Preceptors of Advaita





In the history of Advaita literature, Vachaspatimisra stands out as a prominent figure. He is well-known as the author of the commentary – Bhamati on Sri Sankara’s bhashya on the Brahma-sutra. In the concluding verses of the Bhamati Vachaspati enumerates his other works. And, they are as follows: the Nyayakanika (a commentary on Mandana’s Vidhiviveka), the Brahmatattvasamiksha (a commentary on Mandana’s Brahmasiddhi), the Tattvabindu (a discussion of language in its relation to meaning), the Nyayavartikatatparyatika (a commentary on Udyotakara’s Nyayavartika), the Nyayasuchinibandha (perhaps written as a supplement to the Tatparyatika), the Sankhyatattva-kaumudi (a commentary on Isvarakrishna’s Sankhyakarika), the Tattvavaisaradi (a commentary on Vyasa’s Yogabhashya), and the Bhamati (a commentary on Sankara’s Sarirakamimamsabhashya). All the works have been published with the exception of the Brahmatattvasamiksha.
                        The Bhamati itself has been commented on by other Advaitic writers. Amalananda (13th Century A.D.) wrote his Kalpataru on the Bhamati. The Kalpataru in turn formed the subject of two commentaries, the Parimala of Appayyadikshita (16th Century A.D.) and the Abhoga of Lakshminrisimha (17th Century A.D.). Other commentaries on the Bhamati are (1) the Bhamativyakhya or Rijuprakasika by Akhandananda, (2) the Bhamati-tilaka and (3) the Bhamativilasa.


Date of Vachaspatimisra

On the strength of a reference in the Nyayasuchinibandha, Prof. Dasgupta has come to the conclusion1 that Vachaspatimisra must have flourished in the first half of the ninth century A.D.
                        The name of the Bhamati is identified with one of the two main streams of Sankara Advaita.  The views of Padmapada as interpreted by Prakasatman in his Vivarana are known as the tenets of the Vivaranaprasthana while the views of Vachapatimisra are known as the tenets of the Brahmatiprasthana.  We shall now briefly set forth the differences between the two view-points.
                        1. Vachaspatimisra holds that performance of rituals and other duties relating to one’s stage and order of life generate in the mind of the aspirant the desire to know Brahman.  While commenting on the section known as Sarvapekshadhikarana (iii, iv, vi) Vachaspatimisra states that knowledge of Brahman for its rise requires the performance of rituals which generates in the mind of the aspirant the desire to know Brahman; and the Upanishadic text ‘vividishanti yajnena’ states so.

utpattau jnanasya karmapeksha vidyate vividishot-
padadvara, vividishanti yajnena iti sruteh.

This view is reiterated by him in his commentary on Sankara’s bhashya on the aphorism ‘sarvathapi cha ta evo’bhayalingam’ (iii, xxxiv)2. Prakasatman, on the other hand, maintains that the performances of rituals, etc., are responsible for giving rise to the knowledge of Brahman.  In his Vivarana3 as well as in his work Sarirakanyayasangraha he affirms this view.
                        According to both the views, the performance of rituals and other duties belonging to one’s class of life must be given up after the rise of the desire to know Brahman. But, while according to Vachaspatimisra the utility of karma ceases with merely giving rise to the desire to know Brahman, according to Prakastman the results of the performed deeds are operative till the rise of the knowledge of Brahman. The former view is known as vividishapaksha; and the latter one, as vedanapaksha.

1.  See Das Gupta, History of Indian Philosophy, II, 107.
2.  See Bhamati, Nirnayasagar Press, 1909, p.30.
3.  Vide Panchapadikavivarana, Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library Edn., 1958, pp. 37, 543, 554.


2. Vachaspatimisra holds that the mind is the instrument in giving rise to the knowledge of the identity of Atman and Brahman, while, according to Prakasatman, the major texts of the Upanishads give rise to the knowledge of the identity of Atman and Brahman.
Vachaspatimisra states:


tatpadarthatam anubhavayatiti yukta’4
                        Prakasatman in his Vivarana holds5 that since Brahman is immediate, the Upanishadic texts give rise to the immediate knowledge of Brahman. But, owing to the impediments such as vishayabhogavasana, pramanasambhavana, prameyasambhavana and viparitabhavana, the immediate knowledge that has arisen appears to mediate. When the impediments are removed by the cultivation of virtues like control of intellect, external senses etc., and by Vedantic study, reflection and meditation, the immediate knowledge that has already arisen becomes effective in dispelling avidya.  The point that is of great importance here is that the knowledge of Brahman arises from the major texts of the Upanishads and not from the mind. Prakasatman further holds that in the Upanishadic text – ‘tam tu aupanishadam purusham prichchami’ – the taddhita suffix in the word ‘aupanishadam’ signifies that sabda or the Upanishadic text is the means of knowing Brahman.

            “’tam tu aupanishadam’ iti taddhitapratyayena brahmavagatihetutvam sabdasya darsitamupapannam bhavati6
                        At the end of his work Sabdanirnaya Prakasatman affirms this view, and there the following verse occurs:
vishayotpannatah samvid-
svatassiddheratah sabdad
aparokshyam prajayate.

4.  See Bhamati, p. 31.
5.  Vivarana, pp. 403–408.
6.  Vivarana, p. 408.


3.  Another point of difference between the two schools is in respect of injunction regarding Vedantic study, reflection and meditation.
                        The Vedantic study is only inquiry in to the purport of the Vedanta and its fruit is only the removal of impediment consisting in delusion and doubt as to the import of Vedanta. Reflection is only arguing within oneself as to the validity of the truth learnt and its fruit is only the removal of impediment consisting in delusion as to the validity of the truth. And, meditation is only concentrated and continuous thinking on the truth of the Upanishads, and its fruit is only the removal of contrary notions regarding the truth learnt7.
                        That a study of a particular text leads to the ascertainment of the import of the text, and that reflection and meditation lead to the ascertainment of the validity of the truth and to the removal of false notions regarding it are a matter of common experience.

anvayavyatirekabhyam cha sravanamanananididhyasanabhyasasya svagochara sakshatkara phalatvena lokasiddhatvat8.’
                        No other means is established with reference to these results. Hence Vachaspati holds that an aspirant who knows the relation of words to their senses spontaneously engages himself in the Vedantic study and then in reflection and meditation. The Upanishadic declaration that Atman should be heard, reflected on, and meditated upon is only a restatement of ordinary experience. And restatement is useful in this that the aspirant could have a strong and irresistible attraction toward Vedantic study, reflection and meditation9. Vachaspatimisra concludes that there is no scope for any injunction at all in respect of Vedantic study, reflection and meditation.

7.  Bhamati on iii, iv, 26.
8.  See Bhamati, p. 826.
9.  Bhamati: ‘anyatah prapta eva hi sravanadayo vidhisarupaih vakyair-anudyante, na chanuvado’ prayojanah pravritti viseshakaratvat–(pp. 84-85).
            Vide also: na cha chintasakshatakarayoh vidhiriti tattvasamikshayam asmabhih upapaditam – (pp. 649-650).


Vachaspatimisra comes to this conclusion on the authority of Sri Sankara’s text on the Samanvaya-sutra. There Sri Sankara observes: “For what purpose, then, are these texts like ‘the self is to be seen, heard,’ etc., which have the appearance of injunctions?  We say that they are for turning one away from the objects of natural activity.”
                        In all these places, Vachaspatimisra maintains that there is no injunction at all in respect of Vedantic study, etc. But in his commentary on some adhikaranas it seems that he accepts injunction in respect of Vedantic study, etc.  For instance, while commenting on the section known as Vakyanvayadhikarana (1.4.6), Vachaspatimisra says:
atmaiva drashtavyah sakshatakartavyah,
etat sadhanani cha sravanadini vihitani srotavyah ityadina’
(p. 328)

                        Further, while commenting on the section known as Sahakaryantaravidhyadhikarana (3.4.14) Vachaspatimisra says:
apurvatvat vidhirastheyah  (p.828)
                        From this it seems that Vachaspati admits injunction as regards Vedantic study, etc., which clearly leads to contradiction. His commentator Amalananda reconciles this apparent contradictory position by pointing out that the statements which appear to have the sense of injunction are merely restatements of what is a matter of ordinary experience. And they are helpful in this that they give rise in the mind of the aspirant to an irresistible attraction towards Vedantic study etc.
                        Prakasatman, on the other hand, maintains that there is niyama-vidhi in respect of Vedantic study, etc. In the ninth varnaka of his Vivarana (p.352) he describes the nature of sravana, etc. And in the same varnaka he states that the first aphorism of Badarayana has full scope only on the acceptance of injunction in respect of sravana strengthened by manana and nididhyasana.
manana-nididhyasanopabrimhitasya sravanasya
samyagdarsanaya vidheyatvam angikritya
prathamasutram pravrittam

This discussion leads us on to the other one, namely, whether Vedantic study (sravana) is principal among the means that give rise to knowledge or meditation (nididhyasana) is principal.  Vachaspatimisra holds that nididhyasana is the principal one and the other two are its auxiliaries10.
                        Prakasatman is his Vivarana holds that sravana is principal and the other two are its auxiliaries11.

10.  Bhamati, pp. 71, 802.
11.  Vivarana, pp. 29-30.


4.  In accounting for the nature of jiva and Isvara, Vachaspatimisra differs from Prakasatman.  Advaitins maintain that the difference between Isvara and jiva is only adventitious and not real. There, one view is that consciousness is delimited by the adventitious conditions such as avidya and antahkarana; the other view is that it is reflected in these adventitious conditions. The former theory is known as avaccheda-vada; and the latter is known as pratibimba-vada.
Of these, the avaccheda-vada is advocated by Vachaspatimisra and the pratibimba-vada is refuted by him. While commenting on the Adhyasa-bhashya, Vachaspati states that there could not be any reflection of Atman which is free from any form in the intellect which is also formless. He says that an object having a form could receive the reflection of some other thing that has also a form. Brahman being free from any form cannot have any reflection in the intellect which also is formless. How could there be any reflection of sound, smell, taste, etc?
                        While commenting on the section known as ‘rachananupapatyadhikarava’ (2.2.1), Vachaspatimisra says:

avidyopadana kalpitavacchedo
jivah paramatmapratibimbakalpah’
In the Vakyanvayadhikarana (1.4.6)

                        avidyo’padanam cha yadyapi vidyasvabhave paramatmani na sakshadasti tathapi tatpratibimbakalpa jiva-dvarena parasminnuchyate.

                        In these passages by the word pratibimbakalpa he means that jiva is not a reflection, but may be likened to a reflection for purposes of exposition. We may infer from this that pratibimbavada is not acceptable to Vachaspatimisra. If it were so he could have very well said tatpratibimba jiva instead of saying tatpratibimbakalpa jiva
                        Vachaspati compares12 the individual soul to the etheric space delimited by jar, pot, etc., since there could only be delimitation and not reflection of etheric space in jar, pot, etc., and since Vachaspati compares the individual soul to the etheric space confined in jar, pot, etc., we may take that Vachaspati favours only avaccheda-vada.
                        Prakasatman maintains the theory that jiva and Isvara are only the reflections of consciousness in avidya and the intellect. Etheric space which is formless is reflected in water.  Similarly consciousness which is formless could have reflection in avidya and the intellect. Prakasataman advances the theory that jiva and Isvara are the reflections, on the authority of the Upanishadic texts like––

‘rupam rupam pratirupo babhuva’
‘ekadha bahudha chaiva drisyate jalachandravat’
and on the authority of the Brahma-sutra
                        ‘ata eva ca upama suryakadivat’ (3.2.18). 

In the ninth varnaka he asks:  Of what nature is the individual soul?  and he answers: Brahman reflected in avidya is the individual soul13.  From this it is clear that Prakasatman favours only pratibimbavada.

12.  See Bhamati on Sankara’s bhashya on the Brahmasutra, 3-2-3; 2-1-4; and 2-3-11.
13.  Vivarana., p. 760.


5. All Advaitins agree that the content of avidya is pure consciousness.  But as regards its locus Vachaspatimisra holds that jiva is the locus while Prakasatman maintains that pure consciousness itself is the locus.  While commenting on the section –samanvayadhikarana (i.i.iv) Vachaspatimisra observes that avidya has jiva as its locus and it is indeterminable.  Brahman, therefore, is always pure.
                        ‘navidya brahmasraya, kintu jive, sa tu anirvachaniya ityuktam tena nityasuddham brahma
                        The same view is reiterated by him in his commentary on the sections sarvatraprasiddhadhikarana (i, ii, i), anumanikadhikarana (i.iv.i) and vakyanvayadhikarana (i.iv, vi)
                        Prakasatman in the first varnaka of his Vivarana refutes the differentiation between the locus and content of avidya and holds that Brahman itself is the locus and content of avidya.
                        na tavadajnanam asraya-vishaya-bhedapeksham,
kintuekasminneva vastuni asrayatvam avaranam cheti krityadvayam sampadayati.

14.  p. 210. Vide also p. 219


6. The next point of difference between the two schools is as regards the plurality of avidyaVachapatimisra admits the plurality of the primal nescience which is indeterminable and positive in nature.  Avidya according to him has jiva as its locus.  Hence avidya is different in the case of each and every individual soul.  He observes:
                       na vayam pradhanavad avidyam sarvajiveshvekam achakshamahe, ena evamupalabhyemahi, kim tu iyam pratijivam bhidyate.15
                        Prakasatman, on the other hand, maintains only one nescience indeterminable and positive in nature.  He, however, admits manifold aspects of the one nescience which are called tulajnana and which serves as the material cause of silver, etc., that appear on nacre, etc.
                        mulajnanasyaiva avasthabhedah rajatadyupadanani sukti – kadijnanaih, sahadhyasena nivartante16.

15.  See Bhamati on 1-4-1.
16.  See Vivarana, p. 99.  For more details see Brahmanandiyabhavaprakasa, Edited by Sri V. Subramania Sastri and published by The Private Secretary to His Highness The Maharaja of Cochin, (1961), p. 12.


7.  The content of the intuitive knowledge, according to Vivarna, is Brahman unenveloped by any upadhi17.  Vachaspatimisra, however, maintains that Brahman enveloped by the mental state (upahita brahman) is the content of the intuitive knowledge.  While commenting on the section known as Janmadhyadhikarana (1.1.2) Amalananda makes clear the view of Vachaspatimisra thus:  ‘vrittivishayatvamapi tasyaiva upahitasya, na nirupadheh tanna prasmartavyam’.
                        It should be borne in mind that according to Vachaspati Brahman associated with the mental state is the content of the intuitive knowledge, and Brahman unenveloped by any mental state is self-luminous.
                        The above are a few important differences between the Bhamati and the Vivarana School.  The Advaitic thought after Sankara flowed in these two channels, of course, towards the same goal.

upayah sikshamananam
asatye vartmani sthitva
tatah satyam samihate

                        Various theories have been set forth in order to understand the truth.  Although the theories are not ultimately true, yet they are helpful in realizing the ultimate truth.  Just as alphabets are useful in understanding the sounds, though they are less true than sounds being mere lines, the theories that are set forth by Vachaspatimisra, Prakasatman and others are helpful in leading the aspirant to liberation, though they are less true than the latter.  These theories, though different, lead one to the same goal, that is, liberation.

17.  See Vivarana, pp. 211, 213 and 224.


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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