The Concept of Advaita Vedanta

  • Advaita Vedanta refers to the non-dualistic school of Hindu philosophy, which is derived mostly from the Upanishads and elaborated in detail by eminent scholars like Gaudapada and Sri Adishankaracharya.

    Dvaita means duality, and Advaita means nonduality.
    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 Brahman (jnana kanda in contrast to the karma kanda) 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.

    In simple terms, Advaita means absence of the duality between subject and object. In our wakeful consciousness we experience duality, but in deep sleep only nonduality.

    Advaita school believes that Brahman is the one and only reality and everything else is a mere appearance, projection, formation or illusion.

    One of the most common examples used to describe the state is momentarily seeing a snake in a rope when it is lying in the darkness.
    Similarly what we term as saguna and nirguna Brahman are in reality one and the same consciousness. Their apparent division in our minds is an illusion (maya) or a phenomenal appearance caused by maya, just as we tend to mistake the rope for a snake in certain states of mind.

    The snake is an illusion, and the rope is the reality. In the same manner the world appears in the mind as a formation over the Self.

    The school also believes that Atman, the individual self, has no separate existence of its own.

    It is but a projection or reflection of Brahman only in each being.
    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 ananda. Through his dynamic power (or shakti) he 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.

    A jiva is deluded soul by egoism, desires, and other impurities and thereby experiences duality and separation. Because of it each being is bound to the cycle of births and deaths and the laws of karma as long and remains so until liberation is achieved.
    Maya creates 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.

    Brahman is real, but the world in which we live is a mere illusion, like a mirage. It appears in our consciousness because of the activity of the mind and the senses. Since we totally depend upon them, we do not perceive Brahman, the ultimate reality, who is hidden in all.

    So much for saguNa and nirguNa brahman. If brahman cannot be held to have suffered any change because of creation of the universe, then what is the status of this universe? Since the cause does not undergo any change in the process of producing the effect, it is held that the cause alone is Real. The universe only partakes in reality inasmuch as it is to be considered as dependent on brahman. Therefore the upanishads say, " sarvam. khalvidam. brahma." If the universe is considered to be independent of brahman, then it has no real Reality, although the world of human perception can never reveal this truth. This is simply because brahman Itself is never an object of human perception. It is this characteristic of dualistic knowledge, derived from perception alone, that prompts the advaitin to call it mithyAjnAna (false knowledge).

    When they are fully withdrawn and made silent through detachment, purity and renunciation, one can see the Supreme Self hidden in all and attain liberation.

    Advaita Vedanta believes that an enlightened guru, having the knowledge of both the scriptures and Brahman, is indispensable for anyone seeking salvation.

    Mandukya Karika of Gaudapada is considered to be the first available treatise on Advaita Vedanta, while the monumental works of Shankaracharya constitute its core literature.
    There is a misconception that Sankaracharya propounded the theory 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 Upanishads, the Brahmasutras, the Bhagavadgita and many schools of Saivism. 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.

    Successive generations of scholars enriched the school of Advaita through their teachings and scholarly works. Advaita school also forms part of Vaishnavism, Saivism and Shaktism under different names.

    A few important concepts of Advaita Vedanta are presented below.

    Sadhana Chatushtayam

    Sadhana Chatushtayam means the tetrad which are imperative for spiritual practice and liberation. The following four sets of qualifications are considered essential to achieve salvation, which each aspirant is expected to cultivate.

    A very important assumption in all vedAnta is that man suffers from bondage in the course of his life in this world. This is said to be sam.sAra, which involves being caught in an endless cycle of births and deaths. The quest therefore is to seek a way out of this bondage, to break the cycle of rebirths and attain moksha or liberation. The most important issues in vedAnta have to be understood with respect to what constitutes bondage and what constitutes liberation. The advaita school is of the view that jnAna (knowledge) of man's true nature is liberation. Bondage arises from ignorance (avidyA) of man's true nature, and therefore removal of ignorance roots out this bondage. Liberation is therefore nothing more or nothing less than man knowing his true nature. This true nature is his innermost essence, the Atman, which is nothing other than brahman. He who knows this, not merely as bookish knowledge, but through his own Experience, is liberated even when living. Such a man is a jIvanmukta, and he does not return to the cycle of rebirths.

    1. Nityanitya vastu viveka: The ability to discriminate between what is eternal (nitya) and what is temporary (anitya). The absence of it is responsible for the delusion.
    2. Ihamutrartha phala bhoga viraga: Disinterestedness in enjoying the fruit of one's actions and sense objects here and here after.
    3. This will arrest the continuation and formation of karma.
      Many religions that we know including the atheistic religions such as Jainism and Buddhism are dualistic. So are Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. 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 souls exist 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 heaven, 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.

    4. 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. They are important for self-transformation and the predominance of sattva, without which one cannot be free from the triple impurities of egoism, attachments and delusion.
      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 Brahman and Atman 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 Brahman who is a negation of all these. Therefore Atman and Brahman represent one and the same consciousness. For our understanding we may name them differently as Atman and Brahman but in reality they are but one absolute indistinguishable consciousness which we can experience only by removing our ignorance.

    5. Mumukhatva: Intense aspiration for salvation. It arises mainly due to the good works (karma) in the past. According to the Bhagavadgita only after repeated births a person feels a strong drive to achieves salvation and turns to the path of salvation.
      What then of the human self, the jIva? It is here that advaita comes up with the most radical answer, one that is unacceptable to all other schools of vedAnta. According to advaita, what is called the universe is in reality not other than brahman. Similarly, what is called the jIva is in reality, the Atman, which is also nothing other than brahman Itself. The real jIva is the Atman, which is unchanging, ever free, and identical with brahman. This is said on the basis of upanishadic passages where the Atman is explicitly equated with brahman. This equation of Atman with brahman is also explained by means of adhyAropa-apavAda. By sublating the superimposition of human shortcomings and attributes on the Atman, the pure Atman, the substratum, shines forth as brahman Itself. The mani-fold universe and the individual self, which considers itself bound, are both superimposed upon that Transcendental Reality which is brahman. Once the superimposition is understood for what it is, the individual is no more an individual, the universe is no more the universe - all is brahman.

    Pramanas

    They are the standards of ascertaining right knowledge, truth, or valid knowledge. In this world duality it is very difficult to know which is right knowledge and which is reliable for salvation or to ascertain truth.

    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.

    Advaita Vedanta recognizes six Pramanas, of which three were proposed by Shankaracharya and three by his followers. They are as stated below.

    1. Pratyaksha: knowledge that comes through perception. This is objective knowledge which is experienced directly either through the senses or in deeper states of consciousness.
      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 Upanishads that experiences the self as everything and everything in the self.

    2. Anumana: knowledge that comes by means of inference. This is speculative knowledge based upon supposition or belief.
    3. Upamana: Knowledge that comes by means of analogy, comparison and contrasting. This is relational knowledge.
    4. Arthapatti: knowledge obtained by meaningful assumptions based on common sense and previous experience. This is hypothetical knowledge.
    5. Anupalabdhi: Knowledge gained through negation.
    6. Agama: Knowledge that comes through study of scriptures. This is pure theoretical knowledge.
      There are different theories of causality described by advaita vedAntins, but they are all agreed that brahman is the sole cause of the universe, i.e both the instrumental and the material cause of the universe. The axiom that the One brahman is the cause of the many-fold universe is the foundation on which the entire system of advaita vedAnta is based, and numerous efforts have been made over the centuries, to address logical problems arising out of it. This brahman is also held to be eternal and changeless. It is easy to understand brahman as the instrumental cause of the universe. This view is not very different from the traditional perspective shared by almost all religions - some creator is usually credited with having created this universe. This creator is the instrumental cause of the universe. What differentiates the standard vedAnta position from such general theistic views is that brahman is simultaneously also the material cause of the universe. In other words, creation is never ex nihilo, but proceeds out of brahman Itself, although brahman remains unchanged.

    Theory of Causation

    Advaita Vedanta recognizes two forms of causation, the material cause and the instrumental cause. According to the school Brahman is both the material and instrumental cause of creation.

    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 mind (waking, dreaming, deep sleep etc).

    In other words, Brahman provides not only the will and direction but also the material and energy needed to manifest the things, beings and worlds. Brahman is both Purusha (Self) and Prakriti (Nature).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.
    It is possible for human beings to realize this state while in their physical 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.

    Cause and Effect:

    Adi Shankaracharya proposed that each cause was hidden in its every effect, whereas the opposite was not true. In other words, the seed is hidden in the tree that produces it. 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.

    Knowledge of the objective world is but a kind of ignorance or illusion because 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.

    A cause is always part of the effect, hidden within it and so is not different from it. Brahman is the cause of all creation. So the world is real only because Brahman, who is its cause, is hidden it and inseparable from it. From this perspective the world becomes an illusion because it disappears when the Self or Brahman is withdrawn from it. The world exists when you, the cause, are present in your mind.
    It may be noticed that at first glance, advaita's solution to the problem of man's liberation does not seem to involve God as a Creator or a Savior at all. If all that is required is to know one's own true nature, what role does God have to play in this universe? advaita's answer to this issue is buried in the advaitic conception of brahman. One is the view of the brahmasUtra that brahman is at once both the instrumental and the material cause of the universe. The brahmasUtra holds such a view because there is nothing that can be said to exist independent of brahman. Is brahman then just a name for a universal set - the superset of all things in this universe? Not so, because brahman has been described as beyond all change, whereas the perceived universe is full of change. Still, this universe is said to have brahman as the only cause. At the same time, to understand brahman truly is to know It to be devoid of parts and diversity, and beyond all causality/action. Such a conception of brahman derives from the upanishads, which say sarvam khalvidam brahma - all this is indeed nothing but brahman - on the one hand, and neha nAnAsti kincana - there is no diversity here - on the other. Thus, the conception of brahman as a Creator in advaita is a unique one, and directly relates to the advaita views on causality.

    When you, the cause, withdraw from it, the world disappears. Shankaracharya propounded the theory of causation (vivartavada). According to it an effect is an outward projection of cause and hence not real.
    To resolve such passages in the upanishads, advaita vedAnta maintains that really brahman is devoid of all attributes, and is therefore known as nirguNa. brahman may be described as in the upanishads, as Truth (satyam), Knowledge (jnAnam), Infinite (anantam), or as Being (sat), Consciousness (cit), Bliss (Ananda), but none of these terms can be truly interpreted as attributes of brahman as a Super-person/God. Rather, it is because brahman exists, that this whole universe is possible. It is because brahman exists that man ascribes attributes to brahman. However, brahman's true nature cannot be captured in words, for all these attributes are ultimately just words. Hence, it is man's ignorance of Its true nature that postulates attributes to brahman, thereby describing It in saguNa terms (with attributes). This saguNa brahman is ISvara, the Lord, whose essential reality as brahman is not dependent on anything else, and does not change because of the production of this universe. Therefore, advaita holds that brahman's own nature (svarUpa- lakshaNa) is devoid of any attributes (nirguNa), while It is seen for the temporary purposes of explaining creation (taTastha- lakshaNa) to be ISvara, with attributes (saguNa).

    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, which is caused by the veiling power of Brahman. It is unreal or illusory in an absolute sense.

    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).

    Since it is a projection of God's consciousness, it disappears when it is withdrawn. The veiling is called avarna and the projection viksepa. Followers of Advaita argue that maya is neither real nor unreal, but indeterminate or indescribably (anirvachaniyam) because it cannot be both at the same time.
    Note: The standard vedAntic position is that brahman is both the material and the instrumental cause of the universe. This is a notion shared by advaita, viSishTAdvaita and the various bhedAbheda schools of vedAnta. The dvaita school denies that brahman can be the material cause of the universe, and (in my opinion) goes against the brahmasUtras in the process.

    Brahman and Atman

    Brahman is the supreme, absolute and eternal reality. It is the only truth, the cause of all, and the only stable and permanent reality. Atman is Brahman, perceived as individual self, the hidden reality, in all aspects of creation.

    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. Atman is 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 senses have to be withdrawn from the phenomenal world into the mind and the mind into the self. When the senses are quiet and the mind is withdrawn, the veil of ignorance drops and the self shines forth in its full radiance.

    There is no difference between the two. When the Self overcomes its veiling, it experiences non-duality (Advaita anubhava) of existence and realizes its non-difference from the Absolute. Brahman in his absolute state is without qualities and attributes.
    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.

    However, in our relative state we perceive him to be having certain attributes and refer to him as Isvara, the lord of the universe. In the ultimate sense, Isvara is also not the cause, but only an effect or a reflection of Brahman in the quality of Sattva.
    The all pervading field of Awareness pointed to in the Advaita Vedanta is none other than “The Kingdom of Heaven” in the Course in Miracles. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven”…”But seek this only, because you can find nothing else”. If nothing else is to be found , then the Kingdom of Heaven must be the underlying field of existence or pure “Awareness” that the Advaita Vedanta points to as well.

    The World

    According to Advaita, the world is unreal, not because it does not exist, but because it exists only so long as the Self is present in the awareness as the subject. When the Self is withdrawn from the consciousness, the world disappears.

    But, what keep us from realizing the Self or from awakening to the Kingdom of Heaven? Identically, both teachings assert that the sole obstruction to that is the Ego, which is the false idea of what/who we are and through which we, for the most part, experience the world. Since for both teachings the ego does not really exist, because is just a thought powered by our belief system created around it in our minds, the ego can and it must disappear.

    Besides it is ever changing, unstable, impermanent and subject to destruction and decay. It is an appearance, projection of God, like a mirage, or a mistaken reality. Our senses take it for granted whereby we mistakenly consider it real and permanent.
    Common-sense views of material causality always involve some kind of change. Thus, for example, milk is said to be the material cause of curds. However, in the process of curdling milk, the milk cannot be recovered. All we have at the end is the curds, the milk being irretrievably lost. This kind of causality involving change is called pariNAma. There is another kind of material causality. For example, gold is the material cause of an ornament made out of gold. In the process of making the ornament, the metal does not change into something else. It is only drawn into another form, from a lump to an ornament; the gold remains gold. This kind of causality is called vivarta, where the material cause itself does not change into something else. The chAndogya upanishad makes very telling use of this kind of causality in its illustrations of how "Being" alone is the original cause (sadeva saumya idam agra AsIt, ekameva advitIyam), and how all perceived change is only in the realm of name and form, dependent on language (vAcArambhaNam vikAro nAmadheyam). The reality of gold is quite independent of what shape it is in.

    The world exists because of our perception of duality and will disappear when we enter the state of non-duality or pure subjectivity, which is the state of the Self. When we overcome the illusion and develop detachment from the sense objects we enter that state of pure awareness where the duality between subject and object, or the knower and known simply vanishes and the Self alone remains.
    The identity expressed in a statement like tattvamasi is therefore held to be Real, and its realization constitutes the height of knowledge (jnAna). Direct experience of this jnAna is in fact moksha. It also follows that since this identity is not perceived normally, difference arises out of avidyA, ignorance of the true nature of Reality. Since Sruti is superior to perception, this identity is indeed the supreme truth, all difference being in the realm of relative perception. If non-dualism is the true nature of Reality, why is this difference perceived in the first place? Given advaita's basis on the non-dualistic scriptures, the perception of difference remains, in the final analysis, inexplicable. This is labeled "anirvAcya/anirvacanIya " in advaita - something that can never be fully understood by the human mind. Since perception of duality presupposes avidyA, no amount of logical analysis, itself based on this duality, will satisfactorily explain avidyA. Hence, SankarAcArya is not much interested in explicating avidyA, except to acknowledge its presence in all human activity, and in trying to overcome it to understand brahman.

    Critical evaluation

    Some argue that Shankaracharya was inspired by the teachings of the Buddha, especially those pertaining to the school of emptiness (Shunyavada), in postulating the theory of nondualism. It may not be true because Buddhism does not believe in the existence of Self.

    The promise of both Teachings (Advaita and the Course in Miracles), is that the ego can be dissolved -It’s just a thought!- in an instant. Furthermore, the Course in Miracles explains that the notion that this is a “process” that “takes time” is but an Illusion because time is nothing but the outward projection of the Present into the future by the false idea that there are obstacles to learning that need to be removed “in time”. “Fear not this Holy instant in which you remember what you have always been”: -says the Course in Miracles-, Unbounded Truth beyond belief, timeless and changeless, free from the ego, indestructible and beyond measure.

    It is true according to both schools, a being become empty upon liberation. According to Buddhism nirvana is an indeterminate state in which all traces of individuality disappears. According to Advaita, upon liberation the individual Self which is present in the being as a projection of Brahman becomes withdraws and the being vanishes into the ocean of existence as nothing.
    This doctrine of advaita should not be misinterpreted to mean that the human self is in and of itself God, without any qualification whatsoever. SankarAcArya most emphatically asserts that such is not his intention. On the other hand, he is at great pains to point out that one who is desirous of moksha needs to overcome his human shortcomings in order to achieve full liberation. Sankara prescribes rigorous prerequisite qualities for the person who is to study vedAnta. These form the practical aspect of the effort to rise above and sublate the characteristics of the human jIva, in order to understand the Atman/brahman. The non-dual reality of the Atman is revealed to the intense seeker, as an experience that defies words. One might call it a mystic experience of brahman, in which to know brahman is to be brahman. Thus, rather than being atheistic or non- theistic, advaita vedAnta is meta-theistic: it points to the basic underlying Reality of all, including what humans call God, what humans call the universe, and what humans call human. This Reality is the unchangeable brahman.

    Shankaracharya was preceded by many Vedic scholars who followed the path of nondualism. For them it was not just a speculative theory, but a means to salvation. Shankaracharya followed an ancient Upanishad tradition that upheld the school, and probably belonged to a teacher tradition which followed it. For the next thousand years his teachings and numerous works became the standard for the school of Advaita.
    Why does human perception fail to see brahman directly? SankarAcArya attributes it sometimes to avidyA (ignorance) and sometimes to mAyA (the power to deceive). As the bRhadAraNyaka upanishad puts it, "vijnAtAram. are kena vijAnIyAt?" - How is the Knower Itself to be known? It also stands to reason, therefore, that any effort at characterizing brahman falls far short of brahman. No words reach brahman; how can mere verbal descriptions claim to describe It? advaita now turns to the ancient technique of adhyAropa-apavAda (sublation of superimposition) to explain this. Thus, although brahman is called the instrumental and material cause of the universe, advaita tells us that this is only a preliminary view of brahman, motivated by a need to explain creation of the universe. In order to understand brahman, one has to go beyond this preliminary view, and understand brahman in Itself, not necessarily in relation to the universe. Then it is understood that the whole universe is only superimposed on the underlying Reality that is brahman. To really know brahman, one needs to sublate this superimposition, and look at the substratum (adhishThAna) that is brahman. As for the exact nature of avidyA and mAyA, later authors seem divided into two major schools of thought, namely the bhAmatI and the vivaraNa schools.

    However, the works of Shankaracharya were not accepted by all Indian scholars. He was severely criticized for this stand on Advaita by those who followed Dvaita and Vishishtadvaita. Even Advaita there are many variations.

    Sankara explains tattvamasi as follows. tat is a common designation for brahman in the upanishads, while tvam (thou) addresses the student. The sentence states an equation of two seemingly different entities tat - that, and tvam - thou, by means of the verb asi - are. In general, brahman (tat) is commonly understood as ISvara (saguNa brahman), with an infinity of attributes, including the power of creation. tvam is the individual who is bound, who is embodied, and who is in need of liberation. The difference between tvam and tat seems to be a matter of common knowledge for all individuals. What is the reason for the upanishad to teach an identity then? An identity cannot be stipulated, even in infallible Sruti, if there is a real difference. Keeping in mind that Sruti is infallible, advaita therefore concludes that really there is no ultimate difference between tat and tvam.

    Most of these schools came into existence as alternative philosophies or viewpoints, based upon their opposition to Advaita or their criticism of it. Adi Shankara's works on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras greatly helped in understand the subtle nuances of Advaita.
    Oneness is referred to as “Non-duality”, which in sanskrit is known as “Advaita”. This philosophy is contained within two jewels of the Vedic Scriptures: The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Both scriptures are available in English and some of the most handy translations are given by Eknath Easwaran.

    Although, they were mostly translations and commentaries or were based upon existing works, you can still find in them original ideas and interpretations.

    Critics of Shankara argued that he taught a version of Buddhism as Advaita.

    In Buddhism liberation arises from the insightful realization that the world is a mere appearance or a phenomenon.
    The disappearance of the ego for both the Advaita Vedanta and the Course in Miracles requires a resolved determination to undo and to unlearn all our dearest beliefs that support and sustain the ego existence. Mere curiosity, or scattered attempts to “question everything you learned about yourself” (from the Course in Miracles), will not be enough to dissolve the ego.

    When one gains that insight he reaches the changeless, deathless, absolute state that cannot be described. In Advaita, liberation arises from Self-realization or the realization that only the Self is real and everything is a mere appearance or phenomenon.
    The advaita philosophy is not easy to explain briefly, and it is not my intention to repeat in a www home page what takes whole volumes for accomplished experts. I will content myself with providing a brief synopsis of the various aspects of advaita vedAnta.

    Thus, the concept of Maya in Advaita is rooted in the eternal reality of Brahman, but not just in the temporary delusion of the mind, which is the case with the Buddhists.

    It is also probably untrue that Shankaracharya was instrumental in the decline of Buddhism.

    It started long before the emergence of Shankaracharya, at least by three hundred years of so. By the time he was born, Buddhism was already on decline and many Buddhist places of residence (aramas and Viharas) which were in a state of neglect were occupied the ascetic groups of Shaivism and Vaishnavism.
    Advaita Vedanta teaches that is through a process called self-enquiry that the Self can be realized. Self-enquiry is encouraged as an inner process of enquiry or investigation in which the fundamental question is contemplated: “What am I?” Realizing the “I am” consciousness, according to Advaita is the sure path to unlock the mystery of existence and to unleash the indescribable gifts of utter Peace, Freedom and Joy in a pure state of Oneness.

    It appears that by his time many Buddhist places of worship were converted into Hindu shrines. It is true that through his travels, debates and discussions he consolidated the revival of Hinduism. It served a great cause in preserving Hinduism when organized religions such as Islam and Christianity came to India and seemed to threaten its very existence.
    In order to go through the process of dissolving the ego, the Advaita Vedanta stresses the importance of finding a Teacher. In the Course in Miracles, the Teacher presents himself already as the “older brother” Jesus Christ.

    Shankara's Advaita or his theory of nondualism, provided a level playing field for the Hindus during the Islamic rule and contributed to the synthesis of new movements such as Sufism.


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