What is advaita philosophy
Introduction to Advaita Vedanta: All is one
What we perceive as reality is an illusion created by our mind. The world as we experience it is not real. At least that is what the Advaita Vedanta claims. That sounds pretty crazy at first. But let's take a closer look at what the well-known philosophical current (whose origins lie in the ancient, religious Upanishad texts) has to offer.
You can only find true happiness in yourself
In a nutshell, the Avaita Vedanta argues as follows: Thoughts and emotions are subject to constant change. Real is only the unchangeable background on which our own complex realities play out. When we are able to watch our lives and the games of our minds like a movie on a screen and no longer identify with them, we are free.
In our modern world, however, everyone seeks happiness outside: relationships, consumption, possessions, power, sex. Until these needs are met, we feel incomplete. The problem with this is that none of these things last and so inevitably - sooner or later - we will suffer again.
So Advaita Vedanta shows that thousands of years ago people realized that true happiness can only be found in ourselves. Namely in the awareness of what is real and what is not-real.
“Brahman is real. The world is only apparently real. You as an individual self are nothing other than Brahman. "
We owe it to the philosopher and teacher Shankaracharya (788 to 820 AD) that today the teaching of Vedanta is no longer accessible only to scholars and brahmins. He reformed and systematized Vedanta and commented on ten of the 108 known Upanishads. His view of the true reality is a non-dualistic, the so-called “Advaita” (translated from Sanskrit: without duality) Vedanta. There is a reality and a "non-reality". To be able to distinguish these from one another is the key to experiencing our true selves.
Advaita Vedanta - who are you before you start thinking and feeling?
"Correct distinction allows us to see the true nature of a rope and dispels the excruciating fear that our mistaken assumption that it is a snake evokes".
Vedanta is a logical method, a science of neutral self-inquiry. Vedanta is often paraphrased as a philosophy that reveals how we can find our true nature. Our true selves are for very few of us to grasp because we exist in a self-created "reality" - an illusion created by our mind, which is associated with doubt, suffering, fears and a feeling of incompleteness. Each of us perceives a different reality at different times. Many people exist more in the life in their head than in what is really there. They believe that this is their identity, hold on to it and suffer from the never-ending search for satisfaction of needs and happiness. So how can we know what the real reality is?
Atman & Brahman: All is one
As mentioned earlier, Advaita Vedanta is non-dualistic. This means that all distinctions between subject and object (I and a physical object, I and an experience, I and a feeling etc.) are not real. Because all existing subjects and objects come from one and the same consciousness (Brahman). Feelings don't exist outside of me. If someone influences me with their bad mood, they don't make me feel. I only feel it because it's already inside of me. When I see a flower, it only exists through my senses. I experience the flower in me. If I don't see or smell the flower, then it doesn't exist for me. There are no differences, “bad” can only be there because of “good”. Just as we are one with the divine - the individual soul, Atman, is one with the universal consciousness, Brahman.
Fundamental concepts and terms of Vedanta
There are three central tenets of Shankaracharya that summarize Vedanta:
- Brahman is real - Brahma Satyam.
- The world as we perceive it is only seemingly real - Jagan Mithya.
- The individual individual soul is nothing other than Brahman - Jivo Brahmaiva Napara.
In order to understand these sentences, we must first internalize the central terms of the Vedanta philosophy and grasp the logical connections.
Brahman is the all-encompassing, formless, infinite, unchanging consciousness of the world. This awareness is you - and every other person. You can also understand it as a concept of the divine (not a physical deity). It is the source of the being of every organism. An omnipresent principle that pervades everything that is. Because of Brahman, our physical and spiritual world can arise.
2. Maya, Mithya and Satya
Brahman, consciousness, is just there. It doesn't create. The creative power that creates our apparent world is called Maya. Through Maya we can no longer recognize Brahman and move in the world of her created illusion. The statement "We are ignorant" means that we are not aware of the created world through Maya.
Maya is not a bad thing in itself, however. It creates the order and the framework that we need to lead our life on earth. What makes us unhappy is that we think the world created by Maya is real and no longer know that we are pure consciousness. This unreal world that Maya creates is called Mithya. We have forgotten that we have everything in us and think that we have to look for something in the illusory world in order to be permanently happy.
We look for this happiness in objects, experiences and feelings. All of this is not permanent and will not give us the indestructible feeling of freedom and happiness that we already carry within us through our infinite consciousness. We don't have to look for anything, we don't have to arrive anywhere. It is enough to look inward and to reflect on our pure consciousness. The true reality (Satya) lies beyond the complex, painful constructs of thoughts and feelings that have been built up over the years.
More than intellectual knowledge, Advaita Vedanta is to be experienced
Advaita Vedanta is not easy to explain rationally because our selves cannot be grasped exclusively intellectually. It must be understood both rationally and as an experience, as our minds are too limited to simply imagine the true nature of being. In order to understand the truth and logic of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, your mind must be ready to accept the explanations free of judgment and questioning. Your consciousness needs to understand the logic in the space that reveals itself behind your thoughts and emotions when you go into silence. Vedanta is knowledge of logical facts as narrated by the Upanishads, supported by your direct experience of that logic. This creates an inner conviction and certainty of the only truth - Satya.
Ignorance: You have forgotten who you are
Who are you before you start thinking and feeling? The only thing that is always there and never changes is your consciousness. Before and after your birth you are pure consciousness, all your thoughts and feelings arise in the course of your life. Your upbringing, parents, school, university, professional life, your friends, media and society as a whole shape your idea of the person you should be. Based on these influences, you evaluate all the experiences you have as negative or positive. This is how you shape your individual reality and a supposed self-identity.
An "I" with needs, fears, conditioning and dreams. Everything you do is determined by achieving or avoiding something in order to make you or your ego happy. This creates a false sense of "separation" and an identity with a false "me". Your life becomes a vicious circle and a self-created prison of suffering and the feeling of never being complete. The constant search for fulfillment outside will not be successful, because everything you are looking for is already within you. You are ignorant and have lost the connection to the real you, your limitless consciousness.
The 4 steps to truly internalizing Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta cannot simply be read like a life guide. There are four crucial steps to understanding and experiencing the truth. Not everyone is capable, ready or qualified, and it can take years.
1. First you just hear or read the knowledge with the help of a qualified teacher (Sravana). Meditation can help clear the mind in order to absorb the new knowledge with an unwritten beginner's mind. So the logic of Vedanta is first simply accepted without questioning it on the basis of old knowledge and conditioning. When the mind is ready, the new knowledge will feel good and right.
2. The second step is thinking (manana). You are now ready to question your old knowledge. Does it agree with your new knowledge, the reality according to Advaita Vedanta? You will probably become very much in your old ways of looking at things
Recognize “ignorance” (Avidya), which you can gradually let go of.
So far you are still in the phase in which you understand the knowledge more on the intellectual level. However, so that you can permanently distinguish the illusory world from reality, you have to internalize the knowledge. Behind your conditioning you are long since complete and free. Vedanta is not about just remaining in silence in your thoughtless awareness. The freedom that you can gain through Vedanta is to be aware of this space beyond ego-driven thoughts and fears. To know and feel that you are pure, never changing consciousness.
3. Now the phase of Nididyasa begins - reflection and meditation. In meditation as well as in your life you ask again and again whether you can distinguish the reality (Satya) from the apparent reality (Mithya). Everything that you perceive with the help of your consciousness is a stage play. Depending on which thought or emotion filter your consciousness shines through, it is a beautiful or painful stage play. However, you can also look at it from a distance, without completely rising and falling in it - suffering. Once you realize it's a game, you have the freedom to choose whether you want to be a part of it or not.
If you manage to look at life from a distance and to accept what is really happening, undisturbed by previous experiences, then you will feel a relieving freedom. Do not oppose what is happening; try to see it with a neutral eye. Because exhausting resistance makes you unhappy. It can take a long time for the knowledge and insights to really solidify in you. Any situation with other people, any conflict, any emotional chaos can be a test. The work is not in vain, because every spiritual knowledge remains in you. Even if you sometimes feel like you are walking backwards.
4. The goal is the fourth step, self-realization (called awakening or enlightenment by some) - Anubhava. Your direct perception of reality is a feeling of oneness, you have internalized the truth. Only a few reach this stage.
Interview with Swami Pujan: Why Advaita Vedanta brings freedom to everyone
We don't have to be special to know the truth. We don't need esotericism, drugs or seductive gurus. Once we understand Advaita Vedanta, we see how simple and ordinary the answer to the question "Who am I?" actually is.
Swami Pujan is a Vedanta teacher and is originally from Germany. Today he teaches yoga and Vedanta philosophy in Australia and Asia. More than 30 years ago he embarked on the spiritual path and learned about traditions from Osho to Zen Buddhism. Until he met his teacher James Swartz and the Advaita Vedanta. Since then he has understood who he really is. The answer was there all the time, but like all of us he looked for a long time outside.
Swami Pujan's book “Advaita Vedanta for Ordinary People” explains in a simple way what Advaita Vedanta means and how understanding and self-questioning can lead us to our true selves. During his Satsangs, similar questions and uncertainties regarding the logic of Advaita Vedanta and its relevance for our everyday life arise again and again:
YogaEasy: We perceive our reality as dual, and all objects seem to exist outside of me (the subject). However, according to Advaita Vedanta, our true reality is non-dual. Why is that?
Swami Pujan: When you look at an object, there must be two things: the observer and the object. As an observer, you perceive the object with the help of your five senses, which convey information about the object to you. Without perception through the senses, this object would not exist. But are YOU also there without seeing an object? The answer is yes. Because awareness is always there. When there is an object, such as a thought, feeling, or material object, it is "illuminated" by your consciousness, and when there is no object, such as in deep sleep, it rests in the void.
Objects seem to be outside of us, but in reality they are only in our heads. The perceived object appears in your mind. And how close are you to your mind? There is no distance, so what appears in your mind appears to be you. If you don't see an object, it is actually not there for you. There is only a memory of an object in the form of a thought. The object needs you or your senses to exist, but you don't need the object to exist.
Doesn't Vedanta actually say that our life is a dream? Is our life real or not? Does Vedanta deny life?
Can you say that you are not dreaming now What makes you so sure that this is not a dream? When we are awake, we have a limited range of options, but most of our actions are determined by our subconscious tendencies. As you slowly fall asleep, you may notice how this waking reality gradually disappears and a dream reality appears. Both are kind of real to you. Then you wake up and the reality of the waking state reappears. What was constant in both states? Consciousness, you.
You do not change, but the objects in front of the light of your consciousness are constantly changing. You are the unchanging, unlimited background on which life plays out and appears. We call it Satya, the Immutable Reality. And Mithya is that which is always in flux. In Patanjali Yoga it is called Purusha, the unchanging, and Prakriti, the remainder that is constantly changing. In tantra they call the unchanging Shiva and the changing Shakti. Knowing this difference in daily life is what distinguishes a seeker from a finder. Once you know that, you are free.
How would my everyday life change if I really understood Vedanta?
Imagine a life without fear and desire. A life where you know nothing can be added or taken away. With the deep knowledge and understanding that you have always been complete. Such a life is a blessing. To know that this truth that you have discovered is the truth for everyone. You realize the love that you always have been.
You are sleeping and in your dream a tiger is chasing you. Suddenly you realize that you are dreaming. Now you have the choice, maybe you just let the dream tiger come and knock him out - or you concentrate on something else. You are free when you know that life is being watched by you. It disappears when you dream and reappears as soon as you wake up. And you, the consciousness, remains unchanged.
Why don't things make me happy all the time?
Because happiness can never be found in an object. If it could be found in an object, once in their possession the same object would make everyone happy. But a Gucci handbag may make you happy, but it leaves me cold.
Then where is happiness to be found?
In ourselves, nowhere else. So I can be happy with or without an object. I am independent of objects. Thoughts are objects too, they appear in front of my consciousness and then disappear. That means that even experiences do not carry any happiness or joy.They can only trigger what is already within you.
Why do I feel happy at times when happiness is not in the object?
When we desire something, that desire obscures our already inherent joy. Once we get the result or item we want, we feel the joy of not wanting anymore. Our inner happiness emerges. Our mistake (ignorance) is that we project our newly found state of happiness onto the object, but do not look inside ourselves. The joy was always there, but obscured by our desires.
Why can't I just change events or external circumstances in order to be happy?
This question relates to the fact that changing the outside doesn't change the inside. But the inner change can even turn a situation that is perceived as miserable into a welcome one.
If you avoid the situation or try to optimize it, you will only feel better for a short time until the next situation does not conform to your subconscious tendencies. However, you are not a slave to your thoughts. If something makes you unhappy, it is not the object or event in itself. It is your consciousness that, through the veil of old experiences, fears, needs and patterns, perceives something in a way that does not satisfy your ego and therefore causes negative feelings.
What about love What is the point of love affairs if, according to Vedanta, everything is not true?
Can someone give you love If love were an object that I have and you don't, it would be possible, but love is not an experience or a feeling. Love is the essence of who you are. So if you believe someone loves you, then that person is giving you attention, a form of love. This triggers your hidden, unrecognized ability to get in touch with the love that you are.
True love is recognizing your connection as awareness. The beautiful greeting “Namasté” indicates: When I see that you are in consciousness and I am in consciousness, there is only one of us. Of course, that doesn't speak against relationships, but rather promotes respect and recognition.
Here you can find more information about Swami Pujan and his book “Advaita Vedanta for Ordinary People”.
Excursus: The Vedas - a time before the religions of the world
To understand the origin of Vedanta, we have to look very far back, before our modern religions. The Vedanta philosophy is based on the Vedas that existed from 1500 to 1000 BC. BC over the centuries - first orally, later in writing - were handed down.
Veda means "knowledge". The Indian sages (Rishis) received this knowledge as divine revelation (Shruti). The Vedas are a collection of religious texts that Brahmins recite in rituals, sometimes by heart. There are four Vedas: Rigveda, Samaveda, the white and black Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda consists of hymns, explanations, ritual explanations and the Upanishads (750 to 500 BC).
The latter are the most important part on which the later philosophies and explanations of reality according to Vedanta are based. Vedanta is the "end of knowledge" (Veda = knowledge, Anta = end) and is also called the "philosophy of the Upanishads". The Upanishads are the "end of the Vedas" and in their essence they explain the experience of the unity between Brahman and Atman, which means something like the unity of consciousness and the true self. The Upanishads means "to sit at the feet of a teacher". In their essence, the texts are dialogues between masters and their students, based on intensive self-questioning and testing. Thus the students asked to understand the truth about the self both intellectually and in terms of direct experience. Other important basic texts of the Vedanta philosophy are the Brahmaputra (Vedantasutra) and the Bhagavad Gita.
After the time of the Vedas, different systems of philosophy emerged over the centuries, each trying to describe the same reality and truth in their own way. These philosophical views try to answer the big questions about what the world and people are, why we suffer, how we become happy, and what God is. Orthodox schools of philosophy such as Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta refer to the Vedas, while non-orthodox schools and religions such as Buddhism or Jainism do not recognize the Vedas as divine revelations. A variety of religions and philosophies with different points of view, concepts and words to explain the same truth.
Christiane is a meditation teacher and blogger at Journey Inside Meditation and works independently as a marketing freelancer. She has been engaged in yoga and meditation since she was 17 to better understand herself and the dynamics of life.
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