Let me now speak a little more on the doctrines of Mimamsa.
Let us not worry about whether or not there is a God. Let there be a God or let there be none. Our duty is to perform the rites prescribed by the Vedas and they will yield fruits on their own. Any work we do produces its own results, doesn't it? Why do we need God in between? The work generates results on its own. Do we pay the greengrocer if he fetches plantain leaves from our own garden? It is the same to give credit to Isvara for the fruits we reap by performing karma. We till the land and rice grows on it. It is the same with performing karma. If we do what we do not know, as told by the Vedas, we will derive certain benefits. Why should we think that the cosmos was created by God? It has always existed as it exists today: why should we believe that it came into being all of a sudden? "Na kadacit anidrsam jagat. " This universe has always existed as it exists today. Do works; they will yield fruits on their own. When the engine is wound the car starts. It is all like that.
The Vedas speak about things not comprehended by the human mind. If we perform rites imposed on us by them, the fruits thereof will naturally follow. Sound has always existed: it has indeed no beginning and the Vedas are this sound. Like time and space they are ever-present.
If you do evil, the consequence shall be evil; if you do good the result shall be correspondingly good. The rites keep yielding fruits, and we keep enjoying them - and thus we go on and on. No God is required for all this. We should never cease to do work because not to work is sinful. It will take us to hell.
There are three types of karma: "nitya", "naimittika", and "kamya". "Nitya-karma" as the name suggests includes sacraments that must be performed every day. "Naimittika" rites are conducted for a specific purpose or reason or on a specific occasion. For instance, when there is an eclipse we must bathe and offer libations to our fathers. When a great man visits our home he has to be honoured ceremonially - this is also naimittaka. Nitya and naimittaka rites are to be performed by all. A kamya-karma is a ritual that has a special purpose. When there is a drought we conduct Varuna-japa to invoke the god and seek his blessings in the form of rain. When we are desirous of a son we perform the "putrakamesti"(sacrifice to beget a son). These belong to the kamya category.
The sacraments to be performed everyday are defined in Mimamsa. "Akarane pratyavaya janakam, karane'bhyudayam"- this statement refers to two types. The non-performance of certain rites brings us ills, troubles- these form one type. On the other hand some rites bring us happiness- these form the second type. A good house, wealth, sons, fame, knowledge are part of " abhyudaya". Vedanta speaks of "nihsreyas", the supreme bliss of liberation. " Abhyudaya " is different; it is happiness on the lower plane. Mimamsa is concerned with the latter, and does not speak of the ultimate blessedness of release from worldly existence.
If rites belong to the category of "nitya" are not performed, we will have to face trouble. Suppose you ask a man to perform sandyavandana and he replies: " I won't do it. I don't care whether or not it does me good ". Mimamsa has an answer to it: Sandyavandana is not a kamya or optional rite and its non-performance will bring you unhappiness.
It stands to reason to say the performance of certain rites will bring you happiness. But how do you justify the statement that the non-performance of certain other rites will have ill-effects? Not performing sandyavandana is sinful, but its performance is not claimed to bring any good. It is because this rite belongs to the category referred to in this statement, "akarane pratyavaya janakam. . "
Worshipping the deity in the temple, feeding the poor, such acts are said to be beneficial and belong to the second category referred to in the statement, ". . . . karane abhyudayam ". This makes sense. But how is it sensible to say " akarane pratyavaya janakam "? Are there examples to illustrate this dictum? Yes, there are.
We give alms to beggars, or make a donation to some organisation or other in the belief that there is merit to be earned thereby. Sometimes we do not practice such charity because we may not feel the urge to earn any special merit. We have, of course, to do our duty, but not helping people with money or material cannot be said to be sinful.
Suppose we have borrowed Rs. 500 from a friend or an acquaintance. How far are we justified in refusing repayment of the loan, saying: " I don't wish to earn any merit by returning your money? ". Is it possible to escape the obligation to the lender in this manner? He will naturally tell us: " I came to ask you for my money. I don't care about whether you or I earn any merit ". If we refuse to repay a loan we will be taken to court and eventually we will have to repay it along with the penalty. This illustrates the statement: " Akarane pratyavayajanakam. . . "
Not performing sandyavandana is like not repaying a debt. In Tamil the sandyavandana performed at dawn and dusk are aptly called " kalai-k-kadan " and " malai-k-kadan " [" morning debt " and " evening debt " ]. These are beautiful terms.
You may wonder how sandyavandana can be described as something " borrowed ". The Taittiriya Samhita(6. 3) of the Vedas says: " A Brahmin is born with three debts. These are " rsi-rna ", " deva-rna " and " pitr-rna (that is a Brahmin is indebted to the sages, the devas and to his fathers) ". The first debt is repaid by chanting the Vedas; by conducting sacrifices and other rites the second is repaid; and by offering libations and performing the sraddha ceremony the third is repaid. The Vedas enlighten us on matters of which we are ignorant. From the pronouncements made in them, those who have faith will find reasons to perform the rites. Others who perverse in their reasoning will find an excuse for not performing the same.
There are two brothers. One is a magistrate and the other a Vedic scholar. The first cannot refuse to attend the court saying, " My brother does not go to any law court. Why should I? ". The authorities will tell him: "You applied for the job of a magistrate. We issued orders appointing you to the office and you accepted the job. So there is no choice for you but to attend the court ". Similarly, we have applied for liberation, for moksa, and have received orders that we have to perform certain rites. The one who issued orders is not seen by us but he sees all and is witness to all. Such is the view of the Vedanta.
Mimamsa believes that the karma that we " applied for " gives its own reward. According to it, the fruit of Vedic works come to us " automatically ".
Our birth in this world is according to our past karma and we have to perform the rites that are proper to it. If we do not, we will suffer. The customs and rites must be adhered to properly. The duty of a Brahmin is to know the truth contained in the Vedas, to bring solace to those who are sorrowing and to give instruction to people in their respective vocations. Similarly, each man must perform the duties allotted to him by virtue of his birth. The oil-monger must produce oil; the cobbler must make footwear; and so on. The Brahmin must keep his body, mind and Self pure and he must be careful about what he eats. The reason for this is that not only has he to remain meditating on the Paramatman, he has also the duty of bringing others to the path of dhyana. It was for the proper discharge of such duties that in the old days he was given gifts of rent-free lands. Then every worker was allotted land. If he stopped doing the work assigned to him society would suffer. So he forfeited his land an and it was allotted to another worker.
According to the sastras, not to do the work assigned to us is not only sinful but also disadvantageous in a worldly sense. In the past one earned respect only because one did one's karma, the duties expected of one. Our nation is in a lamentable state today only because of the failure on the part of the people to follow their respective callings, callings inherited from their forefathers. If everybody does his allotted job, performs the duties expected of him by birth, there should be happiness for all even in a mundane case. If there is so much poverty in the country today it is because of our failure to maintain the social order in which everybody is expected to do his allotted work, contributing to the social prosperity and harmony.
Sandyavandana and the like are everyday rites. The non-performance of nitya-karma is a sin; performance means we will not incur any demerit. That apart, there will be general well-being. If we repay a loan in instalments it means that we shall no longer remain indebted to the lender (here we see a gain); additionally we earn a name for being honest and trust-worthy. By performing nitya-karma no sin will attach to us and, besides, it should mean some good to us. Thus there are two types of gains.
Vedanta too accepts the idea implicit in the statement "Akarane pratavaya janakam, karane' bhyudayam". We must never fail to perform nitya-karma; for instance, Srauta rites like agnihotra and Smarta rites like aupasana.
It is the view of mimamsakas that agnihotra must be performed so long as one is alive. So they do not favour the sannyasasrama(the last stage of life, that of the ascetic). In this asrama there are no rites like agnihotra. Giving up works, according to the mimamsakas, is extremely sinful. To do so consciously and become an ascetic is like embracing another religion. The Isavasyopanishad (second mantra) says that a man must live a hundred years performing works. The Taittiriya Brahmana has it that to extinguish the agnihotra fire is to earn the demerit of killing a hero.
According to Mimamsa, to give up nitya-karma is tantamount to doing evil karma. "The sannyasin deprives himself of karma ('karma- bhrashta'). To look at him is sinful and you must atone for it. To look at the sinner, to talk to him, to dine with him, " say Mandanamisra and mimamsakas like, "is to earn sin. To look at a sanyasin is equally sinful. "
The jnanakanda of the Vedas, speaks of sannyasa, the Parabrahman, liberation, jnana and so on. Why should concepts be attacked? What is answer of the mimamsakas to this?
It is true, they say, that the Upanisads speak of jnana and Parabrahman. But what are the Vedas? The Vedas are sound, they are made up of words. Why did they come into existence? To tell us about things that we do not know. The Vedas constitute the Sabda-pramana which speaks about things that cannot be perceived by the eyes and are beyond conjecture. Their purpose is not to tell us about matters that are of no use. All words serve a two-fold purpose. They bid you "Do this" or "Do not this. "
Pravrttirva nivrttirva nityena krtakyena va
Pumsam yenopadisyete tacchastram abhidhiyate
Words that speak of things that serve no purpose belong to the category of useless, idle talk. Suppose a man says, "The crow flies." How does the statement help you? "The crow is black." Do these words also help you in any way? Take this sentence for example: "Tomorrow night a discourse will be held here." This has some purpose. It gives a bit of information and implicit in it is an invitation to people to come and listen to the discourse. Such usefulness is "pravrtti". If someone says that there will be a discourse at Kumbhakonam tomorrow, it is as good as gossip. You are in Madras and how will you go to Kumbhakonam in such a short time to listen to the discourse? Any word, any sabda, must have some objective or other. It must either involve you in work, "pravrtti" or keep you out of it, "nivrtti". If the Vedas mention all the five terrible sins (panca-maha-patakas) and bid us not to commit them, it is nivrtti, because they warn us against committing those dreadful crimes.
Words that do not serve the purpose of either pravrtti or nivrtti are useless. One part of the Vedas asks you to do this or that and another part asks you not to do this or that (ordinances regarding what you must do and what you must not). But there is another part which is like story-telling. The stories are meaningful only if they are connected with the injunctions and interdictions of pravrtti and nivrtti.
Suppose there is an advertisement of a tonic that claims to give you vigour and strength. It carries an illustration showing a man wrestling with a lion. What is the purpose of this drawing? It is a kind of deception, the idea behind it being to induce you to buy the tonic, and make money. Such "stories" in the Vedas become purposeful only because of the injunctions associated with them and they belong to the category of "arthavada". Why does a doctor print his certificate in advertising his medicine? To persuade people to buy it (the medicine). In this way in arthavada untruth is mixed with truth. The untrue part is called "gunavada". There is another term called "anuvada". It means stating what is already known. For instance, the statement that "fire burns".
Mentioning the ingredients of a medicine is an example of "bhutarthavada". "Gunarthavada" is to tell a story, even though untrue, to make it useful for the observance of a rule. "Do not drink liquor" is an injunction (or interdiction). To tell the "story" that a man who got drunk was ruined is arthavada. The purpose- or moral- is that one must not drink. To say that if a man drinks he will be intoxicated is anuvada. All told, the stories or statements belonging to arthavada must make us conform to the commandments of the Vedas.
In dealing with a sacrifice, the Vedas ask us to pay the daksina in gold, not in silver. According to the Taittiriya Samhita silver should not be given as daksina in sacrifices. In this connection a long story is told to illustrate the "nisedha" or the prohibitory rule regarding silver. ("Do this" is a "vidhi"; "do not do this" is a "nisedha". ) But the words by themselves in such arthavada do not serve any purpose.
It is in this manner that the mimamsakas try to counter the objections raised against their system by adherents of the jnanakanda of the Vedas.
When the Upanisads speak about the Brahman there is no mention of any work to be performed. The Upanisads themselves show that the realisation of the Brahmans is a state in which there is no action. When do the Vedas become an authority? When they speak about the performance of a karma. So the Upanisads belong to the arthavada category because they deal with existing things. What is it that we must know? Existing things or the karma we ought to perform?
"The Brahman exists. The Atman is the Brahman" In such pronouncements there is no mention of any rites to be performed. It is obligatory for us to conduct sacrifices and we need the Vedas only for that purpose, to tell us about such works, not to speak about the things that exist. What exists will be known at one time or another, even if we do not know it now. That part of the Vedas which speaks of existing things belongs to arthavada. So the Upanisads are not to be regarded as an authority. Then what is their purpose? They are meant to elevate the sacrificer. By extolling him he would be made to perform more and more works. It is not right to forsake karma to become a sannyasin. The Upanisadic declaration that the individual self is the same as the Brahman is meant only to glorify one who leads a life of works. The man who takes the tonic (in the story mentioned earlier) will never be able to wrestle with the lion. Similarly, the individual self will never attain the Brahman. The Upanisads are in the nature of a story and we do not need any talk of the Brahman, jnana, moksa, Isvara, and so on. Karma is all for us. So goes the argument of the mimamsakas
What is Sankara's reply to this argument?
What the Vedas state need not necessarily serve the purpose of involving us in any work. The mimamsakas accept the Vedas because, according to them, the karma mentioned in them serves a purpose. So the purpose served by karma is the message of the Vedas, not the karma itself. If to be without any karma, without any work, is itself a great purpose, must not the jnanakanda of the Vedas then be acceptable since it deals with a condition in which there is no karma to be performed, or nothing is to be done? That is if being without karma is "useful" by itself - if it serves a "purpose" - that can also then be the message of the Vedas. So the underlying goal of the Vedas is not karma itself but the purpose behind it.
The Vedas admonish us: "Do not drink wine". How do we react to this interdiction? We react by doing nothing; there is indeed nothing for us to do. The message of this Vedic commandment is that we ought not to ruin ourselves by drinking. To remain without doing anything is called "abhava". All nisedha (prohibition) belongs to the abhava category. The mimasakas themselves admit that the Vedas forbid certain actions. If it is beneficial not to perform certain actions, how can you object to the possibility that not doing any karma at all can also constitute a great purpose? Vedanta has great "use" thus since it serves the supreme purpose of the action-less or quiescent state in which we realise the Self. This cannot be rejected as arthavada.
Krsna says in the Gita: "Sarvan karma' khilam Partha jnane parisamapyate" (All works, Partha, find their goal in jnana). All karma must be consecrated to Paramesvara, must be laid at the feet of the Supreme Lord. To be without work, and experience the bliss of the Brahman is he greatest of "uses". In this state there is no birth again and it means freedom from worldly existence. That is the ultimate message of the Vedas. The karmakanda must be woven together with the jnanakanda if it is to be meaningful and if it is to serve a purpose.
Sankara succeeded in convincing Mandanamisra, Kumarilabhatta and others about the rightness of this view. To recapitulate his argument: "The karmakanda of the Vedas mentions works because their performance is of some use in cleansing the mind. If the purpose achieved by not performing them is a million - million times greater than that gained by performing them, then that must be understood to be the message of the Vedas, the ultimate teaching of the jnanakanda. The karmakanda helps a seeker in his early stages. The performance of rites creates inner purity and takes him to Isvara. Karma performed for the sake of karma leads a man nowhere. The Vedas speak of the sannyasin's stage of life in which the ascetic, as he attains the Paramatman, becomes the Paramatman". The Acarya spoke in this vein to Mandanamisra [converted him to his point of view] and gave him initiation into sannyasa.
In the karmakanda certain acts are declared sinful. If a person keeps doing them it is because he feels he finds some pleasure in them. But such pleasure is momentary and becomes an obstacle in his efforts to know the joy that is greater. The mimamsakas, respecting the injunctions of the Vedas, abjure sinful acts. By the performance of Vedic karma they derive certain fruits, a certain degree of happiness, find well-being in their mundane existence and go to the pitr-loka or devaloka. But these do not mean everlasting bliss. When the fruits of their virtuous acts are exhausted, the joys also come to an end. Even if they go to the world of the celestials they will have to plunge into this world again on exhausting their merit. "Ksine punye martyalokam visanti".
What is that well-being which is eternal? The answer is that which is experienced by the jnanin when he dissolves in the Supreme Godhead. Then there is no "doing" for him. One must abjure sinful acts that afford petty momentary pleasure and instead perform noble works such as those mentioned in the Vedas. But what use are even these if they do not lead to the experience of plenary bliss? Are we, however, capable of directly attaining such blessedness abandoning Vedic karma? No. Jnana is not easy to obtain. For it the consciousness, the mind, must be made pure and un-oscillating. So Vedic rituals are essential.
But they must be performed not for impermanent rewards like paradise but for the removal of inner impurities. We must not be deflected from the higher path by the fruits yielded by karma- these must be placed devotedly at the feet of the Lord. He will bless us with the higher fruit of inner purity and then the mind will become mellow enough for Atmic inquiry, for the inward journey. That is the way to the supreme blessedness, the quiescent state in which one is oneself
Vedanta and Mimamsa
Advaita or non-dualism is in agreement with Mimamsa up to a point. It accepts Vedic karma as well as the six pramanas (perceptions or sources of knowledge) defined by Kumarilabhatta. Sankara's non-dualism, Ramanuja's qualified non-dualism, and Madhva's dualism are all Vedantic doctrines and all three are not against Vedic rituals. While non-dualism accepts all the six pramanas of Mimamsa, qualified non-dualism accepts only three- pratyaksa, anumana and the Vedas. I will explain these terms when I deal with Nyaya.
The three leading Vedantic teachers (Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva), do not completely reject Mimamsa, but the paths they have cut out go beyond the mimamsic view: devotion in the case of Visistadvaita and Dvaita and jnana in the case of Advaita.
Mimamsa is called karmamarga since it teaches that karma is all. But karma here does not have the same meaning as in Vedanta which speaks of the three paths- karma, bhakti and jnana. In Vedanta karma is not performed for the sake of karma and is not an end in itself, but consecrated to Isvara without any expectation of reward. This is also karmamarga or karmayoga. It is this view of karma that the Lord expounds in the Gita. In the karmamarga of mimamsakas there is no bhakti. But, all the same, the Vedic rituals create well-being in the world, lead to a disciplined and harmonious social life and bring inner purity to the performer. Mimamsa holds karma to be a goal in itself; Vedanta regards it as a means to a higher end.
How Mimamsa is Esteemed
Mimamsa is of great help in understanding the meaning of the Vedic texts. For this reason many scholars, including those opposed to its karmamarga, have made a thorough study of it and also written books on it. Raju Sastri of Mannargudi (Tanjavur district), who was an outstanding Vedantin, Venkatasubba Sastri of Tiruvisanallur, Nilamegha Sastri of the same place, Krsnamacariyar of Rayampettah, Krsnatatacariyar, Cinnasvami Sastri of Nandakullatur, and so on, were "scholar-lions" who made a deep study of Mimamsa. Ironically enough, Tiruvisanallur Ramasubba Sastri was opposed to sacrificial rites. However, though he was against the srauta karma that is such an important part of Mimamsa, he was impressed by the theoretical excellence of the system and was himself recognised as an authority on the subject.
Hindu Dharma: Nyaya
Science of Reasoning
Nyaya is also called Tarka-sastra and its author is Gautama. Its main purpose is to establish by reasoning that the Karta or Creator of all this world is Parameswara. Indeed, it seeks to prove the existence of Isvara through inference. Reasoning thus has a major place in Nyaya.
Logic or reasoning is of course indispensable to any study. The Vedas make a statement and Mimamsa determines its meaning. Though we have faith in the Vedas, doubts arise in our minds regarding the meaning of scriptural passages. If these doubts are cleared through reasoning the message of the Vedas will be affirmed. When we construct the marriage pandal we test the strength of the bamboo or timber posts by trying to shake them. In the same way we must subject truths to proper tests so as to confirm them. All logical reasoning must be accepted but it must be firmly rooted in authority. Also, arguments must not be of a carping character, stemming from the urge to be merely contrary.
When Sankara was about to depart from this world his disciples requested him for a brief upadesa. It was then that he imparted his succinct teaching in the form of five stanzas which go by the name of Upadesa-Pancaka or Sopana-Pancaka. "Dustarkat suviramyatam - Srutimatastarko'nusandhiyatam", is a line from it. It means that you must give up the habit captious arguments and that in dealing with a question you must employ proper reasoning, duly respecting the views of the Vedas.
Without reason to guide us it is like roaming aimlesssly in the forest. But reason must be founded on authority. Nyaya finds the meaning of Vedic passages in this manner.
Kanada too created a Nyaya sastra: it is called Vaisesika. One object is distinguished from another on the basis of the special characteristics or "particularities" of the two. The name "Vaisesika" is derived from the fact that it inquires into such particularities. There is a good deal of science in this Nyaya sastra. Atmic matters like the individual self, the cosmos, Isvara, moksa or liberation are examined (in Vaisesika "moksa" is known by the name of "apavarga").
The Nyaya inquiry into truth is through the four pramanas or instruments of knowledge of "pratyaksa", "anumana", "upamana" and "sabda". Pratyaksa is direct perception, what is perceived by the eyes and the ears and so on. It is anumana or inference that is central to Nyaya. What is anumana? We see smoke rising from the summit of a distant mountain: we notice only the smoke, not the fire, which is concealed by the rock perhaps. But even if we do not see the fire we may infer that the forest has caught fire. This is anumana. Here the fire is called "sadhya" and the means by which we infer its presence is "sadhana", "linga" or "hetu".
In our Vedantic system we must reflect upon the teaching imparted by our guru. This is manana and it means going over an idea (in this case the instruction received from the teacher) again and again in the mind, making use of our own ability to reason. Here anumana is of help. Is it not through inference that we are able to know things that cannot otherwise be perceived? The individual self and the Paramatman are not directly perceived by our senses. Nor do we know the liberation of senses. Nor do we know the nature of liberation or how to attain it. We have to know such things by inference. Knowing an object on the basis of another known object is anumana. When we hear the roar of the thunder we know, by inference, that there are clouds [that the sky is overcast]
By performing Vedic works [let us take it] we have become pure within. We have also found a good teacher and we have faith in his instruction. But, if we happen to hear something different from what he tell us, doubts naturally arise in our minds. These doubts have to be cleared; they must be discussed and a decision arrived at. Here we must have recourse to a pramana (source or instrument of knowledge) like anumana or inference. Both Nyaya and Vaisesika conduct inquiries based on anumana
Our religious system is such that if we go to the root of all padarthas (categories)and understand their source, the Truth will become illumined. We must make use of all pramanas (source or instruments of knowledge) for this purpose. (That by which we perceive objects is a pramana).
Objects that are apprehended by the senses, that is by the eyes, ears, etc, are not many. Others have to be known by inference. And inference helps us in understanding the truths of the truths of the Vedas. That is why Nyaya is called an Upanga (an auxiliary "limb") of the Vedas.
In Nyaya the padarthas are divided into seven categories. Of them there are two divisions: "existent" and "non-existent" -- "bhavo abhavasca", the latter being the seventh padartha. "Bhava" or the existent is further divided into six sub-catagories.
How does that which does not exist become a padartha? What does "padartha" mean? In a literal sense, it is the meaning of a pada or word. Is there not a word which means No? There is non-existence of certain objects in some places, and not in some others. Here there are no flowers. There, in the pavilion where the puja is performed, there are flowers which means that the non-existence of flowers does not apply to the pavilion. So there is non-existence [of objects] in some places and on certain occasions. Thus the fact of non-existence [of a thing] in certain places and at certain times is also to be known as padartha.
The seven padarthas are: dravya(substance), guna(quality), karma(action), samanya(association), visesa(difference), samavaya(inheritance) and abhava(non-existence). Dravya, guna and karma are padarthas that belong to the category of "sat" or being. We can demonstrate their existence but not of the other four padarthas. Dravya can also be shown in its gross form. But qualities like jnana, desire, happiness, sorrow, etc, cannot be shown as independent entities. Redness is the quality of, say, the lotus and it cannot be separated from that flower. That on which it is dependent is dravya. And, though qualities like happiness and sorrow cannot be "shown", we can know whether a person is happy or sad: we "see" in him happiness or sorrow. When we see a red lotus we know what is red. Karma is work, activity. Such "work" as movement, running, is karma and it is also dependent on dravya. When a man runs, his "running" cannot be separated from him. But we do see him running and know that he is not sitting or lying down. That means we " see" the running. Samanya is the fourth padartha and it means "jati" ("species"). We see a number of cows. They have the common quality of being cows. This common quality is of jati. Among objects or individuals that have a common quality there may still be differnces. This is what is called "visesa". Suppose there is a herd of cows(they belong to the same jati): among them we will be able to tell apart individual cows because of their distinctive characteristics.
What is "samavaya"? The quality of a substance cannot be separated from it(the substance), nor the work associated with it. The parts of a whole object cannot be separated if it is still to remain the object that we know it to be. Here we have samavaya, the quality inhering in something. Fire has a radiant form. But this radiance cannot be separated from it. Here again is an example of samavaya. When one dravya or substance combines with another substance we have "samyoga". The two can remain independently without combining. There is samavaya when a substance combines with guna or quality and there is samavaya again when dravya and karma combine. The quality and the karma cannot be separated from the substance.
I have already spoken about "abhava".
Each of the seven padarthas is now further subdivided. Dravya or substance is divided into nine: prithvi(earth), ap(water), tejas(fire), vayu(air), akasa(space), kala(time), dik(direction), the Atman(Self), manas(mind). The first five are called "pancabhutas". Corresponding to them in the body are the five sense organs, the eyes that see, the ears that hear, the tongue that tastes, the organ of touch that feels warmth and cold, the nose that smells. The organ of touch is not skin alone; the entire body possesses the sense of touch. It is because it exists within the body too that we feel stomach ache, chest pain, etc.
These faculties are associated with individual parts of the body. Sight is in the eyes; the ears cannot see. Music is heard by the ears; the eyes and the nose cannot hear it. If an object comes into contact with your tongue, you know its taste but not its smell-- the nose does not know that sugarcane is sweet. So these five qualities can be recognized individually by the five sense organs. The eye recognizes the quality called tangible form, "rupa", which means colour, size, shape, etc. White, yellow, green, red, brown are some of the colours. The nose perceives pleasant and unpleasant smells. Heat and cold are known by the skin. The tongue apprehends the six different flavours(rasas). Thus there are five different sense organs for five different qualities and they are called jnanendriyas.
Without the sense organs or indriyas the quality of an object will not be recognised. If we had six organs we could perhaps know six gunas or qualities and if we had a thousand sense organs we could perhaps appreciate a thousand qualities. We have no knowledge of all objects of the universe. If we did not possess the sense organ of touch we would not be able to feel heat and cold. We cannot claim that we have knowledge of cold or heat (that is we can feel heat and cold) because they exist. We recognise qualities only be means of our sense organs. The blind and the deaf do not perceive form or sound though form and sound do exist in the world. All the five qualities, form, flavor, smell, touch, and sound, are known respectively with the eye, tongue, nose, skin and ear. The Lord had invested the pancabhutas, the five elements, with these five qualities. The earth has all the five gunas or qualities. It has form and flavour. Our body, aubergines, jaggery- all are earth. Earth has smell. The fragrant flower is indeed earth. Earth has qualities like cold and heat known by the sense of touch and it has also sound. If you drop one end of a string to earth and keep the other end of it to your ear you will hear sound. Water has four qualities but not smell. It smells only when we mix perfume in it. If we beat its surface it sounds. Though earth has all the five qualities its special quality is smell which is absent in the other four elements. The special quality of water is flavour. Without water there is no rasa. That is why the sense organ of taste, the tongue, is always wet. If the tongue becomes dry you will not be able to appreciate any taste. As a matter of fact, the word "rasa" itself also means water. Fire has neither smell nor flavour but it has form, sound and touch, form being its special quality. Vayu or air has no form, but it has sound and touch- the last-mentioned is its special quality. That is how we know when the wind blows on us. Akasa or space has only one quality, sound.
To sum up, akasa or space has only one quality; vayu or air has, in addition to sound, the quality of touch; agni or fire has the three qualities of sound, touch and form; water has the qualities of sound, touch, form and rasa; but earth has all the five qualities. Such are the pancabhutas or five elements.
The remaining four subdivisions of dravya(substance) are time, dik, the Atman and manas. Terms like "hour", "yesterday", "today", "year", "yuga", indicate time. "Dik" means direction or area, the points of the compass, what we mean by "here" or "there". In short it denotes "space", "akasa". The Atman is the entity that knows all this. He or It is of two types, the intelligent and the unintelligent, the Paramatman and the jivatman. The Paramatman is a mere witness to all that passes in the world while the jivatman or the individual self is trapped in it(the world) and given to sorrow. The individual souls are many while the Paramatman is one and only one. Both the jivatman and the Paramatman are spiritual entities of jnana.
According to Vedanta, knowledge itself is the Atman; the Atman is jnana in a plenary sense. Apart from it, and outside it, there is nothing to be known. Indeed we cannot speak of different jivatmans. According to Nyaya, the Atman is a dravya or substance, knowledge(jnana) being its quality.
Nyaya describes the Paramatman alone as jnana that is full since there is nothing that is not known to him. The individual self possesses only a little knowledge. So we are called "kinjijnas", "kinjit" meaning little. The Paramatman is "Sarvajna", the One who knows all. We are in a mixed state of being dependent both on jnana and ajnana. The Paramatman is dependent on (or is) jnana alone. The Atman is "vibhu", all-pervading. Nyaya also says that the Paramatman is all-pervading, but it does not speak of the to being the same, the Atman and the Paramatman. The reason for this is that, according to Nyaya, knowledge exists independently in each individual as a separate factor. The place where it dwells is the mind- and it is the mind that causes sorrow and happiness.
In Nyaya guna is divided into 24 categories and karma into five. The Truth will be known, says Nyaya, if we have knowledge of the padarthas and develop detachment that will lead to release. Liberation is a state in which we know neither sorrow nor happiness. Even if we adhere to the Vedantic concept of liberation, Nyaya affords a method to reflect upon the instruction received from our guru. We are able to know the pancabhutas or the five elements, the individual self and the mind. But how are we to know the Paramatman? He alone is not known. It is to know him that we must employ anumana, the method of inference. To know the rest "pratyaksa pramanas" or direct sources of knowledge are sufficient. The Vedas proclaim the existence of Isvara; Nyaya establishes it with anumana or inference.
Let us now see a small example of inference. We know that the throne on which I am seated must have been made by someone. Because we don't know him, can we describe the fact of its having been made itself to be false? We have seen other thrones being made and from that we deduce that there must be somebody who must have made this one also. Similarly, there must be someone who must have created this universe. He is omniscient, omnipotent and compassionate- and he is the protector of all. Such matters are dealt with in Nyaya: a proposition is stated, objections raised and answered.
The pramanas other than "pratyaksa" and "anumana" are "upamana" and "sabda". What is "upamana"? It is knowing what is not known by means of comparison with the known. There is an animal called "gavaya". We do not know what it looks like. It is like a wild buffalo: to look at it is like a cow, so it is said. We go to the neighbourhood of the forest and there we spy an animal resembling a cow, so we conclude that it must be a gavaya. Here we have recourse to upamana.
"Sabda-pramana" is verbally testimony, the pronouncements of the Vedas and the words of great men. When the scriptures speak of things that we do not know, their words must be accepted as authority. The naiyayikas, or exponents of Nyaya, believe that the Vedas are the words of Isvara. The words of great men who are wedded to truth are also verbal testimony.
These four pramanas are accepted in Kumarilabhatta's school of Mimamsa. To them he has added two more: "arthapatti" and "anupalabdhi". Thus there are six pramanas in all and they are part of the non-dualistic doctrine also.
Our Sastras give a clear idea of arthapatti through an illustration. "Pino Devadatto diva na bhunkte". What does the statement mean? "The fat Devadatta doesn't eat during daytime". Though Devadatta does not eat during daytime, he still remains a fat fellow. How? We guess that he must be eating at night. There is something contradictory about an individual not eating and still not being thin. Here arthapatti helps us to discover the cause of Devadatta being fat. Our guess that he eats at night does not belong to the category of anumana. To make an inference there must be a hint or clue in the original statement itself. There must be a "linga" like smoke from fire, thunder from clouds. Here there is no such linga.
It is the same with upamana. When we come to the conclusion that the animal we have seen is the beast called "gavaya", it does not mean that we made an inference or anumana. We did not recognise the animal by means of any sign but from the fact that its appearance tallied with the description we had been given.
The last pramana is anupalabdhi. It is the means by which we come to know a non-existent object. I spoke about "abhava", the last of the seven padarthas according to Nyaya. Anupalabdhi is the means by which we know abhava. Suppose someone tells us, "Go and see if the elephant is in the stable". We go to the stable to see for ourselves whether or not the elephant is there. We find that there is no elephant in the stable: to recognise such absence (non-existence) is anupalabdhi.
Arthapatti and anupalabdhi are part of Mimamsa and Vedanta, not of Nyaya. (However, anupalabdhi is mentioned only in the Kumarilabhatta school of Mimamsa, not in the Prabhakara school. )
Rational Way to Know God
Vaisesika takes up the thread of inquiry from where Nyaya leaves it with its pramanas. According to the great sage Kanada, the founder of Vaisesika, everything ultimately is made up of atoms. Isvara created the world by different combinations of atoms. In both Nyaya and Vaisesika, the cosmos and the individual self are entities separate from Isvara.
As we inquire into the origin of conscious life and the insentient atom and go step by step ahead in our inquiry, we realise in the end the monistic truth that everthing is the manifestation or disguise of the same Paramataman. Nayaya is an intermediate stage to arrive at this truth.
Naya or Tarka (logic) gives rationalism its due place, but this does not lead to materialism, atheism or the Lokayata system. Through intellectual inquiry, Nyaya comes to the conclusion that, if the world is so orderly with so many creatures in it, all of them interlinked, there must be an Isvara to have created it. Nyaya recognises that there are areas that cannot be comprehended by human reason and that the truths that cannot be established rationally must be accepted according to how the Vedas see them. This means that Nyaya takes every care to see that reasoning does not take a course that is captious (remember what I told you about the Acarya's view that tarka should not become kutarka ) and that it leads to the discovery of truth.
To examine something with the instrument of knowledge is to purify that very knowledge. It is also a means of obtaining intellectual clarity. When there is lucidity the truth that is beyond the reach of this very intellect will appear to us in a flash. [In other words there will be an intutive perception of the truth].
It is indeed commendable to have faith in the Lord and in the sastras even without carrying out any intellectual inquiry. But are we able to have such complete faith that will take us across worldly existence? Instead of idling away one's time, without making any intellectual effort to discover the truth, would it not be better to keep thinking even if it be to arrive at the conclusion that there is no God? A person who does so is superior to the idler who has no intellectual concern whatsoever. perhaps the athesit, where he to continue his inquiry, would develop sufficient intellectual clarity to give up his atheism. But the idler has no means of advancing inwardly.
This is one reason why even "Carvakam" was accepted as a system in India. "Caru-vakam"="Carvakam" : that which is pleasing to the ear. Carvakam believes that there is no need to worry about God or any Sprit or to observe vows and fasts or to control one's senses. Live as you please according to your whims and according to the to the dictates of your senses.
Sorrow, however, is inevitable even in a life in which we consciously seek pleasure. Indeed sorrow will predominate. The purpose of religion is overcoming sorrow.
We Need All Types of Knowledge
We must make good use of our brain and mind. Indeed, we must make them sharp as if by frequent honing so that they will help us in finding the truth. Why did Sankara master all the sastras, all the arts, all the sciences, Sankara who thought the world was Maya? Why did he ascend the "sarvajna-pita" (seat of omniscience)?
I said Nyaya was also known as Tarka, "Anviksiki". We learn from the Sankara-Vijaya that the Acarya mastered Nyaya or Anviksiki, Kapila Maharsi's "Kapilam" (Sankhya), Patanjali's Yoga-sastra ("Patanjalam"), Kumarilabhatta's Mimamsa ("Bhatta-sastra").
Anviksikyaiksi tantre paracitiratula
Kapile kapi lebhe
Pitam Patanjalambhah paramapi viditam
Advaita embraces even those sastras that apparently do not speak about it. That is why I am speaking about all such sastras though I am called "Sankaracarya". Non-dualism inheres dualism, qualified non-dualism, Saivism, Vaisnavism and so on. It enfolds even those systems that are critical of it. Advaita does not state that other systems are totally false. If it opposes them it is only to the extent needed to counter their argument against itself. It concedes them the place they deserve.
Gautama Maharsi who composed the Nyaya-sutra is called "Aksapada". He was always so wrapped up in thought that he was often oblivious of the outside world. We call scientists, professors and such people "absent-minded" and retail jokes about them. Gautama too was absent-minded. One day as he was walking along, brooding over some philosophical problem, he fell into a well. Isvara then rescued him and fixed eyes to his feet. Thus, as he walked, he would be guided by the pair of new eyes. That is how he came to be called "Aksapada", one with eyes on his feet. So goes the story.
Vatsyayana wrote a bhasya for the Nyaya-sutra and Uddyotakara a vartika. Vacaspatimisra, who was a great non-dualist, wrote a gloss called Nyaya-vartika-tatparya-tika. Udayanacarya write a gloss on this gloss: it is known as Tatparya-tika-parisuddhi. He also wrote the Nyaya-kusumanjali. To recall what I said before, he was foremost among responsible for the decline of Buddhism in India. Jayanta wrote a commentary on the Nyaya-sutra called Nyaya-manjari. Annambhatta wrote the Tarka-samgraha and himself wrote a commentary on it called Dipika. Usually students of Nyaya start with the last-mentioned two works.
It is believed that the Ravana-bhasya, a commentary on Kanadas Vaisesika-sutra, is no longer available. However, a bhasya-like work called Padartha-dharma-samgraha by Prasastapada is still extant. Udayana has commented on it. Recently, Uttamur Sri Viraraghavacariyar wrote a book called Vaisesika-rasayana.
Vaisesika came to be called "Aulukya-darsana". "Uluka" means an owl-the English word "owl" is from "ulu". What belongs to, or what is concerned with, the owl is "aulukya". Kanada himself was called "Uluka". If Gautama, always lost in thought, fell one day into the well, Kanada was so absorbed in his philosophical investigations by day that he had to go begging for his food at night. He got the nickname of "Uluka" from this fact, that is he was not seen during day time and went about at night. (Bhagavan says in the Gita. that the night of the ignorant man is the day of the wise and enlightened man, jnanin. So all jnanins are owls in this sense).
Vaisesika is also called "Kanada-sastra" after the name of its founder, Kanada. Not the Tamil "kanada". A scholar has said jocularly that Kanada founded his system after having seen (kandu). Grammar and Vaisesika are believed to be of great help in the study of all subjects. So the saying:
Kanadam Paniniyam ca sarvasastropakarakam.
Like grammar (which originated in Nataraja's damaru), Nyaya and Vaisesika are also connected with Siva. In the Vaisesika treatises obeisance is paid to Mahesvara who is regarded as the Paramatman. The Saiva schools hold the view that Isvara is the "nimitta" or cause of the universe
Cause of Creation
"Causes" or "karanas" are divided into two categories: "nimitta" and "upadana". You need earth or clay as a material to make a pot. So earth is the upadana for the pot. But how does it become a pot? Does it become a pot by itself? It has to be shaped by a potter. So the potter is the cause- he is the nimitta. (The "nimitta" we spoke about in jyotisa is different. )
Nyaya and Vaisesika believe that Isvara created the universe with the ultimate particles called "anu-s". Here Isvara is the nimitta-karana and the "anu-s" are the upadana-karana. To shape the clay into a pot a potter is needed. Without him there is no earthen pot, or in other words, the pot without the potter is non-existent. So when he shapes it out of clay he is the cause and the pot the effect. This is called "arambha-vada" or "asat-karya-vada". "Sat" means that which exists (the real) and "asat" that which does not. There is no pot in mere clay. The non-existent pot is produced from the clay. It is in similar fashion that Isvara created the universe with the "anu-s" - what he created did not exist in the particles. This is the doctrine of Nyaya.
Adherents of Sankhya, as we know, do not believe in an Isvara. According to them Prakrti itself exfoliated into the universe. Such a belief is not to be mistaken for the contemporary athestic view. I say so because Sankhya also postulates a Purusa who is jnana, similar to the Nirguna-Brahman. According to it the inert Prakrti can function in such an orderly fashion only in the presence of Purusa. The presence of Purusa is the cause but he is not directly involved in creation. Crops grow on their own in the sunshine. Water dries up, clothes become dry and it is all because of the sun. Does the sun worry about which crop is to be grown or which pond is to be dried up? Your hand becomes numb when you hold a lump of ice in it. Is it right to reason that it is the intention of ice to benumb your hand? Similar is the case with Purusa for he is not attached to creation. But with the power received from him, Prakrti creates the world out of itself. There is no Isvara as a nimitta-karana. According to Sankhya, Prakrti has transformed itself as the created world. This is called "parinama-vada".
While asat-karya-vada is the principle on which the naiyayikas base their view of creation, supporters of Sankhya base their theory on sat-karya-vada. Adherents of the former believe that the clay is the upadana(material cause) for the making of the non-existent pot while the potter is the nimitta or efficient cause. The sat-karya-vadins belonging to Sankhya argue thus: "The pot was there in the clay in the beggining itself. The oil-monger presses the sesame seeds to extract the oil that is already present in them. Similarly, the pot concealed in the clay emerged as a result of the work of the potter. It is only by using the clay that you can make the pot. You cannot make a pot with sesame seeds nor do you get oil by pressing the clay. The pots are all anu-s of the clay; they came into existence by the anu-s being shaped. "
Our acarya says: "There is neither arambha-vada nor parinama-vada here. It is the Brahman, with its power of Maya, that appears in the disguise of creation. For the potter who is the Paramatman there is no other entity other than himself called clay. So the arambha-vada is not right. To say that Paramatman transformed himself into the cosmos is like saying that the milk turns into curd. The curd is not the same as the milk. Would it not be wrong to state that the Paramatman became non-existent after becoming the cosmos? So the parinama-vada is also not valid. On the one hand, the Paramatman remains pure jnana, as nothing but awareness, and, on the other, he shows himself through the power of his Maya as all this universe with its living-beings and its inert objects. It is all the appearence of the same Reality, the Reality in various disguises. If a man dons a disguise he does not become another man. Similar is the case with all these disguises, all this jugglary of the universe. with all the apparent diversity, the one Reality remains unchanged. " This argument is known as "vivarta-vada".
There is vivarta in the phenomenon of a rope appearing to be a snake. The upadana-karana(material cause) that is the rope does not change into a snake by nimitta-karana(efficient cause). So the arambha-vada does not apply here. The rope does not transform itself into a snake; but on account of our nescience (avidya) it seems to us to be a snake. Similarly, on account of our ajnana or avidya the Brahman too seems to us as this world and such a vast plurality of entities.
Nyaya lays the steps by which we may go further to realise the truth on which our Acarya has shed light.
Nyaya and Vaisesika teach us how we may become aware of padarthas (categories) through reasoning and become detatched from them to realise "apavarga" in which there is neither sorrow nor joy. But they do not take us to a higher realm. Dualism also has it's limitations thus. To grasp the One Reality that is non-dual and realise inwardly that we too are that Reality is to experience absolute liberation.
It must be said as one of the distinctive features of Nyaya that it inspires us to go in quest of apavarga by creating discontent in in our worldly existence. Another of its distinguishing features is that it employs all its resources of reasoning to contend against the doctrines of the Buddhists, the Sankhyas and Carvakas to establish the principle of Isvara as Karta(Creator)
Some Stories and Some Arguments
Gangesa Misropadhyaya deals with 64 methods of logic in his Tattvacintamani. Since we were taxing our brains with philosophical questions, let me tell you a story, the story of Gangesa.
Gangesa was dull-witted in his youth. He belonged to a "kulina" Brahmin community of Bengal. "Kulina" means one from a good "kula" or clan. It was a custom in Bengal to give away a number of "inferior" Brahmin girls in marriage to young men born in "kulina" families. A kulina would sometimes take more than fifty wives. Gangesa had only one wife and he lived with his in-laws. Who would give away more than one girl in marriage to a dull fellow?
Bengalis eat fish. Six months in a year the whole land is inundated. There is no place then to grow vegetables. So during these months Bengalis eat fish. In the eastern parts of Bengal fish is called "jala-puspa" and regarded as a vegetable.
Fish was regularly cooked in the house of Gangesamisra's in-laws. People would call him "Ganga". Since he was slow-witted he was thought to deserve only the bones of fish at mealtime. Others were served the flesh and everybody would make fun of him. Gangesa, unintelligent though he was, could not stand it any more. One day he ran away from home, went to Kasi without telling anyone. Nobody bothered about it at home. "Let the stupid fellow go wherever he likes, " they told themselves.
Many years passed. One day, Gangesa returned home. People thought that he must still be an idiot. When he sat down to eat he was as usual served the bones of fish. Thereupon Gangesa exclaimed "Na'ham Ganga kintu Gangesamisrah" (I am not Ganga but Gangesamisra). Were he still the the dim-witted Ganga of the past it would have been all right to serve him the bones. Now there is a "Misra" tagged on to his name. It meant that he had returned home with a qualification or a title, that he was now a learned man. The message was brief but clear.
The in-laws realised that Ganga was now a great man. It was the same Gangesamisra who later wrote the Tattvacintamani. Many have written commentaries on it. The one by Raghunathasiromani is called Dhitti. It was after his time that the title "Siromani" came into use. Gadadhara has written a big tome to comment on ten sentences of Tattvacintamani, and not one sentence of it is superfluous. If a student reads five arguments presented in Gadadhari (Gadadhara's work) he would become a wise man; if he studies ten, he would be wiser still. Pramanya-vada is dealt with in it and it is believed that he who studies it will be brighter than all others. Gadadhari is still read by students of logic.
To explain pramanya-vada is to tax one's brain. But during the time of our Acarya even parakeets, it is believed, were capable of discussing it. (Arguments about pramanas is pramana-vada. )
Sankara Bhagvatpada went to Mahismati, the home town of Mandanamisra, where he happened to see women carrying water to their homes from the river. He asked one of them about Mandanamisra's house. In that city even ordinary women were learned. So their reply to the Acarya's question came in verse. Here is one of the stanzas from it:
Svatah pramanam paratah pramanam
Kirangana yatra ca sangiranti
Dvarastha nidantara sanniruddhah
From such incidents we know how wrong it is to say that in olden days only men in India were educated and that the women were condemned to remain unlettered. Not only females of the human species, even birds- in the present case "young parakeet women" (kiranganas)- discussed philosophy. " When you come to the doorstep of that house where the female parakeets discuss svatah-pramana and paratah-pramana, know that house to be that of Mandanamisra, " is what the women said to Sankara.
Svatah-pramana and paratah-pramana are part of the pramanya-vada I spoke to you about earlier. Let us now try to have some idea of this vada. An interesting story comes to mind.
A Southerner went to Navadvipa in Bengal to learn logic. Most of the logicians in the country were then in Bengal. This Southerner who went there was a poet. Through his poetry he had earned a small fortune. Tarka was too tough for him and he could not make head or tail of it. All his efforts to study it were in vain. In the bargain he lost his poetic muse and now he had also spent all his money. If he had retained his poetic talent he could have still earned some money. With the little poetic talent left in him he lamented thus:"Namah pramanya-vadayah mat-kavitvah paharine" (I bow to pramanya-vada that has robbed me of my poetic talent).
Let us briefly examine the pramanya-vada which the parakeets were discussing.
When we see an object we form a certain idea of it. Some kinds of knowledge are right and some, wrong. When we see a piece of glass we may think it to be sugar-candy. This is wrong knowledge. Right knowledge is "prama", wrong knowledge is "brahma". Then there is "samsaya-jnana" as well as "niscaya-jnana". "Samsaya-jnana" is knowledge about which we have doubts and "niscaya-jnana" is knowledge of which we feel certain. Sometimes, though our knowledge of an object (as we see it) is wrong, we think it to be right. An example is that of glass being mistaken for sugar-candy. Then there is the case of our perception of an object being recognised to be wrong at the very time we see it. For example, a tree seen reflected upside down in a pond: this is "apramana". At the very moment of our recognition an object we have two kinds of knowledge about it -pramana and apramana. What seems true to us at the very moment of our seeing an object is "pramanya-graha-jnana"; and what seems untrue at such a moment is "apramanya-graha-askandhikajnana". In brahma too as in prama there is pramana-jnana. That is why when we mistake glass for sugar-candy our knowledge seems pramana.
When an object appears to be true (pramana) or false (apramana), is the perception subjective(arising out of ourselves) or objective (arising from the object itself)? If it is subjective it is "svatah-pramana"; if objective "paratah-pramana". The parakeets in Mandanamisra's house were discussing these two pramanas.
Whether our perception is pramana or apramana is not a subjective matter. It is dependent on the quality of the object perceived. It is only when we know its usefulness in practice that we can confirm whether our perception is right or wrong. This is the view of Nyaya- whether our perception is right or wrong is objective. The view of Mandanamisra and other mimamsakas is the opposite. Mandanamisra's view is this: certainty about jnana is dependent on the jnana itself. But that our jnana is apramana is dependent on the outside object. "Pramanyam svatah; apramanyam paratah".
The word "vada" itself is nowadays wrongly taken to mean stubbornly maintaining that one's view is right. As a matter of fact it truly means finding out the truth by weighing one's view against one's opponent's. It was in this manner that Sankara held debates with scholars like Mandanamisra and it was only after listening to the other man's point of view that he arrived at non-dualism as the ultimate Truth. Vada means an exchange of thoughts, not a refusal to see the other man's point of view. To maintain that one's view of a subject is the right one without taking into account the opinion of others is "jalpa", not vada. There is a third attitude. It is to have no point of view of one's own and being just contrary: it is called "vitanda".
Nyaya received a new impetus, particularly in Bengal, after the dull-witted Gangesa, having blossomed into a great intellect, returned from Kasi, that is from the 12th century onwards; and it became to be called "Navya-Nyaya", "navya" meaning new. The is also another reason for this name. Gangesa and others who came after him belonged to Navadvipa in Bengal. The area is now called "Nadiad". Sri Krsna Caitanya belonged to Navadvipa. He was a great scholar, a master of many sastras and had the name of Krsna always on his lips. He propagated bhakti, especially through bhajana(singing the praises if the Lord) as the path to liberation.
Nyaya holds that the world is real (not Maya), that the Paramatman is different from the individual self. Even so it was opposed to atheism and established the existence of Isvara. Besides it laid the foundations for the path leading us to Advaita.
Nyaya is an Upanga of the Vedas and is highly intellectual in character. Puranas come next in the fourteen branches of learning (caturdasa-vidya) but they are dismissed by educated people as a product of superstition
Hindu Dharma: Puranas
Magnifying Glass of the Vedas
The Puranas are the magnifying glass of the Vedas. The principles and rules of dharma that are briefly dealt with in the Vedas are enlarged or elaborated upon in them in the form of stories. A subject briefly touched upon may not make a deep impression on the mind. If the same were told as an absorbing story it would at once make an impact on the mind of the listener or reader.
The Vedas urge us to speak the truth ("Satyam vada"). How one becomes exalted by remaining truthful at all costs is illustrated by the story of Hariscandra. "Dharmam cara" (Follow dharma, live a life of dharma) is a Vedic injunction consisting of just two words. The importance of the pursuit of dharma is explained through the long story of Dharmaputra [Yudhisthira] in the Mahabharata. "Matr-devo bhava" and "Ptir-devo bhava" ("Be one to whom the mother is god" - "Be one to whom the father is god"): these two admonishments are enlarged on, as it were, through the magnifying glass in the story of Sri Rama. Such dharmic virtues as humility, patience, compassion, chastity, which are the subject of Vedic ordinances, are illustrated through the noble examples of men belonging to ancient times, women of hallowed reputation. By reading their stories or listening to them we form a deep attachment to the virtues and qualities exemplified by them.
All these men and women whose accounts are contained in the Puranas had to undergo trials and tribulations. We keep commiting so many wrongs. But consider these Puranic characters who had to suffer more than we suffer. Indeed some of them had to go through terrible ordeals. However, by reading their stories we do not form the impression that adherence to dharma means suffering. On the contrary, etched in our minds is the example of men and women of great inner purity who in their practice of dharma stood like a rock against all difficulties and challenges. At the same time, we moved by their tales of woe and thereby our own inner impurities are washed away. Finally, the glorious victory they achieve in the end and fame they achieve help to create a sturdy bond in us with dharma
Puranas and History
Our nation, it is often alleged, does not have a sense of history. In my opinion the Puranas are history. But to our educated people today history means the history of the past two thousand years since the birth of Christ. They do not believe that the events of earlier eras, including those mentioned in the Puranas, are history. Some of them admit, though, that there is an element of truth in Puranic stories as shown by recent researches. But these relate to theories like the division of the Indian people into races like Aryans and Dravidians, theories they fancy are supported by the Puranas. The rest, like the miracles or accounts of supernatural occurrences, they dismiss as fables or as a tissue of lies. Since they are unable to comprehend matters that are beyond our senses they treat the Puranas as mystery.
Now children have no choice but to read the textbooks of history written by such people. But I believe that it is not a good to keep children ignorant of the Puranas. It is not my purpose to say that you should not read history, but I should like to mention that the puranas are also history and that our youngsters have a great deal to learn from them, a great deal that will help in moulding their conduct and character. No such purpose is served by the history taught in schools.
One reason why they say history must be read is their belief that "history repeats itself". The idea is that the lessons of the past would be helpful to us in the future. We learn from history about the circumstances that usually lead to war and about how great civilizations rise and fall. We can be on guard against a repetition of these circumstances and this, we are told, is one of the "uses" of history.
The same events are repeated kalpa after kalpa. According to our sastras, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, the Dasavatara (the story of the ten incarnations of Visnu) and the Puranas are re-enacted kalpa after kalpa. Here too we see history repeating itself.
Have we in reality learned any lesson from history, I mean from the history taught in schools? No. We learn how such men as Cenghiz Khan, Timur, Ghazni, and Malik Kafur appeared from time to time and caused devastation in various countries and how they massacred innocent people. But by reading accounts of their infamous deeds have we been able to prevent the appearence of such scourages again? Hitler and Mussolini rose to perpetrate the same kind of outrages on people.
We are witness in our own times to governments losing their support because of charges of bribery and corruption made against them and other malpractices ascribed to them including partisanship and nepotism. When one such government falls, another group forms a new government and they too lose the support of the people in the subsequent elections for the same reasons. Here is an example of our failure to learn any lesson form history.
History must be taught along with lessons in dharma; then alone will it serve the purpose of bringing people to the right path. The Puranas do precisely this.
History contains no more than accounts of monarchs and other rules in chronological order. It does not give importance to their moral character : whether wicked rulers suffered an ill fate or whether just and righteous rulers earned a high place. According to the law of Karma, Isvara determines the fate of people on the basis of their actions, meritorious and sinful. Such justice is not necessarily meted out during the lifetime of a person. The fruits of a man's action are reaped in subsequent births. It is not the task of history to deal with such questions, nor do historians have the capacity to inquire into such matters. Whether a wicked ruler like Hitler was consigned to hell on his death and whether he had a lowly rebirth is a subject for the Puranas. Those who composed these texts had the reqisite insight to deal with such questiions; indeed the very purpose of these stories is this, to impart moral lessons. From history we do not derive any edification.
The Puranas are also, as I said before, history. Besides, they contain lessons in papa and punya (demerit and merit). In fact, their choice of stories and narration are such as to bring people closer to the path of dharma. Again, the Puranas contain accounts of individuals who by virtue of their steadfast adherence to dharma attained to an elevated state in this birth itself. At the same time, they also tell is about persons who, by their acts of adharma, came to harm in this very birth itself. There are in fact no Puranic stories that do not contain some moral lesson or other.
"The experience of the past narrated in history are a pointer of future events. The stories of good men who performed virtuous deeds and benefited from them should be a source of inspiration for us. In the same way, the stories of wicked men who brought evil to the world and themselves suffered on account of their acts contain a warning for us". Is the stufy of history really usefull in this way? It is not. To improve ourselves morally and spiritually we must turn to the Puranas.
The purpose of the Puranas is not to give [as history does] a chronological account of kings or their quarrels without imparting lessons on good and evil. We do not need such history since it does not contain any guide for the condcut of our life. History must be capable of bringing us Atmic rewards.
The Puranas too deal with the lineages of various ruling houses. They give accounts of dynasties descended from the moon and the sun (candravamsa and suryavamsa) and contain list of successive rulers of varous kingdoms. But in most cases only the names of rulers are mentioned or only brief references made to them. Detailed accounts are given only of rulers whose lives have a lesson for us. For instance, the Bhagavata tells the story of Uttanapada, the father of Dhruva, and of Dhruva's son, but only very briefly. However, the story of Dhruva himself is told in detail, Dhruva who is an example for all of us in devotion, determination and courage.
English historians dismiss the Puranas as false. But on the pretext of carrying out impartial research they twist history to suit their ends like, for instance, their "divide and rule" policy. It is in this way that they have propagated the Aryan-Dravadian theory. If the Puranas are a lie, what about the history written by these Englishmen? Efforts are going on to reconstruct our history. But prejudicial acounts cannot be ruled out in these new attempts also. What ever claim the historians make to impartiality, it is hard to say how far the new history (or histories) are likely to be truthful.
Vyasa, who composed the eighteen Puranas, the great men who wrote the various Sthala Puranas, and the Tamil author Sekkizhar were unbiased in their accounts.
It is not right to view history merely as an account of the rise and fall of empires or of wars, invasions, dynasties amd so on. Each and every subject has a history of its own. But we find that political history is given a dominant place. The emphasis in the Puranas is on dharma and, incidently, they also deal, in a subsidiary manner, with the ruling dynasties, with holy men as well as with ordinary folk. They contain details also of cultural life, the arts and the sciences. The thrust of the Puranas, however, is dharmic and Atmic.
Are the Puranas a Lie of Are They Metaphorical ?
Those who distrust the Puranas maintain that they contain accounts that are not in keeping with day-to-day realities. The stories in these texts refer to the arrival and departure of celestials and of their awarding boons to devotees. To the critics such accounts seem false. A woman is turned into a stone because of a curse, then the curse is broken with the grant of boon; or the sun is stopped from rising - such stories seem untrue to us because they are beyond the realms of possibility and refer to acts beyond our own capacity.
Since such things do not happen these days, is it right to argue that they could not have occurred at any time? In the past the mantras of the Vedas had their own vibrant power because of the exemplary life led by those who chanted them. Then people practised severe austerities and cultivated yogic power of a high order. These facts are borne out by ancient books. Through their mantras, austerities and yoga, people then could easily draw to themselves powers of a divine nature. Where there is light there is shadow. So with divine powers there also existed demonic forces that could be seen in their gross form during those times. Today the war between the celestials and the demons is still being waged (the combat between good and evil). Eons ago people could perceive these forces of good and evil because of the special vision gained from their austerities. Scientists say that all light waves and sound waves cannot be grasped by the human sense organs. Some of them go step further to observe on the basis of their researches, that there are indeed "good and evil dieties".
Even today there are present in this world any number of yogins and siddha-purusas. They are unscathed by fire or snow, they can produce rain or stop it, and have powers that cannot be comprehended by our senses. But we do not have faith in such phenomena and we keep doubting everything. In the past there must have been more people than we find today with such abilities or "siddhis". The Puranas contain accounts of many a miracle.
Historians dismiss miracles as not part of history. Jnanasambandhar cured Kun Pandyan of his fever with the sacred ashes that had the potency imparted by his muttering of the Pancaksara. The Pandyan was made upright with his hunch removed ("kun" in Tamil means "hunch" or "hump"). Historians disbelieve such stories. Mahendra Pallava bound Apparsvamigal with ropes to a stone and threw him into the Kadila river. The saint remained floating down the stream. It was this phenomenon that persuaded the Pallava king to return to the Vedic religion from jainism.
Again, historians refuse to accept such accounts as true. There is, however, circumstantial evidence to show that a Pallava and a Pandyan king were restored to Saivism from Jainism. Historians agree that in the sixth and seventh centuries Jainism declined in Tamil Nadu and that the Vedic religion (particularly Saivism) came to be on the ascendent. If such a big change was to happen, that is if two important monarches of the time felt it necessary to change their religion, the sort of miracles mentioned in the stories of Jnanasambandhar and Appar must have occured. The fact that these rulers did not record the incidents in stone or copper-plate does not mean that they (the incidents) did not take place at all.
There is a stroy told in the tradition relating to gurus about Ramanujacarya. He exorcised a ghost from the daughter of the Jaina king Pittideva who ruled Hoysala [in Karnataka]. Thereupon the monarch embraced Vaisnavism. Historians do not lend credence to such stories of exorcism. Ramanuja lived in the 11th century. Jainism languished in the Hoysala kingdom and Vaisnava worship and temples prospered. Pittideva himself came to be called Visnuvardhanadeva. This is now confirmed as a historical fact. How can you deny that these changes occured as a result of the incidents narrated in the story told above? English-educated people dismiss such accounts in the Puranas as lies since they cannot be proved scientifically. This attitude is not right.
Even today human skeletons that are ten or twelve feet long are found here and there. Also are discovered the skeletons of huge animals which are extinct today but which agree with the descriptions contained in the Puranas. From such discoveries it seems likely that in the hoary past demons as tall as palm-trees must have existed, also animals like yalis with the body of a lion and trunk of an elephant. A human skeleton of which the legs alone measure 16 feet and the remains of an animal ten times bigger than an elephant have been discovered in the Arctic region.
It has been determined that the animals belonged to many hundered thousand years ago. If we take the help of mythology also it would be seen that our Puranic stories are not untrue.
Man, who was as tall as a palm, is now only six feet; at another time he was only the size of our thumb. The physical characterstics of creatures changes from age to age. This is stated in the Puranas.
The Puranas are ridiculed because they contain references to vanaras, monkeys akin to humans, to creatures with the face of a man and the body of an animal; and than to a character with ten heads. It is all lies, critics say. Some however, believe that the Puranic stories are all "symbols", that they are allegorical representations.
It is true that in the Puranas certain principles, certain truths, are conveyed in the form of stories. But, for that reason, the stories themselves cannot be called false. Even in modern times we read in the papers about the birth of a child with two heads and four hands or one that is neither human nor animal. They called such children freaks. A freak is the product of an error in nature, nature in which we do not usually meet with an error. What are called freaks today could have been created in the past in larger numbers for a special purpose. People in those days had supernatural powers and, in keeping with the same, the birth of such unusual children would not have been impossible. We cannot claim that what we know now is all that is to be known and that there could not have existed anything different from the existing orders of creatures.
It does not stand to reason to treat what we do not know and what we cannot know as untrue. In our own times we see that what we normally regard as unbelievable happens now and then. We read reports of children and older people recalling their past births. In recent years such reports seem to have become more common than before.
We distrust the Puranic story, according to which, Kasyapa had a wife called Kadru who gave birth to snakes. But many of you must have read a newspaper report last year (1958) of a snake born to a Marwari woman. When I read it I was reminded of another story.
It refers to a family I had heard about before I became Svamigal. In that family neither the daughters nor the daughters-in-law wore screwpine flowers in their hair. When asked the reason for it they told a "story" - but by story is not meant anything made up.
"Ten or fifteen generations ago", one of the family members, a woman, said, a snake was born in our family. The family was ashamed of its birth and concealed the fact from others, but, all the same, it was brought up in the home, fed milk, etc. This wonder child could not be taken out. The mother went out only when she had some work of the utmost importance. There is a saying: if you are married to a stone, well, the stone is your husband. Likewise, if a snake is born to you, the snake is your child. One day the mother had to go to the wedding of a very close relative.
There was an old woman in the house. We do not know who she was, whether she was the grandmother of the snake child. In those days the family cared for even distant relatives who were otherwise helpless. Nowadays children are over-anxious to leave their parents to set up their own households. The joint family was then still a strong institution. A great-aunt or a distant cousin of the grandfather's was looked afterby the family. The old woman in our story was blind. The mother of the snake child left it in the care of this woman when she went to the wedding.
What have you to do to a snake child? You don't have to bathe it or do up its hair. Do you have to dress it? Or carry it in your arms? But it had to be fed at fixed hours. Before leaving, the mother had told the woman: 'Feed it boiled milk. Feel around for the stone mortar and pour the milk in the cavity. The snake will feed on it. ' She had probably trained the snake to feed in this manner.
The old woman did as she had been told. But one day she probably overslept and it was past the time to feed the snake. When the snake scrept up to the mortar it didn't find any milk in it. It waited for some time but soon fell asleep crouching in the mortar itself. It was now that the old woman brought the milk. It had not been cooled and was piping hot. She could not naturally see the snake lying coiled in the mortar as she poured the hot milk into it.
Alas, the milk was too hot for the snake and it died.
The mother who had gone to attend the wedding had a dream in which the snake child appeared and said to her: Mother, I am dead. You come and cremate me amid the clump of screwpine. Hereafter no daughter or daughter-in-law in your family shall wear srewpine flowers in the hair.
"From that day, no one in our family has worn screwpine flowers, " the woman said concluding her story.
When I heard this account first I was astounded and wondered whether such things really happened.
Many years later, after I had become Svamigal, people belonging to that family [in which the snake child was born] came to see me. It was not to speak about the snake child of the past. There was an old copper-plate inscription in their family. They had come to know about my interest in old inscriptions and they brought the copper-plate for me to see.
The inscription on it belonged to the time of Acyutaraya who reigned after Krsnadevaraya. According to it a Brahmin had donated lands to 108 fellow Brahmins. He had done so on behalf of his king. I will tell you why. The Brahmin's time is taken up by chanting the Vedas and performing rituals. He is not expected to earn a salary or do any work other than practising Vedic dharma (today of course Brahmins work in offices and other establishments). But he had to maintain his family. That is why the sastras permit him to receive gifts, and that is how in the past kings and wealthy citizens honoured Brahmins with donations. But, contrary to present-day allegations, Brahmins did not extort such offerings, but maintained their self-respect, receiving only the minimum needed for their upkeep. They would accept gifts of land only from Ksatriyas belonging to a high lineage.
Some kings were unhappy that Brahmins did not accept gifts from them and so were denied the opportunity of earning merit. A way out presented itself to them (and to affluent citizens who were in a similar predicament). They prevailed upon an indigent Brahmin to accept a large gift, say, an entire village. But the gift was not wholly intended for him. He was expected to keep only a small plot of land to himself and divide the rest among other Brahmins. These latter did not incur "pratigraha-dosa" (the taint of receiving gifts) by accepting charity from a fellow Brahmin. This was how the affluent donor managed to earn punya.
But would not such a practice bring demerit to the Brahmin who first receives the gift of land? It is not wrong on the part of a wealthy man to honour a Vedic scholar with a donation. But what about the Brahmin who receives it? Legally the property becomes his, and when he keeps only a small part of the land to himself and gives away the rest to others not a trace of papa sticks to him.
It is however, bad to receive charity from a king. Great men like Tyagaraja spurned the gits offered them by rulers like Sarabhoji. Tyagaraja sang in anger: "Nidhi cala sukhama. . .? " (Is it money that brings happiness? )
The Nattukkottai Cettis (Nagarattar) built many cattirams (dharmasalas) but Brahmins were reluctant to eat in them. So the Cettis made over the cattirams to a Brahmin and thereby it was made to appear that he was feeding the other Brahmins.
According to the copper-plate inscription I mentioned earlier, a Brahmin had distributed the land received from Acyutaraya among 108 fellow Brahmins. All their names and gotras are mentioned in it, together with the subjects in which they were proficient. Among them figures the names of the ancestor of the people who came to see me, people descended from the family in which the snake child was born. The copper-plate had come as a family heirloom through so many generations. An interesting fact emerging from the inscription was that the name of the ancestor mentioned on thecopper-plate was Nagesvara. I was told by my visitors that the family had a Nagesvara every successive generation.
I could guess at once that the name was associated with the snake child. It seemed to answer my doubts about its story. When I heard the news last year of the birth of a snake to a woman, I had more reason to believe the earlier story of the snake child.
It is wrong on my part to blame you for not having sufficient faith in the Puranas. I myself had doubts about the story of the snake child - it had all the character of a legend. It was only when I read the newspaper report of the birth of a similar snake child that I believed it to be fully authentic.
Today we are prepared to believe any story however bizzare it be if it is printed in the papers. But we treat the Puranas as no more than fables. "Those who composed the Puranas had nothing worthwhile to do. They had the stylus and palm-leaves and they went on inscribing story after story. Some of the stories seem ingenious enough but most are absurd, " such is our way of thinking
Meaningful even if Imaginary
There is perhaps an element of the imaginary in the Puranas. It is also possible that they contain interpolations. But who is to determine what parts are imaginary and what passages constitute the interpolations? And who is to seperate the authentic from the spurious? If each one of us removes what seems interpolatory, nothing will be left of the stories in the end. So it would be better to preserve the Puranas in the form in which they have been handed down to us notwithstanding the apparent errors and distortions.
If there are stories in the Puranas that read like fables, let them be so. Do they not bring us mental peace and take us nearer to the Lord? We go shopping and make good purchases. Are we to be happy on this score or are we to be unhappy that there was something wrong with the shop or the shopkeeper? There may be mistakes in the Puranic accounts of the earth and the heavens. After all, we can have accurate knowledge of such matters from our books on geography and astronomy. The point to remember is that the Puranas contain what geography, astronomy and history do not: the truth of the Ultimate Reality. Besides, they speak about devotion and dharma.
It is argued that Rama could not have lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, i. e., in the Treta yuga, that it is not likely that the sort of civilization described in the Ramayana would have obtained in that distant period. Similar criticisms are made about stories in the Puranas and the epics. I do not accept them. But, for the sake of arguments, let it be that Rama did not live in the Treta age. And let us also presume that all those stories that happened, according to the Puranas, in the earlier Krta yuga, did not really belong to that age let us suppose that they date back to a comparatively recent period to 7, 000 or 8, 000 years ago. But for that reason would the story of Rama or others be less valuable? And would the lessons we learn from such accounts be less meaningful?
The Puranas mention the ages in which the stories recounted in them really happened. According to critics it is not these ages alone that are wrong but also the date(s) traditionally ascribed to the Puranas themselves.
According to the sastras, Vyasa composed the Puranas 5, 000 years ago, at the begining of the age of Kali. But they must have existed before him also. In the Chandogya Upanisad Narada speaks about the subjects learned by him and they include the Puranas. From this we infer that they must have existed during the time of the Vedas and the Upanisads. Just as Vyasa divided the Vedas into a number of branches for the benefit of people of later times with their diminished capacity to learn, he also composed the Puranas, which are detailed in their treatment, with the same purpose in view.
Western-educated people think that the Puranas are not very ancient. So let them be. Devotees throng the Kandasvami temple in Madras. They feel the presence of the deity there. If they think that there is an end to their sorrows by worshipping at this shrine, what else is required of a temple? Is there any purpose in conducting an investigation into the origin of the temple, whether it had existed during the time of Arunagirinathar and whether he had sung his Tiruppagazh in it? Carrying out research into the Puranas is similarly futile. If we bear in mind that their purpose is the cleansing our mind there should be no need to harbour any doubts concerning them.
There is no bigger superstition than the belief that the results of [historical] investigations represent the absolute truth. Much of today's research is hollow, much of it faulty. However, even the view of modern research scholars that the Puranas are imaginary serves to show up the purpose for which they are intended: to demostrate that one who does good prospers, that another who does evil suffers - or is raised up by the compassionate Lord.
Somehow the Puranas are regarded as of secondary importance not only by people who claim to have a "modern" outlook, but also by those proficient in the sastras. Also pauranikas (those who have made a thorough study of the Puranas and give discourses) are regarded as inferior to those who give talks on other branches of learning. However, scholars who have earned the title of "Mahamahopadhyaya" like Yajnasvami Sastri and Kabe Ramacandracar have given puranic discourses. Today Srivatsa Somadevasarma is devoting himself fully to the printing of all the Puranas in Tamil (eventhough in an abridged form)
Vyasa's Priceless Gift to Us
Vyasa divided the Vedas to make them easier for people to learn. It was to help mankind similarly that he composed the "astadasa Puranas" (the eighteen Puranas).
I regard Vyasa as the first journalist, the ideal for all newspapermen of today. He composed the Puranas and made a gift of that great treasure to humanity. How have they (the Puranas) benefited us? They encompass stories, history, geography, philosphy, dharma, the arts. Vyasa's narration holds the interest not only of intellectuals but of ordinary people, even the unlettered. Is this not the aim of journalists, holding the interest of the general reader? However, most of them stop with this, exciting the interest of people or pandering to their taste. But Vyasa had a loftier purpose: he made the Puranas engrossing with the Purpose of taking the reader(or listener) to the goal of dharma and the Supreme Being. If holding the interest of people somehow is their sole objective, the papers are likely to propagate subjects or views that are contrary to the ideals of dharma. If journalists keep Vyasa as their forerunner and ideal, their writing will assume a noble character and contribute to the good of the world.
Vyasa composed the Puranas in 400, 000 "granthas". A grantha is a stanza consisting of 32 syllables. Of these the Skanda Purana alone accounts for 100, 000. It is perhaps the world's biggest literary work. The remaining 17 Puranas add up to 300, 000 granthas. Apart from them Vyasa composed the Mahabharata, also nearly 100, 000 granthas.
Each Purana is devoted to a particular deity. There are Saiva, Vaisnava and Sakta Puranas. The 18 Puranas : Brahma Purana (Brahma), Padma Purana (Padma), Narada Purana (Naradiya), Markandeya Purana, Visnu Purana (Vaisnava), Siva Purana(Saiva), Bhagvata Purana, Agni Purana (Agneya), Bhavisya Purana, Brahma-Vaivarta Purana, Linga Purana, Varaha Purana (Varaha), Skanda Mahapurana, Vamana Purana, Kurma Purana (Kaurma), Matsya Purana (Matsya), Garuda Purana (Garuda) and Brahmanda Purana.
Our Acarya in his commentry on the "Visnu-Sahasranama" cites many passages from the Visnu Purana. This Purana, composed by Vyasa's father Parasara, is an important source of Ramanuja's Visistadavita (qualified non-dualism).
One of the precursors of qualified non-dualism was Alavandar. Ramanuja wanted to meet him but as he arrived at his place he saw him lying dead. Alavandar had wanted to entrust Ramanuja with three important tasks. When he passed away three fingers of his right hand were seen bent in. Ramanuja understood the meaning of this phenomenon, that he had three tasks to perform. When he spoke out what they were, the three fingers unbent. One of the three tasks was to write a commentry on Brahmasutra from the standpoint of qualified non-dualism. The second was to do a commentry on the Tiruvaymozhi and the third to perpetuate the memory of Parasara and Vyasa. As the author of the Visnu Purana, Parasara occupied a high position. It was with this in mind that Ramanuja named the two sons of his chief disciple, Kurattazhvar, Parasarabhatta and Vedavyasabhatta. The first grew up to be an important teacher of Vaisnavism.
Though Parasara was the original author of the Visnu Purana it was Vyasa who wrote it in the present form. The sage who had divided the Vedas now composed the Puranas so that the truths embedded in the Vedas would make a deep impression on the minds of the common people. There was also another reason. Not all people have the right to learn the Vedas. It is believed that Vyasa composed the Puranas to enlighten such people (as have no access to the Vedas) on the scriptural truths.
If Vyasa's father was the author of the original Visnu Purana, his son Sukracaraya it was who instructed King Pariksit in the Bhagavata. There is a difference of opinion about the Bhagavata, whether the term should refer to Visnu-Bhagavata or Devi-Bhagavata. The former is devoted to the incarnations of Visnu, particularly Krsna, while the latter deals with the divine sport of Amba. We need both and both are great works. In the systems propagated by Caitanya, Nimbarka and Vallabhacarya, the Visnu-Bhagavata has a place no less important than that of the Vedas. At the same time, non-dualists who are opposed to their ideas also treat this Bhagavata with the utmost respect.
Though there is a seperate Siva Purana, three-fourths of the Skanda Purana is devoted to Siva. It also includes the story Skanda or Muruga. Kacciyappa Sivacariyar of Kancipuram has written a Kanda Puranam in Tamil: it is devoted [as the name itself suggests] mainly to Subramanya or Skanda. "Durga-Saptasati" is a part of the markandeya Purana. "Candi-homa", in which oblations are made to the goddess Candi, is performed with the recitation of the 700 stanzas of this hymnal work: each stanza is regarded as a mantra.
"Bhavisya" means the future. The Bhavisya Purana contains many matters including the evil doings of the age of Kali. In the Puranas, apart from the story of the Mauryas and others rulers, there is also a reference to the advent of the white man. Critics discount such accounts believing that they could not have written by Vyasa at the begining of the Kali yuga. "Somebody must have written them recently. " they argue, " and put the name of Vyasa to them. " Admittedly, there must be interpolations here and there in the Puranas but it is not correct to say that the Puranas were all recently written. Men with yogic power can see past, present and future. Sitting in one spot they can see happenings all over the world. It is not easy for people to write works like the Puranas and ascribe their authorship to the great men of an earlier era.
The Garuda Purana deals with the world of the fathers and related matters. It is customory to read it during the sraddha ceremony.
"Lalitopakhyana", the story of Lalitambika, occurs in the Brahmanda Purana, so also the "Lalita-Sahasranama" (The one thousand Names of Lalita). The reading of the 18 Puranas is to be concluded with this Purana which contains a description of the coronation of Rajarajesvari. Devotees of the goddess take special pride in this fact.
The Puranas contain many hymns, hymns that include the one hundred and eight or the one thousand names of various deities. But the "Visnu Sahasranama" (The one thousand names of Visnu) and the "Siva-Sahasranama" (The one Thousand Names of Siva) are part of the Mahabharata. The "Pradosa-stotra" is in the Skanda Purana
Upa-puranas and Others
Apart from the 18 major Puranas there are an equal number of Upa-puranas. Among them are the Vinayaka Purana and the Kalki Purana. There are also, in addition, a number of minor Puranas. The Puranas that speak of the glory of various months such as the Tula Purana, the Magha Purana and the Vaisakha Purana are parts included into the 18 major Puranas or Upa-puranas. There are also what are called Sthala Puranas, some of them part of the Puranas mentioned above and some existing independently. The puranas that sing the glory of the Kaveri and the Ganga exist both separately and as part of the major Puranas or of the Upa-puranas. In the Tula Purana, for instance, the importance of the Kaveri is the theme. It mention how auspicious it is to bathe in that river in the month of Tula (October-November).
If there are Puranas devoted to the deities there are also those dealing with devotees. The Tamil Periyapuranam tells the story of the 63 Saiva saints called Nayanmars. The same is available in the Sanskrit as Upamanyu Bhaktavilasa. Bhakta-Vijaya deals with poet-saints like Tukaram and Namadeva who were specially devoted to the deity Panduranga of Pandharpur.
Itihasas and Puranas
For the learned and the unlettered alike in our country the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have for centuries been like their two eyes, pointing to them the path of dharma. The two poetic works are not included among the Puranas and are accorded a special place as "itihasas".
"Pura " means "in the past". That which gives an account of what happened in the past is a "Purana", even though it may contain predictions about the future also. The term can also mean what was composed in the past. The genre called "novel" written in prose came after a long period in literature dominated by poetry and drama. When the novel was introduced into India it came to be called "navinam". If "navinam" means new, purana means old.
A Purana must have five characteristic features - (laksanas). The first is "sarga" (creation of the cosmos); the second is "prati-sarga" (how eon after eon it expanded); the third is "vamsa" (the lineage of living creatures beginning with the childrern of brahma); the fourth is Manvantara (dealing with the ages of the 14 Manus, forefathers of mankind during the 1, 000 caturyugas); and the fifth is "vamsanucarita" (genealogy of rulers of the nation including the solar and lunar dynasties). Besides there are descriptions of the earth, the heavens the different worlds.
"Itihasam"="iti-ha-sam" (it has happened thus ). The "ha" in the middle means "without doubt", "truly". So an itihasa means a true story, also a contemporarary account. Valmiki composed the Ramayana during the lifetime of Rama. Vyasa, author of the Mahabharata, lived during the time of the five Pandavas and was witness to the events narrated by him in his epic.
In the Puranas Vyasa has dealt with the stories or events of the past which of course is in keeping with their name (that is " Puranas"). But how? Vyasa could see into the past as he could into the future. So what he has written of the past must be an eyewittness account. However, his contemporaries would not have known about them. The Mahabharata and Ramayana are different. When these works were first made known to the world most people must have been familiar with the characters and events described in them. There is thus no reason to doubt their authenticity. The "ha" in" itihasa"confirms this.
The word "itihasa" can also mean "thus speak they" (that is "great men say that it must be so").
"Aitihya" is not an account of what is directly witnessed: it is to be accepted as a matter of faith. It is also derived from "iti" (thus great men have spoken "). What we actually observe is "this"; what is told by others is "thus".
The Epics and their Greatness
If the Puranas are described as constituting an Upanga of the Vedas, the itihasas(the epics) are so highly thought of as to be placed on an equal footing with the Vedas. The Mahabharata is indeed called the fifth Veda ("pancamo Vedah"). Of the Ramayana it is said: "As the Supreme Being, who is so exalted as to be known by the Vedas, was born the son of Dasaratha, the Vedas themselves took birth as the child of Valmiki [in the form of the Ramayana]. "
Vedavedye pare pumsi.
(As the son of Pracetas Valmiki is called Pracetas. )
The stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are in the blood of our people, so to speak. Today not many read these epics, but forty or fifty years ago it was not so. If our people were then known in the rest of the world for their truthfulness and moral character, the most important reason for it was that they were steeped in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In the old days Tamil rajas made gifts of land to learned men to give year-round discourses on the Mahabharata in the temples. Until thirty or forty years ago people gathered in their hundreds to listen to the pusari tell stories from the Mahabharata through song to the accompaniment of his drum udukku. For common folks then the pusari's performance was both "cinema" and "drama". Cinema and drama have their own ill effects but not the art of the pusari. By listening constantly to stories from the Mahabharata people remained guileless, respecting such virtues as truthfullness and morality. The esteem in which the Mahabharata was held in the Tamil country may be known from the fact that the temple of the village deity was called "Draupadai Amman koyil".
The bigger Puranas contain a number of independent stories, each highlighting a particular dharma. In the itihasa or epic it is one story from beginning to end. In between there are episodes but these resolve round the main story or theme. In the Puranas, as mentioned above, each story speaks of a particular dharma, while in the itihasa the main or central story seeks to illustate all dharmas. For instance, "Hariscandra Upakhyana" illustrates the dharma of truthfulness alone; the story of Sravana speaks of filial affection; that of Nalayani of a wife's chastity and uncompromising loyalty to her husband; the story of Rantideva speaks of self-sacrifice and utter compassion. But in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, based on the life of Rama and the Pandavas respectively, all dharmas are illustrated through the example of the different characters portrayed in them
Why Differences among the Gods ?
Each Purana is in the main devoted to a particular devata. In the Siva Purana it is stated: "Siva is the Supreme Being. He is the highest authority for creation, sustenance and dissolution. It is at his behest, and under him, that Visnu funtions as protector. Visnu is a mere bhogin, trapped in Maya. Siva is a yogin and jnana incarnate. Visnu is subject to Siva and worships him. Once when he opposed Siva he suffered humiliation at his hands". Stories are told to illustrate such assertions.
In the Vaisnava Puranas you see the reverse. They contain stories to support the view that Visnu is superior to Siva. "Is Siva a god, he who dwells in the burning grounds with spirits and goblins for company? " these Puranas ask.
In each Purana thus a particular deity is exalted over others. It may be Subrahmanya, Ganapati or Surya. Each such deity is declared to be the Supreme God and all others are said to worship him. When, out of pride, they refuse to worship him they are humbled.
Doubts arise in our minds about such contradictory accounts. "Which of these stories is true? " we are inclined to ask. "And which is false? They cannot all of them be true. If Siva worships Visnu, how does it stand to reason that Visnu should adore Siva? If Amba is superior to the Trimurti (Brahma, Visnu and Mahesvara), how is it right to say that she remains submissive to Parameswara as his devoted consort? The Puranas cannot all of them be true. Or are they all lies? "
Logical thinking seems to point to the conclusion that all Puranic stories cannot be true. But, as a matter of fact, they are. A deity that suffers defeat at one time at the hands of another emerges triumphant on another occasion. And a god who worships another deity is himself the object of worship at other times. How is this so and why?
The Paramatman is one and only one. He it is that creates, sustains and destroys. And it is he who exfoliates as the the many different deities. Why does he do so? He has not cast people in the same mould. He has created them all differently, with different attitudes, the purpose being to make the affairs of the world interesting by imparting variety to them. The Paramatman himself assumes different forms to suit the temperament of different people so that each worship him in the form he likes and obtain happiness. This is the reason why the one and only Paramatman manifests himself as so many different deities.
Everybody must have firm faith in, and devotion for, his chosen deity. He must learn to believe that this deity of his is the Paramatman, that there is no power higher. That is the reason why each manifestation or form of the Supreme Godhead reveals itself to be higher than other forms or manifestations. It is thus that these other forms are shown to have worshipped it or suffered defeat at its hands. Altogether it means that each deity worships other deities and is in turn worshipped by others. Also each god suffers defeat at the hands of other gods and, at the same time, inflicts defeat on them.
In the Saiva Puranas all those aspects that proclaim the glory of Siva are brought together. Similarly, in the case of the Vaisnava Puranas that deal with Visnu. Amba, Subrahmanya and other deities are each of them dealt with in such a way as to show him or her to be the highest among the devatas.
The purpose of exalting a particular deity over the another is not to depreciate the latter. The underlying idea is that a person who worships his chosen god has unflinching faith in him and becomes totally devoted to him. Such exclusive devotion is called "ananyabhakti". The idea here, however, is not to regard other devatas as inferior to one's own chosen deity- an example of "nahi ninda nyaya".
Those who are capable of looking upon all deities as the manifestations of the one and only Paramatman have no cause for exclusive devotion to any one of them. It is only when we think that one deity is separate from- or alien to- another that the question arises of giving up one for another. If we realise that all are the different disguises of the One Reality, the various gods and goddesses potrayed in the Puranas, with all the differences among them, will be understood to be nothing but the lila or sport of Supreme Being. It is the One alone that seems divided into manifold entities. This is to help men of various attitudes and temperaments. If this truth is recognised we shall be able to see the stories in the Puranas- stories that seem contradictory- in the true light.
In the story of Banasura we see that Siva is vanquished by Krsna. But in the story of Tiruvannamalai, Visnu meets with failure in finding the feet of Siva. Both stories must be treated as truthful. The first is to make devotees of Krsna worship him as the Paramatman and the second to make devotees of Siva adore him similarly. Although we think that one is winner and the other the loser or that the one is superior to the other or inferior to him, the two know themselves to be one. Does one triumph over oneself- or does one inflict defeat upon oneself? So all this is play. The Parmatman indulges in sport assuming multifarious forms.
The purpose of the Puranas is to show people the right path. Pativratya is a virtue that is of the utmost importance. Amba herself exemplifies it. The Parasakti, the Supreme Power that she is, remains subject to her husband. Faith and devotion must grow in the world and for it the Lord himself must show the way. This is why in some temples Visnu is represented as a worshipper of Siva and in some other shrines Siva is seen as a devotee of Visnu. The same with other deities. I have spoken more about Siva and Visnu since Saivism and Vaisnavism are the two major divisions.
To sum up, if a deity is glorified in the Puranas, and stories told in support of it, it is to create exclusive devotion to him as the Paramatman. And, if any god is potrayed as inferior to another, the true purpose of it is not to denigrate him but to develop unflinching faith in the latter.
The One as Many
As already emphasised, the one and only Paramatman is revealed as so many different deities. If one person develops a great liking for a certain deity, another chooses to have a liking for some other. To make a man a confirmed devotee of the form in which he likes to adore the Lord, the Paramatman on occasion diminishes himself in his other forms.
Tirukandiyur is in Tanjavur district, Tamil Nadu. In the temple here Siva is seen to be a lesser god than Visnu. He once plucked off one of Brahma's heads, became thus the victim of a curse and was freed from it through the grace of Visnu. In the same district is Tiruvizhimalai where it is Visnu who is seen to be a lesser god than Siva. Reciting the "Siva-Sahasranama"(The One Thousand Names of Siva), Visnu offers lotuses at the feet of Siva. When he is nearing the end of his worship he finds that he is short of one lotus. What does he do now? Visnu, the lotus-eyed, digs out one of his own eyes and offers it at the feet of Siva. The latter is pleased and gives him the cakra or discus. Siva is called here"Netrarpanesvara"(Siva to whom an eye has been offered); at Tiruakandiyur Visnu is "Hara-sapa-vimocana"(one who freed Siva from a curse). When we listen to the story of Tirukandiyur we learn that Visnu is a god of great compassion who frees his devotees from the most terrible of curses. Similarly, from the Tiruvizhimalai story we realise that no sacrifice is too great for a devotee- Visnu offers one of his own eyes to the god he worships, that is Siva. The question here is not who is the greater of the two, Siva or Visnu.
In the old days we used to have the lanterns in our homes. There were lanterns with glass on all the four sides- or three sides. Let us take the latter type. The wick inside the glass is lighted. The three sides made of glass are painted in three different colours [or only two sides are painted]. The light burning inside will be seen to be a different colour from each side. We may take these three sides to represent creation, protection and dissolution, the three functions performed by the Paramatman. It is the one Light that is responsible for all the three, like the wick burning inside the lamp with the three sides.
One side of the lantern, let us assume, is painted red. It symbolises creation. If we remove red from the pure light of the spectrum, the other six colours also will be separated. This is what is meant by the one becoming the many of creation. Brahma, the Creator, is said to be red in colour. Another side of the lantern is painted blue. The first and last colours of the spectrum are violet and red. The beggining is red (or infrared) and the end violet (or ultraviolet). Mahavisnu, during the very act of sustaining all creation, demonstrates through jnana that this world is not the whole self-fulfilling truth but the disguise of the Paramatman, his sport. In the fire of jnana the cosmos is charred. This is the state in which an object, without being entirely disintegrated, retains its form but loses its colour: it is like a lump of charcoal. Such a entity as the world still exists, but its own quality, Maya, is burned out and is suffused with Visnu-"Sarvam Vishnumayam jagat". In Tamil Visnu is called"Kariyan, Nilameniyan"(one who is like charcoal, one whose body is blue). Blue, black and violet are more or less similar colours. The light coming from the blue side of the lantern is Visnu.
The third side of the lamp is not painted. We saw that when all is burnt in jnana the residue is a lump of charcoal. But if this charcoal is burned further the ultimate product is ash. It has no form and is just powder or dust. Now the colour also changes from black to white. White is the colour close to pure light. All the colours are inherent in that light, which means all the cosmic functions and activities emanating from the Paramatman are made extinct, are burned out. Now the Paramatman alone remains. That is the ashes remain when everything is burnt out- that is what lasts in the end. It is indeed Paramesvara otherwise called Mahabhasma. Samhara, destruction, may seem a cruel function. But what Siva does, though seemingly cruel, is truly an act of compassion because he goes beyond destruction to unite us with the Truth. When Visnu sportingly bestows jnana on us the cosmos seems like a lump of charcoal. "Sarvam Vishnumayam jagat, "we say. But now all the sport has ended and we have come to the state of supreme jnana: there is neither "sarvam"nor "jagat". Now it is all "Sivamayam". It is the one lamp that is the light of the Brahman. When it is seen through the red side of the lantern it becomes Brahma; through the blue side it is Visnu; and through the unpainted side it is Siva.
Our great men have in the past sung of the One manifesting as three("Oruvare muvuruvay"). There were great poets in our country who were not interested in propagating any philosophy or any system of thought- they were men possessing a broad outlook and an open mind who expressed their views freely. These poets have said that it is the same entity that is manifested as the Trimurthi(Brahma, Visnu and Mahesvara) and indeed as the 33 crore devatas. Bana says that the same Object becomes three to perform three functions, "sarga-sthiti-nasa-hetave". Kalidasa clearly states, "Ekaiva murtirbibhide tridha sa" (The Paramatman is One; it is this One that divides itself into three for the three different functions).
If we were divided into two schools, the one insisting that the Saiva Puranas alone are authoritative among the Puranas and the other claiming that only the Vaisnava Puranas are to be relied upon, we would keep quarelling without ever being able to take a clear and dispassionate view of things. "The Truth is One. The wise speak of it by different names". There is no greater authority for us than this Vedic pronouncement. So all of us, without making any distinction between the Saiva and Vaisnaiva systems, must listen to the stories of all deities and be rewarded with freedom from worldly existence.
Tiruvisanallur Ayyaval was a great man. His real name was Sridhara Venkateswara. But out of respect people referred to him as "Tiruvisanallur Ayyaval". He lived some three hundred years ago and was the senior contemporary of Bhagavannama Bodhendra. Bodhendra propagated devotion to Rama and Govinda, that is he taught people to sing these names of the Lord. At the same time Ayyaval spread the glory of Siva by singing his names. Neither of the two respected any distinction between Siva and Visnu. So the two of them jointly propagated the "nama siddhanta"in the Tiruvisanallur. They had respect and affection for one another and established the doctrine that in the age of Kali repeating the names of the Lord[nama japa] is the sovereign remedy for all ills. Whenever a bhajana is held obeisance is paid to these two (first Bodhendra and then Ayyaval) before singing the praises of the deities.
During a sraddha ceremony Ayyaval fed an untouchable. The village headman gave the ruling that he had to bathe in the Ganga in expiation. Ayyaval made the sacred river rise in the well in the backyard of his house. This story is well known. The incident took place on the new moon of the month of Karttigai (November-December). Even today devotees in large numbers bathe in the water of this well in the belief that it is as good as taking a dip in the holy Ganga.
Ayyaval gives his own account of how Sri Rama broke the bow of Siva. "Svakara pratipadita svacapah, "this is how he put it. That is Rama broke his bow with his own hands. The story usually told is that the bow of Siva was cracked by Narayana and that later Narayana who descended to earth as Rama broke it completely. Ayyaval does not like the idea of Siva being represented as inferior to Rama. He does not make any distinction between Siva and Visnu and believes that Siva is Visnu and Visnu is Rama (so Siva and Rama are the same). Logically, in his view, the bow of Siva is the bow of Rama. That is why he says Rama broke his own bow with his hands. All such acts are needed for his sport, he declares.
Many paths to the One Goal
The Azhvars sing the glory of Visnu and the Nayanmars of Siva. In the Vedas all deities are hymned in the same way. The Upanishads do not speak much about deities; they are concerned with truths of the Self. Tiruvalluvar speaks about God and philosophical matters and his views are in keeping with the Vedic tradition. But the emphasis in his work is on morals and ethics. As for Tirumular, he does not deal so much with God, devotion, etc, as he does with aspects of yoga like pranayama, dhyana, dharana and samadhi. "Each great man, like each great work, speaks about a particular system, a particular path. Which of these is to be followed? " such a question arises in the minds of people. Whatever system or path you follow, follow it with faith. Do not give it up midway. In the end it will lead you to the Paramatman. In the beginning the paths may seem different but all of them take you to the same goal.
Devar kuralum Tirunanmarai mudivum
Muvar Tamizhum munimozhiyum--Kovai
Tiruvacakamum Tirumular sollum
The same idea is expressed in the "Sivamahimna-stotra". This hymn glorifying Siva is by Pushpadanta. He was a gandharva who, under a curse of Isvara, was condemned to live on earth. One stanza in his hymn says: "Trayi(the three Vedas), Sankhya(philosophical inquiry), yoga, the Pasupata system, Vaisnavism- people follow any of them according to their different dispositions. Like the rivers merging in the ocean all these paths have one meeting point, the Paramatman. "
It is this spirit of catholicism that Englishmen exclaim: "Jevhovah, Jove or Lord!". Jehovah is the Semitic God of the region of Israel, the home of the Bible. Jove is another name of Jupiter. The word "Lord" applies to the God of any faith; it is common to all religions. Realised people in the West also speak that the one Being is the same, call him by any name you like.
If the Puranas are read in an attitude of respect and humility and with the honest intention that we should benefit by reading them, there will be no cause for any confusion. We will gain the wisdom to treat them as works meant for our ultimate well-being
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)