Advaita Darshana in the Vishnupurana

This article is part 6 of 17 in the series Puranas

1. viṣṇurbrahmasvarūpeṇa svayameva vyavasthitaḥ || (1.2.56)

2. sṛṣṭisthityanta karaṇīyaṃ brahmaviṣṇuśivātmikāṃ  || (1.2.66)

3. tvaṃ kartā sarvabhūtānāṃ tvaṃ pātā vināśakṛta |

 sargādiṣu prabho brahmaviṣṇurudrātmārūpadhruk || (1.4.15)

4. śaktayo yasya devasya  brahmaviṣṇuśivātmikāḥ |

bhavantyabhūtapurvasya tadviṣṇoḥ param padaṃ || (1.9.56)

5. prasīda sarva sarvātman kṣārakṣaramayeśvara |

brahmaviṣṇuśivākhyābhiḥ kalpanābhirudīritaḥ || (5.18.51)

6. sargasthitivināśānām kartā kartṛpatirbhavān |

brahmaviṣṇuśivākhyābhirātmamūrtibhirīśvaraḥ ||  (5. 30.10)

From the foregoing verses, it is clear that the Bhagavan is One but devotees create different sagua forms and worship him accordingly. As we mentioned earlier, Vishnu is glorified as the embodiment of the sattva-gua because he is regarded as being closest to the Formless Brahma. The sattva- gua is the causal element for this. The following verse confirms this:

sa paraḥ paraśaktīnāṃ brahmaṇaḥ samanantaram |
mūrtam brahma mahābhāga sarva brahmamayo hariḥ || (1.22.63) 

Of all the great powers of the Formless Brahma, Sri Hari, who is visible as the Manifested Embodiment is the most excellent, and occupies the immediate second place. Further, of these powers of this Unmanifested Brahma, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the most important:

brahma viṣṇu śivā brahman pradhānā brahmaśaktayaḥ || (1.22.58)    

Of these, the Vishnupurana regards Vishnu’s power as the best. In fact, Vishnu himself tells Sankara on occasion, “There is no difference between me and you. The entire world is merely a form of both of us. The dvaitis who are caught in the guiles of avidyā think we are both separate:

yo'haṃ satvaṃ jagaccedaṃ sadevāsuramānuṣaṃ |
matto nānyadaśeṣaṃ yat tattvaṃ jñātumihārhasi ||
avidyāmohitātmānaḥ puruṣā bhinnadarśinaḥ |
vadanti bhedaṃ paśyanti cāvarorantaraṃ hara || (5.33.48, 49)             

Origin of the World

The story of the process of the creation of this world narrated in the Vishnupurana largely resembles the one found in Kapila’s khya system. According to the khya School, prakti and purua are the two primordial elements of this world. The purua represents the jīvātma (soul). There is an infinite number of jīvātma-s. However, the primordial jīvātma is independent and is not created by any human. But according to the Vishnupurana, Vishnu is this independent primordial entity. From this primordial entity, prakti, the manifestation of avidyā becomes visible, and this prakti is responsible for the infinite forms of this world. However, this world, and the prakti which is responsible for it, is not separate from Vishnu. Jīvātma, who is also known as ketrajña (Conscious Principle in the corporeal frame) is simply another form of Vishnu, and is not a separate Principle. Indeed, it is superfluous to say that this axiom is the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.

The process of creation is described in great detail beginning with the second chapter of the first Amsa through the fifth chapter. Because readers would assume this process to be similar with that found in the khya School, it was necessary to provide the foregoing clarification. The process of creation and philosophical expositions described in the Vishnupurana like that found in the Srimad Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavata, is completely in tune with Vedanta. We can briefly examine the relevant verses. The following verse says that Vishnu is responsible for the creation, sustenance and destruction of the world.

viṣṇoḥ sakāśāduddhūtaṃ jagat tatraiva ca sthitam |
sthiti saṃyamakartāsau jagatosya jagacca saḥ || (1.1.31)

Next, the following verse says that jīvātma, the Manifest, the Unmanifest and Time are all forms of the Formless Brahma:

         parasya brahmaṇo rūpam puruṣaḥ prathamaṃ dvija |

vyaktāvyakte tathaivānye rūpe kālastathā param || (1.2.15)

avidyā manifested itself in the world at the beginning of creation precisely due to Vishnu. Because there is no world without avidyā, “avidyā pañca parvaiṣā prādhurbhūtā mahātmanaḥ || (1.5.5)”

We have already mentioned that the philosophical exposition in the Vishnupurana is nothing but Advaita. We can now see other proofs that further confirm the same. It has already been stated that the Formless Brahma is bereft of form, colour, name, and other attributes.

paraḥ parāṇāṃ paramaḥ paramātmātmasaṃsthitaḥ |
rūpavarṇādinirdeśaviśeṣaṇavivarjitaḥ || (1.2.20)            

It also describes Sri Krishna as the Formless Brahma and that he came to the earth as an avatara for uplifting the world: “yatrāvatīrṇam kṛṣṇākhyaṃ parabrahma nirākṛtiḥ || (4.12.4)”

Just like how space, time and other elements are responsible for the creation of trees by their mere existence, Sri Hari too, is responsible for this world without himself undergoing any change: “tathaivāpariṇāmena viśvasya bhagavān hariḥ || (2.7.27)” He becomes the primordial prakti and manifests himself as the world. This suggests vivartavāda (a method of asserting the Vedanta doctrine) in the Vishnupurana: “sa eva mūlaprakṛtiḥ vyaktarūpī jagacca saḥ.” In this connection, adherents of Advaita Vedanta who quote the Vedic phrase, “mṛttiketyeva satyaṃ“ will note that its meaning has been clearly enunciated in the “mahī ghaṭatvaṃ ghaṭitaḥ kapālikā” verse. Thus, apart from Pure Knowledge, all knowledge derived from the material world is merely transient. This is suggested by the succeeding verse: “tasmānna vijñānamṛtesti kiñcit, kvacit kadācit dvija vastujātam || (2.12.41, 42)”

In that case, the question arises as to how this world, characterised by dvaita, is visible to our eyes? The Vishnupurana says that Pure Knowledge or Brahma, has no physical form and that the physical world is seen as such by the ignorant (i.e., devoid of this knowledge) through the power of illusion. It further says that people lacking intellect confound transient knowledge with Pure Knowledge and continue to suffer (1.4.39, 40). Things like mountains are the outward forms discernible by science. When Karma melts away and Knowledge becomes untainted by error, worldly differences cease to exist (2.12-39, 40). However, people who continue to spot only differences are attached to avidyā (5.33.49). The world appears as full of contrasts due to the power of avidyā (13.17.38). However, the Formless and Pure Brahma which is One, is also known as Ishwara. The question “why” arises. The Vishnupurana answers that this name is given out of courtesy (1.9.46). The One Brahma is the creator, protector, observer, and destroyer all at once (1.2.70). He is himself the enjoyer, consumer, work, and the doer of work (2.9.50).

We observe clearer and emphatic declarations of these aspects in the stories of Prahlada, and ṛbhu-nidāgha. Narrating the real nature of Vishnu, Prahlada tells his father Hiranyakashyipu that Vishnu is the one by whom the universe has been created and who is Himself the universe:

yato yaśca svayaṃ viśvaṃ sa viṣṇuḥ parameśvaraḥ || (1.17.22)    

Elsewhere, he says that the Devas and humans are all forms of Vishnu and that they appear apparently different (1.19.47). When Hiranyakashyipu binds Prahlada with serpents, the latter says that he himself got it bound from the indivisible knowledge that he was Vishnu himself. At that moment, all his sins were washed away and his soul was cleansed. Thus, the serpents automatically fell away. This portion of the Vishnupurana is extremely memorable.

sarva gatvādanantasya sa evāhamavastithaḥ |
mattaḥ sarvamahaṃ sarvaṃ mayi sarvaṃ sanātane ||
ahamevākṣayo nityaḥ paramātmātmasaṃśrayaḥ |
brahmasañjñoshamevāgre tathānte ca paraḥ pumān || (1.19.85, 86)             

We can also consider the succeeding verse:

evaṃ sañcintayan viṣṇuṃ abhedenātmano dvija |
tanmayatvamavāpyāgryaṃ mene cātmānamacyutaṃ ||
visasmāra tathātmānaṃ nānyat kiñcidajānata | ahamevāvyayoSnantaḥ paramātmetyacintayat || (1.20.1, 2)        

Likewise, we notice this principle of non-difference in the story of ṛbhu-nidāgha. The term Advaita has been directly used in this episode in many places. In this story, Jadabharata clearly tells King Sauvira, “vijñānaṃ paramārthosau dvaitinotathyadarśinaḥ.” The atman which is One, appears differently due to reasons related to the gross body. When this covering of the body and other gross material melts away, difference no longer exists. Jadabharata then narrates the story that underscores the tenets of Advaita. Nidāgha is ṛbhu’s disciple. Even after the passage of a substantial period, Nidāgha does not develop the temperament required for Advaita. When ṛbhu observes this, he repeatedly visits the disciple’s house and gives several discourses expounding the Advaita philosophy. The following lines that occur in this story are noteworthy. Nidāgha says that apart from ṛbhu, nobody else had developed the Samskara required for Advaita.

         nānyasyādvaita saṃskārasaṃskṛtaṃ mānasaṃ tathā || 

Advaita is indeed the essence of Pure Knowledge:

         paramārtha sārabhūtaṃ tadadvaitamaśeṣataḥ  ||

Thus, according to ṛbhu’s discourse, Nidāgha eventually embarked on the path of Advaita and realized that all creatures in this world were not different from him.

nidaghospyupadeśena tenādvaita parosbhavat |
sarvabhūtānabhedena dadṛśe sa tadātmanaḥ ||              

After narrating this story, Jadabharata tells King Sauvira: “just as how the same sky appears as white and black to the deluded person with defective vision, in the same manner, the One Atman appears different to the ignorant person. Only the One exists. He is indestructible, He is me, He is you, He is indeed everything. Give up your attachment for difference:

sītanīlādibhedena yathaikaṃ dṛśyate nabhaḥ |
bhrāntidṛṣṭibhirātmāpi tathaikassana pṛthak pṛthak ||
eka samastaṃ yadihāsti kiñcit |
tadacyuto nāsti param tatosnyat ||
so'haṃ sa ca tvaṃ sa ca sarvametat |
ātmasvarūpaṃ, tyaja mohabhedam || (See also: Amsa 2: Chapters 15 and 16)

We can cite hundreds of lines that expound and extoll Advaita in the aforementioned manner. In spite of this, if misrepresentations are made by deliberately twisting the meanings of words, it only means that prejudices are compulsorily force-fitted into the original intent and we cannot claim that we have understood what the Vishnupurana has set out to say.

Pure Knowledge is One and indivisible. It is the Brahma without attributes, unchangeable and pure. By its innate power, it takes physical forms such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In this Trinity, Vishnu, the predominantly Sattvic form is the best. By the power of illusion vested in the Brahma, differences in life forms and the entire world is created. This is the essence of the spiritual tenets contained in the Vishnupurana.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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