Śaṅkara and Bhāskara, two of the most well-known Vedānta scholars, in their respective commentaries on the Brahmasūtra quote the same verse, whose source is unknown, with regard to a transmigrating body, or puryaṣṭaka. The term puryaṣṭaka, which is found in Vedānta, dharmaśāstra, and Śaiva texts, literally means “eightfold fortress (purī),” but its eight components are interpreted differently by scholars including Śaṅkara and Bhāskara. This paper tries to clarify Śaṅkara’s and Bhāskara’s interpretations of these eight components in their respective commentaries on the Brahmasūtra, and furthermore aims to examine the source of the verse.
Śaṅkara, who does not specify the eight components, quotes a passage from the Br̥hadāraṇyakopaniṣad saying “indeed hands are graspers (graha)” (3.2.8), and interprets the term “graspers” as “bondage” (bandha) before quoting the verse in his commentary on Brahmasūtra 2.4.6, in which the number of prāṇa (vital functions) is dealt with. Considering Br̥hadāraṇyakopaniṣad 3.2.1–9, in which eight “graspers” are mentioned, we can conclude from context that Śaṅkara understands the components of puryaṣṭaka to be these eight graspers, namely, prāṇa (i.e., the olfactory function), the taste function, the vocal function, the visual function, the manas, hands, and the tactile function.
Bhāskara, on the other hand, mentions these eight components as the five vital airs (prāṇa, apāna, vyāna, udāna, and samāna), the faculty of eleven organs, and the intellect (buddhi). In addition, considering Bhāskara’s conception of the components of a “soul” enveloped by a “subtle body,” we might safely assume that Bhāskara interprets the components of puryaṣṭaka as the five vital airs, the ten organs, manas, and the intellect. The validity of this interpretation is verified by a correspondence to the seventeen components of transmigrating liṅga, which are often mentioned in Vedānta texts, namely, the five vital airs, the five cognitive organs, the five motor organs, the intellect, and the manas.
As for the source of this verse, Śaṅkara quotes it from a smr̥ti, while Bhāskara attributes it to paurāṇikāḥ, while in their respective commentaries on the Mānavadharmaśāstra Medhātithi quotes it from a purāṇa, while Kullūka introduces it as “brahmapurāṇe.” However, in the presently available Brahmapurāṇa, this verse cannot be found. Lakṣmīdhara in his Kr̥tyakalpataru introduces the verse as “brahmāṇḍapurāṇe,” and, while the latter half of this passage is found in Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa 4.3.55, the first half, which contains the puryaṣṭaka in question, is missing. The same applies to Vāyupurāṇa 102.75cd–76ab, which parallels Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa 4.3.55. Taking a recent study by Kengo Harimoto into account, which shows that the purāṇa text known to Śaṅkara is a common ancestor of the Vāyupurāṇa and the Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, it is possible that Śaṅkara is quoting this verse from this ancestral text. If this is true, it shows that the term puryaṣṭaka is an old expression dating back to the era before the composition of this ancestral text. Furthermore, we can conclude that Śaṅkara’s unique interpretation of the components of puryaṣṭaka implies that he was unfamiliar with the interpretation of it corresponding to the seventeen components of transmigrating liṅga.