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Preceptors of Advaita
Gaudapada, like most of the classical Indian thinkers, lives in our memories mainly through his work. Tradition regards Gaudapada as Sankara’s paramaguru (preceptor’s preceptor). A verse which contains the succession list of the early teachers of Advaita gives the names of those teachers in the following order: Narayana, the lotus-born Brahma, Vasishtha, Sakti, his son Parasara, Vyasa, Suka, the great Gaudapda, Govinda-yogindra, his disciple Sankaracharya, and then his four pupils Padmapada, Hastamalaka, Trotaka and the Vartikakara (i.e. Suresvara)1. From this list we learn that Gaudapada was the preceptor of Govinda who was Sankara’s guru. The first teacher is Narayana, the Lord himself, and the line of succession, which is from father to son upto Suka, consists more or less of mythical persons.
1narayanam padma-bhuvam vasishtham saktim cha
tat putra parasaram cha
vyasam sukam gaudapadam mahantam
sri-sankaracharyam athasya padmapadam, cha
hastamalakam cha sishyam,
tam trotakam vartikakaram anyan asmad-gurun santatamanatosmi
The first teacher of whose historicity we may be sure is Gaudapada, and from him onwards we have the rule of sanyasins succeeding to the Advaita pontificate. With him commences, according to tradition, what may be called the manava-sampradaya in the present age of Kali; he was the first human preceptor to receive the wisdom of the One and impart it to his pupils. Anandagiri in his gloss (tika) on the Mandukya-karika-bhashya, says that the teacher Gaudapada in those days spent his time in Badrikasrama, the holy residence of Nara-Narayana, in deep meditation on the Lord, and that the Lord, Narayana, greatly pleased, revealed to him the Upanishadic wisdom. Balakrishnananda Sarasvati (17th Century A.D.) writes in his Sarirakamimamsabhashya-vartika that there was in the country of Kurukshetra a river called Hiraravati, on whose banks there were some Gauda people (people of Gaudadesa, the modern North Bengal); that the pre-eminent of them, Gaudapada, was absorbed in deep meditation beginning from the Dvapara age; and so, as his proper name is not known to the moderns, he is celebrated by the class-name of the Gaudas.
Gaudapada’s Karika, which is more than a verse commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, contains the quintessence of the teaching of Vedanta2. The work consists of 215 couplets arranged in four chapters. Following the Upanishad, the first chapter, Agama-prakarana, analyses the three avasthas, waking, dream and deep sleep, and finds that the Self which is referred to as the Turiya underlies and transcends these changing states. The second chapter, Vaitathya-prakarana, seeks to establish the illusoriness of the world of plurality, on the analogy of dreams and through a criticism of creationistic hypotheses. The third chapter, Advaita-prakarana, sets forth the arguments for the truth of the non-dualism, gives citations from scripture in support thereof, and discusses the path to the realisation of non-duality, called Asparsa-yoga. The last chapter, Alatasanti-prakarana, repeats some of the arguments of the earlier chapters, shows the unintelligibility of the concept of causality through dialectic, explains the illusoriness of the phenomenal world, comparing it to the non-real designs produced by a fire-brand (alata) and pressing into service modes of Bauddha reasoning, and establishes the supreme truth of non-duality which is unoriginated, eternal, self-luminous bliss.
2 The commentator on the Karika says: vedantartha-sara-sangrahabhutam
The central theme of Gaudapada’s philosophy is that nothing is ever born (ajati), not because ‘nothing’ is the ultimate truth as in Sunya-vada, but because the Self is the only reality. ‘No jiva is born; there is no cause for such birth; this is the supreme truth, nothing whatever is born3. From the standpoint of the Absolute there is no duality, there is nothing finite or non-eternal. The Absolute alone is; all else is appearance, illusory and non-real. They are deluded who take the pluralistic universe to be real. Empirical distinctions of knower and object known, mind and matter, are the result of Mava. One cannot explain how they arise. But on enquiry they will be found to be void of reality. If one sees them, it is like seeing the foot-prints of birds in the sky4. The Self is unborn; there is nothing else to be born. Duality is mere illusion; non-duality is the supreme truth.5
3 III, 48; IV, 71.
4 IV, 28
5 I, 17, maya-matram idam dvaitam advaitam paramarthatah.
Gaudapada expounds his philosophy of non-origination or non-birth in several ways and through many an argument. The reality of the non-dual self he first establishes through an enquiry into the purport of the Mandukya Upanishad. Though extremely brief, the Mandukya contains the essentials of Vedanta. For the liberation of those who desire release, says the Muktikopanishad, the Mandukya alone is enough6. The Mandukya Upanishad begins with the equation ‘Om=all=Brahman=self’ and proceeds to describe the three states of the self, waking, dream and sleep, as well as the fourth (Turiya) which is not a state alongside the others but the transcendent nature of the self—the non dual peace, the self per se. Gaudapada makes this declaration of the Upanishad the basis of his metaphysical quest and seeks to show through reasoning that non-origination is the final truth.
6 Muktika, I, 26.
7 The distinctions of ‘within’ and ‘without’, it must be remembered, are from the standpoint of waking experience; for it is in this state that inquiry is possible.
9 I, 2. See commentary.
10 Mandukya, 6.
13 I, 13–16
14 IV, 87, 88.
15 I, 18. jnate dvaitam na vidyate
As a result of the inquiry into the avasthas it must be evident that the pluralistic world is illusory, as the self alone is real. That the world which we take to be real in waking is illusory, Gaudapada seeks to establish in the Vaitathya-prakarana on the analogy of the dream0world. Judged by the standards of waking, it will be readily seen that the world of dreams is unreal. A person may dream of elephants and chariots; but on waking he realises that all of them must have been illusory because they appeared within him, within the small space of his body16. The dream-contents do not form part of the external world which we take to be real in waking; and so they are illusory. Nor do they conform to the laws of space and time which govern the waking world. In a trice of waking time one may travel far and wide in dream. There is no real going to the place of dream, for on waking one does not find oneself there. Nor are the objects experienced in dream real, for when the dream-spell is broken one does not see them17. Because chariot, etc., seen in dream are non-existent, they are illusory18.
16 II, i; IV, 33.
It is true that the dream-water cannot quench actual thirst. But it is equally true that the so-called actual water cannot quench the dream-thirst either20. It may be argued that the contents of dream are unreal because, unlike the objects of waking, they are strange and abnormal. But when and to whom do they appear abnormal? To him who has returned to waking after a dream. In the dream state itself the contents are not realised to be strange. With perfect equanimity the dreamer may watch even the dismemberment of his own head. We are told that the denizens of heaven have their own peculiarities which to us are all abnormal. Similarly, from the side of waking the dream-contents may seem abnormal; but in themselves they are quite normal21. That there is an essential similarity between the contents of dream and the objects of waking may be shown by a closer scrutiny of the two states. In the state of dream, the dreamer imagines certain ideas within himself and sees certain things outside; and he believes that, while the former are unreal, the latter are real. But as soon as he wakes from the dream, he realises the unreality of even the things which he saw in dream as if outside. Similarly in waking, we have our fancies which we know to be unreal, and we experience facts which we take to be real. But when the delusion of duality is dispelled, the so-called facts of the external world will turn out to be illusory appearance22. Therefore it is that the wise characterize waking as a dream23. Just as the dream-soul arises and perishes, the souls of waking come into being and pass away24. It is the self that posits the dream-contents as well as the external world. The things created in the mind within and those posited in the world without—both these are the illusory imaginations of the Atman. The difference between the two sets of things is that while the dream-contents last only till the mind of the dreamer imagines them (cittakalah) and are peculiar thereto, the objects of the external world are perceived by other subjects25 as well (dvayakalah), and are cognised through the sense-organs. Illusoriness (vaitathya), however, is common to both26. In dream as well as in waking it is the mind that moves impelled by Maya, and creates the appearance of plurality. As identical with the self the mind is non-dual; but owing to nescience duality is figured and there is the consequent samsara27.
20 II, 7; IV, 32.
22 II, 9 & 10, IV, 63–66.
Illustrations for illusoriness are to be found even in the state of waking. Just as in the dark a rope which is not determinately known is imagined to be a snake or a streak of water,the self is imagined to be the world through nescience. And as when the rope is known as rope the posited snake, etc., vanish, so also when the self is known as non-dual, that pluralistic world disappears28. Like the Palace city of Fairy Morgana (gandharva-nagara), the universe is seen but is not real29. The things of the world are believed to exist because they are perceived (upalambhat) and because they answer to certain practical needs (samacharat). But these two reasons cannot make them real; for even the objects like the elephant conjured up by the necromancer are observed and are practically efficient but are not real30. One more illustration Gaudapada gives in the fourth chapter, viz. the alata or fire-brand. When a fire-brand is moved, it appears to be straight, or crooked, and so on; and when the movement stops, the appearances vanish. They do not really come from the fire-brand in motion, nor do they enter into it when it comes to rest. The patterns of fire that appear with the movement of the fire-brand are illusory; they have no substance whatsoever. Similarly, consciousness appears in manifold forms due to Maya. These do not come out of it, in reality, nor do they return to it; for they are naught31. There is no dissolution, no origination; no one in bondage, no one who desires release, no one who is released – this is the supreme truth32.
28 II, 17, 18.
The establishment of the non-reality of the world by Gaudapada does not mean that the great teacher subscribes to the view of ontological unreality (sunyavada). We have already seen how in the Agama-prakarana he expounds the meaning of the Mandukya Upanishad and shows through an inquiry into the nature of the three avasthas that the Self (turiya) is the sole reality. That this is so Gaudapada argues through reasoning in the Advaita-prakarana, and cites in support the evidence of passages from other scriptural texts as well.
It is true that in some contexts scripture speaks of creation. Through the illustrations of clay, metal, sparks, etc., creation of the many from the one is described. But this is only to enable those who are dull-witted and middlings to understand the fundamental unity of reality. Sruti declares creation in some places, and non-creation in others. The two sets of passages cannot have equal validity. That teaching should be taken as the purport of scripture which is ascertained through inquiry (nischitam) and is reasonable (yukti-yuktam). If birth is predicated of the real, it must be in the sense of an illusion, and not in the primary sense. The self is unborn, sleepless and dreamless, nameless and formless, self-luminous and all-knowing.42
33 III, 3–9.
That the self is unborn and that nothing else there is which is born, Gaudapada seeks to demonstrate through a dialectical criticism of the causal category in the fourth chapter. Causation, like all other relations, falls within the realm of nescience, because on analysis it turns out to be unintelligible. There are two rival views on causation which are totally opposed to each other. The Sankhya theory is that the effect is pre-existent in the cause and is not produced de novo. The Nyaya-Vaiseshika view is that the effect is non-existent, there prior to its production. On either of these hypotheses there will not result causation. If the effect is already existent, there is no need for any causal operation; it is meaningless to say that what is existent is born. If the effect is non-existent, it can never be produced; what is non-existent like the barren woman’s son is not at any time seen to take birth43. Even without their knowing the two rival schools, satkarya-vada and asatkarya-vada, are thus seen to support the view of non-creation or non-origination44.
43 IV: 4, bhutam na jayate kinchid abhutam naiva jayate.
The Mimamsakas maintain that the cause and the effect are reciprocally dependent. Merit and demerit are responsible for producing the body; and the body occasions merit and demerit. The chain of causes and effects is without beginning, each alternating with the other, like the seed and the sprout. Here again we meet with insuperable difficulties. If the antecedent of a cause is its effect and the antecedent of an effect is its cause, then both cause and effect are begun. How can they be beginningless? Moreover, there is a paradox in the very thesis that is proposed. To say that the antecedent of the cause is its effect is like saying that the son begets his father46. There must be some definite sequence recognised as between cause and effect. It is no use believing that the two are reciprocally dependent. If the cause and the effect can be indifferently antecedent or consequent, there would be no distinction whatever between them, and to call one a cause and the other an effect would be entirely arbitrary and void of meaning. Now, there are three possible ways of stating the sequence. It may be said that first there is the cause and subsequently the effect takes place (purva-krama); or it may be held that the effect is followed by the cause (apara-krama); or it may be thought that the cause and the effect are simultaneous (saha-krama). None of these alternatives is intelligible. That the cause cannot produce the effect we have shown already. If the cause is unborn, it cannot change and therefore cannot produce; if it is born there is infinite regress. The reverse order too is impossible; for, as we said, it is just like making the son antecedent to the father. The effect by definition is that which is produced by the cause; and if the cause is not there before the effect, how can the effect be produced? And from the unproduced effect how can the cause come into being? The third alternative also is untenable. If what are simultaneous be causally related, there must be such a relation between the two horns of an animal. But as a matter of experience it is well known that the two horns are not so related. This, then, is the crux of the problem. Without settling the sequence, the distinction of cause and effect would be unintelligible. And it is impossible to settle the sequence. In despair, appeal might be made to the illustration of seed and sprout. But a little thought would reveal that these–seed and sprout–cannot serve as illustration. It is only when the causal sequence has been settled that the relation between seed and sprout would become intelligible. Since the latter is a particular falling under the wider relation of cause and effect, it cannot be used as an illustration. It is, in short, sadhya-sama, still to be proved47.
46 IV, 15, putraj janma pitur yatha.
Gaudapada admits creation in the sphere of the empirical. But creation, according to him, is neither de novo nor transformation of an original stuff. It is of the nature of Maya, illusory manifestation or transfiguration. The world is not related to the self either as a piece of cloth to the threads or as curds to milk. In fact, no relation is intelligible. The one reality somehow appears as the pluralistic universe through its own Maya (atma-maya). The complexes that constitute the world are projections, like the dream-contents, effected by the illusion of the Atman50. Things are said to be born only from the standpoint of empirical truth (samvriti-satya); they have therefor no permanence. Just as an illusive sprout shoots from an illusive seed, all things arise from Maya51.
There are several theories of creation. Some philosophers favour materialistic origins for the world. For example, there are thinkers who attribute the origination of the universe to Time. Theists, however, regard God as the first cause of things. Some of them ascribe to Him efficient causality alone, others both efficient and material causality. The former say that creation is the mere volition of the Lord, while the latter hold that it is His expansion. Some maintain that God creates for the sake of His enjoyment. Others urge that creation of His sport. But how can desire be in God who is apta-kama and has no end to achieve? In our ignorance we must content ourselves with saying that creation is His nature or maya. Like dream and magic it is illusory52. The non-dual is imagined to be the manifold world. The latter is neither different from the self nor identical therewith. Hence it is declared to be indeterminable53.
True to its character as an upadesa-sastra, the Gaudapada-karika contains practical teaching at the end of each chapter. The purpose of a sastra is to enable the aspirant to cross the sea of samsara and reach the shore of blessedness which is the highest human goal (parama-purushartha). The vicious circle of empirical life dependent on the law of cause and effect is evil (anartha). This, however, as has been shown above, is a product of avidya or Maya. As long as there is an obstinate faith in causality which is illusory (avidyaka), the chain of birth and death will not cease. When that false belief is destroyed through knowledge, samsara is removed60. The cause of birth and death is ignorance as regards the ultimate truth which is causeless. When this is realised, there is no further cause for metempsychosis, and we attain release which is freedom from sorrow, desire, and fear. Attachment to the non-real is responsible for the illusory wanderings in the wilderness of samsara. When one becomes non-attached through knowledge, one turns back from the false pursuit of the non-real, and reaches the non-dual reality which is homogeneous and unborn61.
The knowledge which saves is not that which remains a mere theoretical comprehension, but that which has become a direct experience. Study of scripture, ethical discipline, detachment from objects of sense and intense longing for release–these are essential for realising the self. The aspirant should learn the purport of the Veda and acquire freedom from passions like attachment, fear, and anger (vita-raga-bhaya-krodhah); and he should fix his thoughts on the non-dual reality65. Gaudapada teaches two methods of concentrating the mind on the non-dual, Pranava-yoga in the first chapter and Asparsa-yoga in the third. These are to serve as auxiliaries to the knowledge of the Absolute, methods to loosen the cords of ignorance.
Asparsa-yoga is the yoga of transcendence, whereby one realises the supra-relational reality. Sankalpa is the root of activity and bondage. The mind contemplates objects and gets distracted and shattered with the result that there is no peace or happiness. Acceptance and desistance are motivated by the centrifugal tendency of thought-process. The out-going mind should be called back and controlled. Controlling the mind is difficult, indeed, as difficult as emptying the ocean drop by drop by the tip of kusa grass. But it is not an impossible task; only it requires relentless effort. If the mind is restrained through discrimination, the end will certainly be reached. One must remember first that all is misery and turn back from desires and enjoyments. The mind that moves out must be brought to unity. But in this process care must be taken that it does not fall into sleep. When the mind goes to sleep, it must be awakened; when it tries to go out, it must be calmed. When the stormy mind is stilled, there is the thrill of quietude. But one should not revel even in this yogic trance. Anything that is enjoyed must belong to duality; it cannot be unlimited or lasting happiness. The mind must become non-mind (amanibhava); the relations of subject and object, enjoyer and enjoyment must be transcended. This will come only through the knowledge of the non-dual self. Knowledge and the self are not different. Knowledge is the self or Brahman. Hence it is said that through the unborn (knowledge) the unborn (Brahman) is known66. Self-established, the unborn knowledge attains its natural equanimity or sameness. This is called asparsa-yoga, the yoga which is pleasing and good to all beings, and which is beyond dispute and contradiction67.
The same end may be reached through meditation on OM (pranavayoga). ‘Om’ is the term indicative of the Brahman-self. It consists of three matras, a, u, m, and a soundless fourth which is amatra. A stands for Visva, u for Taijasa, and m for Prajna. Meditation on the significance of the three sounds respectively will lead to the realisation of the three aspects of the self. The sound ‘om’ proceeds from and is resolved in the soundless amatra. Similarly, the Turiya is the absolute which is unchanging and non-dual, but which appears as many and changing. When the meaning of the soundless culmination of Om is realised, there is leading to or attainment of anything; for the Turiya is no other than real and only self. Thus the Pranava is to be meditated upon and known. It is the beginning, middle and end of all things. It is the lord established in the heart of all beings. There is nothing before it nor anything after it, nothing outside it nor anything other than it. Understanding the Pranava in this manner, one attains the supreme.68Moksha or release is not a post-mortem state; it can be realised even here (iha), while in embodiment69. To speak of it as an attainment or realisation is but figurative. It is the eternal and inalienable nature of the self. He who knows this is released, he is a jivan-mukta. Because he has attained full omniscience and is free from the delusion of duality, there is nothing for him which he can desire70. He is not elated by praise nor depressed by blame. He does not offer obeisance to any, nor does he perform any rite. He has no fixed home, and subsists on what comes his way. He lies like a non-conscious being, and lives as he likes71. Though he has no obligations, his conduct can never be immortal. Virtues like humility, equanimity, calmness, and self-control are natural to him72. His is the immortal state which is difficult to be seen, very deep, unborn, ever the same, and fearless73. He sees the truth everywhere. He delights in the truth and does not swerve from it. He is the truth74.
60 IV, 56.
From the account of Gaudapada’s philosophy given above it will be clear that this great teacher was an Advaitin, the earliest known to us–who is his karika laid the foundations of a philosophy which was to become a glorious edifice through the immortal work of Sankara. While making use of logical reasoning and the dialectical method, he does not deviate from the teaching of the Upanishads.
Even where he employs Bauddha terminology, he takes care to point out that his system should not be confused with Buddhism. While denying absolute reality to the world, he is firm in proclaiming that the non-dual Brahman-self is the supreme truth. He has no quarrel with any system of philosophy because, in his view, all systems if properly understood are pointers to non-duality. While the dualists oppose one another, the doctrine of non-duality does not conflict with them75. Ajati or the unborn reality is the final goal of all metaphysical quest.
75 III, 17.
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