Q: “According to Advaita all is Brahman, so why should one worship Shri Krishna and do Puja? Isn’t that also Maya?”
A: This question needs some clarification starting from a pure philosophical view.
The concept of “worship” cannot be put on the same level of Advaita, they are on two different planes of reality.
Advaita considers Brahman to be the only reality, everything else is just illusory or relative.
Therefore two different planes of reality can be noticed:
- Absolute also called: Paramarthika
- Relative or Transaction level also called: Vyavaharika
Is it clear that these two levels are not the same, however, worhip of God at the Vyavaharika level does not contradict the absolutness of Brahman.
When we say something is only ‘relatively real/relative reality,’ we mean that it is dependent on something else for its existence and sustenance.
As an example, we know that our body contains consciousness, and that the body requires oxygen, food, and other things from the outside world to survive. In addition, depending on the environmental conditions, we may lose consciousness and die.
As a result, humans do not have an independent or ultimate existence. We rely on other people and things to survive. That is to say, we only have a dependent or relative existence.
From the absolute point of view it appears that Brahman is real, the world is just an appearance and you are Brahman, however, relatively speaking that Brahman being identified with the Body-Mind complex worshipping God is perfectly coherent and alright.
Logically speaking a problem here may still arise:
“If the person is colocated at the Vyavaharika point of view it makes sense to worship God as Saguna Brahman, however Advaita speaks about the absolute and attributeless Brahman, therefore considering that one should not at all speak about worshipping because the question would be; ‘Whom shall I worship?’”
To such people we may reply with another question:
“From the Absolute Point of View, even the most serious non-dualist still has to eat, to sleep, to drink. One does all these dual activities with the body-mind complex yet decides to not worship God because that is dualist?”
The answer is:
“The absolute reality of non-dualism does not contradict the experinece of duality.”
In fact, you experience duality everyday, yet that doesn’t mean it’s the final truth.
Take the sky.
We all know the sky isn’t blue, the colour is due to specific physics process and therefore it’s apparent.
But when you look up, what do you see? A blue sky. You experience the blue.
Here again we can understand the different paradigms of reality; absolute (no colour), relative (blue sky).
The sky being blue is false, how do we know for sure? Because it changes colours. Red at sunset, golden at sunrise, grey when clouded etc.
Duality - Dvaita vs Non-duality - Advaita
Dvaita and Advaita take two complete different approaches to the ultimate reality;
- I am really separate from God
- I am really one with God
And are absolute contradictory, logically they cannot coexist.
But, relatively speaking they can coexist:
Both the Dualist and the Non-Dualist have a body-mind complex and appear in reality but have different approaches to the concept of God;
The non-dualist thinks God is an appearance of the same Brahman that consititutes our own Self while the dualist thinks God is his a separate entity.
God is both Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman
- Saguna Brahman is God with qualities and properties such as Krishna, Christ, Ramakrishna…
- Nirguna Brahman is the absolute without qualities.
According to Advaita, the name is Maya, the form is Maya; if you remove them you and Ramakrishna are one: the Self.
However, from Vyavaharika we are just wearing masks, as long as I do wear the mask of Jiva and God wears the mask of Saguna God then the relation between these two is being the worshipper and being worshipped.
Therefore we say:
“The reality of non duality is not contradicted by the appearence of duality”.
It appears to be dual, but is not.
The main mistake which withelds us from Jnana is not that we experience duality, is that we think duality is the only reality.
The 3 states
Advaita Vedanta speaks about three main states:
A good example of Pratibhasika (subjective) state is when you are dreaming.
Once you wake up you think of your dream and finally realize the falsity of the dream itself, the illusion is not there anymore.
However, the mere knowledge of the illusory nature of the dreams does not make them less real from the point of view of the experiencer.
In the same way Advaita addresses the world from the point of view of Vyavaharika which the experiencer experience something yet knows that ultimately it is not real.
Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman in the Gita & Upanishad
An analysis according to the Bhagavad Gita is presented here:
अर्जुन उवाच एवं सततयुक्ता ये भक्तास्त्वां पर्युपासते । ये चाप्यक्षरमव्यक्तं तेषां के योगवित्तमा: ॥ १ ॥
arjuna uvāca evaṁ satata-yuktā ye bhaktās tvāṁ paryupāsate ye cāpy akṣaram avyaktaṁ teṣāṁ ke yoga-vittamāḥ
“Arjuna inquired: Which are considered to be more perfect, those who are always properly engaged in Your devotional service or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?”
Krishna gave two answers:
श्रीभगवानुवाच मय्यावेश्य मनो ये मां नित्ययुक्ता उपासते । श्रद्धया परयोपेतास्ते मे युक्ततमा मता: ॥ २ ॥
śrī-bhagavān uvāca mayy āveśya mano ye māṁ nitya-yuktā upāsate śraddhayā parayopetās te me yukta-tamā matāḥ
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect.”
ये त्वक्षरमनिर्देश्यमव्यक्तं पर्युपासते । सर्वत्रगमचिन्त्यं च कूटस्थमचलं ध्रुवम् ॥ ३ ॥ सन्नियम्येन्द्रियग्रामं सर्वत्र समबुद्धय: । ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव सर्वभूतहिते रता: ॥ ४ ॥
ye tv akṣaram anirdeśyam avyaktaṁ paryupāsate sarvatra-gam acintyaṁ ca kūṭa-stham acalaṁ dhruvam sanniyamyendriya-grāmaṁ sarvatra sama-buddhayaḥ te prāpnuvanti mām eva sarva-bhūta-hite ratāḥ
“But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed and immovable – the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth – by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.”
Those who do not directly worship the Supreme Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, but who attempt to achieve the same goal by an indirect process, also ultimately achieve the same goal, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Saying that Brahman is only “saguNa” is a incomplete because Brahman’s saguNatva is only one aspect of it.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.1
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.1 we read:
द्वे वाव ब्रह्मणो रूपे—मूर्तं चैवामूर्तं च, मर्त्यं चामृतं च, स्थितं च यच्च, सच्च, त्यच्च ॥ १ ॥
dve vāva brahmaṇo rūpe—mūrtaṃ caivāmūrtaṃ ca, martyaṃ cāmṛtaṃ ca, sthitaṃ ca yacca, sacca, tyacca || 1 ||
“1. Brahman has but two forms—gross and subtle, mortal and immortal, limited and unlimited, defined and undefined.”
Brahman or the Supreme Self has but two forms, through the superimposition of which by ignorance the formless Supreme Brahman is defined or made conceivable. The word ‘Vāva’ (indeed) is emphatic.
Which are those two forms? The gross and subtle. The other phases of the gross and subtle are included in them; so they are counted as two only. What are those phases of the gross and subtle? These are being mentioned: Mortal, subject to destruction, and immortal, its opposite. Limited, which goes a little distance and stops, and unlimited, which goes on, is pervasive, the opposite of ‘limited.’ Defined, having particular characteristics that distinguish it from others, and undefined, the opposite of that, which can only be distantly referred to, as something we know not what.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.2
We continue to read from the Upanishads 2.3.2:
तदेतन्मूर्तं यदन्यद्वायोश्चान्तरिक्षाच्च; एतन्मर्त्यम्, एतत्स्थितम्, एतत्सत्, तस्यैतस्य मूर्तस्य, एतस्य मर्त्यस्य एतस्य स्थितस्य, एतस्य सत एष रसो य एष तपति, सतो ह्येष रसः ॥ २ ॥
tadetanmūrtaṃ yadanyadvāyoścāntarikṣācca; etanmartyam, etatsthitam, etatsat, tasyaitasya mūrtasya, etasya martyasya etasya sthitasya, etasya sata eṣa raso ya eṣa tapati, sato hyeṣa rasaḥ || 2 ||
- The gross (form) is that which is other than air and the ether. It is mortal, it is limited, and it is defined. The essence of that which is gross, mortal, limited and defined is the sun that shines, for it is the essence of the defined.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.3
Finally we also get the description of the formless:
अथामूर्तम्—वायुश्चान्तरिक्षं च; एतदमृतम्, एतद्यत्, एतत्त्यत्; तस्यैतस्यामूर्तस्य, एतस्यामृतस्य, एतस्य यतः, एतस्य तस्यैष रसो य एष एतस्मिन्मण्डले पुरुषः, तस्य ह्येष रसः—इत्यधिदैवतम् ॥ ३ ॥
athāmūrtam—vāyuścāntarikṣaṃ ca; etadamṛtam, etadyat, etattyat; tasyaitasyāmūrtasya, etasyāmṛtasya, etasya yataḥ, etasya tasyaiṣa raso ya eṣa etasminmaṇḍale puruṣaḥ, tasya hyeṣa rasaḥ—ityadhidaivatam || 3 ||
- “Now the subtle—it is air and the ether. It is immortal, it is unlimited, and it is undefined. The essence of that which is subtle, immortal, unlimited and undefined is the being that is in the sun, for that is the essence of the undefined. This is with reference to the gods.”
The worship of God even in the Advaita Vedanta tradition is encouraged and the experience of Duality does not change the ultimate reality being on a different plane than the act of worship.
In the Bhagavad Gita we understand that those who do not directly worship the Supreme Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, but who attempt to achieve the same goal by an indirect process, also ultimately achieve the same goal.
It is very important to keep in mind that: Jainism
“The reality of non duality is not contradicted by the appearence of duality”.
Is it therefore clear that both ways work, moreover, Enlightenment or realization of the ultimate reality cannot happen without witnessing both vyaṣṭi (व्यष्टि, individuality and separateness of things) and samaṣṭi (समष्टि, wholeness) together.