Hindu philosophy of Advaita(non-dualism),Nirguna and Saguna

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Philosophical hindus developed an understanding of God as the source and pervader of all appearance who is present in humans as ‘atman’or the’soul’.The advaita philosophy,a school of hindu thought is non-dualist.It states that the appearance of distinctions in the world is an illusion.All things that we see the earth,sun,moon,sky,,birds,animals,people look different but in essence they are one.Advaita understands moksha as the realisation that the individual and God have always been one and moksha is union with God forever.

Advaita vedanta is a philosophy that was systemized in India around 8th century AD by adi Shankara.The essence of the teaching being based upon the material contained in the upanishads.The upanishads are a part of the sacred indian texts called the vedas,written around 1500 BC.There are three groups,as shown below,the three divisions of orthodox hindu philosophy,

1) nyaya
vaisheshika

2)samkhya
yoga

3)purva mimansa
uttara mimansa

Our concern is with the third group in which advaita is dealt with extensively.Mimansa means profound thought and examination of the vedic text.

Purva mimansa is concerned with the earlier parts of the vedas,those sections which talk about the rituals and behaviour,the ‘karma-kand’.It is associated with the philosopher Jamini,a pupil of ‘Vyas rishi (the original complier of vedas).

Uttara mimansa is concerned with the later parts of the vedas,the more philosophical,’gyan-kand’,the upanishads and is commonly known as vedanta-consisting of three main schools,

1)Dvaita-the dualistic philosophy associated with ‘Madhva’.
2)Advaita- non-dualism associated with Shankara
3)Vishisht advaita- qualified non-dualism associated with Ramanuja.

Sources of Teaching- Began with the original scriptures of upanishads.In the past 100 years there has been a resurgence of interest in advaita in the west.Ramkrishna Paramhans(1836-1886) was the most important and responsible teacher for increasing the popularity of advaita in recent times,with missions now operating all over the world.His principal desciple was swami Vivekananda(1863-1902),who toured the world with the aim of uniting all religions,the underlying truth of all of them being realized in advaita.Ramana maharshi(1880-1950)most famous of laterday sages has influenced so many modern writers such as Paul Brunten and Somerset maughm.Nisargdatta maharaj(1879-1981)the uneducated servant and tobacconist in mumbai was one of the most popular and Atmanand Krishna Menon(1883-1959)was one of the most logical preacher of advaitavad.

Original Scriptures-(Upanishads and other granthas)Shruti,Aitareya,Amritbindu,atma,brihadaranyaka,chandogya,isha,kaushitaki,kena,maitri,mandukya,
muktika,mundaka,narada parivrajaka,prashna,sarva sara,shvetashvatara,taittiriya upanishads
smiriti,bhagwat gita,nyaya prasthana,shankara’s brahmasutra bhashya.

Later commentaries and works-
Aparok shambhuti,Astavakra Gita,Atmabodha,Bhaja Govindam,Drrig-drishya-viveka,Pancha dashi,Sadananda’s vedantasara,Sarva vedanta sarvasamagraha,Tattva bodha,Yoga vasishta updesha sahasri,Vivekachudamini,Yoga sutras of Patanjali.

Historical Sages/writers- Gaudapada Patanjali,Sadananda,Shankara,Vidyaranya,vyasa.

Recent sages/writers/teachers- Robert Adams,Sri Aurobindo,Swami Chinmayananda,Jean Klein,Sri Atmananda krishna menon,Jiddu Krishnamurti,Swami krishnananda,nisargadatta maharaj,Swami Nikhilananda,Osho,Hwl Poonja,Ramana maharshi,Ramkrishna Paramhansa,Ranjit maharaj,Swami Satchidanandendra saraswati,Swami shantanand saraswati,Swami sivananda,Swami Vivekananda,Swami Dayananda saraswati,Wei wu wei.

Spiritual path and practice-

Various spiritual practices are advocated by advaitavad in order to prepare the mind for realization of our true nature.Yogas,meditation,mind control,being in the present,satsang shravana,manana and nididhyasna,guru-shishya relationship,all these are explained in sciptures of advaita.The ultimate goal is self realization,that we are not the body but we are soul and that is one with all around.It is described in Mandukya upanishad(verse 7)as follows,

Neither inward-turned nor outward-turned consciousness nor the two together,not an undifferentiated mass of consciousness,neither knowing nor unknowing,invisible,ineffable,intangible,devoid of characteristics,inconceivable,indefinable,its sole essence being the consciousness of its own self,the coming to rest of all relative existense,utterly quiet,peaceful,blissful,without a second this is ‘atman’,the self,this is to be realized.This state in Mandukya upanishad is called’turiya’,which means the fourth state,a state of superconsciousness.The other three states are waking,dream and deep sleep states.turiya is also reffered as ‘egoless state’ or the ‘transcendental state’.the Sat-Chit-Ananda is present as before but in this state it is known to be present.There is no longer any ego-process and the three states,waking,dream and deep sleep are seen to be mere appearances upon the one reality of the self.Should the three states be taken to form one long dream,’turiya’ represents the waking from this dream.Thus it is more withdrawn than deep sleep and more wakeful than the waking state.

Therefore our true state is that fourth one(turiya) which is distinguished from the waking,dream and deep sleep states.We are that only.That is to say’turiya’ is pure knowledge,which is not conscious of any object but not unconscious itself.Only he who has realized it has realized the truth.

What is there more from him who has gained the fourth state or turiya or state of superconsciousness?Practically it is not possible for any one to remain forever in that state. He or she who has realised this state this world is not as before for him.Now he is all,there is nothing distinct from himself,his eyes closed or open,howsoever the things may change,his state remains unchanged.this is the state of ‘self realization’,’God realization’ in advaita-vad.This is the natural eternal state.we are all that ever-true state.

Saguna and Nirguna-

Traditional advaita in upanishads speaks of reality in other ways as in brihadaranyaka upanishad addresses the ‘two forms of reality’.The active principal in manifestation,which we call’Ishvara’ is differentiated from the unmanifest,non acting principal called ‘Parmatman’ which we can call the absolute.The unmanifest advaita reality of ‘Ishvara’or ‘parmatman’is said to be without manifestation or attributes of any kind-nirguna.Guna-the three qualities of sattva,rajas and tamas.The manifest ‘Ishvara’ is said to be with qualities-saguna.

When ‘Parmatman’is said to be the efficient and material cause of the world’s existence it is ‘saguna’.To speak of ‘Ishvara’ as the cause of the world presupposes a duality of world and such dualistic thinking is grounded on ignorance of the true nature of ‘parmatman’and ‘atman’.Although God or Ishvara is characterized in various vedic texts as efficient and material cause of the universe,Adi shankara holds that these texts refer to ‘saguna'(with attributes and forms)and that thinking of ‘parmatman’as ‘saguna’ constitutes only a preliminary view of ‘Ishvara’,a view based on human need to explain the apparent existance of the universe.However in order to understand the true nature of atman and parmatman we must go beyond the preliminary view and understand the truth of oneness or advaita,in non-dualistic terms.At that level of comprehension,it is seen that the entire universe is nothing but a superimposition upon and mere appearance of the underlying truth of all that is.

Nirguna is thus the ‘parmarth’ view and ‘saguna’ is the interim assumption of ‘vyavhara’ made by the ‘jiva’ in his ignorance,prior to the enlightenment or reaching the state of self realization,or turiya,the realization that we are not body but soul,’atman’ and one with ‘parmatman’.For example the wooden table is to be seen as wood,a material that is earth.We need to understand that every thing is made up of earth,water,fire,wind and space.These five elements are known as causes and the products,table,cloth,cup etc all materials are the effect.So the whole universe is merely earth,water,fire,wind and space and nothing else,just a ’cause’ and ‘effect’.

Everything in this world is formed by earth,water,fire,wind and space.Likewise for humans,except humans have an additional quality-consciouness.Therefore a human being is made up of aggregation of earth,water,fire,wind,space and consciousness.Earth is our body,muscle,skin,hair,bones etc,these are all earth.After we die our body decomposes and it is a pile of earth.Water-our tears,blood,sweat and urine are all water.Fire-our body heat,our thermal energy,human digestion is an endothermic process and without heat energy we can not digest our food.Wind-our body needs wind as well,the air that circulates in our body.Space-the whole body is full of spaces.There are skin pores everywhere and all internal organs have spaces.

So all the objects turn out to be forms of something more subtle.The ultimate ‘object'(which is no object at all) is that which is itself formless.This is’nirguna’,’parmatman’.Consciousness in human beings is ‘atman’ which is to be realised,all else is body(earth,water,fire,wind and space) to which if we see through more subtly then it turns in to nothingness.What remains is ‘atman’ and ‘parmatman’ which are again one and not two.This is ‘advaitvad’.

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