Ghora: My conclusion (in short):
1. shaMkara had no qualms with either shiva or viSNu being kAryabrahman or a saguNa symbol of the Atman he held as the highest reality. He was not your tear-jerking bhakta so favoured by the sectarian devotees of this or that deity. He didn’t particularly care about this issue. In the entire analysis I have restricted myself to quoting works which are unanimously held to be authored by him. No stotras, not even his independent works. His BSB, BGB & UpBs(brahmasutrabhAShya,bhagavadgItAbhAShya, upaniShad bhAShyas) That’s all
2. He may not have been comfortable with the existing, dominant shaiva sects of his time (pAshupatam or caturbhagini worship). In this light, please do not that there is an extremely famous bauddha mantra which invoked protection against various “dangerous” beings, including the caturbhaginis.
3. shaMkara was most likely not exposed to the mild siddhAnta form (I have issues with his dating but this is a different story)
Me: Why do you think so about (3)?
Ghora: Forgot to send u the main portion: Here are all the facts abt shaMkara’s theism:
1. shaMkara had a very dry conception of “brahman”, whom he clearly distinguishes from viSNu by the use of an interesting simile in the BSB.
2. There is the high possibility that he quotes a mantra from the kaivalyopaniSat at the start of his aitareyopaniSadbhASya. As you know, the kaivalyopaniSat is unabashedly shaiva In orientation.
3. He definitely quotes the shvetashvataropaniSat in his BSB; which you also know that gives a valid basis for shiva being parabrahman.
4. In his bhASya on kenopaniSat, where umA haimavatI “schools” indra & others, how does he gloss on the shruti’s description of umA devI—“bahushobhamAnAm umAM haimavatIm”. That gloss itself is very telling.
There are two bhASyas on kena. But still, both are telling. In one, he simply says that she is rudrapatnI who is brahmavidyA herself. In the other, he says that she is ever in contact with the sarvajña īśvara.
5. It is true that while he rejects all systems “outside” the veda: yoga, sAMkhyA, pāśupata & pāñcarātra, his treatment of pāñcarātra seems to be the kindest, where he says that he does not condemn their rituals but only their faulty metaphysics.
6. In his gItAbhASya, he gives vinAyakas, saptamAtRkas & caturbhaginis as examples of bhUtas. He doesn’t say that one shouldn’t worship them but he gives bhUtas as an example of tAmasika worship. Now points 5 & 6 have been milked for all it is worth by SVs without appreciating the context or appreciating the weight of points 1-4.
Me : Yes
Ghora: 3 is because the siddhAnta was far from well-known in the 600s/700s (I’m inclined to date earlier tbf)…Even around the 600s (appar), it was still a fledgling movement with pAshupatas possibly still being the dominant group
Ghora: The four main maThas were built in places in eras when the siddhAnta simply was not present there….
His dwelling in kAnchi & kAshmIra are generally considered hagiographic excesses
My own note: The simile in question from the brahmasutrabhAShya is ईदृशं चात्र ब्रह्मण उपास्यत्वं यतः प्रतीकेषु तत्दृष्ट्याध्यारोपणं प्रतिमादिषु इव विष्ण्वादीनाम्।(īdṛśaṃ cātra brahmaṇa upāsyatvaṃ yataḥ pratīkeṣu tatdṛṣṭyādhyāropaṇaṃ pratimādiṣu iva viṣṇvādīnām। For those who can’t read devanAgarI).