Book review – “A collection from Shankara’s commentaries on the Prasthaana-traya”

Sri Gurubhyo Namaha

I had the opportunity to review this new book from Ramakrishna Math for the magazine “Tattvaloka”. An edited version of this appeared in the August 2017 issue of Tattvaloka.

  • Prasad.
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“A collection from Shankara’s commentaries on the Prasthaana-traya”, published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata (first published in November 2016) is a compilation by Swami Kritarthananda of about three thousand important quotations from the Prasthaanatraya (Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Brahma-sutras) commentaries of Shankaracharya. Along with the original Sanskrit, the transliterated form in English is made available, followed by the English translations of the quotations. The translations are from the works of Swami Gambhirananda and Swami Madhavananda of the Ramakrishna order.

The Advaita siddhaanta reveals that the knowledge of Brahman results in freedom from suffering and transmigratory existence (samsaara). The selected quotations in the book have been wonderfully chosen to bring out the Siddhaanta as expounded by Shankaracharya in a precise manner. For instance, the following quote from the Brahmasutra Bhaashya brings out the unique glory of Advaita revealing that Brahman is nothing but the real nature of oneself.

नि:श्रेयसफलं तु ब्रह्मविज्ञानं  न  च अनुष्ठानान्तरापेक्षं (Quote number 20, B.S. 1.1.1)
(The knowledge of Brahman has emancipation as its result, and does not depend on any other action)
स्वभावतः विषयविषयाणि  इन्द्रियाणि न ब्रह्मविषयाणि (37, B.S. 1.1.2)
(The senses naturally comprehend objects, and not Brahman)
वाक्यार्थविचाराणाध्यवसाननिर्वृत्ता  हि ब्रह्मावगतिः , न अनुमानादिप्रमाणानान्तरनिर्वृत्ता (31, B.S. 1.1.2)
(Brahman is known through enquiry into the meaning of the Upanishadic words, not from other means of knowledge like inference, etc)
न हि शास्त्रं इदन्तया विषयभूतं ब्रह्म प्रतिपिपादयिषति | प्रत्यगात्मत्वेन अविषयतया प्रतिपादयत् अविद्याकल्पितं वेद्य-वेदितृ -वेदनादि-भेदम् अपनयति  (53, B.S. 1.1.4)
The scriptures do not seek to establish Brahman as an entity referable objectively by the word, “this”. Instead, by removing the fancied notions due to Ignorance(avidya) such as the distinction between the “known”, the “knower” and “knowledge”,  they establish Brahman as the true Self which cannot ever be objectified. 
अविद्याकल्पितसंसारित्वनिवर्तनेन  नित्यमुक्तात्मस्वरूप-समर्पणात्  न मोक्षस्य अनित्यत्वदोषः (54, B.S. 1.1.4)
By the elimination of the notion of bondage (arising due to Ignorance), the true, eternally-free (nityamukta), nature of the Self is revealed. Thus the fault of temporality does not arise in Moksha. 

Vedanta vichaara is to be undertaken in three successive steps, Shravana (recognising the import of the Upanishads from a Guru), Manana (the intellectual exercise to quell doubts and have a firm understanding of the Brahma-tattva as revealed by the Upanishads), and Nididhyaasana (contemplation on the revealed Brahma-tattva in order to establish oneself in Brahman). This compilation could be positioned as a Manana text. The mumukshu (seeker of liberation) who has listened with faith to the Guru is taken to the magnificent world of Shankaracharya’s bhaashyas in a trice upon reading the carefully chosen quotations in this book.

Accompanying the text, the author has also created two indices, one in Devanaagari (with transliterated form in English) and the other in English, which facilitate the search for particular words or phrases in the text portion. In the present form, the index lists the mantra (or the sutra) numbers of the quoted phrases; it could be improved further by giving the page numbers that would enable the reader to locate the phrase precisely in the book.

In all, this work is an excellent addition to the literature that facilitates the seeker to cogitate upon and strengthen his understanding of the Vedantic teaching. The profundity of the Bhaashyas and Shankaracharya’s one-pointed intention of removing the ignorance of the Atman through his works is brought out evidently in this collection. The book serves as a ready and powerful aid to earnest seekers and Vedanta scholars in navigating the landscape of the Bhaashyas of Shankaracharya and deserves wide readership.

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