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Bodhayana the Vrttikara – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

The Outlook of Bodhayana

1.1. In the earlier part, we talked about the fragments of Bodhayana Vrtti as quoted in Sri Ramanuja’s Sribhashya – his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. And as said, even though Bodhayana the Vrttikara is quoted only about seven times in Sribhashya, each of those fragments expresses an aspect of Bodhayana’s thought.

Based on those fragments, let’s try to reconstruct Bodhayana’s thoughts.

1.2. Both Sri Sankara and Sri Ramanuja frequently refer to a Vrttikara.  It is, somehow, presumed that both the Acharyas refer to one and the same Vrttikara, that is, Bodhayana.  But, the difference is that whenever Sri Sankara quotes the commentator (vrttikara) he does not mention his name, and he also does not quote him fully. He usually summarizes and adduces them as being the differing theories or the stand of the opponent (Purva-paksha). And, whenever Sri Sankara cites Upavarsha, he mentions the Vrttikara by his name addressing him with great respect as Bhagavan (the revered) and treats him as the elder of his own tradition.

In a similar manner, Sri Ramanuja does not mention   the Vrttikara Upavarsha. But, he treats Bodhayana with great respect addressing him as Bhagavad, the Divine. And, he quotes the views of Bodhayana from the fragments of Bodhayana Vrtti as the authority. He reckons Bodhayana as the foremost among his Purva-charyas the revered Masters of his tradition.

It is, therefore, presumed that Sri Sankara was closer to Upavarsha; and that Sri Ramanuja followed Bodhayana.

[Some critics have however pointed out that the arguments of the Vrttikara rejected by Sri Sankara are not exactly the same as the ones quoted by Sri Ramanuja. And, they wonder whether the Acharyas could be referring to different Vrttikaras..!.?

It is also said that, over a long period, since many scholars went by the name of Baudhayana or Bodhayana, the Vrttikara Bodhayana quoted by Sri Ramanuja could be quite different from the Bodhayana to whom Sri Sankara is presumed to have referred. ]


2.1. Since Bodhayana is often addressed as Vrttikara, the commentator (sometimes without mentioning his name), it is evident that his authority was accepted by the later generations of Vedanta Schools. Generally, the views of Bodhayana are believed to go along with that of Brahma sutra.. Based on that, it is said that Bodhayana was surely closer to Sri Ramanuja than to Sri Sankara.

 Following  Sri Ramanuja, all his descendents in his line (Parampara) and all the followers of his School regard Bodhayana as an authority, next only to Badarayana the author of Brahma Sutra.  Accordingly, the Sri Vaishnava tradition reveres the commentary of Bodhayana as almost the Scripture.

2.2. Bodhayana, no doubt, was a faithful commentator (Vrttikara) of the Sutras. He tried to stay close to the words of the Brahma Sutra; and, did not seem to come up with original or fresh theories of his own. His comments are cogent and stay close to the point. Bodhayana appears to have been essentially a theist; and, his views, generally, were closer to those of Sri Ramanuja and Sri Bhaskara.

2.3. Obviously, Bodhayana   held the scriptures in great esteem. He emphasized the absolute sacredness of the Vedas. According to him, the scriptures are not open to criticism of human speculation.”We can understand the meaning of what is handed down by the scriptures; but, we cannot question scriptures” (Fragment: 13)

 2.4. He stayed close to the   Mimamsa faith according to which, Sruti that which is heard or is of divine origin cannot be questioned. But, it is only in Smrti, that which is remembered or the works authored by humans, there is a possibility of offering varied interpretations.

2.5. To revere and explain the scriptures was, for him, the highest duty. He thought that each word and each phrase of the scripture merited study with complete attention. Accordingly, his special area was commenting on the scriptures. Since commenting necessarily involves taking a certain intellectual stand and adopting a certain philosophical view, there is a particular world-view running through his commentaries.

2.6, Bodhayana was essentially a theist.  His views, generally, differ from that of Sri Sankara; but, are closer to that of Sri Ramanuja. And, Sri Ramanuja paid greater respect to his views; and, cited them as authorities.

3.1. Bodhayana, as reflected in his explanations quoted by Sri Ramanuja, laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kanda-s of the Mimamsa. According to him, the two segments – Purva and Uttara – of the Mimamsa together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).  And, because of that, perhaps, he wrote commentaries on both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa.  

3.2. 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 synthesizes Jnana and Karma. Sri Ramanuja too was a votary of Samucchaya-vada.   Sri Sankara who did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

Besides, Bodhayana does not discuss or even mention the concept of Maya. He strongly refuted the Vijnanavada theory which reduces the objects of the material world merely to the status of dream experiences.

4.1. As regards his views on the God, Bodhayana appears to have been a theist.  For him, the individual soul (Jiva) and God were not exactly identical. God for him is the infinity Bhuman for which the individual soul aspires.    And, the importance of Bhakthi as service and as absolute surrender to God was stressed by him.

4.2. According to Sri Ramanuja’s account, Bodhayana took Para Brahman, the Supreme Brahman, as the absolute principle. And, in Bodhayana’s view Brahman is identical with Lord (Isha), the Supreme Lord (Parameshwara).It is the source, the womb of all matter (bhuta yoni). Thus, Brahman, besides being the personified God, is also the cause (sarva-vikara-karana) from which everything evolves (parinama paksha). It is also the Atman of all things; the God that dwells within everything (sarva-bhutha-antaratman), controlling and directing them. Sri Ramanuja extended it further; and said that Brahman has all the spiritual and physical existence as his body.

Bodhayana, however, does not seem to attribute Brahman with a body (vigrahavat). But, somehow, he appeared to believe in the Upanishad description of Brahman with four feet (chatush paada).It is not clear in which sense he understood it.

5.1. As regards the individual self (Jiva) , Bodhayana thought that it has two aspects. One is the gross body (sthulam sariram) which we experience ordinarily, and which perishes at its death.  And the other is the subtle body (sukshmam sariram) composed of extremely fine elements, and which is not visible to naked eye. At the death of the physical body, the subtle body that was hitherto enwrapped in it moves and eventually sets up the next gross body. That is to say, sukshmam sariram is the seed of the body that manifests. Thus, subtle body is un-manifest (a-vyakta), while the gross body is manifest (vyakta).

5.2.According to Bodhayana, in state of deep sleep the individual self is united with Brahman as existence, Sat; and, on waking it gets separated. This seems nearer to the explanation offered by Uddalaka Aruni (Chandogya Upanishad: 6.8.1), and to the Brahma Sutra.

6.1. Bodhayana believed that the state of ‘bondage and final release (bandha –moksha) ’is more aptly related to the subtle body, and to its activities. And, therefore, the subtle body is superior (para) to the embodied self (sarira) which is ‘feeble in power’ (tanumahiman). This, in a way, is closer to the Samkhya view of Purusha; but, it markedly differed from the view taken by Brahma sutra.

6.2. As for the final release, Bodhayana believed that the individual self eventually unites with Brahman.  But, the release comes in stages. And, even after full release (Moksha), the individual self retains its identity but without the false sense of ego; and, does not entirely merge with Brahman. And, even after attaining Moksha, it does not acquire the power to create, to preserve and to withdraw the manifest world. Therefore, even in the state of final release, the individual self and the Supreme self are not entirely identical.

Following that, Sri Ramanuja explained Moksha as a state of blessedness in the company of the Highest Being (Paramatman). Sri Ramanuja emphasized the importance of Bhakthi, absolute devotion, and Parapatti complete surrender to the will of the Supreme, making oneself worthy of His grace, as the best means to attain salvation.

7.1. Sri Sankara and Sri Ramanuja apart from their doctrinal differences on the question of Duality and Non-duality also seemed to differ in their approach to Brahma Sutra and in treatment of the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa of the Vedanta School.

7.2. At the outset, it seems   Sri Ramanuja treated the Brahma Sutra as the basic text and interpreted it in the light of the comments and explanations offered in the Vritti of Bodhayana, other Vrttikaras, Vakyakaras and the revered Masters of his tradition (Purva-charyas).  He also seemed to support the view that the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa together formed one text. And that he believed in the coordinated union of Jana and Karma. Sri Ramanuja is said to be   much closer to the Brahma Sutras in its literal interpretation.


The approach of Sri Sankara

Shankarar - Smarta Tradition Deities

The approach of Sri Sankara to the Upanishads in general and to the Brahma Sutra in particular presents a very interesting and a striking contrast.

8.1. Upanishads

(a) Sri Sankara 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 said, the primary meaning of the word Upanishad was knowledge, while the secondary meaning was the text itself.

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. While doing so, he isolates Upanishad portion of the Vedic lore from the rest and narrows down the scriptural authority to ten or twelve ancient Upanishads.

(b) According to him, the goal held out by the Upanishad tradition is liberation (Moksha) from worldly involvements. Sri Sankara described himself as Moksha-vadin (Sarvesham Mokshavadi – nama-abhyupagam- VSB: 2.1.11; and, Sarve Mokshavadi abhirbhyupa gamyate: VSB: 1.1.4)

(c) Sri Sankara strongly advocated study of Upanishads; and at the same time cautioned that study of Upanishad alone would not lead to Moksha. He also recognized that the study of Upanishads is not absolutely necessary or is it a pre-condition for attainment of Moksha. The function of knowledge as expounded in the Upanishads, he said, is the removal of obstacles; but, it has its own limitations.

As regards the limitations of textual knowledge, he explained: Moksha is not the fruit or the effect of knowledge (jnana). Liberation being identical with Brahman is ever present, eternal and is beyond the subject-object relations. So long as such distinctions  of subject –object, the knower and the known  are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality. The texts can only contribute to causing the discovery of truth; leaving the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

Sri Sankara declares the supremacy of direct experience, the final proof (antya-pramanam) which he calls – anubhava, avagati or Brahmavagati. Regarded in its true essence and as it is, Atmaikatva, Brahmatvatva, or Sarvatmata is a self-conscious, self-radiant experience which cannot be taken as object (vishaya). He also says that Vedic authority is not binding after one attains the goal

(d)  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).

8.2. Mimamsa

(a) As regards the Mimamsa, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and Uttara. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa.  He preferred to present his commentary as Vedanta-mimamsa.

 Sri Sankara did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text. He regards Brahma Sutra as a separate shastra (prathak-shastra), distinct  from Purva Mimamsa.  He maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons.

Purva Mimamsa which deals with Karma-kanda consists injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, he argues, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved.

And, Jnana-kanda, in contrast, 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.

(c) He said The two texts are distinguishable in four ways: Vishaya (subject); Adhikara (qualifications for the aspirant); Phala (end result or the objective) ; and, Sambhanda ( related-ness) .

: – Vishaya: the subject matter of  Karma-kanda is Dharma which is understood by it as ritual-action. Mimasakas hold the view that the real purport of the scriptures was to provide injunctions (vidhi) and prohibitions (nishedha) . The scriptural injunctions regarding rituals  are treated as mandatory;  while  the texts that relate to wisdom as  spill – over (sesha).

Sri Sankara said, the subject of Jnana-kanda is Brahman. And, knowing Brahman, he asserted , is the real purpose of all  scriptures.  Sri Sankara averred the true intent of the scriptures was to describe the Reality as it is. Sri 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 (Vishaya) of injunction and prohibitions.

 : – Adhikara: Aspirant in the Karma-kanda has limited ambitions; and, is yet to understand the limitations of the results achieved by Karman.  The aspirant of the Jnana-kanda, however, is well aware of the limits of the results achieved by Karman; and, there about fore , seeks the limitless Brahman.

Sri Sankara mentions fourfold Adhikara or qualifications of  an ardent student of Vedanta : Nitya-anitya-vastu- viveka (capacity to discriminate the real from the transitory); Vairagya (Dispassion); Samadi Shatka Sampatti (Six virtues of the mind : Sama-equanimity; Dama-control over senses including mind; Uparama -observing one’s Svadharma; Titiksha – patience, forbearance; Samadhanam– profound absorption or contemplation;  and , Shraddha – absolute  faith or devotion).

: – Phala: Karma-kanda aspires for worldly prosperity and heavenly pleasures. The aim of Jnana-kanda, he said, is liberation (Moksha). Further, he pointed out that Brahma Sutra says (3.5.36-37) even those who do not perform rituals are qualified to gain knowledge.

In Sri Sankara’s view the passages in the Karma –kanda informs us of the approved means for attaining desirable and yet unaccomplished ends. The Upanishads (jnana-kanda), on the other hand, reveal to us knowledge of the ever present entity – Brahman.

He pointed out that rituals could in no way bring about wisdom, much less Moksha.. He asserted, while the rewards (phala) 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 believed 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.

: – Sambandha: Karma-kanda informs of the ends not yet in existence; but is yet to be achieved. The realization of such ends depends upon following the appropriate action as prescribed. 

The subject of Jnana-kanda is that which is eternal without a beginning or end. The knowledge of Brahman is end itself, where there is an identity of the revealed object (Sadhya) and the means of revelation (Sadhana) . Jnana-kanda is fulfillment; Karma –kanda is impetus to act more and more.

8.3. the Brahma Sutras,

Sri Sankara held the Brahma Sutra in very high regard; and yet, he does not take them as the original or independent texts equal in authority to the Upanishads. He takes the Brahma Sutras as expository or highly abridged indicators to the crucial passages from Upanishads. He claims that Badarayana’s text is in fact a summary of the philosophy of Upanishads. The philosophy of Brahma Sutra is indeed the philosophy of the Upanishads.

Sri Sankara undertakes to interpret Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra not as in end by itself, but in order to expound through it what he understood as the philosophy of Upanishads. He asserts they are not his own; but, are the true and proper import of the Vedic texts as   held and nurtured by the tradition to which he belongs. It is only that he is re-stating them and putting forth a little more clearly.

The Sutras of Badarayana according to Sri Sankara have one purpose; that is to string together the flowers (cardinal themes) of Vedanta Akyas (sentences) – Vedanta –akya-kusumagratanat vat sutranam (BB .1.1.2)

It was the words and the ideas of the Upanishad texts that, primarily, guided Sri Sankara and not the Sutras per se. This did not mean an encroachment upon the authority of Badarayana whom he revered as Bhagavan; but, it was only to bring out his intentions more clearly. 

For Sri Sankara, the Brahma Sutras derive their authority from the original Upanishads; and, therefore the meaning of the Sutras will have to be understood and interpreted in the light of the Upanishad texts. And at places , Sankara’s interpretations seem to be far-fetched This is in contrast to Sri Ramanuja’s approach that followed the Vrttis of Bodhayana and other Acharyas, the Masters of his tradition. Sri Ramanuja was much closer to Brahma Sutras in its literal interpretation.


9.1. The overview seems to be that the Brahma Sutras are open to multiple interpretations; and, each interpretation is valid in its own context.




Sources and References

  1. A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. Sri Sankara and Adhyasa-Bhashya by Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao (2002)
  3. Brahma Sutras According to Sri Sankara by Swami Vireswarananda

  1. Spiritual Freedom in the Brahma Sutras by Carol Pitts, Les Morgan
  2. The Vedanta Philosophy of Sankaracharya: Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, Atma BodhaBy Charles Johnston
  3. The Vedanta-sutras with the Sri-bhashya of Ramanujacharya;translated into English by M. Rangacharya, andM. B. Varadaraja Aiyangar; Volume I; published by the Brahmavidin Press.; 1899

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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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About Upavarsha … Part Three

Continued from Part Two


 Upavarsha – Bodhayana

1.1. Sri Sankara, in his commentary on Brahma sutras, adopts 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 represents the opposing views (purva-paksha) of ‘others’ (apare); and, it is meant to be rejected.  But, Sri Sankara does not quote the opposing views nor does he mention the name of the opponent. 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.

1.2. In contrast, Sri Sankara whenever he refers to the views of Upavarsha not only he mentions the Vrttikara by name but also treats him with great respect, as Bhagavan. Sri Sankara in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) quotes the views of Upavarsha as being authoritative – ata eva ca bhagavato upavarṣeṇa.  Following his lead, the latter Sub-commentators of Advaita School, Anandajnana and Govindananda, recognize Upavarsha as the most eminent Vrttikara.

1.3. Similarly, in the Mimamsa School also, Sabarasvamin a noted Mimamsaka, in his Bhashya (Sabara bhashya) on the fifth sutra of Mimamsa sutra of Jaimini  –  autpattikas tu śabdasyārthena saṃbandhas tasya jñānam – refers to a Vrttikara prior to his (Sabara’s) time, without, of course, mentioning his name (vṛttikāras tv anyathemaṃ granthaṃ varṇayāṃcakāra tasya nimitta parīṣṭir ity evamādim). At the same time, in his Bhashya on the same sutra (1.1.5), Sabarasvamin , while explaining the term ‘Gaur’ (atha “gaur” ity atra kaḥ śabdaḥ) refers to Upavarsha by name addressing him with the epithet ‘Bhagavan’ (gakāraukāravisarjanīyā iti bhagavān upavarṭaḥ). It, therefore, seems reasonable to conclude that the Vrttikara referred to by Sabara was not Upavarsha.  And yet; it is not clear who that Vrttikara was.

[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 ‘someone ‘or ‘others’. Similar is the position with regard to those commentators that are referred to as ‘Vrttikara ‘or ‘Vakyakara’ without mentioning their names or the titles of their texts.  There is therefore always an element of skepticism associated with such sub-commentaries. ]

1.4. The Advaita scholar, Govindananda in his Ratna-prabha explains that the ‘others’ (apare) referred by Sri Sankara in his Bhashya does actually, stands for the Vrttikara Bodhayana – draṣṭāro baudhāyanādibhiḥ smṛtā ityāha-pratīti.  Another Advaita scholar Anandagiri agrees with this identification.

1.5. The Advaita School, thus, believes that Upavarsha and Bodhayana are two different persons.  And, the other dimension of the debate is that many wonder whether the terms ‘others ‘or ‘some’ truly refer to Bodhayana. That debate is still not concluded.



2.1. The mention of Bodhayana in this and similar other contexts give rise to number of questions such as: Who was this Bodhayana? What were his views? Why Bodhayana and Upavarsha are often mentioned in the same breath? Do the names Bodhayana and Upavarsha refer to one and the same person; or they two different persons? And so on.

2.2. Bodhayana is a very celebrated name in the long line of scholars of very ancient India. There have been many eminent persons in various fields of study going by the name of Bodhayana. It is also said that Bodhayana is the southern form of Baudhayana. Further, the name Baudhayana itself stands for ‘descendent of Budha or Bodha’. The linage of Bodhayana stretches at least from about 800 BCE to 200 BCE.

But for the limited purpose of our discussion here, let us confine to Bodhayana the Vrttikara.  His commentary on the Brahma sutra was recognized as an authority by many teachers of the later period, particularly by Sri Ramanuja.

2.3. And again, not much is known for certain about Bodhayana, other than his authorship of the Vritti (commentary) on the Brahma-sutras, the guidebook to understanding Vedanta. This Vritti is of cardinal importance to the history of Sri Vaishnava philosophy, because Sri Ramanuja mentioned that he followed the interpretations of Bodhayana while commenting on the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana.

In the opening verse of Sri Bhashya, Sri Ramanuja mentions: ‘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)

2.4. In the Sri Bhashya of Sri Ramanuja, Bodhayana is generally addressed as Vrttikara, the commentator. He quotes the views of the Vrttikara Bodhayana seven times.

The interpretations of Bodhayana are traditionally respected by the followers of Sri Ramanuja. And, their tradition regards Bodhayana second only to the author of Brahma sutra (Badarayana). Yet; the commentary of Bodhayana is not extant today, apart from its fragments quoted by Sri Ramanuja. Sri Ramanuja quoted the above seven comments of the Vrttikara Bodhayana. And, these are his only words that have survived.

Even though they are few in number, each of them expresses a special point of Bodhayana’s thought.

2.5. As regards time of Bodhayana, the scholars surmise that the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth century (?) A D.



3.1.   As mentioned earlier, the Advaita School believes that Bodhayana is different from Upavarsha.  That is also quite possible because of the vast time difference between the two. While Upavarsha may belong to about the fourth century BCE, Bodhayana the Vrttikara may have lived in the fifth or the sixth century AD.

3.2. However, there are very interesting references and comments linking Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(a) A  Vedanta text of a much later period Prapancha-hrdaya, under the chapter  Upanga Prakaranam, mentions that Bodhayana wrote a very detailed commentary titled Krtakoti on  all the twenty parts of Mimamsa, covering both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa (Mimamsa sutra 12 parts and Samkarshana-kanda 4 parts – ascribed to Jaimini; together with  the Brahma sutra 4 parts ascribed to Badarayana). It was also said that the commentary on Brahma sutra (Brahma–sutra Vrtti), in particular, was quite detailed.

It was said that these three works were unified under a title called Krtakoti. Fearing that the great length of the commentary would cause it be cast into oblivion, Upavarsha somewhat abridged it.

Tasya vimsaty-adhyaya nibaddhasya Mimamsa Sastrasya Krtakoti nama-
dheyam bhashyam Bddhayanena krtam. Tad grantha bahulya bhayadii-
pekshya kinchid samkshiptam Upavarshena krtam  (Prapanchahrdaya .45)

And later, it is said, Devasvamin further abridged Upavarsha’s abridged version.

But, all those works ascribed Bodhayana are dispersed and lost; and none is available now. Since Sri Ramanuja quoted from the condensed version of Bodhayana’s commentary on Brahma sutra, it could be said the rare fragments of those texts were extant until his time (11th century). But, Bodhayana commentaries on Mimamsa sutra, if any, were lost much earlier; and had passed out of existence by the time of Kaumarila Bhatta (8th century).

(b) There is also a tradition which recognizes Krtakoti as the name of an author. According to Avanti-sundari-katha of Dandin, Krtakoti was the name of Upavarsha who was also known as Bodhayana.   And, also according to Manimekhalai, Krtakoti was a scholar of Mimamsa and was reckoned along with Vyasa and Jaimini. And, in the Sanskrit lexicon Vaijayanti, Krtakoti-kavi is said to be another name of Upavarsha – Halabhutistu’ pavarshah Krtakoti Kavischa sah; and, Upavarsho Halabhutih Krtakotir Ayachitah ]

(c) There is another complication. Some scholars believe that Bodhayana and Upavarsha were the two names of one and the same person; and Bodhayana might have been the Gotra name of Upavarsha. The great scholar Sri Vedanta Desika (14th century) in his Tattvatika, a commentary on Sri Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya, identified Bodhayana with Upavarsha – Vrttikarasya Bodhayanasyiva hi Upavarsha iti syan nama.

It is surmised that Sri Vedanta Desika might have come to conclusion because ‘Bodhayana’ might have been the Gotra of Upavarsha. The other reason could be that the Vedanta scholars frequently referred to a Vrttikara, without, however, mentioning his name. In the process, both Upavarsha and Bodhayana were each addressed as Vrttikara. There might have been a mix-up. In any case, Sri Vedanta Desika does not cite any authority or a tradition in support of statement.

(d) Sri Ramanuja reckons Bodhayana as being the foremost among his Purava-acharya-s (Past Masters of his tradition) Viz. Bodhayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Baruchi. But, he does not, anywhere, equate Bodhayana with Upavarsha.

(e) Another reason for not identifying Bodhayana with Upavarsha is the stand taken by their followers on the question of the unity or otherwise of the Mimamsa as a whole.

It is said; Bodhayana 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 synthesizes jnana and karma.  This was also the position taken by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhashya.

Sri Sankara, on the other hand, did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

(f) Bodhayana’s position also meant that Purva and Uttara Mimamsa are two sections of the same text.

But, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and Uttara. Sri Sankara presents his commentary as a sort of Mimamsa by calling it as Vedanta-mimamsa. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa. He did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text.

Sri Sankara maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons. Karma-kanda consist 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.

Sri Sankara generally followed the explanations provided by Upavarsha. And, these were not the same as the views attributed to Bodhayana.  Naturally, these led to doctrinal differences between Sri Ramanuja and Sri Sankara.

(g) It, therefore, seems safe to assume that Upavarsha, Krtakoti and Bodhayana as being three different persons.


Sphota – Varna

4.1. Sri Sankara, in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya, mentions Upavarsha on two occasions. First, in the commentary on the Sutra at 3.3.53eka ātmanaḥ śarīre bhāvāt – which discusses the existence of Atman (We have talked about this aspect in the earlier part of this article) – ata eva ca bhagavato upavarṣeṇa prathame tantra ātmā astitvābhidhānaprasaktau śārīrake vakṣyamāḥ ityuddhāraḥ kṛtaḥ /.

And, the second, in a passage   comments on the Sutra which deals with the doctrine of words (Varna Vada). At the end of the discussion, he states: Bhagavan Upavarsha says the words (Pada) are none other than the various letter-sounds (Varna). He agrees with Upavarsha. Before that, he goes through the opposing view (Purva-paksha) put forward by a Sphotavadin a votary of the Sphota theory.

4.2. Sri Sankara, of course, does not usually name the Purvapakshin the one who hold the opposing view point. Accordingly, in the commentary on the Sutra in question also he does not name or specify the Sphotavadin who in the present case is the Purvapakshin. But his commentators identify the Sphotavadin with the Grammarian (Vyakarana-kara) Bhartrhari who generally is referred by the epithet

5.1. Bhartrhari (c. 450-510 CE?) was a Grammarian and also a philosopher. He was well versed in the study of Mimamsa and Vedanta. In the citation to the  later editions of the text Bhartrhari  is celebrated as a great Grammarian (Maha-vaiyyakarana) , Great poet (Maha-kavi) , Yogi (Maha Yogi) , a great warrior  (Maharaja) and the ruler of Avanti (Avantisvara)  who composed Vakyapadiya   (iti Sri Bhartrhari virachitam Vakyapadiyam ).

5.2. In his celebrated work the Vakyapadiya (a treatise on sentences and words) Bhartrhari expounded the Sphota-vada (doctrine of Sphota) which had its origins in the germ-ideas mentioned in ancient texts.

6.1. 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.

[ The Sphota theory is one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. The Sphota concept was developed over long periods; but, it was fully put forward by Bharthrhari .

The earliest historical figure who dealt with linguistic study seems to be Sakalya, the author of the Pada-paatha of Rig-Veda, and who is mentioned by Panini. Sakalya is credited with breaking down the Samhita (the original text of the verses) into words, identifying the separate elements of compound words. Later, Brihad-devata attributed to Saunaka said that a sentence is made up of words; and the words, in turn, are made of phonemes (Varna).

Nagesha Bhatta (author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada) identifies Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rule, as the originator of the Sphota concept.  Bhartrihari quotes Yaska as mentioning that another ancient authority, the sage Audumbarayana together with Varttaksa held views similar to the Sphota theory. Yaska had mentioned (Nirukta: 1-2) about a theory suggested by Audumbarayana that a sentence or an utterance is primary and is a whole,  an indivisible unit of language. Audumbarayana, it appears, had also mentioned that the four-fold classification of words into : noun, verb, upasarga and nipata does not hold good(2). And therefore, Bhartrhari claimed that the views of these ancients support his own theory –Sphota-vada.


 [But, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana; and, had went  to talk about Bhava – the being and becoming of  verbs from their roots’ and about their transformations (Vikara) .]

In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.  Perhaps, this claim provided the model upon which the Vyakarana philosophers based their concept of Sphota. Indeed Sphota is often identified with Pranava.

 Bharthrhari maintained that the primary function of the words was to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning.  The sentence with its words is to be taken as an integral unit; and, not as a clutter of fragments. Bharthrhari argued that for the purpose of linguistic analysis it might be fine to split the sentence into words, then into the roots and suffixes of the words, syntaxes etc. Such analytical splitting might be useful for study of language and its grammar.

But, such fragmented approach is surely not suitable in the real world where men and women live, communicate and transact. In a speech-situation where the speaker communicates ones ideas and the listener grasps his/her speech, it is necessary that the utterance has to be complete. The speaker communicates and the listener understands his/her utterance as a single unit. The listener grasps it as a whole; and the understanding is like an instantaneous flash of insight (prathibha). Just as the meaning derived from the sentence is unitary, the symbol (the sentence) which signifies it is also an integral unit.  Its meaning is experienced, known through perception. This, rather roughly put, is the concept called Sphota – the sentence being taken as an integral symbol.

Let’s say, when a painter conceives a picture in his mind and gives it a substance on the canvass he does use variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. But, that does not mean one has to look for individual strokes shades etc. or as a permutation of those that went in to make the picture. The viewer, rightly, takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit.

 Bharthrhari says those who know the language well, listen to the sentence. And those who do not know the language may hear words only as sound bits.  Sphota in essence is the real experience of listening to a sentence as a whole and grasping its meaning through perception.]

6.2. In his Sarva-darshana-samgraha, Sri Madhava (generally accepted as the pre-ascetic name of Sri Vidyaranya who was the Jagadguru of Sri Sringeri Mutt from 1380 to 1386) describes Sphota in two ways. The first as: that from which the meaning bursts forth or shines forth. And, the second as: an entity that is manifested by the spoken letters and sounds. Sphota may, thus, be conceived as a two sided coin. On the one side it is manifested by the word-sound; and, on the other it simultaneously reveals word meaning.

6.3. In philosophical terms, Sphota may be described as the transcendent ground on which the spoken syllables (Varna) and conveyed meanings (Artha) find their unity as word or Sabda. To put it in another way, that which expresses a meaning; or the process of expressing a meaning through a word could be called Sphota.

7.1. Bhartrhari deals with Sphota at two levels: one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. . Sphota refers to the ‘non-differentiated language principle’. This gave rise to the theory of “word monism – Sabda-advaita. The theory is that Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form. The Sphota, Sabda-Brahman, manifested 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 (Advaita) philosophy based on Sanskrit grammar (as per Swami Vivekananda’s   explanation).

7.2. At the empirical level, Bhartrhari 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.

8.1. Bhartrhari explains : 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?

Bhartrhari goes on to say that a sentence is not a mere 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.

8.2. Bhartrhari 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.

8.3. For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is  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.

[Bhartrhari argues that the words do not designate the objects in the external world directly (sakshat), but indirectly through the intervention (upadana) of universals which are mental, and which reside in words. Universals which are thus intimately connected with the language and mind, on the one hand, and with the whole of existence, on the other, constitute the basis of our knowledge of the external world.]

9.1. However, Upavarsha rejected the Sphota-vada; and, argued all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.  By rejecting the Sphota -theory ,  Upavarsha , in effect , dismissed its notion 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.

(For that reason, some Western scholars call Upavarsha the Fred Hoyle of ancient India.)

9.2. Upavarsha, in turn, came up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes =Varna-s) alone are real constituents of a word.  He said: what is called as a ‘word’ (Sabda) is its individual letters – (for instance the word ‘gauh’ – cow is made of ‘g’, ’au’ and ‘h’). He decaled sounds are only Varna -s; and, there is no need for a Sphota.

9.3. The position so taken by  Upavarsha opposes the Sphota doctrine (Sphota Vada) which is based in the philosophical principle which  in effect says that ‘gauh’ is the essence of the word; and, its individual letter-sounds are artificially distinct from that word.

[10 .1. The Sphota theory developed by Bhartrhari had its supporters as also its opponents.

The main opposition seems to have come from Mimamsa School. Sabarasvamin presents Upavarsha’s views in his Mimamsa-sutrabhasya. But, pointed attack came in the later periods, particularly in the works of Kaumarila Bhatta, a noted Mimamsa Scholar (7th -8th century). He attacked the manner in which the Sphota phenomenon was supposed to reveal the meaning of word-sounds (Sabda). Kaumarila argued that the word (Sabda), whether be it individual or be a part of sentence, is nothing more than a collection of word-sounds or spoken words . And, it is with this collection of sounds alone that the meaning is associated. The listener grasps the sound of the words and their meaning. There is nothing else here, he said, one need not assume a mystical process of Sphota etc. Kaumarila the Mimamsaka was, thus, in agreement with Upavarsha on the issue of Sphota.

10.2. Interestingly, the support to Bhartrhari also came from another Mimamsa Scholar Mandana Misra, a contemporary of Kaumarila Bhatta. Mandana wrote a brilliant book (Sphota-siddhi) based Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya. He supported Bhartrhari’s presumption of the whole being prior to the parts as also the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He agreed with Bhartrhari, it is not the individual words but the complete thought of the sentence that ultimately matters.

Mandana offers the example of a picture. He points out that in our perception of a picture; it is conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. Similarly when we perceive a piece of cloth our cognition is of the cloth as whole; and it is quite distinct from the particular threads and colors involved.

He says: This aspect is brought out clearly by Bhartrhari who describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture:  “when a painter wishes to paint a figure having parts like that of a man, he first sees it gradually in a sequence , then as the object of a single cognition ; and then he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.

10.3. The Jain philosopher Prabhachandra in his Prameya-kamala-marthanda attempts to reconcile the two opposing views; and, comes up with his own doctrine of ‘Interminacy’ (syavada, anekantavada),which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject]

[ Devadatta Kali (David Nelson) in the introduction to his very well written work Svetasvataropanisad: The Knowledge That Liberates, writes:

Although the Indian thinkers are not immune to disputation , by and large , their culture has valued the principle of accommodation and acceptance and acceptance…Throughout the centuries of Indian philosophical traditions , the differing views have often been seen as just that – as differing views of a single reality that lies beyond human power of articulation. The tendency has often been to harmonize opposing views as distinct parts of a larger whole whose fullness lies well beyond the reach of mere perception or reason. It needs to be stressed that the primary purpose of sacred literature is to impart spiritual knowledge, not to fuel intellectual or sectarian debate – or to create confusion.]

11.1. Sri Sankara refers to Upavarsha as the originator of Varna-vada, which contrasted with Sphota-vada of Bhartrhari. Sri Sankara agrees with Upavarsha and supports Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada (Sankara Bhashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28). He does not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, says the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds and the context.  Here, he remarks: Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘but, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna)- varna eva tu na sabddh iti bhagavan upavarsah (BS: 1.3.28).

11.2. He then follows up with a debate on whether the words are letter-sounds of this kind or whether they are Sphota. And then built up his own arguments to oppose the Sphota vada, based on what he calls ‘the tradition of the Masters’- (Acharya –sampradayokti-purvakam siddantam aaha varna iti).

11.3. While he agrees that the word is nothing other than letter-sounds (Varna) Sri Sankara does not seem to be emphatic. On the question why a letter-sound (say, ’a’) should be heard differently according to its utterances, Sri Sankara explains that such differences are duo the conditions (Upadi) imposed externally or from elsewhere. Otherwise (Athava – meaning or) the differences could be due to intonation; and not necessarily due to the letter-sounds. And, therefore, he says, there is no weakness in our contention.  And, there is no need, he says, to bring in the concept of Sphota to decide upon the meaning of the word when it can be derived directly from the Varna-s that form the word.

The scholars believe, here, Sri Sankara, was not putting forth an original argument, but was merely condensing the previous refutations of the Sphota theory.

11.4. In his argument in favor of Varna Vada, Sri Sankara says: only the individual letters are perceived; and, they are combined through inference of the mind into word aggregate. Because the psychological process is one of inference and not of perception, there can be no degree of cognition. According to Sri Sankara, the inference Pramana is all –or-nothing process*. The error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely replaced all at once by a new inferential construction of mind or by a super-conscious intuition of Brahman.

[* According to almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy, the valid means of knowledge (Pramana) other than perception either reveal the object completely or do not reveal at all. However, Bhartrhari argues that perception need not always be an ‘all–or-nothing processes’. There could be vagueness initially; but, the perception could improve as one tries to gain clarity of an object (say as a distant tree or committing a stanza after repeated attempts).

According to Bhartrhari , each sound helps in understanding meaning bit by bit, at first vaguely, the next one little more clearly, and so on, until the last sound, aided by the preceding impressions, finally revea1.s the meaning with clarity and distinctness. The Sphota is revealed in stages by each succeeding sound, but by itself it is indivisible. It is comprehended in a process which begins with complete ignorance, passes through partial understanding, and ends in complete knowledge (dyana)

Bhartrhari asserts that it is the cognition of the Sphota in its entirety that is important in understanding meaning. That is not to say that we do not cognize the individual letters or sounds, but that they are secondary in relation to the Sphota, which is the real object of cognition.

This point is very important to Sphota theory in its contention that error due to vagueness of perception of initial letters can gradually and positively be overcome. It is also crucial for the Sphota theory in its contention that the existence of Sphota is not guesswork, as Mimamsaka-s maintain, but is a proved by direct and clear perception.]

11.5. The other Acharyas and commentators also toed the line of Bhagavan Upavarsha and Sri Sankara; and, supported Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada. Vacaspati Misra, who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, also rejected the Sphota theory. He came up with his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vada; and, 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.

12.1. Thus, the Vedic Vak as Sabda-Brahman became the object of philosophical debate during the later periods. The early Mimamsa School which championed Varna-vada argued that the individual word or the letter (Varna) as the prime substance of Vak. The School of the Grammarians, on the other hand, put forth Sphota-vada which developed the notion of Sphota to explain the mysterious manner by which meaning is conveyed in sentence. They explained Sphota as a process of cognition which culminates in the intuitive perception of the Absolute as Sabda –Brahman. These two are the main platforms for the discussion of the Indian philosophy of language.

12.2. Two principle Schools, Mimamsa and the School of Grammarians (Vaiyyakarani) have made huge contributions to the study of language and the philosophy of Grammar and of language. And, both were particularly interested in Sabda. Both believed that Sabda is eternal and manifests itself; and, is not created. They, however, differ on the view in regard to Sabda and the meaning (artha).

13.1. Bhagavan 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.

13.2. Many however feel that Upavarsha   could have given little more thought to the Sphota theory instead of dismissing it off-hand. That perhaps could have leant a greater impetus to the growth of rational thinking within the Indian philosophical traditions.

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


Sources and References

  1. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 3: Advaita Vedanta Up to … edited by Karl H. Potter
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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About Upavarsha … Part Two

Continued from Part One


Upavarsha the Vrttikara

1.1. In the earlier part, we surmised that Upavarsha – a revered scholar, commentator and teacher might have originated from the Takshashila region in the North West; and later, perhaps, might have migrated to Pataliputra in the East sometime before the Fourth century BCE. And that according to some sources , Upavarsha was the brother of Varsha a teacher of great repute; and that Panini the Grammarian and his younger brother Pingala both  studied under Varsha. Further , that Vyadi (also called Dakshayana), another student of Varsha, was either the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) of Panini or was the great-grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle.

[It seems Upavarsha might not have been his real name. It merely means that he was the ‘younger brother of Varsha’.]

Thus all those learned scholars and great teachers were related to each other in one way or the other; they all hailed from Takshashila region; and they all sought patronage in the Court of the Kings at Pataliputra. Among them, Upavarsha an authoritative commentator (Vrttikara) on   Mimamsa (a system of investigation, inquiry into or discussion on the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts) was looked upon and honored as the most venerable, Abhijarhita.

1.2. Upavarsha was regarded as an authority by all branches of the orthodox Schools;, including the Mimamsa School. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara, the Mimamsaka-s, treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara calls Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’.

In the Vedanta School, Sri Sankara, in particular, had great reverence for Upavarsha and addressed him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addressed Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, as Teachers (Acharya). Sri Sankara’s disciples and followers continued to make frequent references to the works of Vrittikara on the   Brahma Sutra often referred to Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti of Sage Upavarsha.

1.3. In the later centuries, Bhagavan Upavarsha came to be celebrated as the most venerable (Abhijarhita) Shastrakara and Vrittikara, the commentator par excellence.

In this segment of the article, we shall talk of Upavarsha the Vrittikara.


Before that, a short explanation about Vritti and related terms:

At a stage in the development of Vedic texts and certain other subjects, there came into vogue a practice of collating each School’s salient arguments, the essential aspects and important references bearing on the subject into very short or briefest possible pellets of terms.  Such highly condensed text-references came to be known as Sutra-s.

 The term Sutra literally means a thread; say, such as the one over which gems are strewn (sutre mani gana eva). But, technically, in the context of ancient Indian works, Sutra meant an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of all the essential aspects, thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information  ( at times rather disjointed )  that could be committed to memory. The object of the Sutras appeared to be to aid the student to learn it by heart; and, use it as a sort of synoptic notes on a subject mentioned in a text.  And, by tapping that Sutra, the student would recall the relevant expanded form of the referred portions of the text. . A Sutra was therefore not merely an aphorism but was also a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is considered as a discourse rather than as a statement.

But, the problem appeared to be that the concept of Sutra was carried too far and to ridiculous extremes. Brevity became its most essential character. For instance; sve cha is a Sutra; and, it has to be linked to a text and to the relevant statement in that text.  It is said, a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it any meaning one wanted to. It was said, each according to his merit finds his rewards.

The problem was worse compounded when a Sutra was repeated number of times. For instance in the Mimamsa Sutras, lingadarsanac ca is repeated thirty times and tatha canyarthadarshanam is repeated twenty-four times. It becomes very difficult to unfathom the intentions of the Sutrakara.

Vritti (Sadvrittih sannibandhana) is the next generation text which attempts to lessen the ambiguity and bring some clarity into Sutra-patha    . The Vritti , simply put , is  a gloss, which expands on the Sutra; seeks to point out the derivation of forms that figure in the Sutra (prakriya); offers explanations on what is unsaid (anukta)  in the Sutra and also clarifies on what is misunderstood or imperfectly stated  (durukta) in the Sutra.

Vrittika is a Note or an annotation in between the level of the Sutra and the Vritti. It attempts to focus on what has not been said by a Sutra or is poorly expressed.  And, it is shorter than Vritti.

 Bhashya is a detailed , full blown ,  exposition on the subjects dealt with by  the Sutra ; and it  is primarily based on the Sutra , its Vrittis , Vrittikas ,  as also on several other authoritative texts and traditions. Bhashya  includes in itself  the elements of :   explanations based on discussion (vyakhyana); links to other texts that are missed or left unsaid in the Sutra (vyadhikarana) ;  illustrations using examples (udaharana) and counter-examples (pratyudhaharana) ; rebuttal  or condemnation  of   the opposing views of rival schools (khandana) ; putting forth  its own arguments  (vada) and counter arguments (prati-vada)  ; and , finally establishing   its own theory and  conclusions (siddantha).

For instance;  Panini’s Astadhyayi is the principal text in Sutra format; Vararuchi-Katyayana wrote a Vartika , a brief explanations on selected Sutras of Astadhyayi; and,  Patanjali wrote his Maha-bhashya, a detailed commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi, making use of Katyayana’s Vritti as also  several other texts and references on the subject. Patanjali presented the basic theoretical issues of Panini’s grammar; expanded on the previous authors; and, supported their views and even criticized them in the light of his own explanations.  


Before we get into a discussion on the Upavarsha the Vrittikara, we need to learn a little bit about Mimamsa, one of the six Darshanas or systems of the Indian philosophy (Nyaya, Vaseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Uttara Mimamsa and Purva Mimamsa).

The term Mimamsa derived from the root ‘man’ suggests the meaning of ‘to think’ or to analyze. And, it particularly refers to ‘probing and acquiring proper knowledge’ (pujita-vichara) or ‘critical review and rational investigation of the Vedas’ (Vedartha-vichara).

Presently, Mimamsa Sutra is said to be in two segments: the Purva (earlier or the first) Mimamsa compiled by Jaimini; and the Uttara (latter) Mimamsa ascribed to Badarayana.

There is a line of argument which asserts that Mimamsa Sutra was a single text and was having twenty chapters (vimshathy adhyayah) comprising twelve Chapters (Adhyayas) of Mimamsa dealing with the ritual aspects of the Vedas; four chapters of Devata Kanda or Sankarshana kanda addressing various deities  ; followed by four chapters of Mimamsa dealing with Upanishad doctrines.

The portion of twelve chapters dealing with rituals together with four chapters of Devata Kanda is known as Purva Mimamsa (Karma Kanda). And the remaining last four chapters dealing with Upanishads is known as Uttara Mimamsa (Jnana Kanda).

There is a counter argument which states that  the  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’. 

[Sureshvara, an early commentator and said to be a disciple of Sri Sankara, in his Nishkarmyasiddhi, a commentary on Mimamsa sutra (1.2.1), seems to suggest that Jaimini was also the author of the Brahma Sutra. This supports the view that Uttara and Purva Mimamsa were a part of a single text. But this interpretation is generally rejected.]

In any case, Purva-Mimamsa (prior investigation) collated by Jaimini dwells on the early portion of Vedas, particularly the Brahmans; and, is mainly concerned with Vedic rituals. Therefore, it is also called Karma-Mimamsa or simply Mimamsa.

Jaimini the champion of Purva Mimamsa strongly holds the view that performance of rituals as prescribed by the Vedas is the fundamental duty of a householder. Thus, raising of the offspring and faithfully performing the prescribed rituals is the duty.  Jaimini declared that  the purpose of human life (Purusharta) is to attain heaven (Svarga) through performance of rituals which is the most essential duty of a person. A person leading life on the right path (Dharma) has to perform the prescribed rituals throughout his life, even in case he has gained knowledge of Brahman. 

The Purva Mimamsa system attaches a lot of importance to the Verbal testimony which is essentially the Vedic text. Jaimini accepts the ‘Word’, the ‘Sabda’ as the only means of knowledge. ; and,  that ‘Sabda’ is necessarily the Vedic word.

According to Jaimini, knowledge has twofold meaning: Vidya and Upasana. He said, since the rituals are prescribed by the Vedas, the knowledge (vidya) of the Vedas is essential in order to perform the rituals properly. The term Vidya also means remembrance (jnapaka) which is used in the sense of worship (upasana). In the case of a person who performs rituals (karma) diligently with knowledge (vidya) and contemplates (upasana) on the deity, the fruits of his actions (Karman) will follow him even after his death.

[His Holiness Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam while in conversation with Professor Hajime Nakamura, Professor of Indian philosophy, University of Tokyo (during January 1960) explained the difference between Jnana and Upasana. The Paramacharya said that the two are entirely different. While Upaasana is mental action, Jnana, which also belongs to the realms of the mind, is not action. Action is something done in obedience to an injunction. When the knowledge of Reality is comprehended, the mind continues to dwell on that Reality ; and, it  does not respond to any injunction, whether that injunction comes from any external agency or is the result of the prompting of the senses… You concentrate on God, imagining He is like this or that, until real Jnana dawns on you and you understand God as He really is. Thereafter you do not react to any direction to worship this or that form.]

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 Sabaraswamin described the non-human origin of the Vedas in terms of the anonymity or inability to remember the authors of the Vedas.

In the view of Purva Mimamsa, Upanishads are mere appendages; and, do not have an independent status.

In sharp contrast, the Uttara-Mimamsa (posterior investigation) of Badarayana is centred primarily on the Upanishads. It regards Upanishads as highest authority and the most meaningful, valid means of knowing the Absolute Truth.  Badarayana recognized Upanishads as Shruthis, the Revelations, the super sensory intuitional perceptions of the ancient Rishis; and as the crowning glory of Vedic thought.

The Uttara-Mimamsa centred on Upanishads is mainly concerned with Vedic metaphysics (jana Kanda), primarily an inquiry into Ultimate Reality or Truth, the Brahman. Therefore, it is also called Brahman-Mimamsa or simply Vedanta.

It has also been called by many other titles, such as : Brahma–vichara–Shastra, the treatise for investigating Brahman; Vedanta-mimamsa-Shastra or Vedanta shastra; Vedanta Sutra; Sariraka sutra or Sariraka shastra or Sarirakam shastram.  It is also the Chatur-lakshani (having four chapters) as compared to Dwadasha-lakshani (the Purva Mimamsa of twelve chapters).

Brahma Sutra is regarded the logical foundation (Nyaya prasthana) of Vedanta. Its forte is Para Vidya, the Supreme knowledge which liberates.  Badarayana does not value the rituals, much; but aims at the ultimate release or liberation, Moksha,

Brahma Sutra appears to have been compiled mainly for two reasons: to uphold the authority of Upanishads; and, to criticize the views of the rival schools (say, Samkhya, Vaisheshika and Buddhist) that did not honor Upanishads. But, its ultimate goal is guide the ardent seeker along the path culminating in realization of  the true   nature of the Absolute Reality  (Brahman) , which indeed is the final liberation , the Moksha.  

 Thus, the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa project two opposite views of life; and yet are closely allied.

Sri Sankara regards Brahma Sutra as distinct and separate shastra (prathak-shastra) from Purva Mimamsa

Sri Sankara was the most ardent supporter of the Brahma Sutra or Uttara Mimamsa. He argued vigorously to uphold the Supremacy of Upanishads as the crown of the Sruti (Sruti Siras). He emphasized that Upanishads are the means towards attaining Brahman. 

He declared Self (Atman) is Brahman. This knowledge (vidya) of this One Reality is not only the foundation of all knowledge (vidyas) but is also the absolute ‘truth of the fact’- Brahmavidya sarva vidya pratistha (Mundaka Up.1.1.1)


2.1. Upavarsha, respected as  the foremost among the Vrttikara-s,   is said to have written Vritti-s (commentaries) on both the segments of the Mimamsa Sutra. And, his Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti is believed to be   the earliest commentary on Badarayana’s Brahma Sutras.

In this context, it should be mentioned that there is a belief that it was Upavarsha who first divided the Vedic texts into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section) leading to better understanding of the themes and problems in Vedanta.

2.2. Sri Sankara often refers to Vritti-s. He speaks more specifically of Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, a commentary on Brahma Sutra, the author of which is identified as Upavarsha.

Sri Sankara refers to a discussion held by Upavarsha on the nature of Self in Brahma Sutra (3.3.53) – eka atmanah sarire bhavat – , which according to Sri Sankara establishes the existence of Self.  He says the existence of a self that is different from the body and capable of enjoying the fruits of shastra is (already) stated at the beginning of the shastra (Shastra-aramba), in the first Paada – Shastrah-pramukha eva prathame pade. The scholars wonder whether this expression refers to the first Tantra (Prathama Tantra) which is commonly understood as Purva Mimamsa.

And, the same discussion appears in the commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra (1.1.5).

2.3. 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.

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

All these statements seem to support the view that that Upavarsha may have commented on both Purva and Uttara Mimamsa. This, in a way, is confirmed by Sabaraswamin the author of a major commentary on Mimamsa Sutra, who in his work summarizes the views of Upavarsha.


3.1. It is said; during the time of Sabarasvamin (Ca.  300-200 BCE) a noted Mimasaka, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa formed one philosophical system. But, by the time of Kumarila Bhatta and Sri Sankara they were regarded as two separate, mutually exclusive philosophies.

Giving up the ideal of liberation by the Mimamsakas, and the rejection of the rituals by the Vedantins must have come about at a later stage. But, again by the time of Kumarila Bhatta the Mimamsa came closer to the idea of liberation.

3.2. In any case, both the Schools of Mimamsa hold Upavarsha in very high esteem. Sabarasvamin in his Bhashya (Sabara bhashya– 1.1.5), the oldest surviving commentary on the Purva-mimamsa-sutra, refers to Upavarsha with great reverence, addressing him as Bhagavan, the venerable. Sabarasvamin is said to have drawn on Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra.

[Sabara bhashya is remarkable for various reasons. Sabarasvamin in many places differs from the views of his contemporaries. The most noticeable is the absence of reference to re-birth and liberation. Sabara is therefore believed to belong to a conservative school that did not subscribe to these notions, but staunchly adhered to performance of Yajnas.

According to some scholars, this obliquely points to the speculation that the belief in re-birth could have originally belonged to other traditions, but found its way into Upanishads.

Incidentally, Sabarasvamin’s commentary seems to mark the point of departure for other commentators of the Mimamsa. Its varied interpretations gave rise to two main schools Mimamsa philosophy: that of Kaumarila Bhatta (AD 620-700) and Prabhakara Misra (AD 650-720).]

3.3. Another ancient writer Sundarapandya (Ca. Prior to sixth century) who is said to have written Vrttika-s on  Mimamsa Sutra and on Brahma Sutra  had  also commented in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. The followers of the Advaita School and the Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta quote Sundarapandya.  Vachaspathi Misra in his Bhamathi says: atraiva brahmavidam gatham udaharanti.

3.4. Another Mimamsaka, Bhaskara (who was later than Sri Sankara but before Vachaspathi Misra) also addresses Upavarsha as Bhagavan. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara describes Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’

3.5.  In a similar manner, Sri Sankara whenever he refers to Upavarsha treats him with great respect and quotes his views in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53) as being authoritative.

4.1. 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 Sariraka from Upavarsha; and, titled his own Bhasya on Brahma Sutra as Sariraka –mimamsa – Bhashya.

Sri Sankara regards Upavarsha as an elder teacher 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 generally followed the views of Upavarsha; and often quoted him.

Bhagavan Upavarsha matena Uttaram dattam

Tatra Upavarshasya etad darsanam napunarasyeti bhranti nirakaranartham aha Pratyaksha iti !

4.2. Following his lead, the latter commentators of Advaita School (such as Padmapada, Govindananda, Anandagiri, as also Jayanta Bhatta an exponent of the Nyaya School) respect Upavarsha as the  great Vrttikara ; and,  have cited certain views which they attribute to Upavarsha.

4.3. Thus, Upavarsha was held in great esteem by Mimamsakas as well as by Vedantins.


5.1. Sabarasvamin, the great Mimamsaka, is said to have drawn on Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra. Some of Sabarasvamin’s arguments resemble those put forward in Sri Sankara’s Sariraka Bhashya. Thus, indirectly, both their arguments were derived from Upavarsha.

For instance; there is a discussion in Sabara–bhashya (MS: 1.1.1) on the question as to whether Dharma is well known or unknown.  And , it is  very similar to  Sri Sankara’s  discussion ,  in his Sariraka –bhashya,   in regard to the nature of Brahman ,  as to whether Brahman is known or unknown.  The commentators remark that the objections raised therein and their solutions can be traced back to Upavarsha. Thus, both Sabaraswamin and Sri Sankara base some of their arguments on the explanations provided by. Upavarsha

5.2. In a similar manner, Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Mimamsa Sastra drew upon Upavarsha. And, Sri Sankara in turn sourced both from Upavarsha and Sundarapandya.

Many ideas of Upavarsha put forward by Sundarapandya echo in the works of Sri Sankara. For instance:

(a) :- Sri Sankara in his commentary on the fourth Sutra of the first Pada of the first Adhyaya of Brahma Sutra cites three karikas which were later identified as those belonging to Sundarapandya. The Prabodha-parisuddhi, a commentary on Padmapada’s Pancapadika refers directly to the three verses of Sundarapandya, saying: slokatrayam sundarapandya-pranitam pramanayati iti aha.

Sundarapandya in his Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti, had mentioned the six means of knowledge (cognition) advocated by Upavarsha. These are, briefly: Pratyaksha (direct or immediate); Anumana (inference); Sabda  (verbal or textual testimony); Upamana (analogy);  Artha-patti  (presumption);   and, Abhava  (non- apprehension).

Sundarapandya remarks that the Vrttika-kara   (Upavarsha) believes that these six modes of acquiring knowledge 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).

In a similar manner, Sri Sankara recognizes Vedanta Shastra as the most potent means to pierce through the veil of Avidya, ignorance. Anything that shows false as false, the distortion as distortion is helpful; as it guides us to   move towards the ‘fact itself’, Atmaikatva. The texts contribute to causing the discovery of truth; enabling the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

However, Sri Sankara pointed out that the texts; the scriptural authorities including Vedas are wound around the instructor and the instructed – sisrita and shishya – relations.  As long as distinctions such as the knower -the known – and the means of knowing (Pramata, Prameya and Prama) are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality. Because, the Absolute is beyond the subject-object relations. And, its experience does not dependent on external factors or on proof   to reveal it (paradhina-prakasha).

(b) : – Sundarapandya explains:  the attribute-less Brahman can at best 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 is said to have been  pioneered by Upavarsha; and, it consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing that assumption, after a discussion.

This method can effectively illustrate the distinction between appearance and reality. An excellent application of this method can be found in the treatment of the three states of life, viz. waking, dreaming and sleeping. Gaudapaada’s karika on the Mandukya-Upanishad takes this up as the main theme; and, shows how the method could be employed to arrive at the fourth state, the Turiya, by sublimating the other three. By the residual reasoning, Gaudapaada states that Turiya alone is proved real while the others are mere assumptions or constructions (Vikalpa) ]

In order to educate the mind to interpret the reality as it is, Sri Sankara and others in the Vedanta School employed Adhyaropa-Apavada of deliberate provisional ascription and its later withdrawal. For the convenience of teaching, you accept a thing or an attribute that is actually not there ; and,  later negate that once the student is mature enough to realize the actual position. For example, we teach the child about sun.-rise, sun-set and about East-West and other directions. But , as the child advances in age and in  learning, the earlier teaching is negated and the child realizes that the sun neither  rises nor sets ; and the what we call directions are , after all , notional.

Similarly, Adhyaropa-Apavada logic was employed to prove the theory of transformation (Vivarta) in the phenomenal world, by taking the specific illustration of a pot made of clay. Here clay is the cause (adhyaropa);  and  its transformation (apavada) is the pot .

(c) :- His verses quoted by Amalanda and Kumarila Bhatta indicate that Sundarapandya believed  that Karma and Jnana  Kanda-s are separate; and, that he  rejected  the idea of their  combination ,  jnana-karma samuccaya.

Sri Sankara  also regarded Brahma Sutra as distinct and separate shastra (prathak-shastra) from Purva Mimamsa.

Sri Sankara also said that the study of the Mimamsa was intended for a particular class of people; but not necessarily for those who would inquire into the nature of Brahman.  He pointed out that the Purva-Mimamsa and the Uttara-Mimamsa were intended for different purposes; and were written by different authors. These should not therefore be regarded as integrally related as two parts of a unified work.

5.3. Thus, while the ancient commentator Sabaraswamin drew upon Upavarsha for his commentary on Mimamsa-Sutra, another ancient writer Sundarapandya wrote a Varttika on Upavarsha’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti. Sri Sankara, in turn, 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.


6.1. 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.)]

6.2. According to Sri Sankara, Upavarsha was the first to draw attention to the paradoxical essence of Atman, beyond the pale of its ordinary sense.

7.1.. 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’.

7.2. 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; and, 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).

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


8.1. Then there is also the concept of Atmaikatva which in some way was derived from Upavarsha.

8.2. Atmaikatva, absolute oneness of Self, is the main theme of Sri Sankara’s Sariraka Mimamsa Bhashya.  It is about the unity of the Atman as pure consciousness ,  which is the goal of all Upanishads – as  expressed by Sri Sankara in his Brahma Sutra commentary on Sutra 4 : : Atmaikatava-vidyapratipattayesarva Vedanta arabhyante .

This one Self is Brahman. This knowledge (vidya) of this One Reality is not only the foundation of all knowledge (vidyas) but also is the absolute ‘truth of the fact’- Brahmavidya sarva vidya pratistha (Mundaka Up.1.1.1)

8.3. But, this vidya which Upanishads teach is rather shrouded (guhahitagahvaresta); and, is attainable only through Adyatma –yoga (contemplation on Self).  Vedanta texts can only prepare you for that and point the way towards its experience.

8.4. The truth is self-revealing (svaprakasha), and not dependent on an external factor to reveal it (paradhina-prakasha). The Self needs no proof, needs no Pramanas in their conventional meaning. Because they all involve the distinctions of the knower, the known and the means of knowing:  Pramata, Prameya and Prama.

But the Absolute is beyond the subject-object relations. So long as such distinctions are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality.

The texts can only contribute to causing the discovery of truth; leaving the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

8.5. Sri Sankara declares the supremacy of direct experience , the final proof (antya-pramanam) which he calls – anubhava, avagati or Brahmavagati

Regarded in its true essence and as it is, Atmaikatva, Brahmatvatva, or Sarvatmata is a self-conscious, self-radiant experience which cannot be taken as object (vishaya).


9.1. 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 (Sri Sankara’s disciple) 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 Vrttikara (Upavarsha) says that the enquiry is for Brahman, he is right, for, knowledge of Brahman is indeed the fruit of this enquiry.

9.2. Padmapada says that Upavarsha explained the word ‘atha’   appearing at the opening of the Brahma Sutra as referring to that ‘after the enquiry into the antecedent condition’, the enquiry into Brahman follows ( Ref :Panchapadika )




In the

Next Part



 Sources and References:

  1. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies: Advaita Vedānta up to Śakara…By Karl H. Potter
  3. The Philosophy of Sankar’s Advaita Vedanta by Shyama Kumar Chattopadhyaya
  4. H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses (1957-1960) Part II- Japanese Professor’s Interview

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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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, Sri Shankara differs from the views of Gauda-Paada on a couple of issues. For instance, Gauda-Paada in his Karika states that the objects in waking state are as unreal as the dream objects; Sri Shankara does not accept this extreme position and points out the experiential variations in the waking state and the dream state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



Consciousness in Advaita by Prof.SKR Rao.


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


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Adhyasa Bhashya of Sri Sankara

sri sankara

1. The magnificent prelude that Sri 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. Sri 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. Sri Sankara viewed this as a distortion of the Upanishad ideals. In order to play down the prominence given to rituals by the Mimamsakas, Sri 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. Sri 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. Sri 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. Sri 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 Sri Sankara, is not an intellectual construct (kalpana_viseha) but a matter of experience (anubhava). Sri  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. 

For instance; we measure the duration of the day with reference to sunrise ; and , reckon our existence in terms of days/weeks/months / years which again are related to motion of the Sun. But, in the absolute view, the Sun neither raises nor sets; but , it is the earth that rotates . For our day-today  existence we accept and go by the relative -reality of the diurnal motion of the Sun,  and also ignore the fact of earth’s rotation. Both these positions are real in their own sphere ; but,  one is a ‘relative reality’ and the other is the ‘Absolute reality’. We , in our living , impose the relative reality over the Absolute; and accept the relative as the Real . 

Thus, 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 norms, impressions and experiences and he accepts those subjective experiences as real.

5.2. A special feature of Sri Sankara’s thought is that he regards personal and intuitive experience (anubhava) as independent and convincing evidence. Sri 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 Sri 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. Sri 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)). 

Sri  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 Sri 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 Sri  Sankara as merely superficial.According to Sri  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. Sri 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 Sri  Sankara calls adhyasa. (For more on this please seeAdhyasa ]

9.Extending the concept of Adhyasa, Sri  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. Sri  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 Sri  Sankara became the nucleus for the development of the Advaita school of thought.

11. As regards the rituals, Sri  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. Sri 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 Sri 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. Sri 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.

white lotus

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. Sri 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. Sri  Sankara is therefore relevant even today. He values reason, encourages spirit of inquiry, 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 Sri Sankara comes as a remedy to the conflict and violence ridden ways of our life.

7. Swami Vivekananda aptly described Sri 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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