Antiquity of Advaita Vedanta (was Re: An Open Letter to All)

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed May 10 09:08:06 CDT 2000

As this was a long post, I'm replying to it in several sections.

On Wed, 10 May 2000, Bhaskar Y.R. wrote:

> Sripada Shankaracharya, or popularly known as Adi Shankara, one of the
> greatest acharyas who appeared in the Kali yuga, after the incarnation
> of Lord Buddha, came with the mission of advancing the consciousness
> of the people a little more, from the point where Lord Buddha left,
> and thus leave the people fertile for the following Vaishnava
> acharyas. He is an incarnation of Lord Shiva, the demigod incharge of
> dissolution of the material cosmic manifestation, and the Lord
> incharge of the tamo guna or the mode of ignorance. Acharya Shankara
> also, just like Lord Buddha had specific missions to be accomplished,
> like bringing the atheist Buddhists to follow theism, and to drive
> away the non-believing Buddhists from the Holy land of Bharatavarsha
> or India.  He did this by promulgating the advaita philosophy or
> universal oneness. This philosophy that he propunded is also known as
> the monist or mayavada philosophy. Adi Shankara's monist theory came
> into being almost 3000 years after the advent of Kali, at a time when
> the presence of atheist Buddhists was rampant. The main crux of his
> advaita philosophy was that, the Paramatma or the Super Soul and the
> jivatma or the atomic spirit soul were the same, but presently the
> jiva has come under the influence of maya or illusion. He said that
> once this maya's influence is removed, the jiva has the capacity to
> become God and loses it's individual identity by merging with the
> Supreme Brahman. He also said that the impersonal Brahman or the
> effulgent light that emanates out of the transcendental body of the
> Supreme Lord, is the highest object of realisation, much against the
> conclusion of the Shastras. If Acharya Shankara had spoken to the
> atheists about the Spiritual World and the possibility of the living
> entity personally associating with a Supreme Lord there, nobody would
> have taken him seriously at that time. So, he had to preach this lower
> but deviant philosophy, in order to gradually bring the atheists into
> the spiritual realm. So, he said that though God is there, He is
> present as an all-pervading, impersonal energy, and is the cause of
> all causes. He said that this material cosmos was false, much opposed
> to the knowledge that the Shastras propose that the material world is
> real and true, but is temporary (dukhalayam asasvatam - a place full
> of miseries and temporariness). Something which is temporary cannot be
> called untrue or non-existent. Srila Prabhupada explains, "Adi
> Shankara, as an incarnation of Lord Shiva knows all the spiritual
> existences, but he did not disclose them to his then Buddhist
> followers because it was impossible for them to know about the
> Spiritual World."

The Gaudiya crticisms essentally boil down to two propositions:

1.  The Advaita philosophy was started by Shankaracharya.

2.  It is mainly directed against Buddhism even though it is only a
    rearrangement of Buddhist teachings.

Do these arguments hold water?

In the first matter it should be noted that Shankaracharya himself does
not claim any originality for his teachings.  In fact he notes that
without a parampara one is as good as blind.

Two pre-Shankaran works on Advaita Vedanta survive today.  The Karikas on
the Mandukyopanishad are by Gaudapadacharya who was Shankaracharyas'
paramaguru.  Mandana Mishra wrote the Brahmasiddhi.  He was a contemporary
of Shankaracharya and tradition says when he was defeated in debate by
Shankaracharya, he became the Acharyas' shishya under the name

There are other names we know of through quotes by later authors but whose
works do not survive.  Upavarsha wrote vrittis on the Purva Mimamsa,
Brahma sutras, Bhagavadgita, and several Upanishads.  Shankaracharya
indicates his reverence for Upavarsha by refering to him as Bhagavan.
Sundara Pandya (whose name indicates he was probably a South Indian king)
wrote a vartika on the Brahmasutravrtti.  Brahmanandin wrote commentary
called vakya on the Chandogyopanishad.  A certain Dravidacharya wrote a
bhashya on this.

These authors are quoted by later Advaitins but most importantly for their
authenticity they are quoted by opponents of Advaita too.

The second proposition is more plausible but still falls short.  It is
true that Shankaracharya devotes a lot of energy to refuting Buddhist
tenets (whih are *very* different from Vedantic teachings) but
"astika" philosophies like Samkhya also come under fire.  The
very existence of Advaita Vedanta can be considered a refutation of some
aspects of Purva Mimamsa.  In one place in the Brahmasutrabhashya the
Pancharatra school (which was the forerunner of Shrivaishnavism) is
criticized.  There is literary, and archeological evidence for the
existence of the theistic sects (though not necessarily in the exact form
they have today.)  In fact the reason Shankaracharya started the practice
of Panchayatana puja was because the many different sects of Vaishnavas,
Shaivas, Shaktas, Ganapatya, and Sauras were too busy bickering with each
other to unite against the nastikas.

Shankaracharya did much to weaken the hold of Buddhism (as did Purva
Mimamsakas like Kumarila Bhatta, Prabhakara Mishra, and Naiyayikas like
Udayanacharya) but it did not disappear from India until several centuries

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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