Glimpses of Vedanta Part---2

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Glimpses of Vedanta
By S. N. Sastri

1. Introduction to Advaita Vedanta
2. Mind is the key to happiness
3. Bondage and Liberation are only in the Mind
4. Means To Self-realisation
5. Anatomy of Bhakti
6. Gitacharya and Gopijanavallabha
7. Vishayananda to Brahmananda

The essence of Advaita Vedanta

The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta has attracted intellectuals from all parts of the world because of the fact that it adheres to the strict rules of logic and does not demand blind faith or unquestioning acceptance. The student of Vedanta is asked to examine and think for himself before accepting the teachings of the Guru. But he must start with an open mind, a genuine desire to understand and an attitude of respect towards the scriptures. We find in the upanishads that the student frankly puts his doubts and objections to the Guru and the Guru very patiently clarifies his doubts and answers his objections. The upanishads are not for the intellectually indolent. There is a very important place for reason in Vedanta. The fundamental principle of Vedanta is that the final testimony of truth is actual spiritual experience. This makes it a very scientific system and therefore acceptable to intellectuals of the present day who swear by reason and the scientific method.

Dr. T.M.P.Mahadevan, the great Vedantic scholar, says in his book 'Ramana Maharshi and His Philosophy of Existence'-- "We believe that Advaita is not a sectarian doctrine. It is the culmination of all doctrines, the crown of all views. Though other views may imagine themselves to be opposed to Advaita, Advaita is opposed to none. As Gaudapada, a pre-Sankara teacher of Advaita, says, Advaita has no quarrel with any system of philosophy. While the pluralistic world-views may be in conflict with one another, Advaita is not opposed to any of them. It recognises the measure of truth that there is in each of them; but only, that truth is not the whole. Hostility arises out of partial vision. When the whole truth is realised, there can be no hostility. (Mandukya Karika, III. 17 & 18; IV. 5)".

The essence of Advaita has been stated by Sri Sankara in half a verse thus:-- Brahman is the only Reality, the universe has only apparent reality, and the individual self is non-different from Brahman.

Brahman is the only Reality. 'Reality' is defined as that which does not undergo any change at any time. By this test, Brahman, which is absolutely changeless and eternal, is alone real. The world keeps on changing all the time and so it cannot be considered as real. At the same time, we cannot dismiss it as unreal, because it is actually experienced by us. The example of a rope being mistaken for a snake in dim light is used to explain this. The snake so seen produces the same reaction, such as fear and trembling of the limbs, as a real snake would. It cannot therefore be said to be totally unreal. At the same time, on examination with the help of a lamp it is found that the snake never existed and that the rope alone was there all the time. The snake cannot be described as both real and unreal, because these two contradictory qualities cannot exist in the same substance. It must therefore be said that the snake is neither real nor unreal. Such an object is described as 'mithya'. Just as the snake appears because of ignorance of the fact that there is only a rope, this world appears to exist because of our ignorance of Brahman. Thus the world is also neither real nor unreal; it is also 'mithya'. Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope, the world is superimposed on Brahman. Our ignorance of Brahman is what is called avidya or ajnaana or nescience. This ignorance not only makes us ignorant of Brahman, but it projects the world as a reality. The world has no reality apart from Brahman, just as the illusory snake has no reality apart from the rope. When the knowledge of Brahman arises, the world is seen as a mere appearance of Brahman. The illusory snake arose from the rope, was sustained by the rope and ultimately merged into the rope. Similarly, the world arises from Brahman, is sustained by Brahman and merges into Brahman on the attainment of knowledge. Another example is also given to explain this. Ornaments of different sizes and shapes are made out of one gold bar. Their appearance and the use for which they are meant vary, but the fact that they are all really nothing but gold, in spite of their different appearances and uses, cannot be denied. The appearance may change, a bangle may be converted into rings, but the gold always remains as gold. When we begin to look upon the bangles, rings, etc., as nothing but gold in essence, the differences between bangle and ring, ring and chain, etc., cease to count though they continue to retain their different shapes. Similarly, on the dawn of the knowledge of Brahman (which is the same as the Self), though the different forms continue to be seen by the Jnaani, the realised soul, he sees them all only as appearances of the one Brahman. Thus the perception of difference between one person and another, or one thing and another, and the consequences of such perception, such as looking upon some as favourable and others as the opposite, and the consequent efforts to retain or get what is favourable and to get rid of or avoid what is not favourable, come to an end. This is the state of liberation even while living, which is known as Jivanmukti.

Every individual identifies himself with the physical body, the sense organs and the mind. When a person describes himself as stout or lean or fair-complexioned or dark, he is looking upon himself as the physical body to which these characteristics belong. When he says 'I see', 'I hear', 'I smell' and so on, he is identifying himself with the organs of sense which perform these functions. When he says 'I am happy' or 'I am unhappy', he is identifying himself with his mind. The Upanishads declare that all these identifications are wrong and that the human being is in reality not the body or the sense-organs or the mind, but Brahman, which is eternal, changeless and not affected by anything that happens to the body-mind complex. It is Brahman that appears as the jiva or individual because of identification with the body-mind complex. This body-mind complex, which makes the infinite, all-pervading Brahman appear as an individual limited to a particular body-mind complex, is known as the limiting adjunct or upadhi of Brahman. This wrong identification, which is called bondage, is due to our ignorance of our real nature. This ignorance is what is called avidya or nescience. When this ignorance is eradicated, the person remains established in his essence as the Self or Brahman-Atman. This is liberation. Thus liberation is not the attainment of some new state in some other world after the end of the present life. It is only the realisation, in this life itself, of what one has always been, namely Brahman, by the removal of the wrong notion that one is the body-mind complex. The illusory snake never existed. What existed even when the snake was seen was only the rope. Similarly, bondage has no real existence at all. Even when we are ignorant of Brahman and think of ourselves as limited by the body, we are really none other than the infinite Brahman. Liberation is thus only the removal of the wrong identification with the body, mind and senses. The attainment of the state of liberation-in-life or Jivanmukti is the ultimate goal of human life according to the upanishads. Three paths are laid down in the scriptures as the means to the attainment of this ultimate goal. These are karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnaana yoga. Here the word 'yoga' signifies 'the means'. That is to say, karma, bhakti sand jnaana are the means to the attainment of liberation. These are, however, not independent paths, but are intrinsically bound together. Karma yoga is the performance of all duties enjoined upon one by the scriptures, as well as the duties that are incumbent on one because of one's station in life. If these duties are performed without craving for the fruit of the actions and as an offering to God, they lead to purification of the mind by the eradication of desires and the evil consequences of desire, namely, greed, anger, jealousy and other negative emotions. The very fact that all actions must be performed as an offering to God implies that one must have devotion to God. Thus the path of bhakti or devotion to God and the path of action, or karma yoga are intrinsically bound together and one cannot be practised without the other. Thus karma yoga and bhakti yoga form one composite whole. As stated above, karma yoga is the means by which the mind becomes purified by the removal of all impurities in the form of desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride and jealousy. Bhakti yoga brings about concentration of mind. Only a mind which has become pure and one-pointed is capable of attaining self-knowledge. Jnaana yoga consists in hearing the exposition of the scriptures by the Guru, reflecting on what has been heard in order to remove all doubts, and meditation to realise as an actual experience what has been understood intellectually by hearing and reflection. A person who has, by this process, come to experience the truth that he is really the Atman and not the body, mind or sense-organs and remains firmly rooted in that experience is a liberated one or a Jivanmukta.