We have been favored by Dr. Venis with an advance copy of the first 120 pages of the reprint of his translation of this work which is now appearing in parts in the Benares Sanskrit journal, the Pandit. Dr. Venis is perhaps the only Sanskrit scholar who has attempted to present in an English form a few at least of the manifold ramifications into which the philosophy of non-duality preached by Sankara has diverged at the hands of a long succession of eminent teachers reaching up nearly to our own times. The comparative obscurity in which this vast body of literature is enshrouded to the eyes of the Sanskrit scholars of the modern type may be felt in the fact that the late Prof. Max Muller in his comprehensive work on the Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, does not, when dealing with the Vedanta, mention even the names of such men as Suresvara, Amalananda, Brahmananda Sarasvati and Madhusudhana Sarasvati, whose great works are recognized familiarly in India as the pillars of the Advaita system. Appaya Dikshita was the last in this roll of teachers, who took their stand firmly on the entity of the Self, however much they might differ in the details of the doctrine, and who looked up to Sankara as their authority and guide in all matters of dispute.
But Appaya is more remarkable than the others in that two distinct streams of traditional faith commingle in him as their exponent; the one tracing its origin to the Veda and appealing to it as its scripture, the other, mainly restricted to South India, basing itself primarily upon those hitherto little-known works, the Saivagamas,1
[1 The twenty-eight primary Saivagamas must be distinguished from the Tantras or Sakatagamas which though 120 Upagamas recognized. But even of the primary Agamas about only 20 have been preserved in fragments, these being such portions only as treat of temple worship and ritual. Of the Upagamas only two or three are found in entirety. Strictly each Agama must contain four padas, Charya, Kriya, Yoga and Vidya padas; but now only the Kriya portion is ever found. Our knowledge of the philosophy taught by them is mainly restricted to the Vidya or Jnana padas of the two Upagamas, Mrigendra and Poushkara, and of a dozen Slokas, reputed to be from the Raouravagama, the Tamil commentary upon which forms the Sivagnana Botham of Meikandadeva, which again is the source of a series of Tamil commentaries, constituting as it styles itself, the Suddhadvaita-Saiva-Siddhanta school.]
while it practically ignore the Veda, as teaching a lower kind of knowledge only. The earliest representative of the latter system seems to have been Nilakantha Sivacharya, whose commentary on the Vedanta Sutras is now being translated in our journal. This Nilakantha is asserted by tradition to have been a contemporary of Sankaracharya, who is said to have written his famous Bhashya, mainly to refute the erroneous opinions broached by Nilakantha in his works.2
[2 Nilakantha tries to reconcile the Veda and the Agama as both teaching the same knowledge, but the later Tamil Saivites profess to have advanced beyond him, and class the teachings of the Veda and that of Nilakantha as only being Yoga, while they hold that theirs, as found in the fourteen Tamil works, of which they hold that theirs, as found in the fourteen Tamil works, of which the chief is Sivajnanabotham, is pure Jnana. They arrange the goals of the systems of Ramanuja, Sankara and Nilakantha in order, the following one teaching a higher goal than the preceding.]
The peculiarities of this school are the following; the postulating of the three padarthas, Pati, Pasu and Pasa, the Lord, the bound soul, and the bond (consisting of Maya, Karma and Mala); the denial of a distinction between the Nirguna and Sagunam Brahman, the accepting of Uma or Parasakti the active energy of Brahman, who is said to be all love and grace, in intimate connection with Him; and the worship of the Brahman under the name of Siva (not the third person of Hindu Trinity, who is classed among the Sakala souls along with ordinary men.) And it is a curious fact that Appaya who has written the Parimala and the Siddhanta-lesa, works entirely in accordance with Sankara's doctrine, has with equal zeal written a large number of works following the Saiva system, the chief among them being the Sivarkamani-dipika, a gloss upon Nilakantha's Brahma-Sutra Bhashya, while the others are quite sectarian, praising Siva and establishing his superiority to Vishnu and the other gods. The significance of this exposition by the same man of two apparently opposed systems has given rise to a great amount of debate and it is one of the vexed questions ever-cropping up in the vernacular religious papers. The Tamilian Saivites, who are all non-brahmans and the very small number of the priests attached to the temples of Siva among the Brahmans,3
[3 These priests, commonly called gurukkals, (the Sanskrit word guru with a Tamil termination) conduct the ceremonials connected with the Saiva temples following the directions of one or more of the Saivagamas, and also officiate at the important household ceremonies of the non-brahman Saivites. The ordinary Brahmans will not dine or intermarry with them.]
contend that at heart Appaya was a devoted follower of Nilakantha and that his works expounding Sankara's doctrine were all more or less in the nature of scholastic exercises, which only served as a foil to set off his great works on the Saiva Darsana. The other view, and it seems to be the true one, since the members of Appaya's own family and his followers (all of them Brahmans) hold it,4
[4 That this is so may be seen from the title page and the notice appended to the grantha edition of Nilakantha's Bhashya recently published in the Tanjore District by one of Appaya's persuasion, where the work is described as teaching the Sagunam-Brahman under the name of Siva. It is a fact that all of Appaya's followers hold Sankara as their acharya, while they also believe that Advaita in fully reconcilable, in the way suggested for Nilakantha's position, with the teachings of the Agamas.]
is that his adherence was fully to Sankara's philosophy, but that he also lent his support to the Saiva Darsana promulgated by Nilakantha because his predilections were towards the Sagunam-Brahman as represented in the form of Siva, and he thought that the work of establishing the Saivite form of worship as the best was accomplished only by Nilakantha in his Bhashya.
There is reason to think that there has always been a spirit of antagonism between the followers of the Veda and of the Agamas;5
[5 See my note on the Sutasamhita and the Saivagamas, the evidence in which distinctly exhibits the prevalent spirit of opposition between the creeds. The way in which the Sutasamhita reconciled it, is by prescribing the Agama for those only who were not allowed to follow the Vedic ritual.]
and any one fully acquainted with the religious controversies of the day in South India can easily see that the old rivalry has not died away yet, but that in many instances it has given rise to a rancorous hatred and depreciation of the Veda. Many noble spirits, such as Tirumular, Manickavachakar, Jnanasambhandar and many others of less fame, have from time to time tried to reconcile these two bodies, each according to his own lights. Appaya Dikshita also seems to have taken as his life's work the reconciliation of the Agama-cult with the Vedic ritual and system of thought, which he has in a way brought about by taking the system of Sankara as the truest expression of Vedic wisdom, and by incorporating the Agama as representing a lower grade of thought, into that all-embracing and non-sectarian philosophy, which has in a wonderful manner found room within its folds for every variety of opinion and creed. This phase of thought has found its most beautiful expression in the poems of the saint who is universally loved throughout the Tamil land, Tayumanavar.6
[6 This is the Tamil form of the Sanskrit Matrubhutesvara, the name under which Siva is worshipped in the hill temple at Trichinopoly. We may as well mention here that the article in the November issue of the Theosophical Review by Mrs. Duncan on Tayumanavai (even the name is mis-spelt) is altogether unreliable as regards the facts it gives. None with even the remotest acquaintance with Tamil could have written it.]
The peculiar position in which Appaya Dikshita was thus placed as the expounder of two, till then opposed, forms of thought, does not seem to have attracted the attention which it deserves from European scholars. It will be a most interesting problem, as it will surely lead to the further and far more important question of the origin and birth-place of the Saivagamas and of the position they now occupy in directing the whole ritual of Saivite temple-worship, perhaps the only exception to which is the famous shrine at Chidambaram. But we may take the liberty of commending this problem to Dr. Venis as well worth his investigation.
In the present work, the Siddhantalesa, the author dons the garb of an exponent of Sankara. The object of the book is to exhibit concisely all the variations in the opinion of the followers of Sankara, who though they firmly held by his Advaita, were as poles asunder as regards even some of the main doctrines of the system. The Dikshita himself sets out the purpose of his book in two of its opening stanzas.
"As Ganga springing from Vishnu's feet gains many a land and flourishes; so flourishes that good speech which, issuing from the fair lotus mouth of the venerable Teacher (Sankaracharya), divides a thousand fold as it reaches teachers of early times, and destroys the worlds of transmigration, by being devoted to teaching Brahman – the One without a second." (1)
"Addressing themselves exclusively to proofs of the unity of Self (with Brahman – the One without a second), these early teachers set out many opposed views regarding the common world of sense and activity; for all points relating to the proofs of such a world they held of small account.7
[7 Dr. Venis here inserts a note to the effect that these "various conclusions as to the popular God, the personal consciousness, the world of bondage etc., are due, not to irreconcilable differences among Vedanta teachers, but to the unequal mental capacities of learners, for whom these views are intended as so many stepping stones to the one truth that Brahman alone is real."]
To clear my mind of misconceptions, I here concisely set altogether some of the various conclusions based on those views, as they are explained by my revered father." (2)
These stanzas are also instructive as showing the spirit in which Appaya Dikshita approached these glaring divergences of opinion, and he no doubt reconciled them in the manner indicated by Dr. Venis in his note. As furnishing a handy summary of the progress of the later Vedanta, the book is an invaluable one and Dr. Venis has acted wisely in rendering it into English.
Dr. Venis has already undergone his training in translating the later Vedanta works by his versions of the Panchadasi, the Vedanta-paribhasha and the Vedanta-siddhanta-muktavali, such that he may be said to have attempted this work as an expert. It is not easy to render the concise and difficult original into readable or even intelligible English; and it is no scant praise to say that Dr. Venis has succeeded so far as to make the book not untiresome reading to one already somewhat acquainted with the peculiarities of the Vedanta. To this end, his notes, a large number of them taken from the commentary on the Siddhantales'a and from many of the standard Advaita works, contribute much. We can cordially recommend this translation of the work to the young men of the present day, who begin to be keenly interested in the philosophic system which now occupies the foremost position in India, and are dissatisfied with the perfunctory manner in which it has till now been expounded in the English Language.
- M. NARAYANASWAMI AIYAR.