[Advaita-l] The Evolution of Advaita from Sankara till Date

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Thu May 15 03:34:09 CDT 2008

On Thu, 15 May 2008, Bhaskar YR wrote:

> But prabhuji dont you think though there is no evolution in vEdAnta
> itself, there is a considerable evolutionery changes in interpretation of
> vEdAnta??  I think, the interpretations of vEdic scriptures have been
> drastically changed from the time of gaudapAda/shankara to madhvAchArya...

I guess I can allow that there has been a shift in emphasis as the 
competition changed from buddhism,samkhya,vaishnavism etc. but the point 
is the basis of the interpretation stayed the same throughout.

> I've seen your comments on Swamy Vivekananda somany times
> earlier...prabhuji, kindly let me know why you are taking such a  tough
> stand on vivEkananda??  what makes you to think that he is not even an
> advaitin!!  I've read his work on jnAna yOga, though it is not shAstric &
> rigid in the representation of non-dual phiolosophy, I think, it is worth
> reading for those who persue jnAna mArga.  Kindly comment.

For several reasons, theoretical and practical.

On the theoretical side:

As you mention it not "shastric and rigid in the representation of 
non-dual philosophy."  That's important don't you think!

Both Vivekananda and Ramakrishna (especially the latter) were products of 
Bengali culture where the dominant religious strain is vamachari tantrik. 
The form of tantra practiced there is advaita but it is not Vedantic. 
The problem was that for Victorian era prudes, tantra was too overtly 
sexual, superstitious and overall "primitive"  Vedanta on the other hand 
both had traditional prestige and the admiration of European thinkers. 
This explains the mania to rebrand everything as 
"Vedanta"  If Ramakrishna and Vivekananda had more confidence in their own 
culture, then I don't think they would have bothered with that label.

On the practical side:

In the Indian imagination, Vivekananda is the cultural hero who defended 
the honor of Indian civilization against Western criticism and in Chicago 
took the battle directly to the enemy.  I can see how that is attractive. 
Perhaps it was even necessary and if there hadn't been a powerful 
apologist for Hinduism at that juncture we would all be Christians or 
something by now.

Does that mean Vivekananda is necessary now?  In my fathers youth one of 
the functions of the Ramakrishna mission in his non-descript part of 
Gujarat was not just to defend Hinduism (there was no one to defend it 
against in that area) but to introduce modern notions to traditionalist 
people in a palatable way.  The resident swami convinced him to study the 
upanishads but also convinced him to study English literature.  Today who 
needs a swami to explain how to be modern?  India has been independent for 
60 years. Younger generations don't feel that sense of inferiority and 
defensiveness towards the West and they are at home in modernity.  In fact 
in fields like IT, Indians are helping create the modern world.  The other 
side of this is that our traditions and texts are also more accessible 
than ever before.

The nature of the West has changed too.  It is more tolerant now and more 
familiar with other cultures.  Westerners don't need to have Hinduism 
watered down for them.  In fact they tend to insist that it is not.  Look 
at another Bengali import, ISKON.  It is much more popular in the west 
than the RK mission and that is precisely because it is _less_ 

But this change is not being propogated in the culture.  The acceptence of 
Vivekanandas synthesis has had the unfortunate effect of freezing 
"modern" Hinduism in the modernity of the 19th century.  This is the cause 
of the continuing intellectual backwardness of the majority of the Hindu 

Well I suppose these views make me one of those condescending people 
Gerald talked about :-) but I hasten to add these are my personal views. 
If someone feels they have benefitted from Vivekanandas philosophy then 
good for them.  I would just remind them that they can do better.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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