Grounding Individuality in Illusion: A Philosophical Exploration of Advaita Vedānta in light of Contemporary Panpsychism


  • Mikael Leidenhag School of Divinity. University of St Andrews. St Andrews. KY16 9JU.



Advaita Vedānta, Adi Śaṅkara, Panpsychism, Brahman-Ātman, combination problem.


The metaphysical vision of Advaita Vedānta has been making its way into some corners of Western analytic philosophy, and has especially garnered attention among those philosophers who are seeking to develop metaphysical systems in opposition to both reductionist materialism and dualism. Given Vedānta’s monistic view of consciousness, it might seem natural to put Vedānta in dialogue with the growing position of panpsychism which, although not fully monistic, similarly takes mind to be a fundamental feature of reality. This paper will evaluate to what extent Śaṅkara’s monism can bypass the most pressing issues facing panpsychism, namely combination and individuation problems. As will be seen in this paper, while Advaita Vedānta is able to avoid some of the panpsychist problems, it struggles ultimately to ontologically ground illusion (māyā/avidyā) in a coherent manner. As a result, a conclusion of this paper is that although Śaṅkara’s vision offers a promising route for those philosophers who take consciousness to be fundamental – including panpsychists – it cannot be uncritically adopted due to the problem of grounding Illusion.


Anderson, Joshua. 2012. “An Investigation of Moksha in the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara and Gaudapada.” Asian Philosophy 22 (3): 275–287. doi:10.1080/09552367.2012.709722

Bartley, Christopher. 2015. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Hindu and Buddhist Ideas from Original Sources. Bloomsbury.

Bayne, Timothy J. and David Chalmers. 2003. “What is the unity of consciousness?” In The Unity of Consciousness: Binding, Integration, and Dissociation, edited by Axel Cleeremans, 23–58. Oxford Univ. Press.

Betty, L. Stafford. 1994. “Śaṅkara’s Fatal Mistake.” Asian Philosophy 4 (1): 3–7. doi:10.1080/09552369408575384

Burch, George Bosworth. 1962. “Principles and Problems of Monistic Vedānta.” Philosophy East and West 11 (4): 231–237. doi:10.2307/1397025

Chalmers, David. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Oxford Univ. Press.

Chalmers, David. 2010. The Character of Consciousness. Oxford Univ. Press.

Chalmers, David. 2017a. “Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism.” In Panpsychism: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla. Oxford Univ. Press.

Chalmers, David. 2017b. “The Combination Problems for Panpsychism.” In Panpsychism: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla, 179–214. Oxford Univ. Press.

Coleman, Sam. 2014. “The Real Combination Problem: Panpsychism, Micro-Subjects, and Emergence.” Erkenntnis 79 (1): 19–44. doi:10.1007/s10670–013–9431-x

Deutsch, Eliot. 1969. Advaita Vedānta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Deutsch, Eliot and Rohit Dalvi. 2004. The Essential Vedānta: A New Source Book of Advaita Vedānta. World Wisdom, Inc.

Doherty, Martha. 2005. “A Contemporary Debate Among Advaita Vedantins on the Nature of Avidyā.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 33 (2): 209–241.

Gasparri, Luca. 2019. “Priority Cosmopsychism and the Advaita Vedānta.” Philosophy East and West 69 (1): 130–142. doi:10.1353/pew.2019.0002.

Goff, Philip. 2006. “Experiences Don’t Sum.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 13 (10–11): 53–61.

Goff, Philip. 2009. “Why panpsychism doesn’t help us to explain consciousness.” Dialectica 63 (3): 289–311. doi:10.1111/j.1746–8361.2009.01196.x

Goff, Philip. 2017. Consciousness and Fundamental Reality. Oxford Univ. Press.

Griffin, David Ray. 1998. Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Gupta, Bina. 2012. And Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Perspectives on Reality, Knowledge, and Freedom. Routledge.

Fost, Frederic F. 1998. “Playful Illusion: The Making of Worlds in Advaita Vedānta.” Philosophy East and West 48 (3): 387–405. doi:10.2307/1400333

Hasker, William. 1999. The Emergent Self. Cornell Univ. Press.

Kastrup, Bernardo. 2018. “The Universe in Consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 25 (5–6): 125–155.

Kim, Jaegwon. 1993. Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Kim, Jaegwon. 2005. Physicalism, Or Something Near Enough. Princeton Univ. Press.

Leidenhag, Joanna. 2019. “Unity Between God and Mind? A Study on the Relationship between Panpsychism and Pantheism.” Sophia: Journal of Philosophy and Traditions 58 (4): 543–561. doi:10.1007/s11841–018–0688-z

Levine, Michael P. 1995. “Appearance and Reality: Misinterpreting Śaṅkara.” Asian Philosophy 5 (2): 151–158. doi:10.1080/09552369508575417

Loy, David. 1982. “Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedānta: Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?” International Philosophical Quarterly 22 (1): 65–74.

Mahadevan, Telliyavaram Mahadevan Ponnambalam.1938/2006. The Philosophy of Advaita. Bharatiya Kala Prakashan.

Murti, Tirupattur Ramaseshayyer Venkatachala. 1974. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. George Allen and Unwin.

Nagasawa, Yujin and Khai Wager. 2017. “Panpsychism and Priority Cosmopsychism.” In Panpsychism: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla, 113–129. Oxford Univ. Press.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Oxford Univ. Press.

Oldmeadow, Harry. 1992. “Śaṅkara’s Doctrine of Māyā.” Asian Philosophy 2 (2): 131–146. doi:10.1080/09552369208575360.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. 1927. Indian Philosophy (vol.2). George Allen & Unwin.

Ram-Prasad, Chakravarthi. 2001. “Saving the Self? Classical Hindu Consciousness and Contemporary Physicalism.” Philosophy East and West 51 (3): 378–392.

Ram-Prasad, Chakravarthi. 2010. “Situating the Elusive Self of Advaita Vedānta.” In Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions, edited by Mark Siderits, Evan Thompson, and Dan Zahavi, 217–238. Oxford Univ. Press.

Rosenberg, Gregg. 2004. A Place for Consciousness: Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World. Oxford Univ. Press.

Seager, William E. 1995. “Consciousness, Information and Panpsychism.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 272–288.

Seager, William E. 1999. Theories of Consciousness: An Introduction and Assessment. Routledge.

Shani, Itay. 2015. “Cosmopsychism: A Holistic Approach to the Metaphysics of Experience.” Philosophical Papers 44 (3): 389–437.

Shearn, Samuel. 2013. “Moral Critique and defence of theodicy.” Religious Studies 49 (4): 439–458. doi:10.1017/S0034412513000164

Sharma, Arvind. 1995. The Philosophy of Religion and Advaita Vedānta. The Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

Silberstein, Michael. 2017. “Panentheism, Neutral Monism, and Advaita Vedanta.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 52 (4): 1123–1145. doi:10.1111/zygo.12367

Skrbina, David. 2005. Panpsychism in the West. MIT Press.

Søvik, Atle Ottesen and Asle Eikrem. 2015. “A Critique of Samuel Shearn’s moral critique of theodicies.” Religious Studies 51 (2): 261–270.

Strawson, Galen. 2006. “Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 13 (10–11): 3–31.

Thompson, Evan. 2015. “Dreamless Sleep, the Embodied Mind, and Consciousness: The Relevance of Classical Indian Debate to Cognitive Science.” Open MIND 37: 1–19. doi: 10.15502/9783958570351.

Timalsina, Sthaneshwar. 2013. “Self, Causation, and Agency in the Advaita of Śaṅkara.” In Free Will, Agency, and Selfhood in Indian Philosophy, edited by Matthew R. Dasti and Edwin F. Bryant, 186–208. Oxford Univ. Press.

Vaidya, Anand Jayprakash and Purushottama Bilimoria. 2015. “Advaita Vedānta and the Mind Extension Hypothesis.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 22 (7–8): 201–225.

Vaidya, Anand Jayprakash. 2020. “A New Debate on Consciousness: Bringing Classical and Modern Vedānta into Dialogue with Contemporary Analytic Panpsychism.“ In The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Vedānta, edited by Ayon Maharaj, 393–422. Bloomsbury.

Ward, Keith. 1998. Religion and Human Nature. Oxford Univ. Press.



How to Cite

Leidenhag, Mikael. 2021. “Grounding Individuality in Illusion: A Philosophical Exploration of Advaita Vedānta in Light of Contemporary Panpsychism”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 13 (3).



Research Articles