Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Schools of Philosophy
P. Sethuraman

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The following is an extract from the book by P. Sethuraman: Ancient Indian Wisdom.

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Advaita literally means non-dualism. The terms Jagat or the universe, Jiva or the individual soul and Brahman or the Supreme Being are not really separate entities. Reality is one without a second. It is existence, knowledge, bliss and is infinite. It has the intrinsic power of manifest itself as the Jagat and Jiva. The inherent power goes by the name of Maya or illusion. Brahman and Maya are inseparable. This is the implication of the word "Advaita". It is because of the ignorance that the Jiva fancies that he is separate from the Universe. With the dawn of knowledge, this feeling of difference vanishes. The reality alone exists. Because of its Maya shakti, it manifests itself as the Jiva and Jagat. Resolving this Shakti into itself, it also remains unmanifest. In its kinetic state, it is Saguna Brahman (conditioned Reality) in the static nirguna (Absolute Reality). As the wave subsides into the ocean, the individual soul dissolves into the Absolute. This is emancipation according to the Advaita system of philosophy.

It is rather difficult for the majority of the people to understand the full implications of the Advaita truth that the world is a lie, a Maya or illusion. This school of philosophy was propounded by the great philosopher Adi Shankara. However his teachings have been misunderstood. Adi Shankara only asserted that the phenomenal world is an illusion. He did not state it is asat, non-existent or unreal. Adi Shankara made three distinctions with regard to metaphysical deliberations about truth. These are Satya, Asatya and Falsehood As regards the first, satya or truth, the great Acharya affirmed that there is only one ever- existing Atman. It can be thought of also as Brahman that alone is the changeless, eternal omniscient and omnipresent But we see the world ever in a flux, changing in a constant tide of ebb and flow. Not only the worldly phenomena but our minds too are ever changing, flirting from one thought to another, like the monkey's leap from branch to branch. How can the definition of Satya (truth) be given to these fleeting changes? Nor could he define it as asatya (untruth), which would then mean that the world does not exist. It is very much there perceptible to our five senses.

As the world is neither satya, meaning eternal truth, nor asatya or non-existent , the great Acharya defined it as Mitya, a mental ground of illusion, a phenomenal appearance.. Shankara conceived of three kinds of truth and that Which did not belong to the three was asatya. The three are : Paramartika Satya - the non-dual Brahmic state of bliss: Vyavaharika Satya - the every day life of activity in the world: Pratibhasika Satya - the matter of our dreams. When enlightenment dawns, both the vyavaharika satya and pratibhasika satya turn out to be false, even as the mistaken belief of a snake is known to be only a rope seen in twilight. Only the paramartika satya is eventually true, which Shankara affirms in all his writings, and this is known as Advaita It signifies that there is no other, not two, but only the Brahman, infinite, eternal, without beginning or end and beyond time and space.


According to the Dvaita school, the universe, the individual Soul and God are three separate and everlasting entities. God rules over the universe and the souls. The souls in their ignorance are entangled in the universe. Through devotion to God and through his mercy obtained thereby, The souls must free themselves from the bondage of the World and attain the realm of God. The state of living with God in heaven is termed as mukti or liberation. There, the Jivas are eternally in the presence of their Lord. Their individuality is not lost because of mukti.


Vishishtadvaita literally means qualified non-dualism. God Alone exists according to it. The cosmos is his body. The Jivas exist as innumerable life-cells in that cosmic body. As the rays of the sun are inseparable from it, the individual souls cannot be separated from God. With the dawn of initiative knowledge, the Jiva realizes that the Paramatma (God) is the whole and he an infinitesimal part of it. The attainment of this knowledge leads to emancipation. Complete surrender of oneself is the means for the attainment of this goal. In the state of mukti, the jiva is ever aware that he is a limb of the Lord.

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