In Hindu philosophy there are three main Pramanas or valid means of knowledge: Pratyaksha or sensory evidence, Anumana or reasoning, and Shabda or revelation/scripture. But as I discuss in this question, Advaitins believe that these Pramanas are only valid in the perspective of someone still living under Maya. Now in his commentary on Adhyaya 4 Pada 1 Sutra 3 of the Brahma Sutras, the Advaitin philosopher Adi Shankaracharya gives two scriptural quotes to try to support the Advaita belief that all Pramanas are ultimately invalid:

Nor is it true that the doctrine of identity would imply that nobody is entitled to works, &c., and is contrary to perception and so on. For we admit that before true knowledge springs up, the soul is implicated in the transmigratory state, and that this state constitutes the sphere of the operation of perception and so on. On the other hand texts such as 'But when the Self only has become all this, how should he see another?' &c., teach that as soon as true knowledge springs up, perception, &c., are no longer valid.--Nor do we mind your objecting that if perception, &c., cease to be valid, scripture itself ceases to be so; for this conclusion is just what we assume. For on the ground of the text, 'Then a father is not a father' up to 'Then the Vedas are not Vedas' (Bri. Up. IV, 3, 22), we ourselves assume that when knowledge springs up scripture ceases to be valid.

Now the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I am a member) believes that all Pramanas including scripture are always valid means of knowledge. So my question is, how do Sri Vaishnavas interpret the scriptural quote that Adi Shankaracharya interprets as saying that scripture is ultimately invalid?

The quote comes from verse 22 of Adhyaya 4 Brahmana 3 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where the sage Yagnavalkya describes to Janaka the state of the soul during deep sleep:

atra pitā'pitā bhavati mātā'mātā lokā alokā devā adevā vedā avedā
atra steno'steno bhavati bhrūṇahā'bhrūṇahā
cāṇḍālo'caṇḍālaḥ paulkaso'paulkaso śramaṇo'śramaṇa
stāpaso'tāpaso'nanvāgataṃ puṇyenānanvāgataṃ pāpena
tīrṇo hi tadā sarvāñchokānhṛdayasya bhavati ॥

Then a father is not a father, a mother not a mother, the worlds not worlds, the gods not gods, the Vedas not Vedas. Then a thief is not a thief, a murderer not a murderer, a Kândâla not a Kândâla, a Paulkasa not a Paulkasa, a Sramana not a Sramana, a Tâpasa not a Tâpasa. He is not followed by good, not followed by evil, for he has then overcome all the sorrows of the heart.

Now as I discuss in this answer, all the commentators on the Brahma Sutras agree that during deep sleep, the soul resides in Brahman. So Adi Shankaracharya argues that the statement that "the Vedas [are] not Vedas" during deep sleep means that when a person has attained Brahman, the Vedas are no longer valid means of knowledge.

But how do Sri Vaishnaavas interpret the "Vedas [are] not Vedas" quote? Now the famous Sri Vaishnava Acharya Ramanujacharya didn't write commentaries on the Upanishads, but another Sri Vaishnava Acharya named Ranga Ramanuja did write Upanishad commentaries. So does anyone know what Ranga Ramanuja says about this verse in his commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad?

I assume that the Sri Vaishnava interpretation of this verse is simply that during deep sleep, the soul lacks conscious awareness, so it is not aware of things like father, mother, Vedas, etc. But does anyone have a copy of Ranga Ramanuja's commentary so I can confirm that? This website has the first three Adhyayas of Ranga Ramanuja's commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, but I need the fourth.

On a side note, in Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Aranyakas Upanishad, as opposed to his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, he interprets the verse in a way that's much closer to my preferred interpretation:

[T]he worlds, which are either won or to be won through rites, are no worlds, owing to his disassociation from those rites. Similarly the gods, who are parts of the rites, are no gods, because he transcends his relation to those rites. The Vedas also, consisting of the Brahmanas, which describe the means, the goal and their relation, as well as the Mantras, and forming part of the rites, since they deal with them, whether already read or yet to be read, are connected with a man through those rites. Since he transcends those rites, the Vedas too then are no Vedas.

Here Adi Shankaracharya does not make the same epistemological point about whether the Vedas are valid means of knowledge. I think Sri Vaishnavas may well interpret the verse in a similar fashion to this quote.

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    I think you have missed the point of Sankara's meaning completely. For a person who has attained knowledge - meaning complete identification with Brahman, complete effacement of the identification with the individual ego, it is one with Brahman. There is nothing besides Brahman. If such a person lives after that occurs, the world, the whole sensory universe and everything in it appears as a shadow, a mirage, for lack of a better simile. Sep 3, 2016 at 4:51
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    @SwamiVishwananda Well, in the quote I gave above, Adi Shankaracharya is responding to the argument that the identity of the Jivatma and Brahman contradicts all means of knowledge including perception and scripture. Adi Shankaracharya responds that that doesn't matter because those Pramanas are invalid in the absolute perspective, since as you said Advaitins believe after realization the world is like a looking at a mirage. But the evidence that Adi Shankaracharya gives in support of the Pramanas being invalid is that scriptural quote, so that's what I'd like to see the Sri Vaishnava view on. Sep 3, 2016 at 6:52
  • Again, invalid from the point of view of the Absolute; not invalid from the point of view of one identified with the ego. Sep 4, 2016 at 5:34
  • @SwamiVishwananda Yes, that's what I said in my question: "Advaitins believe that these Pramanas are only valid in the perspective of someone still living under Maya." Sep 4, 2016 at 13:42
  • @SwamiVishwananda By the way, can you take a look at my question here, related to the Brahma Sutras? hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/15044/36 Sep 23, 2016 at 0:39

1 Answer 1


As expected, Sri Vaishnavas do not think that this verse makes the epistemological point suggested by Adi Shankaracharya in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya. Instead they interpret it in a similar fashion to the way Adi Shankaracharya interprets it in his Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya, as I predicted.

N.S. Anantharangachar wrote a series of books summarizing Ranga Ramanuja's Sri Vaishnava commentaries on the Upanishads. Here is what he says in his Brihadaranyaka Upanishad book about verse 4.3.22:

Atra paramAthmani sushupthisthAnay leenasya Jeevasya pitrAdayo na santhi !

When a person is in sushupti state he is without any relationship with any Karma that results with association with body and others. As he is at that time Ashariri, there will absence of father and others

LokA alokA : The worlds are no worlds as because the sushupta is not having any asraya in them. There are no gods. Anugrahaka Sunyatvat

As in the sushupti state his nature is one which is not suborinated to any dictate of the shastras and hence Vedas are not vedas (VedA aVedA: )

He is not a thief and others because in the nature of the pure atman there is no possibility of any relatiionship with theft and others. In that state he will not be having (samsparsha) of punya or papa that results in association with the body.

If it is asked how there can be the total absence of the association with karma in that state, as it happens only when he discards his physical body. It is answered that the person who is in sushupti has crossed over all sorrows of his heart and the karmas that exist are not tending to yield results in that state and so it may be said that he had crossed over all karmas in that state

(sushupta: purusha: hi yesmAt Hridayasya sarvAn shokAn teernO bhavati, thatha: manastaparoopaphAlAbhAvAth vidyamAnAnAmapi karmanAm phalapradAnAbhimukhyanAmabAvAtkarmanAm asambhandhaprayatvat tatkruthasarirasambhandAbAvena tadanubandhimatApithrAdayOpi na sambandyantay ! )

So in the Sri Vaishnava view, it is as if the Jiva is disassociated from its Karma due to its bliss in the deep sleep state. There is no epistemological point being made about the the validity of the Vedas.

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