Sanakaracharya inspite of being an enlightened being went about refuting other paths to enlightenment.

Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna set up organisations like Ramakrishna mission, etc. to spread the Vedantic Knowledge.

My question is, post enlightenment when I realise that I am the only thing that exists then why make an effort to try to change other people as there are no other people?

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    – Pandya
    Jun 22, 2020 at 12:12

2 Answers 2


The question is very excellent because it exposes the inauthentic understanding of Advaita that vast sections of Hindus suffer from.

Advaita does not say that everything is unreal. In fact, nowhere in Adi Shankara's works do we find the oft-quoted phrase "brahma satyaṃ jaganmithyā". What we can glean from Adi Shankara's Brahmasutrabhashya is that Advaita defines reality at three levels of perception or experience:

  1. prātibhāsika (apparent or illusive)
  2. vyāvahārika (empirical or phenomenal)
  3. pāramārthika (transcendental or ideal or noumenal)

None of these levels is absolutely real or unreal by itself. They are all more real or less real from the perspective of one another. These three levels do not intersect or negate each other. At each level, that level is the absolute reality. The relativity of levels is only recognizable from a different level than the one being observed.

Here’s an episode from the life of Adi Shankara, the greatest teacher of Advaita:

Once during his travels across India, teaching and debating, Adi Shankara had a discussion with a king. The king misunderstood Advaita and thought that Shankara was teaching that the world is unreal, and nothing has any value. To mock Shankara, the king ordered his attendants to release the wildest elephant in his stable just as Shankara was walking down the path of the royal garden. As soon as he saw the elephant charging, Shankara broke into a sprint and quickly climbed up the tallest coconut tree nearby.

Seeing this apparently hilarious spectacle, the king laughed and asked Shankara, why he ran from the imaginary elephant, as according to Advaita, everything is unreal? To this, Shankara gave a witty reply that what the king saw as Shankara running was also equally as imaginary as the charging elephant.

This witty episode really explains the true philosophy of Advaita.

Adi Shankara was not a fool to ignore the real-world threat of the charging elephant at the physical mundane level of existence. He protected himself with all his physical capabilities. At a higher level of consciousness, the physical level is less real, but these two levels do not interact. This was the misunderstanding of the king, who mixed the two levels of consciousness and mocked Advaita.

But today, Hindus are getting confused from the opposite side — in their immense faith, they apply their naive and dangerously wrong understanding of Advaita to the real, physical, mundane world.

Even after enlightenment, the world exists. If this fact is not part of the enlightenment, then that is not real enlightenment, but only an illusion of enlightenment :-) Do you get the irony?

Even after enlightenment, you feel hunger, thirst and all the physical conditions. Enlightenment means that you live and work in the world with the knowledge that this is not ultimate, this is not the be-all and end-all of existence. But this plane of existence does not interact with the plane of Saccidananda.

If Adi Shankara did not see the significance of debating and defeating real-world flesh-and-blood people, and re-establishing Hindu Vedic religion in a physical sense, he would not have taken the pains of travelling through the length and breadth of India and establishing real physical maṭhas and temples and rituals. He would have just sat in his home in Kerala, thinking, “Everything is the same, so there is no difference whether I go and preach Advaita or whether Hinduism dies.”

Please read this very detailed explanation of these levels of existence: https://www.quora.com/In-Advaita-Vedanta-reality-can-be-seen-from-two-opposite-perspectives-empirical-or-dualist-multiple-souls-and-objects-and-transcendental-or-non-dualist-no-independent-entities-What-is-the-link-or-continuity-between-these-two-views/answer/Ram-Abloh


  • Mithya is something opposite to satyam. Its not modern day people but all ancient scholars have unanimously agreed that mithya is indeed false or unreal. Ramanuja madhwa bhaskara yamuna vijnana bhikshu etc have in depth analysed and criticized sankaras vedanta by citing from various texrs and commentaries of sankara Jun 20, 2020 at 13:14
  • How come you establish Hinduism by debating people who were already strongly following vedic path Jun 20, 2020 at 13:35
  • Mithya and satyam are relative terms, not absolute terms, this was Shankara's point. Yes, from the p.o.v. of pāramārthika, the vyāvahārika is mithya. But the vyāvahārika cannot be mithya from p.o.v. of vyāvahārika itself. That is absurd from all points of view. So you cannot use the theory of pāramārthika in the practice of vyāvahārika. As seen from the above story of Shankara and the elephant.
    – RamAbloh
    Jun 20, 2020 at 16:18
  • By all accounts, by Shankara's time, the practice of the vedic path had deteriorated into very worldly and pedantic ritualism under the heavy influence of mimamsakas. His objective was to bring back some of the original spiritual vision of the vedic rishis, and re-establish the adhyAtma aspect of vedic path. This meant he had to debate people from the purva mimamsa side such as Mandana Mishra to bring them over to his side.
    – RamAbloh
    Jun 20, 2020 at 16:34
  • 1
    FYI, Quora answers are not valid references. See this meta post. Also see, What is meta? How does it work?. Jun 20, 2020 at 19:11

I am not familiar with where Sankaracharya has said that he refutes other paths to enlightenment, or by what you think the other paths are that he refutes. I assume you mean the path of renunciation and yoga as being Sankara's viewpoint. It is not. In Gita Chapter 5 Lord Krishna says (Bhagavad Gita with the Commentary of Sankaracarya, translation by Swami Gambhirananda):

  1. Both renunciation of actions and Karma-yoga lead to Liberation. Between the two, Karma-yoga, however, excels over renunciation of actions.

Thus He extols Karma-yoga.

  1. He who does not hate and does not crave should be known as a man of constant renunciation. For, O mighty one, he who is free from duality becomes easily freed from bondage.

It is reasonable in the case of renunciation and Karma-yoga, which are opposed to each other and can be undertaken by different persons, there should be opposition even between their results; but it cannot be that both of them surely lead to Liberation. When such a question arises, this is the answer stated:

  1. The fools, not the learned ones, speak of Sankhya (the path of Knowledge) and (Karma-) yoga as different. Any one who properly resorts to even one (of them) gets the results of both.

and in Chapter 6, Krishna says:

  1. Verily, when a man who has given up thought about everything does not get attached to sense-objects or actions, he is said to be established in Yoga.

  2. One should save oneself by oneself; one should not lower oneself. For oneself is verily one's own friend; oneself is verily one's own enemy.

The Karma Yoga that Swami Vivekananda raised as one of the ideals of his organization was to give the opportunity for those that followed a way to perform uninterested action, Karma Yoga, as a path to to Liberation. Not all individuals, physically and/or mentally, are made for the path of Jnana or Raja yoga. But as Krishna has said, the path of Karma yoga leads to Liberation also. Why would Vivekananda do this if he had realized? Sankaracharya says in his Upadesa Sahasri (translation by Swami Jagadananda):

I.1.3 The Sruti ( Mu. U. 1.2.12,13) also says, "A Brahmana after examining those worlds which are the results of Vedic actions should be indifferent to them seeing that nothing eternal can be achieved by means of those actions. Then when fuel in his hands he should approach only a teacher versed in the Vedas and established in Brahman, in order to know the eternal....For the Srutis say, "A man having a teacher can know Brahman," (Chh. U. 6.14.2) "Knowledge received from a teacher alone (becomes perfect)," (Chh. U. 4.9.3)...

why does a person, as you say, post enlightenment, teach others? Sankaracharya in his Vivekacudamani says (Swami Madhavananda translator):

  1. Who is versed in the Vedas, sinless, unsmitten by desire and a knower of Brahman par excellence, who has withdrawn himself into Brahman; who is calm like fire that has consumed its fuel, who is a boundless reservoir of mercy that knows no reason, and a friend of good people who prostrate themselves before him.

As Shankara says- who is a boundless reservoir of mercy that knows no reason. That is why souls post enlightenment teach others and give a path to those to follow.

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