Category Archives: Indian Philosophy

Consciousness – a Buddhist view

The question of consciousness

1.1. Consciousness is a very elusive subject. It is rather difficult to define consciousness, mainly because it is internal and is a subjective experience. Any experience is always from a given point of view; and it is hard to be objective about our internal experiences. This is particularly true in the case of consciousness where we cannot remove ourselves from the process. The very notion of observing the mind with the mind appears enigmatic, for it does not allow for separation of subject and object. It is a legitimate concern.

1.2. The other problem involved with describing subjective experiences is the use of proper language; these are quite considerable. The language we employ to articulate our subjective experiences have their roots in our unique cultural, historic and linguistic backgrounds. The terms employed by any school, be it oriental or western, have their own broader range of connotations covering not merely the realm of thought but also of emotions and beyond.

For instance, in the western languages one speaks in terms of consciousness, mind, mental phenomenon or awareness etc. In the Indian context one speaks in terms of buddhi, manas, jnana, vijnana vidya etc all of which can roughly be translated as awareness or intelligence or mental states.

But these terms have a wider range of connotation than their English equivalents.  For instance the terms manas or chitta cover not merely the realm of thought but also of emotions and much more. It is therefore, not easy to transport the meaning of a term from one system to the other with accuracy. The terms employed are ever subject to varied interpretations.

1.3. The question of consciousness has attracted a great deal of attention in the Indian philosophical systems. Buddhism developed rigorous methods for refining the attention, and applying that attention to exploring the origins, nature, and role of consciousness in the natural world . The earliest Buddhist texts viewed consciousness as an important factor in determining the course of human happiness and suffering; liberation and bondage.

Yet, Buddhism did not “define” consciousness; perhaps, because it is nebulous; and difficult to pinpoint. But in principle, Buddhism asserts it is possible to recognize experientially what consciousness is and identify it.

1.4. The Buddhist texts talk of consciousness in metaphors such as clear light- prabhasvara (implying clarity- all defilements being sort of infection), knowing, and cognizance flowing like a river. They repeatedly talk about consciousness as an ever changing stream.

In order to understand the Buddhist theory of consciousness we have to get to know certain basic Buddhist concepts.


Central reality of all existence is change

2.1. The Buddha pointed out that the central reality of all existence is change. All phenomena come into being as a result of causes and conditions, they change every moment; and, eventually , they pass away.

A belief in a permanent or a changeless-self is regarded a false concept leading to mistaken notions about reality.

This belief is in sharp contrast to the Vedanta view of a changeless, attribute-less and immutable Brahman. The Buddhists assert that one of the basic misconceptions is the notion of a self – Atman; and, only those who free themselves of such false notions can attain liberation. They argue that if there were some disembodied, unchanging entity, it would have no relation to any individual. And, because it lies beyond the world of the senses it could never be perceived.


Five aggregates

3.1. According to the Buddhist view, the individuals are not seamless continuum of an enduring essence such as Brahman or Atman (soul) ; but, are actually composites of ever changing configuration of five factors or five aggregates – (Pali: khandha; Skt. : skandha).

These relate to the physical form (rupa) – the body and all material objects including sense organs ; the sensations or the feelings (vedana) – one’s emotional response to the phenomena by way of desires and aversions in which the five senses and mind are involved; the third is the perception or recognition (sanna or sanjnya) of physical and mental objects;  and , the fourth factor – sankhara or samskara – is variously  called impulses or mental formulations or fabrications – these include volition and attention , the faculty of will , the force of habits etc. And, lastly there is the faculty of vinnana or vijnana the awareness or consciousness, which encompasses mental events and what is generally called sub-conscious in the West.

3.2. All the five aggregates are regarded “empty of self nature” in the sense they are dependent on causes (hetu) and conditions (patica); and are inter-related. In this scheme of things, consciousness too is conditioned and arises out of interaction with the other factors (physical or mental) . The consciousness , in turn, influences one or more mental factors.

Thus consciousness and the mind-body (nama-rupa) are interdependent; there is no arising of consciousness without conditions. These form the chain of cause and effect (karmic).Yet, though consciousness and matter do contribute towards the origination of each other, one cannot become the substantial cause of the other.

3.3.In the Buddhist view, the difference between the plant, animal and the humans is in the level of intelligence; and all possess subtle consciousness. Any sentient being that can experience pain and pleasure is thought to possess consciousness. Therefore, the subtle consciousness is not uniquely human.



4.1. An individual, according to Buddhist thought, is ever changing or rather a fleeting, changing assortment or a procession of various unstable interacting factors. Consciousness too is highly varied , made up of myriad mental states. Those mental states are dependent on the five senses.

4.2. The  Buddhist teachers suggest that through careful observation, it is possible to see consciousness as being a sequence of conscious moments rather as a continuum of awareness. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state: a thought, a memory, a feeling, a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and, being impermanent, ceases , following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of a sentient being can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states. In this context rebirth is simply the persistence of this process.

4.3. Consciousness is said to act like a life force which runs through the process and through life after life. But, consciousness, unlike Atman, is subject to change every movement and influenced by the vicissitudes of one’s life. It is explained that one’s vocational actions produce karmas which influence the consciousness in a certain manner and determine ones rebirth.

It is said, the five skandhas continue on, powered by past karma, propelling births and rebirths. Here, Karma, in essence, is not action per se; but , is rather the state of mind of the person performing the action. The problem with such bad Karma is that it molds our personality, creates ruts or habitual patterns of thinking and feeling. These patterns in turn influence our present and future lives.

A major aim of Buddhism is to become aware of this process, and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.


Understanding is the key

5.1. The core problem of human existence, according to Buddhist belief, is Duhkkha – the suffering . It is caused by the ignorance of the reality of things as they are. Such suffering leads to delusions, attachments and stress; and, results in continuing cycle of rebirths. Due to ignorance of the true nature of reality, human beings make choices that drive them to suffering. Since the problem originates from lack of right understanding, the solution to the malady should be sought in gaining the right understanding. Therefore, the Buddha said, one desirous of seeking liberation must discard mistaken ideas and acquire correct understanding.

5.2. In short, a person’s bondage is caused by ignorance or incorrect understanding. Liberation too is, in effect, caused by understanding – but it is the proper understanding; and, nothing more. Bondage is the wrong understanding that binds; while liberation is the right understanding that frees. In either case, it is a matter of understanding. All that is from an individual’s point of view; But, in absolute sense there is neither bondage nor liberation.


Emancipation….And after..?

6.1. The Dhukkha of bondage is thus a matter of mental process; modifications of the consciousness, projecting the world outside and conditioning our reactions to it. Emancipation is the knowledge of things as they really are; and is the freedom from constraints imposed by phenomenal involvements.Emancipation, it appears, is the reverse or the other side of involvement in the phenomena.

6.2. A right understanding when it arises frees instantaneously; and is not delayed until the exhaustion of the karmas that have brought the current life into existence. In other words, liberation need not wait until one’s death. Such an enlightened one is termed an Arhant in the Buddhist lore. [Its equivalent term in Vedanta is Jivan-muktha – the emancipated one even while alive in this body].

6.3. The Buddha was rather reluctant to be drawn into a discussion on the state of consciousness of an Arhant after he discarded his mortal coils.  Asked what happens to an Arhant upon his death, the Buddha was said to have replied: “What happens to footprints of birds in mid air?” Perhaps the Buddha likened the death of an Arhant to the extinction of a flame when the fuel (karma) runs out.

6.4. He evidently felt that such questions arose out of a false attachment to self, and that they distracted one from the main aim of eliminating suffering. Those who seek liberation, according to him, must discard the belief in self. And that requires meditative training, which removes defilements like aversions, attachments, cravings and stress.


Mind and consciousness

7.1. The Vedanta and the Buddhist text treat the mind and consciousness as being distinct. Vedanta believes consciousness is so called because the power of deliberation is hidden in it (like the fire in a log of wood that is not burning); and, it is called mind when deliberation is on (like log on fire).

Mind is a deliberation of consciousness. Mind is that which discriminates the characteristics of objects.Mind is a pattern or a manipulation of consciousness which in turn is a function of our original nature. According to Tantra, Shiva is consciousness (chith) while Shakthi as its deliberation (vimarsha) is mind (dhih).The union of Shiva and Shakthi too is yoga.

7.2. The Buddhist interpretation appears to be slightly different. It says; consciousness (vinnana) is separate and arises from mind (mana). Nagarjuna(c. 150 – 250 CE), the celebrated Buddhist philosopher and founder of Madhyamaika school, expands on it by putting forth a series of vivid images.

Nagarjuna compares the natural purity of mind to the butter lying un-extracted in un-churned milk; to an oil lamp concealed inside a vase; to a pristine deposit of lapis lazuli buried in a rock; and, to a seed covered by its husk. When the milk is churned, the butter is revealed; when holes are made in the vase, the lamp’s light pours out; when the gem is dug out, the brilliance of the lapis lazuli shines forth; and, when the husk is removed the seed can germinate. Nagarjuna’s explanation is akin to that of the Samkhya belief which denotes that the effect is in reality a transformation of the cause. The cause is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects.

Nagarjuna then argues that the essential nature of the mind is pure and its defilements are removable through meditative purification. When our afflictions are removed or cleaned through the sustained cultivation of insight, the innate purity of mind becomes manifest.


Practice of meditation

8.1. As per the Vajrayana Buddhism, Bhodhi-Chitta “that which is conscious” resides in all of us as a hidden pool of compassion, tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright” and beyond the phenomenal involvements. It can be experienced when our afflictions are removed or cleaned through sustained cultivation of insight. One way of experiencing pure consciousness, according to Buddhism, is to practice meditation.

8.2. The Buddha believed that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them.The effect lies latent in the cause; and that effect in turn seeds the next effect. He said, removal of a basic condition will remove its effect. Therefore, if one changes the conditions of one’s state of mind, one can change the trait of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.

It is in this context that the Buddha taught practice of mindfulness anapana –sati; anapana meaning breath and sati (snkt.smruthi) is non-forgetfulness, being aware of it.

The Buddha spoke of mind as being essentially pure, clear and peaceful. The distractions, dispersions, confusions and agitations are all apparent. But the appearances could be troublesome and stressful. They need to be cleared. The method he recommended for removing the disturbances is the mindfulness. He asked one to be aware of one’s own breathing; in other words, to be mindful of breathing and of the body, feelings, thoughts, and other phenomena.

Accordingly, in order to get rid of dhukkha, suffering one should neither identify with nor attach to vinnana, consciousness; but just watch. That Mindfulness leads to understanding of the impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of consciousness and then on to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.

[Please click here for more on Mindfulness]

8.2 . Dharmakirti , a seventh century Buddhist philosopher, too stated that through disciplined meditative training, natural constraints on consciousness are removable and  substantive changes can be effected in human consciousness. Dharmakirti argued that, in principle, it is possible for a mental activity like compassion to be developed to a limitless degree. He, in fact, remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.


9.1. After having said that, the Buddhist texts caution against treating consciousness as the ultimate reality. It should not be; because consciousness is only a projection of the original nature. And, consciousness is inconsistent and depends on other factors for its existence.

The Buddha Manjushree explained the ultimate state of reality is not something that can be known by consciousness, nor is it an object of the mind..He said,   you cannot find This Ultimate One with the mind of thoughts … so how do you find it? … by no-mind, no-thought, by not attaching to thoughts but letting them just be there, but never attaching to them while maintaining presence.


Scientific investigations and Buddhist meditation practices

10.1. As discussed above, Buddhist texts hold the view that human consciousness emerges not from the brain or from matter; but from a deeper level. And, as the brain ceases the consciousness will dissolve back into the substrate and carries on from lifetime to lifetime. The continuum of consciousness will carry on; and it is a beginning- less continuum. They argue, the being that is reborn is different from the previous one that died; but its identity remains as before because of the continuity in the flow of consciousness.

10.2. The classical western theory (among other theories) appears to be that consciousness is an emergent property of a complex organization or of the matter called brain. The science thinks of consciousness as arising out of matter; because , no other explanation seems plausible. It rightly argues that the human emotions, visual perceptions or psyche cannot arise in the absence of the brain or the appropriate faculty.  They all arise because of a certain level of brain and nerve-cell complexity.

In other words, the nerve cell complexity of the brain is the seat of consciousness. Thus consciousness is a kind of physical process that arises through the structure and dynamics of the brain. And, when the brain is dead, when it decomposes or when it is no longer capable of functioning as brain, the properties of the brain-based consciousness also vanish. That is the end.

10.3. B. Alan Wallace the noted scholar teacher in his essay “A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)” observes the West presently has no pure science of consciousness and it also lacks an applied science of consciousness that reveals means for refining and enhancing consciousness.

Francisco Valera, the renowned Biologist who dedicated his life to the studies of ‘biology of consciousnesses’ , opined that if the scientific study of consciousness is to grow to a full maturity-given that subjectivity is a primary element of consciousness – it will have to incorporate a fully developed and rigorous methodology of first-person empiricism. He felt, there was a tremendous potential in this area for contemplative traditions like Buddhism to make a substantive contribution to science and its methods.

There are signs that the scientific community is trying to understand the Buddhist theories of the nature, origins and potentials of consciousness.


10.4. But, the path is not easy. Unlike that of modern science, Buddhism’s approach has been primarily from first-person experience. The contemplative method, as developed by Buddhism, is an empirical use of introspection. The scientific approach is not comfortable with an empirical investigation of subjective events from a first-person perspective. That is because; meditative experiences are not amenable to verification – both through repetition by the same practitioner; and through other individuals of same caliber and adopting same practices. One therefore wonders, given the highly subjective nature of consciousness, whether it is ever possible to gain a third person –objective and scientific-understanding.

The other problem is that it is very hard for the scientists to refuse the possibility that consciousness may not merely be a phenomenon of the brain.

10.5. H.H. the Dalai Lama in his book The Universe in a Single Atom admitted that such disquiet is entirely understandable given the dominance of the third-person scientific method as a paradigm for scientific investigation . And, yet  trying to bridge the two systems , he  explained that the Buddhist approach to the study of consciousness is based on the understanding of functions and modalities of the mind and their casual dynamics – and this is precisely the area that the Buddhist understanding can most readily intersect with scientific approach because , like that of science, much of the Buddhist investigation of consciousness is empirically based.

10.6. B. Alan Wallace who in his essay “Training the Attention and Exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism “ examines the methods of attention training and exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism, joined the issue by stating that without the subjective evidence provided by introspection, there would be no discipline of consciousness studies. He argued that these (Hindu and Buddhist) attention-enhancing methods present a challenge to modern researchers in the consciousness studies “to broaden the scope of legitimate methods of scientific inquiry so that the introspective exploration of consciousness may begin to rise to the levels of sophistication of objective means of studying brain correlates of conscious states.”

10.7. H.H . the Dalai Lama explained, Buddhist psychology does not catalogue the mind’s make up or even describes how the mind functions. But the primary aim of the Buddhist contemplative practice, he said, is to alleviate suffering especially the psychological and emotional afflictions and to clear those afflictions. And, Science too has contributed enormously to the lessening of suffering, especially the physical suffering. It is therefore appropriate, he said, science and spirituality make common cause.

10.8. And, he concluded on a hopeful note saying “ I believe that it is possible for Buddhism and modern science to engage in collaborative research in the understanding of consciousness while leaving aside the philosophical question. By bringing together these two modes of inquiry, both disciplines may be enriched. Such collaborative study will contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of the human mind and its relation to suffering. ”

10.9. B. Alan Wallace considers that such collaboration would mutually benefit scientists and Buddhists. According to him, “one of the greatest potentials of the interface between Buddhism and science is that Buddhists may encourage scientists to question their materialistic assumptions and incorporate sophisticated systems of contemplative inquiry within the scientific community. …. Likewise, scientists may encourage Buddhists to question their own assumptions, to revitalize their own traditions of contemplative inquiry, and to integrate them with the empirical methods of modern science. In short, Buddhists and scientists may help each other in overcoming their tendencies to dogmatism and replace this with a fresh and open-minded spirit of empiricism.”



Sources and References

Let’s hope such collaboration takes off the ground and some good comes of it.

Zen and Dhyâna By Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao; Kalpataru publications, Bangalore

B Allan Wallace  :

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Harper Perennial; 1990

A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)

B. Alan Wallace- Published in The Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies

Third Series, No. 4, Fall 2002, pp. 15-32

Buddhism and Science: Confrontation and Collaboration by B. Alan Wallace

Training the Attention and Exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism – B. Alan Wallace

What is Consciousness vs. Awareness?

Mixing Buddhism and neuroscience to understand human consciousness

Consciousness – Indian Thought – Buddhist Systems

Daniel Dennett  on Consciousness – And a Buddhist Response




Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Indian Philosophy


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Origins of Ganesha worship

Ganesha or Ganapathi, undoubtedly, is the most popular among the Hindu gods. His popularity and worship extends also to Buddhism and Jainism. He is worshiped not merely in India but in other parts of the world too. He is an ancient god.  His origins are not certain. It is also not certain when the Ganesha worship began.

1. Vedic origin

1.1. The earliest reference to Ganapathi appears in the second book of the Rig Veda in the rik starting with Gananam tva Ganapati Gum Havamahe (RV 2.23.1). The Ganapathi invoked here, is the Chief of the Ganas, the leader of the group, a superb seer among seers, and the lord of the mantras. It is explained that Ganapathi in this rik refers to Brahmanaspati, a Vedic divinity of the highest order, the leader of the heavenly bands and a sage (kavi) among sages (Jyeshta Rajam Brahmanam, Brahmanaspata).

 Gaṇānāṃ tvā gaṇapatiṃ havāmahe kaviṃ kavīnām upamaśravastamam |  jyeṣṭharājam brahmaṇām brahmaṇas pata ā naḥ śṛṇvann ūtibhiḥ sīda sādanam ||RV_2,023.01||

1.2. In the Rig Veda, Brahmanaspati is the lord of all sacred prayers and lord of Satya mantra. He is the destroyer of enemies; and no sacrifice is complete without invoking him. Brahnanaspati was a partner with Brahma in creation. Brahmaņaspathi was also the middle term that once linked the Vedic Brahma and Brihaspathi’. They are the names “of a deity in whom the action of the worshipper upon the gods is personified”.

1.3. Brihaspathi is the personification of piety, purity and knowledge. He is called `the father of the gods,’ and a widely extended creative power is ascribed to him. He is also `the shining’, `the gold-colored,’ and `having the thunder for his voice.” Other epithets of Brihaspati are Jiva – the living, Didivis – the bright, Dhishana – the intelligent, and  for his eloquence, Gishpati– the lord of speech.

There are over one hundred riks in praise of these two deities, giving a picture of their powers and personalities.

1.4. The Gaņapathi in Rig-Veda is the lord of gaņas or hosts. In the Rig-Veda, the gaņās or hosts of Bŗihaspathi—Brahmaņaspathi are the chants, the riks and the stomas, the words of praise (RV. 4.50.5). They have little to do with the lower vital levels.

sa suṣṭubhā sa ṛkvatā gaṇena valaṃ ruroja phaligaṃ raveṇa | bṛhaspatir usriyā havyasūdaḥ kanikradad vāvaśatīr ud ājat ||RV_4,050.05 ||

1.5. The term Gana also denotes a host of angles (Devas). Indra is referred to as Ganapathi in the tenth book of the Rig Veda (RV. 10.112.9); Indra is the Lord of the companies (Maruts).

 ni ṣu sīda gaṇapate gaṇeṣu tvām āhur vipratamaṃ kavīnām | na ṛte tvat kriyate kiṃ canāre mahām arkam maghavañ citram arca ||RV_10,112.09||

1.6. The mantra ‘namo Ganebhyo ganapathibyasha vo namo’ (16-25) that occurs in Shukla Yajurveda samhita refers to ganas, in plural, and says: salutations to you, Ganas and to the Lord of the Ganas. This mantra appears also in the Rudra prasnam (4.1.5) and in the Maitrayani-Samhita (2,9.4). Gana  in these contexts signifies a group of people as also a collection of mantras. 

namo gaṇebhyo gaṇapatibhyaś ca vo namo namo vrātebhyo vrātapatibhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ kṛchrebhyaḥ kṛchrapatibhyaś ca vo namo namo virūpebhyo viśvarūpebhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ senābhyaḥ senānībhyaś ca vo namo namo rathibhyo varūthibhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ kṣattṛbhyaḥ saṃgrahītṛbhyaś ca vo namo namo bṛhadbhyo ‘rbhakebhyaś ca vo namo namo yuvabhya āśīnebhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ //MS_2,9.4//

1.7. The Taittiriya samhita interprets Ganas as pashus (the beasts of Shiva). They are the Ganas of Shiva — Rudrasya Ganapathyam .There were also Bhuta ganas, the weird and grotesque looking guards of Shiva. Thus, Shiva the Pashupathi; and Shiva the Bhoothnath was also a Ganapathi.

1.8. At a much later period, when the Puranas came to be compiled, the virtues and powers of all the Ganapathis of the past were transferred to the Ganapathi as we are familiar with; that is to our Ganapathi. He became the Lord of Ganas in every sense of the term. Not only that, he became much larger than the sum of the parts.

1.9. It is not significant what shades of meanings the term carried in the past; but it is very important for us that our Ganapathi, the Lord of Ganas, whom we worship with love and adoration, is the embodiment of all the grace, virtues and powers that we admire in any god. He is the inheritor of the combined wisdom and glory of all the gods; and is much more than the sum. He is Maha Ganapathi.  That is what really matters.

2. Elephant god

2.1. It is not certain how the Ganapathi-elephant association came into being. The earliest reference in that regard is in the Atharva Veda which alludes elephantine countenance (hasthi –varchas) to the Vedic god Brihaspati who was one of the forerunners of our Ganapathi. Our Ganapathi seems to have inherited his features from the descriptions of Brihaspati.

2.2. The other early references are in Maitrayani samhita (2.9.1) and Taittiriya Aranyaka (10.1.5) which appeal to an elephant faced (hasthi-mukha) , single-tusked (dantin) deity with a curved trunk (vakra tunda).He is also described as holding a corn-sheaf, a sugarcane and a club. Those features became the characteristics of our Ganapathi, the Ganesha.

tat karāṭāya vidmahe hastimukhāya dhīmahi /  tan no dantī pracodayāt //MS.2.91//

2.3. Amarakosha the Sanskrit lexicon (say 4th century AD), lists eight synonyms of Ganesha : Vinayaka, Vighnaraja, Dvai-matura (one who has two mothers), Gaṇadhipa (equivalent to Ganapati and Ganesha), Ekadanta (one who has one tusk), Heramba, Lambodara (one who has a pot belly, or, literally, one who has a hanging belly), and Gajanana having the face of an elephant). It seems by then the Ganapathi and his half- elephant form were quite well established.

vināyako vighnarāja dvaimātura gaṇādhipāḥ / apy ekadanta heramba lambodara gajānanāḥ ( 1.1.93 -94)

Ganesha Lambodara

2.4. Vishnudharmottara, a text dated around 5-6th century, while detailing how to make images of various deities, describes, among others, how the image of Vinayaka should be made (Part Three; Ch 71; verses 1-18). Sage Markandeya explains: Vinayaka should have the face of an elephant and four hands .He should have a big belly; stiff pair of ears; wearing a tiger skin around his waist and a sacred-thread across his left shoulder down his belly. He should have snake as belt.  a trident and rosary should be placed in right hands; an axe and a pot full of sweets in the left ones. The sweet-pot should be placed near the tip of his trunk. His left tusk should be left un-represented. Vinayaka should be provided a foot-stool; and his one foot should be placed on it.

2.5. Before I end this segment let me add, the Tamil language, one of the oldest languages in the world, fondly addresses Ganapathi as Pille or Pilleyar, meaning the little darling or a small child. Some scholars say that term pille also meant, in old Tamil, a young elephant. Incidentally, the Pali word pillaka also means a young elephant. The association of a sweet looking child with the innocent countenance of a young elephant could also have had its origins in tribal lore.

3. Destroyer of obstacles


3.1. Brahmanaspati of the Rig Veda was the divine being who led the aspirant along the path of wisdom and facilitated his progress by removing the obstacles in his path. It is said, this aspect of Brahmanaspati was later expanded in to the role of  Ganapathi as Vinayaka, the destroyer of obstacles. But Ganapathi is also the lord of obstacles (Vighnaraja).But, why would a benevolent god cause obstacles? It is explained that Ganapathi does not cause obstacles but controls obstacles. It is therefore prudent to pray to him before launching on any venture – big or small.

Ganesha Vignaraja

3.2. He intercedes with gods on behalf of humankind and protects them from the wicked influences.

Thus, Ganapathi as the destroyer of obstacles had taken root by about first century AD.

4. God of learning and wisdom

4.1. Ganapathi is also associated with mental agility and learning. He is akin to Brihaspathi of Rig Veda, the personification of piety, purity and knowledge. He is known for his intelligence, and for his eloquence. He is Gispati – the lord of speech- bṛhaspatiḥ surācāryo gīṣpati rdhiṣaṇo guruḥ (1.3.223)

4.2. Siddham was in the distant past one of the names given to the collection of Sanskrit alphabets. Patanjali explained the term as “that which is established” (pūrvatrāsiddham). The beginners would commence their learning of the alphabets with the chant: ”Om namo Siddham”. Even the scribes of the epigraphs would etch an inscription starting with the words “siddham or Swasthi”. Since Ganapathi evolved also into the god of wisdom and learning the terms Siddham and Swasthi too came to be associated with him.

4.3 Ganapathi is the patron god of wisdom and all branches of learning; not merely spiritual or of art or music or literature but of all human endeavours.

5. Ganapathi worship


5.1. I reckon the Ganapathi worship has a history of about two thousand years. The ancient Grihya sutras and Dharma sutras do not mention about praying to Ganapathi at the commencement of a worship-ritual. Natyasastra, dated around second century BCE, too, does not refer to Ganapathi.

5.2. Perhaps the first reference to Ganapathi worship occurs in the Gobhila Grhya Sutra, which belongs Sama Veda. It recommends praying to Ganapathi and to Matrikas at the commencement of a ritual, seeking blessings and support for a smooth and successful completion of the ritual process. Gobhila Grhya Sutra is dated around first century AD. From then Ganapathi has carried on famously.

5.3. Baudhayana Grihya Sutra which described Ganapathi as Vigneshwara, Bhootha-natha and Gajamukha, too recommended similar worship of Ganapathi. It also prescribed offering apupa and Modakas to propitiate him. The date of this text is disputed; it could perhaps be around the same time as the other Sutras.

5.4. Another text of first century, Gatha-saptha-shati, sings the praise of Ganadhipathi. The Puranas, which came about around that period too carry detailed references to Ganapathi  and to his worship (e.g. Varaha PuranaVamana Purana and Brahmaiva-vartha purana).

5.6. The Yajnavalkya Smriti (dated around third century AD) mentions Vinayaka as the Lord of the Ganas, appointed by Brahmna and Rudra. Here he is described as one who causes obstacles as well as one who removes them. Yajnavalkya gives four names of Vinayaka the son of Ambika as: Mita, Sammita, Salakantaka and Kusumandarjaputra .Vinayaka here is worshiped as a Tantric deity.

6. Emergence of Ganesha

6.1. Ganesha appeared in his classic form as a clearly-recognizable deity with well-defined iconographic attributes in the early 4th to 5th centuries. Ganesha images thereafter became prevalent in all parts of India and in many parts of the world.

6.2. Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in clearly recognizable form in the fourth and the fifth centuries during the Gupta period. His popularity rose quickly. The son of Shiva and Parvati; Ganesha with an elephantine countenance, a curved trunk, pair of big ears and a pot-bellied body of a human is now the Lord of success; and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha also became one of the five prime Hindu deities (Surya, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four) worshiped in the panchayatana puja. A new tradition called Ganapathya thereafter came into existence.


Perhaps no other god , either in Hindu or any other religion, been depicted in as many varieties of forms as Ganesha has been. He has been depicted in every conceivable form.

 Ganesha riding elephant Cambodia, 10th century6.3. With the spread of Indian trade to the Far- East, by around the tenth century, Ganesha a favorite with the traders and merchants reached the shores of Bali, Java, Cambodia, Malaya, Thailand, Vietnam and other islands. In Indo-china, where Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced side by side and influenced each other, Ganesha was the God acceptable and dear to all. Even to today, the people in Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand worship Ganesha as the destroyer of obstacles and as the god of success.


According to Wikepedia

In Thailand, Ganesha is called Phra Phikanet or Phra Phikanesuan and is worshiped as the deity of fortune and success, and the remover of obstacles. He is associated with arts, education and trade. Ganesha appears in the emblem of the Department of Fine Arts in Thailand. As lord of business and diplomacy, he sits on a high pedestal outside Bangkok’s Central World (formerly World Trade Center), where people offer flowers, incense and a reverential sawasdee Thai Cuisine.

With regards to Indonesia, Ganesha is called the ‘Indonesian God of Wisdom’. Bandung boasts a Ganesha Street. A Ganesha statue from the 1st century AD was found on the summit of Mount Raksa in Panaitan Island, the Ujung Kulon National Park, West Java. While there are not temples dedicated specifically to Ganesha, he is found in every Shiva shrine throughout the islands. An 11th-century CE Ganesha statue was found in eastern Java, Kediri is placed in The Museum of Indian Art (Museum fur Indische Kunst), Berlin-Dahlem. The 9th century statue of Ganesha resides in western cella (room) of Prambanan Hindu temple.


Ganesha statue at Sanggar Agung Temple, Surabaya-Indonesia, worshiped by the Chinese, Hindus, Buddhist and even the Kejawen

As regards Thailand, William Jones and Ruchi Agarwal write in ‘ Ganesa and his cult in contemporary Thailand’

Ganesa has long been familiar to the people of Thailand but increasingly evident are the Ganesa cults flourishing in Bangkok. In the process, the deity appears to be acquiring new roles and functions. Ganesa now serves in a number of capacities for some; he is a “fixer,” a deity of last resort that can help devotees to over come obstacles in their lives. Not surprisingly, the growing popularity of the deity is reflected in a rapidly expanding trade in Ganesa images and icons, displayed in shopping mall exhibitions in a variety of forms, colours, shapes and sizes. Readily available at most of Bangkok’s major retail outlets, Ganesa icons are traded online via social media. This phenomenon, both by shifting belief practices associated with Ganesa locally and by evolving trade in Ganesa iconography, is indeed growing . Considering both together, one can say that Ganesa cult is presently the focal point for a number of people, each with its own unique approach to the deity, powers and representation.
Ganesha temple Thailand


Bhutan Ganesha                                                          Tibet Ganesha

Sakya Ganesha Tibet                                         Tantric Ganesha Tibet

6.4. Ganesha appears in Jainism too. A fifteenth century Jain text provides procedures for the installation of Ganapathi images. Images of Ganesha appear in the Jain temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat; the earliest of which is dated around eighth century.

Ganesha in Jainism

7.5. In Buddhism, Ganesha appears not only in the form of the Buddhist god Vināyaka, but also as a Hindu demon form with the same name (Vināyaka). As the Buddhist god Vināyaka, he is the dancing Nritta Ganapathi. Worship of Ganesha is popular also in Tibet.

Buddhist Ganeshas of Mangolia

According to another version, Ganesha as siddhidata (bestower of success) is Buddha himself revealing Ganesha’s powers to his disciple.

7.6. Ganesha traveled to other countries along with Buddhism. In northern China, the earliest known stone statue carries an inscription dated to 531AD.In Japan the Ganesha cult was first mentioned in 806 AD; and is still flourishing. Here, Buddha and ganesha are worshiped together.


[Scholars say, artifacts from excavations in Luristan and Harappa and an old Indo-Greek coin from Hermaeus, present images that remarkably resemble Ganesha”. (“Robert Brown in his Book “Ganesha: Studies of an Asian God”: State University of New York Albany).]

Baby Ganesha in the Lap of Mother Parvati

8. Whatever might have been his origins, The Ganapathi -Ganesha that we know and adore represents the combination and culmination of the virtues and powers of all the Ganapathis  that preceded him. He is the sum and substance of all the preceding Ganapathis .He is the embodiment of all their grace and wisdom .He is adored by one and all; by all segments of the society and of all ages.

Children, particularly, love Ganesha as a playful mate and as the best friend. The little Ganesha is a darling.

Amazing Facts of Ganesha

There are 250 temples of Ganesha in Japan.
In Japan, Ganesha is known as ‘Kangiten’, the God of fortune and the harbinger of happiness, prosperity and good. Young Japanese worship Ganesha to win in love whereas the old worship the deity to get success in business.

East India Company issued a Ganesha coin in 1839

The British East India Company in 1839 issued a copper ½ Anna coin measuring 32mm with reeded edge and weighing 12.81 grams. The coin carried the Ganesha image on the obverse.

Another bronze coin weighing 3.4 grams and measuring 16.4 x 15.5mm; the obverse depicts Ganesha seated facing, while the reverse has a lattice design that is rather common to certain areas of India.  But,  I am unable to say  to which state  or era the coin belongs.

Kurundwad –court Fee stamp with Ganesha motif .

Kurundwad (Senior Branch) in Kolhapur District the erstwhile British Bombay Presidency issued a Court Fee paper of Rupees Forty featuring Ganesha at its centre.

stamp paper

Indonesia Currency notes

One of the Indonesian currency notes carries the picture of Ganesha.

Silicon Valley in USA selects Ganesha as the presiding Deity of cyberspace technology
“Ganesha is the God of knowledge and Ganesha’s vehicle is the mouse .Hence the computer industry association selected Ganesha as the presiding Deity of Silicon Valley.

Source :  Colin Bruce


Ganesha :

Historical development of Ganesha:

Posted by Colin : Ganesha, Hinduism€™s favorite representation of God
Origins of worship of Ganesha,44&Number=4892&Main=4892





Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Rigveda, Temple worship


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Crazy Wisdom

1.1. Crazy wisdom is a way of teaching; and it is prevalent in almost all traditions.  It has been there for a very long-time. Crazy wisdom says, we all are, in truth, interconnected. The separations in the physical world such as human bodies, houses, communities are mere appearances.  Crazy Wisdom seeks to unearth and heal the false beliefs that people have about themselves and of the world around them. It is a means for expressing and maintaining the difference between the conventional point of view and the transcendental point of view.

1.2. The teaching might have gained that name- crazy – because its teachers were eccentrics who used their eccentricity to bring forth an alternate vision, the one that was different from the pedestrian and dogma-riddled view of existence. They were the masters of inversion, proficient breakers of taboos and lovers of surprises. They relished the delight in   contradictions and ambiguity. Sometimes they overdid and went overboard; and were mistaken for tricksters and clowns.

1.3. Crazy wisdom or holy-madness, as it came to be called, does indeed seem crazy to rational mind and commonsense. That is because it is designed, deliberately, to confront, to shock and to confuse an otherwise rational mind. The crazy teacher’s behaviour and his teachings turn the ordinary view of life upside down, and project life in a different perspective. His approach is what one might call “no-holds-bar”. The crazy teacher is willing to employ a large range of tactics and applications including , but not limited to ,provocation , insult, physical and mental abuse, humour, and credulity; and in extreme cases, it might stray in to use of alcohol, drugs and sex. All those unconventional and socially unacceptable ways of behaviour were pressed into service in order to drag the student out of the cocoon, strip him naked and bring him face to face with reality.

1.4. Predictably, such behavioural patterns create scare and conflict in the minds of even the committed followers of the path. It also brings into question, the issues of trust; and abuse of position and power. But a serous seeker will have to face those challenges and resolve the contradictions, all by himself.

1.5. The crazy wisdom or foolish wisdom is thus a two-edged sword, to be handled with extreme caution. The dividing line between wisdom and foolishness is very thin; and it is not possible to say with certainty when a fool is just a fool, or a fool graced by wisdom, or a wise person touched by foolishness.

1.6. In all such traditions, it is said, a genuine crazy –wisdom- teacher will act only in response to the needs of his student, regardless of his own discomfort and personal preferences. His main concern is the awakening of his student .But, it is   the responsibility of the student to understand and learn; and the teacher is not obliged to make it easy for the student.

1.7. It is explained, the teacher, to put it crudely, is like a dispensing machine. The student will have to come up with right questions to get the benefit of the teacher. It is the questions the student frames – internally or explicitly- and the demands he makes in seeking the answers that truly matter. He   can challenge himself to formulate a question that accurately captures the real need; and follow it with intensity. After a period of time, as he begins to endure the heat (tapa), generated by the genuine unanswered questions, the answers start appearing unexpectedly in the most unlikely places or in the most obvious places right under his nose.

That is the basis of the learning process under an Avadhuta or a Siddha or a Zen teacher or the saintly-madman (lama myonpa) of Tibetan Buddhism.

[ By the way, Aryadeva (14th century?), a Buddhist scholar, in his Chatuhsataka (four hundred verses) narrates a story to illustrate (a) madness is a relative concept; and (b) just because one is in a minority he cannot be dismissed as being wrong.

According to his story, a wandering astrologer warned a king that in a week’s time, very rain would pour down on his country; and whoever drinks that rainwater would go insane. The king took the astrologer’s warning quite seriously and ordered to get his well of drinking water well covered. His subjects, however, either lacking means or laughing at the astrologer, took no action to secure their sources of drinking water.  It did rain a week hence, as predicted; and the whole of the kingdom’s populace drank the rain water which found its way into their well and tanks. They all, promptly, went mad. The king who had protected his well was the only sane person in the whole of his kingdom.

But, the king’s subjects gathered together and laughed and jeered at the king calling him insane. After such repeated heckling, the king – the only sane person in the whole of the kingdom – could no longer endure the irritating jibes. In order to put an end to his agony, the king, at last, decides to drink the rain water. And, he promptly goes mad just as his subjects. Now, all are alike and all are happy in their madness.

Therefore, if one is the sole, single sane person, then he does not get to call the rest as insane. But, at the same time, he not wrong if he calls the rest as insane. Then, again, who will listen to him or pay heed to his words …!!

The story also illustrates how ‘madness’ is a relative concept, depending upon each one’s perspective. In the broader view, what defines madness is the social, cultural and other ways of understanding human behavior at different times and in different regions. Madness is thus a highly context-sensitive issue.]


2.1. Avadhuta, the one who has cast off all concerns and obligations, like the Shiva himself, is the typical teacher of wisdom. He does that in a highly unconventional manner. He has no use for social etiquette; he has risen above worldly concerns. He is not bound by sanyasi dharma either. He roams the earth freely like a child, like an intoxicated or like one possessed. He is the embodiment of detachment and spiritual wisdom..

Avadhuta Gita describes him as :

Having renounced all, he moves about naked./ He perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

ātmaiva kevalaṃ sarvaṃ bhedābhedo na vidyate । asti nāsti kathaṃ brūyāṃ vismayaḥ pratibhāti me ॥ 4॥

The Avadhuta never knows any mantra in Vedic meter or any Tantra.

 Ashtavakra Gita describes him in a similar manner:


The sage sees no difference/ Between happiness and misery,/ Man and woman, / Adversity and success./ Everything is seen to be the same.

sukhe duḥkhe nare nāryāṃ sampatsu ca vipatsu ca । viśeṣo naiva dhīrasya sarvatra samadarśinaḥ ॥ 17-15॥


In the sage there is neither/ Violence nor mercy,/ Arrogance nor humility,/ Anxiety nor wonder./ His worldly life is exhausted./ He has transcended his role as a person.

na hiṃsā naiva kāruṇyaṃ nauddhatyaṃ na ca dīnatā । nāścaryaṃ naiva ca kṣobhaḥ kṣīṇasaṃsaraṇe nare ॥ 17-16॥


The sage is not conflicted/ By states of stillness and thought./ His mind is empty./ His home is the Absolute.

samādhāna samādhāna hitāhita vikalpanāḥ । śūnyacitto na jānāti kaivalyamiva saṃsthitaḥ ॥ 17-18॥


Knowing for certain that all is Self,/ The sage has no trace of thoughts/ Such as “I am this” or “I am not that.”

ayaṃ so’hamayaṃ nāhaṃ iti kṣīṇā vikalpanā । sarvamātmeti niścitya tūṣṇīmbhūtasya yoginaḥ ॥ 18-9॥


The yogi who finds stillness/ is neither distracted nor focused./ He knows neither pleasure nor pain./ Ignorance dispelled,/ He is free of knowing.

na vikṣepo na caikāgryaṃ nātibodho na mūḍhatā । na sukhaṃ na ca vā duḥkhaṃ upaśāntasya yoginaḥ ॥ 18-10॥


2.2. Among the classical  texts that describe the nature of the Avadhuta,  the prominent ones  are the Avadhuta Gita , the culminating text of the Dattatreya tradition; the Ashtavakra Gita , a text of the highest order, addressed to advanced learners and  dealing  with the means of realizing the Self (atmanu-bhuti) and  the mystic experience  in the embodied state. The third and  a comparatively a recent text is the Atma-vidya-vilasa of  Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra , an Avadhuta who lived during the eighteenth century.

2.3. The other major sect is the Siddha tradition of South India. The Siddha is one who has attained flawless identity with reality.

Jainism too recognizes Siddha as an enlightened teacher. In the Tibetan Buddhism, Siddha is a yogi who has attained magical powers and the ability to work miracles.

2.4. In so far as the folk tradition is concerned, there are a number of regional groups and subgroups. The better known of them are the Bauls of Bengal; the word meaning mad or confused. They are a religious sect of eccentrics. The Baul synthesis is characterized by four elements: there is no written text and therefore all teachings are through song and dance; God is to be found in and through the body and therefore the emphasis on kaya (body) sadhana, the use of sexual or breathe energy; and, absolute obedience and reverence to Guru.

3.1. Avadhuta Gita the ‘Song of the Ever Free’ does not indulge in debates to prove the non-dual nor does it ask you to control your senses; it sees no distinction between sense perception and spiritual realization. It makes some amazing statements:

The mind indeed is of the form of space. The mind indeed is Omni faced. The mind is the past. The mind is present and future and all phenomena. But in absolute reality, there is no mind.

All your senses are like clouds; all they show is an endless mirage.  The Radiant One is neither bound nor free.I am the Bliss, I am the Truth, I am the Boundless Sky

There is neither knowledge nor ignorance nor knowledge combined with ignorance. He who has always such knowledge is himself Knowledge. It is never otherwise.

How shall I salute the formless being, indivisible, auspicious and immutable, who fills all this with its self and also fills the self with its self?
Know it firmly, freely, independently. And maintain it at all times, all conditions. That is all. Be Avadhuta Dattatreya yourself; because, you are yourself that.

3.2. In the Ashtavakra Gita, sage Ashtavakra maintains that all prayers, mantras, rituals, meditation, actions, devotion, breathing practices, etc are secondary. These distract the aspirant from self-knowledge. Knowledge/awareness is all that is required. Ignorance does not exist in itself; it is just the absence of knowledge or the lack of awareness. The light of knowledge or consciousness will dispel ignorance revealing the Self. The Self is merely forgotten, not lost.

This is not a belief system or a school of thought. This is simply ‘What Is’ and the recognition of ‘What is’.

Attachment and aversion/ Are attributes of the mind./ You are not the mind. You are Consciousness itself–Changeless, undivided, free./ Go in happiness

rāgadveṣau manodharmau na manaste kadācana । nirvikalpo’si bodhātmā nirvikāraḥ sukhaṃ cara ॥ 15-5॥

Ashtavakra does not pay much heed to book learning or to the importance given to mind and its control. You are already free, what will you gain by deliberating or pondering. Remain unattached at all times from all things (including the mind). He advocates direct approach. Teachings of Sri Ramana are remarkably similar to that of sage Ashtavakra.

You can recite and discuss scripture / All you want,/ But until you drop everything / You will never know Truth.

ācakṣva śṛṇu vā tāta nānā śāstrā aṇyanekaśaḥ । tathāpi na tava svāsthyaṃ sarva vismaraṇād ṛte ॥ 16-1॥


Ashtavakra then attacks the futility of effort and knowing.

Being pure consciousness, / Do not disturb your mind with thoughts of for and against./ Be at peace and remain happily’ In yourself, the essence of joy.   15.19

mā saṅkalpavikalpābhyāṃ cittaṃ kṣobhaya cinmaya । upaśāmya sukhaṃ tiṣṭha svātmanyānandavigrahe ॥ 15-19॥

Give up meditation completely/ But don’t let the mind hold on to anything./ You are free by nature,/  So what will you achieve by forcing the mind? 15.20

tyajaiva dhyānaṃ sarvatra mā kiṃcid hṛdi dhāraya । ātmā tvaṃ mukta evāsi kiṃ vimṛśya kariṣyasi ॥ 15-20॥

I Am Awareness./ Where are principles and scriptures?/ Where is the disciple or teacher?’ Where is the reason for life?/ I am boundless, Absolute

kva māyā kva ca saṃsāraḥ kva prītirviratiḥ kva vā । kva jīvaḥ kva ca tadbrahma sarvadā vimalasya me ॥ 20-11॥

kva pravṛttirnirvṛttirvā kva muktiḥ kva ca bandhanam । kūṭasthanirvibhāgasya svasthasya mama sarvadā ॥ 20-12॥



3.3. Atma_vidya_vilasa is written in simple, lucid Sanskrit. Its subject is renunciation. It also describes the ways of the Avadhuta, as one who is beyond the pale of social norms , beyond Dharma , beyond good and evil; as  one who has discarded scriptures, shastras , rituals or even the disciplines prescribed for sannyasins;one who has gone beyond the bodily awareness , one who realized the Self and one immersed in the bliss of self-realization. He is absolutely free and liberated in every sense – one who “passed away from” or “shaken off” all worldly attachments and cares, and realized his identity with God. The text describes the characteristics of an Avadhuta, his state of mind, his attitude and behavior. The text undoubtedly is a product of Sadashiva Brahmendra’s own experience. It is a highly revered book among the Yogis and Sadhakas.

One of such Sadhakas who really emulated Sadashiva Brahmendra and evolved into an Avadhuta was the 34th  Acharya , the Jagad-guru  of Sri Sringeri Mutt, Sri Chandrasekhar Bharathi Swamiji. He studied Atma_vidya_vilasa intensely, imbibed its principles and truly lived according to that in word and deed. Unmindful of the external world, he roamed wildly in the hills of Sringeri like a child, an intoxicated, and an insane; and as one possessed, singing aloud the verses from Atma_vidya_vilasa:

Discard the bondages of karma. Wander in the hills immersed in the bliss of the Self -unmindful of the world like a deaf and a blind (AVV-15)

avadhūtakarmajālo jaḍabadhirāndhopamaḥ ko’pi । ātmārāmo yatir āḍaṭavīkoṇeśvaṭannāste ॥ 15॥

Rooted in the Brahman absorbed in the bliss within, he for a while meditates, for a while sings and dances in ecstasy. (AVV-21)

tiṣṭhanparatra dhāmni svīyasukhāsvādaparavaśaḥ kaścit । kvāpi dhyāyati kuhacidgāyati kutrāpi nṛtyati svaram ॥ 21॥

He sees nothing, hears nothing, and says nothing. He is immersed in Brahman and in that intoxication is motionless.(AVV-44)

paśyati kimapi na rūpaṃ na vadati na śṛṇoti kiñcidapi vacanam । tiṣṭhati nirupamabhūmani niṣṭhāmavalambya kāṣṭhavadyogī ॥ 44॥

4. 1.The Lankavatara Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhism is another text of the “crazy wisdom” tradition.  It was the text that Bodhidharma followed all his life and bequeathed it to his disciple and successor Hui K’o . Its basic thrust is on “inner enlightenment that does away with all duality.”  One of the recurrent themes in the Lankavatara Sutra is, not to rely on words to express reality. It holds the view that objects do not owe their existence to words that indicate them. The words themselves are artificial creations. Ideas, it says, can as well be expressed by looking steadily, by gestures, by a frown, by the movement of the eyes, by laughing, by yawning, or by the clearing of the throat, or by recollection, or by trembling.

Bodhidharma instructed his disciples to: “Leave behind the false, return to the true; make no discrimination between self and others. In contemplation, one’s mind should be stable, alert and clear like the wall; illuminating with compassion. “

4.2. In Zen too, the “holy madness” is widely used by the roshi (teacher). The adepts of Zen make use of shock techniques such as sudden shouting, abuses, physical violence, hand­clapping, paradoxical verbal responses, koans and riddles in order to induce satori or enlightenment.

4.3. Tibetan Buddhism also has its share of eccentric Lamas who use unconventional methods to initiate their disciples into enlightenment. Crazy wisdom in Tibetan is yeshe cholwa, where craziness and wisdom walk hand in hand. It is craziness gone wise rather than wisdom gone crazy. Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) and Karma Pakshi the second Karmapa are the celebrated crazy-wisdom – teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. They both were regarded as being able to overpower the phenomenal world. They demonstrated that what we call crazy is only crazy from the viewpoint of ego, custom and habit. Crazy wisdom is natural and effortless; not driven by the hope and fear.

There is also another set of “mad lamas (smyon‑pa) who reject  monastic tradition, ecclesi­astical hierarchy, societal conventions, and book learning.

4.4. Crazy wisdom is also practiced in Sufism, where it is known as “the path of blame.” Some Sufi mystics –majzubs – are known for their strange behaviour as well as for their heretical doctrine of their identification with the divine. The Sufi  practitioners of “crazy wisdom” pursue freedom and humility without concern for worldly consequences.

5.1. The crazy teachers were found not just in the East. Socrates was an archetypal wise fool who claimed that his wisdom was derived from his awareness of his ignorance.  His distinctive teaching method consisted in exposing the foolishness of the wise.

5.2. Even in the Christian tradition, the absurd notion that the fool may be wise and that the wise may be foolish—has long been in existence. It is often expressed as the “fool in Christ” or the “fool for Christ’s sake”. Here, foolish wisdom, the “holy folly”, is akin to “holy simplicity” or “learned ignorance”, which is an alternate way to rekindle the love of wisdom in the hearts of men and women. It is singular and sudden; and, is in contrast with the laborious common wisdom of the learned.

5.3. Europe in the sixth century seemed to be a great period for Crazy Adepts.  For instance, there was St. Simeon who liked to pretend insanity for effect.  Once he found a dead dog on a dung heap.  He tied the animal to his belt and dragged the corpse through town.  People of the town were outraged.  But, he was trying to demonstrate the uselessness of excess emotional “dead weight” that people drag through their lives.

The very next day, St. Simeon entered a church and just as the liturgy began, he threw nuts at the congregation.  St Simeon revealed on his deathbed that his life’s mission was to denounce hypocrisy and hubris.

5.4. Another example of the sixth-century spiritual silliness was Mark the Mad, a desert monk who was thought insane when he came into town to atone for his sins.  Only Abba Daniel saw the method in the monk’s madness, and declared the monk the only reasonable man in the city.

5.5. Saint Francis of Assisi was another example of foolish wisdom. He regarded himself as a fool deserving nothing but contempt and dishonour. He is cel­ebrated for his tender love for God and for God’s creatures, big and small.

6.1. The paradoxical idea that the fool may be wise is perhaps as old as humanity itself. It is a common experience that the untutored and innocent, including children, somehow seem to grasp profound truths, while the lettered and the learned just walk past it. Jesus alluded to it  when he thanked  and praised  God  for having hidden from the learned and the clever what he revealed to the merest children (Mt 11:25).

6.2. Without love, foolishness is just foolishness; and wisdom a mere collection of inflated bits of information. Ultimately, the fool­ish wisdom is a gift, a revelation received in humility of mind and simplicity of heart; an un-bounded, luminous, loving energy. It attains the power to convince and transform, more effectively than the sword and rhetoric.

That is possible only when it is graced by tender love for the fellow beings and for the fellow seekers.



Sources and References:

Crazy Spirituality

Wisdom of the Holy Fools


Crazy Wisdom


Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra

 Zen Stories by Sylvan Incao




Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Bodhidharma, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy, Vedanta, Zen


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What is no-mind?


1.1. When Bodhidharma (470 -543 AD) arrived in China, say in 520 or 526 AD, he setout to help people attain awakening through self-enquiry. The process of that self discovery later transformed into Zen which typically explained its attitude as “when I pass over the bridge, the bridge, but not the water flows” or “It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves.” These ideas were crystallized by Hui-Neng (638-713 AD) the sixth patriarch of the Cha’n school after Bodhidharma. Following him, Tsung-Kao (1089-1163) brought clarity to the issue and contributed to the development of Zen practice.

1.2. Tsung-Kao in his discourse addressed to his disciple Yung-Mao-Shih, explained how to go about the task of attaining enlightenment. He said, what matters is not hard work but the ability to let go and allow things to happen. Do not hurry; do not be lax lest you become lazy; but do as a musician does as he tunes the strings of a harp – neither too tight nor too loose.

1.3. He remarked that conceptualization or aimless wandering of mind in prejudices and favors is unsuitable for practice of Zen. The grasping mind, he said, is the one that thinks, plans, calculates and decides. How can that mind grasp the no-mind?

2.1. He explained: when I speak of no-mind, I do not mean a lump of clay or a dead wood or a block of stone. It is not lifeless; nor is it devoid of consciousness.  It does not also mean that mind will be paralyzed; no, it cannot be so because the mind by its nature is active and responsive. When I speak of no-mind, I refer to that which is natural and spontaneous at all times and in all circumstances.

2.2. This is analogues to what the Indian texts call unmaana, a clear mindBhagavadGita too asks na kimchid api chintaye stop aimless thinking, drifting; be awake. Awareness perhaps is the word. Tsung-Kao was instructing development of awareness.

2.3. He said, thoughts are like murals on a wall. There can be no painting without the wall; but, they cover and hide the wall. The wall in this context is awareness (prajna), free from thoughts; it is the no-mind. The wall here is analogues to the Vedanta’s imagery of the cloudless -clear –sky .This is also what Bodhidharma taught. He said the thoughts are devoid of substance; they are only shadow-like and have no independent existence. This was also the consistent theme of Sri Ramana Maharishi’s teachings.

The mind indeed is of the form of space. The mind indeed is Omni faced. The mind is the past. The mind is present and future and all phenomena. 
But in absolute reality, 
there is no mind.
 There is neither knowledge nor ignorance nor knowledge combined with ignorance. He who has always such knowledge is himself Knowledge.
 It is never otherwise.
– Avadhuta Gita


2.4. Tsung-Kao did not advocate any special effort. He said one must be ordinary, natural and unaffected. He asked his disciples to be spontaneous and natural.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing;  

Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

 In walking just walk;
In sitting just sit;
Above all, don’t wobble.

He also said do not strain or work too hard to be natural, then that begs the question.


Without making an effort

But remaining loose and natural

One can break the yoke

Thus gaining liberation.



3.1. According to Tsung-Kao, there are two aspects to Zen .One, is to develop the right view; and the other is to adopt the right practices. The right view (chien or samkhya) is compared to climbing up to the top of a hill and looking from there at the village below; it is comprehensive and uninvolved. The right practice (hsing or yoga) is compared to getting down to the bottom of the sea and walking along its floor. It is getting to the very root of the reality and working one’s way up from that level. Of the two aspects of Zen, the right “view” is considered more important and direct. Tsung-Kao emphasized that koan is the expedient method which combines the virtues of both the aspects.

3.2. Tsung-Kao was an influential figure in the development of Cha’n School. His importance lies mainly in his successful creation of a teaching method called Koan (Kung-an in Chinese, also called “public cases”) in Cha’ n meditation. The Koan gained an important position in later Zen. Koan originated in the ninth century and evolved into a dialogue or event that takes place between a Zen teacher and his student. It is in the nature of a problem, a Zen problem. It is not meant to be “understood “ or “solved”. A koan has no right or wrong answer.  In fact, the problem here has neither a solution nor an answer.  It is said, it cannot be solved; but it has to be dissolved. In most cases it is contextual; and  is in the way the student reacts and resolves the dilemma.  It is said , he who knows will know how to answer. The answers could come in a wide variety of manners, ranging from simple verbal responses to acrobatics.

It is the teacher who decides the level of understanding the student has attained, depending on the context and the way the student finds the way out of the dilemma.

3.3. [The use of absurdity for conveying a serious idea is not an exclusive preserve of Zen, many others have done it. But, using it for enlightenment is a Zen specialty. The koan is, however, just one of the many tools employed in Zen.

Almost every activity performed during the course of the day in the Japan of old was elevated to ‘the path of Zen’, whether it be drinking tea, ink-painting, pottery or archery and swordsmanship. Elaborate rules governed these, the trick was to bypass them and unite with the action. For instance, the Zen archer unlearns his training even as he stands poised with the bow drawn taut in his hands, aiming at the target. Just before he lets the arrow fly, he becomes one with the target. The subsequent release of the arrow has been equated with the resolution of a koan, both occurring without deliberation.]


4.1. The  Koans used in Zen are of two kinds; one  , the natural problems chosen from details of daily life and the other, mere verbal formations. It appears there are nearly two thousand koans in circulation.

The following, for instance, are some of the well-known koans.

*.What is the sound of one hand clapping?

*. Has a dog the Buddha- nature?

*.Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?

*.What was your real face before you were born?

*.All things return to the One.


4.2. Some Koans take the form of questions, like the one that asks, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?” There is no “right” answer to this question. It can be argued for years from either perspective, yes or no. there could be at least one other answer. It matters not at all whether the tree makes a sound or not. What is important is that it has fallen.

Has a dog the Buddha- nature?

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.

The “trick” appears to be, to “read between the lines” but also “within the words”. There is always more than that meets the eye.

Truly, words have no power.
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another’s mind.

To tread the sharp edge of a sword
To run on smooth-frozen ice,
One needs no footsteps to follow.
Walk over the cliffs with hands free.

[Please click here for a collection of about one hundred  koan parables, written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju (the “non-dweller). Please also see the gateless gate.]

4.3. The teacher introduces certain keywords such as: What; Who: No; and One. The student has to contemplate on those keywords. Koan is described as a complete mind; for when the mind is complete no koan presents a problem. Koan is compared to the use of a fish-hook; when the fish is full it does not bite the hook. It is also compared to a stone used to knock at the door; when the door is opened the stone is of no use. The purpose of koan is to open the door of awakening.

5.1. A typical koan is meant to generate the sensation of doubt-mass. The student is thrown into a vortex of doubt. But there is no intellectual solution to the doubt; it is a mere doubt without content .For instance, no one can really know the answer to a problem, such as:”Where did I come from before my birth; and where am I going after my death?”  The purpose of that koan is to create an intense sensation, a strong feeling and a load on one’s mind. One should stick to this doubt-mass, as they say, on one’s forehead, day and night; keep it there until one can neither drive it away nor put it down, even if one wants to.



5.2. Po-shan, a follower of Tsung-Kao, describes the state of a student thrown in the vortex of doubt: the whole world is turned to muddy vortex; without and within the body and mind; nothing seems to exist but this burden of doubt sensation; when he looks up, he does not see the sky and when he looks down he does not see the earth; walking or sitting, he is not aware of doing so. Mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers and the thought is pushed to the dead end.

As the Zen master said: When working at Zen one should not just wait. That is like a traveler who sits idly by the roadside and expects his home to reach him. No, he will have to reach home himself, walking all the way.

6. How does this happen?

6.1. It is explained, there are two aspects to a word or a thought; one is its head (hua tou) and the other its tail (hua wei). The head of a word or thought is the state of mind before a thought arises or a word is uttered. It represents the reality, devoid of forms. (It corresponds to para vak, of the Indian tradition) And, the tail of the word or thought is the state of mind after the thought has arisen and the word has been articulated. It is the world of common experience; seemingly real but lacking in substance. (This corresponds to vaikhari vak)

6.2. The Zen teacher asks the student to look inward and watch the state of mind before the thought arises. That is meant to “dissolve the mind’ (mano nasha) , break the thought-barrier to get out of the world of illusions. The mind then becomes void; and, the doubt-mass drops away leading to awakening. This surely is not easy; it takes years and years of practice. The student then returns to the normal world of transactions, but without clinging to it. For him, the mountains are again mountains and the rivers are again the rivers.

Whoever understands the first truth
should understand the ultimate truth.
The last and first,
Are they not the same?

6.2. To explain it from an Indian perspective, the Zen student, just as the follower of Sri Ramana, watches out objectively and identifies the birth of a thought. As he does that, the thought vanishes at once (like a thief sensing trouble, as Sri Ramana explained). The practitioner holds on to that interval of infinitesimal duration between death of a thought and the birth of another. He seizes that silence, that minute fraction in space and time and lets the mind stay open.  It is then, the self-mind or no-mind flashes forth like a clear, limpid pond as the mists hiding it melt away. If one could do that, one is said to be awake, at last. The Zen practitioner comes back, again and again, to that silence.

Lightning flashes,
Sparks shower.
In one blink of your eyes
You have missed seeing

7.1. The teacher cautions the student:   do not be deceived, the mist might envelop you again. Keep practising. Keep coming back to that no-mind. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also said, it was like cleaning and polishing a brass vessel day after day, lest it get dull and tainted.

7.2. The Zen as well as the Indian teachers stress repeatedly, that the process is not an intellectual exercise. It is to discover reality as it really is.  It is ones own experience of freedom from clinging, even while one is alive.  That is also the jivanmukthi of Vedanta. The mind merges with all conditions of life.


It is better to realize mind than body.
When the mind is realized one need not worry about body.
When mind and body become one
The man is free. Then he desires no praising.

In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;
In the summer, a refreshing breeze;
 in winter snow will accompany your.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Any season is a good season for you.

Under blue sky, in bright sunlight,
One need not search around.
Asking what Buddha is
Is like hiding loot in one’s pocket and declaring oneself innocent



Sources and References

Dhyana and Zen by Prof.SKR Rao


The Zen Frog


Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Bodhidharma, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy, Zen


Tags: , , , ,

Who were the Vratyas – the searching wanderers?

[This article attempts to trace the meaning that the term Vratya acquired  at various stages in the unfolding of Indian history; and, wonders how well that meaning mirrored the state of Indian society at that  given stage.]

Every civilization has certain unique features, which differentiate it from the rest. Indian civilization is distinguished by its resilience; continuity with change; and its diversity. The composite fabric of Indian civilization is woven with strands and shades of varying textures and hues.

Rig Veda repeatedly refers to the composite character of its society and to its pluralistic population. It mentions the presence of several faiths, cults and languages; and calls upon all persons to strive to become noble parts of that pluralistic society.

The pluralistic character of that society was characterized not merely by its composition but also by the divergent views held by its thinkers. There were non -conformists and dissenters even among the Vedic philosophers. In addition, there were individuals and groups who were outside the pale of the Vedic fold; and who practiced, the pre-Vedic traditions; and rejected the validity of the Vedas and its rituals.

The prominent among such dissenters and rebels were the Vratyas. They were an atrociously heterogeneous community; and defied any definition. Even to this day, the meaning of the term Vratya is unclear; and is variously described. The amazing community of the Vratyas included magicians, medicine men, shamans, mystics, materialists, vagrant or mendicant (parivrajaka), wandering madmen, roaming- footloose warriors, mercenaries, fire eaters, poison swallowers , libidinous pleasure seekers and wandering swarm of austere ascetics.

Some of them were violent and erotic; while some others were refined and austere; and a lot others were just plain crazy. It was a random assortment of nuts and gems.

[ Even in the later times , Vratya was used as derogatory term. For instance ; in the Drona parva of the Mahabharata (07,118.015) the Vrishni-s and Andhaka-s were branded Vratyas – uncouth and uncultured- vrātyāḥ saṃśliṣṭakarmāṇaḥ prakṛtyaiva vigarhitāḥ / vṛṣṇy andhakāḥ kathaṃ pārtha pramāṇaṃ bhavatā kṛtāḥ]

The Rig Veda mentions Vratyas about eight times (e.g. 3:26:6; 5:53:11; 5:75:9; 9:14:2); and five groups of the Vratyas are collectively called pancha-vrata (10:34:12). The Atharva Veda (15th kanda) devotes an entire hymn titled vratya- suktha (AVŚ_15,3.1 to AVŚ_15,18.5) to the “mystical fellowship” of the Vratyas. The Pancavimsa-brahmana Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas too talk about Vratyas; and, describe a sacrifice called Vratya-stoma, which is virtually a purification ritual.

The Rig Veda, generally, employs the term Vratya  to denote: breakaway group or an inimical horde or a collection of men of indefinite number; living in temporary settlements. The Atharva-Veda too, uses the word in the sense of a stranger or a guest or one who follows the rule; but, treats it with a lot more respect. Apparently, the perceptions changed a great deal during the intervening period.

The Jaiminiya Brahmana (2:222) describes  Vratyas   as ascetics roaming about themselves in an intoxicated state; and speak impure speech (Vacha hy avratam amedhyam vadanti) . The Tandya (24:18.2) , however, addresses them as divine-Vratyas (daivā vai vrātyāḥ sattram āsata budhena). The Vajasaneyi-samhita refers to them as physicians and as guardians of truth. They seem to have been a community of ascetics living under a set of strange religious vows (Vrata).

Interestingly, Shiva –Rudra is described as Eka –Vratya* (AV celebrating the glory of one- hundred – and- eight forms of Rudra hails Rudra as Vrata-pathi, the chief of the Vratyas (TS.

[ The Atharva-veda (AV: 15. 1-7) speaks of seven attendants of the exalted Eka Vratya, the Vratya par excellence  : Bhava of the intermediate space in the East;  Sarva in the South; Pashupati in the West; Ugra of the North; Rudra of the lower region; Mahadeva of the upper region ; Asani of  lightening ; and, Ishana of all the intermediate regions. It is said; though they are named differently they in truth are the varying manifestations of the one and the same Eka Vratya. While Rudra, Sarva, Ugra and Asani are the terrifying aspects, the other four: Bhava , Pashupathi a, Mahadeva and Ishana are peaceful aspects.

Of these, Bhava and Sarva by virtue of their rule over sky and earth protect the devote against calamities, contagious diseases and poisonous pollution.

sa ekavrātyo ‘bhavat sa dhanur ādatta tad evendradhanuḥ ||6||nīlam asyodaraṃ lohitaṃ pṛṣṭham ||7||nīlenaivā priyaṃ bhrātṛvyaṃ prorṇoti lohitena dviṣantaṃ vidhyatīti brahmavādino vadanti ||8|| (AVŚ_15,1.6a to 8a)]

[*  However, Dr.RC Hazra in his work Rudra in the Rg-veda (page 243) remarks that Eka-Vratya is to be identified with Prajapathi ; and , not with Rudra,  as some scholars seem to think.]

The Atharva Veda (15.2.1-2) makes a very ambiguous statement: “Of him in the eastern quarter, faith is the harlot, Mitra the Magadha, discrimination is the garment, etc…..” in the southern quarter Magadha is the mantra of the Vratya; in the other two quarters Magadha is the laughter and the thunder of the Vratya. (Mitra, maAtm, hasa and stanayitnur).  It is not clear what this statement implies. But it is taken to mean that the Magadha tribes were friends, advisers and thunder (strong supporters) of the Vratyas.

tasya prācyāṃ diśi śraddhā puṃścalī mitro māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ  – (AVŚ_15,2.1[2.5]e) ; tasya dakṣiṇāyāṃ diśy uṣāḥ puṃścalī mantro māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ – (AVŚ_15,2.2[2.13]e) ; tasya pratīcyāṃ diśīrā puṃścalī haso māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ -(AVŚ_15,2.3[2.19]e); tasyodīcyāṃ diśi vidyut puṃścalī stanayitnur māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ – (AVŚ_15,2.4[2.25]e)

The implication of this is rather interesting. The breakaway group from among the Vedic people (including the Pre-Vedic tribes), that is, the Vratyas left their mainland and roamed over to the East; and ultimately settled in the regions of Magadha, where they found friends and supporters. The reason for that friendly reception appears to be that the Magadha tribes in Eastern India were not in good terms with the Vedic people in the Indus basin; and saw no difficulty in accommodating the Vratyas. And, more importantly, the Magadhas did not follow or approve the Vedic religion; and they, too, just as the Vratyas, were against the rites, rituals and sacrifices of the Vedic community.

The Vedic people too did not seem to regard the Brahman of the Magadha region. They were considered not true Brahmins, but only Brahmins by birth or in name (brahma-bandhu Magadha-desiya)- (Latyayana Srauta sutra . 8.6)

The Vratyas roamed about, mostly, in the regions to the East and North-west of the Madhya-desha, that is, in the countries of Magadha and Anga . That is to say; the Vratyas were more in the East.  But, that does does not mean that they were confined only to the East. The Atharva Veda confirms that they traveled to all directions. However, their movements were restricted by the Himalayas in the North; Vindhyas in the South; and , by the unfriendly tribes in the West. But, in the East , they were free to roam about , without hindrance

They spoke the dialect of Prachya, the source of the languages of Eastern India. It is also said ; the Vratyas  also spoke  the language of the initiated (dīkṣita-vācaṃ vadanti) , though not themselves initiated (a-diksita), but as’ calling that which is easy to utter (a-durukta)  ‘ (Panchavimsa Brahmana, 17.1.9 aduruktavākyaṃ duruktam ) . This may mean that the Vratyas were familiar and comfortable both in Sanskrit and Prakrit.

garagiro vā ete ye brahmādyaṃ janyam annam adanty aduruktavākyaṃ duruktam āhur adaṇḍyaṃ daṇḍena ghnantaś caranty adīkṣitā dīkṣitavācaṃ vadanti ṣoḍaśo vā eteṣāṃ stomaḥ pāpmānaṃ nirhantum arhati yad ete catvāraḥ ṣoḍaśā bhavanti tena pāpmano ‘dhi nirmucyante

They lived alone or in groups, away from populated areas. They followed their own cult-rules and practices. They drifted far and wide; roamed from the Indus valley to banks of the Ganga. They were the wandering seekers.

 [According to Mahamahopadhyay Haraprasad Sastri,the vast territory to the South of the Ganga and North of the Vindhya ranges extending from Mudgagiri (Monghyr) in the East to the Charanadri (Chunar) in the West was called the land of Magadha tribes. The Anga region was around Bhagalpur area.]

The Kesi-suktha  of Rig Veda (10:13:6); Latyayana- sruta-sutra (8.6-7); Bahudayana –sruta- sutra (26.32); Panchavimsati Brahmana (17. 1.9-15) and vratya-sukta of Atharva Veda (15th kanda), provide graphic descriptions of these magis, the Vratyas. 

These descriptions, when put together, project a truly impressive, colorful and awe-inspiring image of the wandering Vratyas.

The Pancavimsa Brahmana of Sama Veda describes them as hordes , who rode open rickety chariots / carts, with planks (amargagamirthah) tied together with strings, suitable for rough roads (vipatha) drawn by  horses or  mules (LSS 8:6,10-11). The Vipatha was said to be in greater use in the Eastern regions (Prachyartha) – vipatha-vāhau vātaḥ sārathī reṣmā pratodaḥ kīrtiś ca yaśaś ca puraḥsarau – (AVŚ_15,2.2[2.14]f)

They carried lances (Pra-toda) , bows (AV 15.2.1)  and a goad (pratoda) .

They were distinguished by their black turbans (krishnam ushnisham dharayanti),  with flutters at the ends , worn in a slanting manner (LSS 8.6-7); wearing  garments with fringes of red (valukantani damatusam), two fringes on each side; a white blanket thrown across the shoulders (BSS 26.32); displaying long matted hair (kesi); a set of round ornaments for the ears (pravartau); jewels (mani) hanging by the neck;  rows of long necklaces of strange beads  (Kalmali) swinging across the chest ; two (dvi) deer-skins /sheepskins folded double (dvisamhitany ajinani) , tied together, for lower garment; and, footwear (Upanah) of black hide , with flaps, for the feet (upanahau).

 valūkāntāni dāmatūṣāṇītareṣāṃ dve dve dāmanī dve dve upānahau dviṣaṃhitāny ajināni – (PB 17.1.15) – etad vai vrātyadhanaṃ yasmā etad dadati tasminn eva mṛjānā yānti

The Panchavimsati Bralhmana (17.1.9-15) further states that the Vratya   leader (Grhapati)   was distinguished by brown robes ; and, silver ornaments for the neck.  He wore a turban (Usnisa), carried a whip (Pratoda), a kind of bow (Jyahroda*), was clothed in a black (krsnasa) garment and two skins (Ajina), black and white (krisna-valaksa), and owned a rough wagon (Viratha) covered with planks (phalakastirna). He also wore garment lined of silver coins (Niska). His shoes were black and pointed.

uṣṇīṣaṃ ca pratodaś ca jyāhṇoḍaś ca vipathaś ca phalakāstīrṇaḥ kṛṣṇaśaṃ vāsaḥ kṛṣṇavalakṣe ajine rajato niṣkas tad gṛhapateḥ  – (PB 17.1.14)

[* The descriptions of the Jya-hroda, a sort of arms carried by the Vratya, occur in the Pancavimsa Brahmana (17.1.14) as also in the Katyayana (22.4.2) and Latyayana (8.6.8) Sutras. It is described as a ‘bow not meant for use’ (ayogya’ dhanus); and also as a ‘bow without an arrow’ (dhanushka anisu). It obviously was a decorative-piece meant to enhance the impressive look of the Chief.]


Vratyas used a peculiar type of reclining seats (asandi)

Vratya Asandi

[A-sandi is a generic term for a seat of some sort  , occurring frequently in the later Samhitas and Brahmanas, but not in the Rig-Veda.  In the Atharvaveda (AV. 15.3.2) the settle brought for the Vratya is described at length. It had two feet, lengthwise and cross-pieces, forward and cross-cords. It had a seat (Asada) covered with a cushion (Astarana) and a pillow (Upabarhana), and a support (Upasraya)- āsandīm āruhyodgāyati devasākṣya eva tad upariṣadyaṃ jayat.

so ‘bravīd āsandīṃ me saṃ bharantv iti ||2||tasmai vrātyāyāsandīṃ sam abharan ||3||tasyā grīṣmaś ca vasantaś ca dvau pādāv āstāṃ śarac ca varṣāś ca dvau ||4||bṛhac ca rathantaraṃ cānūcye āstāṃ yajñāyajñiyaṃ ca vāmadevyaṃ ca tiraścye ||5||ṛcaḥ prāñcas tantavo yajūṃṣi tiryañcaḥ ||6||veda āstaraṇaṃ brahmopabarhaṇam ||7||sāmāsāda udgītho ‘paśrayaḥ ||8||tām āsandīṃ vrātya ārohat ||9||(AVŚ_15,3.1a- 9a)

The Satapatha Brahmana (Sat.Brh. also describes the Asandi as an elaborate low seat, with diminutive legs; and, of some length on which a man could comfortably stretch himself, if he chose to. And, more than one person could sit on such a seat. It was said to be made of Khadira wood, perforated (vi-trinna), and joined with straps (vardhra-yukta). It perhaps meant a long reclining chair/ rest. The Asandi is described in the Satapatha Brahmana, as a seat for a king or a leader.

maitrāvaruṇyā payasyayā pracarati | tasyā aniṣṭa eva sviṣṭakṛdbhavatyathāsmā āsandī māharant yuparisadyaṃ vā eṣa jayati yo jayatyantarikṣasadyaṃ tadena muparyāsīnamadhastādimāḥ prajā upāsate tasmādasmā āsandī māharanti saiṣā
khādirī vitṛṇā bhavati yeyaṃ vardhra -vyutā bharatānām ]


They moved among the warriors (yaudhas), herdsmen and farmers.  They did not care either for the rituals or for initiations (adhikshitah); and not at all for celibacy (Na hi brahmacharyam charanthi) . They did not engage themselves in agriculture (Na krshim) or in trade (Na vanijyam). They behaved as if they were possessed (gandharva grithaha) or drunk or just mad.

hīnā vā ete hīyante ye vrātyāṃ pravasanti na hi brahmacaryaṃ caranti na kṛṣiṃ vaṇijyāṃ ṣoḍaśo vā etat stomaḥ samāptum arhati – (PB 17.1.2)

The scholars generally believe, what has come down to us as Tantra is, in fact, a residue of the cult-practices of the Vratyas. The Tantra, even to this day, is considered non-Vedic, if not anti-Vedic.

The Atharva Veda (Vratya Kanda) mentions that Vratyas were also a set of talented composers and singers. They found they could sing a lot better- and probably hold the notes longer – if they practiced what they called pranayama, a type of breath control. They even attempted relating their body-structure to that of the universe. They learnt to live in harmony with nature. There is, therefore, a school of thought, which asserts, what came to be known as Yoga in the later periods had its roots in the ascetic and ecstatic practices of the Vratyas. And, the Vratyas were, therefore, the precursors of the later ascetics and yogis.

It is said, the theoretical basis for transformation of cult-practices into a system (Yoga) was provided by the Samkhya School. Tantra thus yoked Samkhya and Yoga. Over a long period, both Samkhya and Yoga schools merged with the mainstream and came to be regarded as orthodox (asthika) systems, as they both accepted the authority of the Vedas. Yet, the acceptance of Samkhya and Yoga within the orthodox fold seemed rather strained and with some reservation, perhaps because the flavor -the sense of their non-Vedic origin rooted in the Vratya cult practices of pre  Vedic period –  still lingers on.

The German scholar and Indologist Jakob Wilhelm Hauer (1881 –1962) – who had made the beginnings of Yoga in India the theme for his doctor’s thesis –   in his Der Yoga als Heilweg  (Yoga as a way of salvation) traces the origin of Yoga to the wandering groups of the Vratyas.

JW Hauer, who represented the leading commentators on Eastern thought in the days of CG Jung, mentions that many of the groups that had roots in the Vratya tradition (such as: Jaiminiyas, Kathas, Maitrayaniyas and Kausitakins) were eventually absorbed into the orthodox fold. He also remarks that Chandogya and Svetasvatara Upanishads are closer in spirit to the Vratya- Samkhya ideologies.

It is the Svetasvatara Upanishad which declares Rudra as the Supreme, matchless and one without a second – eko hi rudro na dvitiiyaaya tasthu – SV.3.2. It establishes Rudra as the Absolute, the ultimate essence, not limited by forms and names – na tasya pratima asti yasya nama mahadyasha – SV.4.19)

eko hi rudro na dvitīyāya tasthe ya imāṃl lokān īśata īśanībhiḥ / pratyaṅ janās tiṣṭhati saṃcukocāntakāle saṃsṛjya viśvā bhuvanāni gopāḥ // SvetUp_3.2 // 

nainam ūrdhvaṃ na tiryañcaṃ na madhye parijagrabhat / na tasya pratimā asti yasya nāma mahad yaśaḥ // SvetUp_4.19 // ]


The Samkhya school, in its earlier days, was closely associated two other heterodox systems, i.e., Jainism and Buddhism. In a historical perspective, Samkhya-Yoga and Jainism – Buddhism were derived from a common nucleus that was outside the Vedic tradition. And, that nucleus was provided by the Vratya movement.

Interestingly, Arada Kalama, the teacher of Gotama who later evolved in to the Buddha, belonged to Samkhya School. Gotama had a teacher from the Jain tradition too; he was Muni  Pihitasrava a follower of Parsvanatha. The Buddha later narrated how he went around naked, took food in his palms and observed various other rigorous restrictions expected of a Sramana  ascetic. The Buddha followed those practice for some time and gave them up, as he did not find merit in extreme austerities.

The Buddha, the awakened one, was a Yogi too. His teachings had elements of old-yoga practices such as askesis (self-discipline), control, restraint, release and freedom. The early Buddhism, in fact, preserved the Yogi – ideal of Nirvana.

Thus, the development of religions and practices in Eastern regions of India, in the early times, was inspired and influenced – directly or otherwise – by the Vratyas.

The contribution of the Vratyas, according to my friend Prof. Durgadas Sampath, was that they gave a very time and space based approach to the issues.  They were the initial social scientists with rationality as the anchor, he says.

Some of the characteristics of the Vratya-thought found a resonant echo in Jainism and Buddhism. Just to mention a few: Man and his development is the focal interest; his effort and his striving is what matters, and not god’s grace; the goal of human endeavor is within his realm; a man or a woman is the architect of one’s own destiny ; and there is nothing supernatural about his goals and his attainments. There was greater emphasis on contemplation, introspection, pratikramana (back-to-soul),; and a deliberate shift away from  exuberant rituals and sacrifices seeking health, wealth and happiness.

The Vratya was neither a religion, nor was it an organized sect. It was a movement seeking liberation from the suffocating confines of the establishment and searching for a meaning to life and existence. The movement phased out when it became rather irrelevant to the changed circumstances and values of its society.  The Vratyas, the searching wanderers, the rebels of the Rig Vedic age, faded in to the shadowy corners of Vedic religion, rather swiftly; yet they left behind a lingering influence on other systems of Indian thought.


The Jain tradition claims that it existed in India even from pre- Vedic times and remained unaffected by the Vedic religion. It also says, the Jain religion was flourishing, especially in the North and Eastern regions of India, during the Vedic times.

Because of the basic differences in their tenets and practices, the two traditions opposed each other. As a part of that ongoing conflict, certain concepts and practices appreciated by one religion were deprecated by the other. The term Vratya was one such instance.

The term Vratya has a very long association with Jainism; and its connotation in Jainism is astonishingly different from the one implied in the Vedic tradition where it is employed to describe an inimical horde. On the other hand, Vratya in Jainism is a highly regarded and respected term. The term Vratya, in the Jaina context, means the observer of vratas or vows.

Thus, while the Vedic community treated the Vratyas as rebels and outcasts, the tribes in the eastern regions hailed Vratyas as heroes and leaders (Vratya Rajanya).

The Vedic and the Jain traditions both glorify certain Kings who also were great religious Masters. In the Hindu tradition, Lord Rsabha – son of King Nabhi and Merudevi, and the ancestor of Emperor Bharata (after whom this land was named Bharatavarsha) is a very revered figure : ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयतेभरताय

The Rig Veda and Yajur Veda, too, mention Rishabhadeva and Aristanemi.

According to the Jain tradition Rishabhadeva is the first Tirthankara of the present age (avasarpini); and, Aristanemi is the twenty-second Tirthankara.

The Jain tradition refers to Rishabhadeva as Maha-Vratya, to suggest he was the great leader of the Vratyas.

Further, the Mallas, in the northern parts of the present-day Bihar, with their capital at  the city of Kusavati or Kusinarawere a brave and warlike people; and were one of the earliest independent republics (Samgha). The Jaina Kalpasutra refers to nine Mallakis as having formed a league with nine Lichchhavis, and the eighteen Ganarajas of Kasi-Kos’ala.They were also said to be  a part of a confederation of eight republics (atthakula)  until they were vanquished and absorbed into the Magadha Empire, at about the time of the Buddha. The Mallas were mentioned as Vratya – Kshatriyas.

Similarly, their neighboring tribe, the Licchhavis who played a very significant role in the history and development of Jainism were also called as the descendants of Vratya-Kshatriyas. Mahavira was the son of a Licchhavi princess; and he had a considerable following among the Licchhavi tribe. In the Jaina Kalpa Sutra, Tris’ala, the sister of  Chetaka – the Lichchhavi chief of Vesali, is styled Kshatriyani  .

The Buddha too visited Licchhavi on many occasions; and had great many followers there. The Licchhavis were closely related by marriage to the Magadhas.

The Buddhist tradition has preserved the names of eminent Lichchhavis like prince Abhaya, Otthaddha, Mahali, general Siha, Dummukha and Sunakkhatta. The Mallas, like the Lichchhavis , were ardent champions of Buddhism. In the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta they are sometimes called Vasetthas

Pundit Sukhlalji explains,  the two ethnic groups of ‘Vratva’ and ‘Vrsala’ followed non-Vedic tradition; and both believed in non‑violence and austerities.  He suggests that both the Buddha and Mahavira were Kshatriyas of Vrsala group. He also remarks that the Buddha was known as ‘Vrsalaka’.

It is not surprising that the Lichchavi, Natha and Malla clans of Eastern India proved fertile grounds for sprouting of non-Vedic religions such as Jainism and Buddhism.

Thus, both Buddhism and Jainism were in tune with  the philosophic atmosphere prevailing in Magadha, around sixth century BCE. Apart from his philosophical principles, the Buddha’s main contribution was his deprecation of severe asceticism in all religions and acceptance of a sensible and a rational approach to life.

The nucleus for development of those non Vedic religion was, reputedly, the ideas and inspiration derived for the Vratya movement.


In the mean time Vedic perception of Vratyas had undergone a dramatic sea- change.

Latyayana –srauta-sutra (8.6.29) mentions that after performing Vratya-homa the Vratya should Tri-vidya-vrti the threefold commitment to study of Vedas, participating in the performance of Yajnas; and giving and accepting gifts. These three were the traditional ways of the priestly class.

Apasthamba (ca. 600 BCE), the Lawgiver and the celebrated mathematician who contributed to development of Sulbasutras, refers to Vratya as a learned mendicant Brahmin, a guest (athithi) who deserves to be welcomed and treated with respect. Apasthamba, in support of that, quotes sentences to be addressed by the host to his guest from the passages in Atharva Veda (15:10 -13).

According to Atharva Veda, Vratya is a srotriya, a student of the scriptures, (of at least one recession), and a learned person  (Vidvan) faithful to his vows (vratas). In summary, the passages ask:

” Let the king , to whose house the Vratya who possesses such knowledge comes as a guest , honor him as superior to himself, disregarding his princely rank or his kingdom.

Let him, to whose house the Vratya possessing such knowledge comes as a guest, rise up of his own accord to meet him, and say “Vratya, where didst thou pass the night? Vratya, here is water; let it refresh thee .Vratya let it be as thou pleasest. Vratya, as thy wish is so let be it done.”

[From Hymns of the Atharva Veda, by Ralph T.H. Griffith…Hymn x and xi of Book 15]

[ tád yásyaiváṁ vidvān vrā ́tyo rājñó ’tithir gṛhān āgáchet  // – 15.10.1

Śréyāmsam enam ātmáno mānayet táthā kṣatrāya  nā ́ vṛścate táthā rāṣṭrāya nā ́ vṛścate // -1510.2

tád yásyaiváṁ vidvān vrā ́tya úddhṛteṣv agníṣu ádhiśrite agni hotré ’tithir gṛhān āgáchet // – 1`5.12.1

tád yásyaiváṁ vidvān vrā ́tya ékāṁ  rā ́trim átithir gṛhé vásati  / yé pṛthivyā ́ṁ púnyā lokā ́s tān evá ténā ́va rundhe// — 15.13.1 ]

There is, thus, a gulf of difference between the perception of the early and later Vedic periods. This amazing transformation seems to have come about as a result of sustained and successful contacts between the Upanishads and the systems of Samkhya and Yoga. There was a healthy interaction between the two streams of the Indian tradition. The Samkhya-Yoga ideas found a place in the Upanishads. At the same time, the Upanishads brought its impact on Buddhism and Jainism. The savants of orthodox tradition such as Kumarila Bhatta (ca.6th century AD) accepted the Buddhist schools as authoritative because they had their roots in the Upanishads. (Tantra vartika)

The ideologies of the two traditions moved closer during the period of Upanishads. It was a period of synthesis.


The term Vratya acquired a totally different meaning by the time of the Dharma Shastras. Manu Smruti (dated around third or second century BCE) states that, if after the last prescribed period, the twice-born remain uninitiated, they become Vratyas, fallen from Savitri. (Manusmriti: verse II.39)

Manusmriti (verse X.20)  also informs that those whom the twice-born  ( Brahmin , Kshatriya and Vaishya ) beget from  wives of equal caste, but who, not fulfilling their sacred duties, are excluded from the Savitri (initiation), must also designate by the appellation Vratyas.

The samskara of initiation or upanayana (ceremony of the thread) was considered essential for the dvijas (the twice-born). Manusmriti mentions the recommended age for upanayana and for commencing the studies. It also mentions the age before which these should take place.

In the eighth year after conception, one should perform the initiation (Upanayana ceremonies of sacred thread) of a Brahmana, in the eleventh year after conception (that) of a Kshatriya, but in the twelfth year that of a Vaisya. (MS: II.36)

The initiation of a Brahmana who desires proficiency in sacred learning should take place in the fifth year after conception, that of a Kshatriya who wishes to become powerful in the sixth, and that of a Vaisya who longs for success in his business in the eighth.(Ms: II.37)

The time for the Savitri initiation of a Brahmana does not pass until the completion of the sixteenth year (after conception), of a Kshatriya until the completion of the twenty-second, and of a Vaisya until the completion of the twenty-fourth. (MS: II.38)

After those (periods men of) these three (castes) who have not received the sacrament at the proper time, become Vratyas (outcastes), excluded from the Savitri (initiation) (MS. II.39)

garbhāṣṭame’bde kurvīta brāhmaasyaupanāyanam | 
garbhādekādaśe rājño garbhāt tu dvādaśe viśa || 36 ||

brahmavarcasakāmasya kāryo viprasya pañcame | 
rājño balārthina aṣṭhe vaiśyasyaihārthino’ṣṭame || 37 ||

ā odaśād brāhmaasya sāvitrī nātivartate | 
ā dvāviśāt katrabandhorā caturviśaterviśa || 38 ||

ata ūrdhva trayo’pyete yathākālamasask | 
sāvitrīpatitā vrātyā bhavantyāryavigarhitā || 39 ||

Oddly, the insistence on upanayana and making it compulsory seems to have come into vogue in the post-Upanishad period. During the Atharvana period, initiation was regarded as second-birth; and was associated with commencement of studies or as a requirement for performing a sacrifice. The significance of the second birth in the Vedic time was, therefore, largely, religious and not social. Not everyone was required to obtain the Upanayana samskara. The upanayana was a voluntary ceremony for those who wished to study or perform a sacrifice.

It was only after the Grihya-sutras crystallized, upanayana turned into a samskara, as a recognition of ones position in the social order.Some scholars , however , suggest, Vratya does not necessarily denote a person who has not undergone upanayana samskara; but, it refers to one who does not offer Soma sacrifice or keep the sacred fire(agnihotra).


 [ Dr. Ananat Sadashiv Altekar  ( 1898-1960)- who was the Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture at Banaras Hindu University –  (in his Education in Ancient India, 1934) explains that it was in the times of the Upanishads that the Upanayana ceremony gained greater importance. Upanayana literally meant taking a young boy to a teacher in order to hand him over to the latter for his education in the Vedas.  Thus, the Upanayana occasion  marked the entry of a student, as an inmate (Antevasin), into Guru-kula to pursue Vedic studies. The Upanayana was thus primarily linked to pursuit of studies; and, it was not compulsory for all.

And, again, an Upanayana had to be performed every time a student approached a new teacher; or, when he embarked upon a new branch of study. Dr. Altekar mentions that there were occasions when even married men had to undergo Upanayana while approaching a renowned teacher for learning a new subject (Br. Up.6.2.4). And, such a ceremony that was so often repeated, Dr. Altekar opines, could not have been an elaborate one. It was, by its very nature, a domestic and simple performance. The student had to approach the Teacher, holding the sacred fuel (Samitt), and indicating his complete willingness to learn and to serve the Teacher, as also to tend his sacred Agni-s (Ch.Up.6.5.5 and 5.11.7; and Mu. Up. 1.2.12).

An ardent young student entering a new phase of life after Upanayana was said to be born a second time – Dvija. (A similar notion of a ‘second-birth’ came into vogue in Buddhism when lay person was admitted into the Sangha)

According to Dr.Altekar,  for several centuries, Upanayana was not regarded as a Samskara ritual. And, it seems to have become a popular Samskara – ceremony only in the later times. In the earlier times, one was called a Vratya if he was not offering Soma sacrifice or if one was not tending to sacred fires. But, in the later times, the one who had not undergone a Upanayana Samskara came to labelled a Vratya. Subsequently, such a Vratya was re-admitted into the orthodox fold (even if his past three ancestors had failed to undergo Upanayana altogether- Vratya pita pitamaho va na Somam priveshya Vratyah – Sri Madhava’s commentary on Parasara Smriti), provided he underwent the purification ritual of Vratya –stoma (Paraskara Grihya Sutra 2.5)

In course of time, Upanayana came to be regarded as an essential bodily Samskara (Sarira samskara) for all the three classes. And, the non-performance of Upanayana would disqualify one from entering into a valid wedlock.

Although Manu prescribed 8th, 11th and 12th year as suitable for performance of the Upanayana for the Brahmana, Kashtriya and Vaishya boys, it was not taken by the later Law-givers as an absolute norm. For instance; Baudhayana considered anytime between 8 and 16 years of age, for all classes, as suitable. The change in the norm perhaps came about because of the change in the conception and the nature of the Upanayana. In the earlier times, Upanayana marked the commencement of Vedic education ; and, therefore, the child had to start learning at a quite young age. But when Upanayana became a bodily Samskara, any age between 8 and 16 was considered good enough. In any case, commencement of  Vedic studies after the age of 16 was discouraged, perhaps because it was thought that the boy’s capacity to absorb and learn a new subject might have by then gone rather slow.


Since the Upanayana ceremony was linked to commencement of education, the Upanayana of girls was as common as that of boys. There is ample evidence to show that such was the case. The Atharvaveda (XI. 5. 18) expressly refers to maidens undergoing the Brahmanharya discipline (brahmacaryeṇa kanyā yuvānaṃ vindate patim ) ; and, the Sutra texts of the 5th century B. C. supply interesting details in its connection. Even Manu includes Upanayana among the sanskaras (rituals) obligatory for girls (II. 66).

After about the beginning of the Christian era, the Upanayana for girls went out of vogue. But, Smriti writers of even the 8th century A. D. like Yama admit that in the earlier times the girls had the privilege of Upanayana and Vedic studies.

The discontinuance of Upanayana was disastrous to the educational and religious status of women. The mischief caused by the discontinuance of Upanayana was further enhanced by the lowering of the marriageable age. In the Vedic period girls were married at about the age of 16 or 17; but by Ca. 500 B. C. the custom arose of marrying them soon after the attainment of puberty. Later writers like Yajnavalkya (200 A. D.), Samvarta and Yama, vehemently condemn the guardian who fails to marry a girl before the attainment of the puberty. Therefore, the Smritis written by 11th century began to glorify the merits of a girl’s marriage at the age of 7, 8, or 9, when it was regarded as an ideal thing to celebrate a girl’s marriage at so young an age, female education could hardly prosper. ]


In any case, during the period of Dharma sastras, those who did not adhere to the prescriptions of the sastras and did not perform the prescribed rites and ceremonies were termed Vratyas.There were, obviously, many people who didn’t bother to follow the rules.

The smritis therefore, provided a provision for purification of the errant persons through a ritual (vratya stoma); and created a window for taking them back into the fold; and for rendering them eligible for all rites and rituals.

[ In the Puranas , the Sisunaga kings are mentioned as Kshattra -bandhus, i. e., Vratya Kshatriyas.]

The object of the entire exercise undertaken by the sastras, seemed to be to build and preserve a social order, according to its priorities .But, in the later periods these smaskaras lost their social significance, entirely. The social conditions deteriorated rapidly during the medieval period.  Even in the religious life, upanayana remained just a routine ritual, often meaningless. Agnihotra vanished almost entirely.

In a way of speaking , almost all of us are Vratyas, in terms of the smritis.

[.. Let me digress, here, for a little while.

In the Vedic era, women were initiated into the thread ceremony. It was essential for both sexes who wished to study [Atharva Veda 11.5.18a, Satpatha Brahmana., and Taittariya Brahamana II.3.3.2-3]

Yama, a Law-giver even prior to Manu, upheld education for women, but stipulated the female students should not engage in begging their meals, wearing deer-skins or growing matted hair (as male students might do) [VirS.p.402]

All that changed radically, for worse, during the period of Dharma sastras. The woman lost the high status she once enjoyed in Vedic society. She lost some of her independence.  She became an  object to be protected.

The harsh prescriptions of the Dharma shatras have to be placed in the context of its times, in order to understand why such changes came about.

The period after 300 B.C witnessed a succession of invasions and influx of foreigners such as the Greeks, the Scythians, the Parthian, the Kushans and others. The political misfortunes, the war atrocities followed by long spells of anarchy and lawlessness had a disastrous effect on the society. Fear and insecurity haunted the common people and householders.

Sons were valued higher than the daughters because of the increased need for fighting males, in order to survive the waves of onslaughts. It was   imperative to protect women from abductors. The then society deemed it advisable to curtail women’s freedom and movements. The practice of early marriage perhaps came in as a part of those defensive measures. The education of the girl child was no longer a priority. The Sastras compromised by accepting marriage as a substitute for Upanayana and education. The neglect of education, imposing seclusion and insecurity that gripped their lives, had disastrous consequences upon the esteem and status of women .The society in turn sank into depravity.

The Manusmruti and other Dharmasastras came into being at the time when the orthodox society was under dire threat and when it was fighting for survival. The society had entered in to self preservation – mode. The severity of the Dharma Shastras was perhaps a defensive mechanism, in response to the threats and challenges thrown at its society.

Its main concern was preserving the social order and to hold the society together. Though the sastras pointed out the breaches in observance of the prescribed code of behavior, it was  willing to condone the lapses, purify the wayward and naughty; and admit them back into the orthodox fold. Further, It even readily took  under its fold the alien hordes such as Kushans, Yavanas (Ionians or Greeks), Sakas (Scythians) and others; and recognized them as Vratya – Kshatriyas…]


To sum up, Vratya in the early Rig Veda denoted an amorphous collection of heterogeneous groups of pre- Vedic tribes and  the dissenters from among the Vedic community, who rejected the Vedic concepts and extrovert practices of rites, rituals and sacrifices seeking from the gods gifts of health, wealth and glory. The Vratyas turned in to nomads and drifters. The wandering seekers roamed the land and finally settled down in the Magadha region, in the East, where they found acceptance.

The Vratyas appeared to be a set of extraordinarily gifted and talented people, who brought fresh perspectives to life and existence; to the relations between man and nature and between nature and universe. Their innovative ideas spawned the seeds for sprouting of systems of thought such as samkhya and Yoga. Those systems in turn inspired and spurned the movement toward rationalism and man -centered – non Vedic religious systems Jainism and Buddhism.

What the Vratyas did, in effect, was they deliberately moved  away from the extrovert and exuberant rites and rituals; brought focus on man and his relation with the nature and his fellow beings. Their scheme of things was centered round reason (not intuition). They turned the mind inwards, contemplative and meditative.

It is clear that in the ancient times, the two religious systems – one in the Indus valley on the west and the other along the banks of the Ganga in the east- developed and flourished independent of each other. Their views on man – soul –world – god relationships, differed significantly. Because of the basic differences in their tenets and practices, the two traditions opposed each other. They seemed to have even stayed away from each other. That, in a manner, explains why the Saraswathi is referred over fifty times in the Rig Veda, while the Ganga hardly gets mentioned.

Towards the later Vedic era something magical (chamathkar) appears to have taken place. By the time of Atharvana period, the concepts and perceptions of the two traditions seemed to have moved closer.The later Vedic traditions recognized and and accorded Vratyas a place of honor. That was  the result of  sustained and successful contacts between the Upanishads and the systems of Samkhya and Yoga; and the impact that Upanishads brought  on Buddhism and Jainism. It was the age of understanding and  synthesis.

The interaction between the two systems heightened during the period of the Buddha and Mahavira. In the later centuries, the texts of the orthodox school (e.g. Brahma sutras, Yoga Sutra, Panini’s grammar, Anu Gita etc.) devoted more attention and space for discussing the Buddhist principles, especially the theories relating to cognition.

The shift towards East was symbolized by the transfer of the intellectual capital of ancient  India from Takshashila (Taxila) to Pataliputra (Patna) and Nalanda, when Taxila was overrun by the invading Persians (third century BCE).That provided an impetus not merely for fresh activity within the orthodox schools , but also for greater interaction with the heterodox religions.

Both the traditions inspired, influenced and enriched each other over the centuries; absorbing and complementing each other’s principles and practices; and finally synthesizing into that fabulous composite culture, the Indian culture.

That synthesis was symbolized when the post Vedic tradition hailed and worshipped its god Ganapathy with the joyous chant Namo Vratapataye – salutations to the chief of the Vratyas.( Ganapaty-atharva-shirsha)

The Dharmasastras mark a period of degeneration in the orthodox society, as it reeled under the onslaught of hordes of successive invaders and plunderers. The concerns of security and survival took precedence over innovation, development and expansion. It became an inward looking society seeking for right answers and remedies to preserve its form and structure. It’went in to a self-preservation mode. Its society metamophasized and shrank into a pupa:  cautious and ultra conservative.

Vratya then meant someone naughty and unmanageable ( It appears , it is only the Marathi language that still retains such meaning of the term). Yet, the society could ill afford to abandon him to his whims and wayward manners. It was willing to pardon, purify and welcome him back in to its fold, clasping him dearly to its bosom. It was ready to accept even   the foreigners as its own.For instance ;  the medieval Rajput families descended from immigrant races from West in the distant past were treated Vratya-Kshatriyas ; and given pedigrees going back to Rama, Yadu, Arjuna and such other heroes of the mythologies

Thereafter, for a long period of time, the term Vratya went off the radar screen of the Indian religious life; because the samskaras and their associated disciplines had lost their sanctity and significance.

Shivaji Coronation

The only other occasions when Vratya came in to play , were in the context of the vratya stoma purifying ceremonies.

*. Vratya stoma ceremonies were performed before anointment and coronation of kings, in the middle ages. For instance, Shivaji went through Vratya stoma and upanayana ceremonies, on May 29, 1674, before he was crowned.(For details , please refer to Malhar Ramarao Chitnis – Siva chatrapathiche charitra Ed by K N Sane , 1924 – based on the reports of eyewitnesses and court officials – page 197 of the Book / page 228 of the link )

*. Even as late as in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hindus returning from foreign lands were purified through Vratya stoma.

*. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan stated that individuals and tribes were absorbed in to Hinduism through vratyastoma.(The Hindu View of Life)

*. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami cites many instances of people forcibly converted to other faiths  re -admitted to Hinduism and issued Vratya stoma certificates.


At each stage in the evolution of Indian History, Vratya was accorded a different meaning; and that meaning amply mirrored the state of Indian society at that stage.

The obscure term Vratya, in a strange manner, epitomizes and conceals in its womb the tale of unfolding of Indian thought through the ages.


Sources and references:

 Early Indian Thought by prof.SK Ramachandra Rao

‘The Path of Arhat: A Religious Democracy’ by Justice T. U. Mehta

Jaina Tradition and Buddhism:

Rsabha in the Atharvaveda by Dr. Satya Pal Narang

Mention of Magadha in Vedic Literature

SanatanaDharma –sources

Sanathana Dharma – Vratya

Hymns of the Atharva Veda, by Ralph T.H. Griffith…Hymn x and xi of Book 15

Does Hinduism Accept Newcomers? Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami 

The Vratyas and their references in the Brahmanical  and Buddhist Literature by Prof . L . B. keny  (proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol.9 (1946); pages 106 to 113




Posted by on September 13, 2012 in History, Indian Philosophy, Rigveda, Vratya


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(A bunch of thoughts – Posted in response to a Note from Shri D Sampath)


In both the Shakta and Shaiva traditions of Tantra school, the Ultimate Reality is conceived as the Unity of Shakti and Shiva They are regarded as one.

Ardhanarishvara “the Lord Whose Half Is Woman” represents a transgendered being created by the union of Shiva (male) and Shakti (female). The Ardhanari form illustrates how the female principle of God- Shakti is inseparable from the male principle of God – Shiva. The Ardhanarishvara, above all, represents the totality that lies beyond duality.

Siva in the compound form of Ardha-nari is a hermaphrodite from whose womb the phenomenal existence proceeds.

Shiva Ardha-nari is described, as being the Soul of the World, and as partaking of the nature of both sexes. From him, all existence is derived. The creation is evolving itself. Death is nothing more than a change of body and a passing from state of visibility into invisibility. Every moment, some part of the world passes into this Invisibility. It does not utterly perish, but only disappears from our sight, or being translated into some other form.

There is also a tradition , which visualizes the whole of this existence as the unity of Lakshmi the Goddess  and Vishnu. The Devi is the Mother principle that brings forth and sustains this Universe.

vishnu lakshmi combined

According to  Shaktha tradition, Devi is identified as the source of all manifestation, male and female … it is her body that splits in half. In other words, she is the androgynous divine.  Shakthas therefore customarily refer to the hermaphrodite from as Ardhanarishwari using the feminine ending i to suggest saying she is “a goddess who is half woman”.

(Devi as Ardha-purusha)

The significance of this view is rather interesting. Shakta creation theories place the Goddess at the center of the scheme of things. They argue that since the nature of the Cosmos is reflected in the human body; and since it is the Female who gestates and gives birth to new life,  it  is appropriate to recognize  the hermaphrodite from as being principally feminine.

In the Shakta view, the Ardhanarishwari illustrates Devi, the Goddess, as producing her consort Shiva out of herself, balancing perfectly her feminine and masculine aspects.

[ I reckon, the arguments about the male or female orientations of Ardha-nari are rather pointless, beyond a certain level of analysis . After all, the Supreme Divine is neither female nor male;  rather, it encompasses and transcends all gender distinctions.]

ganga composite

Ardha-nari in iconography is depicted as half-male and half-female. Ardhanarishvara is typically shown with the left half of his body being female and the right half, male. The female (Shakti, or Parvati, or Uma) half is usually garbed in red and often holds a lotus, while the male half (Shiva) wears a tiger skin or an ascetic’s cloth around the waist. The skin of the female half is tan, while that of the male half is light blue. His/her gaze is pensive, serene; his/her pose sensuous, inviting.

The cult of Ardhanarishvara appears to have reached a pinnacle during the tenth through the twelfth centuries and again in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when he-she became a popular subject in sculpture and painting. The best sculptural depictions of Shiva as Ardhanari are to be seen in the sensuous Chola dynasty bronzes and the sculptures at Ellora and Elephanta.


It was as though two objects were simultaneously perceived in close proximity. In one half it was as white as camphor and in the other half it is as red as red lead. The body of a single unit was highly wonderful. In one-half there was flowing tresses. In the middle of the necklace there was a flower. The body of the crescent moon-crested Lord had silk in one-half that was beautiful with a single anklet, ear-ring and bracelet. The body of the companion of Kubera shone with a single breast“.

 [Skanda Purana]


Her body is fair like the champak flower;
His body is like camphor.
She has elaborately braided hair decked with pearls;
And he has matted hair.

From Her you hear the movement of tinkling anklets and bracelets,
His lotus feet have glistening anklets of snakes.
She is adorned with golden armlets,
And He has armlets of snakes

Hers is the dance that creates differentiation;
His is the dance that destroys everything.
I bow to the Mother of the Universe.
I bow to the Father of the Universe.

[“Ardhanarinateshwara Stotra,” or

 “Hymn to the Lord of the Dance Who Is Half Woman”]


Ms. Ellen Goldberg observes: the true Shakti-Shiva balance of Ardha-nari enables the devotees to overcome the purely human biases and prejudices. As she explains “The image of Ardhanarishwara does not merely present a synthesis of masculine and feminine gender traits, but rather attempts to portray a fundamental belief in the possibility of personal transcendence, usually understood as the attainment of non dual consciousness. …

[However, it can only capture this ideal if and when the ego of gender — which at times distorts and privileges the male half of the image — has been recognized and [overcome].”

The Tantra ideology believes that no one is just male ; and, no one is just female; everyone is bi-sexual. The elements of both  sexes are there in each of us. The Ardha-narishvara , in a way, represents this concept. Now , modern psychology, depth psychology particularly, also says that man is both man and woman


Please see Ardhanareeshwara Stuthi which describes Shiva as Ardha nari

Please also check the Shaktha version of Ardhanareeshwari Stotra a beautiful poetry which sings the glory and the sublime beauty of the Mother as Ardha nari.


Rig Veda also speaks about the One appearing as many; and the single egg splitting into Bhuta and Prana. ‘He, who is described as male, is as much the female and the penetrating eye does not fail to see it’. The male is only so much male as much he is female; and the female is only as much female as much she is male. The maleness and femaleness are the attributes contained in one frame.

In the hymn ‘Ekohum bahusyami’ (Shiva Purana), Shiva says, I am One, but wishes to be many.


The imagery of the all enveloping space issuing out of a dimension-less Bindu often occurs in Tantric texts. The Bindu at the center of the Sri Chakrais the symbolic representation of the complete harmony (samarasya) of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (energy). It signifies a state of non-duality where all tendencies and distinctions have vanished.  By worshiping the Devi in Sri Chakra one is actually worshiping the highest ultimate force in the Tantric ideology, Sri Ardhanari, where all aspects are non-existent.

The followers of Sri Vidya who worship the Sri Chakra too envision the deity as Mother Goddess.

It is explained the Sri Chakra is itself androgynous by its very nature . Bindu is Kameshwara, the ground of the universe; the Trikona is Kameshwari the mother of the universe. The union of the two is Sri Chakra, which in its androgynous form symbolizes the underlying unitary principle in all existence.

The Samayin school of Sri Vidya regards Shiva and Shakthi as one; Shiva becomes Kameshwara and Kameshwari becomes Shiva. The identity of Shiva and Shakthi is the foundation of phenomenal manifestation in order to create (srusti), preserve (sthithi) and withdraw (samhara).


This school regards Shiva as Dakshina_ murthi. The expression Dakshina means a woman, a female principle which is competent to create, unfold and manifest. And, when Dakshina assumes a form as Dakshina_murthi, it is Ardha-nari.

Kashmiri Shaivism too argues that the Absolute is not merely self-luminous but is also self-consciousness and dynamic. The two aspects of self-luminosity (svaprakasha) and self-consciousness (vimarsha) are the representations of Shiva and Shakthi.

And, their non-duality is figuratively expressed through the concept and the form of Ardha–nari, the two conjoined- the one as two and inseparable. This school believes that the Absolute manifests itself as multiplicity while never shedding its fundamental nature. The entire world of experience –diversity and unity, subjective or objective- is the manifestation of the Absolute.

The relationship between the world of manifestation and multiplicity, with the Absolute is sought to be explained with the analogy of the gold and the ornaments made out of it.Shiva is the essence and when this force fuses with Shakthi it results in multitude of manifestations.

The relation between Shiva and Shakthi is also compared to the relation between the sun and its rays. The analogy represents the union of the core substance and energy it radiates; the Being and his Shakti. It embodies the principle of Ardhanaeeshwara.

Brahman is static Shakti; and Shakti is dynamic Brahman.



Ajna chakra is positioned at the eyebrow region and is said to represent the psychic channels Ida and Pingala which meet here with the central shushumna channel, before rising to the crown chakra, Sahasra. Ajna is considered the chakra of the mind. It is the seat of intuition, and the ability to see the underlying reasons behind everything. It is here that all energies of the body meet up and become one. The presiding over this chakra is, aptly, the Ardhanareeshwara also called Shukla –mahakala, a hermaphrodite form of Shiva-Shakthi symbolizing the primordial duality of Subject and Object and the culmination of all energies. The deity of this chakra is Haakinii, the one with six faces and six arms.


Rig Veda speaks about Dyava-Prihtvi  Heaven and Earth as parents who sustain all creatures; they are also the parents of the gods. One is a prolific bull and the other a variegated cow, both being rich in seed.  In this case, the Earth or Matter was the wife; and the Soul often identified with Heaven or the subtle ether was the husband. By their conjunction all things come in to existence. So inseparable is their union, as father and mother, that the two blend together, forming one great Hermaphroditic deity from whom sprang every varied part of the Universe.

[Dyaus is usually referred to as the father (Dyaus pita), while Prithvi the Earth is the Mother (Prithvi –mata).But, strangely, both are, at times, spoken of as two maidens or mothers (RV: 10.64.14).And, in about 20 passages, Dyaus is feminine and is called as a Devi (goddess) .Prof. MacDonnell remarks that Dyaus’s female counterpart (Prithvi) was so dominating and overpowering as even the gender of Dyaus of got subdued into a feminine status.]

In this material system, the Intelligent Being was sometimes regarded the animating Soul and sometimes the husband of the Universe (purusha), while the Universe (creation) on the other hand was sometimes reckoned the body and sometimes the wife of the Intelligent Being (prakriti). The husband and wife blended together into one hermaphrodite; whatever is said of the one is also said of the other. Shiva and Parvathi form that compound deity partaking of both sexes, the Ardha-Nari. The union of the two is as perfect as that of the soul and body in a person.

The Great Poet Kalidasa hails the two as inseparable like the word  (vak) and its meaning (artha). 

The expression Purusha etymologically signifies that which moves ahead (purati agre gachchhati) . It is derived from the root pf which carries shades of meanings as protecting, pervading, filling etc. Prakriti the feminine principle represents matter, nature and life . Prakriti evolves, changes and binds; but it needs the presence of Purusha to enliven, to create and to preserve life. The Universe is the manifestation of Purusha and Prakriti, entwined inseparably.

(Painting by Sheree Rehema who says “This is easily my favourite of any art piece I’ve done, and symbolizes creation, love, and divine unity amongst a host of other things for me. I hope the love shines through.”)


Similar ideas appear in other cultures and other religions. Please check this interesting site for details. It showcases comprehensively then on-binary and inter-sexed deities in Egyptian, Greek, Hindu,Kabbalah,Buddhist,Christian, Polynesian, Sumerian, African Aztec and Norse traditions :

When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below and when you make the male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female …. Then you shall enter the Kingdom.”

Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Logion 22

Zohar considered the most important work of kabbalah or Jewish mysticism  too holds the belief that the Godhead is complex, rather than simple, and that divinity is dynamic and incorporates gender, having both male and female dimensions. The oneness of God is perceived in androgynous terms as the pairing of male and female; the former characterized as the capacity to overflow and the latter as the potential to receive.

George Stanley Faber in his The Origin of pagan idolatry (1812) makes an interesting observation in this regards:

We sometimes find in these texts the serpent was produced from the egg, and sometimes the egg from the serpent. They stand therefore connected mutually with each other in the relation of parent and child. It is perhaps that contradictory relationship which is feigned to subsist between the great father and the great mother. The one is said to be the husband of the other; and from their mystic embrace all things are generated: yet the great father is described as the parent of his consort; and the great mother is represented as the parent of her husband.

But the great father was Adam reappearing in Noah: and the great mother was the Earth melting into the character of that smaller world the Ark. These two being blended into one, whatever is said of the former is equally said of the latter: and, as the great god was also a goddess, and as the great goddess was also a god; each of them, by whatever name they may be distinguished, is alike pronounced to be one and all things.

Such is also the character of Janus, Jupiter, Pan, and every other chief god: they are declared to be each the same person. Such also is the character of Isis, Isi, Venus, and the other kindred goddesses: they are each declared to be one person, and properly they are the Earth and the Ark viewed conjointly; yet, from their hermaphroditic union with the great father, they are each like him declared to be the Universe.

ardhanari tantric

The Shakta texts declare that Devi is the Brahman (the Supreme Divine), and that Shiva and all other gods and goddesses are her aspects. Amazingly, the Ardhanarishwari produces her consort Shiva out of herself, perfectly balancing Her Feminine and Masculine aspects. She is atonce the mother and the consort.

The tantric text Pingalo-panishat (verse 21) describes the Devi. She is seated in the centre of the triangle (trikona chakra) the three sides of which are represented by the three gods Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Rudra (destroyer). They are the expressions of the aspects of Shakthi. They are her creations. She is Chinmayi, pure consciousness. She is masculine, feminine and nature .She is the mother goddess, the mother- father of the entire universe. She is the hermaphroditic Devi in the form of Ardha-Nari.

At the same time, the other texts describe that in the single character of Hiranyagarbha all the three offices of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, are united. He is at once the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer. He is the primeval hermaphrodite, or the great father and great mother blended together in one person. Consequently, he is the hermaphroditic Siva in the form of Ardha-Nari.

[ ]

The Chinese, the Pythagorean, the Orphic, and the Platonic theology regard same great father and great mother united in the single mysterious person of the hermaphroditic Adonis, or Zeus, Phoenician, or Orphic theology.

According to Greek mythology Hermaphroditus the child of Hermes and Aphrodite fell so passionately in love with Salmacis, a nymph, that they beseeched Zeus , the king of gods, to unite them for all times. Zeus did accede to their request and joined them in a single body. Since then , it is believed , man and woman reside in each other.

The Pythagoreans were fond of expressing such notions by numbers. Similar to this is the Chinese opinion, that one produces two, that two produce three, and that three produce all things.

In Chinese Taoism this concept is symbolized by the coming together of YIN and YANG in the Tao. Like Ardhanarishvara the Greek god Hermes, is associated with communication; the intermediate being that often serves to mediate between women and men, mortals and deities, and between other entities.


Androgynous Azoth by Johann Georg Gichtel(1638 – 1710)

According to some interpreters of Tarots, the central figure is androgyny; and the scarf conceals this fact. This figure represents Truth, just as Ardha –nari represents Truth and harmony in nature.

Similarly, the Hermit is the Androgynous keeper of self knowledge. He too wears a veil.


Finally, The Supreme Reality is conceived as non-dual, having within it, a subtle duality of Shiva and Shakthi – the Power holder and Power- described as being (Sat) and will (Chit). What is called the Power becomes the Mother, Tripurasundari and the Power Holder, Shiva her Concert. Though they are one in principal, they appear distinct. Shiva and Devi both encompass each other’s aspects and each becomes the substratum of Ardhanareeswara.


At another level, Ardhanareeswara´s iconographical embodiment of paradox and the meeting of dualities-embodied sonically as well as visually- and synthesis; embodied by individual men and women. The male hormone Testosterone in women and the female hormone Estrogens in men testify to the fact that characteristics of both sexes are present in each one of us. The production of these in our bodies keeps our personalities and our bodies in balance. The differences are brought together in the beautifully conceived anthropomorphic form of Ardhanareeswara.

The form encompasses everything from action to inaction, eternal rest to endless activity, the terrible and the benign. The Devi depicted on the left half of the deity, is the power of god by which creation, protection, and destruction of the universe is accomplished. The philosophy of the Ardhanareeswara places the genders on equal terms without question.

Ardhanareeshwara stands for a profound philosophic truth that the female and the male are complementary to each other and it is their combination, the blending of grace and power  that contributes to the creation , preservation and propagation of life.

It is one of those things; as a concept Ardha-nari is highly fascinating;  and one can talk endlessly  about it eloquently and even sing in rapture. But as a reality, it is very hard to deal with; and more so live it.It is worse than living hell.



Lalitha Sahasranama, Soundarya Lahari and Bhakararaya’s commentary on  Bhavanopanishath.

Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

The Lord Who Is Half Woman: Ardhanarisvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective by Ellen Goldberg



Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Ardha-nari, Indian Philosophy, Speculation


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Who was Upavarsa ..?

Upavarsha is one of the remarkable sage-scholars who come through the mists of ancient Indian traditions. And, again, not much is known about him.

Upavarsha is recognized as one of the earliest and most authoritative thinkers of the Vedanta and Mimamsa Schools of thought. He is placed next only to the author of the Brahma sutra.  Among the many commentaries on Brahma sutra the one by Upavarsha was most highly regarded.  It is believed that the words of Sri Sankara explain the correct account of Upavarsha’s doctrines. He is quoted twice by Sri Sankara in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53).  

Upavarsha was  looked upon as an authority by all branches of Vedanta Schools; and  is respected in the Mimamsa School also. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara treat the ancientVrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘ (Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara calls Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’ ; the promulgator of the pristine traditions of the Shastras

[ A Vritti is a short gloss explaining the aphorisms in a slightly more elaborate way; but not as extensively as a Bhashya, a detailed commentary/critique. A Vrttikara is thus a commentator on traditional texts, providing brief explanatory notes. The most well known of the Vrttikara-s are Upavarsha and Bodhayana.]

Upavarsha’s time is surmised to be  around 500-300 BCE. We come to know Upavarsha through references to his views by Sri Sankara and others. He was an intellectual giant of his times. He is credited with being the first to divide the Vedic lore into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section).

As said ;the earliest Acharya to have commented upon Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra is believed to be Upavarsha.  His sub-commentary (Vritti) on Brahma Sutra is titled asSariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara and his disciples make frequent references to the works of Vrittikara-s, commentators on the   Brahma Sutra; and, in particular to Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti of sage Upavarsha.

It is said; the ancient commentator Sabaraswamy drew upon Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra. Another ancient writer Sundarapandya is also said to have commented in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara too relied upon Upavarsha‘s Vritti for his commentary on Brahma Sutra. In addition, Sri Sankara followed the sub-commentary of Sundarapandya.  It is said; the doctrine   elaborated by Sri Sankara in his Adhyasa Bashya stemmed out of the germ ideas put forth by Upavarsha and Sundarapandya ( among others ) . It is not surprising that Sri Sankara held both the teachers in such high regard.

Sri Sankara regards Upavarsha a forerunner of his own tradition (sampradaya). He displays enormous reverence towards Upavarsha; and, addresses him as Bhagavan and Sampradaya vit , the upholder of the right tradition, just in the manner he addresses the Great Badarayana.  Sri Sankara addressed Jaimini, Sabara and other Mimasakas only as teachers (Acharya). 

Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, mentions the six means of knowledge (cognition) advocated by Upavarsha. These are, briefly: Pratyaksha (immediate); Anumana (inference) ; Sabda (verbal or textual-testimony); Upamana (analogy);  Artha-patti (presumption); and,  Abhava  (non- apprehension).  He remarks that the Vrittika-kara   (Upavarsha) believes that these six modes of acquiring knowledge – Pramana – are valid only until the Self is ascertained. 

But, once the subject-object differentiation is erased, they no longer matter. He therefore makes a distinction between relative knowledge (sesha-jnana) and absolute knowledge (a-sesha-jnana). Upavarsha, he says, believes that absolute knowledge is attainable through Adyaropa or Apavada (adyaropa-apavada-ubhayam nishprapancham prapanchate). Sundarapandya explains; the attribute-less Brahman can be described by the method of superimposition followed by its withdrawal. The Absolute knowledge, however, is neither the process of superimposition nor is it the negation.  Incidentally, Sundarapandya is also believed to have contemplated on the concept of Maya and on the pristine nature of Brahman without Maya.

[The Adhyaropa-Apavada method of logic pioneered by Upavarsha consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing that assumption, after a discussion. ]

Apart from delineating the six means of knowledge that were adopted by the later Advaita Schools, Upavarsha is believed to have initiated a discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. Svatah pramana: true knowledge is valid by itself; not made valid or invalid by external conditions (sva-karya-karane svatah pramanyam jnanasya).

 [As a general rule ,  knowledge (except memory) is taken to be valid on its own strength , unless invalidated by contrary knowledge. (memory is not considered valid knowledge as it is dependent on previous cognition or impressions which might get faded or distorted ; and , so is the dream.)]

There is a view that Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa were initially two independent treaties authored by Jaimini and Badarayana respectively; and, were later put together with suitable emendations by someone described as Vyasa – “the arranger”.  And, Upavarsha the Vrttikara commented upon the text in that combined form.  

Sri Sankara refers to a discussion held by Upavarsha on the nature of Self in Brahma Sutra (3.3.53). And, the same discussion appears in the commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra(1.1.5). Further Sri Sankara mentions:  ‘ Bhagavan Upavarsha has written a Vrtti on Purva Mimamsa. And, in that, he is referring to his another Vrtti on Saririka Mimamsa  (Brahma Sutra) ’.

 Ata Eva Bhagavata Upavarshena Prathame Tantre I Atma-stitv-abhidhana-prasaktau Sarirake Vakshyamaha ityuddharaha Krutaha II (3.3.53)

This suggests that Upavarsha may have commented  on both Purva and Uttara Mimamsa.

Sri Sankara whenever he refers to Upavarsha treats him with great respect and quotes his views in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (eka ātmanaḥ śarīre bhāvāt – 3.3.53) as being authoritative. And the latter Sub-commentators of Advaita School, Anandajnana and Govindananda, recognize  Upavarsha as the Vrttikara.

Sri Sankara, in his commentary on Brahma sutra, adopted a particular way of presentation. On each subject (vishaya), he first gives one interpretation and then follows it up by the other interpretation. It is explained; the first one is given as the opposing views (purva-paksha) of ‘others’ (apare); and, it is meant to be rejected. But, Sri Sankara does not quote the opposing views; he merely sums up, raises them as the views of ‘others’, and finally dismisses them. Sri Sankara’s own views are presented in the later set of interpretation.

The later scholars, Anandajnana and Govindananda, explain that the ‘others’ referred by Sri Sankara, actually, stands for the Vrttikara Bodhayana. The Advaita School, thus, believes that Upavarsha and Bodhayana are two different persons.  And, the other dimesion of the  debate is  whether the terms  ‘others ‘ or ‘some’ truly refer to Bodhayana . That debate  is still not concluded.

Similarly , Sabarasvamin a noted Mimasaka in his bhashya (Sabara bhashya) on the fifth sutra of Mimamsa sutra of Jaimini refers to a Vrttikara prior to his (Sabara’s) time, without, of course, mentioning his name. In the Bhashya on the same sutra (1.1.5), Sabarasvamin also refers to Upavarsha by name and with the epithet ‘Bhagavan’  (gakāraukāra visarjanīyā iti bhagavān upavarṭaḥ ). As regards the other Vrttikara, it is not clear who that Vrittikara was. But, he, in any case , was not Upavarsha. 

[An unfortunate feature of the traditional texts is that they do not mention the names of the old teachers-commentators whose opinions are being quoted. Such practice might have been an idiom of a well-understood literary etiquette. But, it has led to needless debates and speculations.  Very often, it is left to a commentator who comes perhaps a century or more later to tell us that (let’s say) Sri Sankara actually meant such-and–such commentator when he said ‘some one ‘or ‘others’. Similar is the position with regard to those commentators that are referred to as ‘Vrttikara ‘ or ‘Vakyakara’ without mentioning their names .  There is therefore always an element of scepticism associated with such sub-commentaries. ]

Bodhayana, it is said, laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kandas; as   the two together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).   He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesises jnana and karma. Sri Sankara who did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana. 

Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the two sections are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consists injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved. Jnana-kanda is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.   Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

There is  an alternate view that Upavarsha was a successor to Bodhayana. It is said that   Bodhayana wrote a Bhashya titled ‘Krtakoti’ on the Brahma Sutra. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it. And later, it is believed, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

But, there is also a belief that the names Upavarsha and Bodhayana refer to one and the same person ; and , Bodhayana might have been the linage, Gotra name, of Upavarsha. Sri Vedanta Deshika supported the view in his Tattvatika

  (Vrttikarasya  bhodhayanasiva  hi Upavarsa iti syan nama  ) .

This School beleives that  Bodhayana’s theory of assigning equal importance to Karma andJnana Kandas was adopted by Yadavaprakasha, Sri Ramanuja’s teacher. Bodhayana, it is said, had recognized  that Jnana and Karma Kandas  together constitute the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva). 

Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya quotes the views of the Vrttikara Bodhayana seven times. In the opening verse of Sri Bhashya, Sri Ramanuja says: ‘The previous masters have abridged the detailed commentary on Brahma sutra which had been composed by Bhagavad Bodhayana. The words of the sutra will be explained in accordance with their views. “(Bhagavad Bhodayana kritam vistirnam Brahma-sutra – vrttim purvacharyah samskipuh I tan-mata-anusarena sutraksarani vyakhyasyante II)  

Sadly, Bodhayana’s vrtti is no longer extant.


Sri Sankara indicates that Upavarsha’s commentary on Brahma Sutra was called Sariraka –mimamsa – vritti (but that work is now lost). Sri Sankara perhaps adopted the term Sarirakafrom Upavarsha; and, titled his own Bhashya on Brahma Sutra as Sariraka –mimamsa – Bhashya.

Upavarsha is believed to have held the view that Brahman is the source, the ground and the goal of all universes. Sri Sankara and Padmapada expanded on this view. Upavarsha is quoted as explaining the term ‘Brahma-jignasa’ as Brhmane jignasa, meaning the enquiry for Brahman. Sri Sankara and others remark that when Vrittikara (Upavarsha) says that the enquiry is for Brahman, he is right…, for, knowledge of Brahman is indeed the fruit of this enquiry.

Padmapada says that Upavarsha explained the word ‘atha’  as referring to that ‘ after the enquiry into the antecedent condition’, the enquiry into Brahman  follows ( Ref : Panchapadika ). 

It is said; Upavarsha developed a theory on Atman (Atma-vada).  He emphasized that the postulation of “self” as distinct from body and the mental process was rather inevitable. He argued that   the self cannot in any manner be revealed to another person; but, it cannot be denied by oneself either. It is affirmed by introspection, but that process cannot itself be regarded as self.

As for the proof of the existence of Atman, Upavarsha holds the view that Atman is known by perception as it is the object of ‘I’.

A verse quoted in Nyayamanjari of Jayanta of the Nyaya School (dated around ninth century) cites the Atman-theory of ‘the followers of Upavarsha’ (Aupavarsha): ‘they understand the Atman to be directly perceptible (pratyaksha) ;  For Atman can be known by ‘I’ consciousness.

 [Tatra pratyaksham atmanam Aupavarsha prapedire I aham-pratyaya-gamyatvat svayuthya api kechana II]

The argument seems to be that the existence of Atman need not be proved by reasoning or verbal arguments. It is in each one’s own experience. Self is the consciousness of being. This was also the faith of the later Mimamsa school of Kumarila Bhatta.

Sri Sankara too adopted the proposition of Upavarsha. Sri Sankara explained: “For all men are conscious that the Atman (self) exists. No one ever thinks ‘I do not exist’ “. At another place (BS : 1.1.1), he says that the inner-self (pratyagatma) is the object of “I consciousness’ (asmat-pratyaya-vishaya); and, that it is directly perceptible (aparoksha).

Sri Sankara expanded further on the Atman-theory of Upavarsha, and extended it to the Supreme Self, transcending the individual.


Some people   call Upavarsha the Fred Hoyle of ancient India  , in the sense that both rejected the Big Bang theory. Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-vada , which in essence said that every act of creation and every sound that issues forth in the universe is the duplication of the initial Big Bang. When we utter a sound or word the Big Bang is duplicating itself in our mind.

Bhartrihari (c. 450-510 CE?) expanding on an ancient idea is said to have propounded Sphota-vada In his famous work the Vakyapadiya.

The term ‘sphota’ does not easily translate into English, as it usually happens.  The Sphota is derived from the root ‘sphut’ which means ‘to burst’, but it also describes what ’is revealed’ or  ‘is made explicit’. Sphota can also refer to the abstract or conceptual form of an audible word. Sphota is somewhat similar to the Ancient Greek concept of logos or Word.

Sphota is also interpreted to mean that from which the meaning bursts forth, shines forth etc. To put it in another way, that which expresses a meaning; or the process of expressing a meaning through a word is called sphota.

Bhartrihari deals with Sphota at two levels : one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. The theory is that Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form . The Sphota, Sabda-brahman , the manifester as Logos or Word, is the power through which the Lord manifests in  the universe. Liberation is achieved when one attains unity with that ‘supreme word principle’. Within this theory, consciousness and thought are intertwined; and Grammar becomes a path to liberation. Sphota-vada is a monistic philosophy based on Sanskrit grammar. (Swami Vivekananda’s explanation).

At the empirical level, Bhartrihari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He deals with the word and the sound distinctions; the word meaning; the unitary nature of the whole sentence; the word object connection; and the levels of speech, etc. His focus is on cognition and language.

If the letters  float away and disappear the instant we utter them and if each sound is replaced by another in quick succession, then one can hardly perceive the word  or a sentence as a whole. And the question that comes up is- then , how does one grasp the meaning of a word or of a sentence?

Bhartrihari held the view that the sentence is not a collection of words or an ordered series of words . A sentence-sphota is the primary unit of meaning. A sentence is a sequence_ less, part_ less whole that gets expressed or manifested in a sequential and temporal utterance. A word or sentence is grasped as a unity by  intuition (pratibha). According to Bhartrhari, sphota is an auditory image of word. It is indivisible and without inner-sequence.

 Bhartrihari explains that initially the word exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity but is manifested as a sequence of different sounds, giving raise to the appearance of differentiation. Bhartrhari states: “All difference presupposes a unity”;  and where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other or each would constitute a world by itself.

For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is not the vehicle of meaning or of thought. Thought anchors language and  the language anchors thought. In this way , there are no essential differences between a linguistic unit and its meaning or the thought it conveys. Sphota refers to the” non-differentiated language principle”. This gave raise to  the theory of “word monism“.

However, Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-Vada. He in turn came up with his theory of  Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes -varnas) alone are real constituents of a word. He said sounds are only Varnas and there is no need for a sphota.

Sri Sankara refers to Upavarsha as the originator of Varna-vada, which contrasted with Spotavada of Bhartrhari. According to Varna- vada, the Varna-s, phoneme (speech sounds) , alone are real constituents of the word; and there is nothing else in the word apart from Varna-s.

Sri Sankara remarks (BS: 1.3.28): Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘But, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna). He then follows up with a debate on whether the words are letter-sounds of this kind or whether they are Sphota. 

Sri Sankara supported Varna vada as against Spotavada (Sankara Bashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28) ; and followed Upavarsha . He did not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, said the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds  and the context. But, Sri Sankara, the scholars believe, was not putting forth an original argument, but was  merely condensing the previous refutations of the Sphota theory.

The other Acharyas and commentators too toed a similar line and did not approve the Sphota theory.Vacaspati Mishra who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, too rejected the Sphota  theory . He came up with  his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vadaand said the understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring to it, in a separate act of lakshana or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.


Upavarsha, whoever he might have been, was indeed an intellectual giant of his times. He was a worthy successor to the remarkable sage-scholars such as Badarayana and Jaimini. His contribution to the development of Indian thought is enormous.

Many however feel that by dismissing off-hand the Sphota theory he derailed the growth of rational thinking within the Indian philosophy.

[Please read the companion post About Upavarsha

 at ]

 [For more on Bhartrhari  and the Sphota  theory , please visit ]

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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Indian Philosophy


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Though Hinduism has now virtually been rooted out of Kashmir, the region, at onetime, was a renowned center of learning. And,  its erudite and enlightened scholars such as Abhinavagupta (10th century), Augusta (8th century), Somananda (9th century), Utpaladeva (9th century), Anandavardhana (9th century) and others made immense contribution to the development of Indian Philosophies, literature and art.

The most outstanding of them was Abhinavagupta Acharya (c. 950 to c. 1020 C.E) a great philosopher, intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabhijna, the “recognition” metaphysics school of Kashmiri Saivite monism. Abhinavagupta was a many sided genius and a prolific writer on Shaivism, Tantra, aesthetics, Natya, music and a variety of other subjects. Among his most notable philosophic works are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarshini and the more detailed Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara-pratyabhijña (Recognition of God) by Utpaladeva , an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school .

Abhinavagupta’s  works on poetry , drama, and dance, include the Lochana a commentary on the Dhvanyaloka by Anandavardhana; and, the Abhinavabharati a detailed commentary on Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra covering almost every important aspect of Indian aesthetic and poetics . His theory of Rasa is a land mark in Sanskrit art and literature.

Abhinavagupta was born in Kashmir, probably around 950 A.D. The tradition has it that after his 70th year Abhinavagupta entered the Bhairava cave near the village Bhiruva, along with his 1200 disciples;  and , was never seen again.


Abhinavagupta opens his work Tantrasàra, with the Verse :

Vimalakalà-asrayàbhinavasrstimaha janani / bharitatanus ca pancamukha-guptarucir janakah / tadubhaya-yàmala-sphurita-bhàva- visargamayam / hrdayam anuttaràmr-takulam mama samsphuratàt //

May my heart shine forth, embodying the bliss of the ultimate, for it is  one with the state of absolute potential made manifest in the fusion of these two, the `Mother’ grounded in pure representation, radiant in ever new genesis, and the `Father,’ all-enfolding [Bhairava], who maintains the light [of consciousness] through his five faces  {formed from the emissions produced through the fusion of these two, my mother Vimalà, whose greatest joy was in my birth, and my father [Nara]Simhagupta, [when both were] all-embracing  in their union. Translation by Alexis Sanderson


What little is known of him comes from his works; and, in his own words. At the end of Ishwar Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, a commentary on Kashmir Shaivism text ascribed to  Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta states that his remote ancestor Attrigupta, a great Shaiva teacher, who lived in Antarvedi – a tract of land lying between the Ganga and the Yamuna – migrated to Kashmir at the invitation of the King Lalitaditya (700-736 A.D) . He was followed, many generations later, by  Varahagupta another great scholar of Shaiva philosophy. His son, Narasimha Gupta, a great Shaiva teacher , was the father of Abhinavagupta. And Vimla or Vimalkala was the mother of Abhinavagupta (vimalakalāśray ābhinavasṛṣṭi mahā janan. His father’s maternal grandfather, Yashoraja, was a man of great learning and wrote a commentary on Paratrinshika . a dialogue between Bhairava (Shiva) and Bhairavi (Shakti) .

abhinavagupta parent


Abhinavagupta always described himself as kashmirika, as one hailing  from the land of Kashmira.

It is believed that Abhinava was a Yoginibhu, i.e. born of a Siddha and  Yogini. The Kaula system believes that a progeny of parents who are sincere devotees of Lord Shiva is endowed with exceptional spiritual and intellectual prowess; and ,will be a depository of knowledge.

Abhinava might not have been his real name, but one assigned to him by his teachers, because of his brilliance. He describes his work Tantraloka (1.20) : ‘This is the work written by Abhinavagupta, who was so named by his Gurus”- abhinavaguptasya kṛtiḥ seyaṃ yasyoditā gurubhirākhyā. The name Abhinava suggests the virtue of being “ever-new and ever creative, progressively innovating oneself”.And, it also suggests competence and authoritativeness. Abhinavagupta was, in fact, all these and more.

He was also referred to as Abhinavagupta-pada. The suffix pada signifies a reverential form of address (say, just as in Sri Shankara Bhagavat-pada) .  There is also a clever explanation of the term “gupta_pada” which translates to “one with hidden limbs” , a poetic synonym for snake. Thus, Abhinava was also regarded as an incarnation of Sesha , the legendary serpent.

Abhinava lost his mother Vimalakala when he was just two years of age. The pain of separation and the longing for his mother haunted him all his life. He, later in his works, frequently referred to his mother with love and reverence. The relation between the mother and the child, he said, is the closest that nature can forge. The bond of love and friendship between the mother and the child is the strongest; and, is the most enduring bond in the world.

While ruing the loss of his mother early in his childhood, Abhinavagupta reconciled to the fact , saying : It is the will of God , who prepares men  for the future work to be accomplished through them – Mata vyayu-yujadamum kils balya eva / Devo hi bhavi-parikramani samskaroti//

His father Narasimha-gupta (aka. Cukhulaka), after the death of his wife Vimalakala, assumed an ascetic way of life; and yet continued to bring up his three children (two sons : Abhinava, Manorata and the daughter Amba). He became more focused on his spiritual endeavor. He was Abhinava’s first teacher. Abhinava, later, recalled his father with gratitude for the training he received from him in Grammar (pitra sa sabda-gahane-krta-sampravesah), logic, literature and music (geya vidya).

Abhinava was a diligent pupil ; and, put his heart and soul in to his studies. By one account, Abhinava had as many as fifteen teachers; Narasimha Gupta, his father being his first teacher.  His other teachers were said to be : Vamanatha; Bhutiraja; Bhutiraja-tanaya; Laksmanagupta; Induraja; and Bhatta-Tota. These teachers taught the boy Abhinavagupta  varied subjects , such as : Tantras; Brahmavidya; monistic Saivism; Krama ; Trika; Dhvani; and Dramaturgy 

Among his teachers.  Lakshmana Gupta was the son and a direct disciple of Somananda, in the lineage of TryambakaHe taught Abhinavagupta the monastic subjects:  Krama,  Trika  and  Pratyabhijna   (except Kula).

His  two other teachers on these subjects were Bhutiraja and his son Helaraja, both of whom were adepts in Prathyabhijnana and Karma systems

The most prominent of his teachers was , of course, Shambhu Natha of Jalandhara (in the present-day Punjab). Guru Shambhu Natha, who preached monistic shaivism, initiated Abhinava in to Ardha_thrayambaka , a doctrine of Kaula school of Tantric tradition. It is said that Shambhu Natha asked his wife to act as a conduit (dauti) for transmitting the initiation through Kaula process (having sexual connotations). It was at the instance of Shambhu Natha that Abhinava authored his monumental Tantraloka, in which he compared Shambhu Natha to the sun in his power to dispel the darkness of ignorance; and to the moon shining over the ocean of Trika knowledge.

śrī śambhunātha bhāskara caraṇa nipāta prabhā pagata saṃkocam abhinavagupta hṛdambuja metad vicinuta maheśa pūjana hetoḥ //1. 21

[While on the topic of teachers, let me suggest to you , a  very scholarly dissertation submitted by Benjamin Luke Williams to the Harvard University during December 1917-Abhinavagupta’s Portrait of a Guru: Revelation and Religious Authority in Kashmir. Mr.Williams observes, among other things, : The conception of an ideal guru in the writings of Abhinavagupta lays stress on the guru’s capacity to awaken their disciple to an all-encompassing grasp of reality. It also exceeds this requirement through an implicit argument – modeled by Abhinavagupta’s narration of his own religious education – that the guru should be scholastically trained; and, be sensitive to the beauty of Sanskrit literature….the ideal guru should not only be a fully-enlightened master; but, should also be schooled in the finer points of Indian scholastic discourse and a connoisseur of Sanskrit poetry; in short, a multi-cultural Siddha. ]


As regards his immediate family, it is said, Abhinava had a younger brother Manoratha and an elder sister Amba. Manoratha was one among Abhinava’s earlier batch of disciples. And, one of his fellow students was Karna married Amba. Karna and Amba had a son Yogeshwardatta , who was precociously talented in Yoga. After the death of her husband, Amba too devoted herself entirely to Yoga and to the worship of Shiva. Later, Amba’s in-laws too became devote followers of Abhinava.

A cousin of Abhinava was Kshema who later became renowned as his illustrious disciple Kshemaraja. Mandra, the cousin and childhood friend of Karna, too became Abhinava’s disciple. Vatasika, Mandra’s aunt, took exceptional care of Abhinava and offered him support to carry on his life’s work. It was while staying in her suburban house at Pravapura (eastern district of the present-day Srinagar) that Abhinava wrote and completed his Tantraloka, in which he recorded his gratitude towards Vatasika for her concern, dedication and support. Abhinavagupta also mentioned his disciple Rāmadeva as being  faithfully devoted to scriptural studies and for serving his master.

He also mentions that while writing this text, he recollected all the shastras he had earlier learnt from all his Gurus

Ittham grhe Vatsalika-avartane sthitah samadhyaya matim/  bahuni purva-srutanya-kalayan svabhuddhya shashtrani tebhyah samavapya saaram


Abhinava did not become a wandering monk nor did he take on Brahmanical persuasions. He did not marry  (Dara-suta-prahrti-bandhakatham-naptaha); he followed an ascetic way of life; and yet, he lived in his ancestral home surrounded by the members of his family, loving friends and disciples. He lived the life of a scholar, a teacher and a Yogi immersed in Shiva. Referring to the atmosphere in his family, Abhinava said,” All the members of the family regarded material wealth as a straw and they set their hearts on the contemplation of Shiva”- Ye sampadam truna-mamamsata Shambh-seva –sampuritah svahrudayam hrdi bhavayantah (Tantraloka 12.)

He lived in a nurturing and a caring environment. An epoch pen-painting depicts him  seated in Virasana, surrounded by devoted disciples and family, performing on Veena while dictating verses of  Tantrāloka to one of his attendees, as  two dauti (women yogi) wait on him. He was ever surrounded by his friends and disciples.

Madhu raja , a disciple of Abhinavagupta, in his stotra praising his Guru,  calls him  ‘Abhinava Dakshinamurthi Devah’ – an incarnate of Sri Dakshinamurthi. The following is the gist of the Dhyanasloka composed by Madhuraja in honor of his Guru, as  translated by Dr. K . C. Pandey.

May that Supreme Being Sri Dakshinamurthi in the form of my Guru Abhinavagupta , who is an incarnation of Shiva Srikantha  ; and ,who has come to Kashmir ; may he protect us all.

His eyes are glowing with spiritual bliss. The center of his forehead is clearly marked with tri-pundraka, three lines drawn with the sacred ash (Bhasma). His ears adorned with Rudraksha are beautiful. His luxurious hair (Shikha) is tied with garland of flowers. His beard is long. His body shining like roses. His neck appears black, because of its being smeared with paste of camphor , musk , sandal, saffron etc., indeed looks splendid.


His long Yajnopavita is left loose. He is attired in silk cloth, white like the moon-beams. He is sitting majestically in Virasana, on a soft cushion placed over a throne of gold, over which is a canopy decked with strings of pearls . His right hand wearing the rosary of Rudraksha is resting on his right thigh; with his fingers gesturing Jnana-mudra . He, with his lotus-like delicate fingers of the left hand is also playing upon the Veena  spreading melodious and enchanting Music  (Nada) all around.

 He is seated in an open hall decorated with beautiful eye-catching paintings . And, the hall looks superb with rows of lamps and sweet-smelling garlands, colourful  flowers . And, the entire area is pervaded by the fragrance of incense and sandal etc. The hall is resounding with melodious songs and music on various instruments. There are also dancers displaying their skills joyfully. His assembly was also honoured by the presence of Yoginis and Siddhas who attained a high status.

The Great Guru Abhinavagupta is attended by all his pupils, such as Kshemaraja who devotedly sits at the foot of his master and studiously writing down the utterances of the Master. There are also two female messengers (Dutis) standing beside the Guru ; and, serving him with whisks. They also hold a jar full of water distilled from the grain kept soaked in water for three nights (Shiva –rasa). They also carry a box of betel-leaves, a basket of citron and lotus.

No wonder that about 1,200 of his friends and disciples faithfully followed Abhinavagupta, as he marched in to the Bhairava cave, reciting loudly his Bhairara_stava, never to be seen again.

[ Please click here for

Kāśmīrīya Mahāmāheśvara Ācārya Abhinavagupta (A biographical docu-feature on his life & works)]

Svacchanda Bhairava

A prolific writer on a wide ranging subjects , Abhinava  authored more than about 40 works, some of which survive to the present day.

Abhinavagupta’s works are sometimes classified according the branches of his triad (trika) will (icchā) – knowledge (jnana) – action (kriya).

But according to another classification, Abhinavagupta’s works fall into four broad groups.

The first group of his works deals with Tantra. His monumental encyclopedic work the Tantraloka or Light on the Tantras is an authoritative text. It explores doctrine and the inner meaning of rituals in the Shaiva and Shakta Agamas.

The text is named as Tantraloka; because, it is said to light up the path of the ardent followers of the Tantra (Alokamasadya yadiyamesha lokah sukham sancharita kriyashu)

The work came to be written at the request of  Manoratha  , his cousin and his pupils Mandra and others.The actual writing took place, while Abhinavagupta was staying in the house of Mandra , located in Pravarapura ( eastern district of the present-day Srinagar)

The text enumerates the Tantrik Agamas and the three methods of realizing the Ultimate Reality: SambhavopayaSaktopaya and Anovapaya. The Tantraloka , apart from being a philosophical work, is also a practical guide to the arnent students of Tantra-vidya.

iti samadhikamenam trimsatam yah sada budhah / ahnikanam samabhyasyetsa saksadbhairavo bhavet

Tantraloka is a detailed work divided into thirty-seven Ahnikas (Chapters).  It has been published with commentary of Jayaratha.  The topics discussed therein are : (1) the cause of bondage;(2) the way to freedom;(3)knowledge as distinct from ignorance;(4) the concept of Moksha ;(5) what is the ultimate reality ; (6) manifestation of the universe ;(7) Bimba-Pratibimba Vada; (8) Shaiva Agama; and,(9) Biographical notes.


Tantrasara is a summarized version of Tantraloka. The Tantrasara containing twenty-two Ahnikas deals with a variety of topics which have a  bearing on varied spiritual disciplines. It gives prominence to the various modes of spiritual disciplines prescribed for different classes of spiritual aspirants. It also explains the ancillary topics such as the concept of Divine Grace; different kinds of initiatory rites (Diksha); and, the modes of Shaiva worship etc. Besides, it also discusses the abstract aspects of   Trika School of philosophy. The entire text is replete with mystic symbols and description of esoteric practices.

Tantra-Vata-Dhanika is a small work in verse form, which aims to teach the principles of Shaiva Tantras in a nutshell.  Basically, this text is a brief summary of Tantraloka. It is like a seed, dhanika of the huge banyan tree, vata of Tantra ideology.

Paramartha-sara is text containing 105 karikas. It is called   Paramartha-sara,  because it encapsulates the essence (Sara) or the hidden (ati-gudham) principles of the Trika Philosophy, as explained by Abhinavagupta – aryasatena  tadidam samksiptam  sastra-saram-atigudham. This text is said to be an adaptation of the Adhara-karikas of the revered sage Sesha Muni, who is also referred to as Adhara  Bhagavan. The Paramartha-sara of Abhinavagupta, mainly, deals with subjects such as: metaphysical reality; ontology of Shaiva Siddantha; theories concerning creation; manifestation of thirty-six Tattvas; causes for human bondage;  and, the ways leading towards liberation etc. Yogaraja,one of  the  disciples  of Ksemaraja wrote a detailed  commentary on Paramartha-sara.

The other important work of this group is Malini-Vijaya Vivrti , a commentary. It is a voluminous work, composed in simple Sanskrit verse on the philosophic principles and doctrines of practice of Kashmir Shaiva Siddantha The alternate title of this text is Sripurva-shastra. It was, initially, addressed to two of his pupils: Karna and Mandra – sacchisya-karna-mandrabhyam codito‘ham punah.


The second group consists few small treatises like Bodh-Punch Dashika;  and  Stotras  or hymns in praise of deities such as Bhairava. The text is made of sixteen Sanskrit verses. It is called Bodha-panca-dasika, because,  in fifteen verses, it teaches  the basic principles of monistic Shaiva doctrine . It speaks of the Shaiva conception of Shiva and Shakthi; their relation; and, the consequent emanation of the universe etc .The last  and the sixteenth verse ,briefly  states  the object of the composition- sukumara-matin sisyan-prabodhay-itumanjasa / ime Abhinava-guptena slokah pancadasoditah// 

The Bhagavadgitartha-sangraha is a short commentary on Bhagavad-Gita, where Abhinavagupta gives the traditional interpretation from the Shaiva point of view.


A third group includes his works on art of the theater and art of writing plays; poetics; aesthetics and the rhetoric. The great scholar Prof. P.V. Kane remarked “his two works, i.e. Lochana and Abhinavabharati are monuments of learning, critical insight, literary grace and style.” Lochana, his commentary on  Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana is a highly regarded work in aesthetics. Abhinavabharati is an extensive commentary on Natyasastra of Bharata Muni. His analysis of Rasa is very appealing and distinguishable from other interpretations. For example, Bharata talks about eight types of Rasa, while distinguishing it from sthaayibhaava. The Abhinavabharati and Lochana suggest that bhoga (pleasure) is produced not only by the senses but also by the removal of moha (ignorance). They also suggest that art and literature are not mere vinoda (entertainment) but are outpourings of the ananda arising of knowledge.

The Abhinavabharati is the earliest available, the most famous and celebrated commentary on the Natyashastra of Bharata, expounding , among other things , on the theory Rasa.


Abhinavagupta emphasized that intuition (prathibha), inner experience was the lifeblood of good poetry. He said , creativity (karaka) was the hallmark of poetry as it brings into the world a new art experience. Poetry need not aim to remind (jnapaka) what is already present; that , he said , was the function of sastras. A poet need not seek justification or approval of scriptural authority. He is the lord of his domain. He is the creator. Abhinava  recommend, the poet need not allow himself to be bound by logic, propriety and such other restrictions.

Abhinavagupta , in his Lochana, says prathibha the intuition might be essential for creation of good poetry . But , that flash of enlightenment alone is not sufficient . He explains , what sustains that vision is the “unmeelana_shakthi” which is something that charges the mind, opens up or awakens the potent faculties. Abhinavagupta clarifies that prathibha is inspirational in nature and it does not, by itself , transform automatically, into a work of art or poetry. It needs a medium to  harness it, bring it forth through lively , delightful or forceful expression . And , that medium has to be cultivated, honed and refined diligently over a period to produce a work of class.

In this context, Abhinavagupta mentions three essentials that a poet has to keep in view. They are Rasa (rasa_vesha), Vaishadya and Soundarya. The rasa concept is well known ; and,  ls expounded by Bharata muni. The second one refers to clarity in thought, lucidity in expression and comfortable communication with the reader. The third is the sense of poetic beauty . A good poetry can manifest, according to him, only when the delightful combination of these three essentials are charged or supported by prathibha.

He cites Valmiki and kalidasa as classic examples; and, states it is the wonderful combination of those poetic virtues and prathibha that sets them apart from the rest of the tribe.

[Abhinavagupta , it appears had a special regard for Kalidasa. In his Locana, while commenting on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, Uddyota-1 – DhvK_1.6and speaking of pratibhā-viśeṣam , the creative genius,  Abhinavagupta  ponders :

In this wonderful   stream of literature,  flowing  since the time immemorial, there have been varied types and class of poets . And, there have been some gifted  poets in each generation . But, tell me ; how may of those can even be compared to the matchless , Sovereign (prabhṛtayo) Kalidasa. You might be able to name a very few , say, two , three or , at best, five; but, surely never  more than that.

pratibhā-viśeṣaṃ pari-sphurantam abhivyanakti /
yenāsminnati vicitra kavi paramparā vāhini saṃsāre kālidāsa prabhṛtayo dvitrāḥ pañcaṣā vā mahākavaya iti gaṇyante / ]


The fulfillment of poetry is Ananda, joy. It therefore needs a good reader (Sah_hrudaya) who can understand, appreciate, empathize and enjoy the beauty of the poetry. He is an integral part of poetic experience.

Subash kak remarks “Abhinava emphasized the fact that all human creativity reveals aspects of the seed consciousness. This explains his interest in drama, poetry, and aesthetics.”

Nineplanets Navagraha 2

The last group constitutes his work on the Pratyabhijnyasastra, the monistic philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. In this group , we have his matchless contributions to this system. Among his most notable works in this category are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarsini and the concise Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvarapratyabhijna (“Recognition of God”) by Utpaladeva, an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school.

The Para-trisika-vivarana on the Trika system of yoga is very profound text detailing minute ideas regarding the esoteric principles and doctrines of the Trika system of Shaiva-yoga in its highest aspect. The text deals with Ultimate Reality, Para Tattva;  and the path to its realization, centered above on  the theory and practice of  mantra Yoga.

Abhinavagupta was a devotee of Lord Shiva ; and, he led a celibate life. He is considered the greatest exponent of the Kashmiri Saivite monism. This school viewed Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one. The philosophy of pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity.

Kashmir Shaivism is intensely monistic. It is not much concerned with worshiping a personal god ; its emphasis is upon meditation , reflection and guidance by a guru. It aims at attaining the transcendental state of Shiva consciousness.

It explains the creation as Shiva’s abhasa, shining forth of himself in his dynamic aspect of Shakti. Abhasavada is therefore another name of the system . Shiva the Supreme Self is immanent and transcendent; and performs , through Shakthi , the five actions of creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. During this process , Shiva as the Universe Vishwanatha, on his own will creates , expands, flourishes , retracts in to a most minute form till the next cycle of creation and expansion.

Kashmir Shaivism is called Trika philosophy because all its interpretations are three fold. Trika stands for threefold science of the individual, the energy and the universal consciousness. It also represents three modes of knowledge of Reality, viz. non-dual (abheda), nondual-cum-dual (bhedabheda), and dual (bheda). The Trika School also argued that reality is represented by three categories : transcendental (para), material (apara), and a combination of these two (para_apara) . This three-fold division is again reflected in the principles of  Shiva, Shakti, anu or pashu. The Trika is also known as Svatantrya vadaSvatantrya and Spanda expressing the same concepts.

The purpose of Trika is to show how an individual rises to the state of universal consciousness through Shakthi. Shiva represents pure consciousness, Shakti its energy, and anu the material world. Pashu is the individual who acts according to his conditioning, almost like an animal; pashas are the bonds that tie him to his behavior; and pathi or pashupathi (Lord of the Flock) is Shiva personified whose knowledge liberates the pashu and makes it possible for him to reach his potential.

Abhinavagupta classified Trika philosophy into four systems : Krama  system,  Spanda  system,  Kula system and Pratyabhijna  system.

The mind is viewed as a hierarchical (krama) collection of agents (kula) that perceives its true self spontaneously (pratyabhijna) with a creative power that is vibrating  or pulsating (spanda)

Explaining the Spanda system, Abhinavagupta says whatever that appears to be moving is actually established in the unmoved point. Although everything seems to be moving , actually, they are not moving at all.

As for the Kula system, he says that Kula means the science of totality. In each and every part of the universe totality shines . Take an infinitesimally small object, in that you will find the universal energy. A macrocosm resides in microcosm .

The fourth, the Pratyabijnya system deals with the school of recognition. The Pratyabhijnya School, initiated by Sri Somananda; and developed by Utpaladeva, reached its culmination in Abhinavagupta. This School conceived Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one; Pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity.

Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust; but, is an immense force, comprising a comprehensive consciousness and capable of manifesting through his mind and body limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti). The state of Shiva-consciousness is already there, you have to realize that and nothing else.

His non-dual philosophy, in essence, is similar to the one expounded by Sri Shankara. He considers the universe completely real, filled with infinite diversity and not different from Shiva , the supreme consciousness. He expands on this concept and shows that the various levels of creation, from the subtlest to the grossest, are all the same and Shiva.

He conceived Shiva, the I or Consciousness (Aham) , as an expression of the supreme freedom This concept of freedom (Svatrantya) is one of the principal achievements of Kashmiri Shaivism .

Abhinavagupta explains that Shiva brings about the manifestation of the world by the means of His svatantrya –shakthi or absolute autonomy by which he effects all changes without undergoing any change in Himself. The world is abhasa, pratibimba projected or reflected in the mirror of cosmic consciousness. Abhinavagupta  illustrates this  position  with  the aid  of  analogy of the reflection in  a mirror : just as earth,  water etc. are  reflected  in a clean mirror without being contaminated, so also the entire world of objects appears together in the one Lord consciousness- nirmale mukure yadvadbhanti bhumi-jala- dayah.. visvavrttayah.

Abhinavagupta asserts that Shiva, the Ultimate Reality, manifests himself as the world – asthasyadekarupena vapusa canmahesvara! Ghatadivat. He says;  in reality,  the jiva, the individual soul, is none other than the Lord Shiva Himself, having taken up the form of the bounded being – Shiva eva grhita pasu bhavah. The whole of this existence, according to Abhinavagupta, is indeed the manifestation of that Absolute Reality Shiva – Bharupam..paratattvam tasmin vibhati sat trimsad-atma jagat 


But, the basic difference between the Sri Shankara and Abhinavagupta is that the philosophy of Abhinavagupta is theistic absolutism.  It is similar to Vishitadvaita.  Abhinavagupta accepts the monistic and absolute  pure  consciousness   as  the  only  eternal reality; but, at the same time establishes Shakthi as the very essential nature of such monistic Reality. Hence, the aspect of the pure and perfect I-consciousness is His static aspect in which He is known as Shiva; and, the aspect of His phenomenal manifestation through the five divine activities is His dynamic aspect in which He is known as Shakthi.  Thus, Shiva is the basic eternal Reality and Shakthi is the divine nature of such Absolute Reality. Shiva and Shakthi are also said to be identical; the difference being just in nameittham nanavidhaih rupaih! kridaya prasruto nityameka-eva sivah prabhuh.


Abhinavagupta was a mystic and a Sadhaka par excellence. According to him; one’s body is indeed a worthy place of worship. All the devatas , vidyas, cakras, trisulas, mandalas  etc. are present in the body.

Beyond this there is no other Dhama  , a place, which is more   suitable for true worship – deha-eva-param-lingam  sarvata tat-vatmakam  shivam.. Atraiva  devata cakram  bahirantah sada yajet .

Abhinavagupta advises that a serious seeker should  obtain proper initiation , Diksha , from a worthy Guru, who  has the immense power of grace. The Sadhaka through relentless practice of Mantra, Japa and Bhavana (contemplation), should strive to attain true realization – tat svarupam japah prokto Bhava –bhavapada-cyutah.

He categorized such means of achievement (Upaya) into:  Anavopaya; Saktopaya and Sambhavopaya.. These Upayas are hierarchical; and, are meant for different levels of  Sadhakas.

Abhinavagupta asserts  that Moksha is nothing else  but  the  awareness   of  one’s  true  nature –  Moksha hi nama naivanyah sva-rupa-prathanam hi sah . He assures,  an  aspirant  who  meditates on that Great Brahman, will truly realize Shiva in his heart.


Kashmir Shaivism, reached its culmination in the philosophy of Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja (10th century) ; and,  in the theory of Recognition , Shaivite philosophy found its full flowering .

Together with Somananda’s disciple Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta is the most important representative of the School . Many believe Shiva himself appeared in Kashmir in the form of Abhinavagupta to enlighten the people. In any case , Abhinavagupta is a precious jewel of our heritage . His works and teachings continue to influence our thoughts.

Abhinavagupta talks about Shadanga_yoga, a system of yoga comprised of six aspects. According to him, prana (life force) and manas (mind) are interdependent. The Yoga consists in harnessing these two together. The disciplines of yama, niyama and aasana prescribed by Patanjali are meant for conditioning the body; they are the indirect methods.

Whereas, the methods that help directly are  dhyana  (meditation),  dharana (contemplation),  tarka (reasoning) and  Samadhi (absolute identity with the ideal). Contemplating on the identity of self and the Shiva  is essential; and it can be achieved through divine grace. It leads to emancipation and freedom from ignorance; and roots out the sense of duality. This he called it Pratyabhijnathe new method  (margo navaha).

guru charana




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Valid knowledge in Indian thought

The correct or the valid knowledge in Indian thought is called prama which stands for awareness of a thing as it really is and that which is free from misapprehension . The Indian thought is therefore concerned with what generates correct knowledge as also with what generates incorrect knowledge. The incorrect or invalid knowledge is called aprama or bhrama.

The sources of correct knowledge are known as pramana . It is a method , a device to verify the truth of a piece of knowledge that is acquired. It is largely a method of deduction but at times has room for intuition. Each school of thought adopted its method of cognition, pramana. The differences among the schools were more in their emphasis and on their perception of truth ratherthan in the methods they employed. For instance , Samkhya defined truth as the mode of agreeing entirely with the object .The Nyaya school thought that truth must be effective and should lead us to the desired object. Utility , according to them , was the criterion of truth. Vedanta , on the other hand , defined truth as that which was free from contradictions.

Valid knowledge , in general , emphasizes objectivity. Consistency in time and space is a necessary feature of Valid knowledge. What contributes to such knowledge is pramana . The purpose of pramana is to define its object clearly , specifically and to illuminate the object. It does not however generate a new fact but it brings forth experiencing a fact as it actually is. The pramanas , however , have their own limited fields of operation ; their validity is restricted to what they can possibly reveal. That perhaps explains the multiplicity of methods employed to verify ones experiences.

Charvakas accepted only one source of valid knowledge , viz. sense perception or direct observation (pratyaksha). Charvakas were strictly empirical and dismissed subjective experiences beyond sensations as being irrelevant. The Vaisheshikas considered deductive analysis or reasoning ( anumana , inference) as an additional method. They explained the nature and characteristics of the physical world by employing the first method pratyaksha but introduced the element of soul by inference. The Buddhists too relied heavily on inference . The Samkhya thinkers said that in addition to sense-perception and inference , the verbal testimony Sabda (which included scriptural testimony) could also be a means of valid knowledge . The Samkhya being essentially atheistic confined Sabda to mean unerring authority (aaptavacana) in matters pertaining to daily life.

The Nyaya school was essentially logistic in its orientation. It tried to examine the sources and contents of valid knowledge. It built a logical link between the subject , the knower(pramata) ; the means or method of obtaining knowledge (pramana) ; and the object , the knowable (prameya) . In addition , it put forth analogy (Upama) as the fourth method . Analogy , it said , comprehensively included in itself the other three methods. Analogy was , however , not an altogether new method . The Samkhya classified analogy under verbal testimony which in turn was included under inference. Nyaya however assigned an independent status to the method of analogy.( For more on Nyaya please see Nyaya a scheme of logic )

The Mimamsa school added two more methods Viz. presumption (arthapatti) and non-apprehension (abhava). Presumption , the Mimamsakas said , comes in handy when direct-sense perception, inference, verbal testimony or comparison do not directly help . The other line abhava or non-apprehension is a method to ascertain the non-existence of a thing. It too was treated as an independent and a positive process of knowing a thing.

Vedanta accepted all the six methods as means’s for acquiring valid knowledge.


It does not mean that one school or the other employed a particular method to the exclusion of all the other methods . Each of the methods had its own sphere of functioning; each supplemented the other ; and together contributed to the empirical knowledge of an object. Very often , a school of thought employed all the methods but laid emphasis on a particular method depending on the orientation of that school. For instance , the first four schools (Charvaka, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Samkhya) relied heavily on argumentation and were therefore described as “ reason-dominant (yukthi-pradhana) “.

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.

It was however around Sabda the scriptural authority that differences sprang up among the various schools .Mimamsakas put undue stress on scriptural authority , by which they meant the authority of the Vedas which they declared were eternal and therefore infallible. They subordinated every other method of cognition to authority of the Vedas ( particularly to the authority of the Brahmana portions) . Samkhya and Nyaya schools , in contrast , refused to accept the Vedas as the sole source of scriptural authority . They said the words of any trustworthy person (aptha) could be considered a source of valid knowledge and the Vedas could be one such. The Vaisheshika and the Nyaya school to a certain extent , refused to accept the divine origin of the Vedas but admitted the Vedas as one among the valid scriptural authority. The Buddhists went a step further; they rejected the divine origin of the Vedas and refused to accept the Vedas as a source of valid knowledge.

The Vedanta took a rather an intermediate position. It accepted the authority of the Vedas but tilted towards its informative passages viz. the Upanishads , almost to the exclusion of its ritualistic portions. Further , it said , sense -perception acts as a guide for the world while scriptures help to appreciate the significance of the reality . Vedanta therefore recommended a combination of scriptures (sruthi) and reason (yukthi or tarka). The debate on the undisputed authority of the Vedas and its authorship was , in a way , sidetracked.


The genius of Sri Sankara was that he rose above the apparent contradictions and charted a new path of reason and intuition.

He did not regard the scriptures either as eternal or immutable. He accepted the scriptures but conceded it a limited authority . “ In inquiries concerning religious conduct it may be that the scripture is the sole authority . But it cannot be so in our investigation into reality . Here , scriptures as well as other sources of knowledge such as phenomenal experience become valid , according to necessity. For , after all , the purpose of such investigation is to end in transcendental experience and to inform us about reality” (VSB 1,1 ,2) .

He said when the meaning of the scripture was not clear or when there were apparent contradictions , one must rely on reason . He also cautioned that reason can often be barren (sushka tarka) when it was devoid of intuition . He spoke of the value of reason blessed by intuition that becomes a part of ones experience.

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. For instance , Intuition becomes suspect when it is contradicted by reason ; similarly reason is futile if not supported by intuition. The two have to compliment each other. He declared, “Intuition is not opposed to intellect. Reality is experience. Realizing the Supreme Being is within ones 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 perceptional experience , then they loose their credibility. “ Even a hundred scriptural passages will not become authoritative when they , for instance , announce that fire is cool or dark”(VSB 43,14).

Among the misconceptions that have grown around Sri Sankara, the persistent and the most erroneous one is that he regarded world as an illusion. It is a gross misrepresentation of Sri Sankara . He accepted the phenomenal reality of the world. He gave credence to an individual’s subjective experience in the world. He said that individual’s experience cannot be disputed, because the experience he went through was real to him; though that might not be real from the absolute point of view .Sri Sankara drew a distinction between the absolute view (para_marthika )and the relative view(vyavaharika) of things.

Sri Sankara explained that vyavaharika (relative) and para_marthika (absolute) are both  real. However, that relative reality is “limited” in the sense it is biologically or mechanically determined and is subject to contradictions. The absolute on the other hand is beyond contradictions. By “absence of contradiction “ (badha-rahithyam), he did not refer merely to the earlier knowledge being contradicted by later knowledge, but also to the experiences at one plane of reality being contradicted by those at the other plane. Sri Sankara was careful to point out that the two dimensions – Vyavaharika and Paramarthika– are two levels of experiential variations. That does not mean they are two orders of reality. They are only two perspectives. Whatever that is there is there ; and That (tat) is REAL and is not affected by our views one way or the other.

Sri Sankara said the methods of cognition such as sense-perception and inference are dependent on sense organs , which in turn function within the ambit of body-consciousness. The Self cannot be regarded as a subject (knower , employing a method) and unless there be a subject it is meaningless to speak of a method. Therefore all methods , including scriptures , have only phenomenal relevance.

Thus , in a very real sense , all the methods of cognition are relevant only in the phenomenal, vyavaharika (relative) context of the world that we live in . All those methods cease to be authentic beyond the relative existence.

Reality is experience (anubhava). Realizing the Supreme Being is within ones experience.


Indebted to

Prof.SKR Rao


Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Nyaya


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Nyaya: a scheme of logic in Vedanta,

Nyaya is a method or a scheme of logic employed to prove or to disprove a proposition. Several types of Nyaya are employed in the texts of the Vedanta. The employment of a Nyaya becomes necessary when the subject discussed is either vague or is disputed; and when the other methods of reasoning are ineffective.

Nyaya is an illustration, model or a metaphor. It formulates in a nutshell an entire argument. It epitomizes a whole viewpoint. The merit of a Nyaya is that it is derived from common experiences in daily-life. It is therefore easier to relate to the Nyaya and its purport. The popular ancient readers such as PanchatantraHithopadeshaataka tales and Jain fables are treasure houses of Nyayas.

While the analogy or illustration is important (as in Rajju-sarpa, Sukthi- Rajatha or Rekha-gavaya-nyaya etc.); the more important than that is the validity of the argument, its methodological precision and its import. The more popular Nyayas in Vedanta are Adhyaropa Apavada and Prasajya-Prathisedha.

For instance, the Adhyaropa-Apavada attempts to prove its theory of transformation (Vivarta) in the phenomenal world. It effectively draws upon the Rajju-sarpa illustration. The rope’s appearance as a snake is not a mere Illusion. It involves a psychological process of transformation and projection while the physical object remains unaltered. The snake seems to emerge out of the coil of rope, in semi darkness; and dissolves into it when light is brought in.

The snake, in reality, was never present. The rope as a physical reality was ever present; even while the snake appeared in its place. Nevertheless, the snake could not have appeared in the absence of a physical foundation. It is therefore not a total illusion (alika).The snake-status is a superimposition or an assumption (Adhyaropa); and its subsequent annulment is withdrawal (Apavada).

The models equivalent to the above are the Sukthi-Rajatha, Shell and Silver analogy, the Akashanilima-Nyaya (blue sky) and the Stambha-Nara-Nyaya (Man in the post). The mother-of-pearl is mistaken for pure silver, the attribute -less sky appears blue, and the stump of wood is mistaken for a man at night. The unreal status is superimposed on the actual and is later withdrawn. The knowledge of the world is an appearance of Brahman, just as the man in the stump is only an appearance of the stump, and the silver in nacre an appearance of nacre.

There are a number of other Nyayas employed as metaphors, models and analogies to illustrate certain points of view. The following are a few of them.

There is a Nyaya called Rekha-gavaya-nyaya. An urban person had not seen a wild Bison. A forester draws a picture of the Bison (gavaya) and the townsman takes the very drawing for the animal .When on a later occasion, he visits the forest and sees the real animal, it dawns on him that the drawing and the animal are two different things.

Similarly, in Aksharajnana-nyaya the teacher marks on the paper with ink and asks the child to recognize in them alphabets and numbers. The child learns to recognize those forms and later, in a way, learns to de-code the symbols to understand and recognize the things and values they stand for.

These two Nyayas are employed to explain that scriptures describe the Absolute as the creator of the phenomenal world and attribute several traits like “truth”, ”knowledge”, ”bliss” and “infinity” etc. to the Absolute which is without any attributes. The seeker later learns and realizes the true nature of the Brahman.

The Samudrataranga-Nyaya illustrates that the countless waves rolling in the vast ocean are one and the same and are not separate from each other or from the great ocean. All are one, in reality. The difference is only apparent. The innumerable Jivas , though apparently perceived to be separate from one another are , in reality , one .

Oornanabhi-Nyaya, just as the spider brings forth the thread from its mouth to weave its web and withdraws it again into its mouth; this world is projected forth by Brahman and then again withdrawn by Brahman. The world is nothing but the Being of Brahman. And, Brahman alone is reality.

Ghatakasha-Nyaya, this is the analogy of space in a pot which is the same as the space pervading the universe (Mahakasha). When the pot is broken, the apparent distinction vanishes. Similarly, when the body and mind are broken, the embodied jiva becomes one with the Brahman.

Arundathi Nyaya is derived from the practice of showing the Arundathi star to the new bride. As the star is very faint and not easy to sight she is gradually led from the nearby brighter stars step by step to the Aundathi star. This underlines the principle of leading from gross to the subtle, from general to the particular and from known to the unknown.

For more on Nyayas please visit . 

The models employ something that is already familiar in order to explain certain concepts that are at once abstract and real. Let me mention that these analogies are not perfect. They have their limitations and are brittle at times; and if pressed too hard they might crumble .There cannot be a perfect analogy; and argument is not evidence. Its purpose is to illustrate. The models attempt to represent something that which cannot be perceived. Nyaya is the finger and not the moon. Therefore, there is always an element of inadequacy. One has to strive to extract from the model what is called “a positive analogy”. The notion of transformation (Vivarta) is thus what one could call a logical construction.

Nonetheless, the value of these Nyayas consists in that they facilitate a passage from the observable to the actual and from the factual to the theoretical .Sri Shankara’s merit is in the consistent interpretations he provides to an axiomatic system that the Upanishads provided. And in doing so he contributed significantly to the Indian theory -formation.


Indebted to Prof.SRK Rao

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Nyaya


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