Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Critical reflections on Advaita Vedanta

Posted by robertpriddy on October 13, 2009

Advaita has many sub-variants, such as Nisagardatta’s unsystematic pontifications to much more strict presentations by theologically-minded advaitists in the tradition of Adi Shankara or even Ramana Maharshi. The best succinct explanation of how the abstract religious-theological ‘philosophy of Advaitism or Vedanta Advaita developed is surely that given by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstead in their seminal book ‘The Guru Papers, Masks of Authoritarian Powers’ (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley) . I quote briefly:

Oneness, the pinnacle of religious abstraction, is the aspect of Eastern thought the West is currently the most enamoured of. The early Vedism of the Ayran invaders that superimposed itself on indigenous forms was a combination of polytheism, ancestor worship, and ritual sacrifice similar to Greek and other Indo-European religions.

Then the authors point out how the more sophisticated non-duality of all being (advaitim) came to be, rising the level of abstraction (i.e. products of thought that may or may not refer to something other than thought) “The more abstract a symbol, the larger range of events it can include

There is power in being able to incorporate one symbol into another.  When the level of abstraction that people operate in is no longer satisfying or credible, for whatever reason (often because of advances in secular knowledge), the tendency is to look for a still higher level. The more abstract a symbol, the larger range of events it can include.” (p. 349)

It is easier to incorporate science into ideas of Oneness etc. and this appeals to both West and East.

The more abstract a concept is the more it generalizes; and at the same time, it leaves out particulars, sometimes even the particulars of life itself. By abstracting the sacred from nature, the different religions in their diverse ways made nature low on the hierarchy of importance.

Concepts of spirituality became more abstract, moving from individual “spirits” embedded in nature to abstract principles and powers beyond nature. Through manipulating belief in the sacred symbols that represented these new abstractions, greater control over larger areas of human behaviour was made possible. …. The hierarchies within the emerging systems of sacred symbols mirrored and justified the developing hierarchies of secular power

And so on, very illumining and showing that force in society which makes use of religion to control people. That what it’s all about and has always been about in most societies.

The above was written by me elsewhere, reproduced because it fits well into the series of blogs here. In conclusion, Advaita Vedanta is, at bottom, an empty ideology which entraps in a labyrinth of abstractions and confuses people about reality… like other forms of monotheism theology, it is a social power tool.

Vedanta is ultimately an empty ideology which entraps ‘aspirants’ in a labyrinth of abstractions and confuses people about reality… like other forms of monotheism theology, it is a social power tool. It is often extremely otherworldly in its orientation, due to its cardinal denial of the reality of matter, the self, the world and so on.
See also several of the preceding blogs her and also : Philosophical analysis of an eclectic collection of numinous Indian ‘spiritual’ ideas relating to Advaita Vedanta

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One Response to “Critical reflections on Advaita Vedanta”

  1. kiran said

    Aryan invasion of the Nazi variety never did happen in India. India has indeed seen a racial and cultural mix of a lot of people, but there is no reason to suggest that the complex civilization of Mohenzodaro along the banks of the Indus and Saraswati was disconnect from the Vedas.

    The Vedic texts are rich in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and linguistics.. such artefacts cannot but come from a well-established civilization. The dating that was arbitrarily assigned for the composition of the Vedas (specifically the oldest Rg Veda) are now being revised by all professional historians.

    The Indian civilization at (and even prior to) the composition of the Vedas was the most sophisticated and technologically advanced in the world at the time, such heights were not reached by the western world until the renaissance and middle ages, which themselves owe to a certain extent to Indian influences (via the Arabs). The image of the Indian other-worldly sage is a pure imagination is distinctly colonialist, it holds no relevance today. Indian sages, for all purposes, were very worldly and developed quite sophisticated sciences and technology.

    A few of them were also mystics and indulged in meditation and self-reflection. Indian philosophy owes a large extent to the latter types.

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