Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta   is a school of Hindu philosophy based on Adi Sankara's interpretation of the doctrine of liberation contained within the Mukhya Upanishads. Followers seek liberation/release by recognizing identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman) through long preparation and training, usually under the guidance of a guru, that involves efforts such as knowledge of scriptures, renunciation of worldly activities, and inducement of direct identity experiences. Originating in India before 788 AD, Advaita Vedanta is widely considered the most influential and most dominant  sub-school of the Vedānta (literally, end or the goal of the VedasSanskrit) school of Hindu philosophy.  Other major sub-schools of Vedānta are Viśishṭādvaita and Dvaita; while the minor ones include SuddhadvaitaDvaitadvaita and Achintya Bhedabheda.
Advaita (literally, non-duality) is a system of thought where "Advaita" refers to the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman). Recognition of this identity leads to liberation. Attaining this liberation takes a long preparation and training under the guidance of a guru.
The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta are the Prasthanatrayi—the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and theBrahma Sutras. The first person to explicitly consolidate the principles of Advaita Vedanta was Shankara Bhagavadpada,  while the first historical proponent was Gaudapada, the guru of Shankara's guru Govinda Bhagavatpada
Advaita Vedanta existed prior to Shankara, but found its conclusive and greatest expounder in Shankara. 
In the Indian religious and philosophical traditions, all knowledge is traced back to the Gods and to the Rishi who "saw" the Vedas.
The Advaita guru-paramparā (Lineage of Gurus in Non-dualism) begins with the mythological time of the Daiva-paramparā, followed by the vedic seers of the Ṛṣi-paramparā, and the Mānava-paramparā of historical times and personalities: 
  • Nārāyaṇa
  • Padmabhuva (Brahmā)
  • Vaśiṣṭha
  • Śakti
  • Parāśara
  • Vyāsa[c]
  • Śuka
  • Gauḍapāda
  • Govinda bhagavatpāda
  • Śankara bhagavatpāda, and then Sankara's four disciples
    • Padmapāda
    • Hastāmalaka
    • Toṭaka
    • Vārtikakāra (Sureśvara) and others

Gaudapada (6th century)  was the teacher of Govinda bhagavatpāda and the grandteacher of Shankara. Gaudapda took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra) and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".  Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara. 
Adi Shankara (788 - 820), also known as Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, expounded the doctrine of Advaita — a nondualisticreality. He consolidated the Advaita Vedanta, an interpretation of the Vedic scriptures that continued the line of thought of some of the Upanishadic teachers, Shankara's teacher Govinda Bhagavatpada, Govinda's teacher Gaudapada, and Gaudapada's teacher Ajativada.
Shankara systematized the works of preceding philosophers.His system of Vedanta introduced the method of scholarly exegesis on the accepted metaphysics of the Upanishads. This style was adopted by all the later Vedanta schools.
Shankara's synthesis of Advaita Vedanta is summarized in this quote from the Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, one of his Prakaraṇa graṃthas (philosophical treatises):
In half a couplet I state, what has been stated by crores of texts;
that is Brahman alone is real, the world is mithyā (not independently existent),
and the individual self is nondifferent from Brahman.
Adi Shankara wrote commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi. His main works are the commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi (Brahma SūtrasBhagavad Gītā and the Upanishads) and theGaudapadiya Karikas. He also wrote a major independent treatise, called "Upadeśa Sāhasrī", expounding his philosophy. The authenticity of the "Vivekachudamani", a well-known work ascribed to Shankara, is doubtfull though it is "so closely interwoven into the spiritual heritage of Shankara that any analysis of his perspective which fails to consider [this work] would be incomplete". 

Adi Sankara founded four Maṭhas (Sanskrit: मठ) (monasteries) to preserve and develop his philosophies. One each in the north, south, east and west of the Indian subcontinent, each headed by one of his direct disciples.
According to Nakamura, these mathas contributed to the influence of Shankara, which was "due to institutional factors". The mathas which he build exist until today, and preserve the teachings and influence of Shankara, "while the writings of other scholars before him came to be forgotten with the passage of time". 
The table below gives an overview of the four Amnaya Mathas founded by Adi Shankara, and their details. 
PadmapādaEastGovardhana PīṭhaṃPrajñānam brahma (Consciousness is Brahman)Rig VedaBhogavala
SureśvaraSouthSringeri Śārada PīṭhaṃAham brahmāsmi (I am Brahman)Yajur VedaBhūrivala
HastāmalakācāryaWestDvāraka PīṭhaṃTattvamasi (That thou art)Sama VedaKitavala
ToṭakācāryaNorthJyotirmaṭha PīṭhaṃAyamātmā brahma (This Atman is Brahman)Atharva VedaNandavala
The current heads of the mathas trace their authority back to these figures, and each of the heads of these four mathas takes the title of Shankaracharya ("the learned Shankara") after Adi Sankara. 
According to the tradition in Kerala, after Sankara's samadhi at Vadakkunnathan Temple, his disciples founded four mathas in Thrissur, namely Naduvil Madhom, Thekke Madhom, Idayil Madhom and Vadakke Madhom.
After Shankara's death several subschools developed. Two of them still exist today, the Bhāmatī and the Vivarana.  Perished schools are the Pancapadika and Istasiddhi. 
These schools worked out the logical implications of various Advaita doctrines. Two of the problems they encountered were the further interpretations to the concepts of maya and avidhya. 
The name of the Bhamati-subschool is derived from Vachaspati Misra's commentary on Adi Shankara's Brahmasutra Bhashya.  According to legend, Misra's commentary was named after his wife to praise, since he neglected her during the writing of his commentary. 
Vachaspati Misra Bhamati attempts to harmonize Sankara's thought with that of Mandana Misra. The Bhamati-school takes an ontological approach. It sees the Jiva as the source of avidya. 
The name of the Vivarana-school is derived from Prakasatman's Pancapadika-Vivarana, a commentary on the Pancapadika by Padmapadacharya. 
Prakasatman was the first to propound the theory of mulavidhya or maya as being of "positive beginningless nature". 
The Vivarana-school takes an epistemological approach. It sees Brahman as the source of avidhya. Critics object that Brahman is pure consciousness, so it can't be the source of avidya. Another problem is that contradictory qualities, namely knowledge and ignorance, are attributed to Brahman. 
In the 19th century Vivekananda played a major role in the revival of Hinduism , and the spread of Advaita Vedanta to the west via the Ramakrishna Mission. His interpretation of Advaita Vedanta has been called "Neo-Vedanta". 
In a talk on "The absolute and manifestation" given in at London in 1896 Swami Vivekananda said,
I may make bold to say that the only religion which agrees with, and even goes a little further than modern researchers, both on physical and moral lines is the Advaita, and that is why it appeals to modern scientists so much. They find that the old dualistic theories are not enough for them, do not satisfy their necessities. A man must have not only faith, but intellectual faith too". 
Vivekananda emphasized samadhi as a means to attain liberation. Yet this emphasis is not to befound in the Upanishads nor with Shankara. For Shankara, meditation and Nirvikalpa Samadhi are means to gain knowledge of the already existing unity of Brahman and Atman,  not the highest goal itself:
 Yoga is a meditative exercise of withdrawal from the particular and identification with the universal, leading to contemplation of oneself as the most universal, namely, Consciousness. This approach is different from the classical Yoga of complete thought suppression. 
Vivekenanda's modernisation has been criticized:
Without calling into question the right of any philosopher to interpret Advaita according to his own understanding of it,   the process of Westernization has obscured the core of this school of thought. The basic correlation of renunciation and Bliss has been lost sight of in the attempts to underscore the cognitive structure and the realistic structure which according to Samkaracarya should both belong to, and indeed constitute the realm of māyā. 
Advaita Vedanta is based on the inquiry into the sacred texts of the UpanishadsBhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. Adi Shankara gave a systematization and philosophical underpinning of this inquiry in his commentaries. The subsequent Advaita-tradition has further elaborated on these sruti and commentaries.
The order of precedance regarding authority of Vedic Scriptures is as follows,
  • Śruti, literally "hearing, listening", are the sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism and is one of the three main sources of dharma and therefore is also influential within Hindu Law. 
  • Smṛti, literally "that which is remembered (or recollected)", refers to a specific body of Hindu religious scripture, and is a codified component of Hindu customary law. Post Vedic scriptures such as RamayanaMahabharata and traditions of the rules on dharma such as Manu Smriti, Yaagnyavalkya Smriti etc. Smrti also denotes tradition in the sense that it portrays the traditions of the rules on dharma, especially those of lawful virtuous persons.)
  • Purāṇa, literally "of ancient times", are post-vedic scriptures notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography. 
  • Śiṣṭāchāra, literally "that which is followed by good (in recent times)".
  • Atmatuṣṭi, literally "that which satisfies oneself (or self validation)", according to which one has to decide whether or not to do with bona fide. Initially this was not considered in the order of precedence but Manu and Yājñavalkya considered it as last one.
If anyone of them contradicts the preceding one, then it is disqualified as an authority to judge. There is a well known Indian saying that Smṛti follows Śruti. So it was considered that in order to establish any Theistic Philosophical theory (Astika Siddhanta) one ought not contradict Śruti (Vedas).
Adi Sankara has chosen three standards, called Prasthānatrayī, literally, three points of departure (three standards). Later these were referred to as the three canonical texts of reference ofHindu philosophy by other Vedanta schools.
They are:
  1. The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthāna (injunctive texts), (part of Śruti)
  2. The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sādhana prasthāna (practical text), (part of Smṛti)
  3. The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyāya prasthāna or Yukti prasthana (part of darśana of Uttarā Mīmāṃsā)
The Upanishads consist of twelve or thirteen major texts, with many minor texts. The Bhagavad Gītā is part of the Mahabhārata. The Brahma Sūtras (also known as the Vedānta Sūtras), systematise the doctrines taught in the Upanishads and the Gītā.
Sankara Bhagavadpāda has written Bhāshyas (commentaries) on the Prasthānatrayī. These texts are thus considered to be the basic texts of the Advaita tradition.
Additionally there are four Siddhi-grathas that are taught in the Advaita-parampara, after study of the Prasthana-trayi:
  1. Brahmasiddhi by Mandana Mishra (750-850),
  2. Naishkarmasiddhi by Sureswara (8th century, disciple of Sankara),
  3. Ishtasiddhi by Vimuktananda (1200),
  4. Advaita Siddhi, written by Madhusudana Saraswati - 1565-1665.


Achintya Bheda Abheda

Achintya-Bheda-Abheda   is a school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of inconceivable one-ness and difference,  in relation to the power creation and creator, (Krishna), svayam bhagavan.  and also between God and his energies within theGaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition. In Sanskrit achintya means 'inconceivable', bheda translates as 'difference', and abheda translates as 'one-ness'. It is believed that this philosophy was taught by the movement's theological founder Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 - 1534) and differentiates the Gaudiya tradition from the other Vaishnava Sampradayas. It can be best understood as integral monism, as a position between the opposites of absolute monism of Adi Sankara's Advaita, and the dualist monism of Ramanujacarya's Vishishtadvaita.

Caitanya's philosophy of acintya-bhedābheda-tattva completed the progression to devotional theismRāmānuja had agreed with Śaṅkara that the Absolute is one only, but he had disagreed by affirming individual variety within that oneness. Madhva had underscored the eternal duality of the Supreme and the Jīva: he had maintained that this duality endures even after liberation. Caitanya, in turn, specified that the Supreme and the jīvas are "inconceivably, simultaneously one and different" (acintya-bheda-abheda). He strongly opposed Śaṅkara's philosophy for its defiance of Vyāsadeva's siddhānta.
— Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, Readings in Vedic Literature: The Tradition Speaks for Itself, Chapter 5 
Historically, within Hinduism there are two conflicting philosophies regarding the relationship between living beings (Jiva or Atma) and God (IshvaraBrahman or Bhagavan). Advaita schools assert the monistic view that the individual soul and God are one and the same,  whereas Dvaita schools give the dualistic argument that the individual soul and God are eternally separate.  The philosophy of Achintya-bheda-abheda includes elements of both viewpoints. The living soul is intrinsically linked with the Supreme Lord, and yet at the same time is not the same as God - the exact nature of this relationship being inconceivable to the human mind.
The theological tenet of achintya-bheda-abheda tattva reconciles the mystery that God is simultaneously "one with and different from His creation". In this sense Vaishnava theology is notpantheistic as in no way does it deny the separate existence of God (Vishnu) in His own personal form. However, at the same time, creation (or what is termed in Vaishnava theology as the 'cosmic manifestation') is never separated from God. He always exercises supreme control over his creation. Sometimes directly, but most of the time indirectly through his different potencies or energies (Prakrti). Examples are given of a spider and its web; earth and plants that come forth and hair on the body of human being. 
"One who knows God knows that the impersonal conception and personal conception are simultaneously present in everything and that there is no contradiction. Therefore Lord Caitanya established His sublime doctrine: acintya bheda-and-abheda-tattva -- simultaneous oneness and difference." (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) The analogy often used as an explanation in this context in the relationship between the Sun and the Sunshine. For example both the sun and sunshine are part of the same reality, but there is a great difference between having a beam of sunshine in your room, and being in close proximity to the sun itself. Qualitatively the Sun and the Sunshine are not different, but as quantities they are very different. This analogy is applied to the living beings and God - the Jiva being of a similar quality to the Supreme being, but not sharing the qualities to an infinite extent, as would the Personality of Godhead himself.  Thus there is a difference between the souls and the Supreme Lord.
It is clearly distinguished from the concept of anirvacaniya (inexpressible) of Advaita Vedanta. There is a clear difference between the two concepts as the two ideas arise for different reasons.Advaita concept is related to the ontological status of the world, whereas both Svayam bhagavan and his shaktis (in Lord himself and his powers) are fully real, and they are different from each other, but at the same time they are the same. But that does not negate the reality of both.  Mayavadi concept is a direct opposite and a contradicting concept to an early Krishna-theism. 
While it applied to relations between Purusha (the Lord) and Prakriti (be it material, marginal, or spiritual powers), in the theology of the concept there are areas of exceptions. Jiva Goswami also accepts that any object and its energy are non-different, such as fire and power of burning. While some maintain that its only a secondary extension of the principle that it is primarily applied toSvayam bhagavan and His energies. It does not, however, apply to differences between Avatars of Svayam bhagavan and Lord Himself, so the difference between Vishnu and His origin, is not covered by the concept of acintya bhedabheda, i.e. it cannot be applied in cases where different levels of Purusha are compared. 
The phrase is used as the chorus line in Kula Shaker's 1998 hit song Tattva. "Achintya-bheda-abheda-tattva".


Dvaita (Sanskrit: द्वैत) (also known as Bheda-vādaTattva-vāda and Bimba-pratibimba-vāda) is a school of Vedanta founded by Shri Madhvacharya (c. 1238-1317 CE) who was also known as Purna Prajna and Ananda Tirtha. Dvaita stresses a strict distinction between God— the Supreme-Soul(paramaatma (परमात्मा)) and the individual souls (jiivatma (जीवात्मा)). According to Madhvacharya, the individual souls of beings are not 'created' by God but do, nonetheless, depend on Him for their existence.

Dvaita Vedanta (dualistic conclusions of the Vedas) espouses dualism by theorizing the existence of two separate realities. The first and the more important reality is that of Vishnu or Brahman. Vishnu is the supreme Self, God, the absolute truth of the universe, the independent reality. The second reality is that of dependent but equally real universe that exists with its own separate essence. Everything that is composed of the second reality, such as individual soul (Jiva), matter, etc. exist with their own separate reality. The distinguishing factor of this philosophy as opposed to Advaita Vedanta (monistic conclusion of Vedas) is that God takes on a personal role and is seen as a real eternal entity that governs and controls the universe. 
Like Ramanuja, Madhvacharya also embraced Vaishnava theology which understood God as being personal and endowed with attributes. To Madhvacharya, Brahman of the Vedanta was same as Vishnu. He stated "brahmashabdashcha vishhnaveva" or that Brahman can only refer to Vishnu. To him, Vishnu was not just any other deity, but rather the singularly all-important Supreme One. Vishnu was the primary object of worship, while all other gods were regarded as subordinate to Him. The deities and other sentient beings were graded, with Vayu, the god of life, being the highest, and Vishnu being eternally above them.
Dvaita Vedanta is not similar to Western dualism which posits the existence of two independent realities or principles. Madhva's Dualism also acknowledges two principles, however, it holds one of them (the sentient) as being rigorously and eternally dependent on the other (Vishnu/Brahman). Because the existence of individuals is grounded in the divine, they are depicted as reflections, images or even shadows of the divine, but never in any way identical with the divine. Liberation therefore is described as the realization that all finite reality is essentially dependent on the Supreme. 
Five fundamental, eternal and real differences are described in this system—
  • Between the individual soul (or jīvatma) and God (Brahmatma īshvara or Vishnu).
  • Between matter (inanimate, insentient) and God.
  • Among individual souls (jīvatma)
  • Between matter and jīva.
  • Among various types of matter.
These five differences are said to make up the universe. The universe is aptly called "prapancha" for this reason.
Madhva differed significantly from traditional Hindu beliefs, owing to his concept of eternal damnation. For example, he divides souls into three classes. One class of souls, which qualify for liberation (Mukti-yogyas), another subject to eternal rebirth or eternal transmigration (Nitya-samsarins) and a third class that is eventually condemned to eternal hell or andhatamas (Tamo-yogyas).[3] No other Hindu philosopher or school of Hinduism holds such beliefs. In contrast, most Hindus believe in universal salvation; that all souls will eventually obtain moksha, even if after millions of rebirths.
Vyasatirtha (one of system's eminent disciples) is said to have succinctly captured the basic tenets (nine prameyas) of Madhva's system in a pithy prameya sloka - "SrimanMadhvamate Harih paratarah...", that is, Sri Hari is supreme, a grasp of which may be deemed a fair and accurate understanding of the fundamental position of this system. 
Vishnu is the Supreme Lord and Lakshmi is His eternal consort. Brahma and Vayu occupy the same next level. Their wives (Saraswati and Bharathi respectively) occupy the next level.Garuda-Sesha-ShivaIndra-KamadevaSurya-ChandraVarunaAgniGanesha-Kubera and others successively occupy the lower rungs in this hierarchy.
Madhva propounds that life in the world can be divided into two groups, kshara and akshara. Kshara refers to life with destructible bodies, while akshara refers to indestructible bodies. Laxmi isakshara, while others from Brahma and lower are ksharas or jīvas. Possessing no body, Vishnu is exempt from this classification.
  • Madhva's Dualistic view, along with Shankara's Advaita (Nondualism) and Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita (Attributive Nondualism), form some of the core Indian beliefs on the nature of reality.
  • Madhva is considered one of the influential theologians in Hindu history. He revitalized a Hindu monotheism despite attacks, theological and physical, by outsiders. Great leaders of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement in Karnataka, Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa for example, were strong proponents of the Dvaita tradition. The famous Hindu saint, Raghavendra Swami, was a leading figure in the Dvaita tradition.
  • Madhva's theology heavily influenced those of later scholars such as NimbarkaVallabha and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. B.N.K. Sharma notes that Nimbarka's theology is a loose réchauffé of Madhva's in its most essential aspects. Vallabha even "borrowed without acknowledgement" a verse from Madhva's sarva-shāstrārtha-sangraha. The followers of Caitanya claim a link to Madhva.
  • Madhva's singular contribution was to offer a new insight and analysis of the classical Vedantic texts, the VedasUpanishadsBrahma Sutra,MahabharataPancharatra and Puranas, and place uncompromising Dvaita thought, which had been ravaged by attacks from Advaita, on a firm footing. Before Madhva, nondualism was rejected by others, such as the Mimamsa tradition of Vedic exegesis, and by the Nyaya tradition of classical logic. However, it was only he who built a cogent, alternative system of Vedantic interpretation that could take on Advaita in full measure.
Shiva is worshipped as a subordinate god (deva) by followers of Dvaita. Though this appears intolerant, it is because of a strong monotheistic belief in a personal God, unlike Advaita, for which the identity of God does not matter as it is Nirguna or without attributes.
Historically, Dvaita scholars have been involved in vigorous debates against other schools of thought, especially Advaita. Whereas Advaita preaches that Atman and Brahman are one and the same, which is not evident to the atman till it comes out of a so-called illusion, Madhvacharya puts forth that Brahman (Vishnu/God) and Atman (soul) are eternally different, with God always the Superior one. It is the same point that Madhvacharya reinforces in one of his doctrines, "Yadi Namaparo Na bhavet Shri Hari, khathamasya vashet Jagatedabhoot. Yadi Namanatasya Vashe Sakalam, Khathamevath nitya sukham Na Bhaveth"
"If you feel there is no God, how do you explain as to why you cannot free yourself from the limitations on Earth? If you feel YOU are the one in control of everything (as Advaita preaches that Soul and God are one and the same), then how come you don't enjoy happiness always and are also subject to sorrow and pain (as God is supposed to be an eternity of happiness)? "