In the Taittiriya Upanishad (3.1.) Brahman is described as that fundamental Truth from which the world of beings is born, by which it is supported and in which it is finally dissolved. There are long descriptions in the Upanishads to explain the genesis of the world (e.g. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.) A complete negation of the world from the point of view of experience cannot be attributed to Shri Shankara. Over and over again in his commentary on the Vedanta Sutras Shri Shankara calls the Over-Lord of the universe the creator of the whole world.
In Vedanta Shastra, Brahman is the cause of the world. The orthodox view of Vedanta about the world is that the cause alone is real and the effect, being included in the cause, has no independent reality. Some of the classical philosophers differ slightly from this view and hold that when Brahman is said to be the cause of the universe, what is really meant is that the cause is the root and support of the effect and the effect can have no existence without the cause. According to their view the relationship between cause and effect is one of inseparable identity.
Shri Shankara rejects the theory of the independence of cause and effect. The world is not separate but is one with Brahman, its cause. As the effect does not exist before the cause, so the world has no existence separate from Brahman. According to this view the unreality of the world is not postulated, as it is by the later philosophers of Vedanta. In that part of his commentary which illustrates the doctrine of the world and its connection with the Spirit, Shri Shankara says that the objective world is not different from Atman but is in fact the same as Atman. The existence of Atman makes the existence of objects possible and in the event of the non-existence of Atman the objects too would all pass into non-existence.
So it is clear that the world can have no existence without Atman.
It is unnecessary for a philosophical explanation of the world to treat it as an independent or separate entity.
Shri Shankara holds that Brahman is the cause of the world and the world is the effect of Brahman in the sense that, as an effect cannot exist without its cause, so the world cannot exist without Brahman.
Shri Shankara’s statements throw doubt on the validity of the view that the world is unreal. The distinction is most subtle. The world does exist, but its existence is not different from Brahman. The relationship between Brahman and Jagat (the world) consists in the inseparable sameness in essence of the two. It cannot even be called a relationship. One cannot imagine two infinities, let alone the relationship between the two. In the same way the separation of Brahman from Jagat is illogical, and it may therefore be concluded that Brahman and the world are not two separable terms, for there is no relationship between them. It is for these reasons that the leaders of Vedanta have called this philosophy neither dualism nor monism. The best expression for it is Advaita which is a unique word in philosophy.
The doctrine known as pantheism has two alternative forms. Either the divine existence is reduced to the level of worldly empirical existence, or else nature is deified and assigned the same position as God. It will be clear from the foregoing that to call Vedanta pantheism in either sense is a great error.
In all systems of Indian philosophy, not only in the Vedanta of Shri Shankara, Ishvara is placed above the world. The expression “Neti, Neti”, used in the Upanishad (e.g. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.15.) is indicative of this. Brahman is often said to be above speech, mind, name and form (e.g. Kena Upanishad 1.3.8 , Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.1.).
In the Katha Upanishad (1.3.10.) is the verse:
’’The sense objects are above the senses, the mind (manas) is above the sense objects; the intellect (Buddhi) is above the mind, and that which is above Buddhi is the great Self”.
The Bhagavad Gita (10.42.) says:
“This world exists only as a part of Myself, O Arjuna”.
Index for this series of essays