Advaita-Samkhya-VishishtAdvaita and their compatibility with science v/s dvaita

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    Abbhinav Bharadwaj

    Instead of flowing in the common tendency of “Hari Anant Hari Katha Ananta”, I believe science and logic are a way to find the true nature of reality, instead of otherwise as it might have seemed. I’ve recently started reading your books, which are a wonderful work of human mind and thought but I have a question from a fundamental point: You mentioned advaita (and samkhya, basically vedanta) and mentioned the advaita based theory of soul and spirit (jeeva and atman/brahman) but I’ve seen that you’ve  used ISKCON (A.C. Shrila Prabhupada) translations and dedicated the books to his divine grace, which I respect and have witnessed during the course of seeking. But the problem is that A.C. Prabhupada has mixed duality and his own perception of reality into the translation and commentary of Shrimadbhagwadgita, which we don’t find in any other translations except a few others following the similar lineage of bhakti movement, e.g. Swami Mukundananda and (Jagadguru) Kripalu Maharaj, which promotes bhakti alone as bhakti yoga and denigrates other forms of yoga, other gods (actually sects from advaita point of view, e.g. Kashmir Shaivism). Due to this duality discrepancy apparently motivated from abrahamism, arises doubt around the credibility & reliability of origins of the theory being discussed and confuses theologically naive readers like me. I had nearly stopped reading due to this confusion before I came across one of your podcast where the introduction starts with Jeevatma and Atman, which propelled me to reach out to you regarding the concern.

    I anticipate your forgiveness if at any point I sound rude or derogatory, which might be a result of my disagreement with the modern iskconites and manipulated basis of ISKCON’s Bhagawadgita which is not welcoming to non-vaishnav sects and denigrates them with a pseudo-philosophical basis. My position is on the side of non-duality, Adi Shankara’s advaita, Samkhya and/or VishishtAdvait towards which modern science points with hope, under the panpsychist/panentheist/idealist(derived from idealism) assumption in order to explain conciousness.

    Ashish Dalela

    I would recommend reading the book “Conceiving the Inconceivable“, which traces the history of Vedanta interpretations. These include Advaita, Suddhadvaita, Visistadvaita, Dvaita, Bhedabheda, and Achintyabhedabheda. There are at least five other prominent interpretations of Vedanta, apart from Advaita. But in the minds of most people, Advaita is the only Vedanta, because the bhakti traditionalists don’t emphasize Vedanta. This is a problem with the Bhakti traditionalists, not a problem with the tradition

    Now you might ask: Why so many interpretations? And the answer is this: All interpretations of Vedanta (including Advaita) have had some problems. Advaita for instance recognizes two categories–Brahman and maya–but doesn’t explain the root cause of the Jiva’s fall into maya. If Brahman is superior, then why does Brahman come under maya? And if maya is superior, then how can Brahman get liberated? To address these problems in Vedanta, successive interpretations of Vedanta have been done. It is not merely someone’s viewpoint, without a basis. Its basis is that there is an unsolved problem which was solved by propounding an alternative view. But the next interpretation also has a problem, which was solved by the subsequent interpretation. In this way, Vedanta progressed over several centuries to come to the point of Achintya Bhedaabheda, in which soul and God, matter and soul, and God and soul, are simultaneously one and different, and we cannot explain this oneness and difference in a scientific/rational manner.

    The book “Conceiving the Inconceivable” tries to solve this problem. For more details, you might want to read the book. It traces the history of Vedanta as a succession of problems and solutions, and explains why the next interpretation was necessary to solve the problem of the previous interpretation, and how it led to subsequent interpretations. 

    Advaita has an importance in the historical context of Buddhism. Vedic society had degenerated into ritualism, and priests were exploiting the common people, taking their money and promising their liberation in return. Buddhism liberated them from this exploitation by emphasizing meditation and self-upliftment, rejecting the reliance on priests. But in the process, they also rejected Vedic scriptures. Sri Shankaracharya, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, then propounded a system of philosophy, which was sociologically identical to Buddhism, namely, that self-study, meditation, and self-upliftment was important, and priests were not. But instead of saying that reality is nothingness or void, he said that reality is One. This meant oneness of all souls, and the oneness of soul with God. This oneness was conceived physically, in the sense that we cannot distinguish between soul and God, or between souls. This creates many problems of soul’s fall into matter, which the subsequent interpretations are used to address.

    The cardinal statement of Advaita is: brahma satyam jagat mithya, brahma jiva eva na parah. So, there are four claims: (1) Brahman is true, (2) the world is false, (3) jiva is Brahman, and (4) there is certainly nothing superior (to Jiva). All the interpretations of Vedanta agree on the first three claims. They disagree on the 4th claim — namely, there is nothing superior to Jiva. God is indeed superior to Jiva. This leads to three categories — Jiva, Prakriti, and Ishvara — rather than two (Brahman and maya). Since there is agreement on the first three claims, therefore, it is not discussed as much. The focus remains on the difference. But it has nothing to do with ordinary debates.

    As far as coloring of books by interpretations is concerned, it is well-known that everybody colors it. But there is a reason: You can only see what you are. So, if you want to see something superior, then you have to become superior. The question is not how it is colored, the question is: Who is seeing something better? And why is it better?

    The Nyaya system of philosophy explains that reality appears different to different people, but some appearances are outright false, some are mixtures of false and true and therefore partially true, some are truer but still not the whole truth, and there is one complete truth. In this way, a progressive and hierarchical system of truth is presented in all Vedic texts. Advaita flattens this hierarchy as just two levels — true and false. Brahman is true, and maya is false. This basic principle of flattening is incorrect, but it appeals to a Western mindset (and even most modern people) who are used to simplistic true/false distinction. The more complicated system of many levels of truth doesn’t appeal to most people. As a result, Advaita is very popular, because it is easy to understand. Others are harder.

    There are also many kinds of Oneness. For example, two cars are one in their type–they are both cars. Similarly, two people can have the same goal–they are one in their purpose. So, Oneness doesn’t require merger of everything into one thing, and therefore, unity is not contradictory to diversity. This contradiction between unity and diversity is created by Advaita, and it is false dichotomy. Brahman can also be diverse individuals, if they are of the same type — i.e., sat-chit-ananda (just like two cars are cars). And these diverse individuals can be united in their purpose — i.e., serving the Param Brahman as His parts (just like they body parts serve the whole body). So, there is unity and there is diversity. And they are compatible. How they are compatible is the essence of Vedanta. 

    Then, regarding Prabhupada, his name is “Bhaktivedanta”. It is not bhakti without Vedanta, and it is not Vedanta without bhakti. But Vedanta is very difficult and nuanced, so most people make it very simplistic. It is not very simple. Sri Chaitanya’s version of Vedanta endorses Oneness with Ishvar in mood. For example, Ishvar sometimes takes on the mood of a Jiva, and worships Ishvar as if He were a Jiva. Then, the Jiva sometimes acts as the master of Ishvar, as if Ishvar is someone subordinate to the Jiva. So, this interchangeability of mood is also Advaita or oneness, but it is not physical oneness. 

    For example, Lord Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna, and He acted like He was Arjuna’s servant. But Arjuna considered himself the servant of Lord Krishna. So, the naive reader of Bhagavad-Gita would say: Oh, Krishna is just like Arjuna, because He is also a servant. But they ignore the other statements of Bhagavad-Gita. For example, aham sarvasya prabhavo, mattah sarvam pravartate, it matva bhajante mama budha bhava samanvitah. Or, I am the creator of everything, everything comes from Me, in this way, the intelligent worship Me, imbued with devotion. So, where is the contradiction? There is intelligence (budha) and there is devotion (bhava samanvitah).  And it is clearly stated that everything comes from Krishna. Can you and I say that “I am the creator of everything”? So, if Krishna is just like another Jiva, then this statement would become false. It can only be true if Krishna is different from the Jiva. There are dozens of direct statements like this in Bhagavad-Gita. If we are intelligent, then we can understand it.

    The contradiction between intelligence and devotion is created by those who are unable to understand how intelligence means devotion. Just like if you meet an immensely great person, and you recognize their greatness, then you don’t say: Let me compete with this great person, so that I will become equal to him. That is not intelligence. Because you are not great, and you will never become equal to that greatness by trying to compete. You will always be many steps behind, and at each step you will look at that greatness and try to copy it. This copy mentality is cheating. Because you are copying that greatness, but you are not willing to acknowledge what you are copying from is much greater than you. You are just hoping that one day by incremental copying you will become as great.

    Impersonalism is like the mentality of trying to copy the greatness to become great. The fact is that you can achieve some greatness like that, but never become equal to the Greatest. Therefore, the more intelligent person says: Let me follow the great person, and serve him, because by that service I have also become part of that greatness.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t want to serve. They all want to compete, and become great. So, if someone has got a little intelligence, then they think that they will copy and become great. But they don’t realize how great God is. The devotees realize that God is so great that the soul can never achieve that greatness. So, they give up the mentality of copying greatness and trying to become great. They say: I will serve the Greatest. 

    You have asked many good questions, but I will recommend reading the book “Conceiving the Inconceivable”. You will find that all the positions of Vedanta are true, but from a certain perspective. And all this can be discussed rationally and studied scientifically, but it is not trivial. It requires a very intelligent mind, because the issues are very involved. If you have further questions, you are welcome to ask them. But if you read that book, it will answer most of your questions. If something is left, we can still discuss it.

    Ashish Dalela

    As regards duality, we have to first understand what it means. The naive understanding of duality is “twoness”, but a more sophisticated understanding is antinomies.

    Just like if you are trying to buy a car, then there is an antinomy between cost and functionality. If the car is cheap, then it lacks many functionalities. And if all the functionality is there, then the car is very expensive. Now, don’t you want the car to have all the functionality, and yet be very low-cost? Everyone wants that. But we cannot get it in this world. Therefore, to reduce cost, we remove functionality, and to increase functionality we pay a higher price. Both are undesirable conditions, but one undesirable condition must be chosen. This choice between two bad alternatives is the true meaning of duality.

    The material world is duality because every choice is a choice between two bad alternatives. If you get one thing, you will not get the opposite thing. This is the meaning of antinomy. And Advaya or Advaita means where you get both the opposite things. That is, the simplest thing is also the biggest thing; the lowest-cost thing is the most functional thing.

    The Advaita system says: Let’s remove all the qualities. And that removal of all qualities is very hard. So by that effort, they get a car which has a huge cost, and zero functionality. But that is not the only understanding of Advaita. There is another meaning of Advaita in which we maximize the functionality and minimize the cost. The maximum is the whole truth, and the minimum is zero cost. This is another, superior, understanding of Advaita.

    Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayachatti. By offering a leaf, flower, fruit, or water, with bhakti, you can please Krishna. So, the cost is low: a leaf, flower, fruit, or water costs nothing. And yet, the Absolute Truth is bound by this love or devotion. Then when the Absolute Truth is pleased, then you get everything else. You can even offer this fruit, flower, water, or leaf mentally. So, it is zero cost. All that is needed is devotion. So, with zero cost, you can get everything. Therefore, this is also Advaita–there is no dichotomy between cost and functionality.

    So, those who are engaged in bhakti, are not doing it whimsically. This is Krishna’s statement in Bhagavad-Gita that by offering fruit, flower, water, or leaf you can please Him. It is an easy process, and has zero cost, but it delivers the full result. The impersonalist likes to think that the full truth must be very hard, so we have to endeavor very hard to obtain liberation. But they don’t know that the full truth is easily conquered by love.

    That love costs nothing, and it is the spontaneous nature of the soul. The soul wants to love, and loving is zero cost. In the material world, loving costs a lot — you have to give up so much and you get nothing in return. If you get a guest in your house, and you just give them a leaf and water, they will feel insulted. But God is not like that. He sees only the devotion. The impersonalist doesn’t understand this. He thinks that loving is bad, when only loving materialistic people is bad. God can be satisfied by just a leaf and water.

    Gajendra offered a flower, and Lord Vishnu came to save him. And before that, Gajendra was struggling with the crocodile for hundreds of years. This is also our nature. We don’t want the simple solution. We want a solution where we will fight and conquer the material nature just like Gajendra wanted to conquer the crocodile by his own efforts.

    So, this is the mentality of pride–I will do it myself, I don’t need anything else, and I am fully capable. If you think like that, then you use a lot of effort to get zero functionality. But it is not impossible. You can do that if you want. But it is the less intelligent option.

    So, if we understand what duality means, and then what Advaita truly means, then the conclusion is not different from bhakti. But because duality is not understood, therefore, Advaita is misrepresented as physical oneness. The principle of non-duality is not wrong. It is stated all over the Vedic texts. But it is stated in a condensed form where it is not understood properly. Then some people take advantage of that summarized statement. So, the devotees are also non-dualists and they follow Advaita, but they have a different understanding of Advaita. The debate is not between Dvaita and Advaita. It is about what Advaita truly means. But since this is a deep subject, therefore, most people cannot understand it, and they try to misrepresent bhakti as Dvaita without Advaita.

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