Preceptors of Advaita
There have been many great saints and mystics in our country, in every century. But it is only a very few, who have not only been distinguished and great souls on their own, but have also been formal heeds of established monastic institutions whose mission is to cater to the spiritual needs of mankind.
The Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha is an ancient one, having been adorned by great saints and sages in an unbroken line from Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada. Among the great souls who adorned the illustrious Kamakoti Pitha, Sri Paramasivendra Sarasvati, who was a great saint and author of works on Advaita, was the fifty-seventh acharya. He had several sishyas. One of his sishyas was the famous jivanmukta of our land Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra Sarasvati.
Paramasivendra Sarasvati was a contemporary of Trayambaka-makhi, Sankaranarayana-makhi, Sri Ramendra and Sri Varadaraja. This can be known from the statement of Paramasivendra himself at the end of his Daharavidyaprakasa:
sri ramendrasya varadarajasya
Paramasivendra has written several works. Mention may be made here of a few:
(1) Daharavidyaprakasa, (2) Sivagita-tatparyaprakasika and
(3) Vedanta-nama-ratna-sahasra-vyakhya or Svarupanusandhana.
Among the works of Sri Paramasivendra Vedanta-nama-ratna-sahasra-vyakhya is a very important one. It is in the nature of an encyclopedia of the words that are applied to Brahman in the Upanishads. Sri Sadasiva Brahmendra Sarasvati in his Atmanusandhana has dealt with several names that were described by Paramasivendra in his work referred to above. Sri Sadasivendra declares as follows:
srimatparamasivendradesikanam vayam muda advaitananda
madhvikamanghripadmamupasmahe sri desikokta vedanta
The work Vedanta-nama-ratna-sahasra-vyakhya is available in manuscripts [D. 15508] in the Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Library. We shall now explain the aim of this work.
According to Advaita, the intuitive knowledge of Brahman is the means to liberation. The performance of rituals purifies the mind of the aspirant and generates in his mind the desire to know Brahman. Possessed of the fourfold means, namely, nitya-nitya-vastu-viveka, ihamutrarthabhogaviraga, sama-damadi-sadhana-sampat and mumukshutvam, the aspirant resorts to a preceptor and pursues sravana, manana and nididhyasana. By sravana is meant the ascertainment that the final import of the Upanishads is the absolute Brahman. Manana is arguing with oneself, after knowing definitely what the Upanishads teach with a view to convince one-self that that teaching alone is true. Nididhyasana is the profound meditation upon the identity of the individual soul and Brahman.
It has been said that the knowledge of Brahman is the sole means to liberation. And that could arise only from the major texts of the Upanishads like tat tvam asi, etc. The knowledge thus arising from the texts is not effective in dispelling avidya, because the intellect of the aspirant who has such a knowledge is confounded by latent impression arisen from enjoyment of worldly objects (vishaya-bhoga-vasana), doubt regarding the validity of the Upanishadic passages (pramanasambhavana), contrary notion as regards the import of the Upanishadic texts (prameyasambhavana) and an unconscious reassertion of old habits of thought (viparitabhavana) incompatible with the truth since learnt. The four-fold means removes vishayabhogavasana. Sravana and manana remove pramanasambhavana and prameyasambhavana. And, viparita-bhavana could be removed only by nididhyasana. The latter consists in the meditation on one’s nature as free from body, senses, etc.
Our author states:
atmatattva-sakshatkaravato’pi anekasatasahasrajanma vasanavasat anuvartamana dehadyatmabuddhirupa viparitabhavana madhye madhye punah punah anuvartate; . . . . . . . . atah tannirasaya viraktasya krita-sravanasya tyaktasarvaishanasya labdhasakshat karavato’pi nirantaram dehendriyadi-drisya-prapancha-pravilapana-purassaram svarupanusandhanam kartavyam’ (p. 3).
Meditation upon one’s nature as free from body, senses, etc., and as identical with Brahman should be pursued with the help of the words of the Upanishadic texts which convey the true nature of Brahman.
svarupanusandhanam kartavyam’ (p. 7).
Words like satya, etc., found in the Upanishadic texts convey in an affirmative manner the nature of Brahman as satya, etc. And words like asthula, etc., found in the Upanishadic texts convey in a negative way the nature of Brahman as free from duality, etc. The author of the Brahma-sutra prescribes a method of gathering the unrepeated words found in the affirmative Upanishadic passages in the aphorism–anandadayah pradhanasya (3.3.11) and applies the same consideration to the words found in the negative Upanishadic passages in the aphorism––
aksharadhiyam tvavarodhah samanya-tadbhavabhyam-aupasa-davat taduktam (3.3.33).
Our author states:
taduktam sutrakaraih: ‘anandadayah pradhanasya’ iti anandadayah sabdah vidhimukhena brahmasvarupam pratipadayitum pravrittah; anye asthuladayah sabdah dehendriyadidrisyaprapancha nishedhamukhena pravrittah––tadapyuktam-aksharadhiyam tvava-rodhah samanya-tadbhavabhyam aupasadavat taduktam. (p. 7).
In this way our author has collected one thousand words in the alphabetical order from the principal Upanishads and also from the Nrisimhatapinyupanishad and has shown how those words convey Brahman.
atah. . . . . . namnam sahasram isavasyadyasu tapaniyantasu srutishu buddhisaukaryaya akaradikshakarantataya samgrihitam (p. 11).
The words that are affirmative in character cannot convey Brahman through primary signification. 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; therefore the primary signification would not hold good. The words that are affirmative in character convey the nature of Brahman only through secondary signification. The words that are negative in character negate all duality in Brahman and thereby indicate that the latter is devoid of any relation, quality, part, etc. It should be noted here that the words that are negative in character merely negate the forms brought about by avidya in Brahman. They do not, like the affirmative ones, refer to some form and convey it as the essential nature of Brahman.
Thus, by collecting and giving the meaning of one thousand words from the Upanishads, Sri Paramasivendra Sarasvati has rendered a solid service to the cause of Advaita, particularly to those who, having reached the higher stage of manana, are desirous of overcoming viparitabhavana by meditating upon the nature of Brahman conveyed by the numerous words constituting the Upanishads.
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