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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli

“Most of my ideas and theories are highly influenced by Vedanta.” - Dr. Erwin Schrödinger

The curriculum for Vedānta or spiritual philosophy is called Prasthāna Trayi, it consists of Bhagavad Gitā, Upaniṣads and Brahma Sutras. Bhagavad Gitā is the compendium on spiritual philosophies by Śri Kṛṣṇa. Upaniṣads are found in Aranyaka portion of the Veda. Of the 108 Upaniṣads, ten important ones are studied. Brahma sutras are given by Badarāyana.

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 Iśwara, the role of Prakṛti are seen differently by these schools. The major proponents of these schools (Śankara in case of Advaita, Rāmānuja in case of Viśiṣṭādvaita and Madhva in case of Dvaita) have written commentaries on the prasthāna trayi.

However, though these are the major ones, there are many other schools like

  • Achintya Bhedabheda[1]
  • Śuddadvaita[2]
  • Dvaitadvaita[3]

There are three major concepts[4] that explain the cause of universe. They are:

  • Arambha vāda - The universe is seen as eternal. In the six darśanas, Nyaya and Vaiseshika are Arambhavāda.
  • Pariṇāma vāda - Brahman is said to create/become the Universe. In the six darśanas, Sankhya and Yoga hold Parinama Vāda.
  • Vivarta Vāda - Brahman is said to be without change but only appear as the Universe, through the play of māyā. In the six darśanas, Mimāmsā, esp. Uttara Mimāmsā is said to contain Vivarta Vāda.

The dwaitic schools of Vedānta too, hold Pariṇāma vāda. According to them God becomes or creates the Universe just the way a spider creates its web from its body. In Vivarta Vāda the Universe is not created or destroyed - it only appears as it is, by the play of Māyā. Realizing Brahman puts an end to the apparent. The cause of creation or any phenomenon[5] is said to be of two kinds - nimitta[6] and upādāna.[7] 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[8] of the Ṛṣis in ancient India and science, in its most advanced stage now, is closer to Vedanta than ever before." - Alfred N. Whitehead


Advaita[9] is the oldest school. Ādi Śankara is considered to be the best exponent of the Advaita philosophy. There are some schools that differentiate Advaita as Śankara and Śankara-Purva.[10]

Advaitins accept all the six pramāṇas:

  1. Pratyaksha
  2. Anumāna
  3. Upamāna
  4. Arthapatti
  5. Śabda
  6. Anupalabdi

Advaita is found as an independent school of spiritual philosophy, not closely related to any of the religions. Many religious sects including Śaiva, Śakta, Tantra[11] are advaitic in nature.

Brahman - Jiva - Māyā[edit]

Advaita, especially Śankara Advaita completely stands by Vivarta Vāda. Universe is empirically true - vyavahārika satya. But it is not what it appears to be. It appears so, because of the veil caused by Māyā. This is of two types, veiling[12] and projection.[13] These are called āvaraṇa and vikṣepa. Māyā 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 kāraṇa) for creation, Māyā does creation. The substantial cause[14] 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[15] kāraṇa for creation.

Jivātma, the individual soul, is nothing but Brahman. It is untouched, unmanifest, neither conscious nor unconscious, beyond qualities,[16] and advaya.[17] It is only witness of action and experiences, but not the one that experiences. Avidyā (nescience) caused by Māyā is cause for binding. This is the reason for ātmā appearing as non-ātmā. Differentiating ātmā from non-ātmā and thus realizing ātmā, is liberation.


Mokṣa is realizing oneself to be ātmā and ātmā 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.[18] Videha mukti is achieved eventually, after jiva leaves the body.


Viśiṣṭādvaita is qualified non-dualism. Though the school existed much earlier, Ramanujācarya was the best proponent of the school. Hence it came to be known as Ramanuja darśana. Specifically, his commentary on Brahma Sutras is called Śri Bhāsya.

Viśiṣṭādvaita is closely related to Śri Vaiṣnava, 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 non-liberated state, unlike in Advaita where jiva is just a witness even in unliberated state.[19] Visistadvaitins accept three pramaṇas or sources for knowledge:

  1. Pratyakṣa
  2. Anumāna
  3. Śabda

There are three Tatvas[20]:

  1. Isvara - Isvara or Brahman is the only independent reality.
  2. Jiva - It is the reality dependent on Brahman.
  3. Prakriti- It is the reality dependent on Brahman.


Both nirguṇa brahman and Iśvara are accepted and worshiped. Entire world is the play or lilā of Iśvara. Iśvara hence could be worshiped as sākāra. This can also be understood in the light that Viśiṣṭādvaita is religion + philosophy. Both upāsanā and Vedānta are closely knit. The eternal is said to be five-fold and worshiped in these five forms:

  1. Para - The eternal being. This is Sri Mahā Viṣṇu in times of non-creation in Vaikunṭha, sleeping in the coils of infinity.
  2. Vyuha - The one with four aspects, Śankarsana, Vāsudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha[21]
  3. Antaryamin - The One as soul that pervades all creation.
  4. Vibhava - The glorious incarnations of God, such as Sri Rāma and Sri Kṛṣṇa.
  5. Arca - The forms of worship, such as incarnations, idols. Example of Arca-avatāra is Venkateswara.


Jiva[22] is said to be aṇu,[23] avyakta,[24] acintya,[25] nirvikāra[26] and jnānāśraya.[27] Jiva is an indivisible part of Iśvara.

There are three types of Jivas, bound, liberated and eternal. Any Jiva prior to liberation or mokṣa 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


Prakriti is the cause of manifestation. It causes the three consciousness qualities, satva, rajas and tamas. There are two forms of satva, śuddha satva and miśra satva. Suddha satva is one that is not touched by rajas and tamas - this is the one that manifests in Vaikunṭha, 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[28] 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

Moksha sādhanā[edit]

There are three concepts in path to liberation, Tatva, hita and puruṣārtha. Tatvas are three as discussed. Hita is fivefold, swa-swarupa,[29] para-swarupa,[30] purushartha swarupa,[31] upaya swarupa[32] and virodhi swarupa.[33]

There are five avarodhas[34] or obstacles in the path of evolution:

  1. Obstacles in realizing self
  2. Obstacles in realizing God
  3. Obstacles in liberation
  4. Obstacles in following means to realization
  5. Obstacles in attainment of goals

Moksha Upaya is fivefold:

  • Karma - this includes karma kanda, panca maha yajnas, dhyana, japa etc.
  • Jnāna - This includes vairāgya, dhyāna, nididhyāsana etc found in jnāna marga.
  • Bhakti - This includes devotion and worship. There are seven aids for bhakti, viveka,[35] vimoka,[36] abhyāsa,[37] kriya,[38] kalyana,[39] anavasada,<It means untouched by sorrow or disappointment.</ref> anuddharsha.[40]
  • Prapatti or śaranagati - 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,[41] having faith and attributing one's own care-taking to Isvara.
  • Acaryabhimana - Having faith in respecting and following teacher's words.


Dvaita vāda or the school of dualism is popularized by Madhvacarya, also called Ananda Tirtha Swami. His darśana is also called Purna prajna darśana, Tatva vāda, Bheda vāda, Bimba-pratibimba vāda. This school too, is closely related to Vaishnava mata and Mahā Vishnu is held to be the supreme Godhead.

Dvaitins accept three pramanas:

  1. Pratyakśa
  2. Anumāna
  3. Śabda.

There are three Tatvas, Jiva, Isvara and Prakriti. Isvara is the only independent[42] reality. Jiva and Prakriti are realities dependent[43] 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:

  1. Isvara and jiva
  2. Isvara and Prakriti
  3. Prakriti and jiva
  4. Jiva and another jiva
  5. 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:

  1. The ones that are born
  2. The ones in various worlds above earth
  3. The liberated ones

The jivas are of different levels and capabilities and fall in a hierarchy that ranges from manuṣya 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.

Vyasa Tirtha, a follower of Madhvacarya condensed Madhva Darśana as:

  1. Vishnu is supreme.
  2. The universe is real and not illusory.
  3. The five differences are real.
  4. The leagues of jivas are subordinates of Vishnu.
  5. Jivas are different and of different levels.
  6. Mukti is the experience of one's own innate bliss.
  7. Mukti is achieved through wisdom and devotion to the Supreme.
  8. There are three pramanas - pratyaksha, anumana and agama (sabda).
  9. Vishnu is the supreme and primary entity described in Veda.


There is liberation for jīva, 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.


  1. It refers to Gaudiya Vaiṣnava.
  2. It refers to Vallabha Sampradāya.
  3. It refers to Nimbarka Sampradaya.
  4. It means vādas.
  5. It means kāraṇa.
  6. It means nominal.
  7. It means substantial.
  8. It means intellect.
  9. It literally means 'not-two', 'not dual'.
  10. It is the one that existed before Śankara) advaita.
  11. Though all these are not mutually exclusive.
  12. It means covering the Truth.
  13. It means appearing to be True.
  14. It emans upādāna kāraṇa.
  15. It means undifferentiated.
  16. It means nirguṇa.
  17. It means the one without the second.
  18. It means getting liberated even while "living" in a body.
  19. Here as a matter of fact liberation is not for the jivātmā, it is for the entity jiva consisting of sukshma sarira etc, which is bound by Prakriti or Māyā.
  20. It means Tatva-traya.
  21. It refers to Viṣṇu Sahasranāma praises Him as caturvyuha, or having four vyuhas.
  22. It means individual soul.
  23. It means indivisible.
  24. It means unmanifest.
  25. It means unthinkable.
  26. It means having no distortion or transformation.
  27. It means the abode of knowledge.
  28. It means gradual, stepwise.
  29. It means knowing the nature of self.
  30. It means knowing the nature of the eternal.
  31. It means fulfillment of purposes or goals of life - dharma, Artha, kāma and moksha).
  32. It means methods or paths to moksha.
  33. It means obstacles in attainment of moksha.
  34. It means virodhi.
  35. It means discrimination and purity.
  36. It means detachment.
  37. It means practice.
  38. It means works, specifically the panca maha yajnas.
  39. It means truthfulness, peace of mind, gentleness etc.
  40. It means untouched by excitement.
  41. It takes one towards worldliness.
  42. It means swatantra.
  43. It means paratantra.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore