Philosophical Differences

Philosophical Differences October 11, 2015

Last week Brad and I had the pleasure of visiting an ISKCON center and enjoying some bhajans, chanting, and Gita discussion. It was a wonderful atmosphere and very uplifting to be among fellow spiritual seekers.

It’s not often, I find, that as a Hindu I’m presented with a fundamental philosophical difference between branches. Usually you can just go to any Hindu function, event, or location and know what to expect. There’s a great deal of similarity of practice among various Hindu branches.

But last week we really came face to face with one of the things that makes Vaishnavism different from Advaita.

The Gita discussion led to talking about the ultimate reality beyond this world. For me as an Advaitan that means complete unity with God. Merging with God and becoming one. After all, the word Advaita means non-duality.

For our new friends moksha means joining God but not becoming the same as God.

I will do my best to explain both points of view, though forgive and correct me for any mistakes as only one of these is my belief and it can be challenging to look at it from someone else’s perspective.

They spoke of us as individuals joining God in the reality beyond Maya and being loved by him. But they spoke of us being God’s fingers, or hands, or feet. Not the brain. Only Krishna is the brain. We are part of him but not equal to him.

It is true that once one becomes unified with God there would be no need for bhakti. You wouldn’t worship yourself. When there are not two there is no worshiper and worshipee. So what is the point of bhakti?

I’ve always seen bhakti as being a wonderful step along the way towards enlightenment. Really all yogas to me are stepping stones until we reach the full understanding of our true Selves.

The way it has been explained to me is that we start out seeing God as a distant king. And then we begin to relate to him like a stern father. And then eventually as a loving father. Eventually we relate to him as a dear friend. And then at the end we realize there is no difference between us, our limits and boundaries drop away and we go back to being part of the brain of God.

One of the questions that comes up is how much of our individuality we maintain in that transition. As I’ve talked about recently, I’m not really sure what the core and unchanging part of me is. But whatever is constant and unchanging, that is the part that is God in disguise.

I do believe we are parts in a whole but that we are equal to all the other parts. There are no parts larger or smaller than any other part. It is all God. It is all all of God.

They described it as being as though the world we live in now is the reflection on a clear lake. It has every detail of the real world but it is not as dynamic or full. The real tree is better than the tree reflected in the water. In that way the world beyond this one would look and act almost exactly the same as this one but everything would feel a little more real, I guess?

The example I’ve always liked is that of an ocean. God is the vast ocean and we are tiny droplets. We contain all that is God within us but we are smaller. Yet, and here is where our new friends stopped the metaphor, when those drops are brought back to the ocean they disappear into it and become part of the whole again with no boundaries to distinguish them from any other part of the ocean. It still has all the qualities it had before just with no limitations.

I respect bhakti very much and strive to be better at it myself. However I still think it is a vehicle bringing us along a path that will eventually lead to no longer needing it.

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  • Lokesh

    Bhakti traditions are essentially Dvaitic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvaita).

    Upanishads, Brahmasutras,Yoga Vasishta are Advaitic.

    The Gita is unique, it is and can be interpreted by both Advaitins and Dvaitins to suit their perspective.

    An Advaitin would consider Krishna of Gita as one(a sage) merged with the supreme consciousness, Dvaitins consider him “the supreme Lord”.

    Advaita claims oneness of Atman and Brahman, to the extent that there is no separation between Creation and creator.

    Dvaita makes the separation very distinct.

    Vishishtadvaita is to some extent a compromise between the two (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishishtadvaita)

    • Ambaa

      So true! The Gita really is an amazing common ground between extremely different worldviews.

      One thing that almost made me laugh out loud was when I read the description on the back of the Gita that we had that was translated by the ISKCON founder. It said “This is the Bhagavad Gita as it is. Without bias.”

      In my opinion there is no such thing as without bias. Everything will always be filtered through your perspective and you cannot engage with a text, let alone translate it, without introducing any bias!

      • Lokesh

        “In my opinion there is no such thing as without bias. Everything will always be filtered through your perspective and you cannot engage with a text, let alone translate it, without introducing any bias”

        Totally true, even for most of the saints. Except few rare masters.

  • The Dvaitic perspective is one reason why I cannot go to ISKCON, plus some other western traits that I sense within that tradition. It’s just too different for me. I much prefer the “American Traditional Hindu Temples,” if you understand what I mean.

    • Ambaa

      I enjoy the ISKCON people. I admire their dedication, I like being around spiritual people, and they put together great events and community outreach 🙂

    • Bayern

      hinduism’s essence is philosophy. not everything is for everyone. everyone have their own philosophy and align accordingly. plus self realizing the philosophy is more important that reading or hearing. that phase comes when it is time. thats when you understand the dvaitic and advaitic philosophies came out of our own psychology.

  • Jason

    ISKCON aside (as it is a quite rigid organization) Vaishnavism does not differ entirely from Advaita. Vishishtadvaita clarifies that we share a same essence with God, but our relationship as Atman toward Brahman never ceases. This is why in Vaishnavism, Bhakti is the means and the goal. It’s both, because in the spiritual realm, there is pure love and pure devotional relationship between Atman and Brahman. So, Bhakti still remains, but in a much higher level than we can perform in the material world. By practicing Bhakti (devotional consciousness), we are living harmoniously with the Divine, and it is only elevated after liberation.

  • Shraddhananda Marc Caverly

    My Dear Friend, Ambaa,

    Namaste!
    I cannot speak for ISKCON, I am not a follower or memeber of that organization, but I can speak of my own experience with bhakti. For 20 years, I was a Shaivite with an impersonal guru, what I jokingly call a “Hollywood gurukul”. Five years ago, I received an answer to my prayers in the form of an authentic and genuine Acharya for a guru, and I started on the opposite path of Bhakti and Vaishnavism. I was always taught that “God dwells within you AS YOU”, but the bhakti path teaches that we are not God, but/part of Him,.as you/stated. I started repeating a different mantra, and slowly tried to understand what this path was about before I fully accepted it.
    I would like to tell you that I have made greater spiritual progress in the past five years than I had during the previous twenty. My guru fully explains the scriptures, where I feel the previous tradition did not. If we were all truly God, then we would be our own Source, and this is just not the case! Yes, we are a part of Him, but we can’t usurp Him! My sadhana was extremely dry for 20 years, now, all I feel is His love!
    Shiva is a deva, and is not God, like we are not God. And when I asked Shiva about the deception, his response was “Now we can worship together.” I apologize for not having/the specific verse/at my disposal, but I just read recently, and can be found in scripture, that Shiva was asked to deceive. The reasoning came to me immediately and I was moved to tears, blubbering like a baby!

    I am not a person who can give verse of this scripture or that, I am not as educated, but working on it. What I can do is share my experiences and what I do know. I know that when I gave up my notion and false teaching that I am God, my life changed. The dry became wet and sweet, the void of feeling disappeared and rasa filled it’s empty space. Doubt vanished as my empty adoration for a formless deity was replaced with love and.fullness in the form of a Best Friend who has shown me what I mean to Him! Absence of feelings were replaced with daily tears! My soulless heart was replaced with one that bursts with LOVE. I was aimless, but the day I received diksha from my beloved guru, my life truly began, was gifted with purpose and meaning, and I gained a true an amazing family, and they are nothing less than that!

    The scriptural authority of Sanatana Dharma is The Vedas, and if one is to be a serious and true follower of this path, one should find a true expert of The Vedas, one who is a living example of what an acharya should be, of what an authentic and geunine guru should be. That being has the ability to bring one to TRUTH like no other and one will never be the same. I have been changed and transformed in ways I never dreamed possible! If one is to accept The Vedas as the authority, and one finds such an expert, one will find that Bhagavan Sri Krishna is and always was the original Supreme Personality of Godhead and the feelings that should naturally flow from that finding and acceptance of that fact is the Divine Love of Bhakti! After 20 years of being a Shaivite, with extremely similar views with Adavaita, this became my experience, and completely changed my life.

    So I can only give one verse, please forgive me. This is the verse that changed my life so completely. Let detractors and.critics comment as needed, I have my concrete experience as my evidence, and even my name, Shraddhananda, is testament. My wish for you is that you give bhakti a place in your heart and find Divine Ecstacy!
    “Abandon all lesser varieties of religion and surrender unto Me. I will deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” Bhagavad Gita 18:66

    He is now my Best Friend and constant companion, where before there was none.
    Sanatana Dharma is not really a polytheistic religion. They are not God, they are devas, demi-gods, they have their source in Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Why would we be any different?

    Aum Shanti,

    Shraddhananda

    • Throwaway

      Shri Ramakrishna said that pure bhakti and pure jnana are the same.
      Your path of bhakti is the right path for you. In the same way, the path of jnana is the right path for someone else. Both are the same in the end. And no matter what anyone says, none is objectively really any more difficult than the other.
      🙂

  • Hemant

    Vaishnavism+Shiavite+Shakta+ Smartism = Sanatan Hindu Family

  • Hemant

    i am a follower of
    Smarta Tradition

  • Throwaway

    Shri Ramakrishna said that pure bhakti and pure jnana are the same, so your final comment is very true. However, I would say that I believe that all paths eventually lead us to a place where no path is needed anymore.
    To paraphrase Sathya Sai Baba: How can you remove a thorn from your foot? With the help of another thorn. After you have removed the thorn, you don’t need either one anymore. But you still needed it to get to that point.