Monday, June 15, 2009

Siddhantabindu - 1

Siddhantabindu - 1


by Madhusudana Sarasvati


[Commentary on Dasasloki of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada]
English Translation by S. N. Sastri

[This translation, along with the original Sanskrit text in Devanagari script has been published as a book by Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre, Chennai-600004. Copies can be had from Jayalakshmi Indological Book House, 6, Appar Swami Koil Street, Mylapore, Chennai- 600 004. Phone: 24990539 - Price Rs.100.]


Siddhantabindu is a commentary on the Dasasloki of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada. It is said that the Dasasloki was composed by Sri Sankara spontaneously when Sri Govindapada, whom he approached with a request to be accepted as a disciple, asked him who he was. The ten slokas which have become famous as 'Dasasloki' were Sri Sankara's answer to this question. Madhusudana Sarasvati has, in his commentary on these ten slokas, refuted the views of other schools and established Advaita.

In the present translation the Sanskrit text has been demarcated into paragraphs for easier understanding (there is no such demarcation in the original text). Each paragraph is followed by its translation and explanatory notes. In addition to the translation of the Sanskrit text, elaborate explanatory notes have been added under each paragraph so as to make the translation easily understandable by even those who have not yet acquired sufficient knowledge of the abstruse aspects of Vedanta.

The commentary on the first three verses deals with the import of the term 'thou' in the Mahavakya, 'That thou art'. The views of various schools starting from Charvaka on the nature of the self are examined and found to be untenable. The view of Advaita Vedanta is established after refuting all possible objections. It is pointed out that the universe is a mere superimposition on Brahman or pure consciousness by nescience. Nescience is not mere absence of knowledge. It is positive in nature, though it cannot be categorized as either real or unreal. Nescience is first superimposed on pure consciousness. On that the ego is superimposed. On that again are superimposed the qualities of the ego such as desire, resolve, etc., and the qualities of the sense organs such as blindness, deafness, etc. On that the qualities of the gross body, such as stoutness, are superimposed. Similarly, there is also superimposition of the consciousness on the ego and up to the gross body. This mutual superimposition is the cause of the notions of 'I' and 'mine'.

The various views on the method of interpretation of the Mahavakya are then expounded, such as jahallakshana, ajahal - lakshana, etc. The commentary goes on to discuss the various theories regarding the nature of the jiva, namely, the reflection theory, the semblance theory and the limitation theory.

Distinctions such as caste, stage of life, etc., do not apply to the pure self, nor do relationships such as father, son etc. All these relate only to the body-mind complex. The self is beyond hunger and thirst, grief and delusion, and old age and death.

From sloka 4 onwards the import of the term 'that' is expounded. The theories of various schools regarding the cause of the universe are examined and refuted. The upanishadic view that Brahman associated with Maya is the efficient as well as the material cause of the world is established.

The upanishads are not subservient to the karma kanda of the Vedas. The difference between the Arthavadas in the karma kanda and the statements in the upanishads has been brought out clearly. The upanishadic statements are the means to the ultimate goal of liberation which is supreme bliss and total cessation of sorrow. They do not depend on anything else, unlike the Arthavadas in the karma kanda which have to be connected with an injunction for becoming purposeful.

The contention that since Brahman is the material cause of the universe which is full of misery, Brahman also must have misery is rejected by pointing out that the substratum is not affected in the least by the qualities of what is superimposed by delusion.

Brahman is devoid of all qualities such as colour, size, etc. It is never an object of knowledge.

The Vedas as well relationships such as teacher and disciple are valid only in the empirical state and not after the dawn of knowledge of the self.

There are no distinctions such as waking, dream and deep sleep for the self.

In Advaita there are only two categories, the seer and the seen. The seer is threefold, as Isvara, jiva and witness, but these are only due to the limiting adjuncts. The three states of waking, dream and deep sleep of the jiva are described in detail.

The order of creation is then described. The theory of quintuplication of the subtle elements is explained. The theory of triplication upheld by certain Advaitic teachers is referred to and it is concluded that the theory of quintuplication is preferable. The different kinds of pralaya are explained.

Thus almost all the important aspects of Advaita Vedanta are dealt with in this work.

Madhusudana Sarasvati was one of the most brilliant luminaries in the firmament of Advaita Vedanta. His devotion to Sri Sankara was exemplary. While being a staunch Advaitin, he was also an ardent devotee of Sri Krishna. He wrote a number of books on the path of devotion, the most notable among them being Bhaktirasayana. His most famous work is Advaitasiddhi, in which he refutes all the objections raised against Advaita by Vyasatirtha. In his commentary on the Sivamahimnastotra of Pushpadanta he has displayed great skill by interpreting each sloka in two different ways, as praising Lord Siva and also as praising Lord Krishna.

There are different views about the date of Madhusudana Sarasvati. After considering the different views some scholars have come to the conclusion that he lived at the beginning of the 16th century. His ancestor, Rama Misra Agnihotri, is believed to have migrated from Kannauj (in the present Uttar Pradesh) and settled down in Bengal where Kamalanayana, who was to become Madhusudana Sarasvati, was born. He was initiated into sannyasa by a revered sannyasi by name Visvesvarananda Sarasvati, to whom he pays obeisance at the beginning of Siddhantabindu.

This translation is based on the scintillating discourses of Dr. R. Krishnamurthi Sastrigal, former Principal of Madras Sanskrit College, on the Siddhantabindu to a small group of students. It is his erudite and lucid exposition that has enabled me to translate this text into English. I am deeply indebted to him for this. I am extremely grateful to Smt. Aruna Sankaran for very kindly providing me with the CD recordings of these discourses.

The commentary in Sanskrit of Mahamahopadhyaya Vasudev Shastri Abhyankar has been of great help to me for preparing the explanatory notes.



With prostrations to Sri Visvesvara who is a re-incarnation of Sri Sankaracharya, and who is the preceptor for the whole world, I am composing some kind of a treatise for the instruction of those who do not have the inclination to undertakea detailed study of the scriptures that expound Vedanta.

1. The revered Acharya Bhagavan Sri Sankara, being desirous of lifting all living beings (out of this transmigratory existence) either immediately or mediately, composed the 'Dasasloki' for the purpose of expounding briefly the means of discriminating the not-self from the self which is eternal (nitya), free from the stain of ignorance (shuddha), self-luminous (buddha) and free from the bondage of agency, etc., (mukta).

Note: Liberation will result immediately from hearing the Dasasloki for those who have attained complete purity of mind and thereby become most competent spiritual aspirants (Uttama-adhikaari). For others, hearing should be followed by reflection and meditation.

2. Objection: Every one discriminates the not-self which is referred to as 'this' from the self which is denoted by the word 'I' when he says 'I am', but, in spite of that, he experiences sorrow; therefore since only what is already known is being taught, and since it does not produce any benefit, the exposition of the nature of the self is futile.

3. Answer: It is not so. Even the body and the senses which should in fact be referred to as 'this' because they are all illumined by the pure Consciousness (and are therefore insentient), are denoted by the word 'I' due to non-discrimination caused by illusion (resulting from ignorance). Because of this (non-discrimination), suffering, etc., are attributed (wrongly) to the pure self. This is removed along with its cause (ignorance) by the knowledge of the identity of the individual self and Brahman declared in the scriptures. Therefore, since what is taught is something that is not known previously and since it does produce a benefit (removal of sorrow, etc.,) the exposition of the nature of the self is not futile.

Note: When a person says 'I am so and so', 'I live in such and such a place', etc., he is referring to the aggregate of the body, mind and senses as 'I'. Actually, the body, senses and mind are insentient and, like any object outside the body, they deserve to be referred to only as 'this'. The self, which is pure consciousness, can alone be rightly denoted by the word 'I'. This failure to discriminate between the self on the one hand, and the body, mind and senses on the other, is the reason for every one attributing to himself the sorrows, etc., which pertain only to the body, mind and sense organs. The scriptures point out that the individual self is different from the aggregate of body, mind and senses and is identical with the supreme Self or Brahman, which is the indwelling self of all beings. A person who, as a result of this knowledge, dissociates himself from the body, etc., is free from all sorrow.

4. The knowledge of the self can be acquired only from the Mahavakyas in Vedanta (the Upanishads) such as 'That thou art' (Ch.Up. 6.8.7), 'I am Brahman' (Br. Up. 1.4.10). A sentence conveys its meaning only through the meanings of the words in it. The meanings of the words in the above sentences which would be in consonance with the sense of the sentence as a whole can be known only from the scriptures and not from any other source. This is like the meanings of the words 'yupa' and 'ahavaniya' which can be known only from the Vedas.

Note: The words 'that', 'thou', 'I', have certain meanings in ordinary parlance, but that is not the sense in which they are used in the above sentences. The senses in which they are used here can be known only from the Upanishads. This is also the case with other words used in the Vedas, such as 'yupa' and ahavaniya'. 'Yupa' is the name of the pole to which the sacrificial animal is tied in a sacrifice. This is known from the statements in the Vedas—"He fashions the yupa", "He makes the yupa octagonal". Ahavaniya is one of the three fires in which the sacrifice is offered. This is known from the Vedic statement "One pours the oblation in the ahavaniya".

5. Thus, the sentences such as the one starting with "That from which all these beings are born", (Tai.Up. 3.1.1) which deal with creation, etc., give the primary meaning of the word 'That'. Sentences such as "Brahman is Reality, Consciousness and Infinite" (Tai.Up.2.1.1) give the implied meaning of the same word.

6. Similarly, sentences such as, "Just as a big fish swims to both the banks, eastern and western, even so does this infinite entity move between the two states of dream and waking" (Br. Up. 4.3.18), which deal with the states of waking, dream and deep sleep, give the primary meaning of the word 'thou'. Sentences such as "This entity which is identified with the intellect, which is amid the organs, and which is the effulgence within the heart" (Br. Up. 4.3.7), and "You cannot see the seer of sight" (Br. Up. 3.4.2), present the implied meaning of 'thou'.

7. Since it is found that sentences such as 'That thou art' (which declare the identity of 'that' and 'thou') cannot logically apply to the entities denoted by the primary meanings of these terms, we naturally think of applying this identity to the pure, unconditioned jiva and Brahman, by having recourse to the implied (or secondary) meanings of these terms which are known from the subordinate sentences. This is also because it is accepted that it is the pure unconditioned witness consciousness that is experienced in deep sleep. Moreover, though the terms 'reality'. 'consciousness', etc., which are intended to denote the non-dual Brahman can, by their primary meaning, denote the consciousness conditioned by the limiting adjuncts, they have their purport in the pure consciousness alone and so a mental impression arises only about that part (of the primary meaning, namely, pure conscious-ness).

Note-1: The omnipotent, omniscient, Creator (God) who is denoted by the primary meaning of the term 'that' as is known from the subordinate sentence "That from which all these beings are born", (Tai.Up. 3.1.1) cannot obviously be identified with the jiva with limited power and limited knowledge who is denoted by the primary meaning of the term 'thou' as known from the subordinate sentence "Just as a big fish swims to both the banks, eastern and western, even so does this infinite entity move between the two states of dream and waking" (Br. Up. 4.3.18). We have therefore to take recourse to the implied meanings of these terms as known from the other two subordinate sentences reproduced earlier, namely. "Brahman is Reality, Consciousness and Infinite" (Tai.Up.2.1.1) and "This entity which is identified with the intellect, which is amid the organs, and which is the effulgence within the heart" (Br.Up. 4.3.7). The implied meaning of the term 'that' is unconditioned Brahman and the implied meaning of the term 'thou' is the individual self without the limiting adjuncts in the form of the body, mind and senses. These are identical, both being pure consciousness.

Note-2: In deep sleep the body, mind and senses are not experienced, but pure unconditioned consciousness exists as seen from the fact that when a person wakes up he says, "I slept happily, I did not know anything". This recollection of happiness and total ignorance shows that pure consciousness without attributes existed during deep sleep and it alone was experienced.

8. Some (like the author of Nyayachintamani) hold the view that words like 'akasa' (ether) denote an attributeless entity, because the sense of a word depends on the intention (of the speaker).

Note: The idea is that, when even the word 'akasa' can give rise to the recollection of an entity without attributes, the word 'Brahman' which denotes a much subtler entity can certainly give rise to such a recollection. The recollection depends on the intention of the speaker, which is inferred from the context. For example, the word 'saindhava' means 'salt' as well as 'horse'. When a person who is taking his meal asks for 'saindhava', the hearer understands from the context that he wants salt and not a horse.

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