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Friday, November 11, 2022

Do I know the meanings of the words I use?

 Just because I know the word “advaita” and use that word does not mean I really do know all about it. It is like a non-medical person talking about a “stroke” or “leukemia”.

My own approach to concepts outside of my field of study is to get the contexts in which the word is used and out of that infer its meaning or meanings. I do not have to know everything about that word or concept unless I wish to be a scholar in that field of knowledge.

I am not interested in becoming a scholar in advaitic philosophy. But I like the principles it expounds and wish to use those principles in my understanding of this cosmos, mystery of life and personal inward journey. To that extent I would like to understand the origins of the word “advaita” and its different meanings.

This word has been used in the Upanishads and therefore goes back at the least 2,500 years. In his conversation with King Janaka (the Vedic Janaka and not the puranic Janaka) Rishi Yagnavalkya uses this word (advaita) as part of Brahma Vidya as recorded in Brahadaranyaka Upanishad 4:3:32 (सलिल ऐको द्रष्टा अद्वैतो भवति).

On direct translation to English, this word means “a state of no-two” or non-duality. The word also stands for the name of a system of philosophy called Vedanta (the end of the Vedas). Vedanta is the first of the Uttara meemamsa school of philosophy. The others are visishtadvaitam and dvaitam. As pointed out by Kanchi Periyaval, everyone in the Vedic religion were followers of advaita known as smarta (meaning followers of advaita smritis) until Ramanujacharya arrived.

The other terms I have seen used in relation to advaita are: mayavada since the concept of maya is central to this system of thought; vivartavada because of a metaphor Adi Sankara used. That was the metaphor of rope (the real, in light) being mistaken for a snake (imagined, in darkness and ignorance of the real).

In the western literature, it was probably the German philosopher Earnst Haeckel who first used that word, according to Bal Gangadhar Tilak.  Haeckel is also said to have translated the word to mean: “Monism”. Monism is different from monotheism. Monotheism is about One God. Monism goes beyond God and is about the One IT (tat) out of which the gods came.

Advaita which means “no two” or non-duality is used to indicate “Non-duality of subject and object” which results in the subject grasping on to objects and also to indicate that the subject is part of the awareness of the duality.

It is also used to mean non-duality of atman and brahman.

The word also indicates that there is no other reality except Brahman and therefore what we experience as atman is Brahman. Brahman is the only eternal, immutable base of this cosmos.

Hope I got it correct and have explained to help future students start their studies of advaitic philosophy with a basic understanding.

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