[Advaita-l] Re: A Query
Dr. Sanjay Verma
sanjay1297 at yahoo.com
Tue Mar 29 02:59:04 CST 2005
Namaste and Pranam
In Taittiriya Upanishad I.i.1, the verse is a prayer wherein the one invoking the prayer is asking for blessing from the various deities. Adi Shankara comments:
"Since the comprehension, retention, and communication of the knowledge of Brahman can proceed without hindrance when the gods are benefolent, their benignity is being prayed for..."
Clearly the gods (ie, personal deities) are agents conferring boons to the sadhaka. Praying to and worshipping gods, deities, etc. is entirely consistent with the Advaita tradition. Within the influence of Maya, the gods/deities do exist, just as you and I exist as the jivi. When all ignorance is burned up, then the Knowledge emerges that the Atman/Brahman alone is without a second. So long as the sadhaka is influenced by the veil of Maya, the gods/deities are very real and can be helpful agents along the spiritual path. The difference between an Advaitin and one on another path (e.g., Bhagavata) is that throughout the training the Advaitin sadhaka is taught that Ultimately all this (including the deities) is unreal and the Atman alone exists without a second. This is to say that in the Advaita tradition, the sadhaka is reminded to keep focused on the Ultimate goal or realizing "tattvamasi", but use the tools of worship as an efficacious means to an end.
BSB IV.iii.15 clearly states that eventually meditation must be on (Nirguna) Brahman, and not on any symbols, in order to reach Brahman. However, this path is difficult indeed, and until one matures, meditation on Saguna Brahman and worship of deities is an accepted means to an end (to increase concentration in gradations). I don't have the citation handy, but Adi Shankaracarya has explicitly stated that an Advaitin does not accept the ontological presumptions of the Bhagavata tradition, but can employ the tools of the tradition (ie, worship of deities) with the intent of increasing concentration provided the sadhaka is always being aware that ultimately the deities are products of Maya also.
In BGB 11:52-55 Sri Krishna states that His cosmic form may be perceived only by undivided devotion. Adi Shankaracharya comments: devotion which is "not directed to aught else than the Lord, at any time. When by all means of cognition nothing but Vasudeva is known there results undivided devotion." Note, the devotion is to Vasudeva he (Saguna Brahman), and not meditation on Nirguna Brahman.
In the subsequent chapeter, Arjuna directly asks which is better (devotion to Krishna's Cosmic form as revealed in the preceding chapter or those who worship the Unmanifest). Sri Krishna replies in BG 12:3-5 that those who "Elaborately worhsip the Imperishable, the Ineffable, the Unmanifest, the Omnipresent, theimponderable, the mmutable, the Immobile, the Unwavering, Controlling all sense organs fully, with cognition of sameness at all ties devoted to the welfare of all beings, they attain Me, indeed. Their toil is harder, their mind being set on the Unmanifest; embodied beings find it hard to treat the path of the Unmanifest."
It is without a doubt that ultimately the Advaitin sadhaka must live the reality of "tattvamasi" and "sarvam khalvidam Brahman". However, along the path, until one reaches that degreee of Knowledge and is able to live it at every moment, while one is still even partially Ignorant because of Maya, employing various tools as a means to an end to burn up that ignorance are consistent with Advaita's ultimate teachings.
The personal deities of the Hindu pantheon are very much real for all those who are influenced by Maya (which I daresay is 99.9% of all beings). Prayer and worship to such deities for enlightenment (ie, to remove the obstacles to enlightenment) is not the same as those who pray for desire-motivated goals such as worldly success or even heavenly enjoyment. Desire for moksha is not the same as "desire" (ie, kama) for sensual and material pleasure. In the discussion of the three gunas, Sri Krishna teaches that although one must eventually rise above the gunas, one employs and further cultivates sattva as a means to rise above all three. Another common example is that of a thorn. When one has a thorn stuck in one's foot, another thorn is employed to safely remove the first and then both are discarded. Similarly, until one overcomes kama completely, maintaining a desire for moksha is entirely consistent with the ultimate goal of having no desire whatsoever. Likewise, while one may
intellectually be aware that the personal deities have no Ultimate reality, one may pray to them for assistance in burning up Ignorance (ie, the only valid prayer is to ask for enlightenment -- all other prayers are filled with kama and hence add more karma and ego-consciousness).
One final analogy that I've read by a teacher of Advaita is as follows. Often the notion of Maya is compared to that of a dream. While one is dreaming, all the contents of the dream are very real (ie, they actually have physiological effect on the dreamer). However, when one awakens, all the contents of the dream cease to exist. If one is dreaming of being chased by a tiger, then that tiger can be the catalys of waking up from the dream. Thus, the deities, though only real under the influence of Maya, can nevertheless be catalysts of overcoming Maya.
Aditya Varun Chadha <adichad at gmail.com> wrote:
Although I do agree with you that it is very difficult to fully
understand and appreciate the teachings of advaita without the guiding
hand of a Guru, there is no evidence that such a Guru can not be found
within oneself. Moreover, the concept of a "worshipable" God is not so
much central to advaita as is of God as one to be meditated upon. In
that sense, God and brAhmaN are one. In other words, "God" is the
manifestation of brAhmaN that the mind can feel affinity towards.
If by God or Guru you mean a directing entity that both the heart and
mind accept, I agree with you on the need for such an entity. But one
must use the terms "God's Grace", "worship", "devotion", "devotee" and
especially "unselfish" very carefully in the context of advaita. To be
God's Grace is NOT to be understood as "an ACT of a God seperate from
one's Self". advaita categorically denies an active doer God, since
all action itself is ultimately mithyA. Instead, it is more
appropriate to think of "God's Grace" as the simple yet profound act
of "Being" that not only God, but by the same token Atman also
Worship should NOT be understood as necessarily being "servitude" or
"appeasing" of God. In advaita, the act of worship is the same as the
act of meditation. In other words, the advaitin does not so much
"worship" as "strives to understand".
The Guru is not to be taken as an entity SEPERATE from one's Self. It
is commonly known among students of any discipline that while initial
steps are easier to take if a Guru is present to hold us, true
learning and Understanding comes ONLY through the repeated cycle of
"Practice and Reflection", which are purely activities of the Self,
and do NOT require any external entity. When we revere a Guru and
become desciples, the aim is to find that Acharan of the Acharya that
we can Identify ourselves with. Respect for a Guru comes from the
heart only when the desciples can see themselves EMULATING the Guru.
True Respect comes from identification alone.
Devotion is NOT the same as "devotion to a master" in advaita. A
better picture is to think of "Devotion to the Path of Knowledge". It
does not help too much to "praise" God, rather the approach propounded
by advaita is to "understand" and "emulate" God. More specifically, an
advaitin is devoted NOT to God as a master but to God as the "concept
of identity" between Atman and brAhmaN. Thus, the advaitin is a
Devotee like a musician is devoted to his music, who strives to
understand, love and finally BECOME music, rather than someone who
just "praises" music.
You also mention the act of "service to humanity in an unselfish way".
This calls for some comment. While obviously the effect of the act you
are referring to is seen to be benificial, one must carefully
understand the motivation behind and nature of this "service in an
The most provocative word that you use here is "unselfish". This word,
whenever used, should be clearly differentiated from "un-Self-ish"
because to an advaitin, anything "un-Self-ish" is pure mithyA. advaita
teaches that there IS simply NOTHING BUT brAhmaN, and Atman (the Self)
IS brAhmaN. Therefore I cannot "serve" in a way that is not the "way
of the Self" or "Self-ish".
Let us take a real life example: when we help a needy person, the
motivation behind the act is ultimately the elevation of the Self (the
Self of the beggar is the same is my Self). We do it because the
eradication of misery (which is mithyA) is the "righteous" thing to
do. Even for a person not so informed about this one-ness of the Self,
the motive behind the Good act is that upon doing so one feels good.
Thus true "service to humanity" can be done only if one is in harmony
with one's Self, and in a pure "Self-ish" way. An act is benificial
only if it benifits the Self (realise that "humanity" does not exist
seperate from the Self), and an advaitin knows that there is only One
You also elude to a "dryness of intellectualism". I am surprized that
although you are a professor, you hold intellectual activity in such
low regard. Intellect is the faculty that we have to attain
"understanding". True intellectual activity by its very nature arises
from and results in uncontrollable Passion, Devotion and dervish-like
"lagan" of the heart to the subject. Archimedez's passionate "eureka!"
is a textbook example of the exhuberance that one can feel through
intellectual activity. Is this so different from the bliss a great
advaitin would feel somewhere on one's path to Perfection?
I completely agree with you that in practical life, the Guru and the
concept of God are not only helpful but probably essential to attain
true Knowledge and brAhmaN-hood. But it would be misdirection to say
that this Guru and God is to be searched outside one's Self.
On Sun, 27 Mar 2005 13:29:36 -0800 (PST), V. Krishnamurthy
> Shri U.K. Anumula writes:
> ***In Indian philosophy we come across concepts like
> "aatma", "Paramaatma", "Brahman", and God by different
> names, e.g., "Brahma", "Vishnu" and "Siva" etc. My
> question is this: Are God and Brahman the same or are they
> two different concepts? If they are different, when
> "Brahma" is "satyam" and all else is "mithya", God also
> becomes "mithya". I think it was in Devi Purana there is
> a slokam which says "maayaantu prakritim viddhi, maya
> maatram Parameswaraha". An understanding on these lines,
> as literally interpreted, would lead us to true
> Godlessness. God, in such an interpretation, is a
> creature of human ignorance rather than one who is
> transcendentally real. IDOL WORSHIP AND PERFORMANCE OF
> VARIOUS RITUALS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH TRUE ADVAITA. ONE
> CAN BE A TRUE ADVAITIN AND AT THE SAME TIME A NON-BELIEVER
> IN GOD (and certainly in the various manifestations of God
> that Indian cosmogeny revels in.) Yet at the same time,
> worship and belief in God, in whatever form, appears to be
> truly comforting and apparently even providing answers to a
> common man's several troubling questions. Can one deny
> God and be a true Advaitin? ***
> My comments are on the lines in bold capitals (the
> capitalisation is mine). This is the danger of attempting
> to learn advaita by sheer book reading. I would like
> somebody to point out to me any great advaitin who is not a
> believer in the worship of God. All great advaitins have
> been great devotees of God. The taste for advaita itself
> comes only by the Grace of God. The advaita forcefully
> self-pumped into oneself by reading advaita texts, -- even
> the Brahma-sutra bhashya will be only a dry academic
> philosophy intellectualised to such an extent that there is
> no emotional conviction, that is, conviction that goes to
> the heart and not just to the brain. Advaita may cry hoarse
> about the nirguna brahman and the one-ness of everything
> visible or non-visible. But unless one has been influenced
> (and blessed) by a guru-like person personally, it is going
> to stay only at the brain level. And that guru-like person
> himself will be obtained only by God's Grace. And God's
> Grace will be obtained only by worship of God or, what is
> equivalent, service to humanity in an unselfish way. Let
> us not pass on a wrong message to people that advaita can
> be learnt and assimilated without any reference to a God or
> a Guru!
> PraNAms to all seekers of Truth
> Prof. V. Krishnamurthy
> New on my website, particularly for beginners in Hindu philosophy:
> Hinduism for the next generation: http://www.geocities.com/profvk/gohitvip/contentsbeach10.html
> Free will and Divine will - a dialogue:
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