Difficulties in Finding the True Method of Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya – Part 2 : Pre-Shankara Schools


  1. Introduction
  2. Reference of Shankaracharya to his tradition (sampradya) in Bhagavad Gita Bhashya
  3. Reference of Shankaracharya to his tradition (sampradya) in Brahmasutra Bhashya
    1. Upavarsa (450 – 500 A.D)
    2. Sundarapandya
    3. Asmarathya, Audulomi, Kasakrtsna and Badari
  4. Reference of Shankaracharya to his tradition (sampradya) in Upanishadic Bhashyas
    1. Dravida
    2. Brahmanandin
  5. Pre-Shankara Vedantic Schools
    1. Audulomi (350 B.C – 250 B.C) and Schools of Doctrines of Difference
    2. Badari (350 B.C – 250 B.C) and Doctrine of Difference
    3. Kasakrtsna (350 B.C – 250 B.C) and the Doctrine of Non-Difference (Advaita View)
    4. Asmarthya and the Doctrine of Difference and Non-Difference
    5. Baratrprapanca (Bhedabheda School)
    6. Bhartrihari (5th Century to 6th Century A.D)
    7. Brahmadatta
  6. Conclusion


In my last post, I started writing a series on the difficulties of finding the true method of Advaita Vedanta. Difficulties in Finding the True Method of Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya – Part 1. In that article, I stressed the fact that contrary to what many people think, there is no one universal truth which all schools of spirituality concur with. Not only that, even within the same school, there are many sub-schools. First I discussed how in the modern world Vedanta gets conflated with Advaita Vedanta when the fact is that there were several schools of Vedanta, pre-Shankara and post-Shankara, that diverge completely from the views of Advaita Vedanta even though all of them consider the shrutis or the Upanishads as their final authority. Thereafter I began tracing the history of Advaita Vedanta and showed that though Shankaracharya is commonly accepted as the founder of Advaita Vedanta, the fact is that Advaita Vedanta tradition existed much before him – a fact which he accepts in several places in his commentaries or bhashyas. Finally, I discussed the first teacher of Advaita tradition, Badarayana – the author of Brahmasutras – whose text is available for us today. But even this is a matter of dispute. Though the Advaitins claim his text as enunciating the Advaita philosophy with Shankara choosing to write his bhashya on it but so do the latter-day Dualist (Dvaita) and Qualified Non-Dualist (Vishisthadvaita) schools claim him. Even several modern scholars and some later Advaitins have cast their doubts if the Brahmasutras by Badarayana can be strictly interpreted as an Advaita philosophy, the way Shankara did. (Please see previous article for more details)

In this article, I am going to talk in some detail about the various pre-Shankara Vedantins whose names crop up here and there in the works of Shankara, Badarayana and some later commentators but whose works are not available for us today. Sometimes even their names are not mentioned but just their title, expressing their commentarial status, like – bhashyakara or vrittikara. One shall see, how even here, it is extremely difficult to state with absolute conviction in which Vedanta school their works can be ascribed to

A historical appreciation of pre-Sahnakra Advaitins and Vedantins helps us in two ways

  1. Appreciating the fact that the teachings of Shankara belonged to a tradition that existed much before him and that he did not come up with innovative ideas of his own
  2. Separating those teachings which do not belong to the tradition of Advaita Vedanta and which may have crept into the Advaita teachings with time through osmosis.

Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his school in his commentaries (Bhamati and Vivarna Schools of Advaita Vedanta by Pulsath Soobah Roodurmum, page 10). A number of important early Vedanta thinkers have been listed in the Siddhitraya by Yamunācārya (c. 1050), the Vedārthasamgraha by Rāmānuja (c. 1050–1157), and the Yatīndramatadīpikā by Śrīnivāsa Dāsa. At least fourteen thinkers are known to have existed between the composition of the Brahma Sutras and Shankara’s lifetime, which I shall be presenting in this article. In fact Vedanta as a philosophy had had a history of at least a 1000 years before Shankara came. (A History of Early Vedanta, Hajime Nakamura, page 89)

Reference of Shankaracharya to his tradition (sampradya) in Bhagavad Gita Bhashya

Shankara has himself expressed his profound veneration for the true tradition at various places. For example, in his Gita Commentary he quotes the view of those who have but an imperfect insight into the truth as follows:

“Bringing transmigratory experience to an end is a task that I have to achieve: I shall achieve it by acquiring knowledge of the Field (the individual physical body and subtle transmigratory body) and the Knower of the Field (the Lord present within those two bodies as Witness), and by becoming established in the nature of the Lord, the Knower of the Field, after having acquired direct knowledge of Him through the practice of meditation first. “

And having quoted this incorrect doctrine (which implies that the ignorant individual soul is initially different from the Knower of the Field and has to become identical with the latter through its exertions) he comments:

“the contemptible “sage” who holds such a view thinks he is bringing out the true meaning of transmigratory experience and liberation from it, and also the true meaning of the Vedas as a whole. But in fact, he is a “slayer of the Self” confused himself and leading others into confusion. Because he is bereft of the true tradition for interpreting the Veda, he rejects what it teaches and reads into it what it does not teach. One who does not know the true tradition for interpreting the Veda is, therefore, to be ignored as an ignoramus, even if he be learned in all the sciences”

~ (Bh.G.Bh.XIII.2)

Elsewhere in the same work he writes:

“But some persons, believe in themselves to be very wise, say that the intellect cannot attain to the Self because the latter is formless so that it is hard to become established in right metaphysical knowledge. True, indeed, it is hard for those who have no Teacher and belong to no tradition, who have not heard the Upanishadic texts in the traditionally prescribed way, whose minds are wholly attached to external objects and who have not pursued the right path with diligence…”

~ (Bh.G.Bh.XVIII.50).

Reference of Shankaracharya to his tradition (sampradya) in Brahmasutra Bhashya

The date of the earliest Brahmasutras is not closely identified—the best scholarly guesses put it around 100-200 B.C. (S. L. Pandey, Pre-Samkara Advaita Philosophy (Allahabad: Darshan Peeth, 1974, pp. 21-27).

The sutras we have today – both of Badarayana and Jamini (400-450 A.D) was preceded by a long series of preparatory literary efforts of which they merely represent the highly condensed outcome. This is rendered probable by the analogy of other sutras, as well as by the exhaustive thoroughness with which the Sutras perform their task of systematising the teaching of the Veda. This is further proved by the frequent references which the Sutras make to the views of earlier teachers. If we consider merely the preserved monuments of Indian literature, the Sutras (of the two Mimamsas – Brahmasutra and Mimamsasutra; as well as of other sutras) mark the beginning. If we, however, take into account what once existed, although it is at present irretrievably lost, we observe that they occupy a strictly central position, summarising a series of early literary essays extending over many generations, on one hand. On the other they are a head spring of an ever broadening activity of commentators as well as virtually independent writers, which reaches down to our days. Let us take a look at some of these early commentators mentioned in the Brahmasutras of Badarayana.

Upavarsa (450 – 500 A.D)

The first Acarya to be credited with the earliest commentary on the Brahma-sutra is Upavarsa. (S. L. Pandey, Pre-Samkara Advaita Vedanta, p.171) Shankara speaks frequently of Vrttikaras (a person who writes a brief commentary). He speaks, more specifically, of a Sarirakamimamsavrtti, that is, a commentary on the Brahmasutras, whose author he names as Upavarsa (Brahmasutrabhashya on III.3.53). His reference there implies that Upavarsa also wrote a commentary on the Mimamsasutras, and this is confirmed by Sabara, author of the major existent commentary on the Mimamsasutras, who summarizes some of Upavarsa’s views. (Sabarabhashya on Mimamsasutras 1.1.5.). Shankara considers Upavarsa to be a member of his own tradition and refers to him reverentially as Bhagavan (Bhamati and Vivarna Schools of Advaita Vedanta by Pulsath Soobah Roodurmum, page 10). Upavarsa is acknowledged to be the earliest and also the most authoritative of the thinkers of the Vedanta and Mimamsa schools after the final compilation of the Brahma-sutra (A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy – Part 2, by Hajime Nakamura, page 29)

Upavarsa is reported to have held the view that “Brahman is the source, the ground and the goal of the whole universe”, which view is supported by both Sankara and Padmapada (S.L Pandey, Pre-Samkara Advaita Vedanta, page 174).

Upavarsa was also the first to divide the Vedic lore into the ritualistic section (karma-kanda) and ‘wisdom-section’ (jnana-kanda). And perhaps his was the first commentary on Badarayana’s sutras: Sankara credits him with a Sariraka-sutra-vritti (no longer available). He was a Vedantin who advocated the employment of the six means of valid knowledge that Advaita came to adopt in due course. It was he who began the discussion about self-validation (svatahpramanya), and in a sense Advaita epistemology may be said to have begun with him, He emphasized that the postulation of ‘self’ as distinct both from the body and from mental processes is unavoidable. He argued that while the self cannot in any manner be revealed to another person, it cannot in any sense be denied by oneself, It is affirmed by introspection, but the introspective process itself cannot be regarded as self, Upavarsa was also the pioneer with regard to the characteristic Advaita method of ‘initial assumption and subsequent withdrawal” (adhyaropa-apavada). It is unfortunate that his work has been lost almost beyond recovery.

Upavarsa finds a further mention in the Brahmasutra Bhasya in (I.3.28) related to the theory of the word or sphota. I shall be delving into it this in my next article when I discuss another Vedantin called Bhartrihari. The views of Upavarsa are referred to by the Vedantins Sabara, Ramanuja and Yamuna, post-Shankara. A more detailed note on him can be found here.


In his Commentary on the fourth sutra of the first pada of the first adhyaya of Brahmansutra Sankara cites three karikas that were later determined to belong to the Vedantin Sundarapandya. He seems to have written a varttika on Upavarsa’s vritti (S. L. Pandey, op. cit, pp. 199-202.)

A commentary under the name ‘Varttika’ is said to have been written by Sundarapandya, another ancient teacher, on Upavarsa’s Sariraka-mimamsa-vrtti. In his Varttika, Sundarapandya is said to have formulated two more means of knowledge in addition to the six mentioned by Upavarsa in his Vritti, viz., Perception (Pratyaksa), Inference (Anumana), Sastra (Sabda), Analogy (Upamana), Presumption (Arthapatti), and Non-apprehension (Abhava)(S.L. Pandey, Pre-Samkara Advaita Vedanta, page 172), The Varttika-kara believes that these six means of knowledge are valid only until the Self is ascertained, but thereafter the Self cannot be known through these means. He therefore makes a difference between “relative knowledge (“‘Sesajnana”) and Absolute Knowledge (“asesa jnana”)”, and also between their means(ibid, page 200-201). He believes that Absolute Knowledge is attainable only through the method of “adhyaropa”(superimposition) and “apavada”(recission) (ibid, page 200) (It is said in this context that the line, “adhydropapavadabhyam nisprapancam prapancyate”, is verily from the above mentioned Varttika) (ibid, page 201). Sundarapandya says that “the characterless Brahman can be described by the method of superimposition and consequent sublation. The Absolute Knowledge is neither the process of superimposition nor that of negation. It is a dialectical relation of these two processes. Jnana is more akin to a process than to a reality… The method of ‘adhyaropa’ and ‘apavada’ ultimately culminates in the realization of the Supreme Self and of the unreal character of the world(ibid, page 202), Sundarapandya is also held to have deliberated on the concept of Maya, and on the doctrine of Pure Brahman devoid of Maya(ibid). It is evident from these facts how much Sankara owes to both Upavarsa and Sundarapandya for his theories about the world and Brahman.

Asmarathya, Audulomi, Kasakrtsna and Badari

Badarayana mentions on occasion views of others by name, In one passage (Brahmasutra 1.4.20-22.) he contrasts the views of three old teachers—Asmarathya, Audulomi, and Kasakrtsna, in that order—on the question of the relation between the individual self and the true Self. Audulomi’s name is further found in verses 1.4.21, 3.4.45 and 4.4.6; Asmarathya in 1.2.29 and 1.4.20. Out of these Shankara aligns himself to the teachings of Kasakrtsna. Another teacher, Badari’s doctrine is mentioned in four places in the BrahmaSutra (1.2.30, III.1.11, IV.3.7, and IV.4.10). Shankara avers with Badari’s doctrines too but it seems to me that he uses his teachngs to suit his own purposes. Two other names are mentioned in the Brahmasutras by Bdarayana – Karsnajini and Atreya. I am not discussing them as they were ritualists without any other metaphysics. I shall take up the teachings of the other teachers mentioned above, in detail, in the section dealing with pre-Shankara schools.

Reference of Shankaracharya to his tradition (sampradya) in Upanishadic Bhashyas


Shankara, in commenting on some of the oldest Upanisads, makes three references to old teachers who apparently addressed themselves to the interpretation of the Chandogya Upanisad. Anandagiri identifies these as referring to Dravidacarya, who, according to Sarvajnatman (a pupil of Suresvara’s), wrote a bhasya on some Chandogya “sentences” (vakya) ascribed by him to Brahmanandin. (S.L. Pandey, Pre-Samkara Advaita Vedanta pp. 91-93, 203,)

The doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, namely, that of Vivartavada, finds expression in the work of Brahmanandin. This teacher is known as “Vakyakara”, following his commentary in the form of ‘brief statements” on the Chandogya Upanisad, which (brief statements) are also referred to as “Sutra-s” by Madhusudana Sarasvati, they being similar to the Vedanta-sutra-s. In the opinion of Brahmanandin, the process of creation is not amenable to any form of explanation, it being neither real nor unreal, anticipating thus, the doctrine of “anirvacaniyata” of Sankara Advaita. He maintains that all worldly objects are empirically real, but absolutely unreal, they being mere appearances. He therefore advances the view that all created objects are apparent transformation, and not real transformation, throwing thus his weight behind the doctrine of Vivartavada in preference to that of Parinamavada. He views that ‘Parinamavada’ is the ‘initial stage’ of Vivartavada (S.L. Pandey, Pre-Samkara Advaita Vedanta, page 203-205).


Another prominent Vedantin during the pre-Sankara days was Dravidacarya. Sankara describes him as ‘‘the knower of scriptural tradition” (agama-vit) (Mandukya Karika Bhashya (2, 32) ) and “knower of correct tradition” (sampradaya-vit). (Brahadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya (2, 1, 20), Anandagiri’s gloss identifies the reference with Dravidacarya. Cf. for the story Suresvara’s Sambandha-varitika, verses 233-234.) Sankara quotes a solution offered by him in his bhasya on Chandogya-Upanishad and calls him an acarya.(Chandogya Upanishad Bhashya (3, 10, 4) | Anandagiri’s gloss identifies him as Dravida.) He is said to have written a commentary on the Chandogya-vakya by Brahma-nandin (Tanka). ‘There is some confusion about his identity with the Dramidacarya whom Ramanuja refers to : it is probable that they were different. Dravida is said to have prepared a commentary on Brhadaranyaka-Upanishad and a gloss on Badarayana’s Vedanta-sutra. Neither, however, is now available. He appears to have been an exponent of the Advaita point of view, believing that the cosmological passages in the Upanishadic texts are not independent of the identity passages (like tat tvam asi), and that the affirmations (etad vai tat) and negations (neti neti) in the dialectics of Advaita are related by a common thread, and the identity of the Self being established by negations, The story concerning the prince who from his birth was brought up by a hunter, and who therefore thought that he was indeed the hunter’s son is ascribed to Dravida. The boy later discovered his true status, when told about it. The import of the story is that the individual self involved and led astray in the phenomenal world can recover its true and real identity by instructions from a teacher (Consciousness in Advaita by S. K. Ramachandra Rao, page 12-13)

Pre-Shankara Vedantic Schools

Having known the various teachers of the Vedanta tradition, we can now shift our attention to the doctrines of their schools. A careful examination of the pre-Shankara Vedanta schools would reveal that many a gentle and acceptable devices came to be adopted as transitional adaptations for facilitating the shifting of stress in thought and conduct from the ritualism of the Brahmanas to the Upanishadic doctrine of self-realisation. While Advaita Vedanta is the sole school which maintains that only knowledge is the means of liberation, these other pre-Shankara schools advocated various combinations of ritualistic actions, good actions and meditation along with knowledge as a means of liberation based on their metaphysics. All these schools were refuted by Shankara and his follower Suresvara.

Three Metaphysical Views of Vedanta

Concern for brevity militates against my providing a detailed description of all the prevalent pre-Shankara Vedantic Schools, so I am providing the briefest possible summary of them to indicate the profusion of schools that dotted the landscape of Vedanta before Shankara. The various schools of Vedanta teaching that were current in Shankara’s day can be grouped for consideration under three headings, according to how they explained the relation of the individual soul to the Absolute. They can then be labelled as

  1. Doctrines of difference (bheda) (atman and Brahman are different till final release when they merge)
  2. Doctrines of non-difference (abheda) (atman is Brahman)
  3. Doctrine of difference in identity (bhedabedha) (atman is part of Brahman)

A table encapsulating the views of various pre-Shankara teachers mentioned in Brahmasutra (please right click and open in new tab to view a larger pic)

Audulomi (350 B.C – 250 B.C) and Schools of Doctrines of Difference

Audulomi’s metaphysical position is mentioned in Brahmasutra Bhashya (1.4.21) In, “A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy by Hajime Nakamura”, pages 382-383, we find the following description of Audulomi’s views :

‘The individual self differs from the supreme self while it possesses a body, but when a man obtains the clear knowledge by means of the practice and training in knowledge and meditation, dies, leaves the body and obtains complete liberation, the individual self becomes the supreme Self.”

(Name and form rest on the individual soul and one can approach the highest Self/Purusha only by discarding the name and form.)

“Just as the rivers, giving up their name and form, flow out and disappear into the ocean, so the wise, released from name and form, approaches the sacred Purusa, who is higher than even the highest.” (Mund. Up. 11.2.8).

And both later Vedantins, Bhaskara and Brahmadatta quote a stanza of the Pancaratrika school :

“Up to liberation, the individual self and the supreme Self are different. But when liberated, there exists no distinction, or there is no cause for distinction.”

Thus his thought may have had some points in common with these verses. In abstract terms his metaphysical position may be generalized as: “In liberation, there is no difference; in transmigration, there is difference. Furthermore, this transmigration is not illusory, as with Sankara, but is real.

Accordingly, his doctrine was a very special ‘“non-identity non-difference” theory. The theory, as expressed above, does in some respects derive from one of the intellectual strands of the Upanisads, but it was not adopted as the finally determined doctrine (siddhanta) by the author of the Brahma-sutra. The view however did not die out but was again advocated in the seventh century by the Vedanta scholar Brahmadatta.

Moreover, according to the Brahma-sutra (IV.4.6) he is said to have asserted that since the individual self is of the nature of pure consciousness (citi—caitanya) when liberated and united with Brahman, that atman is as pure consciousness alone. This view is sharply opposed to that of Jaimini (BS.IV.4.5). The author of the sutra accepts Audulomi’s view here, but does not regard it as the final doctrine.

Thus the theory of Audulomi has been in some cases adopted, and in other cases not adopted, in the Brahma-sutra and does not necessarily agree with the standpoint of the Sutra-author. At any rate, there is no doubt that he was an authoritative Vedanta thinker.”

Though Hajime Nakamura classifies Audulomi as belonging to a special “non-identity non-difference school”. Swami Satchidanandendra classifies him squarely in the dualist school of Doctrine of Difference, and I follow his classification because Audulomi uses the words, “because the individual soul will become one with the absolute” (B.S, 1.4.21)

Some of the other schools that support a theory of difference make liberation a result to be achieved in the after-life as a reward for recourse to enjoined action. To this group belong those who held

  1. that liberation is achieved by a combination of knowledge and action,
  2. those who maintain that enjoined meditations are the path to liberation and
  3. those who teach that liberation comes through the elimination of pleasure-desire
  4. hold that liberation occurs in life, but they also make the attainment of the highest goal of life dependent on carrying out injunctions laid down in the Veda. To this school belong six sub-schools
    1. those who accept an injunction in the context of metaphysical knowledge
    2. those which preach the practice of affirmation (PrasankhyanaVadins)
    3. those who preach the elimination of the universe
    4. those who preach halting the impressions
    5. those who preach sustained remembrance of knowledge
    6. those who preach the suppression of all movement of the mind

Badari (350 B.C – 250 B.C) and Doctrine of Difference

Badari’s doctrine is mentioned in four places in the BrahmaSutra (1.2.30, III.1.11, IV.3.7, and IV.4.10). First of all, Badari asserts in the Brahma-sutra (III, 1, 11), against Karsnajini (another teacher mentioned in Brahmasutra. I have not discussed him as he was a ritualist.) about action vs ritualistic actions. Whereas Karsnajini esteemed rituals highly and said that all good works of mankind are merely aids to the realization of the fruits of the rituals, and how the rituals are performed determines the conditions of the future existence, Badari did not think them so important, but rather seems to have thought that the rituals were included among good actions in general. According to Hajime Nakamura, mentioned above, the Sutra-author probably regarded the theory of Badari as the final view (siddhanta). This has been clearly stated by the sub-commentators (Anandajnana and Govindananda). following is an extract from “A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy by Hajime Nakamura”, pages 387-389

“Badari held a unique theory concerning liberation. According to the Chandogya-Upanishad 1V.15.5-6, when the person who has attained distinct knowledge, passes through various states after death and enters the lightning from the moon, there is a non-human purusa(puruso ‘manavali) there, and that purusa, it is taught, leads the dead human to the Brahma. What kind of thing that purusa is had been discussed among the theologians of that time. Badari held that it was “Brahman as an effect” (BS.IV.3.7). Again, according to Shankara and Bhaskara, it is the lower Brahman (apara brahma). Badari discusses in detail his reason for understanding it as such, but the position he maintains consistently is in summary as follows :

1. He admits the double theory of “Brahman as an effect” and “Brahman as a cause” (highest Brahman). The latter is higher (para) than the former.
2. Brahman as an effect is also the Brahma-world (brahmaloka). This has a pluralistic existence, and is expressed by the plural. Opposed to it, the Brahman as a cause is unique and cannot be expressed by the plural.
3. Brahman as an effect occupies a place in space, and the man who obtains clear knowledge goes there after death. That is, it can be the goal of progress. On the other hand, Brahman as a cause transcends spatial determinations, and it is impossible to progress towards it.
4. Brahman as an effect is not Brahman itself (brahman as a cause), but it is near to it. It has a proximity (samipya) to Brahman itself. Consequently, one can call it the “Brahmaworld”, by a tentative and analogical expression. Badari seems to have thought that the ““Brahma-world” is the highest ideal realm within the world extended in space,
5. When the entire world is destroyed and enters the period of dissolution and returns to nothing (pralaya), the world of Brahman as an effect returns in dissolution to the highest Brahman,
6. Although the individual self who attains the knowledge of Brahman remains in the Brahma-world, it will dissolve into the supreme Brahman together with Hiranyagarbha, the overseer (adhyaksa) of the Brahma-world, when the Brahma-world returns to dissolution. According to the three ancient commentaries, this idea is said to correspond in import to the following verse in the Kurma-Purana :

“When the dissolution of the world occurs, namely, in the final end of the supreme One, all those who have set right their minds enter the highest state (param padam) with Brahma.”

In this way, Badari’s thought is very close to that of Sankara in several respects. The twofold Brahnan which he posited can be thought to correspond to the idea of the supreme Brahman (param brahma) and the lower Brahman (apara brahma) in Shankara philosophy. That the latter becomes the goal of progress, and that the former cannot become the goal of progress, is also the same. Consequently, Sankara holds that the theory of Badari in the Brahma-sutra IV.3.7-11 is the established theory (siddhanta). Of course this is not correct as an interpretation of the Sutra, but the fact that Sankara would go so far as to attempt such an impossible interpretation and conclude that Badari’s view was the final one, should perhaps be adequately noted. In this respect, he can be admitted ‘as the forerunner of Sankara.

His thought, however, is by no means completely the same as Sankara’s. For example, according to the doctrine of the Nondualistic monistic school, one can obtain liberation in the body he was born with even in the present world, and at the time of death, he is completely united with Brahman, but Badari thought that only after death, when one returns to dissolution in the Brahman world in the remote future, can he then attain complete liberation. Therefore one must also admit the fact that the Mandukya-karikas and other works produced in the interim from Badari to Sankara exerted an important influence.”

Although Hajime Nakamura has said above that Badari’s thoughts are close to Shankara, I feel we should tread very cautiously here. For Shankara never beleived that Brahman as an effect was real, as Badari did; also, he considered action as the indirect means for liberation unlike Badari who considered it the primary means. For Shankara, the pluralistic world is just an apparent transformation of Brahman just like a mirage or a dream. For him formless (nirguna) Brahman is all that exists. According to Shankara, this view was supposed to be held by Kasakrtsna, who is discussed below. As Hajime notes, Badari is close to Shankara’s doctrine in so far as Badari accepts that the Supreme Brahma is not this plural universe (saguna Brahman): but nirguna. Shankara agrees to Badari in a strange sort of way. In Brahmasutra Bhashya 4.3.14 (trans. by Swami Vireshwarananda) he says:

“The reference to the journey to Brahman, which belongs to the sphere of relative knowledge, in a chapter which deals with Supreme Knowledge is only by way of glorification of the latter. Therefore the view expressed in Sutras 4.3.7-11 by Badari is the correct one.”

In effect, what he is saying is that Badari’s view is correct because no actions, no form of progress can lead to Unconditioned Supreme Brahman but only to Conditioned, Lower Brahman. In this Shankara agrees to Badari because Badari is opposing Jamini, who says that a soul who possesses knowledge of lower Brahman, upon death, goes to higher Brahman.

Kasakrtsna (350 B.C – 250 B.C) and the Doctrine of Non-Difference (Advaita View)

The doctrine of non-difference in identity of individual and Self is attributed to Kasakrtsna in Brahma Sutra I.iv.22, which is basically a single word: avasthiter-iti . According to Swami Satchidanandendra Sarasvati, “Kasakrtsna (held that the individual soul and the Absolute were identical) on the ground that it was the Absolute itself that assumed the form of the soul”. So the teaching of this school was that, as viewed from the empirical standpoint, the supreme Self assumes the illusory appearance of being the individual soul. This was the doctrine followed by Gaudapada and other early Acharyas. Shankara says that it is this doctrine alone that follows the true Vedantic method.

As mentioned earlier, later Vedantins and present-day scholars believe that Kasakrtrsna was representing the doctrine of Difference and Non-Difference discussed below. (ex. Hajime Nakamura in “A History of Early Vedanta”, pages 372-377. He states that, “Insofar as the theory of Kasakrtsna in the Sutra is said to be the finally determined doctrines (siddhanta), Sankara and his commentators stressed that Kasakrtsna’s theory was nondualistic monism, in order to combine it with their own theory.) As I mentioned in my previous article, author Nataliya Isayeva has mentioned that Brahmasutra’s final position is not Advaita – doctrine of non-difference, but the doctrine of difference and non-difference (bhedabheda). Hajime Nakamura has also contended the same. Anyone wishing to go into this in detail can visit my note on Kasakrtsna: an extract of Hajime Nakamura’s book.

Personally, since I am ultimately interested in Shankara’s view, I don’t mind if he has co-opted Kasakrtsna’s view to suit his own. As a philosopher, however, I do accept that Kasakrtsna’s view may have been different from what Shankara manufactured out of the terse one word attributed to him in Brahmasutra.

Asmarthya and the Doctrine of Difference and Non-Difference

following is an extract from “A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy by Hajime Nakamura”, pages 384-385 :

“The theories of Asmarathya appear twice in the Brahma-sutra. The meaning of the saying in the canon (Chand. Up. V.18.1),that the supreme Self has a size equal only to the spread of the thumb and index finger, is discussed in the Brahma-sutra (I.2.29). In this regard Asmarathya is said to have asserted that although the Lord has infinite size, He takes on such a size and manifests Himself (abhivyakti) to the worshipper in order that the worshipper can perform the worship.

Moreover, according to the Brahma-sutra (I. 4. 20), Asmarathya asserted in connection with the conversation between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi (Brhad Up. 1,4,5; IV,5,6), which is taken up for discussion in the Brahma-sutra, that the teaching of atman as a thing “to be seen” should be regarded as a mark (liiga) which indicates that the Upanisadic promise (pratijna) : “When atman has been known, this all is known” (cf. Brhad Up. I, 4, 5) can be fulfilled. According to the commentators (Bhaskara, Anandajnana, Govindananda), his theory is “Difference and non-difference”, but they take it that this assertion is in regard to non-difference. Although the supreme Self and individual self are different principles, the promise that “when atman is known, this all is known’ is possible since there are some points which they have in common. If the two were completely different, such a promise, he says, could never be implemented.

“If the individual self and the supreme Self were absolutely different, then the teaching having begun by referring to the individual self in the present passage, and then going on to a conclusion referring to the supreme Self, would be lacking in continuity (ie. an anacoluthon). Again, the promise (in the sacred text that when Atman has been known this all is known) would not be implemented. Therefore the side of non-difference has been taught first.”

‘According to the Bhamati (ad loc.), Asmarathya compared the relationship of the supreme Self and individual self to that between fire and a spark. Comparison of the relationship of the supreme Self (or Brahman) and the individual self to the spark which flies out of the fire, has already been taught in the Ancient Upanisads (Brhad. Up. 1.1.20; Mund. Up. W.1.1; Maitri-Up. V1.26, 31). Asmarathya has accepted this, and the allegory is frequently used by the Vedanta school later. Very early, it is mentioned in the Brahma-sutra III.2.28, the Dravidacarya fragment 13, the Mandukya-Karika 1.6, and later, Nimbarka and others still taught the same view. Then, on the other hand, it was criticized as not the true theory of the ultimate reality by the Mandukya-karika III.15 and by Sankara.”

As a representative of this doctrine one might cite Bhartrprapanca, who was probably a near-contemporary of Sankara Bhagavatpada. Nobody has yet discovered any earlier exponent of the doctrine

Bharatrprapanca (Bhedabheda School)

This Advaita teacher is believed to have written a commentary on the Madhyandin recension of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, while in contrast, Sankara wrote his commentary on the Kanva recension of this Upanisad. (Prof. M.Hiriyanna, Fragments of Bhartrprapanca, quoted by S.L. Pandey, Loc. Git, p.211.)

Shankara often mentions and cites him in the commentary on Brhadaranyakopanisad (though he does not call Bhartrprapanca by name, references to this Vedantin are reliably established by a later tradition). It was probably Bhartrprapanca who elaborated a popular simile, equating Brahman and the world to the ocean and its waves. Later this simile was often used by Yadava and Ramanuja. In the words of Sankara (who is paraphrasing Bhartrprapanca’s statements), “Brahman is simultaneously dual and one. Just as water is real, so its modifications are also real: the waves, the foam, the bubbles. They come and go, but they are a part of the ocean and, because of that, they are real. In the same way, this multiform/universe/ is real, like the waves, … but the higher Brahman itself is the water of the ocean.”(Sankara, Commentary on Brhadaranyakopanishad, V. 1.1). Accordingly, in this school, the supreme Self, who transcends temporal and spatial limitations, assumes the form of the individual self, and appears in the empirical world.

For Bhartrprapanca himself the admission of two equally real forms of the existence of Brahman quite consistently led to the belief in the necessary combination of the path of knowledge and the path of action, that is, the combination of the knowledge of Brahman and ritual practice. However, Sankara cites Bhartrprapanca’s words only to refute them. According to him, these views are “opposed to Sruti, to smrti and logical reasoning,(Sankara, Commentary on Brhadaranyakopanisad, V.I.1: tasmacchrutismrtinyayavirodhad …) because the higher Brahman can be only one, and it is devoid of any qualities or attributes.

Bhartrprapanca’s notion of the two forms or two manifestations of Brahman found its further development in the ideas of the Bhedabheda school, which was represented by Bhaskara (c. eighth century), Yadava (eleventh century) and Nimbarka (second half of the eleventh century), as well as in some conceptions of Ramanuja’s followers. They regarded the idea of complementing true knowledge by good deeds as extremely appropriate. (It was Bhaskara, probably a younger contemporary of Sankara, who gave a precise wording to the doctrine of ‘combination of knowledge and actions’ (jnana-karma-samuccaya), which subsequently became so popular with Vedanta scholars of the Visnuite school.) The logic of reasoning here is quite clear: if the world is as real as the higher Brahman, it could not be a matter of indifference for the ultimate liberation of a person whether he is acting well (that is, in conformity with Vedic injunctions) during each successive episode of his samsaric existence. In other words, the augmentation of merits and securing of auspicious karma, according to these systems, is directly conducive to moksa. Within the orthodox tradition, only Sankara was bold enough to suggest that no human action—including the rites prescribed by the Vedas— leads directly to liberation.

However, according to some scholars, Shankara is indebted to Bharatprapancha for another doctrine of Sankara Advaita, namely that of Avidya, as the cause of apparent empirical plurality.

Bhartrprapanca considers Avidya to be the cause of the finitude of the Jiva and of the delimitation of one Jiva from another. He says that there can be no liberation without the removal of Avidya( S.L. Pandey, Pre Samkara Advaita Philosophy, p.217.). This is a clear hint at the doctrine of liberation through true Knowledge advocated by Sankara Advaita. Interestingly, this ancient teacher propounded the doctrine of eight phases of Reality, viz., Antaryamin, Saksi, Avyakrta, Sutra, Virat, Devata, Jati and Pinda. He -maintains that these are all phases of (lower) Brahman. “The doctrine of eight phases of Brahman indicates that as a matter of fact everything is Brahman which is thus the whole and Sole Reality. ( Ibid, pp.218-220.) Advocating the doctrine of gradual Liberation through the eradication of Avidya by True Knowledge and action, which doctrine is called Samuccayavada, Bhartrprapanca rejects the concept of Jivanmuti. According to him there is nothing like instantaneous Liberation (Sadyomukti). Liberation is possible only after the dissolution of the present body, says he( Ibid, pp.225.).


There have been some scholars who think that Shankara invented the doctrine of Maya. This is not true. Even before Shankara, the Advaitic doctrine of Maya is said to have been advocated also by Brahmadatta, who is also one among the teachers of the ancient Advaita tradition.

Brahma-datta was another important thinker. It is conjectured that there was a commentary on Badarayana’s Vedanta-sutra from his pen (About Brahmadatta, cf. M. Hiriyanna, (Ed), Naiskarmya-siddhi, Introduction, p. xxiii; also JOR, Madras, vol. II, 1928.) Sarnkara, Suresvara and Vedanta-desika refer to his views only to criticize him.(Consciousness in Advaita by S. K. Ramachandra Rao, page 11)

Suresvara’s commentator, Jnanottama describes him as an exponent of the conjoint value of wisdom and ritualistic conduct in securing the highest end (jnanakarma-samuccaya-vadin). He appears to have held the view that the Upanishads contain two kinds of significant statements (vakyas): statements that are intended to generate wisdom (jiiana) and statements that prescribe worship (upasana). — Statements like ‘That thou art’’ (tat tvam asi) illustrate the first kind ; “Self is to be seen, cte” (atma va are drastavyah) could be an example of the latter, Brahma-datta considers the latter statements as superior to the former, as their relationship is one of part-and-whole (anga-angi ), Whatever the depth of wisdom arising from the Upanishadic statements, final liberation is impossible of attainment unless perfected by long and continuous meditation (worship, upasana), This cultivation (bhavana) must be life-long, for it is only after physical death that final liberation (moksha) can be attained. The fruits of liberation, in other words, can never be experienced while one is living: it is an adrsta-phala, One can see that in all these, Sankara differs from him sharply.

There is a more remarkable view that is ascribed to Brahmadatta. The Absolute (Brahman) alone is eternal; everything else is transient, The individual self (jiva) emerges out of the Absolute as a distinct entity, and is, therefore, subject to birth and death, i.e., transient. Sankara refers to this view in Bs.Bh (3,2,17) as the prima-facie view, and criticizes it. But Brahma-datta seems to have taught a variety of Advaita, involving the concept of maya; but the individual self’s emergence and dissolution vitiated the coherence of this teaching. We are told that this was the older version of the theory of maya, while Gauda-pada and Sankara represent the newer version (Consciousness in Advaita by S. K. Ramachandra Rao, page 12)


In this article, I attempted to survey briefly yet comprehensively the various pre-Shankara schools of Vedanta and their differing philosophies. By the end of this article, a reader can appreciate the puzzling variety of views held by different teachers and schools of Vedanta and how Advaita Vedanta is just one of these views. For a follower of Advaita Vedanta, knowing the views held by various schools is extremely beneficial because, in his/her journey of self-inquiry, there are significant chances that one would erroneously subscribe to the view of one of these schools. I, for example, subscribed to the Bhedabheda school for quite some time, until I discerned the true Advaita tradition in the Mandukya Karika of Gaudapada. The next article in the series will deal with Vedantins whose texts are available with us today. There are only two such Vedantins : Bhartrihari and Gaudapada.

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