Let’s attempt to describe advaya-jñana in positive terms. It might not bring forward the advaya-jñana itself but at least it would improve our theoretical understanding of what it is. I mean theoretically we already know the definition but it can always be expanded.
In Śrīla Prabhupāda’s explanation advaya-jñāna means absolute, non-dual nature of Kṛṣṇa. Words we use in the material world are relative and separate from entities they denote. Good has no meaning without contrast with bad, father has no meaning without son, and when we say “father” he does not appear in person. On the advaya-jñāna platform, however, there’s no difference between Kṛṣṇa’s name, form, qualities, pastimes etc. Advaya-jñana dictates that when we say “Kṛṣṇa” all the spiritual world is present but it’s not how we hear it in real life. This is the area we can expand upon – relationships between words and their meanings, forms and essence.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī explained it as follows. He talked about the difference between morphology and ontology. Morphology is a term used in linguistics and biology but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta talked about the meaning taken from the original Greek – it’s a study or science of form. Ontology, in contrast, is the study of the essence. Technically, “onto” means “being” and ontology is the study of “being”, of things that actually exist and categories of existence. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta took it to mean essence of existence.
Applying to Gauḍiya Maṭha, morphology is its forms – buildings, temples, preaching projects, exhibitions, which were very big in his days, rituals, even sannyāsa. All these forms were meant to attract people to ontological necessity of service to Kṛṣṇa, which is the essence of everyone’s life. These morphological aspects of Gauḍiya Maṭha are external, temporary, and can be adjusted to suit ontological needs. They need to appeal to the public whereas ontological essence of Gauḍiya Maṭha is directed to Kṛṣṇa.
Nowadays we see the duality between Gauḍiya Maṭha and ISKCON but ontologically it’s one and the same mission, only external manifestation is different, and it’s wrong to think that Gayḍiya Maṭha started with Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. It might be so as a registered institution but its spiritual essence and service is eternal and we all members just as we are members of our sampradāya. At the same time we should also acknowledge that both Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and our Śrīla Prabhupāda were founder-ācāryas of their respective institutions. For us in our fallen state it’s important to see the difference and behave according to our conditioning as members of ISKCON but back in the spiritual world our ācāryas are certainly not that possessive.
Anyway, where was I? Morphology is meant only to lead to ontology, on its own it has no intrinsic value. It becomes valuable only when it is engaged in service to ontology, just like a purse is useless without money in it, and therefore morphology has to be approached in the spirit of yukta-vairāgya.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was very alert to his disciples’ neophyte tendency to turn Gauḍiya Maṭha into a “tinsel” religious institution, glittery but ultimately worthless decoration of a spiritually dead body. As history showed, they couldn’t follow this order but, as I explained a week or so ago, no one should be blamed for this, no more than we could blame Yadus for killing each other in a drunken rage. It was all Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta applied this morphology and ontology to his personal behavior, too – they didn’t call him a “lion guru” for nothing, his tongue and pen were like an ax of Paraśurāma, in contrast to the inner sweetness and simplicity of his Vraja-bhakti. Being strong and uncompromising was a useful thing at the time but only as far as it straightened people up and put them on the path of unalloyed bhakti.
Morphology and ontology were also applied to everyone’s personal service. External ritual of vaidhī-bhakti were seen as morphology and quite separate from one’s internal spiritual development. Doing one perfectly does not mean that the other is perfect, too. One could follow all the rules and still have no bhakti in his heart and one can be a real devotee but appear sloppy in his outward service. This is basics.
At this point we might tend to conclude that morphology is inferior and ontology is the real advaya-jnāna but that would be wrong – because advaya means non-dual, on that level there’s no difference between external and internal because they are all seen as fully spiritual. We might not get it yet and see our sloppy performance of sādhana as substandard and a sign that we are in māyā but spiritually speaking it isn’t so. It’s only us who see it that way, not Kṛṣṇa and not our ācāryas.
Externally they might tell us to clean up our act, blame us for forgetting this or that, drilling us for our endless mistakes, but it is all a manifestation of Lord’s mercy. It appears uncomfortable only to those still rooted in duality. In our history there are many examples of devotees taking blame and punishment as mercy, even more so than being praised by the Lord. Even Advaita Ācarya did that and he was viṣṇu tattva himself.
So, after understanding the relationship between ontology and morphology we should know that the difference exists only in our minds and once we achieve advaya-jñana it would disappear. Consequently, hearing criticism of this or that would be met with “What are you talking about? It’s absolutely perfect. Don’t you see it?”
On the advaya-jñāna platform the tendency to criticize others as well as all traces of envy would disappear, it would seem incredulous to indulge ourselves in that. For now they just tell not to criticize and not to speak ill of anybody and we theoretically understand why but the tendency is still present and it manifests itself here and there. On the advaya-jñāna platform it wold be gone.
I’m not sure how we would deal with offences committed by others, I suppose that unless one is irrevocably fixed in his spiritual position one would still be affected and one would still need to avoid such association but in full advaya-jñana it won’t even register as one would not see material duality at all. After all, all our offences, all the “good” and “bad” things exists only in our minds. Spiritually speaking, there’s only more or less service to the Absolute but it’s all service anyway and therefore appreciated greatly.