By Swami Harshananda
The Vedānta system is the most well-known out of the six systems of philosophy. Śaṅkara (A. D. 788-820), Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137) and Madhva (A. D. 1197-1276) were the pioneers in the three schools of Vedānta, viz., advaita, viśiṣtādvaita and dvaita. However, there are other though less-known schools of Vedānta, the propagators of some of which preceded even Śaṅkara. Bhartṛprapañca was one such. Practically nothing is known of him except that he taught ‘bhedābheda-vāda,’ the doctrine of ‘identity in difference’.
This doctrine is a kind of monism in which both bheda or difference and abheda or identity are accepted between Brahman on the one hand and the jīvas and the world on the other. The waves and the foam or the bubbles that arise in the ocean are all identical as water, but different as waves or bubbles. Similarly, the jīvas or the individual souls and the world, which evolve out of Brahman are both different and non-different from it. Bhartṛprapañca accepts pramāṇa- samuccaya, a combination of all the three well-known means of knowledge pratyakṣa or direct perception, anumāna or inference and āgama or the Vedas. As a consequence, he accepts the reality of the world experienced through the sense organs and hence the need for karma or action including ritualistic actions.
This leads us to his next proposition of jñāna-karma-samuccaya, a combination of knowledge and action, as a means to mokṣa or liberation. Karma or desire-less action leads to apavarga or freedom from samsāra (transmigration) and jñāna leads to the destruction of avidyā or ignorance, ultimately resulting in identity with Brahman, the ultimate Truth.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore