Random Musings-Part 21- In defense of Advaita and Vivarta-Vada
It is often alleged that Shankaracharya reduced the whole Universe into a mere illusion- a non-existence. It is further alleged that, this doctrine of Maya is against the Vedic thoughts. But, on a careful examination and proper understanding it would be easily known that the both the allegations have no standing.
For the creation of any object there should be a material cause and an Intelligent cause. Example, in case of making a pot, the mud is the material from which pot is made i.e. Mud is the Material cause. The potter who makes the pot out of mud is the Intelligent cause. So, naturally the question will be What/Who is the material and intelligent cause of the Universe?
The scriptures describe Brahman/God itself as both the material and intelligent cause of the Universe. Aitereya Upanishad (1.1.1) clearly mentions Brahman as the Intelligent cause of the Universe. Similarly, Taittiriya Upanishad (3.1.1) speaks about Brahman as the material cause of the Universe. Hence, Brahman/God is both the material as well as Intelligent cause of the Universe. Now the question would be, how would this Brahman manifest the Universe? Is it a real transformation or apparent transformation?
One school of thought believe that there is a real transformation of Brahman into Universe just as Milk turns into Curd. Some believe there is a real projection of Universe from a portion of Brahman just as portions of vast body of water can become waves, bubbles, foams etc. These two views has been termed as “Parinama Vada- the Theory of Real Transformation”. Advaita on other hand proposes “Vivarta Vada- the Theory of Apparant Transformation”. It holds that the Brahman manifests the Universe only as an appearance just as a magician conjures up the apperant elephant or a rope being mistaken as snake.
If it is accepted that God itself has become Universe like a milk becoming curd, then it means there is no God other than the Universe. Then it would mean that all actions and worship becomes meanining-less. The pursuit of Moksha or the concept of spiritual evolution becomes meaningless. The world is already present in front of us perceived by out senses. Hence, if world itself is God, then there is nothing else to be achieved. Such, a materialistic view is not supported by the Vedas that speak about need to practice Dharma and strive hard for Moksha. Further, if it be accepted that God has divided himself and projected the Universe from a portion of his own Self, then it would mean that Brahman is not one Absolute Reality without mutations, without divisions. This is contradictory to the statements of Upanishads that describe Brahman as without parts, without mutation etc (Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.19).
Hence, the manifestation of the Universe from Brahman is neither possible through a real transformation nor as a projection from part of Brahman because they go against the statements of Vedas. Therefore, the Universe is manifested only as an apparent projection/apparent manifestation from Brahman. And this apparent manifestation, this process from which Universe is brought into existence is called as Maya/Avidya. When it is said that the world of objects and names are products of Maya, it does not mean they have “No Existence”. It only means that their existence is only apparent and temporary. Hence, Gaudapada (Karika 3.19) boldly declares that Brahman becomes differentiated (into Universe of names and forms) only through Maya and it does so in no other way. Even the Upanishads explain how the people are engaged only in performance of actions and attainment of Universe due to Avidya (Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.8-10).
The claim that Advaita would lead to immorality and recklessness or that it would mean Karmas are useless are only due to improper understanding. Instead, the view of Advaita is that Avidya/Maya is the process by which Brahman projects this Universe. This Universe and all its entities are not “Not-Existence” but only have apparent existence from absolute standpoint. Hence, this Universe is called as “Vyavaharika Satya” that which is though temporary and apparent in Absolute sense, in day to day activities it is indeed real and binding. As long as a person exist in Universe by considering temporary as permanent, the unreal as real, the names and forms as Ultimate reality, till then they are all binding. Hence, a dishonesty is indeed dishonesty in the world and all actions are indeed binding. Only from Brahman’s standpoint, that Brahman alone exist. Shankaracharya has at many places advises people to practice their Karmas and live according to Dharma. No where does the Shankaracharya assert that one should run away from duties.
Hence, both the claims that Advaita reduces the World into unreal illusion and hence leads to immorality and idleness and that it is against vedic thought have no ground.