Book excerpts Acarya Kesari Refutation of Pure Monism (Kevalādvaita-vāda)

Refutation of Pure Monism (Kevalādvaita-vāda)

Śrīla Gurudeva was clearly of the opinion that pure bhakti cannot possibly be propagated as long as the covered Buddhist doctrine of māyāvāda is present in the world. He therefore refuted māyāvāda with powerful scriptural evidence and incontrovertible arguments, which we shall now summarize.

(1) Kevalādvaita-vāda propounded by Śaṅkara Ācārya is not Vedic. According to this doctrine, that brahma who is devoid of attributes (nirviśeṣa), without qualities (nirguṇa) and devoid of potency (niḥśakti) is the Supreme Truth. Due to ignorance, illusion is created in that brahma, who then identifies as a living entity or the material world. Yet the question arises, “To whom does this illusion belong?” Some māyāvādīs say that this illusion belongs to the living entity (jīva) in the grip of ignorance. Others say that brahma comes under illusion and identifies as a living entity or the material world.

Śrīla Gurudeva would say that both of these opinions are mistaken and opposed to the meaning of the Vedas. To consider that brahma is afflicted by ignorance is thoroughly illogical and contrary to śāstra. According to the Upaniṣads, brahma is real, all-knowing and limitless (satyaṁ jñānam anantaṁ brahma, Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.1). Apart from brahma there is no other substance (ekam evādvitīyam, Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.2.1). Brahma is described as the embodiment of knowledge; the embodiment of truth, past, present and future; unlimited; one without a second; and the embodiment of bliss. How, then, can brahma be afflicted by ignorance? Furthermore, where did a second substance, a substance called ignorance, come from? An ignorance that can overcome brahma does not exist, being neither eternal nor real. How can ignorance touch brahma? It is impossible.

One may assert [according to their monistic philosophy] that it is the jīva [not brahma] that is in illusion, but that is also quite illogical. What is the origin of this independent jīva-tattva that is separate from brahma? If the answer is that brahma was afflicted by ignorance and became the jīva, then brahma, not the jīva, was the original shelter of this ignorance (avidyā).

(2) Some māyāvādīs say that brahma is not covered by the deluding external energy (māyā). Rather, Īśvara (the Supreme Lord) is the reflection of brahma in ignorance, and the living entity is the semblance of brahma in ignorance. They say that since the reflection (the Supreme Lord) and the semblance (the living entity) have no transcendental existence, both are false. The māyāvādīs explain this with the example of mistaking a rope for a snake or an oyster shell for silver. The rope’s apparent condition of being a snake is false, but people make such a mistake because a rope and a snake are somewhat similar in appearance. Similarly, the illusion of identifying as jīva or jagat can arise in brahma, but this is quite false.

Śrīla Gurudeva pointed out that this māyāvāda doctrine is opposed to scripture and logic. The māyāvādīs say that ignorance, avidyā, is not real: “It is neither existent nor non-existent and thus indescribable.” This is actually equivalent to saying that ignorance is false (because its existence is neither spiritual nor worldly). But it is totally impossible for ignorance to cover brahma. Furthermore, if brahma is undivided, formless, unlimited and without attributes, how, as they say, can it be reflected in ignorance? For brahma to be reflected, it would have to be divided, defined, possessed of attributes and limited, and avidyā would have to be a separate, individual and real substance.

There is another objection. In the example of mistaking a rope for a snake, there are three separate and real substances: the snake, the rope and the person making the observation. Now, what does this example tell us about brahma, the jīva and ignorance (māyā, the external deluding potency)? Does it imply that these three substances are also real and distinct from each other? If the māyāvādīs accept such a proposal, the glass palace of māyāvāda collapses in self-destruction.

Another point is that throughout the Vedas, the Upaniṣads and Vedānta-sūtra, it is stated that brahma is the creator of the universe, and that brahma is omniscient, omnipotent, and the unequalled and unsurpassed Supreme Truth. For example:

yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante
yena jātāni jīvanti
yat prayanty abhisaṁviśanti
tad vijijñāsasva tad brahma
Taittirīya Upaniṣad (3.1)

janmādy asya yataḥ
Vedānta-sūtra (1.1.2)

tad viṣṇoḥ paramaṁ padaṁ
sadā paśyanti sūrayoḥ
divīva cakṣurātatam
Ṛg Veda (

sa īkṣata
Aitareya Upaniṣad (1.1.1)

If the māyāvādīs’ opinion were to be accepted, then these statements from Śruti would be nothing more than false, incoherent ramblings.

(3) Some māyāvādīs put forward the following theory: Avidyā, ignorance, is composed of the three modes of material nature, namely, goodness (sattva), passion (raja) and ignorance (tama); and that ignorance is dependent on brahma. In other words, they say that ignorance has accepted the shelter of brahma. This ignorance is known as māyā, and its characteristics are vikṣepa-śakti, the potency that throws the living entity into illusion, and āvaraṇa-śakti, the potency that covers the living entity’s knowledge. The jīva, then, is the reflection of the conscious brahma in the covering potency, and Īśvara is the reflection of the conscious brahma in the potency that throws one into illusion. Thus the reflection of brahma, Īśvara, is non-different from the reflected living entity, in terms of material designations. Thus, Īśvara thinks in terms of ‘I am the creator of the material world’ and the jīva thinks, ‘I do not know who I am’.

Sound scriptural contemplation and reasoning, however, prove that this doctrine is not authentic. The concept that ignorance exists within the pure and self-manifest Supreme Transcendental Entity (brahma-vastu) is a complete contradiction, for the nature of the two is directly opposite. If this doctrine were to be taken as truth – that by nature, there is no fundamental difference between brahma and avidyā – then ignorance would perpetually support itself and would continually afflict brahma with material designations, because there is no one to destroy it. This is thoroughly absurd. In the following mantras of the Upaniṣads, brahma has been accepted as the unequalled and unsurpassed Supreme Truth (asamorddhva para-tattva), the witness of the jīvas, the regulator of the results of karma, and the inconceivable, omnipotent entity by whose mercy one can easily be released from māyā. How, then, can brahma be subject to the attack of māyā?

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṁ
vṛkṣaṁ pariṣasvajāte
tayor anyaḥ pippalaṁ
svādv attyanaśnann anyo abhicākaśīti
Śvetāsvatara Upaniṣad (4.6),
Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (3.1.1), Ṛg Veda (


Paramātmā and the jīvātmā reside like two friendly birds on the branch of a pīpala tree, which represents the gross and subtle body. The jīva tastes the pīpala fruits according to his fruitive activities whereas Paramātmā does not taste the fruit. He is situated as a witness.


This shows that the jīvātmā and Paramātmā are not one.

mayādhyakṣeṇa prakṛtiḥ
sūyate sa-carācaram
Bhagavad-gītā (9.10)

Śrī Kṛṣṇa says, “My prakṛti (māyā-śakti) is the creator of this world of moving and non-moving entities.” Thus the world is also real and true, but by nature it is mutable and destructible. This statement establishes that Kṛṣṇa is śaktimān, the possessor of potency.

na tasya kāryaṁ karaṇaṁ ca vidyate
na tat samaś cābhyadhikaś ca dṛśyate
parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate
svābhāvikī jñāna-bala-kriyā ca
Śvetāśvatāra Upaniṣad (6.8)

Para-brahma Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the unequalled and unsurpassed truth. None of His senses, such as hands and feet, are material by nature. Since He has no material senses, He performs all activities with transcendental senses. It has been heard that Parameśvara has various types of divine potency, among which three, jñāna-śakti, bala-śakti and kriya-śakti, are prominent. They are also known as cit-śakti, sandhinī-śakti and hlādinī-śakti, respectively.

yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhya-
stasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanūṁ svām
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (1.2.23), Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (3.2.3)

It is by His own mercy that the Lord only reveals His transcendental form to one whom He Himself accepts.

nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām



eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (2.2.13), Śvetāśvatāra Upaniṣad (6.13)

He is the Supreme Eternal amongst all eternal entities, the Supreme Conscious Being among all conscious beings. Even though He is one, He fulfils the desires of all.

Māyāvādīs say that brahma is knowledge (jñāna), not the knower, or possessor of knowledge. This being the case, one could not possibly imagine brahma to have any relationship with ignorance. Ignorance may be seen for some time in the knower or in one who possesses knowledge, but nescience (ajñāna) is never evident in a substance constituted exclusively of knowledge. This is completely impossible because knowledge (jñāna) and ignorance (ajñāna) have mutually contradictory characteristics.

(4) Some māyāvādīs say, “Ignorance exists from time without beginning and does not need the support of a second substance. It is due to this ignorance that the dualities of existence, such as the jīva, are imagined to exist in brahma.”

If this is the case, who is the one imagining in ignorance? If there is no second entity to imagine anything, then it must be the natural dharma of ignorance to conceive of dualities such as the jīva. Yet an object’s intrinsic nature, such as fire’s power to burn, is inherent and can never be given up. Since such a conclusion is against kevalādvaita-vāda, it therefore invalidates it.

(5) In Section 2, the māyāvādīs’ theory of reflection is discussed. This idea is contrary to śāstra and to logic. We only see the reflection of the sun in water because the reflection, the sun and the water each have their specific characteristics. But the māyāvādīs say that the invisible brahma, which is formless and without limbs or attributes, is reflected in a shapeless avidyā to produce a reflection that is neither real nor unreal, nor is it simultaneously real and unreal. This is simply impossible.

(6) There is yet another objection to the māyāvādī’s imaginative theory of reflection. The reflection of an observer’s face in a mirror is separate from the observer himself. Yet if the forms of the jīva and Īśvara are reflections, then which separate observer observes this reflection? Furthermore, if brahma and the jīva are taken to be reflections, then they must be inanimate like the visible materials of the universe. (All kinds of philosophers generally maintain that all the visible materials of the universe are inert.) Therefore, this idea is also completely illogical.

(7) A reflected object is inert, with no capacity either to imagine its identity or destroy it. Thus, according to the theory of reflection, the reflected jīva is also unable to conceive of itself as brahma or destroy the ignorance of its false designation by genuine knowledge. Now, according to the māyāvādīs, mokṣa, or liberation, is the destruction of the ignorance that has taken shelter of the pure brahma. But if the jīva cannot even destroy its own ignorance, how can he possibly destroy the ignorance of brahma? It is impossible.

(8) [Māyāvādīs say that the jīva is a reflection of brahma, but when we consider the essential differences between an object of vision and its reflection, we see that this theory is quite inconsistent.] The resting places of an object of vision and its reflection are separate, which is why our direct perception of them is different. The sun and the sun’s reflection each have their own separate, individual resting places. The sun resides in the sky, while its reflection resides in water. An object and its reflection can never be one under any circumstances, because they are fundamentally different from each other. For instance, the reflection is inverted and the limbs appear to be on the wrong side. Besides, a reflection is invariably unconscious, even if that which is reflected is conscious. Since the māyāvādīs say that brahma is like the original and the jīva is the reflection, the theory of reflection actually teaches us that the jīva and brahma can never be one.

(9) According to the aforementioned doctrine, the jīva is consciousness reflected in the covering potency (āvaraṇa-śakti) of illusion, while Īśvara is consciousness reflected in the throwing potency of illusion (vikṣepa-śakti). In other words, the jīva and Īśvara are situated in their separate individual designations. This opposes the statement of Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad that Īśvara is present in the hearts of all living beings.

(10) Suppose we accept that Īśvara is consciousness reflected in māyā, that māyā is not the śakti of brahma, and that Īśvara is without potencies. Then all the opulences of Īśvara mentioned in śāstra would be invalidated. Everywhere in śāstra, such as the Upaniṣads and Vedānta, Īśvara has been described as the repository of the six opulences:

aiśvaryasya samagrasya
vīryasya yaśasaḥ śriyaḥ
jñāna-vairāgyayoś caiva
ṣaṇṇāṁ bhaga itīṅganā
Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.5.74)

One who is complete in the six opulences of wealth, power, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation is known as Bhagavān.

This mantra must be invalid if the māyāvāda doctrine is accepted.

(11) Māyāvādīs say, “Brahma is exclusively composed of jñāna (knowledge), and its relationship with avidyā (ignorance) is simply false conjecture.” If it is so, then the aforementioned doctrine can never be established, because the imaginary water of a mirage cannot be used for anything. In the same way that the existence of an object can never be established simply by observing an imaginary reflection, then similarly the reality of brahma cannot be ascertained simply by observing its imaginary reflection within illusion. This is because the jīva and Īśvara are supposed to arise by reflection of brahma in ignorance. But māyāvādīs say that avidyā has no reality whatsoever. Therefore, the reflection in the form of jīva and Īśvara can never arise by the imaginary connection of ignorance with brahma.

(12) Śrī Śaṅkara Ācārya states, “brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ – brahma is true, the phenomenal world is false, and the jīva is brahma.” To support this opinion, he has accepted four contextual statements from the Vedas and has very cunningly tried to describe them as the chief statements, or mahā-vākyas, of the Vedas. Actually, throughout the Vedas, it is oṁkāra that is accepted as the mahā-vākya. These four statements are never described as such anywhere. Besides, their meaning completely opposes Śaṅkara Ācārya’s conclusions, so he has crushed his own doctrine to powder by introducing them.

The four contextual statements are as follows: ahaṁ brahmāsmi, prajñānaṁ brahma, sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma and tat tvam asi śvetaketo. The real purport of these four statements is that the relationship between the jīva and brahma is that of the servant and the served, and is of the nature of prema. In tat tvam asi śvetaketo it has been distinctly stated, “śvetaketo! tvaṁ tasya asi – Śvetaketu, you are His!” In sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma, the word idam shows that this world is brahma in the sense that it is manifested by the satya-saṅkalpa-śakti of brahma, that is, the potency by which He (brahma) manifests the world according to His desire. This is because in literatures such as the Brahma-sūtra, the potency (śakti) and the possessor of potency (śaktimān) have been considered non-different.

[Śrī Śaṅkara Ācārya quotes the statement, sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma, and at the same time tries to establish that the world is false.] If everything of this world is brahma, then how did the whole universe become false like a dream? In that case, the Vedas, Upaniṣads and other scriptures that Śaṅkara Ācārya quotes must all be false because they have manifested in this world. By the same logic, Śaṅkara Ācārya and his whole guru-paramparā must also be false. In any case, what was the necessity for Śaṅkara Ācārya to instruct the false people of a false world? Thus the whole conclusion of the māyāvādīs is an imaginative concoction opposed to scripture.

(13) Followers of Śaṅkara have described the world as false (mithyā). However, if they are asked, “Is your ‘universal falseness’ true or false?” they can neither reply ‘falseness is true’ nor ‘falseness is false’. If they say that falseness is true, then the truth of ‘the falsehood of the world’ presents itself as another truth that exists in the presence of the reality, or truth, of brahma. However, this invalidates advaita-vāda, because brahma is the only truth without a second. Besides, if there is another truth, then the Vedic mantra, “ekam evādvitīyaṁ brahma – brahma is one without a second”, is lost.

Conversely, if Śaṅkara’s followers accept the falsehood that the world is false, then they affirm the truth of the world. [And so they directly oppose the teaching brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā.] It is quite clear that the māyāvādīs’ conclusion that the material world (jagat) is false is neither Vedic nor logical.

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