Transliteration Key

In his works, SankarAcArya takes a direct approach to the problem of human liberation, and declares that moksha consists in realizing the identity of Atman with the One brahman. This brahman is in fact, all that really IS, and there is no change or multiplicity in It. As for the question, how does the perception of multiplicity arise in the first place, Sankara points to avidyA and mAyA. He does not attempt to explicate avidyA too much, and tells the student not to worry about the logical status of this avidyA, except to recognize that it is responsible for desires (kAma) and action (karma) which lead to bondage (bandha). Therefore, getting rid of the avidyA leads to moksha, which is really not different from the brahman itself.

After his time, avidyA and mAyA became a tough problem for his followers. Sankara described avidyA as anAdi - beginningless. His approach was informed by the well considered notion that searching for the roots of avidyA was itself a manifestation of the very avidyA one was seeking to remove. However, in order to work out the logical implications of various advaitic doctrines, his followers had to pay greater attention to this issue. In course of time, two sub-schools, known as the bhAmatI and the vivaraNa schools emerged within advaita vedAnta. The bhAmatI school takes its name after vAcaspati miSra's commentary on Sankara's brahmasUtra-bhAshya, while the vivaraNa school takes its name after prakASAtman's commentary on padmapAda's pancapAdikA, which is itself a commentary on Sankara's brahmasUtra-bhashya.

The most important commentaries and sub-commentaries that define the bhAmatI school are the following.

There are a large number of texts in the vivaraNa school. The important commentaries are:

The vivaraNaprameya sangraha of bhAratI tIrtha and vidyAraNya, the vedAnta paribhAshA of dharmarAja adhvarIndra and the vivaraNopanyAsa of rAmAnanda sarasvatI are independent works that are philosophically allied to the vivaraNa school of thought.

The major features which differentiate these two sub-schools are two. vAcaspati miSra's bhAmatI attempts to harmonize Sankara's thought with that of maNDana miSra. Following this line of reasoning, later authors in the bhAmatI school describe the individual jIva as the locus of avidyA, i.e. avidyA is ignorance or false knowledge, but it pertains to the individual, who is subject to it. brahman is never subject to avidyA, but controls it in Its capacity as ISvara. This school describes two functions of avidyA - one is its capacity to veil the Truth, and the second is its capacity to project an illusion. This school also describes avidyA in terms of a root avidyA (mUlAvidyA), which is universal, and is equivalent to mAyA, and an individual avidyA (tulAvidyA), which vanishes when brahmajnAna arises. Thus, this school develops its theses primarily along ontological lines. However, if the individual jIva is the locus of avidyA, and the individual jIva is also a product of avidyA, this would lead to an infinite regress, which the bhAmatI school avoids by positing an infinite series of beginningless jIvas and avidyA-s.

The vivaraNa school concentrates on epistemological approaches to establishing advaita. Thus, these authors hold that since there is only the One brahman, that brahman Itself is both the locus of avidyA and the object of avidyA. A keen analysis of perception and inference is done, through which the non-reality of difference is established. In this approach, the later authors share company with both padmapAda and sureSvara. The one problem which critics have against this school of thought is that since brahman is of the nature of pure consciousness, to describe brahman as the locus of avidyA would go against the omniscience of brahman. It would also attribute contradictory qualities, namely knowledge and ignorance, to the same brahman. The vivaraNa authors get around this problem by distinguishing between pure consciousness and valid knowledge (pramAjnAna). Pure consciousness is cit, the real essence of brahman, but valid cognition at the vyAvahArika level presumes an avidyA. The ultimate substratum of all cognition, and therefore also of this avidyA, is brahman.

It should be clear that the basic problem is still that of reconciling the upanishadic dictum of One changeless brahman with the evidence of the senses, which imply a mani-fold universe full of change. The bhAmatI and the vivaraNa schools are therefore only varying approaches towards the same basic problem. There are some other authors who share both lines of thought. An early example is amalAnanda, and a later example is appayya dIkshita, whose siddhAntaleSa-sangraha is an encyclopedic compilation of various views. appayya points out that the differences among the authors of the bhAmatI school and the vivaraNa school are not fundamental philosophical ones, but rather a result of differing emphases and style of argumentation. Taken alone, each school has its own logical problems. However, each is a way of describing a logical/philosophical approach to the insight of Oneness that cuts through all language and logic.

Finally, there are authors who cannot be classified under either school. These typically tend to be the earlier authors in the post-Sankaran advaita tradition. Thus, we have early teachers like jnAnaghana, jnAnottama, vimuktAtman and slightly later ones like sarvajnAtman, SrIharsha and citsukha. The last two named authors strike an independent route, and demolish all non-duality through examining the premises of the nyAya logical system, while most of the others develop on the arguments first seen in sureSvara's works.


Last updated on May 5, 1999.

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