Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 6 23:54:29 UTC 2000

I was trying not to inflict myself upon the list more than absolutely
necessary. And I'm not sure about the level of broad interest in this issue.
I presume there are at least two or three list members who are following
this thread, other than Palaniappan and I. Anyway, I'll try to keep my
response brief.

Palaniappan questions the following points -

>Based on the discussions so far, the case for the present Sringeri Sankara
>maTha to have been founded by Sankara seems to rest on the following

I am not making a hard argument for the proposition that the Sringeri matha
was intentionally founded by Sankara. That is what tradition says, and I'm
content to leave it at that. More about tradition and history later.

>1. Transmission of authentic Sankarite texts implies transmission through

To some extent, this is true. Take the case of Vacaspati Misra, the first
significant post-Sankaran householder author in the tradition. There is
sufficient reason to believe that he was unaware of Sankara's commentaries
on TU and CU. There are other solid reasons to assert the authenticity of
both these texts, so that it is not appropriate to question these texts
based on their being unfamiliar to Vacaspati. I have discussed this in
detail in my paper on the prakaraNa text named pancIkaraNa, to appear in
Philosophy East and West, July 2001. If any list member is sufficiently
interested in this issue and can't wait for so long, I'd be happy to send a
draft of my manuscript for their personal use.

However, the importance of the monastic tradition is an issue that is not
limited to an argument of textual transmission. It also has to do with the
creation of new texts. Take for example, pre-Vidyaranya authors and texts
like sarvajnAtman (saMkshepa-SArIraka), vimuktAtman (ishTa-siddhi),
jnAnaghana (tattva-Suddhi), prakASAtman (pancapAdikA vivaraNa), citsukha
(tattva-prakASikA), sukhaprakASa (commentary on citsukha's work),
anubhUtisvarUpa (prakaTArtha vivaraNa?) and Anandagiri (numerous TIkAs and
vivaraNas), who consciously place themselves in the Sankaran tradition. All
these authors were saMnyAsins. Even jnAnottama miSra, the author of candrikA
(commentary on sureSvara's naishkarmya-siddhi), is said to have got his name
in honor of his father's guru, who was a paramahaMsa parivrAjaka.

Culturally and anthropologically speaking, it is perhaps even more important
to look at the central importance of saMnyAsa for Sankara. Open his
commentary on the gItA on a random page. There is a greater than 90% chance
that you will find the phrases sarva-karma-saMnyAsa, or saMyag-darSana, or
jnAna-nishThA. The latter two phrases are explicitly associated by Sankara
himself with paramahaMsa parivrAjakas, e.g. his commentary on gItA 3.3. And
take the instances where he talks of the importance of sampradAya,
sampradAya-vit(s) and sampradAya-kartA(s). I would be greatly surprised if
those who were impressed with Sankara's teaching and became his followers
did not internalize this insistent emphasis on saMnyAsa and sampradAya.
Again, my only argument is that one does not have to wait till the 14th
century for monastic lineages to become important. The historicity of the
Sringeri matha and Vidyaranya's contribution to it are irrelevant for this

>2. Texts, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Sankaracharya but
>are believed to have been authored by later persons, in reality belong to
>titular Sankaracaryas.

How else? For this part of the textual argument, you really need to get away
from the Saundaryalahari and the various devotional hymns, and concentrate
on issues surrounding the bhAshyas and prakaraNa granthas. The vast majority
of the latter set of texts show increasing signs of post-Sankaran
influences, but in every one of them, saMnyAsa and its related
doctrines/practices remain central. For example, prabodhasudhAkara shows
clear evidence of having been written in response to the Radha-Krishna based
Vaishnava devotionalism in north India. But saMnyAsa and the generic Yogic
practices associated with it remain central to it.

You have to treat manuscript evidence critically, but that doesn't mean that
you throw it all out, and postulate that each one of these texts was written
by some xyz, who was not considered a Sankaracarya, even by his own
followers, and even if it was only as a matter of honorific usage.
Saundaryalahari is the only text where a different author is credited in one
set of manuscripts. All the other texts attributed to Sankara are credited
either to Sankaracarya or to Sankara Bhagavatpada. You cannot generalize
about the creation and transmission of texts based on one exception.

>3. Presence of followers of advaita tradition implies the presence of
>maTha establishment.

Modify this to - the continued presence of followers of the advaita
tradition in a particular place makes it likely for matha establishment(s)
to develop in that place. This is an expectation, but perhaps, an
expectation that if such institutions existed, one should find records of
them is misplaced. The hard fact remains that before the 14th century
records relating to Vidyaranya and Sringeri, not a single record has been
found of ANY advaita matha, ANYWHERE in India. If this means that no such
institutions developed, between the 8th-9th century and the 14th century,
one has to ask what was so special about the circumstances of the 14th
century to spark a proliferation of these mathas. The answers cannot be
limited to south India and Vijayanagara, as these mathas are present all
over the country. A matha is not a temple. One needs to have a good idea of
what constitutes a disciple lineage, what constitutes a matha, what sort of
Brahmin society was congenial to the development of Advaita as a tradition,
how these have developed over the centuries, and how mathas are different
from other Brahminical institutions like a temple or a Veda Pathashala.

Also note that various Brahminical religious concerns that are generically
called "Advaita" are not necessarily Sankaran. For some, Advaita simply
means that Siva and Vishnu are one. For others, it means that Siva and Sakti
are one, or that Vishnu and Lakshmi are inseparable. A third group is
content with a nebulous "all is one" approach. A fourth group will even talk
of simultaneous bhukti and mukti, which is as non-Sankaran as it gets. When
one talks of the Sankaran Advaita tradition, one needs to focus on the
highly intellectual tradition exemplified by the Advaita texts and the
highly monastic tradition exemplified by most of the authors of these texts.

And again, I need to reiterate, focussing only on the few well known matha
institutions does not convey the entire picture. The reality on the ground
is that there are hundreds of advaita mathas all over India, with varying
traditional dates of origin, but these data have not been studied at all. By
and large, I don't think people have been all that thoroughly mistaken or
deliberately deceptive about themselves. In the few instances where this is
significant, e.g. the contemporary Kanchi Matha, there are glaring internal
contradictions, which leap to the eye at once, and which give the game away.
But then, you could say that I am biased, so please look at the primary data
yourself. There is a wealth of information lying unused and unanalyzed.
Only, don't come to conclusions without looking at the primary data fully.

>4. Ascetics have to belong to lineages beginning with Sankara.

No. Ascetics can have lineages not including Sankara, and going back even to
others before him. There is a specific example - that of the Kavale Matha in
Goa, and its spin-off, the Chitrapur Matha in Shirali (southern Karnataka),
associated with Saraswat Brahmans in the south. These lineages include
Gaudapada and Govinda, but they do not include Sankara. They are very
careful to list a different disciple of Govinda in their lists.

No doubt there are other such lineages, but you should also note that in
general, a saMnyAsin is only required to remember the names of three
generations of gurus prior to himself. This is parallel to the householder
offering funerary rituals only up to his great- grandfather.

>5. Lineages have to be unbroken from Sankara.

Not always. Those lineages that are not continuous have been honest enough
to acknowledge the break(s), e.g. the Badrinath matha. And again, once you
distinguish between the officially reported lineage of an institution from
the teacher-disciple lineage of its heads, you get a good idea of the sense
in which continuity is maintained or lost. The tradition itself is aware of
this, in its distinction between the dIkshA guru and the sikshA guru.

>6. Lineages will settle down at some spots over a period of a few

And they will also proliferate, won't they? Every religious leader of any
note gathers at least a handful of followers, of whom at least one will take
a leadership role when that leader dies. If there are two or three such
contendors for leadership, the followers will simply branch off into two or
three factions. Each faction will end up developing its own institutions and
branches. How successful the leadership in each generation is in
consolidating the inherited tradition and adding to it determines whether
the tradition survives, and in what form. Certainly, Sankara was a man of
sufficiently great importance for his disciples and his grand-disciples, and
their disciples in turn, to create a network of lineages and institutions.
Of course, householders are important, for no saMnyAsin appears out of thin
air. He has to be born to and initially educated by a householder. But given
the central importance given to saMnyAsa, it is impossible to divorce the
Advaita tradition and its transmission of texts and religious/cultural
values from Brahminical saMnyAsa. I emphasize "Brahminical" because one
needs to distinguish its organization from the Buddhist sangha and its
distinction between monastic and lay followers. See Wade Dazey's PhD thesis
on the Dasanami orders for details.

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