According to Advaita-Vedanta, God or Brahman is identical with the inner self (the Atman) of each person, while the rest of the world is nothing but ob- jective illusion (maya). Shankara maintains that there are two primary levels of existence and knowledge: the higher knowledge that is Brahman it- self, and the relative, limited knowledge, regarded as the very tex- ture of the universe. Consequently, the task of human being is to reach ab- solute unity and the reality of Brahman-in other words, to reach the innermost self within his or her own being, discarding on the way all tem- porary characteristics and attributes.
"The book is extremely interesting and easy to follow. It will be a landmark work in the study of Shankara. No one else in the last fifty years has had courage to tackle the whole of Shankara's work in the con- text of India's other philosophical traditions. The Comparisons with other Indian traditions are often brilliant and the comparisons with modem Western thinkers illuminating and suggestive.
"Well-organized, clear, and coherent, it builds on the work of other Indologists, proceeding by way of analysis of original texts. By comparing Shankara's thought first with the thought of those systems most alien to it (for example Lokayata and Sarvastivada), the larger context and picture of Advaita comes clearly into view. By then going on to compare Shankara with allied traditions (for example Mimamsa, Vishishthadvaita, and Dvaita Vedanta), the subtleties of his thought are brought out. Throughout, the reader gets a sense of the lively en- counter of ideas that characterize the development of India's philosophical traditions."
Natalia Isayeva is a researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow (Russian Academy of Sciences.)
The history of mankind can boast not only of its times of fame and glory but also of quieter times with a different kind of heroism. People cherish not only the names of great warriors and politicians but also the memory of sages, poets and spiritual teachers. Some of them died in oblivion, only to become absolutely indispensable at some crucial turning point in the development of cultural or religious life. (One remembers how, half a century after his death, Soren Kierkegaard, the eccentric Protestant mystic was posthumously recognized as a founder of existentialist trends in religious and philosophic thought.) Others were luckier: they came to this world so opportunely that their teachings were destined to influence their surroundings, enthrall thousands of follo';ers and stamp the epoch with their own image. Such were the founders of the 'forld religions and also such figures as Francis d'Assisi and Martin Luther.
According to the religious tradition of India, a happy correspondence between the efforts of a sage or reformer and the response of his followers is explained rather' simply: when the world once again becomes steeped in sin or ignorance and deviates too far from the true path of knowledge, the higher God Visnu or Siva-is embodied again and enters the world to restore its moral order. We have heard of ten principle auatiiras' of Visnu amongwhom one may note Krsna, who took part in the famous battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas on the field of Kuru as a charioteer and spiri tual guide ofthe hero Arjuna. Many orthodox Hindus still believe that one of the aoatiiras of Siva was Sankara, the philosopher and religious figure of the early mediaeval period.
Sankara is an amazing figure and, to my mind, the most brilliant personality in the history of India thought. An outstanding religious philosopher and mystical poet, an orthodox theologian and a shrewd reformer, a founder of monasteries, an errant preacher and a brilliant polem- ist-this is not even a full enumeration of his achieve- ments, known to contemporaries and, more than a thou- sand years later, to us as well. He is believed to have died at the age of 32, approximately the age of Christ, but during his lifetime he managed to compose more than 400 works of various genres and to travel throughout nearly all of South India, edifying disciples and disputing opponents. It is Sankara's preaching and philosophic activity that, in the eyes of orthodox tradition, accounts for the ultimate ousting of Buddhism from India in about the eighth century AD, and the revival of Brahmanism. But what matters most is not even the scale of the task set before the philosopher. The teaching of Sankara is an example of extreme, perhaps unprecedented intellectual courage: starting with the orthodox idea of the unity of all being, he did not shy away from tracing all its conse- quences.
Vedanta, a religious and philosophical school founded by Sankara, was shaped later than other darsanas: it happened after India had passed through Buddhist temp- tation and was moving back towards the womb of Brah- manist religion. The very name ofthis system (veda-anta, literally, end of the Vedas) is interpreted either as a systematic summary of their main points or as a school having its immediate source in the final portions of the Vedas, that is, in the Upanisads.
According to the venerable tradition of coupling ortho- dox philosophical schools, Vedanta is usually grouped with Mtmamsa; hence its other name=-Uttara-Mtmamsa, or later Mimamsa. In contrast to Piirva-Mimamsa, or first MimaqlSa, which also declared its close connection with sacred scripture, Vedanta teaches not about ritual rules and laws, based primarily on the literal interpretation of Vedic texts, but about the integral sense of revelation. Philosophic trends within Vedanta vary greatly: starting with Sankara's monistic school, passing through the sys- tem of Ramanuja, where the world and souls are consid- ered to be parts or attributes of eternal Brahman, and winding up in the theistic dualism of Madhva, where Brahman is opposed to nature and living beings.
The system of Sankara is called Advaita-Vedanta, that is, non-dual Vedanta; its task is to teach about eternal Brahman as the higher and only reality. Here Brahman is not simply one from the standpoint of higher knowledge (ptiramiirtli ik am), nothing ever happened to it; all the multiplicity of the phenomenal world is unfolded through miiyii, its own creative power. Maya is a kind of screen or magic illusion but, at the same time, it is the reverse side of Brahman itself. Just as a rope in the hands of ajuggler seems to turn into a snake, or just as a piece of shell can be taken for silver from a distance, the qualities of the uni- verse, according to Advaita- Vedanta, are only tern porarily superimposed on the unchanging foundation of being. Liberation from this cosmic illusion (mohsa) is achieved only through the return to Brahman as true knowledge.
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