Schools of Vedanta






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TOP        =======UNDERSTANDING HINDUISM========

Schools Of Vedanta

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The Schools of Vedanta By Swami Nikhilananda

Schools of VedantaBy Swami Shivananda

The Advaita Philosophy of Sri Sankara

The Visishtadvaita Philosophy Of Sri Ramanuja

The Dvaita Philosophy Of Sri Madhavacharya

The Dvaitadvaita Philosophy of Sri Nimbarka

The Suddhadvaita Philosophy of Sri Vallabha

The Achintya Bhedabheda Philosophy of Sri Chaitanya
(The Hare Krishna Movement)

The Schools of Vedanta
By Swami Nikhilananda
Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chinnai (Madras) India

According to Sadananda (author of Vedantasara), Vedanta includes the Upanishads, the Brahma-Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the commentaries elucidating these texts.

The texts of Vedanta have, in the main, given birth to two sub-systems of philosophy, namely the Non-dualism or Absolutism of Sankaracharya and the Theism of Ramanuja, Madhavacharya and other philosophers. According to the Non-dualist, Brahman or Pure Consciousness, is the only Reality the universe of names and forms is unreal, and man, in his true essence, is one with Brahman.

The Theists accept a Personal God as Ultimate Reality. He is related to the universe and embodied souls in varying degrees. According to Ramanuja, the upholder of Visistadvaita, or Qualified Non-dualism, the Reality is Brahman; but the individual souls and the universe are also real, being parts of Brahman or modes of His manifestation. Brahman, with the universe and the individual souls, constitutes the whole of Reality. This is illustrated by the philosophers of this school with the metaphor of the pomegranate fruit. The seeds are the living souls and the rind is the universe. One cannot think of the fruit without the seeds and the rind.

According the Madhavacharya, the Dualist, the Universe and the living souls are separate from God. While the universe is a material entity, the souls are spiritual in nature. The souls, though separate from God, cannot exist without Him. Their existence is entirely dependent upon God. Madhavacharya speaks of living beings as the servants of God.
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Schools of Vedanta
By Swami Shivananda
The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

The Sutras (Brahma-Sutras) or aphorisms of Vyasa are the basis of the Vedanta philosophy. These Sutras have been variously explained by different commentators. From these interpretations have arisen several schools of philosophy, viz., Kevala Advaita philosophy of Sri Sankaracharya, the philosophy of Qualified Monism or Visishtadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya, the Dvaita philosophy of Sri Madhavacharya, the Bhedabheda philosophy of Sri Nimbarkacharya, the Suddha Advaita (pure non-dual) philosophy of Sri Vallabhacharya. The Achintya Bhedabheda philosophy of Sri Chaitanya and the Siddhanta philosophy of Sri Meykandar.

Each system of philosophy treats of three main problems, viz., God, world and soul. The several schools of philosophy are only different attempts at discovering the Truth.

The different Acharyas, belonging to distinctly different branches, became founders of sects and great system-builders. The followers of these schools sought to prove their orthodoxy by interpreting the Vedanta Sutras in accordance with their own tenets, showing their claims to be based on, and regularly evolved from, ancient tradition.

Sruti – The Common Basis Of All Schools

The Vedanta schools base their doctrines on the Upanishads. The Upanishads, the Vedanta Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita are regarded as the authoritative scriptures. They are called Prasthana-Traya Granthas. Different commentators of the Vedanta Sutras have formed different views on the true nature of Brahman (the Supreme Reality), but they all base their theories on the supreme authority of the Sruti (Vedas – Upanishads). To reject any one of these views is to reject the Sruti itself.

The Three Main Schools Of Metaphysical Thought

Sri Sankara, Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhava are the most illustrious commentators on the Vedanta Sutras (Brahma-Sutras). These commentators have tried to establish theories of their own, such as Advaita-Vada (unqualified non-dualism or uncompromising or rigorous monism), Visishtadvaita-Vada (differentiated or qualified monism) and Dvaita-Vada (strict or rigorous dualism). Sankaracharya had in view, while preparing his commentary, chiefly the purpose of combating the baneful effects which blind ritualism had brought to bear upon Hinduism.

Dualism (Dvaita), Qualified Monism (Visishtadvaita) and Monism (Advaita) are the three main schools of metaphysical thought. They are all stages on the way to the Ultimate Truth, viz., Para-Brahman (the Supreme Reality). They are rungs on the ladder of Yoga. They are not at all contradictory. On the contrary, they are complimentary to one another. These stages are harmoniously arranged in a graded series of spiritual experiences. Dualism, Qualified Monism, Pure Monism – all these culminate eventually in the Advaita Vedantic realisation of the Absolute or the Transcendental Trigunatita Ananta Brahman.

Madhava said: "Man is the servant of God", and established his Dvaita philosophy.

Ramanuja said: "Man is a ray or spark of God", and established his Visishtadvaita philosophy.

Sankara said: "Man is identical with Brahman or the Eternal Soul: and established his Kevala Advaita philosophy.

The Dvaitin wants to serve the Lord as a servant. He wishes to play with the Lord. He wishes to taste the sugar-candy.

A Visishtadvaitin wants to become like Lord Narayana and enjoy the divine. He does not wish to merge himself or become identical with the Lord. He wishes to remain as a spark. A Jnani (jnana = knowledge) merges himself in Brahman. He wishes to become identical with Brahman. He wants to become the sugar-candy itself.

People have different temperaments and different capacities. So, different schools of philosophy are also necessary. The highest rung is Advaita philosophy. A Dualist or Qualified Monist eventually becomes a Kevala Advaitin.

Different Conceptions of Brahman only different approaches to the Reality

Nimbarkacharya reconciles all the different views regarding the Lord taken up by Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhava and others, and proves that their views are all true with reference to the particular aspect of Brahman dealt with by them, each in his own way. Sankara has taken Reality in Its transcendental aspect, while Ramanuja has taken It in Its immanent aspect, principally; but Nimbarka has adjusted the different views taken by the different commentators.

Sri Sankaracharya, Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Madhavacharya, Sri Vallabhacharya and Sri Nimbarkacharya – all were great souls. We cannot say that Sri Sankara was greater than Sri Ramanuja, or Sri Vallabha was greater than Nimbarka, etc. All were Avatara Purushas. Each one incarnated himself on this earth to complete a definite mission, to preach and propagate certain doctrines which were necessary to help the growth of certain type of people, who flourished at a certain period, who were in a certain stage of evolution.

All schools of philosophy are necessary. Each philosophy is best suited to a certain type of people. The different conceptions of Brahman are but different approaches to the reality. It is extremely difficult, rather impossible, for the finite soul to get – all at once – a clear conception of the Illimitable or Infinite Soul, and more so, to express it in adequate terms. All cannot grasp the highest Kevala Advaita philosophy of Sri Sankara all at once. The mind has to be disciplined properly before it is rendered as a fit instrument to grasp the tenets of Sri Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta.

Salutations and adorations to all Acharyas! Glory to the Acharyas! May their blessings be upon us all.

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The Advaita Philosophy of
Sri Sankara
(According to some scholars Sankara was born in the year 788 A.D.)

The first systematic exponent of the Advaita is Gaudapada, who was the Parama-Gura (preceptor’s preceptor) of Sri Sankara. Govinda was the disciple of Gaudapada. He became the preceptor of Sankara. Gaudapada has given the central teaching of Advaita Vedanta in his celebrated Mandukya Karika. But it was Sankara who brought forth the final beautiful form of Advaita philosophy, and gave perfection and finishing touch to it. Carefully go through Sri Sankara’s commentaries on the principal Upanishads, the Brahma-Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. You will clearly understand his Advaita philosophy. The commentary on the Vedanta Sutras (Brahma-Sutras) by Sankara is known as Sariraka Bhashya.

The teachings of Sankara can be summed up in half a verse: "Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya Jivo Brahmaiva Na Aparah" (Brahman the Absolute alone is real; this world is unreal; and the Jiva or the individual soul is non-different from Brahman). This is the quintessence of his philosophy.

The Advaita taught by Sri Sankara is a rigorous, absolute one. According to Sri Sankara, whatever is, is Brahman. Brahman Itself is absolutely homogeneous. All difference and plurality are illusory.

Brahman – The One Without A Second

The Atman (Soul) is self-evident.(Svatah-siddha). It is not established by extraneous proofs. It is not possible to deny the Atman, because It is the very essence of the one who denies It. The Atman is the basis of all kinds of knowledge, presuppositions and proofs. Self is within. Self is without; Self is before, Self is behind; Self is on the right; Self is on the left; Self is above and Self is below.

Brahman is not an object, as It is Adrishya (beyond the reach of the eyes). Hence the Upanishads declare: "Neti, Neti" – not this, not this, not that. This does not mean that Brahman is a negative concept or a metaphysical abstraction or a non-entity, or a void. It is not another. It is all-full, infinite, changeless, self-existent, self-delight, self-knowledge and self-bliss. It is Svarupa (essence). It is the essence of the knower. It is the Seer (Drashta), Transcendent (Turiya) and Silent Witness (Sakshi).

Sankara’s Supreme Brahman is impersonal, Nirguna (without Gunas or attributes), Nirakara (formless), Nirvisesha (without special characteristics), immutable, eternal and Akarta (non-agent). It is above all needs and desires. It is always the Witnessing Subject. It can never become an object as It is beyond the reach of the senses. Brahman is non-dual, one without a second. It has no other beside It. It is destitute of difference, either external or internal. Brahman cannot be described because description implies distinction. Brahman cannot be distinguished from any other than It. In Brahman, there is not the distinction of substance and attribute. Sat-Chit-Ananda (absolute Existence, absolute Consciousness, absolute Bliss) constitute the very essence or Svarupa of Brahman, and not just Its attributes.

The Nirguna Brahman of Sankara is impersonal. It becomes a personal God or Saguna Brahman only through Its association with Maya.

Saguna (with form or attributes) Brahman and Nirguna (without form) Brahman are not two Brahmans. Nirguna Brahman is not the contrast, antithesis or opposite of Saguna Brahman. The same Nirguna Brahman appears as Saguna Brahman for the pious worship of devotees. It is the same Truth from two different points of view. Nirguna Brahman is the higher Brahman, the Brahman from the transcendental viewpoint (Paramarthika); Saguna (with attributes) Brahman is the lower Brahman, the Brahman from the relative viewpoint (Vyavaharika).

The World – A Relative Reality

The world is not an illusion, according to Sankara. The world is relatively real (Vyavaharika Satta), while Brahman is absolutely real (Paramarthika Satta). The world is the product of Maya or Avidya (ignorance). The unchanging Brahman appears as the changing world through Maya. Maya is a mysterious indescribable power of the Lord which hides the real and manifests itself as the unreal. Maya is not real, because it vanishes when you attain knowledge of the Eternal. It is not unreal also, because it exists till knowledge dawns in you. The super-imposition of the world on Brahman is due to Avidya or ignorance.

Nature Of The Jiva And The Means To Moksha

(Nature of the individual soul and the means to final liberation)

To Sankara, the Jiva or the individual soul is only relatively real. Its individuality lasts only so long as it is subject to unreal Upadhis or limiting conditions due to Avidya (ignorance). The Jiva identifies itself with the body, mind and the senses, when it is deluded by Avidya or ignorance. It thinks, it acts and enjoys, on account of Avidya. In reality, it is not different from Brahman or the Absolute. The Upanishads declare emphatically: "Tat Tvam Asi" (That Thou Art). Just as the bubble (foam) becomes one with the ocean when it bursts, just as the space within a pot becomes one with the universal space when the pot is broken, so also the Jiva or the empirical self becomes one with Brahman when it gets knowledge of Brahman. When knowledge dawns in it through annihilation of Avidya, it is freed from its individuality and finitude and realises its essential Satchidananda (Existence, Consciousness, Bliss) nature. It merges itself in the ocean of bliss. The river of life joins the ocean of existence. This is the Truth.

The release from samsara means, according to Sankara, the absolute merging of the individual soul in Brahman due to dismissal of the erroneous notion that the soul is distinct from Brahman. According to Sankara, Karma and Bhakti (devotion) are means to Jnana (knowledge) which is Moksha (liberation).

Vivarta Vada Or The Theory Of Superimposition

To Sankara, this world is only relatively real (Vyavaharika Satta). He advocated Vivarta-Vada or theory of appearance or superimposition (Adhyasa). Just as snake is superimposed on the rope in twilight, this world and body are superimposed on Brahman or the Supreme Self. If you get knowledge of the rope, the illusion of snake in the rope will vanish. Even so, if you get knowledge of Brahman or the Imperishable, the illusion of body and world will disappear. In Vivarta-Vada, the cause produces the effect without undergoing any change in itself. Snake is only an appearance on the rope. The rope has not transformed itself into a snake, like milk into curd. Brahman is immutable and eternal. Therefore, It cannot change Itself into the world. Brahman becomes the cause of the world through Maya, which is Its inscrutable mysterious power or Sakti.

When you come to know that it is only a rope, your fear disappears. You do not run away from it. Even so, when you realise the eternal immutable Brahman, you are not affected by the phenomena or the names and forms of this world. When Avidya or the veil of ignorance is destroyed through knowledge of the Eternal, when Mithya Jnana or false knowledge is removed by real knowledge of the Imperishable or the living Reality, you shine in your true, pristine, divine splendour and glory.

The Advaita – A Philosophy Without Parallel

The Advaita philosophy of Sri Sankaracharya is lofty, sublime and unique. It is a system of bold philosophy and logical subtlety. It is highly interesting, inspiring and elevating. No other philosophy can stand before it in boldness, depth and subtle thinking. Sankara’s philosophy is complete and perfect.

Sri Sankara was mighty, marvellous genius. He was a master of logic. He was a profound thinker of the first rank. He was a sage of the highest realisation. He was an Avatara of Lord Siva. His philosophy has brought solace, peace and illumination to countless persons in the East and the West. The Western thinkers bow their heads at the lotus-feet of Sri Sankara. His philosophy has soothed the sorrows and afflictions of the most forlorn persons, and brought hope, joy, wisdom, perfection, freedom and calmness to many. His system of philosophy commands the admiration of the whole world.

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The Visishtadvaita Philosophy Of Sri Ramanuja
(Ramanuja was born in the year 1017 A.D.)

The Visishtadvaita is so called because it inculcates the Advaita or oneness of God, with visesha or attributes. It is, therefore, qualified monism. God alone exists. All else that is seen are His manifestations or attributes. God or Lord Narayana of Sri Ramanuja is a complex organic whole – Visishta – though it is one. Hence the name Visishtadvaita.

According to Sri Sankara, all qualities or manifestations are unreal or temporary. They are a result of Avidya or ignorance. According to Sri Ramanuja, the attributes are real and permanent. But they are subject to the control of the one Brahman (the Supreme Reality). God can be one despite the existence of attributes, because they cannot exist alone: they are not independent entities. They are Prakaras or the modes, Sesha or accessories, and Niyamas or controlled aspects, of the one Brahman.

Ramanuja’s celebrated system of philosophy known as Visishtadvaita or qualified monism is Advaita or non-dualism with a qualification or Visesha. It admits plurality. Sri Ramanuja’s Brahman or Lord Narayana subsists in a plurality of forms as souls (Chit) and matter (Achit). Hence it is called Visishtadvaita or qualified non-dualism. Visishtadvaita philosophy is Vaishnavism. The Sampradaya (sect) of Ramanuja’s creed is known as Sri Sampradaya. His followers are Vaishnavas. Ramanuja systemized the philosophy of Vaishnavism, because ‘Sri’ or the Goddess Lakshmi is made to have an important function to perform in the salvation of the soul.

Sri Sankara’s philosophy is too high, subtle and abstract for the vast majority of persons. But Sri Ramanuja’s philosophy is suitable for those in whom the devotional (Bhakti) element preponderates. In Sri Ramanuja’s system of philosophy, the Lord (Narayana) has two inseparable Prakaras or modes, viz., the world and the souls. These are related to Him as the body is related to the soul. They have no existence apart from Him. They inhere in Him as attributes in a substance. Matter and souls constitute the body of the Lord. The Lord is their indweller. He is the controlling Reality. Matter and souls are the subordinate elements. They are termed Viseshanas, attributes. God is the Viseshya or that which is qualified.

The Visishtadvaita System – The Story Of Its Evolution

The Visishtadvaita system is an ancient one. It was originally expounded by Bodhayana in his Vritti, written about 400 B.C. It is the same as that expounded by Ramanuja. Ramanuja followed Bodhayana in his interpretation of the Brahma-Sutras.

The Bhakti (devotion) school worships a Personal God. The devotees develop devotion to Narayana or Vasudeva. Those who worship the Personal God are called Bhagavatas. They have their own scriptures called the Pancharatra Agamas which are regarded by them as equal to the Upanishads. The Bhakti movement was further strengthened in South India by the work of the twelve Alvar saints. The hymns composed by the Alvar saints were collectively called by the name Nalayira-Prabandham, a series of four thousand poems.

Afterwards came the Vaishnava Acharyas – Natha Muni, Yamunacharya and Ramanujacharya. They were great scholars. They gave a philosophical basis and colouring to their beliefs and practices. The Alvars solely relied on Bhakti, but these Acharyas combined Jnana (knowledge) and Karma (action) with it for the realisation of God. They regarded Jnana and Karma as means for realising God. Their object was to reconcile the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita, with the Tamil Prabandha. They interpreted the Tamil Prabandha in terms of the Upanishads and the Gita. Therefore, they were called by the name Ubhaya-Vedantins (ubhaya = both). Ramanuja accepts the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Tamil works of the Alvars for his philosophy. Therefore, his system is known as Ubhaya-Vedanta.

Natha Muni raised the Prabandha to the level of the Vedas. Yamunacharya laid the foundations on which Ramanuja, his successor, built his philosophy. Ramanuja wrote the commentaries on the Brahma Sutras known as the Sri Bhashya. He wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita also. He wrote also three other books – Vedanta Sara,Vedartha Sangraha and Vedanta Dipa. These are the chief texts of the Visishtadvaita system of philosophy.

Ramanuja accepts perception, inference and scriptures as valid sources of knowledge. The Vedas and the Smritis are the sole and independent authority for the knowledge of Brahman. He adopts the theories of Satkarya-Vada (satkaryavada = the doctrine which holds that the effect is inherent in the cause and that the effect is only a change of the cause) and Parinama-Vada, i.e., the doctrine of the real effect proceeding from a cause.

Ramanuja’s Brahman – A Personal God with Attributes

According to Ramanuja, whatever is, is Brahman; but Brahman is not of a homogeneous nature. It contains within Itself elements of plurality on account of which It truly manifests Itself in a diversified world. Ramanuja’s Brahman is essentially a Personal God, the all-powerful Ruler of a real world, permeated and animated by His spirit . There is thus no room for the distinction between Param Nirguna (formless, without attributes) and an Aparam Saguna (with attributes) Brahman, between Brahman and Isvara. [for explanations of the terms ‘Brahman’ and ‘Isvara’, see Page ‘Nature of Reality’]. Ramanuja’s Brahman is Savisesha Brahman, i.e., Brahman with attributes.

Ramanuja’s Brahman is not the Impersonal Absolute, but He is a Personal God with the qualities of omnipotence, omniscience and infinite love. God is Saguna (with attributes). When the Vedic texts declare that He is Nirguna, it means that there are no base or lower qualities such as sorrow, pain, mortality, change and old age in Him.

The Lord is interpenetrating everything. He is the essence of the soul. He is the Antaryamin or the Innner Ruler. He is one with the soul. He is all-pervading (Vibhu). He is the Supreme Being. He is full of auspicious attributes. He is of the nature of Satya (Truth), Jnana (Knowledge, intelligence), and Ananda (Bliss). Matter and soul depend on Him. He is the Adhar or support for this world and all souls. God is the governor or Controller (Niyanta or Seshin) of the world. Jiva or soul is Niyama or Sesha (one who is being controlled).

The Lord is immanent. He is also transcendent. He is unchanging. The entire universe is latent in Him during Pralaya (dissolution). The world is projected during creation, but this does not touch His essence. Ramanuja’s Brahman has internal difference (Svagata Bheda). It is a synthetic whole, with souls and matter as Its modes (Chit-Achit-Visishta). Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Archa and Antaryamin, i.e., the transcendent, the group, the incarnation, the image and the immanent are the five forms of the Lord.

Ramanuja identifies God with Narayana who dwells in Vaikuntha with His Sakti or consort, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the Goddess of prosperity. She is the Divine Mother. She pleads with Her Husband (Lord narayana) on behalf of man. She introduces the devotee to Her Lord and obtains for him salvation. Lakshmi occupies a pre-eminent place in Vaishnavism.

The World – A Real Part Of Brahman’s Nature

The world, with its variety of material forms of existence and individual souls, is not an unreal Maya, but a real part of Brahman’s nature. It is the body of the Lord. Matter is real. It is Achit or non-conscious substance. It undergoes a real Parinama or evolution. Matter exists in a subtle state as the Prakara of God during Pralaya (dissolution). Hence it is eternal, but ever dependent. It is controlled by the will of God. It is neither good nor bad. It becomes a source of pleasure or of pain according to the nature of the Karma of souls. It forms the object of experience for the souls.

Prakriti has three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas [for explanations see Page ‘Sattva, Rajas, Tamas’]; but, Suddha Tattva has only Sattva. It is pure matter. Suddha Tattva is the substance which constitutes the body of God and is called His Nitya-Vibhuti. The manifested world is His Lila-Vibhuti.

The Soul – A Distinct Individual Entity

The soul is a higher Prakara of God than matter, because it is a conscious entity. It is of the essence of God. According to Ramanuja, God, soul and Nature are three eternal entities. The soul is self-conscious, unchanging, partless and atomic (Anu). The souls are infinite in number. The individual soul of Ramanuja is really individual. It is absolutely real and eternally distinct from God. It has, indeed, sprung from Brahman, and is never outside Brahman; nevertheless, it enjoys a separate personal existence and will remain a personality forever.

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 till they are redeemed.

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.

The Evolution Of The Soul And Its Final Emancipation

When the individual soul is immersed in worldliness or Samsara, its knowledge is contracted. It gets its body according to its past Karma (actions), and goes from birth to death and from death to birth, till it attains Moksha or the final emancipation. When it attains Moksha, its knowledge expands. It knows everything. "Every action that contracts the heart of the soul is bad, and every action that expands the heart of the soul is good" – this is the statement of Ramanuja. The soul is marching on in this Samsara, expanding or contracting through its good and evil actions, till it attains the final emancipation through the grace of Lord Narayana. The grace descends on those souls who are pure and struggling for the divine grace.

Emancipation Or Passing Into Paradise

According to Ramanuja, Moksha means the soul’s passing from the troubles of mundane life into a kind of heaven or paradise (Vaikuntha) where it will remain forever in undisturbed personal bliss in the presence of God. The liberated soul attains to the nature of God. It never becomes identical with Him. It lives in fellowship with the Lord, either serving Him or meditating on Him. It never loses its individuality. There is no such thing as Jivan-mukti (liberated in this life, while yet living), according to Ramanuja. Salvation comes when the soul leaves the body.

Bhakti (devotion, love of God) - The Means To Emancipation

The final emancipation can be obtained only through Bhakti and the grace of the Lord. The grace of the Lord comes through devotion and Prapatti or absolute self-surrender. Karma and Jnana are only the means to Bhakti (devotion, love of God).

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The Dvaita Philosophy Of
Sri Madhavacharya
(Madhava was born in A.D. 1197).

Sri Madhavacharya evolved a dualistic system of philosophy out of the Prasthana-Traya, viz., the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. It is an unqualified dualism. Madhava’s Vaishnavism is called Sad-Vaishnavism, in order to distinguish it from the Sri Vaishnavism of Ramanujacharya.

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.,

  1. The distinction between God and the individual soul.
  2. The distinction between God and matter.
  3. The distinction between the individual soul and matter
  4. The distinction between one soul and another soul
  5. The distinction between one material thing and another.

Madhava’s philosophy is a philosophy of distinction. Every follower of the Madhava school should have a firm belief in this fivefold distinction, known as the Panch-Bheda.

You can clearly grasp Sri Madhavacharya’s philosophy if you study his commentary on the Brahma Sutras and Anu-Vyakhyana, his commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, and his glosses on the Mahabharata (Bharata-tatparya-nirnaya) and on the Bhagavata Purana.

Madhava’s philosophy has many points in common with those of Ramanuja. In Madhava’s system of philosophy, Hari or Vishnu is the Supreme Being. The world is real. Difference is true. All the Jivas (individual souls) are dependent on Hari, the Lord. There are grades of superiority and inferiority among the individual souls. Liberation is the individual soul’s enjoyment of its innate bliss. This is Moksha or the final emancipation. Bhakti or devotion, without faults, is the means of attaining Moksha. Perception, inference and the scriptures are the three Pramanas, or ways of knowledge. Hari is knowable only through the Vedas. Worship of Lord Krishna as taught in the Bhagavat Purana is the centre of his religion. This is the quintessence of Madhava’s teachings.

The Categories
According to Madhava, Padartha or objective reality is of two kinds – independent (Svatantra) and dependent (Paratantra). God, the Supreme Being, is the only independent Reality. The soul and the world are dependent realities. God rules them. The dependent beings are of two varieties, - positive and negative. Conscious souls (Chetana), and unconscious entities like matter and time (Achetana), are the two varieties of the positive. Unconscious entities are either eternal like the Vedas, or eternal and non-eternal like Prakriti, time and space or non-eternal like the products of Prakriti.

The Supreme Being And His Consort

The Supreme Being is Vishnu or Narayana. He is the personal first cause. He is the Intelligent Governor of the world. He lives in Vaikuntha along with Lakshmi, His consort. He and His consort Lakshmi are real. Brahma and Vayu are two of His sons. One can know His nature through the study of the Vedas. He manifests Himself through various Vyuhas or group-forms, and through Avataras (divine incarnations). He is present in the sacred images. He is also the Antaryamin or the Inner Controller of all souls. He creates, maintains and destroys the world.

God is free from Doshas or faults. He is endowed with all auspicious qualities. He is omnipresent or all-pervading and independent. He is beyond time and space. He is greater than Lakshmi. There is no other who is greater than Lakshmi. She is the foremost of the dependents. Lakshmi is the Lord’s Sakti or energy. She is the personification of His power or creative energy. Lakshmi can put on various forms without a material body. She is co-eternal with Vishnu and all-pervading. She beholds the glory of Her Lord through eternity. She is Nitya-Mukta, i.e., eternally free from Samsara. She is not affected by sorrow and pain. She is intelligent.

Prakriti – The Material Cause Of The World

God is the efficient – but not the material – cause of the world, because Prakriti, which is the world-stuff, is different from Him. Prakriti is the material cause of the world. It evolves into the visible world. All the objects, bodies and organs of the souls are made out of Prakriti. God energises Prakriti through Lakshmi. Then there is creation.

The three aspects of Prakriti are presided over by the three Powers Lakshmi, Bhu and Durga. Avidya (ignorance) is a form of Prakriti. It obscures the spiritual powers of the individual soul. It forms a veil which hides the Supreme from the vision of the individual soul.

Mahat, Ahankara (egoism), Buddhi, Mind, the ten senses, the five sense-objects and the five great elements are the modifications of Prakriti. These exist in the primordial Prakriti in subtle forms before their evolution.

The Worlds – A Reality Distinct From God
According to Madhava, the world is not an illusion. It is not also a transformation of God, as curd is of milk. Madhava does not admit that the world is the body of God. The distinction between God and the world is absolute and unqualified. Hence the system of Madhava is called Dvaita or unqualified dualism.

The Individual Soul – A Distinct Entity
Plurality Of Souls

There is plurality of Jivas. They are all of atomic size. The entire universe is filled with Jivas or individual souls. Every atom of space is filled up with Jivas. Madhava says in his "Tattvanirnaya": "Infinite are the souls dwelling in an atom of space".

No two Jivas are alike in character. They are essentially different from one another. There are different grades amongst them even in their enjoyment of bliss after salvation.

A Real Distinction Between Jiva And Brahman

The Jivas are different from God, and from matter. Madhava regards the distinction between Brahman and Jiva as real.

Though the Jiva is limited in size, it pervades the body owing to its quality of intelligence. The Jivas are active agents, but they depend on the guidance of the Lord. The Lord impels the Jivas to action in accordance with their previous conduct. They are eternal, and by nature, blissful. But, the connection with material bodies due to their past Karma makes them suffer pain and undergo transmigration. So long as they are not freed from their impurities, they wander about in the Samsara. They pass from birth to death, and from death to birth. When their impurities are removed, they attain salvation. The natural bliss of the soul becomes manifest at the time of Moksha or salvation.

Salvation Does Not Entitle The Soul
To Equality With God
The soul does not attain equality with God. It is entitled only to serve Him.

Even in heaven, there are essential differences among the Jivas. The classes of souls in the realm of bliss are various. There are different grades also. The liberated souls are not all equal; but there is no discord among them, because they all know Brahman and have no faults.

Classification Of Souls
Madhava accepts Ramanuja’s classification of the souls into

  1. Nitya or eternal (like Lakshmi),
  2. Mukta or liberated (the gods, men, Rishis, sages and fathers), and
  3. Baddh or bound ones.

The third group consists of two classes:

  1. Those who are eligible for Moksha (Mukti-yogya)

     B. Those who are not so eligible.

Of those who are not eligible for salvation, there are two classes again:

  1. Those who are bound to the cycle of Samsara forever (Nitya-Samsarins), and
  2. Those whose destiny is hell, the region of blinding darkness (Tamo-yogya).

Some are pre-ordained for the final emancipation by their inherent aptitude. Some others are eternally destined either to wander in Samsara without end, or to go to the world of darkness. The Sattvika souls go to heaven, the Rajasa souls revolve in Samsara and the Tamasa souls fall into hell.

Bhakti – The Means To Salvation

Bhakti is the means to salvation. Souls attain salvation through the grace of God. That grace comes on the devotee only through the mediator Vayu, the son of Vishnu. God cannot be approached directly. Vayu is the mediator. The grace of the Lord is in proportion to the intensity of devotion.

Worship of God is the indispensable preliminary condition for obtaining the grace of God. The soul is saved by the knowledge that it is dependent on God and is under His control. Correct knowledge results in the love of God. Bhakti is the result of knowledge of the greatness of God.

Ankana, Namakarana, Bhajana and Smarana

The worship of Vishnu consists in

  1. Ankana, marking the body with His symbols.
  2. Namakarana, giving the Names of the Lord to Children
  3. Bhajana, singing His glories
  4. Smarana, constant practice of remembrance of God.

Madhava says: "Form a strong habit of remembering God. Then only it will be easy for you to remember Him at the moment of death."

He pointed out that when the Lord incarnated, no Prakrita Deha or material body was put on by Him. Madhava has prescribed a rigorous kind of fasting to his followers.

Practice Of Sadhana

Good moral life is a preliminary for Moksha. The aspirant should equip himself with the study of Vedas, control of the senses, dispassion and perfect self-surrender, if he wants to have vision of the Lord. Renunciation, devotion and direct cognition of the Lord through meditation, lead to the attainment of salvation. The devotee attains direct intuitive realisation of God through meditation and divine grace. Then he is freed from the round of births and deaths.

These are some of the important teachings of Sri Madhavacharya, the renowned exponent of the dualistic school of philosophy.

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The Dvaitadvaita Philosophy
of  Sri Nimbarka


This is also known by the name Bhedabheda School of Philosophy or dualistic monism. This system was evolved by Sri Nimbarkacharya. Nimbarka was a Telugu Brahmin of the Vaishnava faith. He lived some time 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. It was upheld by the ancient teacher Audulomi to which Sri Vyasa himself refers in his Vedanta Sutras.

God, Soul and World
Identity in Difference

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).

Jiva and Brahman are self-conscious. Jiva is limited. Brahman is infinite. Brahman is independent Reality. Jiva and Prakriti are dependent realities. Jiva is the enjoyer (bhokta). The world is the enjoyed (bhogya). Brahman is the Supreme Controller (Niyanta).

God, Jiva and the world are not absolutely distinct. If the Supreme Being is absolutely distinct from the individual soul and the world, it cannot be omnipresent. It will be as limited as the individual soul or the world. It cannot, then, be regarded as their Governor. Nimbaraka says that both difference and non-difference are real. The soul and the world are different from Brahman, as they are endowed with natures and qualities different from those of Brahman. They are not different, as they cannot exist by themselves and as they depend absolutely on Brahman. Such a relation exists between the sun and its rays, the fire and its sparks. The souls and matter are distinct from God, but they are closely connected with Him – as waves with water, or coils of a rope with the rope itself. They are both distinct and non-distinct from Brahman.

The Supreme Being and Its Characteristics

In this school, Brahman (Supreme Reality) is regarded as both the efficient and the material cause of the world. Brahman is both Nirguna and Saguna, as It is not exhausted in the creation but also transcends it.

The Four Forms of the Ultimate Reality

The Ultimate Reality exists in four forms. In Its primary form, It is the unconditioned, immutable, Supreme Brahman. In Its second form, It is Isvara, the Lord of the Universe. In the third form, It is called Jiva or the individual soul. In Its fourth form, It is manifested as the universe of names and forms. The phenomenal universe is a part of Brahman. It has no existence separate from, and independent of Brahman. The relation between the world and Brahman is also one of Bhedabheda. The universe is not different from Brahman.

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.

How Brahman Is both the Material and
the Efficient Cause of the World

Brahman is the material and the efficient cause of the universe. His powers of Chit and Achit in their subtle forms manifest themselves as the universe. Hence He is the material cause. He causes the union of the individual souls with their respective Karmas and their fruits. He provides them the proper instruments for their experience. Hence He is the efficient cause.

Brahman does not want raw materials in order to create the universe. Also, He does not need hands or any other instruments. He is omnipotent. He simply wills and the whole world comes into being. His Satsankalpa objectifies or materializes as this universe. Just as a spider spins a cobweb out of itself, so also Brahman has evolved the universe out of Himself. This is the declaration of the Upanishads. In thus evolving the universe, Brahman is both its material and the efficient cause. As Brahman is all-powerful, it is perfectly within His power to be evolved, and at the same time, to remain beyond such evolution. This is supported by the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. Brahman has transformed Himself into this world, without His noumenal aspect being affected. This is due to the inscrutable creative power inherent in the nature of Brahman.

Relation between the Individual Soul
and the Supreme Soul
Formal Difference
and Essential Identity

The individual soul is a part of the Supreme Soul. It is also identical with or the same as, the Supreme Soul. Just as a wave is both different from the ocean (being only a part of the ocean), and identical with it (both being water), so also is the individual soul both different from (being a part of the Supreme Soul), and identical with (both being of the nature of Chaitanya or Consciousness), the Supreme Soul. The relation between the individual soul or Jiva and the Supreme Soul or Brahman is one of formal difference and essential identity. There is no difference between Jiva and Brahman in kind. The difference is only in degree.

The Jiva is different from Brahman with reference to the phenomenal aspect or the body-idea. It is identical with, or same as, Brahman with reference to the noumenal aspect as the invisible whole. This is what is called Bhedabheda.

A strong wind perturbs the sea and a wave is formed. The wave is different from the ocean, though it is a part of it. The wind passes away and the wave subsides. Now it cannot be distinguished from the sea. Even so, the mind is agitated by desires and cravings. It runs towards the objects along with the senses and becomes conscious of a distinctive individuality. The ego or the finite self beholds the relative world with its phenomena, and gets experiences. When the mind becomes calm and serene by eradication of desires, it ceases to function and all the Vrittis or waves subside. The phenomenal world vanishes and the finite self realises the Infinite Self or Brahman.

The Jiva and Its Attributes

Souls are infinite in number and are atomic in size. The Jiva is minute (Anu). It is of the form of knowledge (Jnanasvarupa), though not in the sense of Sankara. The Jiva is knowledge and it is the possessor of knowledge also, just as the sun is light and the source of light also. The relation of the soul to its attribute is like that of the Dharmin (the qualified) to the Dharma (the attribute). It is one of difference and non-difference (Bheda-abheda).

Though the Jiva is atomic in size, it experiences the pleasures and pains throughout the body owing to its omnipresent quality of knowledge. It is everlasting. It continues to exist in deep sleep and the final state of emancipation. In Pralaya or dissolution, the individual souls and the world merge in the Lord in subtle form. Births and deaths concern the body, but not the Self.

The individual soul is the agent of activity (Karta). It has no independent knowledge or activity. The individual souls and the world are not self-sufficient. They are guided by the Lord. They are all sustained and governed by God. Each soul is a ray of Brahman individualised. Ananda or bliss belongs to the individual soul in all its states.

Two Classes of Jivas

Jivas are of two classes:

  1. Jivas who have knowledge of the all-pervading indwelling spirit and who have realised that the appearances are non-separate from Brahman. They are called liberated souls (Mukta). They are free from ignorance.
  2. Jivas who only behold the appearances, but have no knowledge of the all-pervading indwelling spirit, the support of these names and forms. They are called bound souls (Baddha).

The World - A True Manifestation of Brahman

The world is not an illusion for Nimbarka, as it is a manifestation (Parinama) of what is contained subtly in God.

The world is not unreal or illusory, but is a true manifestation or Parinama of Brahman. It may, however, be said to be unreal only in the sense that the present state of its existence is not self-sufficient and it has no separate existence from Brahman. The world is identical with, as well as, different from Brahman, just as a wave or a bubble is the same as, and at the same time different from water.

There are three principal Tattvas or principles:

  1. Aprakriti, which is not derived from the primordial Prakriti, which is the stuff of the divine body of the Lord (which is similar to the Suddha Sattva of Ramanuja), and which is the basis of the Nitya-Vibhuti (eternal glory) of Isvara.
  2. Prakriti with its three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
  3. Kala or time.

These three Tattvas or principles are also eternal like the individual souls.

According to Nimbarka, the Sakti of Brahman is the material cause of the world. The changes of Sakti do not affect the integrity of Brahman. The ‘Body of Brahman’ of Ramanuja is the ‘Sakti’ of Nimbarka.


Avidya is beginningless. The purity of the individual soul is obscured by its Karma which is the result of Avidya. This Avidya can be put an end by the grace of the Lord.

True Devotion and Real Knowledge Lead to Release

Prapatti or complete surrender to God is the way to release. God showers His grace on His devotees who make complete self-surrender. The grace of God lifts up the devotees to have Brahma-Sakshatkara. The Lord generates devotion in them which results in God-realisation.

Bhakti involves a knowledge of Brahman, of the nature of the Jiva, of the fruit of the Lord’s grace or Mukti, and of the nature of the impediments to God-realisation such as the wrong identification of the soul with the body, the senses and the mind.

Salvation is attained by real knowledge (Jnana) and true devotion (Bhakti). Real knowledge reveals the true nature of the all-pervading Brahman. True devotion leads to total self-surrender to the Lord. The individual soul retains its individuality with reference to divine enjoyment (Bhoga-samyatvam), but its will is subservient to that of Brahman. The individuality of the soul is not dissolved even in the state of release, the individual soul is different from, as well as identical with, Brahman. This is identity with difference, Bheda-abheda.

Salvation a State of Full Awareness
of Identity With the Lord

Brahman is revealed to the liberated soul in its pristine glory, but not in the form of a deity. The soul realises itself now as an inseparable part of Brahman. It no longer feels that it is a separate or distinct individual, as it felt in bondage. It is released from its previous state of bondage. It abides now in the glory of its own true Self which is Brahman Itself. It is in full awareness or consciousness of being one with the Lord. It will not return to the world. It is freed from the round of births and deaths. As it is in union with Brahman, it attains the same status as that of Brahman, but it has no power over creation, preservation and dissolution of the world.

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The Suddhadvaita Philosophy
of 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.

Vallabha expounded this system in the Anu-Bhashya, his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. He called it Suddha Advaita or pure monism as against Sankara’s Kevala Advaita and Ramanuja’s Visishta-Advaita. Vallabha was a Telugu Brahmin of South India. He migrated to the north and developed the views of Vishnuswamin who belonged to the thirteenth century. His system of thought is known by the name Brahma-Vada.

Vallabha says that the entire universe is real and is subtly Brahman. The individual souls and the world are, in essence, one with Brahman. Jiva (individual soul), Kala (time) and Prakriti or Maya are eternal existences, but they have no separate existence apart from Brahman.

Vallabha was a great Sanskrit scholar. He settled down first at Mathura and then at Varanasi. He preached with great zeal the Vaishnava creed and philosophy. He was the founder of the great Vaishnava Mutts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. His followers are found in great numbers in Nathdwara.

Important Works of Vallabha

Vallabha accepts the authority not only of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras, but also of the Bhagavata Purana. The important works of Vallabha are Vyasa-Sutra Bhashya (Anu-Bhashya), Jaimini-Sutra Bhashya, Bhagavata-Tika, Subodhini, Pushti-Pravaha-Maryada and Siddhanta-Rahasya. All these books are in Sanskrit. He has written many books in Braj Bhasha (Braj language) also. The scriptures are the final authority for Vallabha.

Stress on Worship and Grace

Vallabha’s religion is a religion addressed to the worship of Vishnu in the form of Krishna. It was derived chiefly, like the system of Chaitanya, from the Vaishnava philosophy propounded by Ramanuja. It is centred round the conception of a personal and beneficent God who is Sat-Chit-Ananda. Lord Krishna is the highest Brahman (Supreme Reality. His body consists of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). He is called Purushottama.

Vallabha’s followers worship Bala-Krishna (Krishna as a child or boy). They have Vatsalya-Bhava (the attitude of parent and child). Vallabha lays great stress on Pushti (grace) and Bhakti (devotion). Maha-Pushti is the highest grace or Anugraha which helps the aspirants to attain God-realisation.

God – The Only Being

According to Vallabha, God is the Absolute or the Purushottama. He is perfect. He is Sat-Chit-Ananda. He is infinite, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. He has all the auspicious qualities also. The Sruti texts which say that He has no attributes, mean that He has not the ordinary qualities.

God is real. There is no other reality besides Him. He is the only Being. He is the source for this universe and all souls. He is the first cause and the only cause. God is the material as well as the efficient cause of the universe. He creates the world by the mere force of His Will. Brahman manifests Himself, of His own Will, as the universe and the individual souls, but He does not undergo any change in His essential nature. Things come out of the Akshara (Sat-Chit-Ananda), like sparks from fire. Brahman (Supreme Reality) is the Creator of the world. He is also the world itself.

God is personified as Krishna, when He possesses the qualities of wisdom and action. He appears in various forms to please His devotees.

The World of Nature and the World of False Relations

Creation is manifestation of Brahman. The universe is the effect of Brahman. The universe is as eternal and real as Brahman Himself. The inanimate universe is filled with Brahman. The world is not an illusory appearance. It is not different from Brahman in essence.

Jagat is the world of Nature. It is not illusory. It is real. It is God Himself in one form. But, the Samsara or temporal involvement is illusory. This is created by the soul around its ‘I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness’. The separation from God on account of egoism makes the soul forget its original true, divine nature. Samsara is a product of the soul’s imagination and action which play around its "I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness’. On account of its selfishness, it puts itself in wrong relations with other souls and with the objective universe. It creates a web of its own and gets itself entangled in it.

This is an illusion, because the web has no reality. This samsara, the world of false relations created by the soul, is alone Maya. Samsara or Maya rises because the soul, which is not apart from God, tries to set itself up as an independent reality or entity in its own right. The self which is something apart from God is illusory. Its body is illusory and its world also is illusory. All this is samsara. It is very different from the world of Nature.

Jiva and Brahman
Analogy of the Spark and the Fire

The Jivas are not effects. They are Amsas or parts of God. They issue from Him spontaneously as sparks from fire. Brahman is the whole. The Jiva or the individual soul is part; but, there is no real difference between Brahman and the individual soul, because the individual soul is of identical essence with Brahman. (According to Ramana, the parts are really different from the whole). The soul is one with Brahman. It is as real and eternal as Brahman.

The individual soul is not Brahman screened by the veil of Avidya. It is itself Brahman, with the attribute ‘bliss’ being obscured or suppressed. Ananda or bliss is suppressed or obscured in the individual soul. Ananda and consciousness are suppressed or obscured in matter or the inanimate world. When the soul attains bliss, and the inanimate world attains both consciousness and bliss, the difference between Brahman and these vanishes.

The soul is both a doer and an enjoyer. It is atomic in size, but it pervades the whole body by its quality of intelligence, just as sandalwood pervades even the places where it does not exist by its sweet fragrance and just as a lamp, though confined only to a part of a room, illuminates the whole room.

Classification of Souls

There are three kinds of souls:

  1. The pure (Suddha) Jivas. The divine qualities (Aisvarya) are not obscured in these souls by ignorance.
  2. The worldly Jivas (Samsarin). These souls are caught in the net or clutches of Avidya or ignorance. They experience births and deaths on account of their connection with gross and subtle bodies.
  3. Mukta Jivas or liberated souls. These souls are freed from the bonds of Samsara through Vidya or Knowledge.

When the soul attains the final emancipation, it recovers its suppressed qualities and becomes one with God or Brahman. The world appears as Brahman to one who has realised the Truth or Brahman.

There is another classification of souls, viz., Pushti souls, Maryada souls and Pravahika souls. All these are different from one another in their origin, nature and final end. They all issue from God with their differences.

The Pushti souls are the highest, as they issue from the Anada-Kaya or the bliss-body of God. These souls are the Amsa (parts) of His body. God is the Amsi (the whole). These are the souls of grace. They have the divine seed in them which bears fruit in the end. They ultimately reach the goal through the grace of the Lord. They have communion and fellowship with Lord Krishna. They develop Bhakti (devotion)through the grace of the Lord. Bhakti is the means and the end in itself.

The Maryada souls are generated from the Vak or the Word of God. They are governed by law, not by grace. They perform their ritualistic duties, at first with selfish interests. Later on, they develop Nishkarma-Bhava (unselfish attitude) and do their ritualistic routine without any self-interest. This purifies their mind. They reach the Akshara, which is a kind of vestibule to the abode of God. Afterwards they attain the supreme abode of God.

The Pravahika souls issue from the mind of God. They are the Samsaric Jivas. They are souls neither of grace nor of law. They are in continuous motion (Pravaha).

These three kinds of souls have further sub-division and cross-divisions into Pushti-Pushti, Pushti-Maryada, Pushti-Pravahika, Maryada-Maryada, Maryada-Pushti, Maryada-Pravahika, Pravahika-Pravahika, Pravahika-Pushti and Pravahika-Maryada.

Pushti Marga or the Way of Grace

The way of life and salvation preached by Vallabha is called Pushti Marga. The soul of man has become weak and lean on account of sin. It is, therefore, in dire need of the grace of God for its uplift and emancipation. God’s grace gives Pushti (nourishment) and Poshana (strength); and hence the name Pushti Marga or the Way of Grace.

The individual soul can attain the final emancipation only through the grace of God. Bhakti is the chief means of salvation. Jnana is useful. Maha Pushti or the highest grace removes great obstacles and helps in the attainment of God. The Bhakti (devotion) generated by special grace is known as Pushti Bhakti.

The Four Kinds of Bhakti (devotion)

This Pushti-Bhakti is of four kinds:

  1. Pravaha Pushti-Bhakti
  2. Maryada Pushti-Bhakti
  3. Pushti Pushti-Bhakti
  4. Suddha Pushti-Bhakti.

Prava Bhakti is the path of those who while leading the worldly life, perform works which will lead to the attainment of God-realisation. Worldly life is compared to the flow of a river (Pravaha).

Maryada Bhakti is the path of those who are rendered fit to attain knowledge which is useful for worship, through the grace of the Lord. They know all about the ways of God. They depend upon their own efforts to obtain knowledge.

In Pushti-Bhakti, the devotees lead a life of self-restraint. They hear discourses about the Lord. They do Kirtana and sing His name. The do Japa (repeated recitation) of Mantra.

Suddha Pushti-Bhakti or the Purest Type of Devotion

In Suddha Pushti-Bhakti, the devotees do Kirtana and sing the Lord’s name. They praise God. They develop a strong passion for doing these. This kind of devotion is generated by the Lord Himself. The Lord’s grace descends on the devortees. Then they develop a liking for God. This liking grows into Prema Bhakti (love for God). The devotees acquire knowledge about God. Then they get attachment to God (Asakti). Then they develop a strong passion for attaining God. This is the ripe condition of love and Asakti. It is called Vyasana. This strong passion, or Vyasana, leads to the attainment of the highest bliss, the Summum bonum or the end.

When love for Sri Krishna becomes intense, the devotee sees Lord Krishna everywhere. Hence everything becomes an object of love for him. He identifies himself with everything. The Gopis had this experience. They saw Krishna everywhere. They saw themselves also as Krishna. This is a Para Bhakti or supreme devotion which becomes akin to the knowledge or Brahma-Jnana of the Vedantins or Jnanis. The inner and outer world is full of Krishna or Purushottama for such devotees. The fruit of this devotion is admission to the eternal sports or Lilas of Sri Krishna.

The Supreme goal is not Mukti or emancipation. The highest goal is eternal service of Lord Krishna and participation in His sports in the celestial Brindavana. Those who have developed Vyasana, or strong passion for God, reject with scorn the four kinds of Mukti. The Maryada-Bhaktas attain Sayujya Mukti, i.e., they become one with Sri Krishna. The Pushti-Bhaktas reject Mukti and take part in the sports or Lilas of Sri Krishna. They choose with intense delight the eternal service of Sri Krishna. The Bhaktas assume the forms of cows, birds, trees and rivers and enjoy the company of Sri Krishna, which bestows infinite joy. These sports are similar to those which Sri Krishna did in Vraja and Vrindavana. Some of the devotees become Gopas and Gopis and join the sports in the celestial Vrindavana.

Different Kinds of Liberated Souls

The liberated souls are of different kinds. Some have freed themselves like (Sage) Sanaka. Some dwell in the city of God and attain salvation through the grace of the Lord. Some others develop perfect love and become the associates of God.

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The Achintya Bhedabheda Philosophy
of Sri Chaitanya

(The Hare Krishna Movement)

Sri Chaitanya or Lord Gauranga may be regarded as the greatest Vaishnava teacher of the North. He gave a new form to the Vaishnava faith. He was born in 1486 AD in Bengal.

Chaitanya had a very large heart. He accepted converts from Islam freely. His disciple Haridas was a Moslem fakir. Nityananda spread far and wide the Chaitanya movement. Rupa and Sanatana who descended from a prince of Karnataka and settled in Bengal, and their nephew Jiva Goswami, were great Sanskrit scholars and were really the fathers of the Chaitanya movement (Today’s Hare-Krishna movement).

Jiva Goswami and Baladeva furnished the philosophical basis for the school. The philosophical classics of the school are Jiva’s Sat-sandarbha, and his own commentary on it. Sarva Samvadini, and Baladeva’s Govindabhashya on the Brahma Sutras. Baladeva’s Prameyaratnavali is also another popular book. Jiva and Baladeva were greatly influenced by the views of Ramanuja and Madhava. They admit God, souls, Maya or Prakriti, Suddha Sattva and Kala or time.

The world and souls depend on God, though they are separate and distinct from Him. They are neither one with God nor different from Him. There is an incomprehensible difference- non-difference (Achintya Bhedabheda).

Chaitanya insisted on the unity of the Godhead which underlies the multitude of idols of popular worship.

The Ultimate Reality

The Ultimate Reality is Vishnu. He is the God of love and grace. He is one without a second. He is Sat-Chit-Ananda. He is Nirguna in the sense that He is free from the qualities of Maya. He is Saguna (with attributes) as He is endowed with the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience. He is the material and the efficient cause of the world. He is the source, support and end of this universe. He is the efficient cause through His higher energy (Para-Sakti). He is the material cause through His other energies (Apara-Sakti and Adya-Sakti).

Mysterious and Incomprehensible Sakti of the Lord/p>

Just as the sun has its light and the fire its heat, so the Supreme God, Krishna, has naturally His energies or Saktis which are mysterious and incomprehensible. These Saktis have no independent existence. They depend upon God. God and His powers are either identical or different.

These energies are of three kinds, viz., Chit-Sakti, Jiva-Sakti and Maya-Sakti. They are also called Antaranga, Tatastha and Bahiranga respectively. Jiva-Sakti is called Tatastha because it occupies an intermediate place between Chit-Sakti and Maya-Sakti.

The Process of Creation

Chit-Sakti created Vaikuntha. There is only pure Sattva in Vaikuntha. Maya has no access here. Kala (time) cannot execute its destructive power.

The souls are created by the Tatastha Sakti or Jiva-Sakti of the Lord. The Lord’s Svarupa-Sakti supports His Jiva-Sakti.

The Lord creates the universe from the great principle of Mahat. He manifests the Vedas and communicates them to Brahma. The work of creating other stages of creation is given to Brahma. The souls and matter are the manifestations of God’s energy according to Jiva Goswami and Baladeva. Maya is set in vibration by the mere gazing of the Lord.

The Lord Who Appears in Different Forms

The Supreme Lord Krishna manifests Himself as Brahman to Jnanins; as Paramatman to Yogins; and as Bhagavan full of all glories, all beauties, all sweetness and all attributes, to Bhaktas. Lord Krishna is the soul of all souls and the Lord of all that is. A Bhakta (devotee) only has full knowledge of the Supreme Personal God with all His divine attributes. Krishn’s form is unique. He assumes endless forms.

Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Rama, Krishna, etc., are Lila-Avataras (incarnations). There are Gunavataras and Manavantaravataras. The four Sanakas, Narada, Prithu, Parasurama, Brahma, Sesha in Vaikuntha and Ananta who supports the earth, are the chief Avestavataras of the major type who have direct power from God. In Sanaka, Jnana-Sakti; in Narada, Bhakti-Sakti; in Brahma, creative Sakti; in Ananta, the earth supporting Sakti; in Sesha, God-serving Sakti; in Prithu, the power of preserving people; and in Parsurama the power of destroying the wicked prevailed.


The Avataras (incarnations) are one with the Supreme. They are not parts like the individual souls. God assumes infinite forms of which the chief is that of Krishna. Radha is the essence of the delight giving power of Lord Krishna (Hladini). The Lord is the ruler of all souls. He is omnipresent or all-pervading.

The Jiva

The Jiva is of atomic size. He is the eternal servant of God. He bears the same relation to God as the sun’s rays bear to the sun and as a spark bears to the mass of fire from which it flits out. The ray, although it radiates from the sun and is part and parcel of the sun, is not the sun. So also, the Jiva, who is partly similar to God in respect of his spirituality or Chaitanya and partly dissimilar on account of his animal nature and susceptibility to the influence of Maya, is not God Himself.

The soul is bound by the power of Maya. Maya makes him forget his real, essential, divine nature. The Jiva, illumined and infatuated by Maya, can naturally have no knowledge of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna has, therefore, out of His infinite mercy, created the Vedas; and reveals Himself to the Jiva through the media of scriptures, Guru and intuition. Then the Jiva is convinced that Lord Krishna is his Lord and saviour.

The Jiva can have God-realisation through spiritual love or Prema to Lord Krishna. Bhakti overcomes the force of Karma. Bhakti (devotion) is the way to the final emancipation. Through Bhakti the soul attains to a status of equality with God, but he is never absorbed in Him. He is freed from the round of births and deaths.

The Culture of Bhakti (Devotion)

Chiatanya taught that God could be realised only by means of ardent and all-absorbing love. He wrote to a royal minister who had asked if there was any path of salvation for a man leading an active life: "As an immoral woman constantly thinks of her illicit lover while living in the midst of her family, so do thou silently and ceaselessly meditate on Hari while doing your worldly activities".

According to Chaitanya, ardour is born from the culture of Bhakti and when ardour deepens, it is called love (Prema).

From taste (Ruchi) comes strong inclination (Asakti) which generates the sprout of passion (Rati) for Krishna. When this emotion deepens, it becomes Prema. This is the permanent form of Bhakti in Krishna.

When love grows, it is successively called Sneha, Pranaya, Anuraga, Bhava and Mahabhava, just as we have successively cane-seed, sugar-cane juice, molasses, sugar and fine sugar-candy.

When the permanent emotion (Bhava) is mingled with Rasa, it is changed into Vibhava, Anubhava, Sattvika and Vyabhichari; just as curd, when being mixed with black sugar, black pepper and camphor, becomes a thing of extreme deliciousness named Rasala. Vibhava is of two kinds:

  1. Alambana, which is kindled by Krishna, etc., and
  2. Uddipana, by the notes of His flute, etc.,

Anubhava is stimulated by smile, dance and song. Stupor and other sensations are included in Sattvika Anubhava. Vyabhichari is of thirty-three kinds, such as delight, rapture etc.

Rasa is of five kinds- Santa, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya. In the Santa Rasa, Rati advances to the stage of Prema and in the Dasya to Raga. Sakhya and Vatsalya attain to the limit of Anuraga.

Krishna-Prema – The Supreme Attainment

That devotee who has developed Prema always communes with Lord Krishna. No mundane sorrow or affliction can perturb his mind. He has no attraction for earthly objects. He has no fear. He never cares for material success. He intensely longs for union with Lord Krishna.

Love of Krishna is the highest thing worth attaining. Bhakti is the means of attainment. Krishna-prema is, indeed, the highest achievement of life. This Prema makes the devotees serve Krishna in a selfless spirit and enjoy the Rasa or sweetness of the Lord. Bhakti is the only means of attaining Krishna and is, therefore, spoken of as Avidhaya or means. Just as wealth gives comforts, and with the enjoyment of comforts all worldly miseries disappear of their own accord, so also, Bhakti generates Krishna-prema, and with the enjoyment of Prema, the cycle of births and deaths comes to an end. Escape from the effects of privations and the stoppage of rebirths are not, however, the fruits of prema. Beatitude or Moksha is Prema’s handmaid. Therefore this Krishna-prema is regarded as the supreme attainment .

Other Teachings of Sri Chaitanya

Veneration for the preceptor is a fundamental feature of Sri Chaitanya’s teachings. Study of the Vedas, the Bhagavata Purana, etc., is inculcated. Practice of ethics and development of ethical virtues such as mercy towards all creatures, humility, purity of heart, freedom from mundane desires, serenity and truthfulness are essential. The distinctions of caste have to be ignored. Anyone can obtain the grace of the Lord.

The following qualities make a Vaishnava. He is compassionate, truthful, saintly, innocent, charitable, gentle, pure, spiteless, humble, serene, tender, friendly and silent. He is a universal benefactor. He solely depends upon Lord Krishna. He is desireless. He is abstemious in diet and self-controlled. He has mastery over the six enemies. He honours others and does not care for honour from others.

Sankirtana – The Supreme Healer

The supreme healer in this iron age is Sankirtana of the Name. It is equivalent to the Vedic sacrifice. The true sacrificer is rewarded with Krishna’s feet. Sankirtana enables you to conquer sin and the world. It creates purity of soul and all kinds of Bhakti. It is not restricted to a particular place or time. It works everywhere. It bears the name of Sarva-Sakti (omnipotence).

Hari’s name should always be chanted by him who must be humbler than a blade of grass (which is trodden upon); who is more patient, forbearing and charitable than a tree (which does not cry out even when it is cut down and which does not beg for water even when scorched to death, but on the contrary, offers its treasure to whoever seeks it, bears the sun and rain itself, but protects those who take shelter under it from rain and sunshine); who, however worthy of esteem should instead of claiming respect for himself, give respect to all (from a sense of God’s immanence in all beings). He who thus takes Krishna’s Name gets Krishna’s Divine Love (Prema).
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