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Preceptors of Advaita
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.
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.
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.
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.
13. BS, Part I, p. 5.
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.
14. BS, Part I, p.8
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.
16. BS, Part I, pp. 17-19.
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 Brahmasiddhi. Mandana 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 anirvachaniya. Mandana 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.
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
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.
25. BS, Part I, pp. 136-146.
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.
26. BS, Part I, pp. 129-130.
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.
31. Brhadaranaka Upanisad, 4-4-22.
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