A Letter to My Friend Iqbal: SHANKARACHARYA’S IMPERSONALISM

From Niraj Bidawatka

My Dear Iqbal,

We met yesterday outside Hyper City, a hyper market in suburban Mumbai, where I was distributing the “Hare Krishna Revolution” and you bought a copy of each of the two issues that I had. You also bought “The Path of Perfection”, a book written by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and initiated a very nice and learned conversation on the subject matter of the Supreme Lord. You opened up with the Vedic aphorism “ekam brahma dvitiyam nasti” and followed up with various other quotations such as “na tasya pratima asti”, “kamais tais tair hrta jnana” among many others. We had a very elaborate and fruitful discussion on each of the quotations. However, when you posed the question, “Why did Shankaracharya preach that God is impersonal?”, you received a phone call from someone who was waiting for you. Since you had to rush to meet the person, our discussion was cut short and the subject of Shankaracharya’s philosophy remained unanswered. I intend to discuss the same now. Since I don’t have your e-mail address, I am posting it here on the website in the hope that you will read it when you visit it as you had expressed your desire of remaining in touch with the Hare Krishna Revolution.

Shankaracharya is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. It is mentioned in the Padma Purana, that the Supreme Lord instructed His exalted devotee, Lord Shiva to make the general populace of the Kaliyuga averse to Him. Therefore Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a brahmana named Shankaracharya to preach the fallacious theory of Mayavada, which is a disguised form of Buddhism. Since the influence of Buddhism was very strong at the time, Shankaracharya preached the Mayavada philosophy to divert people from atheism to the Vedas. To achieve this he had to make compromises in the Vedanta philosophy.

Srila Prabhupada writes in this connection, “In order to overcome the effects of Buddhist philosophy and spread Vedanta philosophy, Shripad Shankaracharya had to make some compromise with the Buddhist philosophy, and as such he preached the philosophy of monism, for it was required at that time. Otherwise there was no need for his preaching Mayavada philosophy. At the present moment there is no need for Mayavada philosophy or Buddhist philosophy, and Lord Chaitanya rejected both of them. This Krishna consciousness movement is spreading the philosophy of Lord Chaitanya and rejecting the philosophy of both classes of Mayavada. Strictly speaking, both Buddhist philosophy and Shankara’s philosophy are but different types of Mayavada dealing on the platform of material existence. Neither of these philosophies has spiritual significance. There is spiritual significance only after one accepts the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita, which culminates in surrendering unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (SB 4.24.17 purport)

Buddhism is considered an atheistic religion because it does not recognize the existence of God and the authority of the Vedas. Nonetheless it is honest in admitting the fact that it does not accept the existence of God and therefore it is not as dangerous as the Mayavada philosophy of Shankaracharya, which relies on the Vedas to put forward its interpretation of the truth in an imaginative and false way. This leads the followers ultimately to the path of spiritual self-destruction because one starts believing himself to be God.

The defect of Shankaracharya’s philosophy is that it considers the Absolute Truth to be impersonal and negates the personal aspect of God. Such a conclusion is imperfect and not in line with the teachings of the Vedic literatures. The Supreme Absolute Truth is the source of everything (sarva karana karanam) which means that he possesses all attributes that are possibly present in anyone in the entire creation. Since all the conditioned souls, who are within our purview, possess a personality, it should be understood that God is the source of that personality. In other words, God also possesses His individual personality. To infer that God has no personality would render Him incomplete whereas all authorized scriptures, notwithstanding which religion they belong to, accept the Supreme Being to be the absolute complete being. Hence if God is a Complete Being, then he should possess a form. So God is both personal and impersonal, but His personal aspect is the basis of His impersonal aspect and thus it is more prominent. (brahmano hi pratisthaham – Bg 14.27).

God has been described as nirakara, or formless in the Vedas or having no image (pratima) as you pointed out by citing “na tasya pratima asti” from the Vedas. These words have been used to explain that He has no material form or image like we conditioned souls do. God’s form should not be mistaken as a material form made of the material energy (maya); He has a completely spiritual form which is eternal, cognizant and full of bliss (saccidananda vigraha). Therefore it is mentioned in the Vedas that although He has no legs, He moves very quickly; although He has no hands He accepts anything offered to Him; although He has no eyes He can see; although He has no ears He can hear. This means that He has no material senses like we do, but He can still execute all activities because He possesses transcendental senses.

So the conclusion of all the authorized Vedic scriptures is that God has a personality and therefore the philosophy of impersonalism as preached by Shripad Shankaracharya is rejected by anyone possessing a fair bit of common sense because even by applying logic, we can very easily understand that.

I would like to commend you on the brilliant note at which you concluded the meeting. You accepted that a sincere prayer to the Supreme Lord by chanting His holy name is the best way to progress towards self-realisation. I hope you will chant the holy name of Allah everyday as you have promised to me. If you do that then that is the perfection of the human life. The religion for the present age is to chant the Holy name of Krishna and that is what we are preaching. God has innumerable names and one can chant any one of them to achieve perfection. Krishna, Govinda, Rama, Allah, Jehovah, etc are all authorised names of God which have been approved by the saints and the scriptures. However, chanting the names of the various demigods such as Kali, Durga, Siva, Ganesa, etc. cannot be considered equivalent to the chanting of the Holy name of Krishna because the result that one achieves by worshiping them is temporary – antavat tu phalam tesam (Bg. 7.23).

Since the aim of The Hare Krishna Revolution is that everyone should chant the holy name of God, when a sincere soul like you resolves to chant the holy name of Allah regularly, it gives us immense pleasure and encourages us in our preaching mission.

Thanks and Hare Krishna.

Yours sincerely

Niraj

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4 thoughts on “A Letter to My Friend Iqbal: SHANKARACHARYA’S IMPERSONALISM

  1. Chanting the name of Allah,Jehovah is equivalent to chanting the name of Krishna with all its benefits.
    However chanting the name of shiva,Ganesha gives lesser results.
    So much of knowledge, you enlightened me today !!!
    Thanks,
    Harekrishna.

    Like

    • Chanting name of anything outside that of the Vedic fold brings no or very less merits to one who is the follower of the Veda. That is why chanting names like Krishna,Rama, Narayana, Vishnu,Hari cannot be compared to names like Jehovah or Allah. Being mleccha religions they are even lower than nastika philosophies like Buddhism and Jainism or astikas like Saiva Sakta Saura or Ganapatya etc. what to speak of Vaishnavism which is the parama Vaidika dharma. So worshippers of Shiva ,Durga, Surya and Ganesha etc. are more advanced than Muslims or Christians though the latter claim to be monotheists. While chanting the form of the Lord must also be medidated upon but the Abrahamics cannot even do that.
      My opinion is that while talking of Shankaracharya or anyone with a different philosophy within the Vedic fold with another religion it is improper to quote the Padma purana verse directly. Please donot misunderstand but it could also have been said that Shankara did not accept the direct statements of Vedas and went for an indirect interpretation etc.

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