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Philosophy of Sankardeva


Philosophy of Sankaradeva:

For an account of the theology and the philosophy, ethics and religious doctrines of Assam Vaisnavism, we have to turn mainly to Sankaradeva's Bhakti-ratnakara, a work in Sanskrit, besides his other works in Assamese and the writings of other Assamese Vaisnavas. But it is not a work on the theology and, much less of philosophy, properly so called. This doctrinal treatise, however, exhibits a wide-learning, limited only by a sectarian view, and a fine analytic scholarship work. It is also interesting to note how Sankara caught hold of works of such variety of forms. And the materials collected are always set forth in a finely systematic manner. Sankaradeva and others of his school interepted the Bhagavata -purana in the local language and let it out as the secret of the Vedanta (Vedantaroguhya).


Several early schools of Vaisnavism had prepared each a commentary on the Brahma sutras. Sankaradeva of Assam and Caitanya of Bengal did not, however, deem it necessary to follow the example of these sects. Sankaradeva in his Bhakti-ratnakara. Madhavadeva in his Namaghosa, and Bhattadeva in his Bhakti Viveka cite the authority of the Bhagavata-purana itself (12,13,15) to say that this purana is the essence of all Vedanta (Sarva-vedanta-saram). Jiva Gosvami the philosophical apologist of Caitanyaism declares that the purana is Vyasa's own commentary of the aphorism of Vedanta. The verse cited by Sankaradeva and others need not, however be taken as a reference to the systematized philosophy of the Brahmaputras as much as to the Vedantic thought in its process of growth as in the Upanisads. In Bhakti-ratnakara as elsewhere. Sankaradeva relies absolutely upon the authority of the Bhagavata-purana the Bhagavadgita other visnuite puranas and sectarian texts.



Vedic Thought:


Sankardeva nowhere tries to work out an independent system of thought ; and his philosophical views have, therefore , to be culled and put together before we can give it a name and a place in the history of Indian thought . The philosophic teaching of the Bhagavata - purana , as Farquhar points out , " stand nearer to Sankara's system then to the theistic Sankhya which dominates earlier Puranic works " . In the interpretation of the purana , moreover , Sankardeva and other Assamese Vaisnavas greatly leaned back upon the commentary of Sridhara-svami, the mahant of the Sankarite (advaitin) Govardhanamatha at Puri (c. 1400) combiing and tempering the severe monistic idealism of advaita with the emotionalism of bhakti. It is thus naturai that Sankardeva and others of his school should tend to be monist.


Brahman is the origin, the support, and the end of the world. It is both the efficient as well as the material cause (nimittra, upadana karana) of the world just as earthen poss are nothing different from clay, just as gold ornaments are nothing different from gold, the world is born out of and end in, Brahman. The world is substantially Brahman, and depends on it. But the analogy of clay and pots and of gold and gold ornaments, which is brought in to uphold that karya (effect) is no different from karana (cause) and the presenting of the jives as parts of Brahman ( brahma-amsa jiva) as Sankaradeva does is places may tend to parinananda (evolution of a like object from a like object), which is ultimately not to be admitted. The persisting analogy put forth is that of a rope appearing as a serpent to the casual view (jarita upaji yenaache sarpajnana) which, signifies vivarta (phenomenal appearance). Thus in Sankardeva's system of thought mayavada or idealism, which was discarded by the main school of Vaisnavism, persists, and goes along with bhakti.


Underlying the false world of appearances. Brahman lends a semblance of reality (sadabhasa). The world that is unreal (asat), being connected with nescience (avidya-yukta), only appears as real, being born out of the real Brahman (asanta jagatakhana tomata ubhava bhaila . santa hena prakase sadaya). This is adhyasa, the appearance of a thing where it is not. The false appearances are made possible through maya which explained as a power of god, the conceals vastu (object) and projects avastu( non object) to view (avastuka dekhawaya vastuka avari). Practically no distinction is made among maya avidya and prakrit although Sridhara says that the same prakriti is called avidya with avarana-sakti (concealment) and as the upadhi of jives, and again called maya with viksepa-sakti (projection) and as the uapdhi of Isvara. When avidya which conceals atman to view, dissolves, the jiva realizes the self even as one's ornaments on the neck would come to one's view (avidya nasile laga krsnnaka pawaya yena kanthnalagna vastuka saksta). Maya and prakriti are often represented as the sakti and consort of the Lord. God pervades the world, but is not touched by its merit and demerits (Sankara, Bhag p. 2) nor is he erxhausted in the world, but creates maintains and destroys it through maya residing in him.


In the 22nd chapter of Bhakti -ratnakara, the difference between Isvara and jiva is brought out. Isvara is the controller of maya through his power of con sciousness ( vidyasaktya mayaniyanta) and jiva is ever mortified under the pressure of maya. Jiva can be released only when it attains knowledge through the love of god. He cites from an unidentified work. Yogasana to say that jiva is unchangeable , all -pervasive and full of calm (avikari vibhuh santah), and nothing apart from paramatman being enveloped enveloped in misapprehension and ignorance (bhrantyajnanavrta), jiva does know itself as such.


It should, therefore, be the endevavour of jiva to fee itself from the fetters of maya. Sankaradeva held bhakti to be the means by which to attain release. Isvara-bhakti leads to be the means by which to attain release. Isvara-bhakti leads to jana perfect knowledge, and janana leads to release. Jnana is considered here as a bye-product or a natural result of bhakti, and moksa comes as a corollary. But the ideal bhakta would never seek or accept nirvana or any other form of moksa as much as he would beseech the Lord to bestow on him the unending privilege of bhakti, only let there be no vagaries of maya, manas (the mind) and ahankara (the ego) .

Sankaradeva also accepeted the emotionalsed Sankhya as well as Yoga physiology and psychology as set forth in the Bhagavata and both these systems are explained in relation and as helps to bhakti.


Hitherto no system of Indian thought seems to have made a deep impression upon the people of Assam. With the them the Vedanta was imbued into the general consciousness of the people and became a common property. Although generally in their poetry. Sankara, Madhava and others kept the dry dicta of philosophy at a distance inasmuch as the poetry was for the ordinary and unlettered also, they have in many places wrought Vedantic thought into simple and lucid lines, so that even the general run of monks in the sattras could render a verbal digest of it for the enlightenment and solace of the world-worn laity.


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