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Preceptors of Advaita



M.A., Ph.D,


In order to keep alive the Advaitic tradition for the benefit of posterity, Sri Sankara established Mathas or centres of religious learning and practices in various parts of India.  Badari, Dvaraka, Puri, Sringeri and Kanchi were his far-flung spiritual capitals.  Of these, the Matha at Kanchi is the foremost and is termed the Kamakoti-pitha.  And, Sri Sankara himself assumed the headship of this pitha.  Ordained as Sannyasin by Sri Sankara himself, Sarvajnatman was nominated successor to the Kamakoti-pitha with Suresvara – his preceptor, as his protector.
                        In the history of the Kamakoti-pitha and in the Advaita literature, Sarvajnatman stands out as a prominent figure.  He is well known to be the author of the work Samkshepasariraka which is a succinct exposition in verses of the views of Sri Sankara as stated in his bhashya on the Brahma-sutra.  He also wrote another work on Advaita entitled Panchaprakriya which is divided into five sections.  The first of them deals with the different kinds of meanings which a word may have.  The next three sections treat of what are described as the ‘great-sayings’ of which ‘tat tvam asi’ is a familiar example and point out how they should be interpreted.  The last section is devoted to the elucidation of the nature of bondage and release.  This work summarizes the teachings of the Samkshepasariraka.
                        Apart from his works on Advaita, he wrote a short treatise –- Pramanalakshana on the Mimamsa system.  This work deals with the various pramanas of the Mimamsakas and closes with an estimate of their epistemological doctrines and it is available in manuscript in the Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Library. 
                        The Samkshepasariraka has one thousand two hundred and forty stanzas in various metres and consists of four chapters.  The first comprises five hundred and sixty three verses and corresponds to the first adhyaya of the Brahmasutra termed ‘samanvayadhyaya’, and as such it is the most important adhyaya.  It is devoted to the correct interpretation of the different texts of the Upanishads pointing to the attributeless Brahman.
                        The second comprises two hundred and forty eight verses and it corresponds to the second adhyaya of the Brahmasutra termed ‘avirodhadhyaya’.  It shows that the Upanishadic teaching is not stultified by other proofs like perception, etc., or by the views of other philosophical systems.
                        The third contains three hundred and sixty six verses and it corresponds to the third adhyaya of the Brahmasutra termed ‘sadhanadhyaya’ and it is devoted to an exposition of the means to the realization of Brahman.
                        The fourth contains sixty three verses and it corresponds to the fourth chapter of the Brahmasutra termed ‘phaladhyaya’ and it deals with the nature of liberation.
                        Though the titles of the four adhyayas of this work correspond to those of the Brahmasutra, and the subject-matter treated off in each is the same as in the bhashya of Sri Sankara on the corresponding chapters of the Brahmasutra, all reference to the nature of the qualified Brahman, the methods of meditative worship there-off and the result arising therefrom, is avoided.  On this ground, the title Samkshepasariraka (the gist of the Sarirakabhashya of Sri Sankara) is significant.
                        This work Samkshepasariraka has eight commentaries.  The earliest of them seems to be the Siddhanta-dipa by Visvaveda and it is available in manuscript [R. 1558(b)] in the Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Library.  Another commentary called Sambandhokti is by Vedananda and it is also available in manuscript [R. 2919] in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras.  Ramatirtha, the disciple of Krishnatirtha, wrote a commentary known as Anvayarthaprakasika published in the Anandasrama Sanskrit series, Poona.  He has based his commentary on the commentary Siddhantadipa already referred to.  His disciple Purushottama wrote a commentary called Subodhini.  This also has been published in Anandasrama Sanskrit series, Poona.  Nrisimhasrama, the disciple of Jagannathasrama who was a contemporary of Krishnatirtha, the preceptor of Ramatirtha referred to above, wrote a commentary called Tattvabodhini published in the Princess of Wales Sarasvatibhavana texts series.  Madhusudanasarasvati wrote an authoritative commentary Sarasangraha and it is published in the Kasi Sanskrit series.  This commentary is based on the one by Visvadeva referred to above.  Apart from these commentaries, Aufrecht mentions one more commentary known as Vidyamritavarshini.  Another commentary by one Pratyagvishnu is referred to by Madhusudanasarasvati in his Sarasangraha.
                        Sarvajnatman has distinct views on the important Advaitic concepts, and they have considerable importance in the historical development of Advaita.  His merits appear most clearly when he is contrasted with other Advaitic writers like Padmapada, Suresvara and Vacaspatimisra.
                        Sarvajnatman’s most important contribution is his view regarding the locus and content of avidya.  He holds1 that the pure consciousness is the locus and content of avidya as against Vacaspati who maintains that the individual soul is the locus of avidya, while Brahman is its content.  The latter view is refuted by Sarvajnatman on the ground that the notion of individual soul derives its existence from avidya and as such it is posterior to avidya.  The latter cannot abide in a substratum which is decidedly subsequent to it.  Sarvajnatman further contends2 that the pure consciousness is the locus and content of avidya neither in its absolute form, nor in its blissful form, but in the form of inner self (pratyakchaitanya).  This he proves on the basis of the experience ‘I do not know myself.’  It is Sarvajnatman who explains the apparently contradictory statements of Sri Sankara regarding the presence of avidya in Brahman in deep sleep.  To any serious student of Advaita, the contradiction in the statements of Sri Sankara, viz., avidya does not exist in the state of deep sleep and avidya exists in Brahman in that state3 remained unsolved.  And, Sarvajnatman explains4 this view of Sri Sankara by stating that avidya is not determinately perceived in the form of ‘I do not know myself’ in the state of deep sleep and it is with this view that Sri Sankara has said that avidya does not exist in that state.  Really it exists in that state in Brahman, as it is evident from the reminiscent experience in the form ‘I did not know anything when I was asleep’5.  Similarly Sarvajnatman explains Sri Sankara’s statement6 that the individual soul is the locus of avidya, by contending7 that avidya though present only in the pure consciousness is revealed in the form ‘I am ignorant’ by the intellect which is the limiting adjunct of the individual soul.  It is well-known that the nature of a revealing medium is such that what is revealed through it appears as though present in the medium itself.  The mirror which reflects the face appears to contain the face.  In the same way, the intellect which is the revealing medium of avidya reveals it as present in itself and consequently in the consciousness delimited by it, that is, the individual soul.  Avidya, however, is present in the pure consciousness.
                        Sarvajnatman’s contribution to the theory of the nature of Brahman also is noteworthy.  Relying on the method of gathering the unrepeated words found in the affirmative Upanishadic texts to arrive at the exact nature of Brahman–the method prescribed by the author of the sutras in the aphorism ‘anandadayah pradhanasya’ (III, iii, 11), Sarvajnatman affirms that, on the whole only ten words convey the essential nature of Brahman in an affirmative manner.  And those words are: nitya, suddha, Buddha, mukta, satya, sukshma, sat, vibhu, advitiya and ananda8.  This same method is adopted in the case of the negative texts also.   But, Sarvajnatman suggests that as the elements that are to be negated in Brahman are numerous, the words found even in all the negative Upanishadic passages are not exhaustive and hence many words should be gathered.  Herein arises the question of relation between the affirmative and negative Upanishadic passages.  Sarvajnatman says9 that the negative Upanishadic texts, by denying all duality, confirm the knowledge of the absolute nature of Brahman arisen from the affirmative Upanishadic passages.
                        The question whether lordship is natural to Brahman or not is answered10 in the negative by Sarvajnatman, on the ground that lordship involves a reference to the controlled beings; and whichever is dependent on something else is illusory, and hence lordship, being illusory, cannot be natural to Brahman.  This conclusion seems contrary to the view of the author of the sutras, who in the aphorism ‘parabhidhyanattu tirohitam tato hyasya bandhaviparyayau’ (III, ii, 5) holds that lordship is natural to BrahmanSarvajnatman, with a refreshing independence of judgment, points out11 that the author of the Sutras has said so from the opponent’s stand-point and it is not his final view.  And to substantiate this point, he refers12 to the other aphorism ‘kamaditaratra tatra cayatanadibhyah’ (III, iii, 39) which treats lordship on a par with attributes like possession of desire, etc., which cannot be said to be natural to the attributeless Brahman.  Hence, Sarvajnatman holds13 that Brahman is eternal, pure, consciousness, ever-released, truth, subtle, existent, all-pervasive, absolute, and bliss.  And herein lies Sarvajnatman’s contribution to the theory of the nature of Brahman.

As regards the elucidation of the nature of the supreme lord and the individual soul, Sarvajnatman adopts the well-known theory, the pratibimba-vada, and in this he seems to have been influenced by the views of Padmapada.
                        Coming to the practical side of Advaita, Sarvajnatman speaks14 of asceticism as a necessary condition for attaining the knowledge of Brahman.  He holds15 that the remote means such as the performance of rituals including the optional ones (kamya-karma) lead to the desire to know Brahman; and after this result is achieved the remote means should not be pursued.  Again, Sarvajnatman holds16 that the Upanishadic texts alone give rise to the intuitive knowledge of Brahman; and sravana, manana, and nididhyasana remove the impediments which are present in the intellect of the aspirant who has such a knowledge and which hinder the knowledge from becoming effective in dispelling avidya.

Summing up, Sarvajnatman as a philosopher has a considerable historical importance.  His main contribution to Advaita rests in his clear exposition, in verses, of Sri Sankara’s views as stated in his bhashya on the Brahmasutra.  His work is entitled Samkshepasariraka; and the title is very significant, as throughout the work, Sri Sankara’s phrases and arguments recur.  He is most concerned with finding a way of reconciling the apparent contrary statements of Sri Sankara.  His treatise is systematic, critical, and without any trace of dogmatic assertion.  He does accept the foundations laid by his predecessors, yet he makes improvement on them.  He is best in detail and in criticism. His style is easy and unpedantic. He has an admirable literary sense, and in fact, only several centuries after Sarvajnatman the world could produce Vidyaranya, who like Sarvajnatman, wrote in verses on the Advaitic concepts in an admirable way.  Sarvajnatman is a great philosopher who has influenced profoundly the Advaita-thought in the subsequent ages.  As Madhusudanasarasvati characterizes him, he knows the traditional interpretation of the Advaita Vedanta.  His views are very respectfully cited by Appayya Dikshita, Madhusudanasarasvati and Brahmanandasarasvati.

srikanchikamakotyakhya –
pithadhishthitam adbhutam,
bhavaye ’ham maha-moha –
dhvantasanghataham mahah.


1 Samkshepasariraka, I, 319.

2  Ibid, II 211–212.

3  Ibid., III 125–126.

4  Ibid., III, 123.

5  Ibid., III, 123.

6  Ibid., II, 175.

7  Ibid.

8 Ibid., I, 173

9 Ibid., I, 263.

10 Ibid., III, 151-170

11 Ibid., III, 175.

12 Ibid., III, 177.

13 Ibid., I, 173.

14 Ibid., III, 358-361.

15 Ibid., I, 64; III, 330–340.

16 Ibid., III, 299.

Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:

Preceptors of Advaita

Vasishta Shakti Parasara Vyasa Suka Gaudapada
Govinda Bhagavatpada Sankara Bhagavatpada Padmapada Hastamalaka Totakacharya Survesvara
Vimuktatman Sarvajnatman Mandanamisra Vachaspatimisra Jnanaghanapada Prakasatman
Sri-Harsha Anandanubhava Anandabodha Chitsukha Anubhutisvarupa Amalananda
Ramadvayacharya Pratyagsvarupa Sankarananda Vidyaranya Govindananda
Sankhapani Lakshmidhara Sadananda Sadananda Kashmiraka Prakasananda Ramatirtha
Nrisimhashrama Ranga Raja Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya Appayya Dikshita Madhusudana Sarasvati Dharmarajadhvarin
Mahadevananda Sarasvati Gangadharendra Sarasvati Paramasivendra Sarasvati Nallakavi Sadasiva Brahmendra Sarasvati Some Pre-Sankara Advaitins
Anandagiri Brahmananda UpanishadBrahmendra Kalidasa Krishnamisra Jnanadeva

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