Madhava, Vidyaranya, Sringeri, and Kulke

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 15 22:33:23 UTC 2000

One can always count on Palaniappan <Palaniappa at AOL.COM> to raise the only
pertinent issues in this discussion:

>I think if it is reasonable to expect the followers of Sankara  to
>internalize saMnyAsa, it is also reasonable to expect them to internalize
>parivrAjaka nature associated with it by Sankara. To me, the parivrAjaka
>nature and geographical fixity are mutually contradictory.

A very important point. In practice, the wandering is often quite
circumscribed. It should not be seen as a case of being seized by wanderlust
or as a nomadic life. There are some monastic rules that are observed in
common across religious boundaries. Even before Sankara was born, various
kinds of optima between wandering and geographical fixity had been achieved.
For example, parivrAjakas are expected to stay put at one place during the
cAturmAsya, i.e. the monsoon season.

As an aside, Jain monks are the only ones who strictly follow this four
month rule. All other orders go by a rule of two months, but still call it
cAturmAsya. The Sankaran monastic orders have often been compared to the
Buddhist vihAras. It is my opinion that more pertinent comparisons can be
drawn with Jain orders, rather than Buddhist ones. Of course, something like
sallekhana is not acceptable to the Dasanami Sannyasins, and the Jain view
of ahimsA will be seen as an extreme position.

With pra or pari prefixed to the root vraj, some of the ideas conveyed are
simply of "leaving home" or "circumambulation" or "exile". The idea is only
that the ascetic renounces home and family and voluntarily exiles himself
from the society of gRhasthas. No further geographical implications need be
read into it, except for giving up kinship and ownership rights over the
homestead. It is sometimes achieved in quite symbolic ways, e.g. simply by
going out of the agrahAra, or crossing a river. At some point, one reaches
the position of attait tiNRu ankE kiTakkum. And after that, enkum pO vENTAm.
And still later, after death, there is no going anywhere - na tasya prANA
utkrAmanti. atraiva samavanIyante. These have always been the generic
guiding principles behind the monastic orders.

As for how these institutions are born and develop, one can cite two recent
examples, traditional in some ways, and non-traditional in others. One is
Ramana Maharishi. He left his home in Madurai, and he wandered for a while,
but he didn't step out of Tiruvannamalai once he got there. Today there is a
big establishment there, as also numerous people/institutions elsewhere in
the world, claiming inspiration from him. Similarly with Nityananda in
Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra. He just arrived there one day, and stayed. He
didn't set out to establish an institution. Nevertheless, an institution
grew around him, with designated successors and the inevitable succession
controversy. Today, it is the high profile SYDA (Siddha Yoga), along with an
unofficial spin-off, the less known Shanti Mandir.

Rather than discussing how a balance is traditionally achieved between
wandering and geographical roots, I will simply cite the following
references, in addition to some of the texts listed in two of my earlier

Joachim F. Sprockhoff, Samnyasa: Quellenstudien zur Askese im Hinduismus
(German), Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1976.

viSveSvarasarasvatIkRtaH yatidharmasangrahaH, Pune: Anandasrama, 1980.

Patrick Olivelle, ed. and trans., vAsudevASrama's yatidharmaprakASa: A
treatise in world renunciation, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2 vols. 1976-77.

Kasinath Upadhyaya, The Dharmasindhu, Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, Sri
Garibdas Oriental Series No. 14, 1986 [reprint of 1907 edition].

G. S. Ghurye, Indian Sadhus, Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1953.

Haripada Chakraborti, Asceticism in ancient India in Brahmanical, Buddhist,
Jaina, and Ajivika societies, from the earliest times to the period of
Sankaracharya, Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1973.

As the later saMnyAsa manuals cite the old dharmaSAstra texts frequently,
perhaps Mahamahopadhyaya P. V. Kane's volumes on the History of
Dharmasastras, and Prof. Olivelle's recent translation of four important
dharmasUtra texts may also be consulted.

Re: the 1235 inscription of Vidyasankara, with the boar emblem -

>This also serves to support the 14th century origin of the maTha.

Actually, the seal indicates that there already was a something, associated
with Vidyasankara, in the 13th century. It remains to be seen where this
something was, and what this something was.

>the burden of proof is on the traditionalists arguing for a pre-14th
>existence of a maTha and not on those who question its existence in that
>period. To me, the traditionalists have not proved their case so far.

I am resisting the temptation to enter into a discussion of philosophical
views of absence and negation. I will only ask this much. Is the absence of
evidence from an earlier time period a case of atyanta-abhAva (absolute
non-existence), or is it only one of anupalabdhi (non-availability)? In
other words, is the problem one of ontology or epistemology?

In the present state of knowledge, there is zero inscriptional evidence
prior to the 14th century for any Matha in the Advaita tradition, from
anywhere in India. So let us say that the first such institution ever
established in the Advaita tradition was the Sringeri Matha, and only in
1346 or so. Before this time, presumably, all the monks were wandering
around, without setting up institutions anywhere. If so, why did a lone
wandering ascetic need a seal, incorporating his personal name along with an
official looking emblem, more than a century before this date? Something to
think about.

Perhaps, the conclusion to be drawn from all this is only that a detailed
search for older evidence needs to be done. Perhaps people need to be
looking for these things, rather than rushing to identify every
painting/sculpture of an ekadaNDI saMnyAsin as a depiction of Adi Sankara.
Interesting things are still turning up all over India. It is not as if the
book of primary historical evidence has been permanently closed. That there
has been a long history of academic interest in Advaita Vedanta has not even
ensured the production of critical editions of Sankara's texts. Discussions
of authenticity proceed merrily along, without the benefit of critical
apparatus. To date, Sengaku Mayeda's edition of Upadesasahasri is the lone
exception. Studies of the ascetic tradition associated with the Advaita
philosophy continue to lag behind even further.

I don't think I have anything more to say about this, without endlessly
repeating myself.

Best regards,
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