‘Vedanta’ literally means’ the conclusion of the ‘Vedas’.Primarily the word stood for the Upanishads though afterwards its denotation widened to include all thoughts, developed out of the Upanishads.
The central theme is that enunciated in the Upanishads – the doctrine of Brahman and the embodiment of the unconditioned self. The great aim of all vedanta teaching is to prove the reality of Atman and Brahman and to establish their complete identity. It teaches the essential oneness of all things. Badrayama’s Brahma-sutra is the chief text of Vedanta philosophy
Schools of Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta – Shankaracharya
Visistadvaita Vedanta- Ramanujacharya
Dvait Vedanta- Madhvacharya
Dvaitadvita Vedanta- Nimbarkacharya
The most common question on which the schools of the Vedanta are divided is- What is the nature of the relation between the self (JIVA) and God (Brahman)?
Advaita or Sankara Vedanta
Shankaracharya was the greatest philosopher among the Indian thinkers. He emphasizes the monoistic tendency in the Upanishads and develop it into a systematic Advaitavada. He emphasizes the reality of unconditioned and unqualified (Nirguna) Bhahman, and regards God, the individual souls and the world as appearances due to indefinable principle called cosmic nescience (Maya) which is neither real nor unreal, but indefinable.
According to Shankaracharya the Atman is the universal self. It is Brahman, the absolute, the supreme reality.
Jiva is the individual or empirical self. It is the Atman limited by the body, the sense organs, manas, buddhi and the likes, which are its limiting adjuncts. Atman is the transaendental, metaphysical self. Jiva is the empirical phenomenonal self.
The Atman is of the nature of pure consciousness. It is eternally pure, conscious, and liberated. It is the eternal, unchangeable, absolute, formless, one supreme reality. It is different from the empirical self. But the empirical self is not different from it. The Atman is its reality.
The empirical self is the knower, enjoyer and active agent. It acquires merits, demerits and experiences there fruits. It is subject to transmigration, lives an embodied life in the empirical world, and is capable of bondage and liberation. Though it is non-different from the Atman, the supreme self and immortal in its essential nature, mortality is attributed to it owing to its actions due to nescience.
Brahman is the only ontological reality in Shankara-Vedanta. Brahman is existence, knowledge and bliss.Brahman is limitless and infinite. Brahman is the eternally accomplished being. It does not change, increase and decrease, grow and develop.
God is the determinate Brahman-in Shankara-vedanta. He is not the unconditioned, indeterminate, attributeless Brahman. He is Brahman conditioned by cosmic nescience (maya). Though Brahman is attribute- less it is said to be endowed with empirical attributes for the sake of prayer.
Shankaracharya uses ‘Maya’ and avidya, the two words synonymously. Brahman conditioned by Maya is Ishvara (God). Maya is his power or energy, the source of the names and forms, which are modified into the phenomena of the world, and which are neither real nor unreal, but indefinable. Maya is cosmic nescience. It is an indefinable principle. It is ontologically unreal, since Brahman is the only ontological reality. But it is not absolutely unreal like a hair’s horn, it is real enough to project the multiple world of appearances.
Ramanujacharya was the chief propounder of the doctrine of qualified monoism (Visistadvaitavada). He criticized Shankaracharya’s monoism, established the ontological reality of God, the individual souls and the world, and regarded the souls and the world as attributes or modes of God.
Brahman is the ‘Supreme person’ endowed with innumerable supreme and auspicious qualities and devoid of all impure qualities. He is the infinite reality by nature and qualities; there is no other supreme reality. He is possessed of truth or reality, knowledge and bliss.
Self (Jeeva) & consciousness
The Jiva is the individual self. It is different from the body, life, the sense organs, mind and intellect; it is different from the psychophysical organism. It is the knower, enjoyer and active agent. It is self-luminous and manifests itself without the aid of knowledge. It is the abode of knowledge and has attributive consciousness. Man or the individual soul is a particle of which God is the whole. The individual soul is like a spark of that mass of fire. The whole pomegranate fruit represents the Brahman of Ramanuja, each seed corresponding to the individual soul.
Three Classes of Souls
According to Ramanuja, there are three classes of souls, viz., Nitya (eternal), Mukta (free) and Baddha (Bound). The eternal souls have never been in bondage. They are eternally free. They live with God in Vaikuntha. The freed souls were once subject to Samsara (samsara = life through repeated births and deaths; the process of worldly life), but have attained salvation now and live with God. The bound souls are caught up in the meshes of Samsara and are striving to be released. They wander from life to life until they are redeemed.
Madhava makes an absolute distinction between God, and animate and inanimate objects. God is the only independent Reality. The animate and inanimate objects are dependent realities. Madhava’s Vedanta is the doctrine of absolute differences. It is an Atyanta-Bheda-Darsana. He insists on five great distinctions (Pancha-Bheda), viz., the distinction between God and the individual soul. The distinction between God and matter. The distinction between the individual soul and matter the distinction between one soul and another soul the distinction between one material thing and another.
Dvaitadvaita: Sri Nimbarka
This is also known by the name Bhedabheda School of Philosophy or dualistic monism. Sri Nimbarkacharya evolved this system. Nimbarka was a Telugu Brahmin of the Vaishnava faith. He lived sometime after Ramanuja and prior to Madhav, about the eleventh century AD. He is regarded as the incarnation of the Sun. He wrote a short commentary on the Brahma Sutras called Vedanta-Parijata-Saurabha, as well as Dasasloki. His commentaries develop the theory of the transformation (Parinama) of Brahman. Nimbarka’s view was largely influenced by the teachings of Bhaskara who flourished in the first half of the ninth century and who interpreted the Vedanta system from the viewpoint of Dvaitadvaita or dualistic non-dualism.
This doctrine was not a new discovery of Bhaskara. The ancient teacher Audulomi to which Sri Vyasa himself refers in his Vedanta Sutras upheld it. Nimbaraka holds that the relation of God to the soul and the world is one of identity in difference. The soul and the world are different from God, because they are endowed with qualities different from those of God.
At the same time, they are not different from God, because God is omnipresent and they depend entirely on Him. Nimbarka’s philosophy admits Brahman as the Supreme Reality without a second. The world and the Jivas (individual souls) are only partial manifestations of His Power (Sakti).
Krishna – The Supreme Being
The Supreme Being is absolutely free form all defects. He is full of all auspicious qualities. He has a divine body. He is full of beauty, love, sweetness and charm. Nimbarka identifies the Supreme Brahman with Krishna. He is endowed with all auspicious qualities. He is free from egoism, ignorance, passion and attachment. He has the four forms (Vyuhas), viz., Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. He also manifests Himself as the Avataras (incarnations). In Nimbarka, Krishna and Radha (Kirshna’s consort) take the places of Narayana and Lakshmi. Radha is not simply the chief of the Gopis, but is the eternal Consort of Lord Krishna.
Suddhadvaita: Sri Vallabha
The philosophy of Sri Vallbhacharya is Suddha Advaita or pure monism; because he does not admit, Maya like Sankara, and believes that the whole world of matter and souls is real and is only a subtle form of God. Those who bring Maya for the explanation of the world are not pure Advaitins, because they admit a second to Brahman (Supreme Reality).
Vallabha holds that Brahman can create the world without any connection with such a principle as Maya, but Sankara traces the universe to Brahman through the power of Maya. Hence, the philosophy of Vallabha is called pure monism or Suddhadvaita.