Advaita Vedanta

The Advaitin understanding requires one to import foreign ideas into the sastra, notions brought to the text that are not found anywhere in the scripture itself. The foremost example of this is Sankara’s notion of saguna Brahman as a provisional manifestation of the Absolute that he inserts in his commentary on Vedanta-sutra (1.1.17) and unceremoniously identifies Krsna with in his Gita Bhasya.

Contrary to the Advaitan position, Vedanta-sutra (1.1.10) states, gati-samanyat: “Saguna Brahman is not taught anywhere in the Vedas, which consistently describe only nirguna Brahman.”

Sankara’s argument is the lens through which he looks at all the scriptural references glorifying the form of God and devotion to it. It appears first in his highly interpretive explanation of Vedanta-sutra 1.1.17. This sutra appears in a section in which Brahman is described as having qualities. It begins with the statement anandamayo ’bhyasat, “Brahman is joyful” (Vs. 1.1.12). Sutra 1.1.13 states that Brahman is not made of joy (a creation), but rather possessed of an abundance of joy. Evidence for this is offered in 1.1.14, which states that since Brahman is designated elsewhere as the cause of joy (Taittiriya Upanisad 2.7) he must be full of joy. Sutra 1.1.15 states that the scripture of joy (Taittiriya Upanisad) also celebrates Brahman as being joyful. Following this sutra in 1.1.16, that which is Brahman and joyful is distinguished from the individual soul. The Brahman who is joyful is also described in the scripture as being the creator. Thus it is Brahman who is described as joyful and not the individual soul, for only Brahman is described as possessing the ability to create the world. Sutra 1.1.17 then states that the individual soul and Brahman are declared to be different, bheda-vyapadesac ca. Even Sankara himself admits that sutras 1.1.16–17 concern the difference between Brahman and the individual soul. However, Sankara adds his own comment, declaring that the difference only exists on a lower level of reality (vyavaharic), whereas in ultimate reality (paramarthic) this illusion of difference ceases to exist. However, nowhere in Vedanta-sutra is there any reference to Sankara’s two levels of reality and thus two levels of Brahman—a provisional manifestation of the Absolute (Krsna, the avatara, isvara, etc.) and an ultimate reality (unmanifest, indeterminate Brahman).

Thus Sankara has attached his own doctrine to the sutras. In this doctrine he calls his provisional manifestation of Brahman “saguna Brahman,” Brahman with material adjuncts. The form of Krsna as saguna Brahman is thus considered a manifestation of Brahman constituted of the material quality of sattva that serves the purpose of helping individual souls realize the illusion of their individuality, at which time the form and person of the avatara is dispensed with as the enlightened realizes himself to be Brahman. This idea has no basis in the sutras and thus nowhere in the Upanisads.

The svarupa of the jiva is described in the Visnu Purana thus:

“The atma is not inert matter, it is immutable, and not simply awareness. It is self aware and self luminous. It is uniform and thus delimited, dwells in its own nature, it is conscious, all pervading within the body, it is knowledge and bliss, it is possessed of the sense of ‘I am,’ it is individual in that each atma is different from the atma in another body, it is indivisible, and eternally pure. Furthermore, it is an apprehender, agent, and experiencer, and its nature is to be eternally related with the Paramatma.”

The jivatma is not Brahman and cannot become Brahman, but it can identify with Brahman in Brahma sayujya if it so desires and if it is blessed by bhakti. But it is better to identify with Krsna in prema and enter his eternal lila, where the jivatma will attain a spiritual body, as described in the 4th Adhyaya of Vedanta-sutra. And the jivas are not many through the power of maya-sakti. The sutras explain that the One becomes many out of lila: lokavat tu lila kaivalyam. This is not the function of maya-sakti. It is the will of the Purusa who stands above maya.

As you can see, we Vaisnvavas have our own understanding of sastra. Thus we do not subscribe to the Advaitin understanding. Here we follow Sri Caitanya. We are bhaktas.

Krsna is not influenced by maya-sakti. His lila is the influence of his own svarupa-sakti. It is a drama of his own invention for sport that includes an appearance of death.

Tattva-sandarbha address, Part 1

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Part 1 of a talk on “Tattva-sandarbha:Jiva Goswami’s Philosophy of Ecstasy” given in the summer of 1996. The author was invited by Gaia, one of the leading spiritual bookstores on the West coast, to discuss his new title. The talk was given to a rapt, overflow audience of Berkeley students, intellectuals and seekers.[/box]

We yearn for unity, but we also yearn for diversity. So if we move from one polar opposite to the other, is this uncommon knowledge? To deny diversity in the name of unity is a shallow idea of unity. In musical terminology, we see harmony. What is harmony? Is it one note? No, it is many notes. The more notes that are harmonized, the better. It is one song, but it is full of many notes. So, systems of thought, like Adwaita Vedanta, say that relative to this one note, you and I, we are all that thing and that’s the end of the story. Jiva Gosvami says, that’s true, we are that, but there’s a whole lot more to the story. And this more makes for a truth that is inherently beautiful, a truth that we can live in and easily embrace.

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