Preceptors of Advaita
As is common with the lives of our great men in the past, as regards Sankarananda also it is difficult to determine with any accuracy his date and to gather the details of his life. Yet from his writings it is possible to gather that Sankarananda was the disciple of Anantatman and Vidyatirtha. Sankarananda along with Bharatitirtha, and Vidyaranya studied under Vidyatirtha. He became a guru of Vidyaranya. Vidyaranya offers his salutations to his guru thus:
‘namah sri sankarananda-guru-padambujanmane’
Sankarananda’s most important work is Atmapurana which is also known as Upanishad-ratna and contains the essence of the Upanishads in verse in the form of story and dialogue. He has also written a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and a vritti on Brahma-sutra. Besides, he has written Dipikas on several major and minor Upanishads. Not only this, but there are other independent works attributed to Sankarananda. For instance–Yatyanushthana-paddhati, Vivekasara, Sruti-tatparya-nirnaya and so-on. His magnum opus, however, is Atmapurana.
We shall now set forth briefly the teachings of the Atmapurana.
Sankarananda is mainly concerned with explaining the nature of Atman; yet in order to generate in the minds of the aspirants an irresistible attraction towards the knowledge of Brahman; he introduces several stories from the major as well as the minor Upanishads. Most of the materials are drawn from Sri Sankara’s commentary on the Upanishads.
Brahman or Atman, not being conditioned by the three divisions, namely space, time and matter, is homogeneous. The limitations that are caused by the above three factors exist only in objects comprising the not-self. (1) The counter-correlate of the absolute non-existence (atyantabhava pratiyogi) is called space division (desa-pariccheda). This division is seen in a pot which exists in one place while there is the absence of that pot in other places, since the counter-correlateness (pratiyogi) of the absolute non-existence is in that existent pot. (2) The counter-correlate of the prior non-existence and of the posterior non-existence is known as the time division. This division is applied to the halves of a pot, since there are both the prior non-existence (pragabhava) and posterior non-existence (pradhvamsabhava) in a pot before its production and after its destruction, respectively. (3) The counter-correlate of mutual non-existence (anyonyabhava) is called the division of matter. For instance, a cloth is not a pot and vice versa. In this cognition, the non-existence of the cloth in the pot and the non-existence of the pot in the cloth are understood. Thus all the objects that come under the category of not-self are conditioned by three kinds of limitations. Brahman, being all-pervading, transcends the division of space. Since Brahman is eternal, the category of time is inapplicable to it. And Brahman, being the inmost self of all, is not conditioned by matter. So, Brahman is established as the transcendental Reality beyond all kinds of divisions.
The Self (Atman) does not come within the range of mind and speech. Every word employed to denote an object, denotes that object in relation to a genus, or a quality, or an action. For instance, the word ‘pot’ denotes a thing which contains a particular form, or a quality, blue, etc; the word ‘cook’ denotes a man who is associated with the act of cooking. The Self (Atman) does not have a genus; it is not related to any quality; it does not act. So, words cannot primarily convey Atman. However, Brahman-Atman is taught by the method of adhyaropa and apavada, which consists in first super-imposing the world on Brahman-Atman and negating it subsequently. In this teaching of Brahman-Atman, exclusive-cum-non-exclusive implication (jahad-ajahallakshana) is resorted to.
Is the universe which we perceive self-sustaining and self-established? The Upanishads affirm that there is a Being transcending the universe and yet immanent in it. And that Being is Brahman, which is non-dual. This non-dual Brahman appears as the universe, and avidya or maya is the cause of the appearance of Brahman as the universe. This avidya is doubly evil in that it veils the true nature of Brahman and distorts it in the form of Isvara, jiva and the jagat. Brahman is said to be the source of the universe in that it is the substratum of avidya, which is the immediate cause of the universe. Avidya, being inspired by the reflection of Brahman in it, transforms itself into the form of the universe. It is thus the transformative material cause (parinamyupadana) of the universe. Brahman only illusorily appears as the universe; it is the transfigurative material cause (vivarto’padana) of the universe. Brahman viewed in this aspect is Isvara. While the Nyaya system holds that atoms are the material cause of the universe and God is the efficient cause, Advaita holds that Brahman as Isvara is both the material and the efficient cause of the universe.
It is because of its association with avidya and its product, intellect that Brahman, which is supra-relational (asanga), appears as the individual soul. The latter in essence is Brahman. But, owing to avidya, it identifies itself with intellect and its qualities, experiences pleasure, pain, etc., and undergoes transmigration. It is the mind alone that acts and thinks; but being falsely identified with mind, Atman, which is pure consciousness, appears to act and think. Avidya, thus, is the source of all evil. It is described as the one which is capable of bringing together two incompatible things (aghatita-ghatana-patiyasi-maya). Avidya is termed ajnana, mulaprakriti, pradhana, and avyakrita. This avidya is the cause of the superimposition of all the objects on Brahman or Atman. It becomes operative in this way only by being itself superimposed on Brahman. It does not require another avidya for its own superimposition on Atman; for, to assume a second avidya is to be involved in the fallacy of infinite regress. Hence it is admitted that avidya itself is the cause of its superimposition on Atman.
Avidya, the root-cause of the universe, is one; yet it consists of various aspects, and these are known as tulajnana or tulavidya. Avidya which is present in Atman and which is annihilated by the intuitive knowledge of Atman is known as mulavidya. And the various aspects of avidya which are present in the consciousness delimited by the objects and which are removed by the knowledge of the true nature of those objects are termed tulavidya.
The entire universe is superimposed on Atman through avidya. The Upanishadic text ‘neti neti’ negates the entire universe superimposed on Atman, and Atman the self-existent entity alone remains. The individual souls are identical with Atman. But, owing to avidya, they have lost sight of their identity with Atman and undergo transmigration. By pursuing Vedantic study, reflection, and meditation, an individual soul attains to the intuitive knowledge of Brahman. Avidya, in this case, is annihilated and the individual soul becomes free from characteristics such as finitude, agency, etc., that are brought about by Avidya. He is a released soul and he remains as Brahman.
Preceptors of Advaita - Other Parts:
Preceptors of Advaita