Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
Subject: Re: Ancient Hindu Philosophy ( The Ultimate Truth )
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Vidyasankar Sundaresan)
Date: 19 May 1994 08:33:30 GMT
Organization: California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
In article <email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org (Mani
> How does Advaita interpret "satyasya satyam" ("the Reality of
> Please tell me, because if Sankara's interpretation
> agrees with Visistadvaita's, it denies Advaita's fundamental
> premise, viz., the ultimate falsehood of the individual soul!
Fundamental premise??!! Mani, the very first sentence of Sankara's
Brahmasutra bhashya says "jIvo brahmaiva, nA parah"! Advaita is all about
establishing the identity between the individual soul, jiva (Atman) and
Brahman. Ultimate falsehood? I should think not, more so because right at
the outset, Sankara declares "Brahma satyam"!
> The full context of the Upanishad is:
> atha nAmadheyam, satyasya satyam. prANA vai satyam.
> tesAm eSha satyam.
> Then, He is called the Reality of realities. The breaths
> are true, and of them He is the truth.
> The Upanishad is stating here in not unclear terms that Brahman is
> real, and through His reality, He bestows reality to everything
> else -- the mass of jivas ("souls") and matter. Why else would
> the teaching describe Brahman as one real among many reals? The
> Katha Upanishad says the same thing: "nityo nityAnAm, cetanaS
> cetanAnAm" ("Eternal among eternals, Soul among souls...")
> Advaita clearly cannot give this passage its due justice. By
> declaring that the world is "false" ("jagan mithya", to quote
> Vidya), the Advaitin goes against the grain of both perception
> and scripture.
The MUrta amUrta BrahmaNa starts by enumerating the mortal and the
immortal. I see no justification for explaining prANas as "mass of jivas
(souls) and matter" when the Upanishad specifically says prANa. Elsewhere
in the same Upanishad, and in scores of references in other Upanishads the
prANas are enumerated as five in number, namely - prANa, apAna, vyAna,
udAna, and samAna. These five and Brahman are invoked while offering
naivedya during puja and at the beginning of a meal. The BrahmaNa says
that the prANas and AkASa are immortal, while everything else is mortal.
It then goes on to say that the prANas are true (note the equating of the
immortal with the true) and that the Brahman is the True of them. AkASa is
used interchangeably with Brahman in the Upanishads.
Advaita does this passage full justice, as it relies on assertions
throughout the Upanishads that say that the one Brahman manifests Itself
as the five prANas. Secondly, the Upanishad does not say that Brahman is
"one real among many reals". Nay, it says much more than that. Satyasya
satyam because, devoid of Brahman, everything else loses its reality.
Which is what Advaita asserts.
As for the "false"ness of this world - first let me make it clear that
Advaita does not claim that this world is "false". It only says that it is
illusory. Let us pause a minute here and go over the rope and snake
analogy. A man sees a coiled rope in insufficient light and thinks it to
be a snake, and is therefore afraid. Later, when he sees it again, he
recognizes it as a rope, and realizes he was in error when he thought it
to be a snake. However, till he realizes that his object of perception is
not a snake, he still harbors the illusion that it is a snake i.e. he is
under the influence of his own ignorance about the true identity of the
thing, and is therefore under "mithyAtva". The same "snake" is later, at
the moment of realization, understood to be a "rope".
Similarly, man thinks this world has an independent reality, and assumes
that the pleasures and joys and frustrations and miseries he experiences
here are somehow "real". It is this that is "mithyA". He does not realize
"sarvam khalvidam brahma", which would give him moksham. Till he realizes
that Brahman is the only Reality, and that the "reality" of everything
else that he perceives as "real", derives from that fact and that fact
alone, he is under a similar illusion as mistaking a rope for a snake.
That is false which is impossible - i.e. a barren woman's son, or the
horns of a hare. On the other hand, an illusion is like a mirage - not an
impossibility, but a result of natural forces, something that one can see
and one thinks really exists, till one reaches the spot and discovers it
is gone. Similarly, the world is brought forth by the power of Brahman,
called Maya, which is by no means false. And it is man's ignorance
(avidyA) that keeps him in the illusion that the world is independently
real. The minute he realizes the Truth, he discovers there is no more
"world" - as the Upanishads say repeatedly, "For him there is no return."
I hope this helps one understand the Advaitin's use of the word "mithyA"
here. Sankara is not saying that this world is "false". That the world is
not eternal, but ever changing, is a fact of ordinary perception. Only
that which is eternal (immortal) is truly Real, and that is Brahman. If
you want to find fault with Sankara's idea of Real as that which is
eternal, and if you want to claim that there are other entities (other
than Brahman) which are not eternal, but which are nevertheless real in an
ultimate sense i.e. as Real as Brahman, please do so with appropriate
> The error of Sankara's Advaita will become clearer below.
> > If Sankara is completely wrong, then Ramanuja and Madhwa should hold
> > Yagnavalkya of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is also completely wrong,
> > they want to be consistent. Isn't Yagnavalkya essentially stating the
> > Advaita position when he defines Brahman as 'Neti, neti" - not this,
> > this?
> Au contraire, Vidya! Let's look at what Yajnavalkya says in this
> wonderful Upanishad, and how the Brahma-sutras explain his
> words. I use most of the passage to establish the context of
> "neti, neti".
> All this comes fromthe BrhadAraNyaka Upanishad, 2.3.
> (Murta-amurta-braahmaNa), the section that contains the above
> dve vAva brahmaNo rUpe, mUrtam ca amUrtam ca.
> Brahman has two forms, the concrete and the subtle.
> What he means by "concrete" and "subtle" are explained in the
> next two paragraphs of the text. "Concrete" means all matter
> other than air and space, i.e., the world of reality that is
> visible to us. "Subtle" means the air, space, and breaths
> ("prana-s") of the individual souls. Note that there is not even
> a suggestion of unreality or falsehood here.
(some portion deleted)
> So far, so good. I don't think Sankara would really disagree with
> any of the above, since he would place it in the "saguna brahman
> sruti" category (i.e., texts that describe the lower, "aSuddha",
> impure Brahman, who has attributes).
If memory serves me right, nowhere have I seen the word "aSuddha" used by
Sankara himself. The words he uses are para and apara (Transcendental and
non-transcendental) and SaguNa and nirguNa (with attributes and without
> It is in this context that we come to the disputed teaching,
> Sankara says that the words "Now follows the teaching, 'not this,
> not this'" ("atha AdeSo neti neti") negates all the previous
> descriptions as forms of the true Brahman.
Because the description of Brahman as 'neti, neti', occurs not once in the
Brihadarnyaka Upanishad, but several times. Specifically, in the mUrta
amUrta brahmaNa, (II, 3, 6) the term "neti, neti" is not uttered by
Yagnavalkya, but is a continuation of the dialogue between AjAtaSatru and
GArgya from the first BrahmaNa of that adhyAya. It is here that the term
"satyasya satyam" occurs, but then it is clear that in the context of this
BrahmaNa, the word "satyam" is used not as rigorously as in the other
verses. For example, the mortal is described as 'sat' and the immortal as
'tyad' at the beginning of the brahmaNa. But one can by no means harbor
the notion that the Upanishad means the mortal to be as true as the
immortal, because the final verse picks only the immortal prANa to be the
true and then goes on to say that the truth of the prANas is because of
the truth of Brahman. That is the true meaning of "satyasya satyam" - not
the meaning you give as "one among many realities".
Getting back to "neti, neti" as Yagnavalkya says it - these are in the
following - III, 9, 26; IV, 2, 4; IV, 4, 22; IV, 5, 15. Read IV, 5, 15
carefully because it puts together all the Advaita concepts in one verse -
"For when there is duality as it were, then one sees the other,
one smells the other, ........, one knows the other; but when the
Self only is all this, how should he see another, how should he
smell another, how should he taste another, ......., how should he
know another? How should he know Him by whom he knows all this?
That Self is to be described as 'No. No'! He is incomprehensible,
Before one jumps and says "Aha, here is a mention of duality in the
Upanishad", remember, Yagnavalkya is saying that duality persists only
till the realization that Brahman alone is all this. Remember the key
words are "duality as it were"!!
Just before this verse, in IV, 5, 13, Yagnavalkya defines Brahman as
consisting of nothing but knowledge. Which is exactly what Sankara says
too - "cin mAtram Brahma".
> In his commentary on this passage, he says, "A form is that by
> which the formless is brought into figuration by ignorance and
> falsemless is brought into figuration by ignorance and
> false impositions." ("rUpe rUpyate yAbhyAm arUpam param brahmA
> avidyA adhyAropaNabhyAm.") He goes on to say that such 'forms'
> are likely to "delude the world" ("vyAmohAspadam") and are of the
> nature of mirage ("mRgatRShnikA") and hallucination
> ("indrajala"), or at best, mere painted figures on walls and
> cloth ("pata bhitti citravat"), and mere "illusion" ("maya").
> To Sankara, Brahman is nothing more than pure being.
> My question is, why would Yajnavalkya delude people by telling
> them what they never asked for, i.e., the forms of Brahman which
> aren't really forms? And how can Sankara immediately make this
> distinction in teaching, when semantically the text does not
> warrant it?
It is not that people never asked for those forms. Do you mean to say for
example in the dialogue in III, 9, 1, where Yganyavalkya enumerates the
total number of gods variously as three and three hundred, three and three
thousand, thirty-three, six, three, two, one and a half, and one, that
Yagnavalkya is out to delude people, by giving them numbers they didn't
really ask for? No sir, later in the dialogue (III, 9, 9), he makes it
clear that prANa is Brahman and It is the One god. Finally, at the end of
this brahmaNa, he defines Brahman as knowledge and bliss.
> Ramanuja, following the interpretation of the Brahma-sutras, says
> that "not this, not this" means that these forms attributed to
> Brahman do not exhaust his Infinitude. "Not just this, not only
> this", is what is meant. Just look at what Yajnavalkya says
> immediately after:
> na hi etasmAd iti, na iti anyat param asti.
> There is none higher than this, none away from this.
> The infinitiude of Brahman, the limitless glory of the Supreme
> Being is brought out by this apparent negative construction.
> Even Yajnavalkya can only partially measure the greatness of
> Brahman. S.S. Raghavachar writes, "It is not a denial of what is
> affirmed, but a denial of the denial of what is not affirmed in
> the finite affirmation at hand." The Brahma-sutras distinctly
> says [3.2.21]:
> The context denies the 'so-much-ness' only, because it
> further declares repeatedly the abundance (of qualities).
> prakrita etAvatvam hi pratiShedhati, tato bravIti bhUyah.
> *After* this, Yajnavalkya affirms the ultimate reality of all of
> this with the statement "He is the Reality of realities." How
> Sankara can read into this wonderful passage the illusory nature
> of the individual soul and the world astonishes me. I suppose
> this is what happens when a commentator takes four words out of
> context. [I will give Ramanuja's comments verbatim in a
> subsequent post.]
As for the illusory nature of the individual soul, I have already pointed
out that Sankara does not say that. Secondly he is not taking four words
out of context. He is being totally faithful to the spirit of the teaching
of the BrihadAraNyaka upanishad. In fact after the mUrta amUrta brahmaNa
we do not find the term 'satyasya satyam' and Sankara is fully aware that
the word 'sat' is being somewhat loosely used by Ajatasatru (not
Yagnavalkya) in that verse. He therefore gives a consistent interpretation
of "neti, neti" which occurs in five different places in the Upanishad.
Four of these references deny Ultimate Reality to anything but Brahman,
who is knowledge and bliss. Sankara therefore interprets 'satyasya satyam'
which occurs in only one of the 'neti, neti' verses, consistently with the
> Regarding Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 and 4.5.13, which Vidya
> quotes in support of pure Advaita, I do not have the Sanskrit
> texts available at the moment. When I do, I will respond. I find
> that the translations used are usually very distorted, and do
> not convey the original meaning [Max Muller is particularly
> guilty of this]. This is why I almost invariably use both the
> Sanskrit and an English translation.
All translations definitely fall short of the originals, and sometimes say
more than they should. As for Max Muller however, even if his translations
do not convey the original meaning, it is not because he reads Advaita
meanings into the passages. In a number of places, Muller frankly finds
fault with Sankara's interpretations, and does his own translations,
without reference to Sankara's commentary.
> > Ramnauja interprets 'ekameva advitiyam" in
> > his own way, but then in practical terms, his followers resort to a
> > hierarchy of gods in which Vishnu is the most superior. Nowhere in the
> > Upanishads is it stated that Vishnu is superior to Siva or vice versa.
> > Advaita therefore refuses to hierarchize this way, and followers of
> > Advaita are true to this.
> The issue of Vishnu's supremacy is not critical to the religion
> of the Upanishads, or Ramanuja's philosophy. Ramanuja's
> followers worship Vishnu for two reasons:
> (i) cultural -- Visistadvaita was nurtured in a Vaishnava
> environment, based upon the outpourings of previous saints
> and existing Vedic sentiment.
> (ii) they believe that only Vishnu fits the attributes mentioned
> in the Upanishads.
> Ramanuja spends very little time discussing the supremacy of
> Vishnu. However, what he does insist is that one's conception of
> Brahman be consistent with the thoughts implied in the Upanishads
> and the Gita: "Whose will is true" ("satyasankalpa"), "Whose
> desires are true" ("satyakama"), etc.
> Besides, both Sankara and Suresvara (his chief disciple)
> invariable use the words "Narayana" and "Hari" as descriptive of
> the Saguna Brahman in their structured works of Vedanta, even
> when the context does not call for it. Of course, Sankara's
> Gita-bhashya glorifies Krishna/Narayana, but even Suresvara's
> vartika on the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad identifies the Divinity as
> "Kesava" (verse 167), as does his introductory verse to the
> Naishkarmya-siies the Divinity as
> "Kesava" (verse 167), as does his introductory verse to the
> Naishkarmya-siddhi. It is just an artifact that most Vedic
> scholars used the Gita, Mahanarayana-upanishad, Vishnu Purana,
> etc., as important texts, and so a culture of picturing Brahman
> (saguna or not) as Narayana emerged. But let us not pursue this
> dispute; it is rather orthogonal to the issues we are
> discussing. I grant that anyone who perceives of Brahman as
> having satyam (reality), jnanam (intelligence), anandam (bliss),
> amalatvam (purity), tejas (splendor), as His primary attributes
> but calls Him "Siva" instead of "Vishnu" is thinking of the same
> Brahman as I.
Though I am sorely tempted to leave this portion of Mani's post without
comment, I cannot but help point out one interesting aspect of the origins
of Visishtadvaita philosophy. I would sorely object to attributing the
origins of Visishtadvaita to prevailing Vedic sentiment. The Vishnu Purana
is rarely used by Vedic scholars, and there have always been equal numbers
of Vedic scholars using the Siva and Skanda Puranas. If Mani is trying to
imply that Advaita was somehow anti-Vedic, and it was Ramanuja who
championed the cause of Vedic sentiment, then he is definitely in the
wrong. If one looks at the history of the Alwars, it is quite clear that
their origin is in the Bhagavatas and Pancharatras mentioned as some of
the non-Vedic cults in the land. Sankara is well known to have defeated
representatives of these cults as well as the Saiva Kapalikas and
Kalamukhas in debate. Maybe I should make it clear here that till
Ramamnuja's time, the existing orthodox Vedic sentiment was carefully
nurtured by Advaitic philosophers following Sankara, through the
monasteries and temples that Sankara established. This tradition continues
till today through the many Veda pAThaSAlAs being maintained and
supervised by the various Sankara mathas in India. Ramanuja himself first
went to learn from an Advaita scholar.
Anyway, Ramnauja does a clever thing by not focussing on Vaishnava
concepts in his philosophy, but then manages to bring in Vishnu as the
Purusha/Brahman of the Upanishads as the Supreme God by *insisting* on the
auspicious thoughts and attributes *implied* in the Upanishads. This
insistence is clever because it is for the purpose of excluding Siva as
Supreme God. The Sri Rudram portion of the Yajur Veda explicitly describes
Siva with a host of "auspicious" attributes but also with a host of
"inauspicious" attributes. The minute one starts talking of implications,
one can read whatever one's own preconceived notions are into the
Upanishads. Given Ramanuja's background as a devout Vaishnava, that is
precisely what he does. Thus his philosophy is geared towards providing an
Vedic/Upanishadic basis for his religion of exclusive bhakti towards
Vishnu. On the other hand, while the Upanishads do mention a host of
auspicious attributes of Vishnu/Hari (which is why Sankara and Suresvara
mention Saguna Brahman as Vishnu), they also set out the basis for the
Ultimate Reality as nirguNa. Ramanuja cannot accept this nirguNatvam as
the Upanishads explicitly mention, so he resorts to defining nirguNa as
above sattva, rajas and tamas.
Sankara on the other hand, with his Smarta background that worships Siva,
Vishnu, Devi, Ganapati and all the Gods of Hinduism as manifestations of
the one Reality, is able to appreciate the truth of the Upanishads better.
This is not to deny bhakti, for Sankara is able to be a devout Vaishnava,
a devout Saiva, a devout Sakta, all at the same time, by being an
Advaitin! It is thus that Sankara is able to capture the soul of Hinduism
better, by providing a synthesis of bhakti religions with a number of
saguNa Brahmans that one has as "iShta devatA". Thus Sankara is consistent
with the Upanishads, and consistent with the dominant tradition of
Hinduism that worships all Gods. As an aside, it is this dominant
tradition of considering all Gods as manifestations of One that allows
devout Hindus to worship at the idgah of a Sufi saint or at a church, and
still remain essentially Hindu.
> > Also there is an important
> > Advaita concept to be understood - Brahman is nirvisesa, not just
> > It is "One without *any* qualities whatsoever", but because It
> > all these qualities. This is because Advaita is again being most
> > consistent. Pick any quality, I can cite an opposite quality.
> Right, but none of these opposing bad qualitites are part of
> Brahman's inherent nature (svarupa). The Upanishads repeatedly
> say that Brahman is Splendor (tejas), Brahman is Light
> (jyoti). They *never* say that He is inauspicious, that He is
> darkness. Whenever they describe His nature, they speak of
> incomparably auspicious attributes. I would object to saying that
> Brahman has "avidyA" (ignorance), "asatyam" (unreality), misery,
> etc., as attributes, since the Upanishads quite clearly say that
> He is characterized by knowledge, bliss, etc. So Advaita is *not*
> being consistent here.
Sure, you would object; I would too. But then, from where did you get the
notion that Advaita says that Brahman has avidyA, asatyam, misery, etc.?!!
You assume something totally opposite to what Advaita says and then accuse
it of being inconsistent. That's really not fair. Whatever else you accuse
Sankara and Advaita of, you cannot accuse Sankara of being inconsistent
with the Upanishads.
Sankara says that in the first place it is wrong to say that Brahman is
characterized by anything. Note again that this is being faithful to the
Upanishads. As you yourself point out, the key word is nirvisesa. Brahman
IS knowledge, Brahman IS bliss, Brahman IS being, Brahman IS all this.
Brahman is not characterized by these. So the objection you raise against
Advaita has no basis at all. It is not what the Upanishads say, it is not
what Sankara says.
Sankara would have no objections to Ramanuja's saying that Brahman has
innmuerable auspicious qualities, except that Sankara would tell him that
it is wrong to think of Brahman as having qualities - Brahman IS tejas,
Brahman IS satyam, Brahman is Anandam etc.
> > Since
> > Brahman is "ekameva advitiyam" there is nothing real outside Brahman.
> > Brahman therefore necessarily has to transcend all qualities; It is
> > just simply devoid of any qualities whatsoever. Accusing Sankara like
> > is deliberately misinterpreting him and casting him in a Buddhist
> > which he most definitely isn't.
> What does "nirvisesa" mean, then? That is *exactly* how Sankara
> describes Brahman, as being without *any* attributes! The
> Advaitin Suresvara clearly says:
> yad yad viSeShaNam draShTam na Atmanas tad ananvayAt
> svasya kumbhAdivat tasmAd AtmA syAt nirviSeShaNah
> Nothing that appears as qualitatively determining the
> Self really belongs to the Self, just as things like
> a pot appearing as qualifying space do not really belong
> to space. There the Self is fundamentally unqualified.
> [Naishkarmya-siddhi 2.94]
> I don't see any infinitude of attributes here (that is
> Visistadvaita). Rather, he says "the Self has *no* attributes."
> Nihilistic if you ask me.
I should point out Br. Up. IV, 3, 10 to you here - "there are no blessings
there, no happiness, no joys, but he himself sends forth blessings,
happiness and joys." If you can explain this in any sense other than
Advaita please do so.
What about the following - do you see any infinitude of attributes here?
"It is neither coarse, nor fine, neither short nor long, neither
red like fire nor fluid like water, it is without shadow, without
darkness, without air, without ether, without attachment, without
taste, without smell, without eyes, without ears, without speech,
without mind, without light, without breath, wihtout a mouth,
without measure, having no within and no without, it devours
nothing and no one devours it." (Br. Up. III, 8, 8)
All this enumeration of 'withouts' is captured by Sankara and Suresvara in
one word for the sake of conciseness, when they say 'nirviSeSha'. Note
that if Yagnyavalkya says without darkness, he also says without light.
(As an aside, the Sanskrit here is sufficiently explicit to admit of any
translation errors.) Would you argue that Yagnyavalkya is being similarly
nihilistic? What he means to say, and what Sankara says and what Suresvara
says is that Brahman transcends all these pairs of attributes. If
Yagnyavalkya is not establishing the formlessness of Brahman here, is
hetelling people to worship a deaf (without ears), dumb (without mouth),
blind (without eyes), mindless (without mind) god? Would you argue that he
is deluding people with what they didn't ask for?!! If you accept
Yagnavalkya's stating by means of enumeration that nothing that appears to
qualify the Self really belong to the Self, but you cannot accept
Suresvara's saying so in one word, you are being hypocritical.
> [Vidya quotes the Maitrayani Upanishad several times].
> In my opinion, the Maitrayani Upanishad is not an authoritative
> text. Not that it cannot be interpreted in a manner opposite to
> yours; I do not know either way. But, Ramanuja never quotes it,
> and I believe neither do Sankara or Suresvara (Ramanuja tends to
> stick only to Upanishads used by Sankara). It's used neither in
> Sankara's Gita commentary, nor in the Naishkarmya-siddhi. So, I
> suggest we stick to commonly accepted texts. Otherwise, I could
> simply quote my Alvars!
Aha, now comes a blanket assertion of non-authoritativeness. Firstly, the
Maitrayani Upanishad comes in the same line of tradition as the other
Upanishads, even if Sankara and later commentators do not quote from it.
Obviously that is not the case with the Alwars or the Nayanmars. Secondly,
there is nothing in the Maitrayani that denies the truth of Advaita. On
the other hand, inspite of the abundance of Vaishnava statements in it,
the Upanishad clearly identifies Vishnu with sattva, not as above sattva,
rajas and tamas, as you say Ramanuja does. Clearly here is one instance
where Ramanuja is not being consistent with the totality of scripture, as
you claim!! Of course, the only answer is to dismiss this Upanishad as
> > > This is rather patronizing, isn't it? Effectively, you are saying,
> > > "Advaita is the best, but Visistadvaita is okay for you people whose
> > > consciousness is less evolved." What a great insult to Ramanuja and
> > > Madhva!
> > Well, Ramanuja and Madhwa and their respective followers have been
> > insulting Sankara all along, haven't they? Namely, "Advaita is okay
> > some, though it is completely wrong, therefore Visishtadvaita is the
> > for people whose consciousness is truly evolved!"
> No, not at all! We say, "The Advaita of Sankara is fundamentally
> flawed, and is fundamentally incorrect. Aside from its bhakti
> aspects, it won't lead you anywhere, Come join us, avoid the
> delusion of kevala-advaita, and we'll teach you a real philosophy
> that is self-consistent!"
Quite to the contrary. Advaita is fundemental Truth. Advaita IS the
message of the Upanishads, it is a real philosophy, not a delusion, it is
self-consistent, and what is more, it has the machinery that can
accomodate not only Visishtadvaita and Dvaita but also all other religions
that ever have existed or will exist in the world! Maybe that is really
the only problem most people who criticize Advaita have with it. For, you
cannot find fault with Sankara for being illogical - he is always the most
logical of people. Nor can you find fault with Sankara for deviating from
scripture, he is always true to the teaching of the Upanishads.
> > For all
> > you know, Christianity or Islam may be the ultimate truth, and we as
> > Hindus will never accept that.
> In general, I have little dispute with Advaitins who practice
> bhakti, or with devout theists such as Christians and Muslims
> (eternal damnation and other such difficulties aside). I myself
> have worshipped in a Catholic church countless times, and view
> the God of Christianity, Islam, Vaishnavism, and Saivism to be
> essentially the same. But the Brahman as defined by Advaita is
> one that I cannot stomach, both philosophically and religiously.
How can you say all that together? The God of Christianity and of Islam in
particular is formless, attributeless. Muslims are so fanatic about it
that they refuse to depict God even in painting, a concession that
Chiristianity makes. If you can think of Allah or Jehovah to be the same
God as Vishnu or Siva, it can only be in terms of Advaita's nirguNa
Brahman. For Allah is precisely that - nirguNa. The Allah who gave the
Koran and the one God who created the world in seven days as in Genesis,
cannot be the same as the Vishnu who gave the Gita or the Siva who as
Dakshinamoorthy teaches the world. You cannot logically say that the God
of all these religions is essentially the same and at the same time find
fault with Advaita for saying Brahman is nirguNa. For the sameness is the
*nirguNa*ness that underlies all these manifestations of God. Even
Buddhism which is nihilistic and begins by denying the reality of the
Atman/Brahman, ends up giving another word for the Ultimate Reality and
calls it "Buddha nature". Advaita takes the diametrically opposite
position and starts by asserting the reality of Brahman (Brahma satyam),
and the identity of the jiva with Brahman (jIvo brahmaiva, nA parah).
Saying that this Brahman is nirguNa, is not being nihilistic but is the
highest mode of being theistic. That is what Advaita sets forth and that
is the real truth, that is the real basis for all spirituality.