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....

35. Prakāśānanda



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

Prakāśānanda is supposed to have lived some time towards the latter half of the sixteenth century. He must have been an elder contemporary of Appayya Dīkṣita, who lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and in whom we find the earliest mention of Prakāśānanda’s name.{GL_NOTE::}

Prakāśānanda’s chief work is the Vedānta-Siddhānta-Muktāvalī or Siddhānta-Muktāvalī, in which he propounds the doctrine of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi. There is a commentary on this work by Nānā Dīkṣita, called Siddhānta-Pradīpikā, written at a time when the different parts of India had been pervaded by at least the third generation of the followers of Prakāśānanda. In addition to the Siddhānta-Muktāvalī Prakāśānanda wrote many other works, such as Tārā-Bhakti-Taraṅgiṇī, Manoramā, Tantra-rāja-Ṭīkā, Mahā-Lakṣmī-Paddhati, which show his attachment to the tantra forms of worship.

Prakāśānanda’s distinction lies in propounding the doctrine known as dṛṣti-sṛṣṭi-vāda in Advaita. As Brahman is unchangeable, the multifarious phenomena of the world-appearance have to be explained in terms of the changeable but indeterminable principle called māyā. In the hands of the later followers of Śaṅkara this principle gradually thickened into a positive stuff through the evolution or transformation of which all phenomena were to be explained. Critics of Advaita naturally began to charge Advaita with an apparent dualism: of the unchangeable Brahman and a changeable stuff called māyā. And Advaita writers tried to explain that no dualism was involved in providing for the concept of māyā; but they did this in such a way that the positive character of māyā was never denied. Prakāśānanda for the first time tried, an extreme solution to the problem posed by the critics. He denied the objective character of māyā and. explained the world-appearance from a purely sensationalistic point of view. The existence of objects is nothing more than their perception (dṛṣṭi). There are no objects corresponding to our perceptions and existing independently of our minds. All phenomena are subjective or imagined; so that the jug that I see had no existence before I perceived it, and it will also cease to be as soon as I cease to have the perception of it. It is the mind that creates its own objects.

The traditional Advaita view is that the objects comprising the physical world exist outside our minds, though with reference to Brahman the world of objects as well as the world of minds are illusory. One reason cited for the objective existence of physical phenomena is this. The same objects which one perceives are perceived by others also. There is, therefore, a common world of objects existing independently of any one’s mind. The illusions of the prātibhāsika order alone are individual. The snake seen on the rope exists for the perceiver only and not for others. On the contrary, objects of everyday life, that is of the vyāvahārika order, such as tables and chairs, are common to all and therefore, objective or independent of individual minds. It is only for the jñānī, for whom the individual mind is no longer a limitation, that these objects are illusory. The dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vādin, however, insists that even for the common man the world of everyday experience is an illusion. According to him the mere fact that the experience of objects is common to all is no argument to prove that the objects exist independently of their minds. For, even at the level of dreams and illusions within waking life there may be similarity of experience, but on this ground we do not argue that the things perceived are objective. Each of ten persons may mistake a rope for a snake and run away. But the similarity in their perceptions does not imply that there is a snake out there in space and time. We have no hesitation in saying that the so-called snake is just an i dea in the mind of each person. In the same way, why cannot we admit that the table or the chair that each of us perceives is just an idea in the mind of each of us?

Traditional Advaita holds that while prātibhāsika objects are modifications of the perceiver’s own ajñāna, vyāvahārika objects are modifications of māyā, which is the common basis of the ajñāna of individuals. But the dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vādin denies any need to posit a common factor called māyā. According to him the objects comprising the vyāvahārika are, like the prātibhāsika objects, modifications of the individual perceiver’s own ajñāna, in so far as they too are illusory superimpositions on their real ground (Brahman).

It might appear that the dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vādin takes up a position which is the same as the stand taken by the Vijñānavāda Bauddha. But the identity is only apparent. There is a fundamental difference between the two. The dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vādin remains an Advaitin in spite of his special theory of perception. Though both of them reduce the world of objects to mental activity, while the Vijñānavādin regards the mental activity as itself the final reality, the dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vādin assumes a permanent unchangeable substrate for this activity, namely Brahman. Mental activities are modifications of ajñāna, which has for its basis Brahman.

Dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda in its full-fledged form was apparently unknown to Advaitins earlier than Prakāśānanda. In the colophon to his Siddhānta-muktāvalī Prakāśānanda claims to be the first to expound this doctrine thoroughly:

vedānta-sāra-sarvasvam ajñeyaṃ adhunātanaiḥ
aśeṣeṇa mayoktaṃ tat puruṣottama-yatnataḥ

But though Prakāśānanda was the first exponent of dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda, the origin of the doctrine could be traced even to Maṇḍana Miśra of the ninth century.[2]

Prakāśānanda seems to have derived inspiration from the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha for his doctrine of the non-existence of things when not perceived (ajñāta-sattvānabhyupagamatva).[3] According to the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha it is only ideas that have existence; there is no physical world apart from ideas. On the lines of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha Prakāśānanda says that all objects have only perceptual existence (prātītika-sattva). It is clear that in following the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha in this regard Prakāśānanda makes a departure from the Advaita tradition handed down from Śaṅkarāchārya. While both Prakāśānanda and the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha deny the existence of objects when not perceived, Śaṅkarāchārya not only admits their existence but also holds that they exist in the same form in which they are known. Śrī Śaṅkara’s views on the matter are clearly set forth in his commentary on Brahma-Sūtra, II. 2. 28. His refutation of the Buddhistic school of Vijñānavāda in his commentary on the same sūtra applies as well to Prakāśānanda’s dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi-vāda.

Moreover, Prakāśānanda fails to offer any positive proof in support of his thesis that the objects comprising the physical world have no existence apart from their perception. On the analogy of dreams and the illusions that occur in waking life he offers a hypothesis. Just as dreams and illusions are mere ideas without any real objects corresponding to them, the world of waking consciousness is a mere awareness (vijñāna-mātra. or bhāva-mātra) and does not point to anything objective. Instead of presenting arguments in support of his hypothesis, he merely tries to show that there is no direct proof for the rival hypothesis, namely that objects exist apart from our awareness of them (pratīti). Prakāśānanda fails to appreciate the possibility of indirect proof for the independent existence of objects, for example, as given by Śrī Śaṅkara in his commentary on the sūtra referred to earlier.

In the light of these facts it is not surprising that, apart from his pupil Nānā Dīkṣita, Prakāśānanda failed to attract any notable following, and that the dṛṣṭi-sṛṣṭi school turned out to be just a temporary phase in the long history of Advaita.

To make our account of the special features of Prakāśānanda’s philosophy more adequate let us note, though briefly, his views on some other topics in Advaita also.

1. The cause of the world: Prakāśānanda is not prepared to concede even a provisional place for the concept of causality in the explanation of the world. He regards it as inconsistent with the fundamental position of Advaita. Brahman cannot be called the cause of the world, for causality implies the duality of cause and effect, but there is nothing other than Brahman. Nor can nescience (avidyā) be called the cause of the world. For, but for avidyā , we would not have the very notion of causality, and how can we apply to avidyā a category which is itself dependent on avidyā? Hence the theory of cause and effect is outside the scope of Advaita.

2. The relation of the world (jagat) to Brahman. In explaining this, traditional Advaita concedes a provisional place to paṛṇāma-vāda and finally discards it in favour of vivarta-vāda. But Prakāśānanda does not accept even vivarta-vāda as the final explanation of the world. Since Brahman is the only reality, and since the world-appearance is nothing but Brahman, there is no need to explain the appearance of the world, as though the world is different from Brahman. Prakāśānanda argues that in accordance with the texts of the Veda, māyā, in terms of which the world is sought to be explained, is a fictitious non-entity (tuccha). Aspirants of middling intellect (bālāḥ) think of it as real, and for them only vivarta-vāda has any value. For talented aspirants the phenomenon of Brahman appearing differently (vivarta) simply does not exist.

bālān prati vivarto’yaṃ brahmaṇaḥ sakalaṃ jagat
avivartitam ānandam āsthitāḥ kṛtinaḥ

In taking such a stand Prakāśānanda has often to differ from Sarvajñatma Muni, Prakāśātman, and others, who developed a realistic conception of māyā, namely as transforming itself into the world of diversity.

It is thus seen that Prakāśānanda took an extreme position on most of the important points of Advaita. Naturally, therefore, his contribution failed to exert a permanent influence on the development of Advaita philosophy. But in judging the value of that special contribution we must go more by the intention behind it than by its result. It must not be forgotten that Prakāśānanda was as ardent about Advaita as any other Advaitin and that his exposition of Advaita did not compromise its fundamentals. In fact, it was his anxiety to save Advaita from a possible dualism as between Brahman and māyā that led him to take up a position of extreme idealism.

Footnotes and references:


S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 17.


Ibid., p. 84.


Ibid., pp. 17, 270.


Quoted: Ibid. , p . 224.

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