Advaita Vedanta Indian Philosophy

What is Advaita (Non-Dualism) and What Are the Criteria For A Philosophy To Be Advaita?

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Sunil Upasana hails from Kerala (India) and has been a Bengalurean for 13 years. He has had a deep yearning to understand the profound philosophy that underlies Hinduism Read More.

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I must clarify a thing before proceeding. That is, here ‘Advaita’ does not mean ‘Advaita Vedanta’. Advaita Vedanta is a philosophical stream included in the Advaita tradition of philosophy. Advaita tradition has its origin in Upanishads and various philosophical systems exhibits similar criteria to be qualified as called Advaita. Now let us dig deeper.

What is Advaita (Non-Dualism):-

‘Advaita’ very simply means the lack of duality of all type and kind. And this lack of duality poses a bunch of questions and via their asnwers, we shall understand the major characteristics of Advaita.

Where is this non-duality applicable? In phenomenal, experiential world level ? Or transcendent, metaphysical realm level?
What about the state of natural world in the non-dual situation?
What will be the relationship of natural world, which is essentially dual and plural, with the non-dual one?

Answers of a particular philosophical school, to the above questions decide whether that philosophical System is Advaita (Non-Dual) or not. The philosophical systems has to answer in a similar way for it to consider as an Advaitic line of thought.

One and only one ultimate reality:-

All Advaitic systems propound that there is only ONE ultimate reality. It is from this Ultimate Reality, every ‘others’ originate or supposed as originating.

Advaita don’t hesitate the existence of plurality or multiplicity as such we find in natural, experiential world. Advaita approves duality and multiplicity, but in a lower plane to ultimate plane and says that this lower plane is ultimately unreal, Ie, lower plane is only relatively real.

Existence of Avidya / Maya to make Experiential world a relative reality: –

What makes the lower plane unreal? what’s the difference between the REAL ultimate reality (also known as Paramartha Satya) and the UNREAL natural world (known as Vyavaharika Satya)? The second criteria of advaita comes here. That is, there must be another principle that is supposed to be with the ultimate reality.

Now a question may arise in the minds of common man. If ultimate reality is accompanied by another principle, then how can the Ultimate Reality be truly Non-Dual?. The answer is…. We only speculate about this second principle from the relative plane. The existence of a second principle along with ultimate reality is a product of our logic. It is a mental construction. We can’t claim it to be real and correct. We cannot know anything about it because when we realize the ultimate reality, this second principle is not there. It is by escaping from the clutch of this second principle that we achieve Moksha. The relationship between the first and second principle is unknown. It is said to be in the agnostic level.

This second principle is known as Avidya. In Advaita Vedanta it is also called as Maya.

Unreal experiential world:-

In an Advaita system of philosophy, the nature of experimental world will be indescribable (Maya). Experimental world and it’s multiplicity arises as a result of the influence of Avidya upon the Brahman. Avidya makes experiential world ultimately unreal, and thus saves the Advaita system from the pluralistic experiential world. Had Avidya not there, then experimental world and the pluralities there, will become Real and Advaita system will denigrate to Realism.

In every Advaita stream of philosophy, experiential world is ultimately unreal and relatively Real.

These are the three requirements, a philosophical system should have, to be considered as an Advaita system.

The Advaita Philosophies of India: –

There are three major Advaita philosophic sects in Indian tradition. Two from Buddhist and one from Hindu tradition. While Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka philosophy and Asanga-Vasubandhu’s Vinjanavada philosophy are from Buddhism and Sankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta is from Hindu fold. Kashmir Shaivism is also considered to be belongs to Advaita tradition, though there are opposite views against this.

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