Though shrI shankara bhagavatpAda is mostly credited with the intellectual end of Buddhism, whose physical end was effected by the Mohammedans, he only completed the task that was initiated by the great pUrva mImAmsakas led by kumArila bhaTTa. H H bhAratI tIrtha svAmigal frequently stresses during various shAstrArtha-s the need for a lucid understanding of pUrva mImAmsA as a pre-cursor to the study of uttara mImAmsA.
The condition prevalent in India before the advent of kumArila is described emphatically by shrI mAdhavAchArya in his epic kAvya.
shrImannArAyaNa assumed the form of Buddha to mislead the saugatas unfit for vaidika dharma through his nAstika teachings. The bauddhas were completely carried away by this trick of the Lord and basing their conviction upon the asadAgama-s taught by Buddha, began to abuse the Astika darshanas. At one point in time, the entire Indian sub-continent seemed to be filled with such nAstikas. It seemed like a night that would never end. They preached that the veda was nothing but a bunch of lies and denounced varNa and Ashrama dharmas. Lay men began to adopt this convenient dharma of the pAkhaNDins and gave up their nityakarma such as sandhyA, shAstrAdhyana, japa etc. There were also others who adopted various shaiva and vaiShNava chihnas such as shamkha, chakra, shUla etc., denounced all karma and sometimes adopted sannyAsa influenced by the pAkhaNDins. The kApAlikas mercilessly carried out their gory rituals by severing the heads of brAhmaNas as they assumed that the worship using brahma-puShpa offered them immense power. Some atimArgins scoffed at loka-maryAdA and prescribed transgression of every norm that led to chaos and disharmony. It is at this point that brahmaNya incarnated as kumArila bhaTTapAda to uphold the virtue of karma-kANDa. The purpose of his birth is described succinctly thus:
kANDatrayAtmake vede proddhR^ite syAd dvijoddhR^itiH |
tadrakShaNe rakShitaM syAt sakalam jagatItalam |
tadadhInatvato varNAshramadharmatatestataH ||
The uddhAra of three kANDas (karma, upAsanA and jnAna) of the veda results in the uddhAra of the dvijas and the uddhAra of the dvijas in turn brings about the uddhAra of the entire world as the dvijas form the backbone of the varNAshrama system. It was for the uddhAra of this vaidika dharma that brahmaNya incarnated as kumArila bhaTTapAda. For the uddhAra of upAsanA kANDa, mahAviShNu and AdisheSha had already incarnated as saMkarShaNa and patanjali. mahAdeva himself would later incarnate as shankara for the uddhAra of the final and liberating jnAna kANDa. The responsibility of uddhAra of the first and the most important karma kANDa was given to Lord brahmaNya who incarnated as kumArila, resembling the moon that originated as the essence of jaiminIya mahArNava. As brAhmaNya is firmly based on the karma kANDa, it was kumArila who can be credited as rejuvenating brAhmaNya and this earned him the title su-brahmaNya:
vishiShTam karmakANDam tvamuddhara brahmaNaH kR^ite |
subrahmaNya iti khyAtim gamiShyasi tato.adhunA ||
To assist him in this mission, Indra incarnated as a king named sudhanvA and brahmA as maNDana, who would later become the chief disciple of bhaTTapAda. Having mastered the jaimnIya darshana in its entirety, bhaTTapAda arrived at the Capital of sudhanvA and struck the bauddhas with his logic. Finding themselves defeated, the cunning bauddhas approached the king and said, “O King! vAda is no certain way to establish the superiority of a doctrine. Jaya and apajaya depend on that moment and the yukti under a particular circumstance. If one is able to jump from the top of a tree and survive the fall, that would be the real proof of authenticity for his pet doctrine”. Although ridiculous, kumArila agreed to this condition, ascended the peak of a mountain and declared:
yadi vedAH pramANaM syurbhUyAt kAchinna me kShatiH ||
"If the Vedas are indeed true, I shall not be harmed”, saying so, he jumped down the cliff. Seeing him emerge unharmed, the saugatas now approached the king with another objection: “O King, it is possible to survive on the basis of maNi, mantra, auShadha etc. and that is what this brAhmaNa probably did. So this cannot be a proof of the authenticity of his doctrine”. The King, who was by now fed up with the hypocrisy of the bauddhas, came up with a solution. He posed a challenge to both the debating parties. The next morning, they had to guess what was present within a pot and this would prove not only the omniscience of the winner but the authenticity of his doctrine as well. The brAhmaNas, led by kumArila, performed a penance to appease bhagavAn sUryanArAyaNa who appeared before them and indicated an answer to the riddle [my mind that always returns to the tantra cannot help but guess this to be one of the chakshusmati prayogas used for dUradarshana or dUrashravaNa). The King, who placed a snake within the covered pot, repeated the question both the parties. The bauddhas, on the merit of their mantra (of lokeshvara), predicted that it was snake (bhujanga) that was present in the pot. But the brAhmaNas declared thus:
bhogIshabhogashayano bhagavAniti bhUsurAH ||
“It is the Great Lord ananta-shayana that is present within the pot”. And indeed there was an idol of shrIhari in the pot and the king himself was amazed. The bauddhas finally had to accept their defeat.
Similar accounts of kumArila's role in annihilating the bauddhas can be seen in various works, within and outside the circle of advaitins.
The Buddhists on the other hand present before us a different story. According to tArAnAtha, the famous bauddha dArshanika dharmakIrti supposedly disguised himself as a brAhmaNa, learnt under kumArila and then defeated him in a debate, leading to his conversion to Buddhism. This seems baseless on many accounts. Other than tArAnAtha, no other authority, including that of the bauddhas recollects this episode. There is not even a faint record of kumArila’s conversion, or something that is even suggestive in this direction - on either the Astika or nAstika side. On a side note, tArAnAtha agrees that kumArila defeated buddhapAlita, dharmadAsa, dignAga, bhavya and other bauddha stalwarts in his debates. It still remains a question as to why they did not abandon Buddhism if this were the case. In essence, this tale seems as improbable as his theory of gauDapAda being an ardent follower of mahAyAna.
From an examination of shloka vArtika, it becomes evident that kumArila's understanding of Buddhism was more profound than most of his predecessors and contemporaries. The finesse of his arguments against the Buddhists outshine even those of shankara in several respects. Though some hagiographies talk of his debate with shankara and his eventual immolation, there are many who disagree and argue that he led a complete life along with his two wives and six sons, instructing several famous mImAmsakas, prabhAkara being one among the many. Among his literary works, shloka-vArtika, tantra-vArtika and tuptika are important. Laghu vArtika, brhat TIkA and madhyamaTIkA are his other works. It is easy to note that kumArila was an independent thinker as he is extremely pronounced in some of his disagreements with shabara svAmin in his works, like the case where he deals with the chodanA sUtra in shloka-vArtika.