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....

16. Vāchaspatimiśra



Swami Anantanandendra Sarasvati

In the history of Advaita literature, Vāchaspatimiśra stands out as a prominent figure. He is well-known as the author of the commentary —Bhāmatī on Śrī Śaṅkara's bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra. In the concluding verses of the Bhāmatī Vāchaspati enumerates his other works.

And, they are as follows:

  • the Nyāyakaṇikā (a commentary on Maṇḍana’s Vidhiviveka),
  • the Brahmatattvasamīkṣā (a commentary on Maṇḍana’s Brahmasiddhi),
  • the Tattvabindu (a discussion of language in its relation to meaning),
  • the Nyāyavārtikatātparyatīkā (a commentary on Udyotakara’s Nyāyavārtika),
  • the Nyāyasūchīnibandha (perhaps written as a supplement to the Tātparyatīkā),
  • the Sāṅkhyatattva-kaumudī (a commentary on Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sānkhyakārikā),
  • the Tattvavaiśāradī (a commentary on Vyāsa’s Yogabhāṣya),
  • and the Bhāmatī (a commentary on Śaṅkara’s Śārīrakamīmāṃsābhāṣya).

All the works have been published with the exception of the Brahmatattvasamīkṣā.

The Bhāmatī itself has been commented on by other Advaitic writers. Amalānanda (13th Century A.D.) wrote his Kalpataru on the Bhāmaī. The Kalpataru in turn formed the subject of two commentaries, the Parimala of Appayyadīkṣita (16th Century A.D.) and the Ābhoga of Lakṣmīnṛsimha (17th Century A.D). Other commentaries on the Bhāmatī are

  1. the Bhāmatīvyākhyā or Ṛjuprakāśikā by Akhaṇḍānanda,
  2. the Bhāmatītilaka,
  3. and the Bhāmātīvilāsa.


Date of Vāchaspatimiśra

On the strength of a reference in the Nyāyasūchīnibandha, Prof. Das Gupta has come to the conclusion[1] that Vāchaspatimiśra must have flourished in the first half of the ninth century A.D.

The name of the Bhāmatī is identified with one of the two main streams of Śāṅkara Advaita. The views of Padmapāda as interpreted by Prakāśātman in his Vivaraṇa are known as the tenets of the Vivaraṇaprasthāna while the views of Vāchaspatimiśra are known as the tenets of the Bhāmatīprasthāna. We shall now briefly set forth the differences between the two view-points.


1. Vāchaspatimiśra holds that performance of rituals and other duties relating to one’s stage and order of life generate in the mind of the aspirant the desire to know Brahman. While commenting on the section known as Sarvāpekṣādhikaraṇa (iii, iv, vi) Vāchaspatimiśra states that knowledge of Brahman for its rise requires the performance of rituals which generates in the mind of the aspirant the desire to know Brahman; and the Upaniṣadic text ‘vividiṣanti yajñena’ states so.

utpattau jñānasya karmāpekṣā vidyate vividiṣotpādadvārā, vividiṣanti yajñena iti śruteḥ.

This view is reiterated by him in his commentary on Śaṅkara’s bhāṣya on the aphorism

sarvatthāpi cha ta evo’bhayalingam’ (iii, xxxiv).[2]

Prakāśātman, on the other hand, maintains that the performance of rituals, etc., are responsible for giving rise to the knowledge of Brahman. In his Vivaraṇa[3] as well as in his work Śārīrakanyāyasaṅgraha he affirms this view.

According to both the views, the performance of rituals and other duties belonging to one’s class of life must be given up after the rise of the desire to know Brahman. But, while according to Vāchaspatimiśra the utility of karma ceases with merely giving rise to the desire to know Brahman, according to Prakāśātman the results of the performed deeds are operative till the rise of the knowledge of Brahman. The former view is known as vividiṣāpakṣa; and the latter one, as vedanāpakṣa.


2. Vāchaspatimiśra holds that the mind is the instrument in giving rise to the knowledge of the identity of Ātman and Brahman, while, according to Prakāśātman, the major texts of the Upaniṣads give rise to the knowledge of the identity of Ātman and Brahman.

Vāchaspatimiśra states:

tatpadārthatām anubhāvayatīti yuktam

Prakāśātman in his Vivaraṇa holds[5] that since Brahman is immediate the Upaniṣadic texts give rise to the immediate knowledge of Brahman. But, owing to the impediments such as viṣaya-bhogavāsanā, pramāṇāsaṃbhāvanā, prameyāsaṃbhāvanā and viparītabhāvanā,  the immediate knowledge that has arisen appears to be mediate. When the impediments are removed by the cultivation of virtues like control of intellect, external senses, etc., and by Vedāntic study, reflection, and meditation, the immediate knowledge that has already arisen becomes effective in dispelling avidyā. The point that is of great importance here is that the knowledge of Brahman arises from the major texts of the Upaniṣads and not from the mind. Prakāśātman further holds that in the Upaniṣadic text — ‘tam tu aupaniṣadam puruṣam pṛchchāmi’— the taddhita suffix in the word ‘aupaniṣadam’ signifies that śabda or the Upaniṣadic text is the means of knowing Brahman.

“‘tam tu aupaniṣadam’ iti taddhitapratyayena brahmāvagatihetutvam śabdasya darśitamupapannam bhavati[6]

At the end of his work Śabdanirṇaya Prakāśātman affirms this view, and there the following verse occurs:

viṣayotpannataḥ saṃvidaikyādvā’jñānahānataḥ
svatassiddherataḥ śabdād āparokṣyam prajāyate.

3. Another point of difference between the two schools is in respect of injunction regarding Vedāntic study, reflection and meditation.

The Vedāntic study is only inquiry into the purport of the Vedānta and its fruit is only the removal of impediment consisting in delusion and doubt as to the import of Vedānta. Reflection is only arguing within oneself as to the validity of the truth learnt and its fruit is only the removal of impediment consisting in delusion as to the validity of the truth. And, meditation is only concentrated and continuous thinking on the truth of the Upaniṣads, and its fruit is only the removal of contrary notions regarding the truth learnt.

That a study of a particular text leads to the ascertainment of the import of the text, and that reflection and meditation lead to the ascertainment of the validity of the truth and to the removal of false notions regarding it are a matter of common experience.

anvayavyatirekābhyām cha śravaṇamanananididhyāsanābhyā sasya svagochara sākṣātkāra phalatvēna lokasiddhatvāt.[7]

No other means is established with reference to these results. Hence Vāchaspati holds that an aspirant who knows the relation of words to their senses spontaneously engages himself in the Vedāntic study and then in reflection and meditation. The Upaniṣadic declaration that Ātman should be heard, reflected on, and meditated upon is only a restatement of ordinary experience. And restatement is useful in this that the aspirant could have a strong and irresistible attraction toward Vedāntic study, reflection and meditation.[8] Vāchaspatimiśra concludes that there is no scope for any injunction at all in respect of Vedāntic study, reflection and meditation.

Vāchaspatimiśra comes to this conclusion on the authority of Śrī Śaṅkara’s text on the Samanvaya-sūtra. There Śrī Śaṅkara observes:

“For what purpose, then, are these texts like ‘the self is to be seen, heard,’ etc., which have the appearance of injunctions? We say that they are for turning one away from the objects of natural activity.”

In all these places, Vāchaspatimiśra maintains that there is no injunction at all in respect of Vedāntic study, etc. But in his commentary on some adhikaraṇas it seems that he accepts injunction in respect of Vedāntic study, etc. For instance, while commenting on the section known as Vākyānvayādhikaraṇa (1.4.6), Vāchaspatimiśra says:

‘ātmaiva draṣṭavyaḥ sākṣātakartavyaḥ, etat sādhanāni cha śravaṇādīni vihitāni śrotavyaḥ ityādinā’ (p. 328).

Further, while commenting on the section known as Sahakāryantaravidhyadhikaraṇa (3.4.14) Vāchaspatimiśra says:

apūrvatvāt vidhirāstheyaḥ (p. 828).

From this it seems that Vāchaspati admits injunction as regards Vedāntic study, etc., which clearly leads to contradiction. His commentator Amalānanda reconciles this apparent contradictory position by pointing out that the statements which appear to have the sense of injunction are merely restatements of what is a matter of ordinary experience. And they are helpful in this that they give rise in the mind of the aspirant to an irresistible attraction towards Vedāntic study, etc.

Prakāśātman, on the other hand, maintains that there is niyama-vidhi in respect of Vedāntic study, etc. In the ninth varṇaka of his Vivaraṇa (p. 352) he describes the nature of śravaṇa, etc. And in the same varṇaka he states that the first aphorism of Bādarāyaṇa has full scope only on the acceptance of injunction in respect of śravaṇa strengthened by manana and nididhyāsana.

manana-nididhyāsanopabṛmhitasya śravaṇasya
samyagdarśanāya vidheyatvam aṅgīkṛtya
prathamasūtram pravṛttam.

This discussion leads us on to the other one, namely, whether Vedāntic study (śravaṇa) is principal among the means that give rise to knowledge or meditation (nididhyāsana) is principal. Vāchaspatimiśra holds that nididhyāsana is the principal one and the other two are its auxiliaries.[9]

Prakāśātman in his Vivaraṇa holds that śravaṇa is principal and the other two are its auxiliaries.[10]


4. In accounting for the nature of jīva and Īśvara, Vāchaspatimiśra differs from Prakāśātman. Advaitins maintain that the difference between Īśvara and jīva is only adventitious and not real. There, one view is that consciousness is delimited by the adventitious conditions such as avidyā and antaḥkaraṇa ; the other view is that it is reflected in these adventitious conditions. The former theory is known as avaccheda-vāda ; and the latter is known as pratibiṃba-vāda.

Of these, the avaccheda-vāda is advocated by Vāchaspatimiśra and the pratibiṃba-vāda is refuted by him. While commenting on the Adhyāsa-bhāṣya Vāchaspati states that there could not be any reflection of Ātman which is free from any form in the intellect which is also formless. He says that an object having a form could receive the reflection of some other thing that has also a form. Brahman being free from any form cannot have any reflection in the intellect which also is formless. How could there be any reflection of sound, smell, taste, etc?

While commenting on the section known as ‘rachanānu-papatyadhikaraṇa’ (2.2.1), Vāchaspatimiśra says:

‘avidyopādāna kalpitavacchedo
jīvaḥ paramātmapratibimbakalpaḥ’.

In the Vākyānvayādhikaraṇa (1.4.6) Vāchaspati says:

avidyo’pādānam cha yadyapi vidyāsvabhāve paramātmani na sākṣādasti tathāpi tatpratibimbakalpa jīva-dvāreṇa parasminnuchyate.

In these passages by the word pratibiṃbakalpa he means that jīva is not a reflection, but may be likened to a reflection for purposes of exposition. We may infer from this that pratibiṃbavāda is not acceptable to Vāchaspatimiśra. If it were so he could have very well said tatpratibiṃba jīva instead of saying tatpratibiṃbakalpa jīva.

Vāchaspati compares[11] the individual soul to the etheric space delimited by jar, pot, etc., Since there could only be delimitation and not reflection of etheric space in jar, pot, etc., and since Vāchaspati compares the individual soul to the etheric space confined in jar, pot, etc., we may take that Vāchaspati favours only avaccheda-vāda.

Prakāśātman maintains the theory that jīva and Īśvara are only the reflections of consciousness in avidyā and the intellect. Etheric space which is formless is reflected in water. Similarly consciousness which is formless could have reflection in avidyā and the intellect. Prakaśātman advances the theory that jīva and Īśvara are the reflections, on the authority of the Upaniṣadic texts like —

‘rūpam rūpam pratirūpo babhūva,’
‘ekadhā bahudhā chaiva dṛśyate jalachandravat

and on the authority of the Brahma-sūtra

‘ata eva ca upamā sūryakādivat’ (3.2.18).

In the ninth varṇaka he asks: Of what nature is the individual soul? and he answers: Brahman reflected in avidyā is the individual soul.[12] From this it is clear that Prakāśātman favours only pratibiṃbavāda.


5. All Advaitins agree that the content of avidyā is pure consciousness. But as regards its locus Vāchaspatimiśra holds that jīva is the locus while Prakāśātman maintains that pure consciousness itself is the locus. While commenting on the section samanvayādhikaraṇa (i.i.iv) Vāchaspatimiśra observes that avidyā has jīva as its locus and it is indeterminable. Brahman, therefore, is always pure.

‘nāvidyā brahmāśrayā, kintu jīve, sā tu anirvachanīyā ityuktam tena nityaśuddham brahma’

The same view is reiterated by him in his commentary on the sections sarvatraprasiddhādhikaraṇa (i, ii, i), ānumānikādhikaraṇa (i.iv.i) and vākyānvayādhikaraṇa (i.iv,vi).

Prakāśātman in the first varṇaka of his Vivaraṇa refutes the differentiation between the locus and content of avidyā and holds that Brahman itself is the locus and content of avidyā.

na tavadajñānam āśraya-viṣaya-bhedāpekṣam, kintu ekasminneva vastuni āśrayatvam āvaraṇam cheti kṛtyadvayam sampādayatī.[13]


6. The next point of difference between the two schools is as regards the plurality of avidyā. Vāchaspatimiśra admits the plurality of the primal nescience which is indeterminable and positive in nature. Avidyā according to him has jīva as its locus. Hence avidyā is different in the case of each and every individual soul. He observes:

‘na vayam pradhānavad avidyām sarvajīveshvekām āchakṣāmahe, ena evamupalabhyemahi, kiṃ tu iyam pratijīvam bhidyate.[14]

Prakaśātman, on the other hand, maintains only one nescience indeterminable and positive in nature. He, however, admits manifold aspects of the one nescience which are called tūlājñāna and which serve as the material cause of silver, etc., that appear on nacre, etc.

‘mulājñānasyaiva avasthābhedāḥ rajatādyupādānāni śukti-kādijñānaiḥ sahādhyāsena nivartante’.[15]


7. The content of the intuitive knowledge, according to Vivaraṇa, is Brahman unenveloped by any upādhi.[16] Vāchaspatimiśra, however, maintains that Brahman enveloped by the mental state (upahita brahman) is the content of the intuitive knowledge. While commenting on the section known as Janmādhyadhikaraṇa (1.1.2.) Amalānanda makes clear the view of Vātchaspatimiśra thus: ‘vṛttiviṣayatvamapi tasyaiva upahitasya, na nirupādheḥ tanna prasmartavyam’.

It should be borne in mind that according to Vāchaspati Brahman associated with the mental state is(?) the content of the intuitive knowledge, and Brahman unenveloped by any mental state is self-luminous.


The above are a few important differences between the Bhāmatī and the Vivaraṇa school. The Advaitic thought after Śaṅkara flowed in these two channels, of course, towards the goal

upāyāḥ śikṣamāṇānām bālānāmupalālanāḥ
asatye vartmani sthitvā tataḥ satyam samīhate

Various theories have been set forth in order to understand the truth. Although the theories are not ultimately true, yet they are helpful in realizing the ultimate truth. Just as alphabets are useful in understanding the sounds, though they are less true than sounds being mere lines, the theories that arc set forth by Vāchaspatimiśra, Prakāśātman and others are helpful in leading the aspirant to liberation, though they are less true than the latter. These theories, though different, lead one to the same goal, that is, liberation.

Footnotes and references:


See Das Gupta, History of Indian Philosophy, II, 107.


See Bhāmatī, Nirnayasagar Press, 1909, p. 30.


Vide PañchapādikāVivaraṇa, Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library, Edn., 1958, pp. 37, 543, 554,


See Bhāmatī , p. 31


Vivaraṇa, pp. 403-408.


Vivaraṇa, pp. 404.


See Bhāmatī, p. 826.


Bhāmatī: ‘anyataḥ prāptā eva hi śravaṇādayo vidhisarūpaih vākyairanūdyante. na chānuvādo prayojanaḥ, pravṛtti viśeṣakaratvāt’ — (pp. 84-85).

Vide also: na cha chintātsākṣātakārayoḥ vidhiriti tattvasamīkṣāyām asmābhiḥ upapāditam. — (pp. 649-650).


Bhāmatī, pp. 71, 802.


Vivaraṇa , pp. 29-30.


See Bhāmatī on Śaṅkara’s bhāṣya on the Brahma-Sūtra, 3-2-3; 2-1-4; and 2-3-11.


Vivaraṇa, p. 760.


p. 210. Vide also p. 219.


See Bhāmatī on 1-4-1.


See Vivaraṇa, p. 99. For more details See Brahmānandiyabhāvaprakāśa, Edited by Śrī V. Subramania Sastri and published by The Private Secretary to His Highness The Maharaja of Cochin, (1961), p. 12.


See Vivaraṇa, pp. 211, 213 and 224 .

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