top of page



How does an advaitin (=he who follows the advaita or non-dual school) live? Practical non-duality is what he would practise or want to practise. He is convinced that there exists nothing but the Absolute Self. It is the immutable infinite beyond anything described by words or delimited by attributes. It is also the immanent entity in anything that is perceivable by the senses. But this theoretical conviction seems to have only a nebulous contact with the diverse goings-on of this outward self with which we exist, converse, act and experience. One is not sure what it means for this conviction to percolate into one’s activities. The seeker, who has just been exposed to the fundamentals of advaita has a tendency to feel that it is only a thought-concept and may not be applicable to this ‘world of multiplicity’. His logic is that if one considers everybody else and everything else to be nothing but his own self then the ordinary relationships in the material world would all collapse. Some random thoughts on these matters have been gathered by me over the years from famous exponents of advaita who were also, in some sense, practitioners of what they preached. The most important of them, at least for me, happened to be my father (Sri R.Visvanatha Sastri : 1882 – 1956), from whom I learnt most of what I think I know today. The example being my father, I could take lessons from the way he himself reacted to multifarious daily situations in public and private life.

There are two things: kriyAdvaita – advaita in action – and bhavAdvaita – advaita in attitude. As in almost all spheres and facets of the sanAtana dharma, it is the attitude that is more important. Even in the secular world the criminal law dispenses a softer punishment to someone who kills, only accidentally and not with intent, than to the one who kills with intent. It is the attitude that matters. A convinced advitin has to have his right attitude reflect in all his day-to-day actions. It is the attitude of sama-dRshTi, that is, equanimous vision. The Gita couplet: He who sees Me everywhere, and who sees everything in Me, to him I am never lost nor is he lost to me:

yo mAm paSyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi paSyati /

tasyAham na praNaSyAmi sa ca me na praNaSyati //

- is not just a good quote for platform speeches. It is the ace-commandment from the Lord. It is practical advaita. Let us spend a few moments getting this straight.

This advaita attitude is just the awareness of the One Ultimate Reality which is both transcendent and immanent. Every time we pray to God or worship Him it should be with the conscious step of accepting a duality for the sake of worldly worship while in reality there is no duality. The sixteen formalities that are built into a pUjA are all expressions of this coming down, namely, a confession: Oh God! I cannot but worship You as someone separate from me but let this worship strengthen the realisation in me of the identity between You and my Inner Self. This is a characteristic of a true practitioner of advaita. It is clear that this is walking on razor’s edge. When love of a saguNa-idol matures into Supreme Love of God, one sees the entire world as Himself. Love towards one object, and for the same reason, hate towards another object – this pattern will then give place to an infinite Love which sees no high and low, no distinction of duality. Love of God maturing into the insight of seeing the entire world as Himself is advaita bhakti.

This is where the first lesson of practical advaita starts. Normally when we think of another person, we tend to think of his negatives also. Very often only his negatives come to our mind rather than the good things about him. But the habit of seeing God in everybody should be practised in such a way that the first thing that we attempt to do is to forget the negatives of the other person. When we think of ourselves we very often forget our own negatives. Even when another person points it out to us we tend to either ignore it or disbelieve it. The advaitic injunction of seeing ourselves in the other person, when translated into action, gives us the lever to ignore or forget his negatives just as we do with our own thus setting up almost a supernatural empathy with the other person.. If this happens to the majority of us, half the world’s problems are solved. This is the first great leap forward in spirituality .

The next step is to see the same God in all Gods and Divinities. The dogmatism that is inherent in the fanatical love of one’s own religion or in such love of one’s own school of philosophy should give way to look at all paths to God as valid and of value.

The third and final step is what is described in the 6th and 7th verses of the IshAvAsyopaniSad:

yastu sarvANi bhUtAni Atmany-evAnupaSyati;

sarva-bhUteshu cAtmAnaM tato na vijugupsate //

yasmin sarvANi bhUtAni AtmaivAbhUd-vijAnataH;

tatra ko mohaH kaH SokaH ekatvaM anupaSyataH //’

meaning: He who sees all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings, hates none; to the illumined soul, who sees everything as a manifestation of his own Self, how can there be delusion or grief since he sees only oneness? Even here the seers have advised us to proceed in two stages. The first stage for this conceptual identification of vision is a sense of unity with other existences. This unity makes us give respect to everything. The next stage is to identify it with the Self. The respect shown to other beings now widens into compassion and love to the things in which we see our own Self. But this oneness is still only an artificial oneness, a pluralistic unity. Real knowledge begins with a perception, not just an understanding at the intellectual level, of this oneness. The concept of pluralistic unity must give place, or lead to, a total comprehension or perception in the experiential level. To do this one has to first retreat from the outside world – nivRtti. Then see everything in Oneself. The opposite of this is a narrow I-feeling; that is what causes attachment and hate. The spiritual disciplines purify one’s mind and this coupled with the association of the sAtvic type of people lead to an illumination which unfolds the harmony of one-ness. This is the vision. After this vision, the world from which one has retreated is drawn into the Self. Ethically the formula is: Detach yourself attitudinally, and then Love. Live in that dynamic unity. No more separate self, no more likes and dislikes, no more hopes and fears. This is the only way of serving society, says Swami Vivekananda. This equanimity of vision is the rationale for the commandment of Jesus: Love thy neighbour. When such an illumination of Oneness and Equanimity arrives where is the possibility of grief or delusion? Grief is always about an event in the past. Delusion is in the present. Fear is about the future. It is the Lord who is the Master of the past, present and future. – bhUta-bhavya-bhavat-prabhuH. For one who has given himself up to the Lord of the past, present and future, there is no grief, no delusion, no fear. Such a one is a vijAnat, the one who knows, who sees with a distinguished vision, whose conviction is not just at an academic level, but is of personal experience born out of inner conviction. For such a one there is only the Self – no non-Self.

But all this is a tall order. Every one agrees, including the stalwarts of advaita themselves. They all agree that the prerequisite to this vision is a life of devotion not only to the Personal Ultimate but also to the duties enjoined by one’s calling and nature. And further they all agree that for those fortunate and blessed ones for whom the vision of Oneness has been gained, the life of devotion will be natural to them though not a life of enjoined action.

It is interesting to recall a few great stalwarts here. Listen to Madhusudana Saraswati, the confirmed advaitin who says that recalling the vision of the blue-eyed Krishna and his pranks is more interesting and fascinating rather than living in the vision of the unparallelled Glory and Light of the Ultimate. :

Seated in meditation, their minds totally absorbed in that Supreme Unmanifested Reality, which is changeles, attributeless and actionless, let the Yogis see that mystic Glory of Light which they seem to visualise; but , for us mortals, we should only yearn that there may miraculously appear before our physical eyes that bluish someone who keeps romping on the shores of the Yamuna:

dhyAnAvasthita-tadgatena manasA tam nirguNam nishkriyam

jyotiH kimcana yogino yadi punaH paSyanti paSyantu te /

asmAkam tu tadeva locana camatkarAya bhUyAt ciram

kALindI pulineshu yatkimapi tam nIlam tamo dhAvati //

Listen to Bhatttadri, the famous Kerala scholar of the 17th century, in his masterly epitome of Srimad-Bhagavatam. What is Fear? Fear occurs when we are conscious of another object different from oneself. This consciousness of duality is itself an imagination of the mind. I am trying my best through my discrimination to discipline the mind in the consciousness of Oneness. But when my mind is overpowered by your mAyA, the effort is of no avail. Therefore, Oh Lord, I am trying to overcome the fear (caused by duality) by constant and devoted worship of Thyself.

bhItir-nAma dvitIyAd bhavati nanu manaH kalpitaM ca dvitIyam

tenaikyAbhyAsa-SIlo hRdayamiha yathA Sakti-buddhyA nirundhyAm /

mayA-viddhe tu tasmin punarapi na tathA bhAti mayAdhinAthaM

tat-tvAM bhaktyA mahatyA satataM anubhajan-nISa bhItiM vijahyAM //

It is clear therefore that the vision of Oneness is not supposed to be obtained by just the snap of a finger – unless the Lord wills it, of course. The utmost that one can do is to seek the Grace of the Lord by a total surrender without any expectation of what may or may not happen. It is this surrender that is so nicely dramatised in the episode of dAmodara in the Krishnavatara: As a child Krishna was so mischievous that His mother had no alternative but to tie Him up. She used several ropes but failed. When she was totally exasperated she just gave up as if in surrender to the child. And then it was that the Lord decided to get himself bound and He allowed Himself to be tethered. Incidentally this gave him the name: dAmodara, the one who submitted to the rope round his waist. The esoteric lesson of this episode is that we should surrender to the Lord totally.

bottom of page