“Arjuna inquired: Which is considered to be more perfect: those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service, or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?” (Bhagavad-gita, 12.1)Download this episode (right click and save)
evaṁ satata-yuktā ye
bhaktās tvāṁ paryupāsate
ye cāpy akṣaram avyaktaṁ
teṣāṁ ke yoga-vittamāḥ
Is Krishna a mixed up impersonalist-personalist? Since He mentions both paths in the Bhagavad-gita, which is the most widely known and read philosophical work in history, does the purported Supreme Personality of Godhead contradict Himself? Shouldn’t it be one or the other?
Fortunately, Arjuna posed the question to Krishna to clear up any doubts on the issue. The direct recipient of the Gita’s teachings asked which path is better: impersonalism or personalism. The former is also known as advaita, and it is commonly misunderstood.
1. It is a way to understand religion philosophically
You don’t have to blindly follow someone. To follow in service is the natural inclination for all living things. This foundational property is known as dharma. It is the essential characteristic. The Sanskrit word dharma equates to religion because those who don’t understand dharma can’t seem to find a better equivalent.
Dharma can be understood philosophically. That is, you can use your brain in spiritual life. You are encouraged to do so, as the Sanskrit aphorism, “athato brahma-jijnasa,” says that the human birth is the wakeup call to inquire into spiritual matters.
Advaita philosophy requires intelligence to understand. You can sit and hear someone explain it, and that is a great first step. The next step is to try to understand what it means. Practically apply the philosophy to other things you have seen and heard. From there behold the wonder of the spiritual energy.
2. It is a name for God
We find the word “advaita” in the Brahma-samhita, which is a set of prayers offered one time by the origin of the population. He is known as Brahma, and he offered the words to the person who comes even before him. The population comes into being through the combination of prakriti and purusha. The prakriti consists of three kinds of ingredients: goodness, passion and ignorance. Brahma is like the painter supplied with these colors, given the freedom to use them in endless combinations and proportions.
Advaita is a name for God, along with other names like Achyuta and Anadi. These Sanskrit words are negations. Anadi means that God is without adi, or beginning. Time and space are both infinite. You can trace the beginning of something, but know that there is something before that time as well. That infinite time is one way to understand God.
Achyuta means that God never falls down. Advaita means “non-duality.” Since God is advaita, He is everywhere. His influence cannot be removed from any area. A person can deny that the influence is there. They can be ignorant of it. A child may not know what sunlight is. They may say there is no such thing, but their viewpoint has no bearing on the truth. The sun is there regardless of what they think.
3. It means that you and I are connected
Advaita says that the spiritual energy is everywhere. There is sameness shared by every living thing. That means that you and I are connected. We see glimpses of this truth in the similarity of behavioral patterns. Every person eats, sleeps, mates and defends. They may have different preferences in these areas, but the enjoyment is the same. The animals also follow the same behavior, though their intelligence isn’t nearly as high.
4. It means that we are all connected to God
As the Supreme Lord is in every aspect of the creation, each one of us has some connection to Him. We are part of the definition of God. It is like the hands and legs on the body. They are addressed with the word “my” or “your,” which both imply a connection. The spirit souls are a “your” for the Supreme Lord. They come from Him, as He is the source of both the material and spiritual worlds.
ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
5. It is not the final conclusion
Advaita is not the final word on spirituality. There is dvaita as well, which means “duality.” Using the same example of the body parts, if we lose a limb, it doesn’t mean that our identity changes. Once the piece is missing, it no longer has a connection to us.
mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ
na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
Krishna explains this in the Bhagavad-gita by saying that all beings are in Him, but He is not in them. This means that all living things are components belonging to the definition that is God. The reverse doesn’t hold true. God is not one of the components that makes up our identity.
Though they seemingly contradict, both advaita and dvaita are true. The two philosophies are also known as impersonalism and personalism. Krishna describes both in the Bhagavad-gita, and Arjuna at one point wants to know which path is superior. There is a style of worship that descends from each philosophy. From advaita a person appreciates everything that is living. They become detached by knowing that they are spirit and not the dull matter that covers up spirit in the material world.
mayy āveśya mano ye māṁ
te me yuktatamā matāḥ
“The Blessed Lord said: He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be most perfect.” (Bhagavad-gita, 12.2)
From dvaita a person engages in worship of God the person. They know they are connected to Him due to the advaita philosophy, and yet they understand there is a difference as well. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu describes the combination as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, simultaneous oneness and difference. Know that you are the same as God in quality, but quantitatively He is always superior. From this truth a natural relationship follows: devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Those who serve in this way are always one with God, while those who don’t remain separated in terms of consciousness.
Advaita giving perspective one,
That difference to God and creation none.
All a oneness between living beings to see,
At the core not different are you and me.
Final word still not giving,
With duality also living.
Arjuna asking Lord which one is best,
Path of personalism by Krishna blessed.