The Non-Duality of Shri Shankara

An extract from H P Shastri’s Outline of the Advaita of Shri Shankara

Limitations are a darkness and obstruct the vision of Truth. They make Reality appear what it is not; where there is bliss they paint a picture of distress, pain, sorrow and disappoint-ment. Our mind is a limitation and so are the senses and their objects. In the language of Vedanta, the aggregate of limitations is called Maya or avidya (nescience). It is not a self-controlling force. The Ruler and Governor of Maya is Ishvara, the Lord of the universe.

It is the highest duty of each and everyone to realize the identity of the inner Self with the Self of Ishvara and to realise the light of Truth under which limitations are seen as phenomenal and not real. There is no other way to freedom, independence and bliss for which the soul is searching. Like the deer in a desert, which runs after the mirage river to quench its thirst and eventually falls fatigued and unsatisfied, our soul looks for inner peace in education, in love-affairs, in military glory, in self-distinction of one kind or another, but eventually falls fatigued and suffers from neurosis as a result of which life appears bitter in so many respects.

The supreme authority on the great spiritual Truth called Advaita is the holy Shruti (The revealed teachings on non-duality, as conveyed by inspiration of the heart, and indicated by words in the Upanishads, regarded as sacred scriptures.) It is revealed by Ishvara Himself but it is written in an archaic language and is subject to many interpretations. It is not a keen intellect or a scholarly mind that can know of itself the truth of the innermost Self; it is one who has freed the mind from self-centred desires and actions, who has acquired tranquillity and equimindedness, who is magnanimous and infinite in compassion and forgiveness. Such an enquirer can ‘see’ the truth revealed in the holy Shruti.

One authority only has interpreted the Upanishads in a convincing way in the light of his own personal experience and with a dialectical skill surpassing that of any other philosopher: Shri Bhagavadpada Shankaracharya. His language is a model of beauty and simplicity and his thoughts are as spacious as the blue sky. Many scholars who claim to be followers of Vedanta have failed to understand the real meaning of the Shruti as interpreted by Shankara. Many personal opinions and interpretations are to be found in their writings—for instance, one writer defines Maya as ‘a description of facts’, while another interprets Brahman in terms of quasi-materialism.

This essay attempts to explain the spiritual truth of the world, the jiva (the individual), Maya, Ishvara, Brahman, the state of Jivan-Mukti (liberation in life), the ethical responsibility of a Jivan-Mukta and other fundamental doctrines of Vedanta. We have no private theories to advocate, nor do we claim to have fully grasped the meaning of Shankara’s dialectical philosophy. Notwithstanding these limitations, here is an attempt to interpret the Advaita Vedanta in simple language in the light of his writings.

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This article is from the Spring 2023 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.