Achintya Bheda Abheda
Achintya Bheda Abheda
Shastras and Sutras
Other Indian philosophies
Vedanta (/vɪˈdɑːntə/; Sanskrit: वेदान्त, IAST,
Vedānta) or Uttara
Mīmāṃsā is one of the six orthodox (āstika)
Vedanta literally means "end of the
Vedas", reflecting ideas that emerged from the speculations and
philosophies contained in the Upanishads. It does not stand for one
comprehensive or unifying doctrine. Rather it is an umbrella term for
many sub-traditions, ranging from dualism to non-dualism, all of which
developed on the basis of a common textual connection called the
Prasthanatrayi is a collective term for the
Principal Upanishads, the
Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
Vedanta schools, in their deliberations, concern themselves with
the following three categories but differ in their views regarding the
concept and the relations between them:
Brahman – the ultimate
metaphysical reality, Ātman / Jivātman – the individual soul or
Prakriti – the empirical world, ever-changing physical
universe, body and matter.
Some of the better known sub-traditions of
Vedanta include Advaita
Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism), and Dvaita
(dualism). Most other Vedantic sub-traditions are subsumed under the
Bhedabheda (difference and non-difference). Over time, Vedanta
adopted ideas from other orthodox (āstika) schools like
Nyaya, and, through this syncretism, became the most prominent school
of Hinduism. Many extant forms of Vaishnavism,
Shaivism and Shaktism
have been significantly shaped and influenced by the doctrines of
different schools of Vedanta. The
Vedanta school has had a historic
and central influence on Hinduism.
1 Etymology and nomenclature
2 Prasthanatrayi, the Three Sources
3.1 Before the Brahma Sutras
3.2 Brahma Sutras
3.3 Between the
Brahma Sutras and Adi Shankara
Adi Shankara and
3.6 Madhva and Dvaita
4 Overview of the schools of Vedanta
4.1 Schools propounding Non-dualism
4.2 School propounding Dualism - Dvaita
4.3 Schools propounding Bhedabheda
5.1 Common features
Ishvara - Conceptions of the Supreme Reality
5.2.2 Relation between
Jiva / Atman
5.3.2 Theories of cause and effect
6.2.1 Criticism of
6.3 Influence on Western thinkers
8 Similarities with Spinoza's philosophy
9 See also
12.1 Published sources
13 Further reading
Etymology and nomenclature
Vedanta literally means the end of the
Vedas and originally
referred to the Upanishads.
Vedanta was concerned with the
jñānakāṇḍa or Vedic knowledge part called the Upanishads.
The denotation of
Vedanta subsequently widened to include the various
philosophical traditions based on to the Prasthanatrayi.
Upanishads may be regarded as the end of
Vedas in different
These were the last literary products of the Vedic period.
These mark the culmination of Vedic thought.
These were taught and debated last, in the
Vedanta is one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Indian
philosophy. It is also called Uttara Mīmāṃsā, the 'latter
enquiry' or 'higher enquiry'; and is often contrasted with Pūrva
Mīmāṃsā, the 'former enquiry' or 'primary enquiry'. Pūrva
Mīmāṃsā deals with the karmakāṇḍa or rituals part (the
Samhita and Brahmanas) in the Vedas.[note 1]
Prasthanatrayi, the Three Sources
The Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the
Brahma Sutras constitute the
basis of Vedanta. All schools of
Vedanta propound their philosophy by
interpreting these texts, collectively called the Prasthanatrayi,
literally, three sources.
The Upanishads,[note 2] or
Śruti prasthāna; considered the Sruti
(Vedic scriptures) foundation of Vedanta.
The Brahma Sutras, or
Nyaya prasthana / Yukti prasthana; considered
the reason-based foundation of Vedanta.
The Bhagavad Gita, or
Smriti prasthāna; considered the Smriti
(remembered tradition) foundation of Vedanta.
Brahma Sutras attempted to synthesize the teachings of the
Upanishads. The diversity in the teaching of the Upanishads
necessitated the systematization of these teachings. This was likely
done in many ways in ancient India, but the only surviving version of
this synthesis is the
Brahma Sutras of Badarayana.
All major Vedantic teachers, including Shankara, Bhaskara, Ramanuja,
Vallabha and Madhva, have composed commentaries not only on
Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Bhagavad Gita. The
Bhagavad Gita, due to its syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic
thought, has played a major role in Vedantic thought.
Upanishads do not present a rigorous philosophical inquiry in the
form of identifying various doctrines and then presenting arguments
for or against them. They form the basic texts and
them through rigorous philosophical exegesis. Varying
interpretations of the
Upanishads and their synthesis, the Brahma
Sutras, led to the development of different schools of
time of which three, four, five or six[note 3] are
Advaita, many scholars of which most prominent are
CE) and Shankara (8th century CE)
Vishishtadvaita, prominent scholars are Nathamuni, Yāmuna and
Ramanuja (1017–1137 CE)
Dvaita, founded by
Madhvacharya (1199–1278 CE)
Suddhadvaita, founded by Vallabha (1479–1531 CE)
Bhedabheda, as early as the 7th century CE, or even the 4th
century CE. Some scholars are inclined to consider it as a
"tradition" rather than a school of Vedanta.
Upadhika, founded by Bhaskara in the 9th Century CE
Svabhavikabhedabheda or Dvaitādvaita, founded by Nimbarka in the
13th century CE
Achintya Bheda Abheda, founded by
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534
The history of
Vedanta is divided into two periods: one prior to the
composition of the
Brahma Sutras and the other encompassing the
schools that developed after the
Brahma Sutras were written.
Before the Brahma Sutras
Little is known of schools of
Vedanta existing before the
composition of the
Brahma Sutras (400–450 BCE).[note 5] It is
clear that Badarayana, the writer of Brahma Sutras, was not the first
person to systematize the teachings of the Upanishads, as he quotes
six Vedantic teachers before him – Ashmarathya, Badari, Audulomi,
Kashakrtsna, Karsnajini and Atreya. References to other early
Vedanta teachers – Brahmadatta, Sundara, Pandaya, Tanka and
Dravidacharya – are found in secondary literature of later
periods. The works of these ancient teachers have not survived,
but based on the quotes attributed to them in later literature, Sharma
postulates that Ashmarathya and Audulomi were
Kashakrtsna and Brahmadatta were
Advaita scholars, while Tanka and
Dravidacharya were either
Advaita or Vishistadvaita scholars.
Main article: Brahma Sutras
Badarayana summarized and interpreted teachings of the
the Brahma Sutras, also called the
Vedanta Sutra.[note 6]
Badarayana summarized the teachings of the classical
Upanishads[note 7] and refuted the rival philosophical schools
in ancient India. The
Brahma Sutras laid the basis for the
Though attributed to Badarayana, the
Brahma Sutras were likely
composed by multiple authors over the course of hundreds of years.
The estimates on when the
Brahma Sutras were complete vary,
with Nicholson in his 2013 review stating, that they were most likely
compiled in the present form around 400–450 BCE. Isaeva suggests
they were complete and in current form by 200 CE, while Nakamura
states that "the great part of the
Sutra must have been in existence
much earlier than that."
The book is composed of four chapters, each divided into four quarters
or sections. These sutras attempt to synthesize the diverse
teachings of the Upanishads. However, the cryptic nature of aphorisms
Brahma Sutras have required exegetical commentaries. These
commentaries have resulted in the formation of numerous Vedanta
schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its
Brahma Sutras and Adi Shankara
See also: Vedas, Upanishads, and Darsanas
Little with specificity is known of the period between the Brahma
Sutras (5th century BCE) and
Adi Shankara (8th century CE).
Only two writings of this period have survived: the Vākyapadīya,
Bhartṛhari (second half 5th century), and the
Kārikā written by
Gaudapada (early 6th or 7th century CE).
Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his school in his
commentaries. A number of important early
Vedanta thinkers have
been listed in the Siddhitraya by Yamunācārya (c. 1050), the
Rāmānuja (c. 1050–1157), and the
Yatīndramatadīpikā by Śrīnivāsa Dāsa. At least fourteen
thinkers are known to have existed between the composition of the
Brahma Sutras and Shankara's lifetime.[note 8]
A noted scholar of this period was Bhartriprapancha. Bhartriprapancha
maintained that the
Brahman is one and there is unity, but that this
unity has varieties. Scholars see Bhartriprapancha as an early
philosopher in the line who teach the tenet of Bhedabheda.
Adi Shankara and
Advaita Vedanta and Gaudapada
Gaudapada (c. 6th century CE), was the teacher or a more distant
predecessor of Govindapada, the teacher of Adi Shankara. Shankara
is widely considered as the founder of
Gaudapada's treatise, the Kārikā—also known as the Māṇḍukya
Kārikā or the Āgama Śāstra—is the earliest surviving
complete text on
Advaita Vedanta.[note 9]
Gaudapada's Kārikā relied on the Mandukya, Brihadaranyaka and
Chhandogya Upanishads. In the Kārikā,
Advaita (non-dualism) is
established on rational grounds (upapatti) independent of scriptural
revelation; its arguments are devoid of all religious, mystical or
scholastic elements. Scholars are divided on a possible influence of
Buddhism on Gaudapada's philosophy.[note 10] The fact that Shankara,
in addition to the Brahma Sutras, the principal
Upanishads and the
Bhagvad Gita, wrote an independent commentary on the Kārikā proves
its importance in Vedāntic literature.
Adi Shankara (788–820), elaborated on Gaudapada's work and more
ancient scholarship to write detailed commentaries on the
Prasthanatrayi and the Kārikā. The Mandukya
Upanishad and the
Kārikā have been described by Shankara as containing "the epitome of
the substance of the import of Vedanta". It was Shankara who
Gaudapada work with the ancient Brahma Sutras, "and give it
a locus classicus" alongside the realistic strain of the Brahma
Sutras.[note 11] His interpretation, including works ascribed to
him, has become the normative interpretation of Advaita
A noted contemporary of Shankara was Mandan Mishra, who regarded
Vedanta as forming a single system and advocated their
combination known as Karma-jnana-samuchchaya-vada.[note 13] The
treatise on the differences between the
Vedanta school and the Mimamsa
school was a contribution of Adi Shankara.
Advaita Vedanta rejects
rituals in favor of renunciation, for example.
Rāmānuja (1017–1137 CE) was the most influential philosopher in
Vishishtadvaita tradition. As the philosophical architect of
Vishishtadvaita, he taught qualified non-dualism. Ramanuja's
teacher, Yadava Prakasha, followed the
Advaita monastic tradition.
Tradition has it that
Ramanuja disagreed with Yadava and Advaita
Vedanta, and instead followed
Nathamuni and Yāmuna. Ramanuja
Prasthanatrayi with the theism and philosophy of the
Alvars poet-saints. Ramanujan wrote a number of
influential texts, such as a bhasya on the
Brahma Sutras and the
Bhagavad Gita, all in Sanskrit.
Ramanuja presented the epistemological and soteriological importance
of bhakti, or the devotion to a personal God (
Vishnu in Ramanuja's
case) as a means to spiritual liberation. His theories assert that
there exists a plurality and distinction between Atman (souls) and
Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality), while he also affirmed that
there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the
potential to realize identity with the Brahman. Vishishtadvaiata
provides the philosophical basis of Sri Vaishnavism.
Ramanuja was influential in integrating Bhakti, the devotional
Madhva and Dvaita
Dvaita was propounded by
Madhvacharya (1238–1317 CE).[note 14] He
presented the opposite interpretation of Shankara in his Dvaita, or
dualistic system. In contrast to Shankara's non-dualism and
Ramanuja's qualified non-dualism, he championed unqualified dualism.
Madhva wrote commentaries on the chief Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita
and the Brahma Sutra.
Madhva started his Vedic studies at age seven, joined an Advaita
Vedanta monastery in Dwarka (Gujarat), studied under guru
Achyutrapreksha, frequently disagreed with him, left the Advaita
monastery, and founded Dvaita. Madhva and his followers Jayatirtha
and Vyasatirtha, were critical of all competing
Jainism and Buddhism, but particularly intense in their criticism
Advaita Vedanta and Adi Shankara.
Dvaita Vedanta is theistic and it identifies
Brahman with Narayana, or
more specifically Vishnu, in a manner similar to Ramanuja's
Vishishtadvaita Vedanta. But it is more explicitly pluralistic.
Madhva's emphasis for difference between soul and
Brahman was so
pronounced that he taught there were differences (1) between material
things; (2) between material things and souls; (3) between material
things and God; (4) between souls; and (5) between souls and God.
He also advocated for a difference in degrees in the possession of
knowledge. He also advocated for differences in the enjoyment of bliss
even in the case of liberated souls, a doctrine found in no other
system of Indian philosophy. 
Overview of the schools of Vedanta
Schools propounding Non-dualism
Advaita Vedanta (
Advaita Vedānta; Sanskrit: अद्वैत
वेदान्त) espouses non-dualism and monism.
held to be the sole unchanging metaphysical reality and identical to
Atman. The physical world, on the other hand, is always-changing
empirical Maya.[note 15] The absolute and infinite Atman-Brahman
is realized by a process of negating everything relative, finite,
empirical and changing. The school accepts no duality, no limited
individual souls (Atman / Jivatman), and no separate unlimited cosmic
soul. All souls and existence across space and time is considered as
the same oneness (i.e. monism). Spiritual liberation in
the full comprehension and realization of oneness, that one's
unchanging Atman (soul) is the same as the Atman in everyone else, as
well as being identical to the nirguna Brahman.
Main article: Vishishtadvaita
Ramanujacharya depicted with Vaishnava
Vishishtadvaita asserts that Jivatman (human souls) and
Vishnu) are different, a difference that is never transcended.
With this qualification,
Ramanuja also affirmed monism by saying that
there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the
potential to realize identity with the Brahman. Vishishtadvaita,
like Advaita, is a non-dualistic school of
Vedanta in a qualified way,
and both begin by assuming that all souls can hope for and achieve the
state of blissful liberation. On the relation between the Brahman
and the world of matter (Prakriti),
Vishishtadvaita states both are
two different absolutes, both metaphysically true and real, neither is
false or illusive, and that saguna
Brahman with attributes is also
Ramanuja states that God, like man, has both soul and body,
and the world of matter is the glory of God's body. The path to
Brahman (Vishnu), according to Ramanuja, is devotion to godliness and
constant remembrance of the beauty and love of the personal god
(bhakti of saguna Brahman).
Main article: Shuddhadvaita
Shuddhadvaita (pure non-dualism) states that the entire universe is
real and is subtly
Brahman only in the form of Krishna.
Vallabhacharya, the propounder of this philosophy, agreed with Advaita
Vedanta's ontology, but emphasized that prakriti (empirical world,
body) is not separate from the Brahman, but just another manifestation
of the latter. Everything, everyone, everywhere—soul and body,
living and non-living, jiva and matter—is the eternal Krishna.
The way to Krishna, in this school, is bhakti.
renunciation of monistic sannyasa as ineffective and advocates the
path of devotion (bhakti) rather than knowledge (jnana). The goal of
bhakti is to turn away from ego, self-centered-ness and deception, and
to turn towards the eternal
Krishna in everything continually offering
freedom from samsara.
School propounding Dualism - Dvaita
Main article: Dvaita
This school is based on the premise of dualism. Atman (soul) and
Brahman (as Vishnu) are understood as two completely different
Brahman is the creator of the universe, perfect in
knowledge, perfect in knowing, perfect in its power, and distinct from
souls, distinct from matter. [note 16] In
Dvaita Vedanta, an
individual soul must feel attraction, love, attachment and complete
devotional surrender to
Vishnu for salvation, and it is only His grace
that leads to redemption and salvation. Madhva believed that some
souls are eternally doomed and damned, a view not found in
Vishishtadvaita Vedanta. While the
asserted "qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls",
Madhva asserted both "qualitative and quantitative pluralism of
Schools propounding Bhedabheda
Main article: Bhedabheda
Bhedābheda means "difference and non–difference" and is more a
tradition than a school of Vedanta. The schools of this tradition
emphasize that the individual self (Jīvatman) is both different and
not different from Brahman. Notable figures in this school are
Bhartriprapancha, Bhāskara (8th–9th century), Ramanuja's teacher
Nimbārka (13th century) who founded the
Dvaitadvaita school, Caitanya (1486–1534) who founded the Achintya
Bheda Abheda school and Vijñānabhikṣu (16th century). [note
Bhaskara, in postulating Upadhika, considers both identity and
difference to be equally real. As the causal principle,
considered non-dual and formless pure being and intelligence. The
same Brahman, manifest as events, becomes the world of plurality.
Brahman limited by the mind. Matter and its limitations are
considered real, not a manifestation of ignorance. Bhaskara advocated
bhakti as dhyana (meditation) directed toward the transcendental
Brahman. He refuted the idea of Maya and denied the possibility of
liberation in bodily existence.
Nimbarkacharya's icon at Ukhra, West Bengal
Main article: Dvaitadvaita
Nimbārka propounded Dvaitādvaita, based upon Bhedābheda as was
taught by Bhāskara.
Brahman (God), souls (chit) and matter or the
universe (achit) are considered as three equally real and co-eternal
Brahman is the controller (niyantr), the soul is the
enjoyer (bhoktr), and the material universe is the object enjoyed
Brahman is Krishna, the ultimate cause who is
omniscient, omnipotent, all-pervading Being. He is the efficient cause
of the universe because, as Lord of
Karma and internal ruler of souls,
He brings about creation so that the souls can reap the consequences
of their karma. God is considered to be the material cause of the
universe because creation was a manifestation of His powers of soul
(chit) and matter (achit); creation is a transformation (parinama) of
God's powers. He can be realized only through a constant effort to
merge oneself with His nature through meditation and devotion. 
Main article: Achintya Bhedabheda
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was the prime exponent of
Sanskrit achintya means
'inconceivable'. Achintya-Bheda-Abheda represents the philosophy
of "inconceivable difference in non-difference", in relation to
the non-dual reality of Brahman-Atman which it calls (Krishna), svayam
bhagavan. The notion of "inconceivability" (acintyatva) is used
to reconcile apparently contradictory notions in Upanishadic
teachings. This school asserts that
Bhagavan of the bhakti
Brahman of the jnana yogins, and has a divine potency that
is inconceivable. He is all-pervading and thus in all parts of the
universe (non-difference), yet he is inconceivably more (difference).
This school is at the foundation of the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious
The important approaches followed by the most noted proponents of
different schools of
Vedanta are summarized below:
To theorize that the soul (Ātman / Jivātman) and the physical
universe (Prakriti) are both identical with and different from
Brahman. This view is held by Bhartriprapancha.
To place non-dualistic ideas in the most important place, relegating
dualistic ideas to an interim position. This approach is followed by
To theorize that non-dualism is qualified by difference. This is
To emphasize dualism, discrediting and offering an alternative
explanation of non-dualistic ideas. This is from Madhva.
Sivananda gives the following explanation:
Madhva said, "Man is the servant of God," and established his Dvaita
Ramanuja said, "Man is a ray or spark of God," and
established his Visishtadvaita philosophy. Sankara said, "Man is
Brahman or the Eternal Soul," and established his
Despite their differences, all schools of
Vedanta share some common
Brahman exists as the unchanging material cause and instrumental cause
of the world.
Upanishads are a reliable source of knowledge (
Vedanta is the pursuit of knowledge into the Brahman
and the Ātman.
Belief in rebirth and the desirability of release from the cycle of
The self (Ātman / Jivātman) is the agent of its own acts (karma) and
the recipient of the consequences of these actions.
Jainism and conclusions of the other Vedic
schools (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, and, to some extent, the
Vedanta philosophies discuss three fundamental metaphysical categories
and the relations between the three.
Brahman or Ishvara: the ultimate reality
Ātman or Jivātman: the individual soul, self
Prakriti/Jagat: the empirical world, ever–changing physical
universe, body and matter
Ishvara - Conceptions of the Supreme Reality
Shankara, in formulating Advaita, talks of two conceptions of Brahman:
Brahman as undifferentiated Being, and a lower Brahman
endowed with qualities as the creator of the universe.
Parā or Higher Brahman: the undifferentiated, absolute, infinite,
Brahman beyond all thought and speech
is defined as parā Brahman, nirviśeṣa
Brahman or nirguṇa Brahman
and is the Absolute of metaphysics.
Aparā or Lower Brahman: the
Brahman with qualities defined as aparā
Brahman or saguṇa Brahman. The saguṇa
Brahman is endowed with
attributes and represents the personal God of religion.
Ramanuja, in formulating
Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, rejects
nirguṇa—that the undifferentiated Absolute is inconceivable—and
adopts a theistic interpretation of the Upanishads, accepts
Ishvara, the personal God who is the seat of all auspicious
attributes, as the One reality. The God of
accessible to the devotee, yet remains the Absolute, with
Madhva, in expounding
Dvaita philosophy, maintains that
Vishnu is the
supreme God, thus identifying the Brahman, or absolute reality, of the
Upanishads with a personal god, as
Ramanuja had done before him.
Nimbarka, in his dvaitadvata philosophy, accepted the
Brahman both as
nirguṇa and as saguṇa. Vallabha, in his shuddhadvaita philosophy,
not only accepts the triple ontological essence of the Brahman, but
also His manifestation as personal God (Ishvara), as matter and as
Jiva / Atman
The schools of
Vedanta differ in their conception of the relation they
see between Ātman / Jivātman and
Brahman / Ishvara:
Advaita Vedanta, Ātman is identical with
there is no difference.
According to Vishishtadvaita, Jīvātman is different from Ishvara,
though eternally connected with Him as His mode. The oneness of
the Supreme Reality is understood in the sense of an organic unity
Ishvara alone, as organically related to all
Jīvātman and the material universe is the one Ultimate Reality.
According to Dvaita, the Jīvātman is totally and always different
Brahman / Ishvara.
Shuddhadvaita (pure monism), the Jīvātman and Brahman
are identical; both, along with the changing empirically-observed
universe being Krishna.
Main article: Pramana
Advaita and some
Vedanta schools recognize six epistemic means.
Pramāṇa (Sanskrit: प्रमाण) literally means "proof",
"that which is the means of valid knowledge". It refers to
epistemology in Indian philosophies, and encompasses the study of
reliable and valid means by which human beings gain accurate, true
knowledge. The focus of
Pramana is the manner in which correct
knowledge can be acquired, how one knows or does not know, and to what
extent knowledge pertinent about someone or something can be
acquired. Ancient and medieval Indian texts identify six[note 18]
pramanas as correct means of accurate knowledge and truths:
Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy)
Arthāpatti (postulation, derivation from circumstances)
Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof)
Śabda (scriptural testimony/ verbal testimony of past or present
The different schools of
Vedanta have historically disagreed as to
which of the six are epistemologically valid. For example, while
Advaita Vedanta accepts all six pramanas,
Dvaita accept only three pramanas (perception, inference and
Advaita considers Pratyakṣa (perception) as the most reliable source
of knowledge, and Śabda, the scriptural evidence, is considered
secondary except for matters related to Brahman, where it is the only
evidence.[note 19] In Vishistadvaita and Dvaita, Śabda, the
scriptural testimony, is considered the most authentic means of
Theories of cause and effect
All schools of
Vedanta subscribe to the theory of Satkāryavāda,
which means that the effect is pre-existent in the cause. But there
are two different views on the status of the "effect", that is, the
world. Most schools of Vedanta, as well as Samkhya, support
Parinamavada, the idea that the world is a real transformation
(parinama) of Brahman. According to Nicholson (2010, p. 27),
Brahma Sutras espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which
appears to have been the view most common among early Vedantins". In
contrast to Badarayana,
Adi Shankara and
Advaita Vedantists hold a
different view, Vivartavada, which says that the effect, the world, is
merely an unreal (vivarta) transformation of its cause, Brahman.[note
Vedanta, adopting ideas from other orthodox (āstika) schools, became
the most prominent school of Hinduism.
Vedanta traditions led to
the development of many traditions in Hinduism. Sri Vaishnavism
of south and southeastern
India is based on Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita
Vedanta. Ramananda led to the Vaishnav
Bhakti Movement in north,
east, central and west India. This movement draws its philosophical
and theistic basis from Vishishtadvaita. A large number of devotional
Vaishnavism traditions of east India, north
India (particularly the
Braj region), west and central
India are based on various sub-schools
Advaita Vedanta influenced Krishna
Vaishnavism in the northeastern state of Assam. The Madhva school
Vaishnavism found in coastal
Karnataka is based on Dvaita
Āgamas, the classical literature of Shaivism, though independent in
Vedanta association and premises. Of the 92 Āgamas,
ten are (dvaita) texts, eighteen (bhedabheda), and sixty-four
(advaita) texts. While the Bhairava Shastras are monistic, Shiva
Shastras are dualistic. Isaeva (1995, pp. 134–135) finds
the link between Gaudapada's
Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism
evident and natural. Tirumular, the Tamil
Shaiva Siddhanta scholar,
credited with creating "Vedanta–Siddhanta" (
Advaita Vedanta and
Shaiva Siddhanta synthesis), stated, "becoming Shiva is the goal of
Vedanta and Siddhanta; all other goals are secondary to it and are
Shaktism, or traditions where a goddess is considered identical to
Brahman, has similarly flowered from a syncretism of the monist
Advaita Vedanta and dualism premises of Samkhya–Yoga
Hindu philosophy, sometimes referred to as Shaktadavaitavada
(literally, the path of nondualistic Shakti).
Main articles: Neo-Vedanta,
Hindu nationalism, and
Neo-Vedanta, variously called as "
Hindu modernism", "neo-Hinduism",
and "neo-Advaita", is a term that denotes some novel interpretations
Hinduism that developed in the 19th century, presumably as a
reaction to the colonial British rule. King (2002,
pp. 129–135) writes that these notions accorded the Hindu
nationalists an opportunity to attempt the construction of a
nationalist ideology to help unite the Hindus to fight colonial
oppression. Western orientalists, in their search for its "essence",
attempted to formulate a notion of "Hinduism" based on a single
Vedanta as a unified body of religious praxis.
This was contra-factual as, historically,
always accepted a diversity of traditions. King (1999,
pp. 133–136) asserts that the neo-Vedantic theory of
"overarching tolerance and acceptance" was used by the Hindu
reformers, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism,
to challenge the polemic dogmatism of Judaeo-Christian-Islamic
missionaries against the Hindus.
The neo-Vedantins argued that the six orthodox schools of Hindu
philosophy were perspectives on a single truth, all valid and
complementary to each other. Halbfass (2007, p. 307) sees
these interpretations as incorporating western ideas into
traditional systems, especially
Advaita Vedanta. It is the modern
Advaita Vedanta, states King (1999, p. 135), the
neo-Vedantists subsumed the Buddhist philosophies as part of the
Vedanta tradition[note 21] and then argued that all the world
religions are same "non-dualistic position as the philosophia
perennis", ignoring the differences within and outside of
Hinduism. According to Gier (2000, p. 140), neo-
Advaita Vedanta which accepts universal realism:
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.
A major proponent in the popularization of this Universalist and
Perennialist interpretation of
Advaita Vedanta was Vivekananda,
who played a major role in the revival of Hinduism. He was also
instrumental in the spread of
Advaita Vedanta to the West via the
Vedanta Society, the international arm of the Ramakrishna
Nicholson (2010, p. 2) writes that the attempts at integration
which came to be known as neo-
Vedanta were evident as early as 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
Hindu philosophy.[note 22]
Matilal criticizes Neo-
Hinduism as an oddity developed by
West-inspired Western Indologists and attributes it to the flawed
Western perception of
Hinduism in modern India. In his scathing
criticism of this school of reasoning, Matilal (2002,
pp. 403–404) says:
The so-called 'traditional' outlook is in fact a construction. Indian
history shows that the tradition itself was self-conscious and
critical of itself, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. It was
never free from internal tensions due to the inequalities that
persisted in a hierarchical society, nor was it without confrontation
and challenge throughout its history. Hence Gandhi,
Tagore were not simply 'transplants from Western culture, products
arising solely from confrontation with the west.
...It is rather odd that, although the early Indologists' romantic
dream of discovering a pure (and probably primitive, according to
some) form of
Buddhism as the case may be) now stands
discredited in many quarters; concepts like neo-
Hinduism are still
bandied about as substantial ideas or faultless explanation tools by
the Western 'analytic' historians as well as the West-inspired
historians of India.
Influence on Western thinkers
An exchange of ideas has been taking place between the western world
and Asia since the late 18th century as a result of colonization of
parts of Asia by Western powers. This also influenced western
religiosity. The first translation of Upanishads, published in two
parts in 1801 and 1802, significantly influenced Arthur Schopenhauer,
who called them the consolation of his life. He drew explicit
parallels between his philosophy, as set out in The World as Will and
Representation, and that of the
Vedanta philosophy as described
in the work of Sir William Jones. Early translations also
appeared in other European languages. Influenced by Śaṅkara's
Brahman (God) and māyā (illusion),
Lucian Blaga often
used the concepts marele anonim (the Great Anonymous) and cenzura
transcendentă (the transcendental censorship) in his philosophy.
According to Nakamura (1950, p. 3), the
Vedanta school has had a
historic and central influence on Hinduism:
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. ...the
Hindu religious sects,
the common faith of the Indian populace, looked to
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...
Frithjof Schuon summarizes the influence of
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.
Flood (1996, pp. 231–232, 238) 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
Similarities with Spinoza's philosophy
Theodore Goldstücker was among the early scholars
to notice 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
Max Müller noted the striking similarities between
Vedanta and the
system of Spinoza, saying,
The Brahman, as conceived in the
Upanishads and defined by Sankara, is
clearly the same as Spinoza's 'Substantia'."
Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society, also compared
Spinoza's religious thought to Vedanta, writing in an unfinished
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.
List of teachers of Vedanta
Vedanta has been called by various names. The early
names were the Upanishadic ones (Aupanisada), the doctrine of the end
Vedas (Vedanta-vada), the doctrine of
and the doctrine that
Brahman is the cause (Brahma-karana-vada).
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). All major commentators have
considered twelve to thirteen oldest of these texts as the Principal
Upanishads and as the foundation of Vedanta.
^ Sivananda also mentions Meykandar and the
^ 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.
^ Nicholson (2010, p. 26) considers the
Brahma Sutras as a group
of sutras composed by multiple authors over the course of hundreds of
years. The precise date is disputed. Nicholson (2010, p. 26)
estimates that the book was composed in its current form between 400
and 450 BCE.
^ The Vedanta–sūtra are known by a variety of names, including (1)
Brahma–sūtra, (2) Śārīraka–sutra, (3) Bādarāyaṇa–sūtra
and (4) Uttara–mīmāṁsā.
^ Estimates of the date of Bādarāyana's lifetime differ. 
^ 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).
^ There is ample evidence, however, to suggest that
Advaita was a
thriving tradition by the start of the common era or even before that.
Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his Sampradaya.
Scholarship since 1950 suggests that almost all
have a strong
Advaita Vedanta outlook. Six
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; the Asrama
Upanishad is dated to
the 3rd Century. The strong
Advaita Vedanta views in these ancient
Upanishads may be, states Patrick Olivelle, because major
Hindu monasteries of this period belonged to the
^ Scholars like Raju (1972, p. 177), following the lead of
earlier scholars like Sengupta, believe that
the Buddhist doctrine that ultimate reality is pure consciousness
(vijñapti-mātra). Raju (1972, pp. 177–178) states, "Gaudapada
wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad,
which was further developed by Shankara." Nikhilananda (2008,
pp. 203–206) states that the whole purpose of
Gaudapada was to
present and demonstrate the ultimate reality of Atman, an idea denied
by Buddhism. According to Murti (1955, pp. 114–115),
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. 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. While there is shared terminology, the doctrines of
Buddhism are fundamentally different, states Murti
(1955, pp. 114–115)
^ Nicholson (2010, p. 27) writes: "The Brahmasutras themselves
espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which appears to have been
the view most common among early Vedantins."
^ Shankara synthesized the Advaita–vāda which had previously
existed before him, and, in this synthesis, became the restorer
& defender of an ancient learning. He was an unequaled
commentator, due to whose efforts and contributions, Advaita
Vedanta assumed a dominant position within Indian philosophy.
^ According to Mishra, the sutras, beginning with the first sutra of
Jaimini and ending with the last sutra of Badarayana, form one compact
^ Many sources date him to 1238–1317 period, but some place him
over 1199–1278 CE.
^ Doniger (1986, p. 119) says "that to say that the universe is
an illusion (māyā) is not to say that it is unreal; it is to say,
instead, that it is not what it seems to be, that it is something
constantly being made. Maya not only deceives people about the things
they think they know; more basically, it limits their knowledge."
^ The concept of
Dvaita Vedanta is so similar to the
monotheistic eternal God, that some early colonial–era Indologists
George Abraham Grierson
George Abraham Grierson suggested Madhva was influenced by
early Christians who migrated to India,  but later scholarship has
rejected this theory.
^ According to Nakamura and Dasgupta, the Brahmasutras reflect a
Bhedabheda point of view, the most influential tradition of
Vedanta before Shankara. Numerous Indologists, including Surendranath
Dasgupta, Paul hacker, Hajime Nakamura, and Mysore Hiriyanna, have
Bhedabheda as the most influential school of
^ A few Indian scholars such as Vedvyasa discuss ten, Krtakoti
discusses eight, but six is most widely accepted; see Nicholson (2010,
^ Anantanand Rambachan (1991, pp. xii–xiii) 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." Sengaku Mayeda
(2006, pp. 46–47) 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.
^ Nicholson (2010, p. 27) writes of
Advaita Vedantin position of
cause and effect - Although
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.
^ Vivekananda, clarifies Richard King, stated, "I am not a Buddhist,
as you have heard, and yet I am"; but thereafter
that "he cannot accept the Buddhist rejection of a self, but
nevertheless honors the Buddha's compassion and attitude towards
^ The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also
been noted by Burley. Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct
Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus, and
a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim
other", which started well before 1800.
^ Chatterjee & Dutta 1939, pp. 317–318; Flood 1996,
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1948, pp. 19,21–25,150–152
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pp. 176–177; Isaeva 1992, p. 35 with footnote 30
^ Raju 1972, pp. 176–177.
^ Chatterjee & Dutta 1939, pp. 317–318; Scharfe 2002,
^ Flood 1996, p. 231,232,238.
^ Clooney 2000, pp. 147–158.
^ Mohan Lal Sandal 1925, p. 16,
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1990, pp. 6–7
^ Dasgupta 1922, pp. 28.
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