Who was Gauda-Paada ?

04 Sep

Sri Shankara speaks of Gauda-Paada, his Parama_Guru (the teacher of his teacher) with enormous reverence. He regards him as Pujyabhi_pujya; the most adored among the most adored. Sri Shankara looks upon Gauda-Paada as the true representative of the correct tradition of Vedanta and describes him as Sampradaya vit, one who knows the right tradition. He accords Gauda-Paada’s work the status of a Smrti and calls it the epitome of the essential teachings of the Upanishads. The other reason that Sri Shankara holds Gauda-Paada in such high esteem is that, he revived the Upanishads when they had fallen on lean days.

Gauda-Paada was a celebrity of his period, which is estimated to be between 620 and 720 A.D. And that date (as it always happens in these cases) is tentative.  Going by the traditional faith that Gaudapada was the teacher of Sri Sankara’s teacher, one would place him not prior to about a hundred or little more years prior to Sri Sankara. And, Sri Sankara, according to many scholars, is dated around 788 to 820 AD. Following that, Gaudapada and his Karika could be placed, say, at the beginning of the seventh century. But, on the other hand, a Buddhist scholar Bhavaviveka refers to several stanzas of the Karika and even quotes some. Bhavaviveka is placed prior to 630 AD, based on the Chinese translation of his work dated around that period. Thus, Gaudapada, it seems, must date not later than seventh century. In which case, the date of Sri Sankara who is the disciple of Gaudapada’s disciple must be dated prior to his generally accepted period (c. 788).

And not much that is of historical value is known about him; and , what little that is known,  is disputed . According to Anandagiri , a well known commentator of Shankara’s works, he hailed from Gauda Desha (Eastern India) , did penance in the Nara_Narayana hermitage in the Badari region of Himalayas and obtained enlightenment. Another scholar Balakrishnananda Sarasvathi mentions the banks of the river Hiravathi in Kurukshetra region as Gauda-Paada’s birth place. He explains that “Gauda” was the name of the community to which he belonged and that he did penance for such a longtime that people forgot his name and called him by his tribe name. There is also a suggestion that “Gauda” refers to a school of Advaita that was prevalent in Northern region of Gauda country.

Many scholars surmise Gauda_Paada might actually have been a Buddhist. There is much debate around this issue. His works do reveal traces of Yogachara, Madhyamika and Vijnanavada Bhuddist influences.  Dr. TMP Mahadevan an authority on Gauda-Paada and exponent of Vedanta mentions that Gauda-Paada’s Karika and Nagarjuna’s Mula_Madhyamika_Karika use similar terminologies. But, he explains, they were the terminologies of the day that were commonly used by scholars of all segments.

Gauda-Paada was not a Buddhist, he was a Vedantin. He is credited with reviving the Upanishads. Further, his major work, Karika (commentary) on Mandukya Upanishad (also called Agama Shastra), which is in the nature of rediscovery of the essential teachings of the Upanishads, amply demonstrates his status.

A few other works of commentaries are ascribed to Gauda-Paada, among them are, a commentary on Ishvara_krishna’s Samkhya_karika; one on Uttara_Gita; and another on Nrusimha_tapaniya_upanishad. But, his Karika on Mandukya is the most famous and the most celebrated of them all.


Mandukya Upanishad is a very short text having just twelve stanzas; but is a very profound Upanishad. Gauda_Paada’s Karika expands on that Upanishad amazingly well. His Karika is made up of four independent treatises (Prakarana Chatustayam) each dealing with a separate issue. The four treaties were at a later time put together and made into a text under the title “Agama Shastra”.

Sri Shankara is said to have written with a commentary on Gauda_Paada’s Karika. It may not actually be Shankara’s work but ascribed to him by its real author, as an act of devotion. In fact, Sri Shankara differs from the views of Gauda-Paada on a couple of issues. For instance, Gauda-Paada in his Karika states that the objects in waking state are as unreal as the dream objects; Sri Shankara does not accept this extreme position and points out the experiential variations in the waking state and the dream state.

[There is also a view that the four chapters (prakaranas) of Agamashastra are not the works of a single author; but , the  works of different authors  put together. Each chapter is of a different character. Further, the second chapter (Vaithatya prakarana) states the objects of our waking state are no more real than the dream-objects ; and claims that it  is based in Upanishads (Vedanta vinischaya; Vedanteshu vichakshana)  and  handed down by ‘tradition’ (smarta).  But, it does not quote its authority. Sri Sankara differs from the view presented in the second Prakarana; and, he also does not quote or refer to Mandukya Upanishad in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya. It is very unlikely he wrote a Bhashya on this Upanishad. ]

As mentioned, the Karika is in four chapters. The first chapter, a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, establishes that Advaita is supported by Shruthi and reason. The other three chapters – Vaithathya (unreality), Advaita (Unity) and Alaata-Shanthi (extinguishing the fire brand) – are independent treatises.

The first chapter points out that revelation (intuition) is the only true means of understanding the Self.

The second chapter explains the illusory nature of the phenomenal world by employing reasons.

The third chapter propounds the view that what is non-dual (Advaita) is not illusory.

And, the fourth chapter Alaata-Shanthi-Prakarana, quite distinct from the other three, defends Advaita refuting criticisms made against it. In addition, through its Mahayana Buddhist style of dialectics, explains our phenomenal experiences and establishes the Atman as the sole reality.

[There is an interesting question about the relation of the Karika to Mandukya Upanishad.  The first twenty-nine lines of the Karika, which form its First Book, provide explanations and commentary on the twelve lines of Mandukya Upanishad.   The reminder of the Karika – the other three Books – is not specifically a commentary on that Upanishad, though, in some way , related to the subject. The later scholars, therefore, tend to accept only those first twenty-nine lines alone as Sruti , the scripture.

Despite these questions, one can safely say that the Karika – particularly its second and third Books – form the earliest Advaita treatise, in some fair detail. ]

The Gauda-Paada Karika comes up with some exceedingly significant concepts that were adopted by later scholars of various Schools.

:- Gauda-Paada introduces the concepts of Relative and Absolute existence. The former refers to the common transactional day-to-day experiences that are subjective. The other dimension of existence is the one beyond the relative, beyond conflicts and duality. It is the Absolute existence.

:- The often quoted and discussed error of perception –Rajju Sarpa buddhi – of imposing the notion of a snake on a coil of rope, has its origin in Gauda-Paada’s Karika. According to him, one could see a snake while it is not there; one could impose the relative over the Absolute and mistake unreal for the Real; and one could mistake the Anatma for the Atman. All because of ignorance or wrong perception.

:- Gauda-Paada introduces the concept of Maya as a dialectic devise to explain the experiential variation of the One Reality as transactional (relative) and as transcendental (Absolute).

:- The other highly interesting concept is that of Ajati_Vada or the doctrine of no-origination, which states that from an absolute point of view, the idea of birth of universe is impossibility. Gauda-Paada rejects various theories of creation which assert creation as Sport of God or as His will or as expansion of God or process of time etc. He says creation is the very nature of God; it is his inherent nature; it flows from him. Even this, he emphasizes, is mere appearance and the Truth is, there is no creation at all. Gauda Paada agrees that Buddhists might hold similar views on the subject of creation; and that does not in any manner  change the Truth.

:- Another is Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge, which is the way to realize the Absolute, which manifests itself in three forms: As Vishva in Jagrat or waking state where it has the consciousness of the outside world and enjoys the gross. As Taijasa in Swapna or dream state where it has the consciousness of the mental state and enjoys the subtle. And, as Prajna in Shushupti or deep sleep where it enjoys the bliss of deep sleep without dreams or desires. The Absolute state is that which transcends all the three states; it is the Turiya (same as Chathrtha or the fourth_one, of the Upanishads).

Deep sleep, Prajna, is a state where there is no object; it knows nothing, neither itself nor anything else; it might be non-dual but has seeds of ignorance in it. Turiya, however, is beyond waking, dreaming or sleeping; it is self luminous consciousness, bliss; it is Ishana – all pervading and non dual. It is beyond attributes. It is the Ultimate, Brahman.

The non dual Atman is realized when the individual self (jiva) is awakened from its ignorance. Atman is unborn, dreamless, sleepless, and motionless; and is beyond duality. It is cognition at its purest. It is Brahman- Ayam Atma Brahma, this Atma is that Brahma; Thus epitomizing the core of Upanishad teachings.

:- Gauda-Paada expands further on these states of consciousness. The Self is AUM. It represents manifest and un-manifest aspects of Brahman. It is the single syllable that symbolizes and embodies Brahman, the Absolute Reality. It is the Pranava that which pervades all existence and is our very life breath.

Vaisvanara in waking state is A the first part of AUM, One, who realizes this, attains his desires.

Teijasa in dream state is U the second part of AUM. One, who realizes this, attains knowledge.

Prajna in deep sleep is M the third part of AUM, concluding the sounds of the earlier two parts. One, who realizes this, attains comprehensive  understanding of all.

The Syllable AUM in its entirety stands for the fourth state, Turiya the one beyond the phenomenal existence, supremely blissful and non-dual.

AUM in its integral whole stands for the fourth state which is transcendental, devoid of phenomenal existence; and is the source of all existence. AUM represents Ultimate Reality. AUM is thus verily the Self itself. One who realizes this merges into that Self. Meditate on AUM as the Self.


It is not difficult to see why Sri Shankara had enormous regard for Gauda-Paada. Sri Shankara’s philosophical position had its base in Gauda-Paada’s thoughts. The doctrine of the Absolute Brahman, the identity of the Absolute Self with the individual self, the concept of Maya, the dual aspects of Advaita methodology-(Adhyaropa –Apavada), the relative and Absolute levels of existence, and the notion of transformation (vivarta) as against evolution (parinama); all these are present in Gauda-Paada ,  in a nutshell. Sri Shankara integrates Gauda-Paada’s views with those of Badarayana and constructs an elaborate and consistent edifice on these foundations.

Sri Shankara aptly regards Gauda-Paada as Pujyabhi_Pujya, the most adored among the most adored.



Consciousness in Advaita by Prof.SKR Rao.


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


Tags: ,

7 responses to “Who was Gauda-Paada ?

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 9:38 am

    modern philosopher thinker raphael has set up an ashram near rome to propagate upanishadic teachings and closely follows gaudapada and shankara. he has written many books on this. see or

    Padma Raghavan

  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Namaste Sir,

    The article is a very nice condensation of the entire Mandukya Upanishad and Karika. It could be recommended as a study material for a student of Vedanta.

    Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao, if I am not mistaken about the identity, is a Madhwa by birth but a staunch Advaitin by conviction. He has penned several works on Advaita, as you are aware. His Kannada book on Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati SwamigaLu of Sringeri titled ‘ShAradA peethada MANikya’ is a very well written book which I enjoyed reading.

    Warm regards,


    Subrahmanian V

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Dear Shri subrahmanian v,I am glad you read the article and found it useful. Itust others too wil use it.As regards Shri Rao , I have read a few books of him and heard him long back ; but not had the fortune to meet him in person.Wish you and your family a very Happy Deepavali.Regards

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Dear Srinivasa Rao Garu,

    I am two years late to read your article on Gaudapada.

    It is the best I have come across. Kudos to you.

    I am bringing it to the notice of others thro’ Facebook.

    A small comment though.

    You presented the totality of AUM as the fourth state (turiya). The fourth pada is usually taken as the half matra after ‘m’ sound merging into soundlessness. It is of course a trivial aspect. Your article is excellent.

    Just because of this, I joined today

    May I get acquainted better with you. Where do you live?

    Please visit my Blog if you have time. Link:

    [I will appreciate if you can join and contribute your thoughts / comments.]

    Thanks and regards,

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Dear Shri ramesam , Thank you for the appreciation and the observation.Let me just check up and set it right. Please do read the other atricles too on Sri Sankara, Badarayana, Brahma sutras , Nyaya, Adyaropa etc.

      I am now in Midwest (Cincinnati and Indianapolis ) area.
      I tried reading your page but sadly could not read much because of the background and the font-size. Sorry.Pardon me.

      Thanks again. Regards

  4. Srikamakoti

    June 30, 2017 at 4:59 am

    The dates referred to in this article are very much wrong. Request the author to verify the dates before publishing them


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