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Preceptors of Advaita

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MAHADEVANANDA SARASVATI
by
N. S. RAMANUJAM
Nyaya-Vyakarana-Mimamsa-Vedanta Siromani

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                        Mahadevananda Sarasvati, the author of the Tattvanusandhana1 is a disciple of Svayamprakasananda.  According to Das Gupta2, these writers flourished in the seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries. 

                        The Tattvanusandhana serves as a refresher to the serious student engaged in manana.  All the Advaitic concepts are dealt with in this work in a very lucid way.  The author himself wrote a commentary on it by name Advaita-chinta-kaustubha.

                        Mahadevananda’s most important contribution is his treatment of the concept of ajnana.  According to Advaita, Isvara, jiva and jagat are but the appearances of a transcendental entity called Brahman.  The principle that accounts for this seeming diversification of Brahman which is the sole Reality is ajnana.  The conception of ajnana is thus the pivotal point of the Advaita.

                        Ajnana is the first cause of the phenomenal world and consequently corresponds to the prakriti or the pradhana of the Sankhya system; but there are vital differences and metaphysically the two are completely distinct.  The pradhana of the Sankhya system is conceived of as the source of the universe by being independent of the purusha.  But ajnana is considered as the primordial cause of the universe by being dependent on BrahmanSri Sankara in his bhashya on the Brahma-sutratadadhinatvad arthavat’ (1.iv.iii) notices this distinction and points out that the Advaitins do not follow the line of argument of the Sankhyas in accounting for the rise of the universe.

                        Ajnana is superimposed on Brahman and it has Brahman as its locus and content.  It has a two-fold power, namely, avarana-sakti or the power of veiling and vikshepa-sakti or the power of revealing.  By avarana-sakti it conceals Brahman and by vikshepa-sakti it reveals it in the form of Isvara, jiva and jagat.

                        Ajnana is beginning-less and it consists of three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas.  It is a positive entity (bhavarupa) and not an antecedent negation of knowledge (jnanabhava).  It derives its existence only from its superimposition on Brahman and it is held to be indeterminable (anirvachaniya) either as real or as unreal3.

                        It cannot be regarded as real, as it is removed by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman.  Nor can it be considered as unreal, because it is determinately perceived in the form of ‘I am ignorant.’  An unreal thing like the horn of a hare is never experienced.  It cannot be real and unreal at once on the ground that this conception is self-discrepant.  Hence it is regarded as neither real, nor unreal, nor real and unreal at once, but anirvachaniya or indeterminable either as real or as unreal.  Ajnana is removable by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman.  It is thus jnana-nivartya.4

                        This ajnana itself is termed maya and avidya.  Some Advaitins draw a distinction between maya and avidya and define the former as that which does not delude its abode and the latter as that which deludes its abode.  Mahadevananda does not favour this distinction.  He holds that ajnana which is characterised by the predominance of radiant sattva is maya and ajnana which is characterised by the predominance of clouded sattva is avidya5Maya, avidya and ajnana are identical.  Or, ajnana in its aspect of vikshepa-sakti is spoken of as maya and in its aspect of avarana-sakti is spoken of as avidya6.  And, maya and avidya are identical.

                        Mahadevananda holds that the reflection of Brahman in avidya and intellect is jiva; and, Brahman that transcends avidya is Isvara7.  This is precisely the view of the author of the Vivarana.  This view is known as pratibimba-vadaSarvajnatman in his Samkshepasariraka holds that the reflection of Brahman in avidya is Isvara and the reflection of Brahman in avidya and intellect is jiva.  In both the views the consciousness that underlies both Isvara and jiva is the witness-self.

                        The jiva is three-fold owing to the difference in its limiting adjunct, as Visva, Taijasa and Prajna.  The jiva when associated with avidya, the intellect and the gross body regards itself as conscious of the waking condition and in this aspect it is termed ‘Visva’.  And the same jiva when associated with avidya and intellect feels itself as conscious of the dream state and in this aspect it is called ‘Taijasa’.  And when associated with avidya and intellect in its subtle state, the jiva considers itself as conscious of the deep-sleep state and in this aspect it is termed ‘Prajna’.  The waking state (jagradavastha) is one in which the direct apprehension of the various objects is simultaneous with the functioning of the sense organs.  And this state is experienced by the jiva as Visva.

                        When the meritorious or non-meritorious deeds which gave rise to the experience during the waking state are exhausted and when the deeds which cause the experience of the dream state begin to function, the belief in one’s identification with the gross body is removed by a vritti of ‘tamo guna’ called sleep; and there-upon all the senses become absorbed by their ceasing to function.  And thereupon the Visva is also spoken of as having been absorbed.  Then begins the dream state (svapnavastha) in which the knowledge of things is acquired without the functioning of the sense organs and is due to the latent impressions present in the mind.  And this state is experienced by the jiva as ‘Taijasa’.

                        When the deeds which caused the dream state also are exhausted and when the intellect together with its latent impressions merge in avidya, there appears the state of deep-sleep which is the resting place of the jiva which is exhausted on account of its experience of both waking and dream states.  Deep-sleep or sushupti is the cognition of avidya only in the form ‘I did not know anything'.  One who has awakened from deep-sleep recollects ‘I slept well; I did not know anything.’  This recollection is impossible unless there was such an experience.  It is clear that in the deep-sleep state there is the experience of bliss and also of avidya.  And this state is experienced by the jiva as ‘Prajna.’8

                        By eliminating all the limiting conditions and by the knowledge of the pure Self there results liberation.  The three-aspects of the jiva, viz., Visva, Taijasa and Prajna together with the three states of waking, dream and deep-sleep are of the nature of avidya and therefore not real.  The absolute consciousness which is constant in and also the witness of the three states is the fourth (turiya) and it is transcendent and real.  And the pure Self which is the basis of the cognition ‘I’ is non-different from this.  All the three states and the three aspects of the jiva are relevant before the rise of the true knowledge of Brahman and cease to be so after the rise of the knowledge of the true nature of Brahman.

                        Parallel to this conception of jiva, we have a three-fold view of the cosmic self as Vaisvanara, Hiranyagarbha and Isvara9.  It is essential to remember that the sentient element in all the three is identical and the only difference is in the limiting adjuncts.  The consciousness that transcends these three is identical with Atman which transcends the three states of waking, dream and deep-sleep.

                        The aspirant, owing to avidya has lost sight of his identity with Brahman.  By pursuing Vedantic study, reflection and meditation, he attains to the intuitive knowledge of Brahman.  Whether the major texts of the Upanishads themselves give rise to the knowledge of Brahman or whether meditation (nididhyasana) leads to the knowledge of Brahman is a question of great importance in Advaita.  The prevalent view is that the major texts of the Upanishads themselves give rise to the knowledge of Brahman.  And, Mahadevananda accepts this view10.  When such experienced conviction of unity arises in him he becomes a jivan-mukta.  After the final fall of his body, he becomes Brahman itself.

                        Mahadevananda has not introduced any new line of argument in the interpretation of Advaita.  As has been said in the beginning his work serves as a refresher to a student engaged in manana.  He has had access to all the important Advaita works before his time; and by presenting the Advaita concepts in a lucid and admirable way for the benefit of posterity, he has rendered solid service to the cause of Advaita.

1.  Published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1922.

2.  History of Indian Philosophy, Vol.  II, pp. 56–57.

3.  Tattvanusandhana, p. 27.

4.  Ibid.,

5.  Ibid., p. 32.

6.  Ibid., p. 37.

7.  Ibid.,

8.  Ibid., pp. 88–90.

9.  Ibid., p. 93.

10.  Ibid., p. 320.

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Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:

Preceptors of Advaita

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