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Re: distinction between advaita and visishtadvaita philosophies

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Thu May 07 1998 - 15:24:09 PDT

Here is something I wrote about this topic a couple of years

On Mar 12,  1:57pm, wrote:
> Subject: dvaita vs advaita
> I have a very basic question to this very learned group. could someone please
> tell us what exactly does dvaita and advaitha mean.  kanaka

One of the central questions concerning Vedanta philosophers
is the relationship of the individual self to the Absolute
or Supreme Self.  The sole purpose for this question is
to determine the nature of contemplative meditation and
to determine whether moksha, the state of release, is something
worth seeking.

The Dvaita school, inaugurated by Madhvacharya (Ananda Tirtha),
argues that there is an inherent and absolute five-fold difference
in Reality -- between one soul and another, between the soul
and God, between God and matter, between the soul and matter,
and between matter and matter.  These differences are not only
individuations, but also inherent qualitative differences, i.e.,
in its essentially pure state, one individual self is _not_
equal to another in status, but only in genus. Therefore, there
are inherently female jIvas, inherently male jIvas, brahmin
jIvas, non-brahmin jIvas, and this differentiation exists 
even in liberation. 

Consequently, any sort of unity, whether it be mystical or
ontological, between the individual self and God is impossible
in Dvaita.  Hence the term ``Dvaita'' or ``dualism''. Liberation
consists of experiencing one's essential nature in parama padam
as a reflection of God's glory. Such liberation is achieved
through bhakti or loving devotion.

The Advaita school, represented in its classical and most
powerful form by Sankaracharya, argues that only the Absolute Self
exists, _and_ all else is false.  The universe and our existence
as individuals is not _unreal_, mind you, but a false imposition
on a real substrate, the non-dual, undifferentiated principle
of consciousness.  This is a very important distinction.

Liberation in Advaita Vedanta consists of 
the realization that individuality is false, and that one's very
essence is the Absolute Self, pure undifferentiated consciousness,
one without a second.  Such a realization, which according to
Advaita can happen long before death, is achieved after a long
period of introspection on Vedic teachings.  At some point, the
unity of the non-dual Self reveals itself, upon which all doubts
are shattered and liberation is achieved.

In this system, since there is only one, and ultimately
nothing else, the system is called Advaita, or ``non-dualism''.
To distinguish it from other forms of Advaita, it is also
called nirvisesha Advaita, or ``non-duality of the Absolute
without qualities.''

Visishtadvaita is also an Advaita, since only God the Absolute,
omnipresent Self exists. However, our concept of God
refers to that Supreme Entity which contains all within
itself; the entire universe, including all living beings, are
fundamentally real and internally distinguishable from one another.
However, there is only one total reality, as God includes all 
existence within Its very being.  The individual selfs and the
universe exist as God's attributes, since God pervades absolutely
everything and gifts these substances with their reality. 
In other words, God is the indwelling
Self of all, and this ``all'' is real as they are included in
His body.  Therefore, Visishtadvaita literally means
non-duality of the qualified, since God is qualified by
innumerable glorious attributes, including individual selves 
and matter.

Liberation is eternal communion and service of God, the supreme,
infinite, blissful Absolute.  Ramanuja writes that such liberation
is achieved by constant meditation on God's supreme perfections --
His omnipresence, His splendorous forms, His actions in His various
manifestations, His existence in the hearts of all creatures, 
His nature as the First Cause of All.  Such meditation, when 
practiced with a pure heart and mind and filled with extreme love,
will yield a better and better conception of God in the mind of
devotee over time, eventually leading to recollection of God
so vivid it is like sight itself. Such a vision, when practiced
to the point of being unbroken, is the liberating knoweldge 
spoken of in the Vedas, a result of God's love of His beloved

Notice the difference in approach of Advaita and Visishtadvaita.
The former's conception of the Absolute has no attributes --
hence the discipline of meditation there does not in the end
rely on bhakti.  The latter has as its centerpiece a supreme being
full of perfections and attributes, so the aspirant has no choice
but to revel in these kalyANa-guNas. From this basic difference
in approach we can derive all the other differences between these
schools of Vedanta.


P.S. All individual selfs are fundamentally equal and alike
in Visishtadvaita. Ramanuja is emphatic about this.