Advaita Vedanta

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Part of a series on
Hindu philosophy
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Samkhya · Yoga
Nyaya · Vaisheshika
Purva Mimamsa · Vedanta
Schools of Vedanta
Advaita · Vishishtadvaita
Dvaita · Shuddhadvaita
Dvaitadvaita · Achintya Bheda Abheda
Ancient figures
Kapila · Patañjali
Gotama · Kanada
Jaimini · Vyasa
Medieval figures
Adi Shankara · Ramanuja
Madhva · Madhusudana
Tukaram · Namadeva
Vedanta Desika · Jayatirtha
Vallabha · Nimbarka
Modern figures
Ramakrishna · Ramana Maharshi
Vivekananda · Narayana Guru
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
N.C. Yati · Coomaraswamy
Aurobindo ·Sivananda
Satyananda · Chinmayananda

Advaita Vedanta (IAST Advaita Vedānta; Sanskrit अद्वैत वेदान्त; IPA: [əd̪vait̪ə veːd̪ɑːnt̪ə]), a sub-school of the Vedānta (literally, end or the goal of the Vedas, Sanskrit) school of Hindu philosophy, numbers with Dvaita and Viśishṭādvaita as major sub-schools of Vedānta. Advaita (literally, non-duality) often has been called a monistic system of thought. The word "Advaita" essentially refers to the identity of the Self (Atman) and the Whole (Brahman).[1] The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta, which is one of the six orthodox (āstika) Hindu philosophies (darśana), include the Prasthanatrayi—the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras.

Advaita Vedanta is the oldest extant sub-school of Vedānta. Although its roots trace back to the first millennium B.C.E., the most prominent exponent of the Advaita Vedanta is considered by tradition to be the eighth century scholar Adi Shankara (700-750 C.E.). He created Advaita Vedanta through reflection on the basic Hindu texts, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. Shankara's founding of Advaita Vedanta upon classical Hindu texts accounts, in part, for the longevity of his branch of Hinduism. Another reason for the longevity and vitality of Advaita Vedanta lay in the need fulfilled by the theology and philosophy.

Shankara introduced a monistic thought, referred to as non-dualistic. Basically, he contented, based upon Hindu scriptures, that Brahmin (Whole) and Self (Atman) are the same. No difference or distinction exists between Atman and Brahmin. That is a difficult, and profound, position to defend. Yet Shankara set forth a reasonable system that has stood the test of time. He argued that Brahmin is the only truth, the world is illusion, and that reality is three-tiered. At the third tier, all existence is one. Advaita's greatest contribution is serving as a bridge between the rationalistic (jnana) yoga and the devotional (bhakti) yoga, the yoga of ordinary people.

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Adi Shankara

Adi Shankara consolidated the Advaita Vedanta, an interpretation of the Vedic scriptures approved and accepted by Gaudapada and Govinda Bhagavatpada siddhānta (system). Continuing the line of thought of some of the Upanishadic teachers, and also that of his own teacher's teacher Gaudapada, (Ajativada), Adi Shankara expounded the doctrine of Advaita—a nondualistic reality.

He wrote commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi. A famous quote from Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, one of his Prakaraṇa graṃthas (philosophical treatises) that succinctly summarizes his philosophy is:[2]

Brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā, jīvo brahmaiva nāparahBrahman is the only truth, the world is illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self.

In his metaphysics, three tiers of reality exist with each one negating the previous. The category illusion in that system amounts to unreal only from the viewpoint of the absolutely real, different from the category of the Absolutely unreal. His system of vedanta introduced the method of critical study on the accepted metaphysics of the Upanishads, all the later vedanta schools adopting that style. His refusal to literally use scriptural statements, rather adopting symbolic interpretation where he considered it appropriate, represents another distinctive feature of his work.

Adi Shankara made crucial contributions to Advaita, especially the commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi (Brahma Sūtras, Bhagavad Gītā, the Upanişads) and the Gaudapadiya Karikas. He also wrote a major independent treatise, called Upadeśa Sāhasrī, expounding his philosophy.


The necessity of a Guru

Advaita vedānta requires anyone seeking to study advaita vedānta to learn from a Guru (teacher).[3] The Guru must have the following qualities (see Gambhirananda and Andre van den Brink, Mundaka upanishad (Den Haag: Van den Brink, 2001, 1.2.12):

  • Śrotriya, must have expert knowledge in the Vedic scriptures and sampradaya.
  • Brahmaniṣṭha, literally meaning established in Brahman; must have realized the oneness of Brahman in everything and in himself

The seeker must serve the Guru and submit questions with all humility to remove all doubts (see Bhagavad Gita 4.34). By doing so, advaita says, the seeker will attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of births and deaths).

Sādhana Chatuṣṭaya

Any mumukṣu (one seeking moksha) has to have the following four sampattis (qualifications), collectively called Sādhana Chatuṣṭaya Sampatti (the fourfold qualifications): 1) Nityānitya vastu viveka — The ability (viveka) to correctly discriminate between the eternal (nitya) substance (Brahman) and transitory existence (anitya). 2) Ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga virāga — The renunciation (virāga) of enjoyments of objects (artha phala bhoga) in this world (iha) and the other worlds (amutra) like heaven. 3) Śamādi ṣatka sampatti — the sixfold qualities of śama (control of the antahkaraṇa[4][5]), dama (the control of external sense organs), uparati (the refraining from actions; instead concentrating on meditation), titikṣa (the tolerating of tāpatraya), śraddha (the faith in Guru and Vedas), samādhāna (the concentrating of the mind on God and Guru). 4) Mumukṣutva — The firm conviction that misery and the intense longing for moksha (release from the cycle of births and deaths) represents the nature of the world.

Advaita vedānta teaches that moksha, or liberation, comes only to those fourfold qualifications. Any seeker wishing to study advaita vedānta from a teacher must possess them.

Alternative View

Advaita Vedanta also teaches that the Self has the capacity of knowing itself without those conditions. Knowing the Self or Atman in relation to Brahman simply requires knowing that you know, which may be realized in an instant without a guru. Advaita Vedanta teaches that you, physical manifestations, the universe and beyond are who you are, that you are your own Guru. You are the source of all knowledge, because you are knowledge itself. Teachers or Gurus may help but each person is their own guru. Purity and trueness, as stated in the Prashna Upanishad, "The bright world of Brahman can be attained only by those that are pure and true," represent the only prerequisites.

Theory of Knowledge (Epistemology)

Pramāṇas. Pramā, in Sanskrit, refers to the correct knowledge of any thing, derived thorough reasoning. Pramāṇa (sources of knowledge, Sanskrit) forms one part of a tripuṭi (trio), namely: 1) Pramātṛ, the subject; the knower of the knowledge. 2) Pramāṇa, the cause or the means of the knowledge. And 3) Prameya, the object of knowledge.

In Advaita Vedānta, the following pramāṇas prevail: 1) Pratyakṣa — the knowledge gained by means of the senses. 2) Anumāna — the knowledge gained by means of inference. 3) Upamāna — the knowledge gained by means of analogy. 4) Arthāpatti — knowledge gained by superimposing the what is known on what is apparently knowledge. And 5) Āgama — the knowledge gained by through studying texts such as Vedas (also known as Āptavākya, Śabda pramāṇa).

Theory of Being (Ontology)

Kārya and kāraṇa. Vedanta places in highlight the kārya (effect) and kāraṇa (cause), recognizing two kāraṇatvas (ways of being the cause): 1) Nimitta kāraṇatva — Being the instrumental cause. 2) Upādāna kāraṇatva — Being the material cause. Advaita concludes that Brahman serves as both the instrumental cause and the material cause.

Kārya-kāraṇa ananyatva. Advaita states that kārya (effect) is similar kāraṇa (cause), yet they have differences or Kārya-kāraṇa ananyatva (the non-difference of the effect from the cause). Kārya is not different from kāraṇa; however kāraṇa is different from kārya. In the context of Advaita Vedanta, Jagat (the world) is not different from Brahman; however Brahman is different from Jagat.

Salient features of Advaita Vedanta

Three levels of truth. According to Advaita Vedanta, three levels of truth exist: 1) The transcendental or the Pāramārthika level with Brahman as the only reality and nothing else. 2) The pragmatic or the Vyāvahārika level where both Jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Ishvara are true. The material world is completely true. And, 3) The apparent or the Prāthibhāsika level where even material world reality is actually false, like illusion of a snake over a rope or a dream.

Brahman. According to Adi Shankara, God, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit or Brahman is the One, the whole and the only reality. Other than Brahman, everything else, including the universe, material objects and individuals, are false. Brahman is at best described as that infinite, omnipresent, omnipotent, incorporeal, impersonal, transcendent reality, the divine ground of all Being.

Brahman is the origin of this and that, the origin of forces, substances, all of existence, the undefined, the basis of all, unborn, the essential truth, unchanging, eternal, the absolute and beyond the senses. Brahman dwells in the purest knowledge itself, illuminant like a source of infinite light. Due to ignorance (avidyā), the Brahman is visible as the material world and its objects. The actual Brahman is attributeless and formless (see Nirguna Brahman), the Self-existent, the Absolute and the Imperishable, indescribable.

Māyā. Māyā (/mɑːjɑː/) According to Adi Shankara, Māyā constitutes the illusionary power of Brahman that brings people to see the Brahman the material world of separate forms. It has two main functions; to "hide" Brahman from ordinary human perception and to present the material world in its stead.

Status of the world. Adi Shankara says that the world is an illusion because of some logical reasons. Consider the following logical argument. A pen is placed in front of a mirror. One can see its reflection. To one's eyes, the image of the pen is perceived. Now, what should the image be called? It cannot be true, because it is an image. The truth is the pen. It cannot be false, because it is seen by our eyes.

Īshvara (literally, the Supreme Lord). According to Advaita Vedanta, when man tries to know the attributeless Brahman with his mind, under the influence of Maya, Brahman becomes the Lord. Ishvara is Brahman with Maya—the manifested form of Brahman. The Supreme Lord's actual form in the transcendental level is the Cosmic Spirit.

Ishvara is Saguna Brahman or Brahman with innumerable auspicious qualities. All-perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, Creator of the world, Brahman acts as its ruler and also destroyer. Eternal and unchangeable, the material and the instrumental cause of the world, both immanent and transcendent, he may even have a personality.

Brahman is the source morality and giver of the fruits of one's Karma. He himself is beyond sin and merit. He rules the world with his Maya. (His divine power). There is no place for a Satan or devil in Hinduism, unlike Abrahamic religions. Advaitins explain the misery because of ignorance.

Status of God. To think that there is no place for a personal God (Ishvara) in Advaita Vedanta is a misunderstanding of the philosophy. Ishvara is, in an ultimate sense, described as "false" because Brahman appears as Ishvara only due to the curtain of Maya. However, as described earlier, just as the world is true in the pragmatic level, similarly, Ishvara is also pragmatically true. Just as the world is not absolutely false, Ishvara is also not absolutely false. He is the distributor of the fruits of one's Karma. See, Karma in Hinduism for more information. In order to make the pragmatic life successful, it is very important to believe in God and worship him. In the pragmatic level, whenever we talk about Brahman, we are in fact talking about God. God is the highest knowledge theoretically possible in that level. Devotion (Bhakti) will cancel the effects of bad Karma and will make a person closer to the true knowledge by purifying his mind. Slowly, the difference between the worshiper and the worshiped decreases and upon true knowledge, liberation occurs.

The swan is an important symbol in Advaita

Ātman. The soul or the self (Atman) is identical with Brahman, not a part of Brahman that ultimately dissolves into Brahman, but the whole Brahman itself. Atman, the silent witness of all the modifications, stands free and beyond sin and merit, experiencing neither happiness nor pain because it is beyond the triad of Experiencer, Experienced and Experiencing, incorporeal and independent. When the reflection of atman falls on Avidya (ignorance), atman becomes jīva—a living being with a body and senses. Each jiva feels as if he has his own, unique and distinct Atman, called jivatman. The concept of jiva has truth only in the pragmatic level. In the transcendental level, only the one Atman, equal to Brahman, is true.

Salvation. Liberation or Moksha (akin to Nirvana of the Buddhists)—Advaitins also believe in the theory of reincarnation of souls (Atman) into plants, animals and humans according to their karma. They believe that suffering arises from Maya, and only knowledge (called Jnana) of Brahman can destroy Maya. Maya removed, ultimately Jiva-Atman and the Brahman are the same. Such a state of bliss, when achieved while living, goes by the term Jivan mukti.

Theory of creation. Adi Shankara believes in the Creation of the world through Satkaryavada. Samkhya teaches a sub-form of Satkaryavada called Parinamavada (evolution) whereby the cause really becomes an effect. The Supreme Lord Ishvara created the universe from a viewpoint of the sense. Maya represents Ishvara divine magic, with the help of which Ishvara creates the world.

The Upanishads sets for the order of Creation. First of all, Ishvara creates the five subtle elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth). Maya creates Ether. Air arises from ether. Fire, arises from air. Water arises from fire, earth from water. From a proportional combination of all five subtle elements, the five gross elements come into creation. From those elements, the universe and life derive. Destruction follows the reverse order.

Status of ethics. Ethics has a firm place in Advaita; the same place as the world and God. Ethics, which implies doing good Karma, indirectly helps in attaining true knowledge. The Shruti (the Vedas and the Upanishads) constitute the basis of merit and sin. Dharma infuses truth, non-violence, service of others, and pity while adharma (sin) infuses lies, violence, cheating, selfishness, and greed.

The impact of Advaita

Advaita rejuvenated much of Hindu thought and also spurred debate with the two main theistic schools of Vedanta philosophy formalized later: Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism), and Dvaita (dualism). Advaita further helped to merge the old Vedic religion with popular south-Asian cults/deities, thus making a bridge between higher types of practice (such as jnana yoga) and devotional religion of ordinary people.


  1. Brahman in a different sense than Brahma, the Creator and one third of the Trimurti along with Shiva, the Destroyer and Vishnu, the Preserver.
  2. The authorship of this work has been disputed. Most twentieth-century academic scholars feel someone other than Sankara wrote it, and Swami Sacchidanandendra Saraswathi of Holenarsipur concurs.
  3. Śankarācārya and Rajendralala Mitra, The Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda (Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1980). Also see the first prose chapter of Śankara's Upadeśasāhasrī.
  4. Antahkarana- Yoga (definition) Retrieved February 19, 2020.
  5. In the vedāntic literature, the antahkaraṇa (internal organ) organizes into four parts: 1) Manas (mind) — the part that controls sankalpa (will or resolution). 2) Buddhi (intellect) — the part that controls decision taking. 3) Chitta (memory) — the part that deals with remembering and forgetting. 4) Ahamkāra (ego) — the part that identifies the Atman (the Self) with the body as "I".

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bhattacharyya, Kokileswar, and Śaṅkarācārya. An introduction to Adwaita philosophy: a critical and systematic exposition of Sankara school of Vedanta. Varanasi: Bharatiya Pub. House, 1979. OCLC 5892177
  • Deutsch, Eliot, and J. A. B. van Buitenen. A source book of Advaita Vedānta. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1971. ISBN 978-0870221897
  • Deutsch, Eliot. Advaita Vedānta: a philosophical reconstruction. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1969. ISBN 978-0824800857
  • Gambhirananda, and André van den Brink. Mundaka upanishad. Den Haag: Van den Brink, 2001. OCLC 66683929
  • Karmarkar, R. D. Śaṅkara's Advaita. Dharwar: Karnatak University, 1966. OCLC 86280
  • Pandey, Sangam Lal. The Advaita view of God. Allahabad philosophical series, no. 11. Allahabad: Darshana Peeth, 1989. ISBN 978-8185115061
  • Potter, Karl H. Encyclopedia of Indian philosophies. Vol. 3. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0691072814
  • Śankarācārya, and Rajendralala Mitra. The Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda. Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1980. ISBN 37648132455
  • Sharma, Arvind. The philosophy of religion and Advaita Vedānta: a comparative study in religion and reason. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0271010328
  • Tiwari, Kapil N. Dimensions of renunciation in Advaita Vedānta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977. OCLC 4094849

External links

All links retrieved June 15, 2023.


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