"Jagat satya!"

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Jul 22 07:44:21 CDT 2002

On Thu, 18 Jul 2002, Jagannath Chatterjee wrote:

> When Sri Vivekananda set an Advaita Ashram at Mayavati
> and banned the external & ritualistic worship of Sri
> Ramakrishna, or for the matter anybody, in that
> ashram, some were piqued. They wrote a letter to  Holy
> Mother Sarada Devi and complained. Ma Sarada defended
> Swami Vivekananda and informed the others that Sri
> Ramakrishna was an advaitin and He would have very
> much approved Swamiji's decision.

Advaita Vedanta is not against worship.  Certainly not for the grhasthas
and not even for the Sannyasis.  The Sannyasis especially the type called
Paramhansas, don't have to engage in ritual worship but that is different
from saying they are banned from it.  Shankaracharya set up the Shrichakra
and Shivalinga in all his maths and established or reconsecrated many
mandirs.  Even today his successors daily perform Chandramoulishwar Puja
etc.  The difference is the Advaitin is not *bound* by karma.  The common
person is motivated to do karma (and note karma means all purposeful
actions, not just religious rituals)  because of a desire to get rewards
and avoid punishments.  That desire is born of a sense of duality and that
is what an Advaitin has to avoid.  But Bhakti itself is not wrong because
in its' highest sense it is knowledge of the Self as my quote from Swami
Madhusudana Saraswati (a Bengali) shows.

> The rationality of advaita cannot be denied. This is
> what endears it to the west. It was advaita and solely
> advaita that Swami Vivekananda preached in the west.
> But he called it Practical Vedanta

It has been my experience based on encounters in this list, that there are
plenty of Westerners who are capable of understanding Advaita Vedanta for
what it is.  I think we do them a grave disservice by watering down its'
message.  Vivekanands stance is that of the apologetist.  He wanted to
prove to the (Western) world that Hinduism wasn't backward or primitive.
I'm not casually dismissing this.  The clash of civilizations was profound
and were it not for people like Vivekanand, we might all be Christians or
Atheists by now.  Howevever don't you think the circumstances are
different now?  India is a proud and independent country.  Its' people are
mostly free of an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West and more educated
than before.  The teachings of our sages both ancient and contemporary are
more widely available even through cutting edge media like the Internet.
So is it necessary to settle for less than the best anymore?  People on
this list have told me how it was the writings of Vivekananda or books
published by the Ramakrishna mission which awakened an interest in Advaita
Vedanta in them and this fact too must be acknowledged.  At the same time
it should be acknowledged to be an introduction only and the student
should be prepared to put aside mistaken notions as he progresses further.

> and sought to
> defend ethics and morality from the advaita point of
> view. It was advaita that formed the basis of his
> program of "serving Shiva in the jiva". His mahavakya
> was "atmana moksharthaye jagadhitaye cha".

This was obviously borrowed from the Christian missionaries.  There is no
concept in Advaita Vedanta of the Sannyasi as social worker.

> He also put
> into practice the "bahujana hitaye..bahujana sukhaye"
> concept of Buddha.

Here is another place where a knowledge of history will give a different
perspective.  By this time, Buddhism itself had been extinct for 7 or 8
centuries.  As last weeks quote from "Hindu Dharma" by Swami
Chandrashekharendra Saraswati mentioned, It was philosophically weakened
by the criticism of Udayanacharya and Kumarila Bhatta (belonging to Nyaya
and Mimamsa respectively.)  The Muslim invaders gave it the coup de grace.
One reason it was wiped out when Hinduism was not is precisely because it
was not a popular religion.  Buddhism in its' Indian phase was almost
strictly the business of monks concentrated in large viharas and dependent
on royal patronage.  What little the classical Hindu authors mention of
Buddhism is almost wholly negative.  (An exception being Jayadeva.)  The
rediscovery of Buddhism by the Bengali intelligensia in Vivekanandas' time
was based on the work of European scholars not any native tradition.

Plus if that was a genuine quote from the Buddha, it would have been in
Pali not Sanskrit anyway.

> The above concepts are meaningless (what I personally
> feel; you are requested to correct me if I am wrong)
> if the jagat is mithya.

For Advaitins there is already a practical Vedanta--the karmakanda of the
Vedas with all the rites and rituals (and morals and ethics) therein.
For those who have not taken sannyasa, this must be followed to the
letter.  However, for the sannyasi as I said before, no commandment or
prohibition is binding becauses even the Vedas ultimately belong to the
realm of maya.  Even in ancient times this led to major criticism.  The
opponents argued that if everything is illusionary including ethics and
morality then practicing Advaita Vedanta would lead to chaos.  Our
rejoinder is based on several arguments:

first of all, an unreal thing can still have real effects. I gave the
example of money in a previous post.  Another example is a man can have a
heart attack thinking he has seen a snake.  Even though it turns out the
snake was really a rope, the heart attack is still real.  Real/unreal is
not binary but a sliding scale so even if theVedas and their commands are
ultimately unreal it doesn't matter as long as they are relatively real as
viewed by people who are also only relatively real.

Second, social considerations do not come into play, because there is no
such thing as a Vedantic society.  Nowadays many people study Advaita
thought without taking sannyasa (like most people on this list including
myself.) but only the Sannyasi can be considered a true Advaitin.  The
last ritual a man performs before taking sannyasa is his own funeral.
After that he is "dead" to society.  But this works both ways.  Just as
karma can no longer affect him, he no longer has any say in the world of
karma.  Thus conventional society is protected from any antinomian
tendencies that might be caused.

Third, the very nature of jnana makes wicked behavior impossible.  Take
for example Ahimsa.  The sannyasi is not required to only eat vegetarian
food etc. but for one who truly sees all beings as his own self, eating
one of them would make as much sense as chewing your hand off.

> Sri Shankaracharya was also very much concerned with
> the welfare of the jiva. The Vivekachudamani is, again
> what I feel, a treatise containing instructions on how
> to behave in this world in the context of pure
> advaita. I don't think he negates the world in the
> process. He also speaks of Bhakti etc. for the benefit
> of those who are not ready yet for pure advaita. These
> aspects are very controversial and I will not blame
> you if you come down heavily on me.

There is nothing controversial about caring for the welfare of the jiva.
Any philodophy that didn't work at the beginning level would be defective.
(And again may I point out that Bhakti and pure Advaita are not at odds.)

Advaita Vedanta itself is not there to serve the welfare of anyone except
the mumukshu who wishes to break free of samsara.  It has side-effects
that make the world a better place but that is not the goal.  For those
goals, one is referred to those shastras which deal with pravrtti--dharma,
artha, and kama.  Together both pravrtti and nivrtti margas make up the
Vedic religion.  Advaita Vedanta concerns itself with pravrtti only to the
extent it can be made to lead people to nivrtti.

> What I mean to say is that this jagatis satya to the
> jiva mired in the world as much as a dream is satya to
> a sleeping man.

Such a formulation we can agree with.

>  Both the Acharyas asked us to wake up
> to our divinity but their approach was slightly
> different. Obviously the difference was because of the
> respective aims of their mission and also the
> difference in the situations they had to face.

It is not the personality of the Guru but the approach which I am
concerned with.  Which is pedagogically more sound?  If you say "the world
is relatively real" than you leave the door open for the student to ask
"Why only relatively?  What is it that is definitely real?"  If on the
other hand you say "The world is real" than you won't provoke any further
reflection they'll just say "ok, I'll just carry on doing what I've always

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list