Vishishtadvaita Vedanta – Qualified Non-dualism Philosophy

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta

Vedanta is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. It is a modern Hindu philosophy based on the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Brahma sutras. Vedanta takes a more personal approach to God. In Vedanta, God is regarded as Brahman and the soul as Atman. Vedanta deals with metaphysical matters such as the nature of ultimate reality, the individual self, and the universe around us.

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta

Vishishtadvaita is one of the major classical schools of Vedanta. The other schools are Advaita (non-dualism) and Dvaita (dualism) Vedanta. Vishishtadvaita literally means Advaita with uniqueness; qualifications. Advaita is another school of Vedanta that regards reality as an illusion and Atman as part of Brahman and interconnected.

Jada and Chetana

Vishisthadvaita works on the principle of jada and chetana. Jada and chetana are not the same but are interconnected with each other and the Brahman. Lord Vishnu is an individual who is different (Vishistha) from Jada (unconsciousness) and Chetana (consciousness). Jad and chetan work in the same way as soul and body. Soul and body are not the same but are independent of each other, and they both are related to the Visistha (Lord Vishnu). Everything has tangible and intangible aspects, jad and chetan, and they are connected with Vishnu in a dependent way.


Ishwara, often referred to as Vishnu or shiva, maintains the sole control over the universe and all sentient beings, which together form the pan organic body of Ishvara. Unlike in Dvaita Vedanta, the universe is also a part of Brahman and completes Brahman. The triad of Ishwara and sentient beings and the universe signifies the completeness of Brahman. Ishwara is an omniscient, omnipotent, incorporeal, independent creator of the universe, its active ruler, and eventually, its destroyer. He is the basis of morality and gives the fruit of one’s karma.

Ishwara has twofold characteristics; anatrvyapi and bahuvyapi. He is present everywhere, and everything dwells within him.

Karya and Karana

The philosophy of Karya (effect) and Karana (cause) differs from other Vedanta schools, where Karana is Brahman and Karya is the universe. According to Vishishtadvaita, the universe and sentients always exist. However, they begin from a subtle state and transform. The subtle state is called the causal state, and the transformed state is the effect state. Vishisthadvaita states that the modes of Brahman (jivas and jagath) are under evolution however, the Brahman as the universal self is unchanging and eternal.


Souls and matter are the body of a god. Creation is an act of God. The matter is fundamentally real and undergoes revelation. However, the soul is above something different from matter as it has unconsciousness. The final release of soul from the matter occurs after the death of the body and after connecting with the Brahman.

Purpose of human existence

The purpose of human existence is called purushartha. According to Vedas, there are four goals: artha (wealth), kama(pleasure), dharma(righteousness), and moksha (permanent freedom from worldly bondage). The first three goals are not the end but must attain moksha to achieve purushartha.

Bhakti and moksha

In visisthadvaita, bhakti is the sole means of liberation. By bhakti(devotion) a jiva ascends to Vaikuntha however, here the goal is not just being born into a higher form but rather in joyous contemplation of God itself. This joy is achieved by exclusive devotion to God (bhakti), singing his praise, and performing acts of salvation in temples and private places. Karma yoga and jnana yoga are sub-processes of bhakti that require total surrender as an individual acquires knowledge that Vishnu is the true inner self. A devotee realizes oneself dependent on, supported by, and led by God. Life should be seen as an instrument led to surrender to God. One should see the Lord in everything and everything in the Lord.

Sri Vaishnavism and Vishishtadvaita

The teaching of Vishishtadvaita coincides with the teachings Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. Vishisthadvaita tells us that we cannot discriminate between individuals and objects because the Lord lies within everything. Narayana is the absolute God; the universe and souls are parts of it. The relationship between Brahman and the universe is the same as the relation between the soul and the body. According to Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, Brahman and Atman are different but with the potential to unite. The path to Brahman is devotion to godliness and constant remembrance of the beauty and love of personal God (Saguna Brahman, Vishnu), which ultimately leads one to the oneness with nirguna brahman.

Ramanuja and vishishtadvaita

Ramanuja was a titan in Vishishtadvaita Vedanta after Shankaracharya. He was a teacher at the reputed temple at Srirangam. Ramanuja’s path to God was close to common people’s ideals and pure devotion of Vaishnavite.

Unlike Shankaracharya, who believed that Jnana (knowledge) was the path to moksha, Ramanuja says that knowledge is not as effective as devotion. God is rather personal, establishing relationships with devotees through love and forgiveness.

Ramanuja stated that when interpreting the Vedas, the whole scripture should be taken into consideration rather than its subscripts. Thus Vedas possess both plurality and oneness and thus disregard Advaita and Advaita Vedanta. Both Brahman and the world of matter are two different absolutes, both metaphysically real, neither should be called false or illusive, and saguna brahman with attributes is also real.