The followers of this philosophy, which in modern times has appeared in many versions, claim that God is formless and all-pervading. For these people philosophical speculation is the most important activity. “People who say God has a form are stunted dwarves.” This thought always agitates their minds. “In our path of knowledge we know that God is formless and all-pervading.” These people cannot go beyond these kinds of thoughts.
The unintelligent people who follow this path have an idea of God that is foolish idolatry. They think that God is formless and all-pervading, like the material sky. Thus the object of their worship is material. Beyond the 20 material elements is the individual spirit soul, and beyond the individual soul is God, who has numberless qualities, whose form is spiritual, who is all-pervading, whose true nature is different from the formless God the impersonalists imagine, who is the supreme master, who is supremely merciful, who is the individual spirit souls true friend, who has all opulence, and who is the supreme controller, and whose handsome transcendental form the followers of this philosophy have no power to see or understand.
These philosophers worship of God is very faulty and incomplete. Their worship consists only of bowing down and reciting prayers. Only bowing down and reciting prayers, their worship is very material in nature. Again and again chewing various kinds of philosphical speculation, they are very afraid to worship the glorious spiritual Deity form of God and become His servant, a servant completely sold to Him. Agitated in this way, they preach to the world that one should not imagine a spiritual form of God. They say that to worship the Deity form of God is to worship only a statue made of material elements. These people have no power to understand the true form of God, a form beyond the touch of matter, a form that is eternal and full of knowledge and bliss. Each of these people thinks he himself is the best and the most important. They say it is a bad idea to take shelter of the feet of a spiritual master. Afraid, they will not search to find a genuine, a saintly spiritual master. They will not devotedly serve a spiritual master’s feet.
Afraid that they will meet an imposter spiritual master and by him be set on the wrong path, they shun even the genuine, the saintly spiritual masters. Some among them say that by one’s own effort one can find the spiritual truth in one’s own heart, and therefore there is no need to take shelter of a spiritual master’s feet. Others among them say that one should accept only the most prominent, most famous spiritual master (pradhana-acarya). The most famous spiritual master is God Himself. He is the true teacher, the true protector. He enters our hearts and destroys our sins. There is no need to accept a human being as a spiritual master. Others among them say that one should only worship the scriptures, which are given by God. Still others among them say that the scriptures are filled with errors. Afraid in this way, they will not honor any scripture.
Although within it belief in one God rests, in many places this philosophy is wrong. This philosophy implies that God is cruel and unjust. Also, thinking them unimportant, this philosophy also slights the devotees eager to serve God. God is one. He is a person. It is by His will that the individual souls have free will and thus may choose to sin. Then, abandoning their original nature, they have no power against the Lord’s Maya-sakti (potency of illusion), and then, become spiritually weak, they sin. Thus the sins of the individual spirit souls all come from weakness. If one rejects the idea that piety and sin have no beginning, then one must say that God is at fault for making the individual souls weak and thus prone to sin.
Although with their mouths these people say God is faultless, they actually hurl insults at Him, saying He has many faults. These people have no power to distinguish between the spirit soul and the gross and subtle material bodies. Their theoretical and practical knowledge are both polluted and stunted, and for this reason they have no power to understand the nature and secrets of the soul. Although they are very proud of their material knowledge, their knowledge of spirit is stunted, and their religious activities bring only meager results. Their highest goal is to reside in Svargaloka in their subtle material bodies. They mistake the subtle material body, or the mind, for the spirit soul. Thus they have no power to distinguish the soul from the mind.
The impersonalist philosophy, which is known as Advaita (Monism), has existed for a very long time. From a few isolated passages of the Vedas this philosophy has come. Although this impersonalist philosophy has been preached by various philosophers in many countries, it is from India that it originally came. Of this there is no doubt. Some learned men who came to India with Alexander the Great learned this impersonal philosophy, returned to their own country, and incorporated parts of this philosophy in their own books.
The impersonal philosophy teaches: “Brahman is the only thing that exists. Nothing else exists. The idea that spirit, matter, and God are different things is useful only for ordinary activities. In truth Brahman is the unchanging root from which they all have grown. Brahman is eternal, changeless, formless, and quality-less. It has no characteristics. It has no power. It has no activities. Brahman never changes into anything else. All these statements are found in different places in the Vedas.”
The impersonalist philosophers believe all these ideas. Still, casting a glance on the variety-filled material world, they thought, “How is it possible that the impersonal Brahman is the origin of this material world? We can see this world with our own eyes. How did it come into existence? If we cannot answer these questions our philosophy will not stand. Thinking and thinking, they considered these points: “Brahman never performs any activity. How can it have created the world? How can we accept that it has the power to perform activity? If we accept that something else exists besides Brahman, then our whole Advaita (non-dual) philosophy will be broken. Thinking and thinking in this way, they came to this conclusion: “If we say that Brahman has the power to transform itself into other things, that will not destroy our Advaita philosophy. Therefore, Brahman transformed itself into the things of this world. That we can believe.”
In this way a theory of transformation became accepted. But then another impersonalist philosopher said, “It is not right to say that Brahman has a defect. If Brahman becomes transformed, then it no longer remains Brahman. Therefore this theory of transformation should be thrown far away and in its pl ace the theory of illusion should be accepted. Brahman never becomes transformed into any other thing. Therefore the theory of transformation is impossible. However my theory, which maintains that all that exists is in reality Brahman and Brahman alone, and the idea that a variety of things exists is really only an illusion is a beautiful theory, beautiful in every limb. When one mistakes a rope for a snake, one becomes afraid. When one mistakes the glitter in a seashell for silver, one becomes filled with hopes. Therefore if my theory of illusion is accepted, then Brahman has no defect. The material world is an illusion. Only b e cause of ignorance does one believe it exists. In this way my theory is proved. The material world does not exist. Life does not exist. Only Brahman exists. The belief that the material world exists is only pretending on the part of Brahman. This pretending is called by the names avidya (ignorance), maya’ (illusion) and other like words found in dictionaries. The pretending here does not posit the existence of something different from Brahman. Therefore Brahman is the only reality.
Nothing else exists. The reality is spirit, and the the pretending, the illusion, is matter. That is now proved. When material consciousness is defeated by spiritual truth, then the material pretending is destroyed, the true reality is revealed, and liberation is attained.”
Excerpted from “Tattve-viveka”, Commentary on verses 28-31