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....

17. Jñānaghanapāda



S. O. Ramakrishnan
M.A., PH.D.

Among the many schools of Indian philosophical thought, the system of Advaita by virtue of its thoroughness and profundity occupies a pre-eminent position. Booted in the Upaniṣads, this system was expounded, fairly consistently, by Gauḍapāda in his commentary on the Māṇḍūkya-kārikā and later, systematically worked out by Śaṅkarāchārya in his commentaries on the ‘Prasthānatraya’. After him his followers took upon themselves the task of interpreting, elucidating, and supplementing his teachings; in the process, they formed distinct views on some of the important concepts like māyā, the nature of the individual soul (jīva), release (mukti), etc., which eventually led to the formulation of the three sub-schools, viz., the' Vārtika, the Vivaraṇa, and the Bhāmatī. Noteworthy, and one of the earliest among these followers who made significant contributions to the development of Advaitic thought, was Jñānaghanapāda. His views are identical with those of the Vivaraṇa school. His main work Tattvaśuddhi is known for its clarity and precision and has been referred to by Appayya Dīkṣita in several places in his Siddhāntaleśasaṅgraha.

There is a well-known half-verse which sets forth the fundamental position of the Advaita philosophy thus:

‘Brahman alone is real, the world is illusory and the so-called individual self (jīva) is non-different from Brahman.’[1]

The predominant feature that strikes one at the outset in this half-stanza is the non-difference of Brahman or the Universal Self with the Ātman, the core of the individual self (jīva). This ultimate non-difference of the individual self (jīva) in its essence with Brahman forms the central theme around which every one of the post-Śaṅkara advaitic preceptors, Jñānaghana not excepted, weaves his theories. Brahman and Ātman, thus, in their non-difference as remaining unconditioned by the three divisions of time, viz., past, present, and future (trikālābādhyam) is eternal and is alone ultimately real, spoken of by the Upaniṣads as being ‘One only without a second’.[2] These words ‘One only without a second’ referred to in the Upaniṣads, in the view of Jñānaghana, exclude internal differences (svagatabheda) from the non-dual Reality and declare that it (Reality) is partless-ultimate (akhaṇḍaikarasa)[3] Jñānaghana commences his treatise with the chapter on ‘Advaita’, in which he tries to prove that Advaita can be established even through perception.

According to him,

“Perception comprehends bare reality, the constant substrate in pot, cloth, etc. The co-presence and co-absence of the sense-organ serves only in the comprehension of bare reality, pot, etc., being delusively presented. Absence of sublating cognition is no defect. Differences cannot be cognised through perception, because they are cognised only together with the counter-correlates, many of which are remote in space and time; nor is difference cognised through memory, since there is no memory-impression of its being qualified by the counter-correlate as such; nor can it be inferred, since inference proceeds on the comprehension of difference; counter-correlates are but delusive appearances; hence, differences and their correlates are also delusive; hence no conflict of scripture-declared non-duality with perception.”[4]

Reality, further, as the irreducible substratum of existence that cannot be denied is of the nature of existence which is identical with consciousness. Advaita regards the triune perception involving the distinction of the knower, the known, and the act of knowing, as constituting different aspects of pure consciousness. The distinction among these is merely due to the mental modifications resulting from avidyā. When these modifications cease, what remains is the ‘Inward Self (pralyagātman) as changeless and as of the nature of consciousness, which renders possible every type of knowledge but which does not depend on any other knowledge for its manifestation. In other words, Brahman-Ātman Reality, as of the nature of consciousness, is self-luminous (svayamprakāśa), and that it is so is demonstrated by Jñānaghana by means of perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), verbal testimony (śabda) and presumption (arthāpatti).[5] Since realising one’s Self as being non-different from Brahman is regarded as the supreme bliss which is the summum bonum of all human endeavour (paramapuruṣārtha), Brahman-Ātman Reality referred to as of the nature of Existence and Consciousness is also spoken of as of the nature of Bliss (ānanda).

Jñānaghana, in this connection, takes care to stress that Existence (Sat), Consciousness (Cit) and Bliss (Ānanda) are not the qualities (guṇa) of Brahman but constitute its very nature. Brahman is Sat-Cit-Ānanda-svarūpa.

To express it in the words of Prof. K. C. Bhattacharya,

‘They are not determinations, being each of them the unspeakable Absolute viewed by us as beyond the determinate absolutes, sat, cit and ānanda formulated by our consciousness.’[6]

To show that existence, consciousness and bliss are not qualities, it is argued that quality (guṇa) as a relational category always implies a qualified (guṇī); the former, viz., quality, always depends upon the latter, viz., the qualified (guṇī) without which it (quality) has no meaning. This predicament is a relational predicament. But, the Absolute as conceived by the advaitic philosophers is ‘One without a second’ and is devoid of all kinds of relations (sajātīya-vijātīya-svagata-bheda-rahita). So, the relationship between the quality (guṇa) and the qualified (guṇī) cannot exist in it.[7] Hence the reason why Brahman is said to be ‘quality-less’ or ‘attribute-less’ (nirguṇa).

But Brahman being infinite and reflected in māyā is Īśvara,[8] endowed with all auspicious qualities (saguṇa) . Knowledge being His essential nature, He is all-knowing (sarvajña) and is able to perceive the world of the present, past and future; hence omniscient.[9] Brahman viewed from this perspective, i.e., Brahman in association with māyā is the cause of the universe. In trying to establish the advaitic position that only an intelligent principle like Brahman can be the cause of the universe, the rival schools of thought such as the Nyāya and the Sāṅkhya, holding atoms and pradhāna respectively to be the cause of the universe, are refuted. Brahman is not merely the efficient but the material cause as well (abhinmnimittopādānakāraṇa).

Arguing on the basis of scriptures, he says that when the Upaniṣadic statements such as

‘In the beginning, O, gentle one! this was Being or Existence alone, one only without a second’,

‘In the beginning, verily, all this was Ātman only’,

‘Brahman alone is all this’,

etc., speak of co-ordinate relation between a sentient cause and the world, they clearly indicate that Brahman is the material cause. If Brahman were not the material cause, the Upaniṣads cannot speak in terms of co-ordinate relation between Brahman and the world, the reason being that co-ordinate relation cannot hold between the non-material cause and effect.[10] The effect is not a transformation (paṛṇāma) but only a transfiguration or an appearanrce (vivarta) of the cause; and as such, it (the effect) as being neither existent nor nonexistent is inexplicable (anirrachanīya), not only after but also even before its origination.[11]

Since Jñānaghana enunciates his theory of the world on the basis of his causal theory, the corollary that follows from it is not far to seek. Viewed in the light of this theory, Brahman, the cause, by its own nescience, can only bo said to appear as the world of names and forms without undergoing any change whatsoever, and that the world regarded as an effect, being an illusory appearance of the cause, is neither real nor unreal. It is not real since it is sublated by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman.[12] Nor is it unreal, for, unlike hare’s horn, it comes within the range of perception. It is, therefore, inexplicable (anirvachanīya) and it


(NOTE: Page 113 is missing)


and (b) as the effect. Viewed from the former perspective, māyā may be said to be the principle of creation or the creative power (śakti) of Brahman while from the latter, to the phenomenal creation itself. In other words, it may be said to signify the causal as well as the manifest state of the universe. In its former aspect, māyā is the causal potency (bījaśakti) of the primordial nature, with the diversity being latent in it which becomes patent with the development of the objective world from it. And it is in this sense that māyā is said to be the origin of the world and the latter a product thereof. But māyā differs from its products in this respect that while it, as the source of the universe, is beginningless (anādi), its products have a beginning in time. Further, māyā being neither real for the reason that it is liable to be sublated by right knowledge, nor unreal as it is the root cause of all appearances, nor both as that would involve contradiction, is indeterminable (anirvachanīya) in its nature.

In this connection, it needs to be mentioned that, according to Jñānaghana, the terms māyā, ajñāna, and avidyā connote one and the same principle, viz., ignorance. Ignorance is called māyā because it is illumined by pure consciousness which is the eternal self; it is also called ajñāna since it is contradictory to knowledge, being removable by it.[13] The two, māyā and ajñāna, thus as referring to the same principle, viz., ignorance are regarded by Jñānaghana as being identical. In fact, in his work he makes use of these two terms, māyā and ajñāna, interchangeably and almost synonymously.[14]

Jñānaghana agrees with the other advaitic preceptors in holding the view that māyā, in so far as it conceals the self-luminous Brahman, has Brahman for its content (viṣaya). But he argues that to conceal Brahman which is consciousness, it is perforce necessary that ajñāna should have i t s abode in Brahman.


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something positive in its nature (bhāvarūpa ajñāna). And that it is so is established by Jñānaghana on the basis of the experience that one has of it (ignorance) during deep sleep and the subsequent recollection of it on waking up in the form of “I slept happily until this time and knew nothing.” In other words, the recollection of ignorance in deep sleep cannot be accounted for, unless ignorance is regarded as something positive. Even in the waking state, ajñāna as a positive entity should be admitted. Otherwise, questions regarding the unknown things would become unintelligible.[15]

But the ‘āvaraṇa’ aspect of māyā in the case of Īśvara is powerless over Him in the sense that Brahman though concealed by māyā retains its own nature of pure consciousness without in any way being affected by the concealment and is ever conscious of His identity with the world. Īśvara, in fact, as devoid of internal organ and sense organs is referred to as the non-doer (akartā) and therefore the merits and demerits which arise as a result of one’s performing actions do not pertain to Him; His knowledge being unsurpassable is infinite and so independent.[16] With regard to the individual self (jīva) on the other hand, it is just the reverse in that, it (āvaraṇa) accounts for its bondage. It is on account of ignorance (ajñāna) that the individual self identifies itself with the sense organs and internal organ, performs actions, earns merits or demerits as a result of which it gets itself entangled in the transmigratory existence. Further, being under the influence of ignorance (ajñāna) its knowledge is limited and therefore dependent (on the Lord).[17] As the mediacy characterising Īśvara and the transmigratoriness and finitude characterising the individual self (jīva) are the results of ignorance (ajñāna), the cognition of difference also, as caused by ignorance (ajñana) cannot but be apparent like the difference between the original and the reflection. Both the Lord (Īśvara) and the individual self (jīva) are, as mere reflections and as having consciousness as their essential nature are essentially non-different.[18]


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or through being the cause for aspiration.[19] Jñānaghana is not in favour of the view which combines knowledge and rituals (jñīna-karma-samucchaya) as the means for release.[20] It is only the immediate knowledge of Brahman generated by the mahāvākyas such as “That thou art” (tat tvam asi), I am Brahman” (aham brahmāsmi) that can dispel the beginningless ignorance and bring about release. Concluding his treatise with a description of the nature of release, Jñānaghana observes that it is a state of consciousness which is ever-lasting, unsurpassable bliss, being the inner non-dual Supreme Self.[21]

Footnotes and references:


brahma satyaṃ, jaganmithyā, jīvobrahmaiva nāparaḥ.


ekamevādvitīyam: Chāndogyopaniṣad, VI, 2, 1.


Jñānaghanapāda: Tattvaśuddhi (Edited by S. S. Suryanarayana sastri and E. P. Radhakrishnan, University of Madras, 1941) p, 4.


See S. S. S. Sastri’s table of contents to his translation on Appayya Dīkṣita’s Siddhāntaleśasaṅgraha (University of Madras, 1935), Vol. 3, p . 31.


Op. cit., p. 203.


K. C. Bhattacharya, Studies in Philosophy (Calcutta, 1956), Vol. I, p. 118.


Op. cit ., p. 10.


avidyāpratibimbitaṃ brahma anavacchinnatvāt Īśvara iti gamyate. Ibid., p. 243.


Ibid., p. 18.


Ibid., p. 24


Ibid., p. 157-158.


Ibid., p. 100.


ato nityātmaprakāśenaiva māyādi śabdavāchyam jñānovirodhāt
jñānaparyudāsena ajñānamiti cha uchyamānaṃ.
     Op. cit,
p. 134.


avidyāpratibimbitaṃ brahma anavacchinnatvāt īśvara iti gamyate.
antahkarampratibiṃbitaṃ brahma jīvaśabdavāchyaṃ bhavati.
pp. 243-44.

In another context he says:

tattva māyāvacchedeparameśvaratvavyavahāraḥ, antaḥkaraṇavacchede jīvatva vyavahārah. p. 244,


Ibid., p. 137.


Ibid., p. 240.


Ibid., p. 240 (also see p. 21).


Ibid., p. 244.


Ibid., p. 263.


Ibid., pp. 254-263.


. . . . . nityasiddhaniratiśayānandapratyagadvitīyaparamātmachaitanyātmanā avasthānaṃ apavargaḥ.
p. 306.

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