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A Study on Sankaracarya's Vivekacudamani

A Study on Sankaracarya's Vivekacudamani
Item Code: NAD148
Author: Dr.Sumita Chaudhury
Publisher: Sanskrit Putak Bhandar
Edition: 2008
Pages: 204
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.6 inch X 5.6 inch
weight of the book: 324 gms

Vivikacudamani is a topical treatise of Advaita Vedanta. It is a short compendium containing less than six hundred varses. This book is written by Sanskaracarya for those who are incapable of understanding and going deep into the abstruse technicalities, but by nature or by sincere efforts attain a stage of utter aversion from worldly attachments and desire for absolute freedom from all bondages. The secret and most important doctrines of the system have been delineated here most carefully in a manner a father discloses to his son.1

Works numbering more than four score have been attributed to Sankara. Although about a few book there is some scope for doubt as to the authorship, we may easily affirm that Vivekacudamani come from the pen of Adisankaracarya. It is often argued that it is knowledge and knowledge and knowledge only which is the cause of freedom but in this work Sankara lays much stress on devotion by holding that devotion is the most important factor in attaining liberation. The above position does not appear to be tenable inasmuch as Sankaracarya here accepts devotion as an important, rather essential, antecedent for attaining Moksa. This problem is grappled with by the authoress of this disquisition, and I need not repeat it. But in this connexion the term bhakti should be understood in the meaning or the word in tune with Sankara’s exposition. To have an insight into one’s own nature is bhakti2- thus goes the explanation of the said term, and in that case bhakti becomes almost tantamount to knowledge. The only difference that is sought to be maintained by Sankara is that in bhakti there is a sense of excessive predilection3 (for knowing or following eagerly one’s own nature)

Eternal Bliss is the real nature of self, and this may be comprehended through four means vix, sruti (testimony of Veda), perception, tradition and inference. This is said by Sankara in verse No. 107. This statement has been a subject of adverse criticism by many to the extent that for this reason the authorship of Sankara is often taken exception to. Here the traditional scholars maintain that the referred verse never seeks to propound tradition as an independent means of cognition; on the contrary, it is merely held that tradition is also a means to understand the nature of self. It is no denying the fact that tradition is a valid means of cognition although it is included in verbal testimony. Tradition definitely plays an important part in explaining the nature of self as eternal Bliss. It is that Sankara might have been influenced by Bhagvatapurana11.19.17?4

None should remain under the false notion that in Vivekacudamani Sankara admits devotion as the only means or the most important means to understand Brahman or to attain realization. At the very beginning of the work Sankara makes an unequivocal statement that neither the scriptural texts nor ablation to deities, nor performance of deed, nor worship of gods can bring in realization but it is the knowledge of the unity of this self with supreme self that is apt to lead one to the goal.5 Hence the reference to devotion in verse 31 must not cause anybody to draw a conclusion that in the said verse Sankara ignores knowledge and accepts devotion as the best means to realization i.e. freedom. Verse No-56 should also serve as a Pointer in this direction.

Pure and simple knowledge being determined by neither mind or intellect is an essential condition for revelation of Self but this determination by mind or intellect may be done away with in pure Samadhi or pure meditation, not being categorized as triple entities viz. meditation , meditator and meditated. This is technically called nirvikalpa Samadhi. Here in this advanced and superb state of meditation a person attains the total identity with Brahman or Supreme Self. In order to establish being changed or transformed into bhramara, an insect which is terribly by the caterpillar.7 if owing to fear and awe a cockroach becomes transformed into a bhramara, it is quite logical that an ardent and sincere meditator of supreme self will also feel total identity with supreme self.8 It is interesting to note that here also Sankara is perhaps indepted to Bhagavatapurana (7.1.27). However, this stage of revelation in Samadhi is the highest level of an enlightened person, and according to Varahopanisad this is the fourth stage, the other three being called Brahmovid, Brahmavidvara and Brahmavidvariyan. The final stage is known by scholars as Brahmavidvaisth, 9. Where the mortal body continues for not more than 21 days. This is corroborated by Ramakrsna Paramahamsa and Swami Pranavananda.10.

Excellent exposition of the scriptural text may be excessively pleasing to many but the eloquence cannot bring in the most desired enlightenment of the speaker. An aspirant has to know the supreme Entity which only can bestow eternal Bliss, otherwise all intellectual discipline is absolutely meaningless. Such dictates of Sankara may serve as a note of warning to those who are more interested in text that the ways of realization.11

Guidance of a preceptor or guru is indispensable for spiritual progress for which persons with spiritual quest must know the nature of guru. Fortunately Sankaracarya devoted one sloka where it is said that the guru should be conversant with Veda, devoid of any sin, lacking in any sort of desire, absorbed in the awareness of Brahman, calm and composed, appearing as fire with all fuel being extinguished, beaming with spontaneous compassion and a friend of honest and modest disciples (verse No.33).

In the ancient tradition of Bharata we have always seen that the chief purport of a work is repeated thought refrains. Right from the Rgveda and down to the Durgasaptasati thereare several such illustrations. Sankaracarya also in this book has laid special stress on the verses relating to our emancipation, and that is why all the five refrains pertain to enlightenment. Such repetition hammers the concept into reader’s head, and thus there is a feeble chance of forgetting it. This is corroborated by Aksapada Gotama in his sutra-work.

Now we are to embark upon a problematic issue that characterizes the difficult nature of Sankaracarya’s composition. The entire book Vivekacudamani, is written in a facile genre for the easy comprehension of ordinary people with yearning for knowledge. The question of knowledge while living has been discussed in all its facets and Acarya’s plain and simple statement of absence of the body of a free man has been a bone of contention inasmuch as most of our texts accept the existence of a body of a free man. Under the bhasya of Chandugya U.6.14 and Gita 3.39 Acarya admits that knowledge consumes four types of deed viz.(i) performed in this birth before the attainment of knowledge(ii) performed in this birth after the attainment of knowledge (iii) being performed at the moment of the attainment of knowledge, and (iv) performed much earlier even before this birth.13



Although the Advaita tradition can be traced from the Vedas and the upanisads, it is no denying the fact that a full-fledged philosophical system of Vedanta started with Badarayana’s sutra work which definitely admits of various interpretations including that of Advaitavada. It is Sankaracarya who has excellently produced an exegetic composition on the above sutra-work in a manner most consistent. Perhaps convincing too. In fact with Sankara emerged the golden age of Advaitavedanta. Of the various extant commentaries in various Vedantic systems Sankara’s bhasya has been admitted to be the earliest. He has been the pioneer in the establishment of a tradition of glossing on the three prasthanas of Vedanta. All the subsequent Acaryas of the different systems of Vedanta followed him in this respect perhaps with the consideration that the non-compliance of the said tradition may be deemed a serious defect of the particular system and as a result the author may lose the honour of being called Acarya. However, whatever may be the tenet and howsoever may be the opponents’ reaction in accepting or rejecting his views, Sankaracarya is a person who can never be ignored in the field of philosophical speculations in India, nay of the world.

Sanskaracharya has a facile pen not only for his commentaries or polemical discussions but also for the independent popular works comprising difficult theories, and the most famous devotional lyrics. This humble self has selected a prakarana entitled Vivekacudamani a work read widely and intensively by the people of India who have a general inclination for the Advaita thoughts and beliefs. It is a common assumption amongst the scholars that a difficult scholarly philosophical work become less popular and those containing the brief outlines with lesser niceties are preferred by the common run of people. Normally this may be true to a great extent, and there may be an inverse relation between scholasticity and popularity; but as regards the work vivekacudamani we are perhaps to be very careful in drawing such a conclusion. Some of the poets have often claimed their kernel of charm being hidden inside the hard shell of scholastic language, and approach, but this Vivekacudamani is in sharp contrast with such statement. It is,on the other hand, an inexhaustible store-house of nectar appearing as only a simple item of our daily menu. The amount of its depth is ascertainale only with constant respectful dip into it. Almost all the principal theories have been dwelt upon with the help of easy illustrations. This has made the book readable by ordinary people. The popularity is amply proved by the fact that in almost all the principle languages in India this book has been translated.

Scholars of the west have sometimes been critical about some views propounded in this work. They have also gone to the extent of holding it to be a composition by some other later scholar who has passed it off a composed by the first Sankaracarya. There is also an indication bysome that this may be a production of a scholar of Sankara’s apostolic order, also called customarily a Sankaracarya1.

Here we propose to discuss on some points which deserve our attention owing to the peculiarity in either view or attitude. In sloka 107 we find that four instruments of valid cognition of self have been admitted as sruti, pratyaksa, aitihya and anumana. This has created a stir among scholars inasmuch as sankara, in consonance with other Advaitins admits in all six pramanas. Of them anupalabdhi is required for negation. Thus a positive entity like self may be knowable by five pramanas. But upamana or comparison is meant for similar entities only, and thereby cannot be applicable here. Arthapatti or reason of otherwise remaining unexplained also cannot hold good here because other means may here be requisitioned. Thus the residual three pramanas only be accepted for the ascertainment of Atman. Further aitihya or tradition is not accepted as a valid means; but strangely enough this has found place in this sloka. To this it may be argued that the inclusion of tradition is to be considered only as a supporting argument but not as strictly philosophical means of valid cognition. It is to be noted here that the universally accepted inference has been relegated in the second position next to perception. This feature also cannot be ignored and explained away by maintaining the necessity of convenience of metre. Again sruti or testimony is pushed forward in the first place ignoring its normal fourth position. We may compare the Bhasya of Brahsutra 1.1.2, where Sanskara has pooh-poohed the Naiyayika view of proving the existence of Brahman with the help of inference2. According to Advaitins inference is effective only for the sake of dispelling the mental impurities after the attainment of which realization is made possible. So it has only a secondary function and as such no prominence can be given to it. Sruti or scriptural testimony is a primary and most essential means without which all attempts of knowing Brahman must be futile. Viewed from this perspective the said statement in sloka 107 i

s not at all inconsistent with the established doctrine of Sankara. Another bone of contention is the inclusion of bhakti in the process of realization. For reasons best known to the scholars concerned many have often made an unwarranted assumption that bhakti or devotion is incompatible in Advaitavedanta. It is admitted that the role of bhakti has not been so prominent in Advaitavada as it is in the Dvaita systems. As regards the essentiality of bhakti even in Advaita system several well-known passages may be quoted from srimadbhagavadgita3. In the bhasya of Kenopanised 3.12. sankara has unhesitatingly admitted the function of bhakti4 which has contributed to the effectuation of the instruction by Uma the knowledge incarnate. Most celebrated Advaita scholars like Madhusudana sarasvati have demurred to reject the extraordinary influence of bhakti. Even in the Advaita system. Even is the commentary of the Gita, just at the conjunction of Janankanda and bhaktikanda, he has rather titled towards bhakti5 leaving aside the most precious theory of the supremacy of jnana.

Another moot point of this book is the admittance of prarabdha and at the same time rejection of it. This is definitely a problem which comes to our notice especially because this theory of prarabdha has been substantiated in many of his books including the commentaries on three prasthanas. In keeping with the normal trend of the acceptance of prarabdha he has first put forward the arguments and in order to point out the fallacy of prarabdha he has discarded it in the same breath in the same sloka6. Next he advances arguments strengthened by commonplace illustration which cannot make room for the acceptance of pleasure and pain of an illuminated person. Such a person may meet situations in which unenlightened person would be seriously distressed whereas this person by virtue of his knowledge can have no feeling of weal and woe. It is easily understandable that a person subjected to these reactions cannot be called wise or illuminated. Since ordinary people suffer under the similar circumstances-this is a foolish argument of the blockhead persons7. For this reason only the teachers teach that the wise persons also are not the exceptions to the so-called effects of prarabdha.




Subject Page no
Detailed contents iv-viii
Preface ix-xv
Introduction xvii-xxiv
Rgveda is the source of non-dualism 1-26
Sankara is the chief exponent of non-dualism 27-57
An assessment of Vivekacudamani 58-83
Nature of Brahman 84-102
Nature of Jiva 103-124
Salvation through annihilation of nescience 125-154
Conclusion 155-156
Appendices 157-180
Appendix I 157-162
Appendix II 163-169
Appendix III 170-178
Appendix IV 179-180

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