Skip to content
January 5, 2010 / Jeff Shawn



The degeneration and decadence of Hinduism with over emphasis on Brahmanic ritualism, the chaotic state in the political arena with no emperor but regional kings gaining ground, the propagation and spread of the heterodox systems like Buddhism and Jainism and also the newly arrived religions in India especially Islam, eating up the Hindu faithful and an absence of a strong philosophical back ground [1]in Hinduism  and losing popular appeal for Hindu religion demanded Sankara to go for a philosophy which would be perennial; and the Visistadvaita and Dvaita philosophies of Ramanuja and Madhava though  brings cloud over the perennial claims can be considered as that which stems from the Advaitic philosophy which was systematically blended by Sankara.

The Advaita philosophy can be called a revolutionary philosophy which had the perennial claims strong enough to give a renewed philosophical base to Hinduism. The perennial claim of Sankara’s Advaita was challenged by Ramanuja and Madhava, with Advaita and Visistadvaita respectively. So rather than staying as unchangeable and static status, the Advaita of Sankara acted as a starting point or a initiate to other philosophies, which in a way continues to strengthen Hinduism. The fact that there are about five hundred Advaitic philosophers from seventh century to present shows the profoundness of this philosophy.  Sankara constructed the Advaitic system in such a way that it could cut across the challenging systems. To a great extent he was successful in making his philosophy fool-proof.

Yet another advantage of Sankara was that he was fully aware of the ground situation of that time as he traveled all along India debating arguing and convincing people about the message of Vedas. Sankara gave a new outlook to Hinduism though he was the object of wrath of both orthodox and heterodox systems. He stands between the classical and post classical, Brahmanic and Sramanic, Orthodox and Heterodox systems. He initiated the golden age of philosophy after years of slump.


The Advaitic philosophy of Sankara was a result of the need of the age. Living in an age which witnessed the losing sheen of Hinduism with heterodox systems like Buddhism and Jainism making deep inroads and also forced with the threat of new religion like Islam which had a totally new appealing outlook, witnessing a change in political equations in which the empires gave way to regional rulers and increasing sects, that interpreted Vedas as they wished, Sankara in a way had to present a philosophy that could cut across all these problems and help Hinduism regain its lost glory or in other words the need of the hour was a perennial philosophy.

Sankara knew the ground realties of India very well during that time.  Born in Kalady, in the present state of Kerala in the year 788 AD, he left home at the age of eight and wandered around India as a pilgrim for fourteen years. Sankara’s own work Digvijaya spells out the names of the towns of south where he travelled, like Gokarna, Sriparvata, Sanger, Kanchi and Rameshwaram. There is also a mention of his sojourn in Maharashtra. He could have availed a route passing through the Palghat or Coimbatore pass in Karnataka and moved up across the Godavari and Narmada.[2] All his way through the towns and villages of India, the ground realities opened up before him.  It is believed that Sankara met his guru Gaudapada on the bank of Narmada  in a narrow cave near Onkaresvara, though there are version which locate Sankara’s meeting with this preceptor in Kasi or in the fare north at Badari.[3] The Philosophic initiation of Sankara got a shot in the arm with this meeting and it is believed that Gaudapada asked him to proceed to Kasi and write a commentary on the Brahma sutras. The seeds of Advaitic philosophy were sown into his mind by Gaudapada whom Sankara venerates as his Parama Guru – Supreme Teacher.

Sankara had to deliver, he was in a do or die situation, given the realities that surrounded him. He had to take in socio-political-religious factors into account and chalk out strategies that would strengthen Hinduism and bring back its old glory, would bring the people of India together and also could check the progress of Heterodox systems and Islam. And the solution came out as the Advaitic philosophy of Sankara, which is a gem born out of Sankara’s philosophical acumen and perception of ground realities.

The conditions that were prevailing during that time did influence Sankara to a great extent like the degeneration of Hinduism, phenomenal rise of Buddhism and Jainism, arrival of Islam and the political situation of that time with regional kings and regional sects gaining ground. The expositions which Sankara would make in his Advaitic philosophy begins keeping in mind the insights he received after his travel all around India. Like a modern marketing manager and devised strategies like establishing monasteries to carry forward his vision and debating and defeating other thinkers of that time who erred with the Vedic ideologies.

1.1 Degeneration of Hinduism

At the time of Sankara, Hinduism was in a state of degeneration. The priestly class mercilessly dominated the scene with profound philosophy of Upanishad being brought down to the level of conducting  innumerable sacrifices and keeping aloof from the lower class and even imposing strict punishment to those who even hear Upanishads. The death bells were ringing for Hinduism. But how did it reach a situation like this? History has the answers.

The invading Aryans and the Dravidians of India, though had initial resistance between each other, ironed out their differences and settled down giving rise to a new stream of thought. The Aryans and Dravidians worked together and these emerged from this conjoint endeavor, a distinct cultural patter of life and thought- Hinduism.[4] The Upanishadic philosophy which formed the corner stone of Hindu philosophy had profound ideas. Encouraging a free spirit of enquiry, it encouraged people to delve into the deep waters of understanding the mysteries and unknown. The attitude of Upanishad, which was neither exclusively other worldly nor solely worldly developed a tolerant, synthetic and pervasive outlook and integrated Indian life into a unity, which recognizes all the differences and diverse aspects of one reality.[5] But as the time passed by the underlying philosophy of Upanishads which was aimed at liberating the individual from the shackles of external authority and bonds of excessive convention were forgotten and the priestly class dominated the Sudras, the lower class and the sacrifices were given the primary focus. The growing mass of rituals and sacrifices involving slaughter of innocent animals and the hegemony of the Brahmin priests with a false sense of superiority had embittered the relations between different social groups.[6] The situation grew alarmingly severe with superstitious religions raising head as the Brahmins who were to explain the essence of Upanishads shied away from their responsibility and that gave rise to the irrational polytheism, dry ceremonialism and empty formalism. The heterodox systems were training guns to the vulnerable Hindu religion of that age. As Govind Chandra Pandey rightly says, “The religious culture of the age was marked by eclecticism, syncretism, broadminded tolerance and tantricism.”[7]

Sankara had to start from the scratch; he needed to bring out a perennial philosophy to keep the flock together. And this is one of the primary influences that played an important role in the formation of Adavaita of Sankara. The next influence is with regard to the political situation of that time.

1.2. Political situation

The political situation of Sankara’s age was a cause of concern. The strong empires of Hindu kings were things of the pat and power was concentrated on the regional rulers. This meant that Sankara will have to keep in mind the numerous problems arising out of a lack of central authority and he would have to design a powerful perennial philosophy in order to command the respect particularly in the absence of the lack of political power for support.

The threat from the conquerors were on the rise as the once powerful India empires became a loose federation of smaller states under subordinate rulers titled Samantha, Mahasamantha, Maharajah etc.[8] All these happened after the fall of the Guptas and the Vakatakas. The age of great and stable empires seemed to pass and the period from c. A.D. 650 onwards witnessed a ceaseless struggle for power and the rise and fall of numerous relatively short lived empires having a distant regional basis.[9] The traditional social system took a back seat with the absence of a central power. Sankara thus notes the decay of Varnasramadharma in his times. Commenting on BS.1.3.33 in Brahmatatra, he writes, “Idanim va Kalathare pyavyavashtiaparayan varansaramadharma paraytijanita.” Meaning “one might suppose that Varasmaradharma was in disorder earlier also just as it is now.’ [10] The sacred texts were interpreted to suit the theories of a particular sect or the other and the social system of the ancient sutras had become increasingly unreal between the times of Patanjali and Sankara. So to sum up the age of Sankara can be characterized as an age which witnessed the emergence of parochialism, regionalism, feudalism and new ruling class.

Along with the political worrying factor Sankara had to take not of the rise in influence of Buddhism, Jainism and Islam in India which could make Hinduism as a religion a thing of the past.

1.3 Reform Movements

Annoyed and disheartened by the meaningless ritual, unjust exercise of power by the priestly class and the neglect of other classes created a perfect situation for a religious revolution. The Buddhist and Jains were born out of this revolt. The Buddhism and Jainism totally rejected and repudiated the Vedas, Vedic religion and Vedic authority. Mahavira and Gautama Buddha are the founder of Jainism and Buddhism respectively. So Sankara had to lead the fight against the Orthodox Hindus and also the Buddhist. But in the process he was subject to the wrath of both the groups.  If Buddhism dominated eastern India, Jainism was finding firm foothold in the west. In the south both Buddhism and Jainism especially the latter contended with the new vaisnava and Saiva Bhakti movement.[11] Sankara has been described by Sogen Yamakami in his Systems of Buddhistic thought as the “declared enemy of Buddhist”…he has been described by the orthodox Mimasakas as a “crypto Buddhist.”[12] Of the two main heterodox religions namely Buddhism and Hinduism, Buddhism was making deep inroads into Hindu religion.

The travelers who came to India during that time Fa-Hien who came in the fifth century, Hieun Tsan of seventh century AD, give a clear description of the rise in Buddhist influence. Hiewun Tsang found thirty to hundred monasteries with two thousand to ten thousand monks respectively… the total number of Buddhist monks in India as at least one lakh eighty two thousand five hundred- too big a number, in view of the population of India in those days.[13] This was mainly because Buddhism banked on the weak spots of degenerating Hinduism and initiated a popular philosophy, like the language Pali, the ordinary language was introduced at a time when the ordinary Hindus were forbidden to use Sanskrit. One such language was Pali, which was carried to Ceylon, Burma etc. and became the canonical language of Buddhism. [14] Against the pantheon of Gods in Hindus, Buddhism didn’t ask their believers to go behind any God, but themselves, a kind of Copernican revolution. It believed in the impermanence of reality and consciousness. It had its focus on liberation from suffering of this life. Buddha would say that, “the world is rolling from creation to decay” like “sparkling and bursting bubbles” on a river… “It is not the time to discuss about fire for those who are actually burning in fire.”[15] Sankara when formulated Advaita strikes in this point when he talks of Maya. Sankara too strikes the same note with Buddhism when he talks of uselessness of rituals, which was shrewdly incorporated to bring in the perennial status of his philosophy.

The arrival of Islam in India was an added worry to the existing problems. Sankara had to address these problems too. Scholars like Prof. Humayun Kabir suspect that the importance given to Sruti, one book (Quran to Muslims) Reality is one, the zealous journey which he undertook all over India unlike others. All these might had a share in forcing Sankara to make a philosophy which is perennial. In Prof. Humayun Kabir’s thought, “There are reasons to suppose that he was influenced by the impact of Islam in prevalent modes of thought. [16]

The rise in different sects in Hinduism like Saiva, Vaishanva, Surya and Sakta were brought under one umbrella of Hinduism, due to the perennial philosophical attempt of Sankara. If today the Iyengar, Iyer and Sastri and Acharya , the Kassmirian Saiva and Bengali Sakta-look upon themselves as the adherents of the same religion,, in spite of their antagonistic metaphysical beliefs and incompatible daily ritual, it’s because of the genius of Sankara.[17]


Sankara who stands between the classical and the post classical ages also presents the meeting point of two streams, orthodox and heterodox, Brahmanic and Sramanic.[18] It is the philosophy of Advaita that made this happen. Rightly overthrowing the primacy of karma as the ritual action and emphasizing on jnana and keeping in mind the ground realties of the day, the Advaitic philosophy, the brain child of Sankara but arising of  the Vedas had all the ingredients to claim perenniality. The focus of the discussions is on the reality. As Advaita can be righty translated as reality is one without a second or a non dualistic vision of reality. In short the essence of the philosophy can be summarized as consciousness is the only one reality and the unity with it is liberation. The knowledge of the unity of self with Brahman is needed for liberation. Apart from the role of awakening the desire to know Brahman, rituals, rites and other external rituals have no external value. It was with the Advaitic philosophy with its perennial nature cut across the various challenging systems of that time and thus Mudgal writes, “Sankara was the first man to give a final death blow to un orthodox system like Buddhism, Jainism, kapaliaks, kalpa bhaivravas etc. which were menacing Hinduism and threatening to replace it.”[19]

2.1 Advaitic view of Reality

The Advaitic view of reality of Sankara, which was in a dormant form in the Upanishad, was made to awaken by Sankara by bringing together  and systemizing it in a more scientific way with logical coherence and argumentative compactness.

2.1.1. Focus on Knowledge

For Sankara, the focus is on jnana or knowledge to achieve liberation. It’s the knowledge that helps one to become aware of the real of nature of self and break the bondage caused by ignorance in the embodied existence of ignorance. Sankara here is cleverly taking the focus away from the ritual and action as means of getting liberation that had come under severe criticism from the heterodox systems of the primary reason for the Hinduism turning to grey scale.

Sankara brings out two kinds of knowledge originally form Mudka Upanishad. Namely Para vidya (higher knowledge) and Apara Vidya (lower knowledge.) Apara vidya discussed in the Rig-Veda, Yajurveda and rest and consisting of merely mandatory and prohibitory injunction cannot destroy Avidya which is the cause of Samara.[20] So this knowledge of scriptures, of worldly things revealing and tradition belong to the arena of worldly things and even though they may point to ultimate truth, it is ultimately fast. The Supreme Being cannot be attained through Apara vidya but by Para vidya or higher knowledge. It is the same as the ultimate, transcendental knowledge which cannot be distinguished from reality, eternal and absolute (Brahman)[21] It’s the Para vidya which is capable of reveling the infinity of non dual truth. Higher knowledge (Para vidya ) is that by which the Aksara is realized.[22] Sankara gives four means for attaining this knowledge which is collectively called Sadhanacatostaya.[23]

2.1.2 Reality is one

Reality is one without a second or Advaita was the punch line of Sankara’s philosophy. He states that reality is pure consciousness without attributes which is Brahman and the knowledge of the experiential and intuitive awareness of the identity of individual self with Brahman will liberate the person.  Matter and the plurality of the world are mere illusion and it is the world of ignorance. In characterizing the real as eternal, Sankara condemns the empirical world of time and change as unreal.[24] With regard to momentariness of reality and even consciousness as proposed by Buddhism, Sankara brings in causality into play.[25] With all these arguments he asks the Buddhists to identify the Brahman and consciousness using simple logic as these entities lie above the material constructs. By the clever tactic of incorporating Advaita, he single handedly deals with not only Buddhism but also Jainism, Islam and other sects. These arguments clearly take a dig at the heterodox Buddhist system that broke away for the Hindu fold and renounced the Vedas. Buddha conceived world as an unending flux of becoming. The teaching of impermanent nature of everything is one of the main pivots of Buddhism. Nothing on earth partakes of the character of absolute reality. Sankara takes up these things from the Vedas and says that the same thing you find in the Vedas. So why not come back? Sankara here adds weight to his perennial claims.

2.1.3 The Three Levels of Reality

The real (Paramarthika), the phenomenal (Vyavaharika) and the illusory (Pratibhasika) existences.  The Pratibhasika is the illusory existence which is non existence. It is false knowledge and self contradictory like identifying rope to snake.Vyavaharika or the phenomenal existence is said with regard to the universe and the material objects. Both Pratibhasika and Vyavaharika are alike transcendental, contradicted alike and ultimately have no reality of their own.[26]Paramarthika is the only real existence . It belongs to the realm of non-dual where there is no known, nor any knower. It is not contradicted, infinite, beyond time, space and cause and it is Brahman.

Focusing on the world of matter, Sankara would say that it is merely illusion. The illusion happens because of Ignorance. The self, though is Brahman wrongly identifies with the body, mind and senses and this identification lead to the thinking that the self is the does enjoyed and knower. When the knowledge of Brahman dawns the Maya or illusion disappears, there won’t be subject-object, knower-known you and I, cause-effect, pleaser –pain, and happiness- sorrow duality.

2.2. Advaita with a Purpose to Reach out

The Nirvana of Buddha also has this aim of transcending life of pain. He also regarded everything as momentary. Sankara thus make the statement that the philosophy we both follow is same logically the existence of ultimate reality can be incorporated.

The Jiva (individual self) according to Sankara in real nature is identical with Brahman. The cosmic pluralities including the plural empirical individuals (jivas) do not have any separate identity of their own. Brahman being the self of all.[27] The phenomenon of Jive is explained in two ways namely, Bimba-Prtibimba vada and Avacceda vada. The former explains Jiva as the reflection of Brahman in the mirror Avidya and the latter explains Jiva as limitation of the supreme reality.

Jiva’s bondage is due to avidya and once this avidya is removed by right knowledge, it identifies itself with Brahman. It is the realization as Sankara put it in his Atmasaktakaram.

“I am not the enjoyable nor the enjoyed nor the enjoyer. I am cidanandarupa. Bliss I am, Bliss I am,”I am indeterminate, I have no distinction of cases, I am all pervading and all present in all the senses. I am always Saktva; I am neither Mukta nor I am Bound. cidanandarupa I am. Bliss I am; Bliss I am. “I am unborn, hence whence my birth and death? I am not prana hence whence my hunger and thirst? I am not citta, hence whence my soka and moha? I am not Kara. Hence my Moksa and Bandha? This is the state of Mukta.[28]

Sankara here tries to send a word to Jainism too. Jainism which goes by the duality of Jiva and Ajiva consider it as two opposing realties and hence dualism. When Sankara incorporates the opposing principles but the doesn’t grant reality to the opposing principle but considers it as Maya and with regard to libertion it’s the intuitive knowledge of the real nature of Jiva revealed by practice of rigorous  asceticism will relieve Jiva form the karmic substance induced Ajiva. And it reveals a world with infinite knowledge, infinite bliss, infinite faith and infinite energy. Even though Jainism don’t believe in god and Sankara do believe in Brahman, with his perennial principles that has a Vedic core but different outlook, he doesn’t invite the Jains and Buddhist to come back to a situation which made them leave but he preset a totally different bus Advaitic philosophy that could solve all the problem or conflicts which amide them leave Hinduism.

As Sankara had to give a perennial outlook to his philosophy, he need to incorporate the ordinary people who worshipped the idols and prayed for graces from them Sankara introduces the concept of Saguna Brahman-Brahman with qualities, a personal deity, who helps respond to the prayers of the deity and bestows graces. But it’s a product of Avidya and once the real knowledge of Brahman comes in the Saguna Brahman will have no existence. What is real is the Nirguna Brahman. The undifferentiated self shining consciousness.

Though a number of deities were worshipped, Sankara didn’t go glorifying a particular deity. Even though he was an ardent devotee of Vishnu and Siva in his personal life. [29] He wanted to make his philosophy fool- proof and that is the obvious reason why he didn’t align to any particular deity. It is because of that Mahamapadhaya K. Satchidananda Murthy would state, “The various systems of worship- Saiva, Vaisnava, Surya and Sakta, no more looked upon themselves as conflicting sects. If today the Iyengar, and Iyer the Shastri and Acharya, the Kasmiran Saiva and Bengali Sakta look upon themselves as adherent of same religion, it is because of Sankara.[30] By zeroing in on Brahman, he showed his preparedness to deal with the rising threat of the new religion Islam which was basically a monotheistic religion.

Thus standing in the time when Sankara lived his Advaitic philosophy had the entire ingredient to be qualified as a perennial philosophy. Even today the influence and power of Sankara’s philosophy has not gone in oblivion; but is still shining. As Ricard Garbe states, “nearly all educated Hindus in modern India except in so far as they have embraced European Ideas, are adherent of the Vedanta; and three fourth of they accept Sankara’s interpretation of the Brahma sutras.[31] Still philosophy of Sankara claims respect after thousands of years. The shining star to India, to whom we owe Advaita Vedanta at least in the form in which it has stood for the past thousand years, and in which, it prevails today as the best known philosophy of India was not only a supreme religious scholastic thinker but a remarkable religious poet as well.[32]

The perennial claim of Sankara, the basis of which is Advaita, that reality is one without a second can’t claim infallibility. As Kant argues while bringing in postulates that man is not purely rational being, the same logic would apply in case of Advaita of Sankara too.  The popularity of Sankara today reveals the depth of his perennial claims. But his philosophy was met with stiff resistance from Madhava and Ramanuja who also based on Vedas but brought in Dvaita, the qualified non dualism and dualism respectively. They challenged the perennial claims of Sankara and goes forward from Sankara’s base. So Advaita instead of becoming a perennial philosophy and an obvious ‘full stop’ became a starting point.

3.  Advaita vs Ramanuja and Madhava

Advaita was the beginning of a brand new trend basing on Vedas and standing between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Ramanuja and Madhava had a different view of reality in comparison to Sankara. Ramanuja brought in qualified non dualism or Visistadvaita, which states that there are two attributes for the one reality which are: Individual selves and matter. Madhava’s philosophy is absolute dualism (Dvaita) that brings forth five-fold dualities or differences.

3.1 Ramanuja’s Visistadvaita

Ramanuja was of the view that Sankara’s interpretation of Vedas were against the real sprit and authentic meaning of the Vedas and human reason. He went outright against the non-dualistic view of Sankara. Like all other monistic systems had to face, Ramanuja also had in front of him the fact of explaining the plurality of the universe when the only reality is attributed to Brahman. Sankara had escaped from this troublesome situation by bringing in the concept of Maya. Ramanuja was very much critical of the Maya concept of Sankara. So it is in the topic of explaining the reality that Ramanuja differs from Sankara to a great extend.

Ramanuja vehemently opposed the Advaitic claim of Sankara. Ramanuja even ridiculed Sankara’s philosophy as Maya Vada. Ramanuja also agrees with Sankara that there is only one reality but he strongly disagrees when it comes to the point regarding attributes of this single ultimate reality which is Brahman. For  Sankara, the Brahman or the ultimate reality is attribute less, though keeping in mind the faithful he had introduced the concept of ‘Saguna Brahman’ it didn’t have a real existence as with the dawn of knowledge it would disappear. But Ramanuja was very adamant and convinced of the fact that one reality Brahman was with attributes. ‘Asesha chit- achit Prakaram Brahm akaman tatvam’ – Brahman as qualified by the sentient as insentient modes (aspects or attributes) is the only reality. Ramanuja contends that the Prasthana traya that is the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma sutras are to be interpreted in way that shows this unity in diversity, for any other way would violate their consistency.

Sribhasya of Ramanuja is the most important and most basic work of Visistadvaita philosophy. Ramanuja gives a very elaborate and exhaustive commentary on the first sutra of the Vedanta sutra, expelling all the principles of his school and refuting the arguments of Advaita Vedanta. The attributes that Ramanuja adds to the one ultimate reality are individual selves and matter. There two attributes are the modes of Brahman. Sankara would say that this individual self and matter are not real as they are relevant only in the sphere of Avidya. But criticizing Sankara, Ramanuja would say that the individual self and matter are totally dependent on Brahman for their existence and functions. But they are not unreal, but real and have their own individuality. [33] Sankara very cleverly did not say that Brahman is any particular deity, even though he had special devotion to Vishnu and Siva, which shows his pristine philosophical position. But Ramanuja identifies the Brahman with Vishnu.

The perennial claims of Sankara were challenged very severely by Ramanuja that gave rise to Visistadvaita. Though Ramanuja criticized Sankara and brought in Visistadvaita, Ramanuja was more or less a follower of Sankara’s commentary. The basic orientation of the philosophical thinking of Ramanuja had the base in Sankara. For Sankara, the means to achieve liberation was with the right knowledge but for Ramanuja it was total self surrender of god that would give liberation. By incorporating this, he was bringing into the Hindu fold the sudras, outcaste, who could not read and write. So the emphasis on right knowledge by Sankara gives way to total self surrender to God.

3.2 Madhava’s Dvaita

The perennial claims of Sankara’s Advaita received yet another challenge with Madhava’s dualism. This too was based on Vedas. Madhava’s dualism cannot be taken in the real philosophical sense but he basically spells out the difference between god, individual selves and matter, while maintain that God alone is the supreme ultimate and absolute principle. It is a philosophy of difference. The five fold difference that Madhava speaks of are: (1) Difference between soul and god (2) Difference between soul and soul. (3) Difference between soul and matter (4) Difference between god and matter. (5) Difference between matter and matter. So rather than a dualistic philosophy we can consider it as a philosophy of difference.

Taking on Sankara’s view that the reality is one, Brahman and call the other things are Maya, Madhava with his duality, outlines the difference and takes the stand that the  reality that we see in the world is not phantasmal projection of the divine but it is related to it. Madhava’s philosophy conceives two types of substances namely independent and dependent out of which god is the only independent substance wears everything else including the individual selves depend on him for existence.

In Advaita, the individual self is Brahman when it sheds off the avidya. But in Madhava’s philosophy, individual self is not Brahman, but a part of Brahman whose nature as consciousness and bliss is similar to that of Brahman. The cause of bondage for the individual self is the ignorance about its real nature and the nature of paramatman who is full of infinite and virtuous qualities.

The means of attaining liberation is not knowledge for Madhava. Madhava says that bondage being real cannot be destroyed merely through knowledge; it is possible to do so only when paramatman so wishes and it is his benediction or grace that is the ultimate instrument in man’s emancipation. [34] The real means of liberating oneself from the bondage of earthly existence is to surrender oneself completely of god and acquire knowledge about him so that he may shower his blessing and liberate the devotee from the sorrows and suffering of this earth. Though the importance of divine grace and surrender was realized by Ramanuja and his predecessors, yet the full fledged appeal of these concepts is possible only in the context of a perfect theism which Madhava and his followers offered.[35]


As man is rational and not purely rational being no philosophy can be ever called a purely perennial philosophy.  But this does not mean that perennial claims need not exist. The element of perenniality can be deciphered from many philosophies. One of them is Advaita of Sankara. Advaita was successful in solving the problems faced by Hindus during that age. But this does not mean that it has to remain as such without undergoing change. An important thing to be noted about Advaita philosophy is that it has this claim of perenniality which can be seen undergoing constant changes or in a sense transcending undergoing constant changes strengthening Hinduism more and more  with the philosophers coming after him or in a sense the claim for perenniality has been transcending with other philosophers.

It was the genius of Sankara to gather together the essence from the Vedas and create a philosophy like Advaita.  Though we can see major criticisms arising from Ramanuja and Madhava, this does not mean the end of the road for Sankara. The perenniality of Sankara’s claims can be seen trickling down to these philosophers. This is because they stand on the base created by Sankara. It would not have been possible for Ramanuja and Madhva to discuss about qualified non dualism and dualism if Sankara had not brought in the concept of Advaita. Sankara had started this major shift, from a thousand worshipped Hinduism to a monotheistic religion.  Again it was Sankara’s bold step that changed the previously conceived understanding of liberation. He said that it was right knowledge which was crucial for liberation at a time when priestly class dominated and there was nothing doing sans ritualism. It is from this change in concept that Ramanuja and Madhva would bring about more changes by saying that, it is the complete self surrender before god and receiving his graces that are the essential for liberation.

Sans Sankara Hinduism would have suffered the same plight that heterodox systems are facing today. No heterodox systems arising after Sankara’s shows the strength of his perennial claims. The perennial claims of Sankara have stood the test of time and has been transcending with other philosophers down the ages. Thus we have a transcending perennial claim of Sankara.


Campbell, Joseph and Heinrich Zimmer. Philosophies of India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005.

Chari, S.M. Srinivasa. Advaita and Visistadvaita: A study based on Vedanta Desika’s Satadusani. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976.

Chattopadhyaya, S.K. The Philosophy of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta. Delhi: Sarup Sons, 2000.

Gard, Richard A. Buddhism. New York: George Braziller Inc. 1961.

Klostermaier, Klaus K. Hinduism: A Short History. England: One World Publishers, 2006.

Mugdal, S.G. Advaita of Sankara: A Reappraisal. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975.

Murty, K. Satchidananda. Hinduism and it’s Development. New Delhi: D.K. Print World, 2007.

Narain, K. An Outline of Madhava Philosophy. Allahabad: Udayana Publication, 1962.

Pande, Govind Chandra. Life and Thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994.

Puri, B.N. A Study of Indian History. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1971.

Sharma, B.N.K. Madhva’s Teachings in his own Words. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970.

[1] By lack of philosophy, I do not mean the Vedas doesn’t have a philosophy, but the philosophy was dormant and un able to thwart the threat posed by the heterodox systems. The priestly class who were supposed to do that was engaged in dominating the other classed with unnecessary and rituals blown out of proportion.

[2] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 83.

[3] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 83.

[4] Murty, Hinduism and it’s Development, 62.

[5] Murty, Hinduism and it’s Development, 67.

[6] Puri, A Study of Indian History, 31.

[7] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya,59.

[8] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 55.

[9] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 55.

[10] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 56.

[11] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 63.

[12] Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 185.

[13] Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 169.

[14] Gard, Buddhism, 46.

[15] Murty, Hinduism and it’s Development, 72.

[16] Murty, Hinduism and it’s Development, 96.

[17] Murty, Hinduism and it’s Development, 97.

[18] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 68.

[19]Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 43.

[20] Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 3.

[21] Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 3.

[22] Chattopadhyaya, The Philosophy of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, 3.

[23] They are: 1. Discernment between eternal and non eternal entities, 2. The non –attachment to the results of action. 3. Employment of spiritual discipline like self control, control of senses, dispassion, forbearance, concentration of mind and faith. 4. The intense desire for liberation.

[24] Pande, Life and Thought of Sankaracarya, 259.

[25] He says that it is impossible to establish between two things, the relation of cause and effect between two things. The relation of cause and effect, since the former’s momentary existence which ceases or has ceased to be and so has entered into the state of non-existence, and cannot be the cause of momentary existence.

[26] Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 3.

[27] Chattopadhyaya, The Philosophy of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, 102.

[28]Mudgal, Advaita of Sankara, 15.

[29] From the class note of Dr. Augustine Thottakara

[30] Murty, Hinduism and it’s Development, 97.

[31] Klostermaier, Hinduism: A Short History,258.

[32] Joseph and Zimmer, Philosophies of India, 460.

[33] From the class note of Dr. Augustine Thottakara

[34] Narain, K. An Outline of Madhava Philosophy, 9

[35] Narain, K. An Outline of Madhava Philosophy, 10.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: