Preceptors of Advaita



B.A., B.L., M.L.C

  The truth of Advaita rests not merely on the inherent validity of the scriptures or the Vedas but on that of actual experience or anubhava.  The Great Sankara Bhagavatpada, who is the foremost expounder of the truth of Advaita, clearly states in his commentary on the second Sutra of the Brahma-Sutra (janmadyasya yatah 1.1.2) that unlike in the case of Dharma the knowledge of Brahman rests also on experience (srutyadayah anubhavadayascha yathasambhavam iha pramanam).  Again when discussing the possibility of the existence in this world of jivan-muktas or realised souls he emphasises that the only test for the existence of such realised souls in the human form is their own heart-experience, and such experience cannot be questioned by arguments about the possibility or not of the existence of jivan-muktas after they have destroyed their karmavasanas.  Hence it is that Sankara postulates the necessity for initiation by a Guru for the realisation of the truth of Advaita.  As a corollary to this proposition came the acceptance of a series of Gurus, who developed the Advaita-sampradaya.  Before initiation into the study of Vedanta, everyone is expected to make a Santipatha, and in that one recites the Guru-parampara, from the beginning.  God Narayana himself is the first Guru, next comes Brahma, next Vasishtha, then his son Sakti, then Sakti’s son Parasara, afterwards the son of Parasara, the great sage Vyasa, then his son Suka, afterwards Gaudapada, his sishya Govinda Bhagavatpada, and then his sishya Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, and then his sishyas Hastamalaka, Suresvara, Padmapada, Totaka and others, and then downwards to one’s own Guru under whom one gets initiation into the study of Vedanta.  We find therefore that Bhagavan Suka occupies a highly honoured place in our Guru-parampara.  In this Guru-parampara, that has been handed down to us in the Advaita tradition, all the Gurus are, as will be seen, realised souls that have experienced the Advaita-tatva.  When praising Vyasa the famous verse about him refers to him as the father of Suka(sukatatam taponidhim).  This is a unique distinction for, usually, the name of the son is denoted by the name of his father.  Here Vyasa is extolled by being mentioned as the father of Suka.  This shows with what veneration the great devotees of Advaita Vedanta looked upon Suka.  He is one of the greatest of Brahma-Nishthas.  The story of suka’s wonderful birth and the way of his realisation of Brahman are very graphically narrated in the Mahabharata – Santi Parva-Adhyaya 323, and following Adhyayas. It is said therein that Bhagavan Vyasa performed a severe penance for begetting a son.  He meditated on the great Siva.  Pleased with his austerities God Siva blessed that a son would be born to him who would be pure as fire, air, earth, water and etheric space and that he would attain fame throughout the three worlds by his spirituality.  Having attained this boon from Lord Siva, it is narrated that Vyasa began to produce fire from two sticks of wood (arani).  At that time the beautiful celestial dancer Ghritachi appeared.  Enslaved by kama on seeing her, Vyasa let fall his Virya on the fire produced from the sticks of wood, and out of it a son was born.  As the Apsaras Ghritachi took the form of a parrot (suki) at that time, this son came to be known as Suka.  This boy shone like effulgent fire and resembled Vyasa in his appearance.  The child was later initiated into the study of the Vedas, and Vyasa instructed him in all Sastras.  The child was also instructed by Brihaspati himself.  Curiously enough in a short time the boy attained the knowledge of all branches of learning.  But his mind did not move by the attractions of the other two asramas, of Grihastha and Vanaprastha.  But he was intensely longing for Moksha.  Hence his father Vyasa, advised him to go and study under the great Raja Rishi Janaka at Mithila.  The Mahabharata specifically says that from the great asrama on the Himalayas, Suka came all the way to Mithila on foot, even though he had the power to fly over the intervening space between the Himalayas and Mithila.  When he went to the palace of Janaka a discriminating gate keeper readily admitted him, struck by his attractive appearance.  Suka was received in the palace by the ministers of Janaka and enjoyed the hospitality of the maids of the palace.  Even then he had absolute self-control, and was indifferent to their attractions.  In the morning Suka was received by Janaka and instructed in the path of Moksha.  Then Janaka portrays to him beautifully the characteristics of a realised soul, how he is utterly devoid of jealousy and other evil qualities, how he looks upon all people with the same eye, how he is devoid of the opposites, praise and calumny, pleasure and pain, heat and cold, how he treats gold and iron as same, and how he has mastered the mind and indriyas. 
                        Having thus been instructed in the Moksha-marga by Janaka, Suka returned to his father.  At that time his father Vyasa was engaged in teaching the four Vedas to Sumantu, Vaisampayana, Jaimini and Paila.  He taught Suka all the four Vedas as his fifth sishya.  Then Suka sought Narada as his Guru for being instructed in Rajayoga and BhaktiyogaNarada taught the way of Dhyana, Abhyasa and Bhakti.  He emphasised the absolute importance of jnana and vairagya.  After obtaining the complete knowledge of the way of realisation of Moksha through Yoga and Bhakti, Suka entered into austerities and attained Suryaloka and became part of the effulgence of Surya.  In the same way he identified himself with the other elements, Vayu, Jala and Bhumi, and finally he attained Brahman and wandered about.
                        Vyasa was stricken with profound grief on account of the separation from his son and ran after him.
                        It is during his journey following his son that a wonderful incident occurred.  The Heavenly dancers who were sporting in the water without dress, remained unmoved when Suka went along that path, and when Vyasa came, they hastily dressed themselves.  When asked by Vyasa the reason for the difference in their conduct towards himself and his youthful son, they said that Suka was a person absolutely devoid of the knowledge of the difference of sex, and that Vyasa had not come to that stage.  This incident is mentioned with great enthusiasm in the Bhagavata also.  The greatest achievement of Suka, according to the traditional story, in his reciting the Bhagavata to King Parikshit, who expecting death in a period of seven days, on account of a curse uttered by a sage, was intently meditating upon the Lord and was anxiously seeking for the way to attain the feet of God.  The Bhagavata narrates that Parikshit was seated near the banks of the Ganges surrounded by Rishis and at that time Suka made his appearance.
                        There is a beautiful description of Suka who was of the age of sixteen at that time.  The Great Brahmanishtha who never stayed even a short time before any householder, stayed for seven days and instructed King Parikshit in the famous Bhagavata-purana.  The Bhagavata goes into ecstacies over the fine appearance of this lad of sixteen years with soft limbs of beautiful proportion, with attractive eyes, and smiling face, saturated with a mind absolutely tranquil and devoid of any desires.  The whole assembly of Rishis rose to their feet on seeing this Great Bhramanishtha and made obeisance to him.  Parikshit received him with great veneration and made him seated and asked him to teach him the way of meditating upon the Lord and concentrating on him.  He said he was very fortunate in having Suka to instruct him when he was greatly anxious to attain the knowledge of the way of salvation.  Very much pleased with his desire to know the truth Suka congratulated him, and himself began to utter verses ending with tasmai subhadrasravase namo namah.  This Hymn to the Lord by Suka, one of the finest in the Bhagavata is fit to be uttered by everyone desiring to practice devotion to the Lord.  In that Hymn Suka emphasized the greatness of Bhakti to the Lord.  He declares that the path of Bhakti can be followed by all the irrespective of caste, creed or race.

kirata hunandhrapulinda pulkasa
abhirakanka yavanah khasadayah
    ye anye cha papah yadupasrayasrayah
sudhyanti tasmai prabhavishnave namah

He also stresses that the Goal of all religious system is the realisation of God and the different margas expounded by those who have realised God is due only to their differences in the exposition of their experience due to the varying degrees of their intellectual perception.
                        But the only way by which they have attained the knowledge of Brahman is concentration through Bhakti-yoga on the feet of the Lord, by which their mind is purified.

dhiyanupasyanti hi tattvamatmanah
vadanti chaitat kavayo yatharucham
sa me mukundo bhagavan prasidatam

                        Bhagavan Suka thus expounded the great message of Bhakti as the royal road for all people irrespective of their intellectual attainment, for the realization of God.  This Bhakti, the Bhagavata declares, is the be all and end all of life.  But this Bhakti according to the Bhagavata must be inspired by tattajnana (the knowledge of the truth) and by the practice of vairagya accompanied by the pursuit of Rajayoga.
Suka remains for all time as the foremost example of a Brahmanishtha, who realised God through jnana, Bhakti, Vairagya and Yoga.
                        The Bhagavata rightly extols Suka as a Muni, a sage with the cosmic universal heart, (sarvabhutahridaya).
                        Therefore it is that both the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata state that at the call uttered by Vyasa the whole of Nature responded to the call, (putreti tanmayataya taravo’bhineduh).  Even the trees, being united with him, responded to his name.  Even the great sage Tayumanavar refers to the cosmic mind of Suka and to the incident of nature resounding to the call of his father Vyasa.  He reckons Suka among the immortal yogis.  Suka is undoubtedly the shining star among the illustrious galaxy of saints, who attained the knowledge of Brahman and merged into the universal soul, even during their sojourn on earth.

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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