THE INCLUSIVE PHILOSOPHY OF UBHAYA VEDANTA – PART 1

INTRODUCTION

Sri Vaishnavas who are inheritors of the Tamil tradition of the Alwars call themselves Ubhaya Vedantacharyas. The popular conception of Ubhaya Vedanta is of two Vedantas or philosophies, one enunciated in the Vedas and the other elucidated in the Divya Prabandham. Veda is called ‘ Marai ‘, which translates as ‘ scripture with hidden meaning’. Divya Prabandham is called Tamil Marai. Intrinsic truths hidden in the Sanskrit Marai are better understood by a study of the Tamil Marai. As Vedanta Desika puts it ‘ Seyya Tamil malaigal nam theliya odi, theliyada marai nilangal theliginrom ‘.He called Nammalwar’s Tiruvoimozhi as Dramidopanishad ie. Upanishad rendered in the Dravidian language of Tamil.

The Alwars faithfully followed the original Vedas when dwelling on the fundamentals of Visishtadwaita like Tatwatrayam, Arthapanchakam, Sariri-Sarira Bhava and even Archiradi Marga. The penultimate decad of Nammalwar’s Tiruvoimozhi reveals how the ascent of man to paradise can be as thrilling as the descent of God to Earth. Then where is the Ubhaya in this Vedanta, if the only duality lies in the fact that one is in Sanskrit and the other in Tamil?

Valmiki’s Ramayana is in Sanskrit and Kamban’s is in Tamil. Are they just the same epic in two different languages or is there some thing more to it ?. As we know, Kamba Ramayanam has some subtle and some not so subtle variations from the original and even some pleasant improvements over Valmiki’s work according to many scholars. Do these make it a different Ramayana? The Alwars, while adhering to the main purport of the Upanishads, also dwelt on Archavatara and propounded Bhakti towards the Archamurti as a means to salvation. Does this make the Vedanta of the Divya Prabandham different from that of the Vedas?

UBHAYA VEDANTA

Ubhaya Vedanta does not mean a pair of antagonistic or contrary Vedantas. Rather it is a synthesis of two parallel and complementary philosophies or sidhantas as between the Vedas and the Agamas, the Upanishads and the Divya Prabandham, Tatwatrayam and Arthapanchakam, Bhakti and Prapatti, Retributive justice and Redemptive grace. We find in Ubhaya Vedanta a delicious reconciliation between belief in the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, genderless Brahman of the Upanishads on the one hand and worship of the benign beautiful polygamous personal God in the form of idols cast in metal or stone and consecrated by mantras and tantras as stipulated in the Agamas on the other.

INCLUSIVENESS IN UBHAYA VEDANTA

The hallmark of Ubhaya Vedanta is its inclusivity in contrast with the insularity of the Vedic tradition. While earlier there was an interdict forbidding non-Dwijas to practice Bhakti Yoga, Ubhaya Vedanta opened the high road for entire humanity to attain Moksha through Prapatti,also called Saranagati and Bharanyasa. It also permits and in fact stipulates regular recital of the Alwar’s hymns in the Dravidian language of Tamil along with Vedic mantras in the Deva Bhasha of Sanskrit during daily ritual worship in temples and in domestic puja rooms. This has been enabled by adherence to an eclectic combination of Vedic canons and Agamic injunctions and the path of devotion demonstrated by the Alwars.

VEDA

The word Veda is derived from the verb vid=to know. Veda helps us to know what we cannot perceive through our senses or infer through knowledge based on earlier perception. It is believed that the Vedas were first taught to Brahma by the Lord himself. It is also believed that they were later revealed to different Rishis who are therefore considered as authors of the respective Vedic mantras.

Karma Kanda and Gnana Kanda are the names given to the two distinct halves of each of the Vedas. The former deals with the entire. gamut of human activities directed towards the fulfilment of the first three Purusharthas or objects of human aspirations viz.Dharma Artha and Kama. The latter half deals with the ultimate Purushartha of Moksha i.e. release from the cycle of births and deaths.

The Karma Kanda consists of two parts, the first being a compilation of hymns to be chanted during Yagnas and also in domestic rituals performed with or without a fire altar. This forms the Samhita ( compilation ) part of the Vedas. The second part called Bramhana details procedures for performing rituals mentioned in the Samhita, annotates many of the Samhita mantras and describes the environment in which many of the mantras came to be composed.

VEDANTA

Vedanta means the end portion of Veda i.e. the second part,the Gnana Kanda comprising the Aranyakas ,and the Upanishads. These deal with philosophical questions like the origin of the universe, the three realities of Ishwara, Chetanas and Achetanam (God,Sentient beings and non-sentient matter ),their inter-relationship, eternal bliss as the goal of man and the means of attaining it. Vedanta in popular parlance means Sidhanta (philosophy) as enunciated in the Upanishads. Conclusions stated in the Upanishads are of universally acceptable content. This fact induced the Sri Lankan scholar Ananda Coomarasamy to declare that ‘an interpretation of the Vedas is not really an interpretation of Indian metaphysics but of metaphysics itself. While God is called father in the Semitic religions, the Upanishads refer to the Cosmic Soul in the neuter gender and calls it Brahman which means that which is big. The bigness is in respect of both form and attributes (Swarupa and Gunas).

COMPETENCE TO LEARN VEDA

Duties specified for male members of the first three Varnas i.e. Brahmanas, Kshatrias and Vaisyas included learning and reciting the Vedas. But teaching of the Vedas was to be done by members of the first Varna. Persons belonging to the first three Varnas gain competence to learn the Vedas after an initiation ceremony called Upanayanam which is a sort of second birth for them. They are therefore called Dwijas (twice born). Men of the fourth Varna and females in all four Varnas do not undergo Upanayanam.

Dayananda Saraswati, founder of the Arya Samaj was against such societal exclusions. According to him, if the absence of the Yagnopaveetam (sacred thread) was a disqualification it could be overcome by Upanayanam for such people also. Thus all Arya Samajists irrespective of caste or gender join in Homas,chanting the relevant Vedic mantras.

BRAHMAN

The supreme being is called Brahman and is both the material cause and intelligent cause of the universe. It is a qualified whole, of which it forms the soul and the sentient souls and non-sentient matter form it’s body,having an inherently inseparable relationship with the whole. All these three entities are eternal,having neither beginning nor end. Non-sentient matter is subject to mutation but not to destruction. The sentients are endowed with boundless Gnana. But the knowledge remains constricted as long as the sentient soul dwells in a mortal body formed of the five tangible elements of Earth,Water, Fire,Wind and Ether (Pancha Bhoothas), and is affected by the concomitant effect of Rajas and Tamas. When released from the cycle of births and death the sentient soul regains limitless Gnana. Brahman however does not suffer any such limitation. It is always omniscient,omnipresent and omnipotent.

Before creation,in the causal state of the Brahman, the entire universe of sentient souls and non-sentient matter was contained within Brahman. All these were in their subtle state and were therefore as good as non-existent. After creation, in the effected state of the Brahman, all these are manifest in their gross forms as humans, flora, fauna and inert matter in different forms and states.

VEDIC WORSHIP

Worship prescribed in the Vedas was of two kinds, (1) Homa Puja – making offerings in the fire altar, and (2) Manasa Puja-meditation/penance/tapas. Homa Puja was of two kinds,(1) Yagnas (sacrifices) performed to propitiate particular gods for material gains, wealth, happiness, progeny etc. and (2) the daily ritual of Agnihotram or Aupasanam involving offerings in the domestic fire altar which constitutes Deva Yagna, one of the Pancha Maha Yagnas prescribed for a Grihastha (house holder). Manasa Puja can also be termed Bhakti Yoga which is a constant joyous awareness of and contemplation on the nature and qualities of the Supreme Being and His relationship with the individual soul. Idol worship in the form of Puja of Archa murtis in temples and household Puja rooms was non-existent.

BRAHMA VIDYAS

Every human being has an instinctive yearning for eternal bliss. It is attainable only after release from the cycle of births and deaths. The Sanskrit name for such release is Moksha. With Moksha one realises the Brahman. The means (Upaya) to attain Brahman is called Brahma Vidya. Thirty two Brahma Vidyas in the form of Upasanas (meditation/ penance) are detailed in the Upanishads. These are different forms of Bhakti Yoga.

Vedanta being a part (the concluding part) of Veda, eligibility to practice Upasanas prescribed in Vedanta (the Upanishads) is conditional on competence to learn and recite the Vedas. These Upayas are thus available to male members of the. first three Varnas only. And male members of the fourth Varna and females of all Varnas cannot recite the Vedas or perform Homa Puja or practice Brahma Vidya (Bhakti Yoga). A couple of women do find mention in the spiritual discourses narrated in the Upanishads. These are Yagnyavalkya’s wife, Maitreyi and one Gargi who was perhaps the daughter of a Rishi named Garga”. These seem to be the only exceptions. And exceptions prove the rule.

Some liberalisation has been accepted in the Mahabharata, which Asthikas consider as the fifth Veda. The Shanti Parva of this epic describes Puja that can be performed by members of all four Varnas as per the procedure detailed in the Satvata Samhita, after duly undergoing the stipulated Diksha (initiation ritual). Here are the relevant lines.
◦ “Brahmanaiskshatriyairvaisyai: sudraischa kritalakshanai:
◦ Archaneeyascha sevyascha nityakrityai: swakarmasu
◦ Satwatam vidhimasthaya geetasSankarshanena ya:
◦ It was also stipulated that such persons were otherwise required to adhere to duties in accordance with their respective Varna-Ashrama Dharma. This sanction has been interpreted as relating to worship at domestic altars i.e.house hold pujas only
◦ The relaxation mentioned above was the result of the introduction of Agamic worship involving use of Agamic tantras along with Vedic mantras. In fact the living Hindu religion of today is part Agamic and part Vedic. Veda is called Nigama. Agama signifies that which has come to us, what we have inherited. In a way we can define Ubhaya Vedanta as a confluence of Nigama and Agama.

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