Preceptors of Advaita
SOME AUTHORS OF WORKS IN REGIONAL LANGUAGES
V. L. SETHURAMAN
Nischaladasa, a veteran saint and Vedantic scholar of the early period of the Nineteenth Century, has written a remarkable and beautiful treatise on Advaita philosophy, by name Vichara-sagara. This has been written by him in Hindi, the language of the place where he lived. This work deals with all the topics relevant to the realization of the real nature of Atman. All the tenets of Advaita have been propounded in strict conformity to the texts on Advaita Vedanta, particularly the Panchadasi.
The work has become popular not only because its exposition of difficult themes in Advaita is both lucid and facile; but also because it is useful to those who are not conversant with Sanskrit language, grammar and literature and who know only Hindi. Its style is also elegant. Further one of the best ways of bringing home the truth of Vedanta, namely, the conversational method has been adopted by the author in this work. The work has seven divisions called tarangas or waves, appropriately to the title Vichara-sagara.
Sadhu Nischaladasa composed the Vichara-sagara in verse form. It contains 527 Karikas or verses divided into seven tarangas. Sri Pitambaraji has written a tika, being a commentary on the Karikas of Sri Nischaladasa. The tikakara himself has written detailed notes called tippana on the Vichara-sagara along with the tika. The Lahore edition (1938) of the Vichara-sagara contains three parts. The first is the original work, namely the Karikas of Sri Nischaladasa. The second is the tika written on the original Karikas and the third namely tippana being the detailed notes on the original Karikas of Vichara-sagara and its tika.
True to his name, Nischaladasa wrote this monumental work out of a firm and unshakable conviction about the one and only reality of Brahman.
Not many details are available of the life history of Nischaladasa. A short and beautiful account of him given in the Lahore edition of the text (1938) with its tika and tippana reveals that he was a great saint and a sound scholar in Advaita Vedanta. He was well versed in the Vedas and had a clear knowledge of Vyakarana, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga and other philosophical systems. Nischaladasa has himself stated in this work that he composed it in Hindi to enable laymen who did not know Sanskrit to understand Advaita easily. He composed this work at Kihadouli, a village which is situated 18 krosas from Delhi. He is also the author of the great work called Vritti-prabhakara. Till his 70th year, he was said to be moving in all the nooks and corners of India and leading the life of a student, philosopher, teacher and expounder of the tenets of Adhyatma Sastra. He died in 1864 A.D. in a village near Delhi. His family preceptor was the great Dadhuji1.
The contents of the Vichara-sagara can be summed up as follows. The first taranga or wave starts with the benedictory verse extolling the unity of jiva and Brahman. The greatness of the work, the four-fold essentials of a work, namely the adhikari the sambandha, the vishaya and the prayojana, the three means of realizing Atman, namely sravana, manana and nididhyasana, the indirect means to obtain the real knowledge, the direct means to know Brahman, are all dealt within the first wave.
The four-fold essentials which are mentioned in the first wave are once again established in the second wave, after meeting satisfactorily the incidental doubts. The purvapakshin here raises an objection. Since each and every type of misery can be removed by a distinct means, there will be no necessity for the knowledge of Brahman to nullify miseries. Further the desire for an object comes to one only when the object is already known to him and since Brahman is not at all known previously; one could not have any desire at all to know about it. The difference between jiva and Brahman is well-known and so they are two distinct things. Bondage is true, since there are no valid reasons to admit the idea of superimposition and bondage can be removed by karma alone. So what is the use of studying this Vedantic text? This objection is answered thus: misery cannot be uprooted by anything except the knowledge of Brahman. Bondage is unreal and this cannot at all be removed by any karma, but only by Atmajnana. So the prayojana or the usefulness of the work is established. And, thus anubandha-chatushtaya is established fully in the second wave.
The qualifications and characteristics of preceptor and pupil are given in the third wave. A student must go in search of the preceptor, obey his commands, do the utmost service to him and propitiate him by all means. This alone will be the means of getting the true knowledge of the Atman. The methods of propitiating the preceptor are laid down in this chapter. The knowledge of Atman may also come from the Vedas and works based upon them, even though they are not real. These are all dealt within this wave.
The best and the most commendable method of infusing the difficult tenets of philosophy into the minds of the pupils are to convey them in the form of dialogue set in the background of a story. This method has been adopted in the succeeding waves. For example, knowledge of Brahman is imparted through the following story. A king by name Subhasanti, desirous of seeking the knowledge of the Atman, wanted to entrust the kingdom to his three sons, Tattvadrishti, Tarkadrishti and Adrishti and go to the forest. When the three sons came to know about his intention, they themselves started first in quest of real learning. They roamed in several places and finally came to the vicinity of a great sage who was teaching his disciples on the banks of the Ganges and became his disciples. Thereupon they obtained the true knowledge from their preceptor.
In the fourth wave, the Uttamadhikari, Tattvadrishti, got his doubts cleared by the preceptor. There is a detailed exposition of the identity between jiva and Brahman, the knowledge of which is the destroyer of sorrow and the cause of the attainment of bliss. The world is not real just like the serpent appearing in a rope. How does a rope appear as snake? This has been clearly explained in this wave. The theory of error (khyativada) also has been explained here. As regards the non-difference of jiva and Brahman several objections have been raised and answered. The author finally establishes in this wave that the knowledge of Brahman can be attained directly from the Vedas and the instructions of a teacher.
The fifth wave starts with the conversation between the Madhyamadhikari by name Adrishti and the preceptor. He starts by raising this point that the teachings of the preceptor and Vedas are false and by means of these false things, how will the universe disappear? This has been answered thus. A person who has been seemingly affected by poison in his dream or obsession which is not real, really feels pain and gets also the after-effects. From letters which are not real, we get the real knowledge. From the reflection of the image which is not real, the knowledge of the real object i.e. the original is obtained. In the same way we can get the real knowledge of Brahman from the Vedas even though they are not real. Further, a good dream as well as a bad one, even though they are not real come true at times2. So the knowledge of Brahman can be got from the Vedas and the teachings of the preceptor. The nature of jiva, Isvara and maya, sukshma drishti, sthula drishti, the nature of the five kosas, the creation and destruction of the universe, pranavopasana, etc., are all dealt within this wave.
In the next wave Tarkadrishti, the kanishtadhikari raises objections regarding the identity of the two states, namely, the waking state and the state of dream. The preceptor establishes the similarity of the two states. The other points that are dealt within this wave are: the individual soul is identical with Brahman which is free from birth and death and which is of the nature of existence, consciousness and bliss; Brahman associated with avidya is the source of the universe; the intuitive knowledge of Brahman alone is the means to liberation.
In the seventh wave, the characteristics of a person who has obtained the knowledge of Brahman are described. The eight limbs of yoga, namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are all defined and described in detail. The Vedas and Puranas are the means of realizing the one and only reality, namely, Brahman. The Vedas, the Upavedas, the Puranas, the Upapuranas, the shadangas and other sastraic texts have non-dualism as their main theme and these works are mentioned so that they may be treated as authority in establishing this system of philosophy. In this wave, Tarkadrishti after having asked a number of questions comes to the conclusion that all Sastraic texts are the means to obtain the intuitive knowledge. Finally he becomes the preceptor of his father Subhasanti and clears his doubts. Thus all of them attain to the supreme human end.
Thus the tenets of Advaita philosophy are conveyed in these seven waves of this work with charm and elegance. This work has been translated into Sanskrit and Tamil and it is indeed very useful to the students of Advaita philosophy.
1. Vichara Sagara, Lahore Edition (1938), p. 6.
2. See Sankara-bhashya on the Brahma-sutra, ii, 1-14.
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Preceptors of Advaita