The curriculum for Vedānta or spiritual philosophy is called Prasthana Trayi, it consists of Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Brahma Sutras. Bhagavad Gita is the compendium on spiritual philosophies by Sri Krishna. Upanishads are found in Aranyaka portion of the Veda. Of the 108 Upanishads, ten important ones are studied. Brahma sutras are given by Badarayana.
There are three major schools of Vedānta (or Spiritual Philosophy):
All the three accept the authority of texts and sources of knowledge. They are different interpretations of the Vedantic texts. The cause and method of creation, the relation between jiva and Iswara, the role of Prakriti are seen differently by these schools. The major proponents of these schools (Sankara in case of Advaita, Ramanuja in case of Viśiṣṭādvaita and Madhva in case of Dvaita) have written commentaries on the prasthana trayi.
However, though these are the major ones, there are many other schools like
- Achintya Bhedabheda (Gaudiya Vaishnava),
- Shuddadvaita (Vallabha Sampradaya)
- Dvaitadvaita (Nimbarka Sampradaya)
There are three major concepts (vaadas) that explain the cause of universe: Arambha, Parinama and Vivarta. According to
- Arambha vada, the universe is seen as eternal.
- Parinama vada, Brahman is said to create/become the Universe.
- Vivarta Vada, Brahman is said to be without change but only appear as the Universe, through the play of maya.
In the six darśanas, Nyaya and Vaiseshika are Arambha vada. Sankhya and Yoga hold Parinama Vada. Mimamsa, esp. Uttara Mimamsa is said to contain Vivarta Vada. The dwaitic schools of Vedānta too, hold Parinama vada. According to them God becomes or creates the Universe just the way a spider creates its web from its body. In Vivarta Vada the Universe is not created or destroyed - it only appears as it is, by the play of Maya. Realizing Brahman puts an end to the apparent.
The cause of creation or any phenomenon (karana) is said to be of two kinds - nimitta (nominal) and upadana (substantial). If we take the famous example of making a pot, the potter is said to be the nominal cause, and mud which is the substance of pot is said to be the substantial cause.
"The vastest knowledge of today cannot transcend the buddhi (intellect) of the Rishis in ancient Indial and science, in its most advanced stage now, is closer to Vedanta than ever before." - Alfred N. Whitehead
Advaita (literally, 'not-two', 'not dual') is the oldest school. Adi Sankara is considered to be the best exponent of the Advaita philosophy. There are some schools that differentiate Advaita as Sankara and Sankara-Purva (the one that existed before Sankara) advaita.
Advaita is found as an independent school of spiritual philosophy, not closely related to any of the religions. Many flavors of religions including Saiva, Sakta, Tantra (though all these are not mutually exclusive), are advaitic in nature.
Brahman - Jiva - Maya
Advaita, especially Sankara Advaita completely stands by Vivarta Vada. Universe is empirically true - vyavaharika satya. But it is not what it appears to be. It appears so, because of the veil caused by Maya. This is of two types, veiling (covering the Truth) and projection (appearing to be True). These are called avarana and vikshepa. Maya is neither real nor unreal, it is inexplicable. It is not real because it ceases to exist when Brahman is realized. It is not unreal in the empirical sense. Maya is the cause of "creation". Brahman is the nominal cause (nimitta karana) for creation, Maya does creation. The substantial cause (upadana karana) for creation too, is Brahman. The only difference the pot-potter example has from creation is that the substance of creation is same as that of the potter. Thus Brahman is not only nimitta and upadana but also abhinna (undifferentiated) karana for creation.
Jivatma, the individual soul, is nothing but Brahman. It is untouched, unmanifest, neither conscious nor unconscious, beyond qualities (nirguna), and advaya (the one without the second). It is only witness of action and experiences, but not the one that experiences. Avidya (nescience) caused by Maya is cause for binding. This is the reason for atma appearing as non-atma. Differentiating atma from non-atma and thus realizing atma, is liberation.
Moksha is realizing oneself to be atma and atma to be Brahman. The Jiva is already liberated in its true nature - thus realizing the true nature of oneself (jiva) is liberation. Thus, one can be liberated even though one is wearing a body. This is called jivanmukti (getting liberated even while "living" in a body). Videha mukti is achieved eventually, after jiva leaves the body.
Viśiṣṭādvaita is qualified non-dualism. Though the school existed much earlier, Ramanujacarya was the best proponent of the school. Hence it came to be known as Ramanuja darśana. Specifically, his commentary on Brahma Sutras is called Sri Bhashya.
Viśiṣṭādvaita is closely related to Sri Vaishnava, hence it is seen more as a philosophy of religion rather than an independent spiritual philosophy that is followed by any religion.
Viśiṣṭādvaita as the term indicates is Advaita that accepts viseshas. Visistadvaitins accept basic advaita or non-duality of jiva and para. In the liberated state jiva is para. Jiva has viseshas of consciousness in unliberated state, unlike in Advaita where jiva is just a witness even in unliberated state (in fact liberation is not for the jivatma, it is for the entity jiva consisting of sukshma sarira etc, which is bound by Prakriti or Maya).
There are three Tatvas (Tatva-traya) - Isvara, Jiva and Prakriti. Isvara or Brahman is the only independent reality. Jiva and Prakriti are realities dependent on Brahman.
Both nirguna brahman and Isvara are accepted and worshipped. Entire world is the play or lila of Isvara. And Isvara hence could be worshipped as sakara. This can also be understood in the light that Viśiṣṭādvaita is religion + philosophy. Both upasana and Vedānta are closely knit.
The eternal is said to be five-fold, and worshipped in these five forms:
- Para - The eternal being. This is Sri Maha Vishnu in times of non-creation in Vaikuntha, sleeping in the coils of infinity.
- Vyuha - The one with four aspects, Sankarshana, Vasudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha (Vishnu Sahasranama praises Him as caturvyuha, or having four vyuhas).
- Antaryamin - The One (as soul) that pervades all creation.
- Vibhava - The glorious incarnations of God, such as Sri Rama and Sri Krishna.
- Arca - The forms of worship, such as incarnations, idols. Example of Arca-avatara is Venkateswara.
Jiva (individual soul) is said to be anu (indivisible), avyakta (unmanifest), acintya (unthinkable), nirvikara (having no distortion or transformation) and jnanasraya (the abode of knowledge). Jiva is an indivisible part of Isvara.
There are three types of Jivas, bound, liberated and eternal. Any Jiva prior to liberation or moksha is said to be bound. Post liberation the Jiva is mukta, and merges in Isvara. There are eternal jivas too, that are not bound but exist - such as devatas, consorts, servants, vehicles of Vishnu (Garuda, Java-Vijaya etc).
Prakriti is the cause of manifestation. It causes the three consciousness qualities, satva, rajas and tamas. There are two forms of satva, suddha satva and misra satva. Suddha satva is one that is not touched by rajas and tamas - this is the one that manifests in Vaikuntha, creating the "eternal" beings like Garuda and Ananta. This is said to be nitya vibhuti. The phenomenal world is caused by misra satva, a combination of all the three qualities. This is said to be lila vibhuti.
Viśiṣṭādvaita does not accept the jivanmukti concept of Advaita. According to Viśiṣṭādvaita, liberation is possible only after the jiva leaves the body. There are different types in this. One is reaching Isvara after death. Another is reaching higher worlds (like swarga) after death, and moving to still higher worlds and ultimately reaching Isvara sannidhya. This is called krama (gradual, stepwise) mukti.
There are four kinds of Isvara sannidhya, in ascending order of evolution:
- Salokya - Living in the world of Isvara (ex. Vaikuntha)
- Sameepya - Living close to Isvara
- Sarupya - Looking just like Isvara
- Sayujya - Becoming one with Isvara
There are three concepts in path to liberation, Tatva, hita and purushartha. Tatvas are three as discussed. Hita is fivefold, swa-swarupa (knowing the nature of self), para-swarupa (knowing the nature of the eternal), purushartha swarupa (fulfillment of purposes or goals of life - dharma, Artha, kama and moksha), upaya swarupa (means methods or paths to moksha) and virodhi swarupa (obstacles in attainment of moksha).
There are five avarodhas (virodhi) or obstacles in the path of evolution: Obstacles in realizing self, in realizing God, in liberation, in following means to realization and in attainment of goals
Moksha Upaya is fivefold:
- Karma - this includes karma kanda, panca maha yajnas, dhyana, japa etc.
- Jnana - This includes vairagya, dhyana, nididhyasana etc found in jnana marga.
- Bhakti - This includes devotion and worship. There are seven aids for bhakti, viveka (discrimination and purity), vimoka (detachment), abhyasa (practice), kriya (works, specifically the panca maha yajnas), kalyana (truthfulness, peace of mind, gentleness etc), anavasada (untouched by sorrow or disappointment), anuddharsha (untouched by excitement).
- Prapatti (or saranagati) - Prapatti is consecration and surrender. This includes surrender of ego, doing things only to please God and abstaining from all that action that on the contrary (take one towards worldliness), having faith and attributing one's own caretaking to Isvara.
- Acaryabhimana - Having faith in, respecting and following teachers' words.
Dvaita vada or the school of dualism is popularized by Madhvacarya, also called Ananda Tirtha Swami. His darśana is also called Purna prajna darśana, Tatva vada, Bheda vada, Bimba-pratibimba vada. This school too, is closely related to Vaishnava mata and Maha Vishnu is held to be the supreme Godhead.
Dvaitins accept three pramanas: pratyaksha, anumana, sabda.
There are three Tatvas, Jiva, Isvara and Prakriti. Isvara is the only independent (swatantra) reality. Jiva and Prakriti are realities dependent (paratantra) on Isvara. Dependent and independent are the two categories dvaita expounds. Everything other than Isvara - time, matter or action, is dependent on Isvara. Isvara is sentient and jiva is sentient. Prakriti is insentient. Jiva is sentient by the grace of Isvara.
Dvaita holds that jiva and para are not one and the same, and that they are different. Universe is real, and runs by the grace of Isvara. What makes jiva and prakriti function is also Isvara.
There are five differences between Tatvas:
- Isvara and jiva
- Isvara and Prakriti
- Prakriti and jiva
- Jiva and another jiva
- One element of prakriti and another
Understanding these differences is the qualifying knowledge for mukti.
Dvaita holds multiplicity of jivas. Jivas are multiple, and of three types - the ones that are born, the ones in various worlds above earth, and the liberated. The jivas are of different levels and capabilities and fall in a hierarchy that ranges from manushya to Isvara. The gradation is given by Madhvacarya, starting from Vishnu in the top, followed by Sri Lakshmi, then Brahma and so on till manushyas. Thus Dvaita is closely knit with theology, along from Tatva and Vedānta.
- Vishnu is supreme
- The universe is real and not illusory
- The five differences are real
- The leagues of jivas are subordinates of Vishnu
- Jivas are different and of different levels
- Mukti is the experience of one's own innate bliss
- Mukti is achieved through wisdom and devotion to the Supreme
- There are three pramanas - pratyaksha, anumana and agama (sabda)
- Vishnu is the supreme and primary entity described in Veda.
There is liberation for jiva, but even liberation does not unite the jiva with Isvara. It elevates jiva to higher worlds and ends the miseries. In liberated state jiva experiences existential bliss, and is free from bondage as well as misery. However, the jiva exists separate from Isvara even in liberated state. Jiva is immutable, and is bound by misery because of false identification. By realizing the five tatvic differences one gains wisdom and eventually mukti, by the grace of Isvara.