Advaita Vedanta

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Statue of Gaudapada, the first historical proponent of Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta (IAST, Advaita Vedānta; Sanskrit: अद्वैत वेदान्त; literally, not-two) is a Hindu school of textual exegesis and religious practice,[1] and one of the classic Indian paths to spiritual realization.[2] Advaita (Sanskrit; not-two, "no second") refers to the idea that the true Self, Atman, is the same as the highest Reality, Brahman.

Advaita Vedanta gives "a unifying interpretation of the whole body of Upanishads",[3] the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita, which together form the Prasthanatrayi or "three sources."[4][5] This interpretation provides scriptural authority for the postulation of Atman as one's true Self, and the nonduality of Atman and Brahman.

Followers seek liberation/release by disidentification from phenomenal reality[6] through acquiring vidyā (knowledge)[7] of ones true identity as Atman, and the identity of Atman and Brahman. It emphasizes Jivanmukti, the idea that moksha (freedom, liberation) is achievable in this life.[8][9] The school uses concepts such as Brahman, Atman, Maya and others that are found in major Indian religious traditions,[web 1] but interprets them in its own way for its theories of moksha.[10][11]

Advaita Vedanta is the oldest extant sub-school of Vedanta,[note 1] which is one of the six orthodox (āstika) Hindu darśana (philosophies, world views, teachings). The principal, though not the first, exponent of the Advaita Vedanta interpretation was Adi Shankara (8th century CE). It traces its roots in the oldest Upanishads. While Bādarāyaṇa’s Brahma Sutra consolidated the central premises of this tradition,[web 1] Shankara systematized and significantly developed the works of preceding philosophers into a cohesive philosophy.[12]

Advaita Vedanta, like all Indian darśanas, developed in a multi-faceted religious and philosophical landscape, in interaction with the other traditions of India such as Jainism and Buddhism.[13] Advaita influenced and was influenced by various traditions and texts of Hindu philosophies such as Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, other sub-schools of Vedanta, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, the Puranas, the Agamas, other sub-schools of Vedanta, as well as social movements such as the Bhakti movement.[14][15][16]

In response to Muslim rule during the medieval period,[17] and British rule during the colonial period, Advaita Vedanta has in modern times acquired a broad acceptance as Neo-Vedanta in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.[18]

Advaita Vedanta is one of the most studied and most influential schools of classical Indian thought.[19][20][21] While many scholars describe it as a form of monism,[web 2][22][23] others describe the Advaita philosophy as non-dualistic.[24][25] Advaita Vedanta texts espouse a spectrum of views from idealism, including illusionism, to realist or nearly realist positions expressed in the early works of Shankara.[26]



According to Richard King, the Advaita Vedanta school has been referred to historically by various names:[27]

(Early names of the school have included) the doctrine of non-dualism (Advaita-vada), the school of non-difference (Abheda-darshana), the doctrine of the denial of dualism (Dvaita-vada-pratisedha), and non-dualism of the isolated (Kevala-dvaita). The term Advaita first occurs in a recognizably Vedantic context in the prose of Mandukya Upanishad 7, although it is to a certain extent prefigured in the Chandogya Upanishad's statement that Brahman is one without a second (ekam advitiyam).

— Richard King, Early Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism[27]

Darśana (philosophy) - central concerns[edit]

Further information: Hindu philosophy

Advaita Vedanta is one of the six classical Hindu darśanas, an integrated body of textual interpretations and religious practices which aim at the attainment of moksha, release or liberation from transmigratory existence.[28][29][note 2] Traditional Advaita Vedanta centers around the study and what it believes to be correct understanding of the sruti, revealed texts, especially the Upanishads.[31][32] The main texts to be studied are the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita.

Correct understanding is believed to provide knowledge of one's true identity as Ātman, the dispassionate and unmoveable observer, and the identity of Ātman and Brahman, which results in liberation.[33] Correct knowledge, which destroys avidya, psychological and perceptual errors,[34] is obtained by following the four stages of samanyasa (self-cultivation), sravana, listening to the teachings of the sages, manana, reflection on the teachings, and svādhyāya, contemplation of the truth "that art Thou".

The Vedanta tradition rejects the dualism of Samkhya between purusha, primal consciousness, and prakriti, inert primal matter, instead stating that Brahman is the sole Reality,[35][36] "that from which the origination, subsistence, and dissolution of this universe proceed."[37] By accepting this postulation, various theoretical difficulties arise.[38]

A main question is the relation between Atman and Brahman, which is solved by regarding them to be identical.[35][36] This truth is established from the oldest Principal Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, and is also found in parts of the Bhagavad Gita and numerous other Hindu texts,[web 1] and is regarded to be self-evident. The main aim of the commentaries is to support this nondualistic (of Atman and Brahman) reading of the sruti.[39] Reason is being used to support revelation, the sruti, the ultimate source of truth.[40]

Another question is how Brahman can create the world, and how to explain the manifoldness of phenomenal reality.[38][35][36] By declaring phenomenal reality to be an 'illusion,' the primacy of Atman/Brahman can be maintained.[35][36]

The commentaries also provide a criticism of opposing systems, including Samkhya and Buddhism.[39]


The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras are the central texts of the Advaita Vedanta tradition, providing the truths about the identity of Atman and Brahman and their changeless nature.[41][42]

Adi Shankara gave a nondualist interpretation of these texts in his commentaries. Adi Shankara's Bhashya (commentaries) have become central texts in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy, but are one among many ancient and medieval manuscripts available or accepted in this tradition.[12] The subsequent Advaita tradition has further elaborated on these sruti and commentaries.


The Vedanta tradition provides exegeses of the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavadgita, collectively called the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources.[4][41][42]

  1. The Upanishads,[note 3] or Śruti prasthāna; considered the Śruti (Vedic scriptures) foundation of Vedanta.[note 4][45][46][47] Most scholars, states Eliot Deutsch, are convinced that the Śruti in general, and the Upanishads in particular, express "a very rich diversity" of ideas, with the early Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad being more readily amenable to Advaita Vedanta school's interpretation than the middle or later Upanishads.[48][49] In addition to the oldest Upanishads, states Williams, the Sannyasa Upanishads group composed in pre-Shankara times "express a decidedly Advaita outlook".[50]
  2. The Brahma Sutras, or Nyaya prasthana / Yukti prasthana; considered the reason-based foundation of Vedanta. The Brahma Sutras attempted to synthesize the teachings of the Upanishads. The diversity in the teachings of the Upanishads necessitated the systematization of these teachings. The only extant version of this synthesis is the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana. Like the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras is also an aphoristic text, and can be interpreted as a non-theistic Advaita Vedanta text or as a theistic Dvaita Vedanta text. This has led, states Stephen Phillips, to its varying interpretations by scholars of various sub-schools of Vedanta.[51] The Brahmasutra is considered by the Advaita school as the Nyaya Prasthana (canonical base for reasoning).[52]
  3. The Bhagavad Gita, or Smriti prasthāna; considered the Smriti (remembered tradition) foundation of Vedanta.[52] It has been widely studied by Advaita scholars, including a commentary by Adi Shankara.[53][54]


Additionally there are five Siddhi-granthas that are taught in the Advaita-parampara, after study of the Prasthana-trayi:[citation needed]

  1. Brahmasiddhi by Mandana Mishra (750–850 CE),
  2. Naishkarmasiddhi by Sureswara, a disciple of Sankara (8th century CE) ,
  3. Ishtasiddhi by Vimuktananda (1200 CE)
  4. Advaita Siddhi,[web 3] written by Madhusudana Saraswati (1565-1665 CE)
  5. Svarajyasiddhi by Gangadharendra Saraswati (1800 CE)

Textual authority[edit]

The identity of Atman and Brahman, and their unchanging, eternal nature,[55] are basic truths in Advaita Vedanta. The school considers the knowledge claims in the Vedas to be the crucial part of the Vedas, not its karma-kanda (ritual injunctions).[41] The knowledge claims about self being identical to the nature of Atman and Brahman are found in the Upanishads, which Advaita Vedanta has regarded as "errorless revealed truth."[41] Nevertheless, states Koller, Advaita Vedantins did not entirely rely on revelation, but critically examined their teachings using reason and experience, and this led them to investigate and critique competing theories.[41]

Advaita Vedanta, like all orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, accepts as an epistemic premise that Śruti (Vedic literature) is a reliable source of knowledge.[56][57][58] The Śruti includes the four Vedas including its four layers of embedded texts - the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the early Upanishads.[59] Of these, the Upanishads are the most referred to texts in the Advaita school. Most scholars, states Eliot Deutsch, are quite convinced that the Śruti in general, and the philosophical texts that are Upanishads in particular, express "a very rich diversity" of ideas, with the early Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad being more readily amenable to Advaita Vedanta school's interpretation than the middle or later Upanishads.[48][60] In addition to the oldest Upanishads, states Williams, the Sannyasa Upanishads group composed in pre-Shankara times "express a decidedly Advaita outlook".[61]

The possibility of different interpretations of the Vedic literature, states Arvind Sharma, was recognized by ancient Indian scholars.[62][63] The Brahmasutra (also called Vedanta Sutra, composed in 1st millennium BCE) accepted this in verse 1.1.4 and asserts the need for the Upanishadic teachings to be understood not in piecemeal cherrypicked basis, rather in a unified way wherein the ideas in the Vedic texts are harmonized with other means of knowledge such as perception, inference and remaining pramanas.[62][52] This theme has been central to the Advaita school, making the Brahmasutra as a common reference and a consolidated textual authority for Advaita.[62][64] However, Brahmasutra is an aphoristic text, and itself can be interpreted as non-theistic Advaita Vedanta text or as theistic Dvaita Vedanta text; this has led, states Stephen Phillips, to its varying interpretations by various sub-schools of Vedanta.[65] The Brahmasutra is considered by the Advaita school as the Nyaya Prasthana (canonical base for reasoning).[52]

The Bhagavad Gita, similarly in parts can be interpreted to be a monist Advaita text, and in other parts as theistic Dvaita text. It too has been widely studied by Advaita scholars, including a commentary by Adi Shankara.[66][63] The Bhagavad Gita is considered as the Smriti Prasthana in Advaita school.[52]

Moksha – liberation through knowledge of Brahman[edit]

Puruṣārtha - the four goals of human life[edit]

Advaita, like other schools, accepts Puruṣārtha - the four goals of human life as natural and proper:[67]

  • Dharma: the right way to life, the "duties and obligations of the individual toward himself and the society as well as those of the society toward the individual";[68]
  • Artha: the means to support and sustain one's life;
  • Kāma: pleasure and enjoyment;
  • Mokṣa: liberation, release.

Of these, much of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy focuses on the last, gaining liberation in one's current life.[69] The first three are discussed and encouraged by Advaitins, but usually in the context of knowing Brahman and Self-realization.[70]

Moksha - liberation[edit]

The soteriological goal, in Advaita, is to gain knowledge and complete understanding of the identity of Atman and Brahman. Correct knowledge of Brahman is thought to lead to liberation,[note 5] Moksha is attained by realizing one's true identity as Ātman, and the identity of Atman and Brahman, the complete understanding of one's real nature as Brahman in this life.[71] This is stated by Shankara as follows:

I am other than name, form and action.
My nature is ever free!
I am Self, the supreme unconditioned Brahman.
I am pure Awareness, always non-dual.

— Adi Shankara, Upadesasahasri 11.7, [71]

According to Potter,

1. The true Self is itself just that pure consciousness, without which nothing can be known in any way.

2. And that same true Self, pure consciousness, is not different from the ultimate world Principle, Brahman ...
3. ... Brahman (=the true Self, pure consciousness) is the only Reality (sat), since It is untinged by difference, the mark of ignorance, and since It is the one thing that is not sublimatable.[72]

According to David Loy,

The knowledge of Brahman ... is not intuition of Brahman but itself is Brahman.[73]

Liberation can be achieved while living, and is called Jivanmukti.[74]


In Advaita Vedanta, the interest is not in liberation in after life, but in one's current life.[75] This school holds that liberation can be achieved while living, and a person who achieves this is called a Jivanmukta.[74][76]

The concept of Jivanmukti of Advaita Vedanta contrasts with Videhamukti (moksha from samsara after death) in theistic sub-schools of Vedanta.[77] Jivanmukti is a state that transforms the nature, attributes and behaviors of an individual, after which the liberated individual shows attributes such as:[78]

  • he is not bothered by disrespect and endures cruel words, treats others with respect regardless of how others treat him;
  • when confronted by an angry person he does not return anger, instead replies with soft and kind words;
  • even if tortured, he speaks and trusts the truth;
  • he does not crave for blessings or expect praise from others;
  • he never injures or harms any life or being (ahimsa), he is intent in the welfare of all beings;
  • he is as comfortable being alone as in the presence of others;
  • he is as comfortable with a bowl, at the foot of a tree in tattered robe without help, as when he is in a mithuna (union of mendicants), grama (village) and nagara (city);
  • he doesn’t care about or wear sikha (tuft of hair on the back of head for religious reasons), nor the holy thread across his body. To him, knowledge is sikha, knowledge is the holy thread, knowledge alone is supreme. Outer appearances and rituals do not matter to him, only knowledge matters;
  • for him there is no invocation nor dismissal of deities, no mantra nor non-mantra, no prostrations nor worship of gods, goddess or ancestors, nothing other than knowledge of Self;
  • he is humble, high spirited, of clear and steady mind, straightforward, compassionate, patient, indifferent, courageous, speaks firmly and with sweet words.

Vidya, Svādhyāya and Anubhava[edit]

Main article: Svādhyāya

Sruti, revealed texts, and proper reasoning, are the main sources of knowledge (vidya) for Shankara and the subsequent Advaita Vedanta tradition.[79][80] Correct knowledge of Brahman is thought to be acquirable by svādhyāya,[81] study of the self and of the Vedic texts, and nididhyāsana, the study of and contemplation of the truths and non-duality.[82]

Nididhyasana leads to anubhava, direct cognition or understanding, which establishes the truth of the sruti.[clarification needed][83] Adi Shankara uses anubhava interchangeably with pratipatta, "understanding".[web 4] and considers it as the "non-dual realisation gained from the scriptures".[84] Dalal and others state that anubhava does not center around some sort of "mystical experience," but around the correct knowledge of Brahman.[80][85] Stressing the meaning of anubhava as knowledge, Saraswati states that liberation comes from knowledge, not from mere experience.[web 4] Nikhalananda notes that (knowledge of) Atman and Brahman can only be reached by buddhi, "reason,"[86] stating that mysticism is a kind of intuitive knowledge, while buddhi is the highest means of attaining knowledge.[87]

Mahavakya – The Great Sentences[edit]

Main article: Mahāvākyas

Several Mahavakyas, or "the great sentences", have Advaitic theme, that is "the inner immortal self and the great cosmic power are one and the same".[88]

Sr. No. Vakya Meaning Upanishad Veda
1 प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म (pragñānam brahma) Prajñānam[note 6] is Brahman[note 7] Aitareya V.3 Rgveda
2. अहं ब्रह्मास्मि (aham brahmāsmi) I am Brahman, or I am Divine[92] Brhadāranyaka I.4.10 Shukla Yajurveda
3. तत्त्वमसि (tat tvam asi) That thou art Chandogya VI.8.7 Samaveda
4. अयमात्मा ब्रह्म (ayamātmā brahma) This Atman is Brahman Mandukya II Atharvaveda

Stages and practices[edit]

Advaita Vedanta entails more than self-inquiry or bare insight into one's real nature,[note 8] but also includes self-restarint, textual studies and ethical perfection. It is described in classical Advaita books like Shankara's Upadesasahasri[94] and the Vivekachudamani, which is also attributed to Shankara.

Jnana Yoga – Four stages of practice[edit]

Main article: Jnana Yoga

Classical Advaita Vedanta emphasises the path of Jnana Yoga, a progression of study and training to attain moksha.[95][96] It consists of four stages:[97][98][note 9]

  • Samanyasa or Sampattis,[99] the "fourfold discipline" (sādhana-catustaya), cultivating the following four qualities:[97]
    • Nityānitya vastu viveka (नित्यानित्य वस्तु विवेकम्) — The ability (viveka) to correctly discriminate between the real and eternal (nitya) and the substance that is apparently real, aging, changing and transitory (anitya).[97][98]
    • Ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga virāga (इहाऽमुत्रार्थ फल भोगविरागम्) — The renunciation (virāga) of petty desires that distract the mind (artha phala bhoga), willing to give up everything that is an obstacle to the pursuit of truth and self-knowledge.[98][100]
    • Śamādi ṣatka sampatti (शमादि षट्क सम्पत्ति) — the sixfold qualities,
    • Mumukṣutva (मुमुक्षुत्वम्) — A positive longing for freedom and wisdom, driven to the quest of knowledge and understanding.[98]
  • Sravana, listening to the teachings of the sages on the Upanishads and Advaita Vedanta, studying the Vedantic texts, such as the Brahma Sutras, and discussions with the teacher;[97]
  • Manana, the stage of reflection on the teachings;[98]
  • Nididhyāsana, the stage of meditation on the truths and introspection.[98]


While Shankara emphasized sravana ("hearing"), manana ("reflection") and nididhyasana ("repeated meditation"), later texts like the Dŗg-Dŗśya-Viveka (14th century) and Vedantasara (of Sadananda) (15th century) added samadhi as a means to liberation, a theme that was also emphasized by Swami Vivekananda.


Main article: Guru

Advaita Vedanta school has traditionally had a high reverence for Guru (teacher), and recommends that a competent Guru be sought in one's pursuit of spirituality. However, the Guru is not mandatory in Advaita school, states Clooney, but reading of Vedic literature and followed by reflection is.[101] Adi Shankara, states Comans, regularly employed compound words "such as Sastracaryopadesa (instruction by way of the scriptures and the teacher) and Vedantacaryopadesa (instruction by way of the Upanishads and the teacher) to emphasize the importance of Guru".[101] This reflects the Advaita tradition which holds a competent teacher as important and essential to gaining correct knowledge, freeing oneself from false knowledge, and to self-realization.[102]

A guru is someone more than a teacher, traditionally a reverential figure to the student, with the guru serving as a "counselor, who helps mold values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who helps in the spiritual evolution of a student.[103] The guru, states Joel Mlecko, is more than someone who teaches specific type of knowledge, and includes in its scope someone who is also a "counselor, a sort of parent of mind and soul, who helps mold values and experiential knowledge as much as specific knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who reveals the meaning of life."[103]

Ontology - the nature of Being[edit]

See also: Metaphysics and Ontology
The swan is an important motif in Advaita. It symbolises two things: first, the swan is called hamsah in Sanskrit (which becomes hamso if the first letter in the next word is /h/). Upon repeating this hamso indefinitely, it becomes so-aham, meaning, "I am That". Second, just as a swan lives in a lake but its feathers are not soiled by water, similarly a liberated Advaitin lives in this world but is not soiled by its maya.

Three Levels of Reality[edit]

Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:[104][105]

  • Pāramārthika (paramartha, absolute), the Reality that is metaphysically true and ontologically accurate. It is the state of experiencing that "which is absolutely real and into which both other reality levels can be resolved". This experience can't be sublated (exceeded) by any other experience.[104][105]
  • Vyāvahārika (vyavahara), or samvriti-saya,[106] consisting of the empirical or pragmatical reality. It is ever changing over time, thus empirically true at a given time and context but not metaphysically true. It is "our world of experience, the phenomenal world that we handle every day when we are awake". It is the level in which both jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Iswara are true; here, the material world is also true.[105]
  • Prāthibhāsika (pratibhasika, apparent reality, unreality), "reality based on imagination alone". It is the level of experience in which the mind constructs its own reality. A well-known examples is the perception of a rope in the dark as being a snake.[105]

Absolute Reality[edit]


Main articles: Brahman, Nirguna Brahman, and Satcitananda

According to Advaita Vedanta Brahman is the highest Reality,[72][107][108] That which is unborn and unchanging,[107][109] and "not sublatable",[72] "the single binding unity behind the world's apparent diversity,"[107] which cannot be superseded by a still higher reality.[110][note 10][note 11] Other than Brahman, everything else, including the universe, material objects and individuals, are ever-changing and therefore maya. Brahman is Paramarthika Satyam, "Absolute Truth",[124] and

the true Self, pure consciousness ... the only Reality (sat), since It is untinged by difference, the mark of ignorance, and since It is the one thing that is not sublatable".[72]

Advaita's Upanishadic roots state Brahman's qualities[note 12] to be Sat-cit-ānanda (being-consciousness-bliss)[125][126] It means "true being-consciousness-bliss," [127][128] or "Eternal Bliss Consciousness".[129] Adi Shankara held that satcitananda is identical with Brahman and Atman.[127] The Advaitin scholar Madhusudana Sarasvati explained Brahman as the Reality that is simultaneously an absence of falsity (sat), absence of ignorance (cit), and absence of sorrow/self-limitation (ananda).[127] According to Adi Shankara, the knowledge of Brahman that Shruti provides cannot be obtained in any other means besides self inquiry.[130]

According to Paul Deussen,[131] Brahman is:

  • Satyam, "the true Reality, which, however, is not the empirical one"
  • Jñãnam, "Knowledge which, however, is not split into the subject and the object"
  • anantam, "boundless or infinite"

According to Eliot Deutsch, the sat or being, in this experience of Brahman, is the ontological principle of unity, and "the oneness not constituted in parts." Cit or consciousness points to illuminating awareness of unchanging witness of one's being. Ananda or bliss is an axiological concept, as the principle of value, one of joyous existence.[128] Yet, Brahman is not limited to "sat-cit-ananda", and expansively includes all "truth, knowledge, infinite", best conceptualized as unlimited in every sense through neti neti – "not this, not this".[132]


Main article: Ātman (Hinduism)

Ātman (IAST: ātman, Sanskrit: आत्मन्) is a Sanskrit word that means "real self" of the individual,[133][134] "essence",[135][web 6] and is also translated as soul.[136][137][note 13]

Ātman is the first principle,[140] the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. Atman is the Universal Principle, one eternal undifferentiated self-luminous consciousness,[141][142] which is self-existent awareness, limitless and non-dual.[143]

Five koshas[edit]
See also: Kosha

Due to avidya, atman is covered by sheaths, or bodies, which hide man's true nature. According to the Taittiriya Upanishad, the Atman is covered by five koshas, usually rendered "sheath".[144] They are often visualised like the layers of an onion.[145] From gross to fine the five sheaths are:

  1. Annamaya kosha, food-apparent-sheath
  2. Pranamaya kosha, air-apparent-sheath
  3. Manomaya kosha, mind-stuff-apparent-sheath
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha, wisdom-apparent-sheath
  5. Anandamaya kosha, bliss-apparent-sheath (Ananda)

According to Vedanta the wise man should discriminate between the self and the koshas, which are non-self.

Three states of consciousness[edit]

Advaita posits three states of consciousness, namely waking (jagrat), dreaming (svapna), deep sleep (suṣupti), which are commonly experienced by human beings,[146][147] and correspond to the Three Bodies Doctrine:[148]

  1. The first state is the waking state, in which we are aware of our daily world.[149] This is the gross body.
  2. The second state is the dreaming mind. This is the subtle body.[149]
  3. The third state is the state of deep sleep. This is the causal body.[149]

Turiya, pure consciousness is the background that underlies and transcends the three common states of consciousness.[web 7][web 8] In this consciousness both absolute and relative, saguna brahman and Nirguna Brahman, are transcended.[150] It is the state of liberation, where states Advaita school, one experiences the infinite (ananta) and non-different (advaita/abheda), free from the dualistic experience which results from the attempts to conceptualise (vipalka) reality.[151] It is the state in which ajativada, non-origination, is apprehended.[151]

Advaita traces the foundation of this ontological theory in more ancient Sanskrit texts.[152] For example, chapters 8.7 through 8.12 of Chandogya Upanishad discuss the "four states of consciousness" as awake, dream-filled sleep, deep sleep, and beyond deep sleep.[152][153]

Identity of Atman and Brahman[edit]

The relation between Brahman and Atman is a crucial problem in Vedanta. At the time of the composition of the Brahma Sutra it was already a significant problem, and the question led to the rise of various schools.[154] According to the Brahma Sutras, Atman is a part of Brahman.[154] The Brahman Sutras take a bedhabedha approach, "difference-and-non-difference," describing Atman both as different and non-different from Brahman.[155]

According to Advaita Vedanta, Atman is identical to Brahman.[154][156] This is expressed in the mahavakya "tat tvam asi", "thou art that." There is "a common ground, viz. consciousness, to the individual and Brahman."[156] Each soul, in Advaita view, is non-different from the infinite.[157] According to Shankara, Atman and Brahman seem different at the empirical level of reality, but this difference is unreal, and at the highest level of reality they are really identical.[158]

Empirical reality - illusion and ignorance[edit]

According to Advaita Vedanta, Brahman is the sole reality. The status of the phenomenal world is an imprortant question in Advaita Vedanta, and different solutions have been proposed. Whereas originally the phenomenal world was considered to be a transformation of Brahmna, in time it came to be considered as a mere illusion.[159] The perception of the phenomenal world as real is explained by maya ("illusion") and avidya ("ignorance").


All schools of Vedanta subscribe to the theory of Satkāryavāda,[web 9] 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,[160][web 9] as well as Samkhya,[web 9] support Parinamavada, the idea that the world is a real transformation (parinama) of Brahman.[160] According to Nicholson, "the Brahma Sutras also espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which appears to have been the view most common among early Vedantins".[160]

Adi Shankara and Advaita Vedanta adheres to the other view, Vivartavada, which says that the effect, the world, is merely an unreal (vivarta) transformation of its cause, Brahman:

[A]lthough Brahman seems to undergo a transformation, in fact no real change takes place. The myriad of beings are essentially unreal, as the only real being is Brahman, that ultimate reality which is unborn, unchanging, and entirely without parts.[160]

Brahman is the cause of all changes.[107][109] Brahman is considered to be the material cause[note 14] and the efficient cause[note 15] of all that exists.[108][161][162] Brahman is the "primordial reality that creates, maintains and withdraws within it the universe."[115] It is the "creative principle which lies realized in the whole world".[163]

Māyā (illusion)[edit]

Main article: Maya (illusion)

The doctrine of Maya is used to explain the empirical reality in Advaita.[164][note 16] Jiva, when conditioned by the human mind, is subjected to experiences of a subjective nature, states Vedanta school, which leads it to misunderstand Maya and interpret it as the sole and final reality. Advaitins assert that the perceived world, including people and other existence, is not what it appears to be".[166] It is Māyā, they assert, which manifests and perpetuates a sense of false duality or divisional plurality.[167] The empirical manifestation is real but changing, but it obfuscates the true nature of metaphysical Reality which is never changing. Advaita school holds that liberation is the unfettered realization and understanding of the unchanging Reality and truths – the Self, that the Self (Soul) in oneself is same as the Self in another and the Self in everything (Brahman).[168]

In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, there are two realities: Vyavaharika (empirical reality) and Paramarthika (absolute, spiritual Reality).[169] Māyā is the empirical reality that entangles consciousness. Māyā has the power to create a bondage to the empirical world, preventing the unveiling of the true, unitary Self—the Cosmic Spirit also known as Brahman. This theory of māyā was expounded and explained by Adi Shankara. Competing theistic Dvaita scholars contested Shankara's theory,[170] and stated that Shankara did not offer a theory of the relationship between Brahman and Māyā.[171] A later Advaita scholar Prakasatman addressed this, by explaining, "Maya and Brahman together constitute the entire universe, just like two kinds of interwoven threads create a fabric. Maya is the manifestation of the world, whereas Brahman, which supports Maya, is the cause of the world."[172]

Brahman is the sole metaphysical truth in Advaita Vedanta, Māyā is true in epistemological and empirical sense; however, Māyā is not the metaphysical and spiritual truth. The spiritual truth is the truth forever, while what is empirical truth is only true for now. Complete knowledge of true Reality includes knowing both Vyavaharika (empirical) and Paramarthika (spiritual), the Māyā and the Brahman. The goal of spiritual enlightenment, state Advaitins, is to realize Brahman, realize the Oneness.[169][173]

Avidya (ignorance)[edit]

Due to ignorance (avidyā), Brahman is perceived as the material world and its objects (nama rupa vikara). According to Shankara, Brahman is in reality attributeless and formless. Brahman, the highest truth and all (Reality), does not really change; it is only our ignorance that gives the appearance of change. Also due to avidyā, the true identity is forgotten, and material reality, which manifests at various levels, is mistaken as the only and true reality.

The notion of avidyā and its relationship to Brahman creates a crucial philosophical issue within Advaita Vedanta thought: how can avidyā appear in Brahman, since Brahman is pure consciousness?[174] Sengaku Mayeda writes, in his commentary and translation of Adi Shankara's Upadesasahasri:

Certainly the most crucial problem which Sankara left for his followers is that of avidyā. If the concept is logically analysed, it would lead the Vedanta philosophy toward dualism or nihilism and uproot its fundamental position.[175]

To Advaitins, human beings, in a state of unawareness and ignorance of this Universal Self, see their "I-ness" as different than the being in others, then act out of impulse, fears, cravings, malice, division, confusion, anxiety, passions, and a sense of distinctiveness.[176][177]

Subsequent Advaitins gave somewhat various explanations, from which various Advaita schools arose.

Epistemology - ways of knowing[edit]

See also: Pramana and Epistemology

The ancient and medieval texts of Advaita Vedanta and other schools of Hindu philosophy discuss Pramana (epistemology). The theory of Pramana discusses questions like how correct knowledge can be acquired; how one knows, how one doesn't; and to what extent knowledge pertinent about someone or something can be acquired.[178][179] Advaita Vedānta,[180] accepts the following six kinds of pramāṇas:[181][182]

  1. Pratyakṣa (प्रत्यक्षाय) - perception
  2. Anumāṇa (अनुमान) - inference
  3. Upamāṇa (उपमान) - comparison, analogy
  4. Arthāpatti (अर्थापत्ति) - postulation, derivation from circumstances[179][183]
  5. Anupalabdi (अनुपलब्धि) - non-perception, negative/cognitive proof[184]
  6. Śabda (शब्द) - relying on word, testimony of past or present reliable experts[179][184]

Pratyakṣa (perception)[edit]

Pratyakṣa (प्रत्यक्षाय), perception, is of two types: external - that arising from the interaction of five senses and worldly objects, and internal - perception of inner sense, the mind.[185] Advaita postulates four pre-requisites for correct perception: 1) Indriyarthasannikarsa (direct experience by one's sensory organ(s) with the object, whatever is being studied), 2) Avyapadesya (non-verbal; correct perception is not through hearsay, according to ancient Indian scholars, where one's sensory organ relies on accepting or rejecting someone else's perception), 3) Avyabhicara (does not wander; correct perception does not change, nor is it the result of deception because one's sensory organ or means of observation is drifting, defective, suspect) and 4) Vyavasayatmaka (definite; correct perception excludes judgments of doubt, either because of one's failure to observe all the details, or because one is mixing inference with observation and observing what one wants to observe, or not observing what one does not want to observe).[186] The internal perception concepts included pratibha (intuition), samanyalaksanapratyaksa (a form of induction from perceived specifics to a universal), and jnanalaksanapratyaksa (a form of perception of prior processes and previous states of a 'topic of study' by observing its current state).[187]

Anumāṇa ((inference)[edit]

Anumāṇa (अनुमान), inference, is defined as applying reason to reach a new conclusion about truth from one or more observations and previous understanding of truths.[188] Observing smoke and inferring fire is an example of Anumana. This epistemological method for gaining knowledge consists of three parts: 1) Pratijna (hypothesis), 2) Hetu (a reason), and 3) drshtanta (examples).[189] The hypothesis must further be broken down into two parts: 1) Sadhya (that idea which needs to proven or disproven) and 2) Paksha (the object on which the Sadhya is predicated). The inference is conditionally true if Sapaksha (positive examples as evidence) are present, and if Vipaksha (negative examples as counter-evidence) are absent. For rigor, the Indian philosophies further demand Vyapti - the requirement that the hetu (reason) must necessarily and separately account for the inference in "all" cases, in both sapaksha and vipaksha.[189][190] A conditionally proven hypothesis is called a nigamana (conclusion).[191]

Upamāṇa (comparison, analogy)[edit]

Upamāṇa (उपमान), comparison, analogy.[179][183] Some Hindu schools consider it as a proper means of knowledge.[192] Upamana, states Lochtefeld,[193] may be explained with the example of a traveler who has never visited lands or islands with endemic population of wildlife. He or she is told, by someone who has been there, that in those lands you see an animal that sort of looks like a cow, grazes like cow but is different from a cow in such and such way. Such use of analogy and comparison is, state the Indian epistemologists, a valid means of conditional knowledge, as it helps the traveller identify the new animal later.[193] The subject of comparison is formally called upameyam, the object of comparison is called upamanam, while the attribute(s) are identified as samanya.[194]

Arthāpatti (postulation)[edit]

Arthāpatti (अर्थापत्ति), postulation, derivation from circumstances.[179][183] In contemporary logic, this pramana is similar to circumstantial implication.[195] As example, if a person left in a boat on river earlier, and the time is now past the expected time of arrival, then the circumstances support the truth postulate that the person has arrived. Many Indian scholars considered this Pramana as invalid or at best weak, because the boat may have gotten delayed or diverted.[196] However, in cases such as deriving the time of a future sunrise or sunset, this method was asserted by the proponents to be reliable.

Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof)[edit]

Anupalabdi (अनुपलब्धि), non-perception, negative/cognitive proof.[184] Anupalabdhi pramana suggests that knowing a negative, such as "there is no jug in this room" is a form of valid knowledge. If something can be observed or inferred or proven as non-existent or impossible, then one knows more than what one did without such means.[197] In Advaita school of Hindu philosophy, a valid conclusion is either sadrupa (positive) or asadrupa (negative) relation - both correct and valuable. Like other pramana, Indian scholars refined Anupalabdi to four types: non-perception of the cause, non-perception of the effect, non-perception of object, and non-perception of contradiction. Only two schools of Hinduism accepted and developed the concept "non-perception" as a pramana. Advaita considers this method as valid and useful when the other five pramanas fail in one's pursuit of knowledge and truth.[182][198] A variation of Anupaladbi, called Abhava (अभाव) has also been posited as an epistemic method. It means non-existence. Some scholars consider Anupalabdi to be same as Abhava,[179] while others consider Anupalabdi and Abhava as different.[198][199] Abhava-pramana has been discussed in Advaita in the context of Padartha (पदार्थ, referent of a term). A Padartha is defined as that which is simultaneously Astitva (existent), Jneyatva (knowable) and Abhidheyatva (nameable).[200] Abhava was further refined in four types, by the schools of Hinduism that accepted it as a useful method of epistemology: dhvamsa (termination of what existed), atyanta-abhava (impossibility, absolute non-existence, contradiction), anyonya-abhava (mutual negation, reciprocal absence) and pragavasa (prior, antecedent non-existence).[182][200][201]

Śabda (relying on testimony)[edit]

Śabda (शब्द), relying on word, testimony of past or present reliable experts.[179][184] Hiriyanna explains Sabda-pramana as a concept which means reliable expert testimony. The schools of Hinduism which consider it epistemically valid suggest that a human being needs to know numerous facts, and with the limited time and energy available, he can learn only a fraction of those facts and truths directly.[202] He must rely on others, his parent, family, friends, teachers, ancestors and kindred members of society to rapidly acquire and share knowledge and thereby enrich each other's lives. This means of gaining proper knowledge is either spoken or written, but through Sabda (words).[202] The reliability of the source is important, and legitimate knowledge can only come from the Sabda of reliable sources.[184][202] The disagreement between Advaita and other schools of Hinduism has been on how to establish reliability.[203]


Some claim, states Deutsch, that there is no place for ethics in Advaita, "that it turns its back on all theoretical and practical considerations of morality and, if not unethical, is at least 'a-ethical' in character".[204] However, adds Deutsch, ethics does have a firm place in this philosophy. Ethics, which implies doing good Karma, indirectly helps in attaining true knowledge.[205]

Adi Shankara, a leading proponent of Advaita, in verse 1.25 to 1.26 of his Upadeśasāhasrī, asserts that the Self-knowledge is understood and realized when one's mind is purified by the observation of Yamas (ethical precepts) such as Ahimsa (non-violence, abstinence from injuring others in body, mind and thoughts), Satya (truth, abstinence from falsehood), Asteya (abstinence from theft), Aparigraha (abstinence from possessiveness and craving) and a simple life of meditation and reflection.[206] Rituals and rites can help focus and prepare the mind for the journey to Self-knowledge,[207] however, Shankara discourages ritual worship and oblations to Deva (God), because that assumes the Self within is different than Brahman. The "doctrine of difference" is wrong, asserts Shankara, because, "he who knows the Brahman is one and he is another, does not know Brahman".[208]

Elsewhere, in verses 1.26-1.28, the Advaita text Upadesasahasri states the ethical premise of equality of all beings. Any Bheda (discrimination), states Shankara, based on class or caste or parentage is a mark of inner error and lack of liberating knowledge.[209] This text states that the fully liberated person understands and practices the ethics of non-difference.[209]

One, who is eager to realize this highest truth spoken of in the Sruti, should rise above the fivefold form of desire: for a son, for wealth, for this world and the next, and are the outcome of a false reference to the Self of Varna (castes, colors, classes) and orders of life. These references are contradictory to right knowledge, and reasons are given by the Srutis regarding the prohibition of the acceptance of difference. For when the knowledge that the one non-dual Atman (Self) is beyond phenomenal existence is generated by the scriptures and reasoning, there cannot exist a knowledge side by side that is contradictory or contrary to it.

— Adi Shankara, Upadesha Sahasri 1.44, [210][211]

History of Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)

Advaita Vedanta existed prior to Adi Shankara but found in him its most influential expounder.[212]

Pre-Shankara Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Of the Vedanta-school before the composition of the Brahma Sutras (400–450 CE[213]), wrote Nakamura in 1950, almost nothing is known.[213] The two Advaita writings of pre-Shankara period, known to scholars such as Nakamura in the first half of 20th-century, were the Vākyapadīya, written by Bhartṛhari (second half 5th century[214]), and the Māndūkya-kārikā written by Gaudapada (7th century CE).[213]

Scholarship after 1950 suggests that almost all Sannyasa Upanishads have a strong Advaita Vedanta outlook.[215][216][217] Six of these Sannyasa Upanishads – Aruni, Kundika, Kathashruti, Paramahamsa, Jabala and Brahma – were composed before the 3rd-century CE, likely in the centuries before or after the start of the common era, states Sprockhoff; the Asrama Upanishad is dated to the 3rd-century.[218][219]

The strong Advaita Vedanta views in these ancient texts may be, states Patrick Olivelle, because major Hindu monasteries of this period (1st millennium CE) belonged to the Advaita Vedanta tradition.[215]

Earliest Vedanta - Upanishads and Brahma Sutras[edit]

Main article: Brahma Sutras
See also: Vedas, Upanishads, and Darsanas

The Upanishads form the basic texts, of which Vedanta gives an interpretation.[220] The Upanishads do not contain "a rigorous philosophical inquiry identifying the doctrines and formulating the supporting arguments".[221][note 17] This philosophical inquiry was performed by the darsanas, the various philosophical schools.[223][note 18]

Bādarāyana's Brahma Sutras[edit]

The Brahma Sutras of Bādarāyana, also called the Vedanta Sutra,[225] were compiled in its present form around 400–450 CE,[226] but "the great part of the Sutra must have been in existence much earlier than that".[226] Estimates of the date of Bādarāyana's lifetime differ between 200 BCE and 200 CE.[227]

The Brahma Sutra is a critical study of the teachings of the Upanishads. It was and is a guide-book for the great teachers of the Vedantic systems.[225] Bādarāyana was not the first person to systematise the teachings of the Upanishads.[228] He refers to seven Vedantic teachers before him:[228]

From the way in which Bādarāyana cites the views of others it is obvious that the teachings of the Upanishads must have been analyzed and interpreted by quite a few before him and that his systematization of them in 555 sutras arranged in four chapters must have been the last attempt, most probably the best.[228]

Between Brahma Sutras and Shankara[edit]

According to Nakamura, "there must have been an enormous number of other writings turned out in this period, but unfortunately all of them have been scattered or lost and have not come down to us today".[213] In his commentaries, Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his Sampradaya.[229] In the beginning of his commentary on the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Shankara salutes the teachers of the Brahmavidya Sampradaya.[web 10] Pre-Shankara doctrines and sayings can be traced in the works of the later schools, which does give insight into the development of early Vedanta philosophy.[213]

The names of various 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.[213] Combined together,[213] at least fourteen thinkers are known to have existed between the composition of the Brahman Sutras and Shankara's lifetime.[213][note 19]

Although Shankara is often considered to be the founder of the Advaita Vedanta school, according to Nakamura, comparison of the known teachings of these early Vedantins and Shankara's thought shows that most of the characteristics of Shankara's thought "were advocated by someone before Śankara".[230] Shankara "was the person who synthesized the Advaita-vāda which had previously existed before him".[230] In this synthesis, he was the rejuvenator and defender of ancient learning.[231] He was an unequalled commentator,[231] due to whose efforts and contributions the Advaita Vedanta assumed a dominant position within Indian philosophy.[231]

Gaudapada and Māṇḍukya Kārikā[edit]

Statue of Gaudapada, the first historical proponent of Advaita Vedanta
Main article: Gaudapada

Gaudapada (6th century)[232] was the teacher of Govinda Bhagavatpada and the grandteacher of Shankara. Gaudapada uses the concepts of Ajativada and Maya[233] to establish "that from the level of ultimate truth the world is a cosmic illusion,"[234] and "suggests that the whole of our waking experience is exactly the same as an illusory and insubstantial dream."[235] In contrast, Adi Shankara insists upon a distinction between waking experience and dreams.[235]

Māṇḍukya Kārikā[edit]

Gaudapada wrote or compiled[236] the Māṇḍukya Kārikā, also known as the Gauḍapāda Kārikā and as the Āgama Śāstra.[note 20] The Māṇḍukya Kārikā is a commentary in verse form on the Mandukya Upanishad, one of the shortest but most profound Upanishads, or mystical Vedas, consisting of just 13 prose sentences. The Māṇḍukya Kārikā is the earliest extent systematic treatise on Advaita Vedānta,.[237] It was, however, not the oldest work to present Advaita views,[238] nor the only pre-Sankara work with the same type of teachings.[238] In Shankara's time it was considered to be a Śruti, but not particularly important.[239] In later periods it acquired a higher status, and eventually it was regarded as expressing the essence of the Upanisad philosophy.[239]

Shri Gaudapadacharya Math[edit]

Around 740 AD Gaudapada founded Shri Gaudapadacharya Math[note 21], also known as Kavaḷē maṭha. It is located in Kavale, Ponda, Goa,[web 11] and is the oldest matha of the South Indian Saraswat Brahmins.[240][web 12]

Adi Shankara[edit]

Main article: Adi Shankara

Adi Shankara (788–820), also known as Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, represents a turning point in the development of Vedanta.[241] After the growing influence of Buddhism on Vedanta, culminating in the works of Gaudapada, Adi Shankara gave a Vedantic character to the Buddhistic elements in these works,[241] synthesising and rejuvenating the doctrine of Advaita.[231] Using ideas in ancient Indian texts, Shankara systematized the foundation for Advaita Vedanta in the 8th century CE, though the school was founded many centuries earlier by Badarayana.[242] His thematic focus extended beyond metaphysics and soteriology, and he laid a strong emphasis on Pramanas, that is epistemology or "means to gain knowledge, reasoning methods that empower one to gain reliable knowledge".[citation needed] Rambachan, for example, summarizes the widely held view on one aspect of Shankara's epistemology before critiquing it as follows,

According to these [widely represented contemporary] studies, Shankara only accorded a provisional validity to the knowledge gained by inquiry into the words of the Śruti (Vedas) and did not see the latter as the unique source (pramana) of Brahmajnana. The affirmations of the Śruti, it is argued, need to be verified and confirmed by the knowledge gained through direct experience (anubhava) and the authority of the Śruti, therefore, is only secondary.[66]

Sengaku Mayeda concurs, adding Shankara maintained the need for objectivity in the process of gaining knowledge (vastutantra), and considered subjective opinions (purushatantra) and injunctions in Śruti (codanatantra) as secondary.[243] Mayeda cites Shankara's explicit statements emphasizing epistemology (pramana-janya) in section 1.18.133 of Upadesasahasri and section 1.1.4 of Brahmasutra-bhasya.[243][244]

Adi Shankara cautioned against cherrypicking a phrase or verse out of context from Vedic literature, and remarked that the Anvaya (theme or purport) of any treatise can only be correctly understood if one attends to the Samanvayat Tatparya Linga, that is six characteristics of the text under consideration:

  1. The common in Upakrama (introductory statement) and Upasamhara (conclusions)
  2. Abhyasa (message repeated)
  3. Apurvata (unique proposition or novelty)
  4. Phala (fruit or result derived)
  5. Arthavada (explained meaning, praised point)
  6. Yukti (verifiable reasoning).[245][246]

While this methodology has roots in the theoretical works of Nyaya school of Hinduism, Shankara consolidated and applied it with his unique exegetical method called Anvaya-Vyatireka, which states that for proper understanding one must "accept only meanings that are compatible with all characteristics" and "exclude meanings that are incompatible with any".[247][248]

Hacker and Phillips note that this insight into rules of reasoning and hierarchical emphasis on epistemic steps is "doubtlessly the suggestion" of Shankara in Brahma-sutra, an insight that flowers in the works of his companion and disciple Padmapada.[249] Merrell-Wolff states that Shankara accepts Vedas and Upanishads as a source of knowledge as he develops his philosophical theses, yet he never rests his case on the ancient texts, rather proves each thesis, point by point using pranamas (epistemology), reason and experience.[250][251]

Historical context[edit]

Shankara lived in the time of the so-called "Late classical Hinduism",[252] which lasted from 650 to 1100 CE.[252] This era was one of political instability that followed Gupta dynasty and King Harsha of the 7th century CE.[253] It was a time of social and cultural change as the ideas of Buddhism, Jainism, and various traditions within Hinduism were competing for members.[254][255] Buddhism in particular influenced India's spiritual traditions in the first 700 years of the 1st millennium CE.[253][256] Shankara and his contemporaries made a significant contribution in understanding Buddhism and the ancient Vedic traditions; they then transformed the extant ideas, particularly reforming the Vedanta tradition of Hinduism, making it India's most important tradition for more than a thousand years.[253]


Adi Shankara is best known for his systematic reviews and commentaries (Bhasyas) on ancient Indian texts. Shankara's masterpiece of commentary is the Brahmasutrabhasya (literally, commentary on Brahma Sutra), a fundamental text of the Vedanta school of Hinduism.[257] His commentaries on ten Mukhya (principal) Upanishads are also considered authentic by scholars.[257][258] Other authentic works of Shankara include commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita (part of his Prasthana Trayi Bhasya).[66]

Shankara's Vivarana (tertiary notes) on the commentary by Vedavyasa on Yogasutras as well as those on Apastamba Dharma-sũtras (Adhyatama-patala-bhasya) are accepted by scholars as authentic works of Adi Shankara.[259][260] Among the Stotra (poetic works), the Daksinamurti Stotra, Bhajagovinda Stotra, Sivanandalahari, Carpata-panjarika, Visnu-satpadi, Harimide, Dasa-shloki, and Krishna-staka are likely to be authentic.[259][261] He also authored Upadesasahasri, his most important original philosophical work.[260][242] Of other original Prakaranas (प्रकरण, monographs, treatise), 76 works are attributed to Adi Shankara. Modern era Indian scholars Belvalkar and Upadhyaya accept five and thirty nine works, respectively, as authentic.[262]

Several commentaries on Nrisimha-Purvatatapaniya and Shveshvatara Upanishads have been attributed to Adi Shankara, but their authenticity is highly doubtful.[258][263] Similarly, commentaries on several early and later Upanishads attributed to Shankara are rejected by scholars[264] as his works, and are likely works of later Advaita Vedanta scholars; these include the Kaushitaki Upanishad, Maitri Upanishad, Kaivalya Upanishad, Paramahamsa Upanishad, Sakatayana Upanishad, Mandala Brahmana Upanishad, Maha Narayana Upanishad, and Gopalatapaniya Upanishad.[263]

The authenticity of Shankara being the author of Vivekacūḍāmaṇi[265] has been questioned, but scholars generally credit it to him.[266] The authorship of Shankara of his Mandukya Upanishad Bhasya and his supplementary commentary on Gaudapada's Māṇḍukya Kārikā has been disputed by Nakamura.[267] However, other scholars state that the commentary on Mandukya, which is actually a commentary on Madukya-Karikas by Gaudapada, may be authentic.[259][263]

Influence of Shankara[edit]

Shankara's status in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta is unparallelled. He travelled all over India to help restore the study of the Vedas.[268] His teachings and tradition form the basis of Smartism and have influenced Sant Mat lineages.[269] He introduced the Pañcāyatana form of worship, the simultaneous worship of five deities – Ganesha, Surya, Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi. Shankara explained that all deities were but different forms of the one Brahman, the invisible Supreme Being.[270]

Benedict Ashley credits Adi Shankara for unifying two seemingly disparate philosophical doctrines in Hinduism, namely Atman and Brahman.[271] Isaeva states that Shankara's influence extended to reforming Hinduism, founding monasteries, edifying disciples, disputing opponents, and engaging in philosophic activity that, in the eyes of Indian tradition, helped revive "the orthodox idea of the unity of all beings" and Vedanta thought.[272]

Some scholars doubt Shankara's early influence in India.[273] According to King and Roodurmun, until the 10th century Shankara was overshadowed by his older contemporary Mandana-Misra, who was considered to be the major representative of Advaita.[274][275] Other scholars state that the historical records for this period are unclear, and little reliable information is known about the various contemporaries and disciples of Shankara.[276]

Several scholars suggest that the historical fame and cultural influence of Shankara grew centuries later, particularly during the era of the Muslim invasions and consequent devastation of India.[273][277] Many of Shankara's biographies were created and published in and after the 14th century, such as the widely cited Vidyaranya's Śankara-vijaya. Vidyaranya, also known as Madhava, who was the 12th Jagadguru of the Śringeri Śarada Pītham from 1380 to 1386,[278] inspired the re-creation of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire of South India in response to the devastation caused by the Islamic Delhi Sultanate.[277][279] He and his brothers, suggest Paul Hacker and other scholars,[273][277] wrote about Śankara as well as extensive Advaitic commentaries on the Vedas and Dharma. Vidyaranya was a minister in the Vijayanagara Empire and enjoyed royal support,[279] and his sponsorship and methodical efforts helped establish Shankara as a rallying symbol of values, spread historical and cultural influence of Shankara's Vedanta philosophies, and establish monasteries (mathas) to expand the cultural influence of Shankara and Advaita Vedanta.[273]

Sureśvara and Maṇḍana Miśra[edit]

Main articles: Sureśvara and Maṇḍana Miśra

Sureśvara (fl. 800-900 CE)[280] and Maṇḍana Miśra were contemporaries of Shankara, Sureśvara often (incorrectly) being identified with Maṇḍana Miśra.[281] Both explained Sankara "on the basis of their personal convictions".[281] Sureśvara has also been credited as the founder of a pre-Shankara branch of Advaita Vedanta.[280]

Maṇḍana Miśra was a Mimamsa scholar and a follower of Kumarila, but also wrote a work on Advaita, the Brahma-siddhi.[282] According to tradition, Maṇḍana Miśra and his wife were defeated by Shankara in a debate, after which he became a follower of Shankara.[282] Yet, his attitude toward Shankara was that of a "self-confident rival teacher of Advaita",[283] and his influence was such that some regard the Brahma-siddhi to have "set forth a non-Shankaran brand of Advaita""[282] The "theory of error" set forth in this work became the normative Advaita Vedanta theory of error.[284] It was Vachaspati Misra's commentary on this work that linked it to Shankara's teaching.[285]

Hiriyanna and Kuppuswami Sastra have pointed out that Sureśvara and Maṇḍana Miśra had different views on various doctrinal points:[286]

  • The locus of avidya:[286] according to Maṇḍana Miśra, the individual jiva is the locus of avidya, whereas Suresvara contends that the avidya regarding Brahman is located in Brahman.[286] These two different stances are also reflected in the opposing positions of the Bhamati school and the Vivarana school.[286]
  • Liberation: according to Maṇḍana Miśra, the knowledge that arises from the Mahavakya is insufficient for liberation. Only the direct realization of Brahma is liberating, which can only be attained by meditation.[287] According to Suresvara, this knowledge is directly liberating, while meditation is at best a useful aid.[283][note 22]

Advaita Vedanta sub-schools[edit]

After Shankara's death, several sub-schools developed. Two of them still exist today, the Bhāmatī and the Vivarana.[web 13][229] Two defunct schools are the Pancapadika and Istasiddhi, which were replaced by Prakasatman's Vivarana school.[289]

These schools worked out the logical implications of various Advaita doctrines. Two of the problems they encountered were the further interpretations of the concepts of māyā and avidya.[web 13]

Padmapada - Pancapadika school[edit]

Padmapada (c. 800 CE)[290] was a direct disciple of Shankara who wrote the Pancapadika, a commentary on the Sankara-bhaya.[290] Padmapada diverged from Shankara in his description of avidya, designating prakrti as avidya or ajnana.[291]

Vachaspati Misra – Bhamati school[edit]

Main articles: Bhamati and Vācaspati Miśra

Vachaspati Misra (800–900 CE)[292] wrote the Brahmatattva-samiksa, a commentary on Maṇḍana Miśra's Brahma-siddhi, which provides the link between Mandana Misra and Shankara[285] and attempts to harmonise Shankara's thought with that of Mandana Misra.[web 13] According to Advaita tradition, Shankara reincarnated as Vachaspati Misra "to popularise the Advaita System through his Bhamati".[292] Only two works are known of Vachaspati Misra, the Brahmatattva-samiksa on Maṇḍana Miśra's Brahma-siddhi, and his Bhamati on the Sankara-bhasya, Shankara's commentary on the Brahma-sutras.[285] The name of the Bhamati sub-school is derived from this Bhamati.[web 13]

The Bhamati school takes an ontological approach. It sees the Jiva as the source of avidya.[web 13] It sees meditation as the main factor in the acquirement of liberation, while the study of the Vedas and reflection are additional factors.[293]

Prakasatman - Vivarana school[edit]

Main article: Vivarana

Prakasatman (c. 1200–1300)[289] wrote the Pancapadika-Vivarana, a commentary on the Pancapadika by Padmapadacharya.[289] The Vivarana lends its name to the subsequent school. According to Roodurmum, "[H]is line of thought [...] became the leitmotif of all subsequent developments in the evolution of the Advaita tradition."[289]

The Vivarana school takes an epistemological approach. Prakasatman was the first to propound the theory of mulavidya or maya as being of "positive beginningless nature",[294] and sees Brahman as the source of avidya. Critics object that Brahman is pure consciousness, so it cannot be the source of avidya. Another problem is that contradictory qualities, namely knowledge and ignorance, are attributed to Brahman.[web 13]

Vimuktatman - Ista-Siddhi[edit]

Vimuktatman (c. 1200 CE)[295] wrote the Ista-siddhi.[295] It is one of the four traditional siddhi, together with Mandana's Brahma-siddhi, Suresvara's Naiskarmya-siddhi, and Madusudana's Advaita-siddhi.[296] According to Vimuktatman, absolute Reality is "pure intuitive consciousness".[297] His school of thought was eventually replaced by Prakasatman's Vivarana school.[289]

Later Advaita Vedanta tradition[edit]

According to Sangeetha Menon, prominent names in the later Advaita tradition are:[web 14]

  • Prakāsātman, Vimuktātman, Sarvajñātman (10th century),
  • Śrī Harṣa, Citsukha (12th century),
  • ānandagiri, Amalānandā (13th century),
  • Vidyāraņya, Śaṅkarānandā (14th century),
  • Sadānandā (15th century),
  • Prakāṣānanda, Nṛsiṁhāśrama (16th century),
  • Madhusūdhana Sarasvati, Dharmarāja Advarindra, Appaya Dīkśita (17th century),
  • Sadaśiva Brahmendra (18th century),
  • Candraśekhara Bhārati, Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal, Sacchidānandendra Saraswati (20th century).

Contemporary teachers are the orthodox Jagadguru of Sringeri Sharada Peetham; the more traditional teachers Sivananda Saraswati (1887–1963), Chinmayananda Saraswati,[web 15] and Dayananda Saraswati (Arsha Vidya);[web 15] and less traditional teachers such as Narayana Guru.[web 15]


Monastic order: Advaita Mathas[edit]

(Vidyashankara temple) at Sringeri Sharada Peetham, Shringeri

Advaita Vedanta is not just a philosophical system, but also a tradition of renunciation. Philosophy and renunciation are closely related:[web 16]

Most of the notable authors in the advaita tradition were members of the sannyasa tradition, and both sides of the tradition share the same values, attitudes and metaphysics.[web 16]

Shankara organized monks under 10 names and established mathas for them. These mathas contributed to the influence of Shankara, which was "due to institutional factors". The mathas which he built 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".[298]

Shri Gaudapadacharya Math[edit]

Around 740 CE, Gaudapada founded Shri Gaudapadacharya Math[note 23], also known as Kavaḷē maṭha. It is located in Kavale, Ponda, Goa,[web 17] and is the oldest matha of the South Indian Saraswat Brahmins.[299][web 18]

Shankara's monastic tradition[edit]

Shankara, himself considered to be an incarnation of Shiva,[web 16] established the Dashanami Sampradaya, organizing a section of the Ekadandi monks under an umbrella grouping of ten names.[web 16] Several Hindu monastic and Ekadandi traditions, however, remained outside the organisation of the Dasanāmis.[300][301][302]

Sankara organised the Hindu monks of these ten sects or names under four Maṭhas (Sanskrit: मठ) (monasteries), called the Amnaya Mathas, with the headquarters at Dvārakā in the West, Jagannatha Puri in the East, Sringeri in the South and Badrikashrama in the North.[web 16] Each math was first headed by one of his four main disciples, and the tradition continues since then.[note 24] According to another 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.

The table below gives an overview of the four Amnaya Mathas founded by Adi Shankara, and their details.[web 19]

Direction Maṭha Mahāvākya Veda Sampradaya
Padmapāda East Govardhana Pīṭhaṃ Prajñānam brahma (Consciousness is Brahman) Rig Veda Bhogavala
Sureśvara South Sringeri Śārada Pīṭhaṃ Aham brahmāsmi (I am Brahman) Yajur Veda Bhūrivala
Hastāmalakācārya West Dvāraka Pīṭhaṃ Tattvamasi (That thou art) Sama Veda Kitavala
Toṭakācārya North Jyotirmaṭha Pīṭhaṃ Ayamātmā brahma (This Atman is Brahman) Atharva Veda Nandavala

Monks of these ten orders differ in part in their beliefs and practices, and a section of them is not considered to be restricted to specific changes made by Shankara. While the dasanāmis associated with the Sankara maths follow the procedures enumerated by Adi Śankara, some of these orders remained partly or fully independent in their belief and practices; and outside the official control of the Sankara maths. The advaita sampradaya is not a Saiva sect,[web 16][305] despite the historical links with Shaivism.[note 25] Nevertheless, contemporary Sankaracaryas have more influence among Saiva communities than among Vaisnava communities.[web 16]

Smarta Tradition[edit]

Main article: Smarta Tradition

Traditionally, Shankara is regarded as the greatest teacher[306] and reformer of the Smartha.[307] According to Alf Hiltebeitel, Shankara established the non-dualist interpretation of the Upanishads as the touchstone of a revived smarta tradition:

Practically, Shankara fostered a rapprochement between Advaita and smarta orthodoxy, which by his time had not only continued to defend the varnasramadharma theory as defining the path of karman, but had developed the practice of pancayatanapuja ("five-shrine worship") as a solution to varied and conflicting devotional practices. Thus one could worship any one of five deities (Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Surya, Ganesa) as one's istadevata ("deity of choice").[308]

The greatest influence of the gurus of the advaita tradition has been among followers of the Smartha Tradition, who integrate the domestic Vedic ritual with devotional aspects of Hinduism.[web 16] The Sringeri monastery is still the centre of the Smarta sect.[306] In recent times bhakti cults have increasingly become popular with the smartas,[309] and Shiva is particularly favored.[306] In modern times Smarta views have been influential in both the Indian and western understanding of Hinduism.[citation needed]

Relationship with other forms of Vedanta[edit]

The Advaita Vedanta ideas, particularly of 8th century Adi Shankara, were challenged by theistic Vedanta philosophies that emerged centuries later, such as the 11th-century Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism) of Ramanuja, and the 14th-century Dvaita (theistic dualism) of Madhvacharya.[310]


Main article: Vishishtadvaita

Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita school and Shankara's Advaita school are both nondualism Vedanta schools,[311][312] both are premised on the assumption that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation; in contrast, Madhvacharya and his Dvaita subschool of Vedanta believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned.[313][314] Shankara's theory posits that only Brahman and causes are metaphysical unchanging reality, while the empirical world (Maya) and observed effects are changing, illusive and of relative existence.[315][316] Spiritual liberation to Shankara is the full comprehension and realization of oneness of one's unchanging Atman (soul) as the same as Atman in everyone else as well as being identical to the nirguna Brahman.[312][317][318] In contrast, Ramanuja's theory posits both Brahman and the world of matter are two different absolutes, both metaphysically real, neither should be called false or illusive, and saguna Brahman with attributes is also real.[316] God, like man, states Ramanuja, has both soul and body, and all of the world of matter is the glory of God's body.[311] The path to Brahman (Vishnu), asserted Ramanuja, is devotion to godliness and constant remembrance of the beauty and love of personal god (saguna Brahman, Vishnu), one which ultimately leads one to the oneness with nirguna Brahman.[311][315][316]


Main article: Shuddhadvaita

Vallabhacharya (1479–1531 CE), the proponent of the philosophy of Shuddhadvaita Brahmvad enunciates that Ishvara has created the world without connection with any external agency such as Maya (which itself is his power) and manifests Himself through the world.[319] That is why shuddhadvaita is known as ‘Unmodified transformation’ or ‘Avikṛta Pariṇāmavāda’. Brahman or Ishvara desired to become many, and he became the multitude of individual souls and the world. Vallabha recognises Brahmn as the whole and the individual as a ‘part’ (but devoid of bliss).[320]


Main article: Dvaita

Madhvacharya was also a critic of Advaita Vedanta. Advaita's nondualism asserted that Atman (soul) and Brahman are identical, there is interconnected oneness of all souls and Brahman, and there are no pluralities[321][322] Madhva in contrast asserted that Atman (soul) and Brahman are different, only Vishnu is the Lord (Brahman), individual souls are also different and depend on Vishnu, and there are pluralities.[321][322] Madhvacharya stated that both Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism were a nihilistic school of thought.[323] Madhvacharya wrote four major texts, including Upadhikhandana and Tattvadyota, primarily dedicated to criticizing Advaita.[323]

Influence on modern Hinduism[edit]

Unifying Hinduism[edit]

Main article: Unifying Hinduism

Advaita Vedanta came to occupy a central position in the classification of various Hindu traditions. With the onset of Islamic rule, hierarchical classifications of the various orthodox schools were developed to shield Hindu Philosophy from Islamic influences.[17] According to Nicholson, already between the twelfth and the sixteenth century,

... certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy.[324]

The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.[325] Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,[326] and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",[327] which started well before 1800.[328] Both the Indian and the European thinkers who developed the term "Hinduism" in the 19th century were influenced by these philosophers.[324]

Within these doxologies, Advaita Vedanta was given the highest position, since it was regarded to be most inclusive system.[17] Vijnanabhiksu, a 16th-century philosopher and writer, is still an influential representant of these doxologies. He's been a prime influence on 19th century Hindu modernists like Vivekananda, who also tried to integrate various strands of Hindu thought, taking Advaita Vedanta as its most representative specimen.[17]

Contemporary views[edit]

Historical influence[edit]

Scholars are divided on the historical influence of Advaita Vedanta. Some Indologists state that it is one of the most studied Hindu philosophy and the most influential schools of classical Indian thought.[329][20][330] Advaita Vedanta, states Eliot Deutsch, "has been and continues to be the most widely accepted system of thought among philosophers in India, and it is, we believe, one of the greatest philosophical achievements to be found in the East or the West".[331]

In contrast, King states that its present position as the key Indian philosophy is a modern phenomenon, which developed under western Orientalism and Perennialism.[332]

Indian nationalism and Hindu Universalism[edit]

With the onset of the British Raj, the colonialisation of India by the British, there also started a Hindu renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west.[333] Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas, and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis and the popular picture of 'mystical India'.[334] This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by the Hindu reformers, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground.[335] The Brahmo Samaj, who was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church,[336] played an essential role in the introduction and spread of this new understanding of Hinduism.[337]

Vedanta came to be regarded as the essence of Hinduism, and Advaita Vedanta came to be regarded as "then paradigmatic example of the mystical nature of the Hindu religion".[274] These notions served well for the Hindu nationalists, who further popularised this notion of Advaita Vedanta as the pinnacle of Indian religions.[338] It "provided an opportunity for the construction of a nationalist ideology that could unite HIndus in their struggle against colonial oppression".[339]

In modern times, states King, Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.[332][page needed]

Swami Vivekananda[edit]

A major proponent in the popularisation of this Universalist and Perennialist interpretation of Advaita Vedanta was Vivekananda,[340] who played a major role in the revival of Hinduism,[341] and the spread of Advaita Vedanta to the west via the Ramakrishna Mission. His interpretation of Advaita Vedanta has been called "Neo-Vedanta".[342] Vivekananda discerned a universal religion, regarding all the apparent differences between various traditions as various manifestations of one truth.[343] He presented karma, bhakti, jnana and raja yoga as equal means to attain moksha,[344] to present Vedanta as a liberal and universal religion, in contrast to the exclusivism of other religions.[344]

Vivekananda emphasised samadhi as a means to attain liberation.[345] Yet this emphasis is not to be found in the Upanishads nor with Shankara.[346] For Shankara, meditation and Nirvikalpa Samadhi are means to gain knowledge of the already existing unity of Brahman and Atman. Vivekananda also claimed that Advaita is the only religion that is in agreement with modern science. 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".[web 20]

Mukerji criticizes this view of Vivekananda:

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.[342]

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan[edit]

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan further popularized Advaita Vedanta, presenting it as the essence of Hinduism.[web 21] Radhakrishnan saw other religions, "including what Radhakrishnan understands as lower forms of Hinduism,"[web 21] as interpretations of Advaita Vedanta, thereby Hindusizing all religions.[web 21] His metaphysics was grounded in Advaita Vedanta, but he reinterpreted Advaita Vedanta for a contemporary understanding.[web 21] He acknowledged the reality and diversity of the world of experience, which he saw as grounded in and supported by the absolute or Brahman.[web 21][note 26] Radhakrishnan also reinterpreted Shankara's notion of maya. According to Radhakrishnan, maya is not a strict absolute idealism, but "a subjective misperception of the world as ultimately real."[web 21]


Main article: Neo-Advaita

Neo-Advaita is a New Religious Movement based on a popularised, western interpretation of Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.[348] Neo-Advaita is being criticised[349][note 27][351][note 28][note 29] for discarding the traditional prerequisites of knowledge of the scriptures[353] and "renunciation as necessary preparation for the path of jnana-yoga".[353][354] Notable neo-advaita teachers are H. W. L. Poonja,[355][348] his students Gangaji[356] Andrew Cohen[note 30], and Eckhart Tolle.[348]


Main article: Nondualism

Advaita Vedanta has gained attention in western spirituality and New Age, where various traditions are seen as driven by the same non-dual experience.[358] Nonduality points to "a primordial, natural awareness without subject or object".[web 26] It is also used to refer to interconnectedness, "the sense that all things are interconnected and not separate, while at the same time all things retain their individuality".[web 27]

Influence of Buddhism[edit]

Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism share many similarities. The similarities between Advaita and Buddhism have attracted Indian and Western scholars attention,[359] and have also been criticised by concurring schools. The similarities have been interpreted as Buddhist influences on Advaita Vedanta, while others deny such influences, or see them as expressions of the same eternal truth.[360]

Criticism by concurring Indian traditions[edit]

The similarities with Buddhism have been criticised by concurring Indian schools. Ramanujacharya, the founder of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, accused Adi Shankara of being a Prachanna Bauddha, that is, a "crypto-Buddhist",[359] and someone who was undermining theistic Bhakti devotionalism.[361] The non-Advaita scholar Bhaskara of the Bhedabheda tradition, similarly around 800 CE, accused Shankara's Advaita as "this despicable broken down Mayavada that has been chanted by the Mahayana Buddhists", and a school that is undermining the ritual duties set in Vedic orthodoxy.[361]

Influence and similarities[edit]

According to academic scholars, the influence of Mahayana Buddhism on Advaita Vedanta has been significant.[361][362][363] The early commentators on the Brahma Sutras were all realists,[364] or pantheist realists,[365] who were influenced by Buddhism, particularly during the 5th and 6th centuries CE when Buddhist thought was developing in the Yogacara school.[366] Advaita Vedanta and various other schools of Hindu philosophy share numerous terminology, doctrines and dialectical techniques with Buddhism,[367][368] which makes "a precise differentiation between Brahmanism and Buddhism [...] impossible to draw."[367]

Both traditions hold that "the empirical world is transitory, a show of appearances",[369][370] and both admit "degrees of truth or existence".[371] Both traditions emphasize the human need for spiritual liberation (moksha, nirvana, kaivalya), however with different assumptions.[372][note 31]

According to Frank Whaling, the similarities between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism are not limited to the terminology and some doctrines, but also includes practice. The monastic practices and monk tradition in Advaita are similar to those found in Buddhism.[361]

Dasgupta and Mohanta suggest that Buddhism and Shankara's Advaita Vedanta represent "different phases of development of the same non-dualistic metaphysics from the Upanishadic period to the time of Sankara."[374][note 32] The influence of Mahayana Buddhism on other religions and philosophies was not limited to Vedanta. Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga of Theravada Buddhism tradition contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins".[377] According to John Plott,

We must emphasize again that generally throughout the Gupta Dynasty, and even more so after its decline, there developed such a high degree of syncretism and such toleration of all points of view that Mahayana Buddhism had been Hinduized almost as much as Hinduism had been Buddhaized.[378]


According to Deutsch the influence of Mahayana on Advaita Vedanta goes back at least to Gaudapada, where he "clearly draws from Buddhist philosophical sources for many of his arguments and distinctions and even for the forms and imagery in which these arguments are cast".[368] According to Raju, Gaudapada "wove Buddhist doctrines into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara".[379] Mahadevan suggests that Gaudapada adopted Buddhist terminology and borrowed its doctrines to his Vedantic goals, much like early Buddhism adopted Upanishadic terminology and borrowed its doctrines to Buddhist goals; both used pre-existing concepts and ideas to convey new meanings.[378] According to John Plott, in his Karikas text Gaudapada uses the leading concepts and wording of Mahayana Buddhist school, but reformulated them to the Upanishadic themes.[378]

According to Sharma Gaudapada bridged Buddhism and Vedanta, by taking over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[380][232][note 33] and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".[380][232][note 34]

Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy,[384][385] which uses the term "anutpāda".[386] [note 35] An equivalent theory of "Ajātivāda", "the Doctrine of no-origination"[390][note 36] or non-creation, is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of Gaudapada.[390] According to Gaudapada, the Absolute Reality, that is Brahman, is not subject to birth, change and death. The Absolute is aja, the unborn eternal.[390] Thus both Buddhism and Gaudapada's theory posit the doctrine of unreality of the world.[378]

At the same time, Gaudapada emphatically rejected some theories of the Buddhists, such as the multiplicity and momentariness of consciousnesses, which were core doctrines of the Vijnanavada school, and their techniques for achieving liberation.[391] According to Murti notes that while there is shared terminology, the doctrines of Gaudapada and Buddhism are fundamentally different.[392][393][note 37] According to Nikhilananda the whole purpose of Gaudapada was to demonstrate the ultimate reality of the birth-less and non-dual Atman, a concept foreign to Buddhism.[395]

According to Michael Comans, Gaudapada utilised some arguments and reasoning from Madhyamaka Buddhist texts by quoting them almost verbatim. However, Comans adds there is a fundamental difference between Buddhist thought and that of Gaudapada, in that Buddhism has as its philosophical basis the doctrine of Dependent Origination according to which "everything is without an essential nature (nissvabhava), and everything is empty of essential nature (svabhava-sunya)", while Gaudapada does not rely on this principle at all. Gaudapada's Ajativada is an outcome of reasoning applied to an unchanging nondual reality according to which "there exists a Reality (sat) that is unborn (aja)" that has essential nature (svabhava) and this is the "eternal, fearless, undecaying Self (Atman) and Brahman".[396] Thus, Gaudapada differs from Buddhist scholars such as Nagarjuna, states Comans, by accepting the premises and relying on the fundamental teaching of the Upanishads.[396]

Differences from Buddhism[edit]

Atman and anatta[edit]

Advaita Vedanta holds the premise, "Soul exists, and Soul (or self, Atman) is a self evident truth". Buddhism, in contrast, holds the premise, "Atman does not exist, and An-atman (or Anatta, non-self)[397] is self evident".[398][399]

Buddhists do not believe that at the core of all human beings and living creatures, there is any "eternal, essential and absolute something called a soul, self or atman".[400] Buddhists reject the concept and all doctrines associated with atman, call atman as illusion (maya), asserting instead the theory of "no-self" and "no-soul".[399][401] Buddhism, from its earliest days, has denied the existence of the "self, soul" in its core philosophical and ontological texts. In contrast to Advaita which describes knowing one's own soul as identical with Brahman as the path to nirvana, in its soteriological themes, Buddhism has defined nirvana as that blissful state when a person realizes that he or she has "no self, no soul".[400][402]


The epistemological foundations of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta are different. Buddhism accepts two valid means to reliable and correct knowledge – perception and inference, while Advaita Vedanta accepts six (described elsewhere in this article).[181][198][403] However, some Buddhists in history, have argued that Buddhist scriptures are a reliable source of spiritual knowledge, corresponding to Advaita's Śabda pramana, however Buddhists have treated their scriptures as a form of inference method.[404]


Advaita Vedanta is a substance ontology, an ontology "which holds that underlying the seeming change, variety, and multiplicity of existence there are unchanging and permanent entities (the so-called substances)".[405] In contrast, Buddhism is a process ontology, according to which "there exists nothing permanent and unchanging, within or without man".[406][note 38]

Advaita three levels of reality theory, states Renard, is built on the two levels of reality found in the Madhyamika.[408]

Scholarly perceptions of Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Advaita Vedanta is one of the most studied and most influential schools of classical Indian thought.[329][20][330] Already in medieval times, it came to be regarded as the highest of the Indian religious philosophies,[17] a development which was reinforced in modern times due to western interest in Advaita Vedanta, and the subsequent influence on western perceptions on Indian perceptions of Hinduism.[18]

Advaita Vedanta is most often regarded as an idealist monism. It was strongly influenced by Buddhist Madhyamaka and Yogacara,[409] and it further developed "to its ultimate extreme" monistic ideas already present in the Upanishads.[410][411][23] According to Dandekar, Gaudapada's Gaudapadakarika aligns Buddhist ideas with Upanishadic ideas, "creating an irresistible impression" that those ideas are consistent with each other.[409]

According to Milne, advaita is a negative term, which denotes the "negation of a difference," between subject and object, or between perceiver and perceived. It is, states Milne, misleading to call Advaita Vedanta "monistic," since this confuses the "negation of difference" with "conflation into one."[412] Deutsch, in contrast, states Advaita Vedanta teaches monistic oneness, however without the multiplicity premise of various monism theories.[413] According to Jacqueline Hirst, Adi Shankara positively emphasizes "oneness" premise in his Brahma-sutra Bhasya 2.1.20, attributing it to all the Upanishads.[414] Nicholson points out that Advaita Vedanta also contains realistic strands of thought, both in its oldest origins and in Shankara's writings.[26] The Brahma Sutras take a bedhabheda stance,[409] and Shankara's writings also contain realistic elements.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Literally: end or the goal of the Vedas.
  2. ^ It is not a philosophy in the western meaning of the word, according to Milne.[30]
  3. ^ Many in number, the Upanishads developed in different schools at various times and places, some in the Vedic period and others in the medieval or modern era (the names of up to 112 Upanishads have been recorded).[43] All major commentators have considered the twelve to thirteen oldest of these texts as the principal Upanishads and as the foundation of Vedanta.
  4. ^ The Śruti includes the four Vedas including its four layers of embedded texts – the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, and the early Upanishads.[44]
  5. ^ Indian philosophy emphasises that "every acceptable philosophy should aid man in realising the Purusarthas, the chief aims of human life:[67]
    • Dharma: the right way to life, the "duties and obligations of the individual toward himself and the society as well as those of the society toward the individual";[68]
    • Artha: the means to support and sustain one's life;
    • Kāma: pleasure and enjoyment;
    • Mokṣa: liberation, release.
  6. ^ "Consciousness",[89][web 5] "intelligence",[90][91] "wisdom"
  7. ^ "the Absolute",[89][web 5] "infinite",[web 5] "the Highest truth"[web 5]
  8. ^ Puligandla: "Any philosophy worthy of its title should not be a mere intellectual exercise but should have practical application in enabling man to live an enlightened life. A philosophy which makes no difference to the quality and style of our life is no philosophy, but an empty intellectual construction."[93]
  9. ^ These characteristics and steps are described in various Advaita texts, such as by Shankara in Chapter 1.1 of Brahmasutrabhasya,[98] and in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 10
  10. ^ Bill Clinton: "The buck stops here."
  11. ^ Brahman is also defined as:
    • The unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe; that is the one supreme, universal spirit without a second.[111][112]
    • The one supreme, all pervading Spirit that is the origin and support of the phenomenal universe.[113]
    • The supreme self. Puligandla states it as "the unchanging reality amidst and beyond the world",[114]
    • The Self-existent, the Absolute and the Imperishable. Brahman is indescribable.[citation needed]
    • The "principle of the world",[115] the "absolute",[116] the "general, universal",[117] the "cosmic principle",[118] the "ultimate that is the cause of everything including all gods",[119] the "knowledge",[120] the "soul, sense of self of each human being that is fearless, luminuous, exalted and blissful",[121] the "essence of liberation, of spiritual freedom",[122] the "universe within each living being and the universe outside",[121] the "essence and everything innate in all that exists inside, outside and everywhere".[123]
  12. ^ Svarupalakshana, qualities, definition based on essence
  13. ^
    • Oxford Dictionaries : "1. real self of the individual; 2. a person's soul";[134]
    • David Lorenzen: "Advaita and nirguni movements, on the other hand, stress an interior mysticism in which the devotee seeks to discover the identity of individual soul (atman) with the universal ground of being (brahman) or to find god within himself".;[138]
    • Richard King: "Atman as the innermost essence or soul of man, and Brahman as the innermost essence and support of the universe. (...) Thus we can see in the Upanishads, a tendency towards a convergence of microcosm and macrocosm, culminating in the equating of atman with Brahman."[135]
    • Chad Meister: "Even though Buddhism explicitly rejected the Hindu ideas of Atman (soul) and Brahman, Hinduism treats Sakyamuni Buddha as one of the ten avatars of Vishnu."[139]
  14. ^ It provides the "stuff" from which everything is made
  15. ^ It sets everything into working, into existence
  16. ^ and other sub-schools of Vedanta with the concept of Maya.[165]
  17. ^ Nevertheless, Balasubramanian argues that since the basic ideas of the Vedanta systems are derived from the Vedas, the Vedantic philosophy is as old as the Vedas.[222]
  18. ^ Deutsch and Dalvi point out that, in the Indian context, texts "are only part of a tradition which is preserved in its purest form in the oral transmission as it has been going on".[224]
  19. ^ Bhartŗhari (c.450–500), Upavarsa (c.450–500), Bodhāyana (c.500), Tanka (Brahmānandin) (c.500–550), Dravida (c.550), Bhartŗprapañca (c.550), Śabarasvāmin (c.550), Bhartŗmitra (c.550–600), Śrivatsānka (c.600), Sundarapāndya (c.600), Brahmadatta (c.600–700), Gaudapada (c.640–690), Govinda (c.670–720), Mandanamiśra (c.670–750).[213]
  20. ^ Nakamura notes that there are contradictions in doctrine between the four chapters.[236]
  21. ^ Sanskrit: श्री संस्थान गौडपदाचार्य मठ, Śrī Sansthāna Gauḍapadācārya Maṭha
  22. ^ According to both Roodurum and Isaeva, Sureśvara stated that mere knowledge of the identity of Jiva and Brahman is not enough for liberation, which requires prolonged meditation on this identity.[280][288]
  23. ^ Sanskrit: श्री संस्थान गौडपदाचार्य मठ, Śrī Sansthāna Gauḍapadācārya Maṭha
  24. ^ According to Pandey, these Mathas were not established by Shankara himself, but were originally ashrams established by Vibhāņdaka and his son Ŗșyaśŗnga.[303] Shankara inherited the ashrams at Dvārakā and Sringeri, and shifted the ashram at Śŗngaverapura to Badarikāśrama, and the ashram at Angadeśa to Jagannātha Purī.[304]
  25. ^ "Advaitins are non-sectarian, and they advocate worship of Siva and Visnu equally with that of the other deities of Hinduism, like Sakti, Ganapati and others."[web 16]
  26. ^ Neo-Vedanta seems to be closer to Bhedabheda-Vedanta than to Shankara's Advaita Vedanta, with the acknowledgement of the reality of the world. Nicholas F. Gier: "Ramakrsna, Svami Vivekananda, and Aurobindo (I also include M.K. Gandhi) have been labeled "neo-Vedantists," a philosophy that rejects the Advaitins' claim that the world is illusory. Aurobindo, in his The Life Divine, declares that he has moved from Sankara's "universal illusionism" to his own "universal realism" (2005: 432), defined as metaphysical realism in the European philosophical sense of the term."[347]
  27. ^ Marek: "Wobei der Begriff Neo-Advaita darauf hinweist, dass sich die traditionelle Advaita von dieser Strömung zunehmend distanziert, da sie die Bedeutung der übenden Vorbereitung nach wie vor als unumgänglich ansieht. (The term Neo-Advaita indicating that the traditional Advaita increasingly distances itself from this movement, as they regard preparational practicing still as inevitable)[350]
  28. ^ Alan Jacobs: Many firm devotees of Sri Ramana Maharshi now rightly term this western phenomenon as 'Neo-Advaita'. The term is carefully selected because 'neo' means 'a new or revived form'. And this new form is not the Classical Advaita which we understand to have been taught by both of the Great Self Realised Sages, Adi Shankara and Ramana Maharshi. It can even be termed 'pseudo' because, by presenting the teaching in a highly attenuated form, it might be described as purporting to be Advaita, but not in effect actually being so, in the fullest sense of the word. In this watering down of the essential truths in a palatable style made acceptable and attractive to the contemporary western mind, their teaching is misleading.[351]
  29. ^ See for other examples Conway [web 22] and Swartz[352]
  30. ^ Presently Cohen has distanced himself from Poonja, and calls his teachings "Evolutionary Enlightenment".[357] What Is Enlightenment, the magazine published by Choen's organisation, has been critical of neo-Advaita several times, as early as 2001. See.[web 23][web 24][web 25]
  31. ^ Helmuth von Glasenapp writes: "The Buddhist Nirvana is, therefore, not the primordial ground, the eternal essence, which is at the basis of everything and form which the whole world has arisen (the Brahman of the Upanishads) but the reverse of all that we know, something altogether different which must be characterized as a nothing in relation to the world, but which is experienced as highest bliss by those who have attained to it (Anguttara Nikaya, Navaka-nipata 34). Vedantists and Buddhists have been fully aware of the gulf between their doctrines, a gulf that cannot be bridged over. According to Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 22, a doctrine that proclaims "The same is the world and the self. This I shall be after death; imperishable, permanent, eternal!" (see Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4, 4, 13), was styled by the Buddha a perfectly foolish doctrine. On the other side, the Katha Upanishad (2, 1, 14) does not see a way to deliverance in the Buddhist theory of dharmas (impersonal processes): He who supposes a profusion of particulars gets lost like rain water on a mountain slope; the truly wise man, however, must realize that his Atman is at one with the Universal Atman, and that the former, if purified from dross, is being absorbed by the latter, "just as clear water poured into clear water becomes one with it, indistinguishably."[373]
  32. ^ This development did not end with Advaita Vedanta, but continued in Tantrism and various schools of Shaivism. Non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, for example, was influenced by, and took over doctrines from, several orthodox and heterodox Indian religious and philosophical traditions.[375] These include Vedanta, Samkhya, Patanjali Yoga and Nyayas, and various Buddhist schools, including Yogacara and Madhyamika,[375] but also Tantra and the Nath-tradition.[376]
  33. ^ It is often used interchangeably with the term citta-mātra, but they have different meanings. The standard translation of both terms is "consciousness-only" or "mind-only." Several modern researchers object this translation, and the accompanying label of "absolute idealism" or "idealistic monism".[381] A better translation for vijñapti-mātra is representation-only.[382]
  34. ^ 1. Something is. 2. It is not. 3. It both is and is not. 4. It neither is nor is not.[web 28] [383]
  35. ^ "An" means "not", or "non"; "utpāda" means "genesis", "coming forth", "birth"[web 29] Taken together "anutpāda" means "having no origin", "not coming into existence", "not taking effect", "non-production".[web 30] The Buddhist tradition usually uses the term "anutpāda" for the absence of an origin[384][386] or sunyata.[387] According to D.T Suzuki, "anutpada" is not the opposite of "utpada", but transcends opposites. It is the seeing into the true nature of existence,[388] the seeing that "all objects are without self-substance".[389]
  36. ^ "A" means "not", or "non" as in Ahimsa, non-harm; "jāti" means "creation" or "origination;[390] "vāda" means "doctrine"[390]
  37. ^ Gaudapada's doctrines are unlike Buddhism, states Murti. Gaudapada's influential Advaita Vedanta text consists of four chapters; Chapter One, Two and Three of which are entirely Vedantin and founded on the Upanishads, with little Buddhist flavor.[392] Chapter Four uses Buddhist terminology and incorporates Buddhist doctrines, state both Murti and Richard King, but Vedanta scholars who followed Gaudapada through the 17th century never referenced nor used Chapter Four, they only quote from the first three.[392][394]
  38. ^ Kalupahana describes how in Buddhism there is also a current which favours substance ontology. Kalupahanan sees Madhyamaka and Yogacara as reactions against developments toward substance ontology in Buddhism.[407]


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  1. ^ a b c Sangeetha Menon (2012), Advaita Vedanta, IEP
  2. ^ Sangeetha Menon (2012), Advaita Vedanta, IEP; Quote: "The essential philosophy of Advaita is an idealist monism, and is considered to be presented first in the Upaniṣads and consolidated in the Brahma Sūtra by this tradition."
  3. ^ "". Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-10. 
  4. ^ a b Advaita Academy, Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi (Part 2 of 2) Archived 3 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b c d Jiddu Krishnamurti, Saanen 2nd Conversation with Swami Venkatesananda 26 July 1969
  6. ^ Sanskrit Dictionary, Atman
  7. ^ Ramana Maharshi. States of Consciousness. 
  8. ^ Sri Chinmoy. Summits of God-Life. 
  9. ^ a b c Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Bhedābheda Vedānta
  10. ^, Advaita Vedanta before Sankaracarya
  11. ^ Asram Vidya Order, Biographical Notes About Sankara And Gaudapada
  12. ^ Shri Kavale Math
  14. ^ Sangeetha Menon (2007), Advaita Vedānta, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  15. ^ a b c Advaita Vision, teachers
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sankara Acarya Biography – Monastic Tradition Archived 8 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Asram Vidya Order, Biographical Notes About Sankara And Gaudapada
  18. ^ Shri Kavale Math
  19. ^ "Adi Shankara's four Amnaya Peethams". Archived from the original on 26 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  20. ^ Wikisource:The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 2/Jnana-Yoga/The Absolute and Manifestation
  21. ^ a b c d e f Michael Hawley, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888—1975), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
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  24. ^ What is Enlightenment? 31 December 2001
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  27. ^ Jerry Katz on Nonduality, What is Nonduality?
  28. ^ Anthony Peter Iannini (2001), Nāgārjuna's Emptiness and Pyrrho's Skepticism
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  30. ^ Sanskrit Dictionary for Spoken Sanskrit, Anutpāda

Further reading[edit]

Primary texts
  • Deutsch, Eliot (1969), Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction, Honolulu: East-West Center Press 
  • King, Richard (1999), Indian Philosophy : an Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0748609543 
  • Mayeda, Sengaku (1992), "An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Sankara", in Mayeda, Sengaku, A Thousand Teachings: The Upadeśasāhasrī of Śaṅkara, State University of New York City Press, ISBN 0-7914-0944-9 
  • Comans, Michael (2000), The Method of Early Advaita Vedānta: A Study of Gauḍapāda, Śaṅkara, Sureśvara, and Padmapāda, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 
  • Dubois, Joël André-Michel (2014), The Hidden Lives of Brahman: Sankara's Vedanta through His Upanisad Commentaries, in Light of Contemporary Practice, SUNY 
  • Potter, Karl H. (1981), Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. 3: Advaita Vedanta up to Sankara and his Pupils, Princeton: Princeton University Press 
  • Potter, Karl H. (2006), Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies vol. 11: Advaita Vedānta from 800 to 1200, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers 
  • Isaeva, N.V. (1995), From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta, SUNY Press 
Topical studies
  • Arvind Sharma (1995), The Philosophy of Religion and Advaita Vedanta: A Comparative Study in Religion and Reason, Pennsylvania State University Press
  • Satyapal Verma (1992), Role of Reason in Sankara Vedanta, Parimal Publication, Delhi
  • Sangam Lal Pandey (1989), The Advaita view of God, Darshana Peeth, Allahabad
  • Kapil N. Tiwari (1977), Dimensions of renunciation in Advaita Vedanta, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi
  • Jacqueline G Suthren Hirst (2005), Samkara's Advaita Vedanta: A Way of Teaching, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415406017
  • Leesa Davis (2010), Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism: Deconstructive Modes of Spiritual Inquiry, Bloomsbury Academic
  • King, Richard (1995), Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: the Mahāyāna context of the Gauḍapādīya-kārikā, State University of New York Press, ISBN 9780791425138 
Sringeri Sharada Peetham
  • De Michelis, Elizabeth (2005), A History of Modern Yoga, Continuum 
  • King, Richard (2002), Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and "The Mystic East", Routledge 
  • Rambachan, Anantanand (1994). The limits of scripture: Vivekananda's reinterpretation of the Vedas. [Honolulu]: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1542-4. 
Indian languages
  • Mishra, M., Bhāratīya Darshan (भारतीय दर्शन), Kalā Prakāshan.
  • Sinha, H. P., Bharatiya Darshan ki ruparekha (Features of Indian Philosophy), 1993, Motilal Benarasidas, Delhi–Varanasi.
  • Swāmi Paramānanda Bhārati, Vedānta Prabodha (in Kannada), Jnānasamvardhini Granthakusuma, 2004

External links[edit]