by Jayaram V
Advaiata Vedanta refers to the non-dualistic school of Hindu
philosophy derived mostly from the Upanishads and elaborated in
detail by eminent scholars like Gaudapada and Sri Adishankaracharya.
According to this school of philosophy, Brahman is the one and only
reality and everything else is a mere appearance or illusion. Atman,
the individual self is but Brahman only. A jiva is a deluded soul
under the mistaken notion of duality and separation. He is chained
to the cycle of births and deaths and the laws of karma as long
as he is not free from the objective reality to which he is subject.
The world that we see is unreal, an appearance or illusion or a
mirage that we experience because of the activties of the senses
and the mind. Man can attain salvation by knowing his true nature
and overcoming this duality, withdrawing his senses and developing
detachment, dispassion and discretion. Advaita Vedanta believes
that an enlightened guru, having the knowledge of both the scriptures
and Brahman, is indispensable for any one seeking salvation. Mandukya
Karika of Gaudapada is considered to be the first available treatise
on Advanta Vedanta, while the monumental works of Sankaracharya
constitute its core literature. Successive generations of scholars
enriched the philosophy through their valuable contributions. Some
important concepts of Advaita Vedanta are discussed below.
Sadhana Chatushtaaya: Any one who seeks salvation should
have the following four sets of qualifications
- Nityanitya vastu viveka: The ability to discriminate
between what is eternal (nitya) and what is temporary (anitya)
- Ihamutrartha phala bhoga viraga: Disinterestedness
in enjoying the fruit of one's actions and sense objects here
and here after.
- Sama adi satka sampatti: qualities such as sama (control
of internal sense organs), dama (control of external sense organs),
uparati (abstinence), titiksha (quietness), sraddha (sincerity
and faith) and samadhana.
- Mumukhutva: Intense aspiration for salvation.
Pramanas: These are the means of knowledge by which one
arrives at truth. According to Adavaita Vedanta, there are six primary
means of knowledge, of which three were proposed by Sankaracharya
and three by his followers. They are
- Pratyaksha: knowledge that comes directly through
perception. This is sensory oo objective knowledge
- Anumana: knowledge that comes by means of inference.
This is speculative knowledge.
- Upamana: Knowledge that comes by means of analogy,
comparison and contrasting. This is relative knowledge.
- Arthapatti: knowledge obtained by meaningful assumptions
based on common sense and previous experience. This is hypothetical
- Anupalabdhi: Knowledge gained through negation.
- Agama: Knowledge that comes through study of scriptures.
This is pure theoretical knowledge.
Theory of Causation: Advaita Vedanta recognizes two forms
of causation, the material cause and the instrumental cause and
considers Brahman as both the material and instrumental cause of
creation. In other words, Brahman is both the creator and also the
material used in creation. This is in contrast to some schools of
Hindu philosophy, which argue that Brahman is the instrumental cause
while Prakriti or nature is the material cause.
Cause and Effect: Sankara argued that cause is hidden
in every effect, where as the opposite is not true. While a cause
is not different from the effect it produces, the same cannot be
argued in case of effect in relation to its cause. A cause is always
part of the effect, hidden within it and so not different from it.
Brahman is the cause of all creation. So the world is real only
because Brahman, its cause, is hidden it and is inseparable from
it. But if we look at creation purely objectively it becomes unreal
and illusory or a mere effect that is going to vanish once the cause
is withdrawn. Sankarcharya propounded vivartavada theory of causation
according to which an effect is an outward projection of cause and
hence not real. This is in contrast to the parinamavada concept
according to which an effect is an evolution or transformation of
cause and hence as real as the cause itself.
Maya: According to Advaita Vedanta the world is an illusion
or maya, caused by the veiling power of Brahman. It is unreal or
illusory from an absolute sense. It is a projection of God's consciousness
and disappears when it is withdrawn. The veiling is called avarna
and the projection, viksepa. Followers of this school argue that
technically maya is neither unreal nor real. But since it cannot
be both at the same time, it is indeterminate or indescribable (anirvachaniyam).
Brahman and Atman: Brahman is the supreme, absolute and
eternal reality. The only truth. The cause of all. The only stable
and permanent reality. Atman is Brahman perceived as individual
self, the hidden reality in all aspects of creation. There is no
difference between the two. When the self overcomes its veiling,
it experiences the non-duality (advaita anubhava) of existence and
realizes its non-difference from the Absolute. Brahman in his absolute
state is without qualities and attributes. But in our relative state
we perceive him to be of certain nature and refer Him as Iswara
or the lord of the universe.
The World: According to Samkara, the world is unreal,
not because it does not exist, but because it is ever changing,
unstable, impermanent and subject to destruction and decay. It is
a mere appearance, a projection of God, a mirage, a mistaken reality,
which our senses take for granted and which we mistakenly consider
as real and permanent. It exists because of our perception of duality
and will disappear when we experience non-duality or oneness with
Brahman. When we overcome illusion and develop detachment from the
sense objects we realize the oneness of existence and become aware
of the illusory nature of the world.
Conclusion: It is erroneous to believe that Sankaracharya
derived the concepts of Advaita Vedanta from Buddhism. If there
is any truth it is the other way around. What he taught was not
new. It was the core of Upanishadic philosophy, to which he added
more explanatory knowledge through his commentaries and compositions
and gave it a definite character of his own. For the next thousand
years since his time, Hindu philosophy grew measuring itself against
the standards he created and espoused. The Vishishtadvaita and dvaita
schools formulated many concepts of their own based on their opposition
to the doctrine of monism and the inconsistencies they believed
to have perceived in it.
Adi Shankara's treatises on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita
and the Brahma Sutras are his principal and almost undeniably his
own works. Although he mostly adhered to traditional means of commenting
on the Brahma Sutra, there are a number of original ideas and arguments.
He taught that it was only through direct knowledge of nonduality
that one could be enlightened.
Adi Shankara's opponents accused him of teaching Buddhism in
the garb of Hinduism. However, while the Later Buddhists arrived
at a changeless, deathless, absolute truth after their insightful
understanding of the unreality of samsara, historically Vedantins
never liked this idea. Although Advaita also proposes the theory
of Maya, explaining the universe as a "trick of a magician", Adi
Shankara and his followers see this as a consequence of their basic
premise that Brahman is real. Their idea of Maya emerges from their
belief in the reality of Brahman, rather than the other way around.
It is equally erroneous to believe that Sankaracharya contributed
to the decline of Buddhism through his exposition of advaita vedanta.
Buddhism was already on the decline by the time he was born. Many
Buddhist monasteries were already occupied by the followers of Saivism
and Vaishnavism and converted into Hindu shrines. It is true that
through his debates and discussions Sankaracharya consolidated the
base of modern Hinduism, which served it well when organized religions
such as Islam and Christianity came to India as the religions of
imperial powers such as Persia and England. Sankara's monism provided
a level playing field for the Hindus during the Islamic rule and
contributed to the synthesis of new movements such as Sufism.
Suggested Further Reading