Preceptors of Advaita
N. RAMAKRISHNA SASTRI
Asthana Vidvan, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Matha
Padmapada was one of the favourite disciples of Sri Sankara, the others being Hastamalaka, Totaka and Suresvara. Towards the close of his career, Sri Sankara conceived the idea of perpetuating the doctrine of Advaita by establishing various Mathas in different corners of India for the propagation of Advaita. According to the Sankara-vijaya of Anandagiri, the manuscripts of which are available in the Madras and the Mysore Government Oriental Manuscripts libraries, Sri Sankara appointed Padmapada as the first Acharya at the Sringeri Matha. Under instructions from his preceptor Sri Sankara, Padmapada wrote a commentary on the bhashya of Sri Sankara on the first four aphorisms of the Brahma-sutra; and that commentary is known as Panchapadika. Being the earliest commentary on Sankara’s Bhashya, the Panchapadika deserves a careful study by every student of Advaita philosophy. It was commented on by Prakasatman in his Panchapadika-vivarana. The Panchapadika-vivarana was further commented on by Akhandananda in his Tattvadipana. Anandapurna, who wrote his Vidyasagari commentary on Sri Harsha’s Khandana-khanda-khadya wrote a commentary on the Panchapadika. Nrisimhasrama wrote a commentary on the Panchapadika-vivarana called the Panchapadika-vivarana-prakasika. Dasgupta mentions one more commentary on the Panchapadika-vivarana by one Sri Krishna. Vidyaranya wrote a separate monograph called Vivarana-prameya-sangraha in which the Vedanta doctrines are clearly set forth on the lines of the Panchapadika-vivarana. Ramananda Sarasvati, a pupil of Govindananda, the author of the Ratna-prabha commentary on the Sankara bhashya on the Brahma-sutra wrote his Vivarana-upanyasa, a summary of the main theses of the Vivarana. Dasgupta says that this work was probably the last important work on the Vivarana line.
The first four sutras on the bhashya of which Padmapada has commented set forth the quintessence of Advaita Vedanta. Each system of philosophy has to deal with three topics, those relating to God, Soul and the World. While the pluralistic and theistic schools regard these three as distinct realities, the Advaita teaches that the basic Reality, Brahman is one and non-dual. The truth of non-duality is the import of the Upanishads. And Brahman, owing to its association with avidya, appears as God, Soul and the World. Padmapada says that maya, avyakrita, prakriti agrahana, avyakta, tamah, karana, laya, sakti, mahasakti, nidra, kshara and akasa are the terms which are used in older literature as synonymous with avidya. Avidya, like knowledge, requires a substratum as well as a content. On this issue Padmapada’s view as interpreted by Prakasatman in his Vivarana is that Brahman is both the locus and content of avidya as against the view of Vacaspati Misra that avidya has Brahman as its object and jiva as its support. This is one of the fundamental points of difference between the Vivarana line of interpretation and the interpretation of the Vacaspati line. In this Prakasatman agrees with the view of Suresvara and his (Suresvara’s) disciple Sarvajnatman. Brahman associated with avidya is viewed as the source of the universe. On the subject of causality of Brahman, Padmapada says that that on which the world-appearance is manifested, that, the Brahman is the cause of the world. On this point three alternative views are offered by Prakasatman; and they are: (i) Just as two strands conjoined together make a rope, Brahman and maya are the material cause of the world, in a relation of equal primacy. The elements of reality and manifestation are caused by Brahman; and the elements of inertness and change are produced by maya. (ii) The potency of maya alone may be characterised as the material cause. But, since potency always depends on the potent, it would have to be said presumptively that even Brahman that possesses the potency is the material cause. (iii) Since Brahman is the substrate of maya, though material causality may belong directly to maya alone, for Brahman too material causality cannot be avoided. Of these three views, the first maintains that material causality in the principal sense belongs to Brahman qualified by maya; and the other two hold that it belong to maya alone. But on all the three views, Brahman is only figuratively the material cause1. As regards the nature of the universe, Padmapada holds that it is indeterminable in the sense of not being either real like Brahman or unreal like an absolute nothing. In other words, he defines mithyatvam or indeterminability as ‘Sad-asad-vilakshanatvam’
As regards the nature of the individual soul and the Supreme Lord, three theories are set forth by the Advaitic writers; and they are: pratibimba-vada, avaccheda-vada and abhasa-vada. According to the pratibimba-vada, the consciousness that transcends avidya and serves as the original is Isvara; and, the consciousness that is reflected in the intellect in its gross and subtle states is Jiva. Or, the consciousness reflected in avidya is Isvara, and in intellect is Jiva2. According to the avaccheda-vada, the consciousness conditioned by avidya is Isvara; and the consciousness delimited by avidya is Jiva3. According to the abhasa-vada the reflection of consciousness in avidya when identified with the original is Isvara; and, the reflection of consciousness in the intellect when identified with the original is Jiva4.
The difference between pratibimba-vada and abhasa-vada lies in this that according to the former the consciousness that is reflected and is present in avidya or intellect is real and is identical with the original. Only the state of reflection (pratibimbatva) is indeterminable either as sentient or insentient. But, according to the abhasa-vada, the consciousness that is reflected and present in avidya or intellect is indeterminable either as sentient or insentient5. The pratibimba-vada is advocated by Padmapada in his Panchapadika in the section which is designated by later Advaitic writers as Darpana-tika6. The avaccheda-vada is advocated by vacaspatimisra, and the abhasa-vada by Suresvara.
As regards the relation between the affirmative and negative Upanishadic texts, Padmapada has a theory of his own. Mandanam-misra holds that the negative Upanishadic texts are primary and the affirmative texts are secondary. Padmapada, however, maintains7 that the negative texts merely restate what is presumptively known from the affirmative Upanishadic texts. In the case of the erroneous perception of silver in the nacre, when it is said that ‘this is nacre and this is not silver’, the sentence ‘this is not silver’ merely restates the absence of silver which is presumptively known from the affirmative sentence ‘this is nacre.’ Similarly, the negative Upanishadic texts such as ‘neti, neti’ merely restate the absence of the universe in Brahman which is presumptively known from the affirmative Upanishadic texts that convey Brahman to be truth, consciousness and absolute. Thus the negative Upanishadic texts are subordinate to the affirmative ones. This view, according to Sarvajnatman is faultless, desirable, and commendable8.
The greatest contribution of Padmapada to Advaita lies in this that his interpretation of Sri Sankara’s bhashya served as the source of the most important school of Advaita, that is, the Vivarna School.
1 Dr. T. M. P. Mahadevan, The Philosophy of Advaita, pp.228–229.
2 Siddhantabindu ( Kasi Sanskrit series), p.226.
3 Avidyavacchinna-anavancchinnau-eva jivesau iti pakshah
Avaccheda-vadah, Narayani on the Siddhantabindu, p.232.
4 Siddhantabindu, p. 219.
5 Ibid., pp. 224–225.
6 Ratna–prabha on Sankara’s bhashya on the Brahma-Sutra, 2-3-50.
Pancapadika, p.499 [ Mm. Anantakrishna Sastri’s Edition].
8 Samkshepasariraka I, 257.
Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:
Preceptors of Advaita