The most important and valued idea of Advaita Vedānta is that everything is divine. Advaita Vedanta (AV) achieves this by admitting a relative reality, below the single, absolute Brahman. This is a realistic approach. Though AV is absolute idealism, transcendentally, realism has its space in Advaita Vedanta, from Vyavahārika standpoint. Advaita Vedanta admits the reality of the empirical world from the relative standpoint or Vyavaharika. Sankara never denied the reality of the external world and its practical validity. He admits its full reality from the empirical standpoint and its relative reality from the ultimate standpoint, Paramārthika. Sankara says that the relative world is the way to reach the ultimate truth, Brahman. Without travelling through the relative, nobody will reach the ultimate. The relative empirical world is the lower truth and the absolute Brahman is the ultimate truth.
The relative empirical world is said to be essence-less because each and everything in the empirical world depend upon each other. ‘That’, which depends on something ‘other’, for its existence, cannot said to have an essence, in philosophic sense. So the essence-less empirical world is not ultimately real; it depends on the Brahman for its existence. Brahman only is ultimately Real and the relative, empirical world is indescribable from the viewpoint of this ultimate reality. External world, from the viewpoint of Brahman, is māya or relative. External world is said to be existing (because it is visible) and non-existing (because it has no essence) at the same time. So it is called māya or indescribable. It is also stated as ‘un-real’ elsewhere. Here ‘un-real’ should take in the ultimate sense. In the ultimate sense only Brahman is real. Every other things are ‘un-real’. ‘Un-real’ does not mean ‘non-existence’. It means indescribable or relative or māya.
Empirical world is, thus, relatively real. Everyone, in their life, first come in acquaint with this relative, empirical plane of truth only; not the ultimate plane of truth. It is relative plane that leads him to the ultimate plane of reality.
Ultimate truth is usually assigned as ‘Nirguna Brahman’, which is devoid of qualities, in Advaita Vedānta. But in relative plane Advaita Vedanta assigns personal qualities to this ultimate truth, to bring down it to a lower plane, because ultimate truth is beyond the comprehension of common man having ignorance. But ultimate truth having personal qualities is within the reach of common man. Nirguna Brahman in relative plane, i.e. with personal attributes, is known as ‘Saguna Brahman’. Saguna Brahman is the Brahman with Māya. Man is a Jiva existing in empirical world. Man does not know that he actually belongs to the ultimate plane, but in relative place, due to Avidya. When Avidya become extinct by acquiring proper Jnāna (knowledge), man came to knew that he was in relative plane of reality so far and he actually is one with the ultimate reality; not even an inch below, or different from, the absolute.
Thus everything in this world is divine in nature. What we need is to realize this in life. When we realize it, then duality will extinct in us and we will understand that ‘we’ are the same as ‘other’.
The two planes of single reality:-
Because of the difficulty for common man to understand the real nature of ultimate reality, due to avidya, AV assumes two planes or levels for the same reality. The first plane is the ultimate reality itself, which is realizable to those, devoid of avidya. In this plane the ultimate reality will not have qualities. If anything do not have qualities, then that would be beyond human conception. So this ultimate reality is indescribable. (Common man can conceive it by a low level definition like ‘sat-chit-ānanda’, real-existing-bliss). This is known as Nirguna Brahman or Paramartha Satya. Upanishads use ‘neti, neti’ to indicate Its indescribability. This ultimate reality is all everywhere and it is ‘one without a second’. The Advaita Vedānta calls this ultimate reality as ‘Nirguna Brahman’ and Madhyamaka Buddhists as ‘Prajna’ and Vasubandhu of Vjnānavāda as ‘Vijnāptimātra’.
Anyway, realizing this ultimate reality in life is not easy. Only a man having Brahma-vidya and thus devoid of avidya, can realize it. After gaining that knowledge he ‘becomes’ it. He becomes jivanmukta in this very life. Yet he has to live till his Prārābda karmas get extinct. He will not take birth again after ‘death’. He escapes from the clutch of Samsara.
Thus aspirant achieves the plane of ultimate reality. He is in no way below the ultimate, then. His position is in par with the Brahman. He is one with Brahman. In ordinary life he may not be aware of his original ultimate nature, due to avidya. He may not aware that he is already a liberated being and only need to ‘know’ his divinity. For this ‘knowing’, knowledge about ultimate reality (Brahma-vidya) is necessary. After acquiring knowledge he himself becomes Brahman. This is the highest optimistic belief man may have ever invented; be one with the absolute reality. Here man is in no way under the absolute, even by a small fraction. How such a belief system can be blamed as ‘pessimism’, then?