Ashay Naik, Saturday, December 24, 2016 11:28 am

Upodgh?ta of ?a?karas ??? Upani?ad Bh??ya

This post is an elucidation of the upodgh?ta (introductory) section of ?a?kara’s ??? Upani?ad Bh??ya. Such texts give us insights about how the ancient Indian scholars approached the sacred texts, the sort of issues they brought to bear upon them for resolution, and so on. We can also appreciate their brilliance and the dexterity with which they used the Sanskrit language to convey their ideas succinctly. I have also narrated most of the following in videos for which I have provided links at the end.


??? ?????? ???????? ???????? ?????? ???????????? ????? ??????????? ?????? ???????????????????????

??? v?sya? ity ?dayo mantr?? karmasu aviniyukt?? te??? akarma?e?asya ?tmano y?th?tmya-prak??akatv?t|

??? v?sya? ity ?dayo mantr?? refers to the mantras beginning with the phrase ??? v?sya? i.e. ?a?kara is referring to all the verses in the ??? Upani?ad and he says that they are karmasu aviniyukt?? i.e. they are not assigned for use in karmas. Here karmas refer to the Vedic rituals, such as the yajñaviniyukt?? formed by adding the upasargas vi and ni to yukta means ‘assigned’ and aviniyukt?? means ‘unassigned’ i.e. these mantras are not to be used in the performance of Vedic rituals.

But why not? Because, he says, te??? akarma?e?asya ?tmano y?th?tmya-prak??akatv?t. Because they illuminate, they reveal, the y?th?tmya – y?th?tmya is derived from the words yath? ?tman which literally means ‘just as something is by itself.’ All knowledge is mediated by the senses while y?th?tmya refers to the knowledge of the thing unmediated by the senses and therefore it is the knowledge of the thing-in-itself.

But whose y?th?tmya? The y?th?tmya of the ?tman i.e. the self. Note the play on words here ?tmano y?th?tmya ‘the knowledge of the self as it exists in itself.’ Now the self here means the ordinary self i.e. evident as the ‘I’ or ego-consciousness. As self-conscious beings we are all of us aware of a self that we use in sentences like ‘I am a man’ or ‘this is my car.’ ?a?kara is saying that these mantras illuminate the y?th?tmya of the self that is ordinarily perceived as such, as a cluster of worldly identities.

Now going back to the splitting of y?th?tmya as yath? and ?tman, the word ?tmanwhen it occurs at the end of a compound, as it does in the word y?th?tmya, generally means ‘essential nature’ so that y?th?tmya can mean ‘according to its essential nature.’

So to summarise what we have covered so far, ??? v?sya? … y?th?tmya-prak??akatv?t means that the mantras beginning with ??? v?sya? are not assigned to the performance of Vedic rituals because they reveal the essential nature of the self. And now for the remaining and most important word in this sentence: akarma?e?asya, which qualifies the ?tman. The mantras are not irrelevant to Vedic ritual simply because they reveal the essential nature of the self but because they reveal the essential nature of a self as akarma?e?a. This is a bahuvr?hi or a possessive compound. It means one who has no actions remaining i.e. one who does not possess residual action.

Our ordinary understanding of the self, on the other hand, is that of a being possessing residual actions. All of us say that we have actions yet to be performed: I have things to do tomorrow or a week later or in a few months or a few years, and so on. As Robert Frost famously said ‘I have miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.’ This is akarma?e?at? – the state of being possessed with actions yet to be performed. The real nature of the ?tman, its y?th?tmya, on the other hand, ?a?kara claims, is akarma?e?a. Since the mantras reveal that the essential nature of the self is one who has no karma remaining, they cannot be employed in the performance of karma.

This is ?a?kara’s point but there is more to it. Usually, sentences in the Vedas which are not directly applicable to ritual are termed as arthav?da in M?m??sa and the dharma??stras. This term is generally translated as commendatory, hortatory, etc. but what it means basically is that they are not primarily significant. Since the Vedas were regarded as injunctive texts i.e. texts which enjoin actions, any sentence they contained which did not carry a prescriptive force was downgraded to arthav?da. Mantras, on the other hand, were valuable because they were understood as being prak??aka i.e. capable of illuminating some aspect of the ritual and were therefore employed in the process.

From this perspective, the statements in the ??? v?sya? and other Upani?adswould be dismissed as arthav?da since they are not injunctive by nature i.e. they do not prescribe any action. And I think ?a?kara is responding precisely to this interpretive posture in referring to them as mantras even if they are not to be employed in ritual. These are mantras and not just arthav?da because they too are prak??aka. They carry the power of illumination as well but it is not some aspect of ritual that they illuminate but the y?th?tmya of the self as transcendent of all actions.


But what is the y?th?tmya of the ?tman? ?a?kara says:

?????????? ? ?????? ????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????? ???? ?????? ????????? ??? ????? ?????? ????????????????

y?th?tmya? ca ?tmana? ?uddhatva-ap?paviddhatva-ekatva-nityatva-a?ar?ratva-sarvagatatva-?di vak?yam??am| tacca karma?? virudhyate iti yukta eva e??? karmasv aviniyoga?|

vak?yam??am is the future participle which means ‘it will be stated later on’ i.e. the y?th?tmya of the ?tman will be explained further by the mantras of the ??? Upani?ad. But ?a?kara already gives us a hint as to what they will say. The essential nature of the ?tman is:

?uddha – pure, unsullied,
ap?paviddha – not pierced by, not afflicted by sin,
eka – one only without another i.e. what I conceive of as myself, what you conceive of as yourself and what each one of us conceives of as oneself, are ultimately one being,
nitya – eternal
– disembodied,
sarvagata – omnipresent, all-pervasive.

tacca karma?? virudhyate – but that is opposed to karma. Indeed, if the ?tman is really of such a nature, then it simply cannot engage in any action for all engagement in action presupposes a self-understanding that is contradictory to such a view. We act because we realise ourselves to be different from each other and the world, because we think that we are embodied beings and because we think that we are transient creatures. On the other hand, if we were to realise the true nature of the self, then there would not remain any desire to act. Therefore, ?a?kara says iti yukta eva e??? karmasv aviniyoga? – thus it is only appropriate, it is only sensible that these mantras cannot be employed in karma.


Having explained that the y?th?tmya of the ?tman is akarma?e?a i.e. lacking in any residual action, ?a?kara adds a further caveat:

? ?????????????????? ?????????? ????????? ???????? ????? ?????????? ?? ??????????????? ?? ??? ????????? ?????? …

na hy eva? lak?a?am ?tmano y?th?tmya? utp?dya? vik?rya? ?pya? sa?sk?rya? v? kart?-bhokt?-r?pa? v? yena karma?e?at? sy?t …

The problem is that people may agree with the lak?a?as (characteristics) which have been just described as the y?th?tmya of the ?tman, they may admit that ‘yes, in reality the ?tman is ?uddhaap?paviddha’ and so on, but will then say that it is precisely this y?th?tmya which constitutes the karma?e?at? of the ?tman. Since the ?tman is ordinarily not experienced according to its y?th?tmya but rather exactly as its opposite, people are likely to interpret akarma?e?at? to mean only that the ?tman has no residual action to perform in the world but that it does possess residual action inasmuch as it has to attain to its y?th?tmya.

?a?kara is here cautioning against such misinterpretation. He says that these lak?a?as of the y?th?tmya of the ?tman are such that they are not utp?dya(producible), vik?rya (modifiable), ?pya (achievable), sa?sk?rya (able to be purified) or kart?-bhokt?-r?pa (bearing the form of doer or enjoyer); kart? is the one who commits the action and bhokt? is the one who experiences the result. Basically we engage in this world as the kart? and bhokt? of actions. However, the characteristics of the y?th?tmya of the ?tman are such that they are not something yet to be accomplished and so one should not confuse the y?th?tmyaof the ?tman as its karma?e?at?.

How do we know this? Given the diametric opposition between the y?th?tmya of the ?tman and the ?tman as it is ordinarily experienced, how can ?a?kara say that this y?th?tmya is not an object to be achieved through the performance of karma? ?a?kara mounts his defence entirely on scripture:

… ???????? ???????? ????????????????????? ?? ????????? ??????? ????????????? ???? ?????????

… sarv?s?? upani?ad?? ?tma-y?th?tmya-nir?pa?ena eva upak?ay?t g?t?n?? mok?a-dharm???? caiva? paratv?t|

Because all the Upani?ads undergo an upak?aya i.e. they utterly exhaust themselves by a nir?pa?a (a determination, an ascertainment) of the ?tma-y?th?tmya i.e. the essential nature of the self. It means that just as the karma-k???a section of the Vedas enjoin certain karmas, in the same way the jñ?na-k???a section of the Vedas i.e. the Upani?ads enjoin certain self-knowledge, which is the ?tma-y?th?tmya.

Now, there is a debate on whether the ?abda of the Upani?ads is sufficient to give rise to the liberation consisting of true self-knowledge or an additional step of anubhava arising from bhakti or dhy?na is necessary. In my view, bhakti and dhy?na are not necessary complements but distinctive from the jñ?na-m?rga of which ?a?kara was a proponent. Of course, advocates of bhakti-m?rga and dhy?na-m?rga may consider their respective techniques as required in addition to ‘mere’ jñ?na for the self-realisation to actually occur, but I don’t think this was ?a?kara’s view.

But how is that possible? Many of us have read the Upani?ads and have theoretically gained self-knowledge but it has not transformed us into self-realised beings. Our self-consciousness as limited, finite, contingent beings persists in spite of reading the Upani?ads over and over. This is because we although we study the Upani?ads, we really do not have any adhik?ra to do so. Among the requirements of eligibility are disillusionment with the world (vair?gya-bh?va) and a strong desire for liberation (mumuk?atva)In the G?t?-Bh??ya, ?a?kara adds that the performance of dharmic actions without hankering after its rewards leads to the sattva-?uddhi which makes one eligible for ?tmajñ?na. Since most of us do not satisfy these requirements, the ?abda of the Upani?ads cannot have any effect on us. This leads to our commonplace assumption that ?abda has no effect at all and so other aids such as bhakti and dhy?na necessary complements to ‘theoretical’ self-knowledge.

But ?a?kara was addressing an audience to whom the power of the ?abda was well-known. In fact, dharma was itself understood as codan? lak?a?a – it directed or restrained human beings to and from actions by the prescriptive or proscriptive force of its ?abda. ?a?kara, in my view, was basically extending the argument from action to knowledge. If ?abda can enjoin action, then why can’t it enjoin knowledge? Given your adhik?ra to perform an action, if ?abda can impel you to perform it, then, given your adhik?ra to abide in a state of true self-knowledge, why can’t ?abda impel you to abide in it? I think it is a brilliant argument.

Thus, the scope of the enjoinment of the Upani?ads is limited to an ascertainment of self-knowledge and there are no actions prescribed to actually attain the ascertained state. This can only mean that the ascertained state must be an accomplished (siddha) one and not one that is yet to be accomplished (s?dhya). Furthermore, texts on mok?a-dharma i.e. texts which enjoin mok?a i.e. liberation from sa?s?ra such as the Bhagavad G?t? consider it so to be paratva (highest) i.e. the highest way. I think ?a?kara has made this distinction between the Bhagavad G?t? and the Upani?ads because unlike the Upani?ads, the Bhagavad G?t? enjoins action in the world. Therefore, ?a?kara is suggesting that even if the Bhagavad G?t? enjoins action in the world, it does not view action as leading directly to mok?a but only of cleansing the person of the accumulated karma-prav?ttis (disposition to actions in the form of traces) of past lives and making him ready for the self-knowledge which brings about mok?a or rather which is itself mok?a inasmuch as it does not involve any action. ?a?kara has elaborated on this argument in his Bhagavad-g?t?-bh??ya which will be noted in a different post.


???????????? ??????????????????????????? ? ??????????????????????? ??????? ??????????????? ??????? ?????????

tasm?d ?tmana? anekatva-kart?tva-bhokt?tva-?di ca a?uddhatva-p?paviddhatva-?di ca up?d?ya loka-buddhi-siddha? karm??i vihit?ni||

Therefore, it follows that actions are prescribed, having presupposed the multiplicity of the self, its doership and its enjoyership, and that the self is impure and afflicted by sin – presuppositions that are based on commonsensical thinking. It is loka-buddhi-siddha established by worldly or practical or commonsensical thinking that there are many selves – yourself is different from myself which is different from the selves of all other creatures, that each one of us here in the body is a doer and an enjoyer, that this embodiment, this contact with the body sullies the self and causes it to partake the sins of the body. It is having taken all this for granted that humans engage in action to improve their condition, to make progress materially and spiritually.


?? ?? ????????????? ??????? ???????????????? ???????? ??????????? ? ??????????? ? ??????????????????????????????????????? ??????????? ?????? ???????????? ?????????? ???????????? ???????

yo hi karmaphalen?rth? d???ena brahmavarcas?din? ad???ena svarg?din? ca dvij?tir aha? na k??atva-kubjatva-?dy-anadhik?ra-prayojaka-dharmav?n ity ?tm?na? manyate so’dhikriyate karmasv iti hy adhik?ravido vadanti|

Let us understand this assertion in parts beginning with the subject and the verb. The adhik?ravida? are those who are knowledgeable about adhik?ra i.e. competency in the performance of actions. adhik?ravido vadanti means ‘those knowledgeable about adhik?ra say.’

What do they say? so’dhikriyate karmasu ‘He is entitled or eligible or is competent i.e. he has the adhik?ra with regards to actions.’ Who has such an adhik?rayo hi karmaphalen?rth? – the one who is an arth? i.e. a supplicant, a person who desires – what? karma-phala ‘the fruit or result of actions’ – what kind of fruits? Both d???a (visible) and ad???a (invisible). For example, when you get your salary for doing your job, that is d???a-phala. The example given here is brahma-varcaswhich I find a bit odd because one would think that it is an ad???a-phala. I am not sure what brahma-varcas exactly means. Gambhirananda has translated it as ‘spiritual eminence’ but we should refer to M?m??sa and the dharma??stra texts to understand what is properly implied by it and why ?a?kara considers it a kind of d???a-phala.

The example of an ad???a-phala is svarga (heaven) which is clearly an imperceptible result. The people who desire the results of action think: I am dvij?ti (twice-born, having performed the upanayana ceremony, and thus become eligible for study of the Vedas and ritual performance). I also do not suffer from any defects such as being one-eyed or being hunch-backed.

Let us unpack the phrase na k??atva-kubjatva-?dy-anadhik?ra-prayojaka-dharmav?n. Now, dharmav?n is one possessing some dharma. The term dharma in this case means ‘characteristic’ or ‘property.’ What dharma? An anadhik?ra-prayojaka-dharma i.e. some dharma which makes one lose adhik?ra or eligibility to perform ritual; k??atva and kubjatva, one-eyed-ness and hunch-backed-ness, are examples of anadhik?ra-prayojaka-dharmas. For example, if there is a ritual which require the performer to look at something with both eyes, then a one-eyed person cannot complete it successfully and thus become ineligible for the ritual. These are the three conditions necessary for performing a ritual: one must possess the desire for its results, one must be dvij?ti and one must not possess any defects that may hinder its performance. Those who satisfy these three conditions have the adhik?ra to engage in karma. So the adhik?ravidas advise us.


????????? ??????? ?????? ????????? ????????? ????????? ????????????????????? ??????????? ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

tasm?d ete mantr? ?tmano y?th?tmya prak??anena ?tmavi?aya? sv?bh?vika-karma-vijñ?na? nirvartayanta? ?oka-moha-?di-sa?s?ra-dharma-vicchitti-s?dhanam ?tmaikatv?di-vijñ?nam-utp?dayanti|

Here, ete mantr? ‘these mantras’ of the ??? Upani?ad are the subject. There are two verbal forms: nirvartayanta? a present participle which means ‘dispelling, removing’ and utp?dayanti which means ‘they produce, they give rise to.’ The immediate object of both these verbal forms is vijñ?na which means ‘realisation.’ Note the difference between jñ?na and vijñ?najñ?na is just theoretical knowledge as when you are told that something is the case whereas vijñ?na is effective knowledge when you realise that something is truly the case because you have experienced it first-hand. So these mantras are destroying one kind of vijñ?na and producing another kind of vijñ?na.

The vijñ?na which the mantras are destroying is ?tmavi?aya? sv?bh?vika-karma-vijñ?na ‘the realisation that action is natural with regards to the self.’ This is, of course, our ordinary experience of the self as doer or enjoyer. Dispelling it, the mantras produce a contradictory ?tmaikatv?di-vijñ?na ‘the realisation that the self is one, and so on’ i.e. it is ?uddha, ap?paviddha, and so on.

This vijñ?na is ?oka-moha-?di-sa?s?ra-dharma-vicchitti-s?dhana ‘it is the means to the destruction of the sa?s?ra-dharma, the characteristics of sa?s?ra such as ?oka and moha.’ What is sa?s?ra? It is the experience of the world as the realm of ?oka (grief) and moha (attachment). We experience ?oka when we lose something and moha when we are unable to get something we want. Something is constantly beckoning us further and something is constantly slipping by us. Such an experience of the world constitutes sa?s?ra.

So the whole sentence is saying that these mantras, by illuminating the y?th?tmya of the ?tman, are destroying the vijñ?na that karma is sv?bh?vika(natural, essential) with reference to the ?tman, and they produce the vijñ?na of the ekatva and so on, of the ?tman, which is the means of destroying the sa?s?ra-dharmas such as ?oka and moha.

Finally, let us reflect on the logical connector tasmat (therefore) which joins this sentence with the previous one in a causal sense. As you can see, it says tasm?d ete mantr? ?tmano and so on. The point appears to be this: since one engages in action, presupposing that one is dvij?ti and so on, therefore as these mantras are dispelling such false notions regarding the self, they produce a self-realisation that is instrumental in the cessation of sa?s?ra.


?????????????????????????????????????????????????? ????????? ???????????????

ity evam ukta-adhik?rya-abhidheya-sa?bandha-prayojan?n mantr?n sa?k?epato vy?khy?sy?ma?||

It means ‘having stated the adhik?rya, the abhidheya, the sa?bandha and the prayojana, I will now briefly elucidate the mantras.’ The explanation of these four topics occurs in the upodgh?ta ‘introductory’ section of commentaries and this literary formality is called ??str?rambhaadhik?rya means who the text is meant for; abhidheya refers to the subject matter; prayojana spells out the purpose and sa?bandha is the relation between the three.

In this case the adhik?rya is one who is not karmaphalen?rth? i.e. one who does not hanker after the fruits of action. He must have achieved nirveda or disillusionment with the world and become convinced that karma cannot bring about an ultimate cessation of ?oka and moha. The abhidheya i.e. the subject matter of the text is mok?a or liberation from sa?s?ra. Its prayojana or purpose is to bring about a cessation of sa?s?ra and the sambandha is the removal of the faulty self-understanding that the self is the doer and enjoyer, and the generation of the correct self-understanding of the unity of the self and so on. Thus, having explained what the mantras are all about, ?a?kara then proceeds to elucidate them one by one. This ends the upodgh?ta section of ?a?kara’s commentary on the ??? Upani?ad.


In conclusion of my elucidation here, there is one point I would like to mention. With regards to adhik?ra, one may argue that most of us are yet karmaphalen?rth?. From the foregoing it would thus appear that we are not eligible to read the ??? Upani?ad. So why should we read it? Well, I think that in premodern India it was believed that not everything is meant for everyone. You must be in a certain position; you must have arrived at a certain state to perform a certain action or gain a certain knowledge. If not, you might harm yourself as well as others. Or in any case, you will not derive any value from the action or knowledge for which you are deemed ineligible.

On the other hand, as modern and post-modern human beings we strive for or are expected to strive for a theoretical understanding as well. Even if we are not seeking mok?a, we should be able to intellectually reflect upon it and try to understand how, say, ?a?kara understood it in the context of the ??? Upani?ad. The ancient Indian would totally disagree with this contemporary approach to texts and I think, deep down, they are right. To read a text is to participate in it seriously, to experience it and let it transform you. This can, indeed, get dangerous which is why there is a restriction on adhik?ra. Be that as it may, as inhabitants of a modern and post-modern world, we should undertake a reading of texts not allegedly meant for us as objectively as possible with a view to understand our intellectual heritage.

Isa Upanisad Sankara's Introduction (Upodghata) – 01

Isa Upanisad Upodghata – 02

Isa Upanisad Upodghata – 03


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