THE CONTRIBUTION OF RAMARAYA KAVI TO THE UPANISHADS
Dr. DurgaprasadaRao Chilakamarthi
.Among the post - Sankara Advaitins, Bellamkonda Ramarayakavi’s contribution to Advaita is most remarkable. He was the son of Mohanaraya and Hanumayamma who were the residents of Pamidipadu Agrahara near Narasaraopeta of Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. He lived between 1850A.D -1915 A.D.
In Dr. K. S. Dutta's words, "he [Ramarayakavi] is to be considered one of the most important post-Sankara advaitins of recent times and he had the same scholastic caliber as Vachaspati Misra and Madhusudanasaraswathi". For this reason, Ramarayakavi was also called Apara Sankara by his contemporaries. He produced more that 100 works within his short life time of 38 years. His works on Advaita Vedanta outnumbered those on other branches which constitute an important contribution to Indian philosophy. He wrote Vedantamukthavali in which he gave the essence of all Upanishads in Sardula meter of composition. This work contains hundreds of slokas. While commenting on the Upanishads he followed the Advaita approach of Sankara.
There are three Prasthanams - Upanishatprasthanam, Sutraprasthanam and Gitaprasthanam. Of the three, Upanishatprasthanam is not only the first to evolve but also enjoys the highest philosophical status as it happens to be the essence of the Vedas.
Though there are over a hundred Upanishads, only ten are considered highly significant as only these ten were exhaustively discussed by Sankara who drew upon the Upanishads including Kaushitaki and Swetaswatara. Scholars differ on the chronology of the Upanishads and hence, without going into the controversies, the traditional order is followed here.
ईश केन कठ प्रश्न
ऐतरेयं च छान्दोग्यं
Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka.
I. ISAVASYA UPANISHAD :
This Upanishad, belonging to the Yajurveda, has 18 verses and has the distinction of being the oldest. In this Upanishad, we find a wonderful synthesis of Karma and Jnana leading to emancipation. However, Sankara differed from this idea. According to him, the different parts of the verses are for different personalities - some for seekers of Atmajnana, while the rest are for the others. As for Karma and Jnana, Sankara stresses that the two paths for emancipation are mutually contradictory and hence cannot be practised simultaneously. Karma is superficial and extensive, while Jnana is an in-depth aid to Moksha.
While Sankara's idealistic thinking about the Upanishad deserves reverence, it is not sacrilegious to look into what some modern thinkers say about the Upanishad. For example, Mahatma Gandhi says "I have now come to a final conclusion that if all the other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes and if only the first verse of the Upanishad were left intact in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would be forever". The substance of the first verse of Isavasya is as follows - "All this world consists of animates and inanimate objects and is encompassed by the Lord. Enjoyment comes to you through renunciation of what you possess. Don't covet others’ riches".
The purport of this mantra is that all our resources, whether physical or intellectual, are given by God and they are His property. Therefore, we must enjoy whatever we have for our survival and leave the rest for others' enjoyment. The idea of "live and let live" is highlighted in this mantra. Isavasya further says that man should live for his allotted span of life performing good deeds. This is the only way for man to achieve detachment and extricate himself from the purely mundane attachments.
A sloka from the Isavasya Upanishad written by Ramarayakavi is given here as a piece meal
ईशावास्यमिदं समस्तभुवनं त्यक्त्वार्थगेहादिकं
ब्रह्मण्येन मुमुक्षुणानवरतं निष्ठा विधेयात्मनि |
अर्हत्वाय च तत्र कर्मविहितं कार्यं पुरा निष्फलं
विद्वानित्थमुपाचरन् हि भजते निर्लेप आत्माश्वरम् ||
(This universe can be imagined as a personification of the Almighty and hence it is His property. We have no business to trespass this sacred empire. The minimum we should do to preserve the sanctity is not to covet others' possessions. Further, we should carry out the duties allotted to us by the Almighty without expecting any reward for it. That, in essence, is the path to salvation.)
II. KENA UPANISHAD :
This Upanishad belongs to Tavalkara Brahmana of the Samaveda and is in two parts, half verse and half prose. The emphasis of this Upanishad is on the illusory nature of the senses. The concept of Brahman is not what the senses ordinarily grasp. But it can only be realized by itself. This Upanishad is known as Kenopanishad since the first word of the first verse is 'Kena' which means " by whom.". Sankara wrote two commentaries on this Upanishad Padabhashya (commentary on the words) and Vakyabhashya (commentary on the sentences).
Bellamkonda Ramaraya Kavi wrote the gist of Kenopanishad in his Vedantamukthavali strictly following the lines of Sankara. Here is a sloka from the Kenopanishad.
यस्यानुग्रहतो विजिग्युरसुरानिन्द्रादयो देवता:
शक्नोति स्म तृणं न दग्धुमनल: क्षेप्तुं च नैवानल:
द्यक्षाकारपदं च यल्लसति तद्विद्योतनं विद्युताम्
(The supremacy of Atman (read Almighty) is such that only through Its benediction Devas could conquer the demons. Its grace lets fire glow and air move; and even the Gods could become Gods only through Its grace. Let that Supreme Atman shine eternally.)
III. KATHA UPANISHAD :
Katopanishad is one of the oldest Upanishads belonging to the Taittiriya School of Yajurveda. The Upanishad elaborates the experiences of Nachiketa : his trip to the nether world, and his encounter with Yama who anointed the knowledge of Brahman on him. A special feature of the Upanishad is that most of its verses and ideas are found in the popular Bhagavad Gita verbatim. Many works were composed by many poets basing on this Upanishad.
Bellamkonda Ramarayakavi wrote Vedantamuktavali in which a gist of Kathopanishad was given. Here is a sloka from the Kathopanishad
तिष्ठन्तं त्वनवस्थितासु तनुषु स्वात्मानमेकं विभु:
यो देहं च महास्तमेति कुशलस्सोsयं न शोचत्यपि |
नो लभ्य: प्रवचोभिरेष पुरुषो नो मेधया न श्रुतै:
आत्मप्रार्थनया शमादिसहितं ज्ञानेन लभ्य: पुन: ||
(Atman is that which, though resident of the body is, unlike the body, indestructible, cannot be realized through didactic acts, is beyond the brain power and is self-created.)
(To be continued)