Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Some Bhagavat-sandarbha Notes: Shruti-stuti (1)

Slogging away on the Bhagavat-sandarbha. So many distractions it is hard to give the attention to this book that I am supposed to be giving it. I am currently working on the final leg of the journey through some of the most difficult passages of all. That is, the Shruti-stuti in chapter 87 of the Tenth Canto.

In section 87 of the Bhagavat-sandarbha (according to our new number system, Heaven forgive us), Sri Jiva takes us through a number of the verses that are in this Stuti, which without a doubt is one of the most important in the entire Bhagavatam. Why? Well, the Bhagavatam indicates in the very first verses and claims in several others to be the essence of the Vedānta or the Upanishads. The Shruti-stuti is one place where many of the most important texts of the Upanishads are referred to, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, and so give a fairly good idea of the Bhagavata author's interpretation of the Vedānta.

The verses themselves are mostly not very easy to understand and without Sridhar Swami's commentary would be quite hopeless for someone like myself, with only rudimentary Sanskrit skills, to decipher. Sridhar points out with unerring accuracy the Upanishadic references and pieces together the almost code-like text. Not that the other commentators necessarily agree with him. Sridhar can occasionally take what looks to be an advaita-vada interpretation and when he does, Jiva takes him on.

One of the things I am doing with the Bhagavat-sandarbha is that I am trying to deal with a very important problem in translating books of this sort: How do you avoid reading into a translation of a text the interpretations of the commentators? This becomes especially important when the verse is followed by another commentary, which may or may not agree with the one you have followed in your translation.

For example, in Kushakratha's translations of the Sandarbhas, he has chosen to unquestioningly use Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami's translations of the verses. Bhaktivedanta's translations are known to be full of interpretive adjustments and explanations.

If a translation already contains an explanation, it renders subsequent explanations problematic: If Jiva's commentary agrees with the explanation given in Prabhupada's translation, it renders the commentary superfluous. If it disagrees, then that is just confusing. In either case, it makes the purpose of the overall text unclear.

The Gita Press translation also very deliberately follows Sridhara Swami's interpretation, but includes any explanatory comments that he makes in brackets. Jiva Goswami may not use Sridhara and so the same problems mentioned above come up again.

We have to look at the Sanskrit verse and see it the way that Sridhar and Jiva saw it, and then understand why they felt it necessary to comment the way they did. The translation has to make both of these things clear. So this translation of Bhagavat-sandarbha will often have verse translations that are a bit on the too literal side, but will hopefully make the purpose of Jiva's comment and his overall argument clearer to the non-Sanskritist. It is quite a challenge to make it readable at the same time.

One example could be given from 10.87.2, where the word ātmane, following Sridhara, is rendered in the BBT version as "become elevated in future lives" and in the Gita Press edition as "enjoying the delights of various worlds."

Now, quite honestly, I doubt there are many Sanskrit scholars of any kind who would immediately read ātmane and think these things. So if you follow the interpretation right away in the verse translation, you are actually missing the point of why the tikas were written in the first place.

A closer look shows that Sridhara and Sri Jiva want the four reasons for the creation given in 10.87.2 to correspond to the four puruṣārthas. There is no reason to think this is an invalid assumption on their part, but it does leave the door open to other possibilities. We would have to look at the other, non-Sridhara connected, commentaries, like that of Vallabha, closely to see what they say. A difference of opinion here would be quite legitimate.

A prima facie reading of ātmane would be "for himself" or "for the self," and that is precisely why it requires interpretation, though the route that Sridhara Swami chose is unclear and would need research. Can such an interpretation be found anywhere else? It would need a thorough reading of Shankara, on whom Sridhara often relies, to find out whether this kind of gloss can be found anywhere in his writings. Jiva does in fact follow Sridhara here, quoting him directly. But when translating the original verse, I think that giving the immediately intelligible meaning and then treating the commentary as an interpretation of that meaning is the only appropriate way to go.

Sometimes this can present problems of its own. For instance, what if the commentary goes against the prima facie reading of the verse? How can that be made intelligible to the non-Sanskrit reader?

Let's take a look at 10.87.15. The context of the entire Veda-stuti begins with Maharaj Parikshit's question in 10.87.1. He asks, "How can the Vedas, functioning within the gunas, directly describe Brahman, which is indeterminable, free from the gunas, and transcendental to both causes and their effects?"

This is a big philosophical question, very important for Advaita-vada, and all the commentaries start with a discussion of words and their powers. These have been very nicely discussed by Satya Narayan Baba in his English commentary. But by the time you get to the actual stuti, which begins with 10.87.14, it is quite understandable if you have already lost the thread. Nevertheless, one should be reminded of it, and the first three verses (14-16) and the last (10.87.41), all of which are quoted in Bhagavat-sandarbha section 87, are directly answering this question.
This is verse 15:

bṛhad upalabdham etad avayanty avaśeṣatayā
yata udayāsta-mayau vikṛter mṛd ivāvikṛtāt
ata ṛṣayo dadhus tvayi mano-vacanācaritaṁ
katham ayathā bhavanti bhuvi datta-padāni nṛṇām

The inspiration for this verse comes from (1) the Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1, sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma taj-ja-lān iti śānta upāsīta: "All this is indeed Brahman, which is the source of its creation, maintenance and dissolution. Knowing this, a person should be peaceful and worship Him." and (2) Chandogya 6.1.4.

yathā somyaikena mṛt-piṇḍena
sarvaṁ mṛn-mayaṁ vijñātaṁ syād
vācārambhaṇaṁ vikāro nāma-dheyaṁ
mṛttikety eva satyam

In this passage, Shvetaketu is sent to study all the Vedic sciences and comes home after 24 years a little puffed up and proud of his learning. So his father asks him, "What is the one thing that upon being known, all other things are known? By knowing clay, one knows all the things that are made of clay. The modification is but a name based on words, and the clay alone is real."

Word for word in the first two lines of the Bhagavatam verse go like this: bṛhat = "the Great". All the commentaries agree that this means Brahman, but the question is whether that would be the immediately understood meaning by an ordinary reader, with a normal Sanskrit education. Even a cursory examination of the Bhagavatam reveals that the usage of bṛhat, which is fairly frequent, is exclusively used in the sense of "great." Though the meaning as brahman is a secondary one, it is legitimate. Still, we should translate it as "great," and not as Brahman. We can give it a capital to show that we know it has a greater meaning or implications.

Of course, the customary definition of Brahman is that it is "that which is the greatest and makes others great also" (bṛhattvāt bṛṁhaṇāc ca), so there is no reason to make a big deal about it. Nevertheless, the point I am trying to make is that attention is being brought to the fact of greatness, rather than Brahmahood.

Jiva will make a point like this when he says, "Although the 'Great' is here also shown to be the possessor of potencies, still only Brahman is being established, as the Bhagavan aspect has not been openly mentioned here. If all potencies were rejected, it would not be possible to establish Brahman, and moreover Brahman would become insignificant. So, only Brahman has been referred to here in this verse. Therefore, in this example, where only clay is mentioned, agency and so on are not attributed to Brahman."

Similarly in the Laghu-vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī, Sri Jiva also says that the verse represents the words of those Shrutis who are embarrassed that some of their sister Shrutis had been so focused on the impersonal aspect of the Supreme. They use the word bṛhat to show that without the incorporating the personal aspect into the concept of the Supreme Truth, the greatness of Brahman is hampered.

upalabdham = Normally this word means "attained" or "understood." A problem is the word avayanti which follows and also means "understand, know." It makes no sense to have two words with the same meaning immediately following one another. Sridhara glosses as dṛṣṭam, meaning "seen." This is a common expression referring to the perceived, material universe. So Sridhara reads, "[They] understand this perceived [world] as the Great, or Brahman."

Jiva Goswami's solution is to stick the verb avayanti further down on the next line, as he wants to preserve the sense of understanding for upalabdha. We will look at that in the proper place, but in terms of straightforward translation, Sridhara is more direct here than Jiva. So, for the translation, I have to follow that immediately obvious meaning and let Jiva lead us by the hand and convince us of his version.

etat = "this." Everyone agrees that this means the world. Jiva glosses as sarvam, and in Laghu-vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī also makes it clear that these first words are to be recognized as a paraphrase of the Mahā-vākya, sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma.

avaśeṣatayā = "due to being that which remains." The immediate reference points are the om pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam... pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate verse, or the Bhāgavata-catuḥślokī, yo'vaśiṣyeta so'smy aham: "After all is said and done, when all phenomena are gone, what remains is Brahman."

This reminds me a bit of the "God of the gaps" idea in Christianity. The idea there is that, God was traditionally used to explain everything, but with the onset of science in the modern world and the solving of so many of creation's mysteries, this role of God as an explanation of the inexplicable is in constant retreat and only serves to fill in those gaps where science has not yet found the answer.

I recently encountered the term "promissory materialism" from Ed May, a very congenial researcher into paranormal psychology, who seemed to think that things like consciousness and the creation of life, etc., will one day be solved by science, "just when we least think it possible."

Of course, to me this is ridiculous. There are some pretty huge gaps that need filling out there, starting with the very fact of existence, which makes all subsequent achievements entirely dependent and derivative. No one can be original in inventing new laws of nature, what to speak of existence itself. Nor can they really answer what is left after it all ends. That is stated here, avaśeṣatayā.

The word is being used as an argument. "Everything is Brahman, [they] know it due to its being that which remains."

yataḥ "Because." This word introduces the example derived from the second Upanishad quotation above. It could also mean "from whom," which could go with avikṛtāt, another ablative at the end of the line, "untransformed." But since all the commentaries favor the first sense given, explaining the meaning of avaśeṣatayā, we bow our heads in agreement.

udayāsta-mayau = "Of the nature of rising and setting." This looks like an adjective, but since there are no masculine nouns in the nominative dual around, we will have to take it as a simple periphrase of creation and dissolution. "Creation and dissolution." "Appearance and disappearance." This is also Sridhara's reading, utpatti-layau.

vikṛteḥ = "Of or from the transformation."

mṛd iva = "Like clay." (in the nominative, unfortunately) This brief mention should immediately ring bells for anyone who has studied Vedānta and would therefore be quite familiar with this argument. See also Vedānta-sutra 2.1.14, ff.

avikṛtāt = "from the untransformed."

Jiva puts avayanti with this part of the verse. His reading of the first two lines would thus be: "This world is known as Brahman, due to being that which remains. [They, the Srutis] know that the appearance and disappearance of the transformations comes from the untransformed, as is the case with clay." And he quotes yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante (Tai.U. 3.1.1) as just such evidence of the Srutis knowing it.

What is the subject of the verb avayanti? For some reason, Haridas Shastri introduces the demigods like Indra as the subject. This appears to be a misunderstanding of Sridhara's commentary. Jiva here says the Srutis. Sridhara does not weigh in. Sanatana says mad-vidhāḥ which would be the Srutis. Later in the third line, Jiva also equates ṛṣayaḥ with the Vedas, so I would think that the same subject carries over and should be read as "the Vedic seers." It may perhaps work best if we say, "Because they know this perceived creation to be the Great, due to its being what remains, as the appearance and disappearance of transformations come from the untransformed, as is the case with clay [and its transformations].... therefore the Vedic seers, etc."

1 comment:

Rudra Prasad said...

A very nice study you are doing on the sandarbhas. I have been often distrustful of 'interpretations'. "Atmane" actually means (to my limited knowledge), 'for the self'. But it is the ingenuity of the Goswamis to render it such 'clever' meanings.

The "gap" theory is interesting. But while Chistianity may be refering to 'god's domain' the areas, which science has not yet discovered (with the possibility that one day no such area may remain), Vedanta refers to (in my humble opinion) "God's domain" everything--including things that science has already discovered. Hence the Katha Upanishad refers to things which are (for quite some time) already known to human-science. For eg.
“He is the sun dwelling in the bright sky. He is the air in the interspace.
He is the fire dwelling on earth. He is the guest dwelling in the house.”
---Rigveda 4.34.5 and Katha Upanishad 2.2.2