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....

10. Hastāmalaka



A. G. Krishna Warrier
M.A., PH.D.

Unlike Sureśvara and Padmapāda who have left an indelible mark on the history of Advaitic thought, Hastāmalaka and Toṭaka, two other direct disciples of Śrī Śaṅkara, have been revered more for what they were than for any works they have bequeathed to posterity. Nevertheless, if tradition may be trusted, a small treatise, Hastāmalaka-stotra by name, consisting of twelve verses, may be ascribed to Hastāmalaka, the marvellous boy disciple of the great Master. Its distinction is that it is accompanied by a commentary whose author, according to the traditionalists, is none other than Śrī Śaṅkara himself.[1] The views set forth in the Stotra constitute orthodox Advaita, of course, and they may properly be taken to represent the quintessence of Hastāmalaka’s spiritual experience. Before analysing these verses let us reproduce the few events in Hastāmalaka’s life, incidentally incorporated in the Śrī Śaṅkaradigvijaya of Mādhavāchārya and the Śaṅkaravijaya of Vyāsāchala.[2] The fact that the accounts given in these works discover a striking measure of agreement proves, not their authenticity so much as the dependence of the one on the other.

In the course of his triumphal tour of India as the authentic exponent of Advaita philosophy, Śaṅkara, accompanied by a large group of disciples and admirers, reached Śrī Bali a brāhmaṇa village near Gokara. An affluent villager, Prabhākara by name, together with a sick son, thirteen years old, approached Śaṅkara hoping to get his son healed.[3] According to etiquette the father bowed low before the sage and caused his son to do likewise. The latter, “a live coal hidden in ashes” would not get up, but remained prostrate demonstrating, as it were, his grievous malady. When, however, the compassionate sage lifted up the boy, his anxious father respectfully enquired what the matter could be with his son who behaved so strangely. Thirteen years had gone by and so far he had shown no sign of sensibility. Of course, he could not learn the Vedas so far, though the formal ceremony of initiation had been performed. In the midst of his playmates, the boy would remain listless; even physical harm inflicted on him failed to evoke angry reactions of any kind. In the matter of diet, too, he was indifferent. It was, thus, by the force of sheer karma that he was growing up.[4]

Upon hearing this account , the great Teacher asked the boy: “Who art thou? Why dost thou behave as one possessed?”

In answer, ‘the great soul’, inhabiting the body of the boy uttered the twelve verses of the Hastāmalaka-stotra. They set forth, in the main, the nature of the Self or the Ātman. The refrain of all of them is: I, the Self, am eternal Awareness, nityopalabdhisvarūpo’ ham ātmā. The author of these verses seeks to translate into intelligible language the content of his integral experience, which, being sui generis , does not lend itself to such translation. Hence the profuse use of symbols and metaphors strewn in these verses. The initial step in the process of the translation has been to relate, unavoidably, the unrelated Absolute, the contentless awareness, to the activities of mind and sense-organs. The real inspirer of all activities, subjective and objective, is the Ātman.[5] The sun energizing the world of objects into their varied activities is a fit analogue of the Ātman. The author is very well conscious of the intrinsically indefensible nature of his initial step. The Absolute is, strictly, the relationless, the unconditioned. Hence, his characterization of it as nirastākhilopādhi. Its appropriate analogue may be sought for in the boundless space.[6] (V-l).

The dependence of all objects for their activities on the unfailing Awareness or Ātman is reiterated in the second verse. Every object, not excluding the mind and sense organs, is inert. Their formations, functions and operations point to an Intelligence[7] that supervises, controls, and directs them. (V-2).

This very Ātman abides in the living body as the Jīva, exactly as the face, in the guise of the reflection, is present in the mirror.[8] In other words, the plurality of Jīvas is only an appearance whose timeless truth is the non-duality of the Ātman. What differs from individual to individual is not the foundational principle of awareness,[9] the real content of ‘I’; the forms or modes of the antaḥkaraṇa, embodying it from moment to moment, alone, differ. (V-3). Transcend these momentary fluctuations, and, at once, the indivisible wholeness of the Ātman is restored, just as once the mirror is removed, the reflection vanishes leaving the wholeness of the face, intact.[10] The empiric plurality of the Jīvas is due to the superimposition, on the non-dual Ātman, of the manifoldness of the modes, in which this Ātman is reflected. (V-4).

The given fact of a temporal association of the Ātman with the psycho-physical organism is not denied; what is stressed is that in its timeless transcendence, the Ātman is relationless. It is, in very truth, the mind of the empirical mind; the eye of the empirical eye, etc.[11] In its utter transcendence, of course, it is beyond the purview of all instruments of cognition[12] (V V. 5 & 9). How then is such an entity affirmed at all? Svato vibhāti —Ātman is a self-luminous conscious being: as such it is self-positing and self-validated. As pointed out already (in verse 3) the factual plurality of the centres of consciousness may be traced to that of the reflecting media, the modes of the antaḥkaraṇa. (V. 6). The phenomenon of the multiplicity of Jīvas may be elucidated with reference to an analogue. Just as a single sun, simultaneously, the mind functions at all is due to their vivification by the Ātman. Cf.-tamevabhāntaṃ anubhāti sarvaṃ tasya bhāsā sarvamidaṃ. yibhāti. Kaṭhapaniṣad, 5.15.

enables a multitude of eyes to behold various things, so docs the non-dual Ātman, at one and the same time, enable Jīvas to perceive their respective objects. (V-7).

It was observed above that the Ātman is the mind of the mind, etc; i.e. it is the hidden source of their characteristic energies and operations. In the world outside, the sun illuminates objects and makes them fit to be cognized; but this the sun cannot do without its illumination by the Ātman. In other words, exactly like the sense organs the sun, too, derives its characteristic energies and capacities from the sole source of all light and power.[13] As the Ātman is the mind’s mind and the eye’s eye, so too it is the sun’s sun. (V-8).

Despite the eternal transcendence of the self-luminous Ātman, the Self of the Jīva, the empirically experienced finitude and fragmentariness of the cognitions of the latter may not be gainsaid. Bondage of the Jīva is an incredible fact. It consists in the appearance, to the ignorant Jīva, of the Ātman as bound, baddhavatbhāti mūḍhaḍṛṣṭeḥ. A parallel phenomenon may be cited by way of illustration. An observer whose eye-sight is obstructed by clouds is apt to imagine that the sun is cngulied by them. As the sun, in fact, so the Ātman, in truth, does not suffor the slightest diminution in its natural effulgence. Notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, the Ātman is eternally pure, awake, and free, nityaśuddhabuddhamuktasvabhāvaḥ. (V-10). The transcendence of the Ātman must be understood together with the complementary truth of its immanence in all phenomena. On it, but without, in the least, affecting its wholeness and purity, are strung the phenomena constituting the cosmos.[14] It is their abiding ground and in this respect its analogue is space accommodating the objective manifold. (V-11). The concluding verse reaffirms the nondual status of the Ātman while it traces all plurality to the limiting adjuncts and media of reflection. The psycho-physical organisms are multiple and the Ātman, in empiric associa t ion with them, consequently, appears to be many. The phenomenal plurality of the Jīvas in no way affects the transcendental non-duality of the Ātman.

Thus the verses constituting the Hastāmalaka-stotra deal with the real or pāramārthika status of Ātman. Their author seems to convey through them the fullness of his realization of the same. The author of the bhāṣya on these verses raises a few supplementary questions, a brief reference to some of which may also be made in order to underscore the major implications of the Hastāmalaka-stotra. The affirmation in verse two that Ātman is eternal awareness or cognition calls for some elucidation since ‘bodha’ or awareness, generated by the sense organs in contact with their objects is obviously ephemeral. Generated awareness perishes, after leaving its impression on the mind or it yields place to a subsequent awareness. In any case it is anything but eternal. Again, Ātman in ills essence ought not to be awareness, for while Ātman is held to be eternal, awareness, as just shown, is ephemeral. In answer, it may be urged that by awareness is meant consciousness or chaitanya. Awareness is of two kinds—what is generated and what is eternal. The former, being knowable, is no better than objects like pot and, therefore, is inert. That the generated awareness is a ‘knowable’ is clear from expressions like: I have had the awareness (= knowledge) of the pot, of the doth, etc. Such awareness is experienced. Only such experienced and particularized instances of awareness may be treated as ephemeral. This does not militate against the proposition that the Ātman is eternal awareness.

What is the proof that Ātman is awareness or Chaitanya? The awareness of the objective manifold, jagatprakāśa, may be cited as the requisite proof.[15] None may deny that the world is presented to our consciousness in acts of cognition. In the complex of factors involved in this situation, every known factor is inert. The one factor not known[16] but knowing, the Ātman, therefore, is the source of the jagatprakāśa. While illuminating all else, it shines forth in its own right, svaparaprakāśavān.[17]

Before concluding this brief account of Hastāmalaka’s affirmation of Self-realization, the fact may be noted that he may be cited as the living proof of the state of jīvanmukti, implicit in the Advaitic position that Jīva is, in truth, nityopalabdhisvarūpa. None of the verses directly mentions it; the Commentary, however, argues the case as follows. The paradox resulting from the contention that Mukti is a state of disembodiment,[18] and that, nevertheless, the jīvanmukta lives in the body has to be resolved. One may urge that by the disembodied state is meant, not that life in the body has ceased, but that egoistic experiences incidental to such life have ceased. This however is inconceivable; for so long as the sense-organs operate cessation of such experiences is out of question.

“But as egoistic experiences result from nescience, should not their cessation logically follow from the fact that right knowledge or samyagdarśana has dispelled nescience?”

No; for, though nescience has been dispelled, its consequences may very well persist as in the case with the illusory experience of the double moon. How else can the fact of embodiment of the liberated sage be accounted for? The assertion of Śruti that pleasure and pain never cease for the embodied being[19] may be cited as negativing the dogma of jīvanmukti.

The following considerations, however, must be urged against the arguments set forth above. One who lives alone may acquire the knowledge of the real, tattvajñāna. No dead man ever grows wiser. In fact the circumstances leading to right knowledge, such as the study of scriptures, ratiocination, the cultivation of moral virtues, etc., are relevant only to the living. The latter alone may take the step of renunciation, the sine qua non of illumination. Hence right knowledge or Ātmajñāna can accrue only to, the living and it must entail emancipation in a state of embodiment.[20]

In conclusion the point may be stressed that the sage Hastāmalaka is not concerned to develop a full-fledged system of philosophy with its complement of metaphysics, ethics, logic, and so forth. He just reveals, in the brief compass of twelve verses, Ms vision of non-dual Reality as plenary Consciousness. The charge of acosmism against his position, therefore, far from detracting from the merit of his affirmation is bound to prove a compliment.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. pp. 163 ff, Vol. XVI of The works of Śrī śaṅkarāchārya, Śrī Vani Vilas edition. It Is only fair to point out that the traditional view has been disputed by scholars like Belvalkar. Cf. Mallik Lectures on Vedanta Philosophy, Part I (first edition), p. 218.


Besides the authors referred to, Ānandagiri also briefly mentions Hastāmalaka in his Śaṅkaravijaya; 1868 AD. Edition; cf. pp. 250 and 267.


Śaṅkaradigvijaya of Mādhavāchārya, 12, 47.


Ibid., 12, 50-53.


Cf. Kenopmiṣad, I, 1 and 2.


niraṃśatvāt vibhutvācca tathānaśvarabhivataḥ,
brahmavyomnornabhedo’sti caitanyam brahmano’dhikaṃ.

—The works of Śrī Śaṅkarāchārya, Vol. XVI, Śrī Vani Vilas Press, Srirangam.


Bṛhadāranyako’paniṣad, 3.7.23.


cf. ābhāsa eva ca; Brahma-Sūtra, 2. 3. 50.


cf. What is Life? pp. 89, 90. E. Schrōdinger, Cambridge, 1944.


Cf. Yoga-Sūtras of Patañjali, 1. 3. tadādraṣṭusvarūpe’ vasthānaṃ.


Kenopaniṣad, 1.2.


Cf. Yato vāconivarttante’ prāpya manasāsaha Taittirīyo’paniṣad, 2.4. The fact that the eye, or


Cf. Kaṭhopaniṣad, 5.15.


Cf. Bhagavad-Gītā, 7.7.


jagatprakāśa itibrūmaḥ—Hastāmalaka-stotra-bhāṣya, p. 160.


vijñātāraṃ are kena vijānīyātBṛhadāraṇyako’paniṣad, 2.414.


Hastāmalaka-stotra-bhāṣya, p .166.


tadetadaśarīratvaṃ mokṣākyaṃ Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya on the Brahma-Sūtra, 1.1.4.


Chāndogyo’paniṣad, 8.12.1.


sayo havai tatparamaṃ brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati, Muṇḍako’paniṣad, 32.9.

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