The Journal of Hindu Studies 2009;2:229–241 Advance Access Publication 9 October 2009

Doi: 10.1093/jhs/hip016

Fate Hangs on a Particle
The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3
Katherine K. Young
Downloaded from at National University of Singapore on January 5, 2013

Abstract: There were many debates in the Hindu tradition over whether women, low castes, and outcastes could attain liberation in this life or whether they had to await another birth or more. This article explores one of the most important proof texts for the former view: Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 and pays particular attention to the interpretation of the indeclinable three-letter word api in deciding the destiny of these groups. After determining the literal meaning of these verses in the Gītā, the article focuses on the hermeneutics of three commentators – Bhāskara, Abhinavagupta, and Rāmānuja – to show how they worked hard to provide interpretations that would be acceptable in Mīmāṃsā, Tantra, and Bhakti circles, respectively.

The traditional Mīmāṃsā view of text and hermeneutics is based on the Veda and its six supplements (vedāṅga): the science of proper articulation and pronunciation (śikṣā); meter (chandas); grammar (vyākaraṇa); etymological explanations of difficult Vedic words (nirukta); astronomical observations (jyotiṣa); and rituals (kalpa). Focus on the text, in turn, means focus on the Sanskrit language as codified by Pāṇini from his observation of how people actually use words and syntax. This makes vyākaraṇa and nirukta important supplements. Although the ancient sages (ṛṣis) could intuit the meaning directly, says Durga (ca. thirteenth or fourteenth century), later scholars lost this ability and had to use hard work (tapas) based on their scholarly skills, ingenuity, and even a desired outcome (Durga on Nirukta 2.1.1). This is especially true of their commentaries on nipātas. Nipātas in grammar are indeclinables. By the second century BCE, they could have meanings, grammatical functions (for instance, acting as conjunctions), or be mere verse-fillers (pādapūraṇa).1 The particle for consideration here is api. The key verses are Bhagavadgītā (BG) 9:32–3 (although I will also discuss 9:29–31 to provide context). The commentators are Bhāskara (seventh century), Abhinavagupta (between the tenth and the eleventh century), and Rāmānuja (between the eleventh and the twelfth century),2 who must decide what to do with this beguilingly simple little word because of its momentous implications for the salvation of women and low castes. Is api a mere verse-filler that maintains meter? Does
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By supreme goal. I now offer a translation of 9:32–3. the point is that these four or three groups attain the supreme goal (parām gatim). liberation (mokṣa) from rebirth is obviously intended. if. then. on the other. The hint as to how the second api should be translated is in the subsequent verse (kiṃ punaḥ in 9:33).oxfordjournals. the first api makes the ye form indefinite. kim punar brāhmaṇāḥ puṇyā bhaktā rājarṣayastathā anityamasukham lokamimaṃ prāpya bhajasva mām (9:33). certainly. and outcastes or caṇḍālas)7 or as an adjective qualifying women. after resorting to me. The contrast here is between pāpayonayaḥ. indeed. In the BG. 2013 mām hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye’pi syuḥ pāpayonayaḥ striyo vaiśyāstathāśūdrāste`pi yānti parām gatim (9:32). and śūdras – even they attain the supreme goal.3 Bhagavadgītā 9:29–33 Downloaded from http://jhs. on the one hand. O Pārtha. Indeed. the pure brāhmaṇas and devoted royal-sages! Having reached this impermanent and unhappy world. The phrase kiṃ punaḥ (‘let alone’ or ‘how much more’) will have no meaning unless it is connected with the second api (te ‘pi) in the previous verse. whoever (ye api) are of sinful birth – women. The first api (in ye ‘pi) is related to the second api (in te ‘pi). women. This becomes obvious when we understand the possible meanings of pāpayonayaḥ. even though. the word api appears about 100 times with the following meanings: also. and thus. including. whoever (ye api) [belong to one of these four categories] those who are9 of sinful birth (pāpayonayaḥ). and pure brāhmaṇas and devoted royal sages (who are kṣatriyas). although.5 In this case. even. (9:32) [Alternative translation: Indeed. and śūdras – even they attain the supreme goal.4 There are two apis in 9:32. vaiśyas. O Pārtha.6 thereby giving the sense of ‘whoever’. because that is established elsewhere in the BG. whether. definitely. vaiśyas. worship me! (9:33) .230 Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 it convey a reluctant inclusion in the sense of ‘even’? Does it convey simple addition in the sense of ‘also’? Or does it refer to ‘how much more’? (kim punaḥ) in 9:33? And if the latter. This is because forms of the yat pronoun necessitate the use of tat forms. Because of the syntactical linkage and comparison. (9:32)] How much more (kim punaḥ). at National University of Singapore on January 5. the best translation of the second api in 9:32 is ‘even’. after resorting to me. We can take pāpayonayaḥ as a noun referring to those of sinful birth (animals. to what does kim punaḥ refer in 9:33? I begin by looking at some semantic and grammatical features of 9:32–3 to determine a literal meaning that is in keeping with the BG’s own milieu and message. exactly. Whether we take pāpayonayaḥ as a noun or an adjective. in spite of.8 With these points in mind. vaiśyas and śūdras. reptiles. birds.

Young 231 The reference to ‘sinful birth’ suggests that when the BG was written or finally redacted. 2013 . vaiśyas. who are often mentioned together in various texts. moreover.10 To make its inclusion of these groups palatable. whereas two (Abhinavagupta and Rāmānuja) do stay with the literal meaning of 9:32. and śūdras cannot attain liberation – at least in some orthodox circles. what could possibly be beyond that supreme goal for the brāhmaṇas and royal sages? It must therefore mean ‘just a bit more quickly’ (alluding to the use of quickly in 9:31) in this life. 9:32 says that they attain the supreme goal. it is necessary to place the verses in their context by translating the preceding verses. they were outside the system of status altogether and therefore were sometimes ignored by commentators unless they wanted them to be a symbol of radical inclusiveness. But those who worship me with devotion. To what does ‘how much more’ refer? If 9:32 refers to liberation of excluded groups. and śūdras must await rebirth for liberation. and sectarian differences. In any case.oxfordjournals.11 Even if a person of very bad disposition (sudurācāraḥ) worships me. a common view was that caṇḍālas. O son of Kuntī. suggesting that these groups can attain liberation by resorting to God – the message of devotion (bhakti) – must have been very controversial to those who wanted to maintain a view of caste and gender that gave religious privilege and authority to elite men. especially because the BG nowhere says explicitly that women. All this happens. no one is hateful or dear to at National University of Singapore on January 5. regional. because he is engaged in a good [deed] (BG 9:30). that person becomes righteous (dharmātmā) and attains eternal peace (śaśvat śāntim). the status of women and śūdras. By this time. that knowledge of the Vedas for Mīmāṃsakas among others was a prerequisite for liberation and only elite men had access to teachers. they were so low. know (pratijānīhi) that my devotee never perishes (śaśvat śāntim nigacchati) (BG 9:31). The second api in 9:32 therefore also functions as a synthesising particle. vaiśyas. We know. But here is a problem. Downloaded from http://jhs. As for caṇḍālas. the BG does make a concession to elite men – the pure brāhmaṇas as well as devoted royal sages – in the following verse (9:33). We see very different positions reflected in the commentaries on BG 9:32 and 9:33. Although vaiśyas eventually joined the elite category of twice-born (dvija). he should be considered righteous.12 Quickly (kṣipram). which links syntactically 9:32 and 9:33: ‘even … how much more’. To understand how these commentators interpret Gītā 9:32 and 9:33. These reveal some hermeneutical strategies in the Hindu commentarial traditions. for instance. they are in me and I in them (BG 9:29). within brahmanical orthodoxy albeit with its temporal. One commentator (Bhāskara) does not support the literal meaning 9:32 and must work very hard to find an alternative. I am the same to all beings (samo `ham sarvabhūteṣu). the groups mentioned in 9:32 were generally without knowledge of the Vedas (avaidika). Still.Katherine K. but differ in their approach to 9:33. continued to be debated. women. resorting to no one else.

for women. which purifies them. after all. and norms of conduct. it is striking. Bhāskara’s commentary In his commentary on 9:32.232 Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 In these verses. he declares that [T]he knowledge acquired by someone not invested with the sacred thread. just as contact with fire purifies iron.13 In this context. For the true meaning of scripture does not contradict logic. from the usual constraints of the human condition – and apavarga means liberation (from saṃsāra and its constraints). when they follow their own occupations (an allusion to caste). Bhāskara construes the compound pāpayonayaḥ as an adjective describing ‘women. Bhāskara states that those who resort to me [God] . in his BG commentary. By commenting on how God purifies these groups. Bhāskara definitely interprets parāṃ gatim as liberation. Serve me by doing your own occupation and duty (svakarmaṇā).org/ at National University of Singapore on January 5. and have contact with God. and śūdras’. they will reside in heaven (svarga). their dharmas are not comparable. which refers to the supreme goal (parām gatim). For it is laid down that you should follow only your own occupation and duty.. he chooses to emphasise their low status by furnishing the most negative adjective that he can think of. Because it is well established that svarga by this time means lower heaven (located within saṃsāra) – a place for a temporary vacation. [The authorities have] said: . he alludes to one of the basic religious structures of caste: purity and impurity. Rather.. even (api) those who are of sinful birth (pāpayonayaḥ) – that is. it is clear that Bhāskara is going against the literal meaning of 9:32. It is possible. What is important here is that he declares in emphatic terms that they are people who are of sinful birth and are therefore ineligible for liberation (apavarga). In his introduction to the BG. moreover. the smṛtis. of contemptible origin (kutsitajanmānaḥ). duties (an allusion to required caste duties and. are certainly ineligible (anadhikṛta) for liberation (apavarga). female duties called stridharma). they attain the supreme and excellent state. The following logic applies: just as the karmas of the superior and inferior varṇas are not comparable. that Bhāskara glosses ‘those who are of sinful births’ (pāpayonayaḥ) as ‘of contemptible origin’ (kutsitajanmānaḥ). When they follow their own occupations and duties (svakarma) and therefore my commands. such as women. and therefore debarred by the scriptures. BG 9:32 with its suggestion that these non-Veda knowing groups are eligible for salvation must have worried Bhāskara. vaiśyas.oxfordjournals. 2013 Probably following an earlier exegesis on this verse. This is characterized by residence in heaven (svarga). the Gītā establishes that God is the same to all beings and that they can change their fate by worshipping him alone. Contact with me purifies them. In other words. Elsewhere. as it were. results in disaster. take refuge with me in any way. Downloaded from http://jhs.

To create consistency of meaning.Katherine K. Bhāskara must use his hermeneutical skills when commenting on 9:32 to establish beyond a doubt that women. at least not in most at National University of Singapore on January 5. Before the invention of dynamite. (3) ‘Prajāpati extracted [his own] fat and so on’.. 1986:37). Young “If even women and śūdras have a right to liberation. ‘How much more’ implies the superiority of the pure brāhmaṇas and devoted royal sages. 2013 Abhinavagupta’s commentary In his commentary on BG 9:32–3. praise. Consider the following examples that Bhāskara cites to exemplify exaggeration: (1) ‘He may even break a mountain with his head!’. and (4) ‘You may rather eat poison than eat in his house. human beings could not split mountains. Similarly. It is worth quoting his commentary in full: . Rather. And they certainly do not consciously consume poison. In Bhāskara’s opinion. 233 Indeed. because he could find no other fat. then. this does not mean that people should actually sacrifice their own flesh to substitute for that of animals. Bhāskara must have been thinking of 9:32–3 when he wrote this. They do not eat cooked crows. Hence. Although it says that Prajāpati offered his own flesh.oxfordjournals. his use of arthavāda to dismiss the literal meaning and his gloss of the supreme goal as lower heaven. Abhinavagupta not only overtly supports the liberation of women and śūdras but also specifically condemns those who would suggest otherwise. and sūdras cannot attain the supreme goal. In his commentary on BG 18:42–4. or explanation. he must avoid the possibility of a literal interpretation of 9:32. In any case. In Bhāskara’s opinion. it is an exaggeration in the same way as the description of a person’s robustness that he could break even a mountain but cannot actually do it. and (4). Arthavāda is a Mīmāṃsā category for those secondary statements in sacred texts that are not injunctions. (2). at least in examples (1).’ Now. trans. Downloaded from http://jhs. 9:32 is therefore not a prescriptive statement (vidhivākya). prescriptive statements (vidhi). vaiśyas. He does this by dismissing the statement about women. ‘even women. unless they are intent on suicide. Bhāskara also upholds social caste duties. but nonetheless support them through exaggeration. then the superiority of the twice-born becomes meaningless” (based on Sharma. any reader should see the exaggeration. vaiśyas and śūdras reach the final destination’ is an exaggeration that serves to emphasise the superiority of brāhmaṇas and royal sages in 9:33. which authorises unqualified people for liberation. and śūdras attaining the supreme goal as arthavāda. that no one with common sense would take these statements as literal descriptions. (2) ‘He may even eat a cooked crow’. that is. This is true even of the third example. the ‘how much more’ phrase juxtaposes the position of the pāpayonayaḥ in 9:32 with the pure brāhmaṇas and devoted royal sages in 9:33. That would require corroborating evidence from elsewhere in sacred texts. It is quite obvious. much less as prescriptive statements. vaiśyas.

and embarrassment. 172–3). reptiles. When the [marvelous] deeds of the supremely compassionate God.). not accepting. he refers back to 9:29: ‘I am the same to all beings’. such as freeing the elephant [from the jaws of the crocodile] are heard by the thousand. and possibly outcastes (caṇḍāḷas). (Here. (Here. being unable to bear God’s kindheartedness. trans. which suggests concession. etc.. who are farmers. This means that we must still translate the second api in 9:32 as ‘even’. king of the elephants. This explains everything in advance! (based on Sharma. They are the butt of jokes for denying with their narrow minds the all-embracing power of God. says Abhinavagupta. He uses many hermeneutical arguments at his disposal from Mīmāṃsā to do this. he can introduce the Bhagavata-purāṇa story of how God saved Gajendra. or sputtering nonsense before all. he will save even those who are terribly depraved. He no doubt has in mind the current context of their lack of Vedic knowledge.. birds. he takes pāpayonayaḥ as a separate category that includes animals. and pāpayonis) firmly in God’s compassion and impartiality.. complaining repeatedly. not noticing their own scriptural contradictions. contradictions in the ‘Bhāskara’ type of interpretation (though he does not name Bhāskara specifically) that contravene the Mīmāṃsā presumption that scriptures have unity of meaning (ekavākyatā). birds. He is outraged by those who pride themselves on their high birth and male sex.) Still. and śūdras as pāpayonayaḥ. Abhinavagupta refers back to 9:30: ‘Even if one who behaves very badly’. from the crocodile. Whether those men who spoke out against the liberation of women and śūdras were a minority or the majority. And he ups the ante with his declaration that many passages . Downloaded from http://jhs. who are serfs.14 Abhinavagupta roots his theology of liberation for all these four groups (women. not to indicate the accessibility of liberation for women etc. dissimulation. expressing contempt because of enmity. But even they. are (1) animals. .234 Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 Now the verse beginning mām hi can be explained as follows. the non-duality of God’s essence as established by a host of irrefutable arguments. 2013 Abhinavagupta says that people (presumably those such as Bhāskara) are narrow-minded. who are ignorant. śūdras.oxfordjournals. 1983. then what doubt can there be [of liberation] for those who act perversely? Some say that this statement is intended to glorify the brāhmaṇas and the kṣatriyas. worship me at National University of Singapore on January 5. He does not describe women. because they ignore the obvious meaning of 9:32. and (4) śūdras. (2) women (striyaḥ). (3) vaiśyas. vaiśyas. [All] these are excluded from Vedic ritual and dependent on others for a living. He points out. it is intriguing that Abhinavagupta does define women as ignorant. going against statements that clearly state the intended meaning (such as “I hate no one and love no one” and “even if one be terribly depraved”). Abhinavagupta wants to castigate them publicly and champion liberation for these groups. resorting to me. “how can you say this?” or “how can you say that?” with their hearts possessed by the supreme prejudice of birth and so on..) Because Abhinavagupta stays with the epic meaning of pāpayonayaḥ (animals. and reptiles. for example.. vaiśyas. moreover. Just as God did this. Pāpayonayaḥ . Rather. on the strength of dualism.

men. he acknowledges that God himself is ultimately the agent. And I stay among them as if they were superior to me (madutkṛṣṭeṣviva). Because without worshipping me. or lacking the highest innate nature. BG 9:29 is an important verse. On the contrary. lacking enough knowledge. In fact. Whether high or low due to jāti and so forth. He does uphold the importance of caste duties in his commentary on BG 18:42–4. For Abhinavagupta. they stay with me. Downloaded from http://jhs. Young 235 refer to God’s compassion. or because they find the completion of their soul in him. however. By renouncing his agency for the required caste duties (dharmas). and therefore acquire qualities similar to mine – qualities that create joy. innate disposition (svabhāva). form. But he does not tell us why the phrase kim punaḥ is in 9:32. caste must be understood differently in different contexts: it is irrelevant in the salvific one but relevant in the worldly one. and innate disposition are all irrelevant to God. I am equally the refuge for everyone (samāśrayaṇīyatve). eligibility for salvation does not mean. and birth (jāti) – I remain the same (samo`ham). I do not reject anyone for being annoying. Rāmānuja’s commentary For Rāmānuja. form (ākāra). form. According to his commentary on BG 18:66. however. jāti. he has indulged in underinterpretation (avyāpti) by not commenting on api’s syntactical connection to kim punaḥ.Katherine K. then. I do not hate anyone for being inferior (nikṛṣṭa). animals. and immovable objects – these are exceedingly superior or inferior on account of knowledge (jñāna). This passage presents the radical . For Abhinavagupta. he should perform his caste duty to eliminate the bondage of saṃsāra. Therefore. Arjuna should not think that killing relatives and teachers is sinful (adharma). Here are his comments on the initial words samo ‘ham (I am the same): Present in all beings (sarveṣu bhūteṣu) as the Self who dwells within gods. degree of at National University of Singapore on January 5. As for resorting to me. that caste identity and duties are to be eliminated. because everyone resorts to me. I love anyone who lacks the desire for personal gain and wants only to worship me. come to have qualities like his. he vociferously states that those who think that are narrow-minded. he dismisses altogether the idea that the brāhmaṇas and royal sages have some kind of superiority. Birth into this or that caste. they would not gain the sense of their soul (ātman) [which is what I am]. Those who stay with him only because he is exceedingly dear. I do not love anyone for resorting to me because of superior qualities such as jāti. Arjuna’s action causes no sin. That is. and so forth. 2013 Rāmānuja chooses to emphasise not God’s impartiality but rather the fact that he is the refuge for everyone. He points out that Arjuna’s innate disposition (svabhāva) compels him to fight. Similarly. To achieve his goal. In this sense. or because of fervor. implying that 9:32 must be consistent with them. Therefore.

But it is more than that. a point that is supported by his commentary on BG 18:42–4 and 18:66.236 Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 message that devotion leads not only to residence with God but also to becoming like him. vaiśyas. which Rāmānuja had laboured to refute in 9:29 but also shows that he is willing to take seriously the literal meaning of the phrase ‘how much more’ and the syntactical function of api to link 9:32 and 9:33. As we have seen. they were consistent with Durga’s prescription that a commentator must decide where he wants the interpretation to go and make decisions accordingly. Although Rāmānuja asserts that God is the same to everyone. he uses pāpayonayaḥ as an adjective to describe women. A brief discussion of our three commentators’ historical and sectarian contexts helps us to understand their commentarial goals. This. This is surely a poetic technique not only to create tension and therefore interest in the poem but also to dramatise the universality of liberation and easy accessibility to God. stays among his devotees as if they were superior to him. too. This introduces superiority by caste. The most dramatic statement. too. and thus creates a parallel to pāpayonayaḥ.oxfordjournals. in the seventh Downloaded from http://jhs. It might also imply that Rāmānuja wants to maintain something special about brāhmaṇas and royal sages. This implies. Although it is tempting to trivialise this statement as hyperbole. however. Rāmānuja says that if sinners worship God continually and without any other intention. he adds in BG 9:33 that the brāhmaṇas and royal sages attain liberation more quickly (kṣipram) than others. he goes on to say explicitly ‘how much more the brāhmaṇas and royal sages who are puṇyayonayaḥ (those born of pure births)’. Living with devotion to God is living as if liberated on earth. In this at National University of Singapore on January 5. and all three commentators had to work very hard to arrive at an interpretation that took vyākaraṇa and nirukta seriously and provided a unified meaning for the entire text.16 In short. and śūdras. In his commentary on BG 9:30. that he wants to maintain caste duties. These are challenging verses. they had a sense of what their hermeneutical choices had to be. 2013 . He glosses the word puṇya as puṇyayonayaḥ. But because they probably already knew what they wanted as their outcome. he wants to have it both ways – that is. Unlike Abhinavagupta but like Bhāskara. but rather considers the three groups of sinful origin. based on samo`ham in 9:29. Rāmānuja comments on BG 9:32 and 9:33 together. to be inclusive and also exclusive – and carefully manoeuvres his commentary to achieve this result. people should regard them as sādhus – the best among Vaiṣṇavas – and respect them. which is post-mortem in this tradition and means that the soul has every attribute of God except for his power to create). to be sure. and this involves a real change of disposition (even if it does not yet quite qualify for liberation. is the final one. God says that he. But unlike Abhinavagupta.15 in the āḻvār hymns that preceded Rāmānuja as well as in the praise poems (stotras) that his followers composed in the subsequent Śrīvaiṣṇava sectarian tradition. suggests that he does not mean a fourth category. several reversals – such as God running after devotees – occur elsewhere in Rāmānuja’s BG commentary. in turn. albeit within the rules of exegesis.

he likely feared. attained the supreme goal in this life. perhaps because he was from Kashmir. Young 237 century. Abhinavagupta would certainly have wanted to defend the groups mentioned in 9:32. vaiśyas. and yet he no doubt worried that male brāhmaṇas might give up learning the Vedas if they believed that anyone can attain salvation merely through devotion to God. initiated both men and women. a centre of Tantra. Bhāskara undermined the concessive interpretation of api by calling it mere exaggeration (arthavāda). Does api then convey a reluctant inclusion in the sense of ‘even’? Yes. 2013 . He had to create scope for universal liberation because of the āḻvār tradition. BG 9:33 gave him a way to acknowledge something special about pure brāhmaṇas and devoted royal sages. The Kashmiri Śaivism that Abhinavagupta expounded had a strong Tāntric influence. and even animals. As he moved into the temple milieu at Śrīraṅgam. He made an especially strong case. were eligible for liberation. Bhāskara argued that women. Abhinavagupta took api as inclusive of anyone – that included even animals – who took refuge in God and argued that they. Moreover. But although the BG and all three commentators alluded to a concessive use of api (which rules out the neutral meaning of ‘also’). This analysis of BG 9:32–3 shows that the spiritual fate of women. Abhinavagupta (who lived between the tenth and the eleventh century) continued the BG’s idea that they. In this way. for Rāmānuja (who lived between the eleventh and the twelfth century). because the Tamil āḻvār poetry that preceded him. one a śūdra (Nammāḻvār). and which would soon be integrated into the Śrīvaiṣṇava scriptural category of śrūti under the rubric of ‘Tamil Veda’. and caṇḍāḷas has hung precipitously on interpretation of the particle api by commentators because even the scriptural authority of the BG was not sufficient to convince some that salvation was universal. he did this to eliminate non-Veda-knowing social groups from salvation in this life. and śūdras cannot attain the supreme goal in this life but only lower heaven (svarga). too. Now back to my original questions. into his Krama at National University of Singapore on January 5. all of them women. This was probably the prevailing view in his orthodox circles influenced by Mīmāṃsā. a sage called Śivānandanātha had initiated his three chief disciples. That.oxfordjournals. in turn. śūdras. encouraged women and śūdras to seek their liberation in Viṣṇu. too. would end the Vedic tradition. they understand the concessive in quite different ways. and one an outcaste (Tiruppāṇ). Luckily for him.Katherine K. Is api a mere verse-filler that maintains meter? Certainly not in BG 9:32–3 or any of the commentaries discussed here. Even though Rāmānuja was Downloaded from http://jhs. By the end of the seventh century. one āḻvār was a woman (Āṇṭāḷ). They all seem to be aware of the controversy over including all groups in spiritual salvation in this life – whatever their particular position. By contrast. By contrast. he must have slowly adjusted to it. They. he laboured to undo the concessive by his extremely positive gloss. Liberation for women and śūdras was important. Rāmānuja downplayed the concessive meaning of api yet remained on the inclusive side but not as much as Abhinavagupta did. vaiśyas. Rāmānuja came from an orthodox family in Kanchi that likely had not integrated into the temple milieu (unlike Yāmuna at Śrīraṅgam and even some of Rāmānuja’s own relatives at Tirupati).

who are pure and Veda-knowing. then how can he be the same to all beings? Moreover. and attain eternal peace. especially Downloaded from http://jhs. So who did the best job in this case? Certainly not Bhāskara. one might argue that Bhāskara ignores the general context of 9:32. As for my questions of whether api should be understand as a syntactical particle that connects the second api in 9:32 with ‘how much more?’ (kim punaḥ) in 9:33 and if the latter. who completely ignored or wrongly used several important principles of Indian hermeneutics such as proximity and arthavāda.17 Bhāskara worked hard in Durga’s sense to achieve his desired outcome but failed the hermeneutical test by not playing by the rules.238 Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 less inclusive than Abhinavagupta (because he did not gloss pāpayonayaḥ as a fourth category that included animals and outcastes). then he no doubt was willing to transgress the rules. I have found the following. BG 9:31 contains an injunction (vidhi): ‘O son of Kuntī. Because he was a supporter of status defined by knowledge of the Veda and thought that 9:32 undermined it. First. and śūdras in his understanding of liberation in this life. It is no wonder that the Mīmāṃsā. and śūdras. the command ‘know’ along with the result of this command – that God’s devotee does not perish and attains eternal peace (śaśvat śāntim nigacchati) – reinforce the idea of supreme liberation for devotees belonging to the groups mentioned in 9:32. on the other. and Bhakti positions were carefully defended in scriptural exegesis. point to a literal rendering of BG 9:32. to what does kim punaḥ refer in 9:33. vaiśyas. The former cannot achieve liberation in this life but the latter can. Abhinavagupta argued indirectly against the syntactical meaning of api. 2013 . the verb is in the present tense: they go (yānti). by warning that no one should think that brāhmaṇas and royal sages are superior in any way. if those who are of sinful births behave very badly. brāhmaṇas and royal sages do so a bit more quickly (which seems more a way to acknowledge the literal meaning of the verse than anything serious about salvation). he nonetheless included women. then those who are of sinful birth but behave well surely will also attain the supreme goal of eternal peace Besides. Tantric. The stakes were high for both proponents and opponents of eligibility for salvation for everyone. BG 9:29–31. who are impure and ignorant of the Vedas.oxfordjournals. The stakes were too high not to do so. To interpret a statement as arthavāda. But in 9:32. vaiś at National University of Singapore on January 5. Bhāskara made another serious mistake – a grammatical one – which was illegitimate in his own hermeneutical tradition. on the one hand. the effect of this interpretation of api was to emphasise the difference between women. Bhāskara highlighted the syntactical relation of this api with kim punaḥ in the following verse. Rāmānuja took the syntactical role of api seriously but downplayed its importance by suggesting that although everyone who resorts to God attains salvation in this life. If Bhāskara thought that God really does not grant liberation to those who take refuge in him. The preceding three verses. and brāhmaṇas and royal sages. become righteous. resort to God. Destiny for many groups was indeed at stake in how the simple particle api was interpreted. the verb must be in the optative (as in the examples that Bhāskara himself cites). Here. know (pratijānīhi) that my devotee never perishes’.

Berkeley.K. vol.. With Durga Ācārya’s Commentary Ṛijv-arthā.K.. pp. ‘Women and Hinduism’.org/ at National University of Singapore on January 5. In: Sharma. ‘Śrīmadbagavadgītāyāḥ Bhagavadāśayānusaraṇa – abhidhānabhāṣyaṃ: Sanskrit text with commentary by Bhāskara’. R. stayed with the literal meaning of 9:32 and 9:33 and created consistency of meaning of adding the word ‘quickly’ to kim punaḥ and thereby creating a link to the word ‘quickly’ used in BG 9:31. K. A. Sharma.). Jayatīrtha. Nirukta. K. Rāmānuja. (Trans.. A... I am grateful to her for many insights into the function of particles. had problems. 94. I think that Rāmānuja did the best job with his commentary. Sarasvati Bhav Granthamālā.).. Young 239 because the contrary position had scriptural authority if one accepted the literal meaning of 9:29–32. 3 vols. Downloaded from http://jhs. pp. Leiden: Brill. 2005.. 1999. and I was interested in the changing status of Hindu women from late Vedic to classical times.).Katherine K. Vedānta Deśika. He tried to bypass the problem of kim punaḥ in 9:33 by simply dismissing the literal meaning ‘how much more’ and arguing that one should not even entertain the superiority of brāhmaṇas and royal sages.P. Devavāṇīpraveśikā: An Introduction to the Sanskrit Language. London: Duckworth. and Notes by Śivadatta Śarmā of Lahore. 2013 Notes 1 My interest in these verses developed many years ago. 1965.J.K. 2 There is controversy over whether Bhāskara lived before or after Śaṅkara. K. ‘Etymology as a bridge between text and sectarian context: A case study of Parāśarabhaṭṭar’s commentary on Śrīviṣṇusahasranāma’. In: Baladeva. Varanasi: Varanaseya Sanskrit Vishvadiyalaya.. 2002.). ‘Śaṅkara on the salvation of women and Śūdras’. Yāska. 1983.K. Atlanta: Scholars Press. Śaṅkara. Young. A. (Ed. CA: Center for South Asia Studies. Women in Indian Religions. Hermeneutical Paths to the Sacred Worlds of India.). 131–66. In: Young. a little faster or a little slower does not make much difference in the cosmic scheme of destiny. A. S. S. (Ed. but the fact that salvation can occur in this life by taking refuge with God. Ingalls at Harvard. A. 1986.). Leiden: Brill. (See Note 1 in Sharma 1986:16 for some textual references that support Sharma’s discussion of . 1912. In: Sharma. Young.oxfordjournals. This is a case of underinterpretation. One could argue that this gloss is an overinterpretation. For these reasons.S. 1–37. U. (Ed.. Bombay: Venkateśvara Press. Abhinavagupta: Gītārthasaṅgraha. Śrīmadbhagavadgītā: Sanskrit Text with Commentaries by Rāmānuja. New Delhi. (Trans. (Ed. A. Young. too. Goldman. (Ed.). References Goldman. The Hindu Gītā: Ancient and Classical Interpretations of the Bhagavadgītā. Hejib. K. Abhinavagupta. That said. Narasimhācārya. a hermeneutical fault. Ānandatīrtha. 1994. 1910–11.V. I am also grateful to Sanjay Kumar for making several grammatical suggestions on how to interpret these verses.. when my colleague Alaka Hejib was writing her doctoral thesis on the function of particles under Prof. Goddesses and Women in the Indic Religious Tradition. India: Oxford University Press. With Nighaṇṭu. Madras: Anandāśrama Press. University of California. on the other hand. it is significant that all three commentators supported the caste and gender systems in the social context. Śarmā. Sharma.

given the equation of women and śūdras in BG 9:32.vedabase.1. This is the general Mahābhārata at National University of Singapore on January 5. 2013 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 . his followers came to the opposite conclusion.17. I occasionally translate singular pronouns as plurals to avoid gendered language. Abhinavagupta between the tenth and the eleventh century. 8:21. See 12. I made a preliminary hermeneutical decision to interpret words such as mānavaḥ as ‘human beings’ rather than ‘men’ and the masculine singular pronoun saḥ as ‘person’ or ‘one’ rather than ‘he’ in commentaries that have an inclusive approach. For the following discussion. Sanskrit allows this interpretation in the same way that English does.19–20. despite the view by some later Advaitins that neither śūdras nor women are eligible. Although a careful reading of Śaṅkara’s commentary on the BG brings me to this assessment. because jñānaniṣṭhā leads to renunciation of all action or paramārthasaṃnyāsa. 105. In this article. and 6:46. In his commentary on Gītā 9:28. She.20–3 and 12. one must incorporate the word parāṃ gatiṃ from 9:32 in 9:33 to make sense of the latter. I conclude that women too are eligible for the supreme renunciation according to Śaṅkara. because they were either genuinely confused by Śaṅkara’s commentary or too conservative to accept his position. and Rāmānuja between the eleventh and the twelfth century. I must also admit that Śaṅkara did not comment on the idea of liberation for women and śūdras (except for his commentary on BG 9:32 and his commentaries on Vedāntasūtra 1. Bhāskara definitely interprets parāṃ gatim as mukti. Anuśāsanaparva 29:6 and 29:7 Downloaded from http://jhs. Aspects of this rule are explained in Devavāṇīpraveśikā. See BG 4:36–8.3. Syuḥ can be translated as ‘may’ or ‘are’. Although Śaṅkara created the scope for a universal religion but did not draw attention to this idea. This is probably because he did not want to alienate orthodox brāhmaṇas. he wanted to build consensus among the brāhmaṇas for his intellectual and spiritual offensive against the heterodox religions. we enter the realm of commentary proper.2). p. <http://www. 97: correlative clauses. According to Sanjay Kumar (personal communication). Devavāṇīpraveśikā. each caste becomes eligible for jñānaniṣṭhā by doing its own duty/occupation (svakarma). 8:16. Moreover. On the contrary. Abhinavagupta’s interpretation fits the general usage of this word in the>. Sharma (1986:17) notes that with Bhāskara (assuming that he lived before Śaṅkara).38 and 1.) Śaṅkara has been assigned to the eighth or the ninth century. See BG 7:16–17. and might have a direct experience (anubhava) of Brahman.240 Fate Hangs on a Particle: The Hermeneutics of Bhagavadgītā 9:32–3 dating. Young 2005. too. Because the Gītā does not record a separate word (to the effect of mokṣa) in the case of brāhmaṇas and kṣatriyas. performs her svakarma.3. This means that the ultimate destination of the groups mentioned in 9:32 and brāhmaṇas and kṣatriyas is the same. that the performance of strīdharma also defines a woman’s eligibility for jñānaniṣṭhā. All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.oxfordjournals.146. hears smṛti. I argue by extension. p. According to Śaṅkara’s commentary on the BG. 6. I have not dealt with the other important commentator on the Bhagavadgītā – Śaṅkara – because I have done that at length elsewhere: Young (2005).

Abhinavagupta severely criticises people like Bhāskara who try to read arthavāda here’. 16 BG 18:42–4 discusses the duties of the four castes (including śūdras.Katherine K. function as an adjective. The context of this sūtra is that one must use liṅ (optative) mode to communicate saṃbhāvanam. Caṇḍāla birth. Rāmānuja explicitly links maintenance of caste duty and universal liberation by interpreting renunciation as acting (that is. That’s how Abhinavagupta and Rāmānuja understand it. ibid). ‘one argument to reject Bhāskara’s interpretation is this: Bhāskara uses the phrase “puruṣaśaktiśraddhānam”. is mentioned as pāpayoni in Anuśāsanaparva 104:23. which involve knowledge of the Vedas and performance of Vedic rituals during the preliminary stage of seeking liberation (pūrvamīmāṃsā). They make refuge with God not only universal but also suggest that it is not necessary to do one’s caste duties. someone’s excessive or extraordinary abilities. And so he argues that people should not renounce the dharmas that lead to liberation (sādhana). and 5:28. Young 241 clearly differentiate the pāpayoni and śūdrayoni. it is a statement of ontological reality – that they reach. Vedāntadeśika is close to the spirit of Rāmānuja’s commentary but creates hermeneutical scope for two paths (bhaktiyoga and prapatti) to ensure not only that the twice-born (dvijas) fulfil their duties but also that women and śūdras attain liberation. etc. birds. This indicates that pāpayonayaḥ in 9:32 does not. but should renounce being the owner or agent of the actions as well as the results.154). I will free you from all sins or evils (sarvapāpebhyaḥ). Pāṇini 3. we may argue that this is not the case of saṃbhāvanam. and then adds that people attain the supreme state (saṃsiddhim) when devoted to their own duties (sve sve karmaṇyabhiratas-saṃsiddhiṃ labhate naraḥ). In the verses just before BG 18:66. seek me alone as refuge (śaraṇam). 2013 . To maintain consistency of meaning. at National University of Singapore on January 5. 17 According to Sanjay Kumar (personal communication).oxfordjournals. which is the literal meaning of the verse. they do not really feel a need to justify their interpretation. 5:19. and take the stanza literally. jñānayoga. Piḷḷailokācārya and Maṇavālamāmuṉikaḷ ignore Rāmānuja’s commentary on BG 18:66. The Gītā text uses the laṭ (present tense – they reach their final destination). Having done so. who serve the others). and reptiles. This verse suggests that maintenance of caste duties is not necessary. The same phrase (“śaktiśraddhānam”) is used (without “puruṣa”.. rather. Therefore. Rāmānuja says that bhaktiyoga in 18:66 implies the maintenance of brāhmaṇa caste duties. Do not grieve’. Rāmānuja’s reading created some confusion later on. and therefore. and may also allude to people born out of the varṇa system. 15 See Rāmānuja’s commentary on BG 2:72. one of the earliest commentaries on Pāṇini available today (under Saṃbhāvane ‘lam iti cet siddhāprayoge.3. however. such as caṇḍālas. which does not really change anything) in Kāśikā. they should think of God alone as the agent (kartāram). And this rule overrides all other rules involving the usages of modes or tenses (sarvalakārāṇām apavādaḥ. It appears to me that the term pāpayoni generally refers to animals. and bhaktiyoga. and the means (upāyam). But the next verse (18:66) says: ‘Having completely renounced (parityajya) all dharmas in the form of karmayoga. the goal (prāpyam). Bhāskara’s two examples also appear under the same sūtra. doing one’s duties) without desire (niṣkāmakarma) for any results. not the optative. in all probability. Downloaded from http://jhs.

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