Shankara's Advaita or MonismAccording to Shankara, there is only one Reality, and this Reality is Brahman. Brahman and Brahman alone is the Absolute Reality. Nothing does or can exist without Brahman.
To our sorrow, the world has misunderstood Shankara. He is being misrepresented. If one studies Shankara with one's inner light, one immediately comes to realise that Shankara never did say that the world is a cosmic illusion. What he wanted to say and what he did say is this: the world is not and cannot be the Ultimate Reality.
Shankara saw the light of day in the eighth century A.D. In those days, spirituality was on the wane in India. The Indian spirituality or, should I say, the Hindu spirituality, was undergoing a serious operation while a good many pseudo-religious sects were growing like mushrooms. The Supreme commanded Shankara's appearance on Indian soil to cast these unhealthy sects aside and reestablish one religion, the religion of the Vedas, the sanatana dharma, the Eternal Religion. Shankara advocated monism. This monism is the oneness absolute of the universe, man and God.
The Buddha stole God's Heart and Compassion; Shankara, God's Mind and Intellect; Chaitanya, God's Body and Love; Ramakrishna, God's Soul and Vision; Vivekananda, God's Vital and Will.
India's champion philosopher, Shankara, founded modern philosophy in India. Europe's champion philosopher, Spinoza, founded modern philosophy in Europe. America's champion philosopher, Emerson, founded modern philosophy in America.
Shankara's Kevala Advaita is above all dualism. In his monism, there is no room for relative things, relative values, the pair of opposites, for all these come and go, appear and disappear. What is eternal is the Transcendental Brahman. Ekam eva advitiyam, "That is one without a second."
Shankara's philosophy has dealt considerably with maya. Maya is now taken to mean "illusion," but its literal meaning is "measurement of extension." It refers to a way of conception. When we want to conceive and express the Truth with our incapacities or our very limited capacity, maya offers its help and comes to our rescue. But Brahman, being Infinite, escapes both our conception and our expression. Maya is the power that causes the world to be really real, and at the same time distinct from God. Maya is a power, a mysterious power, a power always inconceivable.
To quote Swami Bodhananda:
Shankara and Vedanta will always go together down the sweep of centuries. They are like twin souls.