Thursday, April 5, 2012


[* Minor Upanishads by Pandit A. Mahadeva Sastri B. A., Madras 1898.]

    The translation of the first of these Upanishads by Pandit R. Anantakrishna Sastri of Adyar, with notes from the comments of Narayana and Sankarananda has been lying on our table for some months past and we have got our own Pandit to add his comments; and it will be apparent when they are printed what the difference is between the two modes of interpretation. The one mode, as in the book before us, takes for its certain guide, one's own inborn and inbred conviction produced by an immediate or intuitive cognition of "the Thing in itself," as opposed to "the conclusions professedly based on pure speculation", as our learned translator puts it, or as we would put it, it follows for its guide what the professors of the Mayavada School or the Hindu Idealists regard as the outcome of their innate cognition as opposed to dictates of all human reasoning; and one might possibly cavil at the high position claimed for professors of this School by our learned translator, over teachers of all other Schools; and when this so-called intuitive conception of Truth is so opposed to all human reasoning and common sense, one might also question the correctness of this Aham Brahma Gnana and doubt whether, after all, this boasted Self-knowledge may not be an illusion of illusions. And we know on the authority of the commentator quoted by the learned translator, what havoc our manas plays with us. After all, such a mode dealing cannot have a very high value; and another man can as easily say that his own intuitive and immediate cognition is different and it would be simply impossible to decide between the two sets of intuitive experience. And the effect of it on the possible student is that he must choose the one or the other on the principle of "Believe and be saved." The other mode of interpretation is not so ambitious nor so presumptions. It does not seek to interpret things as it suits one's own fancy or preconceived bias. At any rate, it advances one step higher, and instead of quoting this and that Acharya, and his followers, it only quotes from authorities or works left to us in the prehistoric period, and whose authorship is unknown, but which were anterior in date to this and that Acharya, and the authority of which is accepted by or at any rate cannot be denied by this or that Acharya. And what our own Pandit has done is to quote in elucidation of the word or passage from some other sruti or Upanishad, some Itihasa or Purana fulfilling the characteristics above set forth. And where modern Oriental Scholarship has failed is in ignoring the Puranas and Itihasas of undoubted authenticity as invaluable helps to understand the much more ancient Veda and Vedanta. For it is a fact which our Pandit proves by his quotations that the difficult words and passages in the Upanishads and Vedas are explained and illustrated and commented on at great length in the Puranas and Itihasas. Col. Vans Kennedy had remarked "I cannot discover in them (Puranas) any other object than that of religious instruction. In all the Puranas, some or other of the leading principles, rites and observances of the Hindu Religion are fully dwelt upon and illustrated, either by suitable legends or by presenting the ceremonies to be practised, and the prayers and invocations to be employed in the worship of different deities." Speaking generally of the value of Puranas, Prof. Wilson also remarks, that "A very great portion of the contents of many, some portion of the contents of all, is genuine and old. The sectorial interpolation, or embellishment is always sufficiently palpable to be set aside without injury to the more authentic and primitive material; and the Puranas, although they belong especially to that stage of the Hindu religion in which faith in some one divinity was the prevailing principle, are also a valuable record of the form of belief which came next in order to that of the Vedas" and which was in vogue about the time of the Greek invasion, and as such more than 11 or 12 centuries before Sankaracharya. Further, our own Mahabharata sets forth the value of Puranas in its very first chapter (p 2. P. C. Roy's book) "The purana highly esteemed, which is the most eminent narrative that exists diversified both in diction and division possessing subtle meanings logically combined and embellished from the Vedas is a sacred work. Composed in elegant language, it includes the subjects of other books. It is elucidated by other Sastras and comprehendeth the sense of the four Vedas." And the ordinary rule of interpretation followed by Hindu writers generally is that the Vedas and Upanishads should be explained by the Agamas, the latter by the Puranas, the latter by the Ithihasas, the latter by Smrities and so on; and where there is a clashing of authorities, the more ancient one is to be preferred to the authority of the later one. And of course, this rule never contemplated that in course of time, we would come to get a body of Upanishads and Puranas which are palpable forgeries or cannot at least lay claim to that high antiquity as such writings generally command in the ordinary estimation of the Hindus. Of course we quite agree with Mr. Mahadeva Sastri's opinion that simply because an Upanishad did not happen to be commented upon or referred to by Sankaracharya therefore that Upanishad is not to thought of as later than his time, but we are not prepared to accept his other dictum that there is no harm in calling anything as an Upanishad in which any man might choose to air his own views as the highest truth and the most intuitive Revelation. Under this definition, even an Allah Upanishad can pass muster. But what we generally mean by an Upanishad is an integral part of the Veda called the Brahmana and following closely in time to the Veda itself and anterior to the Puranas and Itihasas. And in our own view, we would not give any importance to any Upanishad which in its view of Sankhya (Philosophy) and Yoga is inconsistent or is not borne out by the teachings contained in the Mahabarat and which would introduce names and characters of the time of this great epic and of times subsequent. The Mahabarata occupies a unique position in our literary record; and being such a vast store house of ethical religious and philosophic and traditional lore, and much less touched by interpolators than other works of the kind, we may safely put down any legend, or custom, or principle of ethics or religion or philosophy as recent if it does not find a place therein. Judged accordingly by the test we have set up, the first of the Upanishads translated by Mr. Mahadeva Sastri would be classed as recent unless the last word is taken to be an interpolation and we have already objected to the practice of giving the yogartha (literal meaning) to every proper name, of translating 'Siva' as 'auspicious' 'Sankara' as 'the doer of good,' and 'Sadasiva' as 'the ever good' Maheshwara as 'the great Lord' &c. Of course we could understand Ramanuja's anxiety to do so but to such of them we would ask to put their finger into the Mahabharat itself and explain away every word in this fashion. And we here take opportunity of recording our strongest protest against that mischievous mode of interpreting such names as they occur as the names of the Lower Saguna God, as opposed to what they consider as the Highest Nirguna, a most patent example of which is furnished in the comment on 7th mantra. The mantras commencing from what is marked 4½ to 7 mantras is one single sentence and it describes the posture assumed, and object contemplated and the end obtained by the Atyasrama yogi. The object of this contemplation the Dhyeyah is described by giving his attributes and names, and it is a single clause; and yet our sastri following his Acharyas would make the words (in the 7th mantra) denote the Saguna, and the words preceding them though in the same clause describe the Nirguna! In his introduction he learnedly sets forth that Nirguna contemplation is for the highest perfected beings (of the Paramahamsa School) and the Saguna form to the lower mantras, which begin and so on, and yet in these mantras, which begin to prescribe the contemplation for the Atyasrami (explained as the highest Paramahamsa marga by Sankarananda), he is made to choose the Saguna! We are well aware that there are different forms of Yogi and one own Pandit quotes the passage from Kurma Purana which names and describes three classes of yogis, who are called Raudika or Saguna yogis Sankhya or Nirguna yogis, and Atyasrama Yogis and the Atyasrama Yogi called also Brahma Yogi, occupies the highest place; and our learned friend's Nirguna yogi has only to play second fiddle to him.

    "The Yogis are of three kinds, Baudik Yogi Sankhya Yogi and the most excellent Atyasrama yogi. The first Bavana is in Saguna; the second Bavana dwells on the Akshara (Nirguna) and the third Bavana dwells on the Parameshwara (Kurma Puran 2 chap. P. 31) and the fuller descriptions of them are given in the first chap. of the Purva khanda and as we give them in our commentary, we refrain from quoting them here. Of course Mr. Sastri cannot or will not choose to understand the conception of the Godhead as held by the Siddhantis, and we would only quote here a verse from our saint Manickavachaka, to whom there are shrines in Southern India than to Lord Krishna himself.

    "சாவ முன்னாட்டக்கன் வேள்விதகர் தின்று நஞ்சமஞ்சி,

    யாவவெந்தா யென்ற விதாவிடு நம்மவரவரே.

    மூவரென்றே யெம்பிரானொடு மெண்ணி விண்ணாண்டு மண்மேற்,

    றேவரென் றேயிறுமாந் தென்ன பாவந்திரிதவரே."


Our saint asserts in the strongest possible language the distinction of his God from any of the Trinity and yet identifies him with the Lord who saved the host of Devas headed by Vishnu from the dire effects of the fatal poison and Who overthrew the great sacrifice of Daksha who had invited from Vishnu downwards. It would be too great labour if we here to enter into the meanings of these allegorical legends themselves and the meanings are plain on the face of the puranic accounts themselves. And the subject of the high antiquity claimed by Mr. Sastri for the line of his teachers like Sankara and Gaudapada and the subject of the most ancient records supporting Mayavada or Virvarta Vada are subjects about which such high authorities as Colebrooke, Wilson, Max Muller, and Gough, Col Jacob Thibaut and others have quarrelled and though we would have our say on this subject someday, we only note it today to mark our dissent from the position taken up by our learned translator. We offer these remarks in the best of spirit, and we in no way wish to disparage the work done be Mr. Mahadeva Sastri. The criticism herein offered is more of the subject matter than of himself or his work, and as for the work turned out by him is concerned, it is done in the best scholarly style possible and the harvest being large and the labourers so few, our learned translator deserves as much support and encouragement our countrymen can afford.

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