Understanding Philosophies – Part 10.

Advaita Vedānta is the most followed philosophy today. A-dvaita means non-dualism. The whole universe is Brahman and there exists nothing except Brahman. The material world that we see is projected as attractive to lure our minds towards māyā.

Vedas can be explained in two ways. One is the gross way, which advocates performance of sacrifices and rituals. The other one is the subtle conveyances of Vedas, which are explained through Upaniṣad-s. Brahma Sūtra (I.4) says, “tattu samanvayā  तत्तु समन्वयात्” where Tat refers to Brahman and  samanvaya means regular succession or order. This means that Upaniṣad-s elucidate Brahman in a sequential and orderly manner, which is explained later in this article. Upaniṣad-s do not advocate sacrifices and rituals, but explain Brahman as the Supreme authority of the entire universe. They say that spiritual knowledge is important in realizing Him, rather than seeking Him elsewhere. They differentiate between worldly or mundane knowledge which has multiple dimensions, as against the spiritual knowledge leading only to Eternal Reality. Worldly knowledge is gained by affirmations and knowledge about Brahman is gained by negations. When one goes on saying “not this, not this”, ultimately what remains is only Brahman. At that time, a spiritual aspirant affirms “I am That” and this is the only affirmation in spiritual life, as against several such affirmations in material life. “Yes, this house is mine”, “Yes, this car is mine”, etc are examples of affirmations in material life. On the other hand, a spiritual aspirant says, “No, this house is not mine”, “No this car is not mine”, etc. Naturally, a question arises, if the car does not belong to him, then it belongs to whom? After all, the car is purchased out of his own earnings and is registered in his own name. A true spiritual aspirant thinks that the car does not belong to him, but to God. He thinks that only due to His Grace, he is able to purchase the car. As the car was purchased only because of His Grace, how the aspirant can claim ownership of the car? Who is the doer here? Is it God or the aspirant?

God never becomes a doer. The one who physically and mentally acts is the doer. In this present example, the aspirant is the doer. Though he is the doer, he does not claim the ownership. The aspirant understands that he is used as a tool by God to act in a predetermined manner, as per his karmic account. This kind of thinking is known as “surrender” to God (Brahman). When one surrenders to Brahman, he does not accrue further karmas. Karmas accrue as long as one claims ownership of anything. When all that exists in the universe is His manifestation, how can there be a claim on anything? When He pervades in all the objects, which object can be claimed as his own? Nothing, as everything is His manifestation only.

Can he claim ownership of his child? No, he cannot. Though he may a tool in producing that child, the child belongs to God, as He is present in the child as the Soul. Without this Soul, none can exist. The choice of parentage is also decided by one’s karma. God acts only through karmic theory. God does not take His own decisions. Even if one visits multitude of religious places, one cannot escape from the jaws of karma. Karma is not something that is thrust upon us. It is our own making. In the present world, one thinks more than what he does. When we interact with others in the society, we come across both good and bad. God is not merely an embodiment of all that is good. Since, He pervades the entire universe there are bad embodiments in Him as well. Otherwise, the whole universe should be made of only good things. If this is the case, then there is no necessity for karma. Karma is nothing but the effect of one’s thoughts and actions. What you sow, so you reap is the basis for Theory of Karma. This is known as Law of Karma or the Law of Lord. It is the sole determining factor in deciding one’s quality of life in this birth.

The cause of Brahman is not known and can never be known. But, He is the first in the entire creation and will continue to be so till eternity. He is the unchanging principle of all changes. He alone does not undergo modifications or changes, whereas all His manifestations undergo constant changes and modifications, ultimately leading to their destructions at some point of time. No man or no object in the universe can be immortal. It is an exclusive quality of Brahman. Brahman is distinguished from others through His Omnipresence, Omnipotence and Omniscient. These three are the principle governing factors in Brahman.  If He is not Omnipresent, the universe cannot exist. If He is not Omnipotent, various energy levels could be lethargic in their actions. If He is not Omniscient, He could be misled by someone else, leading to catastrophe. He controls the entire universe only though these three exclusive qualities.

When we say that He is present in everything, why should we seek Him elsewhere? There are two factors that prevent us in realizing Him. First, it is delusion known as Māyā, His very own Power that prevents realization of His presence. He cannot be seen with biological eyes, as He does not have a shape and form. He is subtler than the subtlest. He alone is Self-illuminating and hence, He is often described as Light. He is not only Self-illuminating, but He is also Bliss, inexplicable happiness. The act of Māyā is to conceal His true identity and project Him in a different way. Therefore, Māyā has two qualities – one is to conceal His true nature and two, to project Him falsely. Common example cited is seeing a rope as a snake. It is the effect of māyā that conceals the true nature of the rope and projects it wrongly as a snake. The second factor is the higher level of knowledge to realize Him. Only through spiritual knowledge, the effect of māyā can be understood. Without complete spiritual knowledge (complete spiritual knowledge is very important to notice here), one cannot realize Him. No practice is necessary, no meditation, no singing of His praise, no mantras, no japas, no visit to holy places and in fact nothing is required to realize Him, except complete spiritual knowledge. Any other means to attain Him will never fructify however intent his or her practice is. Therefore, the basis for realizing Him is higher level of Spiritual Knowledge.

Advaita Vedānta has three aspects, that have been described in Upaniṣad-s. The first is the learning process, second is the inquiring process and the third is the practical aspect. When one begins to learn, during the process of learning, he comes across several doubts. In a perfect learning process, there could be more trivial doubts. Unless these doubts are cleared, he cannot reach the logical conclusion. One’s Guru plays a very significant role here. Only logical conclusion makes him to affirm that “I am Brahman” with absolute confidence. There is a lot difference between a statement and an affirmation. Statement is an announcement of certain material facts. “This flower is beautiful” is a statement. It is a matter of fact statement, the root cause of which is the vision of the flower. “I am intelligent” is also a statement. Though there is nothing to substantiate this claim, yet it is possible to verify and validate this statement, as one’s intelligence can always be tested and certified. But, when one says, “I am Brahman”, obviously, this statement cannot be verified. The one who affirms does not speak about a quality or an object. He talks about something that can never be verified and certified. It is to be believed.  Only the person, who makes such an affirmation alone knows whether he is a realized person or not. However, realized persons never explicitly affirm this in public, as there is no need for them to do so. For them, Brahman pervades throughout this universe and for them, all are same, be it a plant, or an animal or a man or his properties.

Advaita never says that one should not earn to live, make his family, enjoy matrimony, rear his children and lead a comfortable life. It only says that everything is Brahman, and what one enjoys today may not even be there at a future date, as every object is susceptible to death and destruction. It further says that do not develop attachments on the susceptible objects, as this causes desires in mind. Unless the mind is fully pure without any thought processes, Brahman cannot be realized. The basic emphasis of Advaita is on the purity of the mind. In order to have a pure mind, one should not have desires and attachments.  One should not get addicted to comforts, relationships, material wealth, etc.  Only then realization is possible. The purity of the mind leads to focusing of one’s consciousness and when the consciousness is purified through the efforts of mind, what remains is Pure Consciousness, which is Self-illuminating and causes Bliss. This is Brahman.

It is said “jantūnām nara janma durlabham जन्तूनाम् नर जन्म दुर्लभम्”. This says that it is very rare to get human birth, as only in human birth one can attain liberation. All of us have got human birth only due to lesser karmas that we carry. There is a possibility of salvation for all of us. What we need is just an initial impetus and this can happen only due to His Compassion and Grace.

With this brief introduction, we now proceed to Advaita philosophy.