Preceptors of Advaita
S. V. SUBRAHMANYA SASTRI
The Guruparamparastotra of the Sringeri Acharyas published by Dr. Hultzch says that Sri Sankara after establishing a Matha on the banks of the river Tungabhadra reached Kanchi. After consecrating Kamakshi Devi and after appointing Visvarupa Suresvara to spread Advaita from his own Asrama, Sankara attained immortal bliss there. It says:
tatra samsthapya kamakshim
The manuscripts of Sankara-vijaya of Anandagiri preserved in the Madras and Mysore Government Oriental Manuscripts Libraries state in the chapter sixtyfive that Sri Sankara installed one of the five Sphatika Lingas called the Yogalinga in the Kamakoti-pitha at Kanchi and ordained Suresvara to be in charge of that pitha.
tasmat muktikankshibhih sarvaih srichakrapuja kartavya iti nischitya tatraiva nijavasayogyam mathamapi parikalpya tatra nijasiddhantapaddhatim prakasayitum antevasinam suresvaram ahuya yoganamakam lingam pujaya iti tasmai datva tvam atra kamakotipitham adhivasa iti vyavasthapya sishyajanaih paripujya-manah sriparamaguruh sukhamasa.
Suresvara was commissioned by Sri Sankara to write treatises elucidating his works. He accordingly prepared a most voluminous Vartika on the Brihadaranyakopanishadbhashya and a shorter one on the Taittiriyopanishadbhashya, both of which were published with the commentary of Anandagiri, at the Anandasrama Press, Poona. Besides these we have his Manasollasa, explanatory of Sri Sankara’s short poem called Dakshinamurti-stotra, the Panchikarana-vartika based on a prose work of Sankara named Panchikarana, and the Naishkarmyasiddhi which reiterates the views embodied in the Upadesasahasri, another important work of Sankara. We shall now briefly set forth the Advaitic doctrine as expounded by Suresvara.
The Advaitins assign an important place to the Upanishads and hold that the Upanishadic sentences such as ‘tat tvam asi’ ‘aham brahmasmi’, etc., signify Brahman which is absolute, truth, and consciousness, and which is the sole reality. It is in this connection that the Advaitins consider the question concerning the relation of the words of the Upanishadic texts to Brahman. Words signify their senses through three kinds of signification, and they are: (i) primary signification, (ii) secondary signification, and (iii) signification based on similarity. These three are defined as follows: The primary signification is the process through which the primary meaning of a word is conveyed. The secondary signification is: when the primary sense of a word is incompatible with the senses of the other words of a sentence the word conveys another sense invariably connected with its primary sense. This is adopted in the case of ‘The hamlet is on the Ganges.’ Here since the literal meaning, viz., the hamlet being on the current of the Ganges is discrepant, the word ‘Ganges’ abandons its primary sense and secondarily signifies its bank which is invariably connected with the current of the Ganges–the primary sense. The signification based on similarity (Gauni–vritti) is: When the primary sense of a word is incompatible, the word conveys the other sense which has the same qualities that are present in its primary sense and this process is known as signification based on similarity. This kind of signification is adopted in the case of “Devadatta is a lion”. Here since the literal meaning, viz., ‘Devadatta being a lion’ is discrepant, the word ‘lion’ signifies the person ‘Devadatta’, who has the qualities of valour, cruelty, etc., -- the qualities which are present in the primary sense of the word ‘lion’.
Among these three kinds of signification, the primary one and the one based on similarity do not admit of varieties. But the secondary signification is of three kinds: (i) jahallakshana, (ii) a-jahallakshana, and (iii) jahad-ajahallakshana. These three are defined and illustrated as follows:
Jahallakshana is that where the word totally abandons its primary sense and signifies the other sense invariably connected with its primary sense. This is adopted in the case of ‘The hamlet is on the Ganges’ already referred to1. A-jahallakshana is that where a word without abandoning any part of its primary sense signifies the other sense connected with its primary sense. This kind is adopted in the case of ‘The red (horse) stands outside2’. Here the primary sense of the statement, viz., the quality of redness standing is incompatible; and the incompatibility is removed by understanding from the word ‘red’, without excluding its primary sense, a horse to which redness belongs. Jahad-ajahallakshana is that where a word by excluding a part of its primary sense conveys another part. This is adopted in the case of the sentences such as – ‘This is that brahmin3’. This sentence involves a partial contradiction in this that ‘brahmin’ as related to past time and a different place (referred to by the word ‘that’) is identified with Brahmin as related to present time and a particular place (referred to by the word ‘this’). Hence the word ‘this’ and ‘that’ discard a part of their primary sense, viz., the relation of present and past time and place, and convey the other part, viz., the person-in-himself. Thus the secondary signification is three-fold.
So far the explanation of the three kinds of signification. It remains to see what kind of signification is adopted by the words of the Upanishadic texts in conveying Brahman. The words cannot convey Brahman through primary signification because of the absence of media through which the words could primarily convey their senses. Every word employed to denote a thing denotes that thing as associated with a certain genus, or act or quality or mode of relation. But Brahman which transcends both speech and mind, which is free from all qualities has no genus, possesses no qualities, does not act and is related to nothing else, in which case the primary signification would hold good. Hence Brahman cannot be primarily conveyed by the words of the Upanishadic texts. Now it is to be examined whether Brahman can be secondarily signified and, if so, what kind of secondary signification can be adopted. Sri Sankara, in his Svatmanirupana holds4 that jahallakshana and ajahallakshana are not applicable and jahad-ajahallakshana alone should be adopted. Suresvara, on the other hand, would maintain that jahallakshana should be adopted in the interpretation of the words of the Upanishadic texts5. He further holds that the signification based on similarity (Gauni-vritti) also may be adopted. The arguments of Suresvara in favour of the adoption of these two kinds of signification may be briefly stated as follows:
It has been said that a word can secondarily signify that sense alone which is invariably connected with its primary sense. Hence, in order to make any further analysis of what is secondarily signified by the words ‘tat’ and ‘tvam’ in the Upanishadic text ‘tat tvam asi’ it is necessary to find out their primary meanings. The primary meaning of the word ‘tat’ is Isvara and that of the word ‘tvam’ is jiva. Suresvara holds Isvara and jiva to be the reflections of pure consciousness, i.e. Brahman, in avidya and intellect respectively. He further holds that the reflection in entirety is false or indeterminable either as sentient or insentient. Isvara, although indeterminable, is falsely identified with the consciousness that serves as the original and is viewed as the creator of the universe. Jiva too, although indeterminable, is falsely identified with the pure consciousness that serves as the original and is viewed as the agent, enjoyer, etc. This theory is known as abhasa-vada. The primary meanings of both the terms are indeterminable and hence they must be discarded. The terms totally abandon their primary senses and secondarily signify the pure consciousness with which their primary senses are falsely identified. Suresvara thus adopts the secondary signification known as jahallakshana. It has been said that Sri Sankara favours the adoption of jahadajahallakshana. This is as it should be; because Sri Sankara holds the reflections of the pure consciousness in avidya and intellect not to be indeterminable, but to be real. This theory is known as pratibimba-vada. According to this theory, the consciousness that is reflected is real; but the state of reflection (pratibimbatva) pertaining to the consciousness is indeterminable. Thus the reflection of pure consciousness is partly real and partly indeterminable. Isvara, as the reflection of pure consciousness in avidya, is real; but Isvaratva, i.e. the state of reflection pertaining to the reflected consciousness is indeterminable. Similar explanation applies to the reflection of consciousness in the intellect. The words ‘tat’ and ‘tvam’ discard a part of their primary sense, i.e. Isvaratva and jivatva, and secondarily convey the other part, i.e. the consciousness which is identical with the original. Sri Sankara thus admits jahad-ajahallakshana. Suresvara no doubt admits the foundation laid by Sri Sankara; but he has made improvement on it.
Suresvara in his Naishkarmyasiddhi admits Gaunivritti also in the interpretation of the terms of the Upanishadic texts. The word ‘tat’ secondarily signifies the absolute consciousness which is the essential nature of its primary sense, that is, Isvara, through the common feature of consciousness present in both the primary and secondary senses. Similarly the word ‘tvam’ secondarily signifies the inner consciousness which is the witness of pleasure, pain, etc., and which is the essential nature of its primary sense, that is, jiva, through the common feature of inwardness, subtlety, etc. Thus both the terms signify the pure consciousness through signification based on similarity. It must be noted here that although consciousness, subtlety, etc., are the essential nature of Brahman or Atman, yet they are, by courtesy, spoken of as the attributes of Brahman or Atman. Sarvajnatman in his Samkshepasariraka refers to this view; and this view according to Madhusudana Sarasvati is only a ‘praudhivada’6.
As regards the locus and content of avidya, Suresvara considers the differentiation between the locus and content to be unnecessary and therefore maintains7 that Brahman is the locus and content of avidya.
On the practical side of Advaita, Suresvara holds8 that the rituals including the optional ones (kamya-karmas) when performed without any attachment to their fruit generate in the mind of the aspirant the desire to know Brahman. In his Naishkarmyasiddhi9, Suresvara criticises the view that the Upanishadic texts give rise to only mediate knowledge which later becomes immediate by meditation; and he holds the position that the intuitive knowledge of Brahman arises directly from the Upanishadic texts.
Suresvara in his commentaries on Sri Sankara’s works elucidates the Advaitic doctrine expounded by Sri Sankara; and his commentaries are very valuable aids to the understanding of the texts of Sri Sankara. In authority they are second only to the best writings of Sri Sankara.
1 Svatmanirupanam by Sri Sankara, v. 33
2 Ibid, v. 34.
3 Ibid., vv. 35,36.
4 vide vv. 33, 34 and 35.
5 vide Siddhantabindu (Kasi Sanskrit series), pp. 219–222.
6 Vedantakalpalatika (Sarasvatibhavana series), p. 49.
Naishkarmyasiddhi (Bombay Sanskrit and Prakrit Series No.XXXVIII), pp. 105–106 .
Compare Samkshepasariraka, I, 319.
8 Brihadaranyako’panishadbhashyavartika, 4, 4, 1052.
9 P 38.
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