Relationship of Advaita Vedanta to other religions

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Wed Jul 10 16:51:54 CDT 2002

>   my name is John V mathew, and iam studying christian theology and
> faith in a seminary in Pune. I have tremendous respect and admiration
> for Sankaracarya for his profound philosophy. my interest in advaita
> vedanta grew out of my own personal conviction that all reality is one
> and is moving towards a particular cosmic power, whose essence is itself
> truth, that this reality seeks. we in our seminary study indian
> philosophical systems especially upanishidic. i firmly believe that
> advaita can solve all the problems and  violence in the world ,
> especially communal if we all believe that we are part of the same
> source i.e. Brahman, and there is no differnce betwen me and my
> neighbour. what matters most are our internals and not the externals in
> our religious systems.
> my aim is to study and experience the advaita philosophy as advocated my
> shankaracarya , and compare it with christian thought, and see points of
> similarities between them and see its relevance for christian theology.
> iam a christian and my approach will be of respect and of gaining an
> iner experience through advaita. when we see that all things on the
> earth is just maya, diffrentiated by just name and form,  and that the
> absolute dwells in each one of us, surely all inequalities of our
> society wil end. i believe that this is the greatest contribution that
> Sankaracarya did for us.

First of all, let me say this is a very laudable cause and I hope what
I have to say next will not dissuade you from it but if such endeavors are
to be fruitful there has to be clarity so neither side is misunderstood or

One thing that should be emphasized about Shankaracharya is he does very
much care about religious externals as well as internals.  The Mar Thoma
Christian sect was established in Kerela by an early date.  If we accept
788-820 as dates for Shankaracharyas' life, it is quite conceivable that
he knew of Christians as well as Jews (also well-established by that time)
and perhaps Muslims.  Yet there is no mention of them anywhere in his
works.  Shankaracharya viws himself as simply being the latest in a line
of interpreters of the Vedic religion.  He allows a measure of diversity
in its' forms but where non-Vedic religions are mentioned (Buddhism,
Jainism and even "Hindu" sects such as Bhagavatas, Samkhya/Yoga etc.) it
is in a negative way.  He may allow some utility to the atleast partially
astika ones and some have argued that Gaudapadacharya is somewhat
sympathatic to Buddhism but all in all the view of the Advaita acharyas is
that all these religions are inferior to the Vedic religion which is best
interpreted by Advaita Vedanta.

Moving into more recent times also you don't see much interest amongst our
acharyas towards other religions.  I'm not saying there was hostility or
intolerance but indifference.  Syncretic efforts were more likely to come
from other quarters (The author of "Ishwara Allah tera nama" was not an
Advaitin for instance.)  In fact I don't think you'll come across the "all
religions are one" being expressed by Advaitins until those 19th century
authors who were influenced by western education and--you guessed

Today, there are many people who consider themselves Christians and also
Advaitins some of whom have received the support of even the most
tradition-minded authorities so it would seem that Advaita
Vedantic/Christian ecumenism is atleast possible but so far this has been
at the individual level.  Whether a church as a whole could adopt it is a
trickier question.  I wonder what would a Christian sadhana look like?
Historically, mainstream Christianity has not been too kind to those who
got a little too close to God.  Is that still the case?  Biblical
scholarship has revealed much about the controversy between the "Jerusalem
church" of St. James who essentially saw themselves as Jews whose Messiah
had already come and St. Paul who rejected Jewish sadhana.  The latter won
and today there seems to be no specifically Christian "way of life" or is
there?  And the insistence on the exclusive relevance of the historic
incarnation of Jesus Christ is also problem.  It is no problem for us to
conceive of him as a sage (leaving aside the question of how much of the
Bible accurately preserves his teachings) but that which is historical is
maya and that which is maya is impermanent and ultimately false.  How to
reconcile the two views?

In my opinion these are important questions to consider.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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