Understanding Oneness

If we are all connected to the same Divine, why do we appear to be different? Does Nature play a role in creating our differences? To find out, please read my new article in the Speaking Tree section of the Economic Times (July 27, 2020).

You can right click on the image below and select “View Image” to read the article.

The five philosophies of Vedanta

Given below is an elementary introduction to the five different philosophies of Vedanta [1].

Advaita (by Sri Adi Shankaracharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of the same material; the universe is unreal. The events of the physical universe are like waves rising from an ocean, symbolizing Brahman. Spiritual knowledge is usually defined as the realization of our oneness with God and causes liberation [2].


Visistadvaita (by Sri Ramanujacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of different material. God resides within each individual being as the antaryami {in-dweller). Spiritual knowledge refers to the realization that our soul is eternally dependent on God, who is the sole reason of our existence. Bhakti of God is the way to liberation.


Dvaita (by Sri Madhavacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of different material. Individual soul is dependent on God. Bhakti gives grace of God and liberation. To take an analogy, the soul and God are like sand and water; just like sand settles at the bottom of water, the individual soul reaches the lotus feet of God.


Dvaitadvaita (by Sri Nimbarkacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are simultaneously different and not different. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan explains in Indian Philosophy (Vol. 2), the individual souls are different from Brahman as their attributes are different; they are not different from Brahman as they are dependent on God.


Shuddhadvaita (by Sri Vallabhacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of the same material in reality. World appears as Brahman to the realized. Bhakti and grace of God are necessary for liberation.



[1] Note that there exists a difference between the Vedantic schools and the Vedantic philosophies. When counting the different schools of Vedanta, many recent academic papers often ignore the Ramanandi Vaishnava school, which is the most impactful devotional school of North India. The Ramacharitamansa, written by Goswami Tulasidasa, a member of this school, involves an amalgation of Advaita-Dvaita-Visistadvaita, which I have already talked about in this post.

[2] You can read more about liberation in this blog post.

Shukadeva: Shiva’s grace on Vyasa

The Mahabharata tells us that Sage Veda Vyasa had meditated on Bhagwan Shiva for a hundred years to obtain a great child. Pleased by Vyasa’s devotion, Shiva blessed him with a son who was as pious as agni (fire), vayu (air), bhumi (earth), jala (water), and akaash (space) and who was fully immersed in Brahman. Right after his birth, Shukadeva knew everything that his father had learned over the ages. And he became revered among the gods and rishis for his understanding.

Because of Shukadeva’s higher awareness, worldly responsibilities could not impress him. And he started his search for liberation early in life. After training with gurus like Janak and Narada, Shukadeva finally decided that he would forever enter the brilliance of Surya (the sun god), the Self of everyone in the solar system. Shukadeva announced, “I need permission from all — snakes, mountains, land, space, gods, and demons. Through the power of my yoga, I will be entering all the souls of the world today.”

When Vyasa heard that his son was no longer alive, he was shocked. Shiva appeared again and said, “There is no need to feel sad. Your son was exactly like what you had expected him to be. As long as mountains and rivers exist, you and your son will be remembered. And by my grace, you will see your son’s shadow everywhere in this world.” When Vyasa looked around, he saw his son in all. And he started smiling.

From the Yogavasistha: How old is Bhushandi?

In the Yogavasistha, when Rishi Vasistha asks Bhushandi, the immortal crow, to share his life’s experiences, Bhushandi replies, “When it is time for dissolution, I reach beyond the universe and establish myself in the Supreme Soul through a nirvikalpa samadhi. When Lord Brahma creates the universe, I enter the universe again and reach my nest on this divine tree on Mt. Meru.” Bhushandi continues, “I have witnessed the cosmic creation many times, have seen the universe without the Sun and the Moon, and remember events from thousands of cycles of yugas. I have seen the Samudra-manthan (churning of the great ocean) twelve times, can recall the Mahabharata, Ramayana and all the scriptures, and am also aware of the literature that you will learn in the future. I know that this is your eighth birth and was actually expecting you to visit me in this birth.”

Earlier, when Vasistha asks Bhushandi how it is possible for him to continuously remain unaffected by his surroundings, Bhushandi replies, “I am contented in Paramatama and therefore never get deluded. Free from all thoughts of sorrow, my mind remains fixed in peace. I simply spend time in my nest and observe the entire kalpa (aeon) through pranayam and yoga. Neither do I wish to live, nor do I wish to die; I know that I will live tomorrow, just like I am living in the present moment.” Towards the end of their talk, Vasistha has only one thing to say, “O Lord of the birds, I have seen many great seers. But I have never met a jnani like you.”

Yoga: What is Antahkarana?

Antahkarana refers to our inner faculty responsible for all our mental functions. As the Viveka-chudamani tells us, it is characterized by four distinct behaviors. When it expresses its quality of uncertainty, it is called the manas (ignorant/emotional/sense mind). The term highlights the mind’s ability to easily find dilemma, get tempted, and engage in distrust. When the antahkarana makes firm decisions and arrives at a conclusion, it is called buddhi (intellect). When it recalls memories from the past and then ponders over what it likes the most, it is known as the chitta (subconscious mind). And finally, when it maintains its mineness and places itself above everything and everyone else, antahkarana is called ahamkaar (ego).

While ego has been classified as a part of the antahkarana, it is the originator of all other constituents of material nature. According to the model of cosmic creation in the Bhagavata Purana, the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space), manas, and intellect are created from the ego, which, along with these material components, encloses the universe. Moreover, transcending the ego remains the everlasting objective of spirituality. Luckily, it starts disappearing with every chant of the Supreme Soul’s name and is totally lost by the time we reach him.

Is the world illusory?

Yesterday, through a query sent to me by a learner of Hinduism, I came across, for the second time over the last few months, a fictitious tenet of Hinduism that has been circulating in Western literature for quite some time: “All Hindus believe that the world is illusory.”
When we study Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, we cannot pick up a single phrase from his statements to conclude that everything is unreal. On reading his theory, it becomes clear that the universe is unreal only in comparison to Brahman, the Absolute Reality. Because most non-dualists consider the soul’s separateness from Brahman as a false experience, oneness with Brahman is the truth that they seek [1].
Having said this, we should recognize that this Advaita philosophy is only a single model among the many truth-seeking models that have strongly influenced how Hindus connect to God. Ramanuja (philosophy: vishistadvaita), Madhva (dvaita), and Nimbarka, the well-known Vaishnava philosophers, clearly support that the world is real. Vallabhacharya, a Vaishnava non-dualist, too believes in a real world, which is nothing but Brahman. For Ramanuja, the relationship of complete dependence of the individual soul on the Lord is the truth to be uncovered, not the oneness of the self with Brahman. And because the Lord remains distinct from the self in the absence of non-duality, the Divine always remains unknowable in most devotional schools.

When the Hindu majority is Vaishnava, we cannot even conclude that Hindus support a “relatively real” world. And an “illusory” world is definitely out of question.

This post was last edited on March 28, 2019

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