Posted by: adbhutam | May 30, 2017


Attitude towards the world in the Three Schools of Vedanta

It is well known that while Advaita holds the world to be mithyā, the other two schools hold it to be satyam. It might follow from this that while the attitude of advaitins towards the world is something like ‘do not care about the world, shun it, anyway it is mithya, do not engage with it’, the view of the followers of the other schools would be ‘the world is real and we should engage with it to the hilt in multiple ways.’ That such a thinking is not borne out by the facts is what is presented here by citing a sample from the books of the three schools:

The Bhagavadgita 15.3 is taken up to illustrate the point:
 रूपमस्येह तथोपलभ्यते नान्तो  चादिर्न  सम्प्रतिष्ठा । अश्वत्थमेनं सुविरूढमूलमसङ्गशस्त्रेण दृढेन छित्त्वा ॥ ३ ॥
The translation of the verses 15.3 and 4 would put the topic in right perspective:
15.3 The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is. But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the weapon of detachment. 15.4: Thereafter, one must seek that place from which, having gone, one never returns, and for this, surrender to that Supreme Personality of Godhead from whom everything began and from whom everything has extended since time immemorial.
Shankara says in the BGB 15.3:
15.3 But, asya, its-of this Tree of the World which has been described; rupam, form, as it has been presented; na, is not at all; upalabhyate, perceived; iha, here; tatha, in that way. For, being like a dream, water in a mirage, jugglery, an imaginary city seen in the sky, it is by nature destroyed no sooner than it is seen. Therefore, na, there exists neither; its antah, end, limit, termination; so also, neither; its beginning. It is not comprehended by anyone that it comes into existence beginning from any definite point. Its sampratistha, continuance, the middle state, too, is not perceived by anyone. Chittva, after felling, uprooting, together with its seeds; enam, this, above described; asvattham, Peepul, the Tree of the World; suvirudha-mulam, whose roots (mula) are well (su) developed (virudham); drdhena, with the strong-hardened by a resolute mind directed towards the supreme Self, and sharpened on the stone of repeated practice of discrimination; asanga-sastrena, sword of detachment-detachment means turning away from the desire for progeny, wealth and the worlds; with that sword of detachment.
Humankind is at the pinnacle, our actions form the branches extending above and below as also its secondary roots — this form of the tree is not understood by those immersed in Samsāra. Similarly, it is not understood that the end [of Samsāra] can be brought about by non-attachment to pleasures which are founded upon the Gunas. It is also not perceived that attachment to the Gunas alone is the foundation of this tree. Nor is it realised that this tree is nourished by ignorance (ajñanam) which is the misconception that the body is the Self. Ignorance alone is the basis of this tree, since in it alone the tree is established. This Aśvattha Tree is firmly-rooted — its roots are firm and manifold, and it is to be cut down with the strong axe of non-attachment, — namely the axe, forged by right knowledge of non-attachment to the enjoyable sense objects composed of the three Gunas.
Madhva on the same verse: translation from:

This ancient asvattha or banyan tree represents material existence but it is not perceivable yet it is seen to have been established. The word adi means beginning and anta means the end which refer to the Supreme Lord. The Bhagavad Purana states: The Supreme Lord is the beginning, the end and the middle as well. The Moksa Dharma states: The Supreme Lord has neither beginning nor ending, more the demigods and seers cannot penetrate. The compound word asanga-sastrena means the wisdom of non-attachment arising from association with Vaisnava devotees of the Supreme Lord. With the sword of detachment sharpened by meditation on the wisdom of renunciation. By this method the world does not become a place of bondage. By knowledge of the Vedic scriptures and practice the knowledge of the brahman or spiritual substratum pervading all existence will be revealed to one. It is confirmed in the Vedic scriptures that: Meditation verily is the way and the means for discrnment and detachment. Such a one will not be bound although others will. The purport is that with the weapon of detachment one should sever ties with everything except the Supreme Lord Krishna and His authorised avatars or divine incarnations and expansions. The Moksa Dharma states: When on surrenders unto the Supreme Lord one does not suffer or grieve. Neither is one born, nor does one die. Such a one is verily situated in the brahman. Only one who has been graced by the blessing of the Supreme Lord can be elligible to become qualified to attain this. The describibng of the means of severing attachment have been given for the sake of an aspirant receiving the Supreme Lord grace. No other shelter or refuge exists in all creation other than the Supeme Lord Krishna and this fundamental understanding must be realised. Since this material existence is like a horse with an unstable gait it is known as unsteady. That it is immutable is because samsara or the perpetual cycle of birth and death is like a stream and endless until one achieves moksa or liberation from material existence. This liberation is determined by detachment. The firm conviction that the Supreme Lord is transcendental to everything in the physical existence is the knowledge gained from the destruction of this ancient banyan tree.

One can see that all the three schools emphasize on the need to turn away from the world, that is worldly attachments, and keep the goal of reaching one’s true abode, mokṣa, unswerving. An ideal vedantin would therefore realize at the earliest opportunity in life that one aught not to be overly indulging in the world but on the contrary reduce his engagement with it as far as possible and keep it to the minimum of sustaining his body and sadhana. His attitude therefore is, to put in Purandara Dasa’s words: allide nammane, illiruvudu summane: My true abode is That, There, moksha; while what is here, this world, is insubstantial.  It would be beneficial to see what Prahlada has to say on this (Srimadbhāgavatam :
śrī-prahrāda uvāca
kaumāra ācaret prājño  dharmān bhāgavatān iha
durlabhaṁ mānuṣaṁ janma
 tad apy adhruvam arthadam  
Prahlāda said: One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life — in other words, from the tender age of childhood — to practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection. 

 yathā hi puruṣasyeha
viṣṇoḥ pādopasarpaṇam
yad eṣa sarva-bhūtānāṁ
priya ātmeśvaraḥ suhṛt
The human form of life affords one a chance to return home, back to Godhead. Therefore every living entity, especially in the human form of life, must engage in devotional service to the lotus feet of Lord Viṣṇu. This devotional service is natural because Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the most beloved, the master of the soul, and the well-wisher of all other living beings.
From this sample we can see that the scripture too, apart from strong Vedic utterances like ‘na karmaṇā, na prajayā danena, tyāgenaike amṛtatvamānaśuḥ’ (neither by action nor by progeny or wealth, only by renouncing these, some have attained immortality), ‘yatheha karmachito lokaḥ kṣīyate, evamevāmutra puṇyachito lokaḥ kṣīyate’ (just as anything achieved in this world through action wastes away, so too that which is gained by merit, in the other world too diminishes.’ there is the clarion call to give up one’s engagement with the world at the earliest and strive for realizing one’s true abode of liberation.
If anyone is intent upon probing the world to discover its secrets, it is only driven by his personal curiosity and not dictated by his vedantic affiliation to this or that school. Thus, someone practicing Advaita sadhana can very well engage in such research activity just as someone who follows non-advaitic schools: the common motivating factor is one’s quest to know the hidden secrets of the universe. Or at best inventing those facilities that would help mankind lead a more comfortable life, give him relief from disease, etc. All this might fall in the category of ‘Ishvara seva through mānava seva’ and help in chittashuddhi. All three know very well that the goal of their life is detachment from the world resulting in liberation.
An excerpt from a dialogue from ‘Exalting Elucidations’, chapter: Śāstra and Science’ p.287 (Sri Vidyatirtha Foundation, Chennai):
Sringeri Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Swamiji:  //Of course there are many advantages that we get from science.There is no doubt at all about it. But it is not necessary to accept what some scientists conclude through imagination and faulty logic. At any rate, there is absolutely no rule that just because one is a scientist, one should be an atheist. Many great scientists were theists and even now there are many scientists who believe in God. Thus, dedication to science does not necessitate the denial of consciousness other than matter.//
Om Tat Sat

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