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pA'ncarAtra - An Overview - Part 3.

From: Narasimhan Krishnamachari (
Date: Thu Mar 16 2000 - 04:56:56 PST

Dear BhAgavatottama-s:

I had submitted two parts on the above title in Jan.
and Feb. 98.  Even though I had completed the write-up
of the rest of the article at that time, it was
bhagavAn's wish that I could not submit them at that
time to the bhakti list.  I had waited for an
opportune time to resume the series, and it looks like
now is a good time to resume, since there is
discussion going on in the list on this topic right
now. My intention is not to add to the disagreements
etc., but to share what I felt was a learning
experience for me, with the rest of the readers in the
list.  Hope it achieves that purpose.  (The previous
parts were published 27 Jan. 98, and Feb. 3, 98).

-dAsan kRshNamAcAryan


			pA'ncarAtra – An Overview – Part 3. 

SrI Sa'nkara's views on the pA'ncarAtra system:

	In his explanation for the nAma catur-vyUha in his
vyAkhyAnam of SrI vishNu sahasra nAmam, SrI Sa'nkara
has given a reference to mahA-bhArata supporting the
vyuha concept.   The vyUha concept is an integral part
of the pA'ncarAtra doctrine.  It is known that SrI
Sa'nkara had opposed the pA'ncarAtra Agama, and this
was part of the reason that contributed to the
questioning of the pA'ncaratra system in his time and
the immediately following period.  

	Based on the bhAshya for brahma sutra by SrI
Sa'nkara, it is evident that he does not accept the
pA'ncarAtra doctrine.  However, there are certain
aspects of the doctrine with which he agrees.  vyuha,
or the division of the supreme Brahman into many
forms,  is one aspect that he accepts.    In his
preface to a book on pAdma samhitA, sudarSanam SrI
KrRshNasvAmi aiya'ngAr has included a section of the
original samskRt commentary by SrI Sa'nkara for the
brahma sutra II.2.42 - which clarifies this.

	"tatra yat-tAvaducyate yo'sau nArAyaNah paro'vyaktAt
prasiddhah paramAtmA sa AtmanAtmAnam anekadhA vyuha
avasthita iti, tat na nirAkriyate. (Note the words 'na
nirAkriyate).  'sa ekadhA bhavati, tridhA bhavati'
(chAndogya 7.26.2) ityAdi Srutibhyah paramAtmanah
anekadhA bhAvasya adhigatatvAt.   yadapi tasya
bhagavatah abhigamanAdi lakshNam ArAdhanam ajasram
ananya cittatayA abhipreyate tadapi na pratishidhyate
(again, note the words na pratishidhyate). 
Sruti-smRtyoh esvara-praNidhAnasya prasiddhatvAt.

The translation of the above words of SrI Sa'nkara is
"We do not refute the view stated therein that
nArAyaNa, who is superior to Nature and who is
well-known to be the supreme Self and the Self of all,
has divided Himself by Himself into many forms;  for
from vedic texts such as - He assumes one form, He
assumes three forms etc., it is known that the Supreme
Self does become multifarious.  As for the
predilection for His propitiation, consisting in
visiting His temple etc., and so on, with exclusive
devotion and for long, that also is not denied.   For
the contemplation of God is well in evidence in the
veda-s and smRti-s." - translation is taken from svAmi
gambhIrAnanda, advaita ASrama publication.

	 The major objection SrI Sa'nkara has for the
pA'ncarAtra system is on how the beings called
sa'nkarshaNa, pradyumna, and aniruddha resulted from
the supreme Self, vAsudeva.    It is very interesting
to read the vyAkhyYna-s of SrI Sa'nkara and SrI
rAmAnuja for the sutra-s utpatti asambhavAt, na ca
kartuh karaNam, vij~nAnAdi bhAve vA tat apratishedhah,
and vipratishedAcca, wherein the objections are raised
and answered.   Briefly, SrI Sa'nkara's objections are
- a) The soul called sa'nkarshaNa could not have
originated from the Self vAsudeva, since a soul cannot
be born or created according to veda-s; b) If
vAsudeva, sa'nkarshaNa, pradyumna, and aniruddha are
all of equal knowledge, powers, etc., as the bhAgavata
doctrine maintains, there is no need for four forms,
since one form could have carried out all the
functions of the God; c) If they are of all of equal
knowledge and powers etc., then one could not have
originated from another, since the cause and effect
should have some difference in order to differentiate
them, and yet the bhAgavata-s insist that there are
not different.  

SrI rAmAnuja points out that the origin of
sa'nkarshaNa from vAsudeva etc. in this context should
be viewed as the voluntary assumption of bodily forms
by the supreme Brahman vAsudeva out of compassion for
its devotees, so that the devotees can have easy
access to the supreme Brahman.  This is because
vAsudeva the supreme Brahman has for its body the pure
aggregate of the six supreme qualities, and thus is
difficult for all to attain easily.  The devotee
attains to the vyuha forms by worshipping the vibhava
forms such as worship of  rAma, kRshNa, etc., and from
the vyuha forms he attains to the Subtle form of
vAsudeva.  If birth or origination of sa'nkarshaNa
from vAsudeva etc. is viewed thus, there is no
contradiction between the pAncarAtra doctrine and the
veda-s.  In fact, the pA'ncarAtra doctrine is
considered to include in it all the other veda-s, the
sAnkhya-yoga, and AraNyaka-s.

	Thus, in summary, while it is true that SrI Sa'nkara
did not accept the pA'ncarAtra doctrine in its
enitrety because he had issues with certain aspects of
it, by his own words, there are certain aspects of the
doctrine that he also agreed with, e.g.,  vAsudeva as
the supreme Brahman, its ability to divide itself and
manifest itself in many forms, dedicated worship to
vAsudeva in temples, etc.

Some background on vedAntins vs. pA'ncarAtra:

Historically, there was a lot of resistance to the
Agama-s from the vedAntins.  There were even texts
which said that the pA'ncarAtrins should not be
invited to partake in SrAddha meals, people should not
talk to them, etc., alongside the texts that supported
the Agama adherents.  There was also counter-attack
from the pA'ncarAtra camp, including statements
calling the veda-s as perverted texts incapable of
fulfilling the human values (purushArthAproyojaka).

	It is in this atmosphere that SrI yAmuna-muni
undertook his valiant defense of the pA'ncarAtra
through his work Agama-prAmANya, to bring about
reconciliation between the two camps.  He pointed out
that the pA'ncarAtra and the veda-s both originated
from SrIman nArAyaNa, and were complementary to each
other.  Inevitably it was a very sensitive
undertaking, since it touched on the sensitivities of
both the opposing camps.  Then there came the time
when the pA'ncarAtrins claimed superiority over the
veda-s saying that the pA'ncarAtra was more ancient,
and the veda-s came later.  Perhaps in this
atmosphere, SrI vedAnta-deSika endeavored to bring a
balance between the veda-s and the Agama-s, quoting
passages from the pA'ncarAtra text Lakshmi-tantra)
that the wise man should never transgress even in his
thoughts the conduct prescribed in the veda-s.  It
cannot but be noticed that our great pUrvAcArya-s have
done exceptional service in bringing about the
reconciliation between the vedanta adherents and the
Agama group, trying to make sure that people don't
succumb to self-destruction through disunity.   

	Even among the pA'nca-rAtrins, it appears that there
was not clear homogeneity.   Four main divisions are
recognized in many samhitA-s.   Even though all agree
that vAsudeva is the Supreme Spirit and that salvation
is to be got by worshipping him, they differ in the
methods of worship, the benefits that accrue from the
worship, the methods of rituals etc.  Mix-up of
movement from one group to another was frowned upon
(pAdma samhitA).  

These four divisions are called siddhAnta-s.  As
mentioned in the pAdma samhitA, these are: mantra
siddhAnta, Agama siddhAnta, tantra siddhAnta, and
tantrantara siddhAnta.  SrI vedAnda-deSika in his
pA'ncarAtra rakshA quotes from the hayagrIva samhitA
that Agama siddhAnta is meant to accomplish salvation
alone, tantra siddhAnta is for accomplishing all four
values of life (wealth, virtue, pleasures, and
salvation), and tantrAntara siddhAnta will fulfil all
that one desires.

The four siddhAnta-s differ in the number of forms
they worship, the way they consecrate the iconic forms
in the temples,  the number of forms of deities that
are worshipped (e.g., one form - the deity is not
specified;  four forms - vAsudeva, sa'nkarshNa,
pradyumna, and aniruddha;   nine forms - in addition
to the above four, nArAyaNa, hayagrIva, vishNu,
nRsimha, and varAha) etc.  The differences are
described in great detail in the referenced texts. 

      To be continued…

       dAsan kRshNamAcAryan

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