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Śrila Prabhupāda’s Praṇām Mantra describes the Western world as nirviśeśa and sūnyavāda, which are translated as impersonalism and voidism. This has always perplexed me because the West sees itself rooted in Christian theistic Personalism. In what sense can a society based on theistic Personalism be called impersonalism or voidism? The problem compounds if we consider the fact that the Indian versions of nirviśeśa and sūnyavāda, called Advaita and Buddhism, are also translated as impersonalism and voidism, although they are quite different from the West. Those who take to Advaita or Buddhism, or who reject these philosophies, consider these to be radically different from Western ideas.

Thereby, nobody accepts that the West is impersonalism or voidism in the sense of Advaita and Buddhism. Then, why did Śrila Prabhupāda consider the West as nirviśeśa and sūnyavāda?

In this post, I will declutter this problem through an alternative nirviśeśa, which is not impersonalism (merger of all living entities into one), but depersonalization (disregarding the other’s personhood). I will identify an alternative version of sūnyavāda too, which is not voidism (the ego must be destroyed to annul the self), but nihilism (negation of morals to assert one’s ego). I will discuss the differences between Indian and Western materialism; in India, materialism means anarchy; in the West, materialism means laws to control nature and people. Finally, I will discuss how Vedic and Western personalism are rooted in two distinct kinds of identities—the self vs. the ego. The ego has three flavors based on sattva, rajas, and tamas, which lead to three different kinds of personalistic religious ideas.

Four Vedic Spiritual Positions

In Vedic philosophy, there is a clear hierarchy from Personalism to Impersonalism to Voidism to Materialism. The spiritual world is identified as the ideology of Personalism—love with sacrifice, or affection with independence. These are, respectively, called Goloka and Vaikuṇṭha in Vaishnavism.

Below this is Brahman which is a self-absorbed state in which the self is perceived, although nothing else is perceived. The absence of perception means that the world, other living entities, and God are not seen. However, there is a theoretical grasp of unity in creation due to a common origin of everything in God. Advaita transformed unity into oneness, and the non-perception of other living entities, the world, and God into their non-existence. Brahman is not Advaita. However, because other living entities, the world, and God are not perceived, the term nirviśeśa is used to mean “the absence of qualities”. We can also call it “the absence of individuals”. Thus, nirviśeśa is not identical to ekatva or oneness. In the latter, everything is factually one, and in the former, there are many unperceived spiritual entities. There are hence real and contrived versions of impersonalism; Advaita is a contrived version, although there is a real version of impersonalism, which is identified as Brahman or the self-absorbed state.

Below Brahman is a deep-sleep state of unawareness, which is called the kārana or the “causal realm” of material existence in Sāñkhya, which exists in a dormant or potential state, although hasn’t yet begun producing the material world. This state is pursued by Buddhists. The difference between Brahman and kārana is that between self-aware wakefulness and self-unaware sleep. These are also called turīya (transcendent) and suśupti (deep sleep). Thus, transcendence has two meanings—transcendent to matter into the self, and transcendent to the self into the Supreme Self. Brahman and turīya mean the same thing—transcendent to matter, although not transcendent to the self into the Supreme Self.

Below the kārana pursued by Buddhists is the material worldly dreaming and awake state. It is important to remember—which most people at present cannot fathom—that the material world is also described as a state of consciousness. The body and mind are thus states of consciousness. Thoughts, emotions, and judgments in the mind, or hunger, sickness, and tiredness in the body are also states of consciousness. It doesn’t mean that these states are self-created. It however means that another consciousness—the Śakti—creates them, and our consciousness moves from one state to another, by which these become our states, although that movement from one state to another is the discovery of a preexisting state, rather than the invention of states as self-created experiences.

This position is Idealism in the sense that the world is a state of consciousness; it is Realism because the state is discovered rather than invented; it is the rejection of Solipsism because the state is not invented. Therefore, there is a scientific study of matter, which is also the study of the material Śakti. This scientific study of matter is also spiritualism rather than materialism because it is the study of Śakti, a conscious person.

The Problem of Transcendence

After describing these four realities, Vedic philosophy urges us to rise through them. This is not the rise from materialism to spiritualism. It is rather the rise from one state of spirit to another. This means, study the material creation first; then understand that you can end this material experience like you go into sleep; then grasp that you can be self-aware even without any material worldly experience; finally, understand that there is a unity in diversity due to the presence of the Supreme Self.

The question is: Why should we do all these things? Why is the higher state of spirit better than the lower state? And the answer is that in the lower state, there is a likelihood of suffering. We cannot be permanently happy in this world; therefore, we have to try for eternal happiness. That endeavor requires a sacrifice of happiness in this world and creates a trade-off—short-term vs. long-term happiness. Not everyone likes this trade-off. The assumption is that there is no life after death. Without such a life, why should we sacrifice the happiness we have right now for happiness after this life, which is unsure?

This leads to the next question: What makes anyone say it is unsure? In Vedic philosophy, the supra-material reality is known in the material world not just after death. To know that reality, however, one has to develop new perceptual capacities, which begin from the purification of the mind to intuit meanings, progress into the enhancement of intellect to see the true, right, and good, and then development of willpower to see oneself separate from the world as the soul is able to control its life completely by its will, and becomes free of the laws of nature.

Austerities and sacrifices are essential to developing all such capacities. For example, to develop willpower, we must have the ability to tolerate hardships. Under pain, we separate ourselves from the world. Our consciousness withdraws from the body if we experience extreme pain (this is the cause of most out-of-body experiences—they are caused by extreme pain). That effect can also be gradually produced through voluntary austerities. If we cannot renounce pleasure and accept pain, then we have no willpower, we cannot see ourselves separate from the body, control our life through our will, or become free of the natural laws that govern our body and mind.

Materialism vs. Moral Materialism

Of course, those who are addicted to material enjoyment cannot perform austerities, sacrifices, and penances. However, such a person will never accept this as his problem. He will try to intellectually rationalize his inabilities by asking rhetorically: What is the guarantee that I will gain willpower by austerity? Isn’t it possible that I will simply suffer via penances, and never gain the promised results?

There is no answer to skepticism if it is framed in the if-then format because the skeptic can reject the if and thereby deny the possibility of then. The answer to skepticism is possible only when the proposition is framed in an if-then-else format. That else in this case is boundless material suffering. When people suffer ceaselessly, then they naturally become detached, and turn toward the self and away from the world, because the world is not giving them happiness anyway; they have to get it elsewhere.

Moral laws are framed as if-then-else statements: If you do your job, then you will be paid; else, you will be fired. Vedic study of matter is also based on such moral laws. Materialism, as distinct from the Vedic study of matter, however, reduces if-then-else to if-then statements: If you push a cart, it will move. But if you don’t, then the cart stays where it was, and you stay where you were. You don’t get removed from your current state because there is no else in the law. This materialistic idea of natural laws was embodied into Newton’s laws of motion by saying: A body continues in its state of motion or rest unless pushed by a force. If you push, then the body moves. If you don’t, you stay in the same state.

Every society needs if-then-else laws because you have to do the job or get fired from your position to allow others to do the job. You can also go to jail for neglecting your duty or acting contrary to duty. Thereby, economics, sociology, and political theories can never be framed in terms of purely if-then laws, and this presents a fundamental contradiction between natural and social sciences.

Hence, there is a difference between Materialism and Moral Materialism (my book with this title discusses how if-then laws are always incomplete; the if-then-else laws are however complete). The Vedic study of matter is Moral Materialism, distinct from what we call Materialism today.

The Dawn of Cārvāka Materialism

It is interesting to note here the difference between Western and Indian materialism; in Western materialism, people frame if-then laws called “natural laws” and if-then-else laws called “social laws”. You are allowed to frame as many laws as you like. You don’t question how the principle of simplicity and parsimony—called the Occam’s Razor—is violated due to numerous theories and laws.

Indian materialism was different. It said: There is simply no basis for laws because laws require generalizing from the particulars, and we have no way to establish that generalization. Similar types of arguments were advanced by David Hume and George Berkeley at the dawn of modern science. Hume spoke about how generalizing from particulars doesn’t establish the necessity of laws; this problem is now called induction. Berkeley questioned the use of quantitative laws because we know nothing other than perceptions, which are not quantities. All these counterarguments were ignored as laws proliferated without justification of (a) how some law is proven to be true, and (b) how we can apply laws to nature. The problems did not disappear by ignoring them; they magnified over time. For example, nobody today claims that science is true or even a description of reality. However, it is considered useful.

This Pragmatic attitude, however, could be extended to anything at all. For example, we could say that the ideas of soul, God, and religion are not true or real, but useful ways to bind people into a cohesive society. This argument is rejected in societies that have been divided by religion far more than united by it. However, that is not universally true. Many societies become cohesive due to religion. Therefore, one could pragmatically say that those religions that divide people are bad theories and those which unite them are good theories. We need not ask if they are true like we cannot ask if science is truth. A theory that unites the whole world would be a better theory than which unites a country. By creating progressive cohesion, religion becomes progressively useful, by the ordinary standards of Pragmatism.

The Vedic approach doesn’t go down the path of generalizing the particulars into theories. It rather relies on knowing the self completely and then modeling the world in the same way as the self. Thus, reality is discovered by introspection and verified by extending that idea to the nature of the world. Introspection requires the same methods as before—developing the mind, intellect, and the self—which the materialist is not interested in. Thus, he rejects the process of knowing, and reality. He doesn’t have a better way. But by rejecting the way that leads to truth, he feigns ignorance.

Indian Materialism, also called Cārvāka Materialism, is not about knowing the laws of matter. It is anarchist. It is opposed to spiritualism in the sense that it restricts us. It also rejects the possibility of knowing the world, which produces another set of restrictions. The rejection of laws in Indian Materialism entails anarchy, while the proliferation of laws in Western Materialism entails bondage: As you increase the number of contradictory laws, every exception applies to every situation, and people are paralyzed. There is not much to choose between anarchy vs. bondage; people may choose differently based on the “lesser of two evils” principle.

The Origins of Western Personalism

Western personalism was born as a solution to anarchy: You need some laws. But whoever frames these laws, is questioned by the others. You have to accept some authority whose laws you are willing to accept. That authority, it turned out, was God. Elaborate theological doctrines had to be worked out to establish that God gives laws for mankind. This involved Messiahs.

I have always been perplexed by why Abrahamic religions are so tied to the prescriptions of social conduct in this world rather than to science and philosophy. For example, in Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna only makes high-level statements like “do your duty without expecting results”, “I have created four social divisions based on qualities and activities”, “one who remembers Me while performing his duties comes to Me”. The four Vedas and their subdivisions, Purānas, and Upanishads don’t discuss any rules or prescriptions for social conduct.

All these laws were limited to histories such as Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata. For instance, while Rāvana is dying, Lord Rāma asks him about the duties of a king. While Bhiśma is dying, Yudhiśthira asks him about the duties of a king. In both cases, the teacher is a former enemy slain on a battlefield. However, they were not regarded as enemies unqualified for teaching the slayer. They were valued for their knowledge. Social laws were also presented in Manu Samhita, although they are not eternal laws.

If we talk about proportions, the discussion of social rules (methods of marriage, the conduct of husbands and wives, property inheritance), political rules (the duties of kings and administrators, punishments for crimes, diplomacy with other nations), and economic rules (borrowing and lending rules, trade, covenants of exchange prior to exchange) is less than 1% of Vedic texts. Over 99% of the focus is on the scientific aspects of nature, soul, and God. Even if there are narrations of how great people have acted, these are examples to be studied and applied carefully because their situations can be different from ours. These are not inviolable prescriptions for everyone.

By this contrast, we can see that Abrahamic religions were not born out of scientific curiosity into the nature of reality or a practical method to confirm knowledge. The ideas of soul and God were added to a system of laws to solve the problem of anarchy. Religion became a matter of faith because people could not create widely acceptable laws, but they could not allow society to descend into anarchy either.

The Genesis of Western Depersonalization

Laws naturally led to depersonalization, because the law is above individuals. Even God is bound by laws, called covenants. For example, God asks Moses to follow 10 commandments in return for a place to live. This makes the relationship transactional instead of voluntary, whereby what you give to God is His right to ask, and what you get from God is your right to ask. A relationship is two sets of rights.

Now, contrast this idea with that of a duty-based relationship under which you will do your duty even if you get nothing in return. A transactional relationship ends if one side doesn’t get what they consider their right. A duty-based relationship, instead, continues even if one side doesn’t fulfill their duties.

Finally, contrast both rights and duties to love. The Vedānta Sūtra describes how spiritual life is free from the conception of rights and duties because it is based on the relationship of love. There is no duty because if you don’t do something voluntarily, then nobody is going to ask you for it, or punish you for not doing it. And yet, people keep working out of love. Similarly, there is no right and if you do something it is without expectation of return.

Thereby, we can clearly contrast three kinds of relationships based on rights, duties, and love. The relationship of love is based on individual truth because love is individual. The relationship of duty is based on contextual truth because the duty is contextual. And the relationship of rights is based on universal truth because rights are universal. Based on these distinctions, there are clear demarcations between the Vedic and the Abrahamic religions: the Vedic transcendent religion called sanātana-dharma is based on love, the Vedic worldly religion called dharma is based on duties, and Abrahamic religions (both worldly and transcendent) are based on rights. These lead to many other differences.

For example, the proselytization of religion becomes every person’s universal right when we speak about the religion of rights and universalism. The religion becomes assertive because that religion is the universal truth and everyone has the right to spread their religion. Conversely, the proselytization of religion is the duty of certain classes designated as Brahmanas; a duty will be performed contextually if and when there is a willing audience. Then, when we rise to the religion of love, then the teaching of the religion is an act of love, not one of duty, and never one of the rights. That means—if you don’t teach, nobody is going to complain, and if you do teach, then you should expect nothing in return. Thereby, in the Vedic system, there are two modes of education—one of duty, and the other due to love.

Depersonalization of relationships in the West is thus linked with four other ideas—laws, rights, contracts, and universals. The universal rights of people become the laws based on which a contractual relationship is predicated. If these rights are not fulfilled, then a law has been violated, and the contract has been broken. Now, a person is free to do whatever they like, because they are no longer contractually bound to the relationship. This is the legal basis for the continued possession of arms by citizens in some places because arms are meant to defend from the forced application of laws after the contractual relationship has been severed due to right violation.

The Birth of Western Nihilism

All contractual relationships are restrictive: You have to fulfill others’ rights in order for your rights to be fulfilled. The Nihilist resists these obligations. Why can’t I take whatever I want rather than try to fulfill others’ rights? To do that, the Nihilist denies the existence of universal rights, a social contract, or the need abide by a contract. Depersonalization now takes a radical turn: The others have no rights. One who has the power controls others. Nihilism arose in the West in two stages. First, the existence of universals, rights, and contracts was rejected; this however leads to anarchy. Second, to restore order, some powerful personality takes hold of society and rules it with an iron fist, in his interest.

Nietzsche articulated a complete form of Nihilism by combining the above two. His argument begins by saying that religions have kept us subjugated by controlling us through laws, which had to be upheld as binding contracts, instituted based on certain moral ideas in Christianity. Their continuance, however, hinders the emergence of great men, because they are given equal rights to the mediocre people. To create a great society, individuals should be allowed to assert their power over others. Great men can take whatever they like, simply to attain their inner greatness. Nobody has rights; might justifies excesses. It is no surprise that Nietzsche’s ideas were used by the Nazis to justify Hitler’s crimes.

This Nihilism is not Voidism because Voidism means the destruction of the ego while Nihilism means the will to power—the assertion of the ego over others. Voidism advocates non-violence, renunciation, and austerity in Buddhism, while Nihilism rationalizes violence and lust for power, for material progress. Depersonalization brings individuals under laws, universal principles, and contracts. Nihilism brings mediocre individuals under self-serving powerful individuals. To do that, Nihilism argues, we have to abrogate religious ideas, morals, rights, and laws, and allow self-serving individuals to assert their power over others.

Nihilism was earlier the rule of the emperors. It was Nationalism, Fascism, Socialism, and Communism after that. It exists as owners of large corporations today. I have heard a billionaire in the know say that the world is presently ruled by a cabal of about 100 people (in contrast, there are 195 countries today) who influence all its policies, laws, and institutions. Accumulating power and wealth is their sole aim, with a total disregard for people’s rights or even laws; laws are meant to progressively empower them and disempower others.

This is Nihilism in contrast to Depersonalization. Under depersonalization, everyone has some universal rights, there is a rule of law, the social contract works for the benefit of all people, and there are some universal moral principles. Under Nihilism, the rule of law, social contract, and universal values are rejected. It is simply the jungle law of wealth and power. The self-serving powerful people can do whatever they like.

The Dawn of Western Materialism

Nihilism runs a deep risk, namely, that few people have to control many others through brute force. If that population were to revolt, the rulers would be killed. How could that outcome be prevented?

George Orwell wrote the book 1984 in which the rulers control the population through pain and punishment. Aldous Huxley wrote the book Brave New World, in which the rulers keep everyone contended by getting them addicted to sense pleasures by consuming a drug called “soma”. There are problems with both approaches. If people become too addicted to pleasure, then they will stop working, and the wealth and power of Nihilists will decline. If, however, you administer too much punishment to control people, they would revolt, killing the Nihilists.

This contradiction is resolved if people become compliant like machines. But, how do you convert humans into machines? And the answer is: Teach them that they have no free will. They are simply input-output systems, which can be controlled by one who owns the machine. Thereby, we can end the discussion of rights, freedoms, and laws. This produces Materialism which tells people: You have no free will; you are simply a clock wound up to keep time. Hidden in it is the idea that the clock is owned, and therefore you keep time for someone, although this ownership is generally not emphasized openly. When you lose the idea of free will, you progressively become compliant.

Most people think that Materialism is the rejection of religion, soul, and God. But that is Nihilism, not Materialism because God and soul were introduced in the West to solve the problem of anarchy. Nihilism says: The religious solution hinders the emergence of powerful people because they are constrained by moral strictures. Nihilism proposes another solution to anarchy: Some self-serving people will control others to fulfill their desire for greatness because they have the will to power. Those who don’t have that will to power can obey those who do.

Nihilism is for those who own the clocks—they don’t need morals, because they are just controlling machines. Materialism is, however, for those who are being controlled as clocks. They have to believe that they have no free will in order to become totally compliant.

The elites of the society are the Nihilists, whereas the proletariat of the society are the machines, and Materialism is the education system by which a free person is taught to remain compliant. Therefore, Nihilism and Materialism are ideologies for different social classes—the elites vs. the proletariat. The elites need to be completely freed from laws, in order to fully control the mechanized proletariat.

You will therefore see Materialists often talking about ethics, although not the morals of religion. Ethics means compliance with rules. However, these are not religious rules. These are the rules by which you give up individuality and comply with laws that have been created by the powerful elites. Basically, you do as you are told. This contradiction between morals and ethics is not apparent because Materialists speak about evolution from animals, the body-mind being a machine, the absence of free will, etc. after which they talk about being ethical, dutiful, and responsible. This is because they are talking to the proletariat. Those ethics don’t apply to the Nihilists who control them.

Nihilists achieve this agenda in different ways. One method is to disempower people because when they don’t have power, they will be compliant. This is not a permanent solution because the disempowered try to gain power. A permanent solution is that you train a circus animal from childhood to be obedient, and when the animal grows up it thinks it has no power other than to obey whatever the master says.

Scientific materialism is therefore not a scientific doctrine; it is a political doctrine. This is just like religious theism was not a religious doctrine; it too was a political doctrine. Likewise, depersonalization through laws and nihilism of the powerful elites are also political doctrines. If we understand them, then we can see how they are meant to control nature and people, to organize them into society. The system of control keeps getting more oppressive progressively and almost nobody talks about genuine freedom from laws.

This is different from Indian Materialism, which denied the possibility of universal laws, making nature unknowable and people radically free. In short, people could not be ruled by laws, controlled by society, or subjected to any rational or empirical inquiry. The attempt to categorize, classify, and model them according to any rational or universalist principle was impossible because matter itself cannot be known. Indian Materialism was therefore a call to anarchy. Western Materialism is a call to total subjugation of the population by a few elites.

Western Materialists, for example, describe people as brains in a vat, plugged into a computer by wires, controlled by an evil genius. That evil genius is the Nihilist, and the proletariat is the brain in the vat. The Nihilists aim to control the proletariat like a brain a vat. To that end, the proletariat is repeatedly shown such an oppressive image, to normalize the idea. Once the idea is normalized, people won’t mind it.

Four Kinds of Personalist Philosophies

The soul in Vedic philosophy is described to be atomic, which means (a) that it cannot manifest parts out of itself, and (b) there are other types of living entities that can. This disparity between the soul and other greater living entities leads to jealousy and envy, and the soul falls into the material world. Jealousy has two components—(a) a sense of inferiority called māyā, and (b) an inflated sense of self-importance called the ego. This ego is unreal because there is deeper inferiority. The soul tries to overcome inferiority by an outward projection of superiority. Hence, this is called false ego.

The first manifestation of the inflated sense of self-importance is the entitlement of rights. There are many levels of imagined rights, beginning with the right to be “treated with respect”. The desire for respect arises due to an unworthiness within. However, to fulfill one’s inflated sense of self-importance, one must have rights without duties. If their rights are constrained by duties, a person’s inflated sense of self-importance remains unfulfilled. This contradiction between inferiority and superiority worsens over time. If the sense of superiority is not fulfilled, the inner inferiority increases, which then increases the attempt to assert one’s superiority. Thus, the problem of false ego worsens, because a greater outer sense of superiority is based on a greater inner sense of inferiority. Initially, one neglects their duties and just demands rights. Then, one tries to subjugate others to feel more important. Finally, if he is unable to subjugate others, he starts desiring his own subjugation. Psychoanalysts have studied this perverse phenomenon under which a person who fails to hurt others, starts hurting himself.

Of course, everyone is suffering from inferiority in this world, although that unworthiness takes three different forms. In the best form, called sattva-guna, unworthiness leads to the idea that I must become worthy by improving the self. In the next best form, called rajo-guna, unworthiness leads to the idea that I must prove my worth to others. In the worst form, called tamo-guna, unworthiness leads to the idea that I must dominate others. Accordingly, the inferiority-superiority dynamic is not always equally problematic.

  • The ego of the soul: Personalism of transcendence, which is about love for God. Under this love, a person acts not to fulfill some rights, not because duty performance will take them to heaven, and not because it will liberate them from material life. They act out of affection for God.
  • The ego of sattva-guna: Personalism of sattva-guna entails the performance of duties without the desire for profit, and without any entitlement for rights. When duty is performed without rights and results of duty, a person is liberated from worldly life. This is also called karma-yoga.
  • The ego of rajo-guna: Personalism of rajo-guna manifests in duties for profit. Under this, a person will perform their duties even if it means death for them because such sacrifices are believed to take a person to heaven. This duty execution is called karma resulting from dharma.
  • The ego of tamo-guna: Personalism of tamo-guna entails entitlement of rights. Under this idea, initially, a person reluctantly accepts others’ rights to satisfy their own rights. Over time, however, the entitlement for one’s rights and the reluctance to accept others’ rights grow simultaneously.

Based on these four ideas of Personalism, there is a hierarchy—(a) the spiritual ego leads to the spiritual world, (b) the ego of sattva-guna leads to Brahman, (c) the ego of rajo-guna leads a person to higher material planets, and (d) the ego of tamo-guna leads a person to lower material planets. The first three types of Personalism are accepted in Vedic texts, while the fourth kind of Personalism is rejected.

The Rejection of Entitled Personalism

The fourth kind of personalism exists in the material world in the planets of demons. If such ideologies appear in the earth, the society is called a demoniac civilization. In a demoniac society, the elites have rights, but they depersonalize others, rule them with an iron fist devoid of any laws or moral constraints, and yet, the oppressed worship the oppressors. In such a society, Personalism is for the rulers—they have rights, powers, and freedom. Depersonalization, Nihilism, and Materialism are applied to those who are ruled. The population lives in fear of oppression from rulers, and order in a society is maintained through extreme forms of violence against anyone who disobeys the ruler.

A society is called demoniac when (a) the rulers are corrupt and people are helpless, (b) people slave for the elites, (c) they live in fear for their present and future survival, (d) they feel isolated, lonely, and abandoned, (e) they are depressed due to self-loathing or unworthiness, (f) they cannot create a meaningful and fulfilling life, (g) they fill the inner emptiness through sex, intoxication, games, and entertainment, (h) they have lost the agency and willpower to change their lives. Their only available outlet is worshipping their oppressors to rise in prominence to oppress the others.

A society is godly if love is prominent. It is spiritual if self-realization or self-improvement is prominent. It is materialistic if impressing others to gain popularity is prominent. And it is demoniac if the prominent idea is subjugating, controlling, or dominating others to be worshipped by them.

The Vedic system endorses three higher forms of personalism based on the love of God, duty performance to get liberated, and dharma-karma to ascend to heaven. It rejects the ideology that leads a person to lower planetary systems of demons. Thus, Personalism is not one philosophy. It is at least four unique philosophies, which can be subdivided into numerous philosophies through mixing. If we can distinguish between these ideologies, then we can grade them into a progressive hierarchy.

As we begin in different kinds of personalism, through progressive degradation, we end up in different kinds of impersonalism, voidism, and materialism. Thereby, terms like nirviśeśa and sūnyavāda don’t have a fixed meaning, because the meaning is relative to the type of personalism we begin with. The hierarchical order between personalism, impersonalism, voidism, and materialism remains invariant. However, the meaning of these words changes drastically as we change the starting point.