Yesterday, through a query sent to me by a learner of Hinduism, I came across, for the second time over the last few months, a fictitious tenet of Hinduism that has been circulating in Western literature for quite some time: “All Hindus believe that the world is illusory.”
When we study Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, we cannot pick up a single phrase from his statements to conclude that everything is unreal. On reading his theory, it becomes clear that the universe is unreal only in comparison to Brahman, the Absolute Reality. Because most non-dualists consider the soul’s separateness from Brahman as a false experience, oneness with Brahman is the truth that they seek .
Having said this, we should recognize that this Advaita philosophy is only a single model among the many truth-seeking models that have strongly influenced how Hindus connect to God. Ramanuja (philosophy: vishistadvaita), Madhva (dvaita), and Nimbarka, the well-known Vaishnava philosophers, clearly support that the world is real. Vallabhacharya, a Vaishnava non-dualist, too believes in a real world, which is nothing but Brahman. For Ramanuja, the relationship of complete dependence of the individual soul on the Lord is the truth to be uncovered, not the oneness of the self with Brahman. And because the Lord remains distinct from the self in the absence of non-duality, the Divine always remains unknowable in most devotional schools.
When the Hindu majority is Vaishnava, we cannot even conclude that Hindus support a “relatively real” world. And an “illusory” world is definitely out of question.
This post was last edited on March 28, 2019