Advaita as Religion & Philosophy

Author: Shivashankar Rao (Bangalore, India)

Advaita has many mansions. Reality is neither cold nor passive. It is ever dynamic in relation to the world or beings. It is this approach that makes Advaita more fascinating. It is not only a metaphysical view but also a religion. As a theory, it helps us in understanding the Absolute, as a religion it translates the values of the Absolute in our life. It thus arrives at a direct experience of the Absolute. If the Absolute is one side of the coin, the Go of religion is the other side. The fundamental problems of metaphysics are eternal. Why and How does the Absolute seem to attain the relative condition? Is there a necessity for this? Equally important is the question how a man develops his personality in relation to the absolute values? It is seen that there are three strands of Advaita. Popular or Naive Advaita where concessions are shown to make the point of Advaita popular. Advaita as understood by the critics, and Advaita as such- ie., the experience of it. While the former two are subjects for discussion, the last one gives the intuitional or ontological stand of Advaitic experience. It is necessary for us to direct contemplation towards the ontological , and to reorient the former from the perspective of the ontological.

Realization requires the attunement of the whole being of the aspirant to enable him to become the whole of being. Utilization and glorification of the the personality- be it intellectual, moral or aesthetic- betrays an underestimate of the Absolute or the Infinite both as truth and ideal. No interpretation of Reality that ignores the inner connections and harmonies of the infinite aspects of being can attain the infinite. The ideal, the comprehension, the endeavor, the feeling – all these count in the approach to reality, which is Religion.

Bhakti has an Important Place in Advaita

(Nov 23, 2019)

The Jagadguru also said that many misunderstand that Bhakti has no place in the Upanishadic philosophy of Advaita. Sri Bhagavan Himself says:

चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन । आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ ॥

The Jagadguru then spoke about the four types of devotees – the distressed, the person who desires prosperity and well-being, the devotee who seeks knowledge and the knower (Jnani).

The Jagadguru gave the illustration of Bhagavan Veda Vyasa’s son Sri Shuka, who was a Jnani. The Jagadguru quoted the verse from Srimad Bhagavatam that offers obeisance to Sri Shuka, who being full of dispassion and detachment, left home though he was called back by his father, Vyasa:

यं प्रव्रजन्तमनुपेतमपेतकृत्यं द्वैपायनो विरहकातर आजुहाव ।

पुत्रेति तन्मयतया तरवोऽभिनेदुः तं सर्वभूतहृदयं मुनिमानतोऽस्मि ॥

Endowed with such Vairagya and Jnana, it was Sri Shuka Himself who taught Maharaja Parikshit Srimad Bhagavatam. Thus, even Jnanis, who revel in the Self, remain naturally and unconditionally devoted to Bhagavan:

आत्मारामाश्च मुनयो निर्ग्रन्था अप्युरुक्रमे । कुर्वन्त्यहैतुकीं भक्तिमित्थम्भूतगुणो हरिः॥

Hence while every path has its place, everyone must take his or her own path, it is not right to criticize other paths. Thus did Adi Shankaracharya expound the Upanishadic philosophy. He pointed out to exponents and followers of other schools the fallacies in their reasoning, and made them understand the philosophy of Advaita. Not withstanding the numerous intellectual debates He made, Sri Adi Shankaracharya also gave a number of instructions to common man for moving along the path of Shreyas.

Indian Philosophy & Shankaracharya

(Oct 27th)

Indian philosophical systems have developed not only as a result of intellectual speculation but also of mystical intuition.

The topics commonly discussed are four. – The nature of physical world, nature of man, existence of god the goal of human life.

The Vedanta darshana accepts a judicious combination of reasoning and acceptance of the authority of the Vedas as also the unbroken tradition.

The prasthana traya- Upanishads, Brahma sutras and the Bhagavad-Gita- are the basis of the Vedanta darshana. Advaitha Vedanta darshana owes its systematization as a formidable doctrine to Goudapada who interpreted the Mandookya Upanishad. Shankaracharya’s commentaries on the prasthanatraya as also a few independent treatises for the bedrock on which the later advaithis built their edifices.

Advaitha means “one without a second”. It recognizes Brahman, the absolute as the only reality and denies permanent reality to the world as also the individual souls. This is based on the upanishadic statement “sadeva soumya idamagra asieet, ekamevadvitheeyam”. (Chandogya 6.2.1). However the world of multiplicity is a matter of day-to-day experience. Hence one has to explain as to how Brahman appears as this world as multiple names and forms. Anirvachaneeyakhyathi, theory of erroneous cognition, which defies logic, explains this. Perceiving silver in nacre in sunlight or a snake in rope in insufficient light are examples. Here, there is an erroneous perception of silver and snake from an earlier idea of the same, now superimposed upon nacre and rope under conditions favorable for the mistake. This superimposition is called adhyasa or adhyaropa.

These perceptions are not real or unreal. So, it is called sad asad vilakshana. – Different from both real and unreal. it anirvachaneeya or incapable of any description. The basic cause of the erroneous perception is called agnyana or avidya. It is endowed with avaranashakthi and vikshepashakthi. It veils the true nature of the nacre and rope, but apparently transforms them to silver and snake. The transformed object is called vivarta of the original.

Let us now see how this world of duality has evolved out of the non-dual reality called Brahman. The world of duality can be divided into the seer and the seen (drk and drishya). Both these are divided in to the innumerable living beings and objects. It is avidya that causes the one atman as so many jeevas and it is Maya that causes the world of phenomena.

Shankara accepts three degrees of reality-prathibhasika sathya, the apparent truth (illusory appearance), vyavaharika sathya (day to day existence) and the paramarthika sathya (only truth that really exists). It is Brahman, which is nirguna, hence incapable of being described. Brahman associated with Maya is saguna Brahman or ishvara. It is this aspect that is responsible for creation, preservation and destruction of the world.

Shankara holds that the world process is only a vivarta (illusory appearance) due to adhyasa (superimposition) on Brahman. Brahman or Atman which is sat-chit- ananda has inexplicably got itself involved in the body-mind complex due avidya. This avidya is anadi. The involved atman is jeeva. This has 5 koshas or sheaths, 3 shareeras or bodies. It performs motivated by desires, experiences pleasure and pain due to karma and undergoes transmigration until liberation. Shankara declares that this jeeva when liberated from its upadhis (limiting adjuncts) like body and mind, is identical with Brahman since its essential nature is sat chit ananda.

In order for the jeeva to overcome the false identification with body and mind desuperimposition becomes necessary. For this sadhana chatushtaya is the first step. – Discrimination between eternal and non-eternal, dispassion, cultivation of the six virtues like self-control and desire for liberation. One has to approach a guru (preceptor) and learn from him through hearing, reflection and contemplation. (Sravana, manana and nidhidhyasana).

The realization can be had even while one is living in the body (jeevanmukthi). He will attain videhamukthi after the body falls off. Liberation is not gaining of a new state but recognizing the already existing original sate.

Why we need Rituals?

Man wants to be free from suffering and needs to attain peace and joy. The nature of man is to believe in the existence of a supernatural being who is omniscient and omnipotent. Hinduism believes that He (God) is both niraakaara and nirguNa as well as saakaara and saguNa. He can assume any form or even incarnate in human form. We may compare this to water which exists in three forms- ice, water and steam. Thus, though the material is the same, the nomenclature and form are different. There are four well known paths of spiritual disciplines.-JnaanayOga, BhaktiyOga, RaajayOga and KarmayOga. The path of Bhakti – devotion to God in His saakaara and saguNa aspect- is comparitively easier. Herein comes the role of rituals. Rituals are certain religious observances – Pooja, sandhyOpaasana, homas, Upavaasa and jaagaraNa are some of the usual rituals. An incisive intellect, purity of mind, sinless life – all these are necessary to comprehend the philosophical truths contained int he Vedas/Upanishads. To perform rituals is an easier means to achieve the purity of mind. However, it is essential to understand the spirit behind these rituals. Worshiping God can be either internal or external-Maanasa pooja consists of meditation on the form of the deity.

Sometimes, it is possible to do all the ritualistic worship with all the ingredients, but done mentally. External worship is to worship the deity through an image or symbol with all the required ingredients. This type of worship when performed in the right spirit leads to greater introversion. The result is that the external worship drops off by itself. Then, only meditation can be continued.


Jagad:guru Sri Adi Shankaracharya. (Oct 24, 2017). Outlook India File: shankaracharya-statue_630_630.jpg. Retrieved  from