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Bhāgavata Purāṇa As a Major Text of Kevala-Advaita Vedānta

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Introduction:

Establishing Bhāgavata as a text of Advaita Vedānta involves two steps – (1) establishing it as a text of Vedānta and then (2) interpreting the Vedānta as Advaita. Regards the first step, acharyas like Vallabha already considered Bhāgavata as a primary Pramāṇa (along with the Prasthāna Trayī) and did write commentaries on the same (Bhāgavatārtha prakaraṇa of Tattva dīpa nibandha & Subodhiniji). However, these texts were primarily intended to establish the Pushti Marga/ Śuddha Advaita Vedānta and hence the explanations are also from that stand- point. We do not find very many sources that just directly draw parallels between Bhāgavata and the Upaniṣads, the fundamental texts of Vedānta. This is what this paper intends to do. As regards the second step on interpreting the Vedānta as Advaita, this is something already well established by teachers starting from Shankara onwards. Hence relevant references from the Shankara Bhāṣya will be provided as applicable. Also, where direct references to Advaita are found, the same is also provided.

Traditionally, six characteristics are mentioned for ascertaining the topic of a particular text referred to as Ṣaḍvidha-liṃgāni. This is especially used in the case of Vedānta to decipher what is the text to be heard as part of Vedānta śravaṇa which is suggested as the first step of the process to realize Brahman (śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavah advices Sage Yajnavalkya to his wife Maitreyi BU 2.4.5).

These six characteristics are (1) Beginning & conclusion (upakrama-upasamhāra) (2) Repetition (abhyāsa) (3) originality (apūrvatā) (4) result (phala) (5) eulogy (arthavāda) and (6) demonstration (upapatti)

Beginning & conclusion (upakrama-upasamhāra)

Bhāgavata Purāṇa begins with the words ‘janmādyasyayatah’ (BP 1.1.1). This is in fact the second of the 555 Vedānta Brahma-sūtras of Badarayana Vyasa. In this sūtra, Badarayana intends to say that Brahman or the Supreme Creator (which is the objective of all Vedānta) is from whom this entire creation emerged, on which it is ustained and into which they dissolve into. Bhāgavata refers to this Brahman as Satyam param i.e. the Supreme truth. This is the nature of Brahman as indicated by the Upaniṣad statement ‘satyam jñānam anantam brahma’ (TU 2.1.1)

Let’s look at the opening verse in detail –

janmādyasyayatah anvayādiratah ca artheṣu abhijñah svarāṭ |

tene brahmahṛdā ya ādikavaye muhyanti yat sūrayah |

tejo-vāri-mṛdām yathā vinimayo yatra trisargo-amṛṣa |

dhāmnā svena sadā nirasta kuhakam satyam param dhīmahi ||’

The verse meditates on the Supreme Truth (satyam param dhīmahi). Being considered a Vaishnava Purāṇa, it could well have said Viṣṇum param dhīmahi or Kṛṣṇam param dhīmahi since the Purāṇa speaks mainly of the glories of Viṣṇu especially in his form as Kṛṣṇa. However, the Purāṇa chooses to meditate on that Supreme as the formless Supreme Truth staying away from a theistic view. This itself is a reminder of the Advaita Vedānta siddhanta. This supreme being is referred to as abhijñah – the all-knowing which is echoed in the Upaniṣad statement ‘eṣa sarveśvarah eṣa sarvajñah eṣa antaryāmī’ (Mu U 6)

Third line speaks of how the Supreme being created this Universe – it says that this creation (comprising of Sattva, rajas and Tamas called as trisarga) appears real (amṛṣa) like that of the mirage which is created by the play of heat (sun’s rays), water (illusion of water; may also mean water vapor) and earth (the surface or sand in case of desert). This is exactly what Shankara refers to in his various works when speaking of Maya (माया मायाकार्यं सर्वं महदादि देहपर्यन्तम्। असदिदमनात्मतत्त्वं विद्धि त्वं मरुमरीचिकाकल्पम् VC 125). The reality is given by the substratum (dhāmnā svena) which is devoid of any illusion or adulteration (nirasta kuhakam).

Coming to the concluding verses of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, we need to look at the verse 19 of XIIth (last) skandha since the verses 20-23 speak of the paramparā by which this Purāṇa was transmitted as well as the phala-sruti. Verse 19 again speaks of meditating on that Supreme truth (Satyam param dhīmahi) repeating what was mentioned in the opening verse. Here the attributes of this Satyam (Brahman) are mentioned as pure (śuddham), taintless (vimalam), without sorrow (viśokam) and immortal (amṛtam)! Compare this with the Upaniṣad statements ‘eṣa ātmāpahatapāpmā vijaro-vimtyuh-viśokah’ (CU 8.1.5), ‘aṇoraṇīyān…tam-akratuh-paśyati-vītaśokah’ (KU 1.2.20), ‘tadeva śukram tadbrahma tadeva-amtam-uchyate’ (KU 2.3.1)

Thus, we infer that both the beginning and conclusion of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa speaks of Nirguṇa Brahman as described in the Upaniṣads!

Repetition (abhyāsa)

Vedānta Sāra defines abhyāsa as frequent presentation of the subject matter in the text (prakaraṇa pratipādyasya vastunah tanmadhye paunah punyena pratipādanam abhyāsah). In Bhāgavata, we find the details on knowledge of Brahman mentioned in every skandha as a matter of repetition but in different forms. As an illustration if we look at 2.9, we see already the below references to Brahman

 

Skandha

 

References from Bhāgavata 

 

Upaniṣad/ Vedantic references

 

2.9.1

 

Except through the power of Maya of the Atman, its is not possible to see and experience the external world which is just like what is seen in dream आत्ममायामृते राजन् परस्यानुभवात्मन: । न घटेतार्थसम्बन्ध: स्वप्नद्रष्टुरिवाञ्जसा

 

विश्वं दर्पणदृश्यमाननगरीतुल्यं निजान्तर्गतं

पश्यन्नात्मनि मायया बहिरिवोद्भूतं यथा निद्रया (DS)

 

2.9.2

 

The multiplicity of forms is seen because of this power of Maya बहुरूप इवाभाति मायया बहुरूपया

 

The Lord situated in all orchestrates their movements through his power of Maya ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां हृद्देशेऽर्जुन तिष्ठति । भ्रामयन्सर्वभूतानि यन्त्रारूढानि मायया (BG 18.

 

रूपं रूपं प्रतिरूपो बभूव तदस्य रूपं प्रतिचक्षणाय | इन्द्रो मायाभिः पुरुरूप ईयते (RV 6.47.18) [Indra became all forms by his power of Maya]; In his commentary, Sayana translates Indra as ‘Paramatma’ here (इदि परमैश्वर्ये इत्यस्य धतोरर्थानुगमात् इन्द्रः परमात्मा)

 

2.9.24

 

Brahma tells the Lord “You are present in the heart caves of all beings and I know your through my supreme intelligence” भगवन् सर्वभूतानां अध्यक्षः अवस्तिथो गुहाम् वेद ह्यप्रतिरुद्धेन प्रज्ञानेन चिकीर्षितम्

 

2.9.26

 

Lord, out of His own power of Maya, brings out different powers of creation, annihilation, maintenance and acceptance just like the spider weaves web from its own body and takes it back into itself यथात्ममायायोगेन नानाशक्त्युपबृंहितम् विलुम्पन् विसृजन् गृह्णन् बिभ्रदात्मानमात्मना क्रीडस्यमोघसङ्कल्प ऊर्णनाभिर्यथोर्णुते

 

यथोर्णनाभिः सृजते गृह्णते च यथा पृथिव्यामोषधयः सम्भवन्ति । यथा सतः पुरुषात्केशलोमानि तथाक्षरात्सम्भवतीह विश्वम् (Mu U 1.1.7) Just like a spider weaves the web and takes it within, similarly this Universe comes out of the Supreme.

 

2.9.32

 

I alone existed in the beginning, nothing else existed अहमेवासमेवाग्रे नान्यद् यत् सदसत् परम्

 

Brahman alone existed in the beginning ब्रह्म वा इदमग्र आसीत् (BU 1.4.10)

O dear one, That One and only Sat alone existed in the beginning सदेव सोम्येदमग्र आसीदेकमेवाद्वितीयम् (CU 6.2.1)

Originality (apūrvatā)

Vedānta Sāra defines apūrvatā as a subject/ topic not generally known through any other source (prakaraṇa pratipādyasya advitīya vastunah pramāṇāntara viṣayīkaraṇam apūrvatā).

All Vedānta informs us of Brahman which is known only through them and no other source. Bhāgavata also speaks of the same – few examples mentioned below

 

References from Bhāgavata 

 

Upaniṣad/ Vedantic references

 

He who knows that which enlivens the Universe (and not that which the universe enlivens), that which is awake even when the world/ individual is sleeping, he alone knows येन चेतयते विश्वं विश्वं चेतयते न यम् ।

यो जागर्ति शयानेऽस्मिन्नायं तं वेद वेद स: (BP 8.1.9)

 

य एष सुप्तेषु जागर्ति कामं कामं पुरुषो निर्मिमाणः । तदेव शुक्रं तद्ब्रह्म तदेवामृतमुच्यते (KU 2.2.8)

 

The entire universe is pervaded by Atman आत्मावास्यमिदं विश्वं यत् किञ्चिज्ज‍गत्यां जगत् (BP 8.1.10)

 

The entire universe is pervaded by the Lord ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किं च जगत्यां जगत् (IU 1)

However, some could argue that if the knowledge of Brahman is already known through the Śrutis/ Upaniṣads, then what is the apūrvatā in Bhāgavata also speaking of the same thing? The unique contribution of Bhāgavata is in having realization of the highest truth of Brahman as the objective while at the same time rejoicing and reveling the mind in the devout stories of the Lord and his devotees (प्रायेण मुनयो राजन्निवृत्ता विधिषेधत:। नैर्गुण्यस्था रमन्ते स्म गुणानुकथने हरे: BP 2.1.7). It comes as an answer to the question of Parikshit “What should be done by a man who is on the verge of death?” While Īśāvāsya – Upaniṣad deals with this to some extent (वायुरनिलममृतमथेदं भस्मान्तं शरीरम् । ओं क्रतो स्मर कृतं स्मर क्रतो स्मर कृतं स्मर), Bhāgavata addresses this more effectively starting from Saguṇa Brahman moving to Nirguṇa Brahman. Some could argue that this hence actually speaks of a theistic philosophy (specifically on Vishnu or Krishna) and therefore not Advaita Vedānta.

However, we present a few examples to show that though the mention or context at many places is of theism or Saguṇa Brahman, the intent is clearly to take the sādhaka to the Nirguṇa Brahman as explained by Advaita Vedānta.

  • At the time of birth of Krishna, while Shukacharya first describes the Lord with all Vaishnava features, Vasudeva describes the Lord as the Supreme Purusha who is beyond Prakriti, the form of pure bliss and the witness of our intellect (साक्षात्पुरुष: प्रकृते: पर: । केवलानुभवानन्दस्वरूप: सर्वबुद्धिद‍ृक् BP 10.3.13). Isn’t this how even the Upaniṣad speak of Him (कर्माध्यक्षः सर्वभूताधिवासः साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च SU 6.11).
  • Through the words of Vasudeva, Shukacharya makes it clear that considering the Lord as both Saguṇa and Nirguṇa is not a contradiction. Nirguṇa Brahman is the ultimate substratum for all Saguṇa aspects (त्वत्तोऽस्य जन्मस्थितिसंयमान् विभो वदन्त्यनीहादगुणादविक्रियात् । त्वयीश्वरे ब्रह्मणि नो विरुध्यते त्वदाश्रयत्वादुपचर्यते गुणै: BP 10.3.19). This Shukacharya further clarifies by stating that the Lord to be meditated is not necessarily a Lord outside or in the temple. It is the self that shines forth in the caves of our hearts (एवं स्वचित्ते स्वत एव सिद्ध आत्मा प्रियोऽर्थो भगवाननन्त: । तं निर्वृतो नियतार्थो भजेत संसारहेतूपरमश्च यत्र BP 2.2.6). The Upaniṣad statements echoing this thought are illustrated in the previous section.

Result (phala)

Vedānta Sāra defines phala as the utility of the subject/ topic or its practice (phalam tu prakaraṇa-pratipādyasya ātmajñānasya tadanuṭhānasya vā tatra tatra śrūyamāṇam prayojanam)

 

Prayojana

 

References from Bhāgavata 

 

Remove the ignorance of identification of self with body, mind etc.

 

Give up the notion that you will die; its only the body that dies त्वं तु राजन् मरिष्येति पशुबुद्धिमिमां जहि । न जात: प्रागभूतोऽद्य देहवत्त्वं न नङ्‌क्ष्यसि BP 12.5.2

 

You are as distinct from the body as fire from firewood देहादेर्व्यतिरिक्तो यथानल: BP 12.5.3

 

Know that object (Supreme Brahman) which will (1) help cross the ocean of samsara and (2) Put an end to all our sufferings

 

Intention of Bhāgavata is to know that object which is the giver of auspiciousness and which can uproot three types of sufferings (वेद्यं वास्तवमत्र वस्तु शिवदं तापत्रयोन्मूलनम् BP 1.1.2)

 

Bhāgavata was uttered by Shukacharya to help the ignorant people for helping cross the people drowned in ignorance (य: स्वानुभावमखिलश्रुतिसारमेक-मध्यात्मदीपमतितितीर्षतां तमोऽन्धम् । संसारिणां करुणयाह पुराणगुह्यं तं व्याससूनुमुपयामि गुरुं मुनीनाम् BP 1.2.3)

 

See Brahman everywhere

 

The realized being sees Brahman in all bodies क्षेत्रेषु देहेषु तथात्मयोगैरध्यात्मविद् ब्रह्मगतिं लभेत in line with the Upaniṣad statements सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्म (CU 3.14.1), ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किं च जगत्यां जगत् (IU 1). This in fact were the words of Prahlada who saw Lord everywhere and acted as a proof of this teaching

 

Having renounced all notions of duality, I see the Lord in me, you and everyone just like the one sun reflects everywhere तमिममहमजं शरीरभाजां हृदि हृदि धिष्ठितमात्मकल्पितानाम् । प्रतिद‍ृशमिव नैकधार्कमेकं समधिगतोऽस्मि विधूतभेदमोह: BP 1.10.42 This is the experience of Bhishma at the end of his life.

 

He who sees Lord in all and all in the Lord is the best of devotees सर्वभूतेषु य: पश्येद् भगवद्भ‍ावमात्मन: । भूतानि भगवत्यात्मन्येष भागवतोत्तम: (BP 11.2.45) in line with the Upaniṣad statement यस्तु सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मन्येवानुपश्यति । सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं ततो न विजुगुप्सते || यस्मिन्सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभूद्विजानतः । तत्र को मोहः कः शोक एकत्वमनुपश्यतः (IU 6-7)

 

Become one with Brahman (which is the main aspect of Advaita जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः) Shankara gives the example of the air inside the pot and outside being the same limited only by the constraint of the pot (एकस्यैव तु भेदव्यवहार उपाधिकृतः, यथा घटाकाशो महाकाश इति BS 1.2.20 Bhāṣya)

 

The air inside the pot and outside is restrained by the pot; once destroyed the air becomes merged into one another just like when the body is destroyed individual soul becomes one with Brahman घटे भिन्ने घटाकाश आकाश: स्याद् यथा पुरा । एवं देहे मृते जीवो ब्रह्म सम्पद्यते पुन: BP 12.5.5

Eulogy (arthavāda)

Vedānta Sāra defines arthavāda as praising of the subject/ topic at different places (prakaraṇa pratipādyasya tatra tatra prashamsanam arthavādah).

We find many instances where the Brahman and Atman are eulogized like the statements in the Upaniṣads

 

References from Bhāgavata 

 

Upaniṣad/ Vedantic references

 

The knower of the field, the Self is the Purusha, ancient one who is self-effulgent, unborn, Ultimate Lord! क्षेत्रज्ञ आत्मा पुरुष: पुराण: साक्षात्स्वयंज्योतिरज: परेश (BP 5.11.13)

 

·         Lord is the knower of all fields क्षेत्रज्ञं चापि मां विद्धि सर्वक्षेत्रेषु भारत (BG 13.2)

·         This Purusha here is self-effulgent अत्रायं पुरुषः स्वयंज्योतिर्भवति (BU 4.3.9)

·         गुहाहितं गह्वरेष्ठं पुराणम् (KU 1.2.12)

 

Thy Form which is unmanifest in the beginning as Brahman, without any attributes, without any change, Pure Sat, without any qualities, you are the eternal light of the self!

रूपं यत् तत् प्राहुरव्यक्तमाद्यं ब्रह्म ज्योतिर्निर्गुणं निर्विकारम् । सत्तामात्रं निर्विशेषं निरीहं स त्वं साक्षाद् विष्णुरध्यात्मदीप: (BP 10.3,.24)

 

कर्माध्यक्षः सर्वभूताधिवासः साक्षी चेता केवलो निर्गुणश्च (SU 6.11)

 

Atman never is born, never dies, never grows or decays but is the eternal witness नात्मा जजान न मरिष्यति नैधतेऽसौ न क्षीयते सवनविद् व्यभिचारिणां हि । सर्वत्र शश्वदनपाय्युपलब्धिमात्रं प्राणो यथेन्द्रियबलेन विकल्पितं सत् BP 11.3.38

 

Atman is never born, nor dies, it is unborn, eternal, ancient; only the body dies न जायते म्रियते वा विपश्चिन्नायं कुतश्चिन्न बभूव कश्चित् । अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे (KU 1.2.18)

Demonstration (upapatti)

Vedānta Sāra defines upapatti as the reasoning in support of the subject/ topic at different places (prakaraṇa-pratipādyārthasādhane tatra tatra śrūyamāṇā yuktih upapattih).

While we find certain demonstrations/ experiments mentioned in the Upaniṣads to illustrate the messages (e.g. advice of Aruni to Shvetaketu), Bhāgavata presents very interesting events as demonstration of the messages of the Upaniṣads. Few of these are illustrated below

 

Upaniṣad reference

 

Demonstrations from Bhāgavata

 

Lord is there everywhere सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्म (CU 3.14.1), ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं यत्किं च जगत्यां जगत् (IU 1)

 

To make his devotee’s word true, that Supreme Truth, the self of all beings which is pervaded in the universe took a form our of the formless as a man-animal सत्यं विधातुं निजभृत्यभाषितं व्याप्तिं च भूतेष्वखिलेषु चात्मन: । अद‍ृश्यतात्यद्भ‍ुतरूपमुद्वहन् स्तम्भे सभायां न मृगं न मानुषम् (BP 11.8.18)

 

Janaka attained the state of fearlessness (on realizing Brahman) अभयं वै जनक प्राप्तोऽसि (BU 4.2.4)

 

O Lord, I no more fear the bite of Takshaka or death. I have entered the fearless state of Brahman that you showed me भगवंस्तक्षकादिभ्यो मृत्युभ्यो न बिभेम्यहम् । प्रविष्टो ब्रह्म निर्वाणमभयं दर्शितं त्वया (BP 12.6.5)

Concluding thoughts

Thus, it has been quite effectively established through the six characteristics that Bhāgavata is in fact a fundamental text of Advaita Vedānta. To top this all, towards the end Shukacharya advises Parikshit to meditate on his self as Brahman and Brahman as his self (अहं ब्रह्म परं धाम ब्रह्माहं परमं पदम् । एवं समीक्ष्य चात्मानमात्मन्याधाय निष्कले BP 12.5.11) echoing the Advaita siddhanta of जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः. Hence it is intended that all future work on the study of Advaita must consider Bhāgavata as a serious text on Advaita, Shukacharya anyway being considered one of the acharyas of Advaita Vedānta guru paramparā (Narayanam padmabhuvam…..vyasam shukam….)

Abbreviations

  • BG: Bhagavad Gita
  • BP: Bhāgavata Purāṇa
  • BS: Brahma Sūtra
  • BU: Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad
  • CU: Chāndogya Upaniṣad
  • DS: Dakṣiṇāmūrti Stotra
  • IU: īśāvāsya Upaniṣad
  • KU: Katha Upaniṣad
  • KeU: Kena Upaniṣad
  • MU: Māṇḍukya Upaniṣad
  • Mu U: Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad
  • RV: Ṛg Veda
  • SU: Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad
  • TU: Taittirīya Upaniṣad
  • VC: Viveka Chūḍāmaṇi

Watch the video presentation of the above paper here:

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dW7hhFeoTw

Image Credit: aromaster.com


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