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....

33. Sadānanda



T. P. Ramachandban
M.A., PH.D.

Professor Hiṛyanna in his valuable edition of the Vedāntasāra by Sadānanda says that Sadānanda, the author of the work entitled Advaitabrahmasiddhi, published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, is different from Sadānanda, the author of the Vedāntasāra , (p. 17). It appears, therefore, that there have been at least two Advaita āchāryas bearing this name. The name of the book also is seen to be shared by two different Advaita works. Prof. Hiṛyanna says that the Vedāntasāra printed along with the Vedāntaparibhāṣā at Madras (1892) is by one Śivarāmabhaṭṭāchārya, (p. 17). This article is on Sadānanda, the author of the Vedāntasāra.

Very little is known about the life of this āchārya. But it is guessed that he must have lived in the early part of the 16th century. It is also surmised that he must have been the preceptor’s preceptor of one of the commentators on the Vedāntasāra, viz., Nṛsimhasarasvatī. (See Ibid., p. 17). In the maṅgalācharaṇam of the Vedāntasāra this Sadānanda refers to his own teacher as Advayānanda. It is not known whether our author wrote any work other than the Vedāntasāra. The Advaitagranthakośa published by the Deva Vāṇī Pariṣad, Calcutta, mentions three works other than the Vedāntasāra whose author also has the name Sadānanda. But it is not definitely known whether they were written by Sadānanda, the author of the Vedāntasāra, himself. We shall, therefore, expound his philosophy as gathered from the Vedāntasāra alone.

In presenting to the world this work known as Vedāntasāra, our author has done yeoman service to the cause of Advaita. He has presented within a brief compass the doctrine of Advaita in a style that is “dear and quite matter-of-fact”. The work is very useful as a general introduction to the philosophy of Advaita and


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Prof. Hiriyanna writes that firstly the relationship between Vedānta and Saṃkhya is much older than is assumed in the above criticism, taking us back to the time of Bhāskara and even Bhartṛprapañcha and showing different phases in its development, and secondly, even though Vedanta has borrowed many elements from the Sāṃkhya, the doctrine in its essentials has remained unaffected by the Sāṃkhya elements in it (ibid., p 18).

We shall now give an outline of the contents of the Vedānta-sāra mainly to indicate its methodology.

The adhikārin or the student who is qualified to enter upon the study of the Vedānta is a person

  1. who has a general knowledge of what all the Vedas teach,
  2. whose mind is well purified,
  3. and who is equipped with the four-fold aid (sādhanachatuṣṭaya).

To acquire these qualifications the student has to undergo a course of preliminary training comprising

  1. a general study of the Vedas and Vedāṅgas,
  2. the practice of upāsana,
  3. and an ethical discipline which consists of the avoidance of kāmya and nishiddha-karmas and the performance of nitya and naimittika karmas and prāyaśchittas.

Tormented by the fire of worldly existence, a person thus qualified betakes himself to a guru who out of supreme compassion instructs him. The method of instruction consists in superimposing upon Reality what is not real (adhyāropa) and then denying what is not real (apavāda) with a view to establishing the Reality. This indirect method of instruction is based on the sound educational principle of proceeding from the familiar to the unfamiliar. The student is familiar with his own narrow self (jīva) and the universe around him (jagat). Hence the teacher initially presents the view of Reality that is connected with these concepts, viz., the saguṇa Brahman.

Common experience presents us with a world of diversity as existing outside of ourselves, the subjects. But no man knows the world as a whole and exactly as it is. We are, therefore, dissatisfied with our own knowledge. Our dissatisfaction implies that we are vaguely aware of a universal consciousness to which the whole world is presented as an object and which knows it exactly as it is.

What is the relation of this universal subject to the particular subjects? The fact that we are aware of the universal subject shows that it must be somehow identical with ourselves in spite of the difference that we feel from it. Reflection shows that the only way of explaining the relation is that the identity between the universal and individual subjects is in respect of consciousness and the difference between them is in respect of what is presented to consciousness. This is the significance of using the term samaṣṭi (all-pervading) for the universal subject and vyaṣṭi (separate) for the individual subject. The relationship is illustrated by analogies such as those of universal space in relation to space divided into parts or reflected in different media or the forest in relation to a single tree.

On the basis of our common experience we can infer that the diversity of the world as a whole is reducible to a unity, a principle that contains within itself the elements of diversity. This principle is called māyā or, as our author invariably calls it, ajñāna. Māyā or ajñāna is the material cause of the universe. It is insentient (jaḍa), being dependent upon universal consciousness for its revelation. Hence it can produce the world only by being activated by consciousness (chaitanya). Hence ajñāna together with chaitanya is the full explanation of the world. This complex of ajñāna and universal consciousness is Īśvara or saguṇa Brahman. Just as the universal ajñāna represents the whole universe presented to Īśvara’s consciousness, we may speak of an individual ajñāna which represents the limited world presented to the individual consciousness and together with which the individual consciousness forms the complex known as jīva. Our author traces the course of evolution from ajñāna to the gross universe and shows how the jīva comes to possess a material outfit and how Īśvara is really beyond time, space, and causality. He also draws up a close parallelism between Īśvara and jīva during the course of evolution in order to show that the so-called difference between them is reallv a work of the adjuncts and is not essential to consciousness. That sets the stage for the second part of the teaching — apavāda or denial.

What is the reality of the world which is presented to consciousness? So far as our individual experiences are concerned the world is dependent on us for revelation but not for existence. We grant that it exists independently of our consciousness on the ground that other people also perceive it. But in the case of Īśvara there is no second universal self by comparing with whose experience the world as a whole may be said to exist independently of Īśvara. The world as a whole is, therefore, dependent on Īśvara’s consciousness not only for revelation but also for existence. This is the significance of describing the source of the world as ajñāna or māyā. Since ajñāna is dependent on consciousness for its existence, it cannot be real like consciousness. Ajñāna or māyā is, therefore, just the appearance of Brahman or chaitanya.

We have already said that the difference between Īśvara and jīva is simply a difference in the adjuncts, viz., ajñāna in the two cases. To deny the reality of ajñāna is, therefore, to deny the jīvatva of the jīva and the Īśvaratva of Īśvara. When thus the differences superimposed on consciousness are denied, consciousness as such remains as the only reality. This conclusion which has been arrived at by reasoning is confirmed by the Upaniṣads through the mahāvākya ‘tat tvam asi .’ Our author delineates the method of arriving at the true import of this statement.

The knowledge imparted so far by the Upaniṣads, firstly through argumentation and then through revelation (title two steps together forming the discipline called śravaṇa) is only mediate. To enable mediate knowledge to become immediate experience manana and nididhyāsana are also required. Nididhyāsana culminates in samādhi. There are two levels of samādhi according to our author. In savikalpaka-samādhi the mind rests on the secondless Brahman whose form it has assumed, but without losing sight of the distinction between knower and known. Since Brahman is known at this stage only as an object in relation to a subject, savikalpaka-samādhi represents only the penultimate experience. The ultimate experience is nirvikalpaka-samādhi. In it the mind rests in an intense manner on the secondless Brahman whose form it has assumed, transcending the distinction of knower, known, etc. If savikalpaka-samādhi is to develop into the nirvikalpaka, the sādhaka has to overcome four obstacles, viz., laya (lapse), vikṣepa (distraction), kaṣāya (passion), and rasāsvāda (satisfaction). When undisturbed by this four-fold obstacle, the mind becomes motionless like a lamp-flame in a windless place and rests concentrated on the partless spirit. This state of the mind is the akhanḍākāra-vṛtti. It is the final (charama) vṛtti of the mind. It is quite unlike a vṛtti in ordinary life. In perceptual experience first the mind assumes the form of the object (this being the vṛtti), thus removing our ignorance of its existence, and then the spirit reflected in the vṛtti (phala) reveals the nature of the object. In the case of Brahman-experience the mind of course must assume the form of the object. This is the significance of the statement manasaivānudraṣṭavyam (by the manas alone is it to be seen) (Bṛha. U. IV. 4. 19). But, since the object is no other than the self-revealing Self of the knower, the reflection of the Self in the mind is neither necessary for, nor capable of, revealing it. That is, the phala has no part to play in this context. This is the significance of the statement ‘yan manasā na manute’ (what by the manas cannot be known) (Kena. U. I. 6.). The part played by the charama vṛtti in Brahman-experience is purely negative. It simply removes the ignorance obscuring Brahman. With the removal of ignorance, the mental state called charama vṛtti which is itself a part of ignorance, is also destroyed. When the reflecting medium of the mind thus disappears, the pratibimba (jīvachaitanya) merges itself, as it were, in the bimba (Brahmachaitanya). This direct experience of the disciple is represented by the statement ‘aham brahma asmi’.

The author finally describes the condition of jīvanmukti. When the jīvanmukta is in samādhi diversity does not exist for him, and hence he is non-active. In the state of vyutthāna he perceives diversity but is not deceived by it, as he has once for all realized the underlying unity. He will engage in action that is uniformly and spontaneously good and will be indifferent to results. When the body ‘of’ the jīvanmukta falls off on the exhaustion of its prārabdha, He remains as the partless Brahman,

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