Being: Śaṅkarācārya And Vedantha

‘Being’ is at the heart of ‘Advaitha Vedantha‘.


raja_ravi_varma_-_sankaracharya

[Advaitha] Vedantha  is arguably the most influential school within the vast campus of the ‘Mother-Tradition’ [Hinduism] going back 1,500 years.

There are others, but none with such an illustrious, lengthy lineage.

Vedantha’s formal origins are in the Ajātivāda of Gaudapada itself drawn from the Prajna-Paramitha texts in which Gaudapada was schooled.

And the determining influence of the emerging Buddhist Teachings is evident in his opus, the Gaudapada Karika: Uttama Satya [the highest truth]  is …[the realization] that there is neither dissolution nor creation, neither bondage nor liberation, no one seeking liberation, no one attaining liberation.

But it was Śaṅkarācārya [around 700 CE] who in his famously lucid Sanskrit reformulated the idea of Brahman and its articulation for the then modern ear as [Advaitha] Vedantha, the ‘Doctrine of the Non-Dual’, the dominant school of Intellectual Hinduism.


Śaṅkarācārya’s language was transparent in its sources, its intellectual roots planted firmly in Yājñavalkya the founding sage’s articulation of Atman. To anyone familiar with the Texts, it is certain that Nirguna-Brahman is a renaming of Shūnyam.

In the layout of Vedantha this terminus becomes a ‘Witnessing Being’. The ‘Original Inner, Immaculate ‘Self”. A terminus close-to but not identical with Shūnyam.

So it is that Śaṅkarācārya would declare in his seminal Gita Bhashya: ‘Atman is the ‘Knower of the Field’ [Kshetragnana]: the Witness of the three states of Waking, Dreaming and Sleep.’

And in his Vivekachudamani: ‘A liberated Being is one who sees himself as single and the witness…of the world of things…the substratum of all‘.

Śaṅkarācārya’s Brahman is an ‘Inner Controller’, over-laid in multiple obscuring illusory sheaths [Koshas]. And this ‘True Self’ becomes the central truth of Vedanthic inquiry.

‘I am other than name, form and action.
My nature is ever free!
I am Self, the supreme unconditioned Brahman.
I am pure Awareness, always non-dual’
[Upadesasahasri, 11.7]


Śaṅkarācārya is more complicated and layered than the above simplified version I have imputed to him. I write it so partly in response to the insistent obfuscation of his central Teaching by the long-line of book-read commentators prowling the field. In time. I’ll get around to a more nuanced and complete account.

Meanwhile to continue with this leg of the story, Śaṅkarācārya’s age saw a sharp rise in the popularity of the Buddha Dharma and his Nirguna-Brahman is a re-appropriation of a truant back into the orthodox fold of Vedic exegesis.

Śaṅkarācārya was right in his intuition. But the scholar-monks were reclaiming it back for the wrong reason. The right reason would yield a proper rounding of Yājñavalkya’s Rule. And terminate at Shūnyam.

All this is the unburnt remains of a modeled-world inadequately put to flame. The self-negation is incomplete. And the placement of ‘Being’, a steel spine, is needed to hold up the entire structure.

Today, the situation is perilous. I wince when I visit a Śaṅkarā Monastery, 1,500 years after its founding, and find bright, earnest Brahmin boys, whose role is the arrival and articulation of Brahman, perfecting instead the rounding of the rolled rice-ball.


Arguably, the most popular of Śaṅkarācārya‘s observations, his most widely cited, is that the ‘World as you see it is an Illusion!’. This was meant as a metaphor and is routinely interpreted literally by today’s fashionably secular intellectuals. See ‘Vishnu’s Dream’ for its proper interpretation.

See my later Posts on Shri Ramana Maharishi and Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj, two of the finest contemporary exponents of traditional Vedantha. My early writings are too long and need extensive trimming. I’ll get around to it.


‘True Self’

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