Bhagavatpadabhyudaya by Lakshmana Suri (study)

by Lathika M. P. | 2018 | 67,386 words

This page relates ‘Canto VI—Meeting with Sureshvara’ of the study on the Bhagavatpadabhyudaya by Lakshmana Suri: a renowned Sanskrit Scholar from the 19th century. The Bhagavatpada-abhyudaya is a Mahakavya (epic poem) narrating the life of Shankara-Acharya, a prominent teacher of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. This essay investigates the socio-spiritual conditions of 8th century AD in ancient India as reflected in Lakshmanasuri’s work.

Canto VI—Meeting with Sureśvara

Śaṅkara left Prayāga for Māhiṣmati.[1] It was the residence of Maṇḍana. Śaṅkara descended to the earth, seeing the beauty and splendour of the place. He looked like a setting sun coming close to earth. He was physically exhausted but the gentle breeze lessened his miseries. After chanting “mantrās” in the morning he went to Maṇḍana’s place, before noon. He asked the water fetching maid servants for direction to find out Maṇḍana’s house. The women who were astonished at the imposing personality of Śaṅkara replied that the house could be identified by a number of parrots in the cages at the gate. The parrots would be repeating philosophic topics like Veda, Karma etc.[2] The philosophy of Maṇḍana Miśra was Pūrvamīmāṃsa. He spotted the house but the gate was closed. So he descended to the compound from the sky. The house was wonderfully beautiful and resembled the heavenly aboard of Indra himself. Entering a towering mansion he got into a hall where Maṇḍana was seated. He is famous for his learning and noble qualities, he looked like Brahma himself. That house seems like Brahma’s second house. Reaching Maṇḍana’s house Śaṅkara saw he was washing the feet of the great sages Vyāsa and Jaimini. He had brought thereby the power of his Tapas to grace the occasion of a Śrāddha ceremony he was performing that day. On seeing the two great sages, Śaṅkara greeted them, and they wished him in turn.

In Confrontation with Maṇḍana

Maṇḍana Miśra was the staunch follower of Vedic ritualism. He was terribly annoyed to note that the newcomer without Śikhā (tuft of hair) and Upavīta (sacred thread) was a Saṃnyāsin. “When have you come, you sheaven-headed fellow?” asked Maṇḍana discourteously, meaning of what way he come in, when the gates where closed. Taking the questions to mean, how far are you sheaven? Śaṅkara replied “up to the neck”. “That is not what I asked” said Maṇḍana, “I asked (about) your way?” To this Śaṅkara quipped, “Did you ask the way?” then what did the ‘way’ reply? Then Maṇḍana replied that Śaṅkara’s mother is a widow and he is a widow’s son. Unconcerned, Śaṅkara humourously remarked ‘indeed! Did the ‘way’ tell you that ‘you’ are a widow’s son? Then it must surely be so. It was you and not myself who questioned the ‘way’ and in the answer you received, the ‘you’ must surely refer to yourself. Further tried out Maṇḍana surprised and said “Have you drunk (pīṭam) toddy?” the meaning of the word ‘pitam’ means ‘drunk’ when used as verb and ‘yellow’ when used as an adjective Śaṅkara took the question to mean “is toddy yellow?” and gave a sudden answer to the impertinent question. “Oh no! Toddy is not yellow but white”. At this Maṇḍana remarked with a mischievous insinuation, “I see, you are, therefore well acquainted with its colour!” “and you with its taste!” promptly replied Śaṅkara. Again Maṇḍana said “You who indulge in such contempt talk must be under the intoxication produced by eating poisoned (rotten) flesh”. Interrupting the statement of Maṇḍana differently (for the statement “Matto Jātah Kalañjasi”. Its meaning, ‘the one born of me, that is, my son, is an eater of poisoned flesh)’. Śaṅkara said that “You are right. As the father saw the son. If your son eats poisoned flesh, he must have learned it only from you”. And then Maṇḍana, defeated on that front raised another abusive issue and asked “O vicious fellow! Is it that you have abandoned your Yajñopavīta and your tuft, because they are too much of burden to you? But having abandoned them, you seem to have burdened yourself with a bundle of rays too heavy even for assess. Śaṅkara replied that even your father would not bear this load of a saṃnyāsiṃs rays that I am carrying. Instead, he continued to bear like an ass the burden of a wife (householder’s life) till the end, inspite of getting kicks from her. For the life of the householder is characterised by Śikha and Yajñopavīta. This is the eyes of Sṛuti, a mere burden for a man full of the spirit of Renuncitation. O fool of a fellow, you who cannot grasp this, must be a man of little understanding. Hearing this Maṇḍana said again “The world very well knows what your much vaunted Brahma-Niṣṭa (devotion to knowledge Brahman) is it is lazing about with a bundle of books and a brood of disciples owing to one’s incapacity to feed one’s wife and look after her. Again Śaṅkara says that you say your Karma-Niṣṭa, that is adherence to the life of Vedic ritualism? That means to become a servant of woman after abandoning the service of the teacher owing to your in capacity to continue for long as of celibrate Brahmacharin. Then Maṇḍana continued: “O fool! You were born of a women. It was again a women that brought you up and still you are so ungreatful as to hate women”. Śaṅkara replied “Having been born of a women’s womb, and feet at her breast, still how can you, O prince among brutes, bring yourself to seek sensuous enjoyments in her company like an animal?” One who fails to tend the sacred fires (Gārhapatya, Āhavanīya, Dakṣina are regarded as sacred fires) committes the sin of Virahatya, said Maṇḍana, criticism the saṃnyāsiṃs practise of abandoning these sacred fires that a follower of the Vedas should maintain. Śaṅkara said “You who have failed to know the self have committed Ātmahatya (suicide) “You are a thief”-replied Maṇḍana, for you have come into any house stealthily like a thief, avoiding the noice of my gate-keeper”. At this Śaṅkara observed “You are a real thief for, you eat your food without giving to saṃnyāsiṃs and Brahmacāriṃs their share as laid down in the scriptures”. Now at his wit’s end, Maṇḍana attempted to beat retreat, saying “I should not be talking like this to a brutish fellow like you during the time I am engaged in ritualistic perfomances”. Refering to a mistake in articulation in Maṇḍana’s speech. Then Śaṅkara said “From your committing yatibhaṅga you are, indeed, giving an exhibition of your scholarship. The meaning of the word “yatibhaṅga” means, ‘attacking and defeating a yati or monk. Maṇḍana remarked, “When I am concerned with the defeat of a yati (yati bhanga) what harm is there if I commit a yatibhaṅga (inappropriate pose)”. To this Śaṅkara replied with another quibble: your presumption will be true, if you say “defeat by a yati” in place of “defeat of a yati”. For the formaries what is now happening “Continuing his abuse, Maṇḍana said: Where is saṃnyāsa in Kaliyuga, and where is Brahman for a brutish fellow like you? You have put on the garb of a saṃnyāsin only as a means to get food without any work”. Śaṅkara replied, “Where is Agnihotra in Kaliyuga? And how can heaven be attained through all the foul actions involved in ritualism? your garb of a ritualist is only a means to secure the license for living with women”.

Decision to hold Debate

Then Śaṅkara and Maṇḍana continued the war of words and wits (knowledge). Maṇḍana was proud but Śaṅkara was calm. At this time Jaimini and Vyāsa interfered. Vyāsa blamed Mandana on his improper behaviour towards a great saṃnyāsin like Śaṅkara. He advised Maṇḍana that he had to see him as Mahāviṣṇu and invite him for Bhikṣā. Maṇḍana however accepted and invited Śaṅkara for Bhikṣā. Śaṅkara replied that he came there for ‘Vādabhikṣā’ and not for ‘Edible Bhikṣā’. The defeated should be the disciple of the victor. His purpose was to spread Vedanta every where. It was the true gospel to follow for gaining salvation. He declared that Vedanta was the only medicine for man’s ills in saṃsāra. His mission in life was to establish the truth of Vedanta. According to Śaṅkara “Brahman is the Existence-consciousness, bliss, absolute is the one ultimate truth. It is He who appears as the entire world of multiplicity. That is owing to dense ignorance, just as a shell appears as a piece of silver. That is like when the illusion is dispelled the silver is sublated by, and dissolved into, its substractum, the shell, so also, when ignorance is erased the whole world is sublated and dissolved into its substractum, Brahman which is same as one’s own Ātman. That is the supreme knowledge as also Mokṣa or liberation and it brings about the cessation of future births. The Upaniṣads are formed the crown of the Vedas. They are the authorizing in support of this proposition. I am sure to prove this and be victorious in the debate. If, I am defeated, I shall cease to be a saṃnyāsin, abandon my ochre robe, and assume the white dress let Ubhaya-bharati be the umpire to determine success or failure.

After Śaṅkara had finished making his declaration Maṇḍana emphasized the teachings of his faith. He added that “the Vedanta or the Upaniṣads cannot be the proof of a subject objectless pure consciousness unoriginated and infinite. For, words can reveal only objects which are originated and it is, but never a pure subject objectless consciousness which does not form an effect. Therefore the non-Vedantic part of the Veda, dealing with such effects produced by works is the real Śabda Pramāṇa (verbal testimony). In the light of actions alone constitute the steps leading to Mokṣa and embodied beings have to perform action or karma till the end of their lives. If I happen to be defeated in arguments, I shall take to the life of a Saṃnyāsa.

As requested by you, let my wife Ubhayabhārati, who is learned enough for this subject, be the judge in this context”. Mean while Ubhayabhārati became an umpire in the context. They started the debate with their hearts firmly set on victory. She put two wreaths on the necks of both the contestants and said that, that person is to be considered defeated whose wreath is seen to fade. Having so arranged, she went to the inner apartments of the house for completing her household duties as also to cook the Bhikṣa (or food offering) for the sannyasin and meals for the masters of the house. In the time of the debate there was the presence of Brahma and Devas who were eager to attend it. Quoting authority after authority from the Veda and supporting the same with weighty arguments they conducted the debate in a highly dignified manner. As days passed the debate became kneer and kneer and larger and larger number of scholars swelled the audience. Both of them were interested in victory. Five or six days passed in this way in debate, Ubhayabhārati appearing every day at noon to inform Maṇḍana that food was ready and to invite the saṃnyāsin for his Bhikṣa. A sweet smile played on their shining faces all through the debate. But Maṇḍana launched on an elaborate criticism of the Advaita doctrine expounded by the Upaniṣads.

The Identity of Ātman and Brahman

Both Maṇḍana and Śaṅkara accept as the revelation standing for the ultimate good of man. Maṇḍana’s Pūrvamīmāṃsa holds that the only purpose of the Veda is to prompt man to actions (rituals of Vedic sanction) by the performance of which man attains heavenly felicity of long duration. At the end of which he returns to the earth again to acquire more merits by performing karmās. The real Veda is one of the nature of commandments to action of a ritualistic nature. In Veda there are purely descriptive passages in it. There are purely description of certain aids to karma like its ingredients, agents required etc. There are so many passages which are by way of eulogy of the rituals or their agents. None of these have any independent status and are to be understood only in subordination to the commandments instituting rituals. In this way the whole of Veda is of the nature of commandments for the performance of rituals, and if this is not accepted, Veda becomes a mere trash, a purposeless literature.

Verdict of Ubhayabhārati: Defeat of Maṇḍana Announced

Ubhayabhārati accepted the arguments of Śaṅkara had overcome the contentions of Maṇḍana, thereby subjecting him to the humility of defeat. That is like a shower of sweet smelling flowers came her words giving a verdict, its effect was a directive to her husband to adopt the life of Saṃnyāsa abandoning home and herself. She gave her verdict, in favour of the distinguished Saṃnyāsin, the flower wreath which she had put at the start round Maṇḍana’s neck was found to fade.[3] Unlike the ordinary days, Ubayabhārati invited them both for their Bhikṣā in the noon, for, from now onwards Maṇḍana was no longer a householder but a sannyasin, according to the vager, agreed up in the beginning. At the same time addressing Śaṅkara, she said “it was due to the curse of angry Durvāsa that I, Goddess Sarasvatī, was born on earth. With your victory the effect of that curse is over. Let me now go back to my heavenly residence”. When she was making haste to depart, Śaṅkara stopped her with the power of “Vanadurga mantra”, inorder that he might defeat her also in argument. Śaṅkara said to Ubhayabharati that she is the wife of Brahman and the sister of God Śiva and she is the forms of various goddesses like Lakṣmī. And then he added that “O mother, different forms for the protection of the worlds. Only when I, your great devotee, permit you, should you go to your heavenly abode”. The Devi accepted his request. Śaṅkara then wanted to know what Maṇḍana thought about the future.

Seventeen days this protracted debate continued day and night. Ubhayabhārati found that the Saṃnyāsin was invisible in Vedic lore, philosophies and other Śāstrās. Then a new idea struck her. She thought that this great Saṃnyāsin took to ascetic life from his very boyhood. And he was seen observing the vow of contineunce throughout life. He had no occassion to live with women and master the science of love between the sexes. I shall now take advantage of his ignorance in this respect and try to gain victory over him. After she challenged Śaṅkara discuss with the science and the art of love between he sexes. Enumerate its forms and expressions and she added that “what is its nature and what are its centers? How does it vary in the sexes during the bright and dark fortnights? What are its manifestations in man and woman? Hearing these types of questions Śaṅkara sat silent for a while, revolving the various issues in his mind. He was in the state of dilemma. If Śaṅkara did not wake up the challenge, his claim to be the master of all learning would be compromised. If he directly enter into a discussion on the subject, it would be against the Dharma of a sannyasin as he is not expected to concern himself with the love of the sexes. Though he had some theoretical knowledge of this topic also, he professed ignorance inorder to observe this saṃnyāsiṃs code of conduct and he said please give me a months time. It is a practise among controversialists to ask for notice. After an interval of a month, he will meet Ubhayabhārati again, and then she will give up her pride of proficiency in the science of sex love too.

Footnotes and references:


Vide Lakṣmaṇa Sūrin, Bhaghavatpādābhyudaya, p.75, The summary of the Section is based on chapter VI.




Ibid., p.81

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