Category Archives: Sri Sankara

The texts that Sri Shankara relied upon

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Dharma shastras:

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


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


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

Buddhist texts:

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

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


Sri Shankara and Adhyasa Bashya


Prof.SKR Rao


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


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Who was Gauda-Paada ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mandukya Upanishad is a very short text having just twelve stanzas; but is a very profound Upanishad. Gauda_Paada’s Karika expands on that Upanishad amazingly well. His Karika is made up of four independent treatises (Prakarana Chatustayam) each dealing with a separate issue. The four treaties were at a later time put together and made into a text under the title ”Agama Shastra”. Sri Shankara is said to have written with a commentary on Gauda_Paada’s Karika. It may not actually be Shankara’s work but ascribed to him by its real author, as an act of devotion. In fact, Shankara differs from the views of Gauda-Paada on a couple of issues. For instance, Gauda-Paada in his Karika states that the objects in waking state are as unreal as the dream objects; Shankara does not accept this extreme position and points out the experiential variations in the waking state and the dream state.

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

As mentioned, the Karika is in four chapters. The first chapter, a commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, establishes that Advaita is supported by Shruthi and reason. The other three chapters- Vaithathya (unreality), Advaita (Unity) and Alaata-Shanthi (extinguishing the fire brand) – are independent treatises. The first chapter points out that revelation (intuition) is the only true means of understanding the Self. The second chapter explains the illusory nature of the phenomenal world by employing reasons. The third chapter propounds the view that what is non-dual (Advaita) is not illusory. And, the fourth chapter Alaata-Shanthi-Prakarana, quite distinct from the other three, defends Advaita refuting criticisms made against it. In addition, through its Mahayana Buddhist style of dialectics, explains our phenomenal experiences and establishes the Atman as the sole reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



Consciousness in Advaita by Prof.SKR Rao.


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


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Who was Badarayana?

Badarayana is a very celebrated name in the world of Indian scriptures. His name is mentioned any number of times; yet hardly anything is known about him.

Badarayana is recognized as the compiler, Sutrakara, of the Brahma Sutras (an exposition on Brahman) also called Vedanta Sutra, Sariraka Mimamsa Sutra and Uttara Mimamsa Sutra. Tradition identifies him with Veda Vyasa the compiler of the Vedas; and he is addressed as Vyasa-parasarya though there is no adequate proof to support that. According to some, since Vyasa was born on an island amidst Badara (Indian jujube) trees, he acquired the name of Badarayana as one of many names.

However the Acharyas -Sri Shankara , Ramanuja, Bhaskara and Yamuna address him as Badarayana and do not seem to associate him with Vyasa. They refer to his work as Sariraka Mimamsa or Vedanta Mimamsa. Sri Shankara  holds Badarayana in very high regard and addresses him as Bhagavan. Badarayana, it is suggested, might have lived anytime during 500 to 200 BCE.Prof. SN Dasguta opines he lived around 200 BCE.

Brahma Sutra is the most authoritative exposition of the Vedanta. But it was not the first. Badarayana cites the views of the earlier scholars such as Audulomi, Kaskrtsna, Badrai and Asmarthya. But Badarayana, undoubtedly, is the most respected exponent of Vedanta. He is the final authority on the subject; though he is interpreted variously. Each commentator interpreted according to his understanding of the text. Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra (Nyaya Prasthana) along with Upanishads (Smrithi Prasthana) and Bhagavad-Gita (Smrithi Prasthana) constitutes the Prasthana Trayi or the three cannons of Vedanta. These three texts are the pristine springs of Vedanta philosophy. No study of Vedanta is complete without the study of the Prasthana treya. Brahma Sutras should be studied after completing the study of Upanishads under the guidance of a teacher.

There is also a view that Upavarsha could be another name for Badarayana. This view is not well supported. It looks highly unlikely. In any case let us talk a bit about Upavarsha. Again, Upavarsha comes through the mists of ancient Indian traditions and not much is known of him. We come to know him through references to his views by Sri Shankara  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).He advocated the six means of knowledge (cognition) adopted later by the Advaita school. He began the discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. He also pioneered the method of logic called Adhyaropa-Apavada which consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing the assumption, after a discussion. Upavarsha is also known as the author of a commentary on Brahma Sutra titled”Sariraka Mimamsa Vritti”, now lost.

Sri Sri Shankara  has great reverence for Upavarsha and addresses him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addresses Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, only as Teachers (Acharya). Upavarsha’s time is surmised to be prior to that of Panini the great Grammarian, around 200 BCE.

Mimamsa was regarded one body of doctrine consisting twenty sections; the first sixteen of which named Purva Mimamsa (earlier Mimamsa) ascribed to Jaimini and the last four sections regarded as Uttara Mimamsa (later Mimamsa) credited to Badarayana. Both the compilers, most likely, were contemporaries.

There is however a sharp contrast in the emphasis, treatment and views of the two sages. Badarayana crystallizes the Upanishad thought and provides a framework for enquiry into the nature of the Absolute (Brahman). Jaimini on the other hand inquires into the ritualistic aspects of the Vedas and emphasizes that worldly well being and heavenly rewards are the objectives of a householder; and that the rituals alone lead to the attainment of that highest objective. Badarayana, in contrast, does not stress on rituals and holds the final liberation (mukthi) as the goal of the seeker.

Jaimini hardly involves God (Isvara) into his scheme of things. He clings to the prescriptive and liturgical aspects of Vedas setting aside their esoteric message. He generally ignores the Upanishads. His follower Sabara described the non-human origin of the Vedas in terms of the anonymity or inability to remember the authors of the Vedas. There was therefore a fear; the ascendency of the Mimamsa might encourage atheism.

Badarayana, on the other hand, relied primarily on the Upanishads as the most meaningful portions of the Vedas. He assigned them the status of highest authority and the most valid means of knowing. They are Shruthis, the Revelations, the supersensory intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis, he stressed.

It was Badarayana who initially recognized Upanishads as the crowning glory of Vedic thought and strived to uphold the authority of the Upanishads and to place God in the center of the scheme of things. Badarayana’s efforts and anxieties were driven by an urgent need to rescue knowledge and freethinking from the encircling swamp of ritualistic texts and practices; as also from the ascending atheistic tendencies. His work represents a vigorous response to the challenges and demands of his times; and Brahma Sutra achieves that task amply well.

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

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

If Badarayana, whoever he was, set in motion the process of recovery of the tradition of the ancients, Sampradaya; it was Sri Shankara  who carried it forward. Sri Shankara  greatly influenced by Badarayana, recognized Upanishads as the summit of Vedic thought. The importance attached to Brahmanas appeared to him rather misplaced. Sri Shankara  then set himself the goal to recover the correct tradition, the Sampradaya. Sri Shankara  aptly referred to Badarayana, each time, with enormous reverence and addressed him as Bhagavan, Sampradaya_vit, (the knower of good tradition) and Vedanta _Sapradaya_vit, one who truly understood the traditional import of the Upanishads



History of Indian Philosophy –vol.1

By Prof.S N Dasgupta .


Continued, please read next Brahma Sutra Brahma Sutra


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


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Adhyasa Bhashya of Sri Sankara

1. The magnificent prelude that Sankara wrote to his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras is celebrated as The Adhyasa Bashya. It is in fact not a Bhashya; it is not a commentary. It is an independent piece of writing, which served as a prologue to his main work.

2. The Adhyasa Bashya is remarkable in many ways. It is not a lengthy work; it is less than fifty lines divided into five sections. It is a free flowing writing. Sankara lucidly puts forth his views. While doing so, he does not cite any traditional text or authority in support of his views. He does not denounce or attack any school of thought (vada). He is not propagating a new school of thought or a new argument. He assures that the significance of the initial discussion will be realized in the main commentary, which seeks to restore the true interpretation of the. Vedanta tradition as contained in the Vedanta Sutra. Adhyasa Bashya is a rare gem in the field of philosophical texts.

3. Attaining ones aspirations and expectations by resort to rituals had caught the imagination of the common people, though the Vedanta tradition advocated wisdom as the sole means for attaining ones goals in life. However, some thinkers diluted the rigorous position by combing Upanishad teachings with rituals to make it appealing to the common people. This they called ‘jnana_karma_samucchaya”– a two- in- one of wisdom and ritual.

3.1. Sankara viewed this as a distortion of the Upanishad ideals. In order to play down the prominence given to rituals by the Mimamsakas, Sankara relied on the idea of avidya He bracketed the ritualistic approach with avidya and called it an “error”.

4. Avidya is a word that occurs in Upanishads, though not often. The word Vidya is used to denote effective discrimination and avidya is the absence of it. Sankara states wisdom (vidya) can eliminate ignorance (avidya); but the ignorance it eliminates is not real, because it has no existence of its own. Once the error is removed the Universe (Brahman) will reveal of its own accord.

4.1. Sankara explains, darkness and light are distinct from each other in their nature and in their functions. Darkness has no existence of its own; it is merely the absence of light.Wheareas, the light is positive and helps vision. Darkness and light can neither coexist nor share their functions or nature. Darkness is an error that can be removed.

5.Sankara states in his prologue , the main purpose of the Upanishads is to provide the Knowledge(vidya) that will eliminate darkness , ignorance(avidya) , which is in the nature of “reality transfer” (adhyasa). He thereafter goes on to explain the concept adhyasa.

5.1.Adhyasa, according to Sankara, is not an intellectual construct (kalpana_viseha) but a matter of experience (anubhava).Sankara says we do it all the time.Adhyasa consists in mistaking one thing and its attributes for another; superimposing one level of reality over other. This we do every day. An individual experiences the world through his senses, mind and other ways of perception. His experience of the world may be tainted by the defect in his senses or other constraints, internal or external. Nevertheless, that person creates his own set of impressions and experiences and he accepts those subjective experiences as real.

5.2. A special feature of sankara’s thought is that he regards personal and intuitive experience (anubhava) as independent and convincing evidence. Sankara says that individual’s experience cannot be disputed, because the experience he went through was real to him; though that may not be real from the absolute point of view. Sankara makes a distinction between the absolute view and the relative view of things.

6. In short, what the person does is, he imposes his transactional experience (relative or dual) over the transcendental (absolute) and accepts the former as real. That subjective experience need not be proved or disproved .However, the confusion it created can be removed by wisdom (vidya).According to Sankara the world we experience is not absolutely real but it is not false either. The real is that which cannot be negated and that which is beyond  contradiction.

6.1. Sankara explains that vyavaharika (relative) and para_marthika (absolute) both are real. However, the relative reality is “limited” in the sense it is biologically or mechanically determined and it is not beyond contradictions. The absolute on the other hand is infinite (everlasting and unitary (meaning utter lack of plurality)).

Sankara is careful to point out that the two dimensions – Vyavaharika and Paramarthika- are two levels of experiential variations. It does not mean they are two orders of reality. They are only two perspectives. Whatever that is there is REAL and is not affected by our views

6.2. The Self in the vyavaharika context is saririka (embodied self); it encounters the world. However, the Self in reality is not saririka; it is absolute, asaririka and is infinite. The infinite Self, perceived as the limited self (jiva) is what Sankara calls as adhyasa.

7. The dichotomy between being an individual-in-the-world (jiva) and being originally a pure, transcendental consciousness (atman) is taken by Sankara as merely superficial.According to Sankara, it is due to avidya that the individual fails to see the nexus between Being and the world. That nexus indicates the oneness underlying the subject-object, inner-outer, Man-Nature distinctions. All that is required is to remove the error and the universe will shine on its own accord.

8. The analogy given in the text is that of a pond that is clear and undisturbed .One can see the bottom of the pond through its still water. When, however, pebbles are thrown into the pond, the water in it is disturbed and the bottom of the pond becomes no longer visible. That bottom however is there all the time and it remains unchanged, no matter whether the surface water is disturbed or not. The water in the pond is the transactional world. The bottom of the pond is the transcendental reality. The disturbance created is avidya

[It is difficult to find an exact English word for adhyasa. It may, among other things, mean “superimposition”,” projection” etc. adhyasa is more comprehensive than that. Sankara, in my view, recognizes three levels ofexistence, the Absolute, the relative and the illusory. Adhyasa consists in superimposing one level of existence (relative/illusory) over the other (The Absolute) and accepting the former as true while it may actually be untrue.The absolute (atman) appearing as the limited (jiva) is what Sankara calls adhyasa. (For more on this please seeAdhyasa ]

9.Extending the concept of adhyasa, Sankara says, we superimpose the body, the sense organs and the mind on the Self(infinite) and we use expressions like: ‘I am fat’, ‘I am thin’, ‘I am white’, ‘I am black’, ‘I stand’, ‘I go’, ‘I am dumb’, ‘I am deaf’, ‘I think’, ‘I am not going to fight’, ‘I shall renounce’ and so on. In this way, we superimpose our mind on the Atman, which is the eternal witness. We do it the other way also by superimposing self on the mind, the non-Self. According to Sankara, the relation between mind and self involves mutual superimposition (itaretara-adhyasa). This relation is false since there cannot be any real relation between the self and the non-self. This confusion or adhyasa is innate to us, and is a matter of common experience.

10. Sankara says, the purpose of Upanishads is to remove adhyasa or avidya; and once it is removed, Brahman will shine of its accord, for it is the only reality. This doctrine of Sankara became the nucleus for the development of the Advaita school of thought.

11. As regards the rituals, Sankara says, the person who performs rituals and aspires for rewards will view himself in terms of the caste into which he is born, his age, the stage of his life, his standing in society etc. In addition, he is required to perform rituals all through his life. However, the Self has none of those attributes or tags. Hence, the person who superimposes all those attributes on the changeless, eternal Self and identifies Self with the body is confusing one for the other; and is therefore an ignorant person. The scriptures dealing with rituals, rewards etc. are therefore addressed to an ignorant person.

11.1This ignorance (mistaking the body for Self) brings in its wake a desire for the well being of the body ,aversion for its disease or discomfort, fear of its destruction and thus a host of miseries(anartha).This anartha is caused by projecting karthvya(“doer” sense) and bhokthavya (object) on the Atman. Sankara calls this adhyasa. The scriptures dealing with rituals, rewards etc. are therefore, he says, addressed to an ignorant person.

11.2.In short, person who engages in rituals with the notion “I am an agent, doer, thinker”, according to Sankara, is ignorant, as his behavior implies a distinct, separate doer/agent/knower ; and an object that is to be done/achieved/known. That duality is avidya, an error that can be removed by vidya.

11.3. Sankara elsewhere explains that, when such acts are performed by a person without desire for the fruits of his actions, by recognizing the reality that there is neither a “doer” nor an “object”, then that instills in him the desire for Brahma-vidya, which takes him closer to vidya.

12.Sri Sankara affirming his belief in one eternal unchanging reality (Brahman) and the illusion of plurality, drives home the point that Upanishads deal not with rituals but with the knowledge of the Absolute (Brahma vidya) and the Upanishads give us an insight into the essential nature of the Self which is identical with the Absolute, the Brahman.


Sri Sankara

1. Sri Sankara was an original thinker. He was a leader.Hewas not a dreaming idealist but a practical visionary.Scripture and reason were the two aids in his arguments. He was a great logician, who based his arguments entirely on the principles of logic but without contradicting the intuitional revelations of the Vedas and the Upanishads. Sankara’s thought gave a new dimension to Indian philosophy. It restored the position of Upanishads as the pristine source of knowledge. It established Vidya, wisdom as the true source of light. It put reason and discretion at the center stage and pushed the rituals out of contention.

2. He ushered in a new way of looking at our world, at our experience in/with it, by introducing the relative and absolute view of the Universe. When he talked about the infinite and time less nature of the Universe, it was not in the sense of endless duration, but in the sense of completeness, requiring neither a before nor an after. When he referred to Unity of self he was not talking of putting two things together, but he used the term to mean utter absence of all plurality in the real Self. The western world had to wait until the beginning of twentieth century to arrive at those concepts.

3. He gave credence to an individual’s subjective experience. He placed personal experience and intuition above all the other means of cognition. He said a person’s experience could not be disputed. He declared, “Intuition is not opposed to intellect. Reality is experience. Realizing the Supreme Being is within ones experience.”

4. He recognized the underlying oneness and the infinite nature of the universe. He asserted, “I am not the mind or the intellect not the ego. I am the blissful form of the Brahman.” He redefined the relation between the Man, World and the Universe. He said they were One. Duality, he said, was an error in perception.

5. His is not a system opposed to other systems, but a method of interpretation of values. His is a voice of reason and sanity. Sankara is therefore relevant even today. He values reason, encourages spirit of enquiry, gives credence to subjective experience and therefore to freedom of ones thought and expression. He suggests intellect is not opposed to intuition. He asks us to take the small ego out of the equation in our day-to-day activities of life. He implores us to recognize the essential unity of all beings and their oneness with the infinite space-time continuum. He explained, the Universe is the manifestation of the Supreme Being.

6. Vedanta of Sankara comes as a remedy to the conflict and violence ridden ways of our life.

7. Swami Vivekananda aptly described Sankara’s Advaita as the fairest flower of philosophy that any country in any age has produced

Please also read

Sankara – a genius, misunderstood

Deeply indebted to
Prof.SKR Rao


Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Sri Sankara, Vedanta


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Sri Sankara – a genius misunderstood

Sri Sankara, the Adi Sankara-charya is one of the greatest thinkers of all times.

This country owes him a deep debt of gratitude. He not only consolidated the classical values of life but also reorganized what we now call Hinduism. He brought together diverse strands of philosophical speculations and religious disciplines.

Unfortunately, few philosophers in the world are as misunderstood and misinterpreted as Sri Sankara. Ironically, most of the harm came from his admirers and followers.

A. Admirers

1. It became a trend in the middle ages among the lesser authors to float their work in the name of celebrated authors to ensure its acceptance by the scholars of the day. Following this custom, many of Sri Sankara’s admirers hoisted their works on him .In some other cases, brilliant works were submitted by their authors in his name. This was an act of devotion. As a result, we have today, more than 250 works ascribed to Sankara. These include philosophical treatise (bhashyas), advices to aspirants (updaesha), minor dissertations (prakaranas), hymns addressed to various divinities, poems etc. The quality of these works is not consistent. Some of them undoubtedly have merit. It is however, obvious not all of them could be works of one author. The ideas expressed in them are not only various but often inconsistent. In a few cases, the works contradict each other. ( E.g. Two commentaries on Kena Upanishad, both ascribed to Sankara have conflicting views) .The ideas contained in a few others came into existence much after Sankara’s time.

2. Sri Sankara during his lifetime decried and fought against Tantric practices. However, Tantric texts like Prapancha_sara, Lalitha_trisati_bashya and others are in circulation under his name. The other famous tantric work ascribed to Sri Sankara is Sandarya_lahari. The scholarly opinion is that it is not Sankara’s work, though it is an excellent composition.

3. Among the minor dissertations (prakaranas):  Sarva-vedanta-siddanta-sara_sangraha; probodha-sudhakara; Advaitanu-bhutiYoga-rathavali; Anatma-vigrahanaprakarana etc.are definitely are not Sankara’s works.

4. A commentary on Vishnu_sahasra_nama is ascribed to him. It is decidedly a recent work. It is inconsistent too. It is not Sri Sankara’s commentary.

5. A number of hymns, of inconsistent quality, in praise of various deities are known as his compositions. (E.g. Stotras on Subrahmanya, Ganapathi, Shiva, Vishnu, Devi etc.)

6. One of Sri Sankara’s missions was to wean people away from ritualistic approach advocated by Mimamsakas and to project wisdom (jnana) as the means of liberation in the light of Upanishad teachings. He criticized severely the ritualistic attitude and those who advocated such practices. However, the texts that combined rituals with wisdom (jnana_karma_samucchaya) more in favor of the Mimamsaka position came onto vogue, projecting Sankara as the rallying force of the doctrine. His followers might have found Sankara’s mission a hard task and therefore compromised the liberating wisdom with the performance of rituals.

7. Whatever be the popular opinion, the scholarly tradition recognizes only three texts as authentic works of Sankara. These are his commentaries on the Upanishads, the Gita and on Vedanta Sutras; grouped under the name prasthana_thraya.

Vedanta Sutras 

1. A word about Vedanta Sutra before we proceed: Vedanta Sutras also called Brahma Sutras deal with the essential import of Upanishads. They are rendered in the form of Sutra (aphorism), terse and crisp. They are therefore open to interpretations. The work is ascribed to Badarayana, who is often identified with Krisha_dvaipayana_vyasa; the author of Mahabhatarha. Sri Sankara is however is silent on this issue.

2. Sri Sankara’s commentary on this Sutra, called the Vedanta Sutra Bhashya (VSB) is a highly celebrated text. Sankara’s purpose in writing his commentary was to explain the traditional view. He said, the primary meaning of the word Upanishad  was knowledge, while the secondary meaning was the text itself. He isolated the Upanishad lore from the rest of the Vedic body and narrowed it down to ten or twelve Upanishads. Even here, he did not include the ritualistic portion of the Vedas. This was in contrast to the classification followed by the later Acharyas.

3. We may assume that there were other points of view in circulation in those days and they did not entirely represent the traditional view. (No commentary on the Vedanta-sutras survives from the period before Sankara.)This motivated Sankara to come up with his precious commentary. Sankara explained that wisdom (jnana), according to the real import of Upanishads, was the true means of liberation. Sankara’s interpretation of the Upanishads marked the beginning of a new line of thought. The then existing Vedanta terms (like Brahman, maya, avidya, adhyasa, jnana, mukthi etc.) acquired in his work a deeper significance, wider context and a greater relevance.

[  Sri Sankara seems to take Brahma sutra more as an exposition of the Upanishads than as an original text. For him, therefore, the Brahma sutras derive their authority from the Upanishads; and, the sutras must therefore conform to the meaning and the spirit of the Upanishads. The Brahma sutras will have to be interpreted in the light of the Upanishads.

The sutras of Badarayana have one single purpose, that of stringing together the flowers of Vedanta akyas (Vedanta vakya- kusuma –grathanatavat sutram – BB.1.1.2)

Sri Sankara undertakes to interpret Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra in order to expound through what he understood as the philosophy of Upanishads taken as a harmonious and systematic whole. The fact that he had written commentaries on the principal Upanishads, presumably, before his commentaries on Brahma sutra and the Bhagavad-Gita goes to show that he had grasped the keynote and the essence of the Upanishads. These became central in his interpretation of Brahma sutra as also of Vedanta philosophy.

Sri Ramanuja in turn interprets   the Brahma sutra through the Vrtti of Bodhayana and the glosses on the Vrtti by the other purva-acharyas, the old-masters.

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


1. The history of Advaita is replete with interpretation and reinterpretation of Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya (VSB). The generation of Advaita followers that succeeded Sankara wrote a number of commentaries on Sankara’s VSB. Each commentator claimed that he grasped the essence and true intent of Sankara and went on to write according to his own understanding. In that process, he wove into the commentaries, his personal views and hoisted them on Sankara. This kind of adulation gave rise to several versions of Advaita. The numerous glosses written by his followers tried to blend ritualistic attitude with the monistic inclination of the Master. The result was the distortion of Sankara’s position.

1.1. The so-called orthodox interpretation of Sankara flows in two distinct channels; the one based on Bhamathi and the other on Pancha_padica.

2. Vachaspathi Misra (c.840AD) was a well-known scholar and a commentator of his times. He wrote a number of glosses and commentaries on several schools of thought. His commentary on Sankara’s VSB was titled Bhamathi.

2.1. Bhamathi revels in dialectic and relies on Mimamsa (ritualistic approach) which Sankara did not approve. Further, Vachaspathi brought together, in Bhamathi, the views of Sankara with the ritualistic views of Mandana (a Vedanta scholar, author of Brahma siddhi); whose views were severely criticized by Sureshvara, a direct disciple of Sankara. Though Sri Sankara and Mandana belonged to the same Vedanta branch they differed on ritualistic aspects of Vedas. Yet, while interpreting Sankara, Vachaspathi introduced ideas borrowed from Mandana and hoisted them on Sankara. Many ideas that appear as Sri Sankara’s in Bhamathi  were in fact not his.

[ Mandana Misra is a seminal figure in the history of Advaita He was a contemporary of Sri Sankara and the Great Mimamsaka Gaudapada.  His work Brahma-siddhi and Gaudapada’s Karika on Mundaka Upanishad   are in fact only two  surviving works of the pre Sankara period that have come down to us. Mandana’s citations from or comments and remarks on previous other authors, either refuting or endorsing their opinions, make him one of the credible resources on the state of Advaita prior to the time of Sri Sankara.

His comments on some of the disputed concepts of Vedanta such as : Vivarta ( unreal appearance) , Anirvachaniyatva ( inexplicable state) or Maya-vada ( doctrine of the seemingly real or unreal) have always attracted the later scholars and students of Vedanta .He is perhaps the first to attempt to establish the Advaita doctrine through means of cognition Pratyaksha , direct perception. He argued that Pratyakshya cannot prove the reality or otherwise of an object because the direct perception is incapable of truly appending the distinction between the Real and the unreal (or seemingly real).

Though Mandana may have been influenced by Sri Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, he did retain some of his own position on certain matters. Certain features of his doctrine are, in fact, not found among the principles laid out by Sri Sankara.  Just to mention a few of his own elaborations the following could be cited: the inexplicable nature of Avidya (ignorance);   making out a distinction between two sorts of Avidya; importance he placed on Sat (Being) and Bliss (Ananda) as the more significant attributes of Brahma etc.

Interestingly, Vachaspathi Misra, in his commentary (titled Bhamathi) on Sri Sankara’s Brahma-Sutra-Bhashya tended to follow, on certain issues and explanations, the lead of Mandana Misra rather than that of Sri Sankara.

Vachaspathi Misra’s commentary (Bhamathi) juxtaposed with another commentary of Padmapada (one of the direct disciples of Sri Sankara) on the Brahma Sutras caused a major split or schism in the Advaita School. From then on, two rival streams of Advaita School – one called the Bhamathi School based on Vachaspathi Misra’s interpretation of , and the other Vivarana School based on the explanations provided Padmapada in his Pancha-padika-vivarana, came into being.

Amazingly, both the Schools of Advaita had drifted away from the basic tenets postulated Sri Sankara. And yet; both Schools have their followers and both are studied by the students of Advaita philosophy, in general.]

[It seems that for several centuries following Sri Sankara and Mandana, it was Mandana who was viewed by other schools as the major figure in Advaita. Vachaspathi Misra is said to have continued Mandana’s brand of Advaita in his commentary on Brahmasiddhi (now lost), and in his Bhamathi a commentary on Sri Sankara’s Brahma sutra Bhashya. Mandana differed from Sri Sankara on some issues. For instance, Mandana accepts and advocates the doctrine of Sphota a grammatical theory put forward by Bhartruhari, while Sri Sankara rejects Sphota theory and opts for Varna vada. Again, Mandana on the question of false judgement tries to assimilate the views of Bhatta Mimamsaka, whereas Sri Sankara is ambivalent of the view and his disciple Suresvara criticizes Bhatta’s view on error severely. Mandana also appears to lean towards the Mimamsa view of the relevance of meditation in achieving liberation and his tendency to accommodate the combined view (jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada). These tendencies are not surprising, since Mandana, a student of Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta, was a well recognized scholar in the Grammar – philosophy as the author of Sphotasiddhi and also as the author of other Mimamsa texts. ]

2.2. Regardless of this position, a branch of Advaita literature grew thereafter with Bhamathi as the official version of Sankara’s view. Further, Bhaskara’s views were fused or confused with Sankara’s views. The interpretations and arguments of that branch were lined up accordingly. Akandanandaa’s Rju-prakasika, Anandagiri’s Saririka_nyaya_nirnaya and Govindananda’s Bashya_rathna_prabha were some of the texts produced in this school. These texts do not reflect original Sankara.

2.3. Today, the study of Sri Sankara, in orthodox circles, is based, mostly, on the Bhamathi and the annotations on it by Amalananda (Vedanta_kalpataru c.1250) together with notes of Shri Appaiah Ditkshita (c.1550). These three together with Vedanta Sutra and Sri Sankara’s commentary on it constitute the basic Advaita literature (pancha granthi). This is despite the fact the views of Sri Sankara and Vachaspathi are divergent on issues relating to rituals and scriptural authority.

3.Pancha_padica is a running annotation on the first four aphorisms of Sankara’s VSB. It is an incomplete work. It is ascribed to Padmapada; a direct disciple of Sankara. That again, is disputed. However, a distinct school of Advaita grew with Pancha_padica as its nucleus. A major work in this tradition was Prakasathman’s Vivarana, a treatise. Later Akhanada_ananda_muni (c.1350 AD) wrote a gloss on the Vivarana

The most celebrated work in this school was, undoubtedly, the Pancha_dashi written by Vidyaranya, who also abridged the Vivarana (Vivarana prameya sangraha).

3.1. A large number of glosses, annotations, notes, and digests followed Bhamathi and Pancha_ padica. Vimuktatman’s Ishtasiddhi, Chitsukha’s Bhava_dyotankia and other works contradicted Sankara. Besides these, there were independent texts that stayed clear of the recognized schools. In the post Sankara period, many terms and concepts like-moola_avidya, vivarta, six fold pramana, avidya_lesha; became a part of Advaita vocabulary. Some of those concepts might have looked unfamiliar to Sankara. For instance, Sri Sankara treated ignorance (avidya) as an error, the removal of which led to wisdom (vidya).He left it at that. His followers however, wrote tomes speculating the causes for ignorance, nature of ignorance, different forms of ignorance etc. Had the Master watched his disciples at work he might have wondered whether they were studying about Brahman or about ignorance

3.2. The texts such as Pancha_padica, Advaita_siddhi and Pancha_dasi are brilliant works and have great merit. They are landmarks in the development of Indian thought. However, they do not correctly represent Sankara’s thought; they cloud the original Sankara. The question is, no matter how brilliant the ideas, imagery and arguments introduced by the later scholars be, were the authors justified in hoisting their views on Sankara?

4. If the body of Advaita literature were to be taken together, Sankara would be contradicting himself. He would at once be a nihilist, a ritualist, an obscurantist and an idealist too. It is difficult to cull out the original Sankara from the mass of accretion that collected over the centuries. The best introduction to Sankara’s thought is his prelude to the VSB viz. the Adhyasa_Bashya.

5. Some of the areas where Sankara differed with the Mimasakas were briefly as under:

5.1. Mimasakas held the view that the real purport of the scriptures was to provide injunctions and prohibitions. The scriptural injunctions were mandatory and the texts that relate to wisdom were spillover (sesha).

The real purpose of the scriptures, Sankara said, was to describe the reality as it is. Sankara rejected the Mimamsa view and argued that scripture were not mandatory in character, at least where it concerned pursuit of wisdom. Upanishads, he remarked, dealt with Brahman and that Brahman could not be a subject matter of injunction and prohibitions.

5.2. Sankara strongly advocated study of Upanishads, and at the same time cautioned that study of Upanishad alone would not lead to moksha.. In matters of such as spiritual attainment ones own experience was the sole authority and it cannot be disputed

He also said study of Upanishad was neither indispensable nor a necessary pre requisite for attaining the human goal, the moksha. He pointed out; even those who were outside the Upanishad fold were as eligible to moksha as those within the fold were. He declared that all beings are Brahman, and therefore the question of discrimination did not arise. All that one was required to do was to get rid of Avidya (duality).

He pointed out that rituals could in no way bring about wisdom, much less moksha.. He asserted, while the rewards of the rituals were not matter of direct experience, wisdom which is the fruit of Vedanta is based on immediate and personal experience; one need not have to wait for the reward nor one be in doubt whether the reward would or would not come.

This was in sharp contrast to the position taken by Mimamsakas who asserted that rituals alone would lead one to higher levels of attainment. Further, the deities would reward only those entitled to perform the rituals alone. The entitlement involved the caste, creed and other parameters.

6. Most of the ideas that Sri Sankara rejected came back to the Advaita fold and the Mimamsa position with regard to the scriptural authority and value of rituals became a part of the Advaita posture. The wisdom –oriented teachings of Sankara became as much a face of Advaita as the rituals, worships and other practices. There was therefore an obvious disparity between what Sankara idealized and what his followers, even the elite, practiced.

7. By about tenth century, the Advaita scene was littered with a confusing array of texts that did not outline a well-defined doctrine. The rise of the sects and sectarian prejudices did not also help matters.8. The “rival” Vedanta doctrines when they came on stage, naturally, reacted to the Advaita texts in circulation at the time. It was that form of Advaita, which they encountered, that gave cause for dissatisfaction and annoyance. While criticizing Sankara they relied on the later exponents than on Sri Sankara’s own views. The result was the distortion of Sri Sankara’s position. He was criticized for what was hoisted on him than on what he said.

For instance, by the time Sri Ramanuja (1017-1132) emerged as an exponent of orthodox Vedanta tradition, Ishta_siddhi written by Vimuktananda was the standard advaita text of the day.Ramanuja’s criticism of Sankara was based mainly on this work. Interestingly, Madhva (1197-1276) another Acharya also criticized Sankara based on the views presented in Ishta_siddi. It is said that Sri Madhva pointed more than thirty errors of argument in that text.

9. The “rival” schools of Vedanta thoughts like Vishistadvaita and Dvaita took Advaita as the common point of departure.By then the Advaita schools were in a confused state and reacted with emotion; though much of the conflict that ensued was academic. It is fair to say, the new trends emerged in fulfillment of the needs of the time.

C. Some popular misconceptions about Sri Sankara 

A number of popular misconceptions are in circulation about Sankara .The following are a few of them:

1. Advaita: 

1.1. The popular belief is that Sankara “found” Advaita system of Vedanta, promoted and popularized it. This is a misconception.

1.2. Sri Sankara clearly said he was not putting forth a new theory or a school of thought. He did not expound or defend any argument (vaada) either in his VSB or in his commentaries on Upanishads and Gita. His mission was to present the true interpretation of the Vedanta tradition. His school of thought (asmadeye darshane), according to him, was the Upanishad system (aupanishadam darshanam) or the doctrine of emancipation (moksha vada). Sankara was the upholder of tradition (Evam sampradaya vido vadanti).

1.3. Sankara did not claim he found Advaita school of thought or that he was an Advaitin. He used the expression “Advaita” in VSB only two times and on both occasions, he was quoting: once from Gaudapada’s karika and the other time from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Gaudapada in his karika employed the term as a descriptive expression for Brahman (or Atman).Sri Sankara followed the lead of his guru_naam_guruhu (teacher’s teacher).

1.4. At that stage,” Advaita” was yet to emerge as a Vedanta doctrine and as a separate school of thought.. The term “Advaita” does not appear in Bhamathi , written about a hundred years after Sankara .Bhamathi calls Sankara’s exposition as investigation into Brahman(Brahma mimamsa), a logical procedure(tarka) and treats it as such.

1.5. The Advaita argument (Advaita_avada), as a school of thought was a post Sri Sankara development; though the essence of the doctrine was in his VSB and in Adhyasa Bhashya.

2. Attack on Dvaita:

2.1. Sankara did not attack dualists (dvaitinaha), as alleged

2.2. The logical elucidation of “oneness” of Atman in Sri Sankara’s VSB appealed to his followers. They turned that in to a school of thought (Advaita_vaada) in order to distinguish it from the dualistic thought (Dvaita) that emerged after Sri Sankara.

2.3. A school of dualistic thought was not in existence at the time of Sankara. The question of his attacking them did not therefore arise. The only dualists he mentioned were Samkhya and Yoga systems.

3.World an illusion:

3.1. 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.

3.2. The concept of phenomenal projection Adhyasa, which is basic to Sri Sankara’s thought is seriously misunderstood. The acceptance of twofold perspective, transcendental (absolute) and transactional (relative) is at the root of his Adhyasa concept.

3.3. Sri  Sankara neither takes the world we experience as absolutely real nor does he denies its reality altogether. He brings in the concept of the Absolute and the relative view of things.

Failure to understand the concept of Adhyasa resulted in such confusion.


4.1. Sankara did not drive Buddhism out of India.

He came nearly 1200 years after the Buddha. By Sankara’s time (c. eighth century), Buddhism had lost its vigor a couple of centuries earlier and had moved into the neighboring countries.

4.2. Sri Sankara’s dispute with the Buddhist schools (Madhyamika and Vaibashika) was purely metaphysical and not religious. By this time, Buddhism (Mahayana) had moved closer to Upanishads and the chasm between Vedanta and Buddhism had narrowed a great deal.

4.3. Gaudapada who was the teacher of Sankara’s teacher, and whom Sri Sankara addressed as the “knower of the tradition” (sampradaya vit) employed terms that were commonly in use by Mahayana Buddhism and the orthodox Schools. Gaudapada was not a Buddhist, he was a vedantin.

Shri T.M.P.Mahadevan an authority on Gaudapada confirmas this position; and,  says  Sankara was wrongly handed down the  epithet of “Buddhist in disguise’.


When one studies Sri Sankara, no matter one agrees with him or not one “is in contact with a mind of a very fine penetration and profound spirituality.”

-as Dr. Radhakrishnan said.

Please read next

Adhyasa Bashya of Sankara

Deeply indebted to

Prof.SKR Rao

Shri S Rajam


Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Sri Sankara, Vedanta


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Buddhism of Tibet

India -Tibet and Buddhism

1. Early Days

1.1 India and Tibet (known to Tibetans themselves as Bod and to Indians as Bhota Desha) have had a long and a continuous cultural contact. The links between the old neighbors intensified when in 620 AD the emperor Sorang – sGam-Po (569 – 650 AD) sent his emissary to Kashmir to evolve a suitable script for the Tibetan language and to invite Buddhist scholars to Tibet. Interestingly this move, it said, was initiated at the wish of two women one from Nepal and the other from China who were married to the monarch .The two queens were pious Buddhists .It does not however mean Buddhism was not known in Tibet until then. It appears that at least a hundred years earlier when LHa- THo- THo ruled the land a number of Buddhist texts were available in Tibet but not many could read the script. The initiative taken by the monarch not only brought in a gentler religion and a mellowed way of life but also a new “religious speech” (CHos – sKad) enriched by Sanskrit. Since then Tibet has regarded India as its sacred land and India in turn looks upon Tibet as its religious frontier. The mutual regard and respect has continued to this day.

2. Buddhism Enters

2.1 The introduction of Buddhist influence into Tibet was neither sudden nor violent. It was a gradual and a gentle process. This was a remarkable feat considering that the Tibetans and their religion at the time were “wild “and that the Monarch did not resort to violence or repression to usher in Buddhism. The Tibetans were mostly nomadic in nature, Spartan in their ways of life and were fiercely warlike. The religion native to Tibet called Bon –pronounced Pon – meaning “to mutter magic spells”, often described as shamanism, fetishism filled with rituals, spells, dances etc. had a strong influence on its followers. Yet the transformation brought about following the introduction of Buddhism is astounding. Today there is no gentler race than the Tibetans .No other people have preserved the high ideals of Buddhism as the Tibetans have even in the face of persistent trials, tribulations, displacements of immense proportions forced on them. How did this come about?

3. Synthesis

3.1 The religion that Indian monks planted in Tibet was not the one practiced in India at the time. In order to become acceptable to the populace of Tibet it was necessary Buddhism evolve itself into a new form by letting in Bon practices and ideas while firmly retaining its basic Buddhist tenets. In the process Buddhism took in materials and attitudes native to the soil, lent them a new sense of direction and grafted them with the Mahayana doctrines. It allowed many Bon attitudes, ideas, tribal gods, goddesses, and the associated rituals and instilled in them the spirit of piety (Karuna). Thus While the form was traditional to the soil, the soul was Buddhist. Bon at the same time also adopted numerous Buddhist practices, attitudes and ideas.

3.2 It is important to remember that the Indian monks who brought in Buddhism were not missionaries in the usual sense of the term. They were not interested in conversions.

3.3 Some call the Tibetan religion as Vajrayana. It may perhaps be more appropriate to recognize it as Bon- CHos (Buddhism grafted on Bon). Because, what we have here is a harmonious synthesis of two religious practices and ideas rather than domination of one over the other. For this reason, we may say Tibet has manifested a truly unique CHos (Dharma) with its own scheme of values.

4. Vajrayana

4.1 The form of Buddhism that took root in Tibet belongs to Vajrayana (the path of the thunderbolt) an offshoot of the Yogachara branch of the Mahayana. Vajrayana had its origin in South India, blossomed in the universities of Nalanda, Vikramashila and Odantapura in North India .It later took root in Tibet and Mongolia. Its characteristics are involvement in Tantric rituals, incantations (Mantras) and visualization of deities. At the same time the adaptable integration of the body (Kaya – Snkt,), speech (Vacha – Sanskt) and mind (manas – Sanskt.) is also a main plank of the Vajra (Diamond) path.

4.2 The Yoga – Tantra ideology (known to Tibetans as Grub –Thob) developed during the early part Christian era by a class of Indian seers called Siddhas became the driving force of the Vajrayana. Siddhas brought in the concept of Bhodhi –chitta.

4.3 As per the concept, Bhodhi-Chitta resides in all of us in its twin aspect :(1) as ordinary consciousness soiled by actions and agitated by thoughts, and (2) as a hidden pool of tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright”, beyond the phenomenal involvements. The former aspect is mind (Manas -Sanskrit) (Yid – Tibetan) and the latter is consciousness (Chitta – Sanskrit) (Sems – Tibetan). The object of the Tantra is to transform the former (characterized by Stress – Klesha) into the latter (experienced as Bliss – Sukha).

4.4 To illustrate the Bhodhi – Chitta, the mind is like a pool of water. The agitated water should become still before what lies beneath (consciousness) becomes visible. Beating or stirring the water does not help. The pool should be left undisturbed .The art of letting the mind alone (“let go”, “open hand”) to allow it to settle naturally into silence and tranquility is at the core of the disciplines advocated by the Siddhas. The instruction is “cast aside all clinging and essence will at once emerge”.

This concept gives rise to another one viz. Vipasyana meaning clear vision, which comes about because of stilling the constitutional mind.

4.5 These concepts entail a process that lays stress on utilizing the mind to reach a state of “no mind”, refinement and sharpening of the mind, purifying it and making it “like a cloud less sky”, “like a wave less occasion”,” like a bright lamp in a windless night” etc. In short, the object is to attain a clear, bright and a stable state. This process is also called as emptying the mind. The Tantra here not only suggests a path from a cruder form of thought and emotions to a higher level of functioning but also prescribes practices that transform and elevate the human being.

5. The Masters

5.1 The credit for evolving a wonderful synthesis of the two religious practices goes to the Tibetan monks and their Indian Gurus the prominent among whom, in the early stages, were Padmasambhava and Santarakshita. Padmasambhava built the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet (bSam Yas) around 749 AD modeled on the Odantapura monastery while combining three styles of India, Tibet and China. He persuaded the great scholar Santharakshita of Nalanda to preside over the monastery. Both were men of great learning. While Padmasambhava had his roots in Tantra, Santarakshita was a quiet ascetic in the traditional mold. The Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team was a curious combination of dissimilar capabilities .One complimented the other. One would argue, thunder and coerce while the other could explain, expound, teach and convince. One had a mass appeal; the other had the quiet regard of the elite. One emphasized magic, rituals and success; the other highlighted the value of virtues, contemplation and wisdom. Padmasambhava stood for powerful action; Santarakshita symbolized gentle being. The two great men together molded the attitudes and approach of later day Tibetans. If the Tibetans have successfully accommodated the thunderbolt (Vajra) with the abiding peace of vacuity (Shunya) then a large share of the credit must go to these Masters each working in his own way for the betterment of humanity.

5.2 If the Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team introduced the Buddhist excellence the other team of Dipankara and Brom firmly established Buddhist influence in Tibet Dipankara, a prince from Bengal earlier in his life, presided over the Vikramsila University. He was a great Mahayana scholar in the mould of Santharakshita. He was 60 when he arrived in Tibet where he lived for 13 years until his death in 1054 AD. He was fortunate in securing a very capable and devoted Tibetan disciple in Brom. The two together strived to clean up the cobwebs since settled in the Tibetan Buddhism and to restore the traditional values and virtues.

5.3 Another revered name in the annals of Tibetan Buddhism is TSong –Kha – Pa (1357 – 1419 AD), a scholar of great renown and author of the celebrated Lam – Rin CHen Mo. He is worshipped even today as a living presence, next only to Buddha. The Chinese emperor honored TSong –Kha – Pa’s nephew as a Bhodhi Sattva. Later in 1650, the Mongolian emperor conferred the all-powerful status of Dalai Lama on a descendent of TSong –Kha – Pa. Since then the successive abbots have been the religious and secular heads of Tibet.

TSong –Kha – Pa brought large scale and enduring reforms in the Buddhist monastic organizations in Tibet. The achievements of TSong –Kha _Pa and his contribution to Tibetan Buddhism in particular and to Dharma in general are too numerous to recount here.

6. India’s Debt to Tibet

6.1 India owes a debt of deep gratitude to Tibet for preserving Yoga-Tantra tradition and keeping it alive even though it has become extinct in the land of its origin.

6.2 Further, because of the large-scale destruction of Buddhist and Hindu texts stored in Nalanda when Muslim forces attacked it during the middle periods, many ancient texts are no longer available in India. The only credible source for such ancient texts is the body of Tibetan translations carried out centuries earlier by Tibetan monks.

6.3 More importantly, the extraordinary sprit of tolerance, non-violence and resilience displayed by the large population of ordinary men and women displaced from their homeland is a true tribute to Buddha and his ideals.

1. Tibetan Tantric Traditions
– Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao
2. The Buddhist Tantras
– Alex Wayman

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Buddhism, History, Sri Sankara


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Aadhyasa is a concept introduced by Sri Shankara. It is difficult to find an exact English word for Aaadhyasa. It may, among other things, mean “superimposition”,”projection” etc. Aadhyasa is more comprehensive than that. 

2. He also recognized three levels of existence. The Absolute, the relative and the illusory. 

3. Adhyasa consists in superimposing one level of existence (relative/illusory) over the other (The Absolute) and accepting the former as true while it may actually be untrue. (Untrue does not mean false. It is a neutral term that lies between the Truth and falsehood.) 

There is nothing strange or startling about this. We experience it every day in our life. 

4. Let us take an example. We have accepted a “day” as a working unit of time. We have divided / sub- divided it into hours, minutes, seconds etc. We measure our work and life in terms of these units. A “day” itself is reckoned with reference to sunset and sunrise. We may call this a relative view. 

Further, what you call, let us say, 08.00 AM is not 08.00 AM to people living in other time zones. It will be a different time in their day/night. A single point in “time” signifies different “time” to different people. Each sets his “time” by his sunrise.  

However, all  of us know  that sun neither sets nor rises. From the Absolute point of view, there is no day or night. In other words, there is no “time”. It is a time- less universe (because “time” as we understand it, is measured with reference to an event.) 

We, thus, in our daily life impose a relative concept (day) over the Absolute (time less ness).This we do, because we are living in a relative world and not because we are ignorant of the sun’s status. Otherwise, how else can we live in a relative world? 

5. Let us see another example. One may mistake a stump of wood at night for a thief and get alarmed. Another may mistake a coiled rope, in semi darkness, for a snake and get panicky. In both cases, when some one  else throws light, after the event, they may learn the identity of the objects they “saw”. They may then say to themselves, with a sigh of relief,” Gosh! It was just a piece of wood/rope”. 

In these instances, the persons involved imposed an illusory existence over the real one. They realized the identity of the objects only after someone threw light on the objects. 

Here the interesting thing is while the perception may be illusory the alarm/panic  experienced was real. 

That again leads to another story.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Sri Sankara, Vedanta


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