Preceptors of Advaita
Professor Hiriyanna in his valuable edition of the Vedantasara by Sadananda says that Sadananda, the author of the work entitled Advaitabrahmasiddhi, published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, is different from Sadananda, the author of the Vedantasara, (p. 17). It appears, therefore, that there have been at least two Advaita acharyas bearing this name. The name of the book also is seen to be shared by two different Advaita works. Prof. Hiriyanna says that the Vedantasara printed along with the Vedantaparibhasha at Madras (1892) is by one Sivaramabhattacharya (p.17). This article is on Sadananda, the author of the Vedantasara.
Very little is known about the life of this acharya. But it is guessed that he must have lived in the early part of the 16th century. It is also surmised that he must have been the preceptor’s preceptor of one of the commentators on the Vedantasara, viz., Nrisimhasarasvati (See Ibid., p.17). In the mangalacharanam of the Vedantasara this Sadananda refers to his own teacher as Advayananda. It is not known whether our author wrote any work other than Vedantasara. The Advaitagranthakosa published by the Deva Vani Parishad, Calcutta, mentions three works other than the Vedantasara whose author also has the name Sadananda. But it is not definitely known whether they were written by Sadananda, the author of the Vedantasara, himself. We shall, therefore, expound his philosophy as gathered from the Vedantasara alone.
In presenting to the world this work known as Vedantasara, our author has done yeoman service to the cause of Advaita. He has presented within a brief compass the doctrine of Advaita in a style that is “clear and quite matter-of-fact.” The work is very useful as a general introduction to the philosophy of Advaita and is thus a boon to beginners in the subject, Indian as well as foreign. It has often been printed and even translated into European and Indian languages. It is often prescribed as a text book for University students. The writer of this article himself had the good fortune to study it at College and he looks upon the present task as an opportunity to pay homage to the great author.1
Three commentaries upon the Vedantasara have so far been published. One is the Subodhini, which is dated 1588 A.D., written by Nrisimhasarasvati to whom we have already referred, another is the Balabodhini by Apadeva and the third is the Vidvanmanoranjani by Ramatirtha. Of the latter two, Prof. Hiriyanna writes that the Balabodhini “is the more learned, but it sometimes strains the text to get out of it what it conceives to be the teaching of Advaita”; the Vidvanmanoranjani “is the simpler and more helpful to the beginner” (p.17).
From a survey of the quotations given in the Vedantasara it is seen that the main sources from which information is drawn are major Upanishads, especially the Mandukya with Gaudapada’s Karika and the Panchadasi of Vidyaranya and the subsidiary sources, some of the Prakaranagranthas like the Upadesasahasri of Sankara and the Naishkarmyasiddhi of Suresvara. Hence it is evident that what the author presents is a fully representative Advaita doctrine, which incorporates into itself elements from pre-Sankara, Sankara and post-Sankara teachings. It is not, however, a simple eclecticism that he attempts. He makes suitable departures from the views of other Advaitins in order to present a unified view. For example, though he follows the Pancadasi in regard to the different conceptions of the jiva, on the question of maya he departs from it. While maya and avidya are distinguished in the Pancadasi, the author of the Vedantasara identifies the two in order to bring the teaching into harmony with the doctrine of adhyaropa apavada which he borrows from the Mandukyakarika.
There is a common charge that the Vedanta as presented in this work is much contaminated with the Samkhya. In reply to this Prof. Hiriyanna writes that firstly the relationship between Vedanta and Samkhya is much older than is assumed in the above criticism, taking us back to the time of Bhaskara and even Bhartriprapancha and showing different phases in its development and secondly, even though Vedanta has borrowed many elements from the Samkhya, the doctrine in its essentials has remained unaffected by the Samkhya elements in it (ibid., p. 18).
We shall now give an outline of the contents of the Vedantasara mainly to indicate its methodology.
The adhikarin or the student who is qualified to enter upon the study of the Vedanta is a person (1) who has a general knowledge of what all the Vedas teach, (2) whose mind is well purified and (3) who is equipped with the four-fold aid (sadhanachatushtaya). To acquire these qualifications the student has to undergo a course of preliminary training comprising (1) a general study of the Vedas and Vedangas, (2) the practice of upasana and (3) an ethical discipline which consists of the avoidance of kamya and nishiddha-karmas and the performance of nitya and naimittika karmas and prayaschittas.
Tormented by the fire of worldly existence, a person thus qualified betakes himself to a guru who out of supreme compassion instructs him. The method of instruction consists in superimposing upon Reality what is not real (adhyaropa) and then denying what is not real (apavada) with a view to establishing the Reality. This indirect method of instruction is based on the sound educational principle of proceeding from the familiar to the unfamiliar. The student is familiar with his own narrow self (jiva) and the universe around him (jagat). Hence the teacher initially presents the view of Reality that is connected with these concepts, viz., the saguna Brahman.
Common experience presents us with a world of diversity as existing outside of ourselves, the subjects. But no man knows the world as a whole and exactly as it is. We are, therefore, dissatisfied with our own knowledge. Our dissatisfaction implies that we are vaguely aware of a universal consciousness to which the whole world is presented as an object and which knows it exactly as it is.
What is the relation of this universal subject to the particular subjects? The fact that we are aware of the universal subject shows that it must be somehow identical with ourselves in spite of the difference that we feel from it. Reflection shows that the only way of explaining the relation is that the identity between the universal and individual subjects is in respect of consciousness and the difference between them is in respect of what is presented to consciousness. This is the significance of using the term samashti (all-pervading) for the universal subject and vyashti (separate) for the individual subject. The relationship is illustrated by analogies such as those of universal space in relation to space divided into parts or reflected in different media or the forest in relation to a single tree.
On the basis of our common experience we can infer that the diversity of the world as a whole is reducible to a unity, a principle that contains within itself the elements of diversity. This principle is called maya or, as our author invariably calls it, ajnana. Maya or ajnana is the material cause of the universe. It is insentient (jada), being dependent upon universal consciousness for its revelation. Hence it can produce the world only by being activated by consciousness (chaitanya). Hence ajnana together with chaitanya is the full explanation of the world. This complex of ajnana and universal consciousness is Isvara or saguna Brahman. Just as the universal ajnana represents the whole universe presented to Isvara’s consciousness, we may speak of an individual ajnana which represents the limited world presented to the individual consciousness and together with which the individual consciousness forms the complex known as jiva. Our author traces the course of evolution from ajnana to the gross universe and shows how the jiva comes to possess a material outfit and how Isvara is really beyond time, space and causality. He also draws up a close parallelism between Isvara and jiva during the course of evolution in order to show that the so-called difference between them is really a work of the adjuncts and is not essential to consciousness. That sets the stage for the second part of the teaching–– apavada or denial.
What is the reality of the world which is presented to consciousness? So far as our individual experiences are concerned the world is dependent on us for revelation but not for existence. We grant that it exists independently of our consciousness on the ground that other people also perceive it. But in the case of Isvara there is no second universal self by comparing with whose experience the world as a whole may be said to exist independently of Isvara. The world as a whole is, therefore, dependent on Isvara’s consciousness not only for revelation but also for existence. This is the significance of describing the source of the world as ajnana or maya. Since ajnana is dependent on consciousness for its existence, it cannot be real like consciousness. Ajnana or maya is, therefore, just the appearance of Brahman or chaitanya.
We have already said that difference between Isvara and jiva is simply a difference in the adjuncts, viz., ajnana in the two cases. To deny the reality of ajnana is, therefore, to deny the jivatva of the jiva and the Isvaratva of Isvara. When thus the differences superimposed on consciousness are denied, consciousness as such remains as the only reality. This conclusion which has been arrived at by reasoning is confirmed by the Upanishads through the mahavakya ‘tat tvam asi’. Our author delineates the method of arriving at the true import of this statement.
The knowledge imparted so far by the Upanishads, firstly through argumentation and then through revelation (the two steps together forming the discipline called sravana) is only mediate. To enable mediate knowledge to become immediate experience manana and nididhyasana are also required. Nididhyasana culminates in samadhi. There are two levels of samadhi according to our author. In savikalpaka-samadhi the mind rests on the secondless Brahman whose form it has assumed, but without losing sight of the distinction between knower and known. Since Brahman is known at this stage only as an object in relation to a subject, savikalpaka-samadhi represents only the penultimate experience. The ultimate experience is nirvikalpaka-samadhi. In it the mind rests in an intense manner on the secondless Brahman whose form it has assumed, transcending the distinction of knower, known, etc. If savikalpaka-samadhi is to develop into the nirvikalpaka, the sadhaka has to overcome four obstacles, viz., laya (lapse), vikshepa (distraction), kashaya (passion) and rasasvada (satisfaction). When undisturbed by this four-fold obstacle, the mind becomes motionless like a lamp-flame in a windless place and rests concentrated on the partless spirit. This state of the mind is the akhandakara-vritti. It is the final (charama) vritti of the mind. It is quite unlike a vritti in ordinary life. In perceptual experience first the mind assumes the form of the object (this being the vritti), thus removing our ignorance of its existence and then the spirit reflected in the vritti (phala) reveals the nature of the object. In the case of Brahman-experience the mind of course must assume the form of the object. This is the significance of the statement manasaivanudrashtavyam (by the manas alone is it to be seen) (Briha. U. IV. 4. 19). But, since the object is no other than the self-revealing Self of the knower, the reflection of the Self in the mind is neither necessary for, nor capable of, revealing it. That is, the phala has no part to play in this context. This is the significance of the statement ‘yanmanasa na manute’ (what by the manas cannot be known) (Kena U.I.6). The part played by the charama vritti in Brahman-experience is purely negative. It simply removes the ignorance obscuring Brahman. With the removal of ignorance, the mental state called charama vritti which is itself a part of ignorance is also destroyed. When the reflecting medium of the mind thus disappears, the pratibimba (jivachaitanya) merges itself, as it were, in the bimba (Brahmachaitanya). This direct experience of the disciple is represented by the statement ‘aham brahmaasmi’.
The author finally describes the condition of jivanmukti. When the jivanmukta is in samadhi diversity does not exist for him and hence he is non-active. In the state of vyutthana he perceives diversity but is not deceived by it, as he has once for all realized the underlying unity. He will engage in action that is uniformly and spontaneously good and will be indifferent to results. When the body ‘of’ the jivanmukta falls off on the exhaustion of its prarabdha, He remains as the partless Brahman.
1. I am deeply indebted to the edition and translation of the work by Prof. M. Hiriyanna and to the lectures and notes on the work given at College by my revered Professor, Sri M.K. Venkatarama Iyer
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Preceptors of Advaita