Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda ► Anekānta And The Problem Of Meaning ► Advaita Vedānta

Posted: 10.04.2012

Bādarāyaṇa's flexible usage of the primary and secondary meanings while interpreting Upaniṣadic passages and thereby reconciling even contradictory philosophical views is one more significant dimension of his anekāntic philosophy. In the Brahmasūtra he uses terms like mukhya, pradhāna etc. for denoting the primary meaning while bhākta[1], gauṇa[2] or gauṇī[3] in the sense of secondary meaning. Thus, for example, in the sūtra carācaravyapāśrayas tu syāt tadvyapadeśo bhāktas tadbhāvabhāvitvāt[4], he contends that the mention of these words (birth and death) with relation to moving and the stationary bodies is in a primary sense while it is to be taken in a secondary sense with reference to the individual souls inhabiting them. The very idea that a meaning of a particular statement may either be primary or secondary according to the intention of the author as well as the context indicates its anekāntic or indeterminate or relative nature. We may cite one more example. In the aphorism gauṇyasambhavāt[5] Bādarāyāṇa contends "If it be argued that the seeing is in a secondary sense, we say, not so, owing to the use of the word self". The Sāṁkhya wants to ascribe figuratively 'seeing' to the insentient Pradhāna which is referred to by the word existence and which is supposed to be the primordial cause of the universe. Bādarāyaṇa objects it by discarding the secondary meaning of 'seeing' in favour of primary meaning and thereby he asserts that Brahman and not the Prakṛti is the primordial cause of the universe.

From Bādarāyaṇa when we come to Śaṅkara we find that Śaṅkara uses profusely the concept of primary and secondary meanings while interpreting the aphorisms of the Brahmasūtra. He employs the following terms in the sense of secondary meaning: guṇavāda,[6] guṇānuvāda,[7] guṇavṛtti,[8] guṇavidhi,[9] guṇavidhāna,[10] gauṇa,[11] gauṇatva,[12] gauṇī,[13] gauṇīkalpanā,[14] gauṇārtha,[15] gauṇavṛtti,[16] gauṇabuddhi,[17] bhākta or bhākta,[18] upacāra,[19] aupacārika,[20] upacāradarśana,[21] amukhya,[22] lakṣaṇā,[23] lakṣaṇā-vṛtti,[24] lakṣa-ṇāśrya,[25] lakṣaṇārthopalabdhi,[26] lākṣaṇika,[27] lākṣaṇikatvasiddhi,[28] arthavāda,[29] arihavādakalpita,[30] arlhavādamātra,[31] etc. while in the context of the primary meaning  the terms used  are mukhya,[32] mukhyatva,[33] mukhyārtha,[34] mukhyasambhava,[35] mukhyānhatvopapatti,[36] etc. For example, Śaṅkara, while commenting on the aphorism paraṁ jaiminir mukhyatvāt[37] contends that according to Jaimini the primary meaning of the term paraṁ is the Supreme Brahman and the secondary meaning is the inferior brahman.

He further adds that between the primary and secondary meanings one readily understands the primary alone. Again, while commenting on the aphorism carācaravyapāśrayas tu…[38] Śaṅkara argues that the words birth and death are used figuratively in the context of individual souls while primarily in respect of the material bodies which the souls inhabit. Thus, Śaṅkara's interpretation of the aphorisms of the Brahmasūtra in the light of the primary and secondary meanings is indicative of anekāntic element involved in them. In passing we may add that the Advaita Vedānta school following Śaṅkara has thoroughly developed the concepts of purport and primary as well as secondary meanings while interpreting the Upaniṣadic mahāvākyas such as 'That thou art' etc. For example, Sureśvarācārya, Vācaspati, Vidyāraṇya, Prakāśātman, Dharmarāja and Madhusūdana consider the mahāvākya 'That thou art' to be the purport of the Upanisadṣ. They further make distinction between the primary and the secondary meaning and try to interpret the mahāvākyas by ascribing either of it to them. Sureśvara is in favour of ascribing lakṣaṇā to them while Dharmarāja rejects it.[39] We need not enter into further details here. It suffices to state that their very difference of opinion with regard to the meaning of mahāvākya evinces the indeterminate or anekāntic nature of meaning in general.

Share this page on: