[Advaita-l] Shuka and Gaudapada

shyam Subramanian shyam_md at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 26 08:01:11 CST 2012

An old message of Shri Chittaji from the advaitin list may be of interest as it is relevant to this thread.
Am reproducing it here.
Om Sri Gurubhyo Namah
Om Mata Annapurneshwari
Om Namah Shivaya

I had posted two messages in another group related to the Guru Sampradaya of
Advaita. I thought it might interest some members who may not be aware of the
historical background of the Gurus in the tradition of Advaita. Here is the
first of the two messages.


Advaita Vedanta is anadi sampradaya. In this chaturyuga, it was first revealed
by the Rishi Narayana, one of the twin avataras of Lord Vishnu. The Guru
Sampradaya starting from Narayana and leading up to Shankara is as follows:


From Narayana to Suka, the succession was from father to son. Hence it is called
Putra-Parampara. From Suka to Shankara, the succession was from preceptor to
disciple, and is called Sishya-Parampara.

The lives of the sages from Narayana to Suka are fairly well-known for they have
been narrated at length in the Puranas. The life of Sri Shankaracharya is also
well-known. But there is very little known about the lives of Gaudapada and
Govindapada except for the brief glimpses we get of them in the Shankara
Vijayas. Here we shall try to throw a little more light on the biographies of
these two great personages.

Grammar came out of the damaru of Lord Shiva when He was dancing the Cosmic
Dance of Lord Nataraja. Among the gods who watched that dance were Panini and
Adisesha. Out of the fourteen sounds that were produced by Lord Nataraja's
damaru, came the fourteen sutras that Panini committed to memory and wrote as
the Vyakarana Sutras. Since these sutras were produced by Lord Nataraja's
damaru, they are called the Maheshwara Sutras. Because the number of chapters in
the book were eight, it also came to be called the Ashtadhyayi.

It is said that nobody can understand Panini's Grammar without the aid of a
commentary. In order to give to mankind a bhashya on Panini's Ashtadhyayi,
Adisesha, who was also witness to that Cosmic Dance, incarnated on earth as
Patanjali and wrote the Great Commentary, the Maha Bhashya. It is said that only
Adisesha who has a thousand heads with thousand tongues could have produced such
a great bhashya.

After Patanjali composed the Mahabhashya, the news spread throughout the length
and breadth of Aryavarta. Students flocked to Chidambaram, where Patanjali was
living at that time, to learn the Mahabhashya. A thousand students went to him
seeking instruction. Patanjali taught them in the thousand-pillared hall in the
Tempe of Nataraja at Chidambaram.

Before starting to teach, Patanjali thought that he could not clear the doubts
raised by all the 1000 students with only one mouth. So, he assumed the form of
Adisesha with a thousand heads and thousand tongues, so that he could teach and
clear the doubts of each of those students. But since it is not possible for a
mortal to face Adisesha's poisonous breath, which can reduce a man to ashes if
he were to inhale even a small part of it, Adisesha sat behind a screen and
taught the students. Before he began the great teaching, he put forth two
conditions to the students:

i) That nobody shall leave the hall without taking permission, and if any did
so, he would become a brahma-rakshasa.
ii) That nobody shall try to look behind the screen

Having put these conditions, Adisesha began to teach with one thousand mouths
from behind the screen. After some time, one of the students got a doubt, "How
does the teacher, being one, instruct so many of us at the same time?" Slowly,
he parted the curtain to look in and see the teacher. At once, the sight of
Adisesha and the poisonous fumes that emanated from his tongues reduced all the
students into a heap of ashes. The number of those who were destroyed was nine
hundred and ninety nine. One student, who was particularly dull-witted and
couldn't understand the teaching well, had gone out for a while. He was the sole
survivor of the 1000 students.

Patanjali was sad to see what had happened. While he was mulling over what to
do, the lone student who had gone out, not knowing the disaster that had
occurred within the hall, walked in. Patanjali was overjoyed to see that at
least one student was alive. Though he was dull-witted, he bestowed his grace
upon that student and said: "May you get to know all that I know. But because
you went out without permission, you will assume the form of a brahma-rakshasa.
Yet, there is a means of salvation for you from this predicament. When you come
to impart the instruction you have received from me to a student who is fit to
receive it, you will be released from this curse."

The student to whom Patanjali bestowed his grace was Gaudapada. He is known as
Gaudapada because he is from Gauda land (modern Bengal).

Gaudapada went to the Vindya region and sat on a tree as a brahma-rakshasa. The
Vindyas are in the middle of Aryavarta dividing the north and the south, and
travelers from the north to the south or from the south to the north normally
passed through the Vindyas. The region of Aryavarta to the north was known as
Gauda-desha and the region to the south was known as Dravida-desha. Gauda-desha
was divided into five sections known as Sarasvata (Kashmir), Kanyakubja
(Punjab), Gauda (Bengal), Utkara (Orissa) and Maithila (Bihar & Nepal). Dravida
desha was also divided into five sections known as Andhra, Karnataka,
Maharashtra or Saurashtra, Gurjara, and Dravida. This was the geography of
Aryavarta before its history was corrupted by the concocted theory of Aryans and
Dravidians. Be that as it may, let us proceed with the story.

Gaudapada sat upon the tree and waited for brahmanas, for brahmanas are the food
of brahma-rakshsas. Whenever a brahmin approached the tree, Gaudapada jumped
down and assumed the form of a brahmin himself and asked the traveler a question
on grammar. Those were days before the Mahabhashya had become known to the
people, and it was very difficult for anyone to know the correct answer to the
subtle question of grammar that Gaudapada put to them. So, the brahmin travelers
replied with a wrong answer, Immediately Gaudapada, the brahma-rakshasa, pounced
upon the traveler and ate him up. This went on for many years and there was not
a single brahmin who could answer the question put by Gaudapada.

Then one day, after a great number of years had passed, there arrived a comely
brahmin boy. On seeing him, the brahma-rakshasa felt very happy and thought that
he would be a very delicious meal. Gaudapada asked the usual question on
grammar, and he was surprised when the boy gave the correct answer. At once
Gaudapada felt elated and pleased and he said: `All these days I have waited for
a suitable student. You are my proper disciple. Whatever knowledge my teacher
imparted to me, I shall impart to you. Where do you want to go?' The boy said:
"I am on my way to Chidambaram in order to learn grammar from Patanjali." On
hearing this Gaudapada remarked: "The story of Chidambaram is all over. I shall
teach you here. That Mahabhashya remains with me. Sit down here."

Gaudapada taught the boy for 9 days, continuously, without food or sleep, until
finally the entire Mahabhashya was transmitted from teacher to student. The boy
had no quill and ink to write, so he made an incision on his thigh and with a
twig that he broke from a branch he wrote using the blood that flowed from the
incision as the ink. For 9 days he wrote, with no break, no sleep, no food.
Finally, after 9 days, he tied up the leaves on which he had written the
instructions into a bundle.

After Gaudapada taught the boy, he was released from the curse. He then went
northward searching for a guru. Having heard that Sukadeva was identified with
the entire universe, he felt a desire to become his sishya and learn from him.
After a long search he met Suka at Badari and was initiated by him into Advaita

But who was the boy who received the instruction from Gaudapada? His name was
Chandra Sharma. Who was Chandra Sharma? He was none other than Adisesha himself.
After seeing that no mortal man could answer the question put by Gaudapada, he
incarnated himself on earth in the form of Chandra Sharma in order that the
Mahabhashya may not be lost to mankind. He it was that answered Gaudapada and
set him free from the curse and preserved the Mahabhashya.

Chandra Sharma went a little distance and lay down and slept. He was very tired
after 9 days and he went into a deep sleep. Meanwhile a goat came along and ate
a portion of the bundle of leaves that he had left on the ground. Chandra Sharma
got up from his sleep and saw that a portion of the bundle was missing. He tied
up the remaining leaves and went to Ujjayini. What remains of the Mahabhashya
today is the portion that was not eaten up by the goat. The missing portion is
called Aja-bhaksita-bhashya (i.e., the portion of the bhashya that was eaten by
the goat).

On reaching Ujjayini, Chandra Sharma arrived at the house of a Vaishya. Being
tired, he went to sleep on the veranda. He was in deep sleep for many days. The
Vaishya had a daughter. She tried to wake him up, but on failing to do so, she
realized that he was unconscious. Seeing the brilliance on the face of Chandra
Sharma, she wanted to preserve his life. So she smeared his body with cooked
rice water crushed in buttermilk which was the equivalent of saline in ayurveda
shastra those days. After repeating this for a few days, Chandra Sharma woke up.
He then collected the bundle of leaves and starting reading them. Thereupon the
householder Vaishya stopped him and asked him to marry his daughter. "My
daughter took great effort to save your life. She wants to marry you." Chandra
Sharma thought within himself: "Is it for this that I received the instruction
in grammar?" He told the householder that he had no intention of marrying. The
householder then took Chandra Sharma to the court of the king to settle the

When the king saw Chandra Sharma, he too wanted to give his daughter in marriage
to him. He called his minister to ask whether such marriage was in accordance
with the shastras. Unfortunately for the king, the minister too saw the
brilliance on Chandra Sharma's face and wanted him to marry his own daughter.
Thus all the three, the VaishyA, the king and the minister wanted Chandra Sharma
to marry their respective daughters. What was Chandra Sharma to do? He married
all the three and lived with them until he begot a son by each of them. Then he
renounced the world and went in search of a guru.

After searching in various places, he finally went to Badari and met his old
guru who had taught him grammar. He learnt that Gaudapada had become a sannyasi.
He too took sannyasa from him. From then on, he was called Govinda Bhagavadpada.
The teachers in the tradition from Suka onwards are known as parivrajakas, or
wandering monks. While Govinda Bhagavadpada was staying at Badari, Vyasa came
there and addressed his thus: "For the purpose of writing a bhashya on the
Brahma-Sutra composed by me, Ishwara Himself is going to be born as avatara. He
will take sannyasa. In conformity with the tradition in the world, there should
be a teacher to initiate Him. You go to the banks of the Narmada and stay at the
foot of the Ashwatta tree there. As soon as He comes to you, you will initiate
Him." Thus it was that Govinda Bhagavadpada went to Narmada and initiated the
young sannyasi Shankara when he came there seeking a Guru. And thus it was that
He who gave grammar to the world through Panini and Adisesha now became a
disciple of Adisesha.

(Adapted from the book 'Adi Shankara - His life and Times' by Sri
Chandrashekarendra Saraswati Swamigal of Kanchi Math)
Hari OM 
Shri Gurubhyo namah

On Feb 26, 2012, at 6:24, abhishek sm <abhishek046 at gmail.com> wrote:

> In that case, many sages, sanyasins,etc can be regarded as
> chiranjeevis. Nevertheless, that's not my primary question. My
> question correlates to how Sri Gaudapada was found and taken up by Sri
> Shuka. Is there any tale like the ones pertaining to Sri Shankara and
> his 4 main disciples?
> On 2/26/12, Rajaram Venkataramani <rajaramvenk at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Sat, Feb 25, 2012 at 3:15 PM, abhishek sm
>> <abhishek046 at gmail.com<javascript:_e({}, 'cvml',
>> 'abhishek046 at gmail.com');>
>>> wrote:
>>> Sri Shuka is not one of the 7 chiranjivis. Shuka disappeared(attained
>>> moksha) in a cave at Shukachari. Please correct your facts.
>>> BhavatyAh,
>>> Abhishek Madhyastha
>> The disappearance at Shukachari is only hagiography. I met someone whose
>> friend recited Bhagavatam near Vyasa cave and Suka Brahma Rishi appeared.
>> This is again only hagiography - result of subjective experience or
>> imagination. We have to go by literary reference if we talk facts and
>> metaphysical logic. There is no record of Suka's disappearance in
>> Bhagavatam or Mahabharatha. Regarding number of chiranjeevis,in eka jiva
>> vada, all jiva bhasas which get liberated are chiranjeevis. They can
>> incarnate with a form at the sankalpa of Ishwara. I am happy to be
>> corrected.
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