The book deals with early Vedanta, that is, a pre—Sankara Vedanta, which was characterized by a deeply ingrained belief in the power of the word, when the higher reality was often approached through painstaking grammatical studies. It presented an exquisite analysis of consciousness and, at the same time, often relied on esoteric meditation practice verging on Tantrism. It was powerfully influenced by Buddhism, and yet, had an equally powerful sense of being rooted in Brahmanical orthodoxy. Judging from these different views, early Vedanta was nothing but a tangled mess of poorly disguised contradictions. Of course, in just a few centuries, the gap dividing these early Vedanta teachings from Sankara’s mature Vedanta was bridged; roughly moulded joints and connections were smoothed down, harsh contrasts were resolved within the all- embracing fold of Advaita Vedanta.
Yet one cannot totally escape the feeling that in every synthesis, in every harmony, however perfect it might be, something is missing. Every time philosophers try to bring together or connect diverse trends of thought, something is sacrificed, often the more colourful and intricate details, more exquisite embellishments. And it is often the case that those very details, presumed to be purely ornamental and superfluous, could have given birth to new ideas and theoretical notions.
Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta is undoubtedly an impressive enough philosophy, an elaborate pyramid of escalating concepts and images. Let us take a look at some of the foundational elements that ultimately came to be discarded—perhaps they were necessary and indispensable only for the initial stages of its construction. We naturally want to take a closer look at Sankara’s predecessors, at his forerunners who were trying to propound their own ideas about God, the creation of the universe, or the nature of the human soul.
This book deals mainly with the ideas and teaching of Gaudapada, the teacher of Sankara’s master, Govinda, and with the ideas of the grammarian and philosopher, Bhartrhari. In my view, these two thinkers should be regarded as predecessors of certain schools of non-dualistic Kashmir Saivism, which proved to be quite theistical in their essence, rather than immediate forerunners of Sankara‘s Vedanta.