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Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )

Philosopy as per the Western connotation is an intellectual enquiry into
the ultimate cause/causes and laws of all things. It is an intellectual
speculation regarding the nature of the ultimate cause of all things. 
Its purpose is to know the reality, 'the root cause'. It is  a reasoned
out  view of life. But the purpose of Indian philosophical systems which
are called darsanas, is not only to know about Reality, but also to see
the reality, to intuitively experience and gain a soul-perception of the
Truth. The Indian philosophy is, therefore called as,Darsana, a vision
- the vision of the Ultimate Reality. All systems of Hindu philosophy
are based on the religious experiences of sages of ancient India. They
stated that every one can gain that vision or experience, prescribe at
the same time that will lead one to that experience.

All systems of Indian philosophy have for their goal the spiritual 
freedom or realisation of the Self (Moksha), which terminates all 
sorrows and endows a state of enduring felicity.

Of the main darsanas,which are six in number, viz,
 Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta , 
the last named is the philosophy that has endured through the ages 
and today forms the basic philosophy of the Hindu religion for that
matter. Vedanta is an integral part of Hindu religion.

In India, philosophy was not taken as an intellectual pastime but was
felt and pursued as a pragmatic and imperative need in life. It gives
an earnest conviction and abiding faith in the religion; it also brings
an integration of the intellect and heart, and inspires man to put his 
heart and soul in the quest for realisation of the Truth, which alone
will end all sorrows of Samsara (world), the cycle of birth and death.

There are three personalities in every man :-
(i) The one we think we are, i.e, our sense of individuality, the 
feeling that we are Jiva,
(ii) What ohters think we are, i.e, our name and form, our 'marks of
identity' in the society and the world and
(iii) What we really are, i.e, Atman which is an aspect of God or God
Itself (Divyatma Swarupulara - 'embodiments of the divine spirit')

Hindu philosophy, in essence, is an enquiry into the true nature of the 
essential reality in man, and so also in the universe.

 Advaita, non-dualism, is believed to be the ultimate explanation of 
things. According to it, there is one Absolute Reality (Brahman) which 
which is pure consciousness and pure bliss. The same reality when 
conceived of as ruling and pervading the universe is known as God
(Iswara). The universe (pervaded by God) is analysable into the
subjective experiences called as the soul and objective experiences
called as matter; these two constitute man and the creation. The soul
in turn consists of the intelligent spirit and its limiting adjuncts. 
If the latter is divorced from the former factor, the spirit, it (the
soul) is no longer subject to any limitation and will be seen to be 
identical with the Absolute Reality. This divorcing is quite possible
as the embodiment really belongs to catagory of matter (it is subtle
matter). Matter by itself, if carefully analysed, will be found to be
an evolute of the absolute reality shrouded by the two limiting factors
known as name and form, which by themselves have no reality of their own.

On this basis, Advaita explains that God, man and creation are therefore,
not really three different entities, but are aspects of one Absolute
Reality, and thus, man, in his essence, in truth, apart from his body
and mind adjuncts, is God Himself.

Vishishtadvaita explains that the three entities, i.e, God, man and 
universe are one integral whole, that man is but an aspect of God.

Dvaita postulates that the there are three irreducible entities, but 
man and the world are totally dependent upon God and that God alone
is supreme.

But what all these three preach is that man's sole purpose in life is
to attain and apprehend the vision of the Supreme, i.e, Tatva Darsana
(apprehension of the Truth) but not to remain content with merely Tatva
Jnana (intellectual conception of truth). We must know and realise what
we indeed are, i.e, we are the embodiments of the divine spirit. This
realisation is said to put an end to all sorrows and leads to abiding
inner peace and joy and bliss. The three Systems of Vedanta are futher
explained in little more detail, below :-

There are actually three schools of thought in Indian philosophy, 
postulating the nature of man (Jiva), Universe (Jagat) and God (Iswara)
and their inter-relationship. These three schools are Advaita (Monism
or Non-dualism), Visishtadvaita (qualified monism), and Dvaita 
(dualism). These three systems apparently seem to contradict one another
but all the three of them have their validity; they are equally true 
from their relative and respective standpoints and they have their 
common meeting points as well.

As regards the nature of the ultimate Reality, the propounders of the
three systems were all Brahmavadins, though Sri Ramanuja, the exponent of
Visishtadvaita identifies this Reality with Vishnu, Sri Madhwacharya, 
the propounder of Dvaita phylosophy identifies it with Hari, and 
Sri Sankara, the  propounder of  Advaita,  identifies  it  with
Brahman, the One without a Second. Any way, these three refer to the 
same supreme Being. All these systems draw their inspiration from the
same sources, namly the Prastana Traya (Upanishads, Brahma Sutras
and Bhagwad Gita).

Sankara looks upon Brahman as Nirguna. Ramanuja and Madhwa conceive
Brahman as Saguna. How does Sankara define Nirguna? Nirguna according 
to him means "free from the three gunas (the attributes of Prakriti
'inherent nature')".i.e, Satva  (mode of goodness), Rajas  (mode of 
passion) and  Tamas  (mode of ignorance). In the parlance of Gita, 
Brahman is Triguna-Ateeta. Nirguna means attributeless, i.e, 

Ramanuja and Madhwa do not agree with this postulation of Sankara.
Sankara's attributeless Brahman is very much beyond our comprehension
or conception. It looks like philosophical something about which nothing
can be known. Nirgunopasana is a seemingly self-contradictory expression.
But Sankara's is a two tier philosophy. While from the absolute 
standpoint, i.e, from the ultimate view of Reality, Brahman is Nirguna,

Yet from the the 'Vyahavaric' (pragmatic) standpoint, i.e, from relative
view point,Sankara also postulates Saguna Brahman, a lower Brahman, 
Iswara, who is the same as Vishnu or Hari whom Ramanuja and Madhava refer
to. From the 'Paramarthic' (spritual) standpoint at the absolute level
Sankara gives no validity to the concepts fo Saguna Brahman. Nirguna
Brahman is actionless, while Saguna Brahman of Ramanuja and Madhwa is the
creator, sustainer and destroyer of the Universe. According to Sankara,
world in only Vyavharic reality, it is a relative reality.

Everything has cause; a cause gives rise to an affect. What is the cause
of this world? In Vyavaharic parlance, the world is said to be the effect.
There is the example of the gold and gold ornaments. Gold is normally a
formless, shapeless material. In ornaments, gold assumes a shape, a form,
while its content remains to be gold only. A nugget of gold assumes the 
shape of a ring, neckless, etc., the nameless has assumed different
names and forms. It is a transfiguration- 'Vivarta'. The change is nominal
and transient. 

According to Sankara, Brahman is the only reality. The Brahman is unborn
and uncreated. He does not create; He does not cause.

But we see the world. It is only a change in name and form. It is only a
superficial appearance while there is no change in reality. The 'snake'
we seem to have noticed in dark disappears the moment the lamp is brought
there; what we find in the light is rope only. The 'snake-appearance' was
the delusion stead of Brahman, like the snake we saw in the rope in the
darkness. But as long as we are in the dark, the snake is also a
(temporary) reality, although not a absolute reality because it is, in 
fact only a rope all the time. The world too, like the snake in the rope,
is a relative reality, a Vyavaharic sathya and is valid only till we 
become aware of the Absolute Reality (Paramarthica Sathya), i.e, Brahman.
Thus the world is 'kalpita, mithya or Maya' (illusion).

Doctrines of Reflection and Limitation
What about the Jivas? Sankara says that he was summarising in just half
a sloka what all had been written in million of books; "Brahma Sathyam,
Jagat Mithya; Jivo Brahmaiva Na Paraha". Jiva and Brahman, in essence,
are identical or one and the same. Each one of us is Brahman in spirit.

If that is so, then how is it that we see so many beings and not Brahman?
It is due to the Avidya. Ignorance, nescience, Maya- these are all 
synonymous terms. It is the Maya that veils the Reality, i.e, Brahman
and which makes us see, instead, the many. The reality reflects itself in
the world as many. The one moon reflects itself as so many moons in the
different waters of the rivers, ponds, pots, etc. One Brahman appears as
many Pratibimbas (reflections). This is called as 'Pratibhasika Satya'.

Then there is also the doctrine of limitation, 'Avacheda Vada'. Space
is all one. But we see so much compartmentation of space, e.g, space
inside a pot, space between four walls, space inside and space outside.
But when the walls are broken down, the space of the room becomes one
with the space outside, which is the universal space. Jivas are thus
conditioned Brahman or limitations of Brahman for the time being. These
are the doctrines of reflection and the limitation explaining the 
nature of Jiva.

Sankara advocates Jnana as the chief means of sadhana. Karma, 
whether good or bad, has a binding effect. It causes bondage resulting
in 'Punarapi Jananam Punarapi Maranam', the cycle of birth and death.
Although Karma is good for attaining purity of mind, yet it is not direct
means for realising the reality. 
Bhakti is devotion and love towards a chosen deity. It is said
that Bhakti is also not the direct means for Realisation though it helps
to kindle viveka and vichara. It is a feeling of the heart, emotion and
sentiment also being alloyed with it. As Jivahood is due to ignorance,
it can be got rid of by knowledge only. Bhakti must fructify into Jnana
for leading one to Realisation.
Brahman is not something external and apart from us to be attained.
There is the example of the nose-pin of the housewife. The housewife
thought, she had removed it and kept it somewhere before taking her bath
and had, therefore, felt that she had lost it, and started searching
frantically for it everywhere. Not having found it anywhere in the house,
she thought it was lost. But when she came near a mirror for combing her
hair, lo! she found that nose-pin was there on the nose itself. She only
mistakenly thought that she had lost it while it was there on her nose
all the time. So also is the case with the Brahman.

There is another example of the Lion cub who got mixed up with a herd of
sheep. He grew up with the herd thinking he is also a sheep. One day when
the herd was crossing a river, he saw his reflection in the river and 
realised he is a lion, not a sheep. Although he was lion all the time, he
was under the delusion that he is a sheep.

In the same way, we have all forgotten our divine nature. Karma and Bhakti
do not help directly in the realisation of the Truth. But they are 
necessary for attaining 'Chitta Suddhi' (cleansing of mind). As such
they are pre-requisites to Jnana. Because of this only, Sankara composed
quite a large number of Stotras which are highly rich in devotion. But 
his chief doctrine is that "Ajnana leads to bondage and Jnana alone leads
to liberation."

Visishtadvaita :-
The chief propagator of this philosophy was Ramanuja, although it was
not a new philosophy. The Brahman, according to this philosophy, is not
attribute-less but it is full of attributes. There are three entities,
namely, Chit, Achit and Iswara. There is unity in this trinity. The world
is but the body of the Lord. Take the case of human body. Jiva is in this
body. Jiva is the Saririn while the body is the Sarira. Similarly, the
whole Cosmos, the entire universe, is the body of Brahman. The Brahman is
Niyanta. Brahman is the Lord. Jivas are His servants. While Brahman 
exists, Jiva and world subsist in Him.

The relationship of Jiva and Brahman in the state of Realisation is given
by the example of arrow and the target. When the arrow hits the target,
it does not become the target. It subsists in the target. We go to a 
place. When we reach there, we do not become that place ourselves. We only
subsist in that place but we do not become identical with that place.

Brahman is the creator, the creation is real, it is not mithya. Brahman
permeates the creation. 

Ramanuja emphasized on Bhakti to a remarkable extent. Devotion to God is
the means to reach Him. It is of the nature of the supreme love for God.
It is Prapatti or Saranagatti, total and complete self-surrender to the 
Will of God. Prapatti is illustrated by the Marjala analogy- the cat
takes complete care of its kitten. Likewise, the devotee can threaten God,
"If I am in difficulty, you are to take the blame, oh my Lord!".

Dvaita :-
Madhwa is the chief propagator of the Dvaita philosophy. His teaching is :
Hari is supreme, the world is real, the Jivas are many. There is five-fold
order of differences between God, world and jivas, such as : Jivas are
different from matter (Jada), Iswara is different from Jivas, and so on.
God is Swatantra. Creation and men, Jagat and Jivas are Paratantra,
dependent upon God.

While Ramanuja and Sankara do not differentiate between God and Creation,
Madhwa does not accept the oneness of God and creation.

Points of similarity between the three systems of philosophies :-
As far as Karma is concerned, all the three Acharyas accept it as a part
of Sadhana. However, Sankara talks of Nishkama Karma, action without 
desire for the fruit. Nishkama Karma is not a state of actionlessness.
Naishkarmya siddhi is the absence of feeling of the agency(egolessness).
All the three Acharyas accept the importance of Bhakti, though Sankara
gives a lower status to it as a means for Realisation than the other
two Acharyas. Madhwa does not suppress the role of Jnana. His emphasis
is on Jnana-yukta Bhakti. Then, they all agree on the importance of 

Thus, though the metaphysical approaches are different, the aim is the
same in all the three systems and all systems are equally valid from 
their respective standpoints, depending on the spritual stage of evolution
of the Sadhaka.

The following examples illustrates and explains this well.

Hanuman is said to have exclaimed to Rama thus : "When I think I am only
this body, i.e, when I am only in body-consciousness, I feel I am Thy 
Dasa, Thy servant; but when I realise I am a Jiva, i.e, When I am in a
Jiva bhavana, I feel I am an aspect and part of Thine; and, then , when
I feel, I am the Atman, i.e, when I am in Atmic Awareness, I feel I am 
Thyself, my Lord!" 

Jesus Christ too when he started his preachings, began by saying, 
"I am the messenger of the Lord", later he began to say " I am the Son
of God." and towards his last days, he used to proclaim, " I and
my Father are One."

Thus the above examples reflect the different stages of the evolution
of inner consciousness, beginning with sense of duality (Dvaita), 
progressing through a sense of close kinship (Visishtadvaita) and 
ultimately culminating in a unitive experience with Godhead, i.e,
the Advaitic State.

It can be said that
"Advaita is for Adarsa (goal/ideal ), while
Dvaita is for Acharana (for practice)".

Note : This article has been compiled from Sri Satya Sai Pre Sevadal
Course Material.

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