Note : This is a response to an article written by Mr.Devdutt Pattanaik and published in the Mumbai Mirror. “Who is a Hindu? – What they don’t tell you about Advaita”. The response appeared as a discussion thread in Infinity Foundation’s IF Satsang Mailing List.
In his piece, Mr.Pattanaik has accused Advaita of being projected as the de-facto philosophy of Hinduism as part of a political project to synchronize various sects of Hinduism. Here, I argue that neither is Advaita considered the de-facto philosophy of Hinduism nor are people who preach Advaita doing it as a part of a political project.
Let us examine the claims made by Devdutt:
1)“The idea of it being the foundation of Hinduism is relatively new, with origins in writings of the 19th and 20th century Hindu writers” – No one has ever claimed Advaita as foundation of Hinduism. Advaita is very often in discourse because of 20th century New Yogis – basically yogis who had an interaction with Western scholars were into Advaita – Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Mission, Ramana Maharishi (he was not exactly seeking active engagements, but it came on it’s own), Aurobindo Ashram, Chinmaya Mission,Theosophical society and so on. Because of this influence, Westerners may tend to see Advaita as core philosophy of Hinduism. And even that statement is not fully true. The author seems to have forgotten about Hare Krishna Movement, which has numerically more members than those following Advaita. So Westerners like those from Russia, Germany – nations with substantial Hare Krishna population – will see Krishna worship as core of Hinduism.
Also it needs mentioning that none of the above persons are concerned with “Hindu” identity. In fact, a person who is a true follower of Advaita considers himself beyond any identity – including religious, national. So it is unfair to call people who propagated Advaita as “Hindu” writers. In fact, many practitioners of Advaita were specific in mentioning that Advaita belonged to humanity as a whole. Thus from a political perspective of uniting Hindu castes alone, Advaita does not make any sense.
Ultimately, there are Advaita waadis, there are Sri vaishnavas, there are Ram Bhakts, there are Krishna worshippers, there are Devi/Shakti/Amman worshippers and each have their own “foundations”. There are Arya Samajis who preach Vedas as fundamental to Hinduism, there are some BJP Hindu leaders who project Ram as central to Hinduism. All these narratives co-exist peacefully within Hinduism.
2) Advaita is monotheist Vs Vishistdvaita is polytheist – This is laughingly false. Adi Shankara is the author of “Bhajagovindam” – tribute to Vishnu (as Para Brahmam), he is also the author of “Aigiri Nandini” – tribute to Devi. He never emphasised, or worshipped the Single Formless God. His focus was on making people aware of the trappings of the material world – a common goal shared by all teachers of Vedanta.
Vishistadvaita is not fundamentally polytheist. It also believes in the One Single Brahman with multiple manifestations. The focus on “One Single Brahman” is not lost. Even Shri Ramanujacharya upheld the principle of “Aham Brahmasmi”. Today this is misunderstood as a wholly Advaita principle. Here is what Vishistadvaita thinks of the phrase.
“Thus, the meaning of “aham brahma asmi” according to their philosophy is that “I am a drop of Ocean of Consciousness.”, or “I am soul, part of cosmic spirit, Parabrahma”. Here, the term Parabrahma is introduced to avoid confusion. If Brahman can mean soul (though, Parabrahma is also the soul, but Supreme one – Paramatma), then Parabrahma should refer to God, Lord Vishnu.”–Hinduphobic Wikipedia
Ahaṁ Brahmāsmi then means “I am the Absolute” or “My identity is cosmic,”(Advaita)
can also be translated as “you are part of god just like any other element.” (Vishistadvaita)
Thus, Vishistadvaita too emphasized the equality of atma-s and Ramanujacharya was himself for seeking out the advaitin Kanchipurna as his guru.
3) “The British constructed Indian history by saying that Muslims had come to India and destroyed all things Hindu.” – Probably one of the very few times, they were saying the truth. If I see a person I hate selling drugs and I take a video exposing him, my evidence doesn’t become irrelevant just because I had previous enmity with the person.
4) “Shankara was also seen by orthodox Vedic brahmins as a nastika as he rejected marriage” – Where? By whom? Now the author is confusing events. It is true he was shunned by the native Namboothiri community as the local Namboothiri (Malayali Brahmin) community was not in favor of sanyaas. Moreover, they followed Mimamsa philosophy, while Shankara studied Vedanta. Mimamsa followers focused on karma, whereas Shankara was more concerned with jnana. (“संप्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले, न हि न हि रक्षति डुकृञ् करणे” – Rules of Grammar will not save you). Thus , the clash between Adi Shankara and the Namboothiri community was more of Mimamsa Vs Vedanta , not Astika Vs Nastika . And if Shankara was a nastika, what would explain the reception he got elsewhere in India? Moreover, there is no passage available anywhere where he was called a “nastika”.
5) “In Manusmriti, a nastika is one who rejects Vedic rituals, which includes marriage” – “which includes marriage” is probably a line added by the great contemporary AdvaitIdiot Sri Devaduttananda Pattnaika Swamy. Nastika is a person who rejects Vedic rituals. One must realise that there are various Vedic rituals. There are some like Sandhyavandana which are performed daily. There are some which are performed once or twice in a lifetime like marriage rituals or death rituals for parents. It is not possible to do marriage rituals daily. This definition of nastika is ridiculuous. So does a person who died early before marriage become “nastika”? Nastikas were persons who performed marriages without Vedic rituals, not ones who did not marry.
6) “Shankara’s writings do not link him with temple culture. His link to temples and pilgrimage are later traditions.” – When one makes a claim, one must provide sources and also give explanations. If Shankara did not promote temple culture, by whom and when were the mutts started? How come a Malayali priest performs pooja at Pashupathinath and some other North Indian temple (Badrinath or Kedarnath?) What about Sharada Peeth? What about “Aigiri Nandini” , a widely chanted strotra , a classic example of Bhakti towards Devi?
7) “Many Brahmins referred to Shankara as crypto-Buddhist or the prachanna-buddha” – I agree, ancient India had a great culture of debate, these accusations are nothing new. Even in the modern day, we have commentators describing Mulayam Singh Yadav or Digvijay Singh as crypto-Muslims. This does not make them Muslims. These statements only prove that India was a truly open and democratic society where people had the freedom to mock and criticize others.
8) “So now great efforts are being taken by Hindutva to prove Shankara lived before the Buddha” – Who did it ? I too can make a statement- “So now great efforts are being made to blur communism’s violent past”. In fact, every communist I know is proud of the communist uprisings. Communists in Kerala celebrate the uprisings every year. Accusing that your opponents are ashamed of their deeds when they aren’t is an idiotic tactic. Neither are communists ashamed of their violent past, nor are Hindus falling over each other to claim that Shankara lived before the Buddha. Adi Shankara himself criticized Buddha in his works, so no serious scholar will ever make such baseless theories.
Devdutt Patnaik (aka Sri Devaduttananda Pattnaika Swamy of the AdvaitIdiot parampara) is full of factual errors, and true to his parampara exhibits poor understanding of Vedanta and whips out wholly made-up fake stuff which he passes off as “deep insightful knowledge”.