The Vedanta Schools of Philosophy

January 23, 2007

By Sri Swami Sivananda

The 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 Madhvacharya, the Bhedabheda philosophy of Sri Nimbarkacharya, the Suddha Advaita 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 cults, 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 claim 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, but they all base their theories on the supreme authority of the Sruti. To reject any one of these views is to reject the Sruti itself.
The three main schools of metaphysical thought: Dvaita, Visishtadvaita and Advaita 
Sri Sankara, Sri Ramanuja and Sri Madhva are the most illustrious commentators on the Vedanta 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. 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.
Madhva 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.
A 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 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, Madhva 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 different views taken by the different commentators.
Sri Sankaracharya, Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Madhvacharya, 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 a 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.
From publishers note:
All About Hinduism
by Sri Swami Sivananda is intended to meet the needs of those who want to be introduced to the various facets of the crystal that is Hinduism. The book, which was first published in 1947, has now been rearranged in a more convenient form, with useful additions here and there, and is now released in its sixth edition.
We do hope that all serious students of Hindu Religion and Hinduism Philosophy will find the book useful and interesting.


13 Responses to “The Vedanta Schools of Philosophy”

  1. M O H A N Says:

    What a great post bellur!!

    A small para on swami savananda would have been good too. He gave up a very good practice as doctor in malaysia, returned to india and established a hospital where he served day and night.

  2. Vani Says:

    Good one, Bellur….

    Good for all of us to know where we come from. We can also be aware of our antecedents, specially younger generation is not so aware of our culture and heritage, an eye-opener for them.

    • chary Says:

      could you pls tell me more about sri vishnu sahsranama.
      I realy very happy if tell something about suprem godhead lord sri mahavishnu.

      • rk Says:

        Dear Chary,

        Sri Vishnu Sahasranama contains 1008 names of Sri Mahavishnu. This entire compiling was done after the Mahabharata war and Saint Vyasa Mahamuni wrote the entire versus with answers for the queries raised by respective personnel they were part of that time.
        Every Name of Sri Vishnu has a meaning to it; quite apart – the phonetic vibrations by chanting each Name known as “Nama” and the chain of names known as “Namavali” produces very fantastic results of vibrations that are very essential for humans knowledge and wisdom. What the phonetic sound vibrations create to the chanter or to the one who hears it is very well established by many eminent scholars. For attainment of spiritual liberation, one must involve himself / herself to the glories of the Lord Sri Mahavishnu, by reciting the entire slokhas.
        This not only strengthens the brain neuron chips but also emits the brain wave at a very conducive limits that can revibrate the energies into one’s own body. Besides, the thought and thinking of a person can also be regulated to divine path. That’s the exact value, which bring every Bhakta known as devotees of Sri Maha Vishnu.
        The birth of Sri Vishnu Sahasra Nama – The 1008 Names of Sri Mahavishnu:
        The legend would have it that at the end of the epic Mahabharata war, Bhishmacharya was awaiting the sacred hour to depart from his physical body unto the lotus feet of the Lord. Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas, was desperately looking for the answers to matters relating to Dharma and Karma. Lord Sri Krishna, who understood Yudhistira’s uneasy mind, guided him to Bhishma to learn insight into this precious knowledge. It is relevant to mention that Bhishma was acknowledged to be one of the twelve most knowledgeable people. The other eleven being Brahma , Narada , Siva , Subramanya , Kapila , Manu , Prahlada , Janaka , Bali, Suka and Yama .
        As directed by the Lord, Yudishtra met Bhishma. At their meeting, Yudhistira presented Bhishma with six questions.
        1. kimEkam dhaivatam lokE? (Who is the greatest Lord in the world?)
        2. kim vaapyEkam parAyaNam? (Who is the one refuge of all?)
        3. stuvantam kam prApnuyuh mAnavah subham? (By glorifying whom, can man attain peace and prosperity?)
        4. kam arcanat prApnuyuh mAnavaah subham? (By worshipping whom can man reach auspiciousness?)
        5. kO dharmah sarva dharmANaam bhavatah paramO matah? (What is, in thy opinion, the greatest Dharma?)
        6. kim japam mucyatE jantur janma samsAra bandhanAth? (By doing Japa of what, can creature go beyond the bonds and cycle of birth and death?)
        Bhishma responded by reciting the one thousand names now hailed as the Vishnu Shasranama, and reminded him that either by meditating on these names or by invoking the names through archana (Offering), our minds can be lifted to higher consciousness.
        Indeed, such a long recital of nAmAs glorifying the Lord and His splendor is rare in the world. Yet a rational person is apt to question how mere words and their repetition can create such great power.. Just imagine for a moment that you are in an assembly, and the lecturer begins his talk with the word “boat”. You can at one grasp the image of a boat, and there is calmness of mind. Suddenly then, if someone in the assembly, utters the word “snake”, will your calmness continue? It therefore follows that vak (utterance) and artha (meaning) together infuse a subtle energy either positively or negatively. The thousand naamas are storehouses of proven spiritual content that can easily uplift our minds. Indeed the expression NaMa is made up of Na for Naramandala and Ma for manas, our Mind. NaMa, the chanting of which helps to unite our nervous system and Mind.
        The main body of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama consists of 107 stanzas which contain the one thousand names of Sri Maha Vishnu. Every one of the one thousand names is full of significance and refers to one particular guna (quality, characteristic, or attribute) of Paramatma. These names invoke a sense of bonding with the Lord. The meanings of the names give us an understanding and depth of God as there is a deep connection between the name and the named.
        Why were these 1008 names chosen?
        Does the Lord get absolutely defined by these one thousand names? The Vedas affirm that God is neither accessible to words nor to mind. It is said that you cannot comprehend the Paramatma with the human mind alone, even if you spend all your life trying! Given this infinite nature of the Paramatma, who is not governed or constrained by any of the physical laws as we know them, the choice of a thousand names of Vishnu by Bhishma should be recognized as a representation of some of his better known qualities that are repeatedly described in our great epics.
        Some might say that they do not understand the meaning of the Sanskrit words, and therefore do not feel comfortable chanting them. But learning the chanting of prayers even without knowing the meaning is a worthwhile act, and can be compared to finding a box of treasure without the key. As long as we have the box, we can open it whenever we get the key of knowledge later. The treasure will be there already.
        Others might feel that they do not know the correct Sanskrit pronunciation, and do not want to chant incorrectly. There is an analogy of a mother to whom a child goes and asks for an orange. The child does not know how to pronounce the word “orange” and so asks for “ange”. The mother does not turn away the child and does not refuse to give the child the orange just because the child does not know how to pronounce the word. It is the bhaava (spirit) that matters, and so as long as one chants the name of God with sincerity, considerations such as not knowing the meaning, not knowing the pronunciation, etc, do not matter, and God will confer His blessings on us, there is no way a devotee of Vishnu can meet with any dishonor or disgrace of any kind.
        Phala Sruti – The Benefits:
        Traditionally our prayers end with a phala sruti – a section on the benefits of reciting the prayer. The Vishnu Sahasranama is no exception.
        The necessity of cleansing our body regularly to maintain hygiene and good health is recognized by everyone. But with the busy nature of today’s world, we do not see our mind the same way as we see our body. As a consequence, the need for keeping our minds clean is not appreciated.
        Those who do not cleanse their mind on a regular basis become mentally ill over a period of time.. Prayers are a means to mental cleansing when they are chanted with sincerity and devotion. The importance of chanting Sri Vishnu Sahasranama is that the deity being worshiped is none other than Vasudeva. Sri Vedavyasa, who was responsible for stringing the naamas together in a poetic form, points out that it is by the power and command of Vasudeva that the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the world and the oceans are controlled. The whole universe of the Gods, Asuras and Gandharavas is under the sway of Lord Krishna. In Bhishma’s expert judgment, chanting Vasudevas’s name with devotion and sincerity will ensure relief from sorrows and bondage. The person who recites is not the only one who benefits, but also those who for whatever reason are unable to chant benefit by just hearing the chanting as well.

        [Courtesy: TRS Iyengar}

  3. TSSM Says:

    Dear RK
    A beautifully timed release. Thanks a lot.

    My humble salutations to all the Acharyas.

  4. TSSM Says:

    Another comment on the complementarity of the philosophy of the Acharyathrayas.

    It is interesting to note that the confluence of the seats of these 3 philosphies, in Sringeri, Udupi and Melkote, all located in Karnataka.

    One more feather in the cap of Karnataka.

  5. rk Says:

    you might have missed it: given a link to his name. thanks for the brief intro. truely, great saint.

    you are right. nice to know about ourselves!


    It is interesting to note that the confluence of the seats of these 3 philosphies, in Sringeri, Udupi and Melkote, all located in Karnataka.

    nice to know about this! thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. M O H A N Says:

    Sorry missed the WIKI link.

    One correction is ramanujacharayas seat of power was actually tiruchi in TN.

    When moghals invaded and started destroying hindu temples, the acharya took the “utshava murthi” and moved to safer melukote. They built a wall around the main deties temple in tiruchi to safegaurd the “moolavar”.

    Kooresha, his close assosiate hoodwinked the moghals and claimed himself to be the ramanujacharya. He refused to say narayana is less than allah and thus his eyes were removed.

    May all the acharyas bestow bhakthi, gynana on us.

  7. […] The Vedanta Schools of Philosophy […]

  8. SAP Says:

    Bellur ji,

    “To reject any one of these views is to reject the Sruti itself.” is not right isnt it, because the three acharyas themselves contradict each other and sruthi cannot mean diametrically opposite concepts at the same time.


  9. adbhutam Says:

    A two-day intensive training program in Kannada is being held in Mysore on 25-26 Dec.2010. For details see this blog:

  10. samaganam Says:

    superb!!!rk sir was looking for something like this.Thanks a ton for the post.See,you do good things and it lasts for a long time 🙂

  11. chary Says:

    I want more explanation like sri ks.narayanacharya about sri vishnu sahasranama

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