A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1932 | 241,887 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of sarvajnatma muni (a.d. 900): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the thirteenth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta (continued)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 13 - Sarvajñātma Muni (a.d. 900)

Sarvajñātma Muni was a disciple of Sureśvarācārya, the direct disciple of Śaṅkara, to whom at the beginning of his work Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka he offers salutation by the name Deveśvara, the word being a synonym of the word sura in Sureśvara. The identification of Deveśvara with Sureśvara is made by Rāma Tīrtha, the commentator on the Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka , and this identification does not come into conflict with anything else that is known about Sarvajñātma Muni either from the text of his work or from other references to him in general. It is said that his other name was Nityabodhācārya. The exact date of neither Sureśvara nor Sarvajñātma can be definitely determined.

Mr Pandit in his introduction to the Gauḍa-vaho expresses the view that, since Bhavabhūti was a pupil of Kumārila, Kumārila must have lived in the middle of the seventh century, and, since Śaṅkara was a contemporary of Kumārila (on the testimony of the Śaṅkara-dig-vijaya), he must have lived either in the seventh century or in the first half of the eighth century. In the first volume of the present work Śaṅkara was placed between A.D. 780-820. The arguments of Mr Pandit do not raise any new point for consideration.

His theory that Bhavabhūti was a pupil of Kumārila is based on the evidence of two manuscripts, where, at the end of an act of the Mālatī-Mādhava, it is said that the work was written by a pupil of Kumārila. This evidence, as I have noticed elsewhere, is very slender. The tradition that Śaṅkara was a contemporary of Kumārila, based as it is only on the testimony of the Śaṅkara-dig-vijaya, cannot be seriously believed. All that can be said is that Kumārila probably lived not long before Śaṅkara, if one can infer this from the fact that Śaṅkara does not make any reference to Kumārila.

Hence there seems to be no reason why the traditionally accepted view that Śaṅkara was born in Samvat 844, or A.D. 788, or Kali age 3889, should be given up[1]. Taking the approximate date of Śaṅkara’s death to be about a.d. 820 and taking into consideration that Sureśvara, the teacher of Sarvajñātman, occupied his high pontifical position for a long time, the supposition that Sarvajñātman lived in a.d. 900 may not be very far wrong. Moreover, this does not come into conflict with the fact that Vācaspati, who probably wrote his earlier work the Nyāya-sūcī-nibandha in A.D. 842, also wrote his commentary on Maṇḍana’s Brahma-siddhi when Sureśvara was occupying the pontifical position.

Sarvajñātma Muni was thus probably a younger contemporary of Vācaspati Miśra. In his Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka he tries to describe the fundamental problems of the Vedānta philosophy, as explained by Śaṅkara. This work, which is probably the only work of his that is known to us, is divided into four chapters, written in verses of different metres. It contains, in the first chapter 563 verses, in the second 248, in the third 365 and in the fourth 63. In the first chapter of the work he maintains that pure Brahman is the ultimate cause of everything through the instrumentality (dvāra) of ajñāna. The ajñāna, which rests on (āśraya) the pure self and operates on it as its object (viṣaya), covers its real nature (ācchādya) and creates delusory appearances (vikṣipati), thereby producing the threefold appearances of God (īśvara), soul (jīva) and the world. This ajñāna has no independent existence, and its effects are seen only through the pure self (cid-ātman) as its ground and object, and its creations are all false.

The pure self is directly perceived in the state of dreamless sleep as being of the nature of pure bliss and happiness without the slightest touch of sorrow; and pure bliss can only be defined as that which is the ultimate end and not under any circumstances a means to anything else; such is also the pure self, which cannot be regarded as being a means to anything else; moreover, there is the fact that everyone always desires his self as the ultimate object of attainment which he loves above anything else. Such an infinite love and such an ultimate end cannot be this limited self, which is referred to as the agent of our ordinary actions and the sufferer in the daily concerns of life. The intuitive perception of the seers of the Upaniṣads also confirms the truth of the self as pure bliss and the infinite.

The illusory impositions on the other hand are limited appearances of the subject and the object which merely contribute to the possibility of false attribution and cannot therefore be real (na vāstavaṃ tat). When the Brahman is associated with ajñāna there are two false entities, viz. the ajñāna and the Brahman as associated with the ajñāna ; but this does not imply that the pure Brahman, which underlies all these false associations, is itself also false, since this might lead to the criticism that, everything being false, there is no reality at all, as some of the Buddhists contend. A distinction is drawn here between ādhāra and adhiṣṭhāna. The pure Brahman that underlies all appearances is the true adhiṣṭhāna (ground), while the Brahman as modified by the false ajñāna is a false ādhāra or a false object to which the false appearances directly refer.

All illusory appearances are similarly experienced. Thus in the experience “I perceive this piece of silver” (in the case of the false appearance of a piece of conch-shell as silver) the silvery character or the false appearance of the silver is associated with the “this” element before the perceiver, and the “this” element in its turn, as the false object, becomes associated with the false silver as the “this silver.” But, though the objectivity of the false silver as the “this” before the perceiver is false, the “this” of the true object of the conch-shell is not false. It is the above kind of double imposition of the false appearance on the object and of the false object on the false appearance that is known as parasparādhyāsa. It is only the false object that appears in the illusory appearance and the real object lies untouched. The inner psychical frame (antaḥkaraṇa) to a certain extent on account of its translucent character resembles pure Brahman, and on account of this similarity it is often mistaken for the pure self and the pure self is mistaken for the antaḥkaraṇa.

It may be contended that there could be no antaḥkaraṇa without the illusory imposition, and so it could not itself explain the nature of illusion. The reply given to such an objection is that the illusory imposition and its consequences are beginningless and there is no point of time to which one could assign its beginning. Hence, though the present illusion may be said to have taken its start with the antaḥkaraṇa , the antaḥkaraṇa is itself the product of a previous imposition, and that of a previous antaḥkaraṇa, and so on without a beginning. Just as in the illusion of the silver in the conch-shell, though there is the piece of conch-shell actually existing, yet it is not separately seen, and all that is seen to exist is the unreal silver, so the real Brahman exists as the ground, though the world during the time of its appearance is felt to be the only existing thing and the Brahman is not felt to be existent separately from it.

Yet this ajñāna has no real existence and exists only for the ignorant. It can only be removed when the true knowledge of Brahman dawns, and it is only through the testimony of the Upaniṣads that this knowledge can dawn; for there is no other means of insight into the nature of Brahman. Truth again is defined not as that which is amenable to proof, but as that which can be independently and directly felt. The ajñāna , again, is defined as being positive in its nature (bhāva - rūpam) and, though it rests on the pure Brahman, yet, like butter in contact with fire, it also at its touch under certain circumstances melts away. The positive character of ajñāna is felt in the world in its materiality and in ourselves as our ignorance.

The real ground cause, however, according to the testimony of the Upaniṣads, is the pure Brahman, and the ajñāna is only the instrument or the means by which it can become the cause of all appearances; but, ajñāna not being itself in any way the material cause of the world, Sarvajñātman strongly holds that Brahman in association and jointly with ajñāna cannot be regarded as the material cause of the world. The ajñāna is only a secondary means, without which the transformation of appearances is indeed not possible, but which has no share in the ultimate cause that underlies them. He definitely denies that Brahman could be proved by any inference to the effect that that which is the cause of the production, existence and dissolution of the world is Brahman, since the nature of Brahman can be understood only by the testimony of the scriptures. He indulges in long discussions in order to show how the Upaniṣads can lead to a direct and immediate apprehension of reality as Brahman.

The second chapter of the book is devoted mainly to the further elucidation of these doctrines. In that chapter Sarvajñātma Muni tries to show the difference of the Vedānta view from the Buddhist, which difference lies mainly in the fact that, in spite of the doctrine of illusion, the Vedānta admits the ultimate reality to be Brahman, which is not admitted by the Buddhists. He also shows how the experiences of waking life may be compared with those of dreams. He then tries to show that neither perception nor other means of proof can prove the reality of the world-appearance and criticizes the philosophic views of the Sāṃkhya, Nyāya and other systems. He further clarifies his doctrine of the relation of Brahman to ajñāna and points out that the association of ajñāna is not with the one pure Brahman, nor with individual souls, but with the pure light of Brahman, which shines as the basis and ground of individual souls (pratyaktva) ; for it is only in connection with this that the ajñāna appears and is perceived.

When with the dawn of right knowledge pure Brahman as one is realized, the ajñāna is not felt. It is only in the light of Brahman as underlying the individual souls that the ajñāna is perceived, as when one says, “I do not know what you say”; so it is neither the individual soul nor the pure one which is Brahman, but the pure light as it reveals itself through each and every individual soul[2]. The true light of Brahman is always there, and emancipation means nothing more than the destruction of the ajñāna. In the third chapter Sarvajñātman describes the ways (sādhana) by which one should try to destroy this ajñāna and prepare oneself for this result and for the final Brahma knowledge. In the last chapter he describes the nature of emancipation and the attainment of Brahmahood.

The Saṃkṣepa-śārīraka was commented upon by a number of distinguished writers, none of whom seem to be very old. Thus Nṛsiṃhāśrama wrote a commentary called Tattva-bodhinī, Puru-ṣottama Dīkṣita wrote another called Subodhinī , Rāghavānanda another called Vidyāmṛta-varṣiṇī, Viśvadeva another called Sid-dhānta-dīpa, on which Rāma Tīrtha, pupil of Kṛṣṇa Tīrtha, based his commentary Anvayārtha-prakāśikā. Madhusūdana Sarasvatī also wrote another commentary, called Saṃkṣepa-śāriraka-sāra-saṃgraha.

Footnotes and references:


See Ārya-vidyā-sudhā-kara, pp. 226, 227.


nājñānam advayasamāśrayam iṣṭam evaṃ
nādvaita-vastu-viṣayaṃ niśitekṣaṇānām
nānanda-nitya-viṣayāśrciyam iṣṭam etat
11. 211.

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