[Advaita-l] Question I
Siva Senani Nori
sivasenani at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 19 06:37:01 CDT 2010
Dear Sri Mandal
Since you have read the complete works of Swami Vivekananda, I must say you are
quite an advanced learner. So, I hope the following makes sense to you.
My understanding is like this:
The Vedas give us true knowledge; they teach that Brahman and self are the same.
As support the four mahAvAkyas are sufficient proof. I will come to them
shortly. First, a bit about the Vedas. Indian philosophy has what are knows as
shad-darSanas, six philosophies. These are usually paired as sA~Nkhya-yoga;
nyAya-vaiSeshika; and pUrvamImAmsA-uttaramImAmsA (or vedanta, or advaita-vedanta
if you wish to distinguish between dvaita and viSishTAdvaita vedAnta).
Of these six, three do not admit of ISvara, or God. They are called
nirISvaravAdas. Quite different from these are the nAstikamatas of Bauddha,
Jaina and ChArvAka, which do not believe in the authority of Veda. The three
nirISvaramatas are sA~Nkhya, yoga and mImAmsA (pUrvamImAmsA) set about answering
the fundamental questions that confront a philosopher and when they found that
they can be answered quite satisfactorily without introducing an ISvara, they
let that be.
Many say that it is the naiyAyikas who proved the existence of God by logic.
This is in the background of Buddhist philosophy which has no place for God. For
a period of 1,000 to 1,500 years, the Buddhist philosophy and argumentation
seemed much sounder, at any rate more sophisticated, than that of the
sanAtanadharma (what is called Hinduism today) to many. It is said that the
great naiyAyika UdayanAchArya proved the existence of God in his book called the
nyAyakusumA~njali (I have not yet studied this, so I can't give more
information). There is also a popular verse which UdayanAchArya is supposed to
have composed when he was denied entrance to the Jagannath temple in Puri, where
he tell the God, JagannAtha "You have become arrogant [and close the doors to
me] but remember that your very existence is due to me!".
Even the other three which believe in ISvara give the logic why it should be
so. Amongst all these, the reasoning behind Advaita seems soundest to many. This
is why Vivekananda so proudly proclaimed that if any religion can stand the test
of religion, it is advaita.
The point that I try to make is that the existence of God was a question which
was to be logically answered according to our ancestors. Yet, they seemed to
have no problem in accepting the Veda as an authority. This might seem as naive
to somebody in the present times, but this belief in Veda is the bedrock of the
claim of advaita-vedAnta to be the revealer of the Truth. If you can believe in
the prAmANyata of Veda, there are more than a hundred texts in Sanskrit - many
of them translated into English and other languages - which show why Sankara's
teaching - or slight variants or some additions thereof - is the correct
interpretation of the Veda, and therefore the Truth.
If you do not have faith (the best word for that in Indian languages is SraddhA)
in the Vedas, then you should refer to the modern texts, what are often referred
to - with varying degrees of disapproval - as neo-vedanta, for proof of
advaita's validity. The purport of these texts (this is strictly second hand
knowledge, I have not even read Vivekananda, a neo-Vedantin according to some,
fully) is that the teaching of advaita can be established without resorting to
the Veda. One of the most preferred methods of this school is the
avasthAtrayaparIkshA. This examines what happens when one is awake, in dreamful
sleep and deep dreamless sleep and logically concludes that there ought to be a
fourth state which is the sub-stratum (the base on which the other three states
stand). Then further logic establishes that this fourth or turIyA state is the
same as Brahman. Once the identity of Brahman and self is established, the world
can only be explained as a temporary, ephemeral (impermanent, fleeting like a
bubble) phenomenon. Since that alone which exists in past, in present, and in
future is defined as real, the ephemeral world is unreal, or "an illusion".
The older texts quote four mahAvAkyas - 1. praj~nAnam brahma, 2. ayam AtmA
brahma, 3. tat tvam asi and 4. aham brahmAsmi from the four Vedas, which state
in clear plain language that the self and Brahman are the same. These are
revealed in the Upanishads. The ten upanishads commentated upon by
bhagavatpAda AdiSan~NkarAchArya are the basis, the text book if you will, of
advaita-vedAnta. To continue the metaphor, a criticism of these is the
BrahmasUtras - the aphorisms which teach Brahman. These were composed by the
great teacher bAdarAyaNa (held to be the same rishi who divided the Vedas, wrote
the Mahabharata and the Puranas) and commentated upon by Sri Sankara. This is
called a criticism because it resolves apparent conflicts amongst the Upanishads
(which are intuitive rather than logical) and otherwise expand upon and explain
the text. They are like the books of Criticism on Shakespeare (these collect far
more space on library racks than the collected works of Shakespeare!) that you
find, which are not the original text but which explain and expand upon the main
text. Then there is a case study - a situation in real life where one is
required to apply the knowledge contained in these texts. When Arjuna was called
upon to kill his cousins, relatives, family and friends, he got confused and the
Lord helped him apply the knowledge contained in the Vedas properly by teaching
the Gita. This was in turn commentated upon by Sri Sankara. These three -
commentaries on the ten Upanishads, BrahmasUtras and Bhagavadgita - together
form the prasthAnatraya. The three major variants of Vedanta have equivalents of
this prasthAnatraya. There are 22 commentaries on the BrahmasUtras. In all the
schools there are super-commentaries, glosses or other texts which explain and
expand the prasthAnatrayI texts. Since these texts have grown so much in bulk,
there are other shorter texts called prakaraNa granthas which explain the
teachings of Vedanta in a short concise manner. The purport of all these texts
is that Veda says Brahman and Self are the same (or not according to the school
of thought the author believes in), and therefore everything else follows.
In both the older and newer texts, you will find the answer to your question,
depending on whether you have faith in Vedas or not.
It is very useful to consider the means of truth of the nirISvara schools. They
all accept Sruti/Sabda/AptavAkya as a valid means of
knowledge. The sA~NkhyakArikas say, one who speaks the truth is an Apta. Their
logic is that somebody who knows the truth and who wishes you well, would not
mislead you. One's father qualifies as a well-wisher, though he might not be
knowledgeable; but his father could be knowledgeable; or his father; and so no,
all our ancestors. So, following this school of thought, my belief in
Advaita-vedanta is provisional till I think I know better than all my ancestors.
The ancestors include not merely my forefathers, but all the rishis and all the
great authors. The day I can truthfully claim that I know better than all of
them, I will believe what I deduced from logic; till then, I will take AptavAkya
as a valid means of knowledge, and so believe in AdvaitavedAnta. This is not
idle talk; one great achArya, SrimanmadhvAchArya, started by learning Advaita,
but he reached a state of knowledge where he believed that all earlier AchAryas
were wrong and so gave his own interpretation which came to be known as the
Madhvamatam or Dvaita. I come from a family which believes in Vedas and Advaita
and so till I reach such exalted heights, I try to study and understand advaita
as per my capacity.
As an aside, to me knowing the Truth is not the issue; internalising the Truth
or what to do after knowing the Truth is the issue. Let me walk you through with
a) Suppose advaita-vedAnta is correct, and nothing else. So you and I are
Brahman, the same. Since both of us are same, all the money in my bank (not
much, but still) ought to be yours. And, I ought to have no problem in
transferring it to you. Can I do it? Till I can't, I am not really living the
Truth. Or is there something that I am missing? I dont know.
b) ViSishTAdvaita is correct. They say Sri Ramanuja shouted from a rooftop, the
charama Sloka or the ultimate teaching, which is the Sloka "sarva dharmAn
parityajya..." of the Gita. This teaching says, I ought to let go of everything
and surrender totally to Lord Sri Krishna, but I am unable to do it. I ought to
immerse myself totally in devotion to Lord Sri Krishna, but the situation is
that I quite enjoy a Sehwag or a Laxam or a Sachin innings (and so many other
things besides these)! I do not doubt the validity of this Sloka one bit, but I
am not able to do it. Either I am an idiot or I don't internalise the Truth. I
am still figuring out.
When you stop bothering about the Big Truth and look at what various schools say
is the route to this Big Truth, it turns out to be largely the same (except that
of the CharvAka school). A one road leading to many cities! That route is the
ashTAnga yoga, the eight-fold path of Buddhists, the dharmAchAra of both
mImAmsakas and so on. It requires that your head rule over your heart, otherwise
known as indriya-vinigraha. This seems to be a far more profitable and practical
goal to focus on, because greatness in any field - sports, business, politics,
scholarship etc. - seems to come to those with this indriya-vinigraha. If you
want an example, look at the similar beginnings and contrasting progress of the
careers of Vinod Kambli and Sachin Tendulkar.
Phew!, that was long. Wishing you all the best in your efforts
N. Siva Senani
(Male, 39, Hyderabad, India, married, two kids, with a working knowledge of
I am new to the realm of Vedanta. I have studied the basics. But as a beginner,
I have many questions. One of the most fundamental questions that I have is:
Why should I believe the Adavaita Vedanta philosophy over any other
philosophy/religion? What evidence does Advaita have to back up its claims?
Grateful if you could answer my question as thorougly as possible.
My background -- I am 16 yrs old. Most of my Vendata "knowledge" consists of
reading the Gospel of Ramakrishna, and Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, and
a few articles on the Divine Life Society site. (My knowledge is very limited).
However, I have studied Christianity, especially, fundamentalist evangelical
Christianity for several years formally (My school has mandatory Bible courses).
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From: Roshan Mandal <roshanmandal at yahoo.com>
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Sent: Tue, October 19, 2010 1:28:29 AM
Subject: [Advaita-l] Question I
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