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While commenting on the verse "tasya yatha kapyasam pundarikamevamakshini" in his bhashya on the Chandogya Upanishad, Shankara describes the eyes of Ishwara as:

eyes of that golden Purusha are like two lotuses which are red like the nates (buttocks) of a monkey

How does the above interpretation compare to commentaries of other Vedantins?

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    According to some scholars kapyasam is simply a kind of lotus - called vakula in India. Alternative explanation : the intent was this according to some " The Lord's eyes are like the lotus just as the lotus is like a monkey's backside" - meaning, even the beautiful lotus pales in comparison to the lord's eyes just as a monkey's derriere is an inappropriate simile for the lotus. – user1195 Mar 26 '17 at 3:51
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First of all, here is the Chandogya Upanishad verse in question:

tasya yathā kapyāsaṃ puṇḍarīkamevamakṣiṇī
tasyoditi nāma sa eṣa sarvebhyaḥ pāpmabhya udita
udeti ha vai sarvebhyaḥ pāpmabhyo ya evaṃ veda ॥

Whose eyes are like blue lotus's, his name is ut, for he has risen (udita) above all evil. He also who knows this, rises above all evil.

Now Adi Shankaracharya interprets the word "kapyasam" in that verse as saying that the supreme lord's eyes are the color of a monkey's butt, as described in this excerpt from his Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya:

"Kapyasa" is the "asa", seat, of the "Kapi", monkey; the term "asa" being derived from the root "asa", to sit, with the ghan affix. The term "Kapyasa" therefore stands for the part of the monkey's back on which it sits; so that when the lotus is spoken of as "Kapyasa", "monkey-seat", what is meant is that it is extremely bright (and red); so the eyes of the Solar Person also are bright red. Inasmuch as the Simile is an indirect one, - the lotus being likened to the monkey's seat, and the eyes being likened to the lotus, - it cannot be regarded as incompatible with the dignity of the subject.

In any case, to answer your question, no, other commentators do not interpret the word "kapyasam" as referring to a monkey's butt. In fact, this verse played a major role in the history of Sri Vaishnavism. Before Ramanujacharya became a Sri Vaishnava, he was the shishya of a guru named Yadava Prakasha, who was teaching his students Adi Shankaracharya's Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya. When they got to the part of the Bhashya that we're discussing, boiling hot tears came out of Ramanujacharya's eyes. He explained "How can you compare Sriman Narayana's eyes to a monkey's butt? The Chandogya Upanishad is saying that his eyes are the color of a lotus flower kissed by the sun!" Yadavaprakasha was angered that his student was challenging him, and this created a rift between guru and shishya that ultimately led to Ramanujacharya leaving Yadava Prakasha and becoming a Sri Vaishnava.

In any case, here is how the Sri Vaishnava commentator Ranga Ramanuja interprets the verse in this excerpt from his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad:

Kapi means one who drinks water (kam pibati), namely the sun. The lotus which is thrown out (asyate), that is, struck on and opened by the sun is therefore called kapyasa. The Author similarly states: "(1) Kapyasa is that which has been struck by the sun, for it is endowed with beauty; (2) or again, Kapi means one who drinks water (kam pibati), namely a stalk. Because the lotus) is seated upon a stalk, it) is called kapyasa. This is what is intended here, because the lotus seated on a stalk is more beautiful than one which has been cut off; (3) or, ka refers to water, and the root as (to sit) is preceded by the prefix api. It becomes pyasa) because there is the declaration that the grammarian) Bhaguri holds that in cases where prefixes ava- and api- are added, the first vowel is dropped. Thus) the term kapyasa means that it takes its seat on water, that is, that it lives in water." Taking into account this threefold meaning thus established for the word kapyasa) by the Author, Bhagavat Bhasyakara (= Ramanuja) stated in (his) Vedarthasamgraha" (that it means) "Having pure and large eyes like the petals of a lotus, opened by the sun's beams, and on a fine stalk, born in the deep water." But other meanings such as "like the lotus which resembles the rump of a monkey" were ignored by the Bhasyakara, since they had been ignored by the Author (Vakyakrt) as suffering from such faults as vulgarity of language.

And it's not just people who came after Adi Shankaracharya who disagreed with his interpretation. As I discuss in this question, one of the most important pre-Shankara Vedanta philosophers was the Vakyakara, known as Tanka or Brahmanandi. He wrote an ancient Vakya or commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad, where he analyzed the word "kapyasam" and gave six possible meanings it could have, and then rejected three of them as inappropriate to the context. This excerpt from from S.S. Raghavachar's book "Ramanuja on the Upanishads" gives the six meanings:

Sudarshana Suri, commenting on Ramanuja's explanation, observes that the Vakyakara has enumerated six interpretations of the term, "kapyasam", of which three are acceptable and three are not. All the acceptable views are here set out - opened by the sun, having stout stalks and growing in deep water. The rejected explanations suggest that it refers to the sphere of the sun, the posteriors of a monkey and a state of half-blossoming.

So as you can see, Adi Shankaracharya adopted a meaning which the Vakyakara had earlier rejected as inappropriate to the context.

  • some say that its not written by sankara but someone else . what you feel ? – Rakesh Joshi Mar 24 '17 at 19:27
  • @RakeshJoshi Who says that? – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 24 '17 at 19:51
  • Tanka Vakyakara gave the original monkey analogy (among 5 others), And Shankara adopted it. So in a sense, Shankara didn't write it, but just chose one of the 5. – ram Mar 25 '17 at 2:50
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    @ram Yes, he chose 1 out of the 6, but he chose one that Tanka had explicitly rejected as inapproparite to the context. Tanka gave six meanings that the Sanskrit word "kapyasam", taken without any context, could have, but he only designated three of them as being appropriate to the context of the Chandogya Upanishad verse. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 25 '17 at 4:25
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Whether Adi Shankarar gave the original analogy is debatable - http://kapyasampundarikam.blogspot.in/

However, Swami Ramanujar was deeply disturbed by this simili given by his acharya Yadava Prakashar (who was an Advaitin), and and gave a different/better/correct explanation - Kapi means sun, Asam means to bloom, Kapyasam Pundarikam means - sun-bloomed-lotus (lotus blooms in morning when sun rays hit it). Lord's eyes are like sun-bloomed-lotus.

This was a huge discussion even thousand years ago, and scholars give technical points based on sanskrit grammar on why the monkey-analogy isn't proper.

e.g. if kapyasam is a simili for lotus, and lotus is a simili for Lord's eyes, then the sentence should be 'Lord's eyes are like lotus which is like monkey-rear', so in sanskrit there should be 2 'like' or 'eva' i.e 'kapyasam eva pundarikam eva akshini' but there is only one 'eva', so, kapyasam is not a simili, but an adjective. And as an adjective 'sun-bloomed' fits properly, whereas 'monkey-rear' does not.

There are many more points mentioned by a scholar just few days back in an upanyasam, let me see if I can find his source.

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A colour is colour is a colour. To debate the 'appropriateness' of an analogy is a fruitless and endless endeavor as there are no scriptural rules for analogies. Everyone's sense of 'decorum' is different. In Swami Gambhirananda's translation of the Chandogya U I.6.6-7, Sankara says in his commentary on this verse:

...Of Him, of the diety, aksini, the two eyes; are like pundarikam, a lotus; which is very bright kapyasam iva, like the seat of a monkey. The illustration is not blasphemous because that which illustrates is itself compared to another.

And Swami Gambhirananda's footnote to this statement:

It is also noted that pundarika literally means a white lotus. But the intended idea is that of a red lotus. Hence the illustration of a monkey's seat becomes a necessity.

Focus on the colour the analogy is meant to convey, not the analogy.

  • "To debate the 'appropriateness' of an analogy is a fruitless and endless endeavor as there are no scriptural rules for analogies. " Good Point. Moreover, Maya is temporary (for Advaitins) So, it is useless to debate on appropriateness. – The Destroyer Mar 25 '17 at 11:16
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    @TheDestroyer, first, there are scriptural rules for analogies, second, by your own logic about Maya being temporary, saying that 'it is useless to debate on appropriateness' is also useless. You, me, this website, this entire world is all temporary, yet we continue to debate here. third, if it is intended to convey the color red, that is fine, but it does not make the monkey-seat a necessity according to that footnote. Any other appropriate analogy can also be used to denote red color. – ram Apr 24 '17 at 19:36
  • @ram Discussions that make us to realize or know more about Brahman are useful (though in reality they are Maya: but you might know only realized can feel this world as Maya, not unrealized like you and I). Moreover, so called Analogies can only be applied to certain scenarios. The Analogies are limited (like our limited consciousness). – The Destroyer Apr 24 '17 at 20:09

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