[Advaita-l] Sri SSS Discussions

S L Shivashankar slshivashankar at gmail.com
Wed Aug 15 11:44:46 CDT 2012

Sri Vidyasankar wrote:

> At one point of time, this list had a good philosophical focus, perhaps
> too academically so. Nowadays, however, discussions are very light on
> philosophical content and a preoccupation with factors that are extraneous
> at worst or preparative at best has taken over. I would like to steer it
> back to fulfilling the reasons why we set up this list in the first place.
Wonderful! I couldn´t agree more.

For those unfamiliar with Martha Doherty and the paper in question, I can
provide a few basic facts. The title of Martha Doherty´s essay is "A
Contemporary Debate Among Advaita Vedantins on the Nature of Avidya", and
it was published in "Journal of Indian Philosophy" in 2005 (33:209-241). As
a matter of fact, the essay contain in condensated form the main tenents
and arguments presented in Doherty´s PhD-thesis, which was defended at
Harvard University in 1999 under the title: "A Contemporary Debate in
Advaita Vedanta: Avidya and the Views of Swami Satchidanandendra
Saraswati". The thesis has never been published, although photocopies were
available a few years back from Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in USA. I obtained my
own copy some 10-11 years back directly from the author, after having
written an e-mail to her. Martha Doherty is not only an academician, but is
also a disciple of Swami Dayananda Sarawati.

Anyway, the essay deals - just like her doctoral thesis of course - with
the topic of avidya as presented by the Holenarsipur Swami
Satchidanandendra Saraswati (1880-1975). He wrote some 200 books in
Sanskrit, English and Kannada, where he critizised the advaita tradition
after Gaudapada, Shankara and Sureshvara for having deviated from the
original teachings. In short, Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati (Sri SSS)
concluded that the later "post-Shankara" advaita teachers - such as for
instance Padmapada, Vachaspati Mishra, Vidyaranya and Madhusudhana
Saraswati - were not true to the standpoints presented by Adi Shankara in
his bhashyas. At the center of attention was the concept of avidya, where
Sri SSS argued that avidya is not "a positive entity", and that avidya is
in fact identical to adhyasa (superimposition). He also argued, for
instance, that avidya is not present in deep-sleep, other than in seed-form

Not surprising, the works of Sri SSS - and his early work "Mulavidya
nirasa" (1929) in particular - came under critical analysis by many pandits
and acharyas from the 1930-ies and onwards, and they argued that Sri SSS
had indeed made serious mistakes in his interpretations of not only Adi
Shankara, but also the later acharyas so heavily critizised by him for
having deviated from Shankara´s original teachings. In other words, the
books and standpoints of Sri SSS became a centre of controversies, and for
many decades and in many books Sri SSS tried to prove that his critics did
not understand Shankara´s original teachings, since they interpretaded
Shankara in the light of the later "post-Shankara" viewpoints.

So it is hardly surprising that someone finally wrote a thesis on Sri SSS
and his views, and Martha Doherty´s essay on this subject has as a matter
of fact figured on this list before. One of the followers of Sri SSS, Swami
Jnanaprasunendra Saraswati in Mattur, wrote a very critical paper on
Doherty´s essay, and that paper was discussed here before (in late 2006, I
think). One of our list-members, Sri Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian, even
wrote a comprehensive essay as a reply to the standpoints presented by Sri
SSS and Swami Jnanaprasunendra Saraswati.

Warmest regards

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