Hindu Revisionism: Was Shankaracharya Deceptive Or Just Ignorant?
In the previous chapter we studied how Brahmins of ancient India destroyed both the Upanishadic and Bhagavata revolution by resorting to extreme editing of the text of the Bhagavad Gita, and corrupting Bhakti by eliminating Yoga and attaching Yajna to it in disguised form.
In this article we will study how Shankaracharya further contributed to this process by means of his commentary in which he obfuscated, misinterpreted and misrepresented the revolutionary shlokas of the Bhagavad Gita. By a typical Brahmanic sleight of hand, he singlehandedly revived Brahmanism from its deathbed. Biography of Shankaracharya makes very interesting reading, but is beyond the scope of this article.
1. Three Basic Tactics Of Latter Day Acharyas
In the course of next few centuries since the Bhagavata revolution, the latter day Brahminic Acharyas came up with three ingenious, self-serving tactics to conceal the Upanishadic and Bhagavata revolutions to overthrow Brahmanism.
A. The need to study under a Brahmanic Guru: They declared that all those who wanted to study the Bhagavad Gita must do so under the tutelage of a Brahmanic Acharya. This was in keeping with the dictum that all Upanishadic secret doctrines should be studied only under the tutelage of a learned Guru (BG: 4:34; Mundaka Up: 1:2:12-13). This gave Brahmins the opportunity to deliver soporific discourses to their bewildered listeners. They obfuscated the all-round anti-Brahmanic diatribe in the Bhagavad Gita by means of ample verbosity, high-sounding Sanskrit words, and quotations from obscure and latter day scriptures such as Puranas.
B. Hanging on to Arjuna Vishada context: They hid the historical-revolutionary context by explaining all anti-Brahmanic shlokas in the Arjuna Vishada context only. This required them to indulge in much tongue-twisting verbosity and mind-bending logic. When they could not explain an anti-Brahmanic shloka in Arjuna Vishada context, they just gave its literal meaning in total isolation. Thus the later generation of Acharyas did not learn the true meaning or context of anti-Brahmanic shlokas. Like their Gurus, each generation of Acharyas faithfully passed on to their students their ignorance of the historical-revolutionary context.
C. Writing long-winded commentaries: They wrote long-winded commentaries in which they obfuscated, misinterpreted and misrepresented the meanings of anti-Brahmanic shlokas. This made already complicated matters even worse. We will read below several examples of this tactic.
2. The Three Great Acharyas Who Destroyed The Bhagavad Gita
Over the past twelve hundred years, numerous commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita have been written both by Brahmanic loyalists and Western authors. During the medieval times, three great Brahmanic Acharyas wrote lengthy and “authoritative” commentaries (Bhashya) on the Bhagavad Gita, all of which glorified Krishna while systematically undermining every one of his fundamental teachings: Give up rituals; give up Gunas and Karma; and give up class system based on them. These three Acharyas were Shankaracharya (788-820 A. D.), Ramanujacharya (1017-1137 A. D.) and Madhvacharya (1238-1317 A. D.). It is possible that these Brahmanic commentators were not aware of the historical-revolutionary context at all as evidenced by their tendency to view the Bhagavad Gita as a monolithic text written in one stretch by one author, its only context being Arjuna Vishada. Very often their commentaries on the same shloka are extremely divergent from each other’s.
To readers who are aware of the two distinct contexts of the Bhagavad Gita -Arjuna Vishada and Historical-Revolutionary- these great Acharyas come across in their commentaries as thoroughly confused. For example none of these Acharyas seemed to know, or they refused to acknowledge, the fundamental fact that the Upanishadic doctrines of Atman/Brahman and Buddhiyoga’s purpose was to transcend the doctrines of the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma, and therefore, they are mutually exclusive terms. Krishna repeatedly tells readers that one must transcend all three Gunas in order to gain knowledge of Brahman (2:45; 14:20), and transcend Law of Karma to attain Nirvana (2:15, 51). Yet, these Acharyas keep promoting both the Brahmanic and Upanishadic doctrines at the same time. At times all three Acharyas are blatantly fraudulent when interpreting shlokas, as we will study below. After reviewing Shankaracharya’s interpretation below, let readers decide to which category Shankaracharya belongs.
3. Modern Day Nonsensical Commentaries
Imagine a pro-Confederacy author writing a commentary on President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, ignorant of, or unwilling to acknowledge, the fact that it was a speech delivered to dedicate thebattlefield to soldiers who gave their lives to abolish slavery in the United States. To explain away Lincoln’s every laconic sentence, the pro-Confederacy author would have to cook up something to support the Southern Cause. He would interpret the phrase “All men are created equal” as meaning, “All white men are created equal” or, “All men are separately created equal.” The situation is identical with all Brahmanic commentators of the modern times. Ignorant of, or unwilling to acknowledge, the fact that the anti-Brahmanic shlokas in it are the evidence of a sectarian war between Brahmanism on one side and the Upanishadism and Bhagavatism on the other, they wrote mindboggling and nonsensical commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, applying all shlokas to Arjuna’s predicament on the battlefield.
Two popular modern “commentaries,” which fall into this category are ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is’ by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and ‘The Bhagavad Gita -God Talks With Arjuna’ by Sri Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda. Space does not permit me to go into details about the nonsense in these two commentaries. Let the reader be assured that other available commentaries are not any better. Skeptics among the readers of this article should compare my interpretation given below with those in currently available commentaries. Also, I recommend that readers encourage Brahmanic loyalists and scholars to read this article and encourage them to counter my thesis with sensible articles.
4. Five Upanishadic Shlokas and One Bhagavata Shloka
In this article I will discuss five anti-Brahmanic Upanishadic shlokas and one Bhagavata shloka in their historical-revolutionary context. The only goal of the first four Upanishadic shlokas shown below (2:47, 3:15; 4:31, and 4:32) is to eliminate Vedic Yajnas centered on Vedic gods and replace them with Upanishadic Yoga centered on Brahman. The goal of the fifth Upanishadic shloka (5:18) is to eliminate Varna system. The goal of Bhagavata shloka shown below (18:66) is to replace all Dharma of the land with Bhagavata Dharma centered on Krishna.
As we will read below, Shankaracharya’s goal was to completely neutralize the respective goals of these shlokas. People believed anything he said in keeping with the mindless Hindu tradition of uncritically accepting any nonsense uttered by a saffron-clad Sanyasi. This was even more so in the case of Shankaracharya, as he had gained great moral authority by means of his heroic deed of rescuing Brahmanism from the jaws of death.
5. Shloka 2:47: Kshatriyas’ Entitlement Is To Perform Yajna Only But Not To Its Fruit
Let us now examine the most quoted and utterly misunderstood shloka of the Bhagavad Gita:
2:47: Your entitlement is to Karma alone, and never at any time to its Phalam (fruits). Never be the cause of Karmaphalam. However, never become attached to inaction.
This shloka has no Arjuna Vishada context. In this shloka, Guru Krishna tells corrupt Kshatriyas indulging in Kamya Karma that whereas they have the entitlement to perform various Yajnas (Karma) as per the ordinances of scriptures, they have no right to Karmaphalam thereof. The Karmaphalam of Yajna belongs to the Devas. If they keep the Karmaphalam to themselves, they become thieves (3:12). Earning Karmaphalam condemns them to the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. So they should not indulge in Yajna, which earn them Karmaphalam. However, just because they have nothing to gain from Yajna, they should not become Sramanas who do nothing.
The key to understanding this shloka lies in the following six shlokas in which Krishna explains to corrupt Kshatriyas indulging in Kamya Karma the original purpose of Yajna:
3:10-11: Having created mankind in the beginning together with Yajna, the Prajapati (Brahma) said, “By this shall you propagate; this shall be the milch cow of your desires. Nourish the Devas with this (Yajna) and may those Devas nourish you (in return); thus nourishing one another, you shall reap the supreme welfare (of the society). Nourished by Yajna, the Devas shall bestow on you the enjoyments you desire.”
What happens to those who take away the fruits of Yajna for their personal use?
3:12-13: A thief verily is he who enjoys what Devas give him without returning them anything. The good that eat the remains of Yajna are freed from all sins (Karmaphalam); but the sinful ones who cook food only for themselves, they verily eat sin (earn Karmaphalam).
What is this quid pro quo between Vedic ritualists and Devas? Guru Krishna explains the Wheel of Yajna:
3:14: From food beings become; from rain food is produced; from Yajna rain proceeds.
3:16: He who does not follow on earth the Wheel (of Yajna) thus revolving, malicious and delighting in the Senses, he lives in vain.
The above shlokas condemn Vedic ritualists who corrupted Yajnas by stealing Karmaphalam for themselves as thieves, malicious and vain.
Now, to put the shloka 2:47 in proper perspective, let us now quickly review the eight revolutionary shlokas leading up to it. In 2:39 Guru Krishna introduces the doctrines of Knowledge of Atman and Buddhiyoga to replace the Brahmanic doctrine of the Gunas of Prakriti and Law of Karma. In 2:40, he explains the advantages of Buddhiyoga of Upanishadism over Kamya Karma of Brahmanism. In 2:41-44, he condemns Vedic ritualists as ignorant, desire-ridden and fickle-minded due to their obsession with earning Karmaphalam (pleasure, lordship and heaven) in Yajna. In 2:45, Guru Krishna recommends transcending all three Gunas and Law of Karma. In 2:46, he downgrades the Vedas as useless to enlightened people. Now in shloka 2:47, Guru Krishna lays down the law to the corrupt Vedic ritualists:
2:47: Your entitlement is to Karma alone, and never at any time to its Phalam (fruits). Never be the cause of Karmaphalam. However, never become attached to inaction.
So if these Kshatriyas gave up sinful Kamya Karma and not become inactive like Sramanas, what would they do to keep themselves occupied? Krishna, as the Upanishadic Lord of beings, tells them to become Karmayogis (3:7-9; 19-23), and willfully redirect their energies in guiding the masses:
3:25: As the unenlightened (Vedic ritualists) perform Yajna with attachment to Karmaphalam, O Bharata, so should the enlightened (Karmayogis) act (perform their obligatory Kshatriya duty) without attachment to Karmaphalam, desirous of the guidance of the masses.
What does Krishna advice Brahmins who want to continue to perform Yajna?
4:15: Having known thus (that Yajnas should be performed without motive for Karmaphalam) even the ancient seekers after liberation (from debt to the gods) performed Yajna. Therefore, you should perform Yajna (selflessly), as did the ancients in the olden times.
Krishna follows this advice by giving the fallen Brahmins a crash course on proper performance of Yajnas in 4:16-24.
Obviously, this shloka has nothing to do with Arjuna’s predicament whatsoever. Besides, the word Karma in this context does not mean Action, but Yajna. If one thinks that this shloka’s context is Arjuna Vishada and the word Karma means Action, the whole shloka’s meaning is distorted. This is exactly what Shankaracharya does in interpreting shloka 2:47:
“You have the right only to perform Karma and not to undertake the discipline of knowledge (You can practice Karmayoga but not Jnanayoga!). While doing works (Shankaracharya does not explain what the word ‘works’ means in this context), do not think you have the right to claim their fruits. Never, in any state of life whatsoever, should you crave for the fruits of your works (Can warrior follow this in reality?) -this is the idea.
Shankaracharya goes on: When you crave for the fruits of your works (such as your kingdom), you make yourselves liable to reap fruits; but you should never be the cause of such fruit-gathering, for when one works, impelled by the craving for fruits, one has to reap the fruits of such works, namely, birth in the world (Correct). ‘If the fruits of works are not to be desired, why should painful works (meaning war) be undertaken at all?’ This thought should not tempt you, Arjuna, to withdraw from all works, either (Clearly he is addressing Arjuna’s predicament and he does not explain what he meant by ‘all works’).”
Shankaracharya identifies Arjuna Vishada as the context of this shloka when he tells Arjuna that his entitlement is only to become a Karmayogi, and not a Jnanayogi! He did not know the fact that the call to become Karmayogi was directed to errant Kshatriyas in the historical context and not to Arjuna. Strangely, the great Acharya did not seem to realize that the ultimate goal of both Jnanayoga and Karmayoga was to attain Knowledge of Brahman. Jnanayogis attain it by giving up attachment to sense objects (Sanyasa), and Karmayogis attain it by giving up fruits of their action (Tyaga). In practice this meant giving up Kamya Karma: 18:2: Giving up Kamya Karma is Sanyasa; giving up fruits of all works is Tyaga. Telling Arjuna that his entitlement is only to Karmayoga and not to Jnanayoga is, to put it mildly, ignorant and childish as Krishna himself says:
5:4-5: Children, not the wise, speak of Sankhya (Jnanayoga) and Yoga (of action, Karmayoga) as different; he who is truly established in one obtains the fruits (Knowledge of Atman) of both. The state (of Brahmajnana) reached by the Jnanis is also reached by the Karmayogis. He sees who sees Jnana and Karmayoga as one. Obviously Shankaracharya did not see this or pretended like it.
Thirdly, even if we apply this shloka to Arjuna Vishada context, telling Arjuna that ‘his entitlement is only to fight but never, in any state of life whatsoever, should he crave for the fruits of his works’ makes the entire Mahabharata war a sham. If this were true, what was the point of waging the ghastly war? Isn’t this exactly what the Duryodhana had been telling Pandavas all along? “Listen, Pandavas. You can claim all the entitlement to wage this war against us, but you have no right to this kingdom!” What was the great Acharya thinking?
Fourthly, when it comes to fighting, no one could give Arjuna better advice than Brahmanic prince Krishna as he did in Arjuna Vishada:
3:37: Slain you will gain heaven; victorious you enjoy the earth. Therefore rouse up O son of Kunti, resolved to fight.
Who could improve upon this advice? Obviously, Shankaracharya did not know that the true context of this shloka was historical-revolutionary and its true purpose was to induce corrupt Kshatriyas to give up Kamya Karma. If he knew this fact, he chose not to reveal it to his audience. Now, that is duplicity.
6. Unfortunate Result Of Misinterpretation
One unfortunate result of such Brahmanic misinterpretation is that millions of Hindus wrongly believe that they have only the right to act but no right to expect results. Even eminent scholars such as A. L. Bhasham misunderstood this shloka to mean, “Your business is with the deed, and not with the result.” Imagine a surgeon whose only concern is with his deed and not the result! Again, imagine a man taking a bath in a dirty pond and claiming, “My business is to take the bath; not the result thereof.” This attitude makes all actions mere rituals. Not only should one do the best one could but also one must be result-oriented. The question is whether this much-quoted shloka has any relevance in our daily life.
First of all, the word ‘entitlement’ in this shloka has a very specific context. It refers to the entitlement granted to certain Kshatriyas by Brahmins to perform certain Yajnas as per the ordinances of scriptures (3:10-14). In our everyday life, with rare exceptions, no one has the ‘entitlement’ or ‘right’ to act. One acts only because one chooses to act as the situation demands. For example, if one donates money to a cause or lends money to a relative, or volunteers to help someone, he does so not because he is entitled to but because he chooses to.
Secondly, any person who acts without expecting results from his action is a fool. Even when we do volunteer work, we expect to get results from our service. However, almost all Hindus take this distorted meaning of shloka 2:47 without critical analysis.
However, this shloka could be applied to corrupt politicians (modern day Kshatriyas) and bureaucrats (modern day Brahmins) of India. The message to them is that they are entitled to perform their Karma (their works as politicians and bureaucrats) but they have no right expect fruits of their toil for themselves. The fruits (national progress) belong to the people. If they take bribes for their services, they become thieves. The other context in which this shloka could be applied in civilian life is in Social Activism.
“Your entitlement as a Social Activist is only to serve the people, and never to benefit personally from its results (fruits), for fruits should go to the people you have chosen to serve. Never indulge in activities with motivation for personal gains. However, just because there is nothing in it for you personally, do not give up your Social Activism.”
Here we must assume that the Social Activist has earned his ‘entitlement’ by virtue of his expertise in, and dedication to, a particular cause. This dictum would make an ideal guide for Social Activists anywhere in the world. This is the essence of Karmayoga.
7. Shloka 3:15: Vedic Devas Are Out, Upanishadic Brahman Is In
3:15: Lord Krishna says: Know Karma (‘ritual works’) to have risen from Brahma (the Vedic god Prajapati, 3:10); Brahma arose from the Imperishable (Brahman the Supreme of the Upanishads). The all-pervading Brahman (not the Vedic gods) is, therefore, ever centered in Yajna.
The real purpose of this shloka is to appoint Brahman over the Vedic Lord of beings, Prajapati; to make Brahman as the object of worship in the place of the Vedic gods. The Upanishads describe how these Vedic gods “run away in terror” before Brahman (Katha. Up: 2:6:2-3). When Brahman becomes the object of Yajna, Yoga automatically becomes the modus operandi, for Brahman could be obtained only by Yoga (Sanyasa and Tyaga) and not by the sacrifices based on the Vedas (Mundaka. Up: 3:2:2).
Let us examine the context of this shloka. This shloka is in Chapter Three, titled Karma Yoga, which is dedicated to converting Kshatriyas performing Kamya Karma into Karmayogis performing Nishkama Karma. This shloka has no Arjuna Vishada context. In this shloka, Krishna, as the Upanishadic Lord of beings, decides to end Vedic Yajnas dedicated to the Vedic gods once and for all, because they earn Karmaphalam and thus perpetuate the evil of Samsara (9:20-21). He declares that the Upanishadic divinity Brahman should be the object of all Yajnas instead of the Vedic gods. His logic is this: All ritual activity arose from Brahma (Prajapati), Brahmanic Lord of beings (3:10); Brahma himself arose from the Upanishadic divinity Brahman the Supreme. This being the case, Brahman should be the center of all Yajna, not the Vedic gods. Once Brahman becomes the goal of Yajna, it becomes Nishkama Karma. Why? Well, to attain Brahman, one must first practice Sanyasa or Tyaga; that is, giving up desire for, attachment to and possessiveness of fruits of action.
Here is how Shankaracharya subverts this Upanishadic intent with a superb sleight of hand:
“Know that this work (meaning Yajnas) is born of the Vedas (Not Brahma), and that the Vedas are born of the Imperishable Reality (Brahman). Therefore, the all-pervading Vedas are eternally rooted in sacrificial work.”
Shankaracharya follows this fraudulent interpretation with even more duplicitous commentary to embellish the Vedas:
“Work is born of Brahman (Not Brahma), Brahman is the Veda. ‘Born of Veda’ means revealed by the Veda (Nowhere does it say born of the Veda). Work, in this context, is of this description. Again, Brahman or Veda is born of the Imperishable or Brahman the Supreme Self (Now Shankaracharya creates a Paramatma above Brahman). That Brahman here means the Veda is the sense. Since Brahman, the Veda, is directly derived from the Supreme Self, the all-revealing and eternal Veda is established for all times in sacrificial work, the latter being a dominant theme of the Vedas.”
Listen to the incredibly twisted and fraudulent logic of Shankaracharya: First of all, he does not even mention Brahma the Brahmanic Lord of being as the originator of Karma. Secondly, he straightaway declares that Vedas and Brahman are the same. Now this Brahman is derived from another Brahma above it -Paramatma. Now the “eternal Vedas are all-pervading.” How utterly nonsensical!
In all ancient scriptures, the term “all-pervading” applies only to Brahman the Supreme. Brahman and Paramatma are one and the same. The term “all-pervading” applies neither to Vedic god Brahma nor the Vedas. The Upanishads repeatedly pronounce the Vedas as the “lower knowledge” and that one could never obtain Brahman by means of the Vedas:
Mundaka Upanishad: 1:1:4-5: Two kinds of knowledge must be known, this is what all who know Brahman tell us, the higher and the lower knowledge. The lower knowledge is the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Vyakarana (grammar), etc. etc.
Mundaka Upanishad: 3:2:3, Katha Upanishad: 1:2:23: Atman/Brahman cannot be gained by the Vedas, nor by understanding, nor much learning (study of the Vedas).
Guru Krishna declares in the Gita: 2:46: To an enlightened Brahmin (one who has gained Knowledge of Atman and Brahman) all the Vedas are as useful as a tank of water (meaning, they are practically useless) when there is flood (vast knowledge of Brahman) all around.”
Guru Krishna expresses even disgust with the Vedas: 2:52: When your Buddhi transcends the thicket of delusion (engendered by the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma) then you will be disgusted by Shruthis yet to be heard as well as Shruthis (Vedas) you have already heard.
In fact, the Upanishadic Lord Krishna declares: 6:44: Even he who merely wishes to know of Yoga rises superior to performer of Vedic rites.
Even Bhagavata Krishna declares: 11:48: Neither by the study of the Vedas, nor by Yajnas, nor by Dana, nor by rituals, nor by severe austerity can this form of Mine be seen in the world of men by anyone else but you (My Bhaktha), O hero of the Kuru.
It is obvious that the great Acharya he was deceitfully subverting the Upanishadic intent to overthrow Vedic sacrifices, or he had no clue that the purpose of appointing Brahman as the center of Yajna was to convert Yajna into Karmayoga. You decide which of these statements applies to him.
8. Shloka 4:32: Give Up Vedic Yajna And Take Up Upanishadic Yoga
4:32: Various Yajnas such as these are spread out before Brahman. Know them all to be born of Karma (‘selfless ritual works’); and knowing thus you shall be liberated (from bonds of Karma).
The goal of this shloka is to replace Yajna, which binds people to Karmaphalam to Yoga, which liberates them from the bonds of Karma. To appreciate the extent of Shankaracharya’s duplicity in interpreting this anti-Brahmanic shloka into pro-Brahmanic one, we need to first thoroughly study the context of this shloka. This shloka is found in Chapter Four, which is titled: Yoga of Renunciation of Karma (Yajna) in Knowledge (Jnana). Obviously, this shloka has no Arjuna Vishada context. The goal of this shloka is to renounce Vedic Yajna (Karma) centered on Vedic gods and take up Upanishadic Jnana (Knowledge) Yajna centered on Brahman. Jnana Yajna is nothing but Jnanayoga in disguise. To refresh the memory of the readers: The goal of Vedic Yajnas was to please Vedic gods and earn Karmaphalam; the goal of Jnana Yajna is to gain Knowledge of Atman/Brahman.
Let us briefly review shlokas leading up to shloka 4:32:
In shloka 4:15, Krishna tells Brahmins to perform Yajnas selflessly like the ancients did. In 4:16-18, Krishna explains various types of Yajnas: Proper Yajna (selfless), improper Yajna (Kamya Karma) and non-Yajna.
In 4:19-23, he explains the basics of Jnanayoga: Renunciation of Sankalpa (design), desire (Kama) for and attachment (Sanga) to fruits.
Krishna explains in the following shlokas that when one renounces these impurities of the heart, one does not earn any Karmaphalam.
4:23: Of one unattached (to sense objects), liberated (from Dwandwam thereof), with mind absorbed in Knowledge (of Atman), performing work for Yajna alone (and not for personal gains), his entire Karmaphalam (both good and bad) melts away.
What are various constituents of the so-called Jnana Yajna (Knowledge Sacrifice) centered on Brahman?
4:24: The oblation is Brahman, the clarified butter is Brahman, offered by Brahman in the fire of Brahman; unto Brahman verily he goes who cognizes Brahman alone in his Karma (Yajna).
Obviously, Jnana Yajna is a metaphor for Jnanayoga. Unlike in Vedic Yajna, all constituents of the metaphoric Jnana Yajna -oblation, ghee (clarified butter), the offering person, fire, object of sacrifice- are all made up of all-pervading Brahman. Krishna recommends Brahmins to recognize “Brahman alone in Yajna.” There is a paradigm shift of the object of Yajna from Vedic gods to Brahman. All selfless Karma, with or without a fire, shall be known as Jnana Yajna from now onwards.
Who are various performers of Jnana Yajna? In 4:25-29, Krishna describes various types of Yogis who perform Jnana Yajnas in which they sacrifice impurities of heart and mind, and concludes:
4:30: All these (Yogis) are knowers of (Jnana) Yajna, having their sins (Karmaphalam) destroyed by (Jnana) Yajna.
In all these so-called Jnana Yajnas there is no altar, no fire, no sacrifice of materials such as food and animals. In these Yajnas one sacrifices or renounces one’s impurities (desire, attachment, etc.) residing in the Senses, the Mind and the Intellect. What remains after one has sacrificed his mental impurities in Knowledge Yajna?
4:31: The eaters of the immortal remnant of Jnana Yajna go to the Eternal Brahman. This world is not for non-sacrificer, how then the other (Abode of Brahman)? O best of the Kurus?
Whereas the remnant of Vedic Yajna is burnt food, the immortal remnant of Upanishadic Jnana Yajna is whatever remains after one has sacrificed the impurities of the heart and mind -Atman. One who gains Atman, the immortal nectar, gains Eternal Brahman.
These “Yajnas” are Yoga in disguise. Lord Krishna calls these Yogic renunciations Jnana (Knowledge) Yajna, for in this type of Yajna instead of gaining Karmaphalam one is liberated from the bonds of Karma, and one gains Knowledge of Atman. Having said all this, Krishna now comes to the point:
4:32: Various (Jnana) Yajnas such as these are spread out before Brahman (the Upanishadic divinity). Know them all to be born of Karma (‘selfless ritual works’); and knowing thus you shall be liberated (from bonds of Karma).
And Krishna concludes:
4:33: Jnana Yajna (Jnanayoga), O Scorcher of foes, is superior to Dravya (material) Yajna. All (Jnana) Yajnas in their entirety culminate in Jnana (of Atman).
With this background information let us now review how, by a sleight of hand, Shankaracharya neutralized shloka 4:32:
“Thus have many sacrifices been spread out in the pages of the Veda (He decides the word Brahman means the Vedas). Know them all to be born of works (What kind of work?). Knowing thus will you be liberated (from what?).“
“As stated, many sorts of sacrifice have been ‘spread out’ -set forth- in the Vedic path. Those, which are known by means of the Vedas are said to be ‘spread out’ in ‘the face’ of the Vedas; for example, “we sacrifice the vital breaths in speech” (Ait. A. 3:26). Know all of them to be born of works -born of exertions of the body, word and mind, and not of the Self. For the Self works not. Therefore, thus knowing, you will be released from evil. Knowing, “these are not my activities; I exert not, I am indifferent” -due to this right perception, you will be released from ‘evil’ or the bondage of empirical life. This is the idea.”
Here is how Shankaracharya subverts the whole shloka whose goal is to establish Brahman as the center of all Yajna and convert Kamya Karma, which earns bondage of Karma into Nishkama Karma, which does not.
- He interprets Brahmanomukhe -from the face of Brahman- into ‘the face of the Vedas’ and ‘Vedic path’, even though this shloka’s goal was to overthrow Vedic Yajna. The Upanishads repeatedly pronounce: One cannot obtain Brahman by the Vedas! He has no clue, or he refuses to acknowledge, that the “Yajnas” listed in 4:25-29 are not Vedic sacrifices at all but they are Upanishadic Jnana Yajnas. In his zeal to promote the Vedas, he does not even mention Brahman. His adherence is not to truth but to the Vedas. It is impossible to believe that Shankaracharya did not know the true meaning of this shloka.
- He then says that if a person fooled himself into believing, “these are not my activities” he will not earn Karmaphalam due to “right perception.” What he should have said was, “If you perform Karma (Yajnas) centered on Brahman in the spirit of Yoga, that is without the impurities such as Sankalpa, Kama and Sangas for fruits (4:23), then you would not earn any Karmaphalam, and therefore you will be liberated from the evil of Samsara. This is Jnana Yajna; this is Jnanayoga.”
How do we know that Shankaracharya was hell bent on preserving the Vedic Yajnas? Let us review his commentary on shloka 4:31, which we read above.
9. Shloka 4:31: Immortal Remnant Is Atman, Not Food
4:31: The eaters of the immortal remnant (Yajnashistamrita) of (Jnana) Yajna go to the Eternal Brahman. This world is not for non-sacrificer, how then the other (Abode of Brahman)? O best of the Kurus?
What is the remnant after one has sacrificed food and animals in Vedic material sacrifice? It is the remaining food (Yajnashista), which the sacrificer consumes at the end of Yajna as a sign of humility and gratitude. What is the remnant of Jnana Yajna after one has sacrificed impurities (desire, attachment, etc.) residing in one’s Senses, Mind and Intellect? That immortal remnant (Yajnashistamrita, nectar) of Jnana Yajna is Atman. Here Krishna is trying to show that the end result of Jnana Yajna (Jnanayoga) is attainment of Atman/Brahman and liberation from Samsara.
What is the meaning of the word Yajnashistamrita? This word means ‘immortal remnant.’ This is not just Yajnashista food of Vedic sacrifice (3:13). The clue to this word’s special status is in the word Amritham (nectar of immortality). Here is how Shankaracharya dismisses this profound shloka with a very superficial explanation:
“The remains of sacrifices are what is left over; it is ambrosia. The sacrificer partakes of it. Having performed the sacrifices enumerated above, they eat, according to the Vedic injunctions, the ambrosial food and they repair to the Eternal Brahman, in case they seek liberation. From the logic of the situation it follows that this happens in course of time.
Obviously, the great Acharya completely missed the whole point of the above nine shlokas (4:23-30, 32), which is that these sacrifices are not Vedic (material) Yajnas but Jnana Yajnas of the Upanishads. As we read above, the nectar (Yajnashistamrita) mentioned in the above shloka has nothing to do with the leftover food of the Vedic (material) Yajnas (3:13). The word Yajnashistamrita is a metaphor for immortal Atman, which is the remnant of Jnana Yajnas. There is no real food here to “eat according to the Vedic injunctions” after Jnana Yajna, as there is no fire, no burnt offerings, and no ceremony. The great Acharya has no clue about this. And the phrase, “they repair to Brahman in case they seek liberation,” is indicative of this. He is simply not able to think outside his “Vedic box” even though he apparently knew the Upanishads inside out. This is because Shankaracharya mistakenly believed that the Vedas and the Upanishads are one and the same, not antagonistic to each other.
10. Shloka 5:18: Brahman The Equalizer
5:18: The sages perceive the same truth in Brahmins rich in knowledge and culture, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.
In this shloka the point made is that an enlightened person sees the same Brahman in a highly cultured and educated Brahmin on the one extreme and an ignorant dog-eating outcaste on the other, and even in the animals owned by the lower classes in between. Here cow is the animal of Vaishyas; the elephant is the animal of Kshatriyas; the dog is the animal of Sudras. Conversely, when a person is deluded by even one of the three Gunas, he is not able to see the sameness or equality of all people.
The sole purpose of this Upanishadic shloka was to overthrow the Brahmanic Varna system based on unequal distribution of the Gunas and Karma (4:13) in the four classes, and replace it with an egalitarian system based on the equal distribution of Brahman in people of all classes (5:18-19).
Here is how Shankaracharya promotes supremacy of Brahmins while obfuscating the true intent of this shloka:
“Knowledge and culture” -culture consists in restraint -rich in these is the Brahmana who knows and is cultured. In him, in a cow, elephant, dog and outcaste the sages behold the same Reality (True). In the Sattvika Brahmana (Here he hangs on to the Guna), endowed with knowledge and culture, who has the best latent impressions of life’s experiences, in an intermediate being like the cow that is Rajasic (Cow is not Rajasic; tiger is) without such impression, and in the low merely Tamasic beings like an elephant etc. the sages are trained to perceive the same single, and immutable Brahman, wholly unaffected by constituents like the Sattva and by the latent impression they generate.
In the above commentary, Shankaracharya does not seem to understand the fundamental fact that an enlightened sage does not see a Brahmin as Sattvic, a Kshatriya as Rajasic, Vaishya, Sudra, and an outcaste as Tamasic. All he sees in them is Brahman. One cannot attribute a Guna to a creature and see Brahman in it at the same time. The Gunas and Brahman are mutually exclusive entities. His ignorance of this fact is evident in his statement: “Sages are trained to perceive the same single and immutable Brahman, wholly unaffected by constituents like the Sattva and by the latent impression they generate.
11. Shloka 18:66: Abandon All Dharma
Let us take up Shloka 18:66, the Ultimate (Charama) Shloka of the Bhagavad Gita.
18:66: Abandon all Dharma and surrender unto Me alone; I shall liberate you from all sins. Do not grieve.
As we read the true purpose of this shloka in the article titled ‘God of Gods Enters The Battlefield To Fight Brahmanism.’ It encapsulates the essence of the entire text as well as the revolution to overthrow Brahmanic Dharma. This shloka has nothing to do with Arjuna Vishada context. After knocking off all other Dharmas of the land, Bhagavata Krishna declares himself as THE DHARMA (14:27), and asks everyone to abandon their Dharma and embrace his Dharma.
This Ultimate (Charama) shloka, asking everyone to abandon all Dharmas, has baffled all Brahmanic commentators as evidenced by their confusing, misleading and utterly nonsensical commentaries on it. It is obvious that they were not aware of the historical-revolutionary context and true intent of this shloka.
What is the correct meaning of the word Dharma in this context? The word Dharma has many meanings, such as religion, Law, righteousness, Duty, obligatory sacrificial duty (Kriya, Karya), a discipline of knowledge, a system, and the like. In the above shloka the word Dharma stood for religion or sect such as Brahmanism and Buddhism. If one took any one of these alternative meanings to the phrase ‘all Dharmas’ and applies it to the context of Arjuna Vishada, it means Arjuna should give up all Dharma -righteousness and performance of his obligatory duty as dictated by his Dharma. This is exactly what all Brahmanic commentators say in their commentaries. Here is what Shankaracharya says:
“Giving up all Dharmas (acts of righteousness), seek refuge in Me alone; I shall liberate you from all sins; grieve not.
‘All Dharma or acts of righteousness’-Dharma (righteousness) here includes Adharma (unrighteousness) also. What is sought to be conveyed is the idea of freedom from all works (Dharma here means Karma).”
Shankaracharya wants Arjuna to give up all Karma- righteous as well as unrighteous! Unaware of the historical-revolutionary context of this shloka, the great Acharya thinks that the word Dharma in it means Karma, not religion or sect. He tries to back up this outlandish claim by fourteen pages of long-winded and inscrutable explanations quoting various scriptures, which no Ph. D. candidate of religious studies, leave alone a humble student, could digest. This is a classic example of baffling one with bullshit when one cannot dazzle one with his brilliance. It is obvious that the Acharya was baffled by Lord Krishna’s call for one to “give up all Dharma.” Without realizing that Lord Krishna’s call was not meant for Arjuna at all, but was directed toward all people of various diverse Dharmas in the turbulent post-Vedic society, he must have thought, “How could the Lord ask Arjuna to give up all Dharma? The Lord must have meant Karma when he said Dharma.” So, he said that Arjuna should “give up all Karma -righteous as well as unrighteous.”
If the Acharya had said, “perform righteous Karma but abandon all Karmaphalam” (2:50; 9:28) instead of saying “give up all Karma” he would have made better sense, even though that was not what Krishna meant here. His interpretation implies that Arjuna should give up even righteous Karma (fighting for a right cause). Arjuna had already said he wanted to do just that when he said in 2:9 “I shall not fight” knowing full well that his was a righteous cause. Prince Krishna did a splendid job of dissuading him from giving up his Dharma-designated Karma (2:31-37). Obviously, Shankaracharya’s interpretation of this shloka makes mockery of the Mahabharata war as well.
No religion, no matter how profound its philosophy might be, tells its followers to give up righteous Karma. In all the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, there is not one single call for anyone to give up righteous Karma though there is plenty of call to give up Adharma, namely Kamya Karma (2:47-49; 4:7), and fruits of Karma. However, one must perform his Karma with indifference to personal gain or loss of fruits (3:19) if he does not want to earn Karmaphalam. Krishna never gets tired of telling people how important it is to be active all the time:
3:8: Engage yourself in Dharma-bound action, for action is superior to inaction, and if inactive, even the mere maintenance of your body would not be possible.
The entire Bhagavad Gita is about performing Karma in a righteous manner, meaning doing the right thing but without selfish motive. All three Gitas attest to this wisdom.
- In Arjuna Vishada, prince Krishna asks Arjuna to perform his Karma as per his Dharma (2:37) giving up his self-centeredness failing which he would incur sin (2:33).
- In the Upanishadic Gita, Guru Krishna tells Arjuna to perform his obligatory Karma as per Kshatriya Dharma without Dwandwam (2:38) and for guidance of the masses (3:20).
- In the resurgent Brahmanic Gita, Lord Krishna tells people to selflessly do their duty as assigned by their class (18:45) and attain perfection.
- In the Bhagavata Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to dedicate all Karma to him in order to free himself from the bondage of Karma (9:27-28). Even after showing Arjuna His Universal Form, Krishna says: 11:33: Arise and attain fame! By Me have your enemies been verily slain already. You be merely an outward cause, O Savyasachin! Lord Krishna did not tell Arjuna, “Give up all Karma and go home, for I have already killed them all!”
All this shows that shloka 18:66, in which Lord Krishna exhorts Arjuna to abandon all Dharma, was not applicable to Arjuna in the Mahabharata context at all, and that its real context was historical-revolutionary. Shankaracharya’s explanation of this shloka makes mockery of both the Mahabharata epic and all the fundamental teachings of the Bhagavad Gita: Never abandon the path of righteous Karma; but perform it with complete indifference to fruits.
12. How Could Hinduism Be Based On Misinterpretation Of Its Most Sacred Scripture?
Hinduism, or more correctly Brahmanism, as practiced today is largely based on Shankaracharya’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. Like Shankaracharya did, every Brahmanic commentator misinterpreted all anti-Brahmanic shlokas of the Bhagavad Gita. Such erroneous, and often blatantly deceptive, interpretations of shlokas to shore up Brahmanism are the hallmark of all Brahmanic commentaries. All right-minded Hindus, who practically consider the Bhagavad Gita as the Handbook of Hindu Dharma, must ask, “How can we practice Hindu Dharma based on such erroneous and false interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita by Brahmanic Acharyas and Swamis whom we revere?”
In my next article, I will discuss the pernicious legacy of Brahmanism on modern India.
(To be continued)