Early Vedantins

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Sep 18 21:40:31 CDT 2002

[Was neti yoga]

> The only question is if "Advaita Vedanta" with the
> tenets of Jiva Brahmaika Ikyam, j~nAna, j~nEya,
> j~nAtru abhedatvam, whole visible universe being the
> manifestation of Brahman and not separate from Brahman
> -  was known and expounded before Acharya Sankara or
> not. Though these are derived from the Vedas which are
> eternal, was it understood in the same light before
> Acharya Sankara.

Shankaracharya himself thinks so.  He never portrays himself as an
innovator but as a heir to a long parampara.  In fact he says those who
attempt to interpret without recourse to parampara should be considered

The names of several earlier Acharyas are named by Shankaracharya or his

Upavarsha was the author of a vrtti on the Brahmasutras.  Shankaracharya
must have held him in very high regard as he calls him 'Bhagavan vrttikara.'
He is also known to have written a vrtti on the Mimamsasutras (or maybe
they were two parts of the same work.  Many scholars have been Advaitins
as well as Mimamsakas.)

Sundara Pandya wrote a Vartika on Upavarsha's vrtti.  His name seems to
indicate a southern origin.

There was also an Advaita vrtti on the Bhagavadgita but whether that
vrttikara was the same as Upavarsha or someone else is not known.

A certain Dravidacharya wrote a bhashya on Chandogyopanishad which was
based on an even older one by Brahmanandin.

None of these works survive except in quotations.  Just as the stars are
invisible when the sun is shining, Shankaracharya eclipsed all those who
came before him.  But the fact that he is so respectful to them and
willing to quote their ideas shows there was an existing Advaita Vedanta
tradition before him.

There are two still extent pre-Shankara Advaita Vedantic works.

One is Brahmasiddhi of Mandana Mishra.  Tradition says he was a
contemporary of Shankaracharya and the greatest defender of the astika
faith in his time.  He was defeated in debate and took sannyasa as
Sureshwaracharya.  Not all modern scholars accept the Sureshwaracharya
Mandana Mishra connection.  In any case his philosophical ideas went

The other is the karikas on Mandukyopanishad by Gaudapadacharya who
tradition says was the paramaguru of Shankaracharya.

> Even though we can consider Acharya Gaudapada's
> Mandukya Karika, his asparsa, ajAta theory seems to be
> even higher, profound and different from what Acharya
> Sankara expounded.

How so?  The terminology is different but the ideas are certainly the same
IMO.  Much has been said about alleged Buddhist influence on the karikas
which might explain the unusual language.  We've gone over this on the
list several times (Hi Nanda!) so I'm not going to bring it up again but
instead ask you to search the archives.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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