Advaita, Creation and it's Practicability

Updated on 7th July 2015

For convenience, the article is divided into two parts

PART I - Explaining Advaita, Theory of Creation and Duality

Lets being by taking some considerations.

1. Two Levels of truths - vyavahArika satya (Practical / Empirical Reality) and pArmArthika satya (Absolute / Ultimate Reality). Both levels are shruti based. (Br. Up - II-iii-6)

2. Definitions of real, unreal and mithyA. (refer BG 2:16)

Reality, Truth, satya

That which is eternal, unchanging, present at all times, immutable, undivided, infinite, knowledge is called as as real.

e.g. Brahman

Unreal, False, asatya

That which do not exist at any time.

e.g. rabbit horn


That which is neither real nor unreal. This means that it is in between real and unreal.

mithYA is that which is not totally unreal, but is not even real (eternal).

In other words, mithyA is that which is not present at all times. But it can be experienced in any one state.

mAyA is called as anAdi. This means that it is without beginning. but it ends in Jnana. mAyA is triguNAtmikA - that which has 3 guNa-s. Brahman is beyond guNa-s.

Since mAyA ends in Jnana, Brahma sthiti, it cannot be real. We all know that truth is one. Hence there cannot be two things that can be true.

In this sense, mAyA, though experienced in waking state, as real, ends in Jnana.

Experience in waking state are not experienced in dream state and vice versa. 

3. Ignorance (avidya) is the root cause. Hence removal of Ignorance is the path of Advaita.

Some Typical Objections

Some well-versed vedAntin-s quote objections raised by SrI mAdvAcArya jI and his successors or of other vaiShNava AcArya-s like SrI rAmAnujAcArya jI on the basic tenets of advaita as propogated by SrI Adi SankarAcArya jI. We would like to say that a great Ex- dvaitin and a celebrated name in dvaita-advaita polemical debates SrI madhusudan sarasvatI jI has answered to all logical objections by writing many independent works. Most prominant one is his master piece advaita siddhi. He and svAmI brahmAnanda ( who has written a commentary brahmAnandI on advaita siddhi has kept advaita thorn free. His other works like siddhAnta bindu are also much appreciated and so is his commentary on bhagavad gItA which he writes in his intro that after thoroughly studying SrI Adi SankarAcArya jI's gItA bhASya. He has also defended AcArya SrI harsha's khaNDa-khaNDa-khAdya and also explained bhakti from advaita POV. We advaitins believe that all logical objections are answered by this great advaita AcArya who was also a great devotee of bhagavAn SrI kruShNa. 

It is in advaita siddhi that madhusudan sarasvatI has given five definitions of mithyA and also re-establishing one of the definitions of mithyA that which is neither real nor unreal, which even the great vidyAraNya svAmI has also stated the same definition in his pancadaSI.

Questions and Doubts

From pArmArthika level, NirguNa Brahman does not create anything. So how it is said in shastra-s that

  • Brahman created this world and became many, etc.
  • How can nirguNa Brahman associate with mAyA, the association itself makes it saguNa, hence nirguNa is absent. This voids the definition of Brahman that it is undivided and that the Self was already present.
  • If we say that Jiva got deluded or Brahman got deluded, again it would violate the basic tenet of Advaita.
  • If we say that Avidya veils (covers) Brahman, and in Jnana avidyA is removed, it means that Brahman was absent and then it is found, so Brahman was not present in-between, hence it cannot be considered as real. On the other hand, if Brahman is already established, then also the path cannot be started or if we say that we achieve what was already achieved, then it is again a doshA. How can you achieve that is already achieved? Again it violates basic tenets of advaita. How can nirguNa associate with mAyA?

Just to recap - Remember three things -

Relative reality / practical reality / vyavahArika satya
Absolute reality / PArmArthika satya
Ignorance / avidyA

I will also try to be as brief as possible.

The theories of creation, preservation, destruction, one into many are accepted at empirical level only and not at absolute level. They are accepted at empirical level and by the one who is under ignorance.

From Absolute level, there can be no creation. Since the creation cease to exist in state of Jnana, hence this creation is not eternal, hence not a reality.

Creation and duality are not experienced or perceived in Jnana, but they are perceived in ignorance, hence both are accepted as real, but that too from vyavahArika or empirical level only. Since creation, etc cease to exist in Jnana, and is perceived under ignorance, it is mithyA.

Hence, from empirical level, Brahman, creates, becomes one as many, is accepted as long as one is under ignorance. 

Why theory of creation is not true from absolute standpoint?

bhagavAn in gItA says: 

BG 2.27 For death of anyone born, is certain, and of the dead (re-) birth is a certainly...

This means that anything that is born dies. the definition of real and unreal is 

BG 2.16 Of the unreal there is no being; the real has no non-existence. But the nature of both these, indeed, has been realized by the seers of Truth.

Definition of Self is 

BG 2.17 But know That to be indestructible by which all this is pervaded (omnipresent / all pervading). None can bring about the destruction of this Immutable.
BG 2.18 These destructible bodies are said to belong to the everlasting, indestructible, indeterminable, embodied One.
BG 2.20 Never is this One born, and never does It die; nor is it that having come to exist, It will again cease to be. This One is birthless, eternal, undecaying, ancient; It is not killed when the body is killed.
BG 2.21 O Partha, he who knows this One as indestructible, eternal, birthless and undecaying ...
BG 2.24 This Self cannot be cut, burnt, wetted, nor dried up. It is eternal, all-pervading, stable, immovable and ancient.
BG 2.25 It is said that This is unmanifest (avyakta); This is inconceivable; This is unchangeable.
BG 2.72 O Partha, this is the state of being established in Brahman. One does not become deluded after attaining this. One attains identification with Brahman by being established in this state even in the closing years of one's life.
BG 6.30 He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, he never becomes separated from Me, nor do I become separated from him.

Hence we can conclude that 

That which has beginning has an end. shruti-s explain that in the beginning there was only one brahman. Then brahman created the universe. Hence universe, jIva-s was created. Hence they suffer from prior non-existence (i.e. this universe was non-existence before it's birth - creation). bhagavAn says that Self does not die, when established in brahman becomes immortal. Self is unmanifested and birthless. If Self is birthless, then who can it be born.

The important definition of Self or Brahman is undecaying, immovable and unchangeable. these three are very important qualities of Self or Brahman. Lets discuss them.

Self is Undecaying / Immutable / Unchanging

Decay is the nature of time. Things decay as time passes and finally gets destroyed. But since Self is not born, it does not die. Since Self does not undergo the process of  decay, it indicates that Self transcends time (kAla). All activities including creation, preservation and destruction can happen only if there is kAla i.e. they happen within kAla. Whatever is beyond kAla is unborn and so deathless and hence changeless too. Beyond kAla is non-dual static brahman. In other words in order to manifest, one has to be within the realm of time. Since Self is beyond time, it is in unmanifest form (avyakta).

Self is Immovable / Omnipresent / All-Pervading

Many would argue that being immovable or omnipresent (both have different meaning) does not reduce itself to an inert identity. However, this is not the case. The very meaning of immovable means it is not moving. But why the Self is immovable. Why cant it move? The simple answer it Self is omnipresent and all pervading. this means that Self is already present everywhere. You an only move from place A to place B if you are absent in place B. Again, movement i.e. travel, which is a kind of activity, is withing the realm of time. Since Self is already present and is beyond time, hence there is no need to move, as it is already there.

Lets take an example for better understanding.

We have five great elements. In order of increasing subtleness, they are earth, water, fire, air and space.

Out of five, only earth, which is grossest of all, has a definite shape. Water and fire can be seen and felt but does not have their own shape. If we move further, air, which is subtler than other three cannot be seen. It is invisible (an attribute of Self / brahman). It can only be felt. Moving still further, space, which is subtlest of all cannot be felt, as it is emptiness. You can only infer it. This space is omnipresent and allows other four elements to move within itself. In other words it gives space to even air to move within itself, but itself does not get affected by the smells which air may carry). Hence space is untouched by other four (another attribute of Brahman).

If an element like space can stay in formless state, is invisible, omnipresent, unaffected, then what about the Self which is subtler than space?

To sum up, Self does not need to move anywhere, it is beyond time and omnipresent.

Finally lets understand BG 6.30

BG 6.30 He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, he never becomes separated from Me, nor do I become separated from him.

Talking in brief, by using the word 'see', bhagavAn means to 'know' as both Self and bhagavAn, as brahman (not as a person - refer viShNu and caturbhuja viShNu for more details) are one and the same. Both Self and Brahman are beyond kAla and hence there cannot be any activity of 'seeing' as 'seeing' is within the realm of time.

BhagavAn also uses the words 'He' and 'Me' indicating duality (at vyavahArika plane) and says that both he and me are 'forever united' i.e. they are never ever separated.

Since bhagavAn says 'he never becomes separated from Me' NOR 'do I become separated from him'. The word NOR establishes non-duality as none difference is accepted at both sides, else bhagavAn could have said that He (the soul or jIva) merges in me, but I do not merge in him, indicating that jIva is a part of bhagavAn AND not vice versa.

Now we know that activity cannot be done outside the realm of time. Hence words like 'seeing', 'merging' etc are to be taken only figuratively, for the sake of explanation, at vyavahArika plane, as beyond time, there is no activity.

bhagAvan vAsudeva (as brahman) sets a condition of immortality and permanent abiding in him - as 'He who sees Me everywhere AND sees everything in Me'. Here too the condition is

- sees me everywhere AND
- sees everything in me

If we consider ourselves a tiny little soul, an aNu, an Atom, then a question arises - How can one see bhagavAn in everything and everything inside bhagavAn? to experience anything, one needs to be conscious of it. Brahman or Self is conscious. Seeing at once the entire brahmANDa indicates that the Self is also omnipresent, else it would takes eons to move in bramANda-s and keep seeing bhagavAn everywhere. Further the ability of seeing everything inside bhagavAn would mean we too need to be omnipresent to know this fact. Only by being formless, infinite and omnipresent can one know the quality of omnipresence.

Again, there cannot be duality i.e. existence of both jIva and brahman, as outside kAla, there is no activity. upanishads and shruti vacan-s like nAsadiya sUkta says that in the beginning there was only one non-dual brahman. Then brahman became many, indicating that the after realizing Brahman as Atman of all, non-duality is confirmed.

bhagavAn later says that

BG 13.17 And undivided, yet It exists as if divided in beings; It is to be known as the supporter of being; It devours and It generates. OR
BG 13.17 And the Knowable, though undivided, appears to be existing as divided in all beings, and It is the sustainer of all beings as also the devourer and originator.

We can conclude that the undivided Brahman cannot be actually divided. In other words the division is not real as it is not eternal. Final state is non-duality only.  Hence we conclude that multiplicity is illusion.

From the above analysis we can conclude that the theory of creation is explained from empirical reality or relative reality and not from absolute reality, as shruti-s say that in the beginning there was only one Brahman. This statement which we find in many shruti-s is our 'natural state'. But under delusion, we are not able to experience this state, but due to ego, Self attaches itself with non-self, mind, body, etc and thinks of it as 'I'.

Why do SAstra-s explain the theory of creation?

The goal of vedAnta is to re-establish to existence of SELF as the direct non-dual experience. Each one of us is in dvaita. So the path starts with presuming dvaita, which is self-evident form our day-2-day life. Since we live in duality, hence SAstra-s also talk in 'tone of duality'. It is an inner journey from (presumed) dvaita to advaita, the natural, eternal state.

Since brahman is the only tatva that qualifies for being called as satya, hence it must be self existent in all three tenses of time i.e. past, present and future. That which has a beginning also has an end says bhagavAn in giTA. Hence brahman cannot be born. So the general trend of most principle upanishads is -

  • In the beginning, there was only one brahman
  • Then this one brahman became many

Shruti Hinting non-duality while explaining Creation

Shruti also accepts the fact the one is under delusion and is in duality. At the same time shruti maintains that the creation is not permanent and hints the truth by saying like, 'though undivided, it is divided', 'Self or Brahman is immutable, unchanging', etc. This means that if we think the creation as real, then the statement 'though undivided' is violated. Hence we will have to understand via yukti that 'though undivided, (it appears to be) divided ..'

If the Lord says, 'undivided, but yet divided through his yog mAyA', then it means that mAyA is illusive power', as if we do not accept this fact, then the creation will be real and hence the division will be real. This will violate the definition of Brahman being 'indivisible'

To sum up, shruti even while explaining creation hints

  • Temporary nature, adobe of misery, impermanent, etc ---> mithyA
  • Brahman is undivided, immutable, infinite, unattached, unchanging, truth, etc ---> satya

It can be concluded that, brahman is viSaya (object to be worshipped) under and until there is ignorance and not from absolute level.

After understanding the reason behind theory of creation, let us understand why contradictory statements are true, but from different standpoints - empirical / relative (vyavahArika) and absolute (pArmArthIka). Lets take famous example of cloud veiling sun, which our revered AcArya has explain in Atma-bodha and in hastAmalaka stotram. This example will help us understand why we experience duality to be true and why duality was never the truth at any time. It explains why we lost brahma-GYAna and why we never lost it. How can brahman loose it's natural state and become deluded.

Veiling (covering) of Self by Ignorance

We all experience that clouds veil sun and hence Sun is not visible AND Sun has lost it's shine.

Sun is veiled means Jnana is lost, Brahman getting deluded and becoming jiva, jiva is deluded

Sun losing it's shine means Brahman looses it's knowledge or nature of shining.

We all accept this from empirical level, as we experience the same, but it is well accepted that the sun was never veiled and never lost it's shine.

To extend this further, it is said that after the ignorance is removed or negated, Brahman is realized. It means that earlier Brahman was not realized that means that Brahman suffers from non-existence, which again violates basic tenets of Advaita.

This argument is not correct, as the veil of ignorance is destroyed at empirical level and not at absolute level. the Self is always present like the sun is always present before, during and after the creation, maintenance and destruction of clouds.

Sun cannot ever be veiled by anything. Also it is wrongly understood that ajnAna is destroyed. Actually it is not destroyed, but negated. Real cannot be destroyed. aviyA is present until Self is not realized, hence it is not unreal too. Hence avidyA is mithyA.

The veiling is also illusionary, as it is only accepted at empirical level, as it is experienced when one is under ignorance. For the Realized, there is no question of being veiled, as there is no avidyA.

To sum up,

Everything that is explained, is under ignorance and they are acceptable when one is under ignorance. Since one experience duality and creation, hence they are real for him. Hence the path is also real and so is the SAstra-s, their study and veiling of ignorance.

The words like' ignorance is destroyed' etc are to be taken as 'seems to be destroyed' and not literally.

Self forgetting it's true nature is confirmed in SAstra-s. The famous statement from sAme veda, Chandogya upanishad, 'thou art that svetaketu' is repeated not once, not twice, but nine times.

The dual statements also point to non-duality.

It is a step by step procedure to raise one to non-dual state. Teaching can only be done on dual tone and under ignorance, the duality of guru-shishya, meditation, observer-observed, etc are accepted. In advaita there cannot be any teaching. But under ignorance, it is accepted. Hence advaita can be practiced and is practical.

Step-by-step processes like, rising above

  • 3 guNa-s
  • 5 koSa-s (sheaths)
  • 3 SArira (bodies) i.e sthuLa, suxma (sukshma) and kAraNa

only lead to non-duality.

The vachyArtha is duality, but laxyArtha is non-duality. After the final step, as in case of Indra, one dives deep within, experiences 5 sheaths but is not contended and finally gets contended as he realizes is Self as Brahman.

Why the knowledge of Self Realization is supreme?

This knowledge is supreme, as after realizing this, nothing else is needed to be realized. There is a sense of fulfillment, completeness and Ananda, which we are all searching knowing or unknowingly. Again, shruti-s say that once we reach this state, it is permanent and one does not return. After realizing the truth, sAdhanA, Self Study, etc are no more needed, as the purpose is fulfilled and no more needed, as everything happened in ignorance at empirical level.

shruti also says gives the phala of Self Realization as - nothing more needed to be achieved

Then why Teach Theory of Creation if it is illusion?

The direct teaching is not taught, as one is not capable of digesting the fact and the e.g. is chandra shAkhA nyAya

Child is incapable of seeing moon, so mother point to a nearby branch (which can be easily located or spotted by child) , which points to moon. Taking help of this branch, mother points child to moon. It is moon that is important and not the branch. Another e..g is if I point my finger to an idol and say that - this is Lord Krishna, then you, how is unaware of the presence of idol, will follow the direction that my finger is pointing and finally you will see the idol of Lord Krishna.

Everything happens under ignorance, nothing is applicable in state of GYAna

Should I add - ISvara is also an illusion, as we see him only under ignorance. ISvara is endowed with upAdhi-s. Hence ISvara creating this world, his grace, his blessings, etc are real, but under ignorance, until there is duality. ISvara is an empirical reality. ISvara is eternal in the form of brahman.

Similarly one studies shastra-s or is in search of truth clearly indicate that one is under ignorance.

Few words on 'Illusion'

We understand the word 'illusion' as just a momentary temporary phase, which does not last more than a few seconds or say which vanishes in a flash i.e. illusion exists only for a short period of time. So when we are told that this world is illusion, then it is hard to digest, as we live for long, 70-80 years and that we know that this world is going to exist even after we die. Even if we take just our life span, still we cannot believe that this world is illusion. But the word illusion may give wrong signal and it is so strongly tied with the word mithyA that mithyA is also understood as a momentary approach. Sure, w.r.t to Jnana, which is infinite, our life like a drop in ocean and earth as compared to whole whole universe is very small. Hence it makes sense to call this 80 years of life as illusion. Even the life span of this earth and is momentary and of short life as compared to the continuous creation and destruction of galaxies and universes from time immemorial. We see Lord describing this and Veda Vyasa describing the creation and preservation, as if he is having a look at all this play from a bird's eye view. Rishi-s have such a broad vision. But do we hav that vision too? Since we lack this vision, which is of course natural, hence we find this world as illusion not acceptable

Neo Philosophy

It is said that Neo Vedanta or Neo Advaita is not traditional advaita. I agree, but not fully. It considers SAguNa Brahman or mAyA as something positive and not illusion. But should I say that Neo-philosophy teaches or better focuses, a lot on empirical reality and ways to rise above adapting bottom-down approach. So let it be.

According to me, what I will consider any philosophy as 'Neo' when it does not take into account

  1. adhikAra bheda
  2. Four Pre-requisites
  3. Three Levels of truths
  4. Different updesha-s for people with different temperaments and mental make-up
  5. Necessity for sAdhanA and hence aparoksha anubhuti (direct experience of Self Realization)
  6. Necessity for Guru and shastra-s, for all including the once who are under ignorance.
  7. Self Study (abhyAsa)
  8. Only limited to establishing truth psychologically.

Sri Ramana Maharshi's theory can be applied in a way that it does not contradict shastra-s and one reaches non-dual state. Sri Ramana Maharshi's way of approach is found similar to srI vidyAraNya svAmI's teachings in panchdaSI. 'Who am I' is mentioned by Adi SankarAcArya in his prabOdh sudhAkara (pra. su. 151). Search for 'Who am I' is also found in yOga vasisTA and in ribhu gItA.

Advaita has been wrongly understood as it has been looked from Absolute POV, where you do not need to do anything, as the purpose is fulfilled. However, if we talk about sAdhanA, then we will have to think about this world and how to rise above it. In this way when we focus on sAdhanA, we will find that Sri Ramana Maharshi's instructions are very beneficial and compliment to Classical Advaita.

Un-purified mind when reads too much about the above explained approach of illusion, snatches away all the bhakti, and God's glories. Hence let us think positively. Let us accept that we are under ignorance and though momentarily, let us try to remove this ignorance.

PART II - Positive Approach

So, now lets take it positively.

Since we all are under ignorance and not Jnani-s, so it is not proper to say in such a manner.

Practical Advaita

Advaita would be meaningless, if there was only one level - pArmArthika satya and vyavahArika satya has no place.

But thankfully vyavahArika satya is wholeheartedly accepted and is used extensively to neutralize contradictions.

We are all under ignorance, hence accepting, Ishvara (SaguNa Brahman), his grace, bhakti, surrender, shastra-s, guru, and spiritual path (meditation) all are accepted AND considered REAL. They are REAL for US.

So lets start this journey and remove the ignorance, pray to Lord to remove the ignorance, to destroy the ignorance, to obtain his grace directly and via Guru and shastra-s. Let us chant his holy name. Let us not forget that we are under ignorance and hence it is not proper to just think of this world as illusion. It will be just an empty talk. After one realizes, there will be no second, hence he will also not talk to us in the same way to lift us, but he will make sincere attempt to arise us step by step.

Adi Shankara - The Jagad Guru

Adi Shankara knew this, hence he repaired temples, reinstalled Jaganath temple, wrote commentaries on prasthAntrayi, wrote commentaries on Patanjali Yoga (YOga TArAvali) and Tantra (PrapanchsAra Tantra). He also composed many hyms dedicated to various deities and also accepted karma kand and encouraged it upto certain extend. All this he did to cover all types of people having different temperaments and mental make-up.

Advaita is not for everybody

The fact that Advaita is not for everybody is evident from the fact that he had only four disciples - the undisputed winner, the one who traveled length and breath of India and debated with many had just 4 disciples. Rest all were devotees, follower or admirers.

Adi Shankara knew that not all can accept advaita, hence he only opposed other systems w.r.t final goal and he did not negate the path itself. The final destination according to advaita is NirguNa Brahman.

Since Advaita is difficult to understand, Adi Shankara created many prakaraNa grantha-s which teach the basics. But even in Tatva Bodh, which is considered by many as the most basic and first to be read also starts with adhekAra or qualities or pre-requisites. Anyone who has these qualities or pre-requisites is an introvert person. Gita starts with Arjuna ViSAda yoga and begins with a mohAndha (DritarAShTra) and Arjuna ends with nasTO mohA smrutir labdhA ...

Lets return to practical world and start our journey with Prayers

Without the grace of mAyA, and Lord Jaggannath, noting is possible. Let us pray to the great almighy Lord for our own progress and for the whole of humanity.

Let us not keep saying the word 'mithyA' without realizing the mithyAtva. Lets apply mithyA into our real life. Consider defects in this world and always think of this world as impermanent and abode of sorrows. Only refuge at lotus feet of Lord can save us and make us cross the terrible ocean of samsAra.

Hari OM