“Advaita” literally means non-dualism. The philosophy of advaita is the oldest among the vedanta schools of Indian philosophy. The quest is to understand Brahman, the source of everything, and the Atman or the Self, and the relationship between Brahman and Atman. The core teaching in Advaita Vedanta is the identity of the Atman (Jivatma) and Brahman (Paramatma).
For knowledge of Paramatma, we have to rely entirely on Shastra (scriptures). The Rig Veda says Truth (Brahman) is one, though it may be named variously by sages and seers. Though there is diversity in existence, behind it is oneness, which unites all beings through the self. This one consciousness and reality is beyond definition, gender and number. The ultimate reality is beyond space and time. It simply exists without cause or reason. This one reality is not dead or inert, but is the source of knowledge. It encompasses and contains everything.
The real nature of Jivatma/our Being, that is, our own real nature, can be known by inward enquiry. The upanishads explore this issue from different angles.
According to advaita, the ultimate reality of everything is Brahman, the non-dual pure consciousness and It alone exists. The universe of beings and things is merely an appearance of Brahman in time and space. The individual soul and Brahman are absolutely non-different.
Man suffers from ‘bondage’ in the course of his life in this world. This is said to be ‘samsara’, which involves being caught in an endless cycle of births and deaths. The quest therefore is to seek a way out of this bondage, to break the cycle of rebirths and attain moksha or liberation. The root cause of all bondage is the ignorance of one’s own true nature. The most important issues in vedanta have to be understood with respect to what constitutes bondage and liberation. The advaita school is of the view that jnana (knowledge) of man’s true Self is liberation. Bondage arises from ignorance (avidya) of man’s true nature. Therefore removal of ignorance roots out this bondage. Liberation is union with Brahman attained through Self-knowledge. This true nature is his innermost essence, the Atman, which is nothing other than Brahman.
Shankaracharya is the most important teacher of the advaita school of Vedanta. His commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutras define the parameters of advaita thought.
मनोबुद्ध्यहंकारचित्तानि नाहं न च श्रोत्रजिह्वे न च घ्राणनेत्रे
न च व्योमभूमिर्न तेजो न वायुः चिदानन्दरुपः शिवोऽहं शिवोऽहं ||१||
The first of the six verses of the Nirvana Shatkam, otherwise known as the Atma Shatkam is a composition of Bhagwan Adi Shankara. It’s a declaration of his ‘aparokshanubhuti’ or his direct experience of Self realization. The six verses describe the state of absolute peace, freedom, liberation and bliss which is the very nature of the Self.
Bhagwan Shankara in communicating his experience of the Self declares first what the Self is not and then affirms what the Self is. The true “I” is not the mind मनस्, intellect बुद्धिः , nor ego अहंकार. It is not the sense of hearing, taste, etc nor space, air, fire, water or earth. It is the “I” that is the form of Shiva the auspicious, of the nature of Pure Consciousness and Bliss, the reality behind every known and unknown phenomenon.
स्रुष्टिर्नाम ब्रह्मरूपे सच्चिदानन्दवस्तुनि | अब्धौ फ़ेनादिवत् सर्वनामरुपप्रसारणा ||
(द्र्ग् द्र्ष्य विवेकः १४)
srishtirnaamrupa brahmarupe sacchdanandavastuni |
abdhau fenadivat sarvanaamrupaprasarana || (Drig-drishya Viveka-14 by Adi Shankara)
Creation is the manifestation of names and forms in the Reality which is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss like foam, etc in the ocean.
The world is but a name and form. A name depends upon a form and the form constitutes the substance of which it is made. The ocean appears to consist of innumerable waves, bubbles, foam, etc. These are all names given to particular forms made up of the same oceanic water. The names and forms of the ocean are superimposed on the essential water. Water pervades all the names and forms. Just as in perceiving gold ornaments, the names and forms of the ornaments like necklace, bangle, ring, etc are multiple manifestations of the essential gold substance.
Likewise, Existence-Consciousness alone pervades all names and forms. The world is nothing but Existence perceived in multiple forms.