Transliteration Key

There is no doubt that there was a tradition of advaita vedAnta dating to before Sankara's times, although Sankara and his writings are of prime importance in advaita vedAnta. However, SankarAcArya is regarded not as the founder of advaita vedAnta, but only as the premier exponent of the ancient doctrine. Sankara himself salutes the teachers of the brahmavidyA sampradAya in the beginning of his commentary on the bRhadAraNyaka upanishad. The roots of advaita thought have been traced back to the Rgveda samhitA by one author. [1]

Sankara's paramaguru, (teacher's teacher) gauDapAda, was the author of the mANDUkya kArikas that are attached to the mANDUkya upanishad. It might be difficult to consider the upanishadic Rshis and bAdarAyaNa, the author of the brahmasUtras, to be advaitins, because the same Rshis are also claimed by other vedAnta traditions. bAdarAyaNa is usually identified with vyAsa, who is included in the advaita guru-paramparA. The names given here are taken to be advaitins in the sense that the upanishads and the brahmasUtras can be consistently interpreted according to advaita.

upanishadic Rshis -

With some justification, both uddAlaka AruNI of the chAndogya upanishad and yAjnavalkya of the bRhadAraNyaka upanishad can be considered to be votaries of a non-dualistic/monistic philosophy. The name of uddAlaka is famous through the sad-vidyA section of the chAndogya upanishad. Here, uddAlaka teaches the sAmaveda mahAvAkya tattvamasi to his son Svetaketu, using a number of examples. yAjnavalkya is the key figure in the bRhadAraNyaka upanishad. It is through his teaching that one learns the mahAvAkya of the yajurveda, aham brahmAsmi. It is also in the course of his dialogue with his wife maitreyI, that one finds the via negativa teaching of neti, neti, and the famous passage 'yatra tu dvaitamiva bhavati, .... yatra tvasya sarvam AtmaivAbhUt, ....'. This forms the basis for the later theory of two truths (paramArtha and vyavahAra) in advaita, in which all duality is said to be in the vyAvahArika level, and is seen by the one who does not know the supreme AtmajnAna. On the other hand, there is no duality for one who knows the paramArtha jnAna i.e. 'yatra tvasya sarvam AtmaivAbhUt' - for whom all this is indeed known to be the Atman itself. Although the upanishads are not systematic expositions of a unique philosophical system, the seeds of the later philosophical systematization of advaita vedAnta lie in the teachings of these two upanishadic Rshis.

purANic figures -

The vishNu purANa is in the form of a dialogue between parASara and his student maitreya. The Rshi parASara also finds mention in the advaita guru-paramparA. In this purANa, the dialogue of the sage, Rbhu with nidAgha is also recounted, where the supreme teaching of non-duality is elaborated briefly. This Rbhu gItA is also found in other purANas. Similarly, ashTAvakra is another legendary name associated traditionally with the teaching of advaita in the ashTAvakra-gItA. These figures are thus early advaitins referred to in the purANas.

Others -

Since Sankara provides some quotes from previous writers in his tradition, we come to know of names of a few pre-Sankaran vedAntins, although their works are no longer extant. Thus, bhagavAn upavarsha is the author of vRttis to the brahmasUtra and also probably the bhagavad-gItA. sundara pANDya wrote vArttikas to upavarsha's vRttis, while brahmAnandin wrote the chAndogyopanishad-vAkya, and drAviDAcArya wrote a bhAshya on brahmAnandin's vAkya. [2-4] kASakRtsna, whose opinion is listed in the brahmasUtra (avasthite: - iti kASakRtsna:), may also be taken as a pre-Sankaran advaita vedAntin. The same name is also found in old grammatical tradition. Another very important pre-Sankaran advaitin is bhartRhari, the grammarian. He is the author of works on grammatical philosophy like the vAkyapadIya, and a commentary on patanjali's mahAbhAshya, the famous work on pAnini's grammar. He is also credited with a collection of poems called nIti-Sataka, SRngAra-Sataka and vairAgya Sataka. Although bhartRhari is mainly a grammarian, and his theory of sphoTa-vAda is not accepted by classical advaita vedAnta, his philosophy of grammar is explicitly based on the non-dual brahman. Also, even with philosophical disagreements, bhartRhari's vairAgya-Sataka is often quoted by later advaitins. To be sure, there were also pre-Sankaran representatives of non-advaita vedAnta traditions, many of whom seem to have been bhedAbheda-vAdins of one kind or the other - proponents of a doctrine of identity-in-difference. Chief among them are the names of auDulomi, Asmarathya (both mentioned in the brahmasUtras), bhartRprapanca, brahmadatta, bhartRmitra and bodhAyana.


Last updated on May 5, 1999.

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