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Transcript
The pursuit of happiness: An Advaita Vedanta perspective
Mr Chandrasekaran Veeraiah
SEGi University, Kota Damansara, Malaysia
[email protected]
Abstract
The present conceptual study attempts to present the concept of happiness from the
perspective of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism), a sub-school of the Hindu
philosophy based on Upanishads (scriptures) which are the concluding portions of
the Vedas (revealed texts). Developed in a multi-faceted religious and
philosophical landscape, Advaita theoretically insists that jiva or the individual self
is intrinsically blissful in nature and that it is fundamentally no different from
Brahman (The Supreme Self). It proposes that nothing can be added or subtracted
to render the jiva blissful or miserable. The theory of non-dualism is emphatic in
its conviction that man is endowed with an innate quality of being (sat),
consciousness (chit) and unalloyed happiness (ananda): he has only to look within
to realise experientially that the jiva is an embodiment of the macrosmic existence.
Refusing to rely merely on conceptual speculation, Advaita resorts to reasoning
and scriptural authority to arrive at a conclusion that the embodied self is
essentially the Supreme Self. It concludes that happiness or bliss is man’s innate
quality and that it is not accrued from outside one’s self. Seeking happiness outside
is man’s misdirected effort at seeking joy within. The proposed paper will then go
on to conclude that all human activities and endeavour is an effort at touching base
with man’s being which is fundamentally Brahman reposing in perfect happiness,
This research on happiness will be carried out in light of the canonical texts of
Advaita, including the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras.
Key Words: Non-dualism, being, consciousness, unalloyed happiness, Supreme
Self, individual soul, bliss, scriptures, experiential, revelation.
Introduction
For centuries, scholars and researchers, have endeavored to seek answers to the
question of meaning or meaninglessness of human existence. What is that man
seeks in life? James (2008) sums up that man’s “desire for happiness is the driving
force behind all the countless efforts that we are always making” (p.65). Man’s
pursuit, whether through mind, speech or body is driven by his “fundamental
desire” to be happy (James, 2008).
This, then, leads to a fundamental question of whether happiness is intrinsic
or one that is accrued from the outside. Walters (1988) suggests:
“Man always wants more, not less, happiness than he has already. He
errs, however, when he thinks he can increase his happiness by adding
to his possessions rather than expanding his awareness. Any effort to
increase his happiness without at the same time expanding his
sensitivity to the world around him, and his sense of identity with it,
will be self-defeating. Whenever a person acts selfishly, he deadens the
capacity to perceive his essential unity with all life. He becomes, as a
result, petty and mean. The expansion of happiness necessarily entails
the expansion of awareness, not the expansion of property. For
happiness is not a thing, and cannot be found in mere things. It is a
quality of consciousness: something that one is aware with, rather than
of.
Reason therefore suggests, and inner experience confirms that
happiness is an intrinsic quality of human nature. We enjoy things only
to the extent that we satisfy the thought in our own minds that things
are enjoyable. In fact, it is never things themselves that we enjoy at all,
but only a deeper reality within our own being.” (p. 154).
Walter (1988) sums up that “the clearest proof that things are not enjoyable in
themselves may be seen in the fact that different people can have such very
different ideas as to what gives them happiness” (p. 154)
Although “happiness as a state of mind may be universal, but its meaning is
complex and ambiguous” (Lu, Gilmour and Fang Kao, 2001:p.477). Happiness is
discerned as a trait than a transient emotional state (Veenhoven, 1994). The
complexity and ambiguity entailed in understanding the concept of happiness have
resulted in differing perspectives between Western and Eastern thinkers. The
Westerners’ thought sought to understand man’s drive for happiness by analyzing
the external factors, while the orientalists, especially Indian thinkers, gave
prominence to the inner being (or ontological stance) when understanding
happiness. Walters (1988) asserts that “India’s researchers into human motivation
following the thread of desire to its source, found that man’s deepest motivation is
essentially to avoid suffering, and to attain happiness…Beneath every sensory
desire to avoid pain, and to experience pleasure; and beneath every deeper, heart’s
desire is the longing to escape sorrow, and to attain permanent happiness or joy”
(p.151).
Walter (1988) maintains that:
“The desire to attain happiness is actually symptomatic of the desire for
self-discovery, for self-fulfillment. By the same token, the desire to avoid
suffering is essentially a desire to eschew ‘non-happiness’ as foreign to
our nature. We suffer only when something withholds from us that
degree of happiness which we feel rightfully ours.” (p. 155).
Rama (2014) indicates that man’s interiority lends meaning to external world.
He asserts that the “outside world can be mastered only when the inner potentials
are systematically explored and organized…for all things happen within before
expressed externally” (p.3). Parthasarathy (2004) concludes that the root cause of
human suffering is that “people do not look within” (p.14). According to
Parthasarathy (2004), eternal peace and happiness comes from the abode of man’s
real Self. On happiness, he says:
“Every human being tirelessly seeks it in the world through action,
emotion and knowledge. The search for bliss goes on. None has ever
found it. Only the rare one who has directed his search inward has
reached that State of supreme bliss. He finds it through realization of
the Self. People believe that outer conquests can bring about inner
peace and bliss. It is a false believe arising out of spiritual ignorance.
India has passed that state of spiritual infancy long, long ago. The
ancient Rishis (sages) understood the hollowness of such pursuits. They
had discovered that happiness dwells not in the outward charms of
materiality. Real happiness abides in the core of your personality…
External pursuit of happiness is futile” (Parthasarathy, 2004: p.25).
This then leads to polemics of whether happiness can be pursued or is it an
intrinsic quality. In this context, this conceptual paper seeks to analyse the pursuit
of happiness in the perspective of age-old Advaita Vedanta or non-dualism, the
Indian school of thought or better known in Sanskrit as ‘darshana’. The foregoing
analysis is based on the Advaita Vedanta canonical texts – the Upanishads, Brahma
Sutras and Bhagavadgita.
Advaita Vedanta and Bliss (Bliss)
According to Siddheswarananda (2000), “The Hindus consider the Vedas to be
their authoritative Scripture” (p.1). “The Vedas, from the root word vid (meaning
to see, know), the Vedanta (the end, conclusion of the Vedas) and the Upanishads
form the Scriptures” (Siddheswarananda, 2000:p.3). Swami Rama (2004) asserts
that the Vedas were the source of all streams of Indian philosophy and psychology,
and the Upanishads are the later part of the Vedas.
Advaita Vedanta is a theory of non-dualism based on the Upanishads, which is
the concluding portions of the Veda (Murthy, 1959). According to Murthy, “the
Veda, derived from the root “vid” (to know), means that which makes us know,
and the name by which the sacred scriptures of the Hindus have been known down
the centuries (1959: p.xvii).
The Dictionary of Advaita Vedanta (2003) states that “The term ‘Advaita’
negatively implies the negation of dualism and positively asserts the reality of nondifference” (p.23). The Sanskrit word Advaita is a combination of two “syllables” A (meaning not), and Dvaita (two) – which can be summarized to mean as ‘not
two’ or ‘non-dual’. According to Sanskrit-English Dictionary (2000), Advaita
essentially means the “non-dual nature of existence” (p.5). It is categorically “nondual view of reality derived from the Upanishads and elaborated into a system of
philosophy (Kaji, 2001: p.225).
Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism) is not an intellectual postulate but a living
experience to its proponents. The non-dualistic perspective, propagated by Sri
Sankara, an ascetic who is said to have lived in Kerala, India from 688A.D. to 722
A.D, holds that the Atman or the embodied individual self is non-other than the
disembodied unmanifest Brahman or Supreme self. Murthy (1959) explains that
“the cardinal tenets of the school which uphold this theory are:
“1. The Real (Brahman) is one and is of the nature of consciousness and
bliss,
2. Due to its maya (illusory nature) the Real appears as the world of
plurality,
3. There is absolutely no difference between Brahman and the individual
soul (jiva)” (p.3).
Vedanta (from Veda or revealed texts and antha or the end portion) is defined as
“The end of Vedas, i.e. the Upanishads” (A Dictionary of Advaita Vedanta, 2003:
p.235) or also as “the concluding essence of ancient revealed scriptures – the
Vedhas” (Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 2000: p. 172).
Those who propagated and practiced Advaita Vedanta suggests that the school
of philosophy is not to be treated as merely an intellectual postulate but given an
experiential importance. Advaita Vedanta exponent, Sri Sankara, is said to have
exemplified the idealism of the school of non-dualism via his substantial treatises
and literary works during his short span of 32 years.
Advaita Vedanta propounds that Brahman (Supreme Self), is of the nature of
Sat-Chit-Ananda (Sat is Pure Being, Chit is Pure Intelligence/Consciousness and
Ananda – Pure Bliss) and Atman, which is ontologically same as Brahman, also is
non-different in nature. In its ultimate analysis the non-dualistic perspective of
Advaita Vedanta ontologically propounds that the individual self or Atman is the
Supreme self or Brahman embodied in human frame and that Atman is non-other
than Brahman. Siddheswarananda (2000) points out that “the conclusion that
Atman equals Brahman is valid only from the ontological point of view, and we do
not have the right to formulate this as long as we ourselves are living in one of the
three states of manifestations – waking, dream and deep sleep” (p. 27).
The Vedic revelation that Brahman is the efficient and material cause of
creation and that Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda and non-dual in nature was later
systematized as a school of thought which came to be identified as Advaita
Vedanta. In the words of Griffiths (1983):
“The Ultimate is experienced in the depth of the soul, in the substance,
or Centre of its consciousness, as its own Ground or Source, as its very
being or Self (Atman). This experience of God is summed up in the word
saccidananda. God or Ultimate Reality is experienced as absolute being
(sat), known in pure consciousness (cit), communicating absolute bliss
(ananda). This was the experience of the seers of the Upanishads as it
has been of innumerable India ever since. It is an experience of selftranscendence, which gives an intuitive insight in Reality” (p. 27).
As a school of thought propagated by Sankara, Advaita Vedanta propounds the
consummate existential experience of non-duality that Vedanta (the end portion of
the Vedas) expressed in succinct sutras (aphorisms).
Naming Shankara as “the doctor of advaita Vedanta”, Griffiths (1983), quoting
Taittitiya Upanishad, summarises the non-dualistic school of thought in the
following lines:
“The knower of Brahman enjoys all desires, all delights procurable by
delightful objects without exception. Does enjoy all desirable things
alternately as we do? No, he enjoys all desirable things simultaneously, as
amassed together in a single moment, through single moment, through a
single perception, which is eternal…which is non-different from the essence
of Brahman, which we have described as truth, knowledge, infinity (satyam,
jnanam, anantam)” (p.92).
The knowledge of the Self propounded by Advaita Vedanta “is not a theory
which would be a product of the rational mind, but an experience” (Griffiths, 1983:
p.91). He says:
“The mind, turning back on itself, knows itself intuitively. It is an experience
in which being and knowing are one – that is why it is called saccidananda,
because being (sat) is experienced in a pure act of knowing (cit) in the bliss
(ananda) of oneness, of non-duality. The knower, the known and the act of
knowing are all one (Griffiths, 1983: p. 91).
In short, Advaita Vedanta is categorically a “non-dual view of reality derived
from the Upanishads and elaborated into a system of philosophy (Kaji, 2001:
p.225).
It is evident in the foregoing discussion that the concept of happiness is not
evidently stressed in Advaita Vedanta, instead the term Ananda or what is closely
translated as Bliss taken to mean unalloyed joy, is given focus. Analysing Advaita
Vedanta of Shankara, Shah-Kazemi (2009) explains lucidates that “Ananda refers
to That which is not susceptible to suffering or deprivation, on the one hand; and
on the other, it designates transcendent Bliss or Bliss as such, as opposed to such
and such experience of bliss; to Bliss which cannot not be, as opposed to blissful
experience this contingent on worldly circumstances” (p.5). According to German
philosopher Deussan (1999), “in the Upanishads bliss appears not as an attribute or
a state of Brahman, but as his peculiar essence…Brahman is not Anandin,
possessing bliss, but Ananda, bliss itself (Deussan, 1999:p. 141).
This conceptual paper would proceed with the analysis of happiness in the
context of Bliss as advocated by Advaita Vedanta. It will focus on the concept of
happiness or bliss as seen by the Indian sages in the Upanishads (the end portion or
the consummation of the Vedas), Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavadgita.
Ancient scholars of the Indian philosophical schools of thought name the three
– Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavadgita – as Prasthana Traya. Defining
Prasthana Traya, The Dictionary of Advaita Vedanta (2003) states that, “the term
prasthana means basis” and “traya is three” (p.158). The basis of Vedanta
philosophy is of three types – Sruti, Smrti and Nyaya. Sruthi Prasthana means the
Vedas and Upanishads, Smrti Prasthana means the Bhagavadgita and Nyaya
Prasthana means Brahma Sutras.
While “Vedanta is the end or gist of the Vedas” (Sivananda, 1999: p.3) which
deals with the knowledge portion, Brahma Sutras, otherwise known as Vedanta
Sutras, is a codified compendium of the systematic study of the Upanishads
(Sivananda, 1999). The Brahma Sutras, which are concise aphorisms, are the
codification of the principal texts of the Vedas (Siddheswarananda, 2000) and are
cardinal to the central theme of non-duality that Advaita Vedanta proposes.
According to Sivananda (1999), Sutras gave the essence of the arguments on a
topic condensing maximum of thoughts into these aphorisms in as few words as
possible. “Great intellectual people only, can compose Sutras. They are clues or
aids to memory. They cannot be understood without a lucid commentary. The
commentary also is in need of further elaborate explanation” (Sivananda, 1999:
p4). These commentaries were written by later founders of different schools of
Vedantic thoughts.
The third of the triadic limb of the Prasthana Thraya, the Bhagavadgita, which
literally means the Lord’s song, is an Indian spiritual text with 18 chapters. It is
quintessentially a teaching on non-duality of Vedanta by Lord Krishna (said to be
one of the 10 incarnations in the Hindu pantheon) to his devotee and disciple
Arjuna. The teaching is said to have taken place at Kurushetra (battlefield) in
Mahabharata epic of the Hindus.
It is in the foregoing context that this conceptual paper will study the salient
aspects of the Prasthana Thraya and trace the view of Advaita Vedanta on
happiness or what it identifies as Bliss. The Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the
Bhagavadgita “clarify the truth that you are the very embodiment of bliss
(ananda)” (Baba, 2008: p. 5).
Upanishads and Happiness/Bliss
For ages the Upanishads were “regarded as the fountain-head of Indian
philosophy” (Sharma, 2000:p.30). Quoting Bloomfield, Sharma points out
Bloomfield “did not uncover any form of Hindu thought, including heterodox
Buddhism, which was not rooted in the Upanishads” (2000:p.30). Concurring with
the late Indian philosopher and president of India Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Sharma
points out that the later systems of philosophy accommodated their doctrines to the
views of the Upanishads.
According to Sharma (2000), “the word ‘Upanishad’ is derived from the root
‘sad’ which means (i) to sit down, (ii) to destroy and (iii) to loosen” (p.17). Sharma
(2000) explains:
“The word therefore means the sitting down of the disciple near his teacher in a
devoted manner to receive instruction about the highest Reality and it is used by
the Upanisads in this sense rahasya, meaning secret or guhya vidya or secret
knowledge. The teaching, being the highest, was imparted at private sittings
only to qualified discliples” (p.17).
Shankara, the propagator of Advaita Vedanta “built a scheme of dialetics
having the identity of Atman (or individual self) with Brahman (the supreme self)
as its pinnacle, the system known as Advaita” (Siddheswarananda, 2000:p.28).
Shankara proposed that the “base on which rests the positive substratum of
individuality (jiva) is the Atman” (Siddheswarananda, 2000:p.29). Explaining
Shankara’s viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, Siddheswarananda (2000) explains:
“No attribute can be assigned to this Atman, for in doing so, the Atman
would have to become an object of our comprehension. This is important
thing to understand: however hard we may try, we could never succeed in
placing Reality in front of us as a specimen to be analysed. Brahman is the
basis of all that exists in the universe; what applies to Brahman applies also
to the Atman. It would be possible to know Brahman only if we ourselves
were in the position of Brahman. At that time, declare the Upanishads, the
knower of Brahman becomes Brahman himself.” (p. 29).
In his “Methods of Knowledge According to Advaita Vedanta”,
Siddheswarananda (2000) suggests that “the Upanishads indicate this substratum
by the formula Sat (Infinite Existence), Cit (Infinite Consciousness or Knowledge)
and Ananda (Infinite Bliss)” (p. 30).
According to Parthasarathi (2000), there are more than a hundred Upanishads
available today (p.11). Of these, researchers claim that, Sankara wrote
commentaries on 10 – Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitiriya,
Taittiriya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka (Victor, 2008:p.45).
Happiness is the state of the mind while Bliss is the quality of the Being.
According to Krishnananda (1972), “Bliss is not an attribute but the very essence
of Self...The Self is Brahman, and Self-Bliss is Brahman-Bliss” (p.92). Being
happy is a perception. “In experiencing happiness, which is a state of the mind, a
person is aware of himself as its experiencer, as is evident from such expressions
as ‘I feel happy,’ ‘I am happy’. But he ascribes to himself the mental state,
although he is distinct from it as its experiencer (Satprakasananda, 1974: p.41).
Satprakasananda asserts that:
“But like the vision of light obscured by mist a man’s self-awareness is
ordinarily hazy and faulty due to ignorance. Though knower of body, the
organs, and the mind, he gets identified with the known, and realizes himself
as a physical or a psychophysical being subject to growth and decay, hunger
and thirst, weakness and strength, pain and pleasure. This means he is aware
of the empirical self, the ego, but not the changeless luminous self ever
distinct from the psychophysical adjunct as its witness” (p. 41)
According to Sakprakasananda (1974), Upanishadic texts “convey the definite
knowledge of the witness-self beyond the ego (p.41). What the Upanishads suggest
here is that man is endowed with the “changeless luminous self” and his
disciplined recovery will be his remedial effort to discover his Atman which when
realized provides the panacea to all his inner and outer ills of perception, thus
leading him to Bliss. In such a state, Upanishads suggests than man graduates
himself to perfection. Krishananda (1972) in his ‘Realisation of the Absolute’ goes
on to suggests this when he says “Absolute being is the highest perfection.
Perfection is Bliss” (p.81). Explaining the Upanishadic concept of Bliss as
enumerated by Advaita Vedanta exponent Shankara, Krishnananda (1972), quoting
Verse VII. 23, 24 of the Chandogya Upanishad, asserts that “The great Infinite
alone is Bliss, there is no bliss in the small finite” (p. 81). He goes on to add that
“the world appears to be real, intelligent and blissful, because it projects itself on
the background of something which is essentially Reality-Intelligence-Bliss”
(1972:p.81). Quoting Taitriya Upanishad (Chapter II. 7) that “That, verily is the
essence. Only on getting this essence, does one becomes blissful. Else who would
breathe and who would live – if there is no bliss in existence (space). Truly, this
essence is the source of bliss”, Krishnananda (1972) goes to explain Advaita
Vedanta’s concept of Bliss. The Mundaka Upanishad instead calls Reality as the
“Blissful Immortal” (Krishnananda, 1972). In this context Advaita Vedanta
exhorts one to have a clear understanding of reality and realize that the inherent
quality of the Atman or the embodied self is Brahman which is Infinite Being,
Infinite Consciousness and Infinite Bliss. It is in this essence Upanishads stressed
that Brahman is not “blissful” but Bliss, not “conscious” but “Consciousness”, not
existent but “Existence” (Krishnananda, 1972).
Bliss that is often talked about and alluded to in the Upanishads is the not
limiting happiness that is often the absence or the opposite of unhappiness. Loke
(2005) points out that “This bliss, it should be pointed out that, is not the objectrelated happiness one derives from the fulfillment of a need or a desire” (p.2). In
the Taittiriya Upanishad “this has been described as bliss par excellence which is
many hundredfold more than the happiness one derives from any worldly act”.
(Loke, 2005:p.2).
It is in this context that the idea of Bliss is implicitly referred in the four
Mahavakyas or great sayings importantly upheld in Advaita Vedanta. Shankara
places much importance in the Mahavakyas when explaining the concept of SatChit-Ananda or Infinite Being-Infinite Consciousness-Infinite Bliss.
The four Mahavakyas:
1. Pragnanam Brahma - ‘Consciousness (manifested as an individual) is
Brahman’ as stated in Aitreya Upanishad (Verse 3.1.3) of the Rig Veda;
2. Tat tvam asi - ‘Thou Art That’ (Verse 6.8.7) - as stated in the
Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda;
3. Ayam Atma Brahma - ‘This Atman (individual self) is Brahman’
(second mantra) as stated in the Mandukya Upanishad of the
Atharvaveda; and
4. Aham Brahma Asmi - ‘I am Brahman,’ (Verse 1.4.10) - as stated in the
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Yajur Veda go to show non-dual quality
of Brahman and Atman (Loke, 2005; Murthy, 1959; Parthasarathy,
2004).
The Mahavakyas - Pragnanam Brahma, Tat Tvam Asi, Ayam Atma Brahma
and Aham Brahmasmi - are reported to succinctly insist repeatedly the identity of
Brahman or the Supreme Self and Atman or the Individual Self and ultimately
assert non-duality of existence. It claims that the consummative realization of nonduality asserts man’s inherent quality of Sat-Chit-Ananda (KnowledgeConsciousness-Bliss).
Brahma Sutras, Bhagavadgita and Bliss
Brahma Sutras, otherwise called the Vedanta Sutras is an aphoristic summary of
the doctrines of Upanishads, attributed to sage Sri Vyasa. It gives the essence of
the arguments propounded by the Upanishads. According to Sivananda (1999):
“The entire object of the Brahma Sutras is to remove this erroneous
identification of the Soul with the body which is the root cause of your
sufferings and miseries, which is the product of Avidya (ignorance) and
help you in the attainment of the final emancipation through knowledge
of Brahman.”
It claims “to be an enquiry regarding brahman…explains brahman as the sole
reality” (Victor, 2008:p. 77). It consists of four chapters (adhyaya), 16 pada or
sections, 223 adhikaranas or topics and 555 sutras or aphorisms (Sivananda, 1999).
According Sivananda (1999), “the first chapter (Samanvayadhyaya) unifies
Brahman, the second (Avirodhadhyaya) refutes other philosophies, the third
(Sadhanadhyaya) deals with practice to attain Brahman and the fourth treats fruits
of Self-realisation” (p.9).
Sankara, the systematiser of the school of Advaita Vedanta with “core teaching
being the identity of Atman with Nirguna Brahman (brahman without qualities,
brahman as the distinctionless, sole reality” (Davis, 2010: p. 27), wrote his
commentary on the Brahma Sutras called Brahmasutrabhasya (the term bhasya
means commentary). Placing importance of non-dualism, Sankara outlines his key
“concepts of adhyasa (superimposition) and avidya (ignorance) and their
relationship to brahman…” in his Brahma Sutra commentary (Davis, 2010: p. 28).
According to Davis, (2010), “the ordinary experience of the self as the subject in a
world of objects is a misidentification of the true self for it a indicates a subjectobject duality, which by definition, cannot be synonymous with brahman” (p.20).
Davis (2010:p.29) suggests that “when Advaitins define brahman in the positive, as
undifferentiated, pure consciousness or Being-Consciousness-Bliss (sat-chitananda) they are following Sankara’s essential description of brahman in not
taking sat-chit-ananda ‘to be three different descriptions or three properties
predicated of brahman, but rather as the unitary essence of the undifferentiated
absolute’,” (as quoted from Bilimoria, 1989:p. 166). The 12th aphorism of the
Brahma Sutra in Chapter 1, Section 1, establishes that “Self consisting of Bliss is
the highest Brahman” (Sivananda, 1999: p. 38). Victor (2008) suggests that the
“knower of Brahman-knowledge is untouched by happiness and sorrow (p.91). He
says:
“The knower of Brahman attains liberation (moksa). Moksa is a state of
bodilessness, which is eternal…Moksa is not to be attained from outside, for
it is the intrinsic nature of one’s self. Moksa does not need any action for its
manifestation like after cleaning a mirror the object reflects brightly and
clearly” (p. 92).
Bhagavadgita
Bhagavadgita or the ‘Song of God) is one of the canonical texts of Vedanta.
Being one of the chapters of the Hindu epic ‘Mahabharata’, it contains 700 slokas
or verses divided in 18 chapters (Victor, 2008). This contains the teachings of
Krishna (a divine incarnation in the Hindu pantheon) in the form of dialogue with
his dear friend and disciple Arjuna, reportedly to have taken place in a battlefield.
According to the epic, the five Pandava brothers, are up against his 100 cousin
brothers, the Kauravas, in the battle. Arjuna, who is the second of five Pandava
brothers, falls into confusion when encountering his opponents, who are his
relatives. In a nutshell, Bhagavadgita “begins as two great armies confront one
another at the start of the battle, and the teachings continue for eighteen days in the
midst of the battlefield” (Rama, 2004:p. 9).
The teachings of Krishna start when Arjuna, driven by compassion for his
cousin brothers, uncles, teachers and others waiting for the battle on the other side,
fumbles, wanting to withdraw from the battle. Krishna dispels Arjuna’s confusion
by preaching about the intricacies of life instilling the teaching of Advaita Vedanta
that Atman is of the nature of Sat-Chit-Ananda and that only body perishes but the
Atman is indestructible.
Rama (2004) suggests that “Bhagavadgita contains in condensed form all the
philosophical and psychological wisdom of the Upanishads” (p.4). He concludes
that:
“According to Bhagavagita, Atman (the real Self or centre of consciousness)
is never changing, everlasting, eternal, and infinite, whereas the body is
constantly changing and prone to decay…The aim of Bhagavadgita is to
teach the aspirant how to establish equanimity both in the internal life and
his activities in the external world; to help him develop tranquility within,
and to explain the art and science of doing actions skilfully and
selflessly…The teachings of the Bhagavadgita help one to understand the
distinction between the real Self and the mere self. The mere self is subject
to change and destruction; the real Self is not” (p.2).
Rama (2004) comments that Shankara “views the Bhagavadgita as an
expression of Advaita philosophy, and he uses Bhagavadgita to support his
assertion that there is only one Reality without a second. In his analysis of
Shankara’s commentary on Bhagavadgita, Rama says:
“His (Shankara’s) commentary emphasizes the identity of the Self with
Brahman as the only Reality. In his view the phenomenal world is illusory,
and taking it to be real creates bondage and suffering. Though selfless
actions help to purify the mind, ultimately one goes beyond action and
renounces all involvement in the mundane world” (p.7)
Victor (2008) sums that Sankara’s viewpoints on Bhagavadgita in the
following:
“1. Self-knowledge alone leads to liberation, the Highlest Bliss.
2. Actions (karmas) should not be associated with knowledge.
3. There is no liberation through actions.
4. The path of knowledge and the path of action are meant for the wise and
the ignorant respectively.
5. Action are based upon ignorance (avidya).
6. The Self is different from the body and is not connected with its
actions, and their connected results” (p.73).
Conclusion:
Advaita Vedanta suggests that Being (Brahman) is non-dual (Advaita). It is
existential. It is experiential and non-relational. There is no difference between Self
(Atman) and Being (Brahman). It is supreme knowledge (Sat), supreme
consciousness (Chit) and supreme bliss (Ananda). Advaita Vedanta propounds that
it is nescience (avidya) that enshrouds the individual self to assume that existence
is dual, that is there is a creator and creation, that there is the experiencer and the
experienced. It reinstates the Vedic theory that the substratum, Brahman, is not
identifiable and that it is not located in space-time-causation continuum. The nondual school of thought suggests that it is the delusive force or energy (Maya) that
veils the non-dual nature of Brahman.
Advaita Vedanta emphasizes that the actions or activities undertaken by the
embodied self is nothing but an innate urge to express its expanse and freedom and
unfold its nature as supreme knowledge, supreme consciousness and supreme bliss.
It believes that bliss is not capable of being pursuit or sought, as man, as an
embodied self, is by nature blissful.
It conclusively asserts that Self (Atman) is enlightened and blissful by nature. It
reiterates the concluding findings of the Indian revealed Vedas (scriptures)
highlighting the non-dual nature of Brahman or Atman. Advaita Vedanta suggests
that creation is the ultimate expression of Brahman which is inherently blissful,
endowed with supreme knowledge and consciousness. The Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad affirms in its sutra or aphorism, “Poornamadam Poornamidam,
Poornaat Poorna Mudacyathe, Poornasya Poornamaadaaya Poornameva
vasishyathe” which means “from fullness (brahman), fullness (creation) came and
despite its expression, fullness (brahman) still remains full.
Thus, creation is taken as a sportive expression of supreme knowledge, supreme
consciousness and supreme bliss.
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