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....

44. Veṅkaṭanātha



B. Sitamahalakṣmi

Śrī Veṅkaṭanātha wrote an excellent commentary — Brahmānandagiri on Śrī Śaṅkara's bhāṣya on the Gītā. As is the case with all of our historical personages it is difficult to determine with any accuracy the date of Veṅkaṭanātha. His work does not contain even stray references to the biographical details of his life. A perusal of this commentary shows that our author criticises Madhusūdana Sarasvatī for having misconstrued some of the passages of Śrī Śaṅkara on the Gītā in his commentary on the Gītā-bhāṣyaGūdārtha-dīpikā. From this we may conclude that Veṅkaṭanātha flourished after Madhusūdana Sarasvatī. Dharmarājādhvarin the author of the Vedāntaparibhāṣā speaks of one Veṅkaṭanātha as his guru:

śrīmad veṅkaṭanāthākhyān velāṅguḍinivāsinaḥ
jagadgurūnaham vande sarvatantrapravartakān.

From this we cannot conclude that Veṅkaṭanātha was the preceptor of Dharmarājādhvarin; for, the latter says in the following verse that his grand-preceptor was Nṛsiṃha.

tam praṇaumi nṛsimhākhyam yatīndram paramam gurum.

Veṅkaṭanātha states that he is the disciple of one Rāmabrahmānandatīrtha otherwise known as Abhinava Śaṅkarāchārya. Hence these two personages cannot be identical.

The identity of Veṅkaṭanātha cannot be traced even through his other works. It is clear from his commentary on the Gītā that he has written three more works, namely, Advaitavajrapañjara,[1] Mantrasārasudhānidhi[2] and a commentary on the Taittirīyo’paniṣad-bhāṣya.[3] We shall now set forth briefly some noteworthy features of the commentary Brahmānandagiri.

According to Advaita, Ātman which is absolute bliss and consciousness when divested of avidyā is spoken of as liberation. Avidyā present in Ātman is the root-cause of all evils and its removal necessarily brings about the removal of all miseries. Ātman which is liberation is self-evident and it does not require any other thing for its manifestation. But, since it is veiled by avidyā and since avidyā could be removed only by the direct realisation of Ātman, the latter is said to be the means to liberation. From a study of the Gītā as a whole, it is possible for us to gather that in it three paths are recognised as paths leading to the realisation of Ātman. And, they are: the path of knowledge (jñāna-yoga), the path of devotion (bhakti-yoga), and the path of action (karma-yoga).

Of these three paths, the path of knowledge consists in realising the Absolute as it is in itself, pure and satire, unenveloped by any upādhi or veil. This is possible by pursuing Vedāntic study under a preceptor, reflection, and meditation. The aspirant must possess certain traits which are described as the four-fold aid of which control of intellect, and external senses is important.[4] These are subordinate to the Vedāntic study. The prevalent view in Advaita is that the mahāvākyas of the Upaniṣads themselves give rise to the direct realisation of Ātman. This path is a difficult course of discipline because it aims at realizing the Absolute as it is in itself. It is because of this that this path can suit only those who live in the high intellectual plane and have definitely and decidedly transcended the sense region.[5] But to average people this is not possible; they have not attained to that kind




reflection, and meditation. The point that is of profound importance here is that those who worship the personal God with devotion reach the abode of Hiraṇyagarbha and there they get the knowledge of Brahman by pursuing Vedāntic study, reflection, and meditation, and thereby realize their identity with Brahman. Our author emphasises the view that Vedāntic study, reflection, and meditation, alone could give rise to the knowledge of Brahman.

nirguṇopāsanadvāraiva saguṇopāsanam mumukṣoḥ mokṣāya prabhavati, nānyathā; śravaṇa-manana-nididhyāsanābhāve jñānā-nudayāt[6]

The Gītā passage—[7]

yogināmapi sarveṣām madgatenāntarātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo mām sa me yuktatamo mataḥ

states that a devotee is superior to a jñānin, In the final analysis this passage means that bhakti is superior to jñāna. Our author says that this contention is wrong.

The Upaniṣadic passage—

yasya deve parābhaktiḥ yathā deve tathā gurau[8]

and the smṛti texts such as—

udārāḥ sarva eva ete jñānī tvātmaiva me matam[9]

bhaktyā mām abhijānāti yāvān yaśchāsmi tattvataḥ
tato mām tattvato jñātvā viśate tadanantaram

affirm that bhakti is only a means to knowledge and it cannot be superior to knowledge. But what is intended to be conveyed in the Gītā passage ‘yogināmapi sarveṣām’, etc., cited above is that the worship of the Lord is better than the worship of Gods like Rudra, Āditya, etc.

jñānasādhanatvenoktāyāḥ bhakteḥ phalatvena pradhānabhūtād jñānādādhikyāyogāccha; kiṃtu devatāntara bhaktiyogāpekṣayā bhagavadbhaktiyogasya śraiṣṭhyamuchyate- yogvnāmapi sarveṣām vasurudrādityaparāṇām iti bhāṣyokteḥ.[11]

Liberation, according to Advaita, necessarily requires the removal of avidyā present in Brahman. And, avidyā could be removed only by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. To speak of bhakti as directly leading to liberation is, therefore, misleading. What is termed bhakti is the striving for the intuitive knowledge of Brahman by means of and through devotion to a personal God. And, intuitive knowledge of Brahman alone is the means to liberation.

‘premarūpā kṛyā baktiḥ jñānasyaiva sādhanam, jñānameva tu muktim prati sādhanam iti gītāchāryasya bhagavato matam’[12]

Faith is the basis of devotion. Beginning with faith and worshipping with devotion the personal God, the aspirant attains to the intuitive knowledge of Brahman and thereby he is liberated.

A perusal of this commentary Brahmānandagiri shows how very learned the author is besides being a very impartial critic. He is mainly concerned with emphasizing the fact that the Advaitic interpretation in accordance with the bhāṣya of Śrī Śaṅkara is the only correct interpretation of the Gita. Accordingly he misses no opportunity to criticise the interpretations of Śrī Rāmānuja and Śrī Madhva on the Gītā and the interpretations of Madhusūdanasarasvatī on the Gītā-bhāṣya of Śrī Śaṅkara. His interpretations are always to the point and in consonance with Advaita. His style is easy and unpedantic. It is a pity that none of his other works are available. If they are lost for ever, then it is indeed a misfortune to the Advaita literature.

Footnotes and references:


Śrīmad Bhagavad-Gītā with the commentary Brahmānandagiri, Śrī Vani Vilas Sastra Series, No. 12, p. 104.

This is referred to hereafter as ‘B’.


Ibid., p. 427.


Ibid., p. 461.


Gītā, xii, 3-4.




B., p. 442.


VI. 47.


Svetāśvaiara Upaniṣad, 6, 25,


Gītā, vii, 18.


Ibid., xviii, 55.


B, p. 306


Ibid., p. 578.

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