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Preceptors of Advaita

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15

MANDANAMISRA
by
R. BALASUBRAMANIAN
M.A., Ph.D,

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Mandanamisra, the author of the Brahmasiddhi, is one of the best known figures in the literature of Advaita Vedanta, and one of the few teachers of great renown who have left the characteristic hallmark of their thought on the stupendous structure of Advaita.  In addition to the Brahmasiddhi1 which is considered to be one of the major classical treatises on Advaita, he wrote three works on Mimamsa–the Mimamsanukramanika2, the Bhavanaviveka3, and the Vidhiviveka4, one work on the philosophy of language – the Sphotasiddhi5, and one work on the theories of error, viz., the Vibhramaviveka6.
                        It is not difficult for us to fix the upper and the lower limits of the period when Mandana must have lived.  Mandana quotes a passage from Bhartrihari’s Vakyapadiya7, and also a verse from Gaudapada’s Mandukya-karika in the Brahmasiddhi8

1.  Edited with Introduction by Professor S. Kuppuswami Sastri(Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Series No. 4, Madras 1937).  In this paper this work will be referred to as BS.
2.  Edited by Dr. Ganganatha Jha, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series.
3.  Sarasvati Bhavan Texts, Benares No. 6.
4.  The Pandit, Benares.
5.  Madras University Sanskrit Series No. 6.
6.  Madras Oriental Series No. 1
7.  BS, Part I, p. 26.
8.  BS, Part I, p. 150

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He cites the authority of Kumarila Bhatta’s Slokavartika either for approval or criticism many a time9.  There are evidences to show that he was a younger contemporary of Prabhakara, for while he is critical of Prabhakara’s Brihati10, Prabhakara himself does not presuppose Mandana’s works.  Salikanatha, a disciple of Prabhakara, quotes extracts from Mandana’s Brahmasiddhi and criticises them in his Prakaranapanchika11.  So Mandana was later than Bhartrihari and Gaudapada and earlier than Salikanatha, and must have been a younger contemporary of Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara.  Though Mandana does not quote or refer to any passage from Sankara’s works, there are internal evidences to show that he is quite conversant with Sankara’s standpoint, particularly with regard to karma and jnana12.  A careful study of the Brahmasiddhi will prove that Mandana expounds the philosophy of Advaita drawing his inspiration from the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, and the Brahmasutra.  In all probability he was an elder contemporary of Sankara.    Though we find it difficult to determine the date of Mandana, we can confidently assign him to the period later than Gaudapada and Bhartrihari and earlier than Salikanatha.

9.  BS, Part I, pp.10, 11, 38, 40.
10. Compare BS, Part I, pp. 23-26 with Brhati (Madras University Sanskrit Series No. 3), p. 20,22.
11. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series No. 17, pp. 154, 155.
12. BS, Part I, pp. 32-34.

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Mandana’s aim in writing the Brahmasiddhi is to vindicate the authority of the Upanishads which intimate the non-dual, ever-existent Brahman.  The main purpose of this work as indicated by its title is to ascertain the real nature of Brahman which is the ultimate reality by means of a searching enquiry and critical investigation.  The work is divided into four chapters:  (1) the Brahma-kanda, (2) the Tarka-kanda, (3) the Niyoga-kanda and (4) the Siddhi-kanda.  Of these, the third chapter is the biggest occupying nearly half of the work and the last one the smallest.
                        Almost the entire first chapter which is devoted to elucidate the substance of the first verse through the authority of Scripture and reasoning is concerned with the main theme of the work, viz., the ascertainment of the true nature of Brahman.  Towards the end of this chapter there is a discussion about the place of karma and knowledge in the scheme of discipline leading to liberation.  In the Tarka-kanda there is elaborate discussion about the superiority of the scriptural testimony vis-à-vis perception and other means of knowledge in respect of our knowledge of the trans-empirical reality; and this is followed by a critical examination of the nature of difference and the views of the Vaiseshikas, the Bhattas, and the Bauddhas thereon.  The central theme of the third chapter is that Brahman-realisation does not fall within the scope of injunction.  The explanation of the Advaita view of liberation and the refutation of the Prabhakara theory of akhyati are also to be found in this chapter.  In the last chapter the question how the Upanishads convey the sense of Brahman, not already known, through words whose meanings are known in the sphere of ordinary thought is discussed.
                        Mandana has made valuable contribution to the Advaita philosophy.  His arguments to show that bliss which is Brahman is not absence of misery or absence of desire, but a positive state of happiness are elaborate and exhaustive.  He argues that the transcendental bliss, of which the empirical pleasure is only a fragment, should be conceived positively and not negatively; for only a positive category admits of specification and determination.  The more and the less are possible only in the case of a positive category. Brahman or the Self is bliss, because it is the seat of supreme love.  There is not only the authority of Scripture but also the evidence of experience to show that the Self is of the nature of bliss.  For all the creatures including the smallest worms, the Self is dear.  The love of one’s self, says Mandana, is nowhere more evident and better expressed than in the desire of every creature,  ‘Let me not go out of existence; let me live forever.’  This love of the Self is consistent only if it be of the nature of bliss13.

13.  BS, Part I, p. 5.

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Mandana’s argument to establish the self-luminosity of Brahman or the Self serves as a model of philosophical reasoning.  Brahman, argues Mandana, is never an object in relation to a knowing subject.  It cannot be known in the way in which other things are known.  The Self which is pure consciousness lights up all our experiences and reveals all the objects of the world, which being insentient are incapable of revealing themselves.  While everything else is presented to the Self as an object, the Self is not presented to anything, not even to itself.  It follows, therefore, that the ordinary categories like cause and effect, substance and attribute, whole and parts, etc., do not apply to it.  It is not an object in relation to a subject; and so it is not in space and time.  It is not a cause in relation to an effect, not a substance in relation to attributes, not a whole in relation to its parts, not an identity in the midst of diversity.  In short, it is supra-relational and so supra-rational.  It is for these reasons that Mandana says that the self-luminosity of the Self which is the knower is its cognizability.  It is not cognizable in the usual sense of the term.  If we say that the Self is cognizable, it is because it is self luminous.   Its self-luminosity is what is meant when it is treated as cognizable.
                        Mandana’s discussion of the knower-known relation is very interesting.  One of the arguments adduced in favour of the reality of difference centres round the knower-known relation.  The object which is known implies that there is a knower independent of and external to it.  The knower is inferred from the known, and so the knower and the known are different from each other.  Though Mandana spares just twelve lines for the purpose of refuting this view, he is able to show with a remarkable dialectical dexterity that the knower-known relation, far from lending support to the reality of difference, undermines it.  His contention is that the knower-known relation is intelligible and consistent only when the oneness of reality is accepted.  In the course of the discussion Mandana points out that, if difference is accepted as real, the Self or the knower and the object which is known cannot be related, since the two are of different nature; the Self or the knower is knowledge pure and absolute, whereas the object which is known is insentient.  He rejects the contention that the internal organ (antahkarana) could relate the knower which is consciousness and the object which is its opposite.  The explanation that is given in terms of the modification (vritti) of the internal organ, which by its proximity to the sentient Self acquires luster by which it is able to reflect the objects, though the underlying consciousness which is the Self remains unaffected by the modifications of the internal organ does not, declares Mandana, serve to show that objects are really seen, and that they are different from the knower.  If it be said that the internal organ gets the reflection of the Self, it only means that the internal organ which is insentient appears to be sentient.  And so this ‘getting the reflection’ of the sentient Self by the internal organ is not real but illusory.  We cannot under these circumstances argue by depending upon this acquired power of reflection of the internal organ, which is mithya, that objects are really seen and that they are different from the knower14.  It may not be out of place to point out here that the line of reasoning which Mandana has adopted in the discussion of the knower-known relation has very much influenced Anandabodha, who himself admits that he has gathered his materials from others15.  This admission is significant in view of the fact that most of the arguments which we find in the works of Anandabodha have been borrowed by the later writers of the Vedanta school.

14.  BS, Part I, p.8
15. Nyayamakaranda (Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series No. 38), p. 359.

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Being influenced by Bhartrihari, the noted grammarian-philosopher, Mandana introduces the sabdadvaita16 in the course of his interpretation of the significance of the word ‘aksharam’ contained in the opening verse of the Brahmasiddhi.  Brahman, says Mandana, is aksharam or of the nature of sound (sabdatmata), because the scriptural texts establish the identity of the mystic sound ‘Om’ or ‘Pranava’ with Brahman.  The Prasna Upanishad, for instance, says: “That which is the sound Om is verily the higher and the lower Brahman17.’  The sound Om is not indicative of Brahman; on the other hand, Om, according to this text, is Brahman.  This is on account of the termination ‘kara’ which refers to the preceding letter or word, and which has its purport in the word and not in the object which the word refers to18.
                        Mandana does not deny that Shruti texts sometimes teach meditation on Pranava as Brahman, since it is difficult to meditate on Brahman which is devoid of attributes without some image or symbol as on aid.  Just as a piece of wood or stone taken as the symbol of a deity is worshipped as if it were the deity, so also Brahman is to be meditated upon by means of Om since it is the name for Brahman.  Pranava is commended for purposes of meditation in Shruti statements like, “Meditate on Om as the Self’, etc19.  But it should not be construed that Om is commended for meditation in all places.  If a Shruti text purports to bring out the nature of Om without commending it for meditation, it must be interpreted as teaching the identity of Om with Brahman.  The Taittiriya Upanishad, for example, declares the identity of Om with Brahman when it says:  ‘Om is Brahman; Om is this all’20.  Again, the Chandogya Upanishad says:  ‘Just as all leaves are permeated by the stalk, so is all speech permeated by Om.  Verily, the syllable Om is all this’21.

16. BS, Part I, pp. 17-19.
17. 5-2.
18.  Vyakarana-vartika, 3-3-108.
19.  Mundaka-upanishad, 2-2-6.
20.  1-8-1.
21.  2-23-3.

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Mandana vindicates by means of elaborate arguments that the phenomenal world is only an illusory appearance of sabda which is the reality.  If the ultimate reality is said to be sabda, there is the fear that it may not be identical with the Self or Brahman of the Upanishads; for sabda, it may be thought, is insentient, while the Self is said to be of the nature of knowledge. There is no room for any such fear, for Mandana clearly shows that sabdatattva is identical with knowledge which is Brahman.  Knowledge manifests objects in a clear and distinguishable way only when it comes to be associated with sound.  Sound is identical with knowledge, for it is the potency of sound (vaksakti) that illuminates objects.

Mandana’s exposition of the nature and locus of avidya contains several striking features peculiar to the Advaitic tradition as embodied in the BrahmasiddhiMandana does not make any distinction between the two terms avidya and maya.  He uses them as synonyms.  It is only in the post-Sankara period that the two terms came to be used in different senses.  Avidya, says Mandana, is not of the nature of Brahman; nor is it something other than Brahman; it is neither real nor unreal.  It is thus known as maya, mithyavabhasa.  Since it is neither real as Brahman nor unreal as the sky-flower, it is said to be anirvachaniyaMandana argues that the jiva is the seat or locus of avidya which obscures the true nature of Brahman and thus has Brahman as its object22.  It may be argued that Mandana’s standpoint involves the fallacy of mutual dependence; that is, the jiva is the result of avidya, and avidya has to depend upon the jiva which is its locus.  Mandana refutes the criticism that his explanation involves the fallacy of mutual dependence.  First, avidya does not admit of logical analysis in terms of consistency and cogency.  How can we expect avidya to stand to reason?  Therefore the objection that avidya which is dependent on the jiva for its existence cannot itself be the cause of the jiva is meaningless.  Second, since both avidya and  jiva are beginningless like the sprout-seed series, there is no logical priority as between jivatva and avidya; as for chronological priority, the question  does not arise as neither has a beginning in time.

22.  BS, Part I, p.10.

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How is avidya to be removed?  Avidya, says Mandana, is destroyed by the practice of aids (sadhana) like sravana or the understanding of the truth from the scriptural texts, manana or the investigation of the truth in the light of reason, dhyanabhyasa or repeated contemplation upon the truth as enjoined by Scripture23.  Repeated contemplation upon the truth preceded by sravana and manana annuls the multifarious cognitions of diversity (bheda-darsana), as it is opposed to it.  The knowledge that results from sravana, manana and dhyanabhyasa is itself one which involves distinctions.  Sravana implies the distinctions of the teacher, the taught, and the teaching, and so the knowledge which arises there-from is a form of avidya.  For the sake of our understanding, this can be characterised as the good phase of avidya.  It serves to remove the multifarious cognitions of difference due to avidya.  The latter can be called the bad phase of avidya.  Not only does it remove the world of diversity projected by avidya but also removes itself, just as the clearing-nut purifies the turbid water of dirt by removing it and also removes itself, just as poison nullifies another poison and also annihilates itself.  When all the illusory differences conjured up by avidya as well as the different aids (sadhana-bheda) like sravana, manana, etc., disappear, the jiva shines forth remaining in its natural state, pure and unperturbed.  In support of his account of the removal of ignorance–how the good phase of avidya, viz., the knowledge resulting from sravana, manana and dhyanabhyasa, removes its bad phase, viz., the appearances of plurality due to nescience – Mandana quotes the authority of the scriptural text which declares:

‘Knowledge and ignorance, he who knows these two together crosses death through ignorance, and attains immortality through knowledge24’.  The meaning of the text, according to Mandana, is this:  avidya and vidya must be taken together, as the former is the means to the latter or as the former is dependent on the latter.  The bad phase of avidya is ‘mrityu’ which is removed by the good phase of it consisting of sravana, manana and dhyanabhyasa, and the knower of truth thus remains what he has always really been, the eternal, free, self– luminous consciousness.

23.  BS, Part I, p.22
24.  Isavasya Upanisad, 11.

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Mandana’s contribution to epistemology is as valuable as his contribution to the metaphysics of Advaita.  His refutation of the Prabhakara theory of akhyati is thorough and elaborate25.  Though the theory of akhyati alone is examined in the Brahmasiddhi, the other important theories of erroneous cognition are discussed in his Vibhrama-viveka.  It should be pointed out in this connection that the discussion of the theory of akhyati in the Vibhrama-viveka and the Brahmasiddhi is almost identical.  By maintaining the Bhatta theory of viparita-khyati which is practically the same as the Nyaya theory of anyatha-khyati, Mandana prepares the way for the anirvachaniyakhyati of Advaita.
According to Mandana, the knowledge which we get from the Upanishads is indirect and mediate (paroksha) and necessarily involves relation in some manner like any other cognition arising from a valid verbal testimony.  Meditation upon the content of the verbal cognition is necessary in order to transform the indirect and mediate knowledge into direct and immediate experience.  So repeated contemplation (prasankhyana) on the import of the principal texts (mahavakyas) is a ‘must’ in order to attain the direct intuition of Brahman.  Vachaspati who is greatly indebted to Mandana follows him in this respect, as in many others.

25.  BS, Part I, pp. 136-146.

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Like other Advaitins, Mandana too upholds the doctrine of jivanmukti or liberation in the living state26.  He contends that at the onset of knowledge ignorance and all karmas, the fructified as well as the unfructified, disappear.  In support of his contention, he quotes the Mundaka text:  ‘The knot of the heart is cut, all doubts are dispelled and his karmas terminate, when He is seen, the higher and the lower27’.  If all karmas including prarabdha cease to exist at the time of Brahman-realisation, a person who attains perfect intuition should become disembodied immediately; and this would go against the Chandogya text28 which fixes the falling off of the body as the limit for the attainment of final release (kaivalya).  In order to show that his position does not come into conflict with the Chandogya text, Mandana interprets it in two ways.  One interpretation results in the advocacy of sadyo-mukti or complete liberation from embodied existence immediately following Brahman-realisation, while the other involves the acceptance of jivanmukti.  Since Mandana refers to both sadyo-mukti and jivanmukti, he is compelled to explain the sthitaprajna described in the Gita29 in two ways.  From the point of view of sadyomukti, the sthitaprajna may be taken as a sadhaka who has closely approximated to realisation and is awaiting it.  According to the second interpretation, the Gita description of sthitaprajna may be taken to refer to a jivanmukta.  Mandana does not say that in all cases the body should fall off as soon as Brahman-realisation is attained.  Though prarabdha ceases to exist like other karmas together with avidya at the onset of knowledge resulting in complete liberation from embodied existence, it may be that in certain cases the body persists for a short while even after realisation, because of the impression of prarabdha.  There is therefore no justification for the view that Mandana does not advocate jivan-mukti
                        Mandana’s evaluation of karma and its relation to knowledge exhibits certain features peculiar to the tradition of Advaita which he upholds.  According to him, karma and knowledge are related as means and end30.  He does not accept the view that karma and knowledge, being diametrically opposed to each other, could not be brought into relation.  He maintains that both karma and meditation play a vital role in bringing about Self-realisation.

26.  BS, Part I, pp. 129-130.
27.  2-2-8.
28.  6-14-2.
29.  2-54.
30.  BS, Part I, p. 32.

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The verbal cognition which arises from the Upanishads should be supplemented by certain aids (sadhana) like contemplation in order to attain Brahman-intuition.  As a result of repeated contemplation (abhyasa), the impressions of the knowledge of the non-dual Self obtained from the Upanishads grow and develop in such a way that they are able to remove the impressions of avidya and thereby bring about the final manifestation of the real nature of the Self.  Since karmas are prescribed by Scripture31, they are also useful in this regard.  Whereas the usefulness of contemplation is visible, that of the karmas is imperceptible.  The karmas belonging to the asramas are exceptional means (sadhana-visesha).  Though he readily admits that it is possible for one who observes life-long celibacy to attain Self-realisation exclusively through contemplation in association with the control of the mind, etc., without performing scriptural rites, he says that one who combines the contemplative and the ritualistic disciplines will be able to reach the goal far more quickly than otherwise.  The asrama-karmas are helpful to the seeker after truth as a horse is to the wayfarer in reaching the goal quicker.  Though the goal may be reached by plodding on without a horse, yet a horse is sought to be employed for gaining time or for avoiding inconvenience.  Karmas are of as much service to a seeker after truth as a horse is to one who would otherwise have to trudge the whole distance on foot32.
                        Mandana is a firm believer in asrama-dharmas, not as ends in themselves but as very valuable means to the end.  By recommending the association of the contemplative discipline with the ritualistic discipline for the purpose of attaining Self-realisation, he has distinguished himself as the foremost among ‘integrative Advaitins’. 
                        A respected authority on Mimamsa and a reputed teacher of Advaita, a doughty champion of the Upanishadic tradition and a master-mind skilled in dialectical reasoning, Mandana occupies a high pedestal in the imposing edifice of Advaita Vedanta.  His contribution to Advaita is of lasting importance.  Among the lustrous names that adorn the history of Advaita, Mandana’s is a prominent one.

31.  Brhadaranaka Upanisad, 4-4-22.
32.  BS, Part I, pp. 36-37.

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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
Anandapurna-
Vidyasagara
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
Nischaladasa Tandavarayar Potana SRI SANKARA AND SANKARITE INSTITUTIONS KAMAKSHI–-THE AMNAYA-SAKTI Kamakoti & Nayanmars
SRI KAMAKOTI PITHA OF SRI SANKARACHARYA Sage of Kanchi JAGADGURU SRI CHANDRASEKHARENDRA SARASVATI On Advaita JAGADGURU SRI CHANDRASEKHARENDRA SARASVATI On The significance of Shankara Jayanti    
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