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....

43. Rāmakṛṣṇādhvarin



V. Swaminathan

Rāmakṛṣṇādhvarin the author of the Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi hailed from Kaṇḍaramāṇikkam, a village in the Nannilam taluk of Tanjore district.[1] He was the son of Dharmarājādhvarin who had established himself as a great writer on Advaita through his monumental work, Vedāntaparibhāṣā. He was a Kauṇḍinya by descent and a Ṛgvedin by religious discipline.[2]

Unlike in the case of some of the celebrated teachers of Advaita, the determination of the date of Rāmakṛṣṇa is not beset with much difficulty. There is some positive evidence on the basis of which a fairly accurate date may be arrived at. In the Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi Rāmakṛṣṇa quotes Nṛsimhāśrama’s Bhāvaprakāśikā, a commentary on the Pañchapādikāvivaraṇa.[3] Rāmakṛṣṇa’s date, therefore, may be taken as settled if evidences are conclusive enough in settling the date of Nṛsimhāśrama in-as-much as he was the grand-preceptor of Dharmarāja. Dharmarāja’s mention of his grand-preceptor Nṛsiṃhāśrama[4] and his disciples’ victory over the upholders of difference in the opening verses of the Vedāntaparibhāṣā. is undoubtedly a reference to Nṛsiṃhāśrama, author of the Bhedadhikkāra. Nṛsiṃhāśrama himself gives Sam. 1604 (A.D. 1547) as the date of completion of his Tattvavīveka. Nṛsiṃhāśrama’s Advaitadīpikā has been referred to by Appayya Dīkṣita in his Siddhāntaleśasaṅgraha one of the works of his early days. By the time the Siddhāntaleśasaṅgmha was composed Nṛsiṃhāśrama might have attained celebrity as a great authority and become of ripe old age as to have been referred to in respectable terms. Appayya Dīkṣita’s date has been settled, without any fear of controversy, as A.D. 1520—A.D. 1592. Rāmānanda who flourished in the later half of the sixteenth century quotes Nṛsiṃhāśrama’s commentary on the Pañchapādikā in his Bhāṣyaratnaprabhā.[5] In view of all this and allowing a full span of life commensurate with the mass of his writings Nṛsiṃhāśrama might be placed between A.D. 1470 and A.D. 1550. Dharmarāja who comes two generations later may be assigned to the later half of the sixteenth century and consequently Rāmakṛṣṇa may be placed in the last and the first quarters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries respectively.

Rāmakṛṣṇa belonged to the illustrious line of teachers and pupils who had expounded Advaita with great zeal and had enriched Advaita literature with their inestimable contributions. Dharmarāja was a profound scholar in all the darśanas[6] and in his life time he enjoyed a high reputation throughout the subcontinent as a versatile writer on Nyāya.[7] It seems he held the title Nyāyābdhi (ocean of logic) and his Tarkacūḍāmaṇi a commentary on the Tattvachintāmaṇiprakāśa of Ruchidatta won the appreciation of his contemporaries as a work of great merit.[8] His other works on Nyāya are: (1) Prakāśa, a commentary on the Nyāyasiddhāntadīpa of Śaśadhara, and (2) Yuktisamgraha, an independent work on anumāna. His Nyāya works have almost sunk into oblivion, and he is now remembered only for the Vedāntaśikhāmaṇī. Dharmarāja studied under several preceptors[9] among whom he mentions only one by name, viz., Venkaṭanātha[10] a resident of the village of Velāṅguḍi in Kumbhakoṇam taluk. His grand-preceptor was the famous Nṛsiṃhāśrama the author of several polemical works on Advaita. Rāmakṛṣṇa had the unique good fortune to study under his own father and to assimilate and master the entire mass of śāstraic learning from his father alone.[11]

Rāmakṛṣṇa was born in an atmosphere charged with living Vedic traditions and vigorous intellectual activity in the realm of śāstraic learning. The whole region of the Cauvery delta wherein is situated the village of Kaṇḍaramāṇikkam was adorned by numerous scholars who had distinguished themselves by their erudition in various branches of learning.[12] Kaṇḍaramāṇikkam itself was the home of śrotṛyas who were well versed in the Vedas, devoted to the perpetual maintenance of the śrauta fires and the performance of śrauta sacrifices and highly proficient in the śāstras as to have blown up their opponents in debates.[13] The living śrauta practices of his time did not fail to impress upon Rāmakṛṣṇa. Realising fully, the place assigned to the karmakāṇḍa in the scheme of Brahman-enquiry, Rāmakṛṣṇa substantiated some of the precepts of the karmakāṇḍa.[14] For purposes of meditation and worship which presumes a personified God (saguṇa Brahman) he, like his father, chose Śrī Rāma.[15] His strict adherence to Advaita did not in any way deter his belief in the efficacy of the karmakāṇḍa or worship of a personified God.

Endowed with a penetrative intellect coupled with critical vision and tutored by his father, a versatile scholar who inherited the of śāstraic wisdom from an illustrious line of teachers, R ā makṛṣṇa shaped into a sound scholar of a very high order. Even a cursory reader of his Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi will be struck with his mastery over the subtleties of navya-nyāya. The Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi, particularly its Śabdapariccheda, bears ample testimony to his versatility in Pūrvamīmāṃsā. His erudition in other systems of philosophy, orthodox as well as heterodox, is no less than that of his in Nyāya or Advaita even though his references to them in the Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi are only occasional.[16] As such, it is legitimate to expect from the facile pen of a many-sided genius as Rāmakṛṣṇa, substantial contributions to the various schools of philosophical thought.

Only four works of Rāmakṛṣṇa have come down to us so far. They are Nyāyaśikhāmaṇi Nyāyadarpaṇa, Vedāntasāraṭīkā, and Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi.

1. Nyāyaśikhāmaṇi:[17] This is a commentary on the Prakāśa of Ruchidatta which itself is a commentary on the Tattvachintāmaṇi. The available manuscripts of Nyāyaśikhāmaṇi do not extend beyond the pratyakṣakhaṇḍa and we have sufficient grounds to believe that Rāmakṛṣṇa commented on the pratyakṣakhaṇḍa alone. Manuscripts of Dharmarāja’s Tarkachūdāmani that have come to light so far, contain only the three sections, anumāna, upamāna and śabda. The absence of manuscripts of Tarkachūḍāmaṇi for the pratyakṣakhaṇḍa and the existence of manuscripts of Nyāyaśikhāmaṇi for the pratyakṣakhaṇḍa alone establish, beyond doubt, that Dharmarāja commented upon the last three sections of Prakāśa and Rāmakṛṣṇa on the pratyakṣakhaṇḍa alone with a view to make the work complete. Further, each of the three sections of the Tarkachūḍāmaṇi opens with separate invocatory verses; but the fact that the anumānakhaṇḍa alone opens with verses supplying some autobiographical information becomes intelligible only on the presumption that Dharmaraja commenced the Tarkachūḍāmaṇi with the anumānakhaṇḍa and deliberately excluded the pratyakṣakhaṇḍa from the preview ot his commentary for reasons unknown. Nyāyaśikhāmaṇi is a voluminous work displaying the author’s skill in argumentation and, command over the navya-nyāya terminology.

2. Nyāyadarpaṇa:[18] This is a gloss on the Pūrvamīmāṃsā-sūtras offering detailed explanations on the sūtras. Unfortunately only a fragment comprising the second pāda of the first adhyāya and a portion of the third pāda has come to light so far.

3. Vedāntasāraṭīkā: This, as its name indicates, is a commentary on the Vedāntasāra of Sadānanda. Manuscripts of this work are extremely rare. We have not come across any notice of it except the one found in Volume I of Aufrecht’s catalogus catalogorum. It is premature to say anything on the authorship and nature of this work without an access to the manuscript or extracts therefrom.

4. Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi: This is a commentary on the Vedāntaparibhāṣā of his father and enjoys wide popularity, even today, among those who study Advaita on traditional lines. In the Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi the author sets himself to interpret and examine the Vedāntaparibhāṣā on thoroughly critical lines besides offering comments on the text. He analyses every issue in a remarkable manner and arrives at the judgement only after wading through a long chain of arguments and counter-arguments. His approach to problems is characterised by originality and independence; when occasion arises he does not hesitate to disagree with the text and offer his own opinion.[19] On several occasions finding the text, as it were, inadequate to bring about the desired purport he suggests corrections or interprets the text in such a way as to yield the expected purport.[20] The accuracy of the definitions as given in the Paribhāṣā is tested by subjecting them to a severe criticism and when they fail the test he presents them in a revised form or offers new ones in their stead.[21] On occasions when the text presupposes or passess over matters with a mere mention he takes pains to present the issue in as complete a manner as possible.[22] He has defined several important terms silently passed over in the text.[23] Whenever there is demand he supplements the text lest it should fall short of completeness and clarity.[24] He demonstrates through a long process of reasoning the untenability of the rival schools when the Paribhāṣā dismisses them with a single stroke of the pen.[25] To establish a philosophical standpoint he adduces all possible proofs.[26] The Vedāntasikhāmaṇi is really a critical evaluation of the Vedānta-Paribhāṣā and while dealing with the text Rāmakṛṣṇa has taken the attitude of rather a vārtikakāra than of a mere vivaraṇakāra.

His chief objective in writing the Śikhāmaṇi is to provide a sound logical basis to the Advaita doctrines as set forth in the Paribhāṣā. Sometimes he establishes Advaitic doctrines on purely rationalistic grounds.[27] One of the striking characteristics of the Śikhāmaṇi is its employment of dialectical ways of reasoning and discussion. Rāmakṛṣṇa’s use of dialectics has a twofold purpose-first, to explode the doctrines of rival systems of philosophy, and secondly, to establish Advaita on a firm pedestal. To demonstrate their untenability the doctrines of the opponents are resolved into so many possible alternatives and by a senes of arguments each one of the alternatives is shown to involve self-contradiction or absurdity. Dialectical ways of reasoning in Advaita is as old as Śaṅkara. Rāmakṛṣṇa, in his dialectics, effects a harmonious blending of the subtlety of Chitsukha and the force of Nṛsimhāśrama, the reputed dialecticians whose works have influenced his thought and style to a large extent. A study of the Śikhāmaṇi affords one a good training in Advaita dialectics and prepares him for a study of the advanced dialectical works of Nṛsiṃhāśrama, Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, Brahmānanda, and others.

The special feature of Rāmakṛṣṇā’s dialectics is that it is dressed in the style and language of navya-nyāya. Keeping rāmakṛṣṇādhvarin himself abreast with the spirit of his times he found it necessary to use the language of navya-nyāya. The nyāya atmosphere pervades the whole of the Śikhāmaṇi. The definitions furnished by it are strictly in conformity with the navya-nyāya way of defining things. Rāmakṛṣṇa deems it necessary to restate, in nyāya terminology, some of the definitions given by the Paribhāṣā in ordinary language.[28] In his opinion a definition has to be formulated in accordance with the tenets of one’s own school of thought.[29] A mere definition can never bring something into existence; only what is existing already could be brought within the scope of a definition.[30] In argumentation he makes effective use of the canons of logic. Sometimes he dexterously makes use of nyāya concepts as apt analogies in establishing his standpoint.[31]

Though in general he directs his talents in refuting the nyāya standpoints still he sometimes shows a sympathetic and accommodative attitude towards some nyāya concepts. He accepts the definition of Vyapti as enunciated by the Naiyāyikas also.[32] Dharmarāja rejects the kevalānvavī and kevalavyatirekī types of inference on the ground that the definition of the former violates the metaphysical position of Advaita and the latter, in essence, is not different from arthāpatti.[33] Rāmakṛṣṇa however accepts, after suitably amending the definition, kevalānvayī without, in any way, affecting the Advaitic stand-point[34] Kevalavyatirekī he admits as a variety of inference and draws the boundary of the provinces of kevalavyatirekī and arthāpatti.[35] Regarding anupalabdhi Rāmakṛṣṇa has taken rather a bold stand which is opposed to the traditionally accepted Advaitic dictum ‘vyavahāre bhattanayaḥ’ He rejects the claims of anupalabdhi for its status of an independent pramāna.[36] His justification of his father’s acceptance of prāgabhāva as a variety of abhāva is also against the general Advaitic position as advocated by Nṛsiṃhāśrama, Appayya Dīkṣita and a host of other writers.[37] In the definitions of ākāṅkṣā and tātparya he effects a synthesis of the Advaitic and nyāya views after disclosing their inadequacy when taken individually.[38]

The free display of reasoning, frequent recourse to inferential proof, mastery over the nyāya canons of argumentation and dialectics, adoption of nyāya style and language and the accommodative attitude towards some of the nyāya doctrines have made some of the modern scholars brand Rāmakṛṣṇa as more of a naiyāyika of the controverting type than a true Advaitin.

A closer perusal of the Śikhāmaṇi will make one realise how unsound and superficial this charge is. Our author is aware of the limitation of logic in transcendental matters; he never fails to cite the relevant śruti and point out the inconclusiveness of reasoning when his father bases his conclusions on mere reasoning.[39] His accommodative spirit in regard to the pramāṇas is not militant against the spirit of Advaita as the Advaitin admits the validity of the pramāṇas, other than śruti, only at the empirical level and is not much bothered about the empirical world and the pramāṇas that generate knowledge of it.[40] The Upaniṣads enjoin śravaṇa (determination of the purport of śruti), manana (verification of the purport of śruti with the aid of reasoning) and nididhyāsana (concentration on the truth arrived at through śravaṇa and manana) as means of Brahman realisation. Whether manana and nididhyāsana stand on a par with śravaṇa or are subservient to śravaṇa, it has to be admitted that manana, except in the case of a few personalities like Vāmadeva or Śuka, has a vital part to play towards Brahman-realisation. It will be of much interest to note what Śaṅkara has said on the role of logic in Advaita. Knowledge of the oneness of Brahman and jīva obtained by means of śravaṇa becomes unassailable by the exercise of reasoning and meditation; śravaṇa by itself cannot produce conviction.[41] In Śaṅkara’s view not only does śruti ordain manana but it actually demonstrates the application of reasoning. The madhukāṇḍa of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka embodies an exposition of Advaita and the Yājñavalkyakāṇḍa is a critical examination of the madhukāṇḍa in the light of reasoning.[42] Sureśvara observes that the two chapters of the Yājñavalkyakāṇḍa employ the two types of argumentation, jalpa (controversy) and vāda (disquisition).[43] The function of reason does not stop here; it has to play an effective part in śravaṇa also. Of the six canons of interpretation (upakramopasaṃhāraikya, abhyāsa, apūrvatā, phala, arthavāda, and upapatti) that determine the purport of śruti, upapatti (intelligibility of the purport in the light of reasoning) though mentioned last is not the least in importance. Śaṅkara has stated in unambiguous terms the extent to which he relies upon reasoning in interpreting the Brahmasūtras.[44]

It must be noted here that Rāmakṛṣṇa borrows only the methodology of nyāya and the Advaitic standpoint is not in the least affected by the nyāya elements found in his exposition. It will be worthwhile to note in this connection what he himself has said regarding the nature of his work.[45]

Advaita regards śruti as the pramāna par excellence since it alone gives rise to the knowledge of what is supersensuous such as the oneness of jīva and Brahman. As such it excludes from its jurisdiction all that fall within the scone of other pramāṇas. Only those śrutis which are concerned with supersensuous matters are to be taken as pramāna and those that relate to things known by other pramāṇas are to be dismissed as mere matter of fact statements.[46] A mere definition cannot sublate that which has been settled by śruti once for all.[47] The knowledge resulting from the tattvamasi vākya is pramā, since the vākyārtha is something new and different from the padārtha.[48] A śruti supported by inference is more powerful than the one devoid of such a support and conversely an inference corroborated by śruti is more powerful than one which lacks such corroboration.[49] When anumānas of equal force neutralise each other, one has to surrender at the altar of śruti.[50] Anumāna can establish the cause of the universe as only a cause and not as a sentient being possessing omniscience and omnipotence.[51] As the ultimate goal is Brahman-realisation śruti alone which is competent to generate it deserves full treatment. A detailed treatment of the other pramāṇas is relevant in a treatise on Advaita only in so far as they have an indirect bearing on Brahman-realisation.[52] Anumāna is useful in ascertaining the illusory character of all that is other than Brahman implying thereby that Brahman alone is the ultimate reality.[53] Other pramāṇas are reliable only in so far as they are sources of valid knowledge relating to the empirical sphere.[54] Avidyā is the material cause of the objects present in dream-cognition and the internal organ is the efficient cause.[55] The acceptance of the avidyāvṛtti in erroneous cognitions such as ‘this is silver’ is to make intelligible the remembrance of ‘silver’ at a later time.[56]

Ātman is the only absolute reality, and it is identical with Brahman, the cause of the worlds of name and form in diverse kinds. Ātman can be known (though not in its purest form), in some measure, as it is present in the notion of ‘I’. Brahman, on the other hand, cannot be known as it never figures as the object of any cognition.[57] Jīvas are many; the view that maintains the oneness of jīva is open to serious objections.[58] Avidyā is the material cause of the universe and Brahman is its material cause in that it is the substratum on which avidyā is superimposed. Avidyā is synonymous with māyā and the two words signify one and the same entity.[59] It is a logically indeterminable positive entity[60] and is sublated by the immediate cognition of the oneness of Brahman and jīva. It possesses three distinct potencies which are responsible for projecting the universe as absolutely real to the lay man, empirically real to a philosopher, and phenomenally real to a jīvanmukta.[61] The cognitions arising out of the mahāvākyas like tattvamasi are immediate.[62] The śruti which prescribes śravaṇa as a means of Brahman-realisation does not purport any injunction with reference to śravaṇa[63] Renunciation is not a necessary prerequisite for one who aspires for absolute liberation.[64]

Footnotes and references:


tatra kandaramānikkagrāmaratnanivāsina. Tarkachūdāmani, Tanjore Saraswati Mahal library, No. 6217.


dharmarājādhvarīndrena kaundinyena vipaśchitā. dharmarājādhvarīndrena bahvrichena vipaśchitā. Tarkachūdāmaṇi, Tanjore Sarasvatī Mahal library, No. 6218.


Vedāntaśikhāmani with Vedāntaparibhāṣā and Maniprabhā, p. 295, Venkatsware Steam Press, Bombay, Saka 1850. Vide Madras Government Oriental Series, No. CLV, part II, p. 395.


Vedāntaparibhāṣā with Śikhāmani and Maniprabhā , p. 11, Venkateswara Steam Press, Bombay, Saka 1850.


Brahmasūtrabhāṣya with Ratnaprabhā, Bhāmatī and Nyāyanirnaya, p. 7. Venkateswara Steam Press, Bombay, Saka, 1835.


viśadāśeṣatantrārthasārah. Tarkachūdāmani.


Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi, p. 3.


nyāyābdhiḥ tarkachūdāmanimiha kurute, Tarkachūḍāmani. tarkachūḍāmanirnāma kṛtā viāvanmanoramā. Vedāntaparibhāṣā , p. 11.

Some modem scholars are inclined to think that the Tarkachūdāmani referred to in the Vedāntaparibhāṣā is a direct commentary on the Tattvachintāmani: but the statement ‘yena chintāmaṇau tīkā daśatīkāvibhanjinī’ when read together with the opening verse of Tarkachūdāmanī daśānāmapiṭikānam bhangam kurvan kvachit kvachit anumānaprakāśasya vivṛtim karavāṇyahaṃ will dispel any doubt regarding its being a commentary on the Prakāśa of Ruchidatta.




Vedāntaparibhāsā , p. 11.


Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi, p. 3.






   Vedāntasikhāmani, p. 3.


Nyāyadarpana, Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, R. 4699.


Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi, pp. 75; 81-83; 109; 154; 184; 356; etc.


Tanjore Saraswati Mahal Library, Nos. 6228-6229.


Madras Govt. Oriental Mss. Library, R. 4699.


Vedāntaśikhāmaṇi, pp. 177, 180-82. 289, etc.


Ibid., pp. 14, 23, 76, 89, etc.


Ibid., pp. 72-75, 87, 255, 255, etc.


Ibid., pp. 83-86, 105-114, etc.


Ibid., pp. 92, 183, 238, 261, etc.


Ibid., pp. 70, 124, 130, etc.


Ibid., pp. 60-62, 203-206, etc.


Ibid., pp. 93 and ff, 133-34, etc.


Ibid., pp. 49, 90, 93-97, 348, etc.


Ibid., pp. 32, 208, 209, 285.


   Ibid., p. 299.


   Ibid., p. 90.


Ibid., pp. 24, 126, 147. etc.


Ibid., p. 162.


Ibid., pp. 177, 179.


   Ibid., p. 177.


Ibid., pp. 181-82.


Ibid., pp. 289-90.


Ibid., p. 289.


Ibid., pp. 222-225, 255-257.


Ibid., p. 312.


cf. prāchīnaih vyavahārasiddhaviṣayeṣvātmaikya siddhau paraṃ sannahyadbhiranādarāt saranayo nānāvidhāḥ darśitāḥ. Siddhāntaleśasaṅgraha, Kumbakonam Edition, p. 3.


cf. Śrī Śaṅkara’s bhāṣya on the Bṛhadāranyako’paniṣad, ii, iv, v.


Ibid., iii, i, i.


Bṛhadāranyakavārtika, iii, i, xv; iv, i, ii.


vedāntavākyamīmāṃsā tadavirodhitarkopakaranā niśreyasaprayojanā prastūyate. Brahmasūtrabhāṣya, i. i. i.


anena matprabandhena vedāntārthāvalaṃbinā, Vedāntaśikhāmani, p.383.


Ibid., p. 328.


Ibid., p. 337.


Ibid., p. 29.


Ibid., p. 14.


Ibid., p. 38.


Ibid., p. 302.


Ibid., p. 15.


Ibid., p. 188.


Ibid., p. 31.


Ibid., p. 144.


Ibid., p. 130.


Ibid., p. 298.


Ibid., p. 335.


Ibid., p. 100.


Ibid., pp. 92, 93.


Ibid., p. 381.


Ibid., p. 55.


Ibid., pp. 367-68.


Ibid., p. 375.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: