In many text relating to advaita you will find two Vada(वाद) i.e doctrine/thesis:
- Vivartavada (विवर्तवाद)
- Ajatavada (अजातवाद)
Also you will find some mention Advaita Vedanta as Vivartavada. So, in this article let’s know more about what is Vivartavada and Ajatavada are in the spiritual philosophy of Advaita. Also lets understand how they are connected with AtitaVada
- Sanskrit word विवर्त means  transformation, more precisely  apparent form in Vedanta philosophy. Vivartavada means the doctrine of apparent transformation.
- According to Adi Shankaracharya Jagat (word) is actually apparent transformation of Brahman under the effect of illusion. That means the transformation is only apparent (illusory/virtual) i.e unreal.
- Just like snake appeared in rope in dark is due to ajnana or avidya i.e ignorance/illusion, world appears in Brahman due to ignorance/illusion but as the real thing – rope doesn’t change/transform into the snake, Brahman doesn’t change. The similar example is of gold and ornaments
- Note that Vivarta is different from Vikara (विकार). Vikar stands for real transformation but Vivart stands for apparent transformation as explained.
- It is the doctrine of Adi Shankaracharya for karya-karan (cause and effect) relation/law.
Thus, Vivartavada is a doctrine of Vedanta which explains Jagat (world) as apparent transformation of Brahman (which doesn’t change) because of ajnana or avidya which has two Shakti
(Refer Adi Shankaracharya’s prakaran-grantha like Vivekachudamani, Aparokshanubhuti etc. for clear understanding of his doctrine)
Quoting some verses from Vivekachudamani that say Jagat is nothing but Brahman:-
- All this universe which through ignorance appears as of diverse forms, is nothing else but Brahman which is absolutely free from all the limitations of human thought.
- A jar, though a modification of clay, is not different from it; everywhere the jar is essentially the same as the clay. Why then call it a jar ? It is fictitious, a fancied name merely.
- None can demonstrate that the essence of a jar is something other than the clay (of which it is made). Hence the jar is merely imagined (as separate) through delusion, and the component clay alone is the abiding reality in respect of it.
- Similarly, the whole universe, being the effect of the real Brahman, is in reality nothing but Brahman. Its essence is That, and it does not exist apart from It. He who says it does is still under delusion – he babbles like one asleep.
- This universe is verily Brahman – such is the august pronouncement of the Atharva Veda. Therefore this universe is nothing but Brahman, for that which is superimposed (on something) has no separate existence from its substratum.
- If the universe, as it is, be real, there would be no cessation of the dualistic element, the scriptures would be falsified, and the Lord Himself would be guilty of an untruth. None of these three is considered either desirable or wholesome by the noble-minded.
- The Lord, who knows the secret of all things has supported this view in the words: “But I am not in them” … “nor are the beings in Me”.
- If the universe be true, let it then be perceived in the state of deep sleep also. As it is not at all perceived, it must be unreal and false, like dreams.
- Therefore the universe does not exist apart from the Supreme Self; and the perception of its separateness is false like the qualities (of blueness etc., in the sky). Has a superimposed attribute any meaning apart from its substratum ? It is the substratum which appears like that through delusion.
- Sanskrit word जात means originate or create/born and अजात means no-origination or no-creation/unborn. Ajatavada means the doctrine of no-origination or non-creation.
- According to Gaudapada there is no creation and dissolution. The supreme truth is not subject to creation, transformation and delusion.
- This is also called paramarth satya.
Quoting some verse from Gaudapada Karika on Mandukya Upanishad:
2-32 There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.
3-2 Therefore I shall now describe Brahman, which is unborn, the same throughout and free from narrowness. From this one can understand that Brahman does not in reality pass into birth even in the slightest degree, though It appears to be manifest everywhere.
3-15 The scriptural statements regarding the creation, using the examples of earth, iron and sparks, are for the purpose of clarifying the mind. Multiplicity does not really exist in any manner.
3-26 On account of the incomprehensible nature of Atman, the scriptural passage “Not this, not this” negates all dualistic ideas attributed to Atman. Therefore the birthless Atman alone exists.
3-36 Brahman is birthless, sleepless, dreamless, nameless and formless. It is ever effulgent and omniscient. No duty, in any sense, can ever be associated with It.
3-48 No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.
4-13 There is no illustration to support the view that the effect is born from an unborn cause. Again, if it is said that the effect is produced from a cause which itself is born, then this leads to an infinite regress.
4-14 How can they who assert that the effect is the cause of the cause and the cause is the cause of the effect, maintain the beginninglessness of both cause and effect?
4-15 Those who say that the effect is the cause of the cause and that the cause is the cause of the effect maintain, actually, that the creation takes place after the manner of the birth of father from son.
4-22 Nothing whatsoever is born, either of itself or of another entity. Nothing is ever produced, whether it be being or non—being or both being and non—being.
4-28 Therefore neither the mind nor the objects perceived by the mind are ever born. To see their birth is like seeing the footprints of birds in the sky.
4-30-31 If, as the dualists contend, the world is beginningless, then it cannot be non—eternal. Moksha (Liberation) cannot have a beginning and be eternal. If a thing is non—existent in the beginning and in the end, it is necessarily non—existent in the present.
4-58 Birth is ascribed to the jivas; but such birth is not possible from the standpoint of Reality. Their birth is like that of an illusory object. That illusion, again, does not exist.
4-71 No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.
Thus, Ajatavada rejects the blame of Avidya, Maya, Jagat, Jiva, Samsara etc. on Aatman.
Vivart vad contrasts with Atitvad. Both are forms of Vedanta, although Atit vad has been much less well known.
Vivart vad, Ajat Vad, and Adwaita are basically, generally the same. This view asserts that the only ultimate reality is formless and that form (including change of those forms such as birth) does not actually exist, it only appears to exist, and this appearance is false, not true, not really or ultimately present or actual (by ‘form’ is meant the objects of all five senses, not just sight).
Atit vad, in contrast, asks, ‘How much sense does it make to say that since the wave is all water, the wave does not exist’? In other words, that the fact that the content of of all forms is abstract and formless Being or Godhead, does not invalidate the structure of the form. Content does not invalidate structure, according to Atit. The fact that all form is made of Brahm, does not invalidate the forms of Brahm (including the ultimate Form of Brahm, the supreme Personality of Godhead) –Godhead having both supremely personal, and supremely impersonal aspects (Ishwara and Brahman).
Atit goes further than this, and says that not only does the Brahman-only content of form not invalidate the form (all forms, the jagat or world), it legitimatizes form and the world: Both boundaries and boundary-making, instead of being due to illusion or maya as vivart vad holds, are due to the activity of Brahm (Godhead, Spirit).
An important related difference between vivart and atit is that vivart sees ultimate reality (Brahman) as basically or generally silent or inactive (although ‘silent’ applies only to hearing, it is used in spiritual circles to mean ‘inactive’ but in a living or positive sort of sense). Advaita (vivart vad) sees activity as mysteriously arising out of silence. In other words, advaita cannot explain the presence of either activity, or form. It just refers to form and activity as the ‘nature’ of Brahman, but somehow not true or real.
Atit Vad in contrast sees ultimate reality as a blend of both silence and dynamism. Activity (Prakriti, especially Paraprakriti) are not in second place to silence. Neither Purusha nor Prakriti are seen as dominant or subordinate or more holistic than the other. In fact, for atit vad, silence and dynamism are not things, but aspects, views, darshans of one reality (Brahm).
The practical result of both these views are dramatically and importantly different:
Vivart vad, in denying the reality of form, activity, and world creates an otherworldly, unrealistic, lethargic, passive personality over time. It is also associated with male chauvanism in using the Sankhya terms Purusha and Prakriti for Brahman and maya, and since Purusha has a male ending, and Prakriti a female ending, this leads to the unspoken assumption and orientation that male is more important, fundamental, and more holistic value (since Purusha is taken as more important, more all-inclusive, than Prakriti – the so-called ‘Hindu Adam’s rib.
Atit vad Vedanta is not world-rejecting or denying. It embraces and values BOTH form and formless. In this way, it is fundamentally different not only from advaita vedanta, but also from various theistic/dualistic traditions which assert the validity of form and and the world, and God, but lessen the importance and ontological status of all-pervading Unity/Brahman, and sometimes even the existence of a single all-pervading reality.
There is also an important difference between Vivart Vedanta and Atit Vedanta. regarding God (Ishwara, Bhagwan). Advaita/vivart implicitly denies God as ultimate. “Duality we imagine for the sake of devotion” is attributed to Shankara, or a supposed early or younger Shankara. Obviously, duality, a kind of duality, is required for God’s existence, or God could not be an object of experience. For God to be meaningful, there must be the dualism of the individual and God.
Vivart denies this duality, and thereby God is placed, at least implicitly, in the same category as jiva and jagat – illusory, imaginary. Because all duality for advaita/vivart is illusory, imaginary. Followers of advaita are left with an inexplicable contradiction between an ultimate impersonal inactive Brahman that places devotion and their Object of devotion as non-ultimate.
This is not the case for Atit Vedanta, which affirms both unity and duality, the One and the Many, formless and form, Brahman and Ishwara.
Atit Vad is not pantheism. It does not say that Brahman is nothing other than the relative and its activity, or that there is nothing transcendental to jagrat (waking state) perception and experience. According to Atit, it is not that silence is transcendental to relative activity. Instead, there are levels of refinement of Brahm – saguna and nirguna Brahm. But nirguna does not mean silent unity only. It means that the activity of nirguna Brahm is more refined, unmanifest, latent, not expressed.
Vivart vad can be seen as stating something similar in saying the maya or form is the ‘nature’ latent in Brahm. But the difference is that adwaita says this nature is illusory, unreal, whereas Atit vad says that the word ‘nature’ means identity and essence, and that causation of the world is due to the manifestation of the real latent potentiality of Brahm, which is a blend of real silence and real activity (two aspects, not two ‘things’).
Regarding Shankara and what he said and did not say, Vedantic scholarship c. 2020 is showing evidence that many works attributed to Shankara may not have been written by him. Richard Jones, for example, states that the Brahma Sutra Bhashya is the only work that has scholarly consensus as having been written by Adishankara, although other texts may have been authored by him. Sue Hamilton in her Oxford Very Short Introduction to Indian Philosophy makes similar statements, and even states that Shankara did not use the term ‘maya.’ Statements by these or other modern scholars (such as Paul Hacker?) assert that Shankara’s views of vivart vad may have been misportrayed, and are not consistently in line with the typical advaitic views of the world being entirely illusory. Richard King is an example of another contemporary scholar who is differentiating between traditional legends and attributions of Shankara, and the widely forgotten influence of his disciples and rivals of the time and later (Cf. King’s Indian Philosophy)
an example of Shankara sometimes leaning toward atit rather than vivart:
The view attributed to Shankara of the world as Saguna Brahman (qualified Brahman or Brahman with qualities) implies that the forms of the world are in fact Brahman and therefore ultimate, not false. So there is a contrasting or contradiction inherent in Vivart vad (or at least Shankara’s version of it) of accepting and denying the Brahman (ultimate) nature of the world.
Sri Aurobindo calls the view that the world and form are not ultimately real “the Great Denial,” and states it is due to the experience of a very advanced – but not final – stage or level of higher states of consciousness. The experience of silent Unity of the Self-as-all is at first so overwhelmingly powerful, and overshadow the experience of Ishwara’s divinity, that it can seem to be final. But eventually integration proceeds and one begins to see the blend of both silence and activity, impersonal and personal, in the full nature of Brahm, Spirit, Godhead.
Bottom Line: Adherents and devotees of spirituality have seemed to have an either-or choice of two views: either Unity or duality – either spiritual life or material life, either the One or the Many:
- ultimate Unity with no duality is real (One, not Many)
- ultimate duality with no Unity is real (God/duality, not One)
A variation on this is to diminish Unity or duality compared to the other, also creating profound imbalance deep within the personality (prajnaaparaadh).
Atit Vad removes the need for this dissatisfying and metaphysically and subconsciously frustrating choice by accepting the ultimacy of both Unity and Duality, formless and form, Brahman and Ishwara, impersonal and personal, intellect and heart, making rejection of either metaphysical reality or physical reality unnecessary. This lays the foundation for a philosophy that embraces life, while avoiding excessive attachment, and eventually freeing one from spiritual bondage without lifestyle or attitudinal renunciation.