Advaita is not Idealism

Thames(Originally posted to Advaita Academy Nov 2010)

All students of advaita know that every ‘thing’ is brahman. And they know that ‘I am brahman’. It is therefore a trivial mathematical reduction to say that everything is me. But there is a danger here. Some people conclude that the world is an appearance that ‘I’ create in some way; that the world ‘is’ because I perceive it. In this way, such people claim that advaita is equivalent to the subjective idealism of the Western philosopher Berkeley, who said “to be is to be perceived” (esse est percipi). This, of course, is a denial of the separate existence of matter and this might naïvely be thought to be equivalent to the Advaitin concept of mithyA.

(Note that the word ‘ idealism’ has nothing to do with aiming for perfection, but means that things have no reality in themselves, only existing as ideas in mind.)

From the point of view of absolute reality, there is only brahman. But then there is nothing to talk about! Such a discussion is only meaningful from the standpoint of empirical reality – our everyday world. If subjective idealism were true, the world would cease to exist when we go to sleep and would have to be created anew on awakening. Berkeley got around this sort of problem by claiming that the world continues to exist because it is perceived by God. And again, one might be tempted to claim that this parallels advaita in that we claim that the world is a creation of Ishvara, rather than the individual. This is not quite the case. In advaita, objects really do exist. Ishvara is the material cause, as well as the efficient cause of the universe. The point is that the substratum of their existence is brahman alone. In the case of Berkeley, however, the objects only exist in the mind of God, as it were.

Greg Goode, who studied Berkeley for his doctorate, believes that Berkeley’s last book may well have resolved his views to match those of advaita, but there were very few copies of that book ever made and it has not been possible to confirm this.

Advaita, then, does not claim that objects have no reality separate from the subject at the level of the world. In this sense, it is a realist philosophy and not an idealist one. This is highlighted by the following very interesting analysis, which I recently came across in one of the talks by Swami Paramarthananda on the Brahma Sutra.

Our principal pramANa, or source of knowledge, is pratyakSha or perception. When we see something for the first time, we see it in the present and, as a result of the examination of its various attributes, we conclude what it is. We can call this ‘cognition’. At some time in the future, we may encounter an object. By comparing its attributes in the present with remembered attributes from the past (as retrieved from the memory), we may be forced to conclude that this object is the same one that we saw in the past. This is called ‘recognition’ – seeing the object again. This fact of recognition is effectively a refutation of idealism (which is also the philosophy of the yogachAra or vij~nAna vAda Buddhists, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism). If the object that is seen now is the same object as the one that was seen in the past, then clearly it has a real existence and is not only an appearance in mind (which might otherwise be called a figment of the imagination).

You can read a series of essays from Chittaranjan Naik on ‘A Realist View of Advaita’.

Q. 365 – Free Will and mumukShutva

Q: In your answer to Q. 12 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a2.htm#q12), you said: “At the level of appearance, yes, there is only causality to account for actions. But this does not lead to passivity. Darwinian selection naturally inculcates competition, ‘development’ and ‘progress’. And there is no escaping the fact that we feel as though we have free will. We feel good when we get what we want and bad when we don’t. All of this stuff will carry on regardless but there is no need to feel negative about it. It really is all quite amazing, isn’t it? It is all arising within you, for your enjoyment, as it were!”

 And in your answer to Q.22 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a3.htm#q22) you said: “At the level of the phenomenal, all proceeds according to cause and effect (or the laws of Ishvara if you prefer!). Also, there appears to be free will (although I have argued – and believe it to be the case – that the evidence is that there is no free will even at the level of appearance). Again, at the level of appearance, there are clearly individuals (jIva-s) and they are affected by all of the influences (including their own apparent volition) according to the cause-effect laws.”

 (My italics to highlight what triggered my question.)

 If there’s only causality to account for actions, there should be no space for free will, as all of my actions are causal. And if there is just a feeling that we have of a free will, then there is no free will. To put it in other words, if there is no free will, how can I actually do mumukShutvam (if desire also is a kind of a free will)? For intense Longing for Liberation to happen, I should be blessed with Free Will. Continue reading

Vision Of Truth (sad darshanam) – Part 20

yadIshiturvIkshaNamIkshitAram

avIkshya tanmAnasikekshaNam syAt

na drashTuranyaH paramo hi tasya

vIkshA svamUle pravilIya niShThA—22

 

yadIshituH vIkshaNam = that (which)vision of Ishvara as an object; IkshitAram = Atma, the observer; avIkshya = not recognizing; tanmAnasikekshaNam syAt = will be a mental projection; drashTuranyaH paramaH na = No supreme other than seer; hi = indeed; tasya vIkshA = his vision; svamUle niShThA = abidance in one’s own nature; pravilIya = having resolved.

 

That vision of Ishvara (as an object), which is, without recognizing the observer Atma, is only a mental projection. There indeed is no supreme other than the seer. His vision is the abidance in one’s own nature having resolved the triad.

 

As long as Ishvara is considered as an entity separate from oneself, so long misery continues. Vision of Ishvara as an object, is merely a mental projection. If one has a vision, it is something other, external to him, meaning, the form of the vision has a beginning outside of him. Hence, there is a limited form to the Ishvara seen in a vision. Such an Ishvara is finite. How is that vision of any help?

Continue reading

Translating Vedantic terms to Western seekers – Faith, God, Sin

599985_web_R_B_by_Dieter Schütz_pixelio.deThe following is blog I posted in 2011 when I was a blogger of Advaita Academy. As all of the addressed terms concern our topic of the month “belief” I am publishing it here again (with small alterations):

Faith

The word faith carries two meanings: trust and belief.

When I trust in something I meet it with confidence; even without knowing its exact nature, I assume that it will not harm me, rather that it will be beneficial to me when I expose myself to it.

When I believe in something I meet it with a conviction to be existent; I also may not know its exact nature but there is not necessarily an assumption involved that it will be beneficial to me.

Trust invites devotion – devote what? Time, energy, other resources. Devotion to what? To something assumed to be benevolent.

Belief demands submission – submit what? Any convictions, insights, reasoning or intuitions that contradict the belief. Submission to what? To something assumed to exist.

Shraddha is one of the nine virtues that should be cultivated by an aspirant to Advaita Vedanta, i.e. shraddha is considered to be one of the most essential traits someone should own when embarking on the journey to discover his/her own true Self. Usually shraddha is translated as “faith”.

Now, in the context of Advaita Vedanta it seems to be crucial that shraddha as faith is explained, understood and associated with trust and devotion, not with belief and submission of one’s own reasoning capacities. This is especially important when addressing Western seekers.

Why?

Continue reading

Review of article on Shankara by Ramakrisnan Balasubramanian

(This is a slightly modified article published here one year ago, which was improperly and incompletely posted. Ramesam had asked me to review the following article, with which I complied after much hesitation. The article is over 40 p. long and quite dense and complicated in parts – in other words, ‘academic’: for specialists only; one could add: cutting the slices so thin, that the substance is practically lost, or forgotten).

Review of ‘A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by ´Sa ˙ nkara Bhagavadp¯ada’ – by Ramakrishnan Balasubrahmanian. Continue reading

Q. 358 – mAyA and avidyA

Q:
1) If Atman is perfect, how can it ever be deluded by mAyA?

2) What is the source of avidyA? If there is only brahman, how and why does avidyA exist?

Answers are provided by: Ted, Martin, Shuka, and Dennis.

A (Ted):
1) Atman (i.e. pure limitless awareness) is never really deluded by mAyA (i.e. ignorance), but rather only apparently so.  Given the non-dual nature of reality and, thus, the fact that Brahman-Atma is the only thing — though, of course, pure awareness cannot be said to be a “thing” at all due to its attributeless and unobjectifiable nature — that exists, mAyA is nothing other than Brahman-Atma itself.  That is, it is a power inherent in the very nature of Brahman-Atma.  Ironically, if Brahman-Atma, whose nature is limitless, were limited by the inability to apparently delude itself, it would not be limitless and, therefore, would not be Brahman-Atma :-). Continue reading

Mithya, Mythology, and Metaphysics – an exchange, ll

13.5.2013

“All that now exists will die” (The goddess Erda, in Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold, 4th scene)

M: P, I have to commend you for the exacting work and research you have done on The Terrestrial Garden in such a short time. I am in substantial agreement, as you will see, with much of what you are saying, but take some exception with respect of part of the methodology (parallelisms mostly, rather than contrasts) you use, which has consequences to me either excessive or unwarranted. Also, agree that it is  “pointless to look for the single Truth in this story”. I start with some observations in the way of contrasts (rather than parallelisms or analogies): ‘unlike’, rather than ‘like’, realizing that I am not actually discovering anything new to you.
1. Mythology vs. Mithya

2. Monotheist exoterism (Moses, Old Testament) vs. Esoterism (Jesus,
New Testament)

3. Right and wrong (ethics & morality; or ‘moralism’) vs. sat-asat
(metaphysics or spiritual science)

4. (Christian) God vs. (Hindu) Ishvara

5.  a) Knowledge, empirical, religious, philosophical (‘categorial’) vs.
KNOWLEDGE (reality, realization)

5b) doctrine (theory) vs. method (practice)

1. We could consider, I think, The Garden of Eden, or Terrestrial
Garden, as a myth, like that of Prometheus, or the deeds of heroes –
as much in the East as in the West (puranas, sastras, sagas). They are
illustrative, imaginative stories applicable to man and society (or
collectivities). Not so mithya, which belongs to the spiritual or
metaphysical science of the Indian tradition exclusively, as you know
(that is, esoteric or sapiential: jñana). They (myth and mithya) are
quite different; though there is an overlap in the way we can make use
of them in order to bring out a deeper understanding of something
which may only be implicit in them. I think this is what phenomenological
analysis consists of (briefly, ‘the contents of consciousness’ – to be
elicited). Also, myth and mithya are in the same relationship as pratibhasika and vyavaharika – the first of each pair being merely illusory, subjective, imaginary. Continue reading

What is Death – part 4 (Mythology).

aesculapius2

(Asclepios or Aesculapius)

Part 3 of this essay should have ended with the clarification that the statement:  ‘there is no other transmigrant but the Lord’, is but a doctrine, even though a very high spiritual or metaphysical doctrine, and, as every doctrine, it is (only) mithya, that is, ultimately not real, not the “realest” real. It can be stultified.

During my long written dialogue with Peter Bonnici centering on the ‘terrestrial garden’, I had said: ” They (myth and mithya) are quite different, though there is an overlap in the way we can make use of either of them in order to bring out a deeper understanding of something that may only be implicit”.

Peter’s eloquent reply was: “There is definitely a difference between the two. Though, as you say, there is overlap. Everything, including language and stories and concepts and symbols come under the category of mithyā– their existence cannot be denied, their usefulness at the transactional level cannot be denied, but their absolute independent reality can be denied. They are expressions of sat-cit, pure existence-consciousness. And they ultimately resolve into sat-cit, a thorn to remove a thorn is also discarded at the end. There is only one thing that isn’t mithyā: Brahman, Reality, the Whole. So myths do have value and are not to be dismissed. The analogy given is of using the branch to locate the moon”. Continue reading

Vision Of Truth (saddarshanam) – Part 12

विद्या कथम् भाति न चेदविद्या

विद्याम् विना किम् प्रविभात्यविद्या ।

द्वयम् च कस्येति विचार्य मूल

स्वरूप निष्ठा परमार्थ विद्या ॥—१२

vidyA katham bhAti na chedavidyA

vidyAm vinA kim pravibhAtyavidyA

dvayam cha kasyeti vichArya mUla

svarUpa niShThA paramArtha vidyA—12

 

विद्या कथम् भाति = how does knowledge shine? चेदविद्या = if there is no ignorance; विद्याम् विना = without knowledge; किम् प्रविभात्यविद्या = does ignorance shine; द्वयम् कस्येति = the two; विचार्य = having enquired; मूल स्वरूप = original nature; निष्ठा = abidance; परमार्थ विद्या = knowledge that ‘I am the self’

 

If there is no ignorance, how does knowledge shine? Without knowledge, does ignorance shine? And whose are the two? Having enquired thus, abidance in the original nature is the knowledge that ‘I am Atma’.

 

Everything in the universe is in duality. When one talks of happiness, it is a relative term, relative to sorrow. With respect to sorrow, we can say there is happiness. The term happiness has no meaning in the absence of sorrow. Light is opposed to darkness. It exists since darkness also exists. No darkness implies, there is no existence for light. This is the world of opposites, the world of duality. Joy-sorrow, victory-loss, peace-agitation, like-dislike, worry-security etc are some such antithetical couples. They mutually exist because of the other and have no meaning without the other.  Continue reading

Q. 346 – brahman, Ishvara and mAyA

Q: I am not clear about the relationship between Brahman, Maya and Ishwara. Maya is said to be inherent in Brahman. Like Brahman, it is ever existent. Ishwara is said to be a product of Brahman and Maya. However, while the universe is governed by Maya, Maya does not govern Ishwara. Ishwara governs Maya although he is a product of Maya. This is confusing.

 Secondly, did Shankara deviate from the teachings of Upanishads? The invocatory verse in Ishopanishad, Purnam idam, Purnam adaha, Puranat, Purnam utpadyate seems  to indicate that this world is born out of that Brahaman. Shankara does not seem to agree with this view. According to him, the imperfect limited world cannot emerge from unlimited, perfect Brahman and the world is only an illusion created by Maya. What is the correct position? Continue reading