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Advaita Vedanta (IAST Advaita Vedānta; Sanskrit अद्वैत वेदान्त; IPA /əd̪vait̪ə veːd̪ɑːnt̪ə/) is the most influential sub-school of the Vedānta (Sanskrit for end or the goal of the Vedas) school of Hindu philosophy; the other two major sub-schools of Vedānta are Dvaita and Viśishṭādvaita. Advaita is often called a monistic system of thought. The word "Advaita" (“A,” “no;” “Dvaita,” “Two or three”) means “non-duality.” The followers of Advaita hold that its main tenets are fully expressed in the Upanishads and systematized by the Vedanta-sutras. Its historical origin was the Mandukya-karika, a commentary by the seventh-century Gaudapada. the first thinker, after the Upanishadic sages, to revive the monistic tendencies of the Upanishads in a clear and systematized form. The medieval Indian philosopher Adi Shankara, or Sankaracarya (Master Sankara, c. 700–750), a student of Gaudapada’s disciple Govinda Bhagavatpada, further developed Gaudapada's foundation and systematized Advaita Vedanta.
Advaita’s philosophical conclusions proceed from psychological observation rather than from a scientific study of the material world. According to Adi Shankara, God, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Brahman is the One, the whole and the only reality, the divine ground of all Being. Human perception of the diversity of the material world comes about through incorrect knowledge of Brahman. Advaita rejuvenated much of Hindu thought and also spurred debate with the five theistic schools of Vedanta philosophy that were formalized later: Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualism and nondualism), Shuddhadvaita (purified monism), and Achintya Bheda Abheda (inconceivable difference and nondifference). The Advaita literature is extremely extensive, and its influence is still felt in modern Hindu thought.
The key source texts for all philosophical schools of Vedānta are the Prasthanatrayi – the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. The followers of Advaita hold that its main tenets are fully expressed in the Upanishads and systematized by the Vedanta-sutras. Its historical origin was the Mandukya-karika, a commentary in verse form on the late Mandukya Upanishad, by the seventh-century thinker Gaudapada. Gaudapada was the first thinker, after the Upanishadic sages, to revive the monistic tendencies of the Upanishads in a clear and systematized form. In his own writings, he makes no reference to any earlier or contemporary non-dualist works.
The medieval Indian philosopher Adi Shankara, or Sankaracarya (Master Sankara, c. 700–750), a student of Gaudapada’s disciple Govinda Bhagavatpada, further developed Gaudapada's foundation and systematized Advaita Vedanta. Though his work was highly original, he presented it as a commentary on the Vedanta-sutras, the Sari-raka-mimamsa-bhasya (“Commentary on the Study of the Self ”).
Adi Shankara's main works were commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi ([[Brahmasutra|Brahma Sūtras]], Bhagavad Gītā and the Upanişads) and the Gaudapadiya Karikas. A number of original treatises are said to be authored by him, but only one, Upadeśa Sāhasrī, can be securely attributed to Shri Shankara himself. Shankara was also the author of hymns and poems. Many followers continued and elaborated his work, especially the ninth-century philosopher Vacaspati Misra.
Advaita rejuvenated much of Hindu thought and also spurred debate with the four theistic schools of Vedanta philosophy that were formalized later: Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualism and nondualism), Shuddhadvaita (purified monism), and Achintya Bheda Abheda (inconceivable difference and nondifference). The Advaita literature is extremely extensive, and its influence is still felt in modern Hindu thought.
Advaita’s philosophical conclusions proceed from psychological observation rather than from a scientific study of the material world.  Our senses may deceive us, our memory may be an illusion, the forms of the world may be an imagination. The objects of knowledge may be open to doubt, but the self cannot be doubted. The self is undifferentiated consciousness, which exists even when the body has deteriorated and the mind perishes. The self is existence, knowledge and bliss, universal and infinite.
Adi Shankara exposed the relative nature of the world by analyzing the three states of experience of the atman—waking (vaishvanara), dreaming (swapna), and deep sleep (sushupti). This idea of a fourth state of consciousness (turīya) apart from these three states is presented in the Mandukya Upanishad.
According to Adi Shankara, God, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Brahman (pronounced as /brəh mən/; nominative singular Brahma, pronounced as /brəh mə/) is the One, the whole and the only reality. Brahman is at best described as that infinite, omnipresent, omnipotent, incorporeal, impersonal, transcendent reality that is the divine ground of all Being. Brahman is often described as neti neti meaning "not this, not this," because it cannot be correctly described as this or that. Brahman is actually indescribable. At best, Brahman can be described as "Sacchidananda" ("Sat," Infinite Truth; "Chit," Infinite Consciousness; "Ananda," Infinite Bliss).
Brahman is the origin of this and that, the origin of forces, substances, all of existence, the undefined, the basis of all, unborn, the essential truth, unchanging, eternal, the absolute. It is the basis of reality, beyond perception of the senses. It (grammatically neutral, but exceptionally treated as masculine), though not a substance, is the basis of the material world, which is its illusionary transformation. Brahman is not the effect of the world. Brahman is said to be the purest knowledge itself, and is illuminant like a source of infinite light.
Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, is formless and without attributes (nirguna) or categories (nirvishesa), Self-existent, Absolute and Imperishable. Brahman associated with its potency, maya (shakti) appears as Ishvara, the qualified Brahman; creator, preserver and destroyer of this world which is His appearance. The empirical world is completely dependent on Brahman. It is dependent and changing, but it is not nonexistent. Changes of the empirical order do not affect the integrity of Brahman. Brahman is real and the world is unreal. Any change, duality, or plurality is an illusion. Brahman is outside time, space, and causality, which are simply forms of empirical experience. Nevertheless, the empirical world is not totally unreal, for it is a misapprehension of the real Brahman.
Due to ignorance (avidyā), Brahman is visible to human beings as the material world and its objects. Ignorance is born of the confusion of the transcendental subject (atman) with empiricial existence (anatman). Ignorance is born of the confusion of the transcendental subject (atman) with empirical existence (anatman). To remove ignorance is to realize the truth, that the self is nothing but Brahman. Insight into this identity results in spiritual release.
Mahavakya, or "the great sentences," state the unity of Brahman and Atman. They are four in number and their variations are found in other Upanishads.
|1||प्रज्नानम ब्रह्म (Prajñānam brahma)||Supreme Knowledge is Brahman||aitareya||Rig Veda|
|2.||अहम ब्रह्मास्मि (Aham brahmāsmi)||I am Brahman||brihadāranyaka||Yajur Veda|
|3.||तत्त्त्वमसि (Tattvamasi)||That thou art||chhandogya||Sama Veda|
|4.||अयमात्मा ब्रह्म (Ayamātmā brahmā)||This Atman is Brahman||mandukya||Atharva Veda|
Īshvara (pronounced as /iːʃvərə/, literally, the Supreme Lord)—According to Advaita Vedanta, when man tries to know the attributeless Brahman with his mind, under the influence of Maya, Brahman becomes the Ishvara. Ishvara the manifested form of Brahman on the pragmatic level; his actual form in the transcendental level is the Cosmic Spirit.
Ishvara is Saguna Brahman, or Brahman with innumerable auspicious qualities. He is all-perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, Creator of the world, its ruler and also destroyer. He is causeless, eternal and unchangeable, and yet the material and the instrumental cause of the world. He is both immanent (like whiteness in milk) and transcendent (like a watch-maker independent of a watch). He may be even regarded to have a personality. He is the object of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the fruits of one's Karma.
Ishvara himself is beyond sin and merit. He rules the world with his Maya, his divine power. This association with a "false" knowledge does not affect the perfection of Ishvara, in the same way as a magician is himself not tricked by his magic. While Ishvara is the Lord of Maya, and Maya is always under his control, the living beings (jīva) are the servants of Maya (in the form of ignorance). This ignorance is the cause of the unhappiness and sin in the mortal world. While Ishvara is Infinite Bliss, humans are miserable because of their ignorance.
It is the nature of Ishvara to create, just as it is man's nature to breathe. As proof of the existence of Ishvara, Shankara cites the Shruti's references to Ishvara. Ishvara is beyond logic and thinking, but Shankara gives several logical proofs:
- The world is a work, an effect, and so must have a real cause, which must be Ishvara.
- The world has a wonderful unity, coordination and order, so its creator must have been an intelligent being.
- People do good and sinful work and receive its fruits, either in this life or after. People cannot be the givers of their own fruits, because no one would give himself the fruit of his sin. Also, this giver cannot be an unconscious object. So the giver of the fruits of Karma is Ishvara.
Status of the World
According to Adi Shankara's definition of “truth” as eternal, unchanging, and independent of space and time, the material world is not “true” because it is none of these things. On the other hand, Adi Shankara claims that the material world is not absolutely false; it appears false only when compared to Brahman. Under the influence of Maya, the world appears as completely true. The world cannot be both true and false at the same time; Adi Shankara classified the world as “indescribable.” Shankara gave several reasons why the material world could not be considered false. If the world were false, then with the liberation of the first human being, the world would have been annihilated. However, the world continued to exist even after numerous human beings attained liberation. Karma, an aspect of the material world, is true, so the world cannot be false. The world is like a reflection of Brahman; therefore it cannot be totally false. The world is a logical thing which is perceived by our senses; the term “false” is applied to things which are unable to be perceived by our physical senses
The individual self, jiva, is a subject-object complex, with Pure Consciousness as its subject element, called the Sāksin. Its object element is the internal organ called the antahkarana, whose source is avidya. In perception, when a sense organ comes into contact with an object, the antahkarana assumes the form of that object, taking the form of empirical knowledge.
In the Vedāntic literature, the antahkaraṇa (internal organ) is organized into four parts:
- Manas (mind) & that controls sankalpa (will or resolution)
- Buddhi (intellect)—the part that controls decision taking
- Chitta (memory)—the part that deals with remembering and forgetting
- Ahamkāra (ego)—the part that identifies the Atman (the Self) with the body as 'I.'
Human suffering is due to Maya (incorrect knowledge), and only knowledge (called Jnana) of Brahman can destroy Maya. When Maya is removed, the Saksin is realized as the Brahman and there exists ultimately no difference between the Jiva-Atman (individual soul)and the Brahman. When it is achieved while livingan earthly life, such a state of bliss is called Jivan mukti.
Adi Shankara himself was a proponent of devotional worship or Bhakti, teaching that the practice of ethical virtues and the pursuit of devotion and knowledge, resulted in the displacement of a false outlook (avidya) with a right outlook (vidya). But Adi Shankara believed that while Vedic sacrifices, puja and devotional worship could lead a person in the direction of jnana, true knowledge, they could not lead him directly to Moksha.
Pramāṇas, sources of knowledge
The term Pramā in Sanskrit refers to the “correct knowledge,” arrived at by thorough reasoning, of any object. The process of cognition, or arriving at correct knowledge involves three elements (tripuṭi, trio): Pramātṛ the subject, or the knower of the knowledge; Pramāṇa (sources of knowledge, Sanskrit), the cause or the means of the knowledge; and Prameya, the object of knowledge.
Advaita Vedānta accepts the following pramāṇas:
- Pratyakṣa—the knowledge gained by means of the senses
- Anumāna—the knowledge gained by means of inference
- Upamāna—the knowledge gained by means of analogy
- Arthāpatti—the knowledge gained by superimposing the known knowledge on an appearing knowledge that does not concur with the known knowledge
- Āgama—the knowledge gained by means of texts such as Vedas (also known as Āptavākya, Śabda pramāṇa)
According to Advaita Vedanta, the truth can be known at three levels:
- The transcendental or the Pāramārthika level, in which Brahman is the only reality and nothing else;
- The pragmatic or the Vyāvahārika level, in which both Jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Ishvara (the external manifestation of Brahman) are perceived to be true; the material world is completely true.
- The apparent or the Prāthibhāsika level, in which the material world is perceived as true, but the perception is actually false and illusory, like a dream or the perception of a rope as a snake.
Kārya and kāraṇa, cause and effect
The relationship between kārya (effect) and kāraṇa (cause) is an important are of discussion in all the systems of Vedanta. Two kāraṇatvas (ways of being the cause) are recognized:
- Nimitta kāraṇatva—Being the instrumental cause. A potter is assigned Nimitta kāraṇatva because he acts as the maker of the pot and thus becomes the pot's instrumental cause.
- Upādāna kāraṇatva—Being the material cause. The clay in the pot is assigned Upādāna kāraṇatva because it acts as the material from which the effect (the pot) is realized and thus becomes the pot's material cause.
From statements found in the Vedas, Advaita assigns both Nimitta kāraṇatva and Upādāna kāraṇatva to Brahman, concluding that Brahman is both the instrumental cause and the material cause of the universe.
Sarvāṇi rūpāṇi vicitya dhīraḥ. Nāmāni kṛtvābhivadan yadāste—That Lord has created all the forms and is calling them by their names (Taitiiriya Aranyaka 3.12.7)
Sa īkṣata lokānnu sṛjā iti—He thought, “Let me now create the worlds.” (Aitareya Upanishad 1.1.1)
Yathā somyaikena mṛtpinḍena sarvaṃ mṛnmayaṃ vijñātaṃ syādvācāraṃbhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ mṛttiketyeva satyaṃ—My dear, as by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the difference being only a name, arising from speech, but the truth being that all is clay (Chandogya Upanishad 6.1.4)
Sokāmayata bahu syāṃ prajāyeti—(He thought) May I become many; may I be born. (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.6.4)
Ekamevādvitīyaṃ—one only, without a second Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1
Advaita states that kārya (effect) cannot be differentiated from kāraṇa (cause), but the kāraṇa (cause) is different from kārya (“effect”). This principle is called Kārya-kāraṇa ananyatva (the non-difference of the effect from the cause). If the cause is destroyed, the effect will no longer exist. For example, if from the effect, cotton cloth, the cause, threads, are removed, there will be no cloth. (Ananyatve'pi kāryakāraṇayoḥ kāryasya kāraṇātmatvaṃ na tu kāraṇasya kāryātmatvaṃ)—If the “effect,” cloth, is destroyed, however, the “cause,” threads will still exist. The effect has its “self” in the cause, but the cause can exist without the effect. The effect is of the nature of the cause and not the cause the nature of the effect. Therefore the qualities of the effect cannot touch the cause. Adi Shankara in the Brahmasūtra Bhāṣya, commentary on the Brahma sutra, . 2.1.9. 
During the time of its existence, the effect does not appear different from the cause, and the difference between cause and effect is not readily understood. For example, the reflection of a gold ornament seen in the mirror has the same appearance as the ornament, but is not the ornament itself, since the reflection has no gold in it at all.
Sarvaṃ ca nāmarūpādi sadātmanaiva satyaṃ vikārajātaṃ svatastu anṛtameva—All names and forms are real when seen with the Sat (Brahman) but are false when seen independent of Brahman. Adi Shankara, Chāṃdogya Upaniṣad Bhāṣya, commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad, 6.3.2
In the context of Advaita Vedanta, Jagat (the world) is not different from Brahman; however Brahman is different from Jagat.
Any mumukṣu (one seeking moksha) has to have the following four sampattis (qualifications), collectively called Sādhana Chatuṣṭaya Sampatti (the four-fold qualifications):
- Nityānitya vastu viveka—The ability (viveka) to correctly discriminate between the eternal (nitya) substance (Brahman) and the substance that is transitory existence (anitya).
- Ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga virāga—The renunciation (virāga) of enjoyments of objects (artha phala bhoga) in this world (iha) and the other worlds (amutra) like heaven etc.
- Śamādi ṣatka sampatti—the six-fold qualities of śama (control of the antahkaraṇadama (the control of external sense organs), uparati (the refraining from actions; instead concentrating on meditation), titikṣa (the tolerating of tāpatraya), śraddha (the faith in Guru and Vedas), samādhāna (the concentrating of the mind on God and Guru).
- Mumukṣutva—The firm conviction that the nature of the world is misery and the intense longing for moksha (release from the cycle of births and deaths).
Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism
Adi Shankara's opponents accused him of teaching Buddhism in the garb of Hinduism. Both Shankara and his predecessor Gaudapada were accused of being crypto-Buddhists, while on the other side, Theravadins criticized Mahayana Buddhism for being a degeneration back into Hinduism."
However, while the Later Buddhists arrived at a changeless, deathless, absolute truth after their insightful understanding of the unreality of samsara, historically Vedantins never liked this idea. Although Advaita also proposes the theory of Maya, explaining the universe as a "trick of a magician," Adi Shankara and his followers see this as a consequence of their basic premise that Brahman is real. Their idea of Maya emerges from their belief in the reality of Brahman, rather than the other way around.
Adi Shankara was a peripatetic orthodox Hindu monk who traveled the length and breadth of India. The more enthusiastic followers of the Advaita tradition claim that he was chiefly responsible for "driving the Buddhists away." Historically the decline of Buddhism in India is known to have taken place long after Adi Shankara or even Kumarila Bhatta (who according to a legend had "driven the Buddhists away" by defeating them in debates), sometime before the Muslim invasion into Afghanistan (earlier Gandhara).
Although today's followers of Advaita believe Adi Shankara argued against Buddhists in person, a historical source, the Madhaviya Shankara Vijayam, indicates that Adi Shankara sought debates with Mimamsa, Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Yoga scholars as keenly as with any Buddhists. In fact his arguments against the Buddhists are quite mild in the Upanishad Bhashyas, while they border on the acrimonious in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya.
The Vishistadvaita and Dvaita schools believe in an ultimately saguna (dualistic) Brahman. They differ passionately with Advaita, and believe that his nirguna (monistic) Brahman is essentially not different from the Buddhist Sunyata (wholeness or zeroness), much to the dismay of the Advaita school. A careful study of the Buddhist Sunyata will show that it is in some ways metaphysically similar as Brahman. Whether Adi Shankara agrees with the Buddhists is not very clear from his commentaries on the Upanishads. His arguments against Buddhism in the Brahma Sutra Bhashyas are more a representation of Vedantic traditional debate with Buddhists than a true representation of his own individual belief.
There is also a great variety of modern scholarly research devoted to comparing the non-dualistic Buddhism with the classical Advaita Vedānta. The primary difference lies in the fact that unlike Mahayana Buddhism, Advaita Vedānta is rooted, by definition, in the source texts of the Vedānta. For the Advaita Vedāntin, the ultimately non-dual nature of reality is not a matter of logical inference or philosophical analysis; rather, it is a scriptural given, to be known, understood and experienced. Furthermore, this ultimate, eternal, non-dual reality is equated with one's innermost Self, whereas Buddhism fundamentally questions the eternality of the Self.
List of Texts
Advaita Vedānta, like other Vedanta schools of Hindu philosophy, recognizes the following three texts (known collectively as the Prasthānatrayī) of the Hindu tradition: Vedas- especially the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. These texts are considered to be the basic texts of the advaita tradition; many authors, including Adi Shankara, have written Bhashyas (commentaries) on these texts.
- Other texts
Other texts include, Advaita Siddhi, written by Madhusudana Saraswati, Shankara Digvijaya—Historical record of Adi Shankara's life accepted by scholars worldwide. Among other ancient advaitic texts, two of the most prominent are Avadhuta Gita and Ashtavakra Gita.
- Adi Shankara wrote Bhāṣya (commentaries) on
- Aitareya Upaniṣad (Rigveda)
- Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (Śukla Yajurveda)
- Īśa Upaniṣad (Śukla Yajurveda)
- Taittirīya Upaniṣad (Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda)
- Kaṭha Upaniṣad (Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda)
- Chāndogya Upaniṣad (Samaveda)
- Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad (Atharvaveda) and Gauḍapāda Kārika
- Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (Atharvaveda)
- Praśna Upaniṣad (Atharvaveda)
- Bhagavadgīta (Mahabhārata)
- Vishnu Sahasranama (Mahabhārata)
- Gāyatri Maṃtra
- The following treatises are attributed to Adi Shankara
- Vivekacūḍāmaṇi (Crest-Jewel of Discrimination)
- Upadeśasāhasri (A thousand teachings)
- Ātma bodha
- Sādhana Pañcakaṃ
- Nirvāṇa Śatakaṃ
- Manīśa Pañcakaṃ
- Yati Pañcakaṃ
- Tattva bodha
- Vākya vṛtti
- Siddhānta Tattva Vindu
- Nirguṇa Mānasa Pūja
The consensus among modern scholars is that only Upadeśasāhasri can be securely attributed to Shri Shankara himself.
- Adi Shankara composed many hymns on Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha and Subrahmanya
- Bhaja Govindaṃ, also known as Mohamuḍgara
- Śrī Lakṣmīnṛsiṃha Karāvalamba Stotraṃ
- Śāradā Bhujangaṃ
- Kanakadhāra Stotraṃ
- Bhavāni Aṣṭakaṃ
- Śiva Mānasa Pūja
- Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I. (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1973, ISBN 8120804120), 42.
- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, (eds.) A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), 506-507.
- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Volume I (New Delhi: Manzar Khan, Oxford University Press, 1998), 32.
- Chandrahar Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. 2003), 252.
- Aitareya Upanishad, Hinduwebsite.com. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
- Chandogya Upanishad Hinduwebsite.com. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
- Taittiriya Upanishad Hinduwebsite.com. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
- Swami Sivananda, Brahma Sutras. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
- Antahkarana- Yoga (definition), mimi.hu. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
- David Loy, Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same? National University of Singapore. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
- Shlomo Biderman, Shankara and the Buddhists, Journal of Indian Philosophy 6(4) (December 1978): 405-413.
- Anand Hudli The First Definition of Unreality, Advaitasiddhi.org. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
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All links retrieved June 15, 2023.
|Topics||Logic · Idealism · Monotheism · Atheism · Problem of evil|
|Āstika||Samkhya · Nyaya · Vaisheshika · Yoga · Mimamsa · Vedanta (Advaita · Vishishtadvaita · Dvaita)|
|Nāstika||Carvaka · Jaina (Anekantavada) · Bauddha (Shunyata · Madhyamaka · Yogacara · Sautrantika · Svatantrika)|
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