Vedanta philosophy is one of six philosophical foundations of Hinduism. The thoughts and ideas of Vedanta philosophy align closely with the Upanishads. Upanishads are the gist and the goal of the Vedas.
Vedanta philosophy attempts to explain those questions that traditional Hindu (Sanatana) philosophies couldn’t answer better and logically.
Many schools of Vedanta differ in their explanation of God, reality, and the way to salvation or moksha. Among them, the most important ones are:
- Advaita Vedanta (principle of non-dualism)
- Dvaita Vedanta (principle of dualism )
- Visisthadvaita Vedanta (principle of superior dualism)
Sources of Vedanta
The core of Vedanta sits on three books of Hindu texts: the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma sutras. These books are collectively called Prasthanatrayi. All the scholars, including Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhav Acharya, had based their teachings on one of these books.
What does Vedanta actually teach?
Vedanta explains reality on three bases.
- Brahman or Ishwara, the ultimate reality
- Atman or Jivatman, the individual soul
- Prakriti or Jagat, the visible and forever changing universe and reality
Vedanta teaches us about the connection between the supreme, the reality, and us. Though the types of Vedanta differ in what brahman, atman, and Prakriti Jagat are, the core is the same.
All schools of Vedanta agree that there is a Supreme being or Energy or Source in the universe, and we are connected to it in one way or the other. The superior being or god (energy, reality, or awareness) is above the human definition of space, time, and reality.
According to Vedanta, God or Brahman is infinite existence, infinite consciousness, and infinite bliss. Though the brahman has all the power and strength that could possibly exist in the universe, it has been gracious enough to provide us with free will. However, Vedanta takes a more personal approach to god.
According to Vedanta, God dwells within us as atman or soul. Aatman is never born, and it will never die. It is not tainted by our emotions and fluctuations of mind and body. Thus, atman is one with Brahman, and the purpose of Vedanta is a discovery of god within oneself.
The cycle of Akasha and Prana
All the matter in the universe is the outcome of one primordial matter called akasha. All the forces of the universe, attractive or repulsive, are the outcome of one primordial force or energy called prana.
Prana acting on Akasha is what creates and balances the universe. At the beginning of time, akasha is motionless and unmanifested. When prana acts on akasha, it creates complex animate and inanimate things in the universe.
Aksha and prana can be resolved into a third thing called Mahat – the Universal Cosmic mind or Brahman. Thus, akasha and prana are not part of the cosmic mind but can be transformed into it.
Schools of Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta (principle of non-dualism)
Advaita Vedanta is essentially monism, and the concept dates back to the Vedas and the Upanishads. According to Advaita philosophy, the ultimate, transcendent god manifests as the universe because of its creative energy – Maya.
Maya is that which appears to be real at the time of experience but does not have infinite existence. The experiencing self (Jiva) and the untainted transcendental self of the universe (atman) are the same (both are brahman). Advaita Vedanta talks about different planes of consciousness and often denounces the matters of the lived world.
Dvaita Vedanta (principle of dualism)
Dvaita Vedanta regards brahman as a separate entity from atman. Brahman itself created the material world, but it is not a part of brahman as it is in Advaita Vedanta.
Most of the followers of Dvaita Vedanta follow Vaishnavism and worship one god, most often in the form of Vishnu or Krishna (as Brahman). Here Vishnu is not regarded as one of the Trimurti but as a supreme reality/Brahman itself.
Mostly in Dvaita Vedanta, the path to moksha or salvation is through a prayer of god. Atman can transcend to higher or lower forms based on their deeds, but brahman is the only one in which form does not change and is not subject to death and cycles of the universe.
Visisthadvaita means Advaita with uniqueness. Here Brahman is eternal but exists in various forms as atman. The universe is not considered an illusion but a part of brahman’s nature.
In Visisthadvaita, the god is regarded as Para Brahman or Ishwara, the sentient beings as chit-brahman, and the insentient universe as achit-brahman.
The Ishvara or Brahman in Visisthadvaita Vedanta is antarvyapi; indwells as the innermost self of all beings and bahuvyapi; as a residence of all beings. Thus, Brahman is one with the world and the world in one at the same time. According to Visisthadvaita, the sentient and universe always exist but can transform.
Vedanta is the most influential school of theology in Hinduism all over the world. The concept of Vedanta is both religious as well as philosophical. Here religion is just a path to reaching closer and becoming one with the Brahman.
Governed by Vedas, Vedanta is a way of life, and it teaches us to be in harmony with others and, most importantly, with the true self or atman.