Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 18

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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Go to Part 17


I – We have to approach a guru for learning Vedänta

We have now acquired the prescribed qualifications to a reasonable extent and are ready to learn Vedänta. At this stage, çruti prescribes [117] that

• we have to learn it from a guru;
• the guru must have been taught by a guru [118] in accordance with the tradition; [119] and that
• the guru must be established in the self-knowledge gained by him [120]
The reasons for these stipulations need to be explained.


Veda communicates knowledge through words. But the words in the language can exactly communicate only the knowledge relating to objects obtained through perception and the other means of knowledge based on it. Words are able to easily communicate when everyone knows the object. In the case of other objects, word indicates through the species to which they belong or by their qualities or through their relationship they have with a known object or by their activities [121]. For example, the unusual Chihuahua can be indicated as a dog, the unfamiliar durian fruit through its prickly skin and stinking smell, the unknown person as the brother of a known person, the unseen air by its movement, which makes the leaves flutter.


Nevertheless, the word cannot use any of these means for communicating about the self, since the self, which is the whole,
• cannot be perceived, as it is not an object;
• does not belong to any species as it is without a second;
• is without any quality, since the limitless cannot have any limitation through quality;
• is without any activity, since it is partless and there is no second thing to act upon; and
• has no relationship, as nothing else is available to establish relationship.


Thus, none of the conditions under which the word can function is fulfilled. No word can, therefore, exactly reveal the self. In this context, Taittiréya Upaniñad [122] says: “Words along with the mind return without reaching that.” It is Vedänta, which names the true self as ätmä when viewed from the individual standpoint and as Brahman from the universal standpoint.


To illustrate the problem in communication: if we say, “rose”, the object “rose” appears in our mind. However, if we hear the word “Brahman” or “ätmä”, nothing comes to our mind. Only the word is registered. The word does not result in any understanding since it does not refer to something of the world that is known to us. It is a non-worldly or alaukika word. It cannot be objectified (that is, known as an object) and the mind does not grasp anything in particular. If we try to explain it through another alaukika word, it does not also help. For example the statement “Brahman is the very same as ätmä”, does not make us understand Brahman since neither ätmä nor Brahman is known whereas the statement, “Rose is a fragrant, red flower” is successful in conveying information as all the words used pertain to the known world (laukika). However, certain things that cannot be expressed fully in words like taste or emotions can be appreciated directly by the senses and the mind without being expressed in words. So, the question arises as to whether ätmä or Brahman can be reached by the mind even though it is beyond the reach of the words. “No” says the Upaniñad. “The eye does not go there [123] nor speech, nor mind.” [124] But our predicament is that the Upaniñads consist only of words and the knowledge has to take place only in our mind!


The problem is got over by using the words not for conveying their direct meaning but their intended meaning [125]. That is, the words are the indirect expressions of the intended meaning. But we do not know the intended meaning of the words used, as we do not know the method of arriving at it. So, it is not possible for us to gain the knowledge by reading the text ourselves. For example, for revealing that we are the whole, it says, “tat tvam asi”, whose literal meaning is, “You are that”. Unless what “you” and “that” stand for are explained, we cannot know what the statement means.


There are other reasons as well. Sometimes, even the direct meaning of words requires to be explained, as it changes according to the way in which it is derived. For example, the word jïäna can mean the subject of knowledge or the object of knowledge or the instrument of knowledge or the process of knowledge. [126]. The purport of negative statements requires to be explained as negation can be used in six different senses. There are sentences of praise and condemnation that are not to be taken literally but have to be understood in terms of the context [127]. Communication is also done through paradoxes. For example, to indicate that the concept of size does not apply to ätmä-Brahman and as such does not lend itself to comparative analysis, it is said that it is “ bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest”. [128] There are incomplete sentences that have to be completed through close adherence to other parts of the text. There are sentences with the words in inappropriate case endings and they have to be interpreted properly to make them meaningful. Upaniñads also contain a number of unclear statements about Brahman [129] and statements that do not convey the main purport. In all these situations, the mémäàsä çästra provides the key to the correct understanding of the text. All these facts rule out the self-study of Vedänta. We have to necessarily approach a competent guru for learning it.


Chändogya Upaniñad (6.14.1 and 6.14.2) drives home this point by comparing the seeker to a person blindfolded and abandoned in forest and the guru to the person who releases his eyes from the bandage and guides him to reach his destination and then affirming that a person having a teacher acquires knowledge [131]. In the same Upaniñad, we also find the example of Närada who is very learned in numerous branches of knowledge approaching Sanatkumära for knowledge of the self with the request: “Oh! Venerable Sir, please teach me.” (7.1.1 to 7.1.3)

117.Muëdaka Upaniñad , 1.2.12. It is reproduced at the end of the chapter.
118. He is called çrotriyaù.
119. He is called sampradäya-vid
120. He is called brahma-niñöhaù.
Kimahaà sädhu näkaravam | Kimahaà päpamakaravamiti | Why did I not do good (actions)?  Why did I do evil (actions)? (Taittiréya Upaniñad, Brahmavallé, 9.)

121.Well known through perception (pratyakña prasiddhiù) is called rüdhiù, species is called jäti, attribute is called guëa, activity is called kriyä and relationship is called sambandha. These are known as çabda pravåtti nimittäni or conditions for the functioning of the word.
122. KYato väco nivartante|Apräpya manasä saha|Taittiréya Upaniñad, Brahmavallé, 9.
123.Literal meaning of the word is called väcyärtha while the indirectly expressed intended meaning is called lakñyärtha.
124. Na tatra cakñurgacchati na väggacchati no manaù... Kena Upaniñad, 1.3.
125. iteral meaning of the word is called väcyärtha while the indirectly expressed intended meaning is called lakñyärtha.
126.These are respectively called kartåu, karma, karaëa and bhäva vyutpattiù.
127. Arthaväda.
128.Literal meaning of the word is called väcyärtha while the indirectly expressed intended meaning is called lakñyärtha.

129.Clear statement revealing Brahman is called spañöa-brahma-liëga-väkya and unclear statement revealing Brahman is called aspañta-brahma-liëga-väkya.
130. Statement conveying the main purport is called tätparya-yukta-väkya and statement not conveying the main purport is called tätparya-rahita-väkya.
131. .. äcäryavänpuruño veda.. Chändogya Upaniñad, 6.14.2.

Go to Part 19


Page last updated: 27-Jun-2015