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Vedanta (IAST, Vedānta, Sanskrit: वेदांत) or Uttara Mīmāṃsā is one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indian Philosophy.[1] The term "Vedānta" does not stand for one comprehensive doctrine. It stands for the divergent philosophical views that developed on the basis of the common textual connection of the Prasthanatrayi - which is the collective term for the Principal Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.[2][3]

There are at least ten schools of Vedanta,[4] of which Advaita (Non-Dualist), Vishishtadvaita (Non-Dualism of the Qualified), and Dvaita (Dualist) are best known.[5] Most other Vedantic traditions are regarded as belonging to the Bhedabheda (difference and non-difference)[6] tradition.

All the Vedanta schools, in their deliberations, concern themselves with the following three categories but differ in their views regarding the relation between the three:[4]

  1. Brahman – the unchanging ultimate metaphysical reality[7][8]
  2. Atman / Jivatma – the individual soul or self[9][10]
  3. Prakriti – The empirical world, ever-changing physical universe, body and matter[11][12]

In addition to the Prasthanatrayi, Vedanta adopted ideas from other schools of Hinduism such as Yoga and Nyaya,[2][13] and, over time, became the most prominent school of Hinduism, influencing traditions such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism.[1][14][15]

Etymology and Nomenclature[edit]

Originally, the word Vedanta referred to the Upanishads;[1][5] later, its denotation widened to include the various philosophical traditions based on to the Prasthanatrayi.[4][16][17]

Vedanta literally means the end of the Vedas[5]. All schools of Vedanta claim to propound the Upanishadic teaching.[2] The classical Upanishads may be regarded as the end of Vedas in different senses:[4][18][note 1]

  1. The Upanishads were the last literary products of the Vedic period.
  2. The Upanishads mark the culmination of Vedic thought.
  3. According to Chatterjee (1939),[19] the Vedanta nomenclature may refer to Upanishads being studied the last, during Vanaprastha (forest dweller, retirement) and Sannyasa (renunciation). Hartmut Scharfe (2002) however is of the opinion that textual evidence indicates that Upanishads were taught and debated in the Brahmacharya (student) stage.[20]

Vedanta is also called Uttara Mīmāṃsā, the 'latter enquiry' or 'higher enquiry'; and is often contrasted with Purva Mīmāṃsā, the 'former enquiry' or 'primary enquiry'. While Pūrva Mimamsa, or simply Mimamsa, deals with the Karma-kanda or rituals part of the Vedic texts (the Samhita and Brahmanas in the Vedas),[21][22] Vedanta deals with the Jnana-kanda or knowledge part of the Upanishads.[23][24]

Vedanta has been historically referred to by various names, with early names being the Upanishadic ones (Aupanisada), the doctrine of the end of the Vedas (Vedanta-vada), the doctrine of Brahman (Brahma-vada), and the doctrine that Brahman is the cause (Brahma-karana-vada).[25]

Prasthanatrayi, the Three Sources[edit]

The Upanishads, The Bhagavadgita and the Vedanta Sutra constitute the triple basis of Vedanta. All Vedanta schools propound their philosophy by interpreting these texts, collectively called the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources.[26]

  1. The Upanishads,[note 2] or Śruti prasthāna; considered in the Vedanta as the Sruti (Vedic scriptures) foundation.
  2. The Bhagavad Gita, or Smriti prasthāna; considered the foundation based on Smriti (remembered tradition).
  3. The Brahma Sutras, or Nyaya prasthana also called Yukti prasthana; considered the foundation based on reason.

The indefiniteness of and differences in the teaching of the Upanishads led to a necessity for systematization of these teachings, which came to be called the Vedanta. The systematization was likely effected in many ways, but the only version that has survived into the modern era is represented by the Sutras of Badarayana which are popularly known as Vedanta Sutra or Brahma Sutra.[2]

All major Vedantic teachers, like Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, and Madhvacharya, have composed extensive commentaries not only on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Bhagavad Gita. With its syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic thought, the Bhagavad Gita has played a strong role in Vedantic thought.[28]


The Upanishads do not concern themselves with rigorous philosophical inquiry.[29] This philosophical inquiry was performed by the various philosophical schools.[30] These schools trace their antiquity far back into the Vedas and the early seers.[31]

Vedanta before the Brahma Sutras[edit]

Of the Vedanta-school before the composition of the Brahma Sutras (400–450 BC[32]) almost nothing is known.[33] Badarayana, in writing the Brahma Sutra, was certainly not the first person to systematize the teachings of the Upanishads and refers to seven Vedantic teachers before him:[34]

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.[34]

Pre-Shankaracharya doctrines and sayings can be traced in the works of the later schools, which does give some insight into the development of early Vedanta philosophy.[33] According to Deutsch and Dalvi, in the Indian oral tradition of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next, texts "are only part of a tradition which is preserved in its purest form in the oral transmission as it has been going on."[35] The Upanishads form the basic texts, of which Vedanta gives an interpretation.[36]

References to early Vedanta teachers are found in ancient and medieval era secondary literature.[37] Badarayana himself, states Sarma, quotes Ashmarathya, Badari, Audulomi, Kashakrtsna, Karsnajini and Atreya. Other quoted ancient Vedantins include Brahmadatta, Sundara Pandaya, Tanka and Dravidacharya. The works of these ancient teachers have not survived, but based on which sub-school of Vedanta mentions and praises them, Sarma suggests Ashmarathya and Audulomi were likely Bhedabheda scholars, Kashakrtsna and Brahmadatta probably Advaita scholars, while Tanka and Dravidacharya may have been either Advaita or Vishistadvaita Vedantins because both are claimed by these traditions.[37]

Brahma Sutras[edit]

Main article: Brahma Sutras

Badarayana was one of the three major interpreters of Vedic thought, the other two being Badari and Jaimini.[38] In the Brahma Sutras, also called the Vedanta Sutra,[39][note 3] Badarayana summarized the teachings of the classical Upanishads[5][42][note 4] and refuted the rival philosophical schools in ancient India.[38] The Brahma Sutras laid the basis for the development of Vedanta philosophy.[44]

According to Nicholson, the Brahma Sutras "are best understood as a group of sutras composed by multiple authors over the course of hundreds of years."[38] The estimates on when the Brahma Sutras were complete vary,[45][46] with Nicholson in his 2013 review stating, that they were most likely compiled in the present form around 400–450 BCE,[32] or by 200 CE,[47] but "the great part of the Sutra must have been in existence much earlier than that."[46]

The Brahma Sutras has been written in four chapters, each divided into four quarters or sections.[2] These sutras were meant to synthesize the diverse teachings of the Upanishads. However, the cryptic nature of aphorisms of the Brahma Sutras have resulted in the formation of numerous Vedanta schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own commentary.[2][48]

Vedanta between the Brahma Sutras and Adi Shankara[edit]

See also: Vedas, Upanishads, and Darsanas

Very little is known of the period between the Brahma Sutras and Shankaracharya (first half of the 8th century CE).[33][49] Only two writings of this period have survived: the Vākyapadīya, written by Bhartṛhari (second half 5th century[50]), and the Kārikā written by Gaudapada (early 6th[49] or 7th century CE).[33]

There was a long line of teachers of Vedanta before Adi Shankara. In his commentaries, Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his Sampradaya.[51] A number of important early Vedanta thinkers have been listed in the Siddhitraya by Yamunācārya (c. 1050), the Vedārthasamgraha by Rāmānuja (c. 1050–1157), and the Yatīndramatadīpikā by Śrīnivāsa-dāsa.[33] Combined together,[33] at least fourteen thinkers are known to have existed between the composition of the Brahma Sutras and Shankara's lifetime.[33][note 5]

A noted scholar of this period was Bhartriprapancha. Bhartriprapancha maintained that the Brahman is one and there is unity, but that this unity has varieties. Scholars see Bhartriprapancha as an early philosopher in the line who teach the tenet of Bhedabheda.[2] Another noted scholar was Mandan Mishra. He regarded Mimamsa and Vedanta as forming a single system and advocated the combination of action and knowledge known as Karma-Jnana-samuchchaya-vada. According to Mishra, the sutras, beginning with the first sutra of Jaimini and ending with the last sutra of Badarayana, form one compact shastra.[24]

Gaudapada, Adi Shankara and Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Main articles: Advaita Vedanta and Gaudapada

Gaudapada (c. 6th century CE),[52] was the teacher or a more distant predecessor[53] of Govindapada, and called the highest teacher by Adi Shankara – widely considered to be the founder of modern Advaita Vedanta.[4][note 6] Gaudapada's treatise called the Kārikā is the earliest surviving complete text on Advaita Vedanta.[42] However, there is ample evidence suggesting that Advaita was a thriving tradition by the start of the common era or even before that.[note 7]

Gaudapada relied on the Mandukya, Brihadaranyaka and Chhandogya Upanishads,[42] to present his ideas in his seminal work known as Kārikā,[61][62] also known as the Māṇḍukya Kārikā or the Āgama Śāstra.[42] In the Kārikā, Gaudapada established Advaita or non-dualism on a philosophical basis purely on rational grounds (upapatti) - independent of scriptural revelation. It is totally devoid of any religious, mystical or scholastic elements. Scholars are divided on a possible influence of Buddhism on Gaudapada's philosophy.[note 8] The singular theme running through the Kārikā is the reality of the non-dual and the birth-less Ātman. The fact that Shankara, in addition to the Brahma Sutras, The principal Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita, wrote an independent commentary on the Kārikā proves its importance in Vedāntic literature.[61]

Adi Shankara (788–820), elaborated on Gaudapada's work and more ancient scholarship to write detailed commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi and the Kārikā. The Mandukya Upanishad and the Kārikā have been described by Shankara as containing "the epitome of the substance of the import of Vedanta".[61] It was Shankara who integrated Gaudapada work with the ancient Brahma Sutras, "and give it a locus classicus", against the realistic strain of the Brahma Sutras.[66][note 9][note 10] His interpretation, including works ascribed to him, has become the normative interpretation of Advaita Vedanta.[68][66]

Shankara was of the view that Mimamsa & Vedanta are independent of each other and possibly also inconsistent in their central theses.[44] The separation of Vedanta as different from the other orthodox Schools was a contribution of Shankara.

Ramanuja and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta[edit]

The 11th and 12th century Ramanuja is credited with elaborating the theoretical foundations of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta.[69][70] Ramanuja reconciled the Brahma Sutra, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita with the faith and beliefs of the Vaishnava Alvars poet-saints, and in Vishistadvaiya, provided the philosophical basis of Sri Vaishnavism.[71][72][73]

Ramanuja's guru was Yadava Prakasha, a scholar who was part of the more ancient Advaita Vedanta monastic tradition.[74] Sri Vaishnava tradition holds that Ramanuja disagreed with his guru and the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta, and instead followed in the footsteps of Indian Alvars tradition, the scholars Nathamuni and Yamunacharya.[73] Ramanujan himself wrote influential texts, such as a bhasya on the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, all in Sanskrit.[75]

Ramanuja presented the epistemic and soteriological importance of bhakti, or the devotion to a personal God (Vishnu in Ramanuja's case) as a means to spiritual liberation. His theories assert that there exists a plurality and distinction between Atman (souls) and Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality), while he also affirmed that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman.[76][77][78]

Although Ramanuja’s contribution to Vedanta thought was highly significant, his influence on the course of Hinduism as a religion has been even greater. By allowing the urge for devotional worship (bhakti) into his doctrine of salvation, he aligned the popular religion with the pursuits of philosophy and gave bhakti an intellectual basis. Ever since, bhakti has remained the major force in the religions of Hinduism.[79]

Madhva and Dvaita[edit]

The opposite interpretation of Shankara was set forth by 13th century Madhva in his Dvaita, or dualistic system. Madhva championed unqualified dualism, in contrast to Shankara's nondualism and Ramanuja's qualified nondualism.[71] Madhva has left behind him commentaries on the chief Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutra, besides several other works.[80]

Madhva started his Vedic studies at age seven, joined an Advaita Vedanta monastery in Dwarka (Gujarat),[81] studied under guru Achyutrapreksha,[82] frequently disagreed with him, left the Advaita monastery, and founded Dvaita.[83] Madhva and his followers Jayatirtha and Vyasatirtha, were critical of all competing Hindu philosophies, Jainism and Buddhism,[84][85][86] but particularly intense in their criticism of Advaita Vedanta and Adi Shankara.[87]

Dvaita Vedanta is theistic and it identifies Brahman with Narayana, or more specifically Vishnu, in a manner similar to Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita Vedanta. But it is more explicitly pluralistic.[80] Madhva's emphasis for difference between soul and Brahman was so pronounced that he taught there were differences (1) Between material things; (2) Between material thing and soul; (3) Between material thing and God; (4) Between souls; and (5) Between soul and God.[88][89] He also advocated difference in degrees in the possession of knowledge and in the enjoyment of bliss even in the case of liberated souls - a doctrine found in no other system of Indian Philosophy.[87]

Schools of Vedanta[edit]

The contents of the Upanishads are often couched in enigmatic language, which has left them open to various interpretations. Over a period of time, various schools of Vedanta, with different interpretations of the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras arose. There are three,[90] four,[91] five[92] or six[93][note 11] which are prominent

  1. Advaita Vedanta, many scholars of which most prominent are Gaudapada (~500 CE)[94] and Shri Adi Shankara (8th century)[49]
  2. Vishishtadvaita, also a subschool of bhedabheda, founded by Shri Ramanuja (1017–1137 CE)
  3. Dvaita, founded by Shri Madhvacharya (1199–1278 CE)
  4. Bhedabheda, as early as the 7th century CE,[95] or even the 4th century.[38] Some scholars consider it apt to consider it as a "tradition" rather than a school of Vedanta.[6]

Proponents of other Vedantic schools continue to write and develop their ideas as well, although their works are not widely known outside of smaller circles of followers in India.

Advaita Vedānta[edit]

Main article: Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta (IAST Advaita Vedānta; Sanskrit: अद्वैत वेदान्त) espouses non-dualism and monism. Brahman is visualized as the sole unchanging reality and identical to Atman.[89] This absolute and infinite, Atman-Brahman is realized only by a process of negating everything relative, finite, empirical and changing. Though it uses this negative method of "not this, not this", it does not consider Brahman to be indeterminate.[8] The school accepts no duality, no limited individual souls (Atman / Jivatma) nor a separate unlimited cosmic soul. All souls, all of existence, across all space and time, is considered as one and the same oneness.[97]

Adi Shankara says that the Brahman is the never changing metaphysical Reality, while the physical world is always changing empirical Maya.[8][98][99] Spiritual liberation in Advaita 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.[100][101][102]


Main article: Vishishtadvaita
Ramanujacharya depicted with Vaishnava Tilaka and Vishnu statue.

The most influential philosopher in the Vishishtadvaita tradition was Rāmānuja (1017–1137 CE). As the philosophical architect of Vishishtadvaita, he taught qualified monism.[77][103] Vishishtadvaita asserts that Jivatman (human souls) and Brahman (as Vishnu) are different, a difference that is never transcended.[104][105] With this qualification, Ramanuja also affirmed monism by saying that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman.[76][77][78] Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, like Advaita Vedanta, is a nondualism Vedanta school but in a qualified way, and both are premised on the assumption that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation.[101][106]

On the relation between the Brahman and the world of matter (Prakriti), Vishishtadvaita states both are two different absolutes, both metaphysically true and real, neither is false or illusive, and that saguna Brahman with attributes is also real.[103] God, like man, states Ramanuja, has both soul and body, and all of the world of matter is the glory of God's body.[106] The path to Brahman (Vishnu), according to Ramanuja, is devotion to godliness and constant remembrance of the beauty and love of personal god (bhakti of saguna Brahman), one which ultimately leads to nirguna Brahman.[103][106][107]


Main article: Dvaita
Madhvacharya composing a Dvaita text.

Dvaita was propounded by Madhvacharya (1238–1317 CE).[note 12] The Vedanta school he founded is based on dualism premises, which states that Atman (soul) and Brahman (as Vishnu) are two completely, eternally different things.[111][82] He called his school as Tatvavādā (the philosophy of reality). According to the Dvaita school, Brahman is the creator of the universe, perfect in knowledge, perfect in knowing, perfect in its power, and distinct from souls, distinct from matter.[112] This concept of Brahman in Dvaita sub-school of Vedanta is so similar to the monotheistic eternal God, that some early colonial-era Indologists such as George Abraham Grierson suggested Madhva was influenced by Christianity by early Christians who migrated to India,[113] but later scholarship has rejected this theory.[110][114]

In Dvaita Vedanta, for salvation an individual soul must feel attraction, love, attachment and complete devotional surrender to Vishnu, and only His grace leads to redemption and salvation.[110][115][116] Madhvacharya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned, a view rejected by Advaita and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta.[117][118] While the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta asserted "qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls", states Sharma, Madhvacharya asserted both "qualitative and quantitative pluralism of souls".[119]


Main article: Bhedabheda

Bhedabheda (bheda-abheda), which means "difference and non-difference",[95] existed as early as the 7th century CE,[95] but Bādarāyaṇa's Brahma Sūtra (c. 4th century CE) may also have been written from a Bhedābheda Vedāntic viewpoint.[95] According to the Bhedābheda Vedānta schools the individual self (jīvātman) is both different and not different from Brahman.[95] Bhakti found a place in later proponents of this school.[95] Major names of this school are Bhāskara (8th-9th century),[95] Rāmānuja's teacher Yādavaprakāśa,[95] Nimbārka (13th century) who founded the Dvaitadvaita school,[95] Vallabha (1479–1531)[95] who founded Shuddhadvaita,[92] Caitanya (1486–1534) who founded the Achintya Bheda Abheda school,[95][120] and Vijñānabhikṣu (16th century).[95]

According to Nakamura and Dasgupta, the Brahmasutras reflect a Bhedabheda point of view,[38] the most influential school of Vedanta before Shankara.[note 13]


Main article: Dvaitadvaita

Dvaitādvaita was propounded by Nimbārka (13th century), based upon Bhedābheda, which was taught by Bhāskara. According to Nimbarka, Brahman (God), souls (chit) and matter or the universe (achit) are three equally real and co-eternal realities. Brahman is the Controller (niyantr), the soul is the enjoyer (bhoktr), and the material universe iss the object enjoyed (bhogya). Brahman, ruler of the universe, is by His nature, considered free from all defects and the abode of all goodness. He is the efficient cause of the universe because, as Lord of Karma and internal ruler of souls, He brings about creation so that the souls can reap the consequences of their karma; God is considered the material cause of the universe because creation was a manifestation of His powers of soul (chit) and matter (achit); creation is a transformation (parinama) of God's powers.[121]


Main article: Shuddhadvaita

Shuddhadvaita was propounded by Vallabhacharya (1479–1531 CE). On the basis of quadruple "Proof Corpus" (pramāna catuṣṭaya) comprising Srutis and Smrutis, Brahmasutra, Gita and Shrimadbhagvata, Vallabhacharya propounded the philosophy of "shuddhadvaita brahmvaad" (pure non-dualism), according to which the entire universe is real and is subtly Brahman only in the form of Krishna.[122]

Vallabha, states Bryant, agreed with Advaita Vedanta's ontology, but he emphasized that the prakriti (empirical world, body) is not separate from the Brahman, and it is just another manifestation of the Brahman.[122] Everything, everyone, everywhere – soul and body, living and non-living, jivas and matter – is a pure monistic one, the eternal Krishna in Suddhadvaita Vedanta.[122] The way to Krishna, in this school, is bhakti. The goal of bhakti is to turn away from ego, self-centeredness and deception, turn towards the eternal Krishna in everything continually offering freedom from samsara.[122]


Main article: Achintya Bhedabheda

Founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu[120] (1486–1534). In Sanskrit achintya means 'inconceivable'.[123][124] Achintya-Bheda-Abheda represents the philosophy of "inconceivable difference in non-difference",[125] in relation to the nondual reality of Brahman-Atman which it calls as (Krishna), svayam bhagavan.[126] This school asserts that Krishna is Bhagavan of the bhakti yogins, the Brahman of the jnana yogins, who has a divine potency that is inconceivable. He is all-pervading and thus in all parts of the universe (nondifference), yet he is inconceivably more (difference).[125]

This school is at the foundation of the Chaitanya's Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition.[125]

Vedanta philosophy[edit]

According to Hiriyanna, the teachings in the Upanishads about the relation of Brahman to the individual soul are unclear and diverse, as is the relation between the Brahman and the Prakriti (physical universe).[40] The various Principal Upanishads make many prominent statements that they are identical, but some include verses that distinguish them. Harmonizing these ideas is a challenge faced by anyone attempting to systematize the teaching of these Upanishads.[40]

One approach has been to attach equal value to both these ideas, and theorize that the soul (Atman / Jivatma) and the physical universe are both identical with and different from Brahman, a view held by Bhartriprapancha, a noted pre-Shankara Vedantin. Another approach has been to explain the dualistic ideas as interim and assert the non-dualistic ideas to be the main idea - an approach followed by Adi Shankara.[127][128][129] Yet another approach was to discredit and re-explain the non-dualistic ideas and emphasize dualism as was done by Madhvacharya.[130]

The relation of the Vedanta-sutras to the Mimamsa-sutras is difficult to ascertain.The central concept of Jaimini's investigation is dharma—i.e., what ought to be done; the central theme of Badarayana's investigations is brahman—i.e., the Absolute Reality.[44]


Vedānta philosophies discuss the relation between three metaphysical categories: the Brahman (ultimate reality), Jiva / Atman (soul, self) and the Prakriti (physical universe).[131][132]

Brahman / Ishvara[edit]

Shankara, on the evidence of Prasna Upanishad, talks of two conceptions of Brahman: the higher Brahman as undifferentiated Being and a lower Brahman endowed with qualities as the creator of the universe.[133]

  1. Para or Higher Brahman - The undifferentiated, absolute, infinite, transcendental, supra-relational Brahman beyond all thought and speech is defined as para Brahman, nirviśeṣa Brahman or nirguṇa Brahman and is the Absolute of metaphysics.
  2. Apara or Lower Brahman - The Brahman with qualities is defined as apara Brahman or saguṇa Brahman. The saguṇa Brahman is endowed with attributes and represents the personal God of religion.

Shankara's Advaita accepts the undifferentiated Absolute as the Ultimate Reality. He also admits of God in his philosophy which is the saguṇa Brahman defined as Brahman as conditioned by maya.

Ramanuja, in his formulation of the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, rejects the undifferentiated Absolute as inconceivable and, adoptinga thiestic interpretation of the Upanishads, accepts Ishvara, the saguṇa Brahman, as the One reality.[133] Madhva, in expounding Dvaita philosophy, maintains that Vishnu is the supreme God, thus identifying the brahman, or absolute reality, of the Upanishads with a personal god, as Ramanuja had done before him.[134]

Nimbarka, in his dvaitadvata philosophy, accepted the Brahman both as nirguna and as saguna. Vallabha, in his shuddhadvaita philosophy, not only accepts the triple ontological essence of the Brahman, but also His manifestation as (personal) god (Ishvara), as matter and as individual soluls.[135]

Relation between Brahman and Jiva / Atman[edit]

The schools of Vedanta differ in their conception of the relation they see between Atman and Brahman / Ishvara:[4]

  • According to Advaita Vedanta, both are identical and there is no difference.[4][89]
  • According to Vishishtadvaita, there is absolute difference the jīvātman and Brahman. However, there is the oneness of Reality understood in the sense of an organic unity (vishistaikya). Brahman alone, as organically related to all jīvātman and the universe is the one ultimate Reality.[89][104][133]
  • According to Dvaita, the jīvātman is totally and always different from Brahman.[89][105][136]
  • According to Shuddhadvaita (pure monism), the jīvātman and Brahman are identical, but both along with the changing empirically observed universe are Krishna.[137]

Sivananda gives the following explanation:

Madhva said: "Man is the servant of God," and established his Dvaita philosophy. Ramanuja said: "Man is a ray or spark of God," and established his Visishtadvaita philosophy. Sankara said: "Man is identical with Brahman or the Eternal Soul," and established his Kevala Advaita philosophy.[138]


Main article: Pramana
Epistemology in Dvaita and Vishishtadvaita Vedanta.


Pramāṇa (Sanskrit: प्रमाण) literally means "proof", "that which is the means of valid knowledge".[139][140] It refers to epistemology in Indian philosophies, and encompasses the study of reliable and valid means by which human beings gain accurate, true knowledge.[139] The focus of Pramana is 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.[141][142]

Ancient and medieval Indian texts identify six[143] pramanas as correct means of accurate knowledge and to truths: Pratyakṣa (perception), Anumāṇa (inference), Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy), Arthāpatti (postulation, derivation from circumstances), Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof) and Śabda (verbal testimony of past or present reliable experts).[140][142][144] The different schools of Vedanta have historically disagreed as to which of the six are epistemically valid:

  • Advaita Vedanta developed and accepts all six pramanas.[145][146][147]
  • Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita accept only three pramanas - perception, inference and testimony.[145]

Advaita and Vishishtadvaita schools consider Pratyakṣa (perception) as the most reliable source of knowledge, while scriptural evidence is secondary.[140][148][149][note 14] In Dvaita, the Śabda (verbal) is considered the most authentic means of knowledge instead.[152][153]

Theories of Cause and Effect[edit]

All schools of Vedanta subscribe to the theory of Satkāryavāda,[web 1] 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,[67][web 1] as well as Samkhya,[web 1] support Parinamavada, the idea that the world is a real transformation (parinama) of Brahman.[67] According to Nicholson, "the Brahma Sutras also espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which appears to have been the view most common among early Vedantins".[67] In contrast to Badarayana, Adi Shankara and Advaita Vedantists hold a different view, Vivartavada, which says that the effect, the world, is merely an unreal (vivarta) transformation of its cause, Brahman:

[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.[67]

Common features[edit]

All schools of Vedanta are found to share some common features:

  1. Brahman exists, is the unchanging supreme cause;[154][155][156]
  2. Self (Atman) exists;[157][158][159]
  3. The Upanishads are a reliable source of knowledge (Sruti Śabda in Pramana);[160] Vedanta is an investigation into Brahman, Atman and the pursuit of its knowledge;[157][161]
  4. Bondage is a consequence of Saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth. Liberation is deliverance from this cycle.

Vedanta rejects ritual in favor of renunciation, which makes Vedanta irreconcileable with Mimamsa.[4]


Hindu traditions[edit]

Vedanta has been at the foundation of numerous Hinduism traditions. For example, Sri Vaishnavism of south and southeastern India is based on Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita Vedanta.[162] Ramananda led to the Vaishnav Bhakti Movement in North, East, Central and West India that draws it's philosophical and theistic basis from Vishishtadvaita. A large number of devotional Vaishnavism traditions of east India, north India (particularly the Braj region), west and central India are based on various sub-schools of Bhedabheda Vedanta.[163] Advaita Vedanta influenced Krishna Vaishnavism in the northeastern state of Assam.[164] The Madhva school of Vaishnavism found in coastal Karnataka is based on Dvaita Vedanta.[165]

Shaktism, or traditions where a goddess is considered identical to Brahman, similarly has flowered from a syncretism of the monist premises of Advaita Vedanta and dualism premises of Samkhya-Yoga school of Hindu philosophy, sometimes referred to as Shaktadavaitavada (literally, the path of nondualistic Shakti).[166][167][168]

Agamas, the classical literature of Shaivism, independent in origin, show Vedanta association and premises.[169][170][171] Of the 92 Agamas, ten are dualistic (dvaita) Agama texts, eighteen qualified monism-cum-dualism (bhedabheda), and sixty four monistic (advaita) texts.[172] The Bhairava Shastras are monistic, while Shiva Shastras are dualistic.[173][174] According to Natalia Isaeva, the link between Gaudapada's Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism "is certainly much more evident and natural".[175] Tirumular, the Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta scholar, is credited with creating "Vedanta-Siddhanta" (Advaita Vedanta and Shaiva Siddhanta synthesis), and he stated, "becoming Shiva is the goal of Vedanta and Siddhanta; all other goals are secondary to it and are vain."[176]


Neo-Vedanta, also called "Hindu modernism,"[177] "neo-Hinduism,"[178] and "neo-Advaita,"[179] are terms to characterize certain interpretations of Hinduism that developed in the 19th century. These modern interpretations incorporate western ideas[180] into traditional Indian religions, especially Advaita Vedanta, which is asserted as central or fundamental to Hindu culture.[181] It is the modern form of Advaita Vedanta, states Richard King, and it has become "a dominant force in Indian intellectual thought".[179] It developed in the 19th century, in response to and in interaction with colonial British rule, uniting Hindus in their struggle for independence.[182] Yet, according to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th 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.[183][note 15]

The neo-Vedantins argued that these six historic systems were Hindu perspectives on a single truth, like points on a compass, all valid, all complementary, leading to that same truth.[188] These developments were part of the Hindu renaissance that emerged during the British Raj, particularly after the establishment of Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784.[189] Western orientalists searched for the "essence" of Hinduism,[190] formulated the notion of "Hinduism" to be a single interpretation of Vedanta as a unified body of religious praxis, when in reality Vedanta and Hinduism accepted a diversity of traditions within it.[191] This idea of a single Vedanta was used by the Hindu reformers, according to King, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, to challenge the polemic dogmatism of Judaeo-Christian-Islamic missionaries against the Hindus with neo-Vedantic theory of "overarching tolerance and acceptance".[192] The colonial era neo-Vedantists subsumed the Buddhist philosophies as part of the Vedanta tradition, claimed the Buddha as a member of the Vedanta tradition,[note 16] and then argued that all the world religions are same "non-dualistic position as the philosophia perennis", ignoring the differences within Hinduism and outside Hinduism.[191] Advaita Vedanta came to be regarded as "paradigmatic example of the mystical nature of the Hindu religion", neo-Vedanta presented as a universal religion.[194]

A major proponent in the popularisation of this Universalist and Perennialist interpretation of Advaita Vedanta was Vivekananda,[195] who played a major role in the revival of Hinduism,[196] and the spread of Advaita Vedanta to the west via the Vedanta Society, the international arm of Ramakrishna Order. His interpretation of Advaita Vedanta has been called "Neo-Vedanta".[197][page needed] The popular colonial era understanding of Hinduism was dominated by this neo-Vedanta.[198] These notions served well for the Hindu nationalists.[199] Neo-Vedanta "provided an opportunity for the construction of a nationalist ideology that could unite Hindus in their struggle against colonial oppression".[200]

According to Nicholas Gier, Neo-Vedanta is Advaita Vedanta which accepts universal realism:

Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Aurobindo have been labeled neo-Vedantists (the latter called it realistic Advaita), a view of Vedanta that rejects the Advaitins' idea that the world is illusory. As Aurobindo phrased it, philosophers need to move from 'universal illusionism' to 'universal realism', in the strict philosophical sense of assuming the world to be fully real.[201]

Influence on Western thinkers[edit]

Due to the colonisation of Asia by the western world, since the late 18th century an exchange of ideas has been taking place between the western world and Asia, which also influenced western religiosity.[202] In 1785 appeared the first western translation of a Sanskrit-text.[203] It marked the growing interest in the Indian culture and languages.[204] The first translation of Upanishads appeared in two parts in 1801 and 1802,[204] which influenced Arthur Schopenhauer, who called them "the consolation of my life".[205][note 17] Schopenhauer drew explicit parallels between his philosophy, as set out in 'The World as Will and Representation',[206] and that of the Vedanta philosophy ascribed to Vasya in the work of Sir William Jones.[207] Early translations also appeared in other European languages.[208]

Lucian Blaga has often used the concepts Marele Anonim ('the Great Anonymous') and cenzura transcendentă ('the transcendental censorship') in his philosophy. He was influenced by Śaṅkara's concepts of Brahman ('God') and māyā ('illusion').[209] In Śaṅkarācārya, Brahman is understood as nirguna Brahman ('God without attributes'), whilst Īśvara is saguna Brahman ('God with attributes'). Louis Renou underlines that Brahman is superior to Īśvara, while Olivier Lacombe writes that Brahman is Īśvara's superlative.[210] Brahman is different than Greek Zeus, as well as than Christian or Jewish God, than Muslim Allah, because he is transpersonal.[211] Māyā is a fundamental concept in Vedanta. It has several meanings and it has often been translated as 'illusion'. According to L. Thomas O’Neil, māyā signifies 'measuring the immeasurable'.[212]


According to Nakamura, the Vedanta school has had a historic and central influence on Hinduism:[14]

The prevalence of Vedanta thought is found not only in philosophical writings but also in various forms of (Hindu) literature, such as the epics, lyric poetry, drama and so forth. What is especially worthy of attention is that the Hindu religious sects, the common faith of the Indian populace, looked to Vedanta philosophy for the theoretical foundations for their theology. The influence of Vedanta is prominent in the sacred literatures of Hinduism, such as the various Puranas, Samhitas, Agamas and Tantras. Many commentaries on the fundamental scripture of Vedanta, the Brahmasutra, were written by the founders or leading scholars of the various sects of Hinduism, and they are transmitted to this day as documents indispensable in the respective sectarian traditions. The majority of the traditional and conservative scholars in India today, called Pandits, are students of Vedanta, and an overwhelming number belong to the lineage of Shankara – five-sixths of all Pandits, according to some authorities.

— Hajime Nakamura (2004), A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy, Volume 2[14]

Frithjof Schuon summarizes the influence of Vedanta on Hinduism as, "The Vedanta contained in the Upanishads, then formulated in the Brahma Sutra, and finally commented and explained by Shankara, is an invaluable key for discovering the deepest meaning of all the religious doctrines and for realizing that the Sanatana Dharma secretly penetrates all the forms of traditional spirituality.[213][214] Gavin Flood states, "the most influential school of theology in India has been Vedanta, exerting enormous influence on all religious traditions and becoming the central ideology of the Hindu renaissance in the nineteenth century. It has become the philosophical paradigm of Hinduism par excellence."[1]

Comparison to Western philosophies[edit]

Similarities between Vedanta and Western philosophical traditions have been discussed by many authorities.

Similarities with Spinoza's Philosophy[edit]

Max Müller, in his lectures, noted the striking similarities between Vedanta and the system of Spinoza, saying

[T]he Brahman, as conceived in the Upanishads and defined by Sankara, is clearly the same as Spinoza's 'Substantia'."[215]

Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society, also compared Spinoza's religious thought to Vedanta, writing in an unfinished essay

As to Spinoza's Deity—natura naturans—conceived in his attributes simply and alone; and the same Deity—as natura naturata or as conceived in the endless series of modifications or correlations, the direct outflowing results from the properties of these attributes, it is the Vedantic Deity pure and simple.[216]

The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker was one of the early figures to notice the similarities between the religious conceptions of the Vedanta and those of the Dutch Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, writing that Spinoza's thought was

... so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta, that we might have suspected its founder to have borrowed the fundamental principles of his system from the Hindus, did his biography not satisfy us that he was wholly unacquainted with their doctrines [...] comparing the fundamental ideas of both we should have no difficulty in proving that, had Spinoza been a Hindu, his system would in all probability mark a last phase of the Vedanta philosophy.[217][218]

Comparisons in the 20th Century[edit]

In the 20th century, comparisons between Advaita, western philosophy, and science took a high flight. Brian David Josephson, Welsh physicist, and Nobel Prize laureate says:[219]

The Vedanta and the Sankhya hold the key to the laws of the mind and thought process which are co-related to the Quantum Field, i.e. the operation and distribution of particles at atomic and molecular levels.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Considered to be the final layer of the Vedic canon
  2. ^ The Upanishads were many in number and developed in the different schools at different 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).[27] All major commentators have considered twelve to thirteen oldest of these texts as the Principal Upanishads and as the foundation of Vedanta.
  3. ^ The Vedānta-sūtra are known by a variety of names, including (1) Brahma-sūtra, (2) Śārīraka-sutra, (3) Bādarāyaṇa-sūtra and (4) Uttara-mīmāṁsā.[40][41]
  4. ^ Estimates of the date of Bādarāyana's lifetime differ. [43]
  5. ^ 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).[33]
  6. ^ Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his Sampradaya.[51] Shankara "synthesized the Advaita-vāda which had previously existed before him".[54] In this synthesis, he was the rejuvenator and defender of an ancient learning.[55] He was an unequaled commentator,[55] due to whose efforts and contributions,[54] Advaita Vedanta assumed a dominant position within Indian philosophy.[55]
  7. ^ Scholarship since 1950 suggests that almost all Sannyasa Upanishads have a strong Advaita Vedanta outlook.[56][57][58] Six of the 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.[59][60] The strong Advaita Vedanta views in these ancient Sannyasa Upanishads may be, states Patrick Olivelle, because major Hindu monasteries of this period belonged to the Advaita Vedanta tradition.[56]
  8. ^ Scholars such as Raju, following the lead of earlier scholars like S. N. Sengupta,[61] state that Gaudapada took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra).[63] Raju states that Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara".[64] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, in his Indian Philosophy, tries to show that Gaudapada's philosophy is different from that of Adi Shankara and Badarayan. Swami Nikhilananda refutes the views of Sengupta and Radhakrishnan by arguing that the whole purpose of Gaudapada was to demonstrate the ultimate reality of the birth-less and non-dual Atman, a concept that is foreign to Buddhism.[61] According to Murti, Gaudapada's doctrines are unlike Buddhism. Gaudapada's influential text consists of four chapters; Chapter One, Two and Three of which are entirely Vedantin and founded on the Upanishads, with little Buddhist flavor.[65] Chapter Four uses Buddhist terminology and incorporates Buddhist doctrines but Vedanta scholars who followed Gaudapada through the 17th century, state both Murti and Richard King, never referenced nor used Chapter Four, they only quote from the first three.[65][52] While there is shared terminology, the doctrines of Gaudapada and Buddhism are fundamentally different, states Murti.[65]
  9. ^ Nicholson: "The Brahmasutras themselves espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which appears to have been the view most common among early Vedantins."[67]
  10. ^ B.N.K. Sharma: "[H]ow difficult he himself found the task of making the Sutras yield a Monism of his conception, is proved by the artificiality and parenthetical irrelevance of his comments in many places, where he seeks to go against the spirit and letter of the Sutras and their natural drift of arguments and dialectic [...] he was fighting with all his might and ingenuity against a long line of realistic commentaries."[66]
  11. ^ Sivananda also mentions Meykandar and the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy.[90]
  12. ^ Many sources date him to 1238–1317 period,[108][109] but some place him over 1199-1278 CE.[110]
  13. ^ Nicholson: "Numerous Indologists, including Surendranath Dasgupta, Paul hacker, Hajime Nakamura, and Mysore Hiriyanna, have described Bhedabheda as the most influential school of Vedanta before Sankara."[38]
  14. ^ Anantanand Rambachan states, "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."[150] 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. 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.[151]
  15. ^ The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.[184] Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,[185] and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",[186] which started well before 1800.[187]
  16. ^ Vivekananda, clarifies Richard King, stated, "I am not a Buddhist, as you have heard, and yet I am"; but thereafter Vivekananda explained that "he cannot accept the Buddhist rejection of a self, but nevertheless honours the Buddha's compassion and attitude towards others".[193]
  17. ^ And called his poodle "Atman".[205]


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