The Four Aacharya or आचार्य

Last week, we discussed the Three ways To Liberation , Karma or Action, Jnyaan or Knowledge and Bhakti or Devotion.

The philosophy of Karma or Action had lost its adherents about 1200 years ago, thanks to Shankar-Aacharya. The dominant philosophy was the Jnyaan and Samnyaas approach of Shankar-Aacharya until about 1200 when the Bhakti Marg became widespread.

It is the tradition of Eternal Dharma that these paths or faiths were spread by debates, discussions rather than via physical wars. But, the debates were no less intense. There have been many Scholars, Teachers and Reformers over the past 1,200 years. Among these there are 4 that have created schools of Vedanta and dominated the development of religious thought.

Today, we describe these 4 great Aacharya and their core approach.

1. शंकरआचार्य = Shankar-Aacharya  (788-820 CE) – Kaladi, Keral, South India

The आदि = Aadi or the first Aacharya and perhaps the greatest of them all is also the most widely known, Shankar-Aacharya. He advocated the Advaita or the Non-Duality School. Advaita in its simplest form means the Non-Duality between Brahman, the Eternal Entity or Soul, and Jiva, the Physical Soul. The basic statement is:

                  जीवो ब्रह्म एव न अपरः
                  Jivo Brahma Ev Na Apara
                  The Individual Soul is itself Brahman none Other

Shankar-Aacharya enunciated the theory of two forms of Brahman, Para Vidya or the higher aspect and the Apara Vidya or the lower aspect. The Brahman in its higher aspect is beyond all attributes & qualities and therefore is beyond speech or reason. The Brahman in its lower aspect is Ishvara or God and is the cause of the world. This sort of goes back to the ancient concepts of Nir-Gun, Nir-Aakaar and  Sa-Gun and Sa-Aakaar .

Shankar-Aacharya stated that Brahman is the Self, none can deny its existence because it is the Self  who denies or doubts.

The first clause of the above verse is:
                    ब्रह्म सत्यम जगत मिथ्या
                   Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya
                   Brahma is the Truth and the World is Mithya.

The word Satyam has been translated as Truth and the word Mithya has been translated as Illusion.  This translation does grave injustice to the philosophical treasure underlying these words. 

First are the concepts of Satyam and Sat the same or different? One is Truth and the other is Existence. Shankar-Aacharya argued that these are the same and defined 3 levels of existence 1) परम आर्थिक = Param-Aarthika Sat, 2) व्यवहारीक = Vyavaharika Sat and 3) प्रति भाषिक = Prati-Bhasik Sat.

When you try to understand the concept of मिथ्य  = Mithya, the best framework we know is that of Mathematical Logic.  In Logic, a Complete Logical System is one in which each statement can be proven to be True or False from the set of axioms of the System according to logical rules of the System.

When you start speaking of Brahman, you venture beyond the framework of Complete Logical Systems. In other words, you get into the concepts that need not be True and need not be UnTrue. This is why the concept of Brahman is described as अनिर्वचनीय = Anir-Vachaniya or beyond description – a concept that is explicable neither as Sat or as Asat.

This is where the English language fails in its lack of verbal power or complexity. We cannot think of a word that come remotely close to the connotation of Mithya. And without the proper understanding of Sat and Mithya, the concept of Advaita becomes hard to decipher.

So here we end our very brief description of Advaita as enunciated by Shankar-Aacharya. But before we move on, we must include a deeply devotional verse of the great Shankar-Aacharya

               सत्य अपि भेद उपगमे नाथ तव अहं न मामाकीनास त्वं
               Satya Api Bheda Upagame Nath, Tava Aham Na Mamakinas Tvam
              Despite the disappearance of difference, Oh Lord Protector, I am thine and thou art not mine.

              सामुद्रो हि तरंगः क्वचन न समुद्रो हि तारंगः 
              Saamudro hi Taranga Kvachan Na Samudra hi Taarangaha
              A Wave (more like a ripple or gentle current) is of the Ocean and never the Ocean of the Wave.

A thought strikes us after reading this Bhakti verse. Does the great proponent of Advaita or Non-Duality himself admit to a certain level of Duality in this verse? Or is this an example of Unity in Diversity of the Three Ways to Liberation?

This also shows that despite the extraordinary brilliance of their intelligence and the profound depth of their thoughts, the Eternal-Dharma Aacharya were always humble and full of deep devotion.

2. रामानुज आचार्य = Raamaanuj-Aacharya (1027-1137 CE) – Sri-Perumbudur, South India

रामानुज or Raamaanuj-Aachraya developed his doctrine of Vishistha-Advaita or Qualified Non-Duality. His main attack was on Shankar-Aacharya’s Absolutism. In its place, Raamaanuj-Aacharya propounded the triune principle – the Brahman, the World and the Individual Soul together constitute the Ultimate Reality.  He maintained that the status of the Soul is real and its separate identity is not dissolved even in the state of liberation.

Raamaanuja-Aacharya is recognized as the re-creator of the true Vaishnava School or the faith of Vishnu. His school inspired the Bhakti movement across India. His was also a simpler form of Eternal-Dharma that was suited for the entire society.

3. माधव-आचार्य = Maadhav-Aacharya ( 1199-1278 CE) – Rajapitha, near Sringeri, South India

माधव or Maadhav-Aacharya extended the approach of Raamaanuja-Aacharya and propounded his school of Dvaita, or the Duality School. According to him, God, the World, the Individual Soul exist from all eternity and are fundamentally different from each other. 

Maadhav-Aacharya argued that God is Sa-Gun and endowed with infinite auspicious attributes which are absolute in character and therefore do not limit God. To Maadhav-Aacharya, Brahma was Vishnu, a personal God.

4. वल्लभ-आचार्य = Vallabha-Aacharya (1481-1533) – Kamkarkhamlh, South India

वल्लभ = Vallabha-Aacharya is the Founder Guru of the Pushti-Marg or the Path of Grace. His school became known as Vallabha Sampradaya or the Tradition/School of Vallabha.

He articulated the theory of Shuddha-Advaita or Pure Non-Duality which sees equality “in essence” with God or Shree Krishna. Vallabha-Aacharya opposed Samnyaas of Shankar-Aacharya because he thought it to be inefficacious. Bhakti to him was he chief means of liberation.

Vallabha-Aacharya won the celebrated debate held in the court of King Krishna-Devarai of the Vijay-Nagar Kingdom. This was a debate between the Vaishnava followers of Maadhav-Aacharya and the followers of Shankar-Aacharya about the Dvaita or Duality Theory vs the Advaita or Non-Duality Theory.

This debate continued for 27 days and finally Vallabha-Aacharya and the Duality followers won the debate. The title of Jagat-Guru or Guru of the world was bestowed on Vallabha-Aacharya after this win.

This might have been the final victory of the Bhakti Marg or the Bhakti path of liberation in modern Eternal-Dharma.

Editor’s Note: Next week, we will look at the unintended and unexpected consequences of the Three Ways to Liberation .

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One response

  1. This is really good. This article has explained complex concepts lucidly in easily understandable fashion. Thanks.

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