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Shankara and Parinamavada


Every commentator on saundaryalaharI, with the exception of pravarasena’s son, describes shrI shankara bhagavatpAda as the author of saundaryalaharI. The reasons stated by those who doubt the authorship of bhagavatpAda are summarized below:

1. saundaryalaharI is a work on tantra shAstra and it is not related to shankara’s school of thought
2. Philosophy of saundaryalaharI is that of pariNAmavAda, which does not agree with kevalAdvaita

While it is difficult to deterministically conclude on the authorship of saundaryalaharI, some thoughts in this regard may prove fruitful. mahAmahopAdhyAya rA satyanArayaNa deserves special credit for his study in this area: on pariNAmavAda, advaita and the underlying philosophy of saundaryalaharI. We pray to the lotus feet of bhagavatI kAmAkShI parA bhaTTArikA to grant health and long life to our respected friend.

Every Astika darshana aims at establishing the correct relation between the tripuTi named jIva, jagat and Ishvara. Generally, this relationship is of the nature of kArya and karaNa. Astika darshanas hold brahma to be the kAraNa for jagat. kAraNa can be of three types: upAdAna, nimitta and sAdhAraNa. satkAryavAda is an important aspect of sAMkhya theory. The word satkArya indicates the aspect of sattA or asthitva of kArya. Thus, it can be stated that satkaryavAda is all about the abivyakti of kAraNa as kArya. This abivyakti is aided by the vyApAra of the kAraNa. For example, if til seeds are seen as kAraNa, til oil would be the karya. Even before the vyApAra of extraction of oil from the seeds, the oil is already present in the seeds i.e. vyApAra does not newly generate kArya, but only helps in the abhivyakti of kArya. When kAraNa becomes vyApArashIla i.e. til seeds are accompanied by the vyApAra of extraction, the kArraNa named til needs manifests as til oil, the kArya. Due to this process of manifestation of kAraNa as kArya, the kAraNa here is referred to as upAdAna. Thus, the sAmarthya of kAraNa to manifest as kArya is the key aspect to be noted here. According to satkAryavAda, kArya is neither newly created nor destroyed and is ever present in the kAraNa. When kAraNa is associated with vyApAra, which we can call shakti, kArya becomes evident. One can consider the example of a tortoise stretching its limbs out of the shell and withdrawing them inside again. When there is abivyakti of kArya from kAraNa, it gets called as utpatti or creation and when there is tirodhAna of kArya in kAraNa, it gets described as nAsha or destruction. Thus, neither utpatti nor nAsha of the kArya is true but these are rather vikAras or transformations. Also, they can be described as the vyapAras or activities of the kAraNa. With this basic introduction, we can now move forward to discuss briefly pariNAmavAda and vivartavAda.

vivartavAda and pariNAmavAda can be described as two branches of satkAryavAda. Vivarta can be interpreted to mean change, transform, turn around, appear altered or illusion. The relation between an actual object and its reflection within a mirror is one of vivarta. A jignAsu describes vivarta as the false notion that is characterized by anyathAbhAva from tattva. In advaita vedAnta, vivarta is illustrated through two popular examples: sarparajju nyAya and shuktirajata nyAya. One can get the false impression of seeing a snake on seeing a rope or of seeing silver on seeing a shell. The adhyAsa (misconception or erroneous attribution) named jagat occurs on Brahman on account of avidyA (nescience). Though the kAraNa named Brahman, due to vivarta, appears as the kArya named jagat, there is no separate kArya in reality. Thus, only the kAraNa or Brahman is satya and jagat is mithyA. Though one is initially confused by the appearance of snake, he eventually realizes the true nature of that vastu as rajju. Similarly, true knowledge or brahmajnAna is attained on adhyAsa nirasana.

Brahma is the upAdana kAraNa for the sR^iShTi, sthiti and laya of the jagat. Due of the shakti present in kAraNa, the transformation of kAraNa into kArya gets materialized. In shrIvidyA tantra, kAraNa-brahma is referred to as shiva and the prapa~nchAbhivyakti hetu shakti as shrI lalitA. It is this shakti that is responsible for sR^iShTi, sthiti, laya and nAnAtva of the universe. When involved in sR^iShTi, shakti, in the uttarottara fashion, assumes states such as avyakta, mahat, aha~NkAra, manas, prANa, indriyas, viShayas of the indriyas, panchabhUtas etc. All these different avasthAs or transformations are called upAdhis. The entire goal of shrIvidyA tantra is the viloma krama of this evolution where the tirodhAna of the upAdhis is accomplished within the mUla kAraNa vastu, thus achieving mithuna of shakti with shiva, and remaining forever in the state of nirupAdhika samvit.

saundaryalaharI being a work dealing with shrIvidyA tantra, though interpreted on the lines of kevelAdvaita by some, necessarily follows the school of pariNAmavAda for the most part. This is clearly indicated in the thirty-fifth verse: tvameva svAtmAnaM pariNamayituM vishvavapuShA. This shloka, when observed carefully, states parAmbA as the kAraNa and panchabhUtAdikas as the various pariNAmas of the kArya. While these pariNAmas are the various transformations of the prakR^iti, prakR^iti herself is an avasthA visheSha which is described through the words kAraNa and nirvikAra. When the panchabhUtAdikas attain laya within parAshakti, she remains in her form as kAraNa and this interpretation of the verse suits the theory of satkAryavAda. According to shrI lakShmIdharachArya, Acharya bhagavatpAda discusses pUrva and uttara kaula matas as pIThikA to the discussion of samaya mata and then achieves his goal of nirasana of these theories. (Note: In the case of uttara-kaula mata, the sR^iShTi of the jagat is accomplished by pradhAna but there is an absence of sheSha bhAva or the a~NgabhUtatva of pradhAna. Here, sheSha bhAva indicates shiva. pradhAna, which is shakti, actuates the transformations such as manas and panchabhUtas; in other words, these tattvas are mere transformations of the primordial shakti).

Scholars such as shrI sacchidAnandendra sarasvatI mahAsvAmigal (abhinava shankara of Holenarasipur) doubt the authorship of shankarAchArya based on the fact that AchArya propounded vivartavAda in his well-known works such as prasthAnatraya bhAshya. One can refer to his scholarly work named shrI sha~NkarabhagavatpAda vR^ittAntasarvasva in this regard. He accepts, based on this argument, only the prasthAnatraya bhAShya, some prakaraNa granthas and a few stotras as the actual works of AchArya bhagavatpAda. All these works follow and support the tenets of vivartavAda and do not quote tantra shAstra or its philosophy for either khaNDana or maNDana. While svAmigal has stated this, he also writes the following in the same work: “Whether AchArya has written works propounding shAkta mata is a riddle. Many believe that he established shAradA as brahmavidyA svarUpiNI on the left bank of river tu~NgA on shrIchakra, the most important symbol of shAkta mata. There is also a similar account of the establishment of shrIchakra before bhagavatI kAmAkShI at kAnchIpuram. AnandalaharI, saundaryalaharI etc. are shAkta works described as works of shankara. Even a quasi-divine authorship of saundaryalaharI is believed by some and held that AchArya brought the manuscript of the hymn from kailAsa. Every monastery following shAnkara mata today has the age-old tradition of worshipping shakti. Based on all these visible clues, there is a chance that Acharya did indeed author shAkta works”.

Though saundaryalaharI gets discussed primarily when the topic of shankara’s authorship of shAkta works is brought up, prapanchasAra is an equally important work that deserves equal, if not greater attention. Both tradition and quotations from famous authors seem to indicate that prapanchasAra is indeed a genuine work of bhagavatpAda. This belief attains puShTi because of the existing commentary on prapanchasAra by shrI padmapAdAchArya, a direct disciple of bhagavatpAda. Some also opine that prapanchasAra is a concise summary or sAra of a larger traditional text named prapanchAgama, said to have been revealed by shrImannArAyaNa. The last update was that a copy of this work present in Nepal. A chapter dealing with shrIvidyA nyAsas, supposedly belonging to this work, is in our possession. amalAnanda, the author of the famous kalpataru vyAkhyAna, when dealing with yogamAhatmya of shvetAshvaropaniShad, quotes a verse from prapa~nchasAra and states prapa~nchasAra to be a work of bhagavatpAda. If one accepts nR^isiMhatApanI bhAShya as a genuine work of shankara, then one would need to pay attention to a statement in the pUrvatApanI bhAShya where shankara himself describes prapa~nchasAra as his work.

Moreover, shankara is never described as the founder of shrIvidyA or the first to follow shrIvidyA tantra in his lineage. His paramaguru gauDapAdAchArya, again a follower of vivartavAda, has been frequently described as a shrIvidyA guru. His mANDukya kArikAs illustrate his adherence to advaita siddhAnta. The following shAkta granthas are also frequently listed as his works:

1. kArikAvalI: A short gloss on durgA saptashatI consisting of thirty-two shlokas.
2. chidAnandakeLIvilAsa: devI mAhAtmya bhAShya
3. A vyAkhyAna named vivaraNa on nR^isiMha uttara tApanI upaniShad
4. pa~nchIkaraNa vArtika
5. shaktimImAmsA
6. subhagodaya stuti

Though many modern scholars try to distinguish the author of the kArikas from the shAkta writer, as sacchidAnandendra sarasvatI himself agrees, they try to do so based on mere speculation. The unbridgeable gap between advaita and pariNAmavAda is stated as the core reason behind this speculation.

While we can endlessly debate the authorship of saundaryalaharI never to reach a conclusion, one cannot deny the presence of the principles of both vivarta and pariNAmavAdas therein. Our next task would now be to fairly examine if a samanvaya between these two schools is possible at all, for samanvaya has been stated as the inherent nature of our shAstras by great yugadrSTas such as shrI mUrkhAraNya-ji Maharaj. If a samanvaya is possible, then who is the teaching of pariNAmavAda or shrIvidyA tantra directed at? In other words, who is the target audience for shrIvidyA/pariNAmavAda? Famous advaitin shrI appayya dIkShita writes thus in his work ratnatraya parIkShA: nirguNa brahma vastu, on account of its own mAyA shakti, becomes two: dharma and dharmi. Dharma again splits into two: viShNu and devI. viShNu becomes the upAdAna kAraNa for jagat sR^iShTi and devI assumes the role of wife or shakti of the dharmi named paramashiva. These three together constitute the nirguNa brahma vastu. One can easily observe here a samanvaya of both aupaniShadika and tAntrika tattvas. shrI bhAratI tIrtha, a great Acharya of advaita and the pIThadhipati of Sringeri Mutt, states a supporting verse in his vAkyasudhA (dR^igdR^ishyaviveka): Five tattvas (sat, chit, Ananda, nAma and rUpa) are responsible for all viShayas of this universe. Of these, nAma and rUpa are responsible for bheda or duality. When these attain bAdhA, brahma-vastu alone remains. This idea is used by various shrIvidyAchAryas such as lakShmIdharAchArya, bhAskararAya, kaivalyAshrama, amR^itAnanda etc. to achieve the desired samanvaya with pariNAmavAda.

It is interesting to note that two sUtras of bAdarAyaNa deal with pariNAmavAda. The first of these is: AtmakR^iteH pariNAmAt [1-4-26]. Here is what shrImadachArya writes in this context:

pUrvapakSha: kathaM punaH pUrvasiddhasya sataH kartR^itvena vyavasthitasya kriyamANatvaM shakyaM saMpAdayitum?
AchArya: pariNAmAditi brUmaH, pUrvasiddho.api hi san AtmA visheSheNa vikArAtmanA cha pariNAmo mR^idAdyAsu prakR^itiShu upalabdhaH |

The second sUtra is: tadananR^itvamAraMbhaNashabdAdibhyaH [2.1.14]. pariNAmavAdin, the pUrvapakShi here, states thus:

pUrvapakshi: nanu mR^idAdi dR^iShTAnta praNayanat pariNAmavat brahmashAstrasyAbhimatam iti gamyate |

AchArya, quoting Ishvara gItA, gItA, bR^ihadAraNyakopaniShad and brahmasUtra (2,1,13), concludes that there is no vyavahAra for Brahman in paramAvasthA. Having said so, he still does not completely negate pariNAma mata, which in this context appears to have the puShTi of sUtrakAra (bAdarAyaNa), of ChAndogya shruti (6,1,1) and he seems to do this more so for the sake of loka vyavahAra:

apratyAkhyAyaiva kAryaprapa~nchaM pariNAmaprakriyAM chAshrayati saguNeShu upAsaneShu upayokShyate iti |

So, how is one to interpret the mata of shankara in this regard? Here is the answer: pariNAma prakriyA is the vAda that jagat is the pariNAma of Brahma. Though this prakriyA is not possible owing to brahma being kUTastha, for the sake of vyavahAra, shruti states sR^iShTi to illustrate prapancha (which only *appears* to be true) as non-different from Brahman. Having accepted this prakriyA, there is adhyAropaNa of some desirable qualities of kArya prapancha on Ishvara, for the sake of saguNopAsanA. Such an upAsanA is needed by the mandAdhikArins.

Thus, it is not incorrect to interpret that shankara directs the teaching of vivartavAda towards an uttamAdhikArin and pariNAmavAda/shrIvidyA tantra towards a madhyamAdhikArin. With this view, his authorship of saundaryalaharI can be easily explained. sarvajnAtma muni, the prashiShya of AchArya, in his saMkShepashArIraka, states thus: parInAmavAda is an essential step towards vivartavAda; it eventually leads the sAdhaka towards vivartavAda (2.61). One can refer to saMkShepashArIraka [II, 55-82] for further details.

We have listed in another post the various shlokas from saundaryalaharI quoted by shrI bhAskararAya in his shrIvidyA prasthAnatraya bhAShya. bhAskararAya emphatically describes shankara as the author of saundaryalaharI. In fact, he even goes to the extent of arguing that pariNAmavAda is the darshana truly close of AchArya hR^idaya. The related discussion can be seen in the context of the following verse from varivasyArahasya and its commentary named prakAsha:

sa jayati mahAn prakAsho yasmin dR^iShTe na dR^ishyate kimapi |
kathamiva tasmin j~nAte sarvaM vij~nAtamuchyate vede ||

One can also refer to saubhAgya bhAskara bhAShya (nAma: mithyAjagadadhiShThAnA) where the mithyAtva of jagat is explained in line with pariNAmavAda.

Moving over from philosophy to actual practice, one may question thus: only praNavopAsana and nirguNopAsana are prescribed for yatis. How is it that all AmnAya mathas established by AchArya and every shAkhA of these mathas follow a living tradition of some form of shAkta worship, shrIvidyA being the most popular one? This cannot simply be a practice later adopted or one owing to regional influence as shrIvidyA is a common thread between the various AmnAya pIthas located geographically apart. Also, the very formation of these AmnAya pIThas has shAkta elements embedded within, which is evident even from a casual examination of any of the many maThAmnAya shAsanas. The reason for such a practice is seen in the utility of shrIvidyA upAsanA for both saguNa and nirguNa upAsanA vidhis, following the sopAna krama for the mandAdhikArin.

The statement shrIsundarIsAdhanatatparANAM bhogashcha mokShashcha karastha eva, can be seen in various tantras. Though some dismiss this as mere stuti and quote other such statements in the case of other devatas, it must be noted that no other branch of upAsanA ascribes as much importance to this statement as shrIvidyA. While it is a passing remark in the case of other paths or devatas, this statement finds multifarious expression in terms of both theoretical and practical aspects of shrIvidyA upAsanA. With so much importance to bhoga and mokSha, what is the role of gR^ihastha upAsaka, who is the prmary adhikArin for bhoga, in the lineage of shrIvidyA of which shankara is believed to be a part?

Though the bhikShu shiShyas of shankara are frequently talked about, it is evident from various shankara vijayas that many gR^ihasthas were taught by the AchArya. In fact, teaching the gR^ihasthas who form the basis of the social ladder is one of the thirty-two duties of a jagadguru. One such list of several gR^ihastha shiShyas of shankara can be found in shrIvidyArNava tantra. vidyAraNya yati lists fourteen disciples of AchArya bhagavatpAda:

Anandabhairavo dhIro gauDaH pAvaka eva cha |
parAsharyaH satyanidhI rAmachandrastataH param |
govindaH sha~NkarAchArya ekasaptatisaMkhyakAH ||

Starting with kapila, till sha~Nkara bhagavatpAda, seventy-one gurus are described. Some count shrImadAchArya in the siddhaugha and some as the Adiguru of mAnavaugha. According to the bimbAmbikA shrIkula sarvottIrNa sampradAya, shrImadAchArya is described as the first Guru of mAnavaugha.

sha~NkarAchAryashiShyAshcha chaturdasha dR^iDhavratAH |

The number of direct disciples of shrImadAchArya (with focus on shrIvidyA sampradAya) is fourteen.

sha~NkaraH padmapAdAkhyo bodho gIrvANa eva cha |
AnandatIrthanAmA cha pa~nchaite bhikShavaH smR^itAH ||

The shrIvidyA pravartaka shiShyas of shrImadAchArya who belonged to the order of monks are five in number. They are: shankara (described as shiShya shankara in gadyavallarI), padmapAda, bodha, gIrvANa and AnandatIrtha.

sundaro viShNusharmA cha lakShmaNo mallikArjunaH |
trivikramaH shrIdharashcha kapardI keshavastataH ||
dAmodara iti khyAtA gR^ihiNo navasaMkhyakAH ||

The householder disciples of AchArya were nine in number: sundara, viShNu sharman, lakShmaNa, mallikArjuna, trivikrama, shrIdhara, kapardin, keshava and dAmodara.

While the list of Gurus before shankara is recorded differently in our lineage based on bimbAmbikA bodha, the list of fourteen disciples is more or less the same. padmapAdAchArya is said to have had six chief disciples in the context of shrIvidyA: mANdala, paripAvaka, nirvANa, govardhana, chidAnanda and shivottama. bhagavatI bimbAmbikA replaces nirvaNa with shrIkaNTha and records a conversation regarding strIdIkShA with paripAvakAchArya. AchArya bodha is said to have initiated various disciples in keraLa desha. The lineage of AchArya gIrvANa includes vidvadgIrvANa, vibudhendra, sudhIndra, mantragIrvANa etc. mallikArjuna, trivikrama, shrIdhara, kapardin are said to have taught disciples in vindhya, purI, gauDa-maithila-bangAla, kAshI-ayodhyA regions.

There are several vyAkhyAnas on mathAmnAya mahAnushAsana (followed by Sringeri tradition) available. There is a statement in the shAsana which requires the manIShi-s to interfere when the person chosen to ascend the AmnAya pITha lacks the required qualities. The commentators on the mahAnushAsana interpret the word manIshi to mean eligible gR^ihastha shiShyas. If one examines the guru paramparA of bhAskararAya, it is traced back to shrI sundarAchArya, a gR^ihastha shiShya of shankara bhagavatpAda.

The second work that is relevant to examine here is named gadyavallarI. Sri Rajendralal mitra found a manuscript of this work in a village named sitamardi in the Muzaffurpur district of Bihar. This is a shrIvidyA upAsanA manual which lists the guru paramparA of its author. Interestingly, the guru paramparA listed here is of the Sringeri Mutt. It starts with shiva, brahmA, viShNu etc. till shrIvidyAraNya and then branches off from the standard list of shrI malayAlAnandadeva tIrtha, Ananda chitpratibimba, nijAtmaprakAshAnandanAtha, mallikArjuna yogIndra etc. It is not clear whether the mallikArjuna yogIndra listed here is the same as the author of pratya~NgirA kalpa. There are at least three other such gR^ihastha lineages of AchArya listed in works of a similar genre that we have examined. It may thus be concluded that this class of shiShyas was the target audience for teachings such as those of pariNAmavAda or shrIvidyA tantra, illustrated through works such as saundaryalaharI.