Preceptors of Advaita



M.A., Ph.D.


Unlike Suresvara and Padmapada who have left an indelible mark on the history of Advaitic thought, Hastamalaka and Totaka, two other direct disciples of Sri Sankara, have been revered more for what they were than for any works they have bequeathed to posterity.  Nevertheless, if tradition may be trusted, a small treatise, Hastamalaka-stotra by name, consisting of twelve verses, may be ascribed to Hastamalaka, the marvelous boy disciple of the great Master.  Its distinction is that it is accompanied by a commentary whose author, according to the traditionalists, is none other than Sri Sankara himself1.  The views set forth in the Stotra constitute orthodox Advaita, of course, and they may properly be taken to represent the quintessence of Hastamalaka’s spiritual experience.  Before analysing these verses let us reproduce the few events in Hastamalaka’s life, incidentally incorporated in the Sri Sankaradigvijaya of Madhavacharya and the Sankaravijaya of Vyasachala2.  The fact that the accounts given in these works discover a striking measure of agreement proves, not their authenticity so much as the dependence of the one on the other.

In the course of his triumphal tour of India as the authentic exponent of Advaita philosophy, Sankara, accompanied by a large group of disciples and admirers, reached Sri Bali a brahmana village near Gokarna.  An affluent villager, Prabhakara by name, together with a sick son, thirteen years old, approached Sankara hoping to get his son healed3.  According to etiquette the father bowed low before the sage and caused his son to do likewise.  The latter, “a live coal hidden in ashes” would not get up, but remained prostrate demonstrating, as it were, his grievous malady.  When, however, the compassionate sage lifted up the boy, his anxious father respectfully enquired what the matter could be with his son who behaved so strangely.  Thirteen years had gone by and so far he had shown no sign of sensibility.  Of course, he could not learn the Vedas so far, though the formal ceremony of initiation had been performed.  In the midst of his playmates, the boy would remain listless; even physical harm inflicted on him failed to evoke angry reactions of any kind.  In the matter of diet, too, he was indifferent.  It was, thus, by the force of sheer karma that he was growing up4.
                        Upon hearing this account, the great Teacher asked the boy: “Who art thou? Why dost thou behave as one possessed?”

                        In answer, ‘the great soul’, inhabiting the body of the boy uttered the twelve verses of the Hastamalaka-stotra.  They set forth, in the main, the nature of the Self or the Atman.  The refrain of all of them is:  I, the Self, am eternal Awareness, nityopalabdhisvarupo’ ham atma.  The author of these verses seeks to translate into intelligible language the content of his integral experience, which, being sui generis, does not lend itself to such translation.  Hence the profuse use of symbols and metaphors strewn in these verses.  The initial step in the process of the translation has been to relate, unavoidably, the unrelated Absolute, the contentless awareness, to the activities of mind and sense-organs.  The real inspirer of all activities, subjective and objective, is the Atman5.  The sun energizing the world of objects into their varied activities is a fit analogue of the Atman.  The author is very well conscious of the intrinsically indefensible nature of his initial step.  The Absolute is, strictly, the relationless, the unconditioned.  Hence, his characterization of it as nirastakhilopadhi.  Its appropriate analogue may be sought for in the boundless space6. (V-1).
                        The dependence of all objects for their activities on the unfailing Awareness or Atman is reiterated in the second verse.  Every object, not excluding the mind and sense organs, is inert.  Their formations, functions and operations point to an Intelligence7 that supervises, controls, and directs them.  (V-2).

This very Atman abides in the living body as the Jiva, exactly as the face, in the guise of the reflection, is present in the mirror8.  In other words, the plurality of Jivas is only an appearance whose timeless truth is the non-duality of the Atman.  What differs from individual to individual is not the foundational principle of awareness9, the real content of ‘I’; the forms or modes of the antahkarana, embodying it from moment to moment, alone, differ (V-3).  Transcend these momentary fluctuations, and, at once, the indivisible wholeness of the Atman is restored, just as once the mirror is removed, the reflection vanishes leaving the wholeness of the face, intact10.  The empiric plurality of the Jivas is due to the superimposition, on the non-dual Atman, of the manifoldness of the modes, in which this Atman is reflected (V-4).
                        The given fact of a temporal association of the Atman with the psycho-physical organism is not denied; what is stressed is that in its timeless transcendence, the Atman is relationless.  It is, in very truth, the mind of the empirical mind; the eye of the empirical eye, etc11.  In its utter transcendence, of course, it is beyond the purview of all instruments of cognition12 (V V.5 & 9).  How then is such an entity affirmed at all? Svato vibhati – Atman is a self-luminous conscious being; as such it is self-positing and self-validated.  As pointed out already (in verse 3) the factual plurality of the centres of consciousness may be traced to that of the reflecting media, the modes of the antahkarana (V.6).  The phenomenon of the multiplicity of Jivas may be elucidated with reference to an analogue.   Just as a single sun, simultaneously, enables a multitude of eyes to Behold various things, so does the non-dual Atman, at one and the same time, enable Jivas to perceive their respective objects (V-7).
                        It was observed above that the Atman is the mind of the mind, etc; i.e. it is the hidden source of their characteristic energies and operations.  In the world outside, the sun illuminates objects and makes them fit to be cognized; but this the sun cannot do without its illumination by the Atman.  In other words, exactly like the sense organs the sun, too, derives its characteristic energies and capacities from the sole source of all light and power13.  As the Atman is the mind’s mind and the eye’s eye, so too it is the sun’s sun (V-8).

                        Despite the eternal transcendence of the self-luminous Atman, the Self of the Jiva, the empirically experienced finitude and fragmentariness of the cognitions of the latter may not be gain-said.  Bondage of the Jiva is an incredible fact.  It consists in the appearance, to the ignorant Jiva, of the Atman as bound, baddhavatbhati mudhadrshteh.  A parallel phenomenon may be cited by way of illustration.  An observer whose eye-sight is obstructed by clouds is apt to imagine that the sun is engulfed by them.  As the sun, in fact, so the Atman, in truth, does not suffer the slightest diminution in its natural effulgence.  Notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, the Atman is eternally pure, awake, and free, nityasuddhabuddhamuktasvabhavah (V-10).  The transcendence of the Atman must be understood together with the complementary truth of its immanence in all phenomena.  On it, but without, in the least, affecting its wholeness and purity, are strung the phenomena constituting the cosmos14.  It is their abiding ground and in this respect its analogue is space accommodating the objective manifold (V-11).  The concluding verse reaffirms the nondual status of the Atman while it traces all plurality to the limiting adjuncts and media of reflection.  The psycho-physical organisms are multiple and the Atman, in empiric association with them, consequently, appears to be many.  The phenomenal plurality of the Jivas in no way affects the transcendental non-duality of the Atman.
                        Thus the verses constituting the Hastamalaka-stotra deal with the real or paramarthika status of Atman.   Their author seems to convey through them the fullness of his realization of the same.  The author of the bhashya on these verses raises a few supplementary questions, a brief reference to some of which may also be made in order to underscore the major implications of the Hastamalaka-stotra.  The affirmation in verse two that Atman is eternal awareness or cognition calls for some elucidation since ‘bodha’ or awareness, generated by the sense organs in contact with their objects is obviously ephemeral.  Generated awareness perishes, after leaving its impression on the mind or it yield place to a subsequent awareness.  In any case it is anything but eternal.  Again, Atman in its essence ought not to be awareness, for while Atman is held to be eternal, awareness, as just shown, is ephemeral.  In answer, it may be urged that by awareness is meant consciousness or chaitanya.  Awareness is of two kinds–what is generated and what is eternal.  The former, being knowable, is no better than objects like pot and, therefore, is inert.  That the generated awareness is a ‘knowable’ is clear from expressions like:  I have had the awareness (= knowledge) of the pot, of the cloth, etc.  Such awareness is experienced.  Only such experienced and particularized instances of awareness may be treated as ephemeral.  This does not militate against the proposition that the Atman is eternal awareness.
                        What is the proof that Atman is awareness or Chaitanya?  The awareness of the objective manifold, jagatprakasa, may be cited as the requisite proof15.  None may deny that the world is presented to our consciousness in acts of cognition.  In the complex of factors involved in this situation, every known factor is inert.  The one factor not known16 but knowing, the Atman, therefore, is the source of the jagatprakasa.  While illuminating all else, it shines forth in its own right, svaparaprakasavan17.
                        Before concluding this brief account of Hastamalaka’s affirmation of Self-realization, the fact may be noted that he may be cited as the living proof of the state of jivanmukti, implicit in the Advaitic position that Jiva is, in truth, nityopalabdhisvarupa.  None of the verses directly mentions it; the Commentary, however, argues the case as follows.  The paradox resulting from the contention that Mukti is a state of disembodiment18, and that, nevertheless, the jivanmukta lives in the body has to be resolved.  One may urge that by the disembodied state is meant, not that life in the body has ceased, but that egoistic experiences incidental to such life have ceased.  This however is inconceivable; for so long as the sense-organs operate cessation of such experiences is out of question.  “But as egoistic experiences result from nescience, should not their cessation logically follow from the fact that right knowledge or samyagdarsana has dispelled nescience?”  No; for, though nescience has been dispelled, its consequences may very well persist as in the case with the illusory experience of the double moon.  How else can the fact of embodiment of the liberated sage be accounted for?  The assertion of Sruti that pleasure and pain never cease for the embodied being19 may be cited as negativing the dogma of jivanmukti.
                        The following considerations, however, must be urged against the arguments set forth above.  One who lives alone may acquire the knowledge of the real, tattvajnana.  No dead man ever grows wiser.  In fact the circumstances leading to right knowledge, such as the study of scriptures, ratiocination, the cultivation of moral virtues, etc., are relevant only to the living.  The latter alone may take the step of renunciation, the sine qua non of illumination.  Hence right knowledge or Atmajnana can accrue only to the living and it must entail emancipation in a state of embodiment20.
                        In conclusion the point may be stressed that the sage Hastamalaka is not concerned to develop a full-fledged system of philosophy with its complement of metaphysics, ethics, logic, and so forth.  He just reveals, in the brief compass of twelve verses, his vision of non-dual Reality as plenary Consciousness.  The charge of acosmism against his position, therefore, far from detracting from the merit of his affirmation is bound to prove a compliment.

1  Cf. pp. 163 ff, Vol. XVI of The works of Sri Sankaracharya, Sri Vani Vilas Edition.  It is only fair to point out that the traditional view has been disputed by scholars like Belvalkar.  Cf. Mallik Lectures on Vedanta Philosophy, Part I (first edition), p.218.

2  Besides the authors referred to, Anandagiri also briefly mentions Hastamalaka in his Sankaravijaya; 1868 A.D. Edition; cf. pp. 250 and 267.

3  Sankaradigvijaya of Madhavacharya, 12, 47.

4  Ibid., 12, 50–53.

5  Cf. Kenopanishad, I, 1 and 2.

6  Cf. niramsatvat vibhutvacca tathanasvarabhavatah,
            brahmavyomnornabhedo’sti caitanyam brahmano’dhikam.
                                 – The works of Sri Sankaracharya, Vol XVI, Sri Vani Vilas Press, Srirangam.        

7  Brihadaranyaka’panishad, 3.7.23.

8 cf. abhasa eva ca; Brahma-Sutra, 2. 3. 50.

9  cf. What is life? Pp. 89,90.  E. Schrodinger, Cambridge, 1944.

10 Cf. Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, I. 3. tadadrashtusvarupe’ vasthanam.

11 Kenopanishad, 1.2.

12 Cf. Yato vaconivarttante’ prapya manasasaha Taittiriyo’panishad, 2.4.
                        The fact that the eye, or the mind functions at all is due to their vivification by the Atman.  Cf-tamevabhantam anubhati sarvam tasya bhasa sarvamidam vibhati.  Kathapanishad, 5.15

13 Cf. Kathopanishad, 5.15.

14 Cf. Bhagavad-Gita 7.7.

15 jagatprakasa itibrumah – Hastamalaka-stotra-bhashya, p. 160.

16 vijnataram are kena vijaniyat–Brihadaranyako’panishad, 2.4.14.

17 Hastamalaka–stotrabhashya, p. 166.

18 tadetadasariratvam mokshakhyam Sankara’s Bhashya on the Brahma-Sutra, 1.1.4.

19 Chandogyo’panishad, 8.12.1.

20 sayo havai tatparamam brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati, Mundako’panishad, 3.2.9.


Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:

Preceptors of Advaita

Vasishta Shakti Parasara Vyasa Suka Gaudapada
Govinda Bhagavatpada Sankara Bhagavatpada Padmapada Hastamalaka Totakacharya Survesvara
Vimuktatman Sarvajnatman Mandanamisra Vachaspatimisra Jnanaghanapada Prakasatman
Sri-Harsha Anandanubhava Anandabodha Chitsukha Anubhutisvarupa Amalananda
Ramadvayacharya Pratyagsvarupa Sankarananda Vidyaranya Govindananda
Sankhapani Lakshmidhara Sadananda Sadananda Kashmiraka Prakasananda Ramatirtha
Nrisimhashrama Ranga Raja Nrisimha Bhattopadhyaya Appayya Dikshita Madhusudana Sarasvati Dharmarajadhvarin
Mahadevananda Sarasvati Gangadharendra Sarasvati Paramasivendra Sarasvati Nallakavi Sadasiva Brahmendra Sarasvati Some Pre-Sankara Advaitins
Anandagiri Brahmananda UpanishadBrahmendra Kalidasa Krishnamisra Jnanadeva


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