Advaita Vedanta refers to the path of spiritual experience and discipline and is a Hindu Sadhana. The meaning of the term is derived from two words – Advaita (meaning “not two” in Sanskrit) and Vedanta (meaning “knowledge end” or “knowledge goal”).
Advaita Vedanta Meaning
The ultimate meaning of Advaita Vedanta means “nondualism”, meaning that Brahman is the only real thing in this world and everything else is Maya (or an illusory appearance) of Brahman.
Advaita Vedanta Book
The principal books of Advaita Vedanta are the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita. These books highlight the doctrines of not just Brahman and Atman but also their changeless nature.
The interpretation of all the books was provided by Adi Shankara through his commentaries.
There are many medieval and ancient manuscripts that have accepted the Advaita Vedanta philosophy as a part of the tradition.
However, commentaries (Bhashya) provided by Adi Shankara have become one of the most important texts for the same.
Advaita Vedanta Philosophy
The Advaita Vedanta philosophy, as derived from the Upanishads, and elaborated by ancient scholars like Sri Gaudapada and Sri Adi Shankara, is based on the lines of nonduality.
“Advaita” means the non-existence of duality between the object and the subject.
According to the Advaita school, there exists only Brahman. Everything else is a mere illusion, formation, projection, or appearance.
One of the simplest examples for defining the Advaita Vedanta philosophy is seeing a snake in the rope that is lying in a dark room.
While the rope is the reality, the snake is a mere illusion. Similarly, the outside world is a mere formation while the True Self is the reality.
The Atman, according to the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, does not have any existence of its own. It is only the reflection and a projection of Brahman in each being.
A jiva experiences duality and separation as it is a deluded soul that comes with lots of desires, egoism, and other impurities.
The jiva experiences duality and separation as it is bounded by the cycles of births and deaths and continues to be on that path until it achieves liberation.
While the world we live in is like a mirage, Brahman is real.
Because of the activities of the senses and the mind, we are able to experience the outside world. Also, as we depend entirely on the outside world, we are not able to fully experience Brahman, which is the reality.
Once the experiences of the outside world are fully withdrawn and are made silent using renunciation, purity, and detachment, the supreme self-hidden or Brahman can be seen. It is only then one will be liberated.
As per the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, an enlightened guru who has knowledge about Brahman and the scriptures is important for anyone seeking salvation.
Advaita Vedanta Vivekananda
According to Swami Vivekananda, the concept of Advaita Vedanta is about ‘universal oneness’ and not about ‘universal brotherhood’.
Vivekananda also asserts that the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta does not oppose anything, but it also stresses that one should not give up truths or compromise on anything that is considered fundamental.
The above assertion by Vivekananda gains importance as ‘universal brotherhood’ is highlighted more in the philosophical and religious circles as compared to ‘universal oneness’.
According to Vivekananda, the wrong assertion is mainly because of the ignorance of people in seeking the truth surrounding the ‘eternal freedom of the soul’ and the ‘oneness of existence.
Incidentally, this is the same as preached by the Advaita Vedanta. The spiritual truth, as depicted in Advaita Vedanta, lies in the sense of equality, which is the heart and soul of universal brotherhood.
The lack of ‘universal oneness’ is the chief reason why the world is witnessing increasing disparities and conflicts among people belonging to different nationalities, religions, and races.
All this is happening despite the massive improvements we are witnessing in the field of science and technology.
Advaita Vedanta Shankaracharya
The Advaita Vedanta philosophy of Shankaracharya is based on the principal books of Hindus – the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, and the Upanishad.
As per the philosophy, everything in this world is unreal, except for the Absolute or the Brahman.
Shankaracharya’s Brahman is Nirakara (formless), Nirguna (without attributes or gunas), impersonal, Nirvisesha (devoid of special characteristics), Akarta (non-agent), eternal, and immutable.
The Brahman is beyond all desires and needs. Also, according to Shankaracharya, the world is not an illusion but a product of Avidya or Maya.
The Brahman is seen as a changing world, thanks to Maya. Ignorance or Avidya is the main reason why people feel the world is superimposed on Brahman.
Maya seizes to exist when you gain eternal knowledge.
Advaita Vedanta Simplified
The Advaita Vedanta simplified version highlights the non-dualistic concept of truth in which Brahman is regarded as the ultimate.
The Brahman is above the creator or God and is the ultimate truth. The beliefs of Advaita Vedanta are derived from the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, and the Upanishad.
The concept of Advaita Vedanta, in its simplified version, indicates the highest level of spiritual manifestation an individual can attain.
A sub-school in the Vedanta tradition, Dvaita Vedanta is also referred to as Tattvavada. It basically means making arguments from a realistic point of view.
Founded by Madhvacharya, a 13th-century saint, the Dvaita Vedanta philosophical concept believes that there exist independent realities – the jivatman (individual souls) and the God.
While Narayana (Vishnu) is independent, all souls are dependent on him.
The Dvaita Vedanta school is different from the other two major Vedanta schools of the Advaita Vedanta, as proposed by Adi Shankara and Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja.
While the Advaita Vedanta school propagates nondualism (consideration of Atman or the human soul and Brahman or the ultimate reality) as identical, the Vishishtadvaita school believes that the human soul and Brahman are different.
However, the school also believes in the possibility of the Brahman and the human soul being identical.
One of the most popular schools of the Vedanta school, Vishishtadvaita believes in the concept of non-duality. To put it in simple words, Vishishtadvaita advocates Brahman as the lone Supreme Reality.
Brahman is indicated as qualified non-dualism or qualified monism or attributive monism.
Vishishtadvaita is a school of Vedanta philosophy that believes in diversity whilst absorbing the underlying unity.
The proponent of Vishishtadvaita, Ramanuja, contends that the three courses of the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita are to be understood by all in a way that reflects unity in diversity. Else, it would mean the violation of the consistency of the three courses.
What is the concept of Advaita Vedanta?
Some of the important concepts of Advaita Vedanta are given below:
Sadhana Chatushtayam –Refers to the four elements that are important for spiritual practice and liberation. If you want to achieve salvation, then these qualifications need to be cultivated.
A] Ihamutraartha phala bhoga viraga – Showing disinterest in enjoying the results of one’s actions and objects now and later.
This quality will put an end to the karmic cycle of formation and continuation.
B] Nityanitya vastu viveka – The quality that shows the discrimination between what is temporary (anitya) and what is eternal (nitya).
In the absence of this quality, there is surety of delusion.
C] Mumukhatva – Seeking salvation intensely. When an individual does good karma in the past, this quality arises.
According to the Bhagavad-Gita, a person will develop a strong sense of salvation only after experiencing several cycles of births. The person then seeks the salvation path.
D] Sama adi satka sampatti – This indicates the qualities like sraddha (faith and sincerity), titiksha (quietness), sama (controlling internal sense organs), dama (controlling external sense organs), and samadhana.
These qualities are essential for the possession of sattva and self-transformation. Without these qualities, one cannot be freed from impurities like delusion, attachments, and egoism.
Pramanas – These refer to the standards that are useful in seeking valid knowledge, truth, and the right knowledge.
Because of the duality prevailing in the world, it is difficult to figure out the right knowledge that is required for ascertaining the truth and for seeking salvation.
The Advaita Vedanta concept highlights six Pramanas – three of which were proposed by Adi Shankara and the rest by his followers. The six Pramanas are as given below:
1] Anumana – This refers to speculative knowledge that is connected to belief or supposition. It is the knowledge that is achieved through inference.
2] Pratyaksha – It is knowledge that is achieved through perception. This knowledge can be experienced either in deeper states of consciousness or through the senses.
3] Arthapatti – This refers to the hypothetical knowledge that is gained by developing meaningful assumptions made using previous experience and common sense.
4] Upamana – This relational knowledge is gained by means of comparison, contrast, and analogy.
5] Agama – It is knowledge that is gained by studying scriptures. Agama is also called pure theoretical knowledge.
6] Anupalabdhi – It refers to the knowledge obtained through negation.
Two forms of causation are recognized in Advaita Vedanta – the instrumental cause and the material cause.
According to the Advaita Vedanta concept, Brahman is both the instrumental and material cause of creation.
To put it in simple words, Brahman comprises both material and energy as well as will and direction. Both of these are required for manifesting worlds, beings, and things.
Also, Brahman refers to the combination of Self (Purusha) and Nature (Prakriti).
This concept is different from the Hindu philosophy that is propagated by other schools that believe that nature or Prakriti is the material cause and Brahman is the instrumental cause.
Who is God in Advaita Vedanta?
According to Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is the absolute, supreme, and eternal reality. Brahman is the only stable, true, and permanent reality.
In all the realms of creation, Brahman who is the hidden reality is considered an individual self. The Advaita school believes that there doesn’t any difference between God and Brahman.
The Brahman experiences non-duality when it overcomes its veiling. In his absolute state, Brahman doesn’t have attributes and qualities.
However, we refer to him as Ishwara in our relative state as he is perceived to have some attributes. In reality, Ishwara is considered a reflection or an effect of Brahman and not the cause.
Who is the Founder of Advaita Vedanta?
Advaita Vedanta doesn’t have a single founder. It is believed that the Advaita philosophy is deeply rooted in the Upanishads.
The credit for founding Advaita Vedanta does not go to any historical personality as per the Advaita tradition. However, many consider Adi Shankara the most important teacher of Advaita Vedanta.
Adi Shankara provided a firm footing for Advaita Vedanta and produced several commentaries, in addition to the existing scriptural texts.
Prior to the works and efforts of Adi Shankara, the traditions prescribed in Advaita Vedanta were used to pass on to others only through oral instructions.
Another important acharya whose contribution is immense to the Advaita Vedanta tradition is the guru of Adi Shankara, Sri Gaudapada.
The explanatory extensions (Karikas) provided by Sri Gaudapada are extremely important in the Advaita tradition.
The extensions provided in the Madukhya Upanishad highlight how the world can be seen as unreal, just like the world that is full of dreams.
What Does Advaita Vedanta say about God?
According to Advaita Vedanta, God is nothing but a ‘Brahman’. The word ‘Brahman’ means unlimited or vast.
To put it in simple words, Brahman means eternal, which is not limited by time. Also, according to Advaita Vedanta, Brahman exists everywhere, as it is not limited by space.
Brahman is also not attached to a particular form or name, which means Brahman is everything and anything.
Advaita Vedanta implies that God or Brahman should be present in everything and should be there right now and right here.
Commentaries of Adi Shankara also equate Brahman with Ishwara, the originator of the universe.
The comparison between the Brahmana and Ishwara is because the latter possess the same qualities of Brahman, which are omnipotence, sarvashaktitva, omniscience, and sarvajnatva.
The concept of Ishwara, Apara Brahman, and Para Brahman, as endorsed by Adi Shankara is beautifully summed up by Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati.
According to Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati, Ishwara, Apara Brahman, and Para Brahman are all same as Higher Brahman, especially when the comparison is based on reality.
And when the comparison is made like an object of meditation, Ishwara, Apara Brahman, and Para Brahman are the same as Lower Brahman.
The above distinction is allowed only from the thought process of the student of Vedanta. As such, there is no difference from the Brahman itself.