completely crippled the society, or it has weakened society and been an obstacle in building a caring society. These accusations against this intellectual exercise called Advaita are growing quite loud because Advaita has never helped to create a caring citizenry. All its justifications are hollow justifications. Its feet are not on sure ground.
There is an old story told by a Russian saint who taught Advaita. These people like Madhva, Vallabha or Nimbarka… strong opponents of Sankara. It is one of the stories told in that regard. A mother and father are sending their son to study Advaita Vedanta. That person comes back after studying as a big saint who is coming back after knowing whatever it is to be known. There were only two big mangoes to eat when he came back. Bringing out these mangoes, the mother said to the son. Son, you have come back after your studies but we don’t have anything much to offer you. There are only two mangoes. You take one and the other one we, your parents will share and eat. The son is then showing off his argumentation skills there. Dont worry. This is actually not two mangoes. This is the first mango, this is the second, and totally there are three mangoes and we can each take one. The parents were shell shocked. “Oh…we never knew this real knowledge…”
Then the father said, “Ok, let’s start eating”
He took the first mango and gave it to the mother.
Took the second one for himself and said, “Son, you take the third one yourself”.
These are the kind of things… as said in some cinema, you should never spit at the reality in front of you. Advaita Vedanta is just such a spitting on reality. If you see who all have refuted Advaita Vedanta, they are the ones who are themselves from the same lineage and who have stretched and refuted the philosophy. Advocates of his own philosophy have refuted him. In the 9th century itself, that is when he was propagating it. But we all know that it is not Sankara who brought Advaita Vedanta. Everyone knows it is Gaudapada. He was Sankara’s guru’s guru.
Even if Gaudapada claims that these ideas are in the Upanishads, actually there are not, and everyone knows where Gaudapada got them from. So, in the 9th century itself, there was Bhaskara who came out strongly opposing Sankara. After that there was Ramanuja, then there was Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha. All of these people have very clearly stated that the essence of the Upanishads is not Vedanta. If what is in the Upanishads is Sankara’s Maya argument, how is it that there were at least 20 more people who wrote commentaries for the Brahmasutras, all of these people when writing commentaries on the Brahmasutra are simply unable to see the Maya argument in the text. None of them were able to glean the Advaita argument in it. Some of them went into Dvaita, Ramanuja went into Visishtadvaita. Some went into Dvaita, some into Shuddha advaita. All are going in many different ways. Into that comes Vaishnavism and Saivism.
That Sankara’s Advaita is a philosophical stream that has the backing of the Upanishads or the Brahmasutra is completely false. It is not an argument that can withstand scrutiny at all. Actually it is Gaudapada who brought it. Gaudapada’s source was never the Upanishads. The concept of Brahman is the core of the Advaita Vedanta concept. Brahman means Ultimate Reality. This Brahman is in reality something that is not born nor will die. This world or the Jagat that we see is only a reflection of this Brahman. This world is not real. We feel that this world is real because of the concept of Maya. We will see what Maya is, in the next round. Avidya is the reason for Maya. Avidya is a concept that Sankara calls “inexplicable”. He does not know what it is himself. Adrishta (unseen) is a concept in Nyaya Vaisheshika. Avyakta (unclear) is a concept in Samkhya. When the most important moment arrives, Sankara behaves as if he has taken his hands off the steering wheel.
What is avidya? What is its content? What are its core meanings? When such questions arise… Its time….Thank you. I will elaborate on this more expansively in my 40 mins slot.
This is what I have to say as my introductory note.