Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ranade: Bhagavad Gita and Upanishadic references

I am reading Shri Gurudeo R.D. Ranade's classic "A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy" (more about the book here and here). Note that the book was written in 1926! The book is very good and scholarly (if someone like me can dare use such a qualification) and has deep philosophy explained in a clear way.

On pages 142-146, Shri Ranade makes connection between Bhagavad Gita and Katha Upanishad. To students of Vedanta, it is not a new fact that there exists heavy similarity between Katha Upanishad, but Shri Ranade being the scholar-philosopher he is, makes an exact correlation which is thorough. Further, he compares the passages in Bhagavad Gita with different Upanishads. This post is a summary of the references with some excerpts and notes. Firstly, Shri Ranade make the following note:

There is an amount of truth in the famous verse that "The Upanishads are like a cow, Krishna is like a milk man, Arjuna like the calf that is sent to the udders of the cow before milking, and the Bhagavad Gita like the milk-nectar that is churned from the udders of the cow."

Here are the comparisions that Shri Ranade makes between various Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita

  • Ka.Up 1.2.18 and BG 2.20 [Exact]
  • Ka.Up 1.2.19 and BG 2.19 [Exact]
  • Ka.Up 1.2.17 and BG 2.29 [Paraphrased and Adopted.]
  • Ka.Up 1.2.15 and BG 8.13 [Imperishability and significance of Om. Almost word for word]
  • Ch.Up 5.10.1-5 and BG 8.24 to 8.25 [Same concepts of Deyayana and Pithruyana. He notes that the former itself is from Vedas.]
  • Is.Up 2 and Karma Yoga of BG:
    The verse from Isavashya Upanishad (IS. 2) which tells us in a spirit of apparent contradiction that "a man should spend his life-time only in doing actions, for it is only thus that he may hope to be untainted by action" has supplied Bhagavad Gita with an idea so prolific of consequences that the Bhagavad Gita has deemed to fit to erect a whole philosophy of Karmayoga upon it.
    ...
    This passage supplies us with the means as well as the goal of moral life, without giving the connection between them. As we shall see later, the principal theme of Bhagavad Gita is teach a life of activity coupled with the effects of actionlessness through the intermediate linkage of un-attachment to and indifference to the fruits of action.

  • Mun. 2.1.4 and Cosmic vision of Arjuna in BG Chapter 11. He refers that Mundaka itself may have taken its concepts from Purusha Sukta.
  • Ka. Up. 1.3.10-11 has the hierarchy: senses < objects < mind < intellect < Mahat < Avyakta < Purusha, with nothing being beyond Purusha. The hierarchy in BG 3.42 is senses < mind < intellect < Purusha, which he feels is crisp.
  • Asvattha of Bhagavad Gita and Katha Upanishad: Shri Ranade sas this about the Asvattha tree example in the Ka. Up and BG.

    In one important respect, however, the Bhagavad Gita takes a position antagonistic to the position advanced in the Upanishads. In the Ka. Up 2.6.1, we are told that Asvattha tree is the Brahman itself, and that it is imperishable. On the other hand, the Bhagavad Gita in 15.1-4 (BG 15.1, BG 15.2 and BG 15.3-4) tells us the opposite. We shall not consider the contradictions that are introduced in this description, but we are concerned here only to find out how far this description from Bhagavad Gita agrees with the description of the Upanishad. It may be noted at once that there is an agreement between the Upanishad and the Bhagavad Gita so far as the Ashvattha tree is regarded as having its root upwards and its branches downwards. But, while the Upanishad teaches that the Ashvattha tree is real, and identical with the Brahman and therefore impossible to cut off, the Bhagavad Gita teaches that the Ashvattha tree must be regarded as unreal, and as unidentical with the existence, and therefore that it is necessary to cut off this tree of existence by the potent weapon of non-attachment.

    I am sure at a peripheral level, the difference are huge and bound to confuse the beginner. But I have a simple question: Is not the method of defining things using contradictions, exactly the method employed by Vedantic teachers? If we define Brahman as something, does it remain brahman anymore? If the anirvachaniya maya is tried to define as something, does it not escape that definition? Points to ponder (for me, that is!).

Krishna in Chandogya and Mahabharatha: Later, Shri Ranade analyses the references of Krishna, Son of Devaki and disciple of Ghora Angirasa in Chandogya (Ch. Up. 3.17.1-6) with Lord Krishna of Bhagavatha/Mahabharatha and says that they are different characters.

While no mention is made whatsoever of Ghora Angirasa who was the teacher of Krishna in Chandogya. Such a fact cannot be easily ingored in a work like Mahabharatha which is expected to give us everything about the divine warrior Krishna, and not not leave the name of the teacher unmentioned. If the Krishna of Chandogya is identified with the Krishna of Mahabharatha, for that matter why should not we identify the Harischandra of the Aitareya Brahmana who had a hundred wifes with the Harishchandra of mythology who had only one wife? Mere similarity of name proves nothing. It fills one with humour that new facile philosophy of identifications brahmana-wise should have been instituted in modern times by a host of critics of no small calibre when they would raise a huge structure of mythico-imaginary identifications by rolling together the god Vishnu of Vedic repute, Narayana the Cosmic God, Krishna the pupil of Ghora Angirasa, and Vasudeva the founder of a new religion, and thus try to prove that the sources of religion of Bhagavad Gita are found in the teaching of Ghora Angirasa! There would seem to be some meaning, however in the attempted identification of the Krishna of Chandogya with Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita when in verse 4 of the passage we are discussing [Ch. Up. 3.1-6], we are told that the gifts which such a sacrificier should make to priests are those of the following virtues: Tapas, Danam, Arjavam, Ahimsa and Satyavachanam. This list is closely similar to the list of virtues enumerated in BG16. 1-2 where the same virrtues are enumerated along with a number of other virtues, and almost the same order. But this fact proves nothing, because, as we have pointed out in the preceeding paragraphs, the Bhagavad Gita is a congeries of quotations, phrases and ideas borrowed from the Upanishads, and it is only by accident, as we may say, that the five virtues mentiones above should have been enumerated in the Upanishadic passage where Krishna, the son of Devaki is mentioned. There is a stoty about the Delphic Oracle that a number of trophies were hung round about the temple in praise of the god who had saved so many souls at different times from shipwreck in the midst of waters. A philosopher went to the temple and asked, Yea, but where are those that are drowned? Similarly we may say about the virtues in the Chandogya passage which are identical with the virtues in the passage from Bhagavad Gita. True, that the virtues enumerated in the Chandogya almost correspond to the virtues enumerated in the Bhagavad Gita: but, why, for the world, should not the essence of teachings of Ghora Angirasa have been incorporated, when the Upanishadic passage tells that at the last moments of a man's life, he should take the resort to these three thoughts: Thou art indestructible, Thou art Unchangeable, Thou art the very edge of life? Why should not the Bhagavad Gita have profited from these three expressions: Akshita, Achyuta and Pranasamsita? Why shoud it have left us merely with advise that a man should utter Om at the time of his death and meditate upon God? Finally we may say that the burden of proof of the identification of the two Krishnas falls upon those who make the assertion and so fas as their arguments have gone, we donot think that they have, in any way, proved identification at all.


He is a great scholar indeed, to point out such seeming inconsistencies with that great authority. My simple mind however, has a simple question: Doesn't Om answer the definition of Akshita, Achyuta and Pranasamsita (indestructible, unchangeable, very edge of life)? What is wrong in thinking that the concepts in Chandogya have been put more precisely in the Bhagavad Gita? If a student has already been imparted with the knowledge of the pranava, does she not immediately associate the notions of infiniteness in space and time and beyond causality, beyond life to it because all the finite characterizations are anyway meaningless when compared to it?

Note that this passage is in serious disagreement with Shri. S.Radhakrishnan's introduction to his translation of Bhagavad Gita. In particular, Shri. Radhakrishnan uses the same argument to validate the historical aspect of Krishna. That will be covered in a later post. For now, I take a deep bow at a scholar as great as Shri. Ranade.

2 comments:

V said...

The comment by Sri Ranade:
//Asvattha of Bhagavad Gita and Katha Upanishad: Shri Ranade sas this about the Asvattha tree example in the Ka. Up and BG.


In one important respect, however, the Bhagavad Gita takes a position antagonistic to the position advanced in the Upanishads. In the Ka. Up 2.6.1, we are told that Asvattha tree is the Brahman itself, and that it is imperishable. On the other hand, the Bhagavad Gita in 15.1-4 (BG 15.1, BG 15.2 and BG 15.3-4) tells us the opposite. We shall not consider the contradictions that are introduced in this description, but we are concerned here only to find out how far this description from Bhagavad Gita agrees with the description of the Upanishad. It may be noted at once that there is an agreement between the Upanishad and the Bhagavad Gita so far as the Ashvattha tree is regarded as having its root upwards and its branches downwards. But, while the Upanishad teaches that the Ashvattha tree is real, and identical with the Brahman and therefore impossible to cut off, the Bhagavad Gita teaches that the Ashvattha tree must be regarded as unreal, and as unidentical with the existence, and therefore that it is necessary to cut off this tree of existence by the potent weapon of non-attachment.//


A comment on the above observation of Sri Ranade:

When one reads the commentary of Sri Shankaracharya on the above Katha Up. mantra one would not see any contradiction. The only 'difference' one can perhaps see is this:
In the Bh. Gita shloka the Acharya writes: for Urdhva mUlam: it is the avyakta Brahman that is the source of the samsara tree. This means, maya is the source, root, of the samsara tree.

In the Up. mantra commentary the Acharya says: It is the Supreme Brahman that is the source of the samsara tree.

Apart from this difference, which does not pose any problem for the understanding of the Vedantic teaching, there is no other diff. as far as the Bhashya is concerned. The Acharya takes the first 'paada'/quarter of the Up. mantra to signify the samsara tree. And very clearly states for the second quarter of the mantra: Brahman which the samsara tree has for its Source, is Pure, Effulgent, etc.

Quite contrary to Sri Ranade's observation Sri Shankara never calls the samsara tree as identical with Brahman. He clearly 'adopts' the Gita idea of 'cutting the samsara tree with the sword of detachment' in the Katha bhashya and holds the samsara tree as maayic, ephemeral. And declares the worlds of the samsara tree as 'non existent' in the ultimate analysis.

Thus, the Katha mantra and the B.G shlokas do not pose any contradiction, when the Acharya's bhashya/s are read side by side.

Om Tat Sat

amar said...

praNAms Shri Subbuji,

Thanks for the pointer. I will carefully look at Shankara Bhashya of both of them again.

respects,