SrIvishNu sahasranAmam – pUrva pItikA – Part 7

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The discussion on ‘saguNa / nirguNa’ brahman:

If someone opines that the worship of brahman attributed with all auspicious qualities (saguNa brahmam) is only for lowly results such as attainment of heaven et al, and that the worship of Brahman devoid of all qualities (nirguNa brahmam) is only for those who desire for the supreme salvation, then down be with such deaf people who have not listened to the scriptures which declare the greatness of the thousand names of the Lord with all auspicious qualities as ‘releasing all creatures from the clutches of samsAra’ and ‘making the practitioners reach the Supreme brahman’.

When yudhishtira has asked “which is the loftiest of all dharmas in your opinion?”and bhIshma has declared “this is the loftiest of all dharmas in the best of my knowledge” in reply, and thus when bhIshma has clearly intended to propound the greatest of all dharmas – namely the chanting of thousand names of the Lord – selected from the most sacred of all scriptures, if someone opines that this is only  for a lowly result, then it becomes imperative to discuss that entity superior to the said brahman, which would be a better solution to attain a higher result.

adhvaithi say that the worship of the saguNa brahman is the first step in achieving the worship of nirguNa brahman and eventual attainment of salvation; because, it would be wrong to differentiate between saguNa and nirguNa brahmams and thus propound the worship of saguNa brahmam as the means to attain nirguNa brahmam. This is simply not the case.

Also, when the Supreme brahman, bhagavan is in fact attributed with so much of auspicious qualities, what would be the basis to call him ‘nirguNa’ (devoid of qualities)? If such basis is known to be ‘avidhyA’ (ignorance), then the tenets of vEdhas are truly beautiful, which prescribe the brahman attributed with all ignorance, confusions and other faults as the supreme medicine to a dying mortal who has been downed with the poison of samsAra effected with birth, death, passion etc. [Note Bhattar’s sarcasm here]

Also, how would the statements supporting the saguNa brahmam lose importance at all? If your reply to this question is “because the nirguNa vAkyas (statements propounding the nirguNa brahmam) refute them”, then can it not also be said the other way, as “the saguNa vAkyas refute the nirguNa vAkyas, and hence saguNa vAkyas gain more importance”? Then, the credits and oppositions to both of these categories of statements are alike. None gain superiority over the other!

In another sense, if at all it is true that the Supreme brahman is devoid of all qualities, and that the ultimate aim of all mortal souls is to attain that nirguNa brahmam, then why did the vEdhas and other scriptures propound the saguNa brahmam in the first place? If your reply to this is “in order to attribute all qualities to the brahman and later show that the brahman indeed is devoid of all those qualities”, then let there not be such refutations at all. If no qualities are attributed to the brahman unnecessarily in the first place, then there would not arise any need to refute each of such statements. Why this over burden at all? Haven’t we learnt from the mahAbhAratha which says “staying away at a safe distance from marsh is much better than touching it and washing off the soil later”?

 Also, it is not a universally applicable logic that when two consecutive statements are mutually in disagreement in their meanings, then the latter is more powerful over the former statement. If we say that certain object “is present in this place”, and later say that the same object “is not present in another place”, nobody would say that the two statements are contradicting, although the meanings differ per context. For all that we know, if the former statement is weaker, it is never possible to write the latter statement without refuting it. If it is written without refuting the former, then it means the two are not mutually contradicting. Thus, even if the saguNa and nirguNa statements come one after the other, they do not refute each other, since they are not mutually contradicting. If it is understood that it is always a fact the latter statement refutes the former ones (irrespective of whether they contradict or not), and thus declare that the nirguNa vAkyas refute the attributes of brahman, then the vEdhas also declare that “void itself is the truth” towards the end. Will that mean that the presence of Supreme brahman itself is refuted? If it is understood that such statements are born out of the ignorance of the lower mortals bound in this samsAra, and thus do not apply to the Supreme Self; then it can also be considered that the vEdhas themselves are born out of the ignorance of the brahman and thus do not apply to the Supreme Entity.

vEdhas intend to negate all bad qualities of the soul-body relationship of the Supreme brahman with all other entities. In order to achieve this, they speak the nirguNa vAkyas.  However, before negating any such bad qualities, they attribute all auspiciousness to the bhagavAn, refuting all faults. That is how the upanishath proudly declare “He is devoid of sins, and does not undergo aging” etc.

Forgetting this, and applying the truth and falsity to the saguNa and nirguNa statements of the vEdhas is nothing but deception unto the vEdhas. If at all the source of knowledge itself is contaminated with falsities, then it loses all its credibility. It would be like possessing unreal gold or silver, which is not very pleasing. As said earlier, if you argue that refuting nirguNa brahmam by attributing qualities to the Supreme Self is false, then, by the same logic we can say that refuting saguNa brahmam by voiding the brahman of all qualities is also equally false. 

The scholars knowledgeable about the Supreme Entity opine thus: The statements supporting the saguNa brahamam intend to speak about the numerous auspicious qualities of the Supreme brahman, such as knowledge, power etc. Similarly, the statements supporting the nirguNa brahmam intend to speak about the voidance of the innumerable faults such as passion, hatred etc. in the Supreme brahman. The vEdhas attribute many auspicious qualities to the brahman by describing Him as ‘sathyakAma:’ (the one whose desires are unfaltering), ‘sathyasankalpa:’ (the one whose desires are always fulfilled) etc. Thus, when it says ‘nirguNam’ (being devoid of qualities), it only means it is speaking only about those qualities which are opposite to the said auspicious ones. That means it is refuting only the undesirable qualities in the brahman and attributing all desirable auspicious qualities unto Him.

This is just like the logic of using words such as ‘padha-AhavanIya’, ‘brAhmaNa-parivrAjaka’, ‘brAhmaNa-kaundinya’, ‘gO-baleevardha’ etc. (usage of common words and special words together, without mutual rebuttals), and is free to be used here as well.

Thus, for the expounders of nirguNa brahmam, it comes as asphyxiation when the vEdhas refute the blemishes in the Supreme brahman as well as attribute all the auspicious qualities to Him in a single statement that begins by saying “He is devoid of all sins” (apahathapApma) and ends by saying “His desires are unfaltering, and are ever fulfilled” (sathyakAma: sathyasankalpa:).

Similarly, another line begins by saying “He who is invisible” (yath tath adhrEshyam), and ends by saying “The learned see that eternal, all-pervading, omnipresent, atomic, ceaseless entity who is also the originator of all” (nithyam vibhum sarvagatham susUkshmam thadhavyayam yadhbhUthayOnim paripaSyanthi dhIrA:).

Such doctrines do not expect application of heavy logic such as in saying “The pillar is there. The pot is not there” etc. The author of brahmasUthras, SrI vEdhavyAsa has explained this invisibility on the one hand and attribution of the auspicious qualities on the other in one of his aphorisms that says “He is possessed with invisibility and other qualities, since the scriptures declare thus”.

(to be continued…)

adiyen srinivasa raja ramanuja dasan

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