Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

A Realist view of Advaita
Chittaranjan Naik

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Part VIII - Advaita

Om Gurubhyo Namah


Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner world, not that which is conscious of the outer world, not that which is conscious of both, not that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable, and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self, It is the cessation of all phenomena. It is all peace, all bliss, and non-dual. This is what is to be known as the fourth (Turiya). This is Atman, and this has to be realised. (Ma.Up.7)

The problem of difference is the final frontier of philosophy. In confronting it, we are at the limits of logic, which is the same as the limits of language, for the word 'logic' is derived from the word 'logos'. When it is said that difference is false on account of it being by name only, it is surely because logos cannot point deeper than itself to the subterranean waters from which it springs forth as the lush fountain of Reality. And yet, names and forms are not other than Reality itself, for they are of the same living waters. In contemplating the nature of logos, we are verily knocking on the doors of mystery - for beyond lies Sacred Space.


It is said that Brahman is the material cause of the universe just as the yarn is the material cause of the cloth. It is said furthermore that as yarn alone it is true, and as the cloth, being only a name for a peculiar condition of the cause, it is false. But the mere fact that the cloth is only a name for a peculiar condition (vishesha) of the causal substratum (yarn) does not seem to be an adequate reason for its falsity because if the cloth is only a name for the vishesha of the substratum, then such is its very nature - to be thus by name - and it does not behove us to deny a things own nature. For, a thing is what it is by its own nature.

The cloth exists in the yarn. Then how indeed does the cloth become false when the yarn is true, for if the yarn is true, the cloth as a condition of the yarn cannot be untrue. I feel that this question should not be dismissed under the mere assertion that whatever pertains to names and forms is false because such an assertion, merely on the strength of the assertion, would amount to a dogma. For it would be a complete surrendering of Advaita to the void of nihilism to say that the world is absolutely negated - because such a thesis makes the comprehending intellect converge to Brahman as the limit of nothingness rather than expand the intellect unto its dissolution in the expansive Heart that sees Brahman as beyond all limits. That is the identity of the Heart (self) with Brahman.

Difference is bewildering. It is seen, and yet it is not logically sustainable, whether it be the difference of the effect in the material cause, or it be the distinctiveness of attributes in substance. For if difference were true, it would need a relation to bind the distinctively different 'things' into the identity that is seen. But such a relation is not sustainable, because, like the relation of inherence, it would lead to an infinite regress. Neither can identity-cum-difference be asserted because that would prevent the identity from being seen, for the difference being real, it would persist and prevent the perception that 'the cloth is nothing but yarn' from taking place. The Acharya has thus refuted the doctrine of identity-cum-difference in his debate with Bhatta Bhaskara.

But there is one unique conception of 'difference' which says that it is 'the difference that can be spoken about'. Now, we may rightly ask: Does this difference belong to the thing itself, or does it arise in speaking about it? If it is the former, then one will have to admit a duality between substance and attributes and this would lead to the position of the Nyayaikas necessitating a relation for binding them together, and like in the case of inherence, that would lead to an infinite regress. Therefore difference cannot belong to the thing itself. If it is the latter, then it would mean that difference does not belong to the innate nature of the thing, but has its origin in the speaker's ignorance in so far as he speaks about a thing attributing to it what does not belong to it. Therefore, difference is not justifiable.

It has been said by some others that attributes have some kind of 'own' existence because it is possible for us to think of them separately from the substance. But this argument is not valid, for the mental cogitation of an attribute is not the same as the perception of an existing thing with attributes - the objects of cognition in the two cognitions are not the same. In spite of this, if it is said that the attributes in a substance have some kind of 'own' existence even when the substance is cognised, then that would make the description of a thing not itself i.e., the description would be another existent and not the description of the first existent. And this would make it impossible for anything to be ever described, for any description that is predicated of a thing would be an attribute which would have its 'own' existence, and these attributes in turn cannot be said to be what they are because that would need their attribution which would manifest other 'own' existences, and so on ad infinitum. Therefore, difference is false.

Difference is false, yet it is seen. Therefore difference is an admixture of truth and falsity - and indeed it is not possible to speak of the true nature of that which partakes of falsity. It is therefore called 'anirvacaniya'. The confusion between 'sameness' and 'difference' is the primordial confusion that was brewed in the cauldron of creation, nay even earlier than creation, in the incomprehensible dimness of a beginningless past.

Difference is not logical. Yet the heart does not accept what the intellect determines - because difference IS SEEN. We must now approach difference from another direction.


According to Advaita, a word does not point to the particular; it points only to the universal. The thesis that words point to particulars (or individuals) is not logical because it would then be impossible to recognise two individuals as belonging to a species for there would be nothing to bind them into a commonality. Therefore, a word necessarily points to the universal. And it is thus that an object is the same object, and is referable by the same name even when it 'changes'. Alice is the same Alice when she is young and when she is old because of the same Alicehood. While discussing the eternality of words, Shankara says:

And words are connected with the general characteristics (i.e., genus) and not with the individuals, for the individuals are infinite, and it is impossible to comprehend the relation of a word
(with all of them). Thus, even though the individuals are born, the distinctive general characteristics remain constant, so that this creates no difficulty with the eternality of the words cow, etc.

(BSB, I,III,8.27).

The Nyayaikas and the Grammarians, as also other schools of Vedanta, hold that words point to both the universal and the particular. Advaita refutes this by saying that if this were the case, then it would occasion a new name every time a different attribute is seen, as the combination (C) of universal and particular (U+P) would then have changed and it would be a new combination requiring a new name. Thus an infinite number of names would need to be applied to the object, for no two instances of the object ever show the same particular attributes; there is always a difference in an object as its shows itself in the field of experience. Thus it is not reasonable to posit that words point to the combination of universals and particulars. But there is an old Nyaya objection to the Advaitic theory, and we must consider this in so far as this objection seems to invoke an important element related to ontology. Gautama, the founder of Nyaya, says this about the Advaita doctrine of words pointing to universals:

This is not right because the manifestation of a universal depends on individuality and configuration.

Vatsayana, the commentator, expands on this objection:
There can be no apprehension of a universal by itself unless the individuality and configuration have been apprehended. Hence the universal cannot be regarded as constituting the denotation of a word.

The Advaita response to this objection would be that there is no difference between the samanya and vishesa, because if they were different and disparate, then a vishesha could never belong to a species, because the samanya could never come into conjunction with the vishesha. And the theory that the relation of inherence binds the two has already been discounted on the ground that it leads to an infinite regress. Again, if the truth were to be found in individuality, the shruti would not have proscribed the senses, and recommended a turning away from the objects of sense, for it would be a contradiction to say that we should find truth by turning away from where it lies. And the shruti definitely aims to lead one away from the senses:

Svayambhuh, the great Lord, injured the outgoing senses. Therefore, one sees the outer things and not the inner Self. A rare discriminating man, turns his eye away and sees the indwelling Self.
(Ka.Up. II,i,1)

When a man, renouncing all thoughts, is not attached to sense- objects and actions, then he is said to have attained to Yoga.
(Bh.G. VI,4).

And we find the same theme in Plato:

Philosophy takes over the soul in this condition and by gentle persuasion tries to set it free. She points out that observation by means of the eyes and ears and all the other senses is entirely deceptive, and she urges the soul to refrain from using them unless it is necessary to do so, and encourages it to collect and concentrate itself by itself, trusting nothing but its own independent judgement upon objects considered in themselves, and attributing no truth to anything which it views indirectly as being subject to variation, because such objects are sensible and visible but what the soul itself sees is intelligible and invisible.

Thus, according to the shruti, the truth is revealed when we withdraw from the world of sense objects. And it cannot be said here that the shruti is not talking about the truth of the world, for the aim of the shruti is to lead to that Truth by knowing which All this is known. So, the question is, how can all this be known by turning away from all this? In other words, how is it that by knowing the Self everything comes to be known? We have seen how Advaita holds the world to be co-extensive with the Self, and yet the preamble to the bhashya begins by pointing out the disparity between the subject and object "which are by nature as contradictory as light and darkness" and thus "cannot logically have any identity".

Where does the day meet the night?


What is night to all beings, therein the self-controlled one is awake. Where all beings are awake, that is the night of the sage who sees.
(Bh.G. II,69)

Words denote only universals, but what is a universal? Universals cannot be other than these objects themselves for otherwise words cannot point to objects. Yet in some sense they are not objects, because if they were, there would be no need for something called universals. But universals necessarily exist, because without universals there cannot be recognition, and it follows that in the ultimate analysis there cannot be anything discernable without universals. For the distinguishing characteristic by which anything or any attribute of a thing is cognised as 'this' cannot take place unless the 'thisness' can be denoted i.e., recognised.

A universal cannot be thought, because the very act of thinking particularises the universal, and a universal is not a particular. Therefore, the cognition of a universal brings forth a contradiction in so far as cognition particularises the object to which it is directed. It is the failure to see the nature of universals as the unthinkable, and that thinking is always particularised, that has caused much befuddlement in modern philosophy. Yet, the universal is cognised in the object because otherwise the object cannot be cognised as 'this', the object. And this brings us to the mystical nature of Vak.

A universal, in its capacity as universal, has no form - it is not spatio-temporal - and yet it is the very essence of form for without it there can be no form. For without 'cowness', there can be no cow. And it cannot be that there are some unspecified things called particulars into which universals enter or 'participate', for there can be nothing except amorphousness without universals; for what is it that can be described as the particular without any feature (for feature would need the universals of the feature) or form? Universals therefore do not participate in things; they are the things themselves and the term 'participate' is to be understood as a metaphorical use of the word.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter I, Section VI, starts with the following words:

This universe indeed consists of three things: name, form and action. Of those names, speech is the Uktha (source), for all names spring from it. It is their Saman, for it is common to all names. It is their Brahman (Self), for it sustains all names.
(Br.Up. I, VI,1)

And commenting on it, Shankara mentions about universals and particulars in the context of names:

For all names, the differentiations such as Yajnadatta and Devadatta springs from it, this generality of names, like particles of salt from the salt rock. And an effect is not separate from its cause. Also particulars are included in the general. How does the relation of general and particulars apply here? It, sound in general, is their Saman, so called because of sameness. For it is common to all names, which are its own particular forms. Another reason is that the particular names, being derived from it, are not different from it. And we see that something that is derived from another is not different from it, as a jar, for instance, is not different from clay.

A universal is that which makes a thing what it is. And it is not possible for the particular to be more than the universal because that would mean that the universal is not that which makes a thing a thing (as there would be something more than the universal needed to make it the thing). Thus there is no difference between the universal and the particular in so far as the capacity of a universal to be a particular is concerned. That is, the particular is nothing more than the universal. But if we look at it the other way round - a particular is not the universal itself because the particular, say a particular cow, can be absent in another instance where the universal is seen i.e., in another cow.

Thus, universals are present wherever there is a particular, but the particular need not be present wherever there is the universal. But a particular is wholly nothing but a universal. Thus what emerges here is that particulars, in being nothing but universals, and not containing them, are nothing but a partial vision of the universal. The universal is the complete infinitude of attributes of the thing, of say 'cow', and it pervades all particulars; thus, the particular is nothing but that same universal showing forth as particular instances in its manifestations. And a universal is so capable of manifesting simultaneously in all the instances of its particulars because the universal has no form and is not spatio-temporal. Words denote universals.

Therefore, the world of forms that is denoted by names is the sameness of universals - not contained by form and limitations. It is formless, so to speak, and is the infinite repository of all the forms that it characterises. The universal is the formless whole of all its particulars, the very knowledge of things, as it were, in the omniscience of Brahman. The formless Brahman therefore contains the infinitude of all that was, is, and will be. It is, in its immutable formlessness, the alpha and the omega, complete, purnam, perfect, uncontained and infinite. It is the intelligence that carries infinite universals in Its ineffable formlessness and undisturbed sameness. It is Akshara, the immutable.

O Gargi, the knowers of Brahman say this Immutable is That. It is neither gross nor minute, neither short nor long, neither red nor oiliness, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether, unattached, neither savour nor odour, without eyes or ears, without the vocal organ or mind, without the vital force or mouth, not a measure, and without interior or exterior. It does not eat anything, nor is It eaten by anybody.

And yet, Brahman is all this too.

He is the sun dwelling in the bright heavens. He is the air dwelling in the mid-region. He is the fire dwelling on earth. He is the guest dwelling in the house. He dwells in men, in the gods, in truth, in the sky. He is born in the water, on earth, in the sacrifice, on the mountains. He is the True and the Great.

What indeed is here, is there; what is there, is here likewise. He who sees as though there is difference here, goes from death to death. By the mind alone is Brahman to be realised; then one does not see in It any multiplicity whatsoever. He goes from death to death who sees multiplicity in It. This, verily, is That.
(Ka.Up.II.i.10- 11).


The world of sense is the world of 'concrete' particulars. It is the world of the limitedness of the unlimited in the sphere of actuality, the limited vision of the Great Being. This is avacchedavada, the doctrine of the falseness of the seeming limitedness of the unlimited. What is seen is the limited, the particular, and this limitedness is false as being the true thing, for the thing is the universal that is unlimited by particularisation. Therefore, the negation that the entire world is false is a negation of the limited as the true form of the unlimited - it is abhasavada - and yet, in a perfectly logical manner, there is nothing excluded from Reality in the negation. Reality is full. It is purnam. Does not the Acharya say this in the bhashya on the Mandukya Upanishad?

This letter that is Om is all this. Of this a clear exposition is: All that is past, present, and future is verily Om. And whatever is beyond the three periods of time is also verily Om.
Mandukya Upanishad (I,1)

Shankara explains:

The very same thing that was presented through an emphasis on the word is being indicated over again with a stress on the thing signified, so that the unity of the name and the nameable may be comprehended. For otherwise, the nameable having been grasped as dependent on the name, the doubt may crop up that the identity of the nameable with the name is to be taken in a secondary sense. And the necessity of understanding their identity arises from the fact that (once the identity is established), one can by a single effort eliminate both the name and the nameable to realise Brahman that is different from both.

Now how is Brahman different than both? Shankara explains in the commentary to the next verse:

All this is surely Brahman. This Self is Brahman. The Self, such as it is, is possessed of four quarters.
Mandukya Upanishad (I,2)

Shankara's commentary:

In the text, 'This Self is Brahman', this very Self that will be presented as divided into four parts is being pointed out as one's innermost Self by the gesture of hand. Sah ayam atma, that Self that is such, that is signified by Om and exists as the higher and lower Brahman, is catuspat, possessed of four quarters, like a coin (karsapana), but not like a cow, As the fourth (Turiya) is realised by successively merging the earlier three, starting from Visva, the word pada (in the case of Visva, Taijasa, Prajna) is derived in the instrumental sense of that by which something is attained, whereas in the case of Turiya the word pada is derived in the objective sense of that which is achieved.

It is significant that Visva, Taijasa and Prajna are successively merged into Turiya. Thus the elimination of both name and form that is different than Brahman, is the limitedness of the names and forms of the world of sense, and what is attained is the unlimited world in which all the three starting with Visva gain identity. And it is this meaning that is sought to be explained by saying "possessed of four quarters like a coin, but not like a cow." Swami Ghambirananda explains beautifully in the footnote:

The word pada may mean either foot or quarter. The second meaning applies here. A karsapana is divisible into sixteen smaller units. Four of these form a quarter. The smaller units lose their individuality in the bigger ones, as it were. So Visva merges in Taijasa, Taijasa in Prajna, and Prajna in Turiya.

Brahman being different from both name and form is Its transcendence from them. The word 'transcend' does not mean a spatial or temporal separation, but a distinction of the subsuming principle from that which it subsumes. There is nothing that is not there in the Great Formless Being. There is nothing negated here, not a blade of grass, not a speck of light nor a mite in the moonbeam, not a thought nor even the dark abyss of the great void. What is experienced as nirguna Brahman is also gunapoorna.

As a lump of salt dropped into water becomes dissolved in water and cannot be taken out again, but wherever we taste it tastes salt, even so, my dear, this great, endless, Infinite Reality is Pure Intelligence alone. This self comes out as a separate entity from these elements and with their destruction the separateness is also destroyed. After attaining oneness it has no more consciousness. This is what I say, my dear. So said Yajnavalkya.

Then Maitreyi said: `Just here you have bewildered me, venerable Sir, by saying that after attaining (oneness) the self has no more consciousness'. Yajnavalkya replied: Certainly I am not saying anything bewildering, my dear, this is enough for knowledge, O Maitreyi'.

Because when there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one knows another. But when to the knower of Brahman everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what indeed should one know That owing to which all this is known - through what, O Maitreyi, should one know the knower?


The nature of Reality is mystical. The magic of words plays upon the screen of non-duality and hold us enrapt to the siren songs of plurality. A word is essentially one with Brahman. That is para vak. It springs from Its living waters into the formless embryo - the pashyanti - the causal seed that is ready to sprout into manifest form. In its middling state - madhyama - it presents the forms in ideality before it springs into the luxuriance of the created world as vaikhari.

These are the four stages of Vak - para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. The mystery is that there is no difference in what it points to in all these stages, because if there were a difference, the word would not point to the same object in all its stages. We may give a name to this paradoxical nature of words and feel satisfied that we have found the truth, but the moment we attempt to determine its truth, it negates itself in the very determination. Difference arises through Vak, and yet there is no difference in its forms. Its difference is the mystery of its own 'difference', as it were, and the world springs into being in the womb of this great mystery. It is the heart of the mystical - the inexplicable power of the Lord to make many out of One while still remaining immutably One. That is His Maya. It needs the eye of a mystic to see the One in All and the All in One. It is the sahaja samadhi spoken of in Vedanta.

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