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Acharya's Call Part-II
H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses
64 Japanese Professor’s Interview
His Holiness Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam granted an audience to Professor Hajime Nakamura, Professor of Indian philosophy, Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo, on Friday night, January 22, 1960, at His Holiness’ Camp at Numbai. He was accompanied by Prof. Miyamoto, Professor of French, of the same University.
The interview took place in a cottage detached from the main camp, where the visitors were taken by Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan, Mr. T. Balakrishnan Nair, Principal of the Presidency College and Prof. S. Ramaswami. When His Holiness came to the place after the pooja at about 10.30 p.m., the visitors stood up in reverence and paid their respects in the traditional Indian form of prostration.
His Holiness directed all of them to be seated. Prof. Ramaswami and Mr. T. Balakrishnan Nair introduced the visitors. Professor Nakamura, His Holiness was informed, has translated into Japanese many books on Indian Philosophy, including Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada’s Bhashya on Brahma Sutras. He has also written about pre-Sankara Vedanta. Prof. Miyomoto has translated into Japanese from French, the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda.
Professor Nakamura opened his conversation with His Holiness in Sanskrit. He said that he felt blessed (dhanyosmi), on being able to meet and talk with His Holiness.
Prof. Nakamura informed the Jagadguru that he was acquainted with the works of the famous (prasiddha) Gaudapada, and with works like Mandukya Karika, Vakya Padeeya, etc.
When His Holiness pointed out that there were several such works, Prof. Nakamura mentioned the names of Bodhayana, Dravidacharya, Mandana and others.
The Acharya enquired what materials pertaining to pre-Sankara Vedanta he had collected. The Professor said that he was able to come across fragments of manuscripts in Chinese and Tibetan pertaining to early Vedanta philosophy. He had collected all the materials available and arranged them in chronological order in four volumes. He believed that these four volumes would give a complete history of pre-Sankara philosophy.
The Professor told His Holiness that there were many Japanese scholars studying Sanskrit and Sankara’s philosophy. He had translated the whole of the Sankara Bhashya to the Brahma Sutras. The difficulty was to get the books published. For a foreigner like him, some of the later works, for example, Khandana Khadya, were difficult (khadinam) to understand.
The Japanese Professor then asked His Holiness whether he would be permitted to put one or two questions. On receiving permission, he said that he was anxious to know what exactly is the meaning of Upasana, a term he came across in Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada’s works. Was it any special practice, and was it practiced in the Mutt?
Dhyaanameva Upaasana, His Holiness replied in Sanskrit. Upaasana is dhyaana or concentration or meditation. A form is required for concentration. For example, you can meditate on a God with two hands or on a God with eight hands. Reality is always the same and changeless. God, as the Ultimate Reality, is Formless. But Upaasana of a form is done with a purpose, namely, the attainment of a given benefit. The purpose to be attained by worshipping or concentrating on a form with two hands is not the same as that to be attained by worshipping a form with eight hands. The scriptures tell you how to meditate and on what all forms and with what results. For Upaasana, you have to follow the Sastras or scriptures. The different Upaasanas are all aids in the path to the ultimate goal, namely, understanding Reality. Scriptures prescribe Upaasana in order to train the mind to concentrate.
The Professor asked whether the Mutt observed Upaasana and what they were.
His Holiness said that in the scriptures we meet with varieties of Upaasana. It is not necessary or possible to follow all of them. Usually one or two methods of Upaasana are chosen and followed and worship offered at a fixed time. Upaasana is the affair of the individual; there is nothing collective about it. The Upaasana followed depends on the family tradition of the individual or the initiation given to him, by a Guru.
“What work will Swamiji recommend to foreigners to understand Advaita Vedanta”, the Professor asked.
His Holiness: You can study Viveka Chudamani.
The Professor said that he found it to be an easy work and that it had impressed him.
His Holiness said that Viveka Chudamani is the best introductory work. The next step is to study Aparokshaanubhuli. If you study these two, you will get a general idea of Advaita Vedanta.
The Japanese philosopher said that he had studied some of the works of Madhavacharya or Vidyaranaya, including Panchadasi.
His Holiness then asked Dr. Mahadevan to inform the visitor that he had been desirous of meeting scholars from Japan and that he was glad to have met and spoken to Prof. Nakamura.
Prof. Nakamura expressed his supreme joy in having met and talked to the Jagadguru.
The conversation then turned on some of the books studied in India to understand Advaita Vedanta. The Professor felt that Sri Sureshwaracharya’s Varthika was voluminous and His Holiness said that it was generally utilized as a reference book when studying Brhadaranyaka Upanishad and its Sankara Bhashya. After the advent of Vedanta Paribhasha of Dharma Raja, about two centuries ago, Vedanta Sara of Sadaananda, which was used as a primary text of Vedanta in earlier years, came to be used as a book of reference.
The Stotra works of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada were next referred to y the Professor. He said that he had gone through some of them. Asked whether he had studied Bhaja Govindam, the Professor replied in the negative.
His Holiness told the Professor that of all the Stotra works of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, Bhaja Govindam was the most popular. It was studied by all people, whether they belonged to the Saivaite school of philosophy or the Vaishnavite school. When the name of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada is mentioned, its is Bhaja Govindam that will come to the mind of any Indian. There is a combination of ethics and morals with religion in that composition.
Professor: I have read Sri Sankara’s Bhashyas of the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Nowhere in them is any reference to Siva. They deal all about Vishnu. But all the followers of Sri Sankara are Saivites. This is a puzzle to me.
His Holiness: How do you know that all the followers of Sri Sankara are Saivites?
Professor: Because all of them worship Siva and wear marks with Bhasma (ashes).
His Holiness: This is an interesting question and to give a satisfactory reply, I will have to go into some historical facts. Before the advent of Sri Sankara, there were mainly two religions in India, Bharata Desa namely, Sanatana Dharma or Smartha, and Bauddha. This was the case not only of India, but of greater India also; i.e., countries of South-east Asia, like Siam and Cambodia. Before the advent of Buddhism, there was in existence the Sanatana Dharma. From the finding of images of Ganapathi, Saraswati and Indra in Japan, there is reason to infer that Sanatana Dharma was in vogue in Japan also.
At this stage, the Japanese Professor interrupted and said that Shintoism was the pre-Buddhist religion of Japan and that Shintoism was Brahminism.
His Holiness: When Buddhism came to be established in India, it spread to Greater India, including China and Japan. Then in India, Kumarila Bhatta, the great Mimamsa scholar, wrote his Vartikas, upholding the authority of the Vedas – Veda pramana. Udayanacharya, the great logician of Bihar, counteracted the spreading atheisitic tendency of Buddhism by asserting the existence of God through his argumentative treatise. Sri Sankara synthesized the Veda pramana and the knowledge of Isvara by his Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Sarvam Brahma – God is in everything and everything is in God, in other words, everything is God, and ultimately established the identity of Jivatma and Paramatma. Thereafter, Buddhism declined in India. Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada is credited with having attacked Buddhism and driven it out of India. But if we examine the Sankara Bhashyas, we will find that there are comparatively very short criticisms of Buddhism in them. His attacks were mainly directed against Meemamsa and Saankhya. On the other hand, the real intellectual crusade against Buddhism was carried on by Kumarila Bhatta and Udayanacharya. That bore fruit with the spread of Advaita, with its emphasis on Jnana or God-realization.
So far as Upaasana is concerned, people continued the worship of Siva, Vishnu or Sakti, according to their family traditions. Sri Bhagavatpada tendered the hereditary Vedic form of worship to his adherents. According to his Advaita philosophy, there is only one Paramatma, and Siva, Vishnu, and Sakti are all one. There were Vaishnavites who would not even enter a Siva temple – teevra vaishnavas – but who were yet followers of Advaita philosophy. They will not touch bhasma (sacred ashes) and will put on their forehead and body only the vertical marks, proclaiming their devotion to Vishnu. There wer also followers of Advaita philosophy who worshipped Siva and smeared their bodies with bhasma. Thus there were among the followers of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, Vaishnavites and Saivites. But the numbers amongst the former are very few now. The reason for the impression that all Advaitins are Saivites is this. After Sri Sankara, came the Vaishnavite Acharyas, Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhwa, Sri Vallabhacharya and Sri Chaitanya. Vaishnavites, who were so long Advaitins, became the followers of one or the other school of Vaishnava philosophy. Those who continued to remain followers of Sri Sankara were then mostly worshippers of Siva. Ther are still a few Vaishnava Advaitins, who will pay respects to me as Sankaracharya, but who will not enter a Siva temple. They are more anti-Saivite than the Vaishnavas who are nor followers of the Advaita philosophy. The result is that the Advaitins today are predominantly worshippers of Siva.
Now, take the case of this Mutt itself. When ever a Srimukha is issued, it concludes with the Acharya’s mark, “Narayana Smriti” – Narayana or Vishnu is invoked though I perform pooja to Siva and smear my body with bhasma. Whenever any person prostrates before me, I respond by uttering “Narayana, Narayana”.
Recalling the mention about Bodhayana by the Professor, His Holiness enquired of him whether he had come across manuscripts attributable to Bodhayana.
The Professor said that he had with him a few Varthikas, whose authorship could be trace to Upavarsha, who is being identified as Bodhayana.
The Professor also informed His Holiness that he had looked into some works of Brahmanandi of Atreya and of Dravidacharya. He desired to know why Vaishnavite works used the term Dramidacharya, whereas Advaita works referred to him as Dravidacharya.
His Holiness said that in this country, Dravida and Dramida are synonyms, though people in North India use the letter “m” in the place of “v”.
The Professor asked whether it will be correct on his part to assume that Advaita has been responsible for the spirit of religious toleration in India.
The Acharya agreed it was so. He also agreed with the Professor’s inference that the majority of the Pandits in India are students of Advaita Vedanta.
His Holiness next asked for information as to how Sanskrit came to be studied in Japan.
The Professor said that with the advent of Buddhism, the need for learning Sanskrit was realized by students of Buddhism. That is how interest in Sanskrit was created. In recent times, some 70 or 80 years ago, a few enthusiastic students went to Oxford, studied Sanskrit under Max Muller and other Orientalists, came back and popularized it in Japan. A few others studied Sanskrit in Germany. In all Buddhist denominational universities in Japan, the students are required to know the rudiments of Sanskrit.
His Holiness: How many people are there in Japan who can read and understand a simple Sanskrit work like the Ramayana?
Professor: They may be about 200 persons there. They are to be found mostly in Tokyo and Kyoto.
In reply to another question, the Japanese Professor said that there are about 200 universities in Japan. We call a college a university, as each college is autonomous, prescribes its own course of studies, conducts its examinations, and awards degrees.
His Holiness: Does the order of the alphabets in the Japanese language follow the Sanskrit pattern or the Chinese pattern?
Professor: The alphabets follow the same order as in Sanskrit. The vowels come first and then the consonants. Each character is a combination of one consonant and a vowel. We use many Chinese characters also in the same way as you have adopted Sanskrit in Tamil.
His Holiness remarked that when we examine the alphabets and other relevant factors, we can conclude that at one time, the same religion prevailed in India, Japan, Siam, Cambodia and other places.
His Holiness: Why did you prefer the Sanskrit order of the alphabets to the Chinese?
Professor: Chinese characters of the alphabets did play an important part. But the Sanskrit order of the alphabets was found more convenient. Sanskrit knowledge was confined to Buddhist monks and a few intellectuals. But the evolution of the alphabets in the present form is purely a Japanese invention.
His Holiness: How many chairs in Indian Philosophy are there in Japan?
Professor: Chairs have been established in about ten national universities and in ten Buddhist denominational universities.
His Holiness: How many chairs are there for Buddhism?
Professor: Much more.
His Holiness: What is the language employed for the study of Buddhist philosophy?
Professor: A knowledge of Sanskrit is necessary for studying Buddhist philosophy, as some important works are in that language. But the medium of instruction is Japanese.
His Holiness: Is Siva Linga found anywhere in Japan?
Professor: No. there is neither Siva Linga nor images of Vishnu. But there is Ganapathi, Saraswati, Indra, Brahma, and even Varuna. But there is also a crocodile, which is regarded as the vehicle of the Ganges. The meaning of the Japanese names for Ganapathi, Indra, Saraswati and Varuna are respectively, Arya Deva, Sakra Deva, Goddess of Eloquence, and God of Water.
Reverting to the topic of knowledge of Reality or Jnana, and Upaasana, the Jagadguru said that the two are entirely different. While Upaasana is mental action, Jnana, which also belongs to the realms of the mind, is not action. Action is something done in obedience to an injunction. When the knowledge of Reality is comprehended, the mind continues to dwell on that Reality and does not respond to any injunction, whether that injunction comes from any external agency or is the result of the prompting of the senses. The concept of action can be explained by a simple illustration. Here is a bunch of fruits, yellow in colour. When I say, “see, this is yellow”, you concur and manifest no reaction, because in reality, it is yellow. On the other hand, if I say, “see, this is red”, or “see, this is black”, you react immediately and reply, “no, it is yellow”. But if I say “imagine this to be red”, you are able to follow that direction. Therefore, action is related to the sphere of injunction. Upaasana belongs to this category of mental action. You concentrate on God, imagining He is like this or that, until real Jnana dawns on you and you understand God as He really is. Thereafter you do not react to any direction to worship this or that form.
His holiness then made enquiries about Prof. Miyamoto and he was informed that he was interested in Indian civilization. He has translated into Japanese the books of Romain Rolland on Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. He has also translated Tagore’s works. His Holiness was also informed that the younger generation of Japanese are keenly interested in Indian civilization.
The interview lasted over 90 minutes. The two Japanese Professors withdrew after doing obeisance to His Holiness and receiving prasadam at his hands.