Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 03 Jul 2011



The true Advaita of Shankara is only in the aspect of enjoying this creation by a soul just as God enjoys it. The following analogy is given to understand this concept. The director-cum-producer of a cinema, after producing the cinema, himself sits in the audience to watch and enjoy it. His helper also sits along with him and enjoys the cinema. In this aspect of enjoying the cinema as spectators, there is no difference between the two. Of course, this similarity does not make the helper identical with the producer of the cinema. In the context of the producing of the cinema, the difference between the two always remains. But, once the cinema is already produced, there is no relevance of bringing in that difference, which is present in the context of production. Only the context of watching and enjoying the cinema is relevant. In this context, there is no difference between the helper and the producer.

God is that director-cum-producer of the cinema of creation. The ordinary individual soul is the helper. In the context of producing the cinema, there is obviously a difference between the two. God has created this creation while the soul cannot even create an iota of creation. But, once the process of creation is over and it is time to merely watch it like a cinema and enjoy it, there is no need to bring in that difference between God and the soul. God enjoys all the aspects in this creation-cinema. He is not disturbed by the tragedies or comedies in it but derives equal enjoyment from both. Likewise, the soul too can derive equal enjoyment from both if the soul can remain uninvolved with the creation. Hence, Shankara said that the soul is the same as God. This is Advaita or monism. For the process of watching and enjoying the cinema of creation, awareness (Chit) alone is required; no creative powers are required. This awareness is the essence of this common spectatorship of both God and the soul. Shankara called this common awareness as Brahman. In the aspect of this awareness (Brahman), both Jiva (soul) and Ishwara (God) are said to be equal. Hence, Shankara’s view is also called as Chinmatra Vada—the view that awareness (Chit) alone is true (relevant). The Jiva can remain in the same God-like state of an unattached spectator as long as it considers itself to be Brahman (awareness) and does not get attached to the world. In this context of spectatorship, the status of God as the Creator, Maintainer and Destroyer of creation is irrelevant. Similarly, the status of the soul as a created item is also irrelevant. To indicate this irrelevance and to highlight that awareness alone is relevant for spectatorship, Shankara reduced the difference between the Jiva (soul) and Ishwara (God) to zero by calling it Mithya (unreal).

Equal Enjoyment Only Through God’s Grace

Shankara thus proved that God and the soul can equally derive entertainment or enjoyment from watching the creation-cinema consisting of tragedies, comedies and a variety of other scenes and situations. However, there is an important practical difficulty in this. The essential secret of being constantly entertained by both the tragedies and comedies is in remaining unattached or uninvolved with the creation. This is the biggest challenge for the soul. In theory, the soul can have the God-like state of constant entertainment as long as it considers itself to be Brahman (awareness) alone. But, the question is, how long can the soul remain in that state without getting involved in the world? For God, who has produced the creation-cinema, it is natural and automatic to realize the unreality of creation and remain unattached to it. He has created every scene and situation in the creation-cinema. Every moment, it is crystal clear to Him that this world is His own creation that is meant for His own entertainment. Creation is very obviously unreal with respect to Him. So, He can effortlessly remain in the state of an unattached spectator and continue to enjoy creation. Even when God enters creation as a human incarnation and is an active participant in the creation-cinema, He can internally remain the same unattached spectator. This is seen from the life of Lord Krishna, who enjoyed even the tragedy at Prabhasa that caused the end of His entire family. Moreover, He also witnessed and enjoyed the death of His own body when He was shot in the foot by a hunter. However, the soul is made of the same fundamental elements and qualities that constitute creation. It is a part and parcel of creation. The soul was not involved in the process of producing this creation. Unlike God, the soul does not have the experience of creating this world. So, the soul cannot realize the creation to be unreal. Whenever a soul watches creation, it gets attached to it. Additionally, the soul is also a participant in the creation-cinema. This makes the soul even more susceptible to getting attached to the creation-cinema. Once attached to the creation-cinema, the soul loses its constant entertainment through the tragedies and comedies of creation. It becomes the ‘doer’ and the ‘enjoyer’. It suffers and enjoys alternately. Thus, the constancy of the soul’s entertainment is interrupted. In fact, the soul, right from its birth has always been in the attached state. It is the soul’s very nature to get attached to creation and the soul is totally helpless in this matter. It has never experienced the God-like state (Advaita) of being an unattached spectator of the world. Hence, the soul has only enjoyed the world intermittently. It has never achieved the ideal God-like constant entertainment throughout all the happy and miserable moments in life.

Thus, Shankara’s reduction of the difference between God and the soul to zero (Mithya) is merely a theoretical assumption. Practically, there is a huge difference in the status of God as the Creator of the world and that of the soul as a created item. This difference cannot be neglected. Then, how can the soul ever attain the God-like unattached spectatorship or Advaita? Shankara said that the soul can achieve that state only with the grace of God (Ishwaraanugrahat eva… Shankara). This is the most profound and critical statement. It clearly marks the main obstacle in the attainment of that state and it also indicates the direction that one must take to attain it. Without His grace, it is impossible to remain as an unattached spectator of creation. Yet by reminding oneself repeatedly that one is awareness (Brahman) alone, the soul can experience that state of unattached spectatorship for short periods. This is helpful in removing the stress developed from the miseries and problems that one faces in the world. But, alas, it is only temporary.

The State of an Avadhuta

Nikhil: Avadhutas, appear completely detached from the real world like madmen. Are they actually enjoying only this temporary phase of unattached spectatorship of the world?

Shri Swami: The Avadhutas are totally disconnected from the world. They are not even enjoying. Their state is similar to a coma. In the earlier analogy of watching the cinema, they are the people, who have closed their eyes and stopped watching the cinema altogether. They are like the person, who has taken a sleeping pill in the cinema hall. This state is far from the state of God, who is consciously watching the cinema and deriving enjoyment out of it. Such Avadhutas are souls, who fearing the attachment to the world have completely disconnected themselves from the world as if by taking a sleeping pill. They tried to be like God in one aspect i.e., not being affected by the joys and tragedies of the world. But, unfortunately, they chose the path of disconnecting themselves from the world. So, they have even lost the enjoyment or entertainment from the world. In this aspect, they have gone far from the state of God. God’s state of unattached spectatorship is very different from such Avadhutas. God is unaffected while enjoying the creation where as avadhuta is unaffected by disconnecting himself totally from the enjoyment. The final effect is one and the same but there is lot of difference in the background.

The state of the Gopikas is different from the Avadhuta. Their case is like that of the helper, who sits in the cinema hall with the producer, but stops watching the cinema and instead turns towards the producer to win his favor. The Avadhuta is one, who stops watching the cinema but does not turn to the producer either. He simply goes off to sleep. The Gopikas turned away from the world and turned towards Lord Krishna. They knew that only through His grace, it is possible to enjoy the creation-cinema in an unattached manner. So, they turned to Him to attain His grace, through practical devotion (service). There is one thing common between the Gopikas and the Avadhuta—they both have stopped watching the creation-cinema. But, the major difference between them is that the Gopikas are turned to the Lord and are taking effort (sadhana) to achieve His grace. They have surrendered to God. There is hope that they will attain His grace and with that grace, they will attain the God-like state of constant entertainment as an unattached spectator of creation. The Avadhuta has no such hope, since he is not even trying for the grace of God. He foolishly thinks that he is already God, simply because he has disconnected himself from creation and is not affected by it. He is actually full of ego and he will never attain the state of God. In fact, he has no hope of even attaining the state of the Gopikas.

This path of turning away from the cinema and turning towards God (like the Gopikas) is called as Nivritti. Nivritti contains Pravritti. Nivritti is impregnated with Pravritti. They are not different. The reason for the detachment from the world must be the attachment to God.

Achieving God’s State of Unattached Spectatorship

Nikhil: But it is so difficult to keep one’s attention focused on God. It is common for a seeker to get distracted by the world and get attached to it.

Shri Swami: The case of Gopikas is that of the final stage of sadhana (spiritual effort). They were able to focus their attention on God and disregard the world. It is called siddhi (successful attainment). However, sadhakas (seekers) have to go through all the earlier stages, where they can get distracted by the world. When selfishness enters one’s mind, one falls from the state of pure (selfless) devotion. But, in spite of these failures, one must repeatedly practice turning to God again. The Gopikas were sages in their past birth. They too had gone through all these stages earlier. Turning to God means developing attachment to God. Attachment to God will automatically reduce the attachment to the world. It is not necessary to forcibly detach from the world. Such forcible detachment is worthless and it will never be permanent either. In fact, one should not try to do it. Forcible detachment is going on the path of becoming an Avadhuta. This is certainly not the goal. One should taste divine nectar (Amritam). The attachment to coffee or any other worldly drink will automatically vanish. There is no need to take any special effort to forcibly develop detachment from coffee. One should take efforts to develop attraction towards one’s studies; not forcibly abstain from watching the television. Thus, one’s effort should only be towards developing attachment to God. The weakening of the attachment to the world will be an automatic consequence. Attachment to God is called devotion. Prahlada never tried to detach from the world (Vairagya). He only developed devotion (bhakti). His detachment towards the world was automatic. Thus, Vairagya is an automatic consequence of bhakti.

Devotion is the product of knowledge. Without knowledge, there cannot be devotion. Jnana yoga (path of knowledge) is the foundation of bhakti yoga (path of devotion). Therefore, Lord Krishna started preaching the Gita with the Sankhya yoga (path of knowledge). Even Rukmini first got knowledge about Lord Krishna from sage Narada. That knowledge of the Lord automatically developed devotion for Him in her heart. Through knowledge, the devotion for God gradually increases in our heart. Proportionally, our attachment to the world also weakens. Bhakti or devotion automatically leads to practice (service). Service need not be considered as a separate step. It is the second part of devotion called as practical devotion. In fact, knowledge too is not different from devotion since it causes devotion. It can be said to be the causal factor or foundation for devotion. Thus, devotion encompasses all three

  1. Knowledge, which is the foundation for devotion
  2. Devotion itself, which is the strong determination in the mind
  3. Service, which is practical devotion or the proof of one’s devotion.

Thus, jnana yoga (knowledge) and karma yoga (service) are included in bhakti yoga (devotion). The three steps of knowledge, devotion and service can be reclassified in any way as per one’s convenience. In fact, they are only one. Hence, Lord Krishna says that the one, who sees knowledge and action as one, is the true seer (Ekam Sankyam cha yogam cha… Gita). Knowledge and action (service) can be seen to be one in the intermediate step called devotion. The two merge in devotion. Turning towards God or developing attachment towards God means all these three. Sadhana, thus includes knowledge, devotion and service.

No doubt the sadhaka will slip and fall on this path of sadhana. But, he has to rise again taking the support of the rope of knowledge. The knowledge will again generate devotion to God. That devotion will be tested in the sadhaka’s ability to do practical service for the contemporary human incarnation of God. Thus, he has to proceed persistently. The state of continuous entertainment through unattached spectatorship is Paripurna Advaita (full and complete oneness with God) and it can be attained by such persistent effort. This is the state of the human incarnation of God. This state is even higher than the state of the Gopikas. This status is given to that soul, who has attained the grace of God through his spiritual effort (sadhana). God enters such a soul and he becomes a human incarnation of God Himself. Then, He can enjoy the world as a cinema without getting affected by it. He can enjoy like God because He has become God. This is Paripurna Advaita.

Purity Supersedes Quantity in Practical Service

Purity is the most important factor in practical service. It is far more important than the quantity of service. Let us take an example. Let us say there are four samples of sugar. There is one gram sample of impure sugar, one kilogram of impure sugar, one gram of pure sugar and one kilogram of pure sugar. Clearly, the one gram and one kilogram samples of pure sugar are appreciable while the two samples of impure sugar are both useless, irrespective of their quantity. A devotee offers some food offering in a temple (Naivedyam) and expects the satisfaction of some selfish desire by God. His sacrifice of that food is a small sacrifice and it is also impure. It is like one gram of impure sugar. Ravana chopped off his own heads and offered them to Lord Shiva. His sacrifice was great but he had a selfish interest in doing so. So, his sacrifice was like the one kilogram of impure sugar. Both these cases are worthless. Shabari fed a few berries to Lord Rama with a pure heart, completely free of any selfish desire. Her sacrifice was like one gram of pure sugar. Kannappa plucked out his own eyes and donated them to the Lord. He expected nothing in return. His sacrifice was like one kilogram of pure sugar. Both Kannappa and Shabari are appreciated.

The quantity of Kannappa’s devotion might appear huge in comparison to that of Shabari. But in fact, that difference in quantity is not very significant. This is because, both Shabari and Kannappa were pure (selfless). The difference in the quantity of their service was only due to the context of the situation. There was no requirement for Shabari to donate her eyes to Lord Rama. All that Lord Rama needed from her was some food and directions to find His lost wife, Sita. Shabari merely responded to the requirement of the situation with full purity. If there had been a requirement to even sacrifice her life for the sake of Lord Rama, she could have done it since she was already selfless (pure). Thus, in spite of the apparent quantitative difference between the practical sacrifice of Kannappa and Shabari, both their sacrifices can be considered to be almost equal. Hence, the sadhaka must focus on developing purity in practical service. The quantity of service will be decided by God’s requirement in the situational context.

God Grants Devotion As Well As Deviation

Shri Phani:  Swami! Please keep me ever in the state of devotion.

Shri Swami: When a person is having his meals, the server serves both hot dishes (chillies) and sweet dishes to him. The alternate combination of the contrasting flavors gives real enjoyment to the eater. If the server serves only hot dishes or only sweet dishes, the eater will get bored with the same flavor. God is that server. He grants us devotion as well as ignorance (Maya) or temporary deviation from devotion. Here, you must remember that He, who gave the hot dish, will also give you the sweet dish. Both are necessary for full enjoyment. Even continuous devotion will become boring. The devotee, who thinks he can maintain continuous devotion to God, is ignorant. He will get bored in that state and fall from it anyway. Hence, deviation from devotion is given as an interval. In fact hotter the hot dish, the greater will be the pleasure in eating the sweet dish later on. Thus, deviation from devotion is given only so that one enjoys the devotion even more.

The one, who understands this, will never blame God when he slips from his state of devotion to God. In fact, he will never ever blame God for anything in life. Even that slipping from devotion is the grace of God. God is the Master Caterer and knows the perfect art of catering. He knows, which dish is to be served, when and in what form. The person, who has complete knowledge, understands God like this. He never rejects anything or anybody in creation. He understands that all the tragedies and comedies of life are all necessary for the highest entertainment in this world. He will be grateful to God for them all. He will thank God every moment of his life; even during the greatest tragedy. God Himself enjoys creation in this way. Lord Rama enjoyed even through the many tragedies in His life.

Thus, one does not see any difference between the three gunas (three fundamental qualities in creation). The qualities of Rajas (activity, passion) and Tamas (ignorance, rigidity) are the so-called bad qualities. They are represented by Lord Brahma (Creator) and Lord Shiva (Destroyer) respectively. Sattvam (purity, knowledge) is the good quality, which is represented by Lord Vishnu (Maintainer). Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are said to be equal. This means that the qualities that they represent are also equal. Good and bad are equal. Chillies and sweets are equal. All the three qualities are equal because they are equally important as means for getting complete entertainment in creation. The chillies are necessary to enjoy the sweet later on. The hero and the villain of a movie, both get equal remuneration. Both are equally important in giving entertainment to the audience. None is to be rejected or criticized.

This is the highest perspective. It is called the Brahmi Sthiti (God-like state). The person, who is established in this state, is never disturbed by the joys or tragedies of the world. Even as he breathes his last, he enjoys his own death, like God (Esha Brahmi Sthiti…Brahma Nirvana Mrichchhati… Gita). This was the state of Lord Krishna. He enjoyed throughout His entire life. He enjoyed as He cheated the Gopikas and stole their butter (Vanchate Parivanchate… Shri Rudram, Veda). Even the Gopikas enjoyed that cheating. That is the highest state of devotion, which is possible only with the highest knowledge. Krishna enjoyed even His own defeat by running away from Kalayavana. Finally, He enjoyed His own death too. This shows how Krishna and His devotees (Gopikas) practically saw the oneness in the three gunas and derived constant entertainment.