Text of the Course

Course module no. 9: Samkara Advaita Vedanta Topic 1: Nature of Brahman

The course discusses the Elements of Indian Philosophy based primarily on the teachings of Adi Shankaracharya (meaning 'the first Shankara' in his lineage), reverentially called Bhagavatpada Acharya (the teacher at the feet of Lord). The Indian philosophy talks about the quality of life and not the quantity of life. Basically this course deals with the Nature of Brahman or in other words the reality or satyam-that which is. The lecture briefly covers the following topics:

  1. The metaphysical notion of ultimate reality

  2. Samkara’s criterion: non-sublatability (trikala-abadhitvam)

  3. Analysis of the human experience of causal relation (cause-effect):

What is real?

Adi Shankara says that the world is not real (true), it is an illusion. Whatever thing remains eternal is true, and whatever is non-eternal is untrue. Since the world is created and destroyed, it is not real(true). Further change of form does not mean change in reality; form or quality not distinct from substance. Truth is the thing which is unchanging. A real object should be non-contradictable or non-subletable or abadhitvam.It means a real thing can not be destroyed or cancelled in any situation. Change (parinama) is rationally untenable, it is an appearance (vivartavada) (Satkaryavada>Vivartavada>Brahma-vivartvada). Since the world is changing, it is not real (true). Whatever is independent of space and time is real, and whatever has space and time in itself is real. When we are sleeping we see a dream which apears to be real. The world is compared to this conscious dream. The world is believed to be a superimposition of the Brahman. At the same time Indian philosophy beleives that the world is not absolutely unreal(false). The world cannot be both true and false at the same time; hence Adi Shankara has classified the world as indescribable.

The Soul

Existence alone is common to all objects, both physical and mental. The soul or the self (Atman) is identical with Brahman. It is not a part of Brahman that ultimately dissolves into Brahman, but the whole Brahman itself. Atman is only one and unique. Indeed Atman alone is Ekaatma Vaadam.Consciousness is present in every appearance of existence.

Cause and Effect (Karya-karana ananyatva)

Advaita states that karya (effect) is non-different from karana (cause). However karana is different from karya. This principle is called Karya-karana ananyatva (the non-difference of the effect from the cause). In another words, the effect is non-different from the cause (Satkarya-vada versus Asatkarya-vada). If the cause is destroyed, the effect will no longer exist. Despite the non-difference of cause and effect, the effect has its self in the cause but not the cause in the effect. The effect is of the nature of the cause and not the cause the nature of the effect. Therefore the qualities of the effect cannot touch the cause. All names and forms are real when seen with the Sat (Brahman) but are false when seen independent of Brahman. This way Advaita establishes the non-difference of effect from cause. Jagat (the world) is not different from Brahman; however Brahman is different from Jagat.


God, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Brahman is the One, the whole and the only reality. Other than Brahman, everything else, including the universe, material objects and individuals, are false. Pure existence is the common unchanging, eternal, the absolute reality behind all forms, external and internal. Brahman or Existence as such is un-contradictable and therefore supremely real. Existence is self-revealing consciousness as well. Brahman is at best described as that infinite reality that is the divine ground of all Being.. Brahman is not the effect of the world. Brahman is said to be the purest knowledge itself, and is illuminant like a source of infinite light.

Coverage in the video

The fundamental metaphysical conception that serves as the fulcrum in the Advaita Vedanta of Sankara (c.788-820 CE) is that of the ultimate reality denoted by the word 'Brahman'. A little reflection on the significance of the totality of human experience - such as deep experiences of joy and suffering and indifference- shows that the philosophical category of the 'metaphysical' is not a complete negation of the 'physical' but rather trans-figuring the 'physical' by asking the most pivotal philosophical question: what is reality?; Am I (are we) and my (our) experiences real? The recent air crash at Mangalore would force us to ask such a question, however disturbing and agonising it may be.

Before one explores the philosophical construction of the nature of reality -'that which is'- it is important to take note of the criterion of reality. In this connection, Sankara introduces the notion of 'abadhitvam' which means non-contradict-ability or non-sublat-ability as the true mark of reality. It means that which exists at all times is that which is supremely real. Advaita means non-duality and Sankara claims that Brahman alone is the ultimate reality.

Sankara in a significant sense takes note of the duality or plurality of our embodied existence and raises the question of such experience being true and real. In this context he discusses the cause-effect theory called satkaryavada, and proposes what is called Brahma-vivarta-vada. It means that the duality or plurality that constitutes the very possibility of our experience is nothing but the apparently real modification of Brahman as the world and its objects. That means, in becoming the world, the Brahman does not really undergo any kind of transformation.

Analysing further our experience, Sankara claims that 'existence' alone - meaning existence as such, not any given object which is only the case of a particular instantiation of existence- is common to all objects both physical and mental that come within the ambit of all human experience. That means pure existence is the common reality behind all forms and this existence nothing but the self-revealing consciousness. Sankara comes to this conclusion after a careful and threadbare analysis of the ontological status of the self (the subject) and the other (the object) that necessarily constitute all our experience in the three-fold states of consciousness: the waking, the dream and the deep sleep state. Both the waking state and the dream state of consciousness are characterised by contradiction and sublation. But the deep sleep state of consciousness transcends the contradict-ability or sublat-ability of the waking as well as the dream state of consciousness. Sankara takes this to mean that Brahman or Existence as such is un-contradictable and therefore supremely real. That means persistence is the true nature of reality/Brahman and exclusion or sublation is the mark of that which is unreal. And the individual self or Atman is nothing but this non-dual Brahman, concludes Sankara.