I came across a common complaint about Srila Prabhupada’s translation (sorry, no diacritics on this machine, too lazy to set it up). Critics usually say that he imposes his own meanings and shoehorns the text to fit with his vision of bhakti.
First of all, these accusations are born of ignorance – people assume that our Hare Krishna philosophy of devotion started with Prabhupada, they have no clue of Gaudiya vaishnavism five hundred year old history, and that is only for subtle points of devotion – supremacy of Krishna over Vishnu or teachings on rasa. On the level of Bhagavad Gita we can confidently subscribe to any vaishnava commentary – Madhva, Ramanuja, doesn’t matter and so to say that Prabhupada started it is foolishness.
The same is true of our criticism of advaita – we didn’t start it, as a matter of fact, we haven’t added anything on the subject since Madhvacarya. We have no new arguments and we hardly even bother to learn the old ones, we just know that advaita is an incomplete understanding and it leads to far more dangerous philosophy of mayavada. We didn’t invent that word either.
Of course every devotee should be able to explain why advaita is wrong and give a few verses in support but actually defeating it is not so easy. Sankaracarya was a very good grammarian and he gave a very convincing interpretation of the sastra. It’s generally beyond our competence to refute his arguments because we can’t even read Sanskrit and all we can do is parrot what other Sanskrit scholars said about it. Generally, we take the words of our predecessor acaryas on faith there. They said that Sankaracarya twisted some grammar rules to support his advaita and we trust that it was indeed the case, we can’t prove it on our own.
It’s in this context that I’m talking about a rare and pleasant surprise. It’s not rare because we can’t usually refute advaita, we can – Srila Prabhupada left us plenty of common sense arguments, it’s rare because in this case Sankara himself admitted that grammatically vaishnava interpretation appears to be correct.
I’m talking about a verse from Bhagavad Gita that Prabhupada didn’t quote very often – BG 13.13. There’s only one lecture on this verse, too, and it doesn’t address the point of contention – anadi-mat-param.
jñeyaṁ yat tat pravakṣyāmi
yaj jñātvāmṛtam aśnute
anādi mat-paraṁ brahma
na sat tan nāsad ucyate
Word for word:
jñeyam — the knowable; yat — which; tat — that; pravakṣyāmi — I shall now explain; yat — which; jñātvā — knowing; amṛtam — nectar; aśnute — one tastes; anādi — beginningless; mat-param — subordinate to Me; brahma — spirit; na — neither; sat — cause; tat — that; na — nor; asat — effect; ucyate — is said to be.
I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. Brahman, the spirit, beginningless and subordinate to Me, lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.
From out pov there’s nothing controversial here but advaitins split the words differently here – anadimat param rather than anadi mat-param. In our reading brahma (meaning Brahman, not Lord Brahma) is subordinate to Krishna and anadi is one of its features. When advaitins split it into anadimat and param the “subordinate” part is gone and we have two features of brahman instead, it’s anadi and it’s param, beginningless and supreme. In Sankara’s translation this part of the verse reads “Beginningless is the Supreme Brahman”, there’s not subordination there.
What about “-mat” then? What is “anadimat”? Here’s where Sanskrit goes above our understanding. Suffix “-mat” generally would mean possession and in this case it becomes tautological because anadi itself is already clear – one which does not have (beginning). I guess in English it would be like “does not have possessing” or something like that.
Sankara has duly noted it and acknowledged that “anadi mat-param” split is known but he still rejected it because it would go against the intended meaning. “Intended” in Sankara’s view, of course, not in vaishnava. He explained addition of “-mat” to “anadi” as exigency of the meter, as if Krishna was a bad poet.
Here is how Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakura commented on this verse:
That form has no beginning (anadi). That means that since it is his svarupa, it is eternal. Mat param means “of which I alone am the supreme shelter.” What is it? It is called brahman of which I alone am the supreme shelter, which is beyond cause and effect (na sad na asad).
That’s just proof that Prabhupada didn’t invent this particular translation. Same thing is in the commentary by Ramanjacarya:
Anadi means that which is beginningless. Indeed, there is no origination for this individual self (brahman) and for the same reason, It is endless. The Sruti also declares: ‘The wise one is not born, nor dies’ (Ka. U., 2.18). ‘Matpara’ means having Me for the Highest.
Sridhara Svami’s take is a bit unusual:
Although the word anandi meaning without beginning and eternal would convey the same meaning alone by adding the suffix mat to it utilises it as a bahuvrihi compound which is a metrical ornament and so it is spoken anandimat which denotes subordination to param being the Supreme Lord. If it were spoken as anandi matparam it would mean Lord Krishna’s supreme, attributeless form but that would not validate the words na sat tan nasad which states it is beyond both the cause and the effect.
He advocated anadimat but to him it still means subordination to Krishna, go figure.
Madhvacarya also advocated anadimat but dependence on Krishna was not in question:
The brahman or the spiritual substratum pervading all existence is the brahma referred to here. This is given as a reminder of the dependence of the Supreme Lord Krishna by whose energy everything is transpiring. The word anadimat means without any origin and beginning and denotes that the Supreme Lord is without origin and beginning also. If only anadi was used a doubt might arise that there is an origin for Him and so how can He manifest something without beginning if He is not as well. So the word anadimat is used as a matter of clarification.
We should also note questionable English in these last two quotes. There’s “anandi” instead of “anadi” on two occasions and “reminder of the dependence OF the Supreme Lord..” should clearly be “reminder of the dependence ON the Supreme Lord..”
Not to be confused by faults and discrepancies, the main point is that in Sankaracarya’s view anadi mat-param is grammatically correct but he rejects it because it does not fit with his philosophy – he obviously can’t accept that Brahman is subordinate to Krishna.
Nice and sweet, huh? We should remember that when dvaitins accuse Sankaracarya of twisting Sanskrit rules they mean some other occasions in his commentary on Vedanta, not specifically this one.