Hindu Scriptures

Canons of Interpretation of Upanishads

It is not very difficult to decide between guNaparipuurNa and nirguNa Brahman being accepted as the purport of the Upanishads. There are well-known canons of interpretations, priority and preference laid down for the purpose, which are accepted as valid by all schools. These are:

  1. upakrama, upasamhaara, etc. -- 6 determinatives of purport.

  2. Shruti, Linga, etc. -- 6 aids for fixing the meanings.

  3. saavakaasha and niravakaasha position of Shruti-s.

  4. upajiivya and upajiivaka position of pramaaNa-s, to accord preference.

However, the Niravakaashatva and Upajiivyatva criteria are not strictly followed in the Advaita tradition, leading to undue priority being accorded therein to Monistic-looking texts or passages, and the relegating of others to secondary positions. This has led to another criteria being evolved by the Advaita school, viz., tatvaavedaka and atatvaavedaka. These are defined as passages which expound the final truth or a tentative position, which is shown to be incorrect after due examination. Such a basis would have to be primarily arbitrary, as it seperates the innately valid Shruti-s into two groups depending on whether they appear to support Advaita or otherwise. There is nothing available in the Shruti-s themselves to determine this, and to decide on the classification on the basis of the purport of the Shrutis, which is yet to be determined is admittedly invalid. Another basis relied upon by Advaita, to relegate a group of Shruti-s to a secondary position is that they are anuvaadaka. Any Shruti text which appears to speak of something that can be known from some other valid means such as pratyaksha (direct cognition) is given this handicap and considered as inferior in value to one, which can be known only by Shruti pramANa. In fact, this is the exact opposite of even the modern concept of evidence, which considers corroboration as a factor which strengthens the evidentiary value, particularly when each source has independently concluded the same. In view of these adverse features, these criteria peculiar to Advaita are not accepted by other commentators.

Sri Madhva has shown in his compositions, especially in his Brahma Suutra Bhaashya, Anu-vyaakhyaana and other Suutra-prasthaana compositions that application of these principals de novo, without any bias, to the Upanishads yields only a guNaparipUrNa Brahman and not the attributeless nirguNa Brahman of Advaita.