Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Discussion on Advaita Vedanta

P.J.Mazumdar


The essence and function of religion and spirituality is to understand ourselves, to understand what it is that constitutes us, our aim in life and the possibilities inherent in our life. In understanding this goal, Advaita is, in my personal opinion, the most helpful among the streams of religion available to us. This is because it is the most logical and the most scientific. The views of Advaita can be supported both logically and also are not contradicted by science.

The two main truths of Advaita are:

1. that Brahman as such is the only reality.
2. that the world, our world, is not real and has only relative reality.

These two truths give us the framework for creating an outlook on life which can both conform to science and logic and at the same time provide us spiritual comfort and gain.

There can be many interpretations of Advaita. This is because of differences in the details. Such differences have existed since the beginning, with schools like that of Nimbarka (Bheda-Abedavada) and Vallabha (Suddha Advaitavada) also being called Advaita. The main Advaita school however has always been that of Shankara (Abhedavada) and it is this school that is propounded in my book.

Hence, even while accepting the main ideas of Advaita, we may still advocate some changes to bring it in line with our modern knowledge and ethos. By changing a few details, while at the same time adhering to the two truths described above, we would still be very much within the school of Advaita, though we could consider it a fresh interpretation of Advaita. This freedom to interpret a philosophical system according to the needs of the present comes from Indian philosophical traditions themselves.

Accordingly, I have described a slightly different view of Advaita in my book than the traditional one. The two important ways in which I have differed from the Advaita of Sankaracharya is in the definition of souls and the rejection of the reincarnation theory. Besides this, two other salient points are that I have defined Advaita as having a firm realistic ontology (this is the natural starting point of Advaita but perhaps it has not been emphasized before) and also having my own conjecture on what happens at death (in place of reincarnation theory).

These changes however, are not done blindly but after a careful study of the Upanishads. A close study reveals that the Upanishads can well support such an interpretation, and indeed my ideas often seem more natural and in keeping with the spirit of the Upanishads than other interpretations. Sankaracharya’s commentary also often explicitly state the same ideas that I have put forward.

I have endeavored in the following pages to show how the sutras of the Upanishads are in full consonance with these ideas, and how they can be read and understood as a base for modern Advaita. The change in details do not cause any break in the general flow of the ideas of Advaita.

The abandoning the idea of an individual soul does not detract in any way from the general sense of Advaita philosophy. There is no compromise with the two main logical premises of Advaita philosophy, that of Brahman being the only reality ad of the world being an unreal existence. In fact, as I will point out, defining the soul as consciousness itself is more natural both for the Upanishadic sutras and with Sankaracharya’s commentary. It only comes into conflict with the sutras and Sankaracharya in the sections where reincarnation is discussed.

Instead, by taking out the idea of an independent soul and reincarnation from our understanding of Advaita philosophy, there is all round good. This modern advaitic thinking makes it a robust, scientific and logical theory which can meet all logical and scientific arguments thrown at it.

This contemporary view of Advaita also does not affect in any way the practice, goals and aims of Advaita philosophy. There is still very much same answer to all our queries, Brahman, and the same goal of our life, mystical union with Brahman. Modern Advaita can satisfy our spiritual and metaphysical doubts and provide us a spiritual aim in the same continuing tradition as in ancient India.

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* To read more on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga and its harmony with modern science and reason, you can go through my book on Amazon:

Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga




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