The word ‘Advaita’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘Advaita’ is non-duality. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root. 

The word ‘Advaita’ is formed as an antonym of dvaita by adding the prefix ‘a’ to the word dvaita, in the sense of the opposite. So, the opposite of dvaita, which means duality, is non-duality.

The word dvaita is derived from adding the ‘an’ suffix to the root word dvi, which means two. The word dvaita means duality, a pair, difference, separation, duplicity, dualism, or doubt.

The word ‘Advaita’ means non-duality; one without a second; identity; non-separation; non-different; having no duplicate; destitute of duality; peerless; sole; unique; epithet of Vishnu; the identity of Brahman, paramatman or supreme soul with the jivatman or the individual soul; the identity of spirit and matter; the name of an Upanishad, and the ultimate Truth.

Advaita is one among the three main schools of Vedanta, the other two being Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita. Acharya Shankara is considered to be the proponent of Advaita Vedanta, though the philosophy was present even before him as is evident in the writings of teachers like Acharya Gaudapada. The Advaita philosophy holds that there is essentially no difference between the individual soul and the ultimate Reality and all difference that is perceived is due to ignorance. Any perception of duality is considered a result of superimposition.

The common examples given for explaining this superimposition are the mistaking a shell to be silver, mistaking sand for water in a mirage, mistaking a rope to be a snake in darkness. In all these instances, something else is superimposed on some other thing and there is a mutual confusion of the properties of the things involved. For example, in a mirage, the property of water is imposed on sand and the property of sand is imposed on water. When insentience is superimposed on sentience and when sentience is superimposed on insentience, we confuse things for what they are not and there arises the problem of dvaita or duality. Advaita is the path to transcend this superimposed duality.

The goal of Advaita is to guide a person to transcend all suffering and attain moksha, freedom from the transmigratory cyclical existence of samsara, by realising the identity of the Atman with Brahman. Upon this realisation, this universe ceases to cause any misery, because the person who has realised this knowledge of Advaita, understands that this universe is being seen not in its essential nature, Brahman, but in its superimposed nature of a multitude of names and forms. When the essence of this universe is realised and it is known that one is not different from that essence, then a person becomes free.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article


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This article was first published in the January 2020 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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