learning

The five philosophies of Vedanta

Given below is an elementary introduction to the five different philosophies of Vedanta [1].

Advaita (by Sri Adi Shankaracharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of the same material; the universe is unreal. The events of the physical universe are like waves rising from an ocean, symbolizing Brahman. Spiritual knowledge is usually defined as the realization of our oneness with God and causes liberation [2].

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Visistadvaita (by Sri Ramanujacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of different material. God resides within each individual being as the antaryami {in-dweller). Spiritual knowledge refers to the realization that our soul is eternally dependent on God, who is the sole reason of our existence. Bhakti of God is the way to liberation.

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Dvaita (by Sri Madhavacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of different material. Individual soul is dependent on God. Bhakti gives grace of God and liberation. To take an analogy, the soul and God are like sand and water; just like sand settles at the bottom of water, the individual soul reaches the lotus feet of God.

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Dvaitadvaita (by Sri Nimbarkacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are simultaneously different and not different. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan explains in Indian Philosophy (Vol. 2), the individual souls are different from Brahman as their attributes are different; they are not different from Brahman as they are dependent on God.

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Shuddhadvaita (by Sri Vallabhacharya)

The individual soul and Brahman (God) are of the same material in reality. World appears as Brahman to the realized. Bhakti and grace of God are necessary for liberation.

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Notes

[1] Note that there exists a difference between the Vedantic schools and the Vedantic philosophies. When counting the different schools of Vedanta, many recent academic papers often ignore the Ramanandi Vaishnava school, which is the most impactful devotional school of North India. The Ramacharitamansa, written by Goswami Tulasidasa, a member of this school, involves an amalgation of Advaita-Dvaita-Visistadvaita, which I have already talked about in this post. As Saint Kabirdasa of this school puts it, devotion is about the four letters of love, not about philosophies and complex theories.

[2] You can read more about liberation in this blog post.

Learning about Hinduism: Avoiding modern-day obstacles

Because of the social-political changes within India over the last century, today’s Hindus have more choices than before. This is particularly true for the Hindus of India, the country where Hindu thought has mainly flourished over the ages. These choices — freedom to think and act — were not present for Hindus between 1200 and 1947, when most Hindus were under brute foreign-colonial rule. Also, Hinduism has become a global religion, and Hindus of non-Indian origin also have the freedom and responsibility to contribute to Hindu thought. Accordingly, decisions that today’s Hindus make are important and will have their own importance in history.

Though Hinduism’s democratic flavor and its dynamic knowledge base are among the strengths of the religion, these strengths can become dangers if they are misused. They can become dangerous if followers start dumping everything that comes to their mind to the domain of Hindu thought. We must understand that in the past, over millenniums, Hindu scriptures were developed by God-inspired and God-realized human beings, whom we revere as saints and sages. Today, even non-believers and non-seekers have freedom to express their views loudly through their writings and talks. In this situation, we will have to learn to be selective in what we absorb. We can sometimes ignore the non-devotional individuals, no matter how intellectual they appear to be, who tend to pull Hindu thought in the wrong direction — away from its God-centricity.

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