Preceptors of Advaita
Nrisimhasrama was a pupil of Girvanendra Sarasvati and Jagannathasrama, who was a contemporary of Krishnatirtha, the preceptor of Ramatirtha. Ramatirtha has been assigned to the middle of the sixteenth century1. We may, therefore, conclude that Nrisimhasrama flourished in the second half of the sixteenth century. He wrote many works such as Advaita-dipika, Advaita-pancha-ratna, Advaita-bodha-dipika, Advaita-vada, Bheda-dhik-kara, Vacharambhana, Vedanta-tattva-viveka and commentaries on the Samkshepa-sariraka and Panchapadika-vivarana called Tattva-bodhini and Pancha-padika-vivarana-prakasika respectively.
Nrisimhasrama is mainly concerned with stressing the fact of the identity of the individual soul with Brahman and the illusory character of the universe. The universe, according to Advaita, is neither real like Brahman, nor an absolute nothing like the horn of a hare, nor real and unreal at once; it is anirvachaniya or indescribable either as real or as unreal. This concept of anirvachaniya is termed ‘mithya’; and mithyatvam is defined by the author of the Vivarana as ‘pratipannopadhau traikalikanishedha-pratiyogitvam.’ An object ‘silver’ (say) that appears in the nacre is mithya because it is non-existent in the locus, that is, the nacre in which it appears. And, the characteristic of mithyatva pertains to the object ‘silver’. Nrisimhasrama2 maintains this definition of mithyatva. He defines ajnana as the beginningless primal cause of the universe and as one which is removable by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. It has Brahman as its content.
‘anadi upadanatve sati jnana-nivartyam
Nrisimhasrama does not adopt any new line of argument in the interpretation of the Vedanta. In handling the dialectic on difference also Nrisimhasrama is only following the footsteps of his predecessors, Chitsukha and Sri-Harsha, with some elaborations here and there4. In his commentary on the Samkshepasariraka, however, Nrisimhasrama makes clear the Advaita position.
In the Samkshepasariraka Sarvajnatman holds that Brahman is truth, eternal, pure, consciousness, ever-released, subtle, existent, all-pervasive, absolute and bliss5. An objection may be raised as to the many qualities which are ascribed to Brahman as its essential nature. The qualities of truth, consciousness and bliss no doubt constitute the essential nature of Brahman. But the remaining qualities such as eternity, purity, etc., are not natural to Brahman. Whenever it is said that Brahman is eternal (nitya), pure (suddha), etc., it does not mean that eternity, purity, etc., are its nature; but the words only convey the absence of their opposites. And no quality involving the aspect of non-existence can be the nature of Brahman, as the latter is existent. On this ground, some hold that eternity, etc., are not natural to Brahman, like truth (satya), consciousness (jnana) and bliss (ananda).
Sarvajnatman merely refers6 to this objection he raises7 a doubt as to its validity; but he does not endeavour to refute the objection. Nrisimhasrama while commenting on this verse has shown that there are no reasons in favour of the objection and strong reasons against it. He points out that just as the words ‘satya’, ‘jnana’ and ‘ananda’ secondarily signify Brahman as of the nature of truth, consciousness and bliss, so also the words ‘nitya’, etc., found in the Upanishadic passages secondarily signify Brahman as of the nature of eternity, etc. Moreover, if eternity, purity, etc., are not nature to Brahman, then the inevitable consequence would be that Brahman should be taken as transient, impure, etc., Hence it should be held that eternity, purity, etc., also are the essential nature of Brahman.
‘nityam vibhum sarvagatam susukshmam’, ‘asnaviram sudham apapaviddham’, ‘vimuktascha vimuchyate’, ‘ekamevadvitiyam’ ityadisrutibhih nityatvadinamapyaviseshena svarupatvena avadharanat’. ‘nityatvadinam svarupabahirbhave svarupasyanityatvadidoshaprasangascha.’
According to Advaita, Brahman itself without undergoing any change appears as the universe. The Advaitins by postulating a Reality behind the universe differentiate their doctrine from the sunya-vada of the Madhyamika. The latter holds that the world is non-existent. The Advaitins, on the other hand, hold that the world is neither existent nor non-existent, but different from being existent and non-existent. It may be said that although the doctrine of Advaita is not similar to the sunya-vada of the Madhyamika, yet it is identical with the Vijnana-vada school of Buddhism. The latter admits the reality of consciousness alone. What is of the nature of consciousness is indeed indivisible; but by those whose vision is confused it is seen to be, as it were, differentiated into the perceived object, the perceiving subject and perception. And these are false. The Advaitins also maintain that Brahman alone which is pure consciousness is real and it appears as the universe consisting of the knower, objects and the empirical knowledge that is, the mental state. And the universe is not real. It is, therefore, argued that the Vijnana-vada and the doctrine of Advaita are similar.
The Samkshepa-sariraka contains8 a refutation to this objection. Nrisimhasrama while commenting on the verse9 of the Samkshepa-sariraka makes clear that though the two doctrines seem to be similar, yet there are some characteristics which clearly mark the difference between the two schools. In the first place, the Advaitin holds that the four factors, namely, the knower, the object, the proof and the empirical knowledge are different among themselves, while the Vijnana-vadin denies any difference among them. In the second place, the four factors referred to above are created by the beginningless avidya abiding in the eternal Brahman and they are real until the realisation of Brahman. But the Vijnanavadin neither admits an eternal Brahman, nor the beginningless avidya. Never does he posit any reality to the universe. In the third place, Brahman which is pure consciousness is eternal and is different from empirical knowledge or the mental state which arises from the contact of sense-organs with objects and which is insentient. Brahman itself is the witness; without depending on any sense-organ, it perceives the universe. The Vijnana-vadin, on the other hand, holds the insentient mental state itself to be consciousness and as it depends on the sense-organ for its origin it is mutable. Moreover, unlike the Advaitins who hold it to be eternal and unitary, he admits it to be momentary and manifold. From this it would be clear that the doctrine of Advaita and the Vijnana-vada differ so markedly that there can be no identity between them.
sajatiyadibhedasunyah paramatma svadhyastam sakalam
prapancham sadhyatityasmabhiruchyate, na thatha
bauddhaih, tanmate buddhivrittereva jadaya
vijnanatvenangikarat; etadvijnanasya kshanikasya
kshanikaprapanchasadhakatvad vijnananam anekatvaccha
ato’pi na samyam’.10
Of all the concepts of Advaita, the concept of removal of avidya (avidya-nivritti) is the most difficult. There are three views in Advaita regarding the nature of the removal of avidya. The first view is that it is identical with Atman. The second is that it is different from Atman and yet not anirvachaniya but of a fifth kind (pancamaprakara). And the third view is that it is identical with the intuitive knowledge of Brahman that brings about the annihilation of avidya. These three views are advocated by Vimuktatman in his Ishta-siddhi. We shall now examine these views more closely.
The first view is that avidya-nivritti is identical with Atman. Those who disagree with this view hold that Atman is ever-existent and so avidya-nivritti which is identical with Atman also is ever-existent. Since it is ever-existent, no attempt need to be made by any aspirant to achieve this avidya-nivritti. This is the first defect. The second defect is: if avidya-nivritti is ever-existent like Atman, then its correlate ‘avidya’ could not have existed in Brahman. Consequently, there could be no transmigration at all.
The second view is that avidya-nivritti is different from Atman and yet it is not anirvachaniya but of a fifth kind. According to this view, avidya-nivritti is not real; because if it were real there would be a real entity other than Brahman and this goes against the spirit of Advaita. It is not unreal, because if it were so it would be similar to an absolute nothing like a flower sprung from the sky and hence it cannot be achieved through knowledge. Further, being an absolute nothing, it cannot be considered as an ultimate value (purushartha). It is not real and unreal at once for that would violate the law of contradiction. It is not anirvachaniya either; because its correlate avidya is anirvachaniya and so its negation must be other than anirvachaniya. On these grounds it is held that avidya-nivritti is of a fifth kind11.
Nrisimhasrama point out12 certain difficulties with regard to this view. In the first place, the Upanishadic texts that convey Brahman as non-dual are valid only when everything apart from Brahman is held to be anirvachaniya. According to this view, avidya-nivritti is not anirvachaniya. So the Upanishadic texts that convey Brahman to be non-dual cannot be valid. In the second place, since avidya-nivritti is not sat it cannot be considered to be an ultimate value. Nrisimhasrama holds that on these two grounds the view that avidya-nivritti is of a fifth kind must be given up.
The difficulties regarding the second view lead one to maintain the first view that avidya-nivritti is identical with Atman. Two defects have been pointed as regards this view. The first defect is: If avidya-nivritti is identical with Atman, then it is ever-existent and so no attempt need be made by any aspirant to achieve it. Nrisimhasrama answers13 this objection by pointing out that when intuitive knowledge arises there is the manifestation of Atman which is of the nature of avidya-nivritti. And when the knowledge does not arise, Atman in its unconditioned nature does not manifest itself. Hence it is only by courtesy that avidya-nivritti is said to be achieved by knowledge. So the first objective is not tenable.
‘Jnane sati avidyanivrittirupatmasphuranam tadubhave tadasphuranam ityetavataiva upacharat sadhyatvoktih’14
‘jnanabhave ajnananuvrittih, jnanadasayam tu tadanuvrittih ityetavataiva avidyanivritteh jnanasadhyatopacarat, taduktam acharyaih-tatkaivalyam atah sadhyam upacharat prachakshate’15
The second objection is that as Atman is ever-existent its correlate avidya could not exist in Atman. So there could be no transmigration at all. Nrisimhasrama does not answer this objection. The answer to this objection lies precisely in the weakness of the view that avidya-nivritti is of a fifth kind. Avidya is held to be anirvachaniya and this would be possible only when its non-existence also is present in the same substratum at the same time.
The view that avidya-nivritti is identical with Atman is maintained by Sri Sankara himself in his ‘Haristuti’ wherein he says that Brahman (Hari) is of the nature of the annihilation of avidya, the cause of the universe.
‘tam samsara-dhvanta-vinasam harimide.’
The third view is that avidya-nivritti is identical with the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. The intuitive knowledge of Brahman is the annihilating factor of avidya. Apart from the rise of the annihilating factor, it is not intelligible to hold anything like the annihilating of a thing. Pratyagsvarupa emphasizes this point in his commentary ‘Nayanaprasadini’ on the Tattvapradipika of Chitsukha. This view is considered to be more logical than the other views. That ripe scholar Dr. Rama Varma Parikshit maintains that the Naiyayikas also must subscribe to such a view. He holds that of the many causes that contribute to the origination of a pot the most important cause is the antecedent non-existence of the pot (ghata-pragabhava). So according to the Nyaya School, pot is the effect of its non-existence. That school further holds that the pot which is created is of the nature of the annihilation of its non-existence. Ghata is ghata-pragabhava-karya; and it is admitted to be of the nature of ghata-pragabhava-dhvamsa. Similarly, jnana is only a mental state. Mind is an effect of maya or avidya. Hence the mental state which is jnana is also the effect of maya or avidya. Jnana is avidya-karya; and it is intelligible to hold that it is of the nature of avidya-nivritti.16
Nrisimhasrama, however, does not refer to the third view regarding avidya-nivritti.
While it is correct to say that Nrisimhasrama has not put forward any new interpretation of the Vedanta, yet as a commentator he is superb. His commentary on the Samkshepa-sariraka amply testifies to this observation.
1. See the article on ‘The date of Ramatirthayati’ by P.K. Gode in the Adyar Library Bulletin, Vol. VI, part II, pp. 107–110.
2. Vedanta-tattva-viveka, p.12 The Pandit, Vol. XXV, May 1903. See Das Gupta, History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 217.
3. Vedanta-tattva-viveka, p. 43.
4. For more details see A Critique of Difference, by S.S. Suryanarayana Sastri and T.M.P. Mahadevan, Bulletins of the Department of Indian Philosophy, University of Madras, No. 2
5. Samkshepasariraka, I. 173.
6. Ibid., I, 174.
8. Ibid., II, 27.
11. Vide Nrisimhasrama’s preface to his commentary on the Samkshepasariraka,
12. Ibid., IV., 15.
15. Nrisimhasrama’s commentary on the Samkshepasariraka, IV, 24
16. Ghatapragabhavakaryasya ghatasya taddhvamsarupataya naiyayikairangikrtatvat ajnanakaryasyapi jnanasya taddhvamsarupatvam supapannam iti sriparikshinmaharajah. See Brahmanandiyabhavaprakasa, published by The Private Secretary to His Highness The Maharaja of Cochin, 1961, p. 12
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