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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.  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 refers to a Vrttikara prior to his (Sabara’s) time, without, of course, mentioning his name. At the same time, in his Bhashya on the same sutra (1.1.5), Sabarasvamin refers to Upavarsha by name addressing him with the epithet ‘Bhagavan’. 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.  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 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.

Tad grantha bahulya –bhayad upekshya kimchid samsksiptam 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]

(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 3.3.53 which discusses the existence of Atman (We have talked about this aspect in the earlier part of this article).

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 usally 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.  Bharthrhari 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, Bharthrhari 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 Vakya-padiya. 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 sabddh id 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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Samkhya : Part Six : Samkhya – Buddhism – Vedanta

Continued from Part Five

W. Samkhya and Buddhism

50.1. Samkhya and Samkhya-like ideas certainly predate emergence of Buddhism. One of the teachers of the Buddha is said to have taught a doctrine that resembled Samkhya. There are certain similarities between Samkhya and the early Buddhism. It is likely each influenced the other, in their later stages. That does not however mean that Buddhism is the same as Samkhya. Their dissimilarities are perhaps more significant than their similarities.

50.2. The similarities between Samkhya and the early Buddhism could briefly be mentioned as: acceptance of the notion that life is characterized by suffering; rejection of the notion of absolute God; rejection of the concept of soul; emphasis on individual rather on cosmic; similarity in the theories of evolution; similarity in the view of the world as a constantly becoming and changing phenomena; acceptance of the concept of Gunas; acceptance of the Satkarya vada that the effect resides in its cause;   similarity in enumeration of the basic elements or components of nature; similarity in the notions of liberation kaivalya or nirvana;   rejection of both the Vedic authority and the validity of rituals; rejection of extreme practices and self torture etc.

50.3. In each of these similarities the Buddhist projections appear more radical or perhaps more elaborate. Having said that let me also mention that such similarities are not unique to Samkhya and Buddhism alone. One finds such features generally among other ancient Indian Schools too. For instance, the adoption of enumeration of various components of nature was a well accepted method among other systems of thought; rejection of Vedic authority and its ritualistic attitude was also a feature of other rational schools; the notion of aloofness kaivalya absolute independence was also the ideal of Jains. Similarly, the theories of Karma, Gunas and such other beliefs were commonly accepted by most schools.

50.4. But one similarity which is rather striking is the emphasis on Dukkha suffering and its eradication. That was the stated objective of both the systems. Buddhism however made that the central point of its doctrine. The Buddha’s second and the fourth postulates on the origination of sorrow and the methods of elimination of sorrow are his original contribution to Indian thought; the former being his philosophical stand point and the latter his religious system.

50.5. The other distinctive characteristics of Buddhism are the emphasis on compassion and ethics. . The Buddha asserted that it is not adequate if one merely focuses on elimination of suffering; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object. Those efforts must essentially be rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity is of great importance.

50.6. The Samkhya abandons the idea of the existence of the absolute, but it retains the idea of spirit (Purusha) and of material world (Prakrti); the Buddhism, on the other hand abandoned both these two conceptions, and retained only the fleeting series of mental states (stream of consciousness) as a quasi reality, In either case there is effort to disown the human psycho-physical apparatus and its functioning.

51.1. Samkhya teaches that we should look beyond our personal affinities with Prakrti and realize the timeless unchanging nature of our true self, which resides beyond Prakrti as Purusha the pure consciousness. This realization can be understood as the reverse process of evolution back into the Purusha. Whereupon the Purusha is established in its own nature as kaivalya solitary and independent, indifferently observing the natural world.

51.2. Early Buddhism as also Samkhya attempted to do away with the illusion that empherical ego is the real Self; though the Buddha remained silent on the question of Self as also on the question of nirvana. But, the Buddha’s studious disapproval of metaphysical discussion on these aspects did not seem to have yielded the results he desired. Because, his silence spurred series of speculations in the later Buddhist Schools; and caused much confusion and bewilderment.

51.3 . The nature of Nirvana is perhaps the most debated issue of Buddhist philosophy, probably because the Buddha himself refused to speculate on it. His attitude was, in effect: If you want to know what nirvana is like, then experience it. But clearly Nirvana does not involve the isolation of a pure consciousness as in the case of Samkhya, because there is no such thing as permanent consciousness in early Buddhism. The unique feature of Buddhism is that there is no permanent Self at all, and never was; there are only five skandhas, “heaps” of elements, which constantly interact. It is significant that the skandhas do not constitute a Self; the sense of a Self is merely an illusion created by their interaction. The Buddha emphasized that one should not identify anything as the Self.

X. Samkhya and Vedanta

52.1. Even prior to the emergence of Samkhya as a system , the Samkhya-like ideas and terms appeared in the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the epics and other texts .This suggests that the monistic trends in Vedic thought and dualistic concepts of Samkhya had common origins.

52.2. But Samkhya as a doctrine was ever distinct from the Vedic stream of speculative intuitions. The early Samkhya, in sharp contrast, refused to speculate on god and rejected the scriptures and rituals as means for human attainments. It stepped aside cosmological explanations or implications.  It affirmed the existence of the objective-world; emphasized the world has to be understood in the context of human existence; and said the world is inextricably wound up with the presence of human existence. One has to therefore deal with the world positively.

52.3. The Samkhya separated itself from the scripture- based Vedanta and preferred to be a group of reason-based free thinkers with only a loose scriptural affiliation. But the Samkhya never rejected the Veda completely unlike the Buddhists and the Jains; but maintained that Vedas cannot be accepted as unquestioned sole authority. Besides, the Samkhya brand of atheism never collapsed into the materialism of Charvakas and naturalists (Lokayatas). Samkhya always maintained spiritual and salvation-oriented outlook.

52.4. Though both the Upanishads and Samkhya identified knowledge (jnana) and effective discrimination (viveka) as the means for attaining human aspirations, which is realizing one’s true identity, Samkhya was dualistic to its core whereas the Upanishads adopted a non-dual approach saying that the absolute consciousness encompasses the entire universe, everything that resides in it is but a transformation of that principle.

53.1. The Samkhya insisted that the individual consciousness, the true identity of man , is distinct from everything else and there are infinite number of such unit consciousness. It said consciousness (Purusha) which sees the world (Prakrti) is separate from what it sees. It asserted that confusing the seer for the seen or mixing both is the cause for man’s suffering.

53.2. Vedanta, on the other hand, asserted the notion of identity of the individual consciousness and the Universal consciousness. It declared that the entire manifest universe is an expression or transformation of that absolute consciousness. Vedanta sharply differed from the Samkhya theory of evolution of the manifest world as emanating through a series of causes and effects.

53.3. Samkhya maintains two independent realities and infinite numbers of Purushas. Vedanta does not accept two infinites and multiplicity of Souls.

The extreme form of dualism between subject and object was seen as a basic inadequacy of Samkhya as it left no room for coexistence of the two categories.

53.4. The later variations of the Samkhya School attempted to resolve these difficulties by (1) conceiving Purushas not as distinct from each other, but as various aspects or reflections of one unitary consciousness; and (2) conceiving prakrti not as distinct from this unified consciousness, but as an aspect of it. But this, of course, transformed Samkhya into a completely different system, because it gives up the basic dualism of Purusha and Prakrti.

53.5. With these modifications Samkhya came to resemble the monistic system of Sri Shankara. It was also rendered theistic with Samkhya accepting the existence of a Supreme Being (Parama Purusha) the God.  But, these adaptations rendered Samkhya acceptable to Vedic Schools; and Samkhya came to be regarded, since about the sixteenth century, as one of the six accepted Schools of traditional Indian philosophies (Darshana).

53.6. With or without its modifications, Samkhya is a very important School of thought; and has contributed to the richness, profundity and breadth of the Indian philosophy. The explanations and elaborations offered by most other Schools of Indian thought are based in the foundations provided by the terms and concepts provided by the Samkhya. Swami Vivekananda in his exposition of Samkhya philosophy aptly remarked, “If we take into consideration Advaita Vedanta, then our argument will be that the Samkhya is not a perfect generalization …and yet all glory really belongs to the Samkhya. It is very easy to give a finishing touch to a building when it is constructed.”

Y. Kaivalya, Nirvana and Moksha

54.1. Samkhya, Buddhism and Vedanta are the three most important philosophical systems. The three together represent almost the whole of Indian philosophies. Nearly every shade of metaphysical discussion revolves round these three pillars. They may also be viewed as three basic ways of resolving the relation that exists between God and world; Man and God; Man and world; and in general the nature of relation between subject and object.

54.2. All the three systems regard realizing ones true identity and gaining release from suffering of all sorts as the goal of human evolution. There are similarities as also differences among the three modes of enquiry.  All the three instruct the individual to avoid identifying with any physical or mental phenomenon but to let-go all identities. All three agree that enlightenment – variously called as kaivalya, nirvana or moksha- is not an intellectual construct.  They point out that liberation cannot be attained through theoretical knowledge of the scriptures because it is a state that is beyond all categories of thought. In other words, enlightenment or liberation is beyond philosophies. Enlightenment is an experience.

55.1. The question is: since all the three systems regard enlightenment as a state beyond intellect, are they all referring to the same experience or whether there are different kinds of enlightenment?

That question arises because the basic tenets and methods of the three systems are irreconcilably different. Samkhya is dualistic, the early Buddhism may be considered pluralistic, while Advaita Vedanta is monistic.

55.2. Samkhya is the most radical possible dualism between subject and its object. The separation between the two (Purusha and Prakrti) is so extreme that the system-connect virtually fails because the two neither can come together nor communicate with each other.

55.3. Early Buddhism attempts to combine subject into object. Consciousness according to Buddhism has no independent existence; it is something that is conditioned and arising out of the interaction with other factors (skandas). Buddhism does not believe in a permanent Self. The Self is merely an illusion created by the interaction of the five aggregates (skandas). The Self shrinks to nothing and there is only a void; but the Void is not a thing — it expresses the fact that there is absolutely nothing, no-thing at all, which can be identified as the Self.

Both Samkhya and Buddhism focus on the individual and do not discuss cosmic aspects of existence. Both are basically radical and dualistic in their approach. And, both disregard the Vedas, Vedic authority and its rituals.

55.4. Advaita Vedanta on the other hand conflates object into subject. There is nothing external to Brahman, the One without a second. Since Brahman is a non-dual, self-luminous consciousness, it encompasses the entire universe. And the universe is nothing but the transformation of Brahman. Everything is the Self the Brahman.

56.1. What do kaivalya, nirvana or moksha   mean in these systems

 According to Samkhya, the Purusha in its true form is ever pure and ever-present. The Arhat, said the Buddha, is “deep, immeasurable, and unfathomable, like the mighty ocean.”  The Brahman of Vedanta is an infinite pure consciousness pervading everywhere.

The Samkhya ideal of attaining enlightenment (Kaivalya) is described as Discriminative Knowledge (Viveka-khyāti). It consists in Purusha (pure consciousness) realizing its distinction from Prakrti (everything else) with instruction of Buddhi (knowledge of discrimination).Ignorance (Aviveka)  is failure to differentiate Purusa (Jnasvarupa) as distinct from the intellect, ego, mind and other modifications of Prakrti. Liberation (Kaivalya) in Samkhya is neither the acquisition of a new state, nor the shaking of an old one. It is only the disappearance of the conditioned factors of Aviveka, ignorance or the wrong-knowledge. The state of liberation is named as Kaivalya (aloneness) because the Purusa enjoys unique aloofness in its splendid isolation.

But,  Kaivalya which is essentially based in dualism was viewed as an inadequacy of the Samkhya. The Yoga which has its theoretical base in Samkhya sought to correct the position. In Samadhi the pure consciousness becomes one with the object of meditation. The distinctions between the knower, knowing and the known is obliterated .It is akin to the Advaita ideal of realizing the whole universe as the Self.

56.2. Nirvana is also the realization of the true nature of Reality – of being, non-being and becoming.  The term Nirvana derived from the root va (to blow like the wind) qualified by a negative prefix nir denotes a state of motionless rest where no wind blows, where the fire has been quenched, where the light is extinguished and where the stars have gone out .The Buddha explained it with a simile of an oil-lamp sinking upon itself and expiring when its fuel has been consumed .Nirvana suggests a state of emptiness and nothingness. At the same time Nirvana is described as a state of blessedness, unbound peace and deliverance.

Nirvana is characterized as a state beyond conditioned consciousness, beyond the ceaseless motion of life (Samsara).  It is the absolute extinction of suffering and attainment of unique intuitive wisdom ( Prajna or Pannā). The Buddha however refused to speculate on the nature of it. We therefore do not really know how the Buddha understood Nirvana. The Pali Canon speaks of a state beyond all conceptual thoughts; and yet, it could be experienced in meditation.

But nirvana does not seem to involve the isolation of a pure consciousness, (as in the case of Samkhya) because such concept is not present in the early Buddhism. The concept of a permanent Self is also not there. The Buddha emphasized that one should not identify anything as the Self. Nirvana, in essence is complete freedom by abandoning all sensations, all perceptions, all volitions, and acts of consciousness. It is a state of bliss which is entirely different from and free from all that exists in the Samsara.

The Buddhist Nirvana is not the eternal essence, which is the basis of everything and from which the whole world has arisen (like the Brahman of the Upanishads) but the reverse of all that we know, something altogether different which must be characterized as a nothing in relation to the world, but which is experienced as highest bliss by those who have attained to it (Anguttara Nikaya, Navaka-nipata 34).

56.3. Vedanta says Brahman is One without a second; Brahman is unbound there is nothing outside it. For Sri Shankara, moksha, liberation, is the realization that I am, and always have been, Brahman. One does not attain or merge with this Brahman; one merely realizes that one has always been Brahman. Sri Shankara uses the analogy of the space within a closed jar: that space has always been one with all space; their separateness is nothing but a construct (kalpana vishesha)

57.1. On the face of it the early Buddhism and Vedanta appear to have serious differences. While Buddhism does not believe in a Self, Vedanta says everything is the Self. There is apparently no consciousness in nirvana, but everything is consciousness in moksha. The one appears to be the mirror image of the other. They are extreme positions, trying to resolve the relation between the Self and the non-self by conflating the one into the other. The not-self of Buddhism holds within it the Self; while the Self of Advaita swallows the not-self.

57. 2. How different are they? Or do they mean the same thing in reverse?

It perhaps depends on the way one looks at it. In either case there is no duality between the object (that which is observed) or the subject (that which observes).If you look at it in another way there is not a great deal of difference between the two systems.

In both the systems the right understanding is the key to salvation. It is the right understanding that liberates. In Vedanta, one does not attain or merge with this Brahman; one merely realizes that one has always been Brahman. Similarly in Buddhism too one does not achieve anything new, but realizes ones true nature (or Buddha nature) as being always been pure and unstained. All that one needs to do is to realize that fact.

The concept of Shunya emptiness of later Buddhism is rather fascinating. Shunyata transcends human thoughts and speech. In Mahayana Buddhism shunyata, emptiness not merely refers to the absence of a Self but is also the fundamental characteristic of all reality; shunyata is the category which corresponds to the Vedanta concept of Brahman.

57.3. But can shunyata be reconciled with the One without a second?

Yes, it can be done. The explanation offered is that there is essentially only one thing; and to put it more accurately it is not even one in the numerical sense. We cannot say that it is One, yet, we cannot say it is not one, not two or not any number. The term selected by Vedanta to give expression to its idea  of Reality is: ‘it is not two’ (a-dvaita).

To call it One, is just a way of saying that it is a unity and there is nothing outside it — no duality of a subject and an object. The it (tat) would not even be aware of itself as being one or being alone. It is absolute wholeness. In another way of saying, because there is nothing outside it, its phenomenal experience would be of nothing or nothing, which is shunyata.

58.1. There are some passages in the Pali Canon which almost sound Vedanta- like. Its language too resemble the mysticism of Vedanta

 There is Oh disciples an unborn, un-originated, uncreated and unformed. Were it not there … Oh disciples,.. there would be no possibility of existence of the world of the born, generated, created and formed.(Udana 8.3)

The great ocean is deep, immeasurable and unfathomable..So also the Perfect One is deep, immeasurable and unfathomable as the great ocean. (Samyutta Nikaya 4)

58.2. The Buddha emphasized that nirvana is neither annihilation nor eternal life. In the Brahmanimantanika Sutra (Majjhima-Nikaya), the Buddha said: Do not think that this [nirvana] is an empty or void state. There is this consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere (Vinnanam anidassanam anantam sabbato-pabham); it is untouched by the material elements and not subject to any power.
On another occasion the Buddha describes the state of an Arhant the one who has realized;

He who has gone to rest, no measure can fathom him.

There is no word to speak of him.
What thought could grasp has blown away.
And every path to speech is barred.
58.3. Just as there are passages in the Pali Canon which sound like Vedanta, so there are passages in the Upanishads which seem Buddhist-like. Perhaps the most famous among them is Yajnavalkya’s instruction to his wife Maitreyi in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad: “Arising out of these elements (bhuta), into them also one vanishes away. After death there is no consciousness (na pretya samjna ‘sti)….”

Yajnavalkya explains: For where there is a duality, as it were (iva), there one sees another…. But when, verily, everything has become just one’s own self, then what could one see and through what… Through what could one know that owing to which all this is known? So, through what could one understand the Understander? This Self… is imperceptible, for it is never perceived. (II. iv. 12-15)

Thus, the notions of infinity and nothingness appear in both the systems. Nothingness is an image or a reflection of the infinity.

59.1. But, why did Sri Shankara preferred to speak of the One and the Buddha of nothingness?

It seems that the answer to this lies in the nature of their philosophies. In referring to Brahman as One without a second, Sri Shankara tries to describe reality from outside, as it were, because that is the only perspective from which it can be understood as One. Sri Shankara was basically a philosopher; and as all philosophers do, he looks upon the whole of reality objectively and to comprehend its structure. It is as if the philosophizing intellect takes a look at the whole of existence from outside of it.

59.2. But the Buddha was describing his experience. He realized that one cannot get outside of reality and describe it as an object; because one is inseparable from that reality. He also believed too much philosophizing and clinging to ideas is an obstruction to enlightenment. He advocated meditation as a process to let go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts.

59.3. But both the savants accept that conceptual thinking is part of the problem; not in itself the way to enlightenment. If one accepts that the goal is to attain liberation rather than to understand it, then philosophy too must ultimately be transcended or let go. Philosophy might try to view things externally, but ultimately it is one’s experience that really matters.

59.4. Can nirvana or moksha be experienced? I do not know. But it appears these states suggest a condition where the boundaries of individual identity would simply dissolve. It would perhaps be a complete absence of tension and effort, a letting go of all identities and of everything that was previously clung to;   and one would eventually become that everything which in fact one always was.

60.1. In summary, the difference between the Buddhist nirvana and the Vedantic moksha is one of perspective. The Vedanta explanation — that of realizing ones true identity -is a philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation of letting go all identities is objective description. But in each case the actual experience appears to be the same. Ones experience is the truest test of all, as Sri Shankara observed.


Duality is a normal reality of experience.. So Samkhya talks of a framework to link up with the dual world as elementising becomes logical and reasonable..and easier to comprehend. Advaita is an unusual reality… an abstract experience and perhaps can be obtained in a particular state. You can’t understand it as even elemntaising of a whole kills the essence. Buddhism is like Samkhya as it does not delve on question of god and is very practical to remove dukkha… and so is Samkhya.

All theses are true but in different locations… and if all locations exist within us…all these are true…as experiential realities. So one does not contradict the other.


Lotus_Flower purity


References and sources

Vedanta and Buddhism

Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta


Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Samkhya


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Crazy Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Avadhuta Gita describes him as :

Having renounced all, he moves about naked.

He perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

The Avadhuta never knows any mantra in Vedic meter or any Tantra. Ashtavakra Gita describes him in a similar manner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashtavakra then attacks the futility of effort and knowing.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Sources and References:

Crazy Spirituality

Wisdom of the Holy Fools


Crazy Wisdom


Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra

 Zen Stories by Sylvan Incao




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


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Paradigm , as I understand , is a framework within which explanations as well as understanding of facts related to a subject could be neatly fitted . It not only  outlines an accepted and permissible inquiry formulating the scope of enquiry ; but  also provides a model for organizing the information obtained during the enquiry.

The paradigm , as set out , needs to be accepted by all members of the scholastic  community. This would facilitate coordinating a joint exploration into a commonly  accepted and well outlined field of enquiry. 

A paradigm is thus a pattern or an exemplar. In a sense it serves as a roadmap for  the enquirer.

The explanation I offered above is based on the concept of the scientific ,popularized  by Thomas S . Kuhn (1922–96) a philosopher and historian of science in his The  Structure of Scientific Revolutions . 

The Vedanta has developed its own paradigm or ground-rules. A Vedanta theory first  tries to define the parameters and then determine and define the relations between  them . It finally constructs a workable model in order to understand and accomplish  its goals. 

The paradigm in Advaita Vedanta is a scheme , a method (nyaya )called Adyaropa- Apavada which consists in initially adopting an assumption and subsequently  withdrawing or rejecting that assumption . It is not however clear who initiated this  popular method of enquiry. Shankara , in his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita calls  this a traditional method. His Parama-Guru Gaudapaada used this method rather  extensively . The most famous example of this paradigm is of course the illustration  of the snake and the rope . It was Gaudapaada who first came up with the  illustration of a piece of rope in darkness being mistaken for a snake . The mistaken  perception , according to Gaudapaada , was an erroneous personal construction  Vikalpa negatived when light was thrown on the object.

The method had its origin in the Upanishads. Later the Buddhists and Vedanta  scholars employed it. The earliest traceable reference to this method is in  Saddarma Pundarika Sutra , popularly called the Lotus sutra , a text of the  Vijnaana-Vada Buddhism. The Text mentions the method by name (2,25,135)  but substitutes Samaroha for Adhyaropa.The import of the method , however  ,remained unchanged. Shankara inherited it from Gaudapaada who attempted a  synthesis of the Buddhist and Vedanta view points. Later on , the method came into  wide use.

The expression Adhyaropa , generally , stands for superimposition , wrong  assumption, attribution of a wrong nature or a feature . It is essentially a projection that is constructed by our sense -organs and mind ; but does not exist in reality.

The other term Apavada stands for negation or withdrawal or elimination of what was  Imputed or assumed or attributed or superimposed. This comes about because of  superior knowledge or the knowledge of things as-they-are. Apavada means  elimination of wrong knowledge through right knowledge.

Adhyaropa consists in assuming or projecting a snake in a rope that , in reality , is not a snake .The snake-like appearance of the rope was merely a transformation (Vivarta) untrue and short lived but vanished when light (knowledge) was brought in. The  phenomenal world , similarly , is a transformation of the Brahman-substance into an  extended world of objects in space and time , with the experiencing ego as the  vortex. Apavada is annulling or dissolving this appearance and letting the true substance reveal , as itself. It is in effect , the falsification of the false appearance.

The right knowledge cannot bring us any non-existent thing nor annihilate already an existing one. The right knowledge can only removes false attribution and let the real shine forth.

When the false notion is eliminated, no special effort is required to realize the truth.

In order to educate the mind to interpret the reality as it is, the Vedanta 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.

This method is justified because it can effectively illustrate the distinction between  appearance and reality. An excellent application of this method can be found in the Upanishad 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 is employed to arrive at the fourth state , the Turiya by  sublimating the other three . By the residual reasoning , Turiya alone is proved real  while the others are mere assumptions or constructions (Vikalpa).

In Vedanta too, the same methodology is adopted to teach Brahmatattva. Initially it  accepts origination/ creation of jagat world etc. and later it negates these false attributions by saying neti , neti.

The other illustrations are also based in the Upanishads and are elaborated by  Shankara who also explains the methodological involvement .The examples are:

(I) The initial assumption is that the Absolute is the Lord , and saying it is not  subordinate. The later formulation is that Absolute is everything and there is nothing  else. This dismisses the Lord and subordinate duality and the assumption.

(ii)The assumption is that the Absolute is the cause of the phenomenal world . The  later claim is that the effect is illusory ; thus denying the casual role of the Absolute.

(iii) The assumption is that Self is the only knowable (jneya) ; thus excluding all the  other knowable .The later formulation is that the Self is really the knower (jnatr).

(iv) The assumption is that Self is the knower. This is denied by saying that Self is  mere witness (Sakshi).

(v) Then sublation of this position is by denying the validity of duality , which obtains  only at the phenomenal level.

(vi) The assumption is that the Absolute can be understood only with the aid of  scriptures ; thereby denying other normal methods like observation and reason. The formulation states that it is impossible to ascertain the Absolute by verbal or Mental procedures.

It is the tendency of all beings to project an assumptive world and get involved in  it. While in its fold, all the other related erroneous assumptions gain ground and  cause distress. This assumption is known in Advaita as Avidya, ignorance .Its synonyms  are Adhyasa superimposition, Adhyaropaassumption , Branthi delusion , Anyatha- Grahana wrong , Tamas darkness , moha infatuation ,mithya-prathyaya mistaken  conception etc.

The aim of Vedanta is to undo the distress by loosening the grip of assumptive world. Vedanta prescribes Adhyaropa -Apavada method to theoretically distinguish between  the that “tat” the assumptive world and thou “tvam” the conscious substance after  elimination of all assumptions. This is a necessary prelude to practical Sadhana.

Please click here for the Companion post: Nyaya 


Indebted to Prof.SKR Rao


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



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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