Next morning, we had the darshan of Lord Venkateswara in early hours. It was over by 7.30 AM or so. We came out and started walking in the drizzle towards the rest house. My children asked me a few questions on the way.
" Yesterday you told us that Sri Ramanuja was the propounder of Vishishtadvaita philosophy. What are the basic tenets of the three philosophies i.e Dvaita, Advaita and Vishishtadvaita. Why should there be so many approaches to Divinity? "
I was amused by their premature curiosity. I replied " I will answer your doubts. Listen carefully."
"Vedanta discusses three things i.e Jiva ( individual soul ), Jagat ( the world ) and Brahman ( the supreme soul). The philosophies propounded by the three great Acharyas, appear to differ from one another, because of the different perspectives taken by the Acharyas in describing the relation between these three entities."
Jiva is the individual soul. There are millions of Jivas. They are like the sparks emerging from a big fire. Jagat is the world we see with our senses. Brahman is the supreme soul, called as God in common parlance.
The individual soul, the world and the God -- these three are distinct from one another, eternally existing, and will continue to be so forever. The soul should worship God through prayer, worship, japa and meditation to obtain His grace. This is the dualistic view propounded by Sri Madhvacharya. Popular Hinduism belongs to this level. In fact, all the world religions along with their practices, belong to this level. So in a way, all the religions are dualistic in nature.
The soul has the spark of God in it. The world too is the spark of God. So, the soul, while residing in the world created by God, should live and evolve in a state of surrender and devotion, and finally become a part of God. This is the view taken by Sri Ramanujacharya, who called his philosophy -- Qualified monism.
The world is an illusion. It never existed and would never exist. The individual soul and the Supreme soul are not separate. The ideas like " this is the world " and " the soul is different from God" are products of illusion. When this illusion is shattered, real knowledge dawns. This is the Advaita or Monistic view advocated by Sri Sankaracharya.
Among these three ideologies, Dvaita or dualism is easily understood, because it is on par with our level of thinking. God is supreme, he is omnipotent. We are weak and helpless. So we pray and worship God, seeking boons and protection from misery. Dualism understands this idea very well. In fact, all the world religions which advocate prayer, usually fall under this category of Dualism.
A little above this level lies qualified monism. It says -- "You are distinct from God, but not wholly. You are a part of God. Live in this world with a sense of surrender to God and enjoy this world as a gift of God. The world too is a part of God, just like you." This logic appeals very well to many people.
The highest level is Advaita or Non-dualism. Here, there is no difference between individual soul and supreme soul. There is no Jiva and there is no Jagat. There is no world at all. It is very difficult to reach this stage. Even the followers of Advaita cannot easily attain this level. Nevertheless, it is a truth because it shows a level of experience beyond the senses.
To be frank, all the fights among these three systems are quite unnecessary. Each of these ideologies considered its idea as the ultimate understanding. But really speaking, each one is a step in the ladder. Each one is a landmark in the long path stretching towards the ultimate. Dualism and qualified monism profess that the soul can never be equal to God. It is a blasphemy to think so. But non-dualism thinks differently. It says, until you experience the merger of your soul with God, you have not arrived at the ultimate Truth.
Sri Ramakrishna solved this fight in a simple manner. He said, the three philosophies are three stages in the evolution of individual soul. These are the three steps of a ladder. All the three views are partial truths. At every step one feels it as the ultimate, but in fact, it is a landmark in the long journey. Sri Ramakrishna said there are many higher levels other than these three. In fact, these ideas are not intended for a debate. These are the experiences one should get by doing sadhana. Sadhakas will experience the three states if they do sadhana sincerely. But if one takes to mere argumentation, one reaches nowhere. He will be caught in the net of egoism.
No one can remain in the Advaita state forever. Even after experiencing the non-dualistic state in Samadhi, one has to come down to live in this world, interacting with its fellow beings, either with the help of qualified non-dualism or with that of dualism. The state of a person who deals with the world and its beings, after having the full knowledge of the three states, is very exalted. Sri Ramakrishna called this -- "Vijnana". The state of a Vijnani is higher than that of a Bhakta or a Jnani.
There is an example given by Sri Ramakrishna. A house has steps to reach the roof. The steps are dualism and qualified monism. The roof is non-dualism. One has to climb the steps and reach the roof. After reaching the roof, one can remain there for some time, but cannot be there forever. Finally he has to come down into the house. But then he comes down with a perfection. Now he knows that the roof and the steps and the house, all are made up of same material. So now, he deals with the world and its beings with this improved knowledge. There are quite a few very exalted souls who never come down into the house, they always remain on the roof. Sages like Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara, Sanatsujata are such exalted souls. They always remain above this world enjoying the bliss of God.
Everyone in this world has to tread this path one day or the other. Everyone has to pass through these three states.This is Nature's law. No one is an exception to this. That is the reason why everyone has a drive in him to achieve something. Unknowingly, he uses this drive in the outer world. He thinks he had achieved much in this world. But at the end of life, he looks back and realizes that he simply wasted his life. These three entities, the soul, the world and God are the fundamental things, to be understood by experience. Until one solves this riddle, one cannot have ultimate satisfaction in his life. So a man who spends his life in material pursuits and never cares to solve this basic riddle, remains dissatisfied and finally leaves his body in despair. That is why, even after achieving great material success, there remains a kind of inner emptiness.
Science is trying to know the world. Parapsychology is trying to know the soul. Religion is trying to know God. But he is blessed who knows all the three fully and comprehensively. Otherwise, his life is a waste. One may earn millions, but in the final analysis it amounts to nothing. It cannot give any ultimate satisfaction. If one walks on the path and solves this riddle, then truly his life is blessed. Otherwise not.
" If one solves this riddle, will it not be useful to others? A scientific invention is shared by the world and becomes useful to many. Similarly, if someone experiences the highest, will it not be useful to the world?"-- my daughter who has been listening all the while, asked.
I smiled at her naive enthusiasm.
"Not necessarily. In the inner world, your experience is your own. It cannot be shared with others. One can show you the way, the pitfalls and the care to the taken on the way, but you have to walk. I cannot carry you on my shoulders. An adept can help you thus far. Let me explain the difference between science and spirituality. In science you do an experiment with outer materials. Your state of being has nothing to do with your experiment. Your experiment is totally objective. In contrast, in spiritual sadhana, you are the laboratory, the material and the experiment- all in one. It is a subjective phenomenon. So the result too remains with you. The world cannot fully comprehend your experience as it entirely remains your subjective state."
I paused to see if they are listening. I could see a glow on their faces, a glow that we usually see in the face of a Buddha, a glow that comes with understanding the basic truths of life. During rest of the journey, they were almost silent, pondering over the points of discussion in their minds.