Sri Sringeri Sharadha Peetham has a free ebook to download here. In that book, the following statement is made by the then Shakaracharya, H.H Abhinava Vidyatheertha Mahaswami. In the page 556 of the book (page 557 of the file), the section named "The Hypocrisy of pseudo-advaitins".

In summary to that section, this is found:

One should be true to one’s conscience. One may deceive others by high-sounding talk on Advaita but it will not be of any use if one does not mend one’s ways. It is said, “He who is attached to worldly comforts but still says that everything is Brahman is actually one who has fallen from Karma and also from Brahman. Such a person must be discarded like a lowly one.

Given that he made the statement, Who are the pseudo-advaitins the acharya is talking about? What are the characteristics that of a real advaitin according to Adi Shankaracharya?

  • He already defines who according to him is a pseudo-advaitin in the block quote.. I don't think he is referring to particular persons
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 14:17
  • @Rickross Really? Because if I have to go by the summary in block quote, it pretty much covers every modern day advaitin, which I don't think the acharya is harsh enough to mean that way. More knowledgeable persons might have an explanation on this.
    – Ambi
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 14:26
  • Possibly he meant those who don't do Sadhana and get that Advaita Anubhava but just say "Ishavasyamidam Sarvam" and "jagat Mithya Brahma Satyam".
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 14:30
  • Yes really .. he is giving a general definition of a false Advaitin and as Destroyer said he probably means one who has not realized Advaita himself but say that i'm an Advaitin just for the sake of saying.. ... and no it is not necessary that all present day Advaitins will be like that. So his saying is by no means harsh @Ambi
    – Rickross
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 14:43
  • Good question. He might be referring to Neo-Vedantins: hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/32042/…
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 16:19

5 Answers 5


Thanks to Rickross and Partha for their answers. You are not wrong. But this question is significant even in Advaita circles and deserves a level of detail which neither have covered.

Advaita, during the course of time, has been morphed in to a confused, hodge podge of philosophical diversions.

In the same book quoted in the question, on page 604, the acharya says:

They will do well to bear in mind the declaration of the Kaṭha-upaniṣad, “One who has not desisted from bad conduct, whose senses are not under control, whose mind is not concentrated and whose mind is not free from hankering for the result of concentration cannot attain the Ātman through knowledge.”

This statement basically buries all the new age movements who claim to show oneness through myriad of meditations or the ones which claim to give diksha through sexual experiences or the ones that say “oh you don’t have to follow any rules”, “you are God, you just don’t know it”. None of them are grounded in siddhanta but only in money and toxic fame.

In this page, Swami Sivananda is quoted:

“The superstructure of Vedanta can only be built when the foundation has been laid strongly by the practice of Yama-Niyama, when the heart has been purified thoroughly through untiring selfless service and Upasana or worship of Saguna Brahman.”

So, one who does not practice yama-niyamas and shirks worship of Saguna Brahman, as identified by Shankaracharya, is certainly a pseudo-advaitin.

I came across a rather curious site here. Though I am not entirely comfortable with the whole site, it does a pretty good job of explaining what is pseudo-advaita. I will summarize it.

  1. Engaging in sophistry, in trying to glean meanings from scriptures on their own or from questionable sources.
  2. Trying to always show oneself as rooted in non-dualism out of plain ego. This is highlighted by the constipated compulsion to always talk about paramarthika level for everything when entirely in this reality
  3. Mechanically acting out detachment, while hooked to firmly in this material world
  4. Applying dual-nondual definitions indiscriminately to everything except what it is truly meant to denote
  5. Preaching to others about duality and nonduality when it is very clear that they themselves haven’t renounced anything in this world.
  6. Condemning devotional service as maya or selectively showing devotion while claiming nonduality

There are a few things to be elaborated from the above. Generally, advaitins nowadays have strong personal preferences on ishta devata. Technically, it should be fine, seeing how they should see everything as (theoretically) just the same. But without actually realizing oneness, denigrating another’s preference of ishta devata, even when that choice is soundly grounded in vedantic conclusions, as sectarian and intolerant is a sure sign of a pseudo-advaitin.

Then comes the confused, unconscious hypocrisy of vociferously stating all devas are equal, and in the same breath claiming superiority for a particular devata. That all devatas are equal itself is not a position held by Adi-Shankara as seen in his Gita Bhasya (Ref 1, 2) and other works of his.

Another common symptom of pseudo-advaitin is when someone says “Seeing Shiva and Vishnu as different itself is dualism since they both are parabrahman”. It only betrays the immaturity of such a speaker because advaita and other siddhantas do not even deal with that type of comparison. The siddhantas are only concerned about nature of brahman. (Of course there is another huge debate raging on who Adi-Shankara considered as saguna brahman, though several of his own sampradayic disciples as well as acharyas from other traditions have clarified on that point ad infinitum, but on internet forums it is just an inconvenient truth.)

In this paper on “Misconceptions about Advaita”, David Frawley (A) Pandit Vamadeva Shastri makes a very important statement:

“However, if we read traditional Advaitic texts, we get quite a different impression. The question of the aptitude or adhikara of the student is an important topic dealt with at the beginning of the teaching. The requirements can be quite stringent and daunting, if not downright discouraging. One should first renounce the world, practice brahmacharya, and gain proficiency in other yogas like karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga, and so on (the sadhana-chatushtya). One can examine texts like the Vedanta Sara I.6-26 for a detailed description. While probably no one ever met all of these requirements before starting the practice of self-inquiry, they do at least encourage humility, not only on the part of the student, but also on the part of the teacher who may also not have met all these requirements!”

So, this basically reiterates what several scholars, that I have heard, hold as a deviation in practice, albeit one that is unavoidable in this age: if one wants to practice advaita truly, the process begins with, not ends with, renouncing this world. A pseudo-advaitin neither renounces the world nor embodies the humility needed to accept their inability to do so. There are some examples for people taking sanyaasa though they were not direct disciples of a Shankaracharya. Here is an example where a staunch follower took up sanyaasa, though not directly from another yati. There are other examples where people take up sanyaasa shortly before passing away, but evidence is mostly anecdotal.

A few final observations:

It has become a new fad these days to believe that with mere mastery of a few languages esp. Sanskrit, and a few sciences, they can hold themselves to the level of the great acharyas. One shameful example of this phenomenon was the declaration on twitter by one such ‘Arya Acharya' that Lord Rama was not biological son of King Dasaratha. Other instances are happening today with so called followers of advaita going overboard due to influence from other traditions and come up with completely unacceptable and shameful works like the one shown here.

pseudoadvaitin crazy

On top of this, when faced with facts from Adi-shankara’s own words and works, they resort of word play and grammar to twist the acharya’s words to their convenience. In instances, they even insult Shankaracharya’s teaching, and by extension the acharya himself, while claiming to follow his siddhanta. Unfortunately, a pseudo-advaitin won’t hesitate to brand others as abrahamic, sectarian, hatemonger and what not (that other can even be a fellow advaitin) simply because others disagree with their own concocted views.

  • 5
    Phenomenal answer!
    – Ikshvaku
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 18:17
  • 4
    This answer is wrong in some aspects. You are giving your own definitions for pseudo Advaitins in last portion of answer selectively choosing some quotes of Acharya. Btw, every teacher of a Siddhanta is not realized. Realization is definitely a good asset but after realization, no one will be interested to teach. same case with teachers of visistaAdvaita or Dvaita or any philosophy. You can't brand those who teach Advaita without self realization as pseudo-Advaitin unless they teach incorrectly.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 6:14
  • 1
    "Then comes the confused, unconscious hypocrisy of vociferously stating all devas are equal, and in the same breath claiming superiority for a particular devata. " Don't you think these are very strong words? "Seeing Shiva and Vishnu as different itself is dualism since they both are parabrahman”. It only betrays the immaturity of such a speaker because advaita and other siddhantas do not even deal with that type of comparison" Quote sources for these statements. This is blatantly false.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 6:17
  • 2
    @Mr.Sigma. Yes. But it is false to say Shanakara never spoke of Abheda of Shiva and Vishnu.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 7:14
  • 1
    @Ikshvaku He said Shiva, Vishnu are different forms of Saguna Brahman. In Vyavaharika, he didn't compare any deities or said a deity is Supreme.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 3:53

I will answer the second part of your question - "What are the characteristics that of a real advaitin according to Adi Shankaracharya?"

Sri Adi Shankara, at the beginning of his brahmasUtra bhAshya defines pre-requisites for enquiry into brahman.


It therefore is requisite that something should be stated subsequent to which the enquiry into Brahman is proposed.--Well, then, we maintain that the antecedent conditions are the discrimination of what is eternal and what is non-eternal; the renunciation of all desire to enjoy the fruit (of one's actions) both here and hereafter; the acquirement of tranquillity, self-restraint, and the other means, and the desire of final release. If these conditions exist, a man may, either before entering on an enquiry into active religious duty or after that, engage in the enquiry into Brahman and come to know it; but not otherwise.


He is probably loosely referring to those people who have not realized the nature of Adavita themselves but go about lecturing about the same to others. Such people are fallen from conduct according to him.

The Maitreyi Upanishad (2.22) also has a similar verse which calls those persons "Muda" (or fools) who try to describe the nature of Brahman to others without oneself realizing it.

Anubhutim vinA mudo vrithA brahmani modate |
PratimibimbAt shAkhAgra phalAswAdana modavat ||

Without actually attaining self-realization (anubhutim vinA), one who tries to describe that bliss is a fool (muda). His self-realization is like the enjoyment of that person, who tries to describe the taste of a fruit just upon seeing the reflection of it hanging from the branches of a tree (i.e without actually tasting it).

If there is no "Anubhuti" (realization) of Advaita (oneness) in one self, then such a person should not claim himself to be an Advaitin just for showing off. That is the import of his message in my opinion.


One should be true to one’s conscience. One may deceive others by high-sounding talk on Advaita but it will not be of any use if one does not mend one’s ways. It is said, “He who is attached to worldly comforts but still says that everything is Brahman is actually one who has fallen from Karma and also from Brahman. Such a person must be discarded like a lowly one.

Author didn't mean one shouldn't even try to follow Advaitic principles or methods, but he meant if one lacks Advaitic intuition but simply parroting I am Brahman or whatever is of no use. It is mechanical chanting like of any impotent mantra. If one has ever seen, subduing one's own conclusions about the reality, one will understand there is a creative contemplance in contrast of simple parroting, surrendering to which there happens be no-mind although for few minutes. There comes immediate peace and sense of non duality.

So, One is either of kind-

  • One who has no Advaitic contemplation - One has to go through other means first going through Karma, Bhakti etc.
  • One who has got Advaitic contemplation - One has to just indwell in the self and increase the time period.

The great scholarly mystic Adi Shankara ends his VivekAchudamani with the verses targeting two kind of audience listed above respectively.

May those Sanyasin who are seekers after liberation, **who has purged themselves of all taints of the mind by the observance of the prescribed methods, who are averse to worldly pleasures, who are pacified minds, and take a delight in Sruti, appreciate this salutary teachings. verse 579

For the people who are in the world but have Advaitic intuition, Sankara says

For those who are afflicted, in the way of the world, by the burning pain due to the sunshine of threefold misery; who through delusion wander about in a desert in search of water;- for them here is a triumphant message of Shankara point out, within easy reach, the comforting ocean of nectar -- the Brahman, the one without second -- to lead them onto liberation! verse 580

The term easy reach means they simply have to indwel in their real nature. Kashmiri Shaiva mystic Abhinavgupta targets similar kind of audiences with these verses in his AnuttarAshtika

saṁkrāmotra na bhāvanā na ca kathā – yuktir na carcā na ca
dhyānaṁ vā na ca dhāraṇā na ca japā – bhyāsa prayāso na ca
tatkiṁ nāma suniścitaṁ vada paraṁ satyaṁ ca tacchruyatāṁ
na tyāgī na parigrahī bhaja sukhaṁ sarvaṁ yathāvasthitaḥ

In this highest state of supreme Brahman consciousness [anuttara] there is no need of spiritual progress, no contemplation, no art of expression, no investigation, no meditation, no concentration, no recitation, exertion or practice. Tell me then, what is the supreme and well-ascertained truth? Listen indeed to this! Neither abandon nor accept anything, enjoy everything, remain as you are! verse-1

So, it is clear... pseudo-advaitins are those who lacks Advaitic intuition yet parrot they are Brahman it doesn't mean who doesn't conform to patterns of yam, niyam, devotion, tradition is pseudo-advaitin.

Strongly Related - Psychological transformation vs Ontological transformation.

  • 2
    Good Answer. Actually, there is duality while living on this earth, even after knowing all Upanishads and statements like "Aham Brahmasmi". Through Sadhana, one should reach state of Advaitam "Aham Brahmasmi" as Anubhava (experience).
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 6:38
  • @TheDestroyer Things don't always work in binary or extremes. There is a whole spectrum of Advaitic intensity or intuition. Like there is a whole spectrum of intelligence. Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 6:51

Worship of non-manifest form is described in the following words:

क्लेशोऽधिकतरस्तेषामव्यक्तासक्तचेतसाम्। अव्यक्ता हि गतिर्दुःखं देहवद्भिरवाप्यते।।12.5।।

12.5 Greater is their trouble whose minds are set on the unmanifested; for the goal; the unmanifested, is very hard for the embodied to reach.

संनियम्येन्द्रियग्रामं सर्वत्र समबुद्धयः। ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव सर्वभूतहिते रताः।।12.4।।

12.4 Subduing their senses, viewing all conditions of life with the same eye, and working for the welfare of all beings, assuredly they come to Me.

The path of meditating non-manifest is troublesome, but ultimate they reach the goal.

Worshiping manifest form though easier has its own problems, one may get attached to saguna form and miss the goal.

Let us consider below two verses,

यत्तदग्रे विषमिव परिणामेऽमृतोपमम्। तत्सुखं सात्त्विकं प्रोक्तमात्मबुद्धिप्रसादजम्।

18.37 That which is like poison in the beginning, but comparable to nectar in the end, and which, arises from the purity of one's intellect-that joy is spoken of as born of sattva.

विषयेन्द्रियसंयोगाद्यत्तदग्रेऽमृतोपमम्। परिणामे विषमिव तत्सुखं राजसं स्मृतम्।।18.38।।

18.38 That which as first is like nectar, because the senses revel in their objects, but in the end acts like poison - that pleasure arises from Passion.

From these, we can understand that meditation on unmanifest is higher level since path is troublesome and thus matches sattva characteristics. Poison in beginning & nectar in the end.

Thus psuedo advaitins are those who have one or more of the 5 saguna brahmans as their ishta devas.

True Advaitins are those who directly take the troublesome path boldly.

Hope it helps!!

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