Preceptors of Advaita

by T. M. P. Mahadevan | 1968 | 179,170 words | ISBN-13: 9788185208510

The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself — as Śrīman-Nārāyaṇa or as Sadā-Śiva. The supreme Lord revealed the wisdom of Advaita to Brahma, the Creator, who in turn imparted it to Vasiṣṭha....

4. Vēdavyāsa



R. Muthukrishna Sastri
Mīmāṃsā and Sāhitya Śiromaṇi

vyāsam vasiṣṭhanaptāram śaktēḥ pautramakalmasham
parāśarātmajam vande śukatātām taponidhim.

Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā emphasises that the Lord Almighty incarnates in this world for the establishment of Dharma as and when necessary. Dharma can be established in many ways, namely, protecting the pious, destroying the wicked, removing ignorance, and establishing knowledge. Among such incarnations, in the dvāparayuga , Lord Viṣṇu was born as Vēdavyāsa in order to remove ignorance and establish knowledge on a firm basis. Out of the three basic energies (desire, action, and knowledge) this avatāra of Viṣṇu represents jñānaśakti.

jñānaśaktyavatārāya namobhagavato hareḥ

(Bhāmatī-Sloka, 5).

Born of Mahaṛṣi Parāśara and Satyavatīdevi, Vyāsa is known by several names. We may refer to him as Vēdavyāsa or merely Vyāsa because he codified the Vedas into four sections, viz. Ṛg, Yajus, Sāma and Atharva, and taught them to his four disciples, Pila, Vaiśaṃpāyana, Jaimini, and Sumantu, respectively, for the benefit of posterity. He is also known as Dvaipāyana because he was born in an island; Kṛṣṇa as he was dark in colour, and more fa m iliarly as Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana, combining both the names. As he performed tapas under a badara tree, he is referred to as Bādarāyaṇa.

“Cogent presentation of truths spread out in different Śāstras, directing the disciple to follow the tenets of our Dharma, and practising them himself rigidly, are said to be the chief characteristic of an ideal guru”.

āchinoti ca śāstrārtham āchāre sthāpayatyapi
svayamācharate yasmāt tamāchāryam pracakṣate.

Śrī Vyāsa was a shining example of these qualities. Books written by him are so many and voluminous, and unsurpassed in depth of thought and elegance of expression, so much so that we are sometimes led to wonder whether one person could have found the time to write such a large variety of literature, and that perhaps several persons wrote these Volumes and passed them under the name of Vyāsa. But there is no reason to doubt their authenticity, as both internal and external evidences go to prove that they were all the products of one mighty intellect.



There are six systems of Astika philosophy, namely, Nyaya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Pūrvamīmāṃsā, and Uttaramīmāṃsā or Vedānta. Out of these, Vyāsa is the author of Brahma-sūtrī in respect the Vedānta philosophy of the Upaniṣads. This sūtra is known by several names, such as Vyāsa-sūtra, Brahma-sūtra, Bhikṣu-sūtra and Vedānta-sūtra. This consists of four adhyāyas or sections and there are 555 sūtras.

Sūtras are brief and significant statements, that could be expanded and expounded by gurus and scholars to their disciples. Sūchanāt sūtram.

The word ‘sūtra’ also means a thread used to string flowers into a garland. Śrī Śaṅkara, in his bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra, says that the sentences of the Upaniṣads are strung together by the thread of these sūtras, like flowers in a garland, and hence they are known as sūtras.

sūtrāṇām (Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya
of Śaṅkara 1-2).

The Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Yoga and Sāṅkhya systems of philosophy try to arrive at the ultimate truth by means of reasoning only. Pūrvamīmāṃsā, although based on the authority of the Vedas, is unable to express the true import of the Upaniṣads, which form the final expression of the Vedas. To this extent, all these systems of philosophy are defective in arriving at the Ātmatattva, the truth that is the Ātman. To a careful student, it will be apparent that it is not possible to understand the ultimate truth that is Ātman purely by intellectual arguments. At the same time, it has to be stated that the Upaniṣads are not in any way contrary to reasoning. To understand the Upaniṣadic thought, although human intelligence can be useful to a certain extent, we can never arrive at the ultimate truth through reasoning alone.

tarkāpratiṣṭḥānādanyathānumeyamiti cet
evamapyavimokṣaprasaṅgaḥ (Brahma-sūtra,

The following passage from the Mahābhārata, namely, tarko’pratiṣṭhaḥ śrutayaḥ vibhinnaḥ. (Vana parvā, 314-119) also confirms this view of the Brahma-sūtra. If we examine the Vyāsa-sūtra we shall come to the conclusion that Advaita alone is their true import. We shall now explain a few sūtras here:

“The state of liberation, according to Advaita philosophy, is the attainment of one’s own disembodied nature of eternal bliss and knowledge—the removal of nescience. According to others, it is settling in a superior world with body, mind, and other senses. In the Vyāsa-sūtra, “sampadyāvirbhāvaḥ svēna śabdāt ” (4-4-1), the words “svēna” and “āvirbhāva” clearly declare that the liberation is the manifestation of one’s own self. The same conclusion is arrived at in the succeeding sūtras also, viz.

“brāhmēṇa jaiminirupanyāsādibhyaḥ ” (4-4-5)
“cititanmātrēṇa tadāmakatvādityauḍulomiḥ ” (4-4-6)
“evamapyupanyāsād pūrvabhāvādavirodham bādarāyaṇaḥ” (4-4-7)

The first sūtra is an exposition of the view of Jaimini that the released soul gains all the highest qualities of the Saguṇa or qualified Brahman. The second is of Auḍulomin. According to him, the released soul is manifest as pure knowledge alone. The third is the view of Bādarāyaṇa, according to which, there is no contradiction between the two above-mentioned views. Now, this reconciliation of Saguṇa and Nirguṇa states is exactly what the Advaitins maintain and others reject.

There is another sūtra in the first-adhyāya,

“śāstradṛṣṭyatūpadeśo vāmadevavat” (1-1-30).

In this sūtra, the sage Vāmadeva, on his realization of Brahman, declares that he is “Manu” and he is “Sūrya”. “I am all" is the Śāstraic realization. “I am different from my fellow being” is the typically wordly knowledge. This distinction between wordly knowledge and Śāstraic realization — the prominent feature of Advaita philosophy—is brought out in this sūtra. (See Advaitākṣaramālikā, page 276).

Śrī Śaṅkara, in his Sūtrabhāṣya, has explained in unambiguous terms that these sūtras are definitely advaitic in their meaning. According to his bhāṣya, the theme of the first chapter is Samanvaya, that is, the true import of all the Upaniṣadic passages is the non-dual Ātman. The second chapter is called Avirodha, that is there is no conflict between the import of the first chapter and other pramāṇas. The third chapter expounds the sādhana necessary to attain the knowledge of Ātman or Brahman. The fourth chapter explains the nature of the result i.e. Phala , of the knowledge of Brahman. This, in brief, is the substance of the Brahma-sūtra.

Similarly, Śrī Ramanuja, Śrī Mādhva, and other āchāryas also have written Bhāṣyas on the Brahma-sūtra. It is an accepted tradition that no exposition can be treated as authoritative unless quotations from the Brahma-sūtra can be given to support those views. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Brahma-sūtra has given rise to a large volume of literature, consisting of Bhāṣyas, Tīkā, Vārtika, Vivaraṇa, etc. There are many books expounding Advaita philosophy based on the Brahma-sūtra. Similarly, many books have been written on the Viśiṣṭādvaita and Dvaita aspects based on these the Sūtra. Nothing more need be said to show the importance of the Brahma-śūtra for real understanding of the tattvas.


Itihāsa and Purāṇas

As the Brahma-sūtra was necessarily terse and brief and could not easily be understood by men of average intellect, Śrī Vyāsa wrote the Mahābhārata and the eighteen Mahāpurīṇas. These Itihāsa-purāṇas enable one to understand better and appreciate the truths adumbrated in the Vedas and the Upaniṣads. It is said that the Vedas are really afraid of one who has not properly studied the itihāsa-purāṇas, because such a one will misunderstand the truths.

yaścaturvedavidvipraḥ purāṇam vetti
nārthataḥ tam dṛṣṭvā bhayamāpnōti
vedo mām pratariṣyati.

(Sūta-saṃhitā, 1-1.34).

Therefore, it follows that to expound the Vedas a study of the Ītihāsa and Purāṇas is necessary. It is thus to the credit of Śrī Vyāsa that he wrote these Purāṇas and the magnum opus, the Mahābhārata.

  1. Creation,
  2. Dissolution,
  3. Manvantara,
  4. the Genealogy of the Sūrya and Chandravaṃśa,
  5. and the story of the descendants of these Vamsas

—these five are elaborately dealt with in the Purāṇas only with a view to explain clearly and in easy language the profound and ultimate truth of Ātman and Brahman. It is, therefore, that in all these Purāṇas, under some pretext or other, compact and terse philosophic chapters are added, like precious gems in a jewel-box. For example,

Brahma-gītā in the Yajñavaibhavakāṇḍa of the Sutasaṃhitā in the Skānda Purāṇa.

Jadōpākhyānam, comprising the 36th to 44th chapters of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇam.

Iśvaragītā in the uttara-kāṇḍa of Kūrmapurāṇam.

Śrutigitā, Uddhavagtiā, and other portions in Bhāgavata.

Bhagavadgīta, Sanatsujātīyam, and Mokṣadharmaprakaraṇam of Śānti parvā in the Mahābhārata, etc.


The eighteen Mahāpurāṇas

  1. Brahman,
  2. Pādmam,
  3. Vaiṣṇavam,
  4. Śaivam,
  5. Bhāgavatam,
  6. Bhaviṣyam,
  7. Nāradīyam,
  8. Mārkaṇḍeyam,
  9. Āgnēyam,
  10. Brahmavaivartam,
  11. Liṅgam,
  12. Vārāham,
  13. Skāndam,
  14. Vāmanam,
  15. Kaurmam,
  16. Mātsyam,
  17. Gāruḍam,
  18. Vāyavīyam.

It is doubtful whether anyone in his life time would be able to study all these eighteen Purāṇas containing 4,00,000 granthas. Of these eighteen Purāṇas, ten speak of the glories of Śiva, four of Mahāviṣṇu, two of Brahman, one of Agni, and one of Sūrya.

kathyate daśabhirviprāḥ purāṇaiḥ parameśvaraḥ
chaturbhiḥ kathyate viṣṇuḥ dvābhyām Brahma jagatpatiḥ
ekēnāgnistathaikena bhagavān caṇḍabhāskaraḥ

The fact that the same author should have written several Purāṇas glorifying different gods is a positive proof that the vedas do not make any difference between one god and another and that all arrive at the same goal provided they worship with ekāgra chintana (concentrated meditation) any one of the gods.

The Purāṇas explain, with detailed and interesting examples and stories, the different natures of dharma and adharma, the importance of particular kṣētrās and puṇyanadīs, the significance of different mūrtīs and also particulars of anatomy and health precepts. In fact, these Purāṇas form the sources from which we can study the culture, civilization, religious and social laws, and organization of our ancient period. Without the help of these, our ancient history will be full of dark patches, and we cannot rightly interpret our Vedic tenets and principles.


The Mahābhārata

It is said that Śrī. Vyāsa put forth his best effort in writing the itihāsa, the Mahābhārata . The Harivaṃśa also is a section of the Mahābhārata, One cannot do enough justice by words to the important place this itihāsa holds in the life and thought of the Hindus, so much so it has been called the fifth Veda.

bhārataḥ pañchamo vedaḥ; mahābhārata pañchamān; kārskṇam vedam,

It is also known as the Veda written by Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana. Śrī Vyāsa starts writting this itihāsa by stating that “what is not mentioned in this itihāsa cannot be found in any other book; and what is mentioned in other books can be found in this”.

yadihāsti tadanyatra yannēhāsti natatkvachit.

The famous texts such as the Bhagavad-gīiā, sanatsujātīyam, Anugītā, and Mokṣadharmaprakaraṇam of Śānti parva, all of them help to explain and expound the thoughts expressed in the Upaniṣads. Further Viḍuranīti, Yakṣapraśnam, Anuśāsanaparva, and others set forth the basic principles of Dharma and Codes of conduct. Viṣṇusahasranāmam, Śivasahasranānam, and others sing the glories of the respective gods and promote bhakti. Rājadharmaprakaraṇam and Āpaddharama-prakarana of Śānti larva, speak of administrative principles. Thus, almost all aspects of human conduct, both individual and communal, are dealt with in great detail, precision and authority.

The Mahābhārata has been the source and inspiration of most of the Mahākāvyas composed in India during the last several millenniums. Śrīharsha’s Naiṣadham, Bhāravi’s Kirātārjunīyam, Māgha’s Śiśupālavadham, and Kālidāsa’s Abhijñāna-Sākuntalam, all owe their inspiration to the stories narrated in the Māhābhārata. Kavi Kālidasa has bodily incorporated several sentences and ideas from the Mahābhārata in his own works. The poet Bhāsa also has based many of his dramas on this itihāsa.

Śrī Śaṅkara, Śrī Rāmānuja and other āchāryas have borrowed very liberally and quoted stanzas from the Māhābhārata in their own Bhāṣyas.

How can we sing the praise of such a genius as Vedavyāsa! We shall have to content ourselves with quoting below some slokas in praise of this great āchārya.

“You poured the oil of Mahābhārata and lit the lamp of our knowledge to shine brightly for ever. What return can we ever give you for this act of grace on your part? We can only bow down in adoration”.

namostu te vyāsavīśāla buddhe phullāravindāyata patranētra
yena tvyā bhāratataila pūrṇaḥ prajvālito jñānamaya pradīpaḥ.

It is thus obvious that without the oil of Mahābhārata the lamp of our knowledge will cease to bum.

“Even if one is learned in all the four Vedās and their auxiliary disciplines, one will not be considered a scholar if he has not mastered the Mahābhārata.

yo vidyāt caturo vedān sāṅgopaniṣadō dvijaḥ
na chākyānamidam vidyāt naiva sa syāt vichakṣaṇaḥ.

As is Viṣṇu among the gods, Brahmins among two-legged animals, chūḍāmaṇi among jewels, Vajrāyudham among weapons, mind among senses, even so is Mahābhārata among Śāstras,

tridaśānām yathā viṣṇuḥ dvipadām brāhmaṇo yathā
bhuṣaṇānām ca sarveṣām
yathā chūḍāmaṇirvaraḥ yathāyudhānām kuliśam
indṛyāṇām yathā manaḥ tateha sarvaśāstrānām

mahābhāratamuttamam. (Mārkaṇḍeya-Purāṇam, 1.4 & 5).

A Dharma-śāstra by name Vyāsasmṛti and Vyāsaśikṣa explaining the lakṣaṇa of the Vedas are also to be found in the name of Śrī Vyāsa.

Thus Śrī Vedavyāsa has written many books to expound the sacred truths contained in the Vedas and the Upaniṣads.

We have not seen Śrī Vyāsa face to face. But we are very lucky now in having in our midst the great scholar-saint, Śrī Kāmakoṭi-pīṭhādhipati Śrī Chaṅdraśekharendra Saraswatī Pūjyapādāḥ at whose feet I dedicate this humble essay of mine.

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