This is the second Volume of this Encyclopedia devoted to Advaita Vedanta. It takes up the history of that movement from where Volume Three of this Encyclopedia left off, and covers the literature from Vacaspati Misra in the tenth century to Citsukha scholar from around the world both living and dead.
In the Introduction the Editor reviews a contentious issue among contemporary Advaita scholars concerning the accuracy of the interpretations of Samkara’s intensions found in the writings of the various schools (Bhamati, Vivarana, and Suresvara’s) that developed subsequent to Samkara’s lifetime.
Kari. H. Potter is professor of Philosophy and South Asian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, and is General Editor of the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies.
In the Introduction to Volume Three of this Encyclopedia, where Advaita Vedanta philosophy prior to the times dealt with in the present Volume was reviewed, an attempt was made to characterize the basic tenets of Advaita (cf. pp. 6-7 of that Volume). To remind the reader, we repeat that list of Advaita propositions here:
1. The purpose of philosophy is to point the way to liberation (moksa) from the bondage of rebirth (samsara).
2. Bondage is a product of our ignorance (avidya): the true Self (atman) is not bound, does not transmigrate, is eternally liberated.
3. Bondage is beginningless and operates with regularity as long as ignorance is not removed.
4. Since bondage depends on ignorance, liberation is manifested upon the removal of ignorance by acquiring its opposite, namely knowledge (vidya).
5. The operation of ignorance consists in its creating apparent distinctions (bheda), though none actually exist.
6. Therefore, knowledge involves the awareness that all distinctions are false, especially the distinction between the knower and the known.
7. This awareness, which constitutes liberating knowledge, which is free from subject-object distinctions, is pure, immediate consciousness (cit, anubhava).
8. The true Self is just that pure consciousness, without which nothing can be known in any way.
9. And that true Self, pure consciousness, is not different from the ultimate world Principle, Brahman, because if Brahman were conceived as the object of Self-awareness it would involve subject-object distinction and as said above, differences are the product of ignorance.
10. The real is that which is not set aside as false, not sublated (badha), in contrast to products of ignorance, which are eventually sublated.
11. Assuming the above criterion of reality, it follows that Brahman (the true Self, pure consciousness) is the only Reality (sat), since It is untinged by difference, the mark of ignorance, and since It is the one thing that is not sublatable, for sublation itself depends on there being consciousness.
12. Pure consciousness is experienced during deep sleep; since we awake refreshed, it is inferred that pure consciousness (reality, Brahman, the true Self) is also the ultimate bliss.
By implication, all the philosophers whose works were summarized in Volume Three were assumed to hold views in accordance with those listed above. In particular, it was assumed that Samkara’s two most well-known students, Padmapada and Suresvara, accepted these twelve views. Furthermore, if the kind of Advaita Vedanta taken to be taught by Samkara consisted of these same twelve views, one would assume that later Advaitins who view themselves as followers of Samkara and adhere to his interpretations of the Upanisads would also accept these twelve views.
Nevertheless, one finds that, when we turn to development, classed as Advaitin, that take place over the next two or three centuries and which are now to be surveyed in the present Volume, the philosophers to be covered are constantly being Volume, the philosophers to be covered are constantly being classified by tradition and by Advaita scholars as being divided into two or three “post-Samkara schools”. The tenets ascribed to members of these several schools differ quite markedly from each other, and it will be the task of this Introduction to briefly review those differences and assess what they suggest about the development of Advaita during this period.
Readers of Volume Three will, it is hoped, recall that it was made quite clear there that Samkara’s views were not the only ones that flourished prior to the ninth century and made claim to representing the views promulgated in the Upanisads. For one thing, there were the traditional Purvamimamsakas who viewed the Vedas, including the Upanisads (=Vedanta) as consisting essentially of injunctions (vidhi; niyoga), so that the purport of the Vedic corpus consisted of advice to us as to how we should act. To be sure, they construed knowing as one kind of acting, so that on their account the Vedas no doubt told us how things are (i.e., what we should know), but the way in which they tell us this (so the Mimamsakas claim) is solely through providing authoritative commands guiding us to appropriate activity, including how to think correctly. In effect this reflects the ancient understanding of the Vedas as the authorless, beginningless authority governing the distinction between right and wrong as well as between true and false.
Secondly, there were various philosophers, most of whose writings have been lost (though some passages are available as quoted by others), who became known as “Bhedabhedavadins”, philosophers such as Bhartaprapanca, who preached a “combined-path” view, construing the Vedas and Upanisads as advising us how things are as well as how to act.
And thirdly, there were those, the Advaitins, who took the Vedas as providing knowledge, knowledge of principles such as the represented in the twelve-fold list given above. This third group included Samkara himself, but also included Mandana Misra, whose type of Advaita assumes, unlike Samkara’s, that even after liberation meditation (prasamkhyana) is still required for the liberated on to remove the remnants of his ignorance. (See Volume Three, pp. 47-61, for a review of some of the features of these distinct positions.)
And thirdly, there were those, the Advaitins, who took the Vedas as providing knowledge, knowledge of principles such as are represented in the twelve-fold list given above. This third group included Samkara himself, but also included Mandana Misra, whose type of Advaita assumes, unlike Samkara’s, that even after liberation meditation (prasamkhyana) is still required for the liberated one to remove the remnants of his ignorance. (Seen Volume Three, pp. 47-61, for a review of some of the features of these distinct positions.)
One might suppose that during the period to be surveyed in the present Volume some of the implications and influences of these several positions will continue to play a part, and indeed so it has been claimed in several cases which will be duly noted. Nevertheless, it is standardly assumed, first, that all the philosophers whose works will be surveyed in this Volume are members of the third group, and second, that their works constitute explanations and further development of Samkara’s position.
That last assumption has been questioned in recent times. A number of modern interpreters of Advaita have written passionately to the effect that the views of one of Samkara’s pupils, Padmapada, misinterpret Samkara and that only Suresvara (another of Samkara’s pupils) properly and correctly understands the master’s real position. Padmapada has come to be associated with the “post-Samkara school” known as the Vivarana School (named after the title of a commentary, Prakasatman’s Vivarana, on Padmapada’s Pancapadika). The Vivarana School is nowadays regularly counted as one of two (or three) post-Samkara “schools”, a second being the Bhamati school (named after the title of Vacaspati Misra’s commentary on Samkara’s Brahmasutrabhasya). It is not clear (to this writer at any rate) how far back into Advaita history this division of post-Samkara schools goes, or for that matter whether it properly consists of a twofold rather than a threefold distinction, with an unnamed “school”, stemming from Suresvara, counting as the third. In any case, such distinctions constitute a standard part of attempts to understand the history of the development of Advaita over of these “modern interpreters” of which I speak, only Suresvara interprets his teacher correctly. Since by and large the “Suresvara interpretation” is represented in the Advaita literature only by Suresvara and his (rather few) commentators, this means that these modern interpreters are implying that most Advaitins after Samkara’s time are confused and basically mistaken, and that 99% of the extant classical interpretive literature on Samkara’s philosophy if off the mark.
This is clearly a remarkably radical conclusion. Yet, there is good reason to think that it may well be true. Gertainly, doubts on that score are not out of place. In the remainder of the present Introduction we shall survey the innovative theses of Padmapada and Vacaspati Misra, the “founders” of the Vivarana and Bhamati schools respectively, and try to assess to what extent they depart from Samkara’s and/or Suresvar’s positions. In the curse of this we hope to review many of the most important, and in any case the most controversial, interpretations of the philosophers whose works are surveyed in the present Volume.
We take as our point of departure a section of V.N. Seshagiri Rao’s little book entitled Vacaspati’s Contribution to Advaita (Mysore 1984), of which Chapter VII concerns “Vacaspati’s Distinctive Contributions to Advaita”. As will be seen, Seshagiri Rao not only tells us which are Vacaspati’s contributions, but also which are the contrasting Vivarana school interpretations and, in some cases, what Samkara’s and Suresvara’s positions are on those topics as well.
“(1) According to Vacaspati, the locus (asraya) of avidya…is the individual self (jiva) and Brahman is its content (visaya). In maintaining this emphatic view, Vacaspati closely follows Mandana and parts company with Samkara who avoids asking the question.”
“This view on the problem of the locus of avidya…is opposed to the view of the Vivarana School which maintains that Brahman is both the locus and content of avidya. Both the Vivarana and Suresvara maintain that the jiva cannot be the content of avidya inasmuch as the former is a modification of avidya. To say that jiva is the locus of avidya, they point out, is to commit the fallacy of mutual dependence (anyonyasraya dosa). That is, without avidya its effect, viz. jiva, cannot be explained.
“Thus the Vivarana School does not admit any distinction between the locus (asraya) and the content (visaya) of avidya”.
“Both Mandana and Vacaspati do not agree with this view of the Vivarana School. There cannot be the defect of mutual dependence, they point out, as the series (viz., of jiva and avidya) is beginningless like that of the sprout and the seed (bijankura nyaya). In fact Mandana explains away this difficulty by pronouncing that since avidya is indeterminable, difficulty by pronouncing that since avidya is indeterminable, all inconsistencies become meaningful. Vacaspati here closely follows Mandana and replies to the objection with Mandana’s standard answer.”
“Thus Vacaspati and Mandana have shown that it is the jiva that is the locus of avidya and not Brahman, since from the standpoint of Brahman no avidya is possible. By no stretch of imagination could there be even a tinge of ignorance in Brahman - points out Vacaspati. He fights shy of such a position.”
“(ii) Further, according to Vacaspati, avidya differs from individual to individual. It is positive and specific to each jiva. In fact there are as many avidyas as there are jives. He thus believes in a plurality of even mula-avidyas. This is a remarkable view of Vacaspati that is opposed to the Vivarana School, which postulates only one avidya that is common to all the jives but has different modes or potencies (saktis) to bind the jiva.”
“Further, Vacaspati recognizes two kinds of avidya: (1) Mula avidya or primal ignorance (karana avidya) and (2) Tula avidya or derivative ignorance (karya avidya). Both are beginningless. If the derivative avidyas, in his view, are sublatable by cognition of the content to which they refer, the primal ignorance is removable only by the knowledge of the supreme reality.”
“As already said, the distinctive feature of Vacaspati’s version of Advaita is that he recognizes a plurality of even mulavidyas. This he postulates in order to show the distinction between the bound and the released and thus to avoid the paradox ‘ekamuktau sarvamukti prasangah’, which is the inevitable outcome of the avidyavada of the Vivarana School.”
“(iii) Again, if avacchedavada is Vacaspati’s most advanced and pet theory, pratibimbavada is advocated by the Vivarana school to the exclusion of avacchedavada.
“(iv) If the Bhamati school advocates a plurality of jives through its postulation of many avidyas, the Vivarana school moves to reconcile the plurality of the jives with the singleness of avidya by postulating many powers (sakti) for the one and the only one avidya.”
“(v) If the Bhamati school advocates a plurality of jives through its postulation of many avidyas, the Vivarana school moves to reconcile the plurality of the jives with the singleness of avidya by postulating many powers (sakti) for the one and the only one avidya.”
“(v) Again the views of the two school on sabda or Vedic testimony differ from each other. The questions that raise their heads here are: Is sabda or testimony (sruti) an instrument of knowledge? If so, what is the nature of the knowledge arising from sabda? If sruti is an instrument of knowledge, is it a direct or an indirect instrument? What is its place and significance?”
“Vacaspati’s view is that sabda…gives only indirect and mediate knowledge. It is to be made direct and immediate through constant practice of rational contemplation (manana) and meditation (nididhyasana) which is the direct cause of realisation. This view is technically termed ‘”rasamkhyana” which is fully upheld by Mandana and Vacaspati. Thus according to Vacaspati the knowledge arising out of the Upanishadic texts like ‘tattvamasi’ is indirect and mediate…Vacaspati is of the view that when sastrajnana (repeated reflection on, e.g., “I am Brahman (Aham Brahmasmi) is continued relentlessly it ends up in self-realisation and this experience of the self removes all avidya.”
“The knowledge of reality obtained from the sruti according to Vacaspati is thus not a direct realisation of it but indirect cognition. This has to be strengthened and intensified through incessant practice of meditation if it is to lead to Brahman-realization.”
“Thus for the school of Mandana and Vacaspati the internal organ (manas) is a sense-organ. It intuits the Real aided by knowledge gained through Vedic testimony (sabda) and reasoning thereon. It generates in the conditioned self the immediate psychosis of “I”, resulting in direct perception (pratyaksa) of the self. Thus, according to Vacaspati nididhyasana is the principal organum of the knowledge of self whereas sravana and manana are secondary.
“The Bhamati school thus holds that ‘the final intuition cannot be effective in destroying ignorance which is immediate unless it is itself immediate, that the immediacy can come only from the functioning of a sense organ, and that this sense organ is the mind.”
“This view of Vacaspati is diametrically opposed to the view of the Vivarana School, according to which sravana is the principal incentive towards the realisation of Atman and manana and nididhyasana are subservient to it (phalopakaryanga). The manana and nididhyasana, in other words, only effect the concentration of the mind. The mind is not an instrument here for the realisation of Brahman. And the Vivarana would simply quote the Chandogya sruti, which says Vivarana would simply quote the Chandogya sruti, which says that by mere instruction immediate knowledge is effected.”
“To this view of the Vivarana Vacaspati would react by saying that the intuition (‘thou art the tenth’) results only from the sense organ as aided by that statement. The statement ‘thou art the tenth’ produces no intuition except through the mind. The cognition remains mediate because of the nature of the instrument (verbal testimony) and is not delusive.”
“(vi) For the Bhamati school manas, as already said, is a sense organ (indriya) and it is a percept of the witness (saksin). The knowledge of happiness, misery, etc. are valid since they are generated by the manas which is a sense organ. In general, according to Vacaspati, all sense-generated awareness is valid. Vacaspati’s argument is that manas is the instrument for internal perception and therefore it is a sense organ. When it transcends the finest, it enjoys the state of transcendental reality. Vacaspati as already noted rejects the view that the Upanishadic texts can directly produce intuitive insight. On the other hand, he emphasizes the need for contemplation or nididhyasana. Manas for him, is a sense organ and knowledge of Brahman (Brahmajnana) arises through manas. But on this account, it should not be interpreted that Brahmajnana is mental awareness, as Brahman according to Vacaspati is not the content of the mind that is impure. Brahman, on the other hand, is the content of the vrtti that removes the obscuration of ignorance. Thus according to Vacaspati pure manas (vrtti that removes the obscurations of ignorance) originates Brahman-knowledge. It is the instrument in giving rise to the knowledge. It is the instrument in giving rise to the knowledge of the identity of Atman and Brahman.”
“But Padmapada points to the possibility of one’s being aware of oneself without the instrumentation of mind. In the view of the Vivarana, immediate cognition many result even from virbal testimony without the functioning of a sense organ, internal or external, and…the mind is not a sense organ. Padmapada argues that consciousness itself is of the nature of illumination, it does not need mind to illuminate it, even as one lamp does not need another lamp to show it. Thus for the Vivarana manas is not a sense organ…”
“But according to the Vavarana school pure Brahman, unenveloped by any adjunct (upadhi) is an object of a mental awareness (mavnovrtti). That is, it is the nondelimited Brahman that is the object of akhandakaravrtti.”
“Vacaspati does not accept this. According to him, pure Brahman cannot be the content of any awareness. If is self-effulgent. The conditioned Brahman alone is the content of realization…”
“(viii) Again, there is a difference between the Bhamati and the Vivarana schools with regard to the discussion whether or not the Upanishadic pronouncement “The self is to be seen, to be heard, to be reflected and contemplated thereon’ constitutes an injunction (vidhi). According to the Vivarana school self-realisation, the ultimate aim of life, is possible only through such an injunction (to see, hear, reflect, i.e., to study)..It is at the root of studying and understanding the Vedanta.”
“But Vacaspati is of the view that hearing, thinking and contemplating are not the contents of any injunction, but are only objects of factual statement (vihitanuvadaka). These belong to the realm of pure knowledge (jnana) which is completely devoid of any injunctive force. Vacaspati goes on to say that knowledge arises as soon as the conditions of it are fulfilled, and for this no injunction is necessary. Thus seeing, hearing and reflecting only indirectly show us the path of self-realization; they are not injunctions…”
In the passage quoted Seshagiri Rao has identified eight different points on which the Vivarana and the Bhamati schools differ. Although he does not explore the question of Samkara’s and Suresvara’s position on these points, we may make an attempt while summarizing Rao’s findings. In what follows, S stands for Furesvara’s position, V for the Vivarana interpretation, and B for the Bhamati reading.
1. On the question whether Brahman is the locus, the content, or both of ignorance: V says that Brahman is both the locus and the content of ignorance. B says that Brahman is the content of ignorance, but that the self (jiva) is the locus of ignorance. The position of S is that Brahman isn’t a kind of thing that can or cannot be a locus.
2. On the question: how many primary (mula-) ignorances are there?, B says that there are many primary ignorances, at least one for each self. V says that there are many selves, but only one primary ignorance. And S says again that, since ignorance is not a thing at all, the question doesn’t arise.
3. On the question: How can the one Brahman cause many things? B says that it is just as space causes the space in a pot, since the pot-space is a part (avaccheda) of space. V. says that as the thing reflected in a mirror causes its reflection (pratibimba), though it is not different from its reflection. And S says that Brahman doesn’t really cause anything (although S was the first to suggest the above and other analogies intended to explain the appearance of Brahman being a cause).
4. On the question: How many powers (sakti) are there for a self? B says that the only “power” of a self is just the ignorance(s) it has. V says that the one, primary ignorance has many powers (pertaining to the difference selves). And for S the question doesn’t arise.
5. On the question: What is the relation between the understanding gained through studying scriptural passages (srutijnana) and the gaining of liberation?, V and S say that srutijnana is the direct (aparoksa), immediate and primary means for gaining liberation, since through it one directly cognizes Brahman. Thus one can gain liberation while still living. B says that srutijnana is only an indirect (paroksa) means, since even after realization one must still meditate (prasamkhyana). Thus, liberation while living is impossible, since meditation is still required until one’s final demise.
6. On the question: Is the mind (manas) a sense-organ? B says yes, V says no, and S responds (in effect) “Who cares?”
7. On the question: Can one cognize pure Brahman (=Brahman without conditions (nirupadhikabrahman)) in liberation? V answers yes, pure Brahman can be a content of a mental activity (manovrttijnana), e.g., in deep sleep. B and S, however, say no, pure Brahman is not a content of any awareness; only conditioned Brahman can be cognized. In deep sleep one does not cognize anything.
8. On the question: Do the Upanisads enjoin listening, considering, reflecting (sravana, manana, nididhyasana)? V answers yes, the Upanisads contain injunctions (vidhi) to do so. B and S, however, say no, they are not enjoined there, though they are referred to.
9. On the question: Can action (karman) be conducive to desiring understanding (vividisa)? Vanswers yes and adds that action can be conducive not only to the desire to understand but to the arising of understanding (vidyotpada) itself. B and S also answer yes, but differ from V in that they hold actions not to be conducive to the arising of understanding-that comes from knowledge only.
Reflection on these points of difference suggests that the understanding of both the Vivarana and the Bhamati “schools” deviates from Samkara’s (and Suresvara’s) account in fundamental ways. But one must also note that the number of issues with regard to which the Bhamati (B) agrees with Samkara as interpreted by Suresvara (S) outweighs the number where the Vivarana (V) opinion accords with (S). This suggests that there is a fundamental aspect of the Vivarana viewpoint over which it differs from the viewpoint of the Bhamati, and that this aspect is at the heart of the discrepancies noted in our list. This aspect is important enough to be pertinent to the claims of the “modern interpreters” That Padmapada is the source of misunderstanding the proper Advaita position-that proper position being the position of Samkara as understood by Suresvara.
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