By Jayaram V
There is only one reality and it is God. (Sounds familiar?)
Dvaita means duality, the sense or separation, the notion that
there is one and there is another, the conscious experience of the
subject with the object and the knower with the known. Advaita means
non-duality or absence of duality. It is a state of oneness with
the rest of creation, of the subject with the object, of the knower
with the known, of the lower self with the highest self and of the
ordinary consciousness with the higher consciousness. It comes with
a heightened sense of awareness in which one sees everything in
oneself and as oneself. It is the state described in the
that experiences the self as everything and everything in the self.
Many religions that we know including the atheistic religions
Buddhism are dualistic. So are Judaism,
Some of them believe that God may not exist but souls do exist eternally,
without ever having been created by any primacy cause such as God.
Others believe that both God and
and though they are made in the image of God they are different
in some respects and remain so throughout the period of creation.
They may continue to exist till such time the creation continues
or eternally for ever. A
soul may have
the essence of God, but it is not God. A
soul may become
liberated from earth and go to
but would not become the absolute. A soul may become liberated and
remain free from any obligation, but it would not (for heaven sake!)
merge into him. Even after dissolution the souls may be withdrawn
into a latent state but continue to exist eternally independent
of what happens to the material manifestation. Ignoring the subtle
details and differences, this in brief is what dualism or dvaita
is all about.
The non-dualistic (advaita) schools (for there are many) believe
that god and souls are not different. According to them there is
only one reality and it is God. The souls come into existence because
the One becomes many for his own joy or
Through his dynamic power (or
brings forth many worlds and many
jivas or individual
souls and subjects them, through the action of maya or illusion,
to the limitations of self (egoism),
time (mortality), awareness (ignorance), concealment (illusion),
completeness (desires) and action (karma).
Deluded, the souls continue their individual existence till they
realize their true nature either by the grace of God or through
their own previous effort. This realization is called liberation
or moksha (cessation of moha or delusion). Once liberated, the individual
soul realizes what it has always been and becomes one with itself.
Thus in its dualistic state, under the influence of maya or illusion,
an individual soul alternates between two realities, one true and
permanent and the other untrue and impermanent. One never changing,
eternal and absolute and the other ever changing, transient and
relative. To realize the truth hidden behind the veil, to see the
radiant being hidden behind the golden lid, to experience the absolute
in a relative state and to emerge from a world of dark desires into
a world of absolute freedom, this is what a jiva has to aim for
and live for in its mortal state.
of Advaita. It is not true. Centuries before him the Advaita school
existed both as a philosophy and a dogma. We can trace it in the
the Brahmasutras, the
and many schools of
Long before him, Yagnavalkya, Uddalaka Aruni, Ashtavakra and Gaudapada
expounded the same philosophy. Sankaracharya added logical or scriptural
base and made it more prominent. Through his commentaries and writings
he gave a new direction to the school of thought and made it more
contemporary. His action was timely and god sent, because it saved
generations of Hindus from confusion and conversion in the face
of Islam knocking at their doors with a sword and whip as well as
gifts and the promise of a better life. His followers continued
his work and the momentum generated by him in his short life of
32 years or so. His disciples and their disciples like Suresvara,
Padmapada, Prakasatma, Vidyaranya, Vachaspati and many more who
followed him and in his footsteps added a rich body of religious
literature in support of this school and preserved the tradition
and its philosophy for the modern world.
Theory of Knowledge and Means of Interpretation
The advaita school accepts the six pramanas or tests of the Hindu
theory of interpreting or arriving at empirical knowledge. They
are: perception (pratyaksa), inference (anumana), comparison (upamana),
testimony (sabda), presumption (arthapatti) and negation (anupalabdhi).
Of these Sankara refers to three pramanas: perception, inference
and scriptural testimony. Of these again, the scriptural testimony
or the testimony of the
Vedas is considered the most important. In the
Vedas again it is the knowledge of the absolute
(jnana kanda in contrast to the
which is more important in preparing the
jiva for the
experience of oneness. Advaita vedanta does not advocate dogmatic
blind belief based on scriptural evidence. Reason is important.
Accepting any dogma without subjecting it to reason would lead to
evil consequences. But more important than reason is experience
(anubhava). It is the ultimate test of truth and the scriptures
are valid only because they reveal the nature of such experience.
The inner self is self-aware and self-luminous. Its very nature
is knowledge and consciousness. But it becomes veiled by the actions
of the physical
self which depends upon the
mind to know.
The knowledge it gains through the
mind is not
valid because it does not stand the test of the three times (past,
present and future) and of the different states of
dreaming, deep sleep etc).
The phenomenal world we experience is also a projection of the
mind. It is
also self contradictory because of its diversity, impermanence and
inconsistency. For the individual, it exists through his mind, which
has its own modes and defective methods of perception. So from an
absolute perspective, the phenomenal world in which we live and
experience cannot be relied upon as a true source of knowledge.
Knowledge of the objective world is but a kind of ignorance or
it prevents us from perceiving things as they are and also the truth
hidden in them. Much of what we see is a mere projection. We mistake
one for the other, couple the truth with untruth and relate ourselves
with the world in terms mine and not mine. The objective of self
enquiry is to free ourselves from this confusion and see the truth
as it is, to become aware within our own pure consciousness and
know simply without any dependence on the external means of knowing.
This will come through direct experience.
According to the Advaita Vedanta, reality cannot be two because
anything that implies division, contradiction, negation, or
conditionality fails the test of supreme consciousness whose nature
is eternal and unconditional oneness and indivisibility. If
are separate, it means one of them is not real, or dependent or
imperfect or incomplete or mutable or divided while none of these
can truly describe
who is a negation of all these. Therefore
represent one and the same consciousness. For our understanding
we may name them differently as
but in reality they are but one absolute indistinguishable consciousness
which we can experience only by removing our ignorance.
Similarly what we term as saguna and nirguna
are in reality one and the same consciousness. Their apparent division
in our minds is an illusion (maya)
or a phenomenal appearance caused by
as we tend to mistake the rope for a snake in certain states of
The concept of maya is another important aspect of Advaita Vedanta.
Maya is responsible
for our phenomenal experience of duality. This
maya is neither
real nor unreal. It is unreal when viewed from an absolute state
of consciousness and real when we view it from relative state. Because
it is neither real nor unreal, it is difficult to determine what
it actually is (anirvachaniya).
ignorance and through ignorance we fail to discriminate between
truth and untruth and become attached to the phenomenal world or
the world of illusory appearances (samsara). Because of ignorance
we also develop false notions of self and identify ourselves with
our physical minds and bodies. This results in our bondage and cycle
of births and deaths. This mistaken identify leaves impressions
or imprints on the imperishable soul and results in its continuation
in the phenomenal worlds through many births and deaths. Actually
the soul has neither death nor birth, but what appears to be its
birth and death is also an illusion.
One can become free from this illusion through jnana or wisdom
or through devotion and practice or a combination of all these.
Self realization or liberation does not mean that the self needs
to know something new or that it has to attain a state of freedom
some time in future.
eternally free and self-luminous. It is already aware and already
free. What is required is to overcome our ignorance about its state,
or the veil of
illusion that hides its luminosity from our egoistic selves.
Knowledge here does not mean intellectual knowledge, but awareness
that comes out of insight and personal experience, through a process
of inner purification and self-discipline. The
to be withdrawn from the phenomenal world into the mind and the
the self. When the
quiet and the mind is withdrawn, the veil of ignorance drops and
the self shines forth in its full radiance.
It is possible for human beings to realize this state while in
bodies. Those who realize it are freed forever. It does not
make a difference if they are jivanmuktas (freed from mortal life)
or videhamuktas (freed from bodies). There is nothing else
to be realized or achieved because the soul has realized its non-difference
from the Absolute self which is it true nature.
Suggested Further Reading
Gita translated by John Richards Ashtavakra gita is considered
as a standard work on Advaita Vedanta