Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracarya


Received opinion is a good place to start but don’t live there permanently. The clever people who inhabit philosophy are often complacent about their surroundings and tend to accept the wisdom of their elders. Their examined life is no more than a cursory glance to discover what the experts tell them is the case.

However there is often little in the way of conscious effort to substantiate the Brahmasutra’s (Sankara’s Commentary is meant here) own position by the use of logical arguments and philosophical problems are often circumvented by the use of parables and references to the infallibility of scripture. This is not surprising given that the Brahmasutra’s essentially theological approach, and foundational regard for the Vedas. As a means of persuading one’s philosophical opponents, however, it remains highly unsatisfactory.
(from Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism by Richard King.)

There is nothing more misleading than a half truth but to be mislead by a smaller proportion is due to careless prejudice. My copy of Brahma Sutra Bhasya has more post it notes than spines on a hedgehog and most of them indicate a rational argument or clarification. I have often written here about the Preamble which is a profound metaphysical intuition of the basis of superimposition. Vedic or eternal words is a another topic with Platonic overtones. Satkaryavada or the doctrine of the non-difference of cause and effect is a major rational exploration of the problem of causality. Being orthodox he will of course try to find vedic texts that support his view.

Another way that he develops the rational basis of his thought is by engagement with what he considers error. This is like drawing by tracing the negative space around an object thereby revealing it. His refutation of Vaisesika, Samkhya and Buddhist thought on various topics by implication reveals what his positive thought is. A discussion of the Atomic theory (B.S.B. II.ii.17 ) allows him to reveal his own views on substance and quality.

This is just a short note on a prejudice which will not survive any thoughtful acquaintance with the famous commentary but to be cynical for a moment good grades are not achieved by immersion in long and complex texts. That sort of reading has to be strictly rationed so you are better off taking your nourishment in pill form. Check my labels/topics for dietary supplements.

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