[Advaita-l] The attitude towards the world in the Three Schools of Vedanta

V Subrahmanian v.subrahmanian at gmail.com
Tue May 30 06:29:34 EDT 2017

The attitude towards the world in the Three Schools of Vedanta

It is well known that while Advaita holds the world to be mithyā, the other
two schools hold it to be satyam. It might follow from this that while the
attitude of advaitins towards the world is something like 'do not care
about the world, shun it, anyway it is mithya, do not engage with it', the
view of the followers of the other schools would be 'the world is real and
we should engage with it to the hilt in multiple ways.' That such a
thinking is not borne out by the facts is what is presented here by citing
a sample from the books of the three schools:

The Bhagavadgita 15.3 is taken up to illustrate the point:

न रूपमस्येह तथोपलभ्यते नान्तो न चादिर्न च सम्प्रतिष्ठा । अश्वत्थमेनं
सुविरूढमूलमसङ्गशस्त्रेण दृढेन छित्त्वा ॥ ३ ॥


The translation of the verses 15.3 and 4 would put the topic in right

15.3 The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one
can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is.
But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the
weapon of detachment. 15.4: Thereafter, one must seek that place from
which, having gone, one never returns, and for this, surrender to that
Supreme Personality of Godhead from whom everything began and from whom
everything has extended since time immemorial.

Shankara says in the BGB 15.3:

15.3 But, asya, its-of this Tree of the World which has been described;
rupam, form, as it has been presented; na, is not at all; upalabhyate,
perceived; iha, here; tatha, in that way. For, being like a dream, water in
a mirage, jugglery, an imaginary city seen in the sky, it is by nature
destroyed no sooner than it is seen. Therefore, na, there exists neither;
its antah, end, limit, termination; so also, neither; its beginning. It is
not comprehended by anyone that it comes into existence beginning from any
definite point. Its sampratistha, continuance, the middle state, too, is
not perceived by anyone. Chittva, after felling, uprooting, together with
its seeds; enam, this, above described; asvattham, Peepul, the Tree of the
World; suvirudha-mulam, whose roots (mula) are well (su) developed
(virudham); drdhena, with the strong-hardened by a resolute mind directed
towards the supreme Self, and sharpened on the stone of repeated practice
of discrimination; asanga-sastrena, sword of detachment-detachment means
turning away from the desire for progeny, wealth and the worlds; with that
sword of detachment.

Ramanuja on the same verse (translation:

Humankind is at the pinnacle, our actions form the branches extending above
and below as also its secondary roots — this form of the tree is not
understood by those immersed in Samsāra. Similarly, it is not understood
that the end [of Samsāra] can be brought about by non-attachment to
pleasures which are founded upon the Gunas. It is also not perceived that
attachment to the Gunas alone is the foundation of this tree. Nor is it
realised that this tree is nourished by ignorance (ajñanam) which is the
misconception that the body is the Self. Ignorance alone is the basis of
this tree, since in it alone the tree is established. This Aśvattha Tree is
firmly-rooted — its roots are firm and manifold, and it is to be cut down
with the strong axe of non-attachment, — namely the axe, forged by right
knowledge of non-attachment to the enjoyable sense objects composed of the
three Gunas.

Madhva on the same verse: translation from:

This ancient asvattha or banyan tree represents material existence but it
is not perceivable yet it is seen to have been established. The word adi
means beginning and anta means the end which refer to the Supreme Lord. The
Bhagavad Purana states: The Supreme Lord is the beginning, the end and the
middle as well. The Moksa Dharma states: The Supreme Lord has neither
beginning nor ending, more the demigods and seers cannot penetrate. The
compound word asanga-sastrena means the wisdom of non-attachment arising
from association with Vaisnava devotees of the Supreme Lord. With the sword
of detachment sharpened by meditation on the wisdom of renunciation. By
this method the world does not become a place of bondage. By knowledge of
the Vedic scriptures and practice the knowledge of the brahman or spiritual
substratum pervading all existence will be revealed to one. It is confirmed
in the Vedic scriptures that: Meditation verily is the way and the means
for discrnment and detachment. Such a one will not be bound although others
will. The purport is that with the weapon of detachment one should sever
ties with everything except the Supreme Lord Krishna and His authorised
avatars or divine incarnations and expansions. The Moksa Dharma states:
When on surrenders unto the Supreme Lord one does not suffer or grieve.
Neither is one born, nor does one die. Such a one is verily situated in the
brahman. Only one who has been graced by the blessing of the Supreme Lord
can be elligible to become qualified to attain this. The describibng of the
means of severing attachment have been given for the sake of an aspirant
receiving the Supreme Lord grace. No other shelter or refuge exists in all
creation other than the Supeme Lord Krishna and this fundamental
understanding must be realised. Since this material existence is like a
horse with an unstable gait it is known as unsteady. That it is immutable
is because samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death is like a
stream and endless until one achieves moksa or liberation from material
existence. This liberation is determined by detachment. The firm conviction
that the Supreme Lord is transcendental to everything in the physical
existence is the knowledge gained from the destruction of this ancient
banyan tree.

One can see that all the three schools emphasize on the need to turn away
from the world, that is worldly attachments, and keep the goal of reaching
one's true abode, mokṣa, unswerving. An ideal vedantin would therefore
realize at the earliest opportunity in life that one aught not to be overly
indulging in the world but on the contrary reduce his engagement with it as
far as possible and keep it to the minimum of sustaining his body and
sadhana. His attitude therefore is, to put in Purandara Dasa's words:
allide nammane, illiruvudu summane: My true abode is That, There, moksha;
while what is here, this world, is insubstantial.  It would be beneficial
to see what Prahlada has to say on this:

*śrī-prahrāda uvāca*

*kaumāra ācaret prājño  dharmān bhāgavatān ihadurlabhaṁ mānuṣaṁ janma** tad
apy adhruvam arthadam*
(Srimad bhagavatam 7.6.1) *śrī
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=prahradah> uvāca
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=uvaca>* — Prahlāda Mahārāja
said; *kaumāraḥ <http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=kaumarah>* —
in the tender age of childhood; *ācaret
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=acaret>* — should
practice; *prājñaḥ
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=prajnah>* — one who is
intelligent; *dharmān
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=dharman>* — occupational
duties; *bhāgavatān
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=bhagavatan>* — which are
devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead; *iha
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=iha>* — in this life;
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=durlabham>* — very rarely
obtained; *mānuṣam <http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=manusam>* —
human; *janma <http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=janma>* —
birth; *tat <http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=tat>* — that; *api
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=api>* — even; *adhruvam
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=adhruvam>* — impermanent,
temporary; *artha
<http://vedabase.com/en/synonyms-index?original=dam>* — full of meaning.

*yathā hi puruṣasyeha viṣṇoḥ pādopasarpaṇamyad eṣa sarva-bhūtānāṁ priya
ātmeśvaraḥ suhṛt*

*The human form of life affords one a chance to return home, back to
Godhead. Therefore every living entity, especially in the human form of
life, must engage in devotional service to the lotus feet of Lord Viṣṇu.
This devotional service is natural because Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme
Personality of Godhead, is the most beloved, the master of the soul, and
the well-wisher of all other living beings.*

>From this sample we can see that the scripture too, apart from strong Vedic
utterances like 'na karmaṇā, na prajayā danena, tyāgenaike amṛtatvamānaśuḥ'
(neither by action nor by progeny or wealth, only by renouncing these, some
have attained immortality), 'yatheha karmachito lokaḥ kṣīyate, evamevāmutra
puṇyachito lokaḥ kṣīyate' (just as anything achieved in this world through
action wastes away, so too that which is gained by merit, in the other
world too diminishes.' there is the clarion call to give up one's
engagement with the world at the earliest and strive for realizing one's
true abode of liberation.

If anyone is intent upon probing the world to discover its secrets, it is
only driven by his personal curiosity and not dictated by his vedantic
affiliation to this or that school. Thus, someone practicing Advaita
sadhana can very well engage in such research activity just as someone who
follows non-advaitic schools: the common motivating factor is one's quest
to know the hidden secrets of the universe. Or at best inventing those
facilities that would help mankind lead a more comfortable life, give him
relief from disease, etc. All this might fall in the category of 'Ishvara
seva through mānava seva' and help in chittashuddhi. All three know very
well that the goal of their life is detachment from the world resulting in

An excerpt from a dialogue from 'Exalting Elucidations', chapter: Śāstra
and Science' p.287 (Sri Vidyatirtha Foundation, Chennai):

Sringeri Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swamiji:  //Of course there are
many advantages that we get from science.There is no doubt at all about it.
But it is not necessary to accept what some scientists conclude through
imagination and faulty logic. At any rate, there is absolutely no rule that
just because one is a scientist, one should be an atheist. Many great
scientists were theists and even now there are many scientists who believe
in God. Thus, dedication to science does not necessitate the denial of
consciousness other than matter.//

Om Tat Sat

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