An Advaita Menu?

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Jan 5 12:37:15 CST 1998

On Sun, 21 Dec 1997, Miguel Angel Carrasco wrote:

> After three months in the List, I get the impression that there are
> different tendencies within Advaita. Previously, I had thought that it was
> such a simple, radical position that it admitted only slightly diverging
> presentations of the same principle:
> ^ÓThere is only the Absolute, and I am That. All else is imagination^Ô.
> But now I see there is a sort of (limited) Menu, from which one can choose.

Yes there are some different diverging tendencies between different
Advaita Vedantins though they agree on most issues.  Further complicating
the issue is there are many "fellow travellers" who take up advaita ideas
when it suits them and drop them when it doesn't.  Also there are Indian
schools of thought which are non-dualistic but not Vedic at all.

> I) Regarding NIRGUNA BRAHMAN :
>   A.  Nirguna is Pure Awareness, contentless Consciousness.
>   B.  Nirguna is self-less, unlocalized Consciousness with contents
> (knowledge of past and future).

B.  Is wrong because time is an illusion in the paramarthik sense
therefore concepts such as past and future have no meaning.

> II) In Saguna Brahman, regarding the WORLD :
>   A.  The World is just an erroneous illusion, the product of Maya (a
> mysterious creative power which occludes Brahmans^Òs true nature). The very
> perception of multiplicity is the result of a positive, misleading
> nescience (Avidya). With enlightenment (Moksha), the illusory plurality and
> self-identification with the body-mind disappear.
>   B.  The World is Brahman^Òs wonderful manifestation, though only existing
> as
> contents of its Consciousness (Saguna) and not as real, independent being.
> Avidya consists in: 1) taking the World as really existing outside
> Consciousness, which results in 2) self-identification with the body-mind
> (bondage). With enlightenment, both mistakes are removed, and the World is
> seen as Brahman^Òs lila.

B is not a position of Advaita Vedanta.  It sounds more like the views of
Vallabha the founder of the Vaishnava sect called Pushti Marg.
Interestingly he called his philosophy Shuddhadvaita (or "pure" Advaita)
because like many Vaishnavas, he felt that Advaita Vedanta was "tainted"
by the theory of Maya.

> III)    In Saguna Brahman, regarding THE
SELF : >
>   A.  The Self (Atman-Brahman) is the un-embodied Witness of the imagined
> World, which is experienced only once. Jivas are merely empty name-forms
> without life or consciousness, like the characters in a film. Therefore
> there is no avidya, no bondage and no liberation. Just a showing-watching
> of the World by only one spectator.

The Atma is Brahman embodied.  That's the only difference between the
two.  So Brahman is the spectator but the Atma is an active participant.
Or so it thinks until the veil of Maya is lifted.  Then there is no
difference between the two.

>   B.  Part 1.  The Self (Atman-Brahman) is the embodied Witness of an
> imagined World that is experienced many times, in the many jivas, which are
> the body-mind apparatus that the one Atman uses to watch the common
> imaginary plurality. As these body-minds are different, the experience that
> Atman gets through each is different, resulting in different though
> imagined individual lives, like many varying versions of the same film.
> Part 2.  Nonetheless, in all experiences the Self remains the unaffected
> Witness. Therefore avidya, bondage and liberation are just part of the
> film, imagined. All ideas of freedom, choice, morality, etc. are equally
> fictitious.

Each jiva has its own atma.  Otherwise when one person achieved moksha so
would everyone else.  But really all those atmas are not different.  They
are one which only thinks it is different.  When that feeling of
difference goes away, there is no need for ideas such as freedom, not
because freedom doesn't exist but nothing that could make the ever-free
Brahman unfree exists.  While there is that feeling, freedom etc. is
possible but it is not guaranteed to remain.

I think the appeal of Vedanta to some people is the idea that it somehow
absolves you of the need to be moral, make choices etc.  That isn't true.

>   C. Part 1. Same as in B. Part 1.
> Part 2. In most (or all) of these experiences, the Self is the victim of
> self-identification with the imaginary body-mind, and is open to
> self-realization and enlightenment depending on the use it makes of its
> freedom. The ideas of avidya (self-delusion), responsibility for one^Òs
> actions (karma), spiritual search (sadhana), liberation (moksha), etc have
> all their usual meaning and are real events. The Self is here like an actor
> playing different roles in different versions of the same theatre play
> and with some freedom to improvise.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

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