Shri Shankara learnt that Kumarila Bhatta lived in the sacred city of Prayag (Allahabad) at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna, so he set out with his disciples along the bank of the Yamuna in the direction of Prayag. The meeting of Shri Shankara and Kumarila Bhatta is of great importance in the history of Indian philosophy and mysticism. Kumarila Bhatta’s scholarship had broken the back of the atheistic Buddhist objections to the Indian way of worship and sacrifice. Shri Shankara also had successfully dealt with the objections raised by the Buddhists and Jains to the orthodox view. These two Mahatmas re-established the Sanatana Dharma religion and gave a deathblow to the atheistic Buddhists, who had attempted to hold the Vedic religion up to ridicule.
There is some evidence that Kumarila Bhatta was a native of Southern India and was horn in the Deccan. Though little is known about his life, it is certain that he was a layman and not a monk; in fact he is known to have “been wealthy and to have had many servants. One of his pupils was the King of Chudamani. We know that Kumarila Bhatta once had a debate with the famous pundit Dharmakirti, who was the principal of the ancient university of Nalanda and a recognised expert in Buddhist logic. It happened in this way. Dharmakirti was not fully satisfied with the Buddhist philosophy so he decided to go to Kumarila Bhatta to study the philosophy of the Vedas under him. Knowing, however, that Kumarila Bhatta would not instruct a follower of Buddha,
Dharmakirti disguised himself as a humble student and Brahmachari and began to serve the teacher. Having received instructions in the Darshanas, he one day threw off his disguise and challenged his Guru to a metaphysical discussion. Kumarila was defeated and thereupon embraced Buddhism with all his disciples. He has written? “It is impossible to know the secrets of a system of philosophy or to contest its metaphysical position unless one studies it as an adherent. My-main object in studying Buddhism was first to understand it and then to refute it in the light of the Vedic philosophy.” Kumarila Bhatta spent the latter part of his life crusading against the Bauddhas. He knew many of the dialects of India and the Buddhist philosophy evaporated throughout India at his coming like a mist before the rays of the sun. Among his disciples were Prabhakara, Mandana Mishra and Bhavabhuti. Prabhakara is a well-known philosopher of the Mimansa school. Mandana Mishra’s famous debate with Shri Shankara is described later on. Bhavabhuti is mentioned several times in Chitsuka Acharya’s writings.
Kumarila Bhatta had been anxious to meet the learned Shankara and Shri Shankara, too, was eager to find a scholar able to write a good gloss on his Brahma Sutra commentary. When Shri Shankara at last reached the home of Kumarila Bhatta he found the great philosopher surrounded by weeping disciples preparing to immolate himself on a funeral pyre. Kumarila Bhatta greeted Shri Shankara with reverent salutations and expressed admiration for his philosophical writings. Shankara endeavoured to dissuade him from his intention but Kumarila Bhatta answered:
“It is time for me to leave the body. I must atone for my sins. My first great sin is that I was once an opponent of the Vedic religion, my second is that as an advocate of Jaimini’s philosophy I encouraged disbelief in the existence of God. Please seek out my foremost disciple, Mandana Mishra, and convert him to Advaita Vedanta. His unique scholarship and learning will help you in the propagation of Advaita Vedanta.” Thus ended the meeting of these two great men.
Index for The Life of Shri Shankara: