Prolegomena to Advaita Vedanta (A Study Based on the Adhyasa-Bhasya of Sri Sankara)

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Item Code: NAI170
Author: J. Krishnan
Publisher: Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre, Chennai
Language: English
Edition: 2012
Pages: 238 (1 Color Photo)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 310 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Philosophical investigation or enquiry into the import of the Upanisadic texts, according to Advaita, becomes relevant only in the context of superimposition or erroneous cognition of the mind etc., and their characteristics on pure consciousness - the only reality. The problems connected with the theory of superimposition thus serves as the prolegomena to the philosophy of Advaita and they have been set forth by Sankara in his celebrated introduction to his commentary on the Sariraka-mimamsa-sutras.


Vyasatirtha (15th century A.D.), a protagonist of the Dvaita school in his polemical work - Nyayamrta rejects the Advaita theory of superimposition or erroneous cognition of the mind etc., and their characteristics upon the pure consciousness. Madhusudana Sarasvati (16th century A.D.), in his magnum opus - the Advaita-siddhi defends the Advaita position by examining and rejecting the criticisms of Vyasatirtha.


The present work is an analytical study of the arguments of Madhusudana Sarasvati against the criticisms of Vyasatirtha.


About the Author


J. Krishnan is Associate Professor in the Department of Sanskrit, Pondicherry University. His teaching and research interests are in the areas of Advaita Vedanta, Nyaya and Sahitya. He has participated in a number of National and International Seminars. He has contributed many papers to Philosophical Journals.




Dr. Krishnan, Associate Professor in the Department of Sanskrit, Pondicherry University worked as T.N. (JRF) Fellow in the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras from 1987 to 1993 and wrote his Doctoral Thesis on "Prolegomena To Advaita Vedanta". The thesis earned for him the Ph.D Degree of the University of Madras in 1993. It is now published by the Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre, Chennai.


This work presents a critique of the Adhyasa-bhasya, the celebrated introduction by Sankara to his commentary on he Sariraka-mimamsa-sutras. The theory of adhyasa or superimposition of the material element of the phycho-physical organism of which the mind is the predominant factor upon he Self which is pure consciousness, a seamless whole, suprapersonal absolute, and the one and the only Real serves as the ground for identifying the theme (visaya) of the Upanisads, and the aim (prayojana) of their study.


The first aphorism, atha atab brahma-jijnasa means:


Subsequent to the attainment of competence to pursue Vedantic study (atha), since the Upanisads speak of liberation as attainable only by the knowledge of the Self (atah), one shall inquire into the nature of the Self (brahma-jijnasa) by the study of the Upanisads [with/a view to attain the knowledge of the Self).


This is the explicit meaning of the aphorism. Its implicit meaning the theory of superimposition.


The knowledge of the Self which results from the study the Upanisads would become purposeful only by removing smsara or bondage consisting of the characteristics of being an agent (kartrtva), an experient (bhoktrtva), and a knower (pramatrtva) in the case of jiva, the complex of the Self and e psycho-physical organism. If bondage were real, then it cannot be removed by knowledge, as knowledge could remove only ignorance (avidya) and its effects which are non-real (mithya). Hence it must be accepted that the bondage in the case of the jiva is non-real or a superimposed factor (adhyasta). A spiritual aspirant becomes convinced that he could embark upon the study of Vedanta as it has a definite aim, viz., the removal of bondage.


The theory of superimposition, besides pointing to the aim of the Vedantic study, indicates the theme of the Upanisads. The knowledge of the Self: is said to remove bondage in the case of the jiva. This would not be possible if the jiva and the Self are different from each other. For, by the knowledge of something, ignorance and its effects present in something else cannot be removed. It must, therefore, be conceded that the jiva and the Self are identical with or non-different from each other. In other words, the jiva is the Self falsely identified with the psycho-physical organism. And, the material cause of this false identification is avidya which is in determinable either as real (sat), or as an absolute nothing (a-sat), or as both (sadasat).


Secular and scriptural activities, and philosophical endeavour, according to Advaita, become relevant only in the context of the illusory cognition or superimposition of the characteristics of being an agent, an experient, and a knower in the case of the jiva, Since the jiva is only a blend of the Self and the psycho- physical organism, and since the characteristics of being an agent, etc., are non-real in its case, it comes to this, Sankara observes, that perception and other means of knowledge and also the sruti texts have reference to the one who is under the realm of avidya. In order that the sacred and the secular activities may be carried out an agent (karta) is necessary. And the agent must be a knower. To be a knower is to be the substratum of knowledge. Knowledge is a blend of pure consciousness and the mode of the mind. The Self which is consciousness, being supra-relational, cannot serve as its substratum. It could become so, only when it is falsely identified with the mind. Further, such a knower, in order that he may direct the means of knowledge, should have the false notion of "mine" in the sense organs. The sense organs are located in the body, and so the knower must have the conceit of "I" or "mine" in the physical body too. It follows that all the means of knowledge including the texts that speak of liberation and its means have a bearing upon the superimposition of the mind, the sense organs, the physical body, and their characteristics upon the Self - the superimposition caused by avidya. This IS precisely the reason why Sankara has prefaced his commentary on the Sariraka-mimamsa-sutras with an exposition of the theory of superimposition - the theory which in the language of Padmapada is sakalatantropodghata or Prolegomena to Advaita Vedanta.


Vyasatirtha (15th century A.D.), the pre-eminent preceptor of the Dvaita school, in his polemical work, Nyayamrta raises a series of objections against the theory of superimposition. The objections are as under:


1. The jiva is single and complete in itself. It is the ahampadartha. It is not a part of a complex whole as the Advaitin thinks;

2. The relation between pure consciousness and the mind and other factors may be viewed as real and not as a perimposed one;

3. Pure consciousness as conceived by the Advaitin connot serve as the substratum of the superimposition of the body-mind complex; and,

4. Avidya which is admitted as an indeterminable entity and as the material cause of superimposition is a pseudo-concept.

Madhusudana Sarasvati (16th century A.D.) in his magum opus, the Advaita-siddhi sustains the position of Advaita by advancing arguments in its support, and by confuting the objections of Vyasatirtha by defending the viewpoint of Advaita from his attacks.


Dr. Krishnan after a close study of the relevant sections of the Nyayamurta and the Advaita-siddhi and other related texts on Nyaya and Advaita explains in this work with painstaking accuracy the criticisms of Vyasatirtha against the Advaita view and Madhusudana Sarasvati's rejection of them point by point by showing their falsity and untenability. And, he expounds in a perfectly logical and straightforward manner the reasons and evidence adduced by Madhusudana Sarasvati in support of the position of Advaita. His linguistic erudition has enabled him to consult the original sources and to elucidate them authentically. The work makes no statement which it does not support by reference to the original texts in Sanskrit. This is corroborated by the numerous passages carefully culled from original works and reproduced at the back of the work which, besides supporting the argument of the work at every stage, reveal the author's skill in documentation too.


On the whole, this work contains a faithful presentation in English of the Adhyasa-bhasya of Sankara, It is superbly researched and exquisitely presented in a simple and limpid style in spite of the technical character of the. subject-matter; and, it is indeed a significant contribution to the literature in English on Advaita.


The world of scholars will feel grateful to the authorities of the Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre for bringing out the publication of this work.


I have great pleasure in commending this work to serious students of Advaita.




The present thesis entitled "Prolegomena To Advaita Vedanta" is the result of my research work in the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras under the guidance of Prof. N. Veezhinathan.


The thesis is an attempt to explicate the Advaita theory of superimposition of the mind etc., and their characteristics on pure consciousness against the background of the criticisms by the Dualistic school.


To the Authorities of the University of Madras, I am thankful for permitting me to work in the Department of Sanskrit for the Ph.D Degree of the University of Madras, and for according me permission to publish this thesis.


To the Authorities of the Government of Tamilnadu, I am grateful for awarding me the Junior Research Fellowship (TN) to pursue the Ph.D. course.


I will be failing in my duty if I do not record my great indebtedness to my Prof: N. Veezhinathan for his kind guidance at every step.


To my friend Prof. V. Kamakoti, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, I express my sense of gratitude for his constant encouragement and moral support.

To the President and other office-bearers ·of the Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre, I am endlessly grateful for sponsoring the publication of this work under the auspices of the Centre.


To my friend, Dr. V.M. Ananthanarayanan, Associate Professor ID Sanskrit. National College. Tiruchirapalli. I am grateful for his courteous help in correcting the proofs.


I am thankful to Dr. C. Murugan, Assistant Professor, Department of Saiva Siddhanta, University of Madras for typesetting this work and to Sri M.S. Maniyavan of Elango Achukkoodam for his kind co-operation and neat execution of this work.











List of Abbreviations:


Chapter - 1



Chapter - 2

Jiva - A Blend Of Pure



Consciousness And The Mind


Chapter - 3

Relation Between Pure



Consciousness And The Mind


Chapter - 4

Pure Consciousness - The Substratum Of Superimposition Of The Mind


Chapter - 5

Avidya - The Material Cause



Of Superimposition


Chapter - 6







Notes On Chapters






Sample Pages

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