In the philosophy of Adwaita, only One Non-dual Existence is recognized6 min read

Brahman. In the holy philosophy of Adwaita, only One Non-dual Existence is recognized. When we think of It as the Abstract, as the Transcendental (Nirvishesha), It must be believed to be free from the limitations of attributes and It is called Brahman or Parabrahman (God the Absolute). It cannot be explained in words : hence the Shruti says of It “ not this, not this ” {nett nett) and “ there is no multiplicity at all in It ” (neha nanasti kinchina).

Ishvara. For the purpose of teaching, the existence of the Universe is assumed and distinctions such as “ determinate ” (sagtina) and “ indeterminate ” (nirguna) are admitted. In the language which takes account of the ordinary experience of the evolving souls to whom the world is a hard fact—experience which is based on the distinction between knower, knowledge and the object of knowledge—Brahman, the Pure Consciousness, the Absolute, is spoken of as the material and efficient cause of the Universe. So long as we continue to think of the Reality in terms of the Universe, it must be believed to be the Self of all the powers which are essential for the creation, preservation and withdrawal of the Universe. As such It is called Ishvara (the Lord).

Atman. In relation to the individual, the Shruti affirms that Brahman is the substratum of human consciousness, man’s inner Self (Atman), in the words “ That thou art ” (Tat twam ast) and “ I am Brahman ” (Aham Brahmasmi). When the Teacher speaks of It, he says to the pupil “ That thou art ” ; when the pupil tries to know It, he says “ I am Brahman ”. Ishvara, Self of the world, and Atman, Self of man, are limited by the media through which they manifest ; but, when considered as the Pure Essence, they are One. The media are called “ avidya ” and avidya “ creates ” the formidable Ishvara and the puny individual soul (jiva), although both are in essence Brahman and have ever been Brahman. That is to say, Brahman is called Ishvara when considered in relation to Maya and its product, the world, and Atman when considered in its relation to human personality.

Ishvara—Some False Views. Some Western scholars, who have not been privileged to attend the Sat Sangs of the Mahatmas, think that in Shri Shankara’s philosophy Ishvara is phenomenal. Others suggest that Ishvara is a hypothesis to explain the world, and yet others say : “ Among thousands of bubbles on the surface of Creation’s sea, Ishvara is only a big bubble.” These are all false views. Ishvara is the eternal, omniscient and omnipotent Creator, most compassionate to those who seek Him through true devotion. He is the arbiter of the fate of the individual souls (Jivas) according to their karma. Shri Shankara is opposed to the theory of the deluded Buddhists which denies the existence of Ishvara.

There is the conception of Saguna Brahman (the personal God) in the philosophy of Shri Shankara. It is for worship (upasana). The Nirguna Brahman (God the Absolute), being transcendent, cannot be the object of worship, and without worship the mind will not lose its activity, agitation and craving for pleasure. The Adwaita therefore conceives Brahman the Transcendent as a receptacle of the best and highest attributes such as love, beauty and compassion, for the sake of exercising the mind in peace, love and tranquillity. It does not state that Ishvara is imagined for the sake of worship (upasana) or that it represents a metaphysical concept held to explain the world of names and forms. Ishvara is as real as Brahman : it is the human reading of the Supreme Brahman Who is incomprehensible by the mind.

The Yogis who seek after the highest Reality in themselves know It as Ishvara. Ishvara is not phenomenal because He is not conditioned by Maya. Within the sphere of practical realization Ishvara is just Brahman and nothing more. Ishvara may be described as “ in the world ” (‘sansarin) but not in the sense in which the individual soul (jiva) is “ in the world ” (sansarin). He is not a part of the universal flux which is sansara. The world flows from Him but He does not flow with the world. In his commentary on the Vyasa Sutras I. i. 5, Shri Shankara says that Ishvara is eternally perfect.

The knowledge of Brahman is the only means of final release. When the individual soul (jiva) realizes its identity with Brahman then, according to some Acharyas, it does so with Ishvara : the meaning is that the Ishvara- vritti is a precursor of the Brahman-vritti. If a cosmological explanation is given, it can be done only on the acceptance of Ishvara. If Ishvara is posited as an intermediary being between Brahman and the world (jagat), then the absoluteness of Brahman is destroyed : accordingly this is not a view held by accomplished scholars of Shri Shankara’s philosophy. In his great commentaries the terms “ Ishvara ” and “ Brahman ” are interchangeable, and Shri Shankara himself would feel extremely shocked to discover that Ishvara, regarded by him as all-pervading, all-knowing, all-powerful and the inner Self of all, is represented by certain of his interpreters as illusory, subject to time and possessing a lesser degree of reality.

Brahman as First Cause. Brahman and Brahman alone is the cause of the world. It is the pure (shuddha) Nirguna Brahman and not what Deussen calls Ishvara of limited power. It is unfortunate that Western scholars following Deussen should postulate an Ishvara with a lesser value than Brahman. Can there be anv real difference in the Absolute Consciousness which is sometimes called Brahman, sometimes Ishvara and sometimes Atman ? In his commentary on the Katha Upanishad, Shri Shankara says :—“Though devoid of all specifications it certainly exists, being known as the root cause of the universe ; for that into which effects are absorbed must undoubtedly exist.” Brahman is the root cause {parama karana) of the entire universe of names and forms. When it is said that Brahman is without prana, without mind and pure, it does not mean that Brahman, being immutable, is not the cause of the manifold universe. According to Shri Shankara, the mind and all the sensory organs and their objects are born of Nirguna Brahman which is without prana, without mind and pure.

Conclusion. The conclusion is that the words Brahman, Ishvara and Atman are used as synonyms by the great Acharya. In the passage : “ May I be many ! May I grow forth ! ” we are told how the Self (Atman) becomes many, how the Creator is non-different from the created effect. As Brahman is free from the threefold difference, It is Ishvara, It is Atman. Those who make a difference in Brahman have not understood the real meaning of Adwaita.