Shad Darshan – Vedanta philosophies:
Kevala Advaita philosophy of Adi Shankaracharya
Many sub-philosophies have been developed under the heading of Vedanta (Uttara Mimamsa) philosophy – the philosophies based on Prasthan Trayi, since the beginning of the Common Era. Out of them one is the Advait Vedanta philosophy of Shankaracharya.
Advait philosophy of Shankaracharya:
Advait philosophy is given by Adi Shankaracharya (788 CE-821 CE?). “Advait” means “not two” or “non dual”. The word “Advait” doesn’t mean “one”. It is different than Monism, because Monism is defined little differently. As against Sankhya philosophy, the Advaita philosophy believes that Purush (soul) and Prakruti (nature) are one and same as Brahm. It is because of Maya, avidyā, or agnān (ignorance or illusion) that they look different. According to this philosophy, there exists only one reality called Brahm. “Sarvam khalv idam brahm” (Chhāndogya Upanishad: 3.14.1) Meaning, “All that we see in the world is Brahm.” Everything, what we see, feel, observe, and experience is revelation of attributeless “nirgun,” formless “nirakar” Brahm. The real meaning of nirgun, nirakar is “without any worldly trigunatmak form”. This material world is merely an illusion or untrue, meaning, it is destructible, changeable but not the permanent truth. The root cause of all the ignorance, called “Avidyā” or “Maya”, is the belief that this material world is real or the truth. The ultimate liberation comes when one establishes unity of one’s individual soul with the universal soul or Brahm by solidifying one’s knowledge (gyan) that, “Aham Brahmāsmi” (Brahadaranyaka Upanishad: 1.4.10) meaning, “I am Brahm” and “Tat tvam asi” (Chhandogya Upanishad: 6.8.7) meaning, “You are that (Brahm).” It is true that one can identify one’s soul with Brahm, because both are described to be having similar characteristics in the scriptures. When Shankaracharya said everything is Brahm, he meant it. He had a vision to see everything as Brahm or filled with Brahm, just as a scientist sees everything as well organized structures made just of atoms or quarks. Just as everything in the nature is quarks or atoms in the eyes of scientists, everything was Brahm in the eyes of Shankaracharya. If we see this object is mine and that is yours, this object is prettier and that object is ugly, if we have partiality for some and impartiality for others then we haven’t reach that stage. According to the Advait philosophy of Shankaracharya, soul is Brahm, the Nature or Prakruti (the Creation) is Brahm, and the Creator of the Creation is also Brahm. In that way Advait philosophy is a kind of Monism. Advaitists believe that the whole universe is evolved from Brahm or God. For some these changes in Brahm are real, while, for others these changes or differentiations in Brahm are only apparent or superficial and not real. Advaitists believe that individual souls are created by Maya, in reality they are one with the Brahm. The removal of the veil of ignorance (Maya) makes this truth clear – the state being known as “Jivanmukti” (the living freedom). Shankaracharya’s path is generally known as the Path of Knowledge or “Gyān or Gnān Mārg.” In Vedanta philosophy there was no worshiping of Brahm, but still worshiping of God was there. God was considered Brahm. In Shankaracharya’s period, most of his followers were Brahmins and Brahmins were “shaivites” or “shaivas” meaning they worshiped Shiv (Shankar or Mahesh) as the Supreme Being or God. Shankaracharya himself was the devotee and firm believer of Shiv. So he continued that practice. In Rigved, the word Rudra is used for Shiva. Rudra is described as the last son of Brahmā. (Kurma Puran: 1.10.21,22; Linga Puran: 1.41,42,43; Shiva Puran: 7.1.12. 31, 32; Bhagwat Puran: 3.12.6-10; Skanda Puran: 5.1.2. 24-26; Mahabharat: 1.60.1-4) The same Rudra is described to be born of Prajāpati in the previous kalpa (eon or age of universe). Currently, Vedanta and Shankaracharya’s philosophy has mostly become synonymous.
There is also somewhat different philosophy than the Vedanta philosophy of Shankaracharya, which is known as “Shushka (sushka) Vedanta.” Shushka means dry, baseless, or bijless (nirbij, bij means seed or the essence). The followers of Shushka Vedanta or modern Vedantis, unlike followers of Vedanta philosophy of Shankaracharya, do not believe in or worship (bhakti) any God at all nor do they believe in many of His divine forms, and His abode, thinking that after becoming one with the Brahm, one need not worship or bow down to any God. They become so arrogant that they no longer have fear committing any seen. They do not even believe in any scripture-described moral or do’s and don’ts called “Vidhinishedh”. They only believe in nirakar nirgun Brahm, which itself has assumed the form of all mobile and immobile objects. Shushka Vedantis forget the controversy created by their own belief that along with jiv and all mobile and immobile objects of the universe Brahm also has to undergo births and deaths. Their own liberation thus is refuted by their own beliefs. Shushka Vedantis are those who think themselves as Brahm having still harboring lust, anger, greed, infatuation, jealousy, ego, etc and without even having attained the highest status of Brahm. They forget that Shankaracharya had truly attained the highest brahmanized state, he himself had become one with the Brahm, and he was surely and meaningfully seeing the whole creation as one, before saying the same to the others. So, Shankaracharya’s Advait Vedanta theory is widely accepted but the kind of understanding that is seen in Sushka Vedanta is largely condemned by the main stream Hinduism. Just by saying, “I am Brahm” or believing to be Brahm one cannot be like Brahm, by completely knowing about Brahm from the scriptures also one cannot be like Brahm, but by achieving or cultivating all the qualities of Brahm one can be like Brahm. Shankaracharya had truly become one with the Brahm.
If one tries to understand the form of God through Advaita Vedanta philosophy only, then God is realized as formless or abstract (nirākār) because of His description as nirgun (without any worldly mayik qualities or attributes), sarva-vyāpak (all-pervading), and sarva-kāran (cause of all). But not as having the “eternally forever divine form” (sadā divya sākār) as opposed to the any worldly form with which God’s form cannot be compared. Secondly we cannot realize that divine form of God that listens to us, talks to us, watch us, answers to our prayers, forgives us, gives us pleasure and joy, and accepts our services and devotion (navadhā bhakti). How God can talk and listen to us person-to-person, if He is not in person and we are in person and if He is formless and we are having form? If He can take any form in Nature, He sure can take the human form.