Random Musings-Part 21- In defense of Advaita and Vivarta-Vada

Nithin Sridhar

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.


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9 responses to “Random Musings-Part 21- In defense of Advaita and Vivarta-Vada”

  1. Shiv Dinkar says :

    Chandogya Upanishad 3-14-1 does not say that the Brahman is the material cause. It discusses about the meditation upon the Brahman present in Pralaya water. It starts Sarvam Khalidwam Tadjalanithi Shantha Upasitha … Needless to say that, I stopped reading because the very premise on which you were trying to build a case for Adwaitham is based on a misquote. The Brahman which is a Chetana cannot be a material cause for Achetana. Further, Brahman has not Vikaara – i.e., Change according to Shrutis – Nirvikaaro Akshaya Shudaha. So, Brahman does not undergo any modification. But a material has to undergo modification. Therefore, Brahman is only an Agent and Prakriti is the material cause. This Prakriti beinf Achetana cannot proceed to create on its ow. It is activated by the Brahman.

    • Nithin Sridhar says :

      Thank you so much pointing out an error. I had quoted a wrong verse and would not have noticed if you had not pointed out. I have rectified the error. I had intended to quote Taittiriya Upanishad 3.1.1- yato va bhutani jayante |.

  2. Shiv Dinkar says :

    At no time can an insentinent matter produce a sentinent being or a non-sentinent entity a sentinent being or a sentinent being produce another sentinent being or a non-sentinent entity by self-transformation. In all cases of transformation of a cause into its effect the essential nature of the material cause is transmitted to the effect as in respect of clay to the pot. If then, the material world is to be a material transformation of Brahman, it should give evidence of its sentinence, as the distinctive nature of Brahman, is its sentinence, which is not passed on to the material world. If this is not a vital requirement of material Kaaryakaaranabhaava, the Caarvaaka philosopher may get away with his view that so called self is only a product of the four elements and Shankara himself could not refute the Dehatnavada theory of Caarvaaka from the Vewdantic point of view that Achetana elements cannot be the cause of the intelligent self under the Sutra Eka Atmanah Sharire Bhaavat (BS iii,3,53)

    I repeat what I said earlier before – the Brahman which is a Chetana cannot be a material cause for Achetana. Further, Brahman has not Vikaara – i.e., Change according to Shrutis – Nirvikaaro Akshaya Shudaha. So, Brahman does not undergo any modification. But a material has to undergo modification. Therefore, Brahman is only an Agent and Prakriti is the material cause. This Prakriti being Achetana cannot proceed to create on its own. It is activated by the Brahman.

    • Nithin Sridhar says :

      Your assertions can be answered at many level.

      1. There is no rule that Chetana cause cannot produce Achetana result. In the world it is observed that when cow dung is kept for sometime, a liquid comes out of it. Hence, from a solid cow dung comes out the liquid cowdung. Similarly, from Brahman who is Chetana, the World which is achetana can come. Hence, your argument does not hold.

      2. Further, it may be even said that, the whole world is Chetana too as Brahman himself inhabits them. That in some objects Chetana is manifested as Intelligence etc and in some objects it may stay in unmanifest state. And the achetana of the material objects is only due to Ignorance/Avidya.

      3. Even if your argument is assumed to be correct, that from Chetana Brahman, Achetana world cannot be produced. It is true only if there is a real manifestation/transformation of the cause into effect. But, Advaita says that world is manifested through Maya as an appearance or magic. Just as rope is mistaken as snake, similarly Brahman appears as Universe through Maya.

      Hence, Brahman is indeed both the material and intelligent/efficient cause of the world. Just as a rope is material cause of the snake mistaken on it. An object transform into another object either through real transformation or through apparent transformation. From the standpoint of duality, Prakriti is the material cause that undergoes Real Transformation (parinama) and Purusha the efficient cause. From the standpoint of Non-duality, Brahman is both material and efficient cause of Universe through vivarta/apparent transformation achieved through Maya.

      • Shiv Dinkar says :

        1. Your Upamanam is incorrect. And more importantly, your conclusion that Achetana can come from Chetana is even more flawed. Water is inherent part of Achetana cow dung and what happens is separation of liquid and solid portion. But both of them are Achetana.

        2. You do realize that you have used something known as circular logic to prove a point – that veiled illogic.

        3. This is another case of circular logic – use more illogical examples as starting point from Adwaitham to prove the earlier point.

        4. The Maya as defined by Adwaitham does not exist. And even if it did, it cannot engulf the Brahman. If it did so, then even those souls who have attained Mukhti can enter into Samsara. You see, how illogical Adwaitham can be.

        5. You are using more circular logic to prove your point. A necessary and sufficient condition to mistake a rope as snake is that you must have seen both a snake and a rope before. Along the similar logic, if you are mistaking this Jagat as true then there is a Real or Protype Jagat existing elsewhere. So, an Adwaithi has put himself in a position wherein he has to accept not one but two Jagats – one Real elsewhere and this Maya Jagat we live in.

        Long and short, you have not proved that Brahman is the material cause for Jagat. You have tried in vain to prove your points by circular logic and/ or other illogical concepts from Adwaitham.

  3. Nithin Sridhar says :

    1. There is no fault. I just pointed out how from cow-dung which is solid/without flow can the liquid with flow can come out. Similarly, from Brahman without activity, the world with activity can come. There is no fault in the example.

    2. Your stating that something is circular does not make it one. Taittiriya Up i had quoted clearly says that the Universe has its origin, sustenance and dissolution in Brahman. Further, Maandukya Upanishad clearly speaks the whole Universe with all these objects as verily Brahman (Sarvam etat Brahma) even the Isha Upanishad repeats the same. Mandukya goes further and explains how the gross world, subtle world, causal world forms the three quarters of Brahman and the state of Turiya denotes the whole. From these statements, it is clearly that Brahman alone exist who is Chetana. In some objects it is in Vyakta state and in some in Avyakta state.

    3. Again a blanket statement proves nothing. Please explain how it is a circular logic.

    4. I would like to know what is your understanding of “Maya” ? Your statements regarding Maya appear to be due to improper understanding. Maya has been defined in various ways in various contexts but basically it refers to the power of Brahman or the process by which Brahman manifests the Universe. Maya is same as Prakriti of Samkhya or Shakti of Tantras but, it has more deeper and wider meaning.

    5. You are stretching the example beyond the scope. I gave you two examples like how a magician conjures a magic elephant and how a rope is mistaken as snake. One more example is how Krishna manifested Saree in Draupadi Vastra haran. God using his Mysterious power/Maya manifests the Universe like an appearance or magic. So, the example was to demonstrate that in case of rope mistaken as snake, rope does not become snake by real transformation but only an apparent transformation. Hence, you are stretching it too far than what was stated. Regarding the statement that there should have been a previous knowledge, it can be further answered that the present cycle of manifestation is based on previous cycle. Hence, Brahman who is all-Knowing manifests the present Kalpa based on previous Kalpas.

    • Shiv Dinkar says :

      1. The topic of discussion was how an Achetana can come from a Chetana. And, in that context you gave the example of cow-dung. So, the Upamaanam is in-appropriate. Your latest explanation indicates lack of understanding – the water does not rise to the top but the solid particles settle down. But still water is not created in the first place. Second of all, water does not rise up but the solid settles down. Third of all, it does not happen on its own but this happens due to gravity. So, by all counts the Upamaanam is incorrect.

      2. You said “That in some objects Chetana is manifested as Intelligence etc and in some objects it may stay in unmanifest state. And the achetana of the material objects is only due to Ignorance/Avidya”. When you have used Avidya which is another illogical concept of Adwaitham to explain your point, it is circular logic.

      The 3-1 of Taittriyopanishad means, Brahman is he from whom all beings arise, by whoim all beings are sustained, into whom all beings enter during Pralaya and whom all beings reach when liberated. Meditate upon him by Sharvana, Manana and Nididhyaasana. You do realize that the Abeda Shrutis have more than one meaning without being Swarupa Ikhyam. For example, Stana Ikhyam (i.e., reason of common platform) or Maithi Ikhyam (i.e., unity of minds) or Sadrishyam (i.e., similarity). So, to build the philosophy on a few Abedha Shrutis which can have multiple interpretations (i.e., Saavakasha interpretations) and completely ignoring Bheda Shrutis, is illogical at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst.

      3. You are using Maaya to explain this. So, you are resorting to circular logic using dubious concepts from Adwaitham. If you are unable to follow, I don’t know what to say.

      4. The Maaya as defined by Adwaitham does not exist. If it did, it cannot engulf the all powerful Brahman. If Adwaitham says, ONLY the Brahman exists then from where and whence can Maaya come in?

      5. You do realize that now by giving examples from previous Kaalpa you have unconsciously you walked into another logical mine-field. That is, now you have fallen into the trap of regressus ad infinitum.

      Did you realize that by giving the example of Krishna creating Vastram for Draupadi, you have supported Dwaitham version of creation – De Novo, Ex Nihilo?

      So, whichever path you take, it is fraught with illogic and or circular logic?

      And, once again, you have not proved that Achetana has come from a Chetana – that is the Brahman is the material cause.

      • Nithin Sridhar says :

        1. Again you are stretching an example beyond the scope of it. Water rises up or solid settles down, does not matter, water indeed comes out of it. Only that matters. And everything happens due to gravity also does not matter as they do not apply to the context. The only relevance of the example was to show that from solid cow-dung which has no movement, the water which has movement comes out. The example was used to show that from cow-dung which is still, the fluid that has flow can emerge. Similarly, from Brahman who is Shantam, the Universe having movement has emerged. Only this much is the relevance of the example.

        2. Your replies shows your per-conceived notions towards Advaita. So, there is nothing is left to be spoken about. I have quoted you from various verses of sruti about how Brahman exist as the inner-most Self of all objects and how he inhabits every object and hence the claim world is achetana is not true at all.

        The meaning of Taittiriya Upanishad is quite clear. It is Brahman from whom everything has arisen and everything merges back. Hence, Brahman is the material cause of the Universe. Your calling of the other side as Intellectual Dishonesty just because you do not agree with them, shows your own mindset. There is nothing left for me to reply to such a person.

        The very division of Vedas into abheda and bheda seems shallow. Vedas are ultimate Pramana. The use of logic must be only in understanding them. If any verses appear mutually contradictory, it only means that we have not understood them and their context properly. If, Brahman is being said as the cause of the Universe, at one place, you cannot say it is illogical. Because, Vedas speak about Truth that is beyond the reach of the senses and the mind. Any logical analysis is only for the intellectual understanding, which would in-turn lead to practice of Sadhana.

        3. Your understanding of Maya is faulty and biased.

        4. Maya is the Shakti of Brahman. Its described as Brahman-ashraya. Brahman through his maya creates the Universe and then inhabits them as chit. Maya is described in Upanishads itself. Svetasvatara Upanishad describes Maya as Prakriti.

        5. The Brahman is eternal indeed. So, this cycle of manifestation and dissolution will be happening infinitely. This is no trap at all. To expect that there was a beginning, will mean Brahman is not eternal.

        6. How does the Krishna example support Dvaita concept? Krishna is both the material and the intelligent cause of the vastra that is manifested from him. Yet it cannot be said that he himself became a vastra out of real transformation nor can it be said that he made the vastra in a factory using silk etc. So, he through his power of Maya manifested the saree as an appearance.

        7. There is no need for me to prove achetana comes out of chetana at all. As Upanishads are clear that the whole Universe is inhabited by Brahman who is chetana. In some this chetana is in manifested state and in some it is in unmanifest state. Hence, there is no fault in accepting Brahman as material cause. Just as for the projection of snake, the rope is material cause, so also Brahman is the material cause of the Universe.

  4. Shiv Dinkar says :

    I was busy at work and, hence could not respond earlier.

    1. Once again your Upamaanam is incorrect. The water does not form in the cow-dung. It was always there and, it just got separated. Whichever way you cut it, the Upamanam is inappropriate.

    2. You say that there is nothing to be spoken about due to my pre-conceived notion about Adwaitham. But you have self-contradicted yourselves by replying?

    The Brahman exists as the inner-most self of all objects – yes, that is also Dwaitha position. But Dwaitham says that it should be understood as Shtana Ikhyam or Mathi Ikhyam and not as Roopa Ikhyam which is Adwaitha position and which is not logical.

    There is no logical way from that Taitriya Upanishad quote, you can conclude about the Brahman being the Material Cause of the universe.

    Read carefully what I said – So, to build the philosophy on a few Abedha Shrutis which can have multiple interpretations (i.e., Saavakasha interpretations) and completely ignoring Bheda Shrutis, is illogical at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst. I still stand by it. Where does the mind set come into picture here. Please tell me how it is OK to discard Bheda Shrutis which is what the basis of Adwaitham is?

    No one said that Shrutis are not Pramana. Do you care to explain how division of Shrutis into Bheda Shruti and Abheda Shruti shallow? In fact, discarding the Bheda Shrutis which are more in number as done by Adwaitham while at the same time, just cherry picking a few Abheda Shrutis as done by Adwaitham is intellectual dishonesty. In science, if you did such things, – i.e., selecting only a few data points that supports your position while overlooking others without re-concilation or holistic view, it is called scientific lying.

    3 & 4. It is the other way around. The Maaya as defined by Adwaitham does not exist. So, according to Adwaitham, the Brahman the only thing that exists, has put Maaya on itself!!! And, now it is caught on the Maaya that it has put on itself and, trying helplessly to extricate itself!!! Hardly makes sense and hardly a right view of the Omni-potent Brahman.

    5. You have written many words but not explained the Regresses Ad Infinitum and or the reason for the Ab Initio State.

    6. Please think what is being conveyed. Did Krishna transform himself as the Vastram? Or was it De Novo and Ex Nihilo? Again you are using a concept of Maaya of Adwaitham to explain what you want to convey – i.e., you have resorted to circular logic – use one illogical concept from Adwaitham to prove another illogical concept of Adwaitham.

    7. So, according to you the Brahman is Chetana in some cases and is Achetana or Jaada in some cases!!! So, what happens to the Shruthi that the Brahman is Ekarasa? Should that Shruti also be discarded to suit your view point?

    Once again you are using one illogical concept of Adwaitham to prove another illogical concept – i.e., resorting to circular logic.

    You have not proven that the Brahman is the Material Cause of the Universe. Why should the Shrutis in discussion be interpreted as Roopa Ikhyam and not as Stahana Ikhyam or Mathi Ikhyam? You have not done that.

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