The Journey of Advaita elucidates the richness, depth and profundity of Advaitic thought right from Vedas to Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo and further how it is being incorporated in modern science.
Advaita Philosophy is not a later development of thought as one of the six systems of Indian philosophy. Vedas are replete with suggestions about Unity. The earlier stage of naturalistic and anthropomorphic polytheism yielded to monistic belief. In the dictum, ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti we perceive an echo of Unity. Upanisadic seers picked up this Unity and tirelessly went in their search till they came to the highest conclusion, tat tvam asi.
This concept of Unity gets its full bloom in Sankara's Kevaladvaita: later on it gave inspiration to different rivulets of Vedanta schools. Sankara's unqualified impersonal Brahman could not satisfy those who sought loving communion with God. Consequently different schools of Bhakti- Vedanta came into existence, namely, Visistadvaita of Ramanuja, Dvaita of Madhva, Dvaitadvaita of Nimbarka and Suddhadvaita of Vallabha. For all of them the emphasis is on the liberation of individual soul only, which gave way to Sri Aurobindo's Integral Advaitism where the emphasis is not only on spiritualization of man but of the whole cosmos.
The journey continues further with modern physics. Consciousness is the building block of the Universe and the ground of all beings, which can't be found in plural.
Dr Priti Sinha retired as the Head, Department of Philosophy, Vasanta College, Banaras Hindu University after twenty-eight years of service. An alumnus of the university, she holds a doctorate and postgraduate degrees, both in Philosophy as well as Religion and Philosophy. She has been recognized for her work in several national and international seminars. An accomplished musician, Dr Sinha has the distinction of choreographing dance dramas, human puppetry and designing costumes for stage plays, especially historical dramas.
The present work, The Journey of Advaita, intends to elucidate the profundity of Advaitic philosophy which is but the most exquisite philosophical tradition of India. Vedantists by their significant contribution have enriched the area of Indian philosophy with their understanding of the mystery of human life, the dimension of human existence and its destiny.
Advaita Vedanta is not a later development of thought as one of the six systems of Indian philosophy. Right from the Vedic period Indian philosophical thought has exhibited its Advaitic strand. The general belief is that there is polytheism and not monism in Veda as Vedic [$is worshipped different gods and goddesses in anticipation to get their prayer rewarded in the form of material benefits, but in the Vedic dictum, ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti, we can find a spiritual prevision of Advaita philosophy too. There is incessant flow of Advaitic thought right from the dawn of civilization. Yes, sometimes it is in disguised form.
There was echo of unity in some of the hymns of Vedas, Upanisads picked up this echo and sought to realize this unity amidst diversity by meditation and spiritual experiences; hence in Upanisads there is shifting of this centre from the outer to the inner. Since the world is an emanation and not creation of God there is no duality between the creator and the creation. The identity of Brahman with the universe resolves all duality. In Upanisads atman too is Brahman in the sense of identity and not in the sense of community. In the journey from Vedic philosophy to Upanisadic philosophy there is a distinct sign of transformation from God to self, from prayer to philosophy, from polytheism to monotheistic mysticism which worked as foundation of later Advaita. In Upanisadic philosophy we find a first sketch of Advaita philosophy, Sankara's Advaita is only a growth of the Advaitic strands found in Upanisads in a very logical and systematic way.
Sankara the most precious gem of Indian philosophical thought, illumined with his logical acumen the firmament of Advaita which lulled the erudite scholars for centuries to come. The galaxy of Advaitic authors like Suresvaracarya, Vacaspati Misra and Citsukhacarya contributed immensely to make the roots of Advaita strong but it could not serve as a solace for those who had a tender heart and not a strong rational mind. They looked for emotional appeasement where bhakti was more acceptable than jnana. Ramanuja's Visistadvaita, Madhva's Dvaita, Nimbarka's Dvaitadvaita and Suddhadvaita of Vallabhacarya sought to satisfy the aspirant religious soul which aspires loving communion with God. As a result Bhakti-Vedanta came into existence which served as a transitional link between Kevaladvaita of Sankara and Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo which is said to be "the Vedanta of tomorrow". Bhakti-Vedanta does not cancel the world as maya as it is creation of God. His creatorship is not incompatible with His Absoluteness. Sri Aurobindo goes even further; he presents an integral approach, "a dynamic truth vision". His Integral Advaita reconciles the becoming of the world with the being of God. As the manifestation of Brahman the world is divine in nature. Both being and becoming are real. In onward march of evolution, the lower is not to be rejected as Sankara thinks, but to be uplifted. Sri Aurobindo thinks for the salvation of the whole universe and not only of human being. What the ancient seers said in mystic way is being accepted by the modern scientists also. Modern physics has not refuted Advaita philosophy rather it has revitalized it. It is also taking Advaitic stand when it accepts that matter is a kind of non-material energy. "The fact of matter is that it is no longer a fact." Modern science believes that the Universe is a field of energy, any material cannot be the cause of the Universe and "the input of human consciousness cannot any longer be ignored". It is consciousness and not matter which is the building block of the Universe, the ground of all beings. All things - mass and energy - are no longer antithetical. Like Sankara they too accept that the spatio-temporal world can never be final. "There is something ineffable about the real", which is to be explored by intuition and not by reason. Albert Einstein says: "I can never like a work if it cannot be intuitively grasped." There is no ontological absolute reality in quantum particles. The rhythm of the world consists in the unity of unity and diversity. Quantum physics has allowed us to enter into the era where metaphysics and philosophy are no longer antithetical. It can be happily said: "The earliest formula of wisdom promises to be the last."
My book is an effort to elucidate the journey of Advaita philosophy right from the Vedas, Upanisads, Bhakti-Vedanta to that of Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo, and that it doesn't end here but its philosophy is being increasingly advocated and explored by modern science too.
This book will be incomplete without recording my gratitude to my mentor late Dr K.N. Mishra who finetuned my understanding of Advaita philosophy. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Dr Vashishtha Narain Tripathi (Former HOD, Kashi Vidyapeeth) for his relentless encouragement and help. My heartfelt appreciation and thanks to Dr Ashish Pandey for his constant support without which this book wouldn't have seen the light of day. In the last to my daughters Shriti, Shriya and Saumya, whose love and support ensured me enough time to indulge in my writing.
With my limited knowledge, this effort of mine is like an oblation in the jnana yajna. I request all the enlightened scholars to overlook the shortcomings if any.
ADVAITA is not only a philosophical discourse but a vision: a vision of spiritual experience which takes into its fold philosophical illumination as well as moral exaltation. Reality is not only to be thought of but to be lived, a person has to become one with it. The focus of Advaita is on immanent potency and infinite possibility of human soul. There is no numerological calculation in its domain. The reality is one and only one. It includes both matter and spirit, both being and becoming.
Many persons generally believe that Vedic philosophy is mainly polytheistic in character. They ignore the fact that different gods and goddesses in Rgveda are worshipped not only in their individual capacity but as manifestations of the ultimate Reality; that behind gods and goddesses there is a pronounced unity. Even monotheism failed to satisfy their inquisitive mind. Their questioning mind started thinking in terms of kasmai devaya havisa vidhema. And in their search they came to the neutral term which exceeds all monotheism. In Nasadiya hymns we get the picture of speculative monism of highest order, tad ekam. In later period all divinities were conglomerated in one supreme reality. Thus the urge to visualize the Ultimate God is distinctly perceptible in Vedas. It is said that Rgveda is the 1/ original storehouse of Indian Idealism where there is substantial message of unity in germinal form".
In the journey from Vedic philosophy to Upanisadic philosophy, there is a transfer of interest from God to self, from prayer to philosophy. There is continuity of thought running from God to self, from Samhitas, Brahmanas and Aranyakas to Upanisads. The more they walked, the more they realized the unity of self with Brahman. Upanisadic seers picked up monistic suggestions from Vedic hymns and strengthened them into the philosophy of Advaita. The interest was transformed from the outer to the inner. God is to be realized in the inner recesses of one's heart, one has not to seek God but to see Him. The ultimate question for the Upanisadic seers was, what is that by knowing which everything is known, and their search for reality endlessly goes till they come to the ultimate conclusion tat tvam asi which assures us that we have the capacity to b come Divine. The reality is both the essence of cosmic phenomena as well as psychological self. It is not to be rationally understood but intuitively realized, they realize the truth by direct awareness.
Although all the later systems of philosophy derive their thought also from Upanisads, Advaita Vedanta is entirely based on them. The concept of self is the special legacy of Upanisad to later systems. Ekam sad gets proper explanation in bequeathed Upanisadic philosophy. Upanisads were never compiled as treaty, they are only records of the inner experience of the seers received by intuition. They are the first recorded experience of the seers at a systematic and rational philosophizing. Badarayana, Sankara and later Vedantists introduced an order by giving them a more systematic shape. Upanisads adhered to this continuity but at the same time they gave fillip to new schools of thought. The mystic hedges of Upanisads give rise to different suggestions taken by later systems but Vedanta is entirely based on them where unity is more important than duality.
In this way the caravan of Advaita Vedanta went incessantly flowing through different schools of Bhakti-Vedanta setting its full height in Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo.
For Sankara, the real is one and indubitable. By real he means that which is present in all times, kalatraya-sattavat. The empirical world is not trikala satya as its reality will be sublated by the knowledge of unity. As only gold is real and not the ornament, only Brahman is real. Moreover, an eternal thing cannot have a beginning.' For him granting reality to the world will mean to accept fundamental dualism which is a false metaphysics. He sticks to Advaitism and follows it in every sphere.
Atman is verily Brahman. Brahman realization means self- realization. Sankara stands pledged to the doctrine of oneness. Liberation is another name of cosmic expansion of self (sarvatma bhava). The identity of self is not only bare identity, it is identical with Brahman in all its fullness (purnatva) and in all its richness of contents. "It is perception by aiman, in aiman and of aiman, aimana atmani, atmanam" Sankara never promises liberation on the other side of the grave. It can be realized here and now, the only need is to see him but not to seek him.
He built Advaita doctrine on the firm foundation of Srutis. He accepts that Brahman can be realized through revelation but intellect is not looked down upon; rather it is kept as an ancillary to revelation on vital metaphysical principle. When he asserts that intellect is insecure it is kutarka he is condemning. Reasoning for him was both offence and defence against his opponents and at the same time it was helpful in interpreting the scriptures which was his great passion. He constantly defends Sruti with reason. He provides a rational foundation to the great doctrine of Vedanta. The genius of Sankara gave final shape to Advaita though the background was created long ago. After Sankara, the great theistic Vedantists, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka and Vallabha rose against the concept of Nirguna-Brahman. Rather they attempt a harmonious synthesis of Absolutism with personal theism as what they want is a personal relation with Saguna Brahman. Since bhakti for them is the chief source of mukti, they need personal relationship with God. The world as a creation of God can't be rejected.
In the Visistadvaita of Ramanuja, unity is qualified by diversity. Soul and matter are His attributes, Cidacidvisista Brahman is the absolute Supreme Reality while the world is His tnsesana. He accepts the world as anitya and not false. Dependence does not mean the unreality. Brahman manifests himself both in cit and acit. For Him the world is too great and meaningful to be lightly dismissed as product of avidva.
Brahma Sutras (77)
Yoga Vasistha (81)
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