Jagat Mithya – World is an Illusion

Article and Book Extracts by Arun Kumar

Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the great master of Advaita who lived in the early part of the 8th Century said, “Brahma satya jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah”. It means Brahman (name of the Ultimate Reality) is the only truth, the world is illusory, and there is ultimately no difference between the individual Self and the Brahman.

Mithya means neither true nor false. The world cannot be false because we all clearly see and perceive it. Shankaracharya says that the world is not true either, because it is constantly changing and everything that the world has to offer is temporary, transient and impermanent.

A fine dining experience gives us joy. Try doing it continuously for a few days and one would start nauseating. A trip to a nice resort is highly relaxing. After just a few days the charm of the place wears out. Eagerly awaited vacation trip to someplace, after hectic running around and visiting various tourist sites for days, finally the heart cries “Home! Sweet Home!!” and longs for the comfort of the home.

That’s why Shankara calls this world as Mithya which means anything in this world can only give temporary happiness and not permanent happiness.

We forget the happenings in our dream very quickly. The experience we have in the waking world also we do forget but slowly over the time. This is what is conveyed by the adage “And, this too, shall pass away”. This temporariness, irrelevance, impermanence of everything related to the outer world and the similarity of the experience with the dream world is what made Shankara term the world as neither false nor real, but illusory and need not be given any importance apart from what is required practically to transact.

In saying “Jivo brahmaiva naparah”, Shankara is conveying that the realization of the individual Self, Atman, Life Energy in its purest form (without the ego) is nothing but realizing the Brahman, the Almighty Energy. The same opinion is echoed by the ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself” which is inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. These sayings assert that one learns more by studying oneself (Svadhyaya) by making the mind calm and quiet and directing the single-pointed concentration inwards.

To achieve the goal of Brahman, Shankara proposes “Sadhana Chatushtaya”, the four-fold qualifications namely; Viveka (Reasoning), Vairagya (Dispassion), Shad Sampath (Six Treasures) and Mumukshutva (Burning Desire). Shad Sampath (Six Treasures) are Sama (Control of the mind), Dama (Control of the senses), Uparathi (Internal dispassion), Titiksha (Endurance), Shraddha (Faith) and Samadhana (Focus and Concentration). More elaborate articulation on Sadhana Chatushtaya could be the topic of another article.

Now coming to the main point of writing this article. Should Sadhana Chatushtaya be used only to pursue the goal of Self-Realization, Moksha or can it be used to pursue any other goal as well? Does that mean one cannot have the ambition to achieve anything in this world just because world is Mithya?

For example, the same Shankara’s principles could be very well applied by a professional also to become a better professional and succeed in achieving the desired goals in one’s profession. Viveka means doing the necessary thinking, reasoning and meticulous planning. Vairagya means being dispassionate and disinterested in everything that is not connected with the goal. Shad Sampath is controlling the mind (Sama), controlling the action (Dama), internal dispassion towards distractions (Uparati), enduring the obstacles (Titiksha), believing or having faith and confidence in one’s abilities (Sharaddha) and having complete focus and concentration towards the goal (Samadhana). Finally, the Mumukshatva is having the burning desire to attain the goal.

According to me one idea used in one field could very well be used in another field if applicable. Arjuna in the Mahabharata was a warrior by profession. Krishna preaches Advaita through Bhagavad-Gita and does not ask him to run away, rather instills confidence in him to fight the battle valiantly to succeed, but all the time having the clear knowledge and understanding of Advaitic principles.

Vedantic literature also talks about four Ashramas that are mentioned in mentioned in Jabala Upanishad (4.1) and Yajnavalkya Upanishad (1.1). They are Brahmacharya (student life), Grihastha (household life), Vanaprastha (retired life) and Sanyasa (renounced life).

Grihastha is the married life and this stage represents most intense physical, sexual, emotional, occupational, social and material attachments. A human being is supposed to love the family, live the life cheerfully and fulfill one’s responsibilities as a parent, spouse, caretaker, breadwinner for the family, etc. Everyone is encouraged to pursue Artha (wealth) and Kama (desires) vigorously without crossing the boundaries of Dharma (righteousness). In this stage, Vedanta urges everyone to fully indulge in the world and enjoy all the worldly pleasures without violating any ethics or morality.

Swami Vivekananda concurs by saying, “Fulfill your desire for power and everything else, and after you have fulfilled the desire, will come the time when you will know that they are all very little things; but until you have fulfilled this desire, until you have passed through that activity, it is impossible for you to come to the state of calmness, serenity, and self-surrender”.

Interestingly this is exactly what Socrates says, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, urging us to indulge in the worldly things so that we can have a deep comprehension of the world, clearly understand and realize the transient and momentary happiness they provide. It was the same poverty-stricken Socrates while striding through the city’s busy central marketplace, looking at the mass of several things for sale, he would harrumph provocatively, “How many things I have no need of! “. That’s the sign of the wise who have developed Vairagya (dispassion).

Definitely, a Grihastha can fully engage with the world, accepting and discharging one’s responsibilities and at the same time be firmly grounded in Advaitic principles just like Arjuna did or king Janaka did. For such a Grihastha there comes a stage to move on to the next Ashrama which is Vanaprastha where the only responsibility or goal that remains is the pursuit of Brahman or Self-Realization.


Paragraphs in Blue font are direct extracts from my book “Pearls of Vedic Wisdom to Succeed”.

Indian readers can buy the book here.
Readers from USA can buy it here.
Readers from Europe can buy it here.

You can read more about the book at www.SentientLifeEnergy.com


15 thoughts on “Jagat Mithya – World is an Illusion

  1. The word mithyA does not mean ‘illusion’. It means that the thing is simply name and form of something more fundamental. Thus, the ring is not real in itself; it is name and form of gold. It is the gold that is real. The ring derives its existence from the gold. Similarly, when Shankara says that the world is mithyA, he does not mean that it is illusory; he means that the world derives its existence from Brahman. The world is name and form of Brahman.

    Happiness relates to the jIva and it does not make any sense to speak of ‘permanent’ in connection with the jIva, whose life is very finite. So the examples of dining and vacation do not really provide insight into the meaning of mithyA.

    As regards the similarity of dream and waking, I have dealt with this in my book ‘A-U-M’. Shankara does indeed compare the two in his commentary on Gaudapada’s kArikA. What he effectively says is that there is ‘objectification’ in both. But in his bhAShya on Brahmasutra II.ii.29, he clearly states that: the perceptions of the waking state cannot be classed with those in a dream and later: …it cannot be asserted by a man… that the perception of the waking state is false, merely on the ground that it is a perception like the perception in a dream.

    Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti is intended as necessary preparation to give mental purification (chitta shuddhi) so that the jIva is ready for shravaNa-manana with a qualified guru. If and when the seeker eventually gains Self-knowledge, the degree of prior preparation will also determine the extent to which the jIva will ‘benefit’ from that knowledge in his or her lifetime (j~nAna phalam). If full purification was gained prior to enlightenment, then the j~nAnI will also be a jIvanmukti. But Shankara’s intended purpose of the preparation is to enable the undertaking of j~nAna yoga, not for becoming more efficient in the world.

    [I emphasised ‘Shankara’ in the last sentence because these practices are also a fundamental aspect of Patanjali’s Yoga philosophy (which is dualistic). And it may well be that improvement to one’s life is one of the purposes there.]

    So, yes, one cannot deny that gaining proficiency in the fourfold qualification will also make one more proficient in worldly activities. But this was not Shankara’s intention. It is a distortion of the teaching of Advaita, for example, to suggest that shraddhA could be having ‘confidence in one’s abilities’ or that mumukShutva could be a ‘burning desire to attain the (worldly) goal’.

    This preparation is crucial. One cannot listen to the guru with a reverential attitude and a quiet, alert mind if one is in mental turmoil about some personal issue in one’s life. This is the reason for Krishna’s insistence that Arjuna sorts these out before the teaching proper can begin.

    The vyAvahArika ‘reality’ of the world persists until death of the body, so it is necessary to be able to function there. But the priorities have to be decided. If we have TRUE mumukShutva, then our aim will be to organize our lives in such a way that we are able to devote as much time as possible to gaining Self-knowledge. Successes and achievements in the mithyA world will be of little importance. Conversely, if we follow the goals of the material world, even with the heightened faculties gained through the practices, we are not going to be able to pursue mokSha.

    The Ashrama-s effectively relate to the ‘level’ of the seeker, and the yoga-s correspond with the degree of attainment. Thus, karma yoga is appropriate for the gRRihastha, upAsana yoga for the vAnaprastha and j~nAna yoga for the saMnyAsin.

    The Mundaka Upanishad (1.2) tells us about those who are still to gain the fourfold accomplishments, who ‘proudly consider themselves to be wise and knowledgeable people’ (1.2.8) and ‘do not approach shAstra or guru’ and calls them ‘ignorant fools’. The upaniShad says (1.2.9) that we cannot help such people because they are satisfied with petty pleasures of the world called dharma, kAma and artha. They think that their aim is to get money or gain security etc. and remain steeped in their Self-ignorance.

    So my ‘bottom line’ comment on the book is that it is advocating a misuse of the teaching of Advaita and completely missing its true purpose. There is no doubt that it can be effective in the way that you describe. No doubt motivation and productivity would be enhanced by a workforce able to give undivided attention to the task in hand. But, unless such an attitude is treated entirely as an exercise in karma yoga, with the aim being to gain chitta shuddhi, there will be no benefit at all for a true seeker.

    Finally, one would have to ask why one should have ambition to achieve anything in the world if is illusory…

  2. The book does not advocate to use Sadhana Chatushtaya to become proficient to attain the worldly goal and forget its main intended purpose which is to obtain Self-Realization and Moksha. The article only brings to one’s attention that Sadhana Chatushtaya is so logical and scientific that it is applicable to obtain any desired goal.

    That means different people are at different stages of spiritual evolution and each one can benefit from the principles of Advaita.

    Mithya means not real or temporary. Dennis says Mithya does not mean illusion. Shankara compares the waking state with the dream state and states that both are equivalent, though the waking state appears more real. Is dream an illusion or not? It is indeed an illusion. It is exactly the same way the statement “World is illusory” should be understood. This is just not my saying. Every single Advaita book I have read uses the same statement that the World is illusory. Other variations are the World is temporary, impermanent, fleeting, neither true nor false, etc.

    One cannot get happiness by continuously eating delectable food, continuously seeking worldly enjoyment, continuously seeking pleasure from sense organs. Only if this is clearly understood then one can understand the temporariness of the world and be able to control the mind from getting entangled with worldly attractions and focus towards attaining Moksha. They say only a king can renounce, while a beggar cannot. So if one succeeds in attaining worldly goals then one gets closer to seeking something higher. In my own case after attaining certain comfort level in life after 16 years in the Software industry, I wanted to seek something higher and the result is for the past 15 years I am deeply into studying, understanding and practicing Vedic philosophy. Buddha was a prince and all the worldly pleasures were available. It is in such a state that he could realize how little they meant and wanted to seek something higher and went after Self-Realization.

    One should not ignore my point that Krishna did not ask Arjuna to run away from the battle. Before the battle began Krishna taught Bhagavadgita to Arjuna. Only after that Arjuna fought the battle. What for? To gain back the kingdom. Is it not worldly gain? Please come clear on this. Similarly, king Janaka whose name figures in several Upanishads was a highly evolved spiritual soul. Yet he discharged his duty as a king. That is what Purusharthas advocate which is one cannot shirk from one’s responsibility. That is Dharma.

    It is not fair to accuse me of distortion. Me being a software engineer with 30 years of experience and having 6 patents have presented the Vedic philosophy in a simple and scientific manner and have never tried to distort or misguide. Just a single part of Vedic philosophy should not be taken in isolation. Along with Sadhana Chatushtaya, one should also understand Purushartha, Karma Theory, Triguna, etc. I request the readers to visit the Amazon website go to the page containing my book “Pearls of Vedic Wisdom to Succeed”, peek inside and just browse the Table of Contents. It covers a large spectrum of Advaita and any sincere enthusiast of Advaita would not be disappointed reading the book.

    If one achieves success at the worldly level then the chances become better in achieving success at the spiritual level. In Jnana Marga which demands a sharp intellect, this is the case. Knowledge in any subject such as Mathematics, Physics, Business, etc. is called Apara Vidya (material or lower knowledge) says Mundaka Upanishad (1.4 – 1.5). If one excels in Apara Vidya then one becomes Adhikari, gains eligibility to attain Para Vidya (real or higher knowledge). Thus our interaction with the world is like going to a gym. In the gym, we build our bodily muscles. By interacting with the world we build our mental muscles, obtain mental maturity so that we realize how little the worldly goals mean and go after discovering and realizing one’s true Self.

    I had held back on using one key term which is “doership”. Like Arjuna or king Janaka when one has to discharge worldly responsibilities, do it to one’s best possible capabilities but do it without the sense of “doership”. I did it, I want it kind of selfish feeling should not be there (Bhagavadgita 2.47). This is how a true Advaitan engages with the world.

  3. Hi Dennis,

    I unequivocally agree with you!

    It is a total misapprehension and false teaching of Advaita and its principles to suggest that it can be applied to worldly goals. And it is a total (and naive) misunderstanding of the structure of our civilisation and economy to believe that each of us becoming more efficient in our pursuit of personal wealth and desires is somehow beneficial.

    Shankara, Socrates, Christ, Buddha understood this centuries ago and moved about penniless.

    Unfortunately too many so-called vedantins are promoting this kind of “wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita” as corporate courses, as a great money-spinner.

    Absolute nonsense.

    Best wishes

  4. Dennis says “So, yes, one cannot deny that gaining proficiency in the fourfold qualification will also make one more proficient in worldly activities.”

    This proves the sound thinking of Shankara and the principles he advocated. If somebody learns from it and successfully achieves a professional goal what is wrong. It is only wrong if that person calls oneself as Advaitin. Having pursued a worldly goal one cannot claim to be spiritual though the principles are applicable and used.

    Whether you agree or not the converse is also true. If one succeeds in achieving a worldly goal unknowingly one would have applied the principles of Sadhana Chatustaya. That means one would have used Viveka (proper thinking), Vairagya (disinterested any kind of distractions), Shad Sampath (mind control, endurance while facing failures and obstacles) and Mumukshutva (burning desire). This is a simple fact. I do not know how to convey this more clearly than I have already done. It only proves the soundness of Shankara’s thinking, though more than thousands of years old are applicable even today to all walks of living.

    If you are completely evolved then become penniless and intense go after Moksha. If somebody is not evolved then go after Artha and Kama without crossing the boundaries of Dharma.

    I mentioned it already that Krishna did not advice Arjuna to run away from the battle. Krishna preached Bhagavadgita and instilled courage in Arjuna to fight the battle. Arjuna fought the battle for what? To get back the kingdom. Is kingdom materialistic worldly goal or not? I cannot state my question any more clearly than this. Neither Venkat nor Dennis have so far answered this question. Hope they do now.

  5. Arun,

    It is not ‘me’ saying that mithyA does not mean illusion, it is Shankara. He does not say that the waking state and dream state are equivalent, as I pointed out by the quotation from his bhAShya on the Brahmasutra. Dream is indeed prAtibhAsika but the waking state is vyAvahArika – a world of difference as far as our worldly experience is concerned. If the world is illusory, just try walking in front of the next car that drives past on the road outside. If ‘every single book you have read states that the world is illusory’, I have to say respectfully that you are reading the wrong books!

    The teaching of the Gita starts from where we are, certainly. And, as I agreed, it is necessary to resolve present problems that beset the mind before one can begin a worthwhile spiritual journey. But the objective of that journey is given in II.55:

    “When all the desires of the heart have been abandoned, and the Spirit finds joyous satisfaction in Itself (without dependence on any external factor); then is one spoken of as a person of steady wisdom.”

    The one with Self-knowledge is not dependent upon any worldly thing (3.18):

    “He has no object to gain here in this world by action. Nor does he lose anything by abstaining from action. For him, there is no dependence on any created being for any object of his.”

    Dependence on anything in the world, including ambition, success, high productivity or whatever is the source of sorrow, because it is only transient. But of course one starts off in life dependent. The child is dependent on its parents, later on its teachers and so on. Having to live within society, we have to abide by its rules and practices. So we have to keep the objective in site and work towards becoming independent. At its extreme, this means not becoming dependent on drugs etc. but it also means not getting overly attached to earning money, gaining recognition and so on.

    Desires to be secure, happy, achieve something and so on are ‘binding’ desires. These are the desires which need to be given up, not cultivated. Krishna tells Arjuna that a wise person is not bound by his or her desires (2.56):

    “The one who is not affected by adversities, who is without yearning for pleasures, and is free from longing, fear and anger, is said to be a wise person, whose knowledge stays unshaken.”

    What you are really talking about here (and presumably in your book) is the first stages of life and seeking, represented by the first and main parts of the Vedas containing all of the injunctions and rituals relating to dharma. Advaita on the other hand is concerned with the final parts – Veda-anta, containing the Upanishads and concerned with gaining Self-knowledge.

    Regarding ‘doership’, Arjuna was not yet enlightened. And, as a jIva, he was obliged to undertake those tasks that his saMskAra from previous lives had ‘ordained’ for him. This is referred to in the Gita as his svadharma. As regards the actions of a realized man such as Janaka, this is referred to as his prArabdha karma – that karma/saMskAra that was maturing in this life. On enlightenment, saMchita karma is destroyed and no new AgAmin saMskAra is created. But the prArabdha is spoken of as being like the arrow shot from a bow – it continues to its target and cannot be stopped. Accordingly, people such as Janaka, continue to perform those activities that naturally arise in their lives, but without attachment to results etc., knowing that they are not a ‘doer-enjoyer’.

    Finally, I do not agree with your interpretations of the elements of sAdhana chatuShTaya. The principal applicability of viveka is to differentiate Atma from anAtma or nitya from anitya. vairAgya is primarily not to be distracted by all of the supposedly desirable things of life. Gita 2.53 says:

    “When your mind is no longer distracted by the Vedas (veda pUrva, not anta), it will remain steady, firmly established in the Self. Then you will gain Self-knowledge.

    Stillness and control of the mind is so that our attention is not caught by objects of attraction, leading to attachment and then to desire followed by all the negative emotions that arise when we are unable to obtain the objects. Gita 2.57 says:

    “The mind that follows the wandering senses indeed robs the person of his knowledge…”

    uparati is specifically to turn the mind and senses inwards, AWAY from worldly objects. And titikShA is to ensure that we are not tempted back again.

    A mumukShu is, by definition, one who desires mokSha – liberation from worldly existence and transmigration. It is certainly not reasonable to claim that mumukShutva could be taken as wanting to operate more efficiently in the world.

    Accordingly, a correct, Advaitic understanding of chatuShTaya sampatti could never interpret them as being appropriate for someone seeking advancement in the material world.

    Best wishes,

  6. Arun

    I think Dennis has responded to your questions well. For my part, I will take a diversion.

    Society is constructed, if you hadn’t seen it already, on hierarchy and greed. There is nothing right or `god-ordained’ about the current structure of societal relationships, to suggest that its is right to work within its parameters. As it is, the development of the West has been built on slavery and exploitation of resources of the rest of the world. A few brown-skinned people have managed to get into the higher echelons of the global 1%, and they quickly take on all the trappings and delusions of their former masters.

    We believe we live in a ‘democracy’ but actually the people in charge are in the pockets of the rich, because that is how they are funded. You say you work as a software engineer – take a look at how Amazon and Apple exploit its workers, whilst the CEOs earn exorbitant amounts. The fact the you believe you can apply Advaita methodology to get ahead in this societal construct means that you don’t really understand the Advaitic philosophy or from whence it has arisen, nor have you thought enough about what what is right action in a world built on greed. ( You might want to start with Krishnamurti).

    Arguing that you can be more efficient in achieving your personal goals, betrays a lack of penetrative insight into the most fundamental point of Advaita: that ‘you’ and the next person are not two. In that context, right action is for the whole and not for the individual. THAT is worth Bhagavad Gita teaches. When Arjuna is asked to fight, it is to right a wrong: the greed of their cousins, even if that means killing those who are nearest and dearest. And when BG unequivocally advocates desireless action, and action for the good of the world, how you can interpret that to mean pursue personal worldly goals is beyond credulity.

    That is why Sankara advocated renunciation – because nothing can come out of the pursuit of personal advancement in an illusory world. THAT is the meaning of Sankara’s “illusory” – the goals that family / society have brainwashed us into pursuing and whole-heartedly believing in.

    I’m afraid you understand neither capitalism nor Advaita.

  7. Lot of thing you are accusing me of is not my stand at all. You are forcibly trying to put words in my mouth.

    I see that you mentioned, “When Arjuna is asked to fight, it is to right a wrong: the greed of their cousins, even if that means killing those who are nearest and dearest.” You said Arjuna fighting the battle and gaining back the kingdom should not be interpreted as worldly goals.

    Good. At least I am able to extract this statement from you. That is exactly my stand too. But unlike you, I do not want to deny that getting back the kingdom is a materialistic objective. But if the same deed is done not for selfish reasons but as a duty, to establish the dharma, to be useful to the society, without a sense of doership then it is very much in the spirit of Advaita. This is what Purusharta is all about. This is what I have written in the book.

    The very purpose of practicing Advaita is to become a better human being. If one is evolved then one gets relieved from Samsara which is the bondage. Then one attains Individual Peace. Once the Individual Peace is attained one becomes eligible to contribute towards Loka Kshema, Sarve Jano Sukhino Bhavantu meaning Global Peace or Global Wellbeing. When Advaita is clearly understood and practiced then one starts seeing Oneness in everybody (Bhagavad-Gita 7.7).

    This is exactly the main theme of the book and this is what I have written. Without reading the book if you accuse me of trying to misguide and forcibly put words in my mouth it is not fair.

    I do not think it is right to assume yourself to be self-proclaimed masters of Advaita and trying to unilaterally judge me “I’m afraid you understand neither capitalism nor Advaita”.

    In your answers, I see your timidity to accept that Kingdom is a materialistic object. Arjuna did battle to gain back the kingdom. So one can discharge the duties and responsibilities in this materialistic world and still be firmly grounded in Advaitic principles.

    As this is a public blog post I am confident that people will be able to judge. So we can debate unabated.

  8. Hi Dennis,

    Sometimes translation is misleading. Mithya and Maya are used interchangeably and the word Maya is translated as illusion. Also, you should not pick just one word and make it as a point of argument.

    For example, in the article, I had also mentioned “Mithya means neither true nor false. The world cannot be false because we all clearly see and perceive it. Shankaracharya says that the world is not true either, because it is constantly changing and everything that the world has to offer is temporary, transient and impermanent.”

    Now if you read that probably there may not be any point of contention. It is very common to use the word “illusion” but one has to be careful in understanding and comprehend it correctly. I am providing links to several websites that I was able to search in Google. I invite you to please visit each one them and search for the word “illusion”. You will be able to appreciate how common it is to state Jagat Mithya in English as World is an Illusion. Do not worry too much about the contents in the sites. Here are the links.


    Now coming back to the main point of the debate you say that it is utterly wrong to use the principles of Sadhana Chatustaya to pursue worldly goals. My position is it is nothing wrong. But it would be heresy if one pursues worldly goals and proclaims as Advaitin.

    in my own personal experience in the first 15 years of my career I had established myself as a successful software professional and several of the products and components I had developed were successfully sold and used worldwide. Then later when I started studying Vedic literature when I understood Sadhana Chatushtaya I was awed to notice that how unknowingly I had followed exactly the same principles to churn out successful software.

    Viveka means reasoning, understanding, thinking, comprehending and grasping.
    Vairagya means completely disinterested in innumerous present in this world that can act as distraction from pursuing the desired goal.
    Shad Sampath – I just want mention here as disciplined effort, enduring and not giving up
    Mumukshutva is intense yearning to reach the goal.

    If that has been the experience then according to you should I not be mentioning it that these solid principles help in achieving professional goals also. As I already mentioned it would be heresy if one claims as Advaitin but applied the same principles to succeed in Samsaric life. Such people may not be ready yet to pursue Moksha but still stuck in mundane Samsara. Are you saying then Advaitic principles should not be used by such people?

    Here is a quote from Swami Vivekananda – “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success”.

    If Mumukshutva has to be explained in a sentence then nobody can do a better job than the above quote. If you understand it clearly it is advocating extreme Vairagya, astute Viveka and intense discipline. Basically, the quote embodies the principles of Sadhana Chatushtaya.

    So if a sincere seeker reads the quote then he gets motivated to progress towards the goal which is Moksha. If a professional reads the quote then he gets motivated towards his professional goal. Similarly, it is applicable to anybody to attain any desired goal.

    Swami Vivekananda is an undisputed, one of the greatest Vedantin and Advaitin of modern times. Then why would he give such an adivise? Was he wrong in saying so?

    Await your response.

    Best Wishes

  9. Arun

    The whole point of your article is the pursuit of PERSONAL goals, not selfless goals. It is just another bit of cheap self-help career advice just like so much verbiage that is written in “management” articles these days.

    Quote from your original article:
    Should Sadhana Chatushtaya be used only to pursue the goal of Self-Realization, Moksha or can it be used to pursue any other goal as well? Does that mean one cannot have the ambition to achieve anything in this world just because world is Mithya?
    For example, the same Shankara’s principles could be very well applied by a professional also to become a better professional and succeed in achieving the desired goals in one’s profession.

    I repeat, Arjuna’s fight was not for materialistic ends (“the fruits of action” – equivalent to your personal / materialistic goals – which Krishna urges him to renounce / ignore) but for the good of society. In the very first act of Krishna’s advice he says:

    BG 2.49: “Work impelled by the desire for the fruit is indeed far inferior . . .Pitiful are those impelled by the desire for the fruits of works”

    [Pray tell: how is desire for the fruits of works different from your having materialistic goals???]

    You grossly misrepresent / misunderstand Vivekanada who advised nothing but the same:
    “The essential thing is renunciation. Without renunciation none can pour out his whole heart in working for others. The man of renunciation sees all with an equal eye and devotes himself to the service of all”.

    As you do Socrates:
    “I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet . . . Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honour [ie materialistic goals], and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of the soul? And if any of you disputes this and professes to care about these things . . . I shall question him and examine him and test him . . . and if he appears that in spite of his profession he has made no real progress towards goodness, I shall reprove him for neglecting what is of supreme importance and giving attention to trivialities. I shall do this to everyone that I meet, young or old.”
    [Note: he does not discriminate between young or old, ie experienced or inexperienced]

    Ramana Maharishi summed it up well:
    “Prarabddha is of three categories ichha (personally desired), anichha (without desire) and parechha (due to others’ desire). For him who has realised the Self, there is no ichha prarabddha. The two others remain. Whatever he does is for others only”.

    You will no doubt object that this is for a jnani. But do you really think the Maharishi or Krishna or Sankara would advocate the pursuit of materialistic goals as a Sadhana? Really??? If that is the case you may wish to reflect on:

    BG 2.53: You will win this supreme Yoga when your intellect bewildered by Veic texts becomes firm and unwavering in concentration.
    Shankara: ‘Bewildered by Vedic texts’ refers to the intellect distracted by the manifold directions of the Vedic texts. These elucidate the links between various ends and means, involving activities and abstention therefrom.

  10. Hi Arun,

    You are correct, translations can sometimes be misleading. I am referring to Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary for my understanding; what source are you using? I have been studying Advaita, and writing books on the subject, for well over 20 years, and have a library of over 1000 books. I assure you that mithyA and mAyA do NOT mean the same. The former relates to the ontological state of the world, the latter to the supposed ‘power’ used by Brahman to create the world. Neither can be translated as ‘illusion’. I do not dispute that many sources may translate either or both in this way but they are WRONG. (You should also bear in mind the key methodology of Advaita – adhyAropa-apavAda. Advaita may teach one thing to beginners, take this back and teach something more subtle to later students. In the end, everything has to be taken back of course.)

    I did not ‘pick one word’ to challenge. I queried your interpretation of mithyA, viveka, vairAgya, titikShA and uparati as I recall. But I was also suggesting that you had fundamentally misunderstood the message of the Gita.

    What I am principally disputing is your claim that the tools specifically advocated for purifying the mind can (and should) be used for obtaining personal advancement in the world. This is like suggesting that you should use a specially designed and expensive surgical scalpel to open a can of baked beans.

    Finally, Swami Vivekananda is not ‘undisputedly’, one of the greatest Vedantins and Advaitins of modern times. He was certainly very knowledgeable, enlightened, and probably more responsible for introducing Advaita to the Western world than anyone else. However, his teaching is not pure, traditional Advaita. It is called neo-Vedanta, and one of its failings is to intermix the teaching of the dualistic Yoga philosophy. This means that a naïve seeker may often derive an incorrect understanding from what he said. I did mention in my first comment that maybe Yoga did advocate using these practices in everyday life. What you say seems to imply that this may be true. But, if so, it has nothing to do with Advaita.

    Best wishes,

  11. Arun

    I’ve just read your response to Dennis and your superficial, oft-quoted Vivekandana’s “Take up one idea”.

    Vivekanada was a great Vedantin and you abuse his memory and advice. The quote is a concluding comment from a longer article on raja yoga which advises on not being distracted by external worldly perceptions (do you just google inspiring quotes and not read the context?):


    A man, to prove that he is not a machine, must demonstrate that he is under the control of nothing. This controlling of the mind, and not allowing it to join itself to the centres, is Pratyahara. How is this practised? It is a tremendous work, not to be done in a day. Only after a patient, continuous struggle for years can we succeed . . .

    The Yogi must always practice. He should try to live alone; the companionship of different sorts of people distracts the mind; he should not speak much, because to speak distracts the mind; not work much, because too much work distracts the mind; the mind cannot be controlled after a whole day’s hard work. One observing the above rules becomes a Yogi. Such is the power of Yoga that even the least of it will bring a great amount of benefit. It will not hurt anyone, but will benefit everyone . . .

    First hear, then understand, and then, leaving all distractions, shut your minds to outside influences, and devote yourselves to developing the truth within you . . .

    Those who really want to be Yogis must give up, once for all, this nibbling at things.
    TAKE UP ONE IDEA. MAKE THAT ONE IDEA YOUR LIFE — THINK OF IT, DREAM OF IT, LIVE ON THAT IDEA. LET THE BRAIN, MUSCLES, NERVES, EVERY PART OF YOUR BODY, BE FULL OF THAT IDEA, AND JUST LEAVE EVERY OTHER IDEA ALONE. THIS IS THE WAY TO SUCCESS, AND THIS IS THE WAY GREAT SPIRITUAL GIANTS ARE PRODUCED . . . those who want to go to the highest, must avoid all company, good or bad. Practise hard; whether you live or die does not matter. You have to plunge in and work, without thinking of the result. If you are brave enough, in six months you will be a perfect Yogi.


    Swami Vivekananda was a great Vedantin. Please do not take him out of context.

  12. Looks like all the three of us were writing at the same time all of us posted our replied in a span of 15 minutes. In my next reply, I shall consider the new points you have made.

  13. Hi Arun,

    You referenced Mundaka Upanishad 1.1.4 in respect of one who “excels in Apara Vidya then one becomes Adhikari, gains eligibility to attain Para Vidya”. Shankara’s comment on this mantra is that “even though apara vidyA is taught in the beginning as a stepping stone, it should be later totally negated revealing its limitations, and be condemned… He strongly condemns apara vidyA as avidyA (ignorance, not knowledge at all)”

    Mundaka 1.2.12 points out that “one should have vairAgya towards apara vidyA. The person following karma yoga examines all the material goals and thereby gets the first qualification, called viveka, the discriminative knowledge that all material goals are finite in nature. The second line talks about vairAgya, dispassion towards materialistic goals as a consequence of viveka. The third line talks about mumukShutva, that is the person with vairAgya seeking mokSha and approaching a guru for it.”

    (Quotations from The muNDaka Upanishad with Shankara bhASya compiled by divyaj~nAna sarojini varadarAjan.)

    Best wishes,

  14. Venkat, I feel you have done overkill with your arguments and quotationsd and have been unkind and unfair to Arun Kumar, to the extent of using what comes quite close to an extended ad hominem argument. Here are some examples:

    ‘The whole point of your article is the pursuit of PERSONAL goals, not selfless goals. It is just another bit of cheap self-help career advice just like so much verbiage that is written in “management” articles these days… Arguing that you can be more efficient in achieving your personal goals, betrays a lack of penetrating insight into the most fundamental point of Advaita… I am afraid you understand neither capitalism nor Advaita’.

    Isn’t that too much? The debate should center only on arguments, not on observations, opinions, or remarks of a personal nature. This is what I think. Martin.

  15. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for drawing our attention to this. I have criticised others for ad hominem arguments in the past so would not want to be thought to be condoning this. My reading of it was that Venkat was just getting a bit over-heated because he feels strongly about this and I guess I let it go because I sympathise with him on this. I myself was effectively ‘evicted’ from my managing role at Advaita Academy on precisely this issue – I refused to promote an article that was clearly using the Gita for management/ commercial gain. I only accepted the article for publication on the understanding that I would be publically disagreeing with it.

    So your point is justified, and we must apologise to Arun for this – we will have to exercise greater restraint in future! But also let us not be too hard on Venkat for defending the principles of Advaita!

    Best wishes,

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