Gaudapada (c. 8th century CE) was a very early guru in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. He is traditionally said to have been the grand-guru of the great teacher Adi Shankara, one of the most important figures in Hindu philosophy.


There is some dispute about the date of Shankara, but the most probable date is in the 8th century CE, as per the evidence cited by scholars such as Bhandarkar, K. B. Pathak and Deussen. Gaudapaada is said to have been the teacher of Govinda, who was the teacher of Shankara. Shankara himself affirms this and quotes and refers to Gaudapaada as the teacher who knows the tradition of the Vedānta (sampradāya-vit). Therefore, Gaudapada must have lived and taught during the 7th century CE.

Mandukya Karika

The Maandukya Kaarikaa of Gaudapaada also known as the Agama Shaastram is the earliest available systematic treatise on Advaita Vedaanta.

Gaudapada was the author of the "Mandukya Karika", which is a treatise in verse form on the "Mandukya Upanishad", one of the shortest but most profound Upanishads, or mystical Vedas, consisting of just 13 prose sentences. Gaudapada brings out the subtle meanings locked in these mantras through his work.

The Gaudapaadiya Kaarikaa is divided into four chapters. The first chapter - Agama, or Agama Prakarana - explains the text of the Maandukya Upanishad and Gaudapaada shows that Advaita is supported by the shruti and reason. The second chapter - Vaitathya Prakarana - is concerned primarily with rationally proving the unreality of the phenomenal world characterized by its duality and opposition, on the cessation of which non-duality is attained. Lest by a similar process of arguments reality itself should be negated, the third chapter - Adavaita Prakarana - establishes non-duality and the fourth chapter - Alatasanti Prakarana - quite distinct from the other chapters with its Mahaayaana Buddhist style of dialectic explains the relativity of our phenomenal experience and establishes the Atman or soul as the only reality underlying the phenomenal existence.


Gaudapaada is one of the most important figures in Indian philosophy since it is he who successfully reconciles orthodox thought with its prime opponent of the day - Buddhism. Showing the deepest respect for the Buddha whom he salutes repeatedly, Gaudapaada quoting freely from Vaasubandhu and Nagarjuna, shows that both Maadhyamika and Vijnaanavaada if taken to their logical conclusion will only end in Advaita - the teaching of the Upanishads. The last chapter Alaatashaanti (the quenching of the firebrand) was perhaps named so as an indication of the attempt to extinguish the firebrand of Buddhism into its very source - the Upanishads.


Ajativada or the doctrine of no-origination, is the fundamental doctrine of Gaudapaada. From the absolute standpoint origination is an impossibility. The various theories of creation - that it is the expansion of God or it is the will of God or it is for God's enjoyment or it is an illusion like a dream or it proceeds from time - are all rejected by Gaudapaada. Creation is the very nature of God. It is his inherent nature which simply emanates and flows from him. But even this is only an appearance for in truth there's no creation at all. For those well versed in the Vedaanta the world is like a city of Gaandharvas - an illusion. Viewed from the absolute there's neither birth nor death, neither appearance nor disappearance, neither production nor destruction, neither bondage nor liberation. There's none who works for freedom nor is there any who is liberated - this is the highest truth. The wise know that there's neither unity nor plurality - the world is neither one nor many. Just as a piece of rope is mistaken for a snake, the Atman is mistaken as this diverse world. Duality is an appearance and the non-dual Atman is the real truth.

Causality taught in the Upanishads is only to enable us to understand the supreme truth of no-origination. The world is not different from the self and the self is not different from Atman and Atman is not different from Brahman. That the non-dual absolute appears as the diverse world is only an illusion. If it really became diverse then the immortal would become mortal. The dualists who seek to prove the origination of the unborn, by that very enterprise try to make the immortal, mortal. Ultimate nature can never change - the immortal can never become mortal and vice versa. Gaudapaada quotes from the Upanishads : "There's no plurality here"; "The Lord through his powers appears to be many"; "those who're attached to creation or production or origination go to utter darkness"; "the unborn is never reborn, for who can produce him?".

Ajaativaada can be proved by reasoning too. How can that which already exists be born again? Neither can the non-existent be born. To produce a particular effect, a cause must have a particular energy. Else everything could be produced out of everything. But this energy can belong neither to that which is existent nor to that which is non-existent nor to that which is both nor to that which is neither. If we're unable to find the effect in the beginning or end, it cannot exist in the middle either. Since we're unable to prove antecedence and consequence, how can we establish a cause?

Causality is impossible as neither the existent nor the non-existent can be produced either by the existent or the non-existent.

That's the reason the Buddhas have clarified the doctrine of no-origination. To say that samsaara is without beginning and has an end is as absurd as saying that nirvana has a beginning but no end.

Gaudapaada says that it is only the dualists espousing theories on creation, who quarrel amongst themselves. We non-dualists - the upholders of Ajaativaada have no reason to quarrel, because even these dualists when taken collectively only proclaim no-origination.

The similarity between the views of Gaudapaada and Naagaarjuna cannot be missed. Gaudapaada himself acknowledges this when he says, "There are some (shunyavaadins) who uphold non-dualism (advayavaada) and reject both the extreme views of being and non-being, of production and destruction and thus emphatically proclaim the doctrine of no-origination. We "approve", says Gaudapaada, "of the doctrine of no-origination proclaimed by them".


Gaudapaada advances arguments similar to Vaasubandhu to prove unreality of the external world. But while Vasubandhu unnecessarily takes the arguments beyond their relevance and dabbles in metaphysics, Gaudapaada places the arguments in the right perspective - as a psychological teaching to shift the focus away from the impermanent objects to zero in on the permanent subject.

The external world has no existence independent of the consciousness, which perceives it. Mere perception and practical utility cannot prove the reality of the world. For even in dreams there's perception and practical utility - water in a dream can quench the thirst in a dream as much as real water can quench real thirst. The waking state is on par with the dream state and both are real within their own order. But from the ultimate standpoint both are unreal.

Cognition does not prove the reality of the object, for the object exists as an object only to the knowing subject. So the distinction between the subject and object is made within the field of consciousness itself.

The external world is unreal because it doesn't exist always - for in deep sleep we've no consciousness of it. It is also unreal because the relations which constitute it - space, time and causality - are themselves impossible conceptions and hence unreal. It is also unreal because it consists of objects and whatever is presented as an object is unreal. The world is also unreal because it is unthinkable either as existent or as non-existent. Just as a moving firebrand appears as straight or curved, so does consciousness in action appear as the subject and object. And just as an unmoving firebrand produces no illusion, so does firm knowledge produce no subject-object duality. The appearances of the firebrand are not produced by anything else and when the firebrand doesn't move, the appearances don't rest in anything else. Nor do the appearances enter into the firebrand or do they go out of it. They are mere appearances because they are essentially indescribable or unthinkable, neither real nor unreal, neither existent nor non-existent.

Reality is the pure Self - the ultimate subject, which is pure consciousness. But it is not the empirical self because that which has empirical existence cannot be ultimately real. The real is the consciousness, which is immanent in both the subject and the object and yet transcends them both. It transcends the trinity of the knower, known and knowledge. It has neither attachment nor connection nor relation to anything else. It is self-proved, self-existent, innate and uncaused. Even to say that it is the "unborn" is valid only from the empirical standpoint - for it is beyond the intellect.

The self-luminous Self by the power of its own illusion imagines itself by itself and it is this Self which cognizes the diversity of the world. Just like a rope, which is mistaken for a snake, the Self is mistaken to be the individual subjects, the mental states and external objects. And just as when the rope is known, the imagined snake vanishes, likewise when the non-dual Atman is realized, the duality of subject and object disappears. This is the established conclusion of the Vedaanta.

Asparsha yoga

The non-dual absolute is to be directly realized by asparshayoga or pure knowledge. The absolute manifests itself in three forms : as vishva in jagrat or the waking state, as taijasa in svapna or the dream state and as praajna in sushupti or deep sleep. In reality it transcends all the three forms - it is the fourth state - Turiya.

As vishva it has consciousness of the outside world and thus enjoys the gross. As taijasa it has consciousness of the mental states and enjoys the subtle. As praajna it is concentrated consciousness and enjoys the bliss of deep sleep. While vishva and taijaasa are both causes and effects, praajna is only the cause. But turiya is neither cause and effect. It is ishaana - all pervading, changeless, non dual, capable of removing all sorrows, the lord of all and one without a second. Praajna is a state where there're no objects - so it cannot even be called a subject. It knows nothing, neither itself nor others. Though praajna too is non-dual like Turiya, still there's the seed of ignorance present in deep sleep. But Turiya knows no sleep and being self luminous consciousness is all seeing. It transcends the positive wrong knowledge of the waking and dream state and the absence of knowledge in the deep sleep state. The non-dual Atman is realized when the individual self (jiva) is awakened from its beginning less ignorance. The Atman is unborn, dreamless, sleepless, motionless, where all the categories of the intellect are merged, where all duality ceases - there's neither going to nor coming from it. It is the Lord immanent in the universe abiding in the hearts of all. It is known by the sages who've known the essence of the Vedas and are free from fear, anger and attachment.

Atman is like space and the jivas are like space in jars. When the jar is destroyed the space in the jar merges into the open space. Likewise when ignorance is destroyed by right knowledge, the jivas merge into Atman. Spaces in jars may differ in form, function and name, but still there's no difference in space. Likewise though the jivas may differ in form, function and name, still there's no difference in Atman. Just like the space in the jar is neither the transformation nor a modification nor a part of the space, the jiva too is neither the transformation nor a modification nor a part of the Atman. All elements, subjective as well as objective, are by their nature calm from the beginning, unborn and merged in the absolute. They are so because they are nothing else than the Brahman itself, which is unborn.

Duality is the product of the intellect and when the intellect is transcended, duality disappears. What's left is pure consciousness, devoid of all thought determinations and imagination. It is not different from the knowable, which is only Brahman. It is the calm and eternal Light. It is a unique bliss, which transcends happiness and misery. It is indescribable, unborn, changeless and non-dual. It can be realized by the Buddhas only.

Quite like the Mahaayaanists who say that the Buddha due to his excellent skill, preached the truth in different ways depending on the aptitude of his disciples, Gaudapaada too says that the merciful Veda teaches karma and upaasana to people of lower and middling intellect, while jnaana is taught to those of higher intellect.

Epistemics of Gaudapada

Gaudapada's karika on the Mandukya Upanisad is an example of the rational epistemics of ultimate reality. His rational arguments prove the irrationality of experience. The experience of varied consciousness-states, for instance, proves that none of them can be considered to be real. [cite book |title=Māṇḍūkyopaniṣad : with Gauḍapāda's Kārikā and Saṅkara's commentary |author=Gauḍapāda Ācārya |coauthors=Śaṅkarācārya; Nikhilananda, Swami; V Subrahmanya Iyer |year=1990 |publisher=Advaita Ashrama |location=Calcutta |isbn=8175050225 |pages= ] How does one know a magician's rabbit from a 'real' one? And as the Chinese philosopher questioned: If I were asleep and dreamt I was a butterfly, and then awoke to find myself a man, how will I know if I was a butterfly dreaming I was a man or am a man dreaming I was a butterfly?' Also considered is the cosmological question: something can't come out of nothing; yet, experience looks for something beyond this something which is logically unattainable; therefore, the only truth is that all this experience is false and the only reality is non-dualism. However, Gaudapada's portrayal of maya as real yet non-dual in his example of the firebrand tries to provide a cosmological answer. The empirical dimension cannot be totally avoided.


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