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....

49. Sadāśiva Brahmendra Sarasvatī



N. Raghunathan
M.A., B.L.

Sadāśiva Brahmendra Sarasvatī, the mahāyogin and jīvanmukta, became a legend in his own lifetime. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a great flowering of the spirit in the Tamil country, especially in the Tanjore region under the enlightened rule of the Nayak and Maharaṣtra dynasties. Under the aegis of Sahaji (1684-1711) flourished a brilliant galaxy of poets and makers of music, scholars and thinkers who were noted alike for their personal purity and acuteness of intellect. Many of them, including it is believed Sadāśiva’s father, were settled in Sahajirājapuram, a royal grant for the encouragement of learning Great saints sojourned among them, providing the inspiration to the higher life. In Sadāśiva, all the varied talent of that time of awakening seems to have met and blended harmoniously. His output as a poet and writer in the Vedāntic tradition was slender. But he touched the imagination of the people in a unique way, only Bodhendra and Śrīdhara Veṅkaṭeśa, affectionately known as ‘Ayyāvāl’, being comparable to him in this respect.

Many miraculous tales are told about him, but few concrete facts are known. He was the disciple of Paramaśivendra Sarasvatī, the fifty-seventh head of the Kāñchī Kāmakoṭi Śaṅkarāchārya Pīṭha, whose greatness he repeatedly extols. Paramaśivendra seems to have been a contemporary of the great poet Nīlakaṇṭha Dīkṣita (born in 1612 A.D. or earlier); for his disciple Rāmanātha was a contemporary of Rāmabhadra Dīkṣita, the accomplished poet and grammarian, who was a pupil of Nīlakaṇṭha, and won his praise. And Rāmanātha’s pupil Nallā Adhvarī, a younger relation of Rāmabhadra Dīkṣita, acknowledges in his Advaita-rasamañjarī Sadāśiva as his spiritual preceptor after his Guru Paramaśiyendra. So we may take it that Sadāśiva was born about the same time as Rāmabhadra, in the early years of the seventeenth century.

He mastered all the Śāstras at an early age and was a formidable debater. But a mild word of rebuke from his Guru, says tradition, made him a maunī. He spent his time mostly in the secluded peace and charm of the Kaveri banks as an avadhūta; only occasionally emerging, to bestow his grace on some fortunate individual such as Malhari Pandita, who requested him to bless his patron Serfoji (1911-29), who was childless, or Vijaya Raghunatha Toṇḍaimān of Pudukkoṭṭah, or passing through the countryside like a silent benediction, radiating kindliness and compassion. He seems to have lived far beyond the Vedic span of a century and attained beatitude at Nerur near Karur on the Kaveri.

And now for a brief survey of his works: Appayya Dīkṣita’s works had great influence in that age of intellectual ferment and vigorous polemic. His Siddhāntaleśa-saṅgraha is a survey of the development of Advaitic doctrines after Śaṅkara. Sadāśiva made a verse compendium of it, evidently to serve as a refresher to the serious student engaged in manana. His commentary, Kesaravalli is an integral part of the work. It supplements the text, as well as elucidating it. The verses convey, as the author justly claims, a depth of meaning in simple words. Indeed all his expository work is both concise and lucid.

Of his method in this work we can give but one instance here. The first section of the text treats of a question of Vedic exegetics—whether the study of the Vedānta is enjoined as an apūrva vidhi, a niyama vidhi, or a parisaṅkhyā-vidhi. Three verses are devoted to the statement of the first and the last views and to the conclusion (Vāchaspati Miśra’s), which is that there is no vidhi at all involved here. But as there are as many as nine varieties of the view that it is a niyama vidhi, the five major ones are set out in as many verses; while the minor varieties are relegated to the commentary, or altogether omitted, as being but derivatives or extended applications. Thus the seventh verse puts forward the Vivaraṇa view that the injunction is restrictive, aiming at confining the study of the Vedānta to the traditional mode under a guru, by a proper adhikārī. And the commentary mentions three possible violations of this injunction, which are prohibited by implication.

These are

  1. that an intelligent man might be tempted to rely on his own powers of mind to intuit the Vedāntic truth, instead of studying and reflecting on it as revealed by the Upaniṣadic texts;
  2. or he might dispense with the guidance of a guru;
  3. or that a dullard might be content to study Vedānta through uncanonical expositions in the vernacular.

In such summary statement there is naturally no room for scholastic subtleties. But this may have the advantage of highlighting the main threads of argument. This is found to be eminently the case in the Brahma-tattva-prakāśikā, the brief but splendid gloss on the Brahma-sūtra. While faithfully adhering to the Bhāṣya, Sadāśiva makes no attempt to follow the master into the fascinating by-paths. To take an instance at random, in explaining the sūtra, “It (the Prāṇa) is designated as having five functions, like the mind” (ii-iv-ii), Śaṅkara, after examining and rejecting as unsatisfactory a number of alternative reasons why the word ‘five’ in the sūtra as applied to mind should be taken literally, concludes that it is intended merely to suggest, not a specific number, but plurality. Sadāśiva skips the discussions and simply states the conclusion, and he brings out the Bhāṣya view of the sūtra in these pithy words: “Because of its special and manifold functions, prāṇa is subsidiary to the soul, resembling the mind in this respect”.

The Bhāṣyakāra is occasionally laconic when from the context the meaning is fairly clear; as for example in III, ii, 25, especially when it is considered along with the succeeding sūtras 29 and 34 where the word karmaṇi, which he leaves unexplained, obviously refers to the act of wrapt worship (samrādhana), which has the adjuncts (upādhis) of dhyāna, etc. In fact the Bhāmatī and its sub-commentaries simply pass over the word. But Sadāśiva, following the Ratnaprabhā, elucidates karmaṇi as dhyānādyupādhau karmaṇi. Apparently he anticipated that there might be people like Thibaut, who, puzzled by the fact that “karmaṇi is as good as passed over by him”, confidently concluded, “It certainly looks here as if the Bhāṣyakāra did not know what to do with the words of the sūtra”.

Commenting on II, ii, 37, the Bhāṣyakāra reviews and refutes the schools that maintain that the Lord is only the efficient cause of the universe, not the material cause. Though he includes the Sāṅkhya and the Yoga in this indictment, and in this is followed by the Bhāmatī and its sub-commentaries, Sadāśiva in his gloss does not refer to them but takes the attack as mainly directed against the Māheśvaras. This is in all probability due to his view, set out in his work on the Yoga-sūtras (described below) in commenting on the Yogasūtra IV, 3. His view is that the Sāṅkhya does not recognise Īśvara at all, holding that the subserving of the interests of the puruṣa alone is the teleological cause of the restarting of the heterogeneous activities of the guṇas in pradhāna after pralaya; while the yogis, though they do regard Īśvara as the final cause, acting in the interests of the puruṣas, assign to ‘dharma’ and ‘adharma’, the role of efficient cause, which is a rather negative one in this system. If the view here put forward is right, it should be clear that Sadāśiva could take an independent line when he felt it necessary.

While thus unobtrusively condensing, elucidating, supplementing and qualifying, his main aim in his gloss is to give the student a bird’s-eye view of the system. He brings out the coherence of the thought and the cogency of the argument, showing how, as the teaching develops through all its ramifications, the central thesis, the Brahman-ātman equation, is never lost sight of. Particularly helpful is his practice of bringing out the logical connection (saṅgati), between adhyāya and adhyāya, pāda and pāda, sūtra and sūtra. His method of exposition is to set out under each sūtra the subject, the doubt that necessitates the enquiry, the consequences that would flow from either of two possible conclusions, and the leading arguments in support of the prima facie view and the view that is ultimately arrived at. In beautifully simple verses he sets out the kernel of every major section. The Vṛtti is thus an ideal handbook for the student.

The Yogasudhākara, an extremely valuable gloss on the Pātañjala-sūtras, is undoubtedly Brahmendra’s work. But this is the one major work of his, in which he does not anywhere mention Paramaśivendra Sarasvatī as his Guru. He pays homage, instead, to an unnamed guru by whose grace, he says, he got the vidyā and, having “churned it in his mind” (viloḍya), wrote this Vṛtti . Paramaśivendra Sarasvatī has not left any work on Yoga. The references to Yoga and Kaivalya in his Dahara-vidyā-prakāśikā suggest, rather, that his primary preoccupation, was with the Upaniṣadic vidyās. Brahmendra may have studied Aṣṭāṅga-yoga under some other guru. We need not be surprised that one who attained the summits of Vedāntic realisation should have practised Aṣṭāṅga-yoga, for the Bhagavatpāda repeatedly points out that the Advaitin accepts such teachings of the yoga and other similar ‘smṛtis’ as are not opposed to the Vedānta, and often refers to the fruits of Aṣṭāṅga-yoga.[1] But Brahmendra, with his Vedāntic background, and from personal anubhava, seems to have reached conclusions regarding ‘ Īśvara-praṇidhāna and the state of Kaivalya, which are not strictly in conformity with the orthodox doctrine as expounded in the Vyāsa Bhāṣya and Vāchaspati’s gloss, Tattvavaiśāradi. While verse 63 of Ātmavidyā-vilāsa says that he is transmitting the Upaniṣadic vidyās taught by his guru Paramaśiva, his familiarity with Pātañjaīa yoga is clear from other ślokas.

Modern scholars have been puzzled by the seeming inconsistency between Yoga-sūtra 1-23 and Yoga-sūtra II-l. ‘Iśvara-praṇidhana’ and ‘kṛyā yoga’ , terms which occur in the latter sūtra, are interpreted by the Bhāṣya and the ṭīkā as pointing to the well-known Gītā teaching of karma yoga. But ‘Īśvara-praṇidhāna’ in Yoga-sūtra I-23 is taken by them to mean ‘special adoration’ (bhakti-viśeṣam). Brahmendra, however, interprets the term in the same way in both contexts, as meaning loving devotion only. Sadāśiva was a student of the Bhāgavata and wrote a Bhāgavata-sāra. This probably had a decisive influence on his taking to the avadhūta life. He, it seems, made a collection of all the texts bearing on ‘Pāramahaṃsyacharyā’. His interpretation of kṛyā-yoga seems to be based on the rather specialized and restricted significance that term has in the eleventh skandha (see especially Ch. XX-6 to 9, and Ch. XXVII-1 & 9). Taking all the yoga-sūtras bearing on the subject together, he thinks three grades of authorities are distinguished. To him who cannot free himself from the lure of the world, karma-yoga is prescribed as part of niyama (see comment on 11-28, 32 and 45). Yoga-sūtra II-l has in view the man whose mind is rather better controlled though not yet completely purified. Yoga-sūtra I-23, applies to the man who has fully succeeded in that. When the mind is purified by devotion to “the Paramaguru who has in sport assumed an exceedingly winsome form”, says Sadāśiva Brahmendra (on yoga-sūtra II-l), prema-bhakti, the intensified and exclusive devotion referred to in 1-23, comes naturally. Pleased with that, the Lord grants the devotee the one-pointed concentration he yearns for, and that leads in due course, to kaivalya.

How exactly this works is thus explained in his comment on 1-29. Intense and sustained praṇava-japa, which is the praise of the Lord, when accompanied by loving concentration on Him, leads successively to the cessation of verbal activity (including japa), the inclining of the mind, by the grace of the Lord, towards quiescence and the detachment of the mind even from Him, for it achieves direct perception of the self (pratyāsatti) . Recognising the similarity (sādṛśya) between the self, “its own master”, which in its pristine state is free spirit (asaṅga-chidrūpa) and Īśvara, who is eternally and unchangeably that, it reminds the self of its true status; and then, its task done, it sinks down, like fire that has consumed its fuel. When abhyāsa and vairāgya have destroyed subliminal impressions, the pratyak-chiti (pure spirit) shines forth, established, says Brahmendra, in language reminiscent of the Upaniṣads, in its own glory (sve mahimni nirantaram nirvighnam avatiṣṭhate) . From the above, it will be seen that Brahmendra’s view of kaivalya is closer to the Vedāntic conception of mukti, which is eternal bliss, than that of the Sāṅkhya-Yoga, where it means a passionless and passive isolation for the puruṣa.

This impersonal joy that goes with super-consciousness is in fact the key-note of all the creative work of Brahmendra. His poems and songs represent this totality of experience. Flashes of poetry illuminate the philosophical poems, even as mystical ecstasy communicates itself through an unforced lyricism in the kīrtanas. And the golden thread of bhakti runs through them all

While in a sense all his poems are in adoration of the Guru, whom he looked upon as his God, the short Navamaṇi-mālā Is specifically in praise of Paramasivendra, “who from the purest compassion bestowed on me the dazzling gem of the Ātmavidyā”.

In the Svapnoditam, he describes how the duality of seer and seen disappeared, “when by the grace of the moon, my Guru, I was submerged in the swelling sea of the c hit and I saw nought but Self”. In the beautiful Dakṣiṇāmūrti-dhyānam, he describes the glorious form of the Paramaguru and how He should be meditated upon as the Nirguṇa, the One without a second. But the most important work of Sadāśiva in this class is his brilliant Guru-ratna-mālikā in eighty-seven verses which he wrote at the instance of Ātmabodha, his fellow-disciple and successor of Paramaśiva on the Śaṅkara pīṭha. Following the Puṇyaśloka-mañjarī of his parama-guru, Sarvajña-sadāśiva-bodha, fifty-sixth head of the Kāñchī pīṭha, he celebrates that long and brilliant succession of yogis and jīvan-muktas.

The age in which Sadāśiva lived was one of keen theological controversy. His own Guru was a master of polemic. In his Dahara-vidyā-prakāśikā, and his commentary on the Śiva-gītā, Paramaśiva, while paying his homage to Viṣṇu, vigorously maintains the supremacy of Para-Śiva, as “the Paramātmā seated in the heart”. At the same time, as his special contribution to the literature of Nāma-siddhānta, he collected from the Upaniṣads and other sacred texts, in his Svarūpānusandhāna which is not yet published, more than a thousand names connoting Brahman, with extensive commentaries thereon. Of this latter work Sadāśiva offers a selection in his short poem Ātmānusandhāna. His heart was drawn to Śiva, “yoginām paramam gurum” , even as Appayya’s was; but he remained unshaken in his Advaitic conviction, which is incompatible with the kind of sectarian mentality that depreciates Viṣṇu at the expense of Śiva and vice versa. His poems on Parameśvara in the Navaratnamālā, the Svānubhūti-prakāśikā and the Śiva-mānasa-pūjā show ecstatic devotion. But in these, as in the kīrtanas, his mind passes with effortless ease from surrender to the Divine Personality to absorption in the Bliss of Brahman.

About twenty-five of his kīrtanas are available; half a dozen of these sing Rāma,—“He sports within me in the cave of the heart, with Peace, the daughter of Videha, for his companion”. He devotes an equal number of songs to the Vanamālī, Nanda’s darling. And the bliss of the Unconditioned Absolute is celebrated in a dozen songs. It is not possible to explain in words, the charm of songs like “mānasasañchara re”, “sarvam brahmamayam”, or “chintā nāsti kila”. They rain down a gentle influence on the heart, laying all doubts, lulling the ego, and bringing the passionless peace that rejoices the sophisticate and the simple alike.

It is in the Ātmavidyā-vilāsa, which enshrines the quintessential experience of the mukta, that Brahmendra’s soul engages in its loftiest flight. There are two versions—one in sixty-two lovely Āryā verses, which is far better known, and perfect as a pearl; though the other, in forty-six verses, like another poem, the Bodha-ārya-prakaraṇa attributed to Brahmendra, is not without flashes of beauty, it is versified philosophy rather than metaphysical poetry.

The Ātma-vidyā-vilāsa is a spiritual autobiography, from which the merely contingent and ephemeral have been excluded. The quest, the practice and the perfection are all recorded, not systematically, but with the higher logic of poetry. It is the canticle of praise by the soul that has found itself, returned to its own home, its long odyssey done—the nightmare travail on the phantom sea of saṅkalpa and vikalpa. To him who knows their use all things are useful. The world of phenomena, when it ceases to be a snare, is a source of delight; the Self-realised is become as a child again.

viharati bālavadeko
vimala-sukhāmbhonidhau magnaḥ.

He is a rasa-jña, tasting the eternal sweetness of the chit . Nature— “red in tooth and claw” for us—ministers to him, the fine river sand a softer bed than eiderdown:

vijñāna-nadī kuñja-gṛhe
śete kopi yatīṇḍraḥ

He no longer takes; he gives. Bringing us wisdom and joy like some supernal sun and moon, cooling the consuming fire of passion like the breeze of heaven, he realises for us the transcendent glory that is symbolised by the song of the cuckoo, the dance of the peacock, the serenity of the swan. He knows samādhi with and without object, he has practised tapas and vairāgya; he has borne without resentment the jeers and flouts of the ignorant. But all that is past. He neither praises nor blames, neither rejects nor requests. He i s always and everywhere at home, nothing is alien to him. He is the king established in his own kingdom, the Peace that passeth understanding; he who, being nothing, is everything:

vastunyastamitākhila-viśvavihāre vilīnamanāḥ
rājati parānapekṣo rājākhila-vītarāgāṇām.

It was this pūrnatva, plenitude of light and bliss, that made men say, who had a fleeting vision of that Śuka-Iike spirit:

sadāśiva-brahma-rūpam brahmādrākṣam chirepsitam.

Footnotes and references:


Vidyāraṇya in his commen t ary on Aparokṣānubhūti, however, only grudgingly concedes a subordinate and ancillary use for Pātañjala yoga in the case of manda-adhikāris.

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