Buddhism had four successive goals—(a) reject deities as representations of the ultimate truth, (b) end all rituals and sacrifices performed for these deities, (c) dethrone the status position of the Brahmanas who were performing these rituals, and (d) reject all Vedic texts as sources of knowledge of the truth.
Shankaracharya is revered as one who defeated Buddhism in India. But he only reversed one of the above four goals–the rejection of Vedic texts as sources of knowledge. His philosophy either endorsed, or quietly accepted, the other three goals of Buddhism—rejection of deities, rituals, and Brahmanas. In trying to defeat Buddhism, Shankaracharya affirmed and strengthened many Buddhist conclusions. In this post, I will discuss Shankaracharya’s contributions and how they have shaped the Vedic tradition.
Table of Contents
- 1 Pros and Cons of Shankaracharya’s Work
- 2 The Causes and Nature of Illusion and Truth
- 3 Comparing and Contrasting Philosophies
Pros and Cons of Shankaracharya’s Work
Selective Acceptance and Rejection of Texts
Shankaracharya upheld Vedānta as the most important treatise on the truth while rejecting the other five systems of philosophy—i.e., Sañkhyā, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Nyāya, and Vaiśeṣika—either as being of limited use on the journey toward the ultimate truth or as being antithetical to the journey toward that truth. For instance, Sañkhyā, Mīmāṃsā, Nyāya, and Vaiśeṣika were to varying degrees treated as being antithetical to the ultimate goal, as they dealt with the nature of the material reality, and rejecting this reality—instead of absorbing oneself in its study—was the path toward the ultimate goal. However, Yoga as the process of detachment, austerity, celibacy, renunciation, and breath control to concentrate the mind, was given selective acceptance for those who are otherwise not able to fathom Brahman.
Out of the 108 Upaniśads, Shankaracharya gave prominence to ten—Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Chāndogya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Kena, Isha, Katha, Mundaka, Praśna, Māndukya—calling them the “mukhya” or principal texts, and by implication, to varying extents either rejecting or downgrading the other 98 Upaniśads. Some people presently add three more to this list—Kauṣītaki, Śvetāśvatara, and Maitri—making it a total of 13 Principal Upaniśads. The other 95 are still either rejected or downgraded. Based on this limited list, Shankaracharya formulated the thesis called Prasthānatrayī in which there are three prominent sources of truth in the Vedas—Vedānta, Gita, and the above 10 (or 13) Upaniśads.
Shankaracharya rejected the Purāṇa, Itihāsa, Tantra, and Samhita either as serving some practical needs on the journey to the ultimate truth or as being antithetical to the journey to the ultimate truth. The rituals of demigod worship were deemed as acts contrary to the journey toward the ultimate truth, but the rituals of the incarnations of the Supreme were given limited acceptance as the paths used by the less intelligent ordinary people who could not understand the oneness of Brahman. Similarly, the Āśraṃa portion of Varṇāśrama was given limited acceptance as a progressive path toward liberation, while the Varṇa aspect of Varṇāśrama was mostly regarded antithetical to the path toward liberation.
Minimizing and Narrowing the Tradition
I’m not a big fan of quantification because the entirety of Veda can be summarized into the name of the Lord—such as Kṛṣṇa—or as Advaita likes to say, the sound OM. But in this case, quantification can help us grasp the extent of the problem created by Shankaracharya. The 13 Principal Upaniśads have 1676 verses. Gita has 700 verses. Vedānta Sūtra has 555 verses. Put together, Prasthānatrayī has 2931 verses.
Contrast that to Bhāgavata Purāṇa with 18,000 verses. The 18 Purāṇa along with Upapurāṇa constitute about 400,000 verses. Mahabharata alone is 100,000 verses. If we include all Tantra, Samhitas, Darśana, Itihāsa, Upaniśad, and Purana, then we can presume a ballpark figure of 1,000,000 verses as the Vedic canon. We can accept that everything in the Vedic texts is not the principal truth. The histories are certainly not principal truths. But what is a principal vs. a relative, minor, contextual, or selectively useful truth, has to be determined after studying that text, not through a blanket rejection of the text. There is nothing on top of the text that says: “Feel free to ignore me partially or completely”.
Even if we say that only 10% of the Vedic canon is the principal truth, Prasthānatrayī is less than 3% of that. Please note, I’m not trying to make a virtue out of these numbers, but only to give a sense of the problem. The problem is that Shankaracharya drastically minimized the Vedic pantheon by creating the doctrine of Prasthānatrayī in which 2931 out of 1,000,000 verses are the principal truths. Everything else is either ignored, downgraded, rejected, or accepted selectively and contextually, to varying extents.
Consequences of Shankaracharya’s Work
When we appraise Shankaracharya’s contributions, we have to recognize both the benefits and the damages. The benefit was that one out of the four goals of Buddhism—i.e., complete rejection of the Vedas as sources of truth—was reversed, although only marginally and without justification. The other three goals of Buddhism—i.e., rejecting deities, rituals, and Brahmanas—were not just upheld but also reinforced through a selective doctrine of Prasthānatrayī. Buddhists were no longer the only opponents of the Vedic tradition, opposing it from the outside. Advaita insiders were in full agreement with the first three conclusions of Buddhism, and mostly in agreement with the fourth conclusion.
The result was the fragmentation of the Vedic system into separate schools that followed Purāṇa, Itihāsa, Tantra, and Samhita. Those following Upaniśads other than those deemed “principal” also separated. The karma-kānda and upāsana-kānda proponents separated from the greatly reduced jñāna-kānda. Those following Sañkhyā, Mīmāṃsā, Nyāya, Yoga, and Vaiśeṣika also split from those following Vedānta.
As later commentators tried to bring back the downgraded, neglected, rejected, or selectively accepted portions of the Vedas into the scope of Vedānta, new interpretations—such as Viśiṣṭādvaita, Dvaita, Śuddhādvaita, Bhedābheda, and Achintya Bhedābheda—were created, which then had their separate traditional disciplic successions, leading to even greater confusion about what the Vedic tradition is.
Finally, as the tendency to separate and combine, accept and reject, arbitrarily chosen portions of the Vedas was normalized, every upstart charlatan was empowered to create a new version of the Vedic system that accepted some portions while rejecting most other portions of the Vedas. Over a 1200-year period since Shankaracharya, people almost totally lost the sense of what the Vedic tradition is really about.
The situation at present is so bad that many people say that “Hinduism” is simply “a way of life”. Since other people, born in other countries, can have other ways of life, therefore, there is no truth in any way of life. Since people can also choose other “ways of life” in India, therefore, “Hinduism” is only a way of life from the past. It need not be upheld in the present. Then, the battle between the Vedic traditionalists and the secular modernists is about their choice of way of life. Neither way of life is better, because there is no truth.
If someone thinks that Hinduism is more than a way of life, then I will refer them to the Indian Supreme Court judgment, made on Jan 14, 1966, which made that pronouncement. The precise statement by the Supreme Court is:
Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more.
This enabled the “Hindu” political parties to campaign in elections using “Hinduism” as a political plank, without violating the “secular” nature of the constitution. This is hence not merely a common man’s opinion. It is the de jure foundation of political Hinduism: Don’t search for any truth; just let us live the way we want to live. This abject postmodernist relativism of what the Vedic tradition means is the fruit of the seed sown by Shankaracharya 1200 years ago. While I don’t want to be overly critical of those fighting the political battles for a “way of life”, the fact is that this battle is comparable to Shankaracharya fighting a minor battle for the survival of the Vedic tradition, in a very diminished form, against the attacks of Buddhism, while endorsing or quietly accepting the other claims of Buddhism. India’s religious decline, conquest by invaders, and subsequently forced secularization are all the results of Shankaracharya’s philosophy. For a more complete description of these problems, and how they led to India’s decline, I will refer the reader to this recent post and this older post.
Honestly Appraising Shankaracharya’s Work
Today we can talk about what would have happened if Shankaracharya had not defended the Vedic tradition from Buddhist attacks. We could, for instance, say that Shankaracharya did a fantastic job in defending the Vedic tradition from Buddhist attacks owing to which the tradition exists today when it could have been completely wiped out from the face of the earth and replaced by Buddhism.
But we can also say that Shankaracharya fragmented the Vedic tradition into dozens—if not hundreds—of pieces and normalized the tendency to create new permutations and combinations from Vedic texts. The Vedic tradition indeed exists, but nobody can say what it really is, due to such fragmentation.
Hindsight is 20-20. We can talk both about the benefits and harms of Shankaracharya’s work. The criticism of Shankaracharya is as factual as his appreciation. Just because we critique him, doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate what he has done. And yet, just as he would have called most Vedic texts not the principal truths, likewise, we can say that his contribution was not the principal truth. An objective appraisal tells us that the portion of the Vedas endorsed by Shankaracharya is 0.3% of the Vedas. That number is greater than 0. And yet, that number is very small compared to the rest of the Vedas.
Thus, Advaita philosophy is called chadma-bauddha which can be translated as “disguised Buddhism”, “hidden Buddhism”, or “Buddhism in a covered form”. Many people are offended by this criticism. Some years ago, I heard the then Puri Shankaracharya say “Why to call Advaita disguised Buddhism and not to call Buddhism disguised Advaita?” He wasn’t disagreeing with the characterization. He was saying that X should not be called disguised Y when Y can be called disguised X. We can agree with that. Buddhism can be called chadma-advaita or disguised Advaita. But this dispute about what we call something is not the key point here. The central point is that we have to evaluate which Vedic texts, or portions thereof, constitute the principal truths, by evaluating whether Advaita can even explain their existence.
Advaita rejects most Vedic texts as the products of three modes of nature. But are these texts products of material nature? What is the evidence? How did we arrive at this conclusion? What analysis was done to establish these claims? Did we precisely define the differences between the modes, and then precisely define the nature of transcendence, before we determined whether something is material or transcendental? Did we precisely define the meaning of duality and non-duality before we claimed that something is duality while other things are non-duality? Shankaracharya did no such analysis. A blanket rejection of texts is thus a proclamation without evidence.
The Causes and Nature of Illusion and Truth
Fundamental Principles of Illusory Divinity
Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-Gita 2.45: trai-guṇya-viṣhayā vedā nistrai-guṇyo bhavārjuna, which means “The Vedas deal with the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become free of the three modes”.
Thereby, we can accept that a considerable portion of the Vedas is not the principal truth. However, what has to be accepted or rejected as principal truth is also not our whimsical opinion. The criterion for deciding that is very clear—we can reject that which is in the three modes of nature. That means—we have to understand what the three modes are, then check which texts or parts thereof are under the three modes before we reject them. Acceptance or rejection is not based on anyone’s personal opinion, including that of an Acharya. There are objective measures based on what is in the three modes vs. what is beyond those modes. Shankaracharya did not establish that everything other than Prasthānatrayī is factually the subject matter of three modes. Nor did he point out which text or parts thereof are in which mode. He just bundled numerous texts into the three modes of nature and rejected them.
We have to remember that Kṛṣṇa describes the three modes as “daivi” in Bhagavad-Gita 7.14—daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā—or “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome”. Thus, even the three modes of nature are divine. Then, in what sense can He say “The Vedas deal with the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become free of the three modes”?
The answer to this question is that material nature hides one thing, as another thing is revealed, due to which something has to be sacrificed to get something else. If you see a person’s face, then you don’t see their feet, although the feet exist. And yet, if you see human feet, you can preclude a dog’s face. The human face is incongruent with the dog’s feet, and the human feet are incongruent with the dog’s face.
At the minimum, knowing the feet tells us what the face is not. At a more advanced level, fat feet may tell us that the face is fat. If the feet are black, we can infer that the face is black. But we are unable to infer every detail about the face from the feet. Nevertheless, the fact that the shape of the feet precludes many faces, and tells us something about the face, the feet and face cannot be mutually independent. The material body is a whole in which parts underdetermine other parts. Our face underdetermines our feet. They are neither totally independent nor fully defined by each other.
Underdetermination of parts destroys logic because one thing partially determines the other things. And yet, because these parts are distinct, it is tempting to consider them mutually independent, especially if we disregard the existence of a whole. That leads to the illusion called logic—namely, the principles of identity (face is only face), non-contradiction (it is either face or feet), and excluded middle (it cannot be both face and feet). The fact is that the face partially determines the feet. Knowing the feet is neither fully knowing the face nor being completely ignorant about it. Hence, logic is not an absolute truth.
Fundamental Principles of Divine Reality
In the spiritual nature, we can look at the Lord’s feet, and even His face will be fully known by it. The senses may look at His feet, but the face will not be excluded by such selective focus. That picture of the face seen while looking at the feet is not different from the real face. The picture of the face in our vision is how the face truly is. And yet, the senses are focusing on the feet, and yet, seeing the face too.
The Brahma-Samhita 5.32 says: aṅgāni yasya sakalendriya-vṛtti-manti, or “Each of the limbs of that transcendental figure possesses in Himself, the full-fledged functions of all the organs”. Kṛṣṇa can, of course, see with His eyes. But He can also impregnate by His eyes. If His eyes move, then He sees something closely, and that clarity creates the proximity to the thing that He is looking at, which means He has gone closer to the thing that He is seeing, and hence, His roving eye also works as His legs.
If Kṛṣṇa fixes His gaze on something, then it cannot move, because His eyes are not moving. That thing will move only when Kṛṣṇa’s eyes move along with it. Thus, if the eyes are fixed, then the thing is not moving, and His eyes are now working as the hands holding the thing in one place. Likewise, if Kṛṣṇa sees food, it has also come into contact with His tongue, and looking at food is equivalent to eating it.
If Kṛṣṇa hears someone calling Him, then He is immediately there because His ears are also His legs and He sees the caller next to Him, because His ears are also His eyes. If He fixes His gaze on the caller, then the caller is stilled, because Kṛṣṇa has fixed His gaze and he cannot move until Kṛṣṇa moves His eyes.
Therefore, the underdetermination of the material world is replaced by determination in the spiritual realm. Everyone can do everything with each of their body parts. Since there are still many body parts, therefore, there is a full body. But the parts of the body are not constrained to do only one thing.
Material Causes Underlying the Illusion
The seeming separation of not truly independent things in the material world is due to what Vedic texts call vyakta and avyakta or manifest and unmanifest. When parts belong to a whole, then each part is embedded in the other parts. But in the material world, that embedding remains unmanifest.
For instance, our skin can see—to a limited extent—the person staring at us standing behind us. That is because the skin has the capacity to see, although not to the extent of the eyes. Some people can detect the stare better than others because the capacity to see is more developed in their skin. The eyes are not absent from the skin, although the capacity to see is found to varying extents in different skins. Martial artists develop the capacity to see through their skin. The eyes can only see in the direction the eyes are facing. But the skin can see what is not seen by the eyes. A martial artist manifests the unmanifest eye within the skin and after that, he can “see” things that are not seen by the eyes. Logic or the sense in which things are separated from each other is, therefore, an illusion.
The capacity of one part of the body to do the function of the other parts is attributed to the unmanifest presence of the other parts within each part. The eye is partially manifest and mostly unmanifest in the skin. The extent of manifest or unmanifest can change and it is factually different in different bodies. Likewise, in some bodies, we can infer the face much better from the feet, than in other bodies.
Since the face is not fully manifest in the feet due to the principle of manifest and unmanifest, hence, when we look at someone’s feet, (a) we don’t see their face, and (b) we cannot infer the shape of the face completely from the observation of the feet. These are limitations on pratyakṣa and anumāna or perceiving one thing in another and inferring one thing from another. Even if we construct a mental picture of the face while looking at the feet, it would either be too hazy or different from the face.
The exclusion of the face from the feet, and the underdetermination of the face by the feet, is also called duality. Factually, the feet and the face can be completely determined by each other, but most times they are not. Likewise, by seeing the feet, we should be able to completely see the face, but we cannot. Duality is not a total separation or independence of various things. There is still a link between the face and the feet, and yet, we don’t see one in the other and we cannot infer one from the other.
Thus, duality or the seeming independence of things is not a truth due to underdetermination. But it can be false to varying extents due to manifest and unmanifest. Some faces can be inferred more correctly by looking at the feet, while other faces can be inferred less accurately by observing the feet. Factually, the face is in the feet, and the feet are in the face, but that presence has been obscured. This obscuring of the face in the feet, or the feet in the face, is hiding. Likewise, when hiding reduces, and two things are less underdetermined by each other, then each thing is considered revealed in the other things.
Thus, we call the material energy many things—(a) duality, (b) illusion, (c) manifest and unmanifest, (d) hidden and revealed, and (e) divine. Material energy is as divine as Kṛṣṇa because all functions exist in all parts. But material energy is inferior to Kṛṣṇa because these functions are hidden, obscured, and unmanifest to create the illusion of separateness or independence without that being the case. That is just like a capable person may not display their competence to create the illusion of incompetence. Many people conclude that material energy is achit or unconscious because the capacity is hidden. And yet, that material energy is personified as Durga and Śakti in practically all the Vedic texts.
The material energy is called Śakti or “power” because the power is not always manifest. Power is a potentiality activated by a choice. Thereby, our skin can also see because the potential of eyes exists in the skin. And yet, by Her will, the Śakti has deactivated the power of seeing in the skin. If She wants, She can activate that power and the skin would be able to see everything even as the eyes are closed.
Spiritual Causes Underlying the Illusion
Material illusion is created the moment a soul thinks that it is separate or independent of Kṛṣṇa. The desire for independence in the soul is fulfilled by the material energy by creating the illusion of separation of things. When that desire is destroyed, then the illusion of logic is also destroyed.
What Advaita calls duality, is an illusion. However, the meaning of Advaita or non-duality is not the dissolution of many things into one thing, but the capacity to perceive everything in everything else. This means that if you see the feet, you can see the face. It means that Kṛṣṇa can see with His eyes, but the eyes also work as His hands, legs, and ears. There are many things, but they are neither separate nor are they merged into one. We cannot say that Kṛṣṇa’s eyes are not His legs. And we cannot say that because the eye is also the leg, hence, there is just an eye without legs. Both exist, inside and outside each other.
With this realization, even if we see something in sattva, rajas, or tamas, we can see the other things within them, although not visible to everyone. By making one statement, a specific thing may be said, but other things are not excluded. They may not be emphasized, but they are not absent. Since they are not excluded, therefore, even material nature is divine. But because most people under the material conditioning of logic cannot see them, therefore, that divine thing seems separate things and is called an illusion. The illusion is created to make us realize that separation is a bad idea—if something is gained, something else is lost; as we try to recover what was lost, we lose what was gained. When we realize that logic is a bad idea, then we can give it up, and we can see everything within everything else.
Logic is not a universal truth. It is factually an illusion created by our desire for independence, also known as individualism. The greater the individualism, the firmer the illusion, the greater the truth assigned to logic, and the more resilient the separation of things. Thus, material nature is called māyā or that which is not. The same nature is called ignorance, darkness, duality, egotism, illusion, falsehood, and so on.
Comparing and Contrasting Philosophies
Basic Agreements and Disagreements
Buddhists see reality as an illusion and conclude—there is no truth. Advaitins see reality as an illusion and conclude—the world is unreal but the self is real. Bhaktas see reality as an illusion and say—the illusion is due to individualism but if individualism is removed, then matter is seen as divinity; otherwise too it is divine, but divinity is not seen. Thus, Buddhists, Advaitins, and Bhaktas agree that the world is an illusion. But the diagnosis and cure of this illusion is different for each of these three philosophies. When Bhaktas reject Buddhism and Advaita, they are not disagreeing on the problem—that there is a perceived world of duality. They are disagreeing on the causes and the cures of that problem.
The Buddhist says that since everything is an illusion therefore all books are also an illusion. Each book says one thing, which is taken to mean that it is not the opposite thing, that such a misinterpretation is inevitable as long as we continue reading. Thus, we must abandon language and reality. The Advaitin says that since the self is not an illusion, therefore, the books specifically targeted toward the realization of the self are fully true, other books assisting such salvation are true to lesser extents, and those books that do not lead to salvation are completely false. The Bhaktas say that nothing is factually an illusion because everything can propel us toward the ultimate truth if we understand and use it correctly. The Buddhist rejects all Vedic texts, the Advaitin accepts a few texts for self-realization, and Bhaktas accept every single Vedic text and try to present its proper understanding and the way it should be used.
We don’t use a hammer to tighten a screw, nor do we use a screwdriver to hammer a nail. Due to the effect of material nature, we cannot transform a hammer into a screwdriver or vice versa. While in principle such transformation is possible, material nature hinders its realization. In the spiritual nature, a hammer can also work as a screwdriver, because spiritual nature doesn’t hinder that change. But even in the material nature, there is a correct understanding and use for both screwdrivers and hammers.
The screwdriver and hammer are not illusions—as a Buddhist might say. They are not useless for self-realization—as an Advaitin might say. They are as relevant, useful, and important for self-realization as anything else, provided we understand them correctly and use them appropriately. A carpenter using screwdrivers and hammers correctly can become as self-realized as an intellectual reading books. However, if an intellectual misunderstands and misinterprets his books, then he will not become self-realized quite like a carpenter who misunderstands or misuses the screwdrivers and hammers. An intellectual is not fundamentally superior to a carpenter. He is superior only so far as he is less likely to misunderstand and misuse the world by virtue of reading compared to a carpenter who hasn’t read. We don’t reject carpenters as ignorant, nor do we elevate intellectuals as knowledgeable, by default. Everything has to be evaluated carefully to determine who is enlightened and who is ignorant.
This is how devotees broaden the truth—(a) self-realization is not restricted to the Brahmanas; even Sudras can attain it, (b) it is not attained only by rituals; it can also be attained by carpentry, (c) the full truth is not confined to a deity; it can also be seen in hammers and screwdrivers, (d) a select few texts like Upaniśads are not the principal repositories of the complete truth; even other texts contain the complete truth although for the non-devotees the complete truth is hidden due to their individualism, (e) the truth is not limited to a Sannyasi; it can also be fully known by a Grihastha, and (f) Buddhism and Advaita are not necessary for getting fraternity, egality, and liberty; pure devotion is also sufficient.
And yet, on average, a Brahmana is more likely to be self-realized than a Sudra, a ritual is more likely to result in self-realization than carpentry, a deity is more likely to lead to self-realization than hammers and screwdrivers, some Vedic texts are more likely to lead to self-realization than others, a Sannyasi is more likely to attain self-realization than a Grihastha, and therefore, we must reject blind equality and blind inequality. The problem is blindness, not societal classes, stages of life, activities, things, or books.
The Disease, Its Symptoms, and Its Cures
Buddhism and Advaita see the symptoms of an illness, but they misdiagnose the cause of that illness. If a doctor misdiagnoses a disease, he can give symptomatic cures, but the disease will not be cured by that, although its symptoms may temporarily disappear. Buddhism and Advaita try to symptomatically cure the disease of individualism by rejecting some or all things in this world, while individualism still lurks deep within, and after some time, it manifests into its symptoms as the so-called liberated soul falls back into the material world. The disease is individualism, but Buddhist and Advaita cures are symptomatic. This is also the reason why Advaita is called hidden Buddhism because both give symptomatic cures.
Paracetamol can reduce the fever but an antibiotic is needed to cure the infection. If we take the paracetamol, but not the antibiotic, then an illusion of progress is created in which the reduction of fever is interpreted as the killing of the infection. But we may be as infected after the reduction of fever as before we took the paracetamol. This is why we see people fall time and again into material life because their practice was about reducing the symptoms of individualism rather than killing individualism itself.
As an example, material fever is reduced by the regulative principles of no meat eating, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no intoxication. These are akin to paracetamol but not antibiotics. The antibiotic is dedicating oneself to Kṛṣṇa’s service, destroying all motivations—including one’s salvation—apart from that service, not demanding conveniences or feeling entitled to the fruits of one’s actions, because this is the cure for the infection of individualism. But if a person doesn’t cure the infection of individualism, or increases individualism even while following the process of symptom reduction, then the fever will always return, and the seeming progress of the past would be reversed because that progress was just an illusion while the real problem of individualism was either suppressed or continuously growing.
The fact is that a person may not take paracetamol, and continuously run a high fever, while he is taking the antibiotic. His fever will eventually dissipate as the infection is cured. Meanwhile, those who are taking the paracetamol but not taking the antibiotic will have a low fever, and yet, the infection may be growing. To the mundane vision, the reduction of fever is progress. To the transcendental vision, the reduction of the infection is progress. Most people judge progress by the mundane vision, which means how many rules and regulations a person is following, even as his individualism is either not reducing or may be growing. People judged to be advanced according to this mundane measure can be more infected since the process of following the rules and regulations often increases a person’s individualism. They may become more arrogant, entitled, demanding, and selfish as a result of following some rules and regulations.
They will eventually get the fever and all rules and regulations previously followed will be abandoned. But until then, they can pretend to have made immense advancements. Those who have judged them by the reduction in fever will eventually be disappointed when they realize that the infection was growing even as the symptoms of infection were reducing, but that reduction is always temporary and reversible unless the underlying infection—which always causes the symptoms—has been eliminated.
Through the distinction between the infection and its symptoms, we can understand how Buddhists and Advaitins may seem disciplined and peaceful, while their infection of individualism is growing because they have become more disciplined and peaceful. They fall into the trap of greater individualism because a disciplined and peaceful person receives respect, worship, or adoration from those with a mundane vision. They start desiring power, respect, adoration, and worship far more than before and indulge in selfish agendas. They are rapidly regressing in the infection while the symptoms are reducing. They think that the reduction of fever is indeed the reduction of infection, become more infected, and eventually fall.
Confusions Due to Neglect of Philosophy
The devotional philosophy is very deep. We cannot explain the difference between philosophies unless we understand material reality very clearly because whether that reality has to be accepted or rejected, and in which sense, is the key issue at stake. Most people take to devotional philosophies without realizing that we are in the material world due to individualism, and we will remain in this world unless we discard individualism. They don’t understand how individualism creates the illusion of logic.
Those who hold logic and individualism sacrosanct can never get out of the illusion, nor can they understand the true cause of the problem or its cure. Some of these people remain preoccupied with their salvation, which is yet another form of individualism, that may mitigate the symptoms but not cure the disease. The mitigation of the symptoms is easier than the curing of the disease. But when the focus shifts to curing the symptoms, the illusion of progress thus created delays cure of the disease.
The practical implication of neglecting the philosophy of material nature, the difference between duality and non-duality, and how the illusion of logic is created by individualism, is that a person eventually falls because he never progressed in reducing the infection while he progressed in reducing the fever. They don’t realize that they are not on the path of devotion or that they are just like Buddhists and Advaitins who focus on peacefulness and discipline, reduce material fever, and equate it to devotion. They might think that everyone who has a high fever also has a high infection. By neglecting philosophy, they are misdirected onto the path of absurdity, which is found to be absurd when the symptoms return.
Conclusions of Devotional Philosophy
The devotees prescribe paracetamol with the antibiotic, to make the patient comfortable while he is being cured. But they know that a patient who takes the paracetamol but rejects the antibiotic will never be cured. The practice of rules and regulations may amount to nothing. If we do not kill individualism, we will not develop devotion, and even if we transcend the material world like a Buddhist or Advaitin, it will always be short-lived. Those in a devotee dress can be materialists, Buddhists, and Advaitins at heart. They may be pursuing worldly power, neglecting their duties cynically as inconveniences, while hankering for salvation. They are not devotees. They are either materialists, Buddhists, or Advaitins.
Therefore, it is easy to judge a person’s devotion—check the level of his individualism. If individualism is getting lower, then a person is progressing. If individualism is constant, then a person is stagnant. If individualism is growing, then a person is regressing. The dresses, rituals, titles, or powers of a person do not determine if he is a devotee. Devotion is indicated solely by the absence of individualism.
A devotee has no independent self-interest. Kṛṣṇa’s interest is His interest. He accepts what will serve Kṛṣṇa’s interest. He rejects what doesn’t serve Kṛṣṇa’s interest. He is neither motivated by wealth, power, prestige, status, titles, recognition, or appreciation nor is he demotivated by the absence thereof. He neither worships blind Brahmanas and Sannyasis nor does he reject the visionary Sudras and Grihastha. He neither blindly accepts every Vedic text nor does he blindly reject some texts. He does not blindly reject screwdrivers and hammers as sources of bondage nor does he blindly accept deities and rituals as sources of salvation. He does not blindly go to places where everyone is going nor does he blindly avoid places where nobody is going. He is attached only to Kṛṣṇa and selectively attached or detached to places, people, and things that are in the interest of service to Kṛṣṇa, nothing more, nothing less.
When individualism is destroyed by exclusive devotion to Kṛṣṇa, then salvation is also attained because the bondage was caused by individualism, and when the infection is gone, then the fever is also gone. Everyone else who is trying to cure the infection only by reducing the fever is wasting their time.
Philosophies that advocate salvation while not curing individualism do not result in a permanent outcome. They may at best reduce the fever while the infection is constant or growing. They eventually get the fever again. The devotees of Kṛṣṇa reject such temporary improvements. Hence, they reject Buddhism and call Advaita hidden Buddhism. The reason is that the cause of the soul’s fall into the world is individualism. Those who pursue personal salvation are as much victims of that individualism as those who pursue wealth and power.