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Preceptors of Advaita



M.A., Ph.D


Among the many schools of Indian philosophical thought, the system of Advaita by virtue of its thoroughness and profundity occupies a pre-eminent position.  Rooted in the Upanishads, this system was expounded, fairly consistently, by Gaudapada in his commentary on the Mandukya-karika and later, systematically worked out by Sankaracharya in his commentaries on the ‘Prasthanatraya’.  After him his followers took upon themselves the task of interpreting, elucidating and supplementing his teachings; in the process, they formed distinct views on some of the important concepts like maya, the nature of the individual souls (jiva), release (mukti), etc., which eventually led to the formulation of the three sub-schools, viz., the Vartika, the Vivarana, and the Bhamati.  Noteworthy, and one of the earliest among these followers who made significant contributions to the development of Advaitic thought, was Jnanaghanapada.  His views are identical with those of the Vivarana School.  His main work Tattvasuddhi is known for its clarity and precision and has been referred to by Appayya Dikshita in several places in his Siddhantalesasangraha.
                        There is a well-known half-verse which sets forth the fundamental position of the Advaita philosophy thus: ‘Brahman alone is real, the world is illusory and the so-called individual self (jiva) is non-different from Brahman1’. 

The predominant feature that strikes one at the outset in this half-stanza is the non-difference of Brahman or the Universal Self with the Atman, the core of the individual self (jiva).  This ultimate non-difference of the individual self (jiva) in its essence with Brahman forms the central theme around which every one of the post-Sankara advaitic preceptors, Jnanaghana not excepted, weaves his theories.  Brahman and Atman, thus, in their non-difference as remaining unconditioned by the three divisions of time, viz., past, present and future (trikalabadhyam) is eternal and is alone ultimately real, spoken of by the Upanishads as being ‘One only without a second2’.  These words ‘One only without a second’ referred to in the Upanishads, in the view of Jnanaghana, exclude internal differences (svagata-bheda) from the non-dual Reality and declare that it (Reality) is partless-ultimate (akhandaikarasa)3Jnanaghana commences his treatise with the chapter on ‘Advaita’, in which he tries to prove that Advaita can be established even through perception.  According to him, “Perception comprehends bare reality, the constant substrate in pot, cloth, etc.  The co-presence and co-absence of the sense-organ serves only in the comprehension of bare reality, pot, etc., being delusively presented.  Absence of sublating cognition is no defect.  Differences cannot be cognised through perception, because they are cognised only together with the counter-correlates, many of which are remote in space and time; nor is difference cognised through memory, since there is no memory-impression of its being qualified by the counter-correlate as such; nor can it be inferred, since inference proceeds on the comprehension of difference; counter-correlates are but delusive appearances; hence, differences and their correlates are also delusive; hence no conflict of scripture-declared non-duality with perception.”4

1. brahma satyam, jaganmithya, jivobrahmaiva naparah.
2.  ekamevadvitiyam: Chandogyopanishad, VI, 2, 1.
3. Jnanaghanapada: Tattvasuddhi (Edited by S. S. Suryanarayana sastri and E.P. Radhakrishnan, University of Madras, 1941) p,4.
4.  See S.S.S. Sastri’s table of contents to his translation on Appayya Dikshita’s Siddhantalesasangraha (University of Madras, 1935), Vol. I, p.31


Reality further, as the irreducible substratum of existence that cannot be denied is of the nature of existence which is identical with consciousness.  Advaita regards the triune perception involving the distinction of the knower, the known, and the act of knowing, as constituting different aspects of pure consciousness.  The distinction among these is merely due to the mental modifications resulting from avidya.  When these modifications cease, what remains is the ‘Inward Self’ (pratyagatman) as changeless and as of the nature of consciousness, which renders possible every type of knowledge but which does not depend on any other knowledge for its manifestation.  In other words, Brahman-Atman Reality, as of the nature of consciousness, is self-luminous (svayamprakasa), and that it is so is demonstrated by Jnanaghana by means of perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumana), verbal testimony (sabda) and presumption (arthapatti)5.  Since realising one’s Self as being non-different from Brahman is regarded as the supreme bliss which is the summum bonum of all human endeavour (paramapurushartha), Brahman-Atman Reality referred to as of the nature of Existence and Consciousness is also spoken of as of the nature of Bliss(ananda).
                        Jnanaghana, in this connection, takes care to stress that Existence (Sat), Consciousness (Cit) and Bliss (Ananda) are not the qualities (guna) of Brahman but constitutes its very nature.  Brahman is Sat-Cit-Ananda-svarupa.  To express it in the words of Prof. K.C. Bhattacharya, “They are not determinations, being each of them the unspeakable Absolute viewed by us as beyond the determinate absolutes, sat,cit and ananda formulated by our consciousness6’.  To show that existence, consciousness and bliss are not qualities, it is argued that quality (guna) as a relational category always implies a qualified (guni); the former, viz., quality, always depends upon the latter, viz., the qualified (guni) without which it (quality) has no meaning.  This predicament is a relational predicament.  But, the Absolute as conceived by the advaitic philosophers is ‘One without a second’ and is devoid of all kinds of relations (sajatiya-vijatiya-svagata-bheda-rahita).  So, the relationship between the quality (guna) and the qualified (guni) cannot exist in it7.  Hence the reason why Brahman is said to be ‘quality-less’ or ‘attribute-less’ (nirguna).

But Brahman being infinite and reflected in maya is Isvara8, endowed with all auspicious qualities (saguna).  Knowledge being His essential nature, He is all–knowing (sarvajna) and is able to perceive the world of the present, past and future; hence omniscient9Brahman viewed from this perspective, i.e., Brahman in association with maya is the cause of the universe.  In trying to establish the advaitic position that only an intelligent principle like Brahman can be the cause of the universe, the rival schools of thought such as the Nyaya and the Sankhya, holding atoms and pradhana respectively to be the cause of the universe, are refuted.  Brahman is not merely the efficient but the material cause as well (abhinnanimittopadanakarana).  Arguing on the basis of scriptures, he says that when the Upanishadic statements such as ‘In the beginning, O, gentle one! This was Being or Existence alone, one only without a second’, ‘In the beginning, verily, all this was Atman only’, ‘Brahman alone is all this’, etc., speak of co-ordinate relation between a sentient cause and the world, they clearly indicate that Brahman is the material cause.  If Brahman were not the material cause, the Upanishads cannot speak in terms of co-ordinate relation between Brahman and the world, the reason being that co-ordinate relation cannot hold between the non-material cause and effect10.  The effect is not a transformation (parinama) but only a transfiguration or an appearance (vivarta) of the cause; and as such, it (the effect) as being neither existent nor non-existent is inexplicable (anirvachaniya), not only after but also even before its origination11.

5.  Op.cit., p. 203 
6.  K.C. Bhattacharya, Studies in Philosophy (Calcutta, 1956), Vol I, p.118.
7. Op.cit., p. 10.
8. avidyapratibimbitam brahma anavacchinnatvat isvara iti gamyate, Ibid., p. 243
9.  Ibid., p. 18
10. Ibid., p. 24
11. Ibid., p. 157-158


Since Jnanaghana enunciates his theory of the world on the basis of his causal theory, the corollary that follows from it is not far to seek.  Viewed in the light of this theory, Brahman, the cause, by its own nescience, can only be said to appear as the world of names and forms without undergoing any change whatsoever, and that the world regarded as an effect, being an illusory appearance of the cause, is neither real nor unreal.  It is not real since it is sublated by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman12.  Nor is it unreal, for, unlike hare’s horn, it comes within the range of perception.  It is, therefore, inexplicable (anirvachaniya) and it is for this reason that Advaita regards the world as illusory (mithya).  This, however, should not be taken to mean that the sacred and secular knowledge of the empirical world are unreal and so are not valid.  For, even as the transactions in dreams are regarded as real and valid till one wakes up, the empirical world and its knowledge as a means of empirical transaction should also be regarded as real till the individual self (jiva) realises its non-difference from Brahman13.

Discussing the nature of the individual self (jiva) Jnanaghana observes that it (jiva) is the reflection of Intelligence in the intellect (antahkarana), the product of maya or avidya14.  The psycho-physical organism together with the substrate-intelligence constitutes the nature of the individual self (jiva).  The substrate-intelligence or the ‘inner-self’ is otherwise known as the ‘witness-intelligence’ (sakshi-chaitanya) since it remains as the unchanging witness in the three states of waking (jagrat), dream (svapna), and deep-sleep (sushupti) that the individual self experiences.  The substrate or witness-intelligence is nothing other than Brahman conditioned as it were by avidya.  The witness-intelligence, though of the constitution of Brahman, appears to be of the constitution of the individual self (jiva) even as the ‘this-ness’ which really belongs to nacre appears to belong to silver15.  However, it as being essentially non- different from Brahman is eternal, all-pervasive and self-luminous.  The need for acknowledging the existence of such a principle is argued by Jnanaghana on the ground that in the absence of such a self-effulgent principle which is the means or cause to accomplish everything, empirical usages cannot be accomplished.  A passage from the Svetasvatara Upanishad may be quoted in favour of Jnanaghana’s position.  It reads as follows: ‘He presides over all actions and all beings reside in Him.  He is the witness, and He is pure consciousness free from the three gunas of nature16’.

This brings us to Jnanaghana’s concept of mayaMaya has been viewed essentially from two standpoints: (a) as the cause and (b) as the effect.  Viewed from the former perspective, maya may be said to be the principle of creation or the creative power (sakti) of Brahman while from the latter, to the phenomenal creation itself.  In other words, it may be said to signify the causal as well as the manifest state of the universe.  In its former aspect, maya is the causal potency (bijasakti) of the primordial nature, with the diversity being latent in it which becomes patent with the development of the objective world from it.  And it is in this sense that maya is said to be the origin of the world and the latter a product thereof.  But maya differs from its products in this respect that while it, as the source of the universe, is beginningless (anadi), its products have a beginning in time.  Further, maya being neither real for the reason that it is liable to be sublated by right knowledge, nor unreal as it is the root cause of all appearances, nor both as that would involve contradiction, is indeterminable (anirvachaniya) in its nature.
                        In this connection, it needs to be mentioned that, according to Jnanaghana, the terms maya, ajnana, and avidya connote one and the same principle, viz, ignorance.  Ignorance is called maya because it is illuminated by pure consciousness which is the eternal self; it is also called ajnana since it is contradictory to knowledge, being removable by it17.  The two, maya and ajnana, thus as referring to the same principle, viz., ignorance are regarded by Jnanaghana as being identical.  In fact, in his work he makes use of these two terms, maya and ajnana, interchangeably and almost synonymously18.

12.  Ibid., p. 100.
13.  Ibid., p. 104.
14.  Ibid., p. 244.
15.  Ibid., pp. 222-223.
16.  Svetasvatara Upanishad, VI, II.
17.  ato nityatmaprakasenaiva mayadi sabdavachyam jnanavirodhat jnanaparyudasena ajnanamiti cha uchyamanam.  Op.cit., p. 134.
18.  avidyapratibimbitam brahma anavacchinnatvat isvara iti gamyate. antahkaranapratibimbitam brahma jivasabdavachyam bhavati. Ibid., pp. 243–44  .
In another context he says: tattva mayavacchede paramesvaratva vyavaharah. antahkaranavacchede jivatva vyavaharah. p. 244.


Jnanaghana agrees with the other advaitic preceptors in holding the view that maya, in so far as it conceals the self-luminous Brahman, has Brahman for its content (vishaya).  But he argues that to conceal Brahman which is consciousness, it is perforce necessary that ajnana should have its abode in Brahman without which concealment will not be possible.  So, ajnana can conceal Brahman only by remaining in it, even as darkness can envelop only that place where it is particularly spread.  It, therefore, follows that in the opinion of Jnanaghana, maya or ajnana has for its abode (asraya) only its content (vishaya),

viz., Brahman.  In other words, maya by itself does not (na svatah) require an abode other than its content.  This is as it should be because ajnana is not of the nature of an act (akriya).  Applying the analogy that the limiting adjuncts, say, mirror or pot are found to be related directly to the face and etheric space respectively and not to the face that is reflected in the mirror or the space delimited by the pot, Jnanaghana contends that ajnana too can be appropriately said to be related to consciousness as such and not to its reflection in the intellect (antahkarana), i.e., the individual self.  For, if the latter case is admitted then the individual self itself being the product of nescience, there would arise the fallacies of “self-dependence” (atmasraya) and “mutual-dependence” (anyonyasraya) 19.
                        This view that Brahman, the content of maya, is also its abode is proved by Jnanaghana by means of presumption (arthapatti).  The Vedic passages unequivocally declare Brahman knowledge as the means for release.  These declarations would turn out to be purportless and unintelligible unless the existence of ignorance in Brahman is admitted which can be removed by Brahman-knowledge.  He finds basis for his contention in the scriptures and in the experience of the sages that ‘Brahman itself undergoes transmigration and it itself attains liberation.20
                        Besides concealing (avarana) Brahman, maya or ajnana operates in another way also, i.e., by projecting (vikshepa) the world of names and forms.  While the first, viz., concealing (avarana) is the absence of apprehension, the second, viz., projecting (vikshepa) is the positive generation of error.  That is, not only is the Absolute not apprehended but something else is seen in its place.  It is in this sense that avidya or ajnana is represented not as a mere negation or absence of knowledge (jnanabhava) but something positive in its nature (bhavarupa ajnana).  And that it is so is established by Jnanaghana on the basis of the experience that one has of it (ignorance) during deep sleep and the subsequent recollection of it on waking up in the form of “I slept happily until this time and knew nothing.”  In other words, the recollection of ignorance in deep sleep cannot be accounted for, unless ignorance is regarded as something positive.  Even in the waking state, ajnana as a positive entity should be admitted.  Otherwise, questions regarding the unknown things would become unintelligible21.

But the ‘avarana’ aspect of maya in the case of Isvara is powerless over Him in the sense that Brahman though concealed by maya retains its own nature of pure consciousness without in any way being affected by the concealment and is ever conscious of His identity with the world.  Isvara, in fact, as devoid of internal organ and sense organs is referred to as the non-doer (akarta) and therefore the merits and demerits which arise as a result of one’s performing actions do not pertain to Him; His knowledge being unsurpassable is infinite and so independent22.  With regard to the individual self (jiva) on the other hand, it is just the reverse in that, it (avarana) accounts for its bondage. It is on account of ignorance (ajnana) that the individual self identifies itself with the sense organs and internal organ, performs actions, and earns merits or demerits as a result of which it gets itself entangled in the transmigratory existence.  Further, being under the influence of ignorance (ajnana) its knowledge is limited and therefore dependent (on the Lord).23 As the mediacy characterising Isvara and the transmigratoriness and finitude characterising the individual self (jiva) are the results of ignorance (ajnana), the cognition of difference also, as caused by ignorance (ajnana) cannot but be apparent like the difference between the original and the reflection.  Both the Lord (Isvara) and the individual self (jiva) are, as mere reflections and as having consciousness as their essential nature are essentially non–different24.

19.  Ibid., p. 251
20.  Ibid., pp. 251–253 brahmaiva samsarati, brahmaiva muchyate.
21.  Ibid., p. 137.
22.  Ibid., p. 240.
23.  Ibid., p. 240 (also see p. 21).
24.  Ibid., p. 244.


It should be mentioned in this connection that Jnanaghana besides advocating the theory of plurality of selves (nanajivavada), gives a free expression to the other theory also, viz., the theory of only one individual self (ekajivavada), otherwise known as the drishti-srishti-vada. This view is regarded as the foremost of all the views expounding the nature of the individual self and that is probably the reason why Jnanaghana has accommodated this view also in his work along with the other one.  According to the theory of only one individual self, since ignorance (ajnana) is one, and Brahman is associated only with that one adjunct, the individual self, the result of this association is also only one.  All the other individual selves are innumerable reflections, fancied by this single individual self, by its own nescience (ajnana).  As a result of this differential appearance (avabhasat) of the individual selves, there is the “preceptor-disciple, bound-released, individual self-supreme self” and such other classifications which, as in the case of the dream state, hold good till the dawn of true knowledge.  It is true that there are statements in scriptures declaring the release of Suka, Vamadeva, and others; but, they only aim at extolling the state of release.  To the doubt as to who that one individual self is, Jnanaghana answers that the doubter himself is that self, while the other individual selves like those that are seen in dream are only reflections, and this individual self alone is entitled for release25 which is attained on the removal of ignorance (ajnana or avidyanivritti).
                        Regarding the nature of the removal of ignorance, Jnanaghana first admits that it is neither real, nor unreal, nor both, nor indeterminable, but is of a fifth kind.  However, he does not seem to uphold this view till the end but changes almost in the same breath to another view that the removal of ignorance is nothing other than the Self26.  Since Brahman-knowledge alone can bring about the destruction of ignorance, knowledge (jnana) is referred to as the direct means for release.  Rituals (karmas) are only on indirect means in that they help in the generation of knowledge either through the purification of the intellect (antahkarana) or through being the cause for aspiration27Jnanaghana is not in favour of the view which combines knowledge and rituals (jnana-karma-samucchaya) as the means for release28.  It is only the immediate knowledge of Brahman generated by the mahavakyas such as “That thou art” (tat tvam asi), “I am Brahman” (aham brahmasmi) that can dispel the beginningless ignorance and bring about release.  Concluding his treatise with a description of the nature of release, Jnanaghana observes that it is a state of consciousness which is ever-lasting, unsurpassable bliss, being the inner non-dual Supreme Self29.

25.  Ibid., p. 251.
26.  Ibid., pp. 287–299. 
27.  Ibid., p. 263.
28.  Ibid., pp. 254–263.
29.…...nityasiddhaniratisayanandapratyagadvitiyaparamatmachaitanyatmana avasthanam apavargah. Ibid., p. 306.


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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