[Advaita-l] Some questions on Advaita Vedanta and Smartism

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Sun Oct 30 09:17:35 CST 2005

Sorry for the late reply.  I sent your questions to the list but it looks 
like no one replied.

On Tue, 11 Oct 2005, you wrote:

> 1) What is the difference between Advaitha, Visistha-Advaitha abd Dwaitha?
> As far as I see I find it at the level of Moksha?

Yes for the most part.  Of course this does mean there is some difference 
in practice too but for the most part, householder life is the same.

> 2) What is Brahman according to Advaitha? Does he have a shape "Nirguna"?

Nirguna means without qualities such as shape or form.  Brahman is the 
ground of existence and consciousness.  It is the means by which one can 
apprehend names and forms.

> As per Advaitha "Sivaya Vishnu Rupaya Siva Rupaya Vishnave, Sivascha
> Hrudayam Vishnu Vishnocha Hrudayam Sivaha"
> Siva = Vishnu

Yes, Shankaracharya established the joint worship of all the major deities 
of the Vedic pantheon: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesh, and Surya.  It is not 
wrong to prefer a certain form of God but the sadhaka should remember the 
essential identity of all these forms.

> Why do we put three lines on the head (Vibuthi) like Sivaites?

Because we are followers of the Shruti and Smrti and the practice of 
tripundra is ordained in e.g. Jabalopanishad and Devibhagavatapurana.

When something is burned in fire, the impure is burned away and only the 
pure ashes remain.  When the three worlds are burned in the fire of jnana, 
only the pure Brahman remains.  Thus three lines of ash are appropriate 
from the philosophical point of view too.

> What is the importance of Siva Linga?

This is going to be a long answer. The linga is the iconic representation 
of Shiva Bhagavan.  That's all for most people.

There is a deeper philosophical meaning too.  Linga in Sanskrit means 
penis.  The yoni (the plinth upon which the linga is placed) means vagina. 
The linga represents the primordial union of Shiva-Shakti by which the 
universe is created and continues.

Now saying this tends to elicit one of two reactions.  One, that this is 
just a primitive, "phallic symbol" and a sign of the degeneracy or 
backwardness of Shaivism.  (Or for the hip, modern set, a sign of how 
advanced and sexually liberated Shaivism is.)

The second is that of prudes reacting to the first view who strenuously 
deny there is _any_ sexual symbolism at all. (One person I knew went as 
far as to say that the very idea was a Western plot to defame Hinduism. 
Obviously this defender of culture had never cracked open a dictionary.)

Both views are quite juvenile.  Why shouldn't sex be used as a metaphor 
for the divine?  Without an act of intercourse none of us would be here to 
argue about this.  On the other hand why should anyone who mentions 
intercourse in a symbolic way be assumed to be some kind of raving sex fiend?
Sexual symbolism in Shaiva iconography is a fact but it is not of 
overriding importance.

> 3) Why a brahmin is not supposed to cross a sea?

Many orthodox people speak against it but as you've probably noticed the 
rule is often flouted--and not just by atheists either.  Our dislike for 
see travel probably derives from the physical nature of ships.  Until 
recently they were small and crowded.  Bathing on a regular basis was 
impossible.  Food tended to be stale or spoiled.  Rats and the diseases 
they carried were rampant.  You ran the risk of being captured by pirates 
and forcibly converted to Islam.  And what about when you arrived?  Forein 
lands might be hostile to Dharma or simply make it impossible to practice.

It is only recently that travel has become safe and convenient.  One can 
argue that air travel is technically not "crossing" but that is not a 
decision I am capable of making.

I hope this answers your questions.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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