Srivaishnava Question and Answers – Learners Series – 11

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Chapter 7: Advaitha, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita
1. How did the three systems of Vedanta philosophy, namely Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita come about?

The question can be answered with a little bit of background on the Upanishads.The Upanishads are of three types namely bheda sruti, abheda sruti and ghataka sruti.

2. What is the Bheda sruti?

There are many passages in the Vedas, which clearly and categorically state that Brahman or Paramatma is different from Jivatma. These are called bheda sruti, because they show the difference between Paramatma and Jivatma.

Bheda in Sanskrit means difference.

3. What are the passages in the Vedas which come under the category of bheda sruti?

The following are some of the quotations.

1) ‘Two birds with similar qualities and attached to each other, reside in the same tree. One of them (Jivatma) eats the fruit (the results of his karma), whereas the other (Iswara or Brahman) shines, without eating the fruit.”
2) “The Jivatma realises that the supreme self or Brahman directs him and he is the object of direction”.
3) “He, the Jivatma, is different from Brahman. By winning the grace of Brahman, the Jivatma attains salvation”.
4) “The three-fold nature, can be simply put as follows (1) who experiences pleasure and pain; (2) the object of such experiences and (3)He,the Brahman who directs all”. 79
5) “He is the lord of Matter and Jivatma and the possessor of qualities”.
6) “Brahman is the ruler whose knowledge has no limits. The Jivatma has his knowledge limited”.
7) “The Brahman is different from Matter or Achetana and is greater than the Jivatma.”
8 ) “He is different and He rules over the Jivatma and the Matter.”
9) “The knower of Brahman attains the supreme.”
10) “He reaches the other side of samsara and reaches the Paramapada of Vishnu”.
11) “I belong to the Brahman and I will not leave Him”.
12) “All these are born out of Him and because of Him they live and they go back to Him.”
13) “The brahmins understand Him, by learning the Vedas, by doing penance, by giving donation and by doing yagas.”
14) “The Brahman cannot be attained by reading the scriptures, by intelligence,…”
15) “He is the lord of all. He is the ruler of all”.
16) “There are two eternal, permanent things. One is Brahman, knowing everything and all powerful. The other is with limited knowledge and powerless, namely, Jivatma.”
17) “The Jivatma enjoys the Paramapada along with Brahman.”

So, the above are a few examples of bheda sruti. These are some of the passages from the Vedas, which clearly show that the Jivatma is different from Paramatma. There are innumerable such passages in the Vedas.

4. What is Abheda sruti?

There are also passages in the Vedas, which show,on the face of it, that Paramatma and Jivatma are one and the same.

5. What are the passages in the veda that describe the Abhedasruti?

The following are some of the passages:-

“You are that (Brahman)”.
“I am Brahman”.
“Everything here is Brahman”.
“All the things here are Brahman”.
“There are no different things”.
“There is only one”.

6. What is Ghataka sruti?

The third type of sruti, ghataka sruti, describes the relationship between Brahman and Jivatma and Matter, as that of the soul and. the body (body/soul relationship).

7. Name the passages from the Vedas, which are in the nature of Ghataka sruti?

The passages from the Antaryami Brahmana of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Subala Upanishad which explains the body-soul relationship. These are called Ghataka sruti.

8. Why is this called Antaryami Brahmana?

This is called so, because this talks about the Iswara being the soul or antaryami of Jivatma and the matter. ‘Antaryami’ means “One who controls from inside”.

9. Why are the above passages of the Vedas called ghataka sruti?

They are so -called, because they join or synthesise the apparently contradictory passages in the Vedas. They give “the proper to abheda srutis, which seem to state there is no difference between Jivatma and Paramatma.

10. How do we then interpret the abheda sruti?

By using this body/soul relationship, which has been shown above in the ghataka sruti, one can give proper interpretation to the abheda sruti.

11. How do you do that?

When we say Rama, we mean the body of Rama, as well as the soul of Rama. We say Rama has a fair skin. We mean Rama’s body has a fair skin. Similarly, the word “Rama” means his soul also.

By the extension of the same principle, it also means the soul of Rama’s soul, i.e., Iswara or Narayana. We have just seen that the individual soul or Jivatma is also the body of Iswara. In other words, Iswara is the soul of the individual soul, namely Jivatma.

So, when we say Rama, this refers grammatically to 1) Rama’s body, 2) Rama’s soul, 3) Rama’s soul’s soul, i.e., Brahman or Iswara.

With this understanding, if one read’s the abheda sruti, the meaning will be quite clear.

12. Explain a little more on Abheda Sruti?

1) One passage says “you are that”, Now what this means is that your soul’s soul is Iswara or Brahman, i.e., Brahman is also your soul’s soul.

2) The passage “All this is Brahman” is also correct, because all Matter and Jivatma have Brahman as their soul and Brahman has all of them as His body. Hence naturally all this is Brahman.

3) The passage “I am Brahman” is also correct, because my soul’s soul is Brahman. In other words, I am myself Brahman.

Thus, by applying the body/soul relationship between Jivatma and Paramatma, all the passages in the Vedas, which appear like saying identity of Jivatma and paramatma, will be properly explained.

13. So, what is the final conclusion on Abheda Sruthi?

The basic principle has been established that Brahman or is the soul of Jivatma and I Matter and all its variations. So, the Jivatma and Matter and its variations are all the body of Brahman.

As mentioned earlier, this is the fundamental doctrine of Visishtadvaita philosophy.

14. What is the meaning of the word “Advaita”?

“Advaita” means “Not Two”. The advaitins say that Jivatma and paramatma are not two (i.e., different) but they are One, i.e., identical. Hence this system of philosophy is called Advaita.

The founder of Advaita philosophy is Adi Sankara.

15. What is the meaning of the word “Visishtadvaita”?

“Visishtadvaita” means “Not Two-in a special way” or “Only one – in a special way”. We say that Jivatma and paramatma are different and yet not different.

They are different, as we have shown from the bheda sruti. Jivatma is the body and paramatma the soul. The soul is different from the body. This way, the paramatma is different from the Jivatma.

They are not different because of the body-soul relationship, as explained in ghataka sruti. We call both Rama’s body and Rama’s soul, as Rama. Rama’s body and soul together, are called as “Rama” only. So, Rama is only one.

Similarly, Jivatma (the body) and Paramatma (the soul), can be called as only one – in a special way, because of the body/soul relationship.

So, Jivatma and Paramatma can be called two-in-one or one-in-two. Hence our system of philosophy is called “Visishtadvait’a”.

This system was perfected by Ramanuja.

16. What is the meaning of the word  “Dvaita”?

“Dvaita” means Two. Dvaitins say that Jivatma and Paramatma are eternally different, i.e. they are two and not one. They do not accept body/soul relationship. Hence this system of philosophy is called “Dvaita”.

The exponent of Dvaita philosophy is Madhva.

17. How do the Advaitins explain the various passages in the Vedas, which do not support their philosophy? In other words, how do they explain the bheda srutis which say that Jivatma and Paramatma are different?

The Advaitins argue that abheda srutis, which say that the Jivatma is identical with Paramatma. supersede the bheda srutis. So, they do not accept the validity of bheda srutis. In other words, they accept only abheda srutis as authority.

18. How do Vishistadvaitin’s rebut the argument of Advaitins that abheda srutis supersede the bheda srutis?

We say that the Vedas as a whole are authority. So, why should the Vedas mention the bheda passages, if they are to be superseded.

No sensible person will make a statement, if it is false and if it is to be superseded. Unless a statement is specifically mentioned as opponents point of view, it has to be taken as correct.

Nowhere in the Vedas, it has been stated that the bheda passages represent opponents point of view. Hence the bheda srutis have to be taken as correct; and have to be properly synthesised with the other passages in the Vedas.

Thus, we do not accept the Advaitins’ argument.

19. How do the Dvaitins explain the abheda srutis, which are against their philosophy – that Jivatma and Paramatma are eternally different?

Dvaitins do not accept the abheda srutis as authority (pramana). Their argument is that abheda srutis are very few. They are very much less in number, as compared to bheda srutis, Hnce, the small number of abheda srutis must be ignored.

20. What is Vishistadvaitins answer to this argument?

Vishistadvaitins do not accept this view of Dvaitins. They say that all-passages in the Vedas are authority. We have to properly interpret the various passages in the Vedas, so that any apparent contradictions are resolved. Hence, Vishistadvaitin makes use of ghataka sruti, to resolve the apparent differences between bheda srutis and abheda srutis.

21. So, what is the speciality of Visishtadvaita vis-a-vis Advaita and Dvaita?

As mentioned above, the Advaitins are not able to properly explain bheda srutis.

Dvaitins are not able to properly explain abheda srutis.

Visishtadvaita is the only system, which is able to explain properly both the Bheda srutis and Abheda srutis, with the help of Ghataka srutis.

22. What does the term ‘maya’ mean?

The Advaitins say that everything, other than the Paramatma, is ‘maya’ or illusion. For Advaitins, the world itself is an illusion.

23. But certainly, one is seeing the world; and one sees the various things in the world, with our eyes. Then how can this world be called an illusion?

For this, the Advaitins have got three types of reality. They say that the Brahman is the only real thing or the ultimate reality; and everything else is illusion or maya.

24. What are the three types of reality – according to them?

1) We see a shell from a distance and we think it is silver. Only when we go near and examine, we find that it is really shell.

2) Similarly, from a distance we see a rope and mistake it to be a serpent.

3) Again, in a hot summer, on a tar road, we see at some distance water on the road, which is not actually so. It is only the reflection of the sun onthe tar road

So, such illusions, as explained in the three cases above, fall into the first category, according to the Advaitins. These are called “Apparent Reality” (Pratibhasika Sat).

In these cases, we are able to realise ourselves, at a later stage, that what we saw first was only an illusion. For example, thinking as silver, whereas it was only shell; similarly, thinking as serpent, when it was only a rope, is only an illusion.

25. What is the second category of reality, according to Advaitins?

The second category of reality is called by Advaitins as “Relative Reality” (Vyavaharika Sat). In this category come the world, air, sky, water. and so on. All these things are there and still, ultimately, they are only an illusion according to Advaitins. But, for all practical purposes, world, air, water and other elements are real things. So these things are called “Relative Reality” and form the second category.

26. What is the third category of reality, according to them?

The third category of reality, is the “Absolute reality” (Paramarthika Sat). This is Brahman.

27. Please sum up the Advaitins’ view point on Maya and Reality.

The Advaitins classify all things into three types of realities, as follows:

1) Apparent reality (Pratibhasika Sat)  – like mistaking shell as silver; mistaking rope as serpent.

2) Relative reality (Vyavaharika Sat) – like world, sky, fire, water.

3) Absolute reality (Paramarthika Sat) – This is Brahman.

So, according to them, except for item (3) above, Brahman, everything else is maya (illusion).

28. What is the stand point of Visishtadvaitins on this?

The theory of Visishtadvaitins is exactly the opposite. We say that everything is real. There is no maya or illusion. The world is very much real. The Jivatma is very much real.

In fact, we also say that, even the objects which we see in a dream are also real. Of course, the dream objects are purely temporary and are seen only by the person who dreams.

29. What is our argument to say that the world is real?

We say that this world is not an illusion. We mistake shell for silver. We mistake brass, or bronze for gold. We mistake a rope for a serpent – These are actually illusions.

The world is not such an illusion. Whatever materials we find in this world, we are making use of them. The silver which we see, we make vessels out of it. We keep water in the silver vessel.

Similarly, the gold which we see, we make jewels out of gold, and we wear them.

So, the world, the materials, the objects which we see in the world, are all real.

30. What do the Vedas say about the reality of the world?

The Vishistadvaiti’s have full support from the Upanishads. Its been explained earlier about the process of creation, starting from matter.

How from matter comes mahat, how from mahat comes ahankara and so on. I have also explained about the quintuplication, three-fold division and seven-fold division.

The Upanishads have thus explained in detail the process of creation. So, the world and the objects and materials of the world are all the results of creation.

When Upanishads take so much pains to explain the process of creation, is it correct to say that the whole thing is an illusion? There is no need for the Upanishads to describe in great detail the process of creation, if the whole thing is an illusion.

Further, the Upanishads do not state anywhere that the world is an illusion.

31. Then how do the Advaitins say that they have also the authority of the Upanishads, for the world being an illusion?

The Upanishads say that the Lord, Brahman creates the world out of maya. So the Advaitins interpret the word maya as illusion. But we interpret the world maya as matter (prakriti). The Upanishads themselves say that maya is matter. So, apart from’ other reasons, we interpret the word ‘maya’ as matter. From matter, the process of creation starts.

But taking the meaning of ‘maya’ as illusion, the advaitins say that the whole world is an illusion.

32. Any other quotations from the Upanishads which describes “BRAHMAN”?

At many places, several Upanishads categorically declare that Brahman creates this world. “Brahman creates beings, starting from Brahma, as before”.

“Brahman creates the beings, like sun and moon, as before”.

Unless the world, sun and moon, and other objects are real, there is no need to create them. This clearly shows that the created world is real.

Of course, the Jivatma and Matter are eternal (nitya). At the time of pralaya, Matter and Jivatmas take very subtle (sukshma) form and merge with the Lord. Again, the process of creation starts, after pralaya. Thus we say that everything is real.

33. Apart from the Upanishads, what do the Smritis say?

The Bhagavad Gita says: “I, who am the ultimate. cause of this world, join the Jivatma with Matter. Thus, all beings come out of this union”.

There are several such passages in Vishnu Purana and other Sastras which go to show that the world is indeed real.

34. What are the arguments of Advaitins to say that the world is not real?

They say that many objects in the world are not permanent. For example, there is a mud pot now; after some time it gets broken and it is destroyed. Similarly there is water in the river now. But in summer, the water gets dried up.

Thus water is no longer there. Thus, nothing is real, because they are not there permanently at all times. This is one of the arguments of the Advaitins. ………

35. How do we get over this Objection?

We agree with them on the facts. But we say that these facts only show that objects are nor permanent. It dows not follow that the objects are not real. In other workds, even though the objects are not permanent, they are real.

We have to distinguish between a real thing and a permanent thing. Taking the example of the mud pot, the mud is there, which the potter makes into a pot. Again, after some time, the pot gets broken, and we come back to the mud. So, mud is there although mud pot gets broken.

Just because something is not permanent, we cannot say that it is not real. The mud pot is not permanent because it gets broken; but it’s real. We make use of the mud pot.

Similarly jewels are not permanent. We can melt them into gold and re- make some other jewel.

So the jewels are not permanent, but the raw material, gold is permanent. But both gold and jewels, made out of gold, are real. We make use of the jewels. We wear the jewels,. So, we cannot say that jewls are not real. Mud is real and mudpot is real. Gold is real and gold jewel is real. These examples are given in Chandogya Upanishad to discuss the relationship between Brahman and the world. So, Brahman is real and the world is also real.

Thus the argument of Advaitins that just because something is not permanent, it is not real, ( but an illusion) is not correct.

36. Do the examples given in the Chandogya Upanishad, of mud and mud pot, gold and jewels, iron and knife, justify that the world is real?

We are seeing the world. We make use of the things in the world. We enjoy them. So this has to be real. The above examples clearly show that the world which has come out, in the above examples are real.

If the Vedas wanted to show that the world is unreal, they need not have given the above examples. Instead, the Vedas could have given the examples of mistaking a rope for a serpent, mistaking a shell for silver and so on.

But instead of giving such examples, which suggest illusion, the Vedas have given examples of reality. From this also, it is clear that the world and everything else is real.

37. Futher,if the world and its beings are only an illusion,where is the question of the Lord protecting the world and destroying the world?

It’s correct. In many places the Upanishads say that Brahman creates the world, protects the world, and destroys the world. So, there is clear evidence as to what the Brahman does to the world.

All these activities of creating the world, protecting the world and destroying the world will have no meaning if the world is not real.

The world is destroyed at the time of Pralaya. So the world is not eternal or permanent. It is in this meaning that sometimes it is mentioned that the world is not real.

38. What is the explaination for , some of the Upanishads saying that the world is an illusion?

1) The Upanishads talk in great detail about the process of creation of the world. If the world is a illusion, there is no question of creation and there is no question of detailed process of creation.

2) The basic axiom that the Vedas as a whole , are the fundamental authority. So , there cannot be any inconsistency or difference between the different passages. If there is an apparent contradiction or inconsistency between two different two different portions of Upanishads, these have to be suitable reconciled or synthesized.

3) The normal logic is that if the majority of the portions mean one thing and a small number of portions apparently mean something else, then these minority portions will have to be explained in keeping with the majority version.

4) While the world is mentioned as real in innumerable places and the process of creation is described in detail, in a few places it is mentioned that the world is not eternal or everlasting. The world will be destroyed at the time of pralaya.

What is meant is that all the chetanas and achetanas merge in the Lord, in a very subtle form, at the time of pralaya.

39. How does one justify the reality of the world?

The three reasons to show why the world is real:

1) The Vedas describe Brahman thus: Brahman is that, from whom all these beings are born; by whom all these beings live; in whom all these beings rest, after death. From the above description, it can be seen that all these beings have to be real.

2) Brahman is the material cause of the world. He therefore evolves into the world. So how can the world which has been created by Brahman, be unreal?

3) Brahman is also the instrumental cause of this world. He creates this world. So, how can a thing, which has been created by Brahman, be unreal?

Thus we say that the world and all the beings in it are real.

To be continued…

Source: A Dialog on Hinduism By Sri V.N. Gopala Desikan

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