Preceptors of Advaita
SOME AUTHORS OF WORKS IN REGIONAL LANGUAGES
Jnanadeva (1275 A.D. to 1296 A.D.) was one of the greatest geniuses of Maharashtra. In him we find a rare combination of first rate poetry, lofty philosophy, deep mystical experience and exalted saintlihood. All this appears to be almost a miracle when we take into consideration that he lived a short span of life of less than twenty two years. He ended his life with a sense of fulfillment of his mission by voluntarily entering into yogic samadhi in the presence of a multitude of relatives, friends and followers.
Jnanadeva was a contemporary of the king Ramadevaraya of Yadava dynasty. Devagiri –– the present Daulatabad –– was Ramadevaraya’s capital and he ruled from 1271 to 1309 A.D.
Jnanadeva’s ancestors were Kulkarnis of Apegaon (eight miles from Paithan, a great centre of Sanskrit learning) whose duty was to look after the revenue. The king Ramadevaraya as well as this family was worshippers of Sri Vitthal of Pandarpur.
To understand the background of Jnanadeva’s birth under unusual social conditions, one must go back to the life of his father Vitthalpant.
Vitthal was a well-educated clever boy with ascetic tendencies. While alone on a pilgrimage, he happened to halt at Alandi, thirteen miles from Poona, on the bank of Indrayani. Sidhopant, the Kulkarni of the place, seeing this bright chap gave his daughter Rukmini to him in marriage. As the parents of Vitthalpant did not live long, the young couple lived in Alandi. Vitthalpant was more interested in the life of the spirit than of the household. One day he left the home without his wife’s permission and took Sannyasa initiated by Ramasrama, also known as Sripada, of Benares. He was renamed as Chaitanyasrama. While on pilgrimage to Ramesvara, this Ramasrama visited Alandi. There he happened to see a pious woman circumambulating an Asvattha tree. She saw this revered sannyasin and bowed down to him who, as is customary, blessed her that she would give birth to sons. On hearing this she burst into tears, as she was verily the wife of Vitthalpant, pining for her husband. Ramasrama suspected from the enquiry made that the recently initiated sannyasin was no other than this woman’s husband. Instead of proceeding further on his pilgrimage he went back to Benares and ordered Chaitanyasrama to go back to his wife.
Rukmini got her husband back and was naturally overjoyed. But a sannyasin reverting to household life was never known or heard of before. The couple was excommunicated and they had to live a very wretched life outside the town. They gave birth to three sons Nivritti, Jnanadeva, Sopana and daughter Muktabai. They were indeed spiritual gems each excelling the other in a way, yet the whole family was subjected to great harassment and humiliation. Vitthalpant sought from the Brahmins atonement for his transgressing the traditional stages of life. They advised him to give up life! In the hope of securing happiness for their innocent children, both Vitthalpant and Rukmini obeyed the Brahmins by deserting the children and throwing their own selves in the sacred Ganges.
The plight of the young children however, did not at all improve. They were asked to bring a certificate of purification from the Pandits at Paithan. They undertook the journey only to find themselves ridiculed at their hands. It is said that Jnanadeva made a passing buffalo to recite Vedas, where-after they were given the required certificate without the need of performing the thread ceremony.
While returning from Paithan, the children halted at Nevase in the Ahamadnagar district. Jnanesvari, a unique Marathi commentary on the Bhagavadgita, was written here. Writing this at the age of fifteen is the greatest of Jnanadeva’s miracles.
Changadeva, a hathayogin came to see Jnanadeva at Alandi. As the legend goes, while he came riding on a tiger with a serpent as a whip in his hand and uprooting-trees on his way by the yogic powers, these children were enjoying early sunbath sitting on a small wall. In order to humble the pride of the yogin, Jnanadeva is credited with another miracle of making the wall walk. Some other miracles also have been attributed to him.
Jnanadeva met Namadeva, a tailor at Pandarpur, a great devotee of God Vitthal. With Namadeva these brethren had great intimacy and all of them travelled upto Benares and visited many holy places. Their other famous contemporary saints from different social positions were – Goroba the potter, Samvata the gardener, Chokha Mela the untouchable and Parisa Bhagavata the Brahmin.
Jnanadeva expressed his wish to enter voluntarily into Samadhi, having felt that his mission of life was over. A great festival was arranged at Alandi. Jnanadeva sat on the Asana prepared and cleaned by the sons of Namadeva. Jnanesvari placed in front, he closed his eyes, bowed down thrice and was engrossed fully in the Divine love. Nivrittinatha put the slab on the entrance to the place of Samadhi.
Besides Jnanesvari, also known as Bhavartha-dipika (a title given by Janabai, a maidservant of Namadeva), Jnanadeva also wrote Amritanubhava, Changadeva-Pasashthi, Haripatha, Namana and other miscellaneous Abhangas. There are other works regarding which Jnanadeva’s authorship is doubtful.
Jnanesvari was delivered extempore and taken down by Sachchidananda Baba. It contains about nine thousand Ovis. This is the first great work in Marathi as yet unexcelled in its felicity of expression, beauty of poetic imagination, grandeur of philosophic thought and extremely enchanting in style. Many languages have their own great works, for reading which, one must learn but those languages. Similarly if it is only to read Jnanesvari one should learn Marathi. The object of Jnanesvari is to spread divine joy, to annihilate the dearth of discriminative intelligence and to enable the spiritual aspirant to have a glimpse of the Highest Reality.
Jnanadeva divides the Gita in the following way. The first three chapters deal with the path of action. From fourth to eleventh describe devotion through action. Twelfth to fifteenth are devoted to the path of knowledge. The Gita proper, according to him, ends here. The 16th Chapter classifies the qualities which help or hinder knowledge. The last two chapters deal with some incidental questions. Of these the eighteenth is regarded as Kalasadhyaya which sums up the whole Gita.
Though Jnanadeva extols each of the paths of Karma, Bhakti, Jnana and Patanjala yoga as if it were the path, he is truly himself when he describes Devotion in rapturous terms. Jnanesvari and Gatha (Abhangas or devotional lyrics) of Tukkarama are the two gospels of lakhs of Warkaris who regularly visit Pandarpur.
Unlike Jnanesvari, which is bound by the teaching of Gita, Jnanadeva’s Amritanubhava forms his independent work written at the initiation of Nivrittinatha, who was his elder brother as well as Guru in the linage of the Natha Sampradaya. It originates with Siva and passes through Sakti, Matsyendranatha, Gorakhanatha and Gahininatha by whom Nivrittinatha was initiated at Tryambakesvara in the mountain of Brahmgiri. Through Nivrittinatha the influence of Natha-sampradaya came down to Jnanadeva.
Amritanubhava contains over eight hundred Ovis. Its original name is Anubhavamrita. It is an exposition of the Immortal Nectar of Divine experience. It describes the spiritual experience of the realized soul from the Absolutistic standpoint. Jnanadeva advocates a theory of Sphurtivada and refutes all Dualism, subjective Idealism, the Buddhistic Nihilism and the Vedantic Nescience. As a matter of fact, more than one third of the work deals with the refutation of Ignorance. The work concludes with the delineation of the secret of Akritrima Bhakti or natural or spontaneous devotion.
The work is of such a great philosophical significance that about a dozen commentaries (mostly in Marathi) have been written on it. No other work in Marathi has received such a privilege. The earliest commentary was written by Ekanatha (1533––1599 A.D.) but is not available though some quotations from it are found in Kibe’s commentary Jyotsna.
Sivakalyana’s commentary (1635 A.D.) is known as Nitya-nandaikya-Dipika. According to him Amritanubhava goes beyond the viewpoint of Parinamavada and Vivartavada. It could be understood by those who have attained perfect vision. Sivakalyana in interpreting Amritanubhava takes the standpoint of the great Advaita work – Samkshepasariraka of Sarvajnatman.
Pralhadbhuva Badve (dies 1718 A.D.) has written Sanskrit verses on Amritanubhava, the gist of which is the self-illumination of the Reality which is self-proved and is beyond any Pramanas as well as transcending the dualism implicit in knowledge and ignorance.
Viresvara Vallabha wrote in 1795 A.D., following Sankara in his interpretation of the Amritanubhava. Visvanatha Kibe writing his commentary Jyotsma in 1882 has shown how Jnanadeva differs from Sankara and Vidyaranya in not accepting illusion as the cause of the universe.
Harihara’s commentary called Rashtrabhashya (date not known) partly in Sanskrit and partly in Marathi is written from the standpoint of Brahmavilasa.
Niranjana (1782 – 1855 A.D.) in his introduction to his commentary says that Amritanubhava is written for a Jivan-mukta. By this perhaps he means that the work is written from the stand-point of a Jivan-mukta for whom no upadhis exist.
Jivanmukta––yati writing a Sanskrit commentary in 1919 A.D. says that Jnanadeva’s aim in refuting Mayavada is to establish Ajativada.
There are other more recent works by Jog, Sakhare, Kene Rajaramabuva Brahmachari, Dasganu, Khasnis, Garde, Panduranga Sharma, Dr. Londhe, Pangarkar, R.D. Ranade, S.V. Dandekar, Dr. Pendse, V.M. Potdar, N.R. Phatak, Chapkhande, Gulabrao Maharaj and others. A recently published work Divyamritadhara by Moreshvar or Babamaharaj Joshi is worth mentioning. That is an excellent commentary on the first nineteen Ovis of the twelfth chapter of the Jnanesvari.
Of these Panduranga Sharma thinks that Jnanadeva’s philosophy is more in the line of Ramanuja. According to Ranade Sphurtivada is Jnanadeva’s original contribution to philosophic thought. Londhe labels Jnanadeva’s philosophy as ‘dual monism’ and Dandekar as perfect monism, being more thorough-going than Sankara’s. Dr. Pendse opines that Jnanadeva exposes only Sankara’s philosophy in a poetic way. Similar is Pangarkar’s view. Potdar shows the similarity of Jnanadeva’s philosophy with that of Yogavasishtha.
Though from the above brief sketch some idea of Jnanadeva’s philosophy can be formed, a summary statement is essential.
Jnanadeva rejects all pramanas including the sabda which for all the Vedantins is the only efficacious one for the revelation of Reality. He relies on his own exalted experience. The so-called valid sources of knowledge derive their illumination from Reality and not vice versa. Sun enlightens everything and so does the self-luminous Reality. The Absolute does not prove itself by any means of proof, nor allows itself to be disproved. It is self-evident, beyond proof or disproof. It is therefore groundless to believe that the word can gain greatness by enabling the Atman to experience itself. (Amritanubhava VI, 93-95).
If it be said that word is necessary to remove Nescience which covers Reality, Jnanadeva says that as the very name avidya declares, it is not vidyamana, i.e. existent. Therefore to destroy a thing which does not exist is like breaking the hare’s horn or plucking the sky-flowers. The word is futile both-ways. It can destroy neither the non-existent nescience nor can reveal the self-luminous Reality. It is comparable to a lamp lit up at daytime.
The designation of the Ultimate Reality as Sat, Chit and Ananda, though true so far as it goes, cannot be regarded as metaphysically adequate. These are human modes of apprehension, not the thing-in-itself. The three terms stand for the same reality, but they indicate more what Reality is not than what it is. The dualism of Sat and Asat, Chit and Achit, Ananda and Duhkha are alike transcended in the Absolute. This absolute is not, therefore, to be regarded as a void as the Mandhyamika holds. Criticizing Sunyavada, Jnanadeva says: if the extinguisher of the lamp is extinguished along with the lamp, who will understand that the lamp is extinguished? A man sound asleep in a lonely forest is neither perceived by others nor by himself, but he still exists. Absolute is the foundational pure self-consciousness beyond the relative dualism of knowledge and ignorance, subject and object, being and nothing.
The self-luminous Reality and its self-awareness form as it were a twin designated by Jnanadeva as God (Siva) and Goddess (Sakti) who give birth to the whole universe, without undergoing limitation (Nirupadhika). As the ocean assuming the form of garlands of waves, enjoys itself, so Reality naturally manifests itself in the two forms and enjoys itself. Knowing oneself or enjoying oneself requires only an epistemological dualism which does not violate the ontological unity of consciousness or Reality. The reference to God and Goddess which are two names for the same Reality are not to be identified with the Sankhya Purusha and Prakriti nor the Vedantic Brahman and Maya.
The lover himself has become the Beloved. Though they appear as two, there is only one Divinity, just as the word is one though the lips are two, or the fragrance is one though the flowers may be two, or sound is one though the sticks are two, or the sight is the same though the eyes are two. Siva is eternally accompanied by Sakti because they are not two but one.
The one Reality manifests itself in the triad of the knower, the known and the knowledge. That is the origin of the universe. While for Sankara this differentiation is due to Nescience and is illusory, for Jnanadeva that is the natural expression of Reality.
Refutation of Ignorance is almost of central importance in his philosophy. Sankara’s doctrines of Maya and Adhyasa and Vivarta which reduce God, man and the world to phenomenal status have raised severe reactions among the Vedantic schools.
Jnanadeva has taken great pains to criticize Ajnana. For him knowledge and ignorance are relative terms and hence there cannot be a prior ignorance to be later on destroyed by knowledge. The very description of ignorance depends upon knowledge. The existence of ignorance is illusory like the light of a glow-worm. It is incapable of enlightening either in light or in darkness. Knowledge which is said to be destroying ignorance is but a reappearance of ignorance in another form. Both are fictions of the mind.
The further points in the refutation of Ajnana are as follows: Ignorance has no foundation, is unknowable and ineffective. It can neither co-exist with knowledge nor can be independent. It cannot be proved by any pramana. It cannot dwell in pure Atman. It cannot be inferred from the experience of the objective world. If ignorance has power of presentation, it is futile to call it ignorance. The word Ajnana is constituted by prefixing ‘A’ to Jnana. Thus to understand Ajnana in terms of Jnana or vice versa is malapropism. Ignorance cannot be born out of knowledge, but if it did it will be a still birth. Sruti declares that the world is illuminated by His light (tasya bhasa sarvamidam vibhati). Atman cannot meet ignorance even as Sun cannot meet darkness.
Jnanadeva maintains that the world is the sport of Atman (chidvilasa). He expands himself and shines forth as the world. The observer, in the guise of the objects comes to visit Himself. The universe including the individual selves is not an enchanting deception of Avidya, but the expression of the Divine Love and Joy. World is not a diminution but a unique expression of the fulfillment of perfection. Jnanadeva says that the diversity found in the world results in the deepening of the unity. The enrichment of gold is through the golden ornaments.
The finiteness of the individual implies that the Reality determines itself in order to realize itself in various forms. So the aim of the individual life is to realize this status of dignity and act up to its real worth. Advocating ‘natural devotion’ Jnanadeva says that it consists in realizing how God manifests Himself through one’s being. It is a culmination of Yoga and Jnana and transcends them.
Bhakti has an intrinsic or absolute value. What is termed svasamvitti by philosophers and Sakti by the Saivas is better termed Bhakti for Jnanadeva. Bhakti or love is the very nature of God. The present writer is of the opinion that Jnanadeva’s philosophy is a development mainly from the combination of Sankaracharya’s Advaitism and Gorakhanatha’s Siddha-siddhanta-paddhati, though anti-illusionist thinking of others might also have influenced him. Refutation of ajnana is not the same as the refutation of Mayavada. Standing on the Absolutistic plane even Sankaracharya would not accept ajnana. But a philosopher’s task is to explain also the everyday experience of the common man. It is a difficult task to show logically the consistency between Brahman on the one hand and the world on the other. To the extent that it is an emanation from Brahman it could be regarded as Chidvilasa. But no thinking person will give the world-experience the same value as Brahman. To explain this deficiency in value one intelligent method is that of postulation of a mysterious maya. What is chidvilasa to the transcendentalist is maya to the phenomena-list. They can appreciate each other’s truth only by exchange of their standpoint and thus there is no antagonism between the two positions. As a matter of fact these are the two view-points within one Absolutistic system.
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Preceptors of Advaita