Heart of Gaudapada

It is not just a stray chance or strange coincidence that the three articles — “Gaudapada on the Appearance of a world-Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world-Gaudapada on the logical incoherence of the cessation of a non-existent world” — appeared in quick succession in these columns. I suppose the real thrust of what is being pointed to by them becomes apparent only if all the three are considered synergistically and not divorcing one from the other. After all, It is One Consciousness that produced them operating through three voice boxes! And what all the three point to is the “Heart of Gaudapada.”

I used the word Gaudapada in the title of this Post as a synecdoche. It stands for “The Teaching of Highly Revered Gaudapada Acharya,” who marks the beginning of the human-form lineage of Advaita Vedanta, as the following stotra honors the parampara (lineage).

नारायणं पद्मभुवं वसिष्ठं शक्तिं च तत्पुत्रपराशरं च ।
व्यासं शुकं गौडपदं महान्तं गोविन्दयोगीन्द्रमथास्य शिष्यम्

श्री शंकराचार्यमथास्य पद्मपादं च हस्तामलकं च शिष्यम् ।
तं तोटकं वार्तिककारमन्यानस्मद्गुरून् संततमानतोऽस्मि ॥

Meaning: The succession recapitulated is: 1) shrIman nArAyaNa, 2) brahmA, 3) vasiShTha, 4) shakti, 5) parAshara, 6) vyAsa, 7) shuka, 8) gauDapAda, 9) govindapAda, 10) shankarAchArya, and his four disciples, 11) padmapAda, 12) hastAmalaka, 13) toTaka, and 14) sureshvara, and other Gurus.

The most popular and extant text written by Gaudapada is his commentary in verse form (kArikA-s) on the shortest of the Upanishads, viz., mANDUkya. It contains 215 verses. Its core message is that “Nothing has been ever created; there is no cause that could produce a world.” He invokes the “Model of a Magician and his Magically Produced Elephant” to teach the central message of Advaita that brahman alone IS. The later teachers, however, probably keeping in mind the less mature students, adopted the “Model of Superimposition and Sublation” which offers a concession by assuming that there is a creation for believers who think that they are born into a preexisting world. In spite of the fact that Shankara mostly follows the second model, he often fondly recalls the Magician model too in his commentaries (See here).

I was fortunate to be closely associated with Dennis right from rewording the title on the front cover to the blurb on the back cover when he wrote his book “A-U-M – Awakening to Reality” on Gaudapada’s work a few years ago. I cannot forget the innumerable number of mails we exchanged debating and emending the first draft of the book over several months – perhaps a year or more. One moral that came out of that exercise for me was that one really fails to grasp the teaching of Gaudapada, if one were to approach with one’s feet firmly entrenched in a world. One has to shed totally the superimposition-sublation model to grok Gaudapada’s teaching. Of course, it is not easy for the mind which is accustomed to cause-effect relationships – a relationship that doesn’t exist, as Gaudapada avers.

We have Krishna saying in Bhagavad-Gita:

बहूनां जन्मनामन्ते ज्ञानवान्मां प्रपद्यते ।
वासुदेवः सर्वमिति स महात्मा सुदुर्लभः ॥
— 7.11, BG.

Meaning: At the end of many births, the man of Knowledge comes to me, (realizing) that Vasudeva is the all. He is the noble man (mahAtman), very hard to find.

Shankara adds to explain, “At the end of many births occupied in spiritual regeneration as preparatory to the attainment of wisdom, the man of mature Wisdom resorts to Me, Vasudeva, the innermost Self.

Therefore, though some may regard Indians to be queer, even the highest qualified and well-read student of Advaita does not hesitate to fall at the feet of a complete illiterate man calling him a Sage (Nisargadatta) or to prostrate before some one who is not even a matriculate considering him to be Self-realized (Ramana) or to revere a policeman for his direct method of teaching Advaita (Menon). Even Shankara himself set an example by falling at the feet of a hunter-butcher and saw the Lord in him as he reverentially adored Him in his “manISha pancakam.”

One hardly, hence, raises questions on the qualifications even amongst one’s co-seekers. For, one’s Advaitic knowledge is not counted in India in terms of hours, days or even years spent on it, but in terms of Lifetimes, seldom knowable to anyone, as Krishna says in the BG cited above. Equally, therefore, none feels superior or otherwise; a committed seeker is merely focused on the correctness of the Advaitic message that is expressed.

If it helps, we may imagine ourselves to be all like the “sparks of fire” emanating from the Oneness, as brihadAraNyaka says:

अग्नेः क्षुद्रा विस्फुलिङ्गा व्युच्चरन्त्येवमेवास्मादात्मनः सर्वे प्राणाः सर्वे लोकाः सर्वे देवाः सर्वाणि भूतानि व्युच्चरन्ति …| –– 2.1.20, brihadAraNyaka Upanishad.

Meaning: As from a fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, so from this Self emanate all organs, all worlds, all gods and all beings.

For some unknown and indeterminate reason, we shifted our ID from being the Self to being the spark. That is a great fall for the Self. It actually never happened! In order to understand the heart of Gaudapada’s teaching, we just have to stay firmly with the stance “no creation has ever occurred” and be able to decipher the philosophy without wavering even a bit from that position.

Our salutations are to all the earnest seekers.

One thought on “Heart of Gaudapada

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    I think I actually agree with what you say here!

    Just for the benefit of readers who may not be aware that you reviewed the book and argued over numerous points, here is the relevant paragraph from my foreword to the book:

    “Many thanks to Dr. Ramesam Vemuri, who carried out a critical review of the manuscript in addition to providing invaluable copy-editing. Our views did not always seem to coincide but his comments and the subsequent discussions that we had to reach an understanding have resulted in a number of significant improvements to the text.”

    I had a quick look back at our email exchange but, as you imply, there is far too much to read through. Just for interest/amusement, though, here is a comment I made precisely 7 years ago yesterday:

    “I still have great difficulty with your stance when you make statements such as… You always seem to be almost unintentionally acknowledging this appearance yet attempting strenuously to deny it. I think we should definitely abandon the ‘seeing duality’ discussion. I don’t see that I could ever be able to accept your position nor see how you yourself could either.”

    Best wishes,

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