The philosophy of Vedanta
The following is an excerpt from the English translation of Anugrahabhashanam of Jagadguru Sri Sri Bharati Teertha Mahaswamiji
The great soul Sri Bhagavatpada Shankara, incarnated to expound the Advaita Siddhaanta (philosophy) to the world. The term Vedanta refers to this philosophy of Advaita. No one should think that Advaita Siddhaanta (philosophy) was founded by Sri Shankara. This (philosophy) has been revealed in the Upanishads from time immemorial. The Lord has also taught the same in the Bhagavad Gita. Sri Veda Vyasa has also propounded the same (philosophy) in the Brahma Sutras. But before the advent of Sri Bhagavatpada, there was no one who could make people understand this Advaita Siddhaanta correctly. Many dissident schools of thought were cropping up.This was because, the propagators of the dualistic school of thought, were able to find some Upanishadic statements (that seemed to support their stand). Even atheists who talk of Asadvada, were able to find a (seemingly supportive) statement in Vedas. By using very weak logic, many arguments against Advaita were prevalent before the time of Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada. In order to bring such people to the correct path, Sri Bhagavatpada incarnated to make people understand the philosophy as revealed in the Upanishads.
One must not pick an arbitrary Vedic statement and try to interpret it. The interpretation of Vedic statements must be consistent and proper. The Vedas are the Supreme authority. vedasya hi nirapekSham praamaaNyam raveriva roopaviShaye — thus, Sri Bhagavatpada has highlighted the authority of the Vedas.
It is incorrect to say that the Vedas — the Supreme authority — has contradictory statements. For instance — “ na tasya pratimaa’sti ” — if you understand this to imply God has no image , “na tat-samashca-abhyadhikashca dRshyate” — is another Vedic statementn means “No equal or greater entity is to be seen” — accordingly, if you need to arrive at the meaning pratimaa — saadRshyam naasti i.e. None is comparable to Him.
Therefore, we revere the Lord as unimaginably and infinitely powerful. His power is “acintya” — beyond our imagination. And His power is “aparimita” — having no limitations. The Consciousness that has such unimaginable and infinite power is only one. There cannot be a second entity that is comparable to That. This is the right meaning of the Upanishadic (Vedic) statement. Hence one must not understand the meaning based on misinterpretation of some Vedic statement. One must keep in mind all the Vedic statements and give the meaning consistently and properly. Hence, Sri Bhagavatpada emphatically said that if all Vedic statements have to be interpreted properly we have to admit that Advaita alone is the conclusion of the Upanishads. He proclaimed that no other interpretation is possible. If Advaita alone is considered to be the philosophy of the Vedas, then would it not give rise to many objections?
For all such objections, Sri Bhagavatpada has given explanations. One such objection is “In Advaita, it is said that the Supreme Consciousness (Parabrahman) alone is real and nothing else is.” Then what about all the activities happening in the world? Now You are the Guru, we are the disciples. You are teaching us. Tell us whether this is real or unreal? If everything other than Brahman is Mithyaa (illusion), does it mean that both Your teaching and our listening are also unreal? And are all the activities happening in this world also an illusion? You need to give us an answer for this.
Sri Bhagavatpada replies — sarva-vyavahaaraaNaam-eva praag-brahmaatma- vijnaanaat satyatvopapatteH
There are three types of truth.
The first is — trikaalaabaadhya satya — what we call the Eternal Truth.
The second is true only until Brahma-jnana is attained. It is called “vyaavahaarika satya.”
The third seems real only during the time of perception. It is called “praatibhaasika satya.”
We call this world, “vyaavahaarika satya.” That is, all of this is true until you attain Brahma-jnana. Upon attaining Brahma-jnana, Brahman is the only Truth that exists, and nothing else has existence. Those who raise objections against Advaita Siddhaanta, do not understand this explanation given by Sri Bhagavatpada. They raise objections to Advaita Siddhaanta without a proper understanding. “Oh! Advaita means everything is void.” — No! Nothing is denied reality.
We have not said that Karma (actions) has no importance. Then do you mean that Karma should be given up after Realization? For the one who has attained Advaita saakshaatkaara (Realization), we need not tell him to give up Karma — it will leave him on its own. Hence, we always stress that until one attains Advaita saakshaatkaara, one must perform actions (Karma). Don’t raise a hue and cry that Advaita will lead to the neglect of Karma Shastra (actions), Upasana Shastra (worship). All of these have importance. Advaita Siddhaanta has to be properly understood.
Someone asked, ” Swamiji, If you say that everything other than Brahman is unreal, then are the Vedas unreal too?” Are not Vedic statements also unreal? And is not Knowledge acquired from such statements also unreal?, when knowledge obtained from unreal statements is unreal, then how can Advaitic knowledge be the Truth?
Sri Bhagavatpada replied — shankaa-viShaadinaapi maraNa-sambhavaat
Yes — a real action can come about from an unreal statement. Where can this happen?
A person ate something, Another person told him, “This is poison! You have eaten poison!” Then that person began to feel strongly, “I have eaten poison, I have eaten poison…”, eventually resulting in his death. In reality, what he ate was not poison. He died because he developed a false notion that he had eaten poison.
Thus the unreal poison resulted in his death.
Similarly, to the question, “how can knowledge obtained from Vedic statements be true when everything is unreal?”
We dream. Everyone knows that dreams are not true. However it is said that a dream may result in the occurrence of an actual event. It is said that certain types of dreams, give certain type of results. However, our dreams are not real. And yet, they can cause a real event.
Everyone who has heard the Ramayana may know about the dream of Trijata. When Mother Sita was sitting under the Ashoka tree, when the demonesses were threatening Mother Sita, an elderly demoness,Trijata says — I saw a dream last night. In that dream, I saw Ravana smearing oil all over his body, sitting on a donkey and riding towards the south. If we see a dream where a person smeared with oil all over his body, sits on a donkey and rides towards the south, it implies that person will die very soon.” Further, I dreamt that Vibhishana was decked with all ornaments, was sitting on an elephant and riding towards the east.” The result of such a dream is that the person will be victorious. Of course, Ravana neither smeared oil all over his body, nor ride towards the south on a donkey, as depicted in the dream. However, the inference here is that an unreal dream can produce a real event. And it has happened there. Hence, to say that an unreal statement cannot bring about the knowledge of Reality is incorrect.
Sri Bhagavatpada has firmly established that the Advaita Siddhaanta cannot be shaken in any manner. However, it is now a practice for dissidents (due to their inability or lack of interest to understand its meaning), to criticise Advaita. As proof that the Advaita Siddhaanta is Supreme, Sri Ayyanna Dikshitar has mentioned in the text, Vyaasa-taatparya-nirnaya that, even philosophers of other schools, have taken the meaning of the word “Vedanta” to mean Advaita Siddhaanta alone! Is any other testimony needed to say Advaita alone is the essence of the Upanishads! This Advaita Siddhaanta was propounded by Sri Bhagavatpada. Subsequently, many great personages have further elaborated on the Advaita Siddhantha.