The texts that Sri Shankara relied upon

04 Sep

Sri Shankara

Sri Shankara described himself as a Bashyakara, one who commented on certain texts of great acclaim. Yet, his monumental work, Vedanta Sutra Bashya, a commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra is remarkable for its creative thinking, originality in approach and high literary merit. He was an original thinker. Sri Shankara’s erudition is very impressive. Though steeped in tradition he displays a disarmingly candid approach even while discussing unorthodox issues. His critics too do not accuse him of dogmatism.

He was a great logician who based his arguments on principles of logic but without contradicting intuitional revelations of the Upanishads. Scripture and reason were his two aids in his arguments. His criticism is dignified, his language restrained yet forceful and his style clear like the waters of the Ganga, as Vachaspathi Mishra describes it.

Sri Shankara’s thoughts gave a new direction to Indian philosophy. It restored the position of Upanishads as the pristine source of knowledge.


It was Badarayana the compiler of the Brahma Sutras who initially strived to uphold the authority of the Upanishads and to place God in the center of the scheme of things. He treated the Upanishads as the most meaningful portions of the Vedas, declared them as the highest authority and the most valid means of knowing. They are Shruthis, the Revelations, the supersensory intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis, he stressed. Badarayana’s efforts and anxieties were driven by an urgent need to rescue knowledge and freethinking from the encircling swamp of ritualistic texts and practices; as also from the ascending atheistic tendencies. His work represents a vigorous response to the challenges and demands of his times; and Brahma Sutra achieves that task amply well.

What, in effect , Badarayana was trying to accomplish was to drive away the strangling influence of rituals, dogma and atheism from the Indian spiritual scenes; and to bring back the Upanishad spirit of enquiry , intuition, knowledge, reason , open-mindedness and its values of life. It was for that good–tradition, Sampradaya, Badarayana was yearning. Brahma Sutra was an instrument to achieve those cherished objectives. Badarayana and his efforts represent the most important phase in the evolution of the Indian philosophy.

Badarayana set in motion the process of recovering the tradition of the ancients, Sampradaya, as also of cleansing of the spiritual environment; but had wait for over 1,200 years for Sri Shankara to arrive and carry the process forward.


Amazingly, when Sri Shankara arrived on the spiritual scene, Dharma of the ancients was beset with similar or even worse threats than in the time of Badarayana. Dogmatism, ritualism, corrupt and abominable practices of worship had taken a strong hold on the religious life of the people. There was no credible authority to dispense Dharma and the conditions were chaotic. In addition, there were the looming shadows cast across the ancient religion by other religions and atheists.

Both Badarayana and Sri Shankara were responding to the exigencies, demands and challenges of their times, which, as the fate would hate have it, were astonishingly similar, if not identical. They set to themselves similar tasks and priorities; and nurtured similar dreams and aspirations. Sri Shankara made a common cause with Badarayana, his forerunner, separated by history by over 1,200 years. That is the reason many consider Sri Shankara the logical successor to Badarayana.

Sri Shankara set himself the priorities : to bring back sanity, reason and quest for knowledge into the scriptures; to lend the right perspectives of relative and Absolute existence; to set lofty goals and aspirations to human existence; And, at the same time to wipeout ignorance , to wean people away from meaningless rituals and abominable practices of worship as also from Atheism. Badarayana addressed similar issues through his Brahma Sutra. Sri Shankara followed his lead and in turn wrote a powerful commentary on Brahma Sutra. Both the sages realized, the right way to go about their task was to treat Upanishads as the crest jewels of ancient wisdom; to bring back its authority into the center of human life; and to highlight the idealism, the spirit of enquiry, emphasis on virtues of knowledge and the process of self discovery and self realization, which the Upanishads valued as the summum bonunm of human existence.

The reason that Sri Shankara held Gauda-Pada, his Parama_Guru (the teacher of his teacher) in such high esteem was because he revived the Upanishads when they had fallen on bad days. Sri Shankara regarded Gauda-Pada as the true representative of the correct tradition of Vedanta.

Sri Shankara’s commentary on Brahma Sutra, titled Vedanta Sutra Bashya (VSB) is a highly celebrated text. Shankar’s purpose in writing his commentary was to explain the traditional view. He said, the primary meaning of the word Upanishad was knowledge, while the secondary meaning was the text itself. Sri Shankara said, the purpose of Upanishads is to remove adhyasa or avidya; and once it is removed, Brahman will shine of its accord, for it is the only reality.

He regards himself as the votary of Upanishads (Aupanishada).He even calls his way of thinking or the doctrine as Aupanishadam Darshanam, the Upanishad System. He defines the Upanishads as the texts that lead the aspirants close to the highest reality. He insists Upanishads constitute the final purpose and the import of the Vedic lore; and that is the reason he chose to write commentaries on the Upanishads and on the other two texts that depend almost entirely on the Upanishads – Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. It is therefore not surprising that Sri Shankara relied heavily on Upanishad texts to interpret and comment on Brahma Sutra.


Let us take a look at the texts he referred to in his Vedanta Sutra Bashya.


He isolated the Upanishad lore from the rest of the Vedic body and narrowed it down to ten or twelve Upanishads. Even here, he did not include the ritualistic portion of the Vedas. This was in contrast to the classification followed by the later Acharyas.

Paul Deuessen the German Indologist in his work” The Systems of the Vedanta”, diligently counted the number of references made to Upanishad texts in Sri Shankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bashya. He found, Sri Shankara, in his Bashya, quoted Upanishad texts as many as 2,000 times. The Upanishads from which he quoted frequently and the number of quotes were: Chandogya (810), Brihadaranyaka (567), Taitereya (142), Manduka (129), Katha (103), Kaushitaki (88) and Svethavatara (53).

The other Upanishads he referred to were: Prashna (39), Aithereya (22), Jabaala (13), Ishavasya (8) and kena (5).

Besides he quoted from “Agni Rahasya” (Shathapatha Brahmana), Narayaniyam (Taitteriya Aranyaka) and “Pingani Rahasya Brahmana” as if to suggest they carried as much authority as the Upanishads.


As regards the Vedas, he referred to the Samhitha portions of the Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, the “Taitteriya” and “Yajasaneya” segments of the krshna and Shukla Yajur Vedas, respectively. But, his reliance on them is less frequent and lees pronounced.


Among the Brahmana texts, he cites the kausitaki and Aitereya portions of Rig Veda; the Shathapatha and Taitereya portions of the YajurVeda; Chandogya, Pancha Vimsa, Shad Vimsa and Tandya texts of the Sama Veda.


Only two Aranyakas are cited: Aitareya from Rig Veda and Taittereya from Yajur Veda.


His reliance on Puranas is meager. He cites a few from Markandeya, Shiva, Vishnu and Vayu Puranas.

Dharma shastras:

He has high regard for Dharma Shastras. He quotes from a number of these texts: Manu Smriti, Ashvalayana, Kathyayana_srauta_sutra, Apasthamba Dharma sutra and Parasara_Grihya_sutra.


He is intimately acquainted with Nyaya, vaisheshika, Samkhya (of Isvara Krishna) and Yoga systems and quotes from their related Sutras.


As regards Mimamsa texts, his knowledge is extensive. He cites from Sabara’s Bashya on Jaimini, Prabhakara’s Byati and from Kumarila’s works.

Buddhist texts:

He has considerable knowledge of Buddhist texts. Dharma Kirthi was his main source. He mentions Dignaga also.

Having mentioned the sources of his references, I must add that Sri Shankara above all the scriptures , relied on experience, common as well as extraordinary to build his theory of Brahman. He gave credence to an individual’s subjective experience. He placed personal experience and intuition above all the other means of cognition. He said a person’s experience could not be disputed. He declared, “Intuition is not opposed to intellect. Reality is experience. Realizing the Supreme Being is within ones experience”.




Sri Shankara and Adhyasa Bashya


Prof.SKR Rao


Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Sri Sankara, Vedanta


Tags: , ,

12 responses to “The texts that Sri Shankara relied upon

  1. KR Dasharathi

    July 31, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    This genius Adi shankaracharya is unsurpassable in logic and erudition.He has firmly adopted to the eternal voice of the vedas and smrithis without giving room to misinterpretations of any kind and therefore becomes absolute in his right to expound the shastras. Anyone who wants to know what lies in the shastras exactly should read his works without considering options. He shall be saluted ever for re-establishing the Vedic Dharama!
    KR Dasharathi

    • sreenivasaraos

      August 1, 2015 at 12:48 am

      Dear Shri Dashrathi , thanks for the visit and for the observation

      Please do read the other articles as well


  2. KR Dasharathi

    September 18, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Dear Sri Srinivasa Rao
    Many thanks for thanking me sir. I find that yours is the only blog which gives the right place to the Greatest Acharya Sri Adi shankara. This is nothing but telling the truth. His commentaries on shruthis and other sacred scriptures of hindus are pure, untainted, steadfast and incomparable. If you try to search for a blemishanywhere in them you will definitely feel sorry. Modern neo hindus unable to live upto the virgin commandments of our shastraswith deficiencies in them try to blame the Acharya and in the process incur terrible sins. Who can surpass or better him? Perhaps he himself if he wants to. Those who abide in the truth and the virtues which lead to truth can only appreciate this Great Divinity who had descended to earth in the form of Shiva himself. Being a sreevaishnava myself I cannot forego my adulations to the Acharya. He cannot be failed as he is the embodiment of truth. Falsehood attributed to him will fall off like adulterated paint on an Object of Gold. I pray to him to bless us always and through eternity in all our unavoidable future re-births. His very gaze from that classic painting adorning his devotees wall will purify and sanctify that place. Such is his elevated order!

  3. sreenivasaraos

    September 19, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Dear Shri Dashrathi , Wow..that was great

    I agree with you.


  4. krdasharathi

    October 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    It is not that the Great Adi sankara had the necessity to rely on the texts mentioned in the article. Being the lord himself in human form he was truth, knowledge and bliss absolute and one without the second. Therefore,no knowledge was hidden from him. It is only in order to show the Hindu religious people, born followers of sanatana Dharma that the sastras are pillars of eternal truth, being the deliverance of God himself and has to followed in order to attain the Lord, that he has relied on shruthis, smrithis and puranas. Perhaps, the vishista advaitha and dwaitha siddantha, In my opinion, are very near to the truth but have not attained the peak (lacking in perspective), for there cannot be any contradictions or bestirring in the Primordial self which is the sum and cause of the all existence and is the underlying motivating and motivated single principle. To the Acharya, we owe everything that has in us, we can express this by saying: The eternal verities are a tribute to him. The stars that embellish the celestial sphere are a tribute to him. The glory and beauty of sunshine are a tribute to him. The cosmos inclusive of the microcosm and macrocosm are a tribute to him! All else of existence are a tribute to him, for he has taught us the greatest unknowable truth and the final beatitude!
    KR Dasharathi

    • sreenivasaraos

      October 22, 2015 at 2:56 am

      Dear Shri Dashrath

      Thank you for the visit and for the observations.

      The articles merely attempts to mention the texts either referred to or quoted by Sri Sankara in his commentaries. And, it surely does not in any manner suggest a limitation on his knowledge.

      Wish you a Happy Navaratri

      May the Mother Bless us all


  5. krdasharathi

    October 22, 2015 at 3:31 am

    Thanks for your explanation. I was fully aware of your mental reach. I wrote a few lines for anyone likely to take it that way(sankaras dependence on texts) as a means of clarification. I wish you & your family a very happy time during this navarathri
    Best Regards
    KR Dasharathi

  6. krdasharathi

    July 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    There remains no doubt in whatever way you think, that the That Great Adi Shankaracharya is the highest brahmin ever born in this Kaliyuga and his exposition of the sastras, similarly represent the highest philosophy ever known in this world. This truth is either not grasped or appreciated by many who criticize him due to their inferior intellectual abilities/lack of wisdom and many times due to jealousy and other prejudices. However, truth is self established and therefore dosn’t need any form of human support being the support of everything else in the universe and therefore cannot be rejected by words or violence founded on baser logic. However, Unwise people think with petty arguments that truth has been vanquished by them and they are the winners and are led into the path of darkness. They live in a short sighted world of Maya and extreme delusion and therefore lose time and fall back in their attempts to attain salvation due to their warped logic. May the lord in the form of Dakshinamurthy, lord shiva in human form bless them with every ability to know the inner meaning of his teaching. India is great because of sages of the yore and of this age namely Adi sankara! and not beause of her materialistic hero’s. Our never ending adulations to him. He who dwells in our hearts constantly inspire us to follow the Dharmic path leading to him. What else can we aspire in this world?

  7. J P Haran

    July 22, 2018 at 11:52 am

    Dear Sri Srinivasarao,
    I bumped into this blogsite by accident but, I think it was God’s will that I get exposed to some more gyan thru your exposition. Let me first compliment you and offer my pranaams on some very lucidly expressed thoughts on Sri Sankara’s works.

    In my limited understanding I have some doubts in the quoted statement:
    “Intuition is not opposed to intellect. Reality is experience. Realizing the Supreme Being is within ones experience”.
    1. Is any experience a reality? For example I experience things in a dream. Are they real?
    2.If I understand correctly, the Supreme Being is the ultimate experiencer as pure Consciousness, is it possible to experience it?(As experiencer cannot experience himself). Some people claim that you can only own up the fact ” Aham Brahmaasmi” but it is not an experience.

    Kindly correct me if I have made any wrong statements and clarify.
    Thanks and warm regards
    J P Haran

    • sreenivasaraos

      July 28, 2018 at 6:31 am

      Dear Shri Haran

      Pardon me for the delay in responding. I was away for sometime; and, returned this weekend.

      Thank you for the visit; and for the comment.

      I am glad that you are gaining more gyan; and all that.

      My reply may be rather lengthy. Please bear with me.

      The point you made has to be viewed in the context of the discussion on the valid means of knowledge (Pramana).

      Traditionally, six means of acquiring Valid Knowledge (Pramana) are recognized in the Indian thought. The purpose of Pramana is to define an object clearly, specifically; and, to illuminate the object. The means employed are : Pratyaksha (direct observation); Anumana (inference or deductive reasoning); Sabda (verbal testimony or scriptures); Upamana (comprehension or analogy); Arthapatti (presumption); and, Abhava (non- apprehension or the absence of a particular object).

      Of the six methods, the ones that were directly employed were the sense-perception (observation), inference (deductive reasoning) and scriptural authority; while presumption and non-apprehension were clubbed under inference. And here again, inference by definition was guided by sense-perception. Thus, observation and scriptural authority stood out as the only two independent methods.

      Each of the Schools of thought (Darshana) – Charvaka; Nyaya; Vaisheshika; Sankhya; and, Mimamsa – favoured one or the other of these methods of cognition. It does not mean that a School employed only a particular method, to the exclusion of all the other methods. Though a particular method was preferred by a School, the other methods or their combinations were also employed by it.

      For instance; the first four Schools (Charvaka, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Sankhya) relied heavily on argumentation and were therefore described as “reason-dominant (Yukthi-pradhana).

      [BTW, dream-state (swapna) that you mentioned is neither a method of cognition; nor is it intuition.]

      Vedanta accepted all the six methods; and recommended a combination of scriptures (Sabda or Sruthi) and reason (Yukthi or Tarka).

      Now; Sri Sankara argues, perception is dependent on sense organs; and, they cannot function effectively without the support of a healthy body. And, all these cannot function unless the body is enlivened by consciousness.

      He also cautioned against undue stress on reason; as it might often become barren (sushka tarka)

      According to Sri Sankara, no method is valid if it is contradicted by other methods Each method is valid inasmuch as it makes known what is not made known by other methods.

      He also pointed out that all these methods of cognition are in the context of subject-object relation. They might be relevant only in the vyavaharika (relative) conditions. But, Brahman is not an object; and, therefore, he said, it is meaningless to speak of such methods.

      Sri Sankara rose above the apparent contradictions; and charted a new path of reason and intuition. He also brought in the element of one’s own experience (Anubhava). He said; one could reject all the other means of knowledge, if it contradicted ones personal experience.

      Sri Sankara placed personal experience, common as well as extraordinary, above all the other methods of cognition. He gave credence to an individual’s subjective experience. He said that if the scriptures say things that contradict our perceptive – experience, then, they lose their credibility. “ Even a hundred scriptural passages will not become authoritative when , for instance , they announce that fire is cool or dark”(VSB 43,14).

      Thus, the ‘absence of contradiction ‘(badha-rahithyam), not only refers to the contradiction by others; but also by one’s own experience.

      He spoke of the value of reason blessed by intuition that becomes a part of one’s experience. He uses the expression ‘Sva-hrdaya-pratyayam’ – as one’s own heart perceives it. You may call that as intuition. But, again, he says that reason and intuition have to complement each other. Hence: Intuition is not opposed to intellect. Brahma- vedana, sensing is experience. Realizing the Reality is within ones experience”.

      It is the content-less intuitional experience. It is explained; it is called jnana (knowledge) or moksha (release) merely because there is no term to describe the absence of subject-object, knower – knowing distinctions. It is the immediate and non – indirect perception (sakshat aparoksha), self-luminous consciousness (sva-praksha).

      I think, this should suffice; as more words would render it more futile.

      Thanks for asking



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