Understanding the Concept of Oneness in Advaita Vedanta with Swami Sarvapriyananda


The Challenge of One and Many

Your question touches on a profound philosophical and spiritual inquiry: How can reality be truly one when we experience it as many? This tension between the singular and the plural, between unity and diversity, is at the heart of both Western and Eastern philosophical traditions.

Plato's Perspective

Plato's dialogue "Sophist" grapples with the idea of oneness and multiplicity. He argues that if we describe "the one" as existing, we inherently introduce duality—an action implies a subject and an object. This problem, as you pointed out, seems to contradict the notion of an absolute, indivisible oneness.

Advaita Vedanta's View

Advaita Vedanta, a non-dualistic school of Hindu philosophy, offers a nuanced understanding of this dilemma:

  1. Existence and Essence:

    • According to Advaita Vedanta, the ultimate reality, or Brahman, is not an entity among other entities. It is existence itself, not merely an existing thing.
    • The existence of things (people, objects, concepts) points to their underlying essence, which is Brahman. Brahman is the substratum that supports all apparent realities.
  2. The Illusory Nature of Multiplicity:

    • The world of multiple, distinct objects and beings is seen as maya, or illusion. This doesn't mean it is unreal, but rather that its appearance as many obscures its true nature as one.
    • In this sense, the multiplicity we experience is a manifestation of the one reality, Brahman, but perceived through the veiling power of maya.
  3. The Role of Consciousness:

    • Consciousness, or chit, is central to understanding Brahman. While individual consciousness seems distinct, Advaita posits that it is a reflection of the one universal consciousness.
    • This consciousness is not an object to be perceived but the very subject that perceives. It is self-luminous and self-evident, and thus cannot be grasped or described in ordinary terms.

Language and Limitations

Language inherently deals with distinctions and relationships, making it inadequate to describe the non-dual nature of Brahman. Philosophers like Wittgenstein and Heidegger have pointed out that the limits of language are the limits of our world:

  • Wittgenstein's Mysticism:

    • Wittgenstein suggested that the most profound truths lie beyond the reach of language. What we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence.
    • This aligns with the Advaitic idea that Brahman transcends verbal and conceptual thought.
  • Heidegger's "Isness":

    • Heidegger's exploration of "being" resonates with the Advaitic understanding of Brahman as pure being. However, unlike ordinary beings, Brahman is not a being among other beings but the very ground of being itself.

Practical Implications and Realization

Theoretical understanding is one thing, but Advaita Vedanta emphasizes realization:

  1. Tat Tvam Asi (You Are That):

    • The key teaching is that your true self, or atman, is none other than Brahman. This is not just a philosophical idea but a reality to be directly realized.
    • Realization involves seeing through the illusion of separateness and recognizing your true nature as the one, undivided consciousness.
  2. Experiential Knowledge:

    • While Brahman cannot be an object of knowledge, it is directly known as the self, the subject. This self-realization dissolves the seeming duality between subject and object.
  3. Liberation (Moksha):

    • This realization is liberating, as it resolves the fundamental ignorance that causes all suffering. It is the ultimate goal of spiritual practice in Advaita Vedanta.

Conclusion

The concept of oneness in Advaita Vedanta addresses the philosophical and existential confusion surrounding the nature of reality. By recognizing the illusory nature of multiplicity and realizing the non-dual self, one can transcend the limitations of language and conceptual thought to experience the profound truth of oneness. This is not merely an intellectual understanding but a transformative realization that reveals the true nature of existence as infinite, unchanging, and ever-present.

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