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....

9. Padmapāda



N. Ramakrishna Sastri

Asthana Vidvan, Śrī Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Maṭha

Padmapāda was one of the favourite disciples of Śrī Śaṅkara, the others being Hastāmalaka, Toṭaka and Sureśvara. Towards the close of his career, Śrī Śaṅkara conceived the idea of perpetuating the doctrine of Advaita by establishing various Maṭhas in different comers of India for the propagation of Advaita. According to the Śaṅkara-vijaya of Ānandagiri, the manuscripts of which are available in the Madras and the Mysore Government Oriental Manuscripts libraries, Śrī Śaṅkara appointed Padmapāda as the first Āchārya at the Śṛṅgeri Maṭha. Under instructions from his preceptor Śrī Śaṅkara, Padmapāda wrote a commentary on the bhāṣya of Śrī Śaṅkara on the first four aphorisms of the Brahma-sūtra; and that commentary is known as Pāñchapādikā. Being the earliest commentary on Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya, the Pañchapādikā deserves a careful study by every student of Advaita philosophy. It was commented on by Prakāśātman in his Pañchapādikā-vivaraṇa. The Pañchapādikā-vivaraṇa was further commented on by Akhaṇḍānanda in his Tattvadīpana. Ānandapūrṇa, who wrote his Vidyāsāgarī commentary on Śrī Harsha’s Khaṇḍana-khaṇḍa-khādya wrote a commentary on the Pañchapādikā. Nṛsiṃhāśrama wrote a commentary on the Pañchapādikā-vivaraṇa called the Pañchapādikā-vivaraṇa-prakāśikā. Dasgupta mentions one more commentary on the Pañchapādika-vivaraṇa by one Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Vidyāraṇya wrote a separate monograph called Vivaraṇa-prameya-saṅgraha in which the Vedānta doctrines are dearly set forth on. the lines of the Pañchapādikā-vivaraṇa. Rāmānanda Sarasvatī, a pupil of Govindānanda, the author of the Ratnaprabhā commentary on the Śāṅkara bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra wrote his Vivaraṇa-upanyāsa, a summary of the main theses of the Vivaraṇa. Dasgupta says that this work was probably the last important work on the Vivaraṇa line.

The first four sūtras on the bhāṣya of which Padmapāda has commented set forth the quintessence of Advaita Vedānta. Each system of philosophy has to deal with three topics, those relating to God, Soul and the World. While the pluralistic and theistic schools regard these three as distinct realities, the Advaita teaches that the basic Reality, Brahman is one and non-dual. The truth of non-duality is the import of the Upaniṣads. And Brahman, owing to its association with avidyā, appears as God, Soul and the World.

Padmapāda says that

  • māyā,
  • avyākṛta,
  • prakṛti,
  • agrahaṇa,
  • avyakta,
  • tamaḥ,
  • kāraṇa,
  • laya,
  • śakti,
  • mahāśakti,
  • nidrā,
  • kṣara
  • and ākāśa

are the terms which are used in older literature as synonymous with avidyā. Avidyā, like knowledge, requires a substratum as well as a content. On this issue Padmapāda’s view as interpreted by Prakāśātman in his Vivaraṇa is that Brahman is both the locus and content of avidyā as against the view of Vācaspati Miśra that avidyā has Brahman as its object and jīva as its support. This is one of the fundamental points of difference between the Vivaraṇa line of interpretation and the interpretation of the Vācaspati line. In this Prakāśātman agrees with the view of Sureśvara and his (Sureśvara’s) disciple Sarvajñātman. Brahman associated with avidyā is viewed as the source of the universe. On the subject of causality of Brahman, Padmapāda says that that on which the world-appearance is manifested, that, the Brahman is the cause of the world.

On this point three alternative views are offered by Prakāśātman; and they are:

(i) Just as two strands conjoined together make a rope, Brahman and māyā are the material cause of the world, in a relation of equal primacy. The elements of reality and manifestation are caused by Brahman; and the elements of inertness and change are produced by māyā.

(ii) The potency of māyā alone may be characterised as the material cause. But, since potency always depends on the potent, it would have to be said presumptively that even Brahman that possesses the potency is the material cause,

(iii) Since Brahman is the substrate of māyā, though material causality may belong directly to māyā alone, for Brahman too material causality cannot be avoided.

Of these three views, the first maintains that material causality in the principal sense belongs to Brahman qualified by māyā; and the other two hold that it belongs to māyā alone. But on all the three views, Brahman is only figuratively the material cause.[1] As regards the nature of the universe, Padmapāda holds that it is indeterminable in the sense of not being either real like Brahman or unreal like an absolute nothing. In other words, he defines mithyātvam or indeterminability as ‘Sad-asad-vilakṣaṇatvam’.

As regards the nature of the individual soul and the Supreme Lord, three theories are set forth by the Advaitic writers; and they are:

  • pratibiṃba-vāda,
  • avaccheda-vāda
  • and ābhāsa-vāda.

According to the pratibiṃba-vāda, the consciousness that transcends avidyā and serves as the original is Īśvara; and, the consciousness that is reflected in the intellect in its gross and subtle states is Jīva. Or, the consciousness reflected in avidyā is Īśvara, and in intellect is Jīva.[2] According to the avaccheda-vāda, the consciousness conditioned by avidyā is Īśvara; and the consciousness delimited by avidyā is Jīva.[3] According to the ābhāsa-vada, the reflection of consciousness in avidyā when identified with the original is Īśvara; and, the reflection of consciousness in the intellect when identified with the original is Jīva.[4]

The difference between pratibiṃba-vāda and ābhāsa-vāda lies in this that according to the former the consciousness that is reflected and is present in avidyā or intellect is real and is identical with the original. Only the state of reflection (pratibiṃbatva) is indeterminable either as sentient or insentient. But, according to the abhāsa-vāda, the consciousness that is reflected and present in avidyā or intellect is indeterminable either as sentient or insentient.[5] The pratibiṃba-vāda is advocated by Padmapāda in his Pañchapādikā in the section which is designated by later Advaitic writers as Darpaṇa-tikā.[6] The avaccheda-vāda is advocated by Vācaspatimiśra, and the ābhasa-vāda by Sureśvara.

As regards the relation between the affirmative and negative Upaniṣadic texts, Padmapāda has a theory of his own. Maṇḍana-miśra holds that the negative Upaniṣadic texts are primary and the affirmative texts are secondary. Padmapāda, however, maintains[7] that the negative texts merely restate what is presumptively known from the affirmative Upaniṣadic texts. In the case of the erroneous perception of silver in the nacre, when it is said that ‘this is nacre and this is not silver’, the sentence ‘this is not silver’ merely restates the absence of silver which is presumptively known from the affirmative sentence ‘this is nacre’. Similarly, the negative Upaniṣadic texts such as ‘neti, neti’ merely restate the absence of the universe in Brahman which is presumptively known from the affirmative Upaniṣadic texts that convey Brahman to be truth, consciousness and absolute. Thus the negative Upaniṣadic texts are subordinate to the affirmative ones. This view, according to Sarvajñātman is faultless, desirable, and commendable.[8]

The greatest contribution of Padmapāda to Advaita lies in this that his interpretation of Śrī Śaṅkara’s bhāṣya served as the source of the most important school of Advaita, that is, the Vivarṇa school.

Footnotes and references:


Dr. T. M. P. Mahadevan, The Philosophy of Advaita, pp. 228-229.


Siddhāntabindu (Kāśī Sanskrit series), p. 226.


Avidyāvacchinna-anavancchinnau-eva jiveśau iti pakṣaḥ
avaccheda-vadah, Nārayanī
on the Siddhāntabindu, p. 232.


Siddhāntabindu, p. 219.


Ibid., pp. 224-225.


Ratna-prabhā on Śaṅkara’s bhāṣya on the Brahma-Sūtra, 2. 3-50.


Pañcapādikā, p. 499. [Mm. Anantakrishna Sastri’s Edition].


Saṃkṣepaśārīraka I, 257.

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