Preceptors of Advaita
Among the commentators on the Sutrabhashya of Sri Sankara, Govindananda occupies a unique place. His commentary known as Ratnaprabha is being carefully read by the students of Advaita. The author is profoundly influenced by the views of Padmapada and Prakasatman. He has had access to the Prakatarthavivarana, a commentary on the Sutrabhashya of Sankara by Anubhutisvarupacharya, because there are many instances where he shows the influence of that work. It may be added here that Anubhutisvarupacharya also is a follower of the Vivarana School. Anubhutisvarupacharya is rather devastatingly critical of Vachaspatimisra’s interpretation of the Sutrabhashya of Sankara. Amalananda the author of the Kalpataru defends Vachaspati’s interpretation and replies to the criticisms of Anubhutisvarupacharya without mentioning his name. An express identification of the reply of Amalananda as directed against Anubhutisvarupa can be had in the Ratnaprabha.
antodattasvarah paribhashika iti vyakhyatam, tadvyakhyanam kalpatarukarair dushitam.1
In the interpretation of the Sutrabhashya, Govindananda closely follows Padmapada. The latter while commenting on the word mithya-jnana occurring in the adhyasabhashya interprets it to mean nescience which is indeterminable and positive in nature. Vachaspatimisra, on the other hand, interprets it to mean superimposition or erroneous cognition.
His contention is that the author of the bhashya speaks of avidya which is indeterminable and positive in the devatadhikarana. And so in the chatussutri portion it is not necessary to refer to nescience that is positive in nature. He, therefore, maintains that there are two kinds of nescience. One is positive in nature and the other is erroneous cognition or superimposition. And the latter kind is referred to by the word mithyajnana in the adhyasabhashya. The correctness of this interpretation is substantiated by the bhashya text-tametam evam lakshanam adhyasam panditah avidyeti manyante. Vachaspatimisra while commenting on this text observes that the superimposition of the not-self on the inner self is alone the cause of all evil, not the delution of silver, etc., hence, that alone is nescience.
‘pratyagatmanyanatmadhyasa eva sarvanartha-hetuh, na punarajatadivibhrama iti sa eva avidya.’
From the above interpretation it would be clear that Vachaspatimisra considers superimposition itself to be one kind of nescience.
Govindananda, on the other hand, interprets the word mithyajnana to mean nescience that is positive in nature.
mithyajnananimittah–mithya cha tad ajnanam cha……….. mithyatve sati sakshat jnananivartyatvam ajnanasya lakshanam.2
And, in this light he interprets the text – ‘tametam evam lakshanam adhyasam panditah avidyeti manyante.’ He says that adhyasa or superimposition is termed avidya because it is an effect of avidya.
‘akshiptam samahitam uktalakshanalakshitam adhyasam, avidyakaryatvad avidyeti manyante.’
About the locus and content of avidya Govindananda’s view is not clear. Sri Sankara in his bhashya on the Brahmasutra – ‘a tadadhinatvadarthavat (1.4.3) points out that avidya is paramesvarasraya and in it the individual souls rest.
‘paramesvarasraya mayamayi mahasuptih, yasyam svarupa-pratibodharahitah serate samsarino jivah’.
Vachaspatimisra while commenting on this passage holds that the individual soul is the locus of nescience and Brahman is its content.
‘jivadhikaranapyavidya nimittataya vishayataya isvaram asrayate iti isvarasrayetyuchyate na tvadharataya.’
Govindananda, on the other hand, does not interpret the word paramesvarasraya and hence his view regarding the locus of avidya is not known. He, however, refers to avidya as Isvarekalpita. From this we may take that according to Govindananda Brahman is the locus of Avidya.
While commenting on the Brahma-sutra ‘asuddham iti chet na sabdat (3.1.25) Sri Sankara observes that the Vedic sentence ‘na himsyat sarvabhutani’ conveys a general rule (utsarga) and the Vedic text ‘agnishomiyam pasumalabheta’ sets aside the general rule (apavada). Vachaspatimisra observes that each of the two Vedic texts is a valid pramana. And, one pramana cannot contradict the other pramana which is equally valid. So we cannot say that the Vedic text ‘agnishomiyam pasum alabheta’ sets aside the import of the Vedic text ‘na himsyat sarva bhutani.’ In fact the scope of each of the texts differs and so there arises no question of the one contradicting the other. The Vedic text ‘na himsyat sarvabhutani’ imposes a prohibition with reference to killing of animals out of desire. The Vedic text ‘agnishomiyam pasum alabheta’ permits killing of an animal in a sacrifice. Thus the scope of each of the Vedic texts differs and there is no relation of utsarga and apavada between the two. Govindananda accepts this interpretation.
‘vastutah tasya ragapraptahimsavishayatvad vaidhahimsayam apravritteh’ 3
There is a discussion whether the Upanishadic text atma va are drashtavyah srotavyo mantavyo nididhyasitavyah’ conveys the sense of injunction with reference to sravana, manana and nididhyasana, and if so what kind of injunction is admitted. This is discussed in the bhashya on the Brahma-sutra-‘sahakaryantara-vidhi pakshena tritiyam tadvato vidyadivat’. Anubhutisvarupa in his Prakatarthavivarana holds that there is apurvavidhi. Prakasatman in his Vivarana maintains that there is niyamavidhi. And, Vachaspatimisra maintains that there is no injunction at all. Anubhutisvarupa in his Prakatarthavivarana while commenting on the bhashya on the Brahma-sutra referred to above criticises Vachaspati as one who does not know the import of the Sutra-bhashya. Govindananda holds that there is apurvavidhi; and he observes that some commentators who do not know the import of the bhashya on the sutra say that there is no vidhi at all.
‘etat sutrabhashyabhavanabhijnah sannyasasramadharmasra vanadau vidhirnastiti vadanti.’4
This charge is leveled against Vachaspatimisra.
As regards the nature of the individual soul, he admits the well-known theory of pratibimbavada advocated by Padmapada. While commenting on the bhashya on the Brahma-sutra ‘abhasa eva cha’ (2.3.50), Govindananda observes that the consciousness reflected in avidya and its effects such as intellect, etc., is the individual soul.5 And, while commenting on the bhashya on the Brahma-sutra, ‘tadadhinatvadarthavat’ (1-4-3), he says that the plurality of the limiting adjunct accounts for the plurality of the individual souls.
Govindananda is an able commentator of Sankara like Vachaspatimisra, Prakasatman and Amalananda. On crucial points he differs from Vachaspatimisra, and in this he is very much influenced by Anubhutisvarupacharya.
1. Brahmasutra-sankarabhashyam with the commentaries of Ratnaprabha, Bhamati and Nyayanirnaya (Nirnaya-sagar Press, 1909), p. 311)
2. Ibid., p. 10.
3. Ibid., p. 621.
4. Ibid., p. 818.
5. Ibid., p. 561.
6. Ibid., p. 296.
Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:
Preceptors of Advaita