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....

42. Dharmarājādhvarin



P. Nagaraja Rao


In the great line of post Śaṅkara Advaita thinkers Dharmarāja has a definite and important place and his contribution to the aids for rational understanding of Advaita is considerable and significant. He is assigned to the 17th century A.D. He belongs to the village Kaṇḍramāṇikkam of the Tanjore district in South India. Dharmarāja was a great scholar of Nyāya and Vedānta and enjoyed great reputation as a scholar who wrote a number of works some of which have not yet been traced. His works include a commentary on Gaṅgeśa’s Tattvachintāmaṇi . His greatest work is the epistemological manual of Advaita called Vedāntaparibhāṣā. His work has been the gateway for understanding the essentials of Advaita-Vedānta, from the point of view of epistemology (pramāṇaśāstra). His work is an excellent account of Advaita, under two heads, theory of knowledge and ontology. He develops the theory of knowledge portion in seven chapters and in the last two chapters he describes the ontological categories.

Dharmarāja’s work has brought to the forefront the fact ignored by many that Advaita is not based on mere facile intuition founded on scriptural declarations. It is a system of thought that can be logically sustained and interpreted so as to secure, intelligibility to the reader. The pre-occupation of Indian thinkers with the concept of mokṣa has kept away from the view of many, rich logical material of the system. A study of the logical treatises of the system is not only capable of regaling the most ardent lover of metaphysics but also on occasions baffles the expert. The logical approach does not lead to any other end.

Śrī Śaṅkara raises the question

“whether Advaita can be established only by scriptural evidence or whether it can be proved by reasoning as well”.

He writes,

‘How it is possible to prove the validity of Advaita by reasoning’

is shown in the chapter on Advaita.[1] The āchārya has always asked us to be critical and not accept things blindly.

He holds

“that any one who adopts any view without full inquiry will miss his aim of beatitude and incur grievous loss”.[2]

In this context it becomes clear to us how important epistemology is for understanding any philosophical system. It is the “portal to metaphysics”. What the pramāṇas cannot teach us is not knowledge in the normal sense. Scripture becomes authoritative only because its truth gets affirmed by experience. Dharmarāja makes a detailed study of all the problems of knowledge in his manual which continues to be the standard invaluable treatise on the subject.

Dharmarāja explains the following problems:—What is the nature of knowledge ? What is its origin? How does it arise ? What are its instruments? How is the sense-object related to the cognizer? What is the test of the validity of cognition? What causes illusion? How is non-existence known? What is the way to the knowledge of ultimate Reality?[3]

Knowledge in the primary sense of the term is pure consciousness beyond the relativity of the knower and the known. It illuminates all objects. It is self-luminous and self-existent. It is non-relative and non-dual. All the instruments of knowledge function because of it. The soul is the combination of the sākṣī and antahkaraṇa. It is the complex form and it is the empirical soul which knows and moves in the world.

Knowledge in this system is expressed in the form of vṛttis , which is a blend of internal organ and sākṣin. It is antaḥkaraṇa alone that undergoes modal transformations and it is termed vṛttijñāna. The vṛtti flows out in the case of external objects and gets itself determined by the object or it assumes the form of the object itself. When the vṛtti coincides with the object we have knowledge. The fact that a single consciousness principle is delimited as object and as subject and as the knowing process leads to the avoidance of the problems of dualism.

It is difficult to cover all the important issues raised by the author. Nothing can replace the study of the manual itself. The system has accepted six instruments of knowledge.

  1. pratyakṣa (perception),
  2. anūmāna (inference),
  3. śabda (verbal testimony).
  4. upamāna (comparison),
  5. arthāpatti (presumption),
  6. and anupalabdhi (apprehension of non-existence).

Each of the pramaṇas is treated in detail. The chapter on perception is the most difficult. Brahman-realisation is likened to perceptual knowledge. It is not the perceptual knowledge which implies the intervention of the sense organ. It is self-knowledge. The problem whether ‘mind’ is a sense organ is discussed. The two schools, Bhāmatī and Vivaraṇa, hold different views on the subject.

The necessity for regarding upamāna, arthāpatti and anupalabdhi as independent pramāṇas is discussed along with the arguments to prove that they cannot be brought under inference or perception. The work of Dharmarāja has attracted the academic students of Advaita of our universities and it has been the subject of many English works. The contribution of Dharmarāja has given us a right royal approach to the study of Advaita. Among the important works in English that are based on Dharmarāja’s book are Professor Datta’s The Six Ways of Knowing (1932); Swami Satprakashananda’s Methods of Knowledge (according to Advaita) with an introduction from Dr. T. M. P. Mahadevan and foreword from Dr. Huston Smith (1965); N. K. Devaraja’s An Introduction to Śaṅkara’s theory of Knowledge (1962). Besides these works we have standard English translations of Dharmarāja’s Vedāntapavibhāṣā by Professor S. S. Suryanarayana Sastri and Swami Madhavananda. Among the great interpreters of Advaita Dharmarāja occupies an illustrious position; and the study of his work confirms the rationality of the system and fullness of its treatment.

Footnotes and references:


advaitam kiṃ āgamamātrena pratipattavyam āhosvit tarkeṇāpi ity ata āha śakyate tarkevāpi jñātum..


tatra avichārya yat kiñchit pratipadyamāno niśreyasāt pratihanyeta anartham cha iyāt.


Swami Satprakashananda, Methods of Knowledge (according to Advaita), 1965, p. 15.

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