Preceptors of Advaita
U. VENKATAKRISHNA RAO
hiranmayena patrena satyasyapihitam mukham
tattvam pushannapavrinu satyadharmaya drishtaye.
Poets are fond of using dramatic and allegorical style. The Puranic churning of the Milky Ocean is to be understood thus: God Vishnu is the Milky Ocean and the various gems churned out stand for His Manifold virtues. Inquiry about the nature of God is the churning; the Vedas and the Brahma-sutra can be referred to as the churning rod and the rope. The purvapakshins, holding the prima facie view, are the asuras and siddhantins are the devas establishing the final decisive view. The amrita or nectar churned out is the salvation or moksha which makes us overcome the cycle of births and deaths. (The drama Prabodhachandrodaya is a similar allegorical representation of the Advaita doctrine taught by Sankara Bhagavatpada. Tradition records that the holy Paramahamsa, the author Krishnamisra who flourished in the latter part of the 11th century A.D. found the traditional method of teaching the Prasthana-trayi, the Gita, the Brahma-sutra and the Upanishads ineffective when he had to teach a dullard and hit upon this dramatic mode of the allegory of a war between virtue and vice, ultimately ending in the triumph of Prabodha Chandra or the ‘Moonlight of Knowledge.’)
Poets all the world over are fond of such allegorical representations. Dante in the Divine Comedy suggests that a leopard may stand for lust, a lion for pride and she-wolf for avarice and leads his readers into an imaginary paradise. John Bunyan allegorically characterizes man’s progress in this world as Pilgrim’s progress and introduces persons named Worldly-wise, Prudence, Superstition, Faith, etc1. Purandaradasa the famous mystic saint of Karnataka of about the 16th century compares man to sleeping pilgrim round whose head hovers the God of death. (The same idea comes here in iv, 26, as we shall see later). The saintly author of the Sankalpa-suryodaya, Vedanta Desika, interprets the Valmiki Ramayana as a myth representing the human soul in the form of Sita, imprisoned in the Asoka Vana in Lanka by a Rakshana with ten heads standing for the five karmendriyas and as many jnanedriyas, being later united with its Lord Rama through the help of the Vedantic Teacher Hanuman.
dehesmin bhavasindhuna parigate kashtam dasamasthitah,
adhyatve hanumatsamena guruna prakhyapitarthah puman
lankaruddha videharajatanayanyayena lalapyate. (i, 72).
The story of the drama spread over six acts can be summarized thus: Kama and Rati converse in the Vishkambha or introductory scene and depart. Isvara begets through Avidya a son name Manas. He later marries Pravritti and Nivritti, the first wife becomes the mother of Mahamoha, while Viveka is born of the latter. The first act ends informing that Mahamoha and Viveka were inimical to each other, the first with his retinue trying hard to fasten man to worldly moorings, while the latter did his best to switch him on to God. The second act shows us Mahamoha ruling over his retinue in Varanasi. Charvaka, one of his spies, comes and reports that Kali’s efforts have succeeded in weaning people away from Vedic studies, but there persists the fear that Vishnu-bhakti might some-day makes her efforts vain; Kama, Krodha and others are accordingly ordered to nip Vishnu-bhakti’s efforts in the bud. Report also arrives (through Mada and Mana) that Vairagya (Renunciation) has already succeeded in alienating Dharma from Kama (Lust) but Santi and her mother Sraddha are trying to effect an alliance between Viveka and Upanishad-devi. Mahamoha accordingly orders Kama to capture Dharma on the one-side while Krodha and Lobha (Greed) should conquer Santi (Peace) and drag Sraddha into the camp of the heterodox systems of philosophy.
The third act starts with the search by Santi of her mother Sattvika Sraddha; she finds Tamasa (Demoniac) Sraddha with the Kapalika. These are Mahamoha’s servants. From their conversation Santi learns that Sattvika Sraddha has been forced to take refuge along with Vishnu-bhakti in the hearts of the saintly seers. The Kapalika evidently under instructions from Mahamoha sends his Maha Bhairavi Vidya to capture Sraddha and Dharma. The next act opens with an introductory conversation between Sraddha and Maitri (Friendship). Bhairavi, we are informed, had captured Dharma but Vishnu-bhakti succeeds in rescuing her and Sraddha has now arranged to send her on to Viveka. This latter king prepares for war, sending Vastu Vichara to fight against Kama, Kshama against Krodha and Santosha against Lobha. He himself leads his army for a final assault and encamps in the temple of Adi Kesava at Kasi.
Vishnu-bhakti and Santi come up on the stage in the next act at Chakratirtha and Sraddha, who has been fishing secretly for information about enemy, submits her report. Viveka has been victorious and Mahamoha has gone into hiding somewhere. From incoherent reports, the depressed Sri Manas, worried about the deaths of his nearest relatives, is about to commit suicide, when Vaiyasiki Sarasvati succeeds in consoling him. Fortunately at this juncture, Vairagya, Vishnu-bhakti and Maitri arrive with re-assuring reports and Mind is somehow consoled and stilled.
The last act reveals Santi attending on Upanishad Devi, while Sraddha is doing everything possible to reassure Viveka. Upanishad Devi explains how she was tortured in the Buddhist Viharas till a stroke of good luck made her enter into Gita Asrama. She assures Purusha that he is Paramesvara and embraces Him. Prabodha is born and the shackles binding Purusha are snapped. Vishnu-bhakti pronounces final benediction.
The very fact that the imitations of this type of composition are unnecessarily too long containing ten acts and over-weighted with philosophical discussions is enough to make us realize the novelty of the type introduced into dramatic literature. The intelligent dramatist kept to his limitations with a due sense of restraint, introduced humorous scenes here and there to keep up the interest of the audience, limiting philosophical episodes to the barest possible minimum. The author seems to have had experience of the army camps and studied political intrigues from the point of view of Kautilya’s Arthasastra also. The introduction informs us that the author’s patron Gopala reinstated Kirtivarma and installed him on his throne, even after the latter was over-thrown by the Chedi King Karna. The Santarasa-dominated drama was then enacted at the time of the reinstallation of this Kirti-varma. But history does not furnish us with more definite information about this Gopala, but the fact remains that the dramatist had intimate knowledge of the theatre and what is more important from our point of view, of directing military operations also like Kautilya of olden days. Though Bharata in his Natya-sastra had posited only eight rasas, Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta tried hard to install Santa on its pedestal and Kalhana in his Raja-tarangini (I, 23) had slightly earlier declared:
kshanabhangini jantunam sphurite parichintite,
murdhabhishekah santasya rasasyatra vicharyatam.
Others tried to introduce Vatsalya and Bhakti rasas; but Krishnamisra succeeded in effecting a harmonious alliance of bhakti (which plays an important role in his drama) with Santa along the lines indicated in the Bhagavatapurana.
Even the number of the acts in this drama is six representing perhaps the number of the Vedangas, the auxiliaries to the Vedic study. It deserves to be noted that the first three acts describing the nastika or the heterodox darsanas like the Charvaka, Jains and Bauddha are purposely left unnamed in the colophons at the end of the respective acts (perhaps true to their name nastika); while the last three (initiated by the conversation of Maitri and Sraddha) are respectively named Viveka, Uddyoga or preparations set up by Viveka (Discrimination), Vairagya Pradurbhava or birth of Renunciation and Jivan-mukti or Redemption even when living—‘liberation-in-life’. This is nothing but saying that Vairagya and Viveka are the two wings required by the bird, Jiva, to soar into philosophical realms and reach jivan-mukti. Again if Tamasika Sraddha plays a more important role in the first acts Sattviki Sraddha looms large in the Gita Sloka (vii, 14):
daivi hyesha gunamayi mama maya duratyaya,
mameva ye prapadyante mayametam taranti te.
God’s maya is no doubt very difficult to get over; but to one who succeeds in winning His Grace, the hurdles of maya may be got over. The Bhagavata-purana (XI, vi, 46) teaches us a trick to hoodwink maya by using only the Lord’s Prasadam:
uchchhishta bhojino dasastava mayam jayemahi.
This fact becomes clear to us when we read this conversation between Sraddha and Santi in the beginning of the last act:
sraddha––evametat, yathatmanam anusandhatte,
tato deva eva svarat cha samrat cha bhavati.
santi––atha devasya mayayam kidriso’nugrahah ?
sraddha—nanu nigrah iti vaktavye katham
anugraha iti sakyate vaktum;
devo’pi sarvanarthabijamiyam maya
sarvatha nigrahyeti manyate.
The context is the Pravesaka or the introductory scene which clearly informs us that Sraddha has dragged Manas away into temptations like Madhumati-–which would ensure him firmly into the net of Samsara–and switched him on to Tattvabodha or Appreciation of Right Truth. This will naturally lead him on to Svarajyasiddhi or Realisation of His own Infinite innate Bliss. The way in which Upanishad Devi enters into the Gita Asrama in the Dandaka Forest where she finds shelter reminds one of the famous Krishna-karnamrita sloka:
agre dirghataro’yamarjunataruh tasyagrato vartani
sa ghosham samupaiti tatparisare dese kalindatmaja,
tasyastiratamalakantisalile chakram gavam charayan
gopah kridhati, darsayishyati sakhe panthanam avyahatam.
This Upanishad Devi succeeds in making the Purusha realize that he is the Paramesvara Himself.
asau tvadanyo na sanatanah puman
bhavanna devat purushottamat parah,
sa eva bhinnah tvadanadimayaya
dvidheva bimbam salile vivasvatah.
Viveka readily confirms this identification which man as a Doubting Thomas finds hard to believe with the help of the MahaVakya––tat tvam asi.
esho’smiti vivichya neti padataschittena sardham krite
tattvanam vilaye chidatmani parijnate tvamarthe punah,
srutva tattvamasiti badhitabhavadhyanam tadatmaprabham
santam jyotiranantamantaruditanandah samudyotate.
It deserves to be noted that this dramatist has characterized knowledge as the Moon while his imitator Vedanta-Desika identifies it with the Sun. Both are substantially correct in their own way almost exactly like the characterization of the Lord as suryakotipratikasa and chandrakotisusitala. If the one regards the Lord as the Light of all lights, he has got to compare Him either with the moon or with the sun as these are the two luminaries providing us with light in this world. The former seems to have felt that the sun would be unapproachable because of his dazzling light and preferred to compare him with the moon, while the latter seems to have thought that the moon could not be found during the day-time and what is more important, derives its light from the sun. The Upanishads had already declared that the five sources of light in the world, viz. Sun, Moon, Starts, Lightning and Fire all derive their light only from the Great Power-House, God.
na tatra suryo bhati na chandratarakam
nema vidyuto bhanti kuto’yam agnih,
tameva bhantam anubhati sarvam
tasya bhasa sarvam idam vibhati.
(Svetasvatara Upanishad, vi, 14)
It is quite natural that the latter three are obviously not so effulgent as the former two, which alone have been singled out by these two great dramatists. Vedanta Desika preferred the Sun and styled his drama Sankalpa-suryodaya.
To continue our main argument, it must be noted that the dramatist Krishnamisra has taken judicious care to balance the serious element of Santa with lighter humorous episodes like the conversation between Kama and Rati, Kapalikas, etc. The episodes invented by his fertile imagination like Jnatimatsarya or hatred of uterine brothers, ministers, spies, ambassadors, preparations for war on both sides, siege and survival of the single hero who hides himself desperately to save himself––all these easily remind us of the Bharata war in which Duryodhana hides himself in the Vaisampayana lake. One of the characters, Dambha grandiloquently declares that when he was about to leave Brahma’s assembly, the latter washed his thigh with cow-dung and humbly requested him to sit thereon.
Even the bare list of a few imitations of this ingenious drama serves to focus light on the originality of this fertile brain. Sankalpasuryodaya (Visishtadvaitic), Ubhayagrasarahudaya (Dvaitic), Anumiti-parinaya, Ananda-chandrodaya, Kumudachandra, Kshemachandra-prabodha, Jivanmukti-kalyana, Chaitanya-chandrodaya (Gaudiya Vedanta), Prabodhodaya, Vidyaparinayana –these (some among them unpublished in the various libraries here and there) deserve mention. It is difficult to guess whether this dramatist originated this new type of drama particularly because Asvaghosha, the Buddhist poet who flourished under Kanishka (about 78 A.D) is credited with a drama in which the best disciple Sariputra listens to the master’s teachings to be finally converted. We cannot make any definite surmise as only fragments of the drama which is supposed to have contained nine acts are found. Even if it is argued that Asvaghosha must have been the innovator, no drama of this type is found for nearly a thousand years and Krishnamisra in 1090 A.D. should receive the entire credit for inaugurating a new type the originality of which proved infectious among all sections of Vedantic schools.
As observed earlier, the style in the drama is not heavy and is interspersed here and there with humorous ideas. The last act is pure philosophy with Upanishadic quotations and a few of them have been already quoted in connection with the explanation of the philosophy connected with tat tvam asi. The famous Vedic hymn dva suparna sayuja sakhaya comparing the Jivatma (individual soul) and Paramatma, the Divine soul, to two birds perched on the same tree, the former eating the fruits of the tree and singing while the latter shines without partaking of the fruits is slightly paraphrased in VI, 20, by removing the irregularities of Vedic grammar thus:
dvau tau suparnau sayujau sakhayau
ekastayoh pippalamatti pakvam
The following sloka
yasmadvisvamudeti yatra ramate yasmin punarliyate
bhasa yasya jagadvibhati sahajanandojjvalam yanmahah
santam sasvatam akriyam yamapunarbhavaya bhutesvaram
dvaitadhvantam apasya yanti kritinah prastaumi tam purusham
is, as anybody can see for himself, fully soaked in Upanishadic style and ideas. Similarly the slokas uttered by Sarasvati in the previous act like
na kati pitaro darah putrah (v, 27) and
tvat sangat sasvato’pi pranayajaladharo’paplutah (V, 33)
represent echoes of philosophic thought and are very easily understandable. Perhaps the fourth act is the best in regard to style as the slokas are lyrical, rivaling easily those of the moralist Bhartrihari. Slokas like
vipulapulinah kalloliniyo nitantapatajjhari-
masrinitasilah sailah sandradruma vanabhumayah
yadi samagiro vailyasikyo budhaischa samagamah
kva pisitavasamayyo naryah tatha kva cha manmathah
and (iv, 12). chandraschandanam indudhavala ratrih
easily remind us of Bhartrihari’s Nitisataka.
phalam svechchhalabhyam prativanamakhadam kshitiruham (VI, 19),
dhanam tavallabdham kathamapi tathapyasya niyato
vyayo va naso va tava sati viyogostyubhayatha
anutpadah sreyan kimu kathaya pathyo’tha vilayah
vinaso labdhasya vyathayatitaram na tvanudayah (IV, 22),
mrityurnrityati murdhni sasvaduragi ghora jararupini
tvamesha grasate parigrahamayaih gridraih jagadgrasyate
dhutva bodhajalaih abodhabahulam tallobhajanyam rajah
santoshamritasagarambhasi mananmagnah sukham jivati (iv, 26)
remind one easily of Bhartrihari’s santosha eva purushasya param nidhanam. The climax of Devotion is reached when we read the Bhagavaddandaka at the end of Act IV starting with
jaya jaya bhagavan amarachayachakra chudamanisreni nirajitopanta padadvayambhoja. . . . . . . bhaktasya lokasya samsaramohachchhidam dehi bodhodayam deva tubhyam namah
is sufficiently exhilarating though it might not reach the sublimity of the Syamaladandaka. It is certainly briefer and equally musical and appropriate in the context.
The Advaitic Maya, anirvachaniya or inexplicable as it should be, does not deprive man of his capacity to be ethical nor does it stand in the way of human culture and progress. Dr. Radhakrishnan is sometimes criticized as having toned down the implications of Maya but he seems to have had his cue for this from Krishnamisra who has clearly exhibited its (Maya’s) ability to combine the most heterogeneous elements into an individuality, unique and unsurpassed in the annals of philosophy. If the Buddhists had erred by postulating a nihilistic view by declaring the world to be a mere phantom or asat as a khapushpa and drove us all into despair, Sri Sankara (as interpreted by Krishnamisra) toned that view that there is no reason for us to despair since the world has certainly a relative significance and subsists to all intents and purposes only in order to enable us to attain something higher and more real and what is more important also beyond evil. Krishnamisra tries to show that error and evil in our struggle for existence can be overcome and we can be led on to higher and higher ideals of existence in our spiritual ladder as explained in the Bhagavata-purana.
* A study of his Prabodhachandrodaye.
1. English poets like Chaucer personified the seven deadly sins, virtue, love, etc., symbolizing the forces helping man or ensnaring him as he makes his pilgrim’s progress in this world.
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Preceptors of Advaita