Vedanta (meaning “end of the Vedas”) is one of a number of schools of Indian philosophy which is derived from the Upanishads, which are the final writings of the Vedas, the ancient sacred writings of Hindu philosophy. Advaita Vedanta subscribes to a philosophy of non-dualism, which means that there is no separate god or supreme being to whom we must prostrate ourselves and strive for the favor of; there is no master architect of the universe by whom we were all created, which is an example of dualism. Instead, we are all one—all thoughts, all deeds, all emotions, and all beings. This philosophy is considered a type of monism, or “oneness”.
History of Advaita Vedanta
It is estimated by scholars of Hindu philosophy that the Advaita Vedanta was written sometime between the 3rd and 7th centuries BCE, depending on what historical evidence you are using to determine their origins. Shankara, who is said to be an incarnation of the Hindu god, Shiva, is considered by most to be the founder of the movement of Advaita Vedanta, and having learned the principles of the movement from his guru, Govinda, resuscitated what had become a floundering interest in Hindu philosophies by traveling throughout India and teaching all he encountered about Advaita Vedanta. Govinda’s guru was Guadapada, whose interpretations of the last part of the Upanishads described a world in which there is no physical reality—every part of our existence, apart from our Selves, is an illusion. In his Commentary on the Mandukya Upanishads, Guadapada writes, “As dream and illusion or a castle in the air are seen (to be unreal), so this whole universe is seen by those who are wise in Vedanta.” This is called his theory of “no origination”, or “ajātivāda”, and it is upon this interpretation that the Advaita Vedanta Movement is based. While Guadapada promoted the ideas of Advaita Vedanta, he passed on his philosophy to Govinda, who in turn became the guru to Adi Shankara. It was Shankara’s dedication to sharing the philosophy of the Advaita Vedanta which, some assert, changed the face of Hinduism completely, and it was at that point that the philosophy of non-dualism came into particular focus. It has been said that, if not for Shankara’s relentless evangelization of Advaita Vedanta from the north to the south of India, putting the focus back on the Vedas, present-day Hinduism, as well as many offshoots of it, would look quite different. Deepak Chopra gives some additional information about Adi Shankara and the philosophies he promoted in this brief video: https://youtu.be/APRyKM8J0f0.
In order to understand the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, it is imperative to first understand the meaning of Brahman. A Vedic-Sanskrit word, Brahman is described in the Upanishads as “truth-consciousness-bliss”. It is the term used to describe the all-encompassing reality which lies within each one of us and in every part of this world. Also described as what connects every one of us to the other, it has been called the “eternal truth”. It is everything and everywhere. Adi Shankara describes it thusly: “Brahman is the only truth, the world is illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self.”, and it is in this brief sentence we glean an understanding of the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta. British philosopher, Alan Watts, who played a significant role in advancing Eastern philosophies in the West, describes Brahman further here: https://youtu.be/sf1ER-h96H4.
Planes of Existence in Advaita Vedanta
Adi Shankara argued that there was much more to our existence than the physical world (what we could see, hear, feel, taste, and touch). He purported that there were actually three planes of existence: the plane of worldly (or empirical) existence (vyavaharika satta), the plane of illusory existence (pratibhāsika satta), and the plane of absolute existence (paramarthika satta). These planes represent the different levels of being, or existence, that we move through in our lives. The plane of worldly existence is all that we experience physically through the senses, and it is the one that most of humanity generally views as “real”. Another plane of existence often experienced, according to Shankara, is the plane of illusory existence. This plane refers to those moments when we, using the example cited in a work about Advaita Vedanta by the 18th-century religious scholar, Thachil, we see a stick on the ground and momentarily view it is a snake. The moment itself happened, and so did our perception of it, but there was no snake. This plane of existence is sometimes looped in with the third plane of existence, which is called absolute existence. Also termed “transcendental reality” and “ultimate reality”, this plane of existence is affiliated with Brahman and is considered the highest reality one can experience.
The Four Goals of Human Existence
The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta advocates for the espousal of four goals for all of humanity. This is called, “Puruṣārtha”, a Sanskrit word for “object of human pursuit” or “purpose of human being”. While the pursuit of all four goals is important, there are varying degrees of importance for the objectives, with “Moksha” ranking the highest. You can check out this short video to learn more about the four objectives of Puruṣārtha: https://youtu.be/D2t8DsOYh_0.
The four goals are as follows:
DHARMA—This is associated with abidance by a moral and virtuous code of behavior. It is striving for dharma which allows all beings to coexist in peace and amicability. Dharma is also associated with maintaining a focus on one’s personal strengths and contributing to the world in accordance with those strengths, which maximizes their benefaction.
ARTHA—The goal of artha is to ensure one is making efforts to achieve personal success with an emphasis on financial security. The objective of the pursuit of wealth may seem counterintuitive to spiritual satisfaction, but the goal is to avoid being dependent on others, as doing so ends up restricting one’s personal freedom.
KAMA—This concept, named after Kama, the Hindu god of love, involves enjoying life’s pleasures. Pleasure, being specific to each individual, may be physical or emotional (or both). It can mean simply enjoying the sounds of the ocean or attending an opera. It may be enjoying the company (physically and/or otherwise) of another human being. It’s important to note that activities which impede one’s pursuit of the other goals of dharma, artha, and moksha are not considered conducive to the quest for Kama.
MOKSHA—Also called “Mukti”, moksha is considered the ultimate goal: the achievement of enlightenment. Reaching the goal of moksha results in our liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth through which we all move, also called “samsara”. It also signifies that you have come into a state of oneness with Brahman, and it was described this way by Adi Shankara in his commentary, Upadesasahasri:
“I am other than name, form and action.
My nature is ever free!
I am Self, the supreme unconditioned Brahman.
I am pure Awareness, always non-dual.”
Avidya and Maya, Obstacles to Moksha
In Advaita Vedanta, achieving moksha is only possible when all avidya, a Sanskrit word meaning “spiritual ignorance”, has been removed from one’s atman, or soul. When avidya is still present, we have no choice but to continue our samsara, repeating the state of death and rebirth over and over again. Another concept which prevents our arrival at ultimate self-realization is “maya”, a word which in later Vedic texts refers to the worldly and/or illusory reality that most of us experience as real as opposed to the ultimate or absolute existence which is associated with Brahman. Maya, defined as something which is a trick or illusion, prevents us from arriving at our goal of moksha. Without overcoming one’s attachment to the worldly and illusory planes of existence, we will be prevented from achieving moksha and ultimately becoming a jivanmukta, or someone who has achieved the state of liberation or self-realization during his life on earth.
Becoming a Jivanmukta
The concept of Jivanmukta is sometimes compared to a person who has reached a state of enlightenment, as in Buddhism. In the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, achieving the title of Jivanmukta means that you have fulfilled the goal of moksha in your life and have become liberated while you are still alive and on earth. It describes a person who has attained complete connection with Brahman and has arrived at a total realization of the Self. The cares of the world are no longer theirs, and thoughts or feelings of jealousy, emotional pain, revenge, anger, impatience, fear or a desire for appreciation have dissipated. The Jivanmukta is one who is Brahman: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; one with the universe and with his own Self.
Advaita Vedanta Today
There are many seekers of spiritual enlightenment who continue to pursue their goal through adhering to the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, although many find it a difficult school of thought to both follow and understand. This video by Jason Gregory: https://youtu.be/v_1zuPI_my4 gives an excellent summary of how Advaita Vedanta influences modern-day spirituality, and how we can increase our understanding of its principles, enabling us to achieve our own spiritual fulfillment and become jivanmuktas ourselves, truly liberated from all suffering, while remaining in this world.
© 2017 5th Dimensional Quantum Healing & Awareness by Author: Roisin Herrera