Questions on History of Advaita

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Aug 6 22:31:33 CDT 1996

On Tue, 6 Aug 1996, Sankar Jayanarayanan wrote:

> 1) Were Shankara's original compositions "written" ? If so, are the original
>    books preserved now? Or were his Bhashyas transmitted by word of mouth

The main method of learning the bhAshyas must have been through word of
mouth, but they were definitely written down. If we take into
consideration that they seem to have been available to people like
bhAskara, rAmAnuja etc., without their having studied at the premier
advaita monasteries, we have to assume that Sankara's bhAshyas became
widespread as written manuscripts.

> 2) I know that the Upanishads are said to be "unauthored", but was this
>    prevalent even during Buddha's time? If not, when did this "apaurusheya"
>    business begin? (I have already read the previous thread on apaurusheya,
>    it seemed to focus on the belief around Shankara's time, not Buddha's time)
>    I mean, it would have been mighty difficult to convince Buddhists that the
>    Upanishads are unauthored!

Of course. The concept of unauthoredness comes from pUrva mImAm.sA, which
seems to be post-Buddha, including the sUtras of jaimini. Even during the
Buddha's time, there must have been some belief in the eternal nature of
the vedas, which might have crystallized later on into a philosophical
conviction about their unauthoredness.

But the position that mImAm.sA takes on unauthoredness is very
restrictive. On being pushed to a wall, they would maintain that they are
concerned only with the mantra and vidhi portions being apaurusheya. They
may not care much if the arthavAda portions were accepted as compositions
of human beings. Note that the upanishads are arthavAda in the mImAm.sA
view of the vedas. This ambivalence might be behind the conflicting views
of later vedAnta schools regarding the status of the gauDapAdIya kArikAs.
advaita, to which tradition gauDapAda belongs, ascribes all the kArikAs
to a human author, while strangely enough, both rAmAnuja and madhva quote
some kArikAs from the first book as Sruti, i.e. apaurusheya. According to
B. N. Krishnamurthy Sarma, the noted dvaita scholar, the first 27 kArikAs
are considered to be Sruti in the dvaita school, and hence unauthored.

> 3) Were there different branches of Vedanta like "advaita",
>    etc. before or during Buddha's time? If so what were they?

That is a slightly problematic question. There are pre-Sankaran schools
of vedAnta, most of which are some form or the other of bhedAbheda. It is
difficult to say whether there were different vedAnta schools before the
time of the Buddha. To my knowledge, there are no historically verifiable
references to vedAnta prior to the Buddha's own time. A lot of the
polemic against Brahmins is directed against the ritualistic religion in
the early Pali Buddhist sources. It is only in the late writers like
Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka that any notice is taken of a "vedAnta"
doctrine. Of course, the absence of mention in early Buddhist sources
does not mean that all vedAnta is a post-Buddhist development. The
AraNyakas and upanishads are all sufficiently old for vedAnta to be seen
as historically quite ancient.

If we are willing to classify upanishadic seers as
"advaitins," "viSishTAdvaitins" and so on, we might say yes, there were
different branches of vedAnta before Buddha's time. But this will be
problematic for everybody, because all the upanishadic teachings have
been interpreted in the later schools, so that each school will want to
claim all the upanishadic teachers.

S. Vidyasankar

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