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....

45. Mahādevānanda Sarasvatī



N. S. Ramanujam
Nyāya-Vyākaraṇa-Mīmāṃsā-Vedānta Śiromaṇi

Mahādevānanda Sarasvatī, the author of the Tattvānusandhāna[1] is a disciple of Svayamprakāśānanda. According to Das Gupta[2], these writers flourished in the seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries.

The Tattvānusandhāna serves as a refresher to the serious student engaged in manana . All the Advaitic concepts are dealt with in this work in a very lucid way. The author himself wrote a commentary on it by name Advaita-chintā-kaustubha.

Mahādevānanda’s most important contribution is his treatment of the concept of ajñāna. According to Advaita, Īśvara, jīva and jagat are but the appearances of a transcendental entity called Brahman. The principle that accounts for this seeming diversification of Brahman which is the sole Reality is ajñāna. The conception of ajñāna is thus the pivotol point of the Advaita.

Ajñāna is the first cause of the phenomenal world and consequently corresponds to the prakṛti or the pradhāna of the Sāṅkhya system; but there are vital differences and metaphysically the two are completely distinct. The pradhāna of the Sāṅkhya system is conceived of as the source of the universe by being independent of the puruṣa. But ajñāna is considered as the primordial cause of the universe by being dependent on Brahman. Śrī Śaṅkara in his bhāṣya on the Brahma-sūtra ‘tadadhīnatvād arthavat’ (1.iv.iii) notices this distinction and points out that the Advaitins do not follow the line of argument of the Sāṅkhyas in accounting for the rise of the universe.

Ajñāna is superimposed on Brahman and it has Brahman as its locus and content. It has a two-fold power, namely, āvaraṇa-śakti or the power of veiling, and vikṣepa-śakti or the power of revealing. By āvaraṇa-śakti it conceals Brahman and by vikṣepa-śakti it reveals it in the form of Īśvara, jīva, and jagat.

Ajñāna is beginningless and it consists of three qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas. It is a positive entity (bhāvarūpa) and not an antecedent negation of knowledge (jñānābhāva). It derives its existence only from its superimposition on Brahman and it is held to be indeterminable (anirvachanīya) either as real or as unreal.[3]

It cannot be regarded as real, as it is removed by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. Nor can it be considered as unreal, because it is determinately perceived in the form of ‘I am ignorant’. An unreal thing like the horn of a hare is never experienced. It cannot be real and unreal at once on the ground that this conception is self-discrepant. Hence it is regarded as neither real, nor unreal, nor real and unreal at once, but anirvachanīya or indeterminable either as real or as unreal. Ajñāna is removable by the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. It is thus jñāna-nivartya.[4]

This ajñāna itself is termed māyā and. avidyā. Some Advaitins draw a distinction between māyā and avidyā and define the former as that which does not delude its abode, and the latter as that which deludes its abode. Mahādevānanda does not favour this distinction. He holds that ajñāna which is characterised by the predominance of radiant sattva is māyā and ajñāna which is characterised by the predominance of clouded sattva is avidyā.[5] Māyā, avidyā and ajñāna are identical. Or, ajñāna in its aspect of vikṣepa-śakti is spoken of as māyā and in its aspect of āvaraṇa-śakti is spoken of as avidyā.[6] And, māyā and avidyā are identical.

Mahādevānanda holds that the reflection of Brahman in avidyā and intellect is jīva; and, Brahman that transcends avidyā is Īśvara. This is precisely the view of the author of the Vivaraṇa. This view is known as pratibiṃba-vāda, Sarvajñātman in his Saṃkṣepaśārīraka holds that the reflection of Brahman in avidyā is Īśvara and the reflection of Brahman in avidyā and intellect is jīva. In both the views the consciousness that underlies both Īśvara and jīva is the witness-self.

The jīva is three-fold owing to the difference in its hunting adjunct, as Viśva, Taijasa, and Prājña. The jīva when associated with avidyā, the intellect and the gross body regards itself as conscious of the waking condition and in this aspect it is termed ‘Viśva’ And the same jīva when associated with avidyā and intellect feels itself as conscious of the dream state and in this aspect it is called ‘Taijasa’ And when associated with avidyā and intellect in its subtle state, the jīva considers itself as conscious of the deep-sleep state and in this aspect it is termed ‘Prājña’. The waking slate (jāgradavasthā) is one in which the direct apprehension of the various objects is simultaneous with the functioning of the sense organs. And this state is experienced by the jīva as Viśva.

When the meritorious or non-meritorious deeds which gave rise to the experience during the waking state are exhausted and when the deeds which cause the experience of the dream state begin to function, the belief in one’s identification with the gross body is removed by a vṛtti of ‘tamo guṇa’ called sleep; and thereupon all the senses become absorbed by their ceasing to function. And thereupon the Viśva is also spoken of as having been absorbed. Then begins the dream state (svapnāvasthā) in which the knowledge of things is acquired without the functioning of the sense organs and is due to the latent impressions present in the mind. And this state is experienced by the jīva as ‘Taijasa’.

When the deeds which caused the dream state also are exhausted and when the intellect together with its latent impressions merge in avidyā, there appears the state of deep-sleep which is the resting place of the jīva which is exhausted on account of its experience of both waking and dream states. Deep-sleep or suṣupti is the cognition of avidyā only in the form ‘I did not know anything’. One who has awakened from deep-sleep recollects ‘I slept well; I did not know anything’. This recollection is impossible unless there was such an experience. It is clear that in the deep-sleep state there is the experience of bliss and also of avidyā. And this state is experienced by the jīva as ‘Prājnā’ .[7]

By eliminating all the limiting conditions and by the knowledge of the pure Self there results liberation. The three-aspects of the jīva, viz., Viśva, Taijasa, and Prājña together with the three states of waking, dream, and deep-sleep are of the nature of avidyā and therefore not real. The absolute consciousness which is constant in, and also the witness of the three states is the fourth (turīya) and it is transcendent and real. And the pure Self which is the basis of the cognition ‘I’ is non-different from this. All the three states and the three aspects of the jīva are relevant before the rise of the true knowledge of Brahman and cease to be so after the rise of the knowledge of the true nature of Brahman.

Parallel to this conception of jīva, we have a three-fold view of the cosmic self as Vaiśvānara, Hiraṇyagarbha, and Īśvara.[8] It is essential to remember that the sentient element in all the three is identical and the only difference is in the limiting adjuncts. The consciousness that transcends these three is identical with Ātman which transcends the three states of waking, dream, and deep sleep.

The aspirant, owing to avidyā has lost sight of his identity with Brahman. By pursuing Vedāntic study, reflection, and meditation, he attains to the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. Whether the major texts of the Upaniṣads themselves give rise to the knowledge of Brahman or whether meditation (nididhyā-sana) leads to the knowledge of Brahman, is a question of great importance in Advaita. The prevalent view is that the major texts of the Upaniṣads themselves give rise to the knowledge of

Brahman. And, Mahādevānanda accepts this view. When such experienced conviction of unity arises in him he becomes a jivan-mukta. After the final fall of his body, he becomes Brahman itself.

Mahādevānanda has not introduced any new line of argument in the interpretation of Advaita. As has been said in the beginning his work serves as a refresher to a student engaged in manana. He has had access to all the important Advaita works before his time; and by presenting the Advaita concepts in a lucid and admirable way for the benefit of posterity, he has rendered solid service to the cause of Advaita.

Footnotes and references:


Published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 1922.


History of Indian Philosophy , Vol. II, pp. 56-57.


Tattvānusandhāna, p. 27.




Ibid., p, 32


Ibid., p, 37


Ibid., pp. 88-80.


Ibid., p. 93.

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