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Nelson, Lance E. 2007.

Krishna in Advaita Vedanta: The Supreme Brahman in


Human Form. In Krishna: A Sourcebook, ed. Edwin F. Bryant, 309328.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Krishna in Advaita Vedanta:
The Supreme Brahman
in Human Form
Lance E. Nelson

I worship that great Light, the son of Nanda, the supreme Brahman in
human form, who removes the bondage of the world.
Madhusudana Sarasvati

Advaita, Shankara, and Madhusudana


Among the various schools of Hindu theology, Advaita (nondualist)
Vedanta has historically, and perhaps even more in recent times, had
an influence out of proportion to its actual number of adherents. In
addition to being the oldest of the surviving schools of Vedanta, it
has long been associated with the high-caste Brahmin community
known as the Smartas, whose members are known for orthodoxy and
ritual purity.1 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,
through the efforts of such figures as Swami Vivekananda and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Advaita was transformed into the theological
basis of the neo-Hindu revival whose apologists presented Hinduism as a universalist, inclusive faith, as compared with the narrow exclusivism of Western religion.2 In this form, widely propagated
in English, Advaita has become the faith and life-philosophy of many
modern, Western-educated, urbanized Hindus, as well as the image of the Hindu tradition that appears most widely in textbooks and
other popular presentations in the West.
The common understanding of Hinduism as a religion that,
though polytheistic in popular practice, subsumes the many deities

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in one transcendent, impersonal Absolute, ultimately relegating both deities and


world to the status of illusion, is more accurately understood as a presentation
however simplisticof the views of Advaita Vedanta. Other chapters in this volume show very clearly that Hinduism offers a good number of compelling, alternate visions, each embodied in its own tradition of theology and ritual practice.
Here I simply note that such theologies exist and must be taken seriously. The
task of this chapter will be to indicate the basic theological position of Advaita and
the place of Krishna therein.
It is indeed true that Advaita regards Brahman in its highest aspect as
being impersonalor, better, transpersonal. For this reason, the nature and relative merits of particular deities have not been of special theological interest,
or the subject of extensive theological disquisition, in Advaita. This is not to
say, however, that the concept of God as such is unimportant for Advaitins, or
exponents of Advaita. Nor is it to deny that for individual Advaitins, particular
embodiments of Deityincluding, but not of course limited to, Krishna
have loomed large in religious awareness. I shall then, after presenting a short
overview of Advaita theology, consider first the place of Deity in the tradition
and then look at what the tradition has had to say about Krishna in particular.
Needless to say, an examination of the entire history of Advaita is impossible
in the space allowed here. I shall therefore focus on two of the most relevant
sources: the commentaries3 of Shankara (c. 650750 ce), the first systematizer
of Advaita, regarded with reverence by the tradition as its founding preceptor
(acharya), and the works of Madhusudana Sarasvati (sixteenthseventeenth
century), the last of the great classical exponents of Advaita.

The Concept of Deity in Shankaras Advaita


A well-known epitome of Shankaras theological vision is contained in the halfverse Brahman is real; the world is a false projection; the individual self is
exactly Brahman, nothing less.5 Shankara defines the real as that which never
changes and never proves false. For him, only Brahman has these qualities.
The changing world of multiplicity ( jagat) and the innumerable individual
beings ( jiva) that inhabit it are all adjuncts (upadhi), erroneously projected on
Brahman, in a phenomenon termed superimposition (adhyasa). This occurs
through the force of maya, a mysterious power that both projects the world appearance and conceals its real nature. While it is thus ultimately less than real,
the universeseen from within the realm of mayahas been here since beginningless time and will never come to an end. Like the universe, each jiva has
been present for an infinite duration, migrating through countless rebirths.
But, unlike the universe, the individual soul can bring its own existenceas
individualto an end, attaining liberation (moksha, mukti) from the world of reincarnation (samsara). This can be achieved, says Shankara, by those following

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the intellectual/ascetic discipline of the advaitic world-renouncers, through direct


knowledge of the oneness of the inner Self (atman) and Brahman. When (and, as
we shall see, only when) this oneness is directly realized, the false superimpositions of individuality and world are seen for what they are, and any claim to reality
they had is effectively canceled (badhita). Upon gaining such knowledge, the jiva is
liberated from the painful bondage of samsara, irrespective of the persistence or
otherwise of physical embodiment.6
Fundamental to Shankaras thought is the distinction between the para
(higher) and the apara (lower) Brahman. The higher Brahman is the Absolute
as it exists in itself, free from all the limitations conjured by maya. The lower
is Brahman in association with maya, seemingly limited by superimposed
adjuncts of name and form, i.e., the world of multiplicity. Of these two forms
of Brahman, it is the lower that is described at BS 1.1.2 as the source, the support, and the end of the world; it is the lower that is, in a word, the supreme
Deity. Ishvara (the Lord), as this conception of God is termed, is the transcendent, supreme Brahman appearing as if conditioned and personalized by
virtue of its relation to maya, the principle of phenomenality.
Using the scheme of the twofold Brahman, Shankara seeks to arrive at
a consistent interpretation of the Upanishads, which speak of the ultimate
sometimes as an active, cosmically involved, conditioned, quasi-theistic or personal being and sometimes as inactive, acosmic, unconditioned, transpersonal
Absolute. The descriptions of Brahman in the former mode, termed qualified, or saguna, Shankara assigns to its lower aspect, and the descriptions of it
in the latter mode, termed unqualified, or nirguna, he attributes to its higher
aspect. The scriptural revelation (shruti) is thus interpreted as a unified whole.
The para/apara, higher/lower, distinction is thus the same as the well-known
advaitic distinction between the nirguna (unqualified, attributeless) and the
saguna (qualified, possessed of attributes) Brahman.
Shankara does not, as is commonly supposed, teach that everything other
than the highest, unqualified Absolute is a bare illusion. He speaks, instead, of
three levels of being or reality (satta). Within the realm of becoming and appearance, he makes a clear distinction between the ontological status of illusory
objects (pratibhashika-satta), such as those produced by hallucinations and mirages, and that of the everyday empirical world (vyavaharika-satta). Shankara
goes on to make a similar distinction between the truth of the empirical or
phenomenal level of experience and that of the transcendental or noumenal
level, the level of ultimate Reality (paramarthika-satta), identified with the para
Brahman.7 Illusions can be easily overcome by empirical knowledge of various
sorts, but the empirical level of experience itself is much more difficult to
transcend. Nothing but direct realization of the Absolute can take us beyond it.
While the individual soul, the world, and even the personal God are ultimately
seen to be false appearances, reminiscent of a great cosmic dream, they are not
exactly illusory, for they are constantly present to the experience of all jivas.

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This ontologically indeterminate mode of being, which belongs to all phenomenal existence, is characterized as sad-asad-anirvachaniya, inexpressible
as either real or unreal.
As long as one has not realized the ultimate truth, the world has empirical
reality (vyavaharika-satta). Within this empirical reality, external objects are
quite as real as the cognitions we have of them; they exist in their own right,
independent of the individual mind. The same is true of the world as a whole
and of Ishvara. When one jiva realizes its identity with Brahman, the activity of
the manifest universe is not thereby terminated. It continues on its ordinary
course, being experienced by other souls, directed as always by the personal
God.8 Ishvara, as creator and sustainer of the world, has at least as real an
independent existence as anything else. From the point of view of embodied
beings, Ishvara is in fact the most real of all conditioned entities, since he is
the source of all levels of empirical existence other than his own. Moreover,
Ishvara is eternal (nitya), having no beginning and no end, like the universe
Ishvara rules (BhG 3.19).

Ishvara and Advaita Theism


Shankaras distinction between levels of reality and his acceptance of the
completeand, we might emphasize, eternalfunctionality of Ishvara allows
him to retain a theism that, far from making light of the notion of Deity,
involves serious religious intent. While it is doubtful whether his analysis is
adequate in the end from the devotional theists point of view, it was not without reason that even a Christian theologian such as Rudolph Otto was able to
recognize Shankaras relationship to the theistic worldview of the Bhagavad
Gita, the epics, and the Puranas as an inner one.9 Indeed, as Hacker has shown,
there is good evidence that Shankara and his early followers came from strong
Vaishnava backgrounds.10
Ishvara is Brahman associatednot with a limited mind and body like the
jivabut with maya, the universal creative matrix, the divine energy (shakti)
that projects the entire cosmos. Unlike the jiva, again, the Lord is not taken in
by the delusive, concealing power (avarana-shakti) of maya. On the contrary,
the true nature of reality, including especially Ishvaras identity as the highest
Brahman, is eternally transparent to Ishvara.11 While the jiva is controlled by
maya, Ishvara is the mayavin, the omnipotent, omniscient controller of maya
(BS 1.1.3). The Lord has the power of manifesting, sustaining, and destroying the world. The ruler of the universe and all in it, Ishvara is all knowing,
all perceiving, the absolute ruler of past and present (BS 1.2.21, 1.3.24).
Shankara makes it clear that the jiva is totally dependent on the Lords grace
for both the experience of samsara and the knowledge that effects moksha (BS
2.3.41). Shankara advances several proofs for the existence of God, of the sort

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that would be entirely acceptable in theistic circles, and he deals extensively


with the problem of theodicity.12 He also explicitly accepts that element so central to Hindu devotional religion, the doctrine of periodic divine incarnation
(avatara) on earth (BSSh 1.1.20; BhGSh, introduction).
While Shankara may have come from a Vaishnava background, and while
he opens his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita with an invocation of Narayana,
there is nothing in his system of thought that would exalt any form of Deity
over the other. He has been identified in the tradition as a devotee of Krishna
on the basis of a devotional hymn, the Bhaja Govindam, and a few other texts
that have been (dubiously) ascribed to him.13 But he has also been identified as
a Shakta tantric, and indeed as being himself an incarnation of Shiva. Tradition regards him as the shan-mata-sthapaka, founder of the six doctrines,
recommending for his lay followers worship of the five deities (panchayatana)
Surya, Devi, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Shivaplus Kumara. Since all are manifestations of the same Ultimate, the thinking goes, devotees are free to focus
on the ishta-devata, chosen Deity, that is most meaningful to them.14 In his
commentaries, Shankara shows no special preference for Krishna, nor does he
invest him with any special status vis-a`-vis other forms of the supreme Deity.
He describes Krishna as an avatara of Vishnu/Narayana, indeed as a partial
(amsha) incarnation.15 However, he also indicates that, in some unspecified
sense, Krishna can be identified with the supreme Brahman, as is apparent in
the readings that follow.
Scholars have long noted Shankaras tendency to employ such designations of the transpersonal Absolute as para-brahman (supreme Brahman),
atman (Self ), and paramatman (supreme Self ) interchangeably with ishvara,
parameshvara (supreme Lord), and bhagavan (Blessed Lord), which are titles of
the personal God, and even with Narayana and Vishnu, which are personal
names derived from mythology.16 This habit of thought will be apparent in
the readings that follow. Once having established the distinction between para
and apara, nirguna and saguna, Brahman and Ishvara, Shankara does not remain fixated upon it. The Lord, we have seen, is nothing less than the supreme
Reality itself in its aspect of relatedness to the phenomenal world; as such
religiously speakingIshvara truly is Brahman. Any attempt to maintain a
constant and rigorous distinction between the paramarthika and vyavaharika
standpoints in this respect would make the discussion unbearably cumbersome. Furthermore, by virtue of overemphasis, it would imply a devaluation of
Deity that is not intended.17

Shankaras Final Transtheism


Still, there comes a time, at least for the Advaita samnyasin (renunciant) seeking final release, when ordinary piety is set aside in the quest for what is

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perceived as a higher level of truth. Ishvara may be God in all his glory from
the point of view of the world, but from the point of view of liberation he is, as
Ishvara (though not as Brahman), dependent on the world, just as the space
limited by pots and jars is, for its existence as such, dependent on those vessels.
When the pot is broken, so does the particular configuration of space it contained; when the world disappears for the one who has realized identity with
Brahman, so does God (BSSh 2.1.14). This kind of thinking does not quite place
Ishvara within the realm of maya,18 but it does seem to remove Deity from the
sphere of final truth in a way that a true theist could not tolerate. Advaitic theism emerges as, so to say, a kind of transtheism.
Advaitas view of the nature and status of God is of course very closely
related to its understanding of the liberating power of knowledge ( jnana), as
compared with loving devotion (bhakti) to a Deity. The classical Advaita tradition is emphatic that the only means to moksha is jnana. While Shankara
condones image worship and related expressions of bhakti spirituality as preparatory for advaitic knowledge, because they are a means to purification of
the mind (citta-shuddhi),19 in the end, for his samnyasin followers, he seeks to
undercut anything, including bhakti, that smacks of dualism. Speaking for
the benefit of ascetics on the brink of liberation, Shankara teaches (BhG 12.13)
that any attitude that posits difference between the Self and God (atmeshvarabheda) is a serious hindrance on the steep ascent to advaitic realization. Devotion may be useful for those whowhether because of caste, gender, family
obligations, or aptitudedo not possess the qualification (adhikara) for advaitic
discipline.20 Still, Shankara suggests, the very idea is repugnant to the elite
Advaitin world-renouncers who have become the very Self of God (ishvarasya
atma-bhutah).21
It must be remembered that Shankara was writing at a time when the great
bhakti revolution that originated in the South and swept eventually through
North India was just in its beginning stages. Far more important to him as
interlocutor and opponent was the then well-established orthodoxy of Vedic
ritualism, promoted by the teachers of the Purva Mimamsa.22 The vast bulk
of Shankaras polemical efforts were devoted to a refutation of their denial of
the validity of the advaitic path of knowledge and renunciation. Bhakti theism was by comparison a much less significant player in Shankaras religious
environment.

Madhusudana Sarasvatis Advaitic Valorization of Krishna


By the time of Madhusudana Sarasvati (sixteenthseventeeth century) nearly a
millennium later, the religious landscape was quite different. Staunchly theistic bhakti movements, having triumphed in the South, had spread, flowered,

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and likewise triumphed in the West and North. Bengal, where Madhusudana
(by most accounts) was born, was by this time a center of a great flourishing of
Krishnaite bhakti inspired by Chaitanya (14861533). Indeed, Madhusudana
was a younger contemporary of the great Bengal Vaishnava theologian Rupa
Gosvami (14801564) and, according to tradition, also of the equally important
Vaishnava acharya Vallabha (14811533), whom Madhusudana is said to have
met. Madhusudana, unlike Shankara, has a good deal to say about Krishna.
Considered one of the great expositors of classical Advaita and a major
figure in the tradition, Madhusudana is revered as a champion of nondualism
and a brilliant polemicist against Vaishnava Vedanta, particularly Madhvas
theistic dualism. His major worksincluding the Vedantakalpalatika, the Siddhantabindu, and his masterwork, the Advaitasiddhiare still regarded as
essential texts of Advaita scholarship.
It is intriguing, therefore, that Madhusudana is also known as a fervent
devotee of Krishna. This devotion he expresses in a number of well-known
devotional verses scattered through his works, particularly in passages of his
famous Bhagavad Gita Gudarthadipika (Light on the Hidden Meaning of the
Bhagavad Gita), his famous commentary on that text. A number of these verses
are included in the readings here. Madhusudana is, moreover, the author of
the only independent treatise on bhakti written by a major exponent of the
classical Advaita tradition. Titled the Bhaktirasayana (Elixir of Devotion), this
work expounds an advaitic theory of devotion and devotional sentiment (bhaktirasa) on the basis of the Bhagavata Purana, with the aid of abundant citations
therefrom.23
Theistically inclined readers of Madhusudana, however, will find little
to celebrate in this theologians descriptions of Krishna. True, Madhusudana,
like the Bengal Vaishnavas and the followers of Vallabha (and most likely under their influence), identifies the supreme Deity exclusively as Krishna,
whom he speaks of almost invariably as Bhagavan (the Blessed Lord), instead
of using the less devotionally charged term ishvara. Moreover, at least in the
Bhaktirasayana, he breaks with Advaita tradition to the extent of placing bhakti
on a par with jnana as a valid spiritual path.24 But he also revives Shankaras
habit of blurring the distinction between the para-brahman and the saguna
Deity. As in Shankara, Krishna in Madhusudanas commentary on the Gita
becomes primarily the avatara of the nirguna Brahman, of which he becomes
perhaps paradoxicallythe earthly voice. Often, in this authors paraphrasing
of the text, Krishna explicitly identifies himself as the nirguna. As we shall see,
Madhusudana in his Bhaktirasayana defines Bhagavan as the nondual Self, a
mass of perfect Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, the pure Existence which is
the substratum of all.25 Therefore, despite his striking declaration Beyond
Krishna, I do not know of any higher Reality,26 it is clear that his conception
of the Deity remains transtheistic.

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Krishna in Advaita Texts


From Shankaras Brahmasutrabhashya (Commentary on the
Brahmasutras)
Brahman is known as having two forms (dvirupa), [one] qualified by
adjuncts (upadhi), which are the differences caused by the transformations of name and form, and [the other being] the opposite of
that, free of all adjuncts. A multitude of scriptural texts show the
twofold nature of Brahman, according as it is the object of knowledge
or ignorance. For example: For, where there is duality, as it were,
one sees the other, but where all has become ones own Self, then
who and with what shall one see? [BU 4.5.15]; Where one sees
no other, hears no other, knows no other, that is the Infinite,
but where one sees another, hears another, knows another, that is the
finite. The Infinite is the immortal; the finite, the mortal [ChU
7.24.1]. . . . This being the case, all discussions of Brahman as characterized by distinctions such as worshiper and object of worship are
from within the state of ignorance (avidya). (BSSh 1.1.11, pp. 4950)
There [in ChU 3.14.3] it is taught that the Lordhaving qualities such
as minutenessis perceptible, that is, visible, in the lotus of the
heart, just as Hari [is perceptible] in the shalagrama stone. In this
case, the means of perception is an [interior] awareness of the intellect (buddhi-vijnana). Even though omnipresent, the Lord is
pleased when meditated upon there [in the heart]. And this is to
be understood by the analogy of space. Just as space, though being
omnipresent, is spoken of as small or minute in reference to [its
association with] such things as the eye of a needle, so it is with
Brahman also. So the smallness or minuteness of Brahman is
[mentioned] in reference to its being an object of meditation, not
in terms of the highest Reality (paramarthika). (BSSh 1.2.7; pp.
102103)27
Prior to the knowledge of the identity of the Self and Brahman, it is
proper to regard the entirety of ordinary existence as true, as the
events in a dream [are experienced as genuine] prior to awakening.
As long as the true oneness of the Self is not apprehended, no one has
the idea of unreality in reference to [empirical] transformations,
which take the form of the means of knowledge, their objects, and
their consequences. . . . Therefore, prior to knowledge of the Selfs
identity with Brahman, all activities, secular and religious, are
appropriate. . . .

krishna in advaita vedanta


The omniscience (sarvajnatva) [of God] depends upon the manifestation of the seeds of name and form, the nature of which is
ignorance (avidya). According to scriptures such as From that very
Self arose the ether [TU 2.1], the origin, sustenance, and dissolution
of the world are from the Lord, who is by nature eternally pure,
awakened, and liberated (nitya-shuddha-buddha-mukta),28 omniscient
and omnipotent (sarva-shakti). . . . This idea is also taught [by BS
1.1.4]: From which is the origin, and so on, [of the world]. . . .
Name and form, fabricated by ignorance, which are the seed
of the manifest universe known as samsara, are indeterminable as
being either real or otherwise.29 They are spoken of in scripture
(shruti) and traditional texts (smriti) as the maya-power (maya-shakti)
or the primordial matter (prakriti) of the omniscient Lord, seeming to
be identical (atma-bhuta iva) with the omniscient Lord. But the omniscient Lord is different from them.30. . .
Thus the Lord conforms to the adjuncts (upadhi) of name and
form, created by ignorance, as space conforms to the adjuncts such as
pots and jars. And, within the realm of empirical existence, He
rules over [the entities] called souls ( jiva), identified with the mind,
wholike the space in potsconform to a collection of [bodily] instruments that are effects created by name and form as conjured
forth by ignorance, the souls being [in reality] identical with His own
Self (svatma-bhuta). And thus the lordship, the omniscience, and
the omnipotence of the Lord are dependent on the distinctions of the
adjuncts whose nature is ignorance. But in reality (paramarthatah)
such [terms] as ruler, ruled, and omniscience do not apply to
the Self that has been cleared of all adjuncts by knowledge. (BSSh
2.1.14; pp. 311, 314316)
In the world, kings or royal ministers, [persons] who have had all
their desires fulfilled, might engage in activities that are mere
play (lila), such as sports and games, not envisioning any particular goal. Likewise, breathing out and breathing in and similar activities occur simply because of [ones] inherent nature (svabhava), not
intending any external purpose. So it is that for the Lord [all] activities are mere play, arising out of [his own] inherent nature, not
considering any other aim. It is not possible to determine [that the
Lord has] any other purpose, either using reason or on the basis
of scripture. Neither can [the fact that playful creativity is the Lords]
inherent nature be questioned. Although to us the creation of this
world looks like an enormous undertaking, for the Supreme Lord
(parameshvara) it is mere play, owing to his unlimited power (shakti).
And if nevertheless in ordinary life we might discern some subtle

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purpose even in acts of play, still it is not at all possible to ascertain any
motive in this case, because scripture affirms that [the Lord] is one for
whom all desires are already fulfilled. (BSSh 2.1.33; pp. 340341)
On this point the Bhagavatas31 believe that the one Blessed Lord
(Bhagavan)32 Vasudeva, whose nature is pure knowledge, is the
highest Reality. Having divided himself, He abides in the form of the
four emanations (vyuha) Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and
Aniruddha. The supreme Self is called Vasudeva, the individual soul
( jiva) is called Sankarshana, the mind is called Pradyumna, and the
ego-sense is called Aniruddha. Among these, [the emanation] Vasudeva is the highest material cause (prakriti), [of which] the others
Sankarshana and the restare effects. Havingfor a hundred
yearsworshiped the supreme Lord, the Blessed Lord, whose nature
is such, by means of approaching [Him in temples], preparation [of
materials for worship], the giving of offerings, recitation [of prayers, etc.], and meditation (yoga), one becomes free of afflictions and
attains the Blessed Lord.
In reference to this, the following can be said. The idea that
Narayanawho is well known as being beyond the unmanifest
(avyakta),33 the supreme Self, the Self of allestablishes Himself by
Himself in multiple emanations (vyuha) is not at all disputed. From
scriptures such as He becomes one, then becomes threefold [ChU
7.24.2], it is understood that the supreme Self becomes manifold. If in
addition the constant worship of the Blessed Lord with completely
concentrated mind through approaching [Him in temples], and so on,
is being promoted, that also should not be discouraged, for meditation
on the Lord is recommended everywhere in shruti and smriti. However, in reference to the idea that Sankarshana arises from Vasudeva,
Pradyumna from Sankarshana, and Aniruddha from Pradyumna,
we must object. The production (utpatti) of the individual soul, called
Sankarshana, from the supreme Self, called Vasudeva, is not possible,
because this would entail such defects as [the souls] impermanence.
If it is allowed that the individual soul has an origin, then defects such
as impermanence invariably follow. On this account [for example],
liberation (moksha), which consists in attaining the Blessed Lord,
would not be possible, because an effect inevitably becomes completely
destroyed when it returns to its cause.34 (BSSh 2.2.42; pp. 415416)
From Shankaras Bhagavadgitabhashya (Commentary on
the Bhagavad Gita)
Om! Narayana is beyond the unmanifest (avyakta).35 The Cosmic
Egg (anda) comes forth from the unmanifest. These worlds,

krishna in advaita vedanta


together with the earth and its seven islands, are contained
within the Cosmic Egg.
Having projected this world, and desiring to maintain its stability, the
Blessed Lord projected the ancient progenitors and caused them to
follow the path (dharma) of ritual action, as declared in the Vedas.
Then, having manifested othersSanaka, Sanandana, and the other
[eternal renouncers]He caused them to follow the path of cessation from action, characterized by knowledge and renunciation. For
the dharma declared in the Veda is of two types, one defined by
action and the other by cessation from action. This dharma, which is
the cause of the preservation of the world and directly leads to [both]
worldly prosperity and final beatitude for living beings, has been
followed by Brahmins and others belonging to the [system of ] caste
and stage of life who desire the best.
After a long passage of time, dharma was being overpowered by
non-dharma, owing to the rise of desire in [the minds of] its practitioners, who had abandoned knowledge and discrimination, and
non-dharma was thriving. Then Vishnu, the primal creator, known as
Narayana, desiring to protect the stability of the world, and for the
sake of protecting Brahmins, who are Brahman manifest on earth,
took birth with a portion (amshena) [of Himself ] as Krishna, [son] of
Devaki and Vasudeva. . . .
The Blessed Lord, always endowed with knowledge, dominion,
power, strength, valor, and glory,36 manipulated His own maya,
belonging to Him as Vishnu, the primordial matter consisting of the
three gunas. Although the unborn, immutable Lord of [all] beings,
eternally pure, enlightened, and liberated,37 He appeared (lakshyate),
by the [power of ] His maya, as if (iva) born, as if possessed of a body,
bestowing His grace on the world. (BhGSh, introduction, pp. 15)
7.16. Persons of good deeds who worship Me, O Arjuna, are of four
types: the afflicted, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of material
well-being, and the knower.38
7.17. Among these, the knower, ever disciplined, who has singleminded devotion, excels. For I am exceedingly dear to the knower,
and he is dear to me.
Among them, between those four, the knower, who possesses knowledge of Reality, and who, on account of having knowledge of Reality,
is ever disciplined and, on account of not seeing any other object
of worship, has single-minded devotionthat person excels, that is,
is endowed with excellent qualities in abundance. He39 goes beyond [all others]. This is the idea. Since I am the Self of the knower,

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therefore I am exceedingly dear to him. It is well known in the world
that the Self is dear. Therefore, Vasudeva, on account of being the
Self, is dear to the knower. This is the idea. And the knower, being
the very Self of Me who am Vasudeva,40 is exceedingly dear to Me.
7.18. All these are noble, but the knower I deem to be My very Self, for
hewith disciplined mindis fixed on Me alone, the unexcelled
goal.
. . . But the knower is the very Self, not different from Me, this is my
settled conclusion. The knower is disciplined in mind, that is, mentally concentrated, having the idea I myself am the Blessed Lord
Vasudeva, nothing less. Being such, he rises to attain Me, the supreme Brahman, the ultimate goal.
7.19. At the end of many births, one possessed of knowledge attains
Me, thinking, Vasudeva is all! Such a great soul is exceedingly
difficult to find.
The knower is again praised. At the end or conclusion of many births,
which are the foundation for [accumulating] the mental impressions necessary for knowledge, the one possessed of knowledge, that
is, whose knowledge has attained maturation, attainsthrough direct perception (pratyakshatah)Me, Vasudeva, the innermost Self.
How [can this realization be expressed]? [The verse answers:] Vasudeva is all! Whoever thus attains me, the Self of all, that great soul
has no one equal to him and none greater. Therefore, among
thousands of human beings [such a one] is exceedingly difficult to
find. This is the idea. (BhG 7.1619, with BhGSh, pp. 362365)
From Madhusudana Sarasvatis Advaitasiddhi (The Vindication of
Nondualism)
His hand is adorned by the flute, His complexion is like a
fresh dark cloud laden with water. He wears beautiful yellow silk,
and His reddish lips are like the bimba fruit. His face is as
beautiful as the full moon, with eyes like lotuses. Beyond Krishna,
I do not know of any higher reality. (AS 2.7, p. 750; also GAD,
concluding invocation, p. 775)
From Madhusudana Sarasvatis Samkshepashariraka Sarasamgraha
(The Compendium of the Essential Meaning of the Samkshepasariraka)
I worship that Brahman truth, knowledge, infinite, nondual
Blisswhich is directly realized for the sake of moksha by
most excellent sages who have approached a guru, engaged in

krishna in advaita vedanta


reflection, and attained samadhi, Who was born in Vrindavana
for the joy of all as a result of the austerity of Nanda, playing on
the flute, with face as beautiful as the moon, having eyes like
lotuses. (SShSS, opening invocation, p. 3)
265. This entire world arose, without thought, from the Lord,
[Krishna,] the son of Anakadundubhi,41 the pure Consciousness that
neither arises nor disappears, transcending mind and the Vedic word.
The author says from the Lord [Krishna], the son of Anakadundubhi in order to proclaim [His] being the avatara of That [pure
Consciousness]. (SShSS, p. 303)
From Madhusudana Sarasvatis Bhagavad Gita Gudharthadipika
(Light on the Hidden Meaning of the Bhagavad Gita)
if the yogins, with their minds controlled by the practice of
meditation, see that indescribable Lightattributeless, actionless, and supremelet them see it! But as for me, may that
wondrous blue Effulgence which runs about and plays on the
banks of the Yamuna long be the joy of my eyes. (GAD 13,
opening invocation, p. 521)42
4.6. Even though I am birthless, undying by nature, the Lord of [all]
beings, commanding My primordial matter, I take birth by [the
power of ] My own maya.
. . . In the first half of the verse it is accepted that God cannot have
a physical body. He excludes [first, the idea of His] taking on a
new body [by saying] even though I am birthless, [second, the idea
of His] separation from an old body, by saying undying by nature,
and [third, the idea of His] being subject to merit and demerit [by
saying] that He is the Lord of [all] beings from Brahma down to a
blade of grass.
What then is the nature of this embodiment? [He answers this
question] in the second half of this verse. There he says Commanding My own primordial matter, I take birth. Primordial matter,
[also] called maya, possessed of many and variegated powers, clever in
accomplishing that which is impossible, is My own, it belongs to
Me as an adjunct. Commanding this (maya), controlling it with the
light of Consciousness, I take birth. By a particular transformation of
that (maya), I am born, as it were, possessed of a body, as it were.43 . . .
How then is there the perception of a body in reference to the
pure Being-Consciousness-Bliss that is devoid of any embodiment?
To answer this, He says: It is nothing but maya when [embodied]

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form is seen in Me, the Blessed Lord Vasudeva, the pure, the unqualified (nirguna), the essence of Being, Consciousness, and Bliss
through and through, who is devoid of the relationship of body and
embodied. (BhG 4.6, with GAD, pp. 187189)
7.14. This divine maya of Mine is difficult to cross. Only those who
take refuge in Me are able to cross over this maya.
. . .Those who take refuge in Me, the undivided Self that is Consciousness, Bliss, and Existence, devoid of all adjuncts, [that is, those]
who make [Me] the object of the mental modification that suppresses
ignorance and all its effects, [the mental modification] generated
by the Upanishadic texts and taking the form of an immediate,
unconditioned realization (nirvikalpaka-sakshatkara) having the quality of inexpressible pure Consciousness, being the fruit of all good
deeds, arising from the maturation of deep meditation (nididhyasana)those persons, whoever they are, easily go beyond maya, the
source of all misfortune, even though it is exceedingly difficult to
cross over. . . .
Those saintly ones who have Me as their sole support take refuge init says take refuge in but the intended meaning is see
Me alone, the Blessed Lord Vasudeva, the complete essence of
infinite beauty, the abode of all refinements, whose feet surpass the
entire splendor of fresh rain clouds, whose form is supreme Bliss
through and through, who am beyond the creation of Lord Brahma.44
Passing their days thinking constantly [of Me] as such, they are
not overpowered by all the transformations of the gunas of maya,
since their minds are immersed in the great ocean of Bliss that is love
(preman) of Me. Indeed Maya, as if thinking These persons, who
are skilled in repelling my playful manifestations, have the power to
uproot and destroy me, flees from them like a prostitute from hottempered ascetics. (BhG 7.14, with GAD, pp. 360361)
14.27. For I am the foundation of Brahman, the immortal, the undying, and the unfailing bliss, as also of the eternal dharma.
The Brahman with adjuncts is the direct meaning of the word That [in
the saying That you are in ChU 6]. It is the cause of the origin,
maintenance, and dissolution of the world. Of that Brahman, I, Vasudeva, the unconditioned (nirvikalpaka), am the foundation, that
in which it rests. [As such,] I am the final meaning of the word
That, the highest reality, the unconditioned, of the nature of Being,
Consciousness, and Bliss, free from all adjuncts, the unconstructed
form that is devoid of all constructed forms. . . .

krishna in advaita vedanta


Of that again, the Brahman with adjuncts that is the cause, the
Blessed Lord Krishna is the ultimate substance, the essence in the
form of Existence, because that which has adjuncts is constructed on
the basis of that which is free there from, because that which is
constructed does not surpass its ground, and because the Blessed
Lord Krishna, being the Brahman that is the highest truth and free
from all adjuncts (paramartha-satya-nirupadhi-brahma), is the ground
of all constructions. (BhG 14.27, with GAD, pp. 607608)
From Madhusudana Sarasvatis Bhaktirasayana (The Elixir of
Devotion)
The objects that imprint their forms in the mind are not distinct
from the Blessed Lord,45 because they are superimposed on Him. For
all objects appear as existentas [for example], an existing pot or
an existing clothbecause they participate in the existence of
the Blessed Lord Himself. According to the Upanishadic text, All this,
verily, is Brahman, in origin, duration, and dissolution [ChU 3.14.1],
all things arise from the Blessed Lord alone, exist in the Blessed Lord
alone, and dissolve into the Blessed Lord alone, because they are
known to be nondifferent [from the Blessed Lord], like pots from clay,
and will be contradicted [by true knowledge] like the manifestations of
the dream state, and so on. And therefore, because things that are
superimposed (adhyasta) are annulled by the knowledge of their substratum, all things vanish at the manifestation of the form of the
Blessed Lord (bhagavad-akara) and merge in Him.
This being the case, all love (preman), even that [formerly]
directed toward worldly objects, becomes fixed on the Blessed Lord,
because nothing different from Him is presented to awareness. . . .
Therefore, by reasoning such as this it may be determined that
the Blessed Lord is the nondual Self, a mass of perfect Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, the pure existence that is the substratum of all.
For one who has so determined, the higher nonattachment called
mastery46 arises toward the objects of waking experience, because
they are found to be as insignificant as the objects of a dream. . . .
First comes knowledge of the Blessed Lord, then there arises the
higher nonattachment, and then the devotion that is of the nature of
love (preman). . . . What sort of knowledge is meant? . . . Everything
other than the Blessed Lord, because it is transient, is false (mayika)
like a dream. It is devoid of true significance, painful, and to be
shunned. The Blessed Lord alone is real; He is the supreme Bliss,
self-luminous, eternal, the One to be sought after. This is the kind of
knowledge spoken of. It is taught in the Bhagavad Gita also: . . . At the

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end of many births, one possessed of knowledge attains Me, thinking, Vasudeva is all! Such a great soul is exceedingly difficult to find
(BhG 7.19). The meaning is: Everything other than Vasudeva, since it
is a product of maya, is not real. Vasudeva alone is real, is the dearest,
because He is the Self. (BhR 1.32, pp. 7688)

abbreviations
AS

Advaitasiddhi of Madhusudanasarasvati. Edited by N. S. Ananta Krishna


Sastri. Delhi: Parimal, 1982.
BhG
Bhagavad Gita.
BhGSh Srimadbhagavadgita with the Commentaries Srimat-Sankarabhashya with
Anandagiri, Nilakanthi, Bhasyotkarsadipika of Dhanapati, Sridhari, Gitarthasamgraha of Abhinavaguptacarya, and
Gudharthadipika of Madhusudana. Edited by Wasudev Laxman
Sastri Pansikar. 2nd ed. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1978.
BhP
Bhagavata Purana.
BhR
Sribhagavadbhaktirasayana [Bhaktirasayana]. Edited with the authors Tika
and the editors Hindi Anuvada by Janardana Sastri Pandeya. Banaras:
Motilal Banarsidass, c. 1961.
BSSh Brahmasutrabhasya [Brahmasutra with Shankaras Commentary]. Complete
Works of Sri Sankaracharya in the Original Sanskrit, vol. 7. Rev. ed. Madras:
Samata Books, 1983.
BU
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
ChU
Chandogya Upanishad.
GAD [Bhagavad Gita] Gudharthadipika of Madhusudana [Sarasvati]. InBhGSh.
SShSS Samksepasariraka of Sarvajnatman, with a Gloss called Sarasamgraha by Madhusudana Sarasvati [Samkshepashariraka Sarasamgraha]. Edited by Bhau
Sastri Vajhe. Kashi Sanskrit Series 18. Banaras: Chowkhamba Sanskrit
Series Office, 192425.

notes
1. See Yoshitsugu Sawai, The Faith of Ascetics and Lay Smartas: A Study of the
Sankaran Tradition of Sringeri (Vienna: Sammlung De Nobili, 1992).
2. See Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1988), 217262.
3. For purposes of limiting this discussion, I define Shankara as the author of the
major commentaries on the Brahmasutras, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita,
and the independent treatise the Upadeshasahasri. Proponents of the idea that
Shankara was a practitioner of bhakti as well as a nondualist commonly seek support
in the so-called minor works (prakaranas) and the many devotional hymns (stotras)
attributed to him. See, e.g., S. Radhakrishnan, The Brahma Sutra: The Philosophy of
the Spiritual Life (London: Allen and Unwin, 1960), 3738. Unfortunately, critical
scholarship suggests that these works were almost certainly not written by the great
Advaitin himself. Even as orthodox a Hindu scholar as the highly respected Maha-

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325

mahopadhyaya Gopi Nath Kaviraj writes regarding the hymns: No doubt, most of
these stotras must have been written by the later Sankaracaryas but all of them
have been attributed to the first Sankaracarya. In reference to the treatises, he says:
It is difficult to decide about the authorship and genuineness of these works;
quoted and translated from the Hindi by A. P. Mishra,The Development and Place of
Bhakti in Sankara Vedanta (Allahabad: University of Allahabad, 1967), 128. Of the
prakaranas, Hacker, Ingalls, and Mayeda recognize only the Upadeshasahasri as
genuine; Karl H. Potter, Advaita Vedanta up to Sankara and His Pupils, Encyclopedia of
Indian Philosophies, vol. 3, edited by Karl H. Potter (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981),
116, 32. For the attitude of Shankara the commentator toward bhakti, see his comments on BhG 13, briefly considered later.
For abbreviations used here for the titles of texts, see the list at the end of the
chapter.
4. The epigraph at the head of this chapter is the concluding benediction of GAD
14, p. 608.
5. Brahma satyam jagan mithya jivo brahmaiva na parah (traditional verse).
6. On the concept of liberation in Advaita, see Lance E. Nelson, Living Liberation in Sankara and Classical Advaita: Sharing the Holy Waiting of God, in Living
Liberation in Indian Thought, edited by Andrew O. Fort and Patricia Y. Mumme
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 1762. For a more complete
discussion of Advaita theology and its implications, see Lance E. Nelson, The
Dualism of Nondualism: Advaita Vedanta and the Irrelevance of Nature, in Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India, edited by Lance E.
Nelson (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), 6188.
7. See his commentary on Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 3.5.1. See also Eliot Deutsch,
Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction (Honolulu: East-West Center Press,
1969), chap. 3.
8. Shankara is not a subjective idealist. For him, God and the world are much
more than mere creations of the mind. He takes pains to refute the views of the
Vijnanavada Buddhist idealists, who deny the existence of external objects independent of perception. Shankara does not see such subjectivism as a necessary consequence of the doctrine of maya (BSSh 2.2.2832). In post-Shankara Advaita, a kind of
subjective idealism called drishti-srishti-vada (the doctrine of creation through perception) was put forward by Prakashananda (twelfth century), but there is no doubt
that this view would have been rejected by Shankara.
9. Rudolph Otto, Mysticism East and West (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 123. Later
on the same page, Otto speaks of the aparavidya Shankara as a passionate theist.
Considering what will be said about Shankaras views below, I think this latter statement is something of an exaggeration. I do, however, agree with Ottos observation that
the great Advaitin stands sympathetically on the inside of the theistic tradition. He
transcends it by moving deeper, so to say, from within. See note 10.
10. Hackers study of Shankaras authentic works demonstrates that the latters
thinking on conventional religious matters, as well as that of his disciples, is consistently Vaishnava in tone and language; Paul Hacker, Relations of Early Advaitins
to Vaisnavism, in Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern
Vedanta, edited by Wilhelm Halbfass (Albany: State University of New York Press,

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1995), 3339. See also Sengaku Mayeda, A Thousand Teachings: The Upadesasahasri of
Sankara (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1979), 8 n. 13.
11. BSSh 3.2.9 describes Ishvara as eternally free of ignorance (nityanivrittavidya, p. 578). The description of God as eternally pure, enlightened, and
liberated (nitya-shuddha-buddha-mukta) is used so often as to become a kind of stock
phrase (see the translations of BSSh 2.1.14 and the introduction to BhGSh, translated below).
12. BSSh 2.1.34, 2.2.1, 2.3.1442, 3.2.3841. See Otto, Mysticism, 124126.
13. See note 4.
14. Sawai, Faith of Ascetics, 23, 6869.
15. See the introduction to BhGSh, translated below. Shankara seems to have
been unaware of the historically later idea that Krishna is the avatarin, the source of all
avataras. Ramanuja and Madhva, the two great South Indian Vaishnava theologians,
were likewise ignorant of this notion.
16. See G. A. Jacob, ed., The Vedantasara of Sadananda (Bombay: Tukaram Javaji,
1894), viiix; Otto, Mysticism, 127; Hacker, Relations of Early Advaitins, 3339, and
Distinctive Features of the Doctrine and Terminology of Sankara: Avidya, Namarupa,
Maya, Ishvara, in Halbfass, Philology and Confrontation,, 8596; Sengaku Mayeda, The
r
Authenticity of the Bhagavadgitabhasya Attributed to Sankara, Wiener Zeitschrift fu
d-und Ostasiens 9 (1965), 183185; Raimundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ
die Kunde Su
of Hinduism, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1981), 112, 114. Mayeda, Authenticity, for example, lists some fifteen instances of such usage in the BhGSh alone.
17. In this connection it is interesting that Shankaras frequent use of the word
ishvara, in comparison with the habit of later Advaitins, including his disciples, is one of
the criteria proposed by Hacker and Mayeda to identify which of the many works attributed to him are genuine (Mayeda, Authenticity, 183; Potter, Advaita, 115).
18. Note the several assertions in the readings that follow that Ishvara, or Narayana, is beyond, or different from, the unmanifest (avyakta) the imperishable
(akshara) prakriti maya (BSSh 2.1.14, 2.2.42; BhGSh benedictory verse). Regarding
developments in post-Shankara Advaita, Panikkar observes: His followers were so
keen to preserve the absolute purity and transcendence of Brahman and its total
uncontamination by the World that they placed Isvara in the realm of maya, since it is
he who is concerned with the creation of the world and hence gets involved in the
cosmic play. This leads either to a practical dualism (between a para and apara
brahman, between paramarthika and vyavaharika) or to an illusionistic conception of
Isvara (Unknown Christ, 151).
19. Like selfless action (BSSh 3.4.26). Shankara does acknowledge that bhaktiyoga can lead to the acquisition of knowledge ( jnana-prapti) by calling forth Gods
grace (mama prasadat), and hence indirectly to moksha (BhGSh 15.1), but even here,
knowledge is the key factor. See BhGSh 18.56.
20. It is relevant here that the founder of Advaita, while adventurous metaphysically, was extremely conservative socially. Indeed, it must be said that he was
an unapologetic caste and gender elitist. Sankara and the tradition following
him taught that, with certain rare exceptions, only members of the order of worldrenouncers, the samnyasins, could gain knowledge of Brahman and hence moksha.
Only male Brahmins, moreover, were eligible for samnyasa. The result was that the

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audience for whom the teaching of the ultimate disappearance of God was intended
was extremely small. I have discussed this side of Shankaras thought in some detail in
my Theism for the Masses, Non-dualism for the Monastic Elite: A Fresh Look at
Sankaras Trans-theistic Spirituality, in The Struggle over the Past: Fundamentalism in
the Modern World, edited by William Shea (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America,
1993), 6177.
21. BhGSh 12.13. Anyone who seriously believes that Shankara was a bhakta
should read this passage carefully.
22. The Purva Mimamsa was the school of Hindu thought devoted to correct
interpretation of the ritual texts (karma-kanda) of the Veda. The most important
teachers of the Purva Mimamsa were Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara (seventh
century c.e.).
23. In terms of Advaitas understanding of bhakti, Madhusudanas main contribution was twofold. First, he attempted to reclaim bhakti as a valid expression of
the Advaita samnyasins spirituality. Thus, he taught that bhakti was possible even at
the pinnacle of advaitic realization, in the state of jivanmukti, or liberation in life.
Second, and this especially in his Bhaktirasayana, he sought to rehabilitate bhakti as a
valid spiritual paththe soteriological sufficiency of which was independent of the
way of knowledgefor those not qualified for (by caste, gender, etc.), or inclined
toward, the latter path. For a fuller exposition of Madhusudanas views on bhakti, see
my articles Bhakti-rasa for the Advaitin Renunciate: Madhusudana Sarasvatis Theory
of Devotional Sentiment, Religious Traditions 12 (1989), 116; Bhakti Preempted:
Madhusudana Sarasvati on Devotion for the Advaitin Renouncer, Journal of Vaishnava Studies 6 (winter 1998), 5374; The Ontology of Bhakti: Devotion as Paramapurusartha in Gaudiya Vaisnavism and Madhusudana Sarasvati, Journal of Indian
Philosophy 32 (August 2004), 345392.
24. See note 23.
25. BhRT 1.32, p. 77.
26. Krishnat param kim api tattvam aham na jane. A full translation of this
devotional verse is given below. It is found at AS 2.7, p. 750, and again at the end
of the GAD, p. 775. It is frequently quoted in the literature.
27. See Hackers comments on this passage, Relations of Early Advaitins, 35.
28. See note 11.
29. Tattvanyatvabhyam anirvachaniye, BSSh 2.1.14, p. 315.
30. Tabhyam anyah sarvajna isvarah, BSSh 2.1.14, p. 315.
31. Not to be confused with the later Bhagavata Purana, the Bhagavatas were
followers of an ancient Vaishnava tradition, evidenced in inscription as early as 100
b.c., as well as in the Bhagavad Gita and the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata,
and having affinities with the Pancharatra sect, another early Vaishnava tradition.
Shankara here objects to certain tenets of Bhavagata theology, as he understands it,
but supports other aspects of their teaching.
32. I here consistently translate Bhagavan as Blessed Lord. The literal meaning
is possessed (-van) of fortune/glory/majesty (bhaga), i.e., the blessed, glorious, or
adorable one.
33. See the benedictory verse quoted by Shankara at the beginning of his commentary on the BhG, translated below.

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34. Hacker comments on this passage, Relations of Early Advaitins, 37.


35. Compare Shankaras prominently placed declaration, here in the mangala
(benedictory) verse with which he opens his commentarythat Narayana is beyond
the unmanifest, i.e., beyond maya, with his comments on BhG 15.1617, where,
following the text, he distinguishes the imperishable (akshara), identified with maya,
from the Purushottama, identified as Narayana.
36. jnanaishvarya-shakti-bala-tejobhih sada sampannah, BhGSh, p. 4.
37. Again, nitya-shuddha-buddha-mukta.
38. The jnanin, the one possessed of knowledge, i.e. (for Shankara), the one
who has directly realized the identity of Atman and Brahman.
39. The male pronoun (sah) is used in the text. In Shankaras thought, only
male Brahmin renunciants were qualified for the path of knowledge (see note 20). To
attempt gender inclusive language here would therefore be misleading.
40. Mama vasudevasyatmaiveti.
41. Anakadundubhi is a name of Vasudeva, Krishnas father.
42. For further examples of devotional verses attributed to Madhusudana,
see Siddhanta Bindu; Being Madhusudanas Commentary on the Dasasloki of Sri Sankaracharya, translated by P. M. Modi (Allahabad: Vohra, 1985), app. 4.
43. Compare with Shankaras introduction to the BhGSh, translated earlier.
44. The editor places in brackets the following additional epithets: shining with
a pair of lotus feet whose beauty exceeds that of a fresh lotus, incessantly playing
the flute, whose mind is attached to delightful sports in Vrindavana, by whom the
mountain called Govardhana was held high in play, Gopala, by whom droves of
wicked ones such as Shishupala, Kamsa were slain. However, he notes: This ornamented portion is not included in some manuscripts (GAD, p. 361).
45. Bhagavan is clearly identified, elsewhere in this text, as Mukunda, Govinda,
etc. Madhusudana also quotes literally hundreds of verses from the Bhagavata Purana in support of his ideas. In short, it is clear that here Bhagavan is Krishna and not,
for example, Vishnu or Narayana.
46. A reference to Yoga-sutra 1.15.