Vācaspati Miśra

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Vācaspati Miśra
Born unknown, 9th/10th century CE[1]
Died unknown, 9th/10th century CE[1]
Philosophy Advaita Vedanta, Hinduism

Vācaspati Miśra was a 9th- or 10th-century CE Indian philosopher of Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism.[1][2] His ideas are sometimes called the Bhāmatī sub-school of Advaita, a name based on the title of his commentary on Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya of Adi Shankara. Vachaspati Miśra was a prolific scholar and his writings are extensive, including bhasya (commentaries) on key texts of almost every 9th-century school of Hindu philosophy with notes on heterodox traditions such as Buddhism and Charvaka.[3][4] He also wrote one non-commentary, Tattvabindu. Some of his works are lost to history or yet to be found.[4]

Little is known about Vacaspati Mishra's life, and the earliest text that has been dated with certainty is from 840 CE, and he was at least one generation younger than Adi Shankara.[5] However, an alternate date for the same text may be 976 CE, according to some scholars, a confusion that is based on whether Hindu Saka or Vikrama era calendar is used for the dating purposes.[4] His scholarship is revered in the Hindu tradition, which believes that he was a Maithila Brahmin from Bihar.[4]

Primary works

Tattvabindu is his original work, wherein he develops principles of hermeneutics, and discusses the "Theory of Meaning" for the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.[4] This is an influential work, and attempted to resolve some of the interpretation disputes on classical Sanskrit texts.[4]

Vācaspati examines four competing theories of linguistic meaning:[citation needed]

  • Mandana Misra's (sphoṭavāda), which involves grasping the meaning of a word or sentence by perceiving a sphoṭa or single holistic sound, which is distinct from the elements (sounds or characters) that make up the word or sentence;
  • the Nyāya theory which involves concatenating the memory traces (saṃskāra) of momentary components of a word or sentence when we hear the final momentary component;
  • the similar Mīmāmsā theory, according to which our grasp of the meaning of a sentence lies in the memory traces created by the words; and
  • the Prābhākara Mīmāmsā theory, anvitābhidhānavāda, according to which the meaning of a sentence is derived from the meanings of its words, each of which has an individual meaning in the sentence as well as having syntactic relations with the other words — no sphoṭa or memory traces are required.

After examining each of these theories, Vācaspati presents his own theory, abhihitānvayavāda, according to which understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring it, in a separate act of lakṣanā or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.

Secondary works: Bhasya

Vacaspati Misra is credited with influential commentaries such as Tattvakaumundi on Samkhyakarika,[6] Nyayasucinibandha on Nyaya Sutras,[1] various important texts of Advaita Vedanta,[7] Nyayakanika (an Advaita work on science of reason), Tattvasamiksa (lost work), Nyaya-varttika-tatparyatika (a tertiary work on the science of logic and reasoning), Tattvavaisaradi on Yogasutra, and others.[4]

While some known works of Vacaspati Misra are now lost, others exist in numerous numbers. Over ninety medieval era manuscripts, for example, in different parts of India have been found of his Tattvakaumundi, which literally means "Moonlight on the Truth".[4] This suggests that his work was sought and influential. A critical edition of Tattvakaumundi was published by Srinivasan in 1967.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Jeaneane Fowler (2002), Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism, Sussex Academic Press, ISBN 978-1898723943, page 129
  2. Isaeva, Natalia (1993). Shankara and Indian Philosophy. USA: State University of New York Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-7914-1281-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Jagadisha Chandra Chatterji (1912). Hindu Realism. pp. vi.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Gerald James Larson and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (1987), The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 4, Princeton University Press, pages 301-312
  5. Isaeva, Natalia (1993). Shankara and Indian Philosophy. USA: State University of New York Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-0-7914-1281-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Isaeva, Natalia (1993). Shankara and Indian Philosophy. USA: State University of New York Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-7914-1281-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Isaeva, Natalia (1993). Shankara and Indian Philosophy. USA: State University of New York Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7914-1281-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Sources and further reading

Primary texts

Secondary texts