by Jayaram V
Dvaita and Advaita are two divergent schools of Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism which interpret reality and the relationship between Brahman, the Supreme Universal Self, and the rest of His manifestation differently in terms of duality and non duality respectively. According to the former (Dvaita) Brahman and His creation are existentially and fundamentally different and according to the latter (Advaita) the difference is only in our perception and understanding since all is Brahman only and nothing else.
Putting it differently, the question these two schools try to resolve is whether the distinction between the subject and the object, or the knower and the known is permanent and real or a mere illusion arising from the limitations of the senses and of the mind. Standing in between these two in terms of a compromise is the third schools known as Visistadvaita, which acknowledges notional distinction, called bheda-abheda (different from not different).
The questions that everyone may grapple with at some point in their lives is "Am I different from who I think I am?" and "Is my experience real or my imagination and interpretation only?" Well, if you can answer these questions to your full satisfaction, perhaps you can resolve the difference between your Self and the Supreme Self. These distinctions and discussions make sense only if you acknowledge the existence and eternal and fixed entity in the flux of phenomena.
For the Buddhists the problem resolves itself because Buddhist does not acknowledge the existence of permanence in any form at all, except perhaps as emptiness or void (sunya). For the Jains the world is permanently and existentially different because it is devoid of God but filled with countless individual souls in varying degrees of purity and impurity. In the following paragraphs we will step into the shoes of Vedantins and examine the essential nature of reality and existence in terms of non duality and duality.
The Advaita school of non duality
At the most fundamental level, the universe is not just a physical or material entity, but pure consciousness of unfathomable power, having the ability to create, maintain, conceal, augment and destroy objective universe at will without effort or a specific intent. We identify this supreme consciousness of infinite capacities and unfathomable mysteries as Brahman. Being rooted in the sensory knowledge and limited by its own ignorance, human consciousness does not have the ability to comprehend or estimate the powers of Brahman beyond the domain of the senses, or realize the purpose of its own existence.
The human mind does not belong to the domain of the spirit but of Nature. Since it is in the field of human awareness, veiled by its power, an individual soul temporarily becomes disconnected from its own identity, its absolute state, which is Brahman, as if a drop of water from a vast ocean is lifted from its surface momentarily and disconnected from its source. For the separated soul, which comes under the influence of Prakriti and assumes a material body, the available means path to merge with Brahman or its own absolute consciousness is through the paths of devotion, moral living, following the eight-fold path of Ashtanga Yoga meditation, often expressed in various systems of spiritual practices known as yogas.
If one seeks Brahman via true knowledge, Atman seeks truth and accepts it no matter what it is. Atman accepts all truths of the self/ego, and thus is able to accept the fact that it is not separate from its surroundings. Then Atman is permanently absorbed into Brahman and become one and the same with it. This is how one forever escapes rebirth.
In Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is without attributes and strictly impersonal. It can be best described as infinite Being, infinite Consciousness and infinite Bliss. It is pure knowledge itself, similar to a source of infinite radiance. Since the Advaitins regard Brahman to be the Ultimate Truth, so in comparison to Brahman, every other thing, including the material world, its distinctness, the individuality of the living creatures and even Isvara (the Supreme Lord) itself are all untrue.
When man tries to know the attributeless Brahman with his mind, under the influence of an illusionary power of Brahman called Maya, Brahman becomes God (Isvara). God is Brahman under Maya. The material world also appears as such due to Maya. God is Saguna Brahman, or Brahman with attributes. He is omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, Creator of the world, its ruler and also destroyer. He is eternal and unchangeable. He is both immanent and transcendent, as well as full of love and justice. He may be even regarded to have a personality. He is the subject of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the fruits of one's Karma. He rules the world with his Maya. However, while God is the Lord of Maya and she (i.e., Maya) is always under his control, living beings (jiva, in the sense of humans) are the servants of Maya (in the form of ignorance). This ignorance is the cause of all material experiences in the mortal world. While God is Infinite Bliss, humans, under the influence of Maya consider themselves limited by the body and the material, observable world. This misperception of Brahman as the observed Universe results in human emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and fear. The Ultimate reality remains Brahman and nothing else. The Advaita equation is simple. It is due to Maya that the one single Atman (the individual soul) appears to the people as many Atmans, each in a single body. Once the curtain of Maya is lifted, the Atman is exactly equal to the Brahman. Thus, due to true knowledge, an individual loses the sense of ego (Aham-kara) and achieves liberation, or Moksha. Also see Advaita Vedanta.
The Dvaita school of duality
Dvaita (Vaishnava) concept Vedanta Sutra 3.2.23 states, 'tat avyaktam aha' - 'The form of Brahman is unmanifested, so the scriptures say'. The next sutra adds, 'api samradhane pratyaksa anumanabhyam': 'But even the form of Brahman becomes directly visible to one who worships devoutly - so teach the scriptures' (api - but, samradhane - intense worship, pratyaksa - as directly visible, anumanabhyam - as inferred from scripture).
Dvaita schools argue against the Advaita idea that upon attaining liberation one realizes that God is formless since this idea is contradicted by Vedanta Sutra 3.2.16 - aha ca tanmatram: 'The scriptures declare that the form of the Supreme consists of the very essence of His Self'. And furthermore Vedanta Sutra 3.3.36 asserts that within the realm of Brahman the devotees see other divine manifestations which appear even as physical objects in a city (antara bhuta gramavat svatmanah: antara - inside, bhuta - physical, gramavat - like a city, svatmanah - to His own, i.e. to His devotees).
They identify the personal form of God indicated here as the transcendental form of Vishnu or Krishna (see Vaishnavism). The brahma-pura (city within Brahman) is identified as the divine realm of Vishnu known as Vaikuntha. This conclusion is corroborated by the Bhagavata Purana, written by Vyasa as his own 'natural commentary' on Vedanta-sutra. The first verse of Bhagavata Purana begins with the phrase om namo bhagavate vasudevaya janmadyasya yatah, which means, 'I offer my respectful obeisances to Bhagavan Vasudeva, the source of everything'. Vyasa employs the words janmadyasya yatah, which comprise the second sutra of the Vedanta Sutra, in the first verse of the Bhagavata Purana to establish that Krishna is Brahman, the Absolute Truth. This is clear testimony of the author's own conclusion about the ultimate goal of all Vedic knowledge.
Suggestions for Further Reading
For other uses, see Vedanta (disambiguation).
Vedanta (IAST, Vedānta, Sanskrit: वेदान्त) or Uttara Mīmāṃsā is one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy. Vedanta literally means "end of the Vedas", reflecting ideas that emerged from the speculations and philosophies contained in the Upanishads. It does not stand for one comprehensive or unifying doctrine. Rather it is an umbrella term for many sub-traditions, ranging from dualism to non-dualism, all of which developed on the basis of a common textual connection called the Prasthanatrayi. The Prasthanatrayi is a collective term for the Principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
All Vedanta schools, in their deliberations, concern themselves with the following three categories but differ in their views regarding the concept and the relations between them: Brahman – the ultimate metaphysical reality, Ātman / Jivātman – the individual soul or self, and Prakriti – the empirical world, ever-changing physical universe, body and matter.
Some of the better known sub-traditions of Vedanta include Advaita (non-dualism), Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism), and Dvaita (dualism). Most other Vedantic sub-traditions are subsumed under the term Bhedabheda (difference and non-difference). Over time, Vedanta adopted ideas from other orthodox (āstika) schools like Yoga and Nyaya, and, through this syncretism, became the most prominent school of Hinduism. Many extant forms of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism have been significantly shaped and influenced by the doctrines of different schools of Vedanta. The Vedanta school has had a historic and central influence on Hinduism.
Etymology and nomenclature
The word Vedanta literally means the end of the Vedas and originally referred to the Upanishads. Vedanta was concerned with the jñānakāṇḍa or Vedic knowledge part called the Upanishads. The denotation of Vedanta subsequently widened to include the various philosophical traditions based on to the Prasthanatrayi.
The Upanishads may be regarded as the end of Vedas in different senses:
- These were the last literary products of the Vedic period.
- These mark the culmination of Vedic thought.
- These were taught and debated last, in the Brahmacharya (student) stage.
Vedanta is one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indian philosophy. It is also called Uttara Mīmāṃsā, the 'latter enquiry' or 'higher enquiry'; and is often contrasted with Pūrva Mīmāṃsā, the 'former enquiry' or 'primary enquiry'. Pūrva Mīmāṃsā deals with the karmakāṇḍa or rituals part (the Samhita and Brahmanas) in the Vedas.[note 1]
Prasthanatrayi, the Three Sources
The Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma Sutras constitute the basis of Vedanta. All schools of Vedanta propound their philosophy by interpreting these texts, collectively called the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources.
- The Upanishads,[note 2] or Śruti prasthāna; considered the Sruti (Vedic scriptures) foundation of Vedanta.
- The Brahma Sutras, or Nyaya prasthana / Yukti prasthana; considered the reason-based foundation of Vedanta.
- The Bhagavad Gita, or Smriti prasthāna; considered the Smriti (remembered tradition) foundation of Vedanta.
The Brahma Sutras attempted to synthesize the teachings of the Upanishads. The diversity in the teaching of the Upanishads necessitated the systematization of these teachings. This was likely done in many ways in ancient India, but the only surviving version of this synthesis is the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana.
All major Vedantic teachers, including Shankara, Bhaskara, Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Vallabha and Madhva, have composed commentaries not only on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita, due to its syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic thought, has played a major role in Vedantic thought.
The Upanishads do not present a rigorous philosophical inquiry in the form of identifying various doctrines and then presenting arguments for or against them. They form the basic texts and Vedanta interprets them through rigorous philosophical exegesis. Varying interpretations of the Upanishads and their synthesis, the Brahma Sutras, led to the development of different schools of Vedanta over time of which three, four, five or six[note 3] are prominent.[note 4]
- Advaita, many scholars of which most prominent are Gaudapada (~500 CE) and Shankara (8th century CE)
- Vishishtadvaita, prominent scholars are Nathamuni, Yāmuna and Ramanuja (1017–1137 CE)
- Dvaita, founded by Madhvacharya (1199–1278 CE)
- Suddhadvaita, founded by Vallabha (1479–1531 CE)
- Bhedabheda, as early as the 7th century CE, or even the 4th century CE. Some scholars are inclined to consider it as a "tradition" rather than a school of Vedanta.
The history of Vedanta is divided into two periods: one prior to the composition of the Brahma Sutras and the other encompassing the schools that developed after the Brahma Sutras were written.
Before the Brahma Sutras
Little is known of schools of Vedanta existing before the composition of the Brahma Sutras (400–450 BCE).[note 5] It is clear that Badarayana, the writer of Brahma Sutras, was not the first person to systematize the teachings of the Upanishads, as he quotes six Vedantic teachers before him – Ashmarathya, Badari, Audulomi, Kashakrtsna, Karsnajini and Atreya. References to other early Vedanta teachers – Brahmadatta, Sundara, Pandaya, Tanka and Dravidacharya – are found in secondary literature of later periods. The works of these ancient teachers have not survived, but based on the quotes attributed to them in later literature, Sharma postulates that Ashmarathya and Audulomi were Bhedabheda scholars, Kashakrtsna and Brahmadatta were Advaita scholars, while Tanka and Dravidacharya were either Advaita or Vishistadvaita scholars.
Main article: Brahma Sutras
Badarayana summarized and interpreted teachings of the Upanishads in the Brahma Sutras, also called the Vedanta Sutra.[note 6] Badarayana summarized the teachings of the classical Upanishads[note 7] and refuted the rival philosophical schools in ancient India. The Brahma Sutras laid the basis for the development of Vedanta philosophy.
Though attributed to Badarayana, the Brahma Sutras were likely composed by multiple authors over the course of hundreds of years. The estimates on when the Brahma Sutras were complete vary, with Nicholson in his 2013 review stating, that they were most likely compiled in the present form around 400–450 BCE. Isaeva suggests they were complete and in current form by 200 CE, while Nakamura states that "the great part of the Sutra must have been in existence much earlier than that."
The book is composed of four chapters, each divided into four quarters or sections. These sutras attempt to synthesize the diverse teachings of the Upanishads. However, the cryptic nature of aphorisms of the Brahma Sutras have required exegetical commentaries. These commentaries have resulted in the formation of numerous Vedanta schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own commentary.
Between the Brahma Sutras and Adi Shankara
See also: Vedas, Upanishads, and Darsanas
Little with specificity is known of the period between the Brahma Sutras (5th century BCE) and Adi Shankara (8th century CE). Only two writings of this period have survived: the Vākyapadīya, written by Bhartṛhari (second half 5th century), and the Kārikā written by Gaudapada (early 6th or 7th century CE).
Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his school in his commentaries. A number of important early Vedanta thinkers have been listed in the Siddhitraya by Yamunācārya (c. 1050), the Vedārthasamgraha by Rāmānuja (c. 1050–1157), and the Yatīndramatadīpikā by Śrīnivāsa Dāsa. At least fourteen thinkers are known to have existed between the composition of the Brahma Sutras and Shankara's lifetime.[note 8]
A noted scholar of this period was Bhartriprapancha. Bhartriprapancha maintained that the Brahman is one and there is unity, but that this unity has varieties. Scholars see Bhartriprapancha as an early philosopher in the line who teach the tenet of Bhedabheda.
Gaudapada, Adi Shankara and Advaita Vedanta
Main articles: Advaita Vedanta and Gaudapada
Gaudapada (c. 6th century CE), was the teacher or a more distant predecessor of Govindapada, the teacher of Adi Shankara. Shankara is widely considered as the founder of Advaita Vedanta. Gaudapada's treatise, the Kārikā—also known as the Māṇḍukya Kārikā or the Āgama Śāstra—is the earliest surviving complete text on Advaita Vedanta.[note 9]
Gaudapada's Kārikā relied on the Mandukya, Brihadaranyaka and ChhandogyaUpanishads. In the Kārikā, Advaita (non-dualism) is established on rational grounds (upapatti) independent of scriptural revelation; its arguments are devoid of all religious, mystical or scholastic elements. Scholars are divided on a possible influence of Buddhism on Gaudapada's philosophy.[note 10] The fact that Shankara, in addition to the Brahma Sutras, the principal Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita, wrote an independent commentary on the Kārikā proves its importance in Vedāntic literature.
Adi Shankara (788–820), elaborated on Gaudapada's work and more ancient scholarship to write detailed commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi and the Kārikā. The Mandukya Upanishad and the Kārikā have been described by Shankara as containing "the epitome of the substance of the import of Vedanta". It was Shankara who integrated Gaudapada work with the ancient Brahma Sutras, "and give it a locus classicus" alongside the realistic strain of the Brahma Sutras.[note 11] His interpretation, including works ascribed to him, has become the normative interpretation of Advaita Vedanta.[note 12]
A noted contemporary of Shankara was Mandan Mishra, who regarded Mimamsa and Vedanta as forming a single system and advocated their combination known as Karma-jnana-samuchchaya-vada.[note 13] The treatise on the differences between the Vedanta school and the Mimamsa school was a contribution of Adi Shankara. Advaita Vedanta rejects rituals in favor of renunciation, for example.
Ramanuja and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta
Rāmānuja (1017–1137 CE) was the most influential philosopher in the Vishishtadvaita tradition. As the philosophical architect of Vishishtadvaita, he taught qualified non-dualism. Ramanuja's teacher, Yadava Prakasha, followed the Advaita monastic tradition. Tradition has it that Ramanuja disagreed with Yadava and Advaita Vedanta, and instead followed Nathamuni and Yāmuna. Ramanuja reconciled the Prasthanatrayi with the theism and philosophy of the Vaishnava Alvars poet-saints. Ramanujan wrote a number of influential texts, such as a bhasya on the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, all in Sanskrit.
Ramanuja presented the epistemological and soteriological importance of bhakti, or the devotion to a personal God (Vishnu in Ramanuja's case) as a means to spiritual liberation. His theories assert that there exists a plurality and distinction between Atman (souls) and Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality), while he also affirmed that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman. Vishishtadvaiata provides the philosophical basis of Sri Vaishnavism.
Ramanuja was influential in integrating Bhakti, the devotional worship, into Vedanta premises.
Madhva and Dvaita
Dvaita was propounded by Madhvacharya (1238–1317 CE).[note 14] He presented the opposite interpretation of Shankara in his Dvaita, or dualistic system. In contrast to Shankara's non-dualism and Ramanuja's qualified non-dualism, he championed unqualified dualism. Madhva wrote commentaries on the chief Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutra.
Madhva started his Vedic studies at age seven, joined an Advaita Vedanta monastery in Dwarka (Gujarat), studied under guru Achyutrapreksha, frequently disagreed with him, left the Advaita monastery, and founded Dvaita. Madhva and his followers Jayatirtha and Vyasatirtha, were critical of all competing Hindu philosophies, Jainism and Buddhism, but particularly intense in their criticism of Advaita Vedanta and Adi Shankara.
Dvaita Vedanta is theistic and it identifies Brahman with Narayana, or more specifically Vishnu, in a manner similar to Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita Vedanta. But it is more explicitly pluralistic. Madhva's emphasis for difference between soul and Brahman was so pronounced that he taught there were differences (1) between material things; (2) between material things and souls; (3) between material things and God; (4) between souls; and (5) between souls and God. He also advocated for a difference in degrees in the possession of knowledge. He also advocated for differences in the enjoyment of bliss even in the case of liberated souls, a doctrine found in no other system of Indian philosophy.
Overview of the schools of Vedanta
Schools propounding Non-dualism
Main article: Advaita Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta (IASTAdvaita Vedānta; Sanskrit: अद्वैत वेदान्त) espouses non-dualism and monism. Brahman is held to be the sole unchanging metaphysical reality and identical to Atman. The physical world, on the other hand, is always-changing empirical Maya.[note 15] The absolute and infinite Atman-Brahman is realized by a process of negating everything relative, finite, empirical and changing. The school accepts no duality, no limited individual souls (Atman / Jivatman), and no separate unlimited cosmic soul. All souls and existence across space and time is considered as the same oneness (i.e. monism). Spiritual liberation in Advaita is the full comprehension and realization of oneness, that one's unchanging Atman (soul) is the same as the Atman in everyone else, as well as being identical to the nirgunaBrahman.
Main article: Vishishtadvaita
Vishishtadvaita asserts that Jivatman (human souls) and Brahman (as Vishnu) are different, a difference that is never transcended. With this qualification, Ramanuja also affirmed monism by saying that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman.Vishishtadvaita, like Advaita, is a non-dualistic school of Vedanta in a qualified way, and both begin by assuming that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation. On the relation between the Brahman and the world of matter (Prakriti), Vishishtadvaita states both are two different absolutes, both metaphysically true and real, neither is false or illusive, and that sagunaBrahman with attributes is also real. Ramanuja states that God, like man, has both soul and body, and the world of matter is the glory of God's body. The path to Brahman (Vishnu), according to Ramanuja, is devotion to godliness and constant remembrance of the beauty and love of the personal god (bhakti of sagunaBrahman).
Main article: Shuddhadvaita
Shuddhadvaita (pure non-dualism) states that the entire universe is real and is subtly Brahman only in the form of Krishna. Vallabhacharya, the propounder of this philosophy, agreed with Advaita Vedanta's ontology, but emphasized that prakriti (empirical world, body) is not separate from the Brahman, but just another manifestation of the latter. Everything, everyone, everywhere—soul and body, living and non-living, jiva and matter—is the eternal Krishna. The way to Krishna, in this school, is bhakti. Vallabha opposed renunciation of monistic sannyasa as ineffective and advocates the path of devotion (bhakti) rather than knowledge (jnana). The goal of bhakti is to turn away from ego, self-centered-ness and deception, and to turn towards the eternal Krishna in everything continually offering freedom from samsara.
School propounding Dualism - Dvaita
Main article: Dvaita
This school is based on the premise of dualism. Atman (soul) and Brahman (as Vishnu) are understood as two completely different entities.Brahman is the creator of the universe, perfect in knowledge, perfect in knowing, perfect in its power, and distinct from souls, distinct from matter.[note 16] In Dvaita Vedanta, an individual soul must feel attraction, love, attachment and complete devotional surrender to Vishnu for salvation, and it is only His grace that leads to redemption and salvation. Madhva believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned, a view not found in Advaita and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta. While the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta asserted "qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls", Madhva asserted both "qualitative and quantitative pluralism of souls".
Schools propounding Bhedabheda
Main article: Bhedabheda
Bhedābheda means "difference and non–difference" and is more a tradition than a school of Vedanta. The schools of this tradition emphasize that the individual self (Jīvatman) is both different and not different from Brahman. Notable figures in this school are Bhartriprapancha, Bhāskara (8th–9th century), Ramanuja's teacher Yādavaprakāśa, Nimbārka (13th century) who founded the Dvaitadvaita school, Caitanya (1486–1534) who founded the Achintya Bheda Abheda school and Vijñānabhikṣu (16th century).[note 17]
Bhaskara, in postulating Upadhika, considers both identity and difference to be equally real. As the causal principle, Brahman is considered non-dual and formless pure being and intelligence. The same Brahman, manifest as events, becomes the world of plurality. Jīva is Brahman limited by the mind. Matter and its limitations are considered real, not a manifestation of ignorance. Bhaskara advocated bhakti as dhyana (meditation) directed toward the transcendental Brahman. He refuted the idea of Maya and denied the possibility of liberation in bodily existence.
Main article: Dvaitadvaita
Nimbārka propounded Dvaitādvaita, based upon Bhedābheda as was taught by Bhāskara. Brahman (God), souls (chit) and matter or the universe (achit) are considered as three equally real and co-eternal realities. Brahman is the controller (niyantr), the soul is the enjoyer (bhoktr), and the material universe is the object enjoyed (bhogya). The Brahman is Krishna, the ultimate cause who is omniscient, omnipotent, all-pervading Being. He is the efficient cause of the universe because, as Lord of Karma and internal ruler of souls, He brings about creation so that the souls can reap the consequences of their karma. God is considered to be the material cause of the universe because creation was a manifestation of His powers of soul (chit) and matter (achit); creation is a transformation (parinama) of God's powers. He can be realized only through a constant effort to merge oneself with His nature through meditation and devotion.
Main article: Achintya Bhedabheda
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was the prime exponent of Achintya-Bheda-Abheda. In Sanskritachintya means 'inconceivable'.Achintya-Bheda-Abheda represents the philosophy of "inconceivable difference in non-difference", in relation to the non-dual reality of Brahman-Atman which it calls (Krishna), svayam bhagavan. The notion of "inconceivability" (acintyatva) is used to reconcile apparently contradictory notions in Upanishadic teachings. This school asserts that Krishna is Bhagavan of the bhakti yogins, the Brahman of the jnana yogins, and has a divine potency that is inconceivable. He is all-pervading and thus in all parts of the universe (non-difference), yet he is inconceivably more (difference). This school is at the foundation of the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition.
The important approaches followed by the most noted proponents of different schools of Vedanta are summarized below:
- To theorize that the soul (Ātman / Jivātman) and the physical universe (Prakriti) are both identical with and different from Brahman. This view is held by Bhartriprapancha.
- To place non-dualistic ideas in the most important place, relegating dualistic ideas to an interim position. This approach is followed by Shankara.
- To theorize that non-dualism is qualified by difference. This is Ramanuja's approach.
- To emphasize dualism, discrediting and offering an alternative explanation of non-dualistic ideas. This is from Madhva.
Sivananda gives the following explanation:
Madhva said, "Man is the servant of God," and established his Dvaita philosophy. Ramanuja said, "Man is a ray or spark of God," and established his Visishtadvaita philosophy. Sankara said, "Man is identical with Brahman or the Eternal Soul," and established his Kevala Advaita philosophy.
Despite their differences, all schools of Vedanta share some common features:
- Brahman exists as the unchanging material cause and instrumental cause of the world.
- The Upanishads are a reliable source of knowledge (Sruti Śabda in Pramana); Vedanta is the pursuit of knowledge into the Brahman and the Ātman.
- Belief in rebirth and the desirability of release from the cycle of rebirths, (mokşa).
- The self (Ātman / Jivātman) is the agent of its own acts (karma) and the recipient of the consequences of these actions.
- Rejection of Buddhism and Jainism and conclusions of the other Vedic schools (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, and, to some extent, the Purva Mimamsa.
Vedanta philosophies discuss three fundamental metaphysical categories and the relations between the three.
- Brahman or Ishvara: the ultimate reality
- Ātman or Jivātman: the individual soul, self
- Prakriti/Jagat: the empirical world, ever–changing physical universe, body and matter
Brahman / Ishvara - Conceptions of the Supreme Reality
Shankara, in formulating Advaita, talks of two conceptions of Brahman: the higher Brahman as undifferentiated Being, and a lower Brahman endowed with qualities as the creator of the universe.
- Parā or Higher Brahman: the undifferentiated, absolute, infinite, transcendental, supra-relational Brahman beyond all thought and speech is defined as parāBrahman, nirviśeṣa Brahman or nirguṇa Brahman and is the Absolute of metaphysics.
- Aparā or Lower Brahman: the Brahman with qualities defined as aparāBrahman or saguṇaBrahman. The saguṇaBrahman is endowed with attributes and represents the personal God of religion.
Ramanuja, in formulating Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, rejects nirguṇa—that the undifferentiated Absolute is inconceivable—and adopts a theistic interpretation of the Upanishads, accepts Brahman as Ishvara, the personal God who is the seat of all auspicious attributes, as the One reality. The God of Vishishtadvaita is accessible to the devotee, yet remains the Absolute, with differentiated attributes.
Madhva, in expounding Dvaita philosophy, maintains that Vishnu is the supreme God, thus identifying the Brahman, or absolute reality, of the Upanishads with a personal god, as Ramanuja had done before him. Nimbarka, in his dvaitadvata philosophy, accepted the Brahman both as nirguṇa and as saguṇa. Vallabha, in his shuddhadvaita philosophy, not only accepts the triple ontological essence of the Brahman, but also His manifestation as personal God (Ishvara), as matter and as individual souls.
Relation between Brahman and Jiva / Atman
The schools of Vedanta differ in their conception of the relation they see between Ātman / Jivātman and Brahman / Ishvara:
- According to Advaita Vedanta, Ātman is identical with Brahman and there is no difference.
- According to Vishishtadvaita, Jīvātman is different from Ishvara, though eternally connected with Him as His mode. The oneness of the Supreme Reality is understood in the sense of an organic unity (vishistaikya). Brahman / Ishvara alone, as organically related to all Jīvātman and the material universe is the one Ultimate Reality.
- According to Dvaita, the Jīvātman is totally and always different from Brahman / Ishvara.
- According to Shuddhadvaita (pure monism), the Jīvātman and Brahman are identical; both, along with the changing empirically-observed universe being Krishna.
Main article: Pramana
Pramāṇa (Sanskrit: प्रमाण) literally means "proof", "that which is the means of valid knowledge". It refers to epistemology in Indian philosophies, and encompasses the study of reliable and valid means by which human beings gain accurate, true knowledge. The focus of Pramana is the manner in which correct knowledge can be acquired, how one knows or does not know, and to what extent knowledge pertinent about someone or something can be acquired. Ancient and medieval Indian texts identify six[note 18]pramanas as correct means of accurate knowledge and truths:
- Pratyakṣa (perception)
- Anumāṇa (inference)
- Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy)
- Arthāpatti (postulation, derivation from circumstances)
- Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof)
- Śabda (scriptural testimony/ verbal testimony of past or present reliable experts).
The different schools of Vedanta have historically disagreed as to which of the six are epistemologically valid. For example, while Advaita Vedanta accepts all six pramanas, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita accept only three pramanas (perception, inference and testimony).
Advaita considers Pratyakṣa (perception) as the most reliable source of knowledge, and Śabda, the scriptural evidence, is considered secondary except for matters related to Brahman, where it is the only evidence.[note 19] In Vishistadvaita and Dvaita, Śabda, the scriptural testimony, is considered the most authentic means of knowledge instead.
Theories of cause and effect
All schools of Vedanta subscribe to the theory of Satkāryavāda, which means that the effect is pre-existent in the cause. But there are two different views on the status of the "effect", that is, the world. Most schools of Vedanta, as well as Samkhya, support Parinamavada, the idea that the world is a real transformation (parinama) of Brahman. According to Nicholson (2010, p. 27), "the Brahma Sutras espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which appears to have been the view most common among early Vedantins". In contrast to Badarayana, Adi Shankara and Advaita Vedantists hold a different view, Vivartavada, which says that the effect, the world, is merely an unreal (vivarta) transformation of its cause, Brahman.[note 20]
Vedanta, adopting ideas from other orthodox (āstika) schools, became the most prominent school of Hinduism. Vedanta traditions led to the development of many traditions in Hinduism.Sri Vaishnavism of south and southeastern India is based on Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita Vedanta. Ramananda led to the Vaishnav Bhakti Movement in north, east, central and west India. This movement draws its philosophical and theistic basis from Vishishtadvaita. A large number of devotional Vaishnavism traditions of east India, north India (particularly the Braj region), west and central India are based on various sub-schools of Bhedabheda Vedanta.Advaita Vedanta influenced Krishna Vaishnavism in the northeastern state of Assam. The Madhva school of Vaishnavism found in coastal Karnataka is based on Dvaita Vedanta.
Āgamas, the classical literature of Shaivism, though independent in origin, show Vedanta association and premises. Of the 92 Āgamas, ten are (dvaita) texts, eighteen (bhedabheda), and sixty-four (advaita