Q: I have a few questions about the Philosophy of Modern Advaita Vedanta:
1. Is the World an Absolute Illusion?
No. The world is absolutely real, but our ideas and even our experiences of it are to a great degree illusion. The illustrations of the snake in the rope or the man in a tree trunk apply here. The impression in the mind is a real experience, but it is mistaken–misinterpreted by us. The object that produced that impression is real, but our seeing of it is completely wrong, arising from our own unenlightened mind.
However, this does not mean that the world exists only in our mind. That is foolish. In a sense we create that impression, but not without some real external stimulus.
Also we have to understand that just because an impression is erroneous does not mean there is nothing “out there” that is the substratum of the experience. So the world is not unreal or nonexistent–just our interpretation of it.
This means that we must endeavor to to correctly experience the reality of the world–its essential, true nature–that lies beyond (or behind) what we “see” in it. And that reality is our Self, the jivatman, and the Supreme Self, the Paramatman.
2. Are Jīva and Paramātmā Absolutely One and the Same?
“>They are absolutely one in essence, but the jiva is finite and the Paramatman is infinite. They are not two but one in essence. They are the same but at the same time different. Only the yogi will ever really comprehend this–and not by mere intellectual philosophy or belief.
Swami Prabhavananda in his interpretive translation has given us a hint of the truth of these things. Please read each verse carefully. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita:
“Since you accept me and do not question, now I shall tell you that innermost secret: knowledge of God which is nearer than knowing, open vision direct and instant. Understand this and be free for ever from birth and dying with all their evil.
“This is the knowledge above all other: purifier and king of secrets, only made plain to the eye of the mystic. Great is its virtue, its practice easy: thus man is brought to truth eternal.
“Those without faith in this, my knowledge, shall fail to find me: back they must turn to the mortal pathway, subject still to birth and to dying.
“This entire universe is pervaded by me, in that eternal form of mine which is not manifest to the senses. Although I am not within any creature, all creatures exist within me.
“I do not mean that they exist within me physically. That is my divine mystery. You must try to understand its nature. My Being sustains all creatures and brings them to birth, but has no physical contact with them.
“For, as the vast air, wandering world-wide, remains within the ether always, so these, my wandering creatures, are always within me.
“These, when the round of ages is accomplished, I gather back to the seed of their becoming: these I send forth again at the hour of creation.
“Helpless all, for Maya is their master, and I, their Lord, the master of this Maya: ever and again, I send these multitudes forth from my Being.
“How shall these acts bind me, who am indifferent to the fruit they bear? For my spirit stands apart, watching over Maya, the maker.
“Maya makes all things: what moves, what is unmoving. O son of Kunti, that is why the world spins, turning its wheel through birth and through destruction.”
(Bhagavad Gita 9:1-10)
If the world does not exist, then why did Krishna tell Arjuna to fight?
Do you see how false advaita is a worse delusion than ordinary maya? It is Avidya Maya.
3. What happens to the Yogī (who has realized Brahman) when he leaves his body and the mortal plane? Does he (Yogī) merge in Brahman and cease to Exist?
“>Of course not. As Krishna told Arjuna:
“There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be” (Bhagavad Gita 2:12).
That means our individuality is eternal, without beginning or end. And this could be no other way, since we always exist in and are one with the eternal Brahman. How could a person go out of existence by merging with Existence Itself? It is only a return to our original state, an awakening from the dream of forgetfulness.
So do you see why some people consider advaita nihilistic or atheistic? But they are mistaking false, ignorant “advaita” for the real Advaita which is Truth.
Read the Gita daily. It will never lead you in a wrong way.
More on Advaita Vedanta:
Learn to Discern the True and False in What is Taught as “Advaita”
Viveka: How to Walk Safely in the Jungle of Delusion, Illusion and Deception