Acharya - Shri Gaudapada

Shri Gaudapada
Shri Gaudapada is famous as the Guru of Govindapadacharya, who in turn, was the guru of Shankaracharya. According to the traditional Advaita lists on the lineage of teachers, Gaudapada was the student of Shukadeva, who in turn was the son of Veda Vyasa and also a celebrated teacher in the Mokshadharma section of the Shanti Parva of Mahabharata. To account for the large chronological gap between Shankaracharya and Shukadeva, tradition assigns unrealistic life spans of a thousand years each to Shukadeva as well as to Gaudapada. The tradition does indicate however that the lineage of the classical Advaita Vedanta tradition starts with Gaudapada, just like the lineage of the classical Visishtadvaita Vedanta starts with Shri Nathamuni.

It may be pointed out that the name Gaudapada indicates his native place as having been Gauda, a word that has been used in recent centuries for what is now the northern part of Bengal. In reality, the word Gauda refers to North India in general and therefore it is not surprising that a number of places from Kashmir to N. Bengal have been proposed as his native place

Advaitha Philosophy by Shri Gaudapada
Nothing positive is known about Gaudapada. His name is also a mere title and several variations of the same are mentioned in literature . For instance, Balakrishnananda calls him Gaudacharana in Shariraka Mimamsa Bhasya Varttika 2.9-12. Vidyaranya addresses him as Gaudacharya in Panchadasi 2.23; Shankaracharya as Gaudapadacharya in Shvetashvatara Upanishad Bhasya 1.8. Sureshvaracharya refers to him simply as Gaudas (Naishkarmya Siddhi 4.44) while quoting his Mandukya Karikas and then quotes verses of Shankaracharyas Upadeshasahasri by stating: These were said by the master of Dravidas which applies to Shankaracharya, who was a Dravida (resident of South Peninsular India). In doing so, Sureshvaracharya might be hinting that the leading representatives of both the Panchagauda and the Panchadravida divisions of Brahmins state the same doctrine with regard to Vedanta.

Although Gaudapada is not named explicitly in the Brahma Sutra 1.4.14 Bhasya of Shankaracharya, he is nonetheless hailed as a great knower of the Vedanta Tradition (Vedanta-sampradaya-vid). In Shankaracharyas Shvetashvatara Upanishad Bhasya 1.8 , Gaudapada is said to be the disciple of Shukadeva. In his commentary of Brahma Sutra 12.1.9, Shankaracharya quotes Karika 1.16 with the words- It has been said by Acharyas who know the Sampradaya about the true meaning of the Vedanta Sureshvaracharya too speaks of him as one who knows the Siddhantas of the whole Veda, calls him Gaudacharya and quotes Karika 3.15 in his Sambandha Varttika verses 386-387 . In the living Advaita Vedanta, Gaudapada is considered to be the teacher of Shankaracharyas own master Govindapada. A later Advaitin- Anandagiri, who composed a gloss on Shankaracharyas commentary on Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapadas Karikas, states that Gaudapada commenced his spiritual journey with a deep penance in the Himalayas at the Badrika Ashrama, which is the renowned abode of Lord Nara-Narayana. The Lord, pleased with his austerities, permitted him to compose a treatise on Advaita Vedanta.

Balakrisnananda (17th cent. CE), a later Vedantin, states that Gaudapada was an esteemed teacher of Gaudas who lived on the banks of river Hiraravati, which according to Isayeva was most probably in N. Bengal. Isayevas identification however, seems to be an error, because Balakrishnananda explicitly places the river in the Kurukshetra region . The river Hiraravati appears to be the sacred rivulet Hiranavati that is said to flow past the revered Badarika Ashram of Vedavyasa and then through the Kurukshetra in numerous Puranas and in the Mahabharata . Balakrishnananda also states that the name Gaudapada indicates that he belonged to the Gauda jati. Since Gaudapada was a mendicant, his original name was forgotten and he merely came to be known by the name of the community of which he was a worthy son.

Bhavaviveka (~500 CE), in Tarkajvala on the Madhyamakahridaya, quotes 4 verses, which closely resemble the Karikas of Gaudapada. These verses are said to be from a Vedantashastra. Shantarakshita (700 CE) quotes about 10 verses that resemble the Karikas of Gaudapada. He states that these represent the views of the Aupanishads i.e., of the followers of Upanishads. Kamalashila, the disciple of Shantarakshita, states that these verses are found in the Upanishad Shastra. These early citations from the Mandukya Karika show that Gaudapada could not have existed after 500 CE . At the same time, the Karikas of Gaudapada are said to show a similarity of thought and expression with the Mulamadhyamakarikas of Nagarjuna (300 CE) and with the Chatushataka of Aryadeva, who was a disciple of Nagarjuna. This suggests that Guadapada lived between 300 and 500 CE . By consensus, the age of Gaudapada is now said to be around 500 C.E . If this date is fairly accurate, it certainly has a bearing on the date of Shankaracharya, provided the tradition concerning Shankaracharyas relationship with Gaudapada is accurate.

Alberuni (11th cent. CE), in his travelogue of India, names Gauda the anchorite as the author of a book that dealt with the method of obtaining salvation [Ref. 5, pg. iv]. It is very possible that the reference is to Gaudapada, although one cannot be sure completely.

Gaudapada's Works
1. Karikas on Mandukya Upanishad: The text comprises of 4 sections or Prakaranas of which the first viz. Agama Prakarana, is like a running commentary on the sentences of the Mandukya Upanishad, while the other three, although appended to the Upanishad, are more or less independent works. Shankaracharya has written a commentary on these and Anandagiri has written a sub-commentary thereupon. The 215 Karikas are divided into 4 chapters: Agama (29), Vaitathya (38), Advaita (48) and Alaatashanti (100). The Vaitathya and Advaita Prakaranas are collectively called Upadesha Granthas also in literature. According to Anandagiri on Mandukya Karika 4.1, the Karikas embody the knowledge that was imparted by Lord Narayana to Gaudapadacharya at the Badarika ashrama. B. N. K. Sarma, a follower of Dvaita Vedanta, has argued quite forcefully that the Agama Prakarana is not the work of Gaudapada but rather a part of the Upanishad itself, while the other three Prakaranas alone were composed by Gaudapada . Several followers of Advaita Vedanta however differ and consider all the 4 Prakaranas as the composition of Gaudapada. The contradictory stands adopted by the Dvaita (and Vishishtadvaita) and the Advaita Vedanta tradition, or among non-partisan scholars themselves have lead to a considerable discussion literature in addition to the above . We are obliged to Shrisha Rao, maintainer of the Dvaita Vedanta Homepagefor providing many of the above references. As we have not been able to consult some of them and have not examined the primary textual sources in question in detail, we leave it to the reader to arrive at his own decision on this matter. A description of Gaudapada is philosophy, as described in these Karikas, is given in a following section C.

2. Gaudapada Bhasya on the Samkhya Karikas of Ishvarakrissna, a Samkhya text. It is unlikely that this Guadapada is same as the author of the Mandukya Karikas since the two schools of Philosophy had become mutually antagonistic by the time of the former. The author of Gaudapadabhasya sees to be an adherent of the Samkhya school of philosophy and the work shows no Advaitin bias. However, in favor of the unity of the two Gaudapadas, it may be said that Gaudapada was perhaps an eclectic scholar like Vachaspati Mishra, who faithfully commented on the 6 schools of Vedic philosophy, despite being an adherent of the Advaita Vedanta school of Shankaracharya (and Mandana Mishra?) himself. The bhashya is very lucid but does not display much originality. It follows the other commentaries on the Samkhyakarikas of Ishvarakrishna (Eg. Mathara Bhashya, Sankhya tattvakaumudi, Jayamangala etc.) very closely. The Bhashya quotes from the Rigveda/Atharvashiras Upanishad, Mahabharata, Gita, Puranas, Samkhyashastra of Panchashikha etc. and so on. A scholarly edition of this work has been brought out by Mainkar

3. Sri Vidyaratnasutra: This text comprises of 101 sutras and has been published with the commentary (called Dipika) on its first 21 sutras of Vidyaranya Muni (the famous author of Panchadashi) by Krishnananda Sagar . The text clearly belongs to the Srividya school of the Shakta sect and deals almost wholly with the ritualistic aspects of this school of philosophy. However, the second sutra of this work clearly states that the Atman is the only existent entity, thereby revealing its Advaitin leaning. The third sutra states that this Sri is the sentiency power of the Atman and is, therefore, one with the latter. Nothing is known about this Gaudapada, although the commentator seems to identify this Guadapada with our Gaudapada. The colophon at the end of the work also states Hereby ends the commentary.... written by Vidyaranya Muni belonging to the school of Paramahamsa Shri Gaudapadacharya and Shri Shankaracharya. An interesting point to note is that Gaudapada, the author of the Samkhya Karika Bhashya, quotes from Devi Bhagavata Purana- the sectarian Purana of the Shakta sect, in his Bhashya on the very first verse of Samkhya Karika.

4. Subhagodayastotram : This text, comprising of 52 verses, has been published by Swami Kashikananda Giri with his two erudite commentaries- a short commentary called Anvayarthabodhini and a long commentary called Amritjharikaa. The work steers clear of Vedanta and belongs to Samaya school of the Shakta Sect of Philosophy. It criticizes the views of the Kaula school of Shakta Philosophy. This can give a clue about the date of its composition. The text also lists 25 categories, some of which are different from the corresponding Samkhya categories. It mentions God as the 26th entity, beyond and over and above these 25 categories (verse 5). Although, no traditional commentary exists on this work, the Swami asserts that it is a composition of our Gaudapada. To support his views, he shows that the Saundaryalahiri of Shankaracharya seems to presuppose this work. The Swami also states that since Shankaracharya also composed the Prapanchasara Tantra and since Padmapadacharya (a direct disciple of Shankaracharya and the author of Panchapadika) also commented on the Tantra, it is not preposterous to assume that Gaudapadacharya, a Vedantin, could have composed a Shakta work.

5. Durga Saptati: This work could not be consulted, although it is found mentioned in some sources

6. Commentary on the Uttara Gita: According to Chakraborty , some editions of Mahabharata have a section called the Uttaragita, which professes to be a short discourse (119 verses) of Krishna to Arjuna. He opines that this and the Mandukya Karikas are the only two authentic works of Gaudapada. This does not seem to be correct. Karmarkar , points out correctly that the no good edition of Mahabharata contains the Uttaragita (the Anugita in the Ashvamedha Parva being totally different) and the various manuscripts of the same differ very widely in content and size. Karmarkar also speculates- Gaudapada who seems to be indebted to the Bhagavadgita for many ideas in his Karikas, may have thought of emphasizing the Yoga element in the Gita, by writing a supplement to it. The Uttaragita, besides describing the nature of Brahman, Jivanmukti, etc. gives a detailed description of the Nadis, Kundalini etc. The text has a distinct Advaitic bias and has a commentary written by a Gaudapada on it. The Uttaragita supports the theory of Pratibimba i.e., the theory that the jiva is a reflection of Brahman.

7. Commentary on Nrasimhottaratapni Upanishad: Pandey thinks that the work is spurious . Karmarkar [Ref. 5, pg. ix] suggests that since the Mandukya Upanishad has much in common with the Nrasimha Uttaratapaniya Upanishad, tradition might have imputed the authorship of the Nrasimha Bhashya on Gaudapada automatically. In this regard, I would like to point to the existence of a commentary on the same Upanishad by Shankaracharya. A close examination of this work reveals it to be spurious because the commentary quotes some late texts like the Sarasamgraha and the Mantrarajakalpa. While we were not able to consult Gaudapada is commentary on the Nrasimha Uttaratapaniya Upanishad, we wonder if it is identical to the one ascribed to Shankaracharya? The Upanisad itself, especially the Uttaratapaniya appears to be quite old and is cited as an authority even by Mandana Mishra in the Brahmasiddhi. Other later works of Advaita Vedanta (e.g. the Panchadashi of Vidyaranya Muni) also quote the Nrsimha Uttaratapaniya Upanishad as Shruti.

The Philosophy of Mandukya Karikas
Excellent studies on the philosophy of Gaudapada and its relation to Shankaracharya is Advaita, Mahayana and Yogachara schools of Buddhism, Kashmir Shaivism etc. have been published . There is a lively controversy on whether Gaudapada was a Buddhist/profoundly influenced by Buddhist views or whether he was a staunch adherent of the Vedic/Vedantic tradition. The controversy refuses to die down. As an example of an older work, we refer to Karmarkar is refutation of Bhattarcharya is support of the former opinion .

The Gaudapadiya Karika is divided into four chapters or Prakaranas: The first chapter Agama explains the text of the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada shows that Advaita is supported by the shruti and reason. The second chapter Vaitathya explains by arguments the phenomenal nature of the world characterized by its duality and opposition. The third chapter establishes the Advaita theory and the fourth chapter Alaatashanti prakarana quite distinct from the other chapters with its Mahayana Buddhist style of dialectic explains the relativity of our phenomenal experience and establishes Atman as the sole reality underlying the phenomenal.

Ajaativaada or the doctrine of non-origination, is the fundamental doctrine of Gaudapada. From the absolute standpoint, origination is impossible. The various theories of creation whether it is the expansion of God, or it is the will of God, or it is for God is enjoyment, or it is an illusion like a dream, or it proceeds from time are all rejected by Gaudapada. Creation is the very nature of God. It is his inherent nature, which simply emanates and flows from him. But even this is only an appearance for in truth there is no creation at all. For those well versed in the Vedanta, the world is like a city of Gandharvas an illusion. Viewed from the absolute there is neither birth nor death, neither appearance nor disappearance, neither creation nor destruction, neither bondage nor liberation. There is none who works for freedom nor is there any who is liberated this is the highest truth. The wise know that there is neither unity nor plurality the world is neither one nor many. Just as a piece of rope is mistaken for a snake, the Atman is mistaken as this diverse world. Duality is an appearance and the non-dual Atman is the real truth.

Causality taught in the Upanishads is only to enable us to understand the supreme truth of non-origination. The world is not different from the self and the self is not different from Atman and Atman is not different from Brahman. That the non-dual absolute appears as the diverse world is only a delusion. If it really became diverse then the immortal would become mortal. The dualists who seek to prove the origination of the unborn, by that very enterprise try to make the immortal into mortal. Ultimate nature can never change the immortal can never become mortal and vice versa. Gaudapada quotes from the Upanishads : There is no plurality here; The Lord through his powers appears to be many; those who are attached to creation or production or origination go to utter darkness; the unborn is never reborn, for who can produce him?.

Ajativada can be proved by logic too. How can that, which already exists, be born again? Neither can the non-existent be born. To produce a particular effect, a cause must have a particular energy. Else everything could be produced out of everything. But this energy can belong neither to that which is existent nor to that which is non-existent nor to that which is both nor to that which is neither. If we are unable to find the effect in the beginning or end, it cannot exist in the middle either. Since we are unable to prove antecedence and consequence, how can we establish a cause?

Causality is impossible because neither the existent nor the non-existent can be produced either by the existent or the non-existent.

That is the reason that the Buddhas have clarified the doctrine of no-origination. To say that samsara is without beginning and has an end is as absurd as saying that nirvana has a beginning but no end.

Gaudapada says that it is only the dualists espousing theories on creation, who quarrel amongst themselves. We non-dualists the upholders of Ajativada have no reason to quarrel, because even these dualists when taken collectively only proclaim non-origination.

The similarity between the views of Gaudapada and Nagarjuna cannot be missed. Gaudapada himself acknowledges this when he says, There are some (shunyavadins) who uphold non-dualism (advayavada) and reject both the extreme views of being and non-being, of production and destruction and thus emphatically proclaim the doctrine of non-origination. We APPROVE, says Gaudapada,of the doctrine of non-origination proclaimed by them.

Gaudapada advances arguments similar to Vasubandhu to prove unreality of the external world. The external world has no existence independent of the consciousness, which perceives it. Mere perception and practical utility cannot prove the reality of the world. For even in dreams there is perception and practical utility water in a dream can quench the thirst in a dream as much as real water can quench real thirst. The waking state is on par with the dream state and both are real within their own order. But from the ultimate standpoint both are unreal.

Cognition does not prove the reality of the object, for the object exists as an object only to the knowing subject. So the distinction between the subject and object is made within the field of consciousness itself.

The external world is unreal because it doesn't exist always for in deep sleep weve no consciousness of it. It is also unreal because the relations which constitute it space, time and causality are themselves impossible conceptions and hence unreal. It is also unreal because it consists of objects and whatever is presented as an object is unreal. The world is also unreal because it is unthinkable either as existent or as non-existent. Just as a moving firebrand appears as straight or curved, so does consciousness in action appear as the subject and the object. And just as an unmoving firebrand produces no illusion, so does firm knowledge produce no subject-object duality. The appearances of the firebrand are not produced by anything else and when the firebrand doesn it move, the appearances do not rest in anything else. Nor do the appearances enter into the firebrand or do they go out of it. They are mere appearances because they are essentially indescribable or unthinkable, neither real nor unreal, neither existent nor non-existent.

Reality is the pure Self  the ultimate subject, which is pure consciousness. But it is not the empirical self because that which has empirical existence cannot be ultimately real. The real is the consciousness, which is immanent in both the subject and the object and yet transcends them both. It transcends the trinity of the knower, known and knowledge. It has neither attachment nor connection nor relation to anything else. It is self-proved, self-existent, innate and uncaused. Even to say that it is the unborn is valid only from the empirical standpoint for it is beyond the intellect.

The self-luminous Self by the power of its own illusion imagines itself by itself and it is this Self which cognizes the diversity of the world. Just like a rope, which is mistaken for a snake, the Self is mistaken to be the individual subjects, the mental states and external objects. And just as when the rope is known, the imagined snake vanishes, likewise when the non-dual Atman is realized, the duality of subject and object disappears. This is the established conclusion of the Vedanta.

The non-dual absolute is to be directly realized by asparshayoga or pure knowledge. The absolute manifests itself in three forms: as vishva in jagrat or the waking state, as taijasa in svapna or the dream state and as praajna in sushupti or deep sleep. In reality it transcends all the three forms it is the fourth state Turiya.

As vishva it has consciousness of the outside world and thus enjoys the gross. As taijasa it has consciousness of the mental states and enjoys the subtle. As praajna it is concentrated consciousness and enjoys the bliss. While vishva and taijaasa are both causes and effects, praajna is only the cause. But turiya is neither cause nor effect. It is ishaana - all pervading, changeless, non-dual, capable of removing all sorrows, the lord of all and one without a second. Praajna is a state where there are no objects so it cannot even be called a subject. It knows nothing, neither itself nor others. Though praajna too is non-dual like Turiya, still there is the seed of ignorance present in deep sleep. But Turiya knows no sleep and being self- luminous consciousness is all seeing. It transcends the positive wrong knowledge of the waking and dream state and the absence of knowledge in the deep sleep state. The non-dual Atman is realized when the individual self (jiva) is awakened from its beginning less ignorance. The Atman is unborn, dreamless, sleepless, motionless, where all the categories of the intellect are merged, where all duality ceases there is neither going to nor coming from it. It is the Lord immanent in the universe abiding in the hearts of all. It is realized by the sages who know the essence of the Vedas, and are free from fear, anger and attachment.

Atman is like space and the jivas are like space in jars. When the jar is destroyed the space in the jar merges into the open space. Likewise when ignorance is destroyed by right knowledge, the jivas merge into Atman. Spaces in jars may differ in form, function and name, but still there is no difference in space. Likewise though the jivas may differ in form, function and name, still there is no difference in Atman. Just like the space in the jar is neither the transformation nor a modification nor a part of the space, the jiva too is neither the transformation nor a modification nor a part of the Atman. All elements, subjective as well as objective, are by their nature calm from the beginning, unborn and merged in the absolute. They are so because they are nothing else than the Brahman itself, which is unborn.

So what is this jar, which is cause of bondage?
The jar is nothing but ignorance. Duality is the product of the intellect and when the intellect is transcended, duality disappears. What is left is pure consciousness, devoid of all thought determinations and imagination. It is not different from the knowable, which is only Brahman. It is the calm and eternal Light. It is a unique bliss, which transcends happiness and misery. It is indescribable, unborn, changeless and non-dual. It can be realized by the Buddhas only.

Quite like the Mahayanists who say that the Buddha due to his excellent skill preached the truth in different ways depending on the aptitude of his disciples, Gaudapada too says that the merciful Veda teaches karma and upasana to people of lower and middling intellect, while jnana is taught to those of higher intellect.

Please See Also:

Advaitha Philosophy by Shri Gaudapada

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