SrI vishNu sahasra nAmam

A Comparison of the bhAshya-s of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar.

In this write-up, we will look at a comparison of the bhAshya-s of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar for SrI vishNu sahasranAmam, using a few select nAma-s (about 10) as examples. The examples are drawn mostly from SrI P. B. aNNa'ngarAcArya svAmi's Introduction to his vyAkhyAnam on SrI vishNu sahasranAmam, even though I have added some examples from other references. Admittedly, an analysis based on less than 1% of the total nAma-s can be viewed as incomplete. A project wherein a systematic analysis of all the nAma-s is undertaken, is a major undertaking, which has to be deferred for the future.

For those who do not wish to go through the whole write-up, here is a brief summary of the trend of thought of this write-up:

1. As SrI PBA has clearly pointed out, SrI BhaTTar'v vyAkhyAnam emphasizes the guNa-s of saulabhyam and sauSIlyam of bhagavAn that are so much in favor of His devotee, whereas SrI Samkara tends to emphasize the parattvam of Brahman in his bhAshyam.

2. I also echo sentiments of SrI N. Raghunathan in his Foreward to "SrI vishNu sahasranAmam" by SrI P. Samkaranarayanan, namely, that when we get the benefit of different interpretations from different vyAkhyAna-s, we should view these as as complementing each other to enhance the richness of the whole. (In my regular write-ups, I draw information from about 10 vyAkhyAna-s which all have some unique aspects as explained later). Thus, when we get the anubhavam of different writers, what we derive is a "multiple bonus" by being exposed to the different anubhavam-s based on the different vyAkhyAna-s.

Now we will go into some specifics.

In looking at the vyAkhyAna's of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar, one has to keep in mind that SrI Samkara is the renowned advaitin, and SrI BhaTTar is the adopted child of Lord ra'nganAtha and pirATTi ra'nganAyaki, the son of kUrattAzhvAn who was a primary disciple of bhagavad rAmAnuja, and is a great exponent of viSishTAdvaita school.  To an advaitin the only truth is nirguNa Brahman - One without any attributes. The saguNa brahman is only an interim means to realize the real truth for the advaitin - namely the realization of the nirguNa Brahman. Thus, it can be expected that the vyAkyAnam of SrI Samkara deals at the level of significance and the interpretation of the nAma-s at the etymological level, with support from the Sruti-s and the smRti-s, but does not get into the deep anubhavam of these guNa-s at the level of saguNa Brahman. He mostly gives his interpretations emphasizing the supremacy of Brahman, the all-powerful nature of Brahman, the difficulty in realizing It, etc.

SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam deals with the interpretation of the nAma-s at the etymological level, and then proceeds further into the guNAnubhavam based on the experiences of the AzhvAr-s, namely the emotion of intense love and bhakti towards emperumAn, associated with the sauSIlyam and saulabhyam of saguNa brahman which is an integral part of the viSishTAdvaita philosophy. This seems to be the main difference between the vyAkhyAna-s of the two great stalwarts.

In the case of most nAma-s, the literal meaning that SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar assign will be the same, and when the literal meaning is different, both alternatives are equally acceptable meanings for the nAma-s purely from the point of view of samskRt. The difference arises in the further elaboration of this meaning. SrI Samkara supports his interpretations with quotes from the Sruti-s and smrti-s at the philosophical level. SrI BhaTTar quotes evidences from these same sources, but the message he conveys emphasizes the saguNa brahman so very much enjoyed by the AzhvArs in their divine outpourings. He does not directly quote from the AzhvArs, just as SrI rAmAnuja did not quote directly from the AzhvArs in any of his works. We have already dealt with the reasons for this in previous discussion in this list.  But the anubhavam of the AzhvArs is loud and clear in SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam. He repeatedly reminds us of bhagavAn's sauSIlyam and saulabhyam - His ease of mixing with His devotees and His easy accessibility to a true devotee, His Infinite Mercy, His waiting to help and forgive a devotee from the enormous sins that have been committed, etc.

SrI PBA observes that both paratvam and saulabhyam are equally important aspects of the greatness of emperumAn. We are given this birth to realize and enjoy both these aspects equally. But of these two guNa-s, the one that touches the devotee intensely and draws him to emperumAn's feet is sauSIlyam. He gives the example of nammAzhvAr, who starts off describing the paratvam of perumAL very nicely - 

uyarvaRa uyar nalam uDaiyavan yavan avan

nammAzhvAr does not become subject to visible external emotion during the description of bhagavAn's paratvam. But later on, when he starts describing the sausIlyam of perumAL - "ettiRam uralinODu iNaindirundu E'ngiay eLivE" - he is completely overwhelmed by emotion, and passes out (loses his conscience) for a long duration of six months at this very thought of perumAL's guNam of sausIlyam.

Thus, it is important to keep in mind that the discussion here is not meant to suggest that the guNam of paratvam is not important, nor is it true that AzhvArs do not sing about His parattvam equally along with His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam. How ever, between the two paths, our viSishTAdvaita AcArya-s do not miss the opportunity to emphasize the anubhavam of His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam, and SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam is an outstanding example of this. If we were to summarize in one sentence the difference between SrI Samkara's and SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAna-s, it is that the former emphasizes the parattvam and aiSvaryam (Isitvam or ISvarattvam) of Brahman, and SrI BhaTTar emphasizes the sauSIlyam and saulabhyam of perumAL.

We will go through just a few of the nAma-s, mostly used by SrI PBA in his Introduction, just to illustrate the above points.

sat-kRtih (in Slokam 75) - sad-gatih saT-kRtih sattA….

The simple meaning of the word sat-kRtih is "He of good acts". The differences in the vyAkhyAnam arise when the vyAkhyAna kartA-s go the next step, and give an explanation of what these "good acts" are. SrI Samkara gives the example of His protecting all the creatures of this Universe as the example of His "good acts".

SrI BhaTTar takes this meaning, and links his anubhavam of this nAma to the previous Slokam, wherein the nAma vAsudevah occurs (vasuprado vAsudevo vasur vasumanA havih). He interprets the nAma sat-kRtih in relation to the childhood pranks of Lord kRshNa, such as His stealing butter from the gopi's houses, being tied to the mortar by yaSodA, etc. One may ask the question: Why are these "good acts"? SrI BhaTTar's position is: Because, those who meditate on these acts of bhagavAn are relieved from the bondage of samsAra forever!

The examples given in both cases are relevant and appropriate.  However, the current example gives an indication to what we will notice as we see other examples, namely, that SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam will echo the guNAnubhavam of bhagavAn as echoed in the AzhvAr's outpourings.

vijitAtmA (Slokam 66):

The simple meaning of the words in the nAma is: He who has a mind that has been conquered. It does not say "conquered by whom?". This is the place where we see the different anubhavam-s of the two vyAkhyAna-s.

SrI Samkara has interpreted the nAma as One who has controlled His indriya-s and mind - vijita AtmA mano yena sah vijitAtmA. In other words, bhagavAn is referred to by this nAma here because He hasconquered His own mind.

SrI BhaTTar sees here an example of how bhagavAn's mind is easily conquered by His devotees. So he gives an interpretation which is in a sense the exact opposite of that SrI Samkara - namely, He is one whose mind is easily conquered by others, namely His devotees. So He is the One who is defeated in His mind control, since He gives in easily to His devotees' wishes. This is another example of how SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam is oriented towards the enjoyment of His saulabhyam and sauSIlyam as major aspects of His guNa.

vidheyAtmA or a-vidheyAtmA (Slokam 66):

This nAma is the very next nAma after vijitAtmA which we discussed above.

Here the difference in interpretation is based on the pATha-bhedam - or the difference in the words that constitute the Slokam. SrI Samkara has used the pATham "vijitAtmA avidheyAtmA…", and SrI BhaTTar has chosen the pATham "vijitAtmA vidheyAtmA".

Literally, vidheya means "submissive". vidheya AtmA is "One who is of a submissive nature", and a-vidheya-AtmA is "One who is of a non-submissive nature". SrI Samkara has given the interpretation in samskRt as "na kenApi vidheya AtmA svarUpam asya iti a-vidheya-AtmA" - His nature is not under the sway of anyone else. SrI rAdhAkRshNa SAstri has translated it as "One who is not under anyone else's control". This of course is true of His nature, IF that is what He wants.

SrI BhaTTar uses the pATham "vidheyAtmA", and has the guNAnubhavam that bhagavAn is completely subservient to His devotee. He describes that it is bhagavAn's essential nature to be at the disposal of His devotees to such an extent that He can be easily commanded by them to do whatever they want. They can command Him 'Come here, stand here, sit here, eat this', etc., and He will just obey if it is a command from His devotee. SrI PBA gives the example of tirumazhiSai AzhvAr commanding to Sonna vaNNam Seida perumAL - "kaNi kaNNan pOginRAn kAmarupU'nkacci maNi vaNNA! NI kiDakka vENDA", and perumAL packs up His snake bed and leaves as commanded by AzhvAr. Later, when AzhvAr tells perumAL - "painnAgap pAi virittuk koL", He gets back and spreads out His snake bed and resumes His original sevai again. There is also the example of arjuna commanding Lord  kRshNa to take the chariot to the middle of the two armies during the start of the mahAbhArata war, and bhagavAn obeys arjuna's command.

So the difference in the vyAkhyAnam here is associated with the pATha bhedam. But the example is another illustration where SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam emphasizes His subservience, soulabhyam, and sauSIlyam to His devotees, whereas SrI Samkara seems to direct His explanations in terms of the absolute supremacy of brahman (paratvam, aiSvaryam, etc.).

Sat-kIrtih: (Slokam 66)

SrI Samkara's vyAkhyAnam for this nAma is: satI (a-vitathA) kIrtih asya iti sat-kIrtih - He of true fame, One whose fame is true and well-established. This is the correct meaning of the word sat-kIrtih. 

SrI BhaTTar stars with this meaning, and proceeds to attribute the source of His true fame to His sauSIlyam - sausIlya, sattvena ati-mahatI kIrtih asya iti sat-kIrtih - His kIrti is well established and true because of His being so amiable and affable by nature. SrI BhaTTar continues and points out that His kIrti is so great, that no matter what one says about His kIrti, it is true, but it is only a small part of His kIrti; it is indescribable in words.

Thus, in this instance, SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar use the same meaning for the nAma, but SrI BhaTTar emphasizes bhagavAn's sauSIlyam at every opportunity in his vyAkhyAnam.

Chinna-samSayah: (Slokam 66)

SrI Samkara vyAkhyAnam for the nAma is: He who sees everything with clarity like a fruit in the palm, and so He who is free from any doubt. In other words, it is bhagavAn who has no doubt of any kind, and so He is called chinna-samSayah. SrI BhaTTar's interpretation for the nAma is that He has the nAma chinna-samSayah because He destroys the doubts in His devotees' mind. Both are equally valid interpretations of the samskRt term "chinna samSayah".

SrI BhaTTar takes his interpretation and links it to His sauSIlyam. If anyone has any doubts such as: "Can He can be easily known or is very difficult to be known, Can He be easily pleased or difficult to please, Is He easily accessible or difficult to access" - these doubts stand dispelled right away because His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam are well-known. In other words, bhagavAn conducts Himself in such a way that He removes any doubts anyone has about Him.

Once more, we see that SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam heavily emphasizes bhagavAn's kalyANa guNa-s such as His sauSIlyam and saulabhyam, and uses these in his interpretation to the utmost extent, and SrI Samkara keeps his vyAkhyAnam in praise of the Supremacy of Brahman in all aspects.

anISah (Slokam 67):

The literal meaning of the nAma is "Not-Master". This could mean that "There is no Master above Him", or "He is not the Master when He chooses not to be the Master".

SrI Samkara has chosen the former interpretation, and SrI BhaTTar has chosen the latter. The first interpretation is obviously true of the Supreme Brahman. SrI BhaTTar takes the side of the devotee. When it comes to the devotee commanding Him to do anything, He just obeys, and loses His Mastership very readily and willingly, and enjoys this loss of Mastership. One is reminded of a father or mother losing willingly in a mock game with their young child and delighting in losing. SrI BhaTTar gives the examples of our giving Him a bath, tying Him up for dressing Him while decorating Him, etc. When yaSodA tied Him up with a rope, or threatened to beat Him up for stealing butter, etc., He was not the Master of the scene, but accepted all that very willingly. SrI PBA points to periAzhvAr's pASuram -
nAraNA neerADa vArAi, inRu nI nIrADa vENDum empirAn ODAdE vArAi, SeNbagap pUc cUTTa vArAi, iruvATcippUc cUTTa vArAi, etc., 
and He obeys all these dictates from His devotee.

sammitah (Slokam 12 - vasur vasumanAh….):

The difference between SrI Samkara's and SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAna-s here arises because of pATha bhedam. SrI Samkara has used the pATham "a-sammitah", and SrI BhaTTar has used the pATham "sammitah". Thus, they end up with opposite meanings.

sammitah literally means "that which can be well-defined, easily understood", or "that which is unlimited by anything". SrI Samkara bhAshyam is "sarvaih a-paricchinnah amita iti a-sammitah" - unbounded by anything, undefined precisely by anything, etc. This is how the Sruti-s describe Brahman - The Unknown and The Unknowable.

But the bhakti school of AzhvArs is that He is Unknown and Unknowable only to those who do not seek Him with sincere devotion. To a true devotee, He is as easily known as a "fruit in the palm". SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam is "hastasthah iti samyak paricchinnah" - His devotees understand Him well as someone in their hands - well within their control. Such was the experience of daSaratha, yaSodA, etc.  daSaratha declares "Una shoDaSa varsho me rAmo rAjIva locanah" - Note "me rAmo" - My rAma. Vasudeva declares "mama ayam tanayo nijah" - Note again "mam tanayah". SrI PBA gives the quotes from peria tirumozhi - 
"azhugaiyum a'nji nOkkum an-nOkkum aNi-koL Sem Siru vAi neLippaduvum, tozhugaiyum ivai kaNDa aSOdai tollai inbattu irudi kaNDALE" - 
She is experiencing the ultimate in tollai in her interaction with Him.

mahA-koSah (Slokam 46 - vistArah sthAvarah ..):

KoSa means shield as well as treasure. SrI Samkara uses the former meaning, and SrI BhaTTar uses the later meaning. SrI Samkara vyAkhyAnam for this nAma is: 
mahAntah koSA annamayAdayah AcchAdakA asya iti mahA-koSah - One who has got as His covering the great sheaths like annamaya etc. I have copied part of our previous write-up for this nAma in the list. The following description shows how difficult it is to realize bhagavAn:

SrI Samkara's interpretation is based on the meaning "shield" for koSa. His interpretation is that the real nature of the soul is shielded by the five koSa-s, anna maya koSa, prANa maya koSa, mano maya koSa, vij~nAna maya koSa, and Ananda maya koSa, and bhagavAn is the mahAkoSa who is shielded from all except the yogi-s. The dharma cakram writer points out that by control of our indriya-s we can cross the anna maya koSa, by control of breath we can cross the prANa maya koSa, by control of the mind the manomaya koSa is crossed, by channeling one's intellect and through control of worldly desires and passions we can cross the vij~nAnamaya koSa, and through meditation on the Self we cross the Anandamaya koSa, and ultimately realize Brahman.

SrI BhaTar's vyAkhyAnam is based on the meaning "treasure" for the term koSa. In his vyAkhyAnam, mahA-koSa refers to bhagavAn being a  vast, inexhaustible treasure. Even though BhagavAn is giving away Himself and His belongings always to His devotees in all ways, still it does not diminish. SrI v.v.rAmAnujan refers us to "Unam il Selvam enko?", pointing to the undiminishing Affluence called BhagavAn.

Again we see the difference between the approaches of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar. While the former presents Brahman as the difficult One to realize and not easily accessible, SrI BhaTTar emphasizes the easy accessibility of bhagavAn, His infinite Mercy, His inexhaustible love to His devotee, etc. Needless to say, both aspects are true of bhagavAn,  But the former probably will appeal to those who can practice the intense discipline to realize Him through the difficult and unsure path of yogic discipline, and the latter will appeal to the ordinary people who are either unable or not qualified to practice the former.

Another major aspect of SrI BhaTTar's bhAshyam is that in addition to giving the etymological interpretation for each nAma, SrI BhaTTar sees a thread of connectivity between the 1000 nAma-s, and  groups the 1000 nAma-s into 44 groups. He associates each group with one of the incarnations or vibhUti-s of bhagavAn. Thus, in his vyAkhyAnam, invariably one will see the explanation of each nAma being linked to the vyAkhyAnam for the previous nAma within a given group.

For example, nAma-s 1 to 122 are explained by SrI BhaTTar as describing the para vAsudeva form, nAma-s 123 and 124 describe samkarshaNa, etc.  SrI rAdhAkRshNa SAstri gives one example of how sometimes interpreting a nAma in the context of the nAma-s that immediately precede or succeed the given nAma can be much more enjoyable than when just the individual meaning of the nAma is looked at.

In the sequence: anukUlah, SatAvartah, padmI, and padmanibhekshaNah, SrI SAstri explains "anukUlah" as He who helps in reaching the goal (kUlam means the shore, and anukUah is One who takes us to the shore). SatAvartah means One who repeatedly appears. SrI SAstri points out that it is much more enjoyable to see this nAma in the context of the previous nAma, and interpret "SatAvartah" as suggesting that He appears repeatedly and keeps offering help repeatedly, to ensure that His devotee reaches the shore for sure. He then proceeds to interpret padmI as referring to Him who has a lotus in His hand to signify His easy accessibility when He offers this help to His devotee. padma-nibhekshaNah is interpreted as indicating that He has eyes which resemble the pleasant lotus flowers, re-assuring the devotee that He is there to help them. Thus the interpretations of the four nAma-s are inter-related to each other, and they all reinforce the idea that bhagavAn is intensely interested in helping His devotee, and manifests this interest in various ways.

Even though this example is SrI SAstri's own and is not drawn from SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam, nonetheless it is an excellent illustration of the additional bhagavad guNAnubhavam that one derives when the nAma-s are interpreted in the context of each other in some cases, rather than as standalone nAma-s.

The Benefit to Us:

Readers are aware that I have used several vyAkhyAna-s in my write-up (those by SrI BhaTTar, SrI Samkara, SrI v.v. rAmAnujan, SrI rAdhAkRshNa SAstri, SrI satyadevo vAsishTha, the dharma cakram writer, SrI P. B. aNNa'ngarAcArya, and SrI cinmayAnanda, SrI kRshNa datta bhAradvAj, and a few others). Each one of these vyAkhyAna-s has some special aspect about it that is not found in the others. For instance, SrI Samkara's bhAshyam is the oldest among those listed above, and is also the one which is probably the lead text which all the later advaitin vyAkhyAnakartA-s have used. Similarly, SrI BhaTTar's vyAkhyAnam is the first from one who is from the viSishTAdvaita school, and has served as the basis from which other viSishTADvaita followers have drawn. SrI v.v. rAmAnujan's work is unique in that it gives profuse examples from divya prabandham for each nAma, mostly from nammAzhvAr's tiruvAimozhi.  SrI satyadevo vAsishTha is among the most thorough in looking at the etymology of each nAma, and goes into great detail on the grammatical derivation of each nAma from its root, without exception. In addition, he also is unique among the vyAkhyAna kartA-s in that he has composed 1000 Sloka-s for the thousand nAma-s, each Slokam summarizing his vyAkhyAnam for that nAma. The dharma cakram writer takes elaborate effort to relate each mantra (nAma) to the real world, and explains to the common man what lesson needs to be taken from each Nama. 

SrI rAdhAkRshNa Sastri summarizes both the bhAshya of SrI Samkara and SrI BhaTTar in his text, but in addition has added his own quotes from the Sruti-s and smriti-s in different places. SrI kRshNa datta bhAradvAj is a samskRt scholar in his own right, and has given additional support for each nAma from the Sruti-s and smRti-s as well. SrI cinmayAnanda's write-up is in simple English that many of us can easily understand.  SrI P. B. aNNa'ngarAcArya's vyAkhyAnam is in tamizh and follows SrI BhaTTar's bhAshyam, and is mainly meant for those who may not understand SrI BhaTTar's detailed vyAkhyAnam in samskRt, but SrI PBA's introduction where he compares the vyAkhyAna-s of SrI BhaTTar with some of the others, is a contribution in itself that is not matched by any other writer.

I have drawn from all the above sources, and tried to bring the unique aspects of the different vyAkhyAna-s together.  The approach that has been taken is to view the differences in the vyAkhyAna-s as a "multiple bonus" for us - that when we look at the vyAkhyAna-s, we get multiple anubhavam-s of the Infinite dimensions of the guNa-s of SrI mahA vishNu.
I hope that the above summary places the readers in a better position to enjoy the guNAnubhavam of vishNu as reflected in the summary of the meanings of the nAma-s that is being presented in the series.

-dAsan kRshNamAcAryan