The Date of Adi Sankara and Vidya Sankara

Vedveer Arya

Adi Sankara was the greatest Indian philosopher who transformed the traditional Dvaitavada (Dualism) into Advaitavada (Non-dualism) to successfully counter the Buddhist philosophy. Though the modern historians fixed the date of Adi Sankara around 788-820 CE but this date utterly fails to explain most of the traditional and literary evidences. The majority of Indologists accepted this date because it is the best logical conclusion in the established but distorted Indian chronology. However, the date of Adi Sankara still remains one of the most controversial historical issues since last 100 years.  Let me make one more comprehensive attempt to fix the date of Adi Sankara reminding myself the famous statement of Kalidasa i.e. “Pranshu-labhye phale lobhad udbahuriva Vamanah”. 

Let us shortlist the essential historical inputs from various sources.

1.      Adi Sankara discussed a Karika or Sloka of the Buddhist Philosopher Dingnaga in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya (2.2.28). This Karika was “Yadamarjneyarupam tat bahiryadavabhasate” from the Alambanapariksha of Dingnaga. Adi Sankara also criticized the interpretations of the Yogachara sect of Buddhism. It is well known that Vasubandhu was the founder of Yogachara school of Mahayana Buddhism and Dingnaga was his disciple. Paramartha wrote on the life of Vasubandhu. According to him, Buddhamitra was the teacher of Vasubandhu. Two Sankhya philosophers, Varshaganya and Vindhyavasa were the contemporaries of Buddhamitra. In fact, Vindhyavasa was the rival of Buddhamitra. Paramartha tells us that Varshaganya (Vrishaganya?) and Vindhyavasa were in the court of King Vikramaditya of Ayodhya who reigned 900 years after the Mahaparinirbana of Buddha. Interestingly, Paramartha gives two dates for Vasubandhu. In his “Life of Vasubandhu”, he gives 1100 years after Nirvana and in his commentary on the Madhyanta Vibhaga of Maitreya, he gives 900 years after Nirvana. Considering the average limit, we can conclude that Vasubandhu and his disciple Dingnaga flourished 1000 years after Nirvana. Therefore, Adi Sankara must be dated 1000 years after Buddha Nirvana.

2.        Adi Sankara also quoted a passage from Pramana Vinishchaya of Dharmakirti in his Upadesha Sahasri: “Abhinnopi hi buddhyatma viparyasitadarshanaih grahyagrahaka-samvitti bhedavartiva lakshyate” (18.142). Dharmakirti was the great Buddhist logician and he wrote a commentary on the work of Dingnaga. There is a little doubt about the author of Upadesha Sahasri. Considering the date of Dharmakirti 100 years after Dingnaga, we can say that Adi Sankara flourished at least 1100 years after Buddha Nirvana.

Historians identified Dharmakirti to be a Srivijayan prince of Sailendra dynasty of Indonesia known as Serlingpa Dharmakirti or Suvarnadvipi Dharmakirti who moved to India in 7th century to become a teacher at Nalanda University. This identity is simply based on the date of Adi Sankara around 788-820 CE. Sureshvarachraya (known as the disciple of Adi Sankara) quoted Dharmakirti. Therefore, the identity of Dharmakirti can be established only after determining the date of Adi Sankara.

3.       According to traditional account, Kumarila Bhatta was the teacher of Mandana Mishra and Prabhakara (a greatest scholar of Mimansa philosophy). Sankara was the contemporary of Mandana Mishra. Thus, Kumarila Bhatta was at least a senior contemporary of Sankara. Kumarila Bhatta has been quoted by Buddhist scholar Santarakshita who lived in the first half of 8th century according to Tibetan sources. Therefore, Kumarila Bhatta cannot be dated later than 7th century. If we consider the birth of Adi Sankara in 788 CE, it is impossible to prove the contemporaneity of Kumarila Bhatta and Mandana Mishra.

4.       In a manuscript of Malati-Madhavam of Bhavabhuti, there is a reference to the author as the disciple of Kumarila at end of Act III. Interestingly, there is also a reference in the same manuscript as Umvekacharya, the disciple of Kumarila. It is difficult to conclude whether Bhavabhuti and Umvekacharya are the same or different personalities. Interestingly, a sloka found in Tantra-vartika of Kumarila seems to be quoted from Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Sakuntalam {satam hi sandehapadeshu vastushu pramanamantahkaranasya vrittayah}. Some scholars argued that Kumarila must be dated after Kalidasa. Kumarila also knew Bhartrihari and Kasika-vritti of Jinendrabuddhi.

 5.     From various treatises of Sankara Vijaya, we learn that Adi Sankara had two Gurus, Govindapada and Gaudapada. Gaudapada was the author of Sankhya Karika Bhashya which was translated into Chinese by Paramartha in 6th century. There are some direct quotations taken from the works of Gaudapada in Bhavaviveka of 5th century. Bhavaviveka was the contemporary of Dharmapala of Nalanda. Chinese travellers give the date of Dharmapala in 5th century. Therefore, Gaudapada cannot be dated later than 4th century. If we consider the birth of Adi Sankara in 788 CE, it is impossible to prove the contemporaneity of Gaudapada.