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Post-Śaṅkara advaita

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Though Śaṅkara wrote profusely and clearly enunciating the main doctrines of his school, there are certain places in his writings wherein the important aspects of certain doctrines are either vague or can have more than one interpretation. This has resulted in the growth of a voluminous post.

Śaṅkara's Advaita literature lead to different prasthānas or schools of thought.


The ‘Vārttika-prasthāna’ of Sureśvara (9th cent. A. D.) is amoung the first. This school gets its designation from the exposition contained in the ‘vārttikās’ and commentaries in verse of Sureśvara on Saṅkara’s bhāṣyas on the Brhadāranyaka and the Taittirīya Upaniṣads. According to this school, Brahman is the material cause of this world, and not māyā. The locus of avidyā is Brahman and not the jivas. Avidyā is the one without forms. The mahāvākyas or the great Vedic literature is capable of producing immediate cognition of the Self as Brahman. Hence dhyānābhyāsa or practice of meditation is not necessary. The jīvas are but ābhāsas or appearances of Brahman in the individual minds. (This theory has earned the designation of ‘ābhāsavāda’ which is opposed by ‘pratibimbavāda’ and ‘avaccheda-vāda’ of other schools.)

Vivaraṇaprasthāna and Prakāśātman[edit]

  • The ‘Vivaraṇaprasthāna’ of Padmapāda (9th cent. A. D.) and Prakāśātman (A. D. 1220) comes next. The name is derived from the work Pañcapādikā-vivarana of the latter, it being a voluminous commentary on the Pañcapādikā of Padmapād. It is a commentary on Saṇkara’s Brahmasutra-bhāsya. Though this name suggests that it covers five pādas or sections of the Brahmasutras, only the commentary on the first four sutras is available at present time. The chief doctrines of this school are as follows:
  1. Avidyā is a jaḍātmikā śakti (a force of material nature) and is the material cause of this world.
  2. It is bhāvarupa, a positive entity but not real.
  3. Māyā, prakṛti, avyakta, avyākṛta, tamas, śakti etc., are all its synonyms.
  4. It is called avidyā when āvaraṇa power is predominant and is called māyā when vikṣepa power is dominant.
  5. Alternatively, it is māyā at the cosmic level and avidyā at the individual level.
  6. Avidyā rests on Brahman but acts on the jīvas.
  7. The jīvās are pratibimbas or reflections of Brahman in the antahkaraṇa (mind). The reflected images have no reality other than that of the original (bimba) brahman. This theory is called ‘pratibimbavāda’ and contrasted with ‘ābhāsavāda’.


The ‘Bhāmatīprasthāna’ of Vācaspati Miśra (A. D. 840) is the third and the last of these major schools. Bhāmatī is his celebrated commentary on the Sāṅkara-bhāṣya of Brahmasutras. This school is built round the Bhāmati along with its subsidiary commentaries Kalpataru of Amalānanda (13th cent A. D.) and Pari-malā of Appayya Dīkṣita (16th cent A. D.) The views of this school can be briefly summarised as follows :

  1. Brahman is the material cause of the world, not acting as the locus of avidyā but as the object of avidyās supported by the jīvas.
  2. Māyā is only an accessory cause.
  3. Avidyā cannot abide in Brahman. It abides in the jīvas and is plural since the jīvas are plural.
  4. Vācaspati advocates two varieties of avidyā:
    • The mṅlāvidyā or kāraṇāvidyā - primal nescience
    • The tulāvidyā or kāryāvidyā - derivative nescience

It is the latter that is responsible for bhrama-saṃskāras or error impressions. Also, Vācaspati appears more inclined towards the ‘avacchedavāda’ or the theory of limitation with regard to the appearance of the jīvas. Just as a pot limits the infinite sky in itself, avidyā of an individual limits Brahman and makes it appear like a jiva. Another point of importance in this school is that the mahāvākyas do not produce anubhava (immediate cognition). It is the mind seasoned by meditation that gives such experience.

‘Dṛṣṭisṛṣṭi-vāda’ is mentioned here, which advocates that the world is created simultaneously with its perceptions. It further propounds ‘ekajivavāda,’ which denotes that there is only one jīva which is in bondage. When jīva gets liberation, everything else disappears. Prakāśānanda (15th-16th cent. A. D.) is the chief exponent of these schools.

Advaita was subjected to continuous criticism by other Vedāntic schools and by the Buddhist followers. Hence the growth of polemical literature became inevitable. The two most important works of this type are mentioned below:

  • The Khandana-khanda-khādya of Srīharṣa (12th cent. A.D.)
  • The Advaitasiddhi of Madhusudana Sarasvati (16th cent. A. D.)


  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore