Title means diamond-pointed needle
|Similar Atharvashiras Upanishad, Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad, Pancabrahma Upanishad, Shukarahasya Upanishad, Mahavakya Upanishad|
The Vajrasuchi Upanishad (Sanskrit: वज्रसूची उपनिषत्, IAST: Vajrasūcī Upaniṣad) is a medieval era Sanskrit text and a minor Upanishad of Hinduism. It is classified as one of the 22 Samanya Upanishads, and identified as a Vedanta text. It is attached to the Samaveda.
- Question on the four varnas
- Brahmana the Vajrasuchi doctrine
- Buddhist Vajrasuchi and Hindu Vajrasuchi Upanishad
The text discusses the four varnas (caste system). It is notable for being a sustained philosophical attack against the division of human beings, and for asserting that any human being can achieve the highest spiritual state of existence.
The Sanskrit word Vajrasuchi means "diamond pointed needle". The term Upanishad means it is knowledge text that belongs to the corpus of Vedanta literature collection presenting the philosophical concepts of Hinduism and considered the highest purpose of its scripture, the Vedas.
The Vajrasuchi Upanishad survives into the modern era in several versions. Manuscripts of the text were discovered and collected during the colonial times, and by early 19th-century eight copies of the manuscripts from North India and five copies from South India were known. Most versions were in Sanskrit in Devanagari script and two in Telugu language, in palm-leaf manuscript form, with some in damaged condition. There are differences in the text between these manuscripts, but the focus and central message is the same.
The date as well as the author of Vajrasuchi Upanishad is unclear. The Upanishad is attributed to Sankaracharya in the manuscripts discovered by early 1800s. Sankaracharya, also known as Adi Shankara, was an Advaita Vedanta scholar, but given the Indian tradition of dedicating and attributing texts to revered historical scholars, there is uncertainty whether texts attributed to Adi Shankara were actually composed by him or in the 8th-century he likely lived in.
After the discovery of palm-leaf manuscripts of the Vajrasuchi Upanishad manuscript, a Buddhist text attributed to 2nd-century CE Asvaghosa was published from Nepal in 1835 with the same title Vajrasuchi, which is similar in its message as the Vajrasuchi Upanishad. This added to the complications in dating and in determining the author of the text. However, the authenticity of the Buddhist text, and whether its author was Asvaghosa is considered seriously doubtful, according to many scholars, and most recently by Patrick Olivelle. Schrader states that the Vajrasuchi attributed to Asvaghosa, "though seemingly an independent work, in fact is nothing but a Buddhist commentary on or elaboration of the first part of Vajrasucyupanisad, with many quotations from Sruti and Smriti".
This text is also sometimes titled as Vajrasucika Upanishad, Vajra suchika Upanishad, Vajrasuci Upanishad, Vajrasucy Upanishad and Vajrasucyupanishad. In the Telugu language anthology of 108 Upanishads of the Muktika canon, narrated by Rama to Hanuman, it is listed at number 36.
The text is structured as a single chapter in a prose form. It opens with verse 1 asserting that it describes the "Vajrasuchi doctrine", which destroys ignorance, condemns those who are ignorant and exalts those with the divine knowledge. The verse 2 of the text presents a series of questions, the possible answers analyzed in verses 3 through 8, the verse 9 presents its view, and then an epilogue concludes the Upanishad.
Question on the four varnas
The text asserts, in verse 2, that there are four varnas: the Brahmin, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra. The Brahmin, states the text, is declared by Smriti to be chief. But what does this mean, is this social division justified by Jiva (life, soul), Deha (body), Jati (birth), Jnana (knowledge), Karma (deeds), Dharmic (virtues or performer of rites)?
The Jiva does not make anyone a Brahmana, states the text, because with rebirth the Jiva migrates from one body to another, this Jiva remains the same individuality while the body changes. Thus, it is not Jiva which can determine whether one is a Brahmana, asserts verse 3.
The Deha or body does not make anyone a Brahmana, according to the text, because every human being's body is the same, constituted of the same five elements, everyone ages, everyone dies, people from all classes show various combinations of dharma (virtue) and adharma (vice) characteristics. All color complexions similarly, asserts the text, are found is all castes and those who are outcaste. Thus, states verse 4 of the Upanishad, it is not the body which can determine whether one is a Brahmana.
Does Jati or birth make a Brahmana? It is not so states the text, because sacred books tell of great Rishi (sages) born in various castes and diverse origins, such as Vyasa from a fisherman's daughter, Kaushika from Kusa grass, Valmiki from an ant hill, Gautama from the hare's posterior, Vasistha from a celestial nymph, Jambuka from a Jackal and Agastya from a mud-based vessel. Regardless of their birth origins, they achieved greatness. Therefore, asserts verse 5 of the Upanishad, it is not the birth which can determine whether one is a Brahmana.
Jnana or knowledge too does not make a Brahmana, asserts the text. It is not so because among Kshtriyas and others, there are many who have seen the Highest Reality and Truth, and therefore Brahmin knowledge is not what makes the Brahmana.
Karma or deeds do not make a Brahmana, continues the text, because all living beings perform the same deeds, past and future embodiments are common, and everyone is impelled by past. Thus, asserts the text in verse 7, deeds do not make the Brahmana.
The text in verse 8 states that Dharmic action is not the essence of the Brahmana either. Many Kshatriyas give away gold, such virtuous actions and anyone performing religious rituals is not what makes a Brahmana.
Brahmana: the Vajrasuchi doctrine
Who indeed then is Brahmana, rhetorically repeats the verse 9 of the text. Whoever he may be, answers the Upanishad, he is the one who has directly realized his Atman (innermost self, soul). He is the one who understands that his soul is without a second, is devoid of class, is devoid of actions, is devoid of faults. He knows that the Atman is truth, is knowledge, is bliss and is eternity. He is the one who knows that the same soul in him is in everyone, is in all things, pervading within and without, something that can be felt but not reasoned. He is the one who is free from malice, who fulfills his nature, is not driven by cravings for worldly objects or desire or delusions. He is the one who lives a life untouched by spite, ostentation, pride or the need to impress others.
The Upanishad closes by stating that this doctrine is the opinion of the Srutis (scriptures), the Smritis, the Itihasas and the Puranas. There is no other way to attain the state of Brahmana, states Vajrasuchi Upanishad, other than meditating on the non-dual Brahman (ultimate reality and truth), with the Atman as the Satcitananda – truth-consciousness-bliss. Thus ends the Upanishad.
Buddhist Vajrasuchi and Hindu Vajrasuchi Upanishad
The relationship between the Vajrasuchi text of Buddhism and Vajrasuchi Upanishad of Hinduism has long been of interest to scholars. This interest began with Brian Houghton Hodgson – a colonial official based in Nepal who was loaned a Sanskrit text titled Vajra Suchi in 1829, by a Buddhist friend of his, whose contents turned out to be similar to the Vajrasuci Upanishad. In 1835, Hodgson published a translation. The first line of the Hodgson translation mentioned "Ashu Ghosa" and invoked "Manja Ghosa" as the Guru of the World. The details of the caste system, its antiquity and "shrewd and argumentative attack" by a Buddhist, in the words of Hodgson, gained wide interest among 19th-century scholars. The scholarship that followed, surmised that "Ashu Ghosa" is possibly the famous Buddhist scholar Asvaghosa, who lived around the 2nd century CE. Scholars such as Weber, Burnouf and Winternitz attempted to authenticate and place the text in the history of Buddhist literature, without success. Winternitz in his review wrote, "there are grave doubts as to whether Asvaghosa was actually the author" of the Buddhist Vajrasuci, or ascertain when it was written and by whom. The serious objections to its authenticity came from attempts to chronologically place the Buddhist Vajrasuci text in known, methodically dated and preserved Chinese translations of Indian Buddhist texts, as well as the Tibetan archives and the Hindu anthologies that included Vajrasuci Upanishad as a significant text.
For the sake of the quotations from Brahminical texts, if on no other grounds, this [Vajrasuci] work would be of great importance in the history of literature, if only we had any certain data about the author and the date of the work. There are some serious objections to ascribing the authorship to Asvaghosa.
The Vajrasuci, added Winternitz as well as other scholars, is not enumerated either by the 7th-century Chinese scholar I-Tsing or in the Tibetan Tanjur among the works of Asvaghosa. Further, the only known Chinese translation and compilation that does mention a "Vajrasuci" was completed between 973–981 CE, but this Chinese collection states that the Vajrasuci was authored by Dharmakirti and that it refutes the Vedas. The text there is very different, and scholars have wondered if that is because Buddhist Vajrasuci was different from Vajrasuci Upanishad, or because Chinese version got badly corrupted over time.
Johnston, in 1936, added his voice to the doubt, stating there are serious doubts that Vajrasuci is an authentic work of Asvaghosa, because it cites Manusmriti by name. Johnston called the manuscript attributed to Asvaghosa as "a clever piece of polemics" that shows no trace of Asvaghosa's literary style and mentality.
Patrick Olivelle in his 2005 book, states that a close examination of the surviving version of the Buddhist Vajrasuci supports Johnston's serious doubts, and it cannot be dated "even close to the 2nd-century CE", about the time when Asvaghosa lived. The false ascription of the text to the Buddhist Asvaghosa, adds Olivelle, continues to be currently perpetuated in India.
Mariola Offredi – a professor of Literature at the University of Venice, states that among all pre-colonial Sanskrit texts, the Vajrasuci Upanishad is a "sustained philosophical attack against the division of human beings into four social classes determined by birth". While many other Hindu texts such as Bhagavad Gita and Puranas question and critique varna and social divisions, adds Offredi, these discussions are at their thematic margins; only in Vajrasuci Upanishad do we find the questioning and philosophical rejection of varna to be the central message.
Ashwani Peetush – a professor of Philosophy at the Wilfrid Laurier University, states the Vajrasuchi Upanishad is a significant text because it assumes and asserts that any human being can achieve the highest spiritual state of existence.
The Vajrasuchi was studied and referred to by social reformers in the 19th-century, states Rosalind O'Hanlon, to assert that "the whole of human kind is of one caste", that it is character not birth that distinguishes people. According to Nadkarni, the Vajrasuchika Upanishad is among the many ancient and medieval era texts that demolish the myth that Hindu scriptures supported a caste system.