Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Book Extract

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.


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Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
ISBN: 978-81-7276-457-9
Format : Paperback
Pages: 324
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Asmadācāryaparyantāṃ vande guruparamparām

  Auspiciously beginning with Īśvara, with the teacher Śaṅkara in the middle, I worship the progression of teachers extending up to my teacher.


The title, “Vedānta, the solution to our fundamental problem”, will immediately raise the following questions in the mind of the readers. The first is, “What exactly is Vedānta? The others are, “What is considered to be our basic problem and how does Vedānta solve it?” While the entire book addresses these questions, they can also be briefly answered. Veda is a body of revealed knowledge handed down by teaching through countless generations to us. The latter portion of Veda is singled out as Vedānta owing to the uniqueness of its subject matter, which is self-knowledge. What self-knowledge can solve is self-ignorance and self-ignorance is the cause of our primary problem of insecurity and unhappiness.

The fact that all of us are only occasionally happy indicates that we have a problem that is basic in nature. Generally, we handle the specific difficulties that we encounter to the best of our understanding and ability with different degrees of success. It is only when we are deeply affected that we want to go into the root of the entire matter impersonally. Arjuna, the celebrated vanquisher of enemies in the epic Mahābhārata, is the typical example. He goes to Kurukṣetra all set to win the battle within the clan. But, in the middle of the battlefield, he develops serious doubts as to whether it was the solution and forthwith converts his friend Kṛṣṇa who is driving his war-chariot into a guru and seeks knowledge from him then and there. What Kṛṣṇa teaches him is essentially Vedānta. Arjuna is lucky since he stumbles upon the most competent guru for getting the right knowledge to solve his problem. But, when we are similarly affected, it is very difficult for us to know that Vedānta is the correct pursuit, as many alternatives seem to be available to reach the basic truth. Not many of us also know about Vedānta and only very few of us are aware of its astounding usefulness here and now.

Vedānta is entirely different from the various schools of thought and philosophy. It is revealed knowledge, which states that we have converted our life into a constant struggle for gaining security and happiness only because we have erroneously judged ourselves as individuals with limitations. It reveals that we are already without limitations, which is what we want to be. The seeker is the sought. The problem is one of self-disowning self-ignorance. Therefore, the solution can only be self-knowledge. No other tradition tells us this. They say that we will be saved if we follow their prescribed methods. Vedānta, on the other hand, says that our true nature does not leave anything to be desired and that all that we require to be free is to know this recognizable fact without an iota of doubt and abide in it. No mysticism is involved in knowing it. It is the instant solution like switching on the light to be free from darkness. It affirms that sorrow has no legitimate existence. This is the reason why Kṛṣṇa begins his teaching to Arjuna with the statement that his grief is unwarranted.

This body of revealed knowledge has always been existing as a living tradition handed down through teaching from one generation to the next in India. It has survived many centuries of suppression only because of its intrinsic worth. Being knowledge, it belongs to no one group of people. If any other tradition says, "You are the whole," it is also Vedānta, regardless of what it is called and in which language it is. As knowledge, it is communicable by anyone who has correctly learnt it in full from a competent guru. So, it is not necessary that only an Indian should teach it. Again, as knowledge, it is available to anyone who is a qualified seeker. Its wisdom belongs to humanity. It is Indian only in the sense that India happens to enjoy the privilege of nurturing it. 

Along with the knowledge, the method of communicating the fact, “You are the whole“, for our recognition has also been handed down by the tradition. This teaching tradition is called sampradāya. The guruwho imparts the knowledge would himself have been taught by his guru by using this evolved method. In this lineage of gurus, Śaṅkarācārya occupies a special place since he is totally identified with the sampradāya and has left behind this legacy in the written form. His commentaries are not only the earliest that are available but are also extremely thorough in providing the teaching in full. In our times, Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswati of Rishikesh has been unfolding this very vision in English. He has also created a number of teachers by formulating a course strictly according to the sampradāya and establishing gurukulams and teaching it to the resident disciples. He is a teacher par excellence and is unique(1). Among his disciples, Swami Paramarthananda is very illustrious. So, for fulfilling its purpose, this book attempts to present the traditional teaching of Vedānta as maintained by these great gurus.


I - Brahman is the intelligent and the material cause

Śruti reveals the incidental nature(2) of Brahman as the cause of everything that is manifest(3) . It dramatically does so by posing the question: “What is it by knowing which everything is known?”(4) Taittirīya Upaniṣad answers it comprehensively: “Know Brahman as that from which all beings come into existence, that by which all-born beings exist and that towards which they move and into which they merge”.(5)

The question that immediately arises is as to why Brahman’s status as the cause should be called as incidental. While this will become fully clear later, briefly, it is because Brahman, as the cause, does not undergo actual change to become the effect and as it has no direct relationship with the effect.

We may now look into this incidental nature of Brahman. Every cause consists of two parts. If we take the case of pot, it is made of clay. This is the material cause or upādāna kāraṇam. But, mere presence of clay does not produce a pot. It requires a potter to make a pot out of clay. This is the intelligent or efficient cause or nimitta kāraṇam. The pot is the total effect or kārya of both the material and intelligent causes.

Normally, the material cause and the intelligent cause are different. For example, in the case of the pot, the material cause is clay and the intelligent cause is the pot maker. In the present case, the Upanisadic statement “that from which everything comes into being, by whom they are sustained and unto whom they go back” does not mention any cause other than Brahman. It also quotes: “This (universe) was indeed the unmanifest (Brahman) in the beginning. From that alone the manifest (universe) was born. That (Brahman) created itself by itself. Therefore, it is said to be the self-creator.”(6) There is also another statement to the effect, “It thought, may I be many, may I grow forth”(7) . From this we understand that Brahman is both the maker and the material or abhinna-nimitta-upādāna kāraṇam. Muṇdaka Upaniṣad illustrates this dual role through the example of spider: “Just as the spider creates and withdraws (its web), just as trees originate on the earth, just as hairs on the head and body (grow) from a living person, in the same manner, the universe is born here out of Brahman.(8) Another everyday example is the mind, which provides the material for the dream out of the impressions stored in it and creates the dream out of them.

In the case of Brahman, however, the question arises as to how that which is without a second can become many, and how that which is without any limitation of qualities (nirguṇa) can become limited through qualities. Also, production involves action for bringing about the necessary change on the parts of the cause and it is inconceivable as to how Brahman can produce anything when it is partless, actionless and changeless.

The explanation lies in the cause being of two different kinds. One is what we are very familiar with, namely the cause that transforms itself to produce the effect. It is called the pariṇāmi-upādāna-kāraṇam. Here, the material cause changes itself to become the effect(9) like the milk converting itself into the curd. The other type ofcause becomes the effect without changing itself and without giving up any of its own nature(10) . It undergoes only apparent change to produce the effect. This is known as the vivarta-upādāna-kāraṇam. For example, the rope in semi-darkness appears to be a real snake without the rope changing itself in any way; the colorless crystal appears as a red crystal when the red flower is placed near it without the crystal actually changing its color. We had seen that the apparent change is brought about by the limiting adjunct or upādhi. The crystal in the upādhi of red flower appears as red. In the case of Brahman, the upādhi of māyā is the cause of the appearance of the manifestation(11) .

1. His uniqueness forms the subject matter of the book titled “Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati: his uniqueness in the Vedänta sampradäya” by the present author.

2. Taṭastha lakṣaṇa, is that which is distinct from the nature of the thing and yet by which it is known. It is like the crow sitting on the roof of a house, which helps to identify that house.

3. This is called mūlakāraṇam.

4. Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, 1.1.3. and Chāndogya Upaniṣad, 6.1.3.

5. Yato vā imāni bhutāni jāyante| Yena jātāni jīvanti| Yatprayantyabhisaṃviśanti| Tat vijiṣāsasva| Tat brahmeti|Taittirīya Upaniṣad, 3.1.1.

6. Asadvā idamagra asīt|Tato tadātmānaggssvayamakuruta|Tasmāttatsukṛtamucyata iti| Yadvai tat sukṛtam|Taittirīya Upaniṣad, 2.7.1.

7. Tadaikṣata bahu syām prjāyeyeti.. Chānḍogya Upaniṣad, 6.2.3.

8. Yathorṇanābhiḥ sṛjate gṛhṇate ca, yathā pṛthivyāmoṣadhayaḥ saṃbhavanti|
Yathā sataḥ puruṣāt keśalomāni, tatha’kṣarāt saṃbhavatīha viśvam|| Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, 1.1.7.

9. Svasvarūpa parityāgena rūpāntarāpattiḥ.

10. Svasvarūpa aparityāgena rūpāntarāpattiḥ.

11. Māyāṃ tu prakṛtiṃ vidyānmāyinaṃ ca maheśvaram|
    Tasyāvayavabhūtaistu vyāptaṃ sarvamidam jagat||
Know then that primal source is māyā and that maheśvara (Brahman) is the lord of Māyā. The whole world is filled with beings who form his parts.
Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, 4.10.


Page last updated: 02-Apr-2013