In many countries of the world, the traditions of Advaita have been completely destroyed by Christianity and Islam. Only some surviving literature of ancient Iran, Egypt, Greece and Rome contains exposition of Advaita, clear or confused. It is only in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, South Korea and Japan that the tradition has survived intact to a large’ extent. A substantial exposition of the material that can be collected from all these sources, is now available only in India. Therefore, it is with the help of that exposition that we will make a presentation of Advaita.
The very first proposition that is immediately visible in all schools of Advaita, is polytheism. In no school of Advaita is seen any special emphasis on some God as the creator or controller of the Cosmos. Contrary to this, many mythologies have grown around numerous gods and goddesses. In some mythology one particular god or goddess is installed as the supreme object of worship, and in another some other god or goddess. And whatever god is installed at any time as the supreme object of worship, all other gods and goddesses get merged in him or her. One might say that each god or goddess is an image of all the other gods and goddesses.
In the schools of Sanatana Dharma, several gods and goddesses are known by a thousand names. This also is a clear indication that all gods and goddesses are symbols of one infinite, ineffable and indescribable supreme power. In the words of Tulsidas, (God is infinite, so also the narratives in his praise).
The second proposition that is there in all schools of Advaita, is that gods and goddesses may assume any animate or inanimate form. Several gods and goddesses are found in the form of a human-male or a human-female or in their pair. Many gods and goddesses are worshipped in the form of animals, birds, aquatic creatures, rivers, mountains, plants, trees, etc. All these gods and goddesses are worshipped as carved images. Many a time, un-carved stones also become objects worship. This is a clear indication of the truth that the entire animate and inanimate creation is pervaded by one Being, and a devotee can worship that Being in any form. And there is also found in the tradition of Advaita, a provision for worship of the Formless which is beyond all forms.
The third proposition that is found in all schools of Advaita, is that there are many ways of worship. The same god can be worshipped in various ways. Consequently, there is an abundance of schools in this tradition. Every now and then, new schools arise, develop, merge with some preexisting school, and also vanish. In this tradition, what holds primacy is not the object of worship or the mode of worship; but the devotion in the act of worship? The object of worship or mode of worship can never be at fault. The fault can lie only in the quality of devotion. In the words of Tulsidas, (the level of one’s devotion determines the form in which one sees God).
Therefore, the worshipper bears only the responsibility for his own conduct and thought; to watch the conduct and thought of others or to preach uninvited to others, is not countenanced in this tradition. In the words of Kabirdas, (as I went out in search the bad one, I found none; but when I examined my own self, I found that no one was worse than myself). Far from using force for the spread of faith, even to be concerned with the conduct and thought of others, indicates a fall from faith.
The fourth proposition that is found in the tradition of Advaita, is that truth is eternal and impersonal. Realization of truth is not the monopoly any particular person, nor can it be borrowed from any other person. Any seeker who searches for truth in any place or at any time, finds it in full. Truth is not the fragmented pieces revealed progressively in chronological time; nor does truth ever become brand new. The language or style of expressing that truth may be novel.
But if any person claims that he has searched for or found or seen or heard a truth the like of which no other person has ever known before, then in the tradition of Advaita he is considered a liar and a victim of delusion. Buddha had said, “I have become the Enlightened one by walking on the same path on which the Enlightened Ones preceding me had walked, and the succeeding Enlightened Ones will walk.”
The fifth proposition that is found in the tradition of Advaita, is that man should not hold any belief which is not consistent with reason from the very beginning and which is not verifiable ultimately at some level of human consciousness. An inference which fails the test of direct perception ultimately, has very little value. The word ‘sabda-pramana‘ which is found in the Shastras of Advaita tradition, is a synonym for direct perception: sabda-pramana, that is, the proof which the accomplished persons have themselves found thorough spiritual seeking and, hereafter, placed before others.
If we cannot test directly the teachings of Sri Krishna or Buddha or some other avatar or spiritually perfect person, by ascending into the highest consciousness of those great ones, then those teachings are meaningless for us (the Rishis are seers of what the mantras symbolize).
The sixth proposition that is found in the tradition of Advaita, is that of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, that is, the whole of humanity is a single family, and every one of its members deserves and should manifest the same considerate conduct from and towards all others. The scope of considerate conduct is not confined to anyone particular sect or community. So no person or sect or community should do unto others what he or she or it does not like to be done unto him or her or it (I state in half a couplet what has been said in a million treatises: Do not do unto others what you find unpalatable for yourself).
The seventh proposition that is found in the tradition of Advaita, is that while it concedes the superiority of humans it does not consider other parts of creation as objects of human consumption. The view that is fostered in a devotee of Advaita, is that all that is there in the universe, animate or inanimate, manifests different limbs of the One Vast Being and, while using those limbs for sustenance and right livelihood, a feeling of friendship should be cultivated towards all of them.
Human superiority lies only in this much that birth as a human being facilitates the attainment of supreme truth. In the words of Tulsidas, human birth is (field for spiritual seeking and gateway to final emancipation). Man in his ordinary state is not the master of the universe. Man should consider himself indebted for all the help and cooperation he gets from various components of the universe for his subsistence and his physical, intellectual and spiritual development. And man should repay these debts according to his opportunity and capacity. The Hindu doctrine of repaying the five debts – to rishis, ancestors, gods, humans, all other animate and inanimate creatures – is expressive of the same principle.
In brief, the tradition of Advaita is empirical, rational, and spiritual. The first aphorism of the esoteric presentation of that tradition is (as in the microcosm, so in the macrocosm), that is, by exploring the individual self, the secret of the universe can be discovered. Or in other words, (the eternally transcendent which is immanent in all, dwells within you). Greek thinkers say that “man is the measure of all things”, that is, man is the key for understanding everything else. It is only by grasping this truth that the author of the Mahabharata says (I tell you the great secret: There is nothing superior to man). In the words of Chandidas, (man is the truth above all other truths).
It is because of an appropriate knowledge of this secret, that the tradition of Advaita does not keep repeating ad nauseam the name of any One God who is extra-cosmic and who is not directly accessible to by all human beings. The human soul in its secret depths is the Supreme Soul. The human person, when purified, becomes the Perfect Person. A seeker of Advaita, after becoming spiritually perfect, says – (all this in the Vast), ~ (thou art That), (I am the Vast). Buddha had even abandoned the philosophy centered round Soul and God or Being and Becoming. This philosophy is likely to end in casuistry.
Hence, the tradition of Advaita is fully humanistic. The supreme truth is surely eternal and impersonal, but it is attainable by every person. Each person is a field for spiritual seeking, is a bodhisattva. A person, after be-coming perfect through spiritual seeking, ascends into the same supreme consciousness, on being established in which, Sri Krishna came to be known as Purushottama (the Perfect Person), and Sakyamuni as Samyak Sambuddha (the Perfectly Enlightened). But each person has to seek for himself. Spiritual attainment cannot be borrowed from any messiah or prophet.
No prophet can, by recommending a person, send him to heaven, nor can that prophet, on being angry with any person, push him into hell. In fact, the whole story of heaven and hell is meant to deceive children. For each person, the inevitable destiny is Nirvana, Moksha, the attainment of Paramapada (the highest station), and enjoyment of bliss in all its infinities. And for advancing towards that destiny, a person need not become impatient. According to his own aptitude and in keeping with his spiritual development, whatever spiritual merit a person earns in one birth, that becomes his capital for further progress in the next birth. And this spiritual striving, practiced through many births, continues till a person attains the perfect truth and himself becomes that truth.