Saturday, April 17, 2010

Generosity (Audaryam) in Sri Sankara's Gita Bhashya -- Part 1

Our Supreme Lord of the Universe, who is known as Sriman Narayana, Lord Vasudeva, Lord Vishnu, and by a thousand other names, possesses several divine auspicious qualities (Kalyana Gunas). We dealt a little bit about His Paratvam (Lordliness), Saulabhyam (Accessibility), and Saushilyam (Friendliness) till now. In the next few posts, we shall experience Lord's quality of being generous (audAryam or magnanimity)

The Supreme Lord Narayana, after creating us, does not simply watch us suffer in this imperfect world where evils such as greed, animosity, disease, and natural calamities are abound. In contrast, the Lord provides everything He is capable of, by directly taking up the act of protecting His creation. Let us briefly review His threefold activity to understand His act of protection better:

We saw in a previous post that the Lord creates all the material elements, and then Lord Brahma is born from the divine lotus that springs from His navel. In support of this, Sri Adi Sankara, while commenting upon the words of Arjuna, says the following: Lord Krishna is the one who is the cause of even Brahma, known as Hiranyagarbha, hence He is called the Primordial Creator ["yato brahmaNo hiraNyagarbhasyApi Adi kartA kAraNaM atas tasmAd Adi-kartre" Gita Bhashya, 11.37]. He is called Adi deva (Primal God) since He creates the universe; He is called the purANa puruSa (Primordial Person) since even as He dwells within all of us, He has always existed since time immemorial; He is the abode of all creatures at the time of mahApralaya or universal dissolution ["tvam Adi-devo jagataH sraSTRtvAt, puruSaH purI shayanAt, purANas cirantanaH, tvam evAsya vishvasya paraM prakRSTam nidhAnam nidhIyate(a)smin jagat sarvam mahApralayAdau iti" Gita Bhashya, 11.38], and that He is the 'Great-grand sire' of all since He is the father of even four-faced Brahma who is popularly known as 'Grand sire' ["pitAmahasyApi pitA prapitAmahaH; brahmaNo(a)pi pitAmahaH iti arthaH", Gita Bhashya, 11.39]

Lord Brahma takes over the task of further creation under the instructions of our Supreme Lord. It is the Supreme Lord Vasudeva Himself who indirectly creates beings and destroys them by being the inner-controller of Lord Brahma and Lord Siva. But He directly takes up the act of sustenance for Himself. Thus, the popular conception of Lord Brahma as the creator, Lord Vishnu as the protector, and Lord Siva as the destroyer is reconciled with the Vedic and scholarly statement that it is indeed only Lord Narayana who performs the threefold act of creation, sustenance, and dissolution of the entire universe, as we discussed before in another post. This is exactly the explanation given by Sri Sankara in the Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya:

"rajoguNaM samAshritya viri~ncirUpeNa bhUtAni karotIti bhUtakRt | tamOguNamAsthAya sa rudrAtmanA bhUtAni kRtanti kRNoti hinastIti vA bhUtakRt | sattvaguNamadhiSThAya bhUtAni bibharti dhArayati poSayatIti vA bhUtabhRt"

(Sri Sankara's Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya, Names #4 and #5)

Translation: "Through the mode of rajas (activity/passion) in the form of Brahma, He creates beings and hence He is known as bhUtakRt. Or, using the mode of tamas (ignorance/darkness) in the body of Rudra (Siva), He destroys beings and hence He is known as bhUtakRt. Taking up the mode of sattva (goodness/stability) He (directly) supports and protects all beings and hence He is known as bhUtabhRt".

Sri Sankara says later in the same text, while commenting on the divine name "subhujaH" (#265), which means "beautiful-armed", that the Lord's arms are indeed beautiful as they protect the universe ("shobhanA bhujAH jagadrakSAkarA asyeti subhujaH").

Thus, the act of resolving to protect His creatures itself is a sign of his magnanimity. It is appropriate to ask thus: What is that greatest, priceless gift that the Lord can give that serves as a best example of this ever-benevolent nature of Him? In my opinion, His greatest gift to us is twofold: First, the Lord gives Himself to His devotees by being accessible to us through His avatars. Secondly, He gives another priceless gift -- the scriptures, known as shAstra-s that teach us dharma and adharma (good and evil) that provide the way for well-being and prosperity, as well as the way to serve Him best. A very nice summary of these two aspects of His generosity has been given to us by the great teacher, Acharya Sri Adi Sankara. Let us then turn to Sri Adi Sankara's introduction to the Bhagavad Gita.

The story of Lord Krishna's birth, according to Sri Sankara:

Right after the invocatory verse ("nArAyaNaH paro-avyaktAt") that we saw in a previous post, the Acharya proceeds with his commentary to the Bhagavad Gita as follows:

"sa bhagavAn sRSTvedaM jagat... dvividho hi vedokto dharmaH pravRtti-lakSaNo nivRtti-lakSaNashca jagataH sthiti-kAraNam | prANinAM sAkSAd abhyudayaniH-shreyasa-hetur yaH sa dharmo brAhmaNAdyair varNibhir Ashramibhish ca shreyo(a)rthibhir anuSThIyamAnaH |"
Translation: "The Lord (Bhagavan) created the universe and wishing to secure order in His created universe, taught the paths of involving in works and renunciation. It is this two-fold Vedic path of works and renunciation that is responsible for the protection of the universe. This Vedic path, which secures prosperity and well-being for all creatures, was practiced by men of all classes and orders in life who sought welfare, starting with Brahmanas (knowers of Brahman or Supreme Lord)."

The Lord's magnanimity is evident from the above. Further still, Sri Sankara says that the Lord Himself patiently and generously teaches the Vedic dharma to human beings again when we lose track of it out of our own folly:

"dIrgheNa kAlena anuSThAtRRNAM kAmodbhavAd dhIyamAna-viveka-j~nAna-hetukena adharmeNa abhiyUyamAne dharme, pravardhamAne ca adharme, jagataH sthitiM paripAlayiSuH sa Adi kartA nArAyaNAkhyo viSNur bhaumasya brahmaNo brAhmaNatvasya cAbhirakSaNArthaM devakyAM vasudevAd aMshena kRSNaH sambabhUva |"
Translation: "As time progressed, the evil of lust overpowered the practitioners they gradually lost the faculty of discrimination (between good and bad), leading to irreligion overpowering religion. It was then that the Primordial Creator, Lord Vishnu known as Narayana, wishing to maintain order in the universe, incarnated Himself as Krishna, begotten by devakI and vasudeva, for the preservation of the Vedic path."

  Lord Krishna was born to Devaki and Vasudeva to protect the world and the Vedic Dharma

Sri Sankara then says that the Lord is ever possessed with the six qualities of wisdom, supremacy, power, strength, might, and vigor (sa ca bhagavAn j~nAna-aishvarya-shakti-bala-vIrya-tejobhiH sampannaH) and is ever the unborn (ajaH-avyayaH) Lord of Beings (bhUtAnAm IshvaraH) who is Eternal, Pure, Intelligent and Free (nitya-shuddha-buddha-mukta svabhAvaH). The Acharya then says that even though our Lord Narayana has nothing to achieve and has no selfish interest, with the sole intention of helping His creatures, He taught Arjuna, who was plunged in grief and delusion, the two-fold Vedic religion:
"svaprayojana abhAve(a)pi bhUtAnujighRkSayA vaidikaM hi dharma-dvayaM arjunAya shoka-moha-mahodadhau nimagnAya upadidesha"

It is only those like us, whose life is imperfect and lacking, will have something more that he/she is yet to achieve and hence we are driven by that desire to act for our own selfish ends. Being the eternally-perfect Supreme Lord of the cosmos, He has no wants and desires and thus has no compulsion to act. Even then, He performs His divine deeds to benefit us, generously giving us more than what we deserve.

(to be continued)

The appellation "Eternal, Pure, Intelligent, and Free" (nitya-shuddha-buddha-mukta) is often used by Sri Sankara in his commentaries and refer to the Supreme Lord, who is also known as Parabrahman and Paramatman. He employs them in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya at least at two places (I.i.1 and II.i.14), in his commentaries to the Upanishads (eg., Brihadaranyaka I.iv.7), and in the Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya while explaining the name "Paramatma" (kArya kAraNa vilakSaNo nitya-shuddha-buddha-mukta svabhAvaH).

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