Preceptors of Advaita
JAGADGURU SRI CHANDRASEKHARENDRA SARASVATI
At first, Srimad Acharya (i.e. Sri Sankara) established Advaita-siddhanta. Among the texts that teach Advaita-siddhanta, the principal ones are the commentaries on the three prasthanas, viz. the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma-sutra. These three are the basic authoritative texts for Advaita-siddhanta. Besides these, the Acharya has written several manuals (prakaranas). The Vivekachudamani, etc., are the most important among them. And, in addition, he has composed many a hymn ––Siva-stotras, Vishnu-stotras, Ambika-stotras, etc. He has also written a text on mantra-sastra bearing the title ‘Prapanchasara’.
Many great learned preceptors have written commentaries on the works of the Acharya. Of the works of the Acharya, the most important is the Brahma-sutra-bhashya. This is a commentary on the Brahma-sutra of the Sage Vyasa. In the Brahma-sutra are to be found topics that are taught in the ten principal Upanishads. The essence of these teachings is given in the Brahma-sutra in aphoristic form. The bhashya explains in an extensive way how the Brahma-sutra refers to the topics dealt with in the ten Upanishads. Many preceptors, down to the present day, have written commentaries on the bhashya.
Padmapada, one of the chief disciples of the Acharya, wrote a commentary by name ‘Panchapadika’. For this, there is a commentary by Vivaranacharya: it is called Tattvadipana. Thus, there is one branch of commentaries (known as the Vivarana school).
There is a commentary called ‘Bhamati’ for the Acharya’s bhashya, written by Vachaspatimisra who lived in North India. Amalananda wrote a commentary ‘Kalpataru’ on it. Appayya Dikshita wrote a gloss ‘Parimala’ on the Kalpataru. There is another gloss on the Kalpataru by Kottaiyur Lakshminrisimha Vajapeya; this is called Abhoga. This is another (Advaita) tradition (known as the Bhamati school).
For the Sutra-bhashya, there is a commentary, Ratnaprabha, by one Ramananda; there is also a commentary on the Ratnaprabha.
For the same Sutra-bhashya, Anandagiri, a disciple of the Acharya (Sankara), wrote a commentary: this is called ‘Anandagiriya’. About one hundred-and-fifty years ago one Tryambaka Bhattacharya wrote a commentary on the bhashya: Bhashyabhanuprabha.
One Raghunatha-suri of Maharashtra wrote a commentary for one section (pada) of the sutra-bhashya: this bears the name ‘Sankara-pada-bhushana’. These are the commentaries (on the bhashya) known to us.
Thus, for a single bhashya there are so many commentaries.
Of the ten principal Upanishads, the Brihadaranyaka and the Taittiriya have Vartikas by Suresvaracharya. Hence, this preceptor is also known as the Vartika-kara.
There is a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita by the Acharya. Following this commentary, there are ten commentaries. All these are texts which expound Advaita-siddhanta.
Similarly, there is Dvaita-siddhanta. For the aforesaid Brahma-sutra, Sri Madhvacharya who appeared on the West-Coast wrote a bhashya after the Dvaita-siddhanta. Many scholars have written commentaries on this bhashya. In those commentaries, they have opposed the doctrine of Advaita-siddhanta. About four-hundred years ago, a work called ‘Nyayamrita’ was written criticising Advaita-siddhanta. Criticising this, Madhusudana Sarasvati wrote a work by name Advaita-siddhi. On behalf of Dvaita, a work bearing the title Tarangini, was written criticising the Advaita-siddhi. Criticising the Tarangini, a great preceptor by name Brahmananda who lived in Gauda-desa wrote his Chandrika. This work is also known as ‘Gauda-brahmanandiya’. Criticising this from the standpoint of Dvaita, one Vanamalamisra wrote ‘Vanamalamisriya’. Tryambaka Bhatta, the author of the Bhashyabhanuprabha, wrote also the Siddhanta-vaijayanti in which he criticized Vanamalamisra’s work.
More than sixty years ago, Anantalvar wrote a work called ‘Nyaya-bhaskara’ criticising the Gauda-brahmanandiya from the standpoint of Visishtadvaita. Criticising the Nyayabhaskara, Raju Sastrin who came in the lineage of Appayya Dikshita wrote the Nyayendu-sekhara. Thus, we have the Siddhanta-vaijayanti as the last critique of the Dvaita standpoint and the Nyayendusekhara as the last critique of the Visishtadvaita standpoint. The series of critical works so far stops with these two works. But it may be extended hereafter. Any critique, by whomsoever written, must be studied by all.
A study of such works will lead to clarity. It is only when differences of view arise that doctrines gain clarity. In our country, any scholar who is well-versed in the literature of his own philosophical school usually has close acquaintance with the literature of other schools. This is our tradition.
There are so many works relating to our tradition. We do not read them. We know more about the books written in other countries. Which book is our authority, we do not know. Bundles upon bundles of books which have no relevance to our tradition, we know. We do not know our texts. If we become aware at least of their titles, we may begin to take some interest. If scholars who are versed in these texts volunteer to expound them, we do not lend an ear to them; we disregard them. Our country is in a very low state now. The people of other countries praise our Atma-vidya. If we should gain esteem in the world, we should augment that culture of our country which has been the object of true esteem. What is the greatness of our country? It consists in the fact that here countless sages have realised the Bliss that is the Self. If we do not come to be aware of the grounds of that greatness, we shall be demeaning ourselves.
So far I have mentioned the series of the important works on Advaita-siddhanta. What is that Advaita? What shall we gain from it? Do we know it, or do not know? Could we gain its fruit, or not? Or, do all these belong to the region of mere imagination? Will Advaita become fruitful in experience? We shall consider these questions.
What does ‘Advaita’ mean? Its meaning is ‘without a second’. That there is no second does not appear to us to be true. There are thousands of things. If there is no second, what do we gain? Is this not clear? It is only because there is no second, that for which we strive will get fulfilled. What for do we strive? We strive for the removal of all the miseries that afflict us. The removal of miseries will be accomplished through (the realisation of) that which is without a second (i.e. non-duality). We strive for removing poverty, hunger, dishonour, disease, empirical usage (vyavahara), mental pain, etc. Is there any place where these miseries are absent? No. Yet, we continue to strive for the removal of miseries. Through our empirical endeavours, there is only temporary appeasement. If through medical treatment one disease is cured, another disease comes. The means for the absolute removal of all miseries is Advaita. Through it, hunger, disease, death, dishonour, empirical usage, anger, poverty, etc., will not recur.
Why do we have misery? It will be good if hunger, etc., do not afflict us. But, why do they afflict us? Let us see through which course they come. They will come as long as the body lasts. But, if this body goes, another takes its place. For that body also, hunger, thirst, disease, etc., will come. So, if we could do without body, then these miseries will disappear. We take many births. What is the cause of those births? On account of what do we take a body? We have to reap the consequences of the good and bad deeds done in the previous births. The self cannot reap them. Fire cannot burn the self; nor the application of sandal paste make it cool. Therefore, a body is needed. As the result of the good and bad deeds done by us, God endows us with a body and punishes us by making us imagine that the body is “I”. If a boy commits a mistake, he is beaten for that. By his side there is a doctor. If the boy swoons not being able to bear the pain, he is revived and again beaten. He is given food and again beaten. For the sins we have committed, God gives us a body and thus punishes. If this is not enough, He endows us with another body and punishes. Thus, the sins that we commit are the cause for the body. If we do not commit any more sins, we shall not be endowed with a body hereafter. Constantly we should remember that we should not commit sin.
What is the cause of merit and demerit? There is the desire to eliminate them by refraining from the deeds that give rise to them; but we are not able to avoid those deeds. If a tree is to be prevented from growing, it is not enough to cut off the branches; the root-trunk must be removed. Similarly, we must discern the cause of sin and destroy that cause. Why do we perform evil deeds? We desire to possess an object. We device short-cuts to obtain it. That is sinful. The cause for our performing sinful deeds is desire. If an object is beautiful, there arises desire to possess it. The knowledge that a thing is good produces desire. In order to fulfil that desire, we perform actions. Knowing through the senses that a thing is beautiful is the cause of desire. Through effort, we can produce desire, or change it. Knowledge cannot be produced, nor changed.
The punishment for the sins we do is the body. Therefore, if we remove desire which is the cause of sin, there will be destruction of misery. How to remove desire? The way to remove misery is not taught in the other sacred texts.
Vedanta does not omit this teaching. Vedanta which is the peak of the Vedas teaches the way for the removal of sorrow.
Hatred and desire arise only in respect of objects other than us. There arises neither desire nor hatred in regard to ourselves. Since desire arises in regard to objects other than us, that desire will not arise if those objects are rendered identical with us. If all become identical with us and if there is nothing other than us, then desire will not arise. If there is no desire, there will be no effort. If this be so, there will be no sin. When there is no sin, there will be no body. When that is not there, there will be no misery. It is for the destruction of misery that we put forth several efforts.
If there is something as a second to us and if that thing is more powerful than us, there arises fear. If there is something beautiful, there arises desire; and the mind is disturbed. If there is no second, there is no desire, no hatred, no fear. Scorpions and snakes cause fear in us. If we ourselves remain as scorpions and snakes, how then could there be fear? Would we be afraid of ourselves? As long as there is something other as a second, there will be fear. Therefore, what Advaita accomplishes is the bringing about of secondlessness. The Upanishad declares that there is no fear when there is no second thing.
Are there not in the world many people? How can all of them become one? How to accomplish secondlessness? Vedanta teaches that what we see in this world as many are illusory. It declares that all are of the nature of Isvara. We do not see thus. If it is true that Isvara is all, then what we see must be illusory. If what we see is true, then the declaration that Isvara is all must be false. If what appears to us is true, then there should be no misery for us. But misery does come to us. Therefore, what Vedanta teaches must be true. If that be so, that all are of the nature of Isvara should be regarded firmly as the truth. What appears to us is illusory. The real is not this. Our eyes see what are illusory. Advaita teaches that there is a Reality as the basis of the entire world. What appear to us to exist are all illusory; the true Existence that is one is alone real.
If all is Isvara, are we alone different? We should dissolve ourselves too as that Isvara. Then, there will be no second entity. Now, we see things as different. But the true seeing is seeing all as Isvara. If we too get dissolved without leaving a second, then good will result. Even in the empirical world if two minds become one, there is no strife. Similarly, if all become one as Isvara, we shall become all; then, there will be no desire in regard to ourselves. In the absence of desire, there will be no sin; and if there is no sin, there will be no body; and if there is no body, there will be no misery at all. For the destruction of misery, Advaita is the medicine. Advaita is that which accomplishes secondlessness. Seeing all as Isvara is Advaita. Seeing what is real is Advaita. It is this that is taught in the books mentioned above.
Many objections are raised against this position. Some of them are logical; the others are unreasonable. The sacred texts reply to those objections. They outline the disciplines that lead to Advaita. The manuals written by the Acharya impart the same teaching.
We go to sleep. From sleep we wake up. Sometimes we sleep well. Sometimes we experience dreams. The waking state is jagrad-avastha. Experiencing dreams is svapna-avastha. Deep sleep is sushupti-avastha. Thus there are three states of experiences. Our waking is for doing work. Deep sleep is for getting rid of tiredness that results from work. These two seem to be enough! Why should there be dream experience? I reflected on this. Isvara is everywhere. He is the non-dual Brahman. All is of the nature of Atman. In order to prove this truth, it appears, He has projected the dream-world as an example. There is no other purpose. The apparent plurality of the empirical world is similar to that of dreams. In dream there occur multifarious difficulties and pleasures. But at the termination of the dream there is nothing left. Even the body which appeared when the dream was experienced is not there. Only he who realizes that such dream was seen is left as the residue. All else that appeared to exist in dream disappears. When we wake up from this empirical world which is a dream, only consciousness will remain. That is the true reality. It is that which is called Advaita. We are all Advaitins; we are in Dvaita-experience. But, those of us who have faith in Advaita see the Dvaita-dream in the empirical state. In this dream, we go through disease and misery. But we are those who believe that there will be a state in which there will be no disease. By what is Dvaita made known? It is given in immediate experience, now, through the sense of sight, etc. Advaita is made known only by Vedanta. Advaita is that which is made known by the sacred texts; Dvaita is that which is evidenced by the sense of sight, etc. Science tells us that the sun is very big; but our eyes tell us that the sun’s diameter is just a span in length. With the palm the sun could be covered. Therefore, the sun appears small. But, what is the truth? If what we see is alone true, there is no need for the texts. It is only what we do not know that should be revealed by the sacred texts.
In the Upanishads, at certain places, Dvaita is mentioned; at some other places, Advaita. In what context is Advaita mentioned? It is mentioned in the context where the nature of supreme Brahman is taught. In the Mandukya Upanishad, for instance, when the significance of Pranava is taught, it is declared that all is of the nature of Advaita, that Om is all; here the expression ‘Advaita’ occurs. The term ‘Dvaita’ occurs in an Upanishad. The context there is this: “Remaining as different, how can one perceive an object that is different? If all is of the nature of Atman, who can experience what as different?” In this context occur the words “Where, indeed, there is Dvaita (duality) as it were.” The meaning is: In the state where duality appears to be, there would be that (differentiated) experience:
yatra hi dvaitam iva bhavati, taditarah itaram pasyati; yatra tvasya sarvam atmaivabhut, tatkena kam pasyet ––Brihadaranyaka.
Where, however, all has become the Atman, there, it is declared, there is duality as it were. In the context of the expression as it were (iva), duality is mentioned; and in the context of the statement ‘where, however, all has become the Atman’, non-duality is taught. There is also the word ‘tu’ (however) mentioned in the context where Advaita is declared. If after a statement, the word tu (however) or the word ‘atha’ (then) occurs, it means that the final position is set forth thereafter. After the word ‘yatra tu’ (where, however), it is declared ‘all has become the Atman’. Thus, from the expression ‘tu’ (however) we have to understand the conclusive truth that all is of the nature of Atman. The expression ‘iva’ (as it were) indicates appearance and not reality. The expression ‘like him’ means ‘not he himself’. Hence, when it is said ‘duality, as it were’, it means that there is no duality–this is the siddhanta. To our senses, duality is presented. That is mere appearance. What is understood with the help of sacred texts is Advaita. That alone is the siddhanta. That all is the Self (Atman) alone is the truth.
Here, the expression ‘Atman’ occurs; should not the expression be ‘Paramatman’ (supreme Self)? Thus it may be asked. If there is ‘Paramatman’, there would be ‘alpatman’ (little self) as different from it. There is no Paramatman too. It is only in the state of duality that there is the distinction of ‘Paramatman’ and ‘jivatman’. When the state of Advaita is realised, there is only the Self (Atman).
The Brihadaranyaka declares: dvitiyad-vai bhayam bhavati. It is from duality that fear, misery, strifes, etc., arise. Only if there are two different entities, there would arise desire, fear, misery, etc.
If some-one that is dear to us dies, there arises misery. If he passes away before our eyes, we feel distressed. We think that there would be no distress if we pass away. If we pass away, there would be no misery for us. Therefore, if all are ourselves, then there will be no misery whatsoever. When there occurs misery, there is the thought of difference. What is it that occasions desire? It is only when there is consciousness of duality that there arise desire and misery. If the other becomes us, then there is no misery at all. How to effect this identity? If all becomes the Paramatman, there would be the one Self alone.
Hence, Vedanta declares: There need not be duality; non-duality alone is the truth. This truth our Acharya has expounded as a glowing lamp and has asked us not to forget. His commentary is called ‘bhashya-dipa’. Simply because the expression ‘Dvaita’ occurs in Vedanta, people begin to say ‘Dvaita’, ‘Dvaita’. They do not inquire as to where, what for and before which concluding statement, the expression occurs. This is like the conclusion that there was the prevalence of drinking toddy among the Vedic circles, which some scholars arrive at, on the ground of the Vedic statement, ‘Do not drink toddy’.
We are now in the state of dream. If we wake up from this state, that is the state of Advaita. If this siddhanta is retained in memory, at least one in a hundred-thousand will endeavour to attain that state. It is with this end in view that the great preceptors have written their works. It is not enough if we know that there is the Ganga at Kasi; we must buy the necessary ticket, travel by the appropriate train, cross the railway junctions enroute and without oversleeping arrive at Kasi and actually bathe in the Ganga.
The Veda declares that Advaita-experience is that whence words, speech and mind return, not being able to reach it:
yato vacho nivartante aprapya
manasa saha. (Taittiriyopanishad).
If it cannot be thought by the mind, how to know it? What is the meaning of this Vedic declaration? What is the meaning of the statement that the status of the Self cannot be thought by the mind? If it be that the supreme Self could be known, it would become an object of knowledge. The knower would then be different. In the Kenopanishad, it is said: “He by whom it is not contemplated by him it is contemplated. He by whom it is contemplated knows it not”.
yasyamatam tasya matam matam
yasya na veda sah.
What is the meaning of the statement that the Self is not known? The meaning is that it is not an object of knowledge. There is no meaning in bringing in another lamp to show a lamp. It is only for illuminating what is non-luminous that a lamp is required. To see a lamp nothing else is needed. Consciousness is self-luminous. Isvara is the nature of that very consciousness. In many places in the Tamil hymns, such as Tevaram, Tiruvachakam and the songs of Tayumanavar, it is declared that Isvara is ‘consciousness alone’, that He is ‘of the form of consciousness’.
By the mind, the Self is not thought; the mind thinks by it. All that the mind thinks is false; that by which it thinks is true.
yan-manasa na manute, yenahur-mano matam
All that is seen in dream is false. The seeing consciousness alone is real. It is this self that appeared in dream as all the objects seen. When the dream terminates, it will be realised that the one (consciousness) alone remains. If there be one that speaks and one that knows, they would be different. If there is no difference, there will be neither speech nor knowing. It is this non-duality that is declared in the Upanishads; and in the aforesaid sacred texts.
On the tree that is the Veda, there are the flowers, the Upanishads. The Brahma-sutra serves as the thread which helps in making a garland out of them, fit to be worn round the neck: vedantavakya-kusuma-grathanarthatvat sutranam.
If the maker of the thread (sutra) was Vyasa, the one who made the garland was the Acharya. Those who wear the garland are we. That garland should adorn our neck.
What we have conclusively understood, is this: “The truth is only one; all is of the nature of Isvara”. On account of past impressions, things appear as different. But all must be made into one. Even what is referred to as ‘we’ must be dissolved. For that, the appropriate sacred texts should be studied. The means to this are the Veda, the Smritis, the Puranas, the sight of temples, puja, etc. We sacrifice so much for the sake of the objects of the world. We can do anything for gaining the bliss that is stable. The royal sage Janaka said: “I have given away the entire Videha kingdom; I have given away myself too.”
videhan dadami mam chapi saha dasyaya.
To reach this state, the easy path is meditation on Sri Chandramaulisvara. Thus Appayya Dikshita has said. Following this way, all should gain Advaita-siddhi.
isvaranugrahad-eva pumsam advaitavasana,
mahadbhayaparitrana dvitranam upajayate.
* This is a rendering into English of a discourse in Tamil given in Madras on the 13th of October, 1932–Editor.
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