6

The term "Shaivite" is overused nowadays. For instance, Iyer Brahmins are often called Shaivites, but they're actually followers of Adi Shankaracharya's Smartha sect (which I discuss here and here) and simply adopt Shiva as their Ishta Devata. True philosophical Shaivism is relatively rare nowadays (in contrast to Vaishnavism which is pretty common). I discussed one genuine Shaivite sect, the Lingayat sect of Basava, in my answer here. But my question is about a more famous sect of Shaivism, known as Shaiva Siddhanta.

Just as the Sri Vaishnava sect is based on the Pancharatra Agamas and the poems of the 12 Alwars, Shaiva Siddhanta is based on the Shaiva Agamas and the poems of the 63 Nayanars. In any case, the standard Shaiva Siddhanta commentary on the Brahma Sutras is the Srikantha Bhashya, which you can read here. As I discuss in this question, it was composed by Srikantha Shivacharya and it advocates a philosophy of Shivadvaita, aka Shiva Visishtadvaita, which is similar to Ramanujacharya's philosophy of Visishtadvaita except Vishnu is replaced by Shiva.

Now the most Shaiva Siddhanta organization is the Saiva Siddhanta Church, which publishes the magazine Hinduism Today. I assumed that they believed in Srikantha's philosophy of Shivadvaita, but their website says this:

There are six main sub-sects in Saivism. The Saiva Siddhanta Church is of the original Saiva Siddhanta expounded by Saint Tirumular, associated with South India. Of the six sub-sects, it is the oldest and closest to the Advaita found in the Upanishads and Agamas. A divergent school within Saiva Siddhanta evolved out of the dualistic interpretations made by the philosopher Meykanda Devar in the Sivajnana Bodham and its commentary, Vartika, one thousand three-hundred years after the original postulations of Saint Tirumular were put forth. This school is also known as Saiva Siddhanta. A second sub-sect is known as the Pratyabhijna Saivism of Kashmir, founded by Vasugupta and known also as Kashmir Saivism. A third Saiva sub-sect is Vira Saivism, founded by Basava Deva in Central India, commonly called Lingayat Saivism. The fourth is Pasupata, founded by Nakulisa and now associated with Gujarat. The fifth is Siddha Siddhanta of North India whose founder is Goraksanath; and the sixth Saiva sub-sect is known as Siva Advaita, founded by Sri Kanta in South India.

So it looks like the Saiva Siddhanta Church believes in a philosophy of Advaita, not the Shivadvaita philosophy of Srikantha.

My question is, what commentary on the Brahma Sutras does the Saiva Siddhanta church subscribe to? Do they believe in Adi Shankaracharya's Brahma Sutra Bhashya? Adi Shankaracharya's commentary criticizes the Shaiva Agamas, so it seems unlikely. And they seems to clearly reject the Srikantha Bhashya. Is there another Shaiva Siddhanta commentary on the Brahma Sutras? The Shaivite philosopher Appaya Dikshitar wrote an Advaitic reinterpretation of Srikantha's philosophy, but the Saiva Siddhanta Church seems to reject Srikantha's tradition outright.

Does anyone know if the Saiva Siddhanta Church has published or endorsed any commentary on the Brahma Sutras?

2

The Saiva Siddhanta Church doesn't subscribe to the Brahma Sutras. I emailed the editors of Hinduism Today, the popular magazine published by the Saiva Siddhanta Church. They replied that unlike other sects of Hinduism, they don't belong to the Vedanta school:

The schools of Vedanta all have commentaries on the principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Saiva Siddhanta stands independent of that approach. Therefore, we don’t refer to any commentary on the Brahma Sutras.

The Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and Bhagavad Gita are called the Prasthana Traya or three starting points of the Vedanta school, as I discuss here.

So the statement on their website that the Saiva Siddhanta Church "is the oldest and closest to the Advaita found in the Upanishads and Agamas" doesn't mean that they believe in Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. Another webpage on their site clarifies what they mean in the course of discussing the Nayanar Tirumular:

It may be that Saint Tirumular pioneered the reconciliation of Vedanta and Siddhanta. But what is the Vedanta that Tirumular was referring to? Sankara, with his exposition of Vedanta, was not to come for many centuries. Thus, concepts such as Nirguna and Saguna Brahman being two separate realities rather than one transcendent}immanent God, the absolute unreality of the world, and the so-called differences between the jnana path and the previous stages had not yet been tied into Vedanta. The Vedanta Tirumular knew was the direct teachings of the Upanishads. If there is one thing the Upanishads are categorical in declaring it is Advaita, "Tat Tvam Asi-Thou art That," "Aham Bramasmi-I am Brahman." And when Saint Tirumular says that Siddhanta is based on Vedanta he is using Vedanta to refer to this Advaita, which according to him must be the basis of Siddhanta.

So Vedanta is being used in the literal sense of the Upanishads, not in the sense of the Vedanta school founded by Vyasa and based on the Brahma Sutras.

In any case, here is a summary of the distinctive beliefs of the Saiva Siddhanta Church:

  1. In contrast to Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita, the Saiva Siddhanta Church believes in the reality of the physical world, and that the physical world was an actual creation of Brahman.

  2. In contrast to Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita, the Saiva Siddhanta Church believes that "Aham Brahmasmi" means that Jivatma and Brahman have the same Self, just as an apple and the apple tree it comes from are the same in their essential nature, but they're not actually the same object.

  3. In contrast to Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita, the Saiva Siddhanta Church doesn't believe in a notion of Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman. Instead, they just believe that Brahman is formless that the blue-throated god Shiva is the first soul created by Brahman, and that he's the creator, preserver, and destroyer of the Universe. So Shiva basically plays the role that Karya Brahman/Hiranyagarbha (i.e. the four-headed god Brahma) plays in the Vedanta school.

  4. In contrast to the entire Vedanta school, the Saiva Siddhanta Church believes that souls have a form and are created by Shiva, not that they always existed, and that when they attain Moksha they become the all-pervading Brahman and thus no longer exist as distinct entities.

Apart from their non-Vedantic beliefs in the origination of the soul and the non-existence of Saguna Brahman/Karanarupa, the belief system of the Saiva Siddhanta Church seems to resemble the Visistadvaita philosophy of Ramanujacharya and especially the Bhedabheda philosophy of Bhaskara, who believed that the world was real, that the Jivatma was just an Upadhi or limitation of the infinite Brahman, and that when Moksha is attained the limitation goes away and the individual soul becomes the all-pervading Brahman.

Bhaskara, by the way, is the oldest commentator on the Brahma Sutras besides Adi Shankaracharya, and secular scholars generally think that his commentary is closer to the original meaning of the Brahma Sutras than Adi Shankaracharya's. So perhaps a reconciliation of the Saiva Siddhanta Church with the Vedanta school is still possible after all!

  • Swami Vireswarananda who has done a translation of both Sankara's and Ramanuja's Sutras argues in his introduction to the Sutras that Sankara follows Badarayana more closely. – Swami Vishwananda Oct 12 '15 at 13:43
  • @SwamiVishwananda Yeah, of course there are plenty of people who think Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on the Brahma Sutras is the correct one. I was just saying that most secular scholars believe that Bhaskara's commentary is the closest, because it follows Upavarsha's vritti much more closely. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 12 '15 at 17:30
  • @SwamiVishwananda By the way, can you take a look at my question here about the Turiyatita state? hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/8944/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 12 '15 at 17:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .