Review of article on Shankara – part 6, and final.

RB (Ramakrishna Balasubrahmanian) continues to take  SSS to task in the final two sections of his article: 5) ‘AVIDYA and MAYA’, and 6) ‘“COMPARATIVE BASHYA STUDIES” AND OTHER SUCH DISEASES’.

Under 5) RB sees an inconsistency in SSS, since the latter had previously stated that avidya and maya are not synonyms, while in another context he had stated that “To avoid confusion, we shall restrict the use of words avidy¯a and m¯ay¯a to denote ignorance and name and form respectively”. The author insists in the equivalence of both terms, as they occur in many texts: “… note that even in these passages avidy¯a is not a “subjective” ignorance, but something which transcends subjectiveness and objectiveness. Otherwise we will be placed in the absurd position of claiming that a subjective error, i.e., avidy¯a, is causing an objective reality, i.e., m¯ay¯a (name and form)”.

By ‘objective reality’ one understands, of course, phenomena, and this is nothing else than mithya, even though RB considers maya as both ontic and epistemic, unlike avidya. In this connection, SSS would agree with his statement: “While the terms are used to mean different things in some contexts, they can also mean the exactly same thing in some other contexts”.

Under section 6) (listed above), we read: “Brahmavidy¯a is a result of hearing and cogitating over ´sruti v¯akyas. Bh¯as. yas are merely meant to help understand some of the subtle points in the ´sruti, which we may overlook. One should not develop the disease of comparing different bh¯as. yas, and cataloguing every difference in their dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s. Such pedantic exercises merely serve to distract from the main thrust of the works, namely the advaita tattva. No doubt there are some differences found in the expositions of various authors. However, thinking that there is an “original and true” method to be found by such pedantic studies of various works is a mere chimera. It merely serves to reinforce the reality of Ambrose Bierces definition of learning as “the ignorance of the studious”.

Those are strong words (could they not be addressed to the author himself?), particularly when intended for such scholar and sage as Sri Satchidanandendra. Finding and making a painstaking exposition of an ‘original and true method’, which RB in a demeaning way calls ‘pedantic’, refers to the exhaustive work carried out by SSS throughout his whole career with respect of the traditional method accepted by Shankaracharia and based on the import of the sentence in the Bh.G. Bh. Xlll.13: ‘For there is the saying of those who know the true tradition, “That which cannot be expressed (in its true form directly) is expressed (indirectly) through false attribution and subsequent retraction”’.

In his Introduction to his monumental work, ‘The Method of the Vedanta’, SSS writes: “Efforts have also been made, within the limits of the author’s capacity, to bring out how the Veda and reason and immediate intuition co-operate together… [along with] an earnest seeker… and (how the Upanishads derive their authority) from their power to lead ultimately to a direct experience of the Self, arising from the cancellation of all play of the empirical means of knowledge with their objects”. Further: “Empty dialectic based on perception and inference alone (sushka-tarka) amount to nothing more than personal opinion, and has no place in this discipline. Here, the term ‘authoritative means of knowledge’ (pramana) is applied (not to the reasoning itself but) to that direct experience in which reasoning must invariably culminate if it is to be called upanishadic in the proper sense of the term”. There is the key.

[Though unnecessary for our purposes, it is worthwhile to complete the above quoted paragraph in SSS’s own words: “And the particular nature of direct experience as acknowledged in Vedanta has been explained as direct experience of the Self. This is what follows when the Self has been realized in its own true nature after all superimposition has been abolished through metaphysical knowledge (vidya). The purpose of this explanation is to rule out the teaching about ‘trance’ (samadhi) and so forth found in other schools.”]

Towards the end of the long article, RB goes into considerable detail concerning the ‘reaction’ of the ‘Tradition’ to SSS’s works, some in favour and some against. To explain why SSS ‘misunderstood’ Shankara, he lists 1) lack of formal training in Sampradayic subjects (nyaya and purva mimamsa), and 2) his (along with Krishnaswamy Iyer, his mentor) basic training was a Western education.

Before the Conclusion, RB ends with the statement: “No doubt SSS’s textual analysis skills are excellent, but the problem I see with SSS’s writings is his obsession with terminology, rather than philosophy. Indeed none of his works are about the philosophy of advaita, but are oriented almost exclusively towards contradicting previous commentators of ´Sa˙nkar¯ac¯arya”.

And in the Conclusion he adds: “I feel Padmap¯ad¯ac¯arya has been meted out a grave injustice by many authors, including SSS, who have largely misunderstood him. The difference between Padmap¯ada and SSS is that the former is a philosopher, while the latter is a textual analyst”(!).

Final comment: To try and make a competent and thorough defence of Swami Satchidananandendra as against the allegations or criticisms of  him by Ramakrishna Balasubrahmanian contained in this article, would require an erudition and, presumably, a formal training in ‘Sampradayic subjects’ which this writer cannot presume to be in possession of.

30 thoughts on “Review of article on Shankara – part 6, and final.

  1. Martin, you probably know this . . . I believe that SSS was adopted as a boy by V S Iyer, who was the teacher of the early Ramakrishna monks (including Sw Nikhilananda). He was close friends with Krishnaswamy Iyer. VSI adopted a strictly philosophical approach to Vedanta (similar to KI), and often compared and contrasted it with western philosophy.


  2. Quite right! Thank you, Venkat. I recently purchased ‘Contribution of Saccidanandendra Saraswati to 20th Century Advaita’, by S. Raganath. It is a chronological account, fairly slim (149 p.), and a little sketchy in places, but fairly complete. In it it is stated that “The entry into Vedanta was through Subrahmanya Iyer. To quote Sharma [SSS’s original name], ‘Iyer not only provided the food for the body, but also the philosophical thoughts, whether it was the result of my previous births, or grace of God, I do not know, but the constant discussions which used to take place in Iyer’s house regarding the basic tenets of Shankya and Vedanta had a profound influence on me'”.
    “During the Shankara Jayanty celebrations when Sharma listened to the discurses given by Virupaksha Sastry [same person, I take] he never had the notion that Sastriji would teach him in future. As Sharma was already impressed by Sastry’s vast scholarship and command over the language, it was his fortune to become his student later.”

    K.A. Krishnaswamy Iyer was certainly an important influence. His excellent book, ‘Vedanta or the Science of Reality’ was improved in its 2nd ed. of 1965 by SSS, who also contributed with a long section at the beginning: ‘Introductory Remarks’, where he says: “… to this day this is the only work in any language which, as the author claims, “treats Vedanta as a science based on common life and experience”.

  3. Dear Martin

    I take it that SSS refers to Sri Satchidadanda Saraswati .. can you tell me where I might find the first five parts of the review ?


  4. Martin –

    The reference to SSS in your latest post, kindled some recollections in me .. of furious debates (to put it mildly) that took place a few years ago, between the ‘SSS inspired’ advaitins and the ‘SSS opposed’ advaitins 🙂 .. each claiming Sankaracharya’s exclusive support to justify their own points of view .. particularly on the nature of ‘avidya’ .. whether (as RB writes) it is epistemic (related to knowing) or onctic (a reality principle) .. I even was present at some of these debates in some very quaint villages in Karnataka .. and most notably in Hole Narsipur, at the Adhyatmaprakasha Karyalaya founded by SSS himself in 1920.

    So, it was with some interest I read RB’s write-up ‘A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by Sa ˙nkara Bhagavadp¯ada’ .. and it looks like the debate is still very much alive and kicking (the document, however, does not contain a date .. was it a recent one ?) !!



  5. Yes, with pleasure. You are correct re SSS, though the spelling is ‘Satchidanandendra’. You get access to all six parts by clicking on ‘Martin’ under categories list on the right side of the panel. Greetings,


    P.S. I will reply to your question, and make some other comments, hopefully tomorrow.


    2) (From:
    MARTHA DOHERTY ON SATCHIDANANDENDRA SARASWATI SWAMIJI A COMMENDATION AND NOT A CONDEMNATION )….. A Review of Martha Doherty’s paper published in The Journal of Indian Philosophy (2005) — found in Internet
    published in the Journal of Indian Philosophy (2005) is taken up for a brief review. May be the same has been already commented upon by others; some may agree with these observations, while many may disagree; some may applaud, while many may condemn; some may react soberly, while others sharply; may be none reacts; what more may be no one even bothers to read this in full. But still, the review is presented to the readers just to bring to light that Martha Doherty’s (hence forth referred to as M) endeavour to condemn Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji (herein after referred to as Swamiji) has in fact resulted in unexpected commendation. Attempt of M to portray Swamiji in poor light by all means, overt and covert, has ended up in presenting Swamiji in a way better than any one would have desired. Those who are unable to control the curiosity and those who have lesser patience to go through the sequence of this review may straight away read Para 70 of the review to know how the condemnation has transformed into commendation. Para 53 also may be referred to for the views of the custodians of the Advaitic tradition with regard to Swamiji. Others who are in no hurry to jump to the concluding part may follow the sequence of the review.

    53. Before closing the discussion on the subject matter proper, attention of the readers are drawn to the opinions of the pontiffs of the Kāncī, Śr_n)gerī and Dwāraka Śan)karācārya Mutts with regard to Swamiji.

    The late Sri Chandraśekharendra Saraswati Swamiji of the Kāncī Kāmakot_i Pīt_ha who had invited swamiji in 1961 to Karaikudi in Tamilnadu had described Swamiji as a living example of a sage who had lived all his life steeped in contemplation on the Paramārtha. Later on, in 1979 the Kāncī Pīt_hādīśa persuaded and prompted the close devotees of Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji to celebrate his centenary the next year (Gangoli D.B – Sri atchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji Page 2). His Holiness concurred to the views of Swamiji and expressed it openly in an interview to Sri Devaraya Kulkarni (Recorded in the Souvenir – Birth Centenary of Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji). In spite of being the head of a great institution, the Kāncī Pīt_hādīśa sent his successor designate Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamiji to Holenarsipur to pay respects to Swamiji (This information is given by HH Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamiji Himself). Moreover financial assistance was rendered by the Kāncī Kāmakot_i Pīt_ha towards publication of Swamiji’s works.

    Acceptance of Swamiji’s views with regard to mutual adhyāsa as avidyā by the Kāncī pontiff is confirmed from the recorded speech in Sanskrit rendered by His Holiness (The audio cassette of the same is available with many of His devotees. The recorded speech is transcribed by Dr. K. Prashanth, Dept of Sanskrit Vivekananda College, Chennai – 4, titled Janmarāhityam katham sam)bhavis_yati (Meaning: How birthlessness will take place?). In that discourse His Holiness states that “The cause of appearance of duality is mithyājnānam i.e. anyathājnānam (to know a thing as what it is not) and by the destruction of this anyathājnānam alone birthlessness is attained.” Here it is seen that His Holiness refers to misapprehension (adhyāsa) as the cause of duality and not to any mūlāvidyā, the destruction of which ensures birthlessness as held by the traditionalists.

    The then pontiff of Śr_n)gerī Śārada Pīt_ha late Sri Abhinavavidyātīrtha Swamiji had paid a visit to Holenarsipur to meet Swamiji. His Holiness had offered financial aid for the publication of Swamiji’s magnum opus the VPP at that time. His Holiness said on that occasion, “By my personal visit many of my doubts have been solved. Having dedicated your whole life for the propagation of Śan)kara-siddhānta you are a true devotee indeed.” (Gangoli D.B 1997 ibid Page 30 and The Publisher’s Note to VPP).

    The pontiff of Dwāraka Śārada Pīt_ha had offered financial assistance towards the publication of Swamiji’s book, Mānd_ukya Rahasya Vivr_tih_ (Acknowledgements Mānd_ukya Rahasya Vivr_tih_ by Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji).

    Moreover, almost all of the contributors to the Vedāntavidvadgosthī speaking against mūlāvidyā were groomed under the traditionalists’ school of Vedanta only, who on finding the Truth in the Swamiji’s stand shifted their allegiance to Śankara alone devoid of the sub-commentators.

    54. Straying away from the main focus of the topic admitted by M to be “The fidelity of the post-Śankara commentators to Śankara on avidyā” M imputes unto Swamiji Historical/Social considerations, traditional and modern influences etc. Under this head M makes baseless surmises and false allegations & statements.

    Mutually contradicting statements are not in wanting. Here also M [Martha Doherty] exhibits lack of knowledge not only of Swamiji’s views but also that of others like Bhāskarācārya, Nāgeśa Bhatta etc. M also resorts to selective presentation of facts and thus exhibits her crusader’s zeal to portray Swamiji in as poor light as possible. Every of this above made remarks are substantiated herein below.

    70. Lot has been said so far; false allegations and baseless surmises were brought to light; statements factually incorrect were exposed; citations substantiating certain statements were shown to be out of context and in some cases self-defeating; statements attributed to Swamiji, but not found in the originals were discovered; incomplete and incorrect understanding of not only Śankara and Swamiji but also the views of traditionalists were enumerated; quotations made partially and out context were pointed out; issues raised, even though extraneous to the admitted scope were reviewed; withholding of complete facts and resort to partial reporting were singled out; how finding fault in Swamiji amounts to finding fault in Śankara was shown; translations not faithful to the original were pointed out; self-contradictory statements were laid bare; most important of all, how not a single ground of Swamiji against the tenability of Mūlāvidyā is controverted, was shown;
    However what is yet to be shown is the final outcome of the question – fidelity to Śankara, admitted to be the main focus of M’s paper. In this regard attention of readers is drawn to the following statements of M.

    a. He (Swamiji) bases this (avidyā means mutual adhyāsa of the self and the not-self) on a definition of avidyā given by Śankara in his introduction to BSBh. (Page 215)
    b. It (Swamiji’s understanding of mithyā) is based on satya and anrta in the Taittirīyopanisad Bhāsya (2.1) BSBh (2.1.11), Kāthakopanisad Bhāsya(1.2.14) and Upadeśasahasrī – prose (2.81) (page 224)
    c. For Satchidanandendra, on the other hand the focus is entirely on Śankara
    d. The question that informed his entire life’s work can be formulated as “What did Śankara say?” (Page 236).
    e. He deals with possible points of contentions in the wake of other commentaries by measuring them against Śankara. (Page 236)
    f. The difference between Satchidanandendra and the tradition on this point (measurement with reference to Śankara) is a radical one. (Page 236)
    g. Satchidanandendra effectively places Śankara above the tradition and is willing to separate Śankara from tradition on a point of conflict. (Page 236)

    The verdict is clear. M has vindicated Swamiji, though inadvertently, by stating that Swamiji follows Śankara out and out. No qualms on account of Swamiji being treated as an outcast from the ‘Advatic tradition’ so long as he is admitted to follow Śankara. What more can the earnest seekers want, than the confirmation of unflinching loyalty of Swamiji to Śankara and Śankara alone?

  7. Hello Martin,

    I cannot stop admiring your patient, thorough, in-depth and yet balanced analysis of the 33-page write up of Dr. RB who obviously left no stone unturned in defense of Martha’s thesis. Who is prejudiced and where comes out into clear bright illumination.

    Perhaps, not too minor a detail in the context of this analysis, one may also note that Martha did her thesis work as a disciple of the AVG group, if I am not wrong.


  8. Dear Martin

    You have correctly pointed out the merit in SSS’s only aim to remain true to Sankara’s commentaries. At the same time, we must ask, ‘What does it mean to be true to Sankara ?’. This can lead to the root question ‘What is the benefit of vedanta to me, as an individual ?’. I believe the ‘traditionalists’ have a better answer to this question than the so called ‘non conformists’. After all, vedanta is not about winning any debate .. I think – and I could be wrong here – SSS was obsessed with gaining acceptance by and respect of the majority traditionalists through winning such a debate .. rather than focus on the personal spiritual benefit of clearly grasping Sankara’s teachings

    Everywhere in the bhashyams, Sankara’s interpretation of the upanishadic message is the same .. the jiva’s problem is samsara, the cause of samsara is avidya and atma vidya will ‘displace’ avidya (some of us do not like the word ‘destroy’ ..that will trap us again in the whirlpool questions like ‘Is avidya epistemic or ontic ?’ etc etc). Sankara’s central message is : If you have acknowledged samsara as your basic problem, you will have no difficulty in understanding what avidya is. ‘अपरा हि विद्या अविद्या सा निराकर्तव्या । तद्विषये हि विदिते न किञ्चित् तत्त्वतो विदितं स्यात्’ – Mundaka Upanishad Bhashyam – Avidya is nothing but Apara Vidya. That has to be rejected. By knowing about that, nothing much of substance is known.

    Thanks again for your efforts to create this forum for discussion.


  9. Thank you Ramesam. I think that you may mistake RB as being the author of the 32 p. article critical of SSS, for its actual author, SK Arun Murti, whose title is: ‘THE MULAVIDYA CONTROVERSY; WAS SHANKARA RESPONSIBLE?’, published in 2008 by Journal Indian Philosophy.

    In fact, I don’t know who is the author of the article (excerpts of) printed above, and critical of Martha D’s theses: MARTHA DOHERTY ON SATCHIDANANDENDRA SARASWATI SWAMIJI A
    COMMENDATION AND NOT A CONDEMNATION, published in The Journal of Indian Philosophy (2005). Is it known? I have suspected all along that it may be Atmachaitanya himself (or Subhana Saxena?), but may be wrong.
    I, or anybody else, will likely come back here with some more information or comments.

    • Namaste,

      I just happened to find this thread while browsing this site, so I haven´t been a registred user here for more than 3 minutes!

      The author of the article refuting Martha Doherty´s views is not Subhanu Saxena or Atmachaitaniya, but instead Swami Jnanaprasunendra Saraswati, who resides in Mathur village, Karnataka. He got sannyas diksha from Kanchi Shankaracharya Swami Jayendra Saraswati some 11-12 years ago, but his vedantic studies took place in Mathur under Ved Br Sri Ashwatta Narayana Avadhani, who in turn is a close disciple of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati.

      I would love to take part of this discussion after having read all the postings here!

      Warmest regards

      • Quite right! – thank you Shri Shivashankar – ; I found that out only a few days ago; and also that Shri Subhanu Saxena also studied under Shri ANA together with Sw. Jnanaprasudendra. It is an honour for me to communicate with you.

        I have just completely revised my six-parts article into a single piece with six sections in it and converted it into a pdf. My intention is to publish it in the Yahoo group, of which you (and I) are members, within one or two days. Here it is, though not sure whether it can be opened as such. With kind regards,


        • Dear Martin,
          Thank you for your kind words!

          Your pdf-file opens without any problems, although due to some technical issue the diacritical marks appear in front of instead of above the letters. But please go ahead and post the file in the Yahoo-group! Your essay would hopefully lead to some interesting discussions.

          I will study your essay and also re-read the interesting observations Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian does in his essay (I ready it back in 2007, so I have forgot some of the vital points he is making). I have studied the book on SSS by S. Ranganath before, but honestly I don´t find it very impressive.

          My own views have changed over the years, and what I wrote some 10 years back regarding SSS´s interpretations may be different from my views today. More about this later!

          Warmest regards

          • Shri Shivashankar (S.L.)’s remark that “what I wrote some 10 years back regarding SSS´s interpretations may be different from my views today” is very striking!

            It pushed me to the edge of my seat!!

            Can’t wait to know what has changed.


  10. Dear KR:

    The answer to the question ‘What is the benefit of vedanta to me, as an individual?’, as you pose it, clearly is ‘liberation’, and I would think that the truth – knowledge of what is real – has priority with regard of ‘a personal spiritual benefit’, at least to those who are primarily drawn to it in an uncompromising way. The question of traditionalists vs. ‘non-conformists’ (direct followers of Shankara) as to which one of the two camps is more conducive to the above goal of liberation is a matter of personal inclination and prior conditioning (intellectual and other influences, i.e., ‘nature + nurture’), therefore it is not something which is completely neutral or purely objective. But from the perspective of truth itself (should I say, paramarthika vada?), one may conclude, given one’s experience and understanding, that some doctrines, ways, etc. are more congenial with it. Again, there are different temperaments, aptitudes, and limitations; hence it is dangerous to generalize as to which way is better, for example, bhakta or jnana.

    Concerning SSS’ ‘obsession with gaining acceptance, and winning a debate’, S. Saxena has made the following remark: “Swamiji wanted to provoke discussion, and build the desire for people to study Shankara’s writings directly without blind reliance on what they have heard… He frequently states that if his writings have been able to provoke an honest debate then he has achieved his goal (see his intro to Vedantins Meet). Even though he felt he was correct, he fully expected people to challenge what he is saying (pariprasnena sevayA as per Gita), so they can strengthen their own conviction. Satyameva jayate was his maxim.”

    I have no other comments about the rest of what you say, which I see as being correct.

    Tomorrow I will post the URL of a detailed chart, prepared by Subhanu Saxena, concerning the two schools of vedantins and their differences with respect of several significant points.

  11. Dear Martin

    In the spirit of mutual discovery, I would have liked to comment on your post in more detail .. but I am not sure how far you want to take this discussion. Nevertheless, the ‘non conformists’ or ‘direct followers of Sankara’ idea seems to me, to be riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Is 2 + 2 = 4 a fact, because it is valid for me or because that is what my teacher taught me in primary school ?



  12. Shri KR has been raising quite a few thought-provoking points in his observations and comments that it has been a delight to follow through the competent and knowledgeable contributions of all the discussants in this interesting thread.

    Mirthful it may seem and surely tangential it is (to the main issues at debate), I am tempted to say, in answer to the latest poser of Shri KR that “Yes, it is equal to ‘4’ for you because that’s what your teacher taught you in the primary school!” It is just a concept. There is NO absolute intrinsic self-evident Truth in that statement. It is a learnt knowledge, accepted by all by convention!

    [Anthropological evidence establishes beyond all reasonable doubt that there are and were many tribes that had been living for centuries without the need of any counting or numerical concepts beyond two – one, two and many. Matter ends; no 2 + 2 = 4.

    And on another note, the question “What is the benefit of vedanta to me, as an individual ?” may appear, on the face of it, to be valid and rational in a mundane sense, but the response that Advaita Vedanta gives is so explosive that the “individual” does not exist anymore if he/she really understands the teaching!

    While I do not like to preempt the reply of Martin in providing us the Chart prepared by the highly learned and well-informed Dr. Saxena, just one more point before I close. IMHO, the main difference between SSSS and the other ‘traditionalists’ lies not in what the fundamental teaching of Advaita Vedanta is, but in the need for and conceptualization of some issues which Shankara preferred to gloss over in preference to the main message on the falsity of the sense of separate ‘self.’]


  13. Dear Shri Ramesam

    Nice to read your comments and entirely agree that the conversations on these threads are very enjoyable; and a useful means for doing vedanta vichara !

    You would surely have guessed that the equation I really have in mind when I mention 2 + 2 = 4, is अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि (I am Brahman). Would your thoughts be identical with respect to this also ? 🙂

    Further, reading the last paragraph of your post, I get the feeling that you are making a distinction between Advaita and Sankara’s ‘take’ (for want of a better word) on Advaita. Are you ?

    Kind regards.


    • Dear Shri KR,

      Sorry. I do not think that the equation 2 + 2 = 4 represents the Advaita equation aham = brahman. You can see the difference in both the equations — the number of operands, number of items on both sides of the equations, the presence of an operator in one equation etc.

      2. The last para of my Comment in my posting of 09/10/2014 talks of the difference between the ‘traditionalist’ school of thought and that of SSSS referred to by you earlier. I was hinting at ‘mUlAvidyA’, introduced in post Shankara times. Thanks to Martin, we now have the link to the Chart prepared by Dr. Saxena and it explains very clearly what mUlAvidyA is.


      • Dear Shri Ramesam

        Let me clarify .. I admit I was trying to be a little too cute :-), sorry about that .. Let me ask my question again: Is “अहं ब्रह्मास्मि” a fact, because it is evidently valid for me or is it because that is what my teacher taught me in the vedanta class ?

        I guess the implication of my question is, if there had never been a Sankara, would there still be Advaita and Atma Gyanis today ?

        Which leads to .. (with ref to your earlier post) .. if there are ‘some issues that Sankara preferred to gloss over’, they surely can not be issues that are essential to the understanding of Advaita. For all of us who consider Sankara as the final authority in the interpretation of the upanishadic passages, both what he writes and what he does not write are equally important. And if the debate between our two parties in question is about what Sankara himself might consider a non-essential topic, is it then worth all this trouble ?



        • Dear Shri KR,

          Thank you for the direct and clear questions.

          You may agree or not, here is my take for whatever it is worth:

          1. “…. if there had never been a Sankara, would there still be Advaita and Atma Gyanis today ?”

          Ramesam: Shankara was indisputably the greatest exponent and promoter of ‘kevala advaita.’ But by his own admission and from other historical evidences, we know that he did not invent / discover Advaita. The Advaitic concepts precede him by thousands of years. Secondly, I know personally that there are people today in the West who, without any prior exposure to Upanishads or Adviata, arrived at the Non-dual understanding on their own “inquiry” into Truth! You can find some examples at my Blog:

          2. “…. And if the debate between our two parties in question is about what Sankara himself might consider a non-essential topic, is it then worth all this trouble ?”

          Ramesam: Precisely.

          That’s the point that comes out clearly from the Chart kindly provided by Martin. It is like a fight about the ‘pink elephant below your bed’ which never existed!

          (You may like to see the last 3-4 paras in Part 1 of the Series on “Process Models and Practice Methods in Advaita” here : ).


    • Dear Martin

      Thank you for posting Shri Subhanu Saxena’s chart to clarify possible misunderstandings of SSS’s position on various issues, in particular मूलाविद्या (Moolaavidya).

      My attention was immediately drawn to the last statement in that chart ..
      “(Corollary of above: We followers of Swamiji should also not blindly accept what he said. This would be a disservice to him and what he stood for-he wished for earnest seekers to engage in the serious study of Shankara’s bhashyas with the aid of a competent Guru)”
      The so called traditionalists also are supposed to have this attitude .. and that is what their prayer is “सदाशिव समारंभां शंकराचार्य च मध्यमां अस्मदाचार्य पर्यन्तां वन्दे गुरुपरंपराम्” (SadAshiva SamAramBAm etc). If so, where is the quarrel between the two ? Who is the contestant here ? (अत्र प्रतिवादि कः ?). Shri Ramesam also seems to second this observation.

      Having said this, what would have been more interesting is for Shri Saxena to have picked out particular statements from Sankara’s commentaries where the interpretations of the two parties differ substantially and summarized those differences. That surely would have been fun.

      Kind regards


  14. Dear Shri Ramesam

    You have observed in your previous post : “I know personally that there are people today in the West who, without any prior exposure to Upanishads or Adviata, arrived at the Non-dual understanding on their own “inquiry” into Truth! ”

    I have absolutely no difficulty in agreeing with the possibility of the above. In fact, I was somewhat surprised with comments (may be in some other thread), that an individual’s cultural background influenced, in some way, his discovery and understanding of advaita ! Sankara himself has said this in his upanishad commentary “आत्म-अवबोधन समर्थमपि स्वभावेन सर्वप्राणिनां ज्ञानं …” (Even though every human being is, by his very nature, capable of knowing the Atma ..). And the upanishads themselves expand upon this “नायमात्मा प्रवचनेन लभ्यः न मेधया न बहुना श्रुतेन …” (The Atma is not attained by mere academic pursuit of the upanishads, even if this is in the form of repeated shravanam, memorizing the scriptures even along with the meaning etc) .. Then there is grand declaration of Rishi Vamadeva from within his mother’s womb .. quoted in the Br Up “अहं मनुरभवं सूर्यश्चेति” (I was Manu, I was Surya) !

    But the greatness of the upanishads and Sankara lies in the formalization of the advaita vedanta system as a body of knowledge, complete with its technical lexicon and methodologies, that can be systematically taught by a teacher to a student (I have still not read the links you have provided me in your post .. perhaps it will be along similar lines .. but I shall do so soon). In this respect, the upanishads and Sankara belong not exculsively to a ‘preferred’ class of people in India but to humanity as a whole.

    An interesting parallel to vedanta, a system that originated and has been developed in the east, is science .. which the west has developed and institutionalized to such a fine extent that it is now truly universal .. with absolutely no cultural or any other barriers for its entry and practice. Einstein and Newton are as much venerated in the east as they are in the west. In my opinion, the schools of vedanta can learn something from this.

    I hope I have not rambled along too much .. thanks for your patience !!



  15. To add to the enriching comments by Ramesam and KR on the human capacity for recognizing the ultimate truth (‘the sages call it by many names’) whatever the cultural background, a case can be made for Plato (and Socrates), Dionisyus of Areopagite, Meister Eckhart and many other philosophers, mystics – or both combined – in the realm of Western non-duality. Without forgetting outstanding figuers from the Islamic tradition, such as Ibn ‘Arabi, Al-Hallaj, Bistami, Mulla Sadra, and some others.

    Yesterday I found the following article quite accidentally in Internet, by a Western philosopher living in Brazil:

    “Perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of a non-doctrinal discourse, which combines reasoning as (i) a rigorous logical discourse and as (ii) a direct means of selfrealization (moksha) grounded on knowledge of totality (jñana and detachment (vairagya), is contemporary author Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati’s advaita vedanta (‘nonduality’) as presented in his Sanskrit magum opus Vedanta Prakriya Pratyabhijña (The Method of the Vedanta) (Saraswati VPP). Elaborating on Shankaracharya’s postulation of the Upanishads as ‘secret knowledge’ or ‘secret instruction’ (rahasya-upadesha, Satchidanandendra Saraswati posits a sort of apophatic mystagogy that seeks to reinstate Upanishadic thinking (adhyaropa-apavada) as a rigorous rational discipline understood as (i) a ‘devise of imagination’ (kalpita-upaya) acceptable only on account of its results, viz.,(ii) self-realisation (anubhuti/moksha). This follows necessarily from the advaitic (‘nondual’) character of Reality – linguistically referred to through the words atman, when the unicist character of subject-ness is to be stressed, or brahman, when the unicist character of ‘object-ness’ is to be stressed – and its non-conceptualisable nature. Accordingly, Satchidanandendra Saraswati sustains that Shankaracharia’s words are essentially words of instruction having no positive epistemological relevance per se. Any attempt at extracting from them a metaphysics, a cosmology, a psychology or any other form of speculative philosophy is doomed to represent a dangerous misunderstanding.”

    (Excerpt from Dilip Loundo’s article, ‘What’s Philosophy After All? The Intertwined Destinies of Greek Philosophy and Indian Upanishadic Thinking’ ….. Brazil)

  16. Dear Shri Ramesam, Martin

    I read through the passages you have indicated in the link you posted .. and I agree with what you have said. By the way, the consolidation of various ideas on advaita in one collection is very impressive indeed .. kindly accept my good wishes. And thanks for pointing me here.

    Again, there is always something we can find upon which to talk 🙂 ..
    Indeed there are no pink elephants .. but what if someone does see them everywhere ?

    And Martin has just posted an extract from a recent magazine article on philosophy, that I find very interesting .. particularly the last paragraph .. and is possibly related to the question I just raised.

    “Accordingly, Satchidanandendra Saraswati sustains that Shankaracharia’s words are essentially words of instruction having no positive epistemological relevance per se. Any attempt at extracting from them a metaphysics, a cosmology, a psychology or any other form of speculative philosophy is doomed to represent a dangerous misunderstanding.”

    What are your views on this ? To me it is a very insightful summary of SSS’s position on advaita. More pink elephants .. I think !!



  17. I consider the only metaphysics as being not other than the unnamable, indescribable, and unknowable transcendental Principle (the summum bonum of Plato, and unmoved mover of Aristotle), which alone is unsublatable, everything else being sublatable. At the same time, in ‘this world’ there is no higher, or more complete and satisfying philosophy, in my opinion, than advaita vedanta. One can also make comparisons (why not?) between forms of art, including opinions about art and artists, history and its protagonists (about politics, our neighbours – these non-judjmental), about Mythology, etc. Ultimately everything arises from Consciousness, abides there, and then dissolved into Consciousness.

    Taking once again the role of Mercury (the herald of the gods) I am sharing here a fragment which I consider quite appropriate and in the spirit of this current discussion. You may blame me, or McFarlane, for using, and adopting, the term ‘mysticism’.

    Ineffability of Truth

    Mysticism is not ultimately ascribing to, believing in, defending, or verifying any particular dogma, revelation, scripture, or philosophical system. Rather, its primary purpose is to awaken a non-conceptual knowledge through identity that revelas Reality in all its ineffable glory. No single scripture, dogma, doctrine or philosophical system has a monopoly on Truth, since none can contain the wholeof the incomprehensibly vast ocean of Truth. The best any teaching can do is reveal a sliver of Truth from a particular perspective, and hope that it is effective in pointing beyond itself to the ineffable Truth. So, although all genuine mystical teachings flow directly from the same Truth and embody the same principles, these expressions of Truth will naturally vary among mystics, traditions, cultures, and ages. Genuine mystics recognize and acknowledge this diversity of expression.

    Yet, mystical teachings are not arbritary. Although no fixed dogma, scripture, philosophy, or teaching contains the ultimate truth, this does not imply that all teachings and points of view have equal value. No place on Earth is the Sun itself, yet the sunlight shines brighter in an Arizona summer tan in an Oregon Winter. Similarly, in the context of human life, there are teachings that bring more light and those that bring more darkness. And the principles taught by the genuine mystics are as sure to bring light to life in this context as a summer in Arizona is sure to warm you up. In the realm of pure logical possibility, of course, all perspectives are equal. But we live in an actual world that has its actual moral and spiritual laws, just as much as it has actual physical laws. In principle, the world might have been created otherwise, but it was in fact created this particular way, and any beings living in this world are subject to its laws. As a result, some logical possibilities are more relevant, valuable, and effective in this world tan others. Thus, true mystics will defend and even fight for selfless spiritual values that support the embodiment of Light in the world, and oppose the selfish values that bring darkness. At the same time, true mystics will acknowledge that all perspectives ultimately dissolve in the One Ineffable Truth.

    (Extract from ‘Genuine Mysticism’ – Thomas J. McFarlane, Summer 2000.

  18. Dear Martin

    An enjoyable post indeed (at least for me !!). More than the word ‘mysticism’, what I found particularly interesting was :

    McFarlane : ” .. In the context of human life, there are teachings that bring more light and those that bring more darkness”

    And your own comment : “.. in ‘this world’ there is no higher, or more complete and satisfying philosophy, in my opinion, than advaita vedanta”

    Combining these two, we can say that advaita vedanta’s relevance is directly connected with the ‘human experience’ in ‘this world’. This connection is in the form of the human goals in life we call पुरुषार्थ (purushartha) and every individuals struggle to achieving them साध्य-साधन रूप (ends and means). The universal feeling of distress from a lack of complete success in this struggle is what we call संसार (samsara). Vedanta is a response to the individual’s search for a means to achieving one’s ends in life .. and not the other way around. Without the articulation of one’s पुरुषार्थ (धर्म-अर्थ-काम-मोक्ष dharma-artha-kama-moksha) vedanta is meaningless and will remain an empty shell only .. a solution in search of a problem. Even in our threads here, we have seen some who have refuted vedanta/knowledge as being downright meaningless. The question I myself raised earlier in this thread “What is the benefit of vedanta to me, as an individual ?” should be read in this context. All of us are well aware of our own samsara and each one of us has an intense desire to transcend the same .. but do not know how to do that .. (here we must exclude anyone says ‘I do not have any samsara’ 🙂 ..) and are constantly searching for a ‘trusted source’ who will provide that knowledge .. ‘तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत् …’ (to know that one may approach a guru) .. vedanta is the teaching of such a guru .. that one must accept implicitly. One may seek clarifications from the guru but one may not argue with the guru from a standpoint of equality. If at all one cannot resist the urge to argue one’s case, this has to be done with one’s own self, within one’s own mind .. in order to reconcile the guru’s teaching with one’s own logical reasoning (मननं mananam, निदिध्यासनं nidhidhyasanam).

    I would like to show the connection of my comments above to the original subject matter of this thread – Sankara & SSS (pardon my abbreviation).

    The subject matter of the upanishad is the परम पुरुषार्थ (the highest end, moksha). Sankara has consistently interpreted moksha as an end to be ‘achieved’ by every individual, in his lifetime, in this world only and not in any mystic out-of-this-world manner .. recall expressions like ‘merges with Brahman’, ‘transcends the three states of experience’, ‘drops the body’ etc etc. A few quotes from Sankara’s commentaries are presented to clearly indicate Sankara’s views
    (.) “प्रयोजनं च असकृत् ब्रवीति यो ब्रह्म वेद ब्रह्मैव भवति” (The upanishad repeatedly emphasizes the benefit of ब्रह्मविद्या brahma vidya ..i.e vedanta is a means to an end)
    (.) “तरति शोकं तरति पाप्मानं” (The ब्रह्मविद्वान् the knower of Brahman, handles all his problems in life with his knowledge जीवन्नेवातिक्रान्तो भवति even while living in this world .. i.e. vedanta is a व्यावहारिक विषय: vyAvahArika subject having relevance in the domain of ‘duality’)
    (.) “..अविद्यादि संसारकारणं च अत्यन्तम् अवसादयति विनाशयति” , “हृदयग्रन्थ्यादि-संसारकारणस्य-आत्यन्तिक विनाशः स्यात्” (How does vedanta deliver the benefit ? By causing the utter destruction of avidya, the cause of samsara .) Food for thought for the ‘SSS school’ re: whether avidya is bhavarupa etc.
    (.) “..अविद्याग्रन्थिं विकिरतीह् सोम्य” (he overcomes avidya इह here and now, जीवन्नेव न मृतः सन् even while living, not dead)
    (.) “..इहैव सर्वे प्रविलीयन्ति कामाः” (all the obstacles for his moksha are resolved इहैव here and now .. तिष्ठत्येव शरीरे even while remaining in the body)
    (.) “…परान्तकाले परामृताः परिमुच्यन्ति सर्वे” (At the time of moksha, the ‘final death’, they achieve immortality .. जीवन्त एव ब्रह्मभूताः they become Brahman even while living)

    On the other hand, “Satchidanandendra Saraswati sustains that Shankaracharia’s words are essentially words of instruction having no positive epistemological relevance per se. Any attempt at extracting from them a metaphysics, a cosmology, a psychology or any other form of speculative philosophy is doomed to represent a dangerous misunderstanding.” – Dilip Loundo quoted by Martin in one of his earlier posts. How unfortunate !! Is this not शून्यवाद ? (Shunyavada). To be honest, I have not read any of SSS’s works and my knowledge of his views on advaita & Sankara is only second hand .. obtained in blogs such as these and some interaction with SSS followers. I cannot believe SSS would himself have held such a view .. and we shall not therefore make him an object of our criticism. But the charge we must make on his followers is that they have confused themselves by mixing-up Brahman and Brahma Vidya .. the two are not the same. Both are true. One in an Absolute sense. The other in a relative (vyavaharika) sense. SSS’s followers reject there is anything at all called व्यावहारिक सत्यम् (vyavaharika satyam) .. hence their problem with मूलाविद्या (MoolAvidyA) .. they will challenge you ‘Show me where in Sankara’s commentaries you find the term व्यावहारिक सत्यम्’ !! Vedanta is about Brahma Vidya (the name is surely confusing .. Atma Vidya is a better word) and its benefits to human beings.

    Finally, I happily join you in the glorification of advaita vedanta.
    “प्रमाणोत्पादिता विद्या प्रबलं प्रमाणं बिना न नश्यति ।
    वेदान्तात् प्रबलं मानं न ईक्ष्यते ॥”
    Any knowledge obtained thru a valid pramAnam can never be destroyed except by a more powerful pramAnam. A more powerful pramAnam than vedanta has not been discovered.

    This post became a bit longer than what I had intended ..



  19. Dear KR:

    (Sorry I cannot read Sanscrit – only memorize a couple of dozen words with their meanings)

    I would like to comment on a few points raised by you; the rest of your last post is, certainly, unobjectionable, and I fully concur with it. My comments can be completed by 1) the fragments extracted from ‘Vedantins Meet’, by SSS (below), and 2) the chart prepared by Shri Saxena on the distinctions between the two viewpoins (orthodox or traditionalist, and Swamiji’s –SSS) which I adjuncted in this chain of discussion further up.

    1. re Atma vidya or Brahma vidya. First, avidya is – according to Shankara and SSS – nothing else than mutual superimposition of Self and not-self, which is endless and innate in man, and is actually a false notion or concept (thus, not bhavarupa, positive in nature). It is “a device employed by the Upanishads for the purpose of teaching the Truth… Vidya, in its turn, is not knowledge of Atman in the ordinary sense… Atman can never be an object of knowledge. It is rather the intuition of Atman by Atman himself” (‘Shankara’s Clarification of Certain Vedantic Concepts’, SSS). Thus, what you write: “the charge we must make on his (SSS’s) followers is that they have confused themselves by mixing-up Brahman and Brahma Vidya .. the two are not the same. Both are true. One in an Absolute sense. The other in a relative (vyavaharika) sense”, cannot be supported. It is undeniable, though, that Brahma vidya, as contained in the BhG, the Upanishads, and BS, is most valuable, even indispensable… (“to rely on Vedantic texts, not as an authority to be believed in, but to be verified by intuition also supported by Vedantic reasoning”), as Swamiji wrote.

    2.” Vyavahara… to think, speak, and act as though one were the knower, the actor and experiencer of the fruits of action” – in ‘Contribution of Saccidanandendra Saraswathi to 20th Century Advaita’, p.57. As far as I know, this notion is accepted by the followers of SSS, as just noted, contrary to what you say. As in the case of the concept mithya, could vyavaharika equally be dispensed with? It would appear that the sum and substance of it is represented by the two kinds of knowledge described in Mundaka Up.

    3. “Satchidanandendra Saraswati sustains that Shankaracharia’s words are essentially words of instruction having no positive epistemological relevance per se. Any attempt at extracting from them a metaphysics, a cosmology, a psychology or any other form of speculative philosophy is doomed to represent a dangerous misunderstanding.” – Dilip Loundo
    I cannot agree with that. Is advaita Vedanta not a philosophy? Some have called it science, some, mysticism. Could we not say that it is all three?
    In this connection, the Mundaka Up. regards even the Vedas as lower knowledge, the products of language, and it has to be transcended. Language can be classified as conceptual, and non-conceptual. Scientific language is characterized by having clear referents. Not so concepts such as Atman, Brahaman, and religious language in general; it is evocative rather than informative, and its function is “to awaken the listener to the transcendent reality and to catapult him, as it were, into a mode of being radically different from the ordinary dualistic mode of being”. (‘Reality and Mysticism’ – Perspectives in the Upanishads – , by R. Puligandla).

    (From ‘Vedantins Meet’, by SSS)
    Adhyasa is mistaking one thing for another, and avidya is the mutual superimposition of the Self and the not-self… there is no other Ignorance worth the name… since no human thought process is possible without the presupposition of adhyasa, this latter is pre-eminently entitled to be called avidya… thinkers who assert that the source of all ills spoken of by Shankara is the Mullavidya alone [the traditionalists], have to maintain their position only by going against the express statement of Shankara, and shrutis, and quietly ignoring the essential nature of knowledge which can never destroy exisiting things… All human proceeding, whether secular or sacred, is prompted by, and is wholly within, the sphere of this avidya… enlightenment… is also within the purview of this avidya… All this distinction of vidya and avidya, avidya and maya, is only a concession to the empirical view, and only a device adopted for the purpose of teaching the truth… [they] never existed… nor is there any need for vidya to destroy either of the two… [then quotes Gaudapada: “There is neither dissolution…”]

  20. Dear Martin

    A person cannot sit on two chairs at the same time – i.e. simultaneously hold both ‘absolute’ & ’empirical’ advaita point-of-views – one can only alternate between the two. A parallel in science is the uncertainty principle which goes something like “the position and velocity of a particle cannot be both simultaneously determined”. .

    SSS may be quite correct when he quotes Sankara’s views on the ‘absolute’. He may be equally correct when he quotes Sankara’s views on the ’empirical’. But, he cannot be correct if he interprets any one statement of Sankara to contain both these views simultaneously. SSS is trying to do what is impossible and that is why there is so much trouble.

    In the end, it does not matter what Sankara said or what the ‘traditionalists’ say or what SSS says .. what matters is very subjective : Is my samsara removed ?



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