One of the most profound philosophies of life is Advaita Vedanta. The very word ‘advaita’ which literally means ‘not two’ summarises the entire philosophy succinctly. The Atman (self) and Brahman (God) are not two distinct entities; they are one and the same. Aham Brahmasmi, as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad puts it: I am Brahman. The Chandogya Upanishad repeats the idea many times using the phrase ‘Tatvamasi’ which means ‘You are that’. You are God.
The distinction between
Brahman and Atman, God and man, peters out as we move from the early Upansihads
towards the later ones. As S Radhakrishnan (academic, professor, philosopher,
and India’s second President) puts it in his scholarly introduction to the
major Upanishads, “God is not merely the transcendent numinous other, but is
also the universal spirit which is the basis of human personality and its
ever-renewing vitalising power.”
God is not an entity lying somewhere
in the outer space tinkering with the earth and its creatures or even with the
cosmos itself. God is part of you, you are part of God. Better still, God is
you and you are God. If you take a drop of water out of the ocean, the drop is
not the ocean and yet it is in a way. Throw that drop back into the ocean and
it becomes an undistinguishable part of the ocean. You and God are similar to
that drop and the ocean. Tatvamasi.
What a great philosophy!
This philosophy endows us with
divinity. We are divine, no less. This divinity bestows upon us certain
responsibilities too. We should behave like gods. We should strive to live like
gods. We should become God. It is we who make up the reality of Brahman. Our
perfection is God’s perfection. And our imperfection too belongs to the same
Liberation or salvation lies
in this knowledge, according to Advaita Vedanta. You don’t need to wait for
death to attain moksha. Liberation can be achieved while living here on the earth
by attaining that high level of consciousness which rises above the illusions
of all dualities.
One of the biggest mistakes
made by most human beings is to perceive God as a person with certain human
characteristics at their best. Long ago Aristotle said that we create our gods
in our own images. More than 23 centuries later, we still keep creating gods in
our own images. We still keep building enormous temples (churches / mosques /
whatever) for these gods whom we create.
Mahatma Gandhi refused to
believe in man-made gods. “I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharata
ever lived,” Gandhi wrote in Young India (Jan 1, 1925). “My Krishna has nothing
to do with any historical person.” He went on to assert unambiguously, “I
believe in Krishna of my imagination as a perfect incarnation, spotless in
every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Gita.” Gandhi could not believe
that the Krishna of the Mahabharata could actually be an incarnation of God
because of the many immoral things perpetrated by him to win the war. Krishna of
the Mahabharata was yet another creation of fertile human imagination.
Gandhi’s favourite god was
Rama. Yet the Rama Gandhi worshipped was not the Rama of Ramayana. “My Rama,”
said Gandhi, “the Rama of my prayers is not the historical Rama, the son of
Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya. He is the eternal, the unborn, the one without
a second…” (Harijan: April 28, 1946)
Gandhi’s God was a metaphysical
consciousness, perhaps the Brahman of Advaita. We can see the philosophy of Tatvamasi
in complete practice in Gandhi’s life. In fact, most saints irrespective of
their religions believed in that sacred oneness of all reality.
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post in the series: Spirituality