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Advaita Vedanta

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Advaita Vedanta is a sub-school of the Vedanta school of Vedic or Hindu philosophy and religious practice, giving "a unifying interpretation of the whole body of Upanishads". The principal, though not the first, exponent of the Advaita Vedanta-interpretation was Shankara Bhagavadpada who systematised the works of preceding philosophers. Its teachings have influenced various sects of Hinduism.

The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta are the Prasthanatrayi, the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras, of which they give a philosophical interpretation and elucidation.

Advaita (not-two in Sanskrit) refers to the identity of the true Self, Atman, which is pure consciousness, and the highest Reality, Brahman, which is also pure consciousness. Followers seek liberation/release by acquiring vidyā (knowledge) of the identity of Atman and Brahman. Attaining this liberation takes a long preparation and training under the guidance of a guru.

Advaita developed in a multi-faceted religious and philosophical landscape. The tradition developed in interaction with the other traditions of India, Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, as well as the other schools of Vedanta. In modern times, due to western Orientalism and Perennialism, and its influence on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism, Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.

History of Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta existed prior to Shankara, but found its most influential expounder in Shankara.

Pre-Shankara Advaita

Of the Vedanta-school before the composition of the Brahma Sutras (400–450 CE) almost nothing is known. Very little also is known of the period between the Brahmansutras and Shankara (first half of the 8th century CE). Only two writings of this period have survived: the Vākyapadīya, written by Bhartṛhari (second half 5th century), and the Māndūkya-kārikā written by Gaudapada (7th century CE).

Earliest Vedanta

See also: Vedas, Upanishads, and Darsanas

According to Balasubramanian, the Vedantic philosophy is as old as the Vedas, arguing that the basic ideas of the Vedanta systems are derived from the Vedas. During the Vedic period (1500–600 BCE) the Rishis formulated their religio-philosophical and poetical visions, which are further explored in the Upanishads, the jnāna-kānda of the Vedas. The Upanishads don't contain "a rigorous philosophical inquiry identifying the doctrines and formulating the supporting arguments". This philosophical inquiry was performed by the darsanas, the various philosophical schools.

Deutsch and Dalvi point out that in the Indian context texts "are only part of a tradition which is preserved in its purest form in the oral transmission as it has been going on." The Upanishads form the basic texts, of which Vedanta gives an interpretation.

Bādarāyana's Brahma Sutras

Main article: Brahma Sutras

The Brahma Sutras of Bādarāyana, also called the Vedanta Sutra, were compiled in its present form around 400–450 CE, but "the great part of the Sutra must have been in existence much earlier than that". Estimates of the date of Bādarāyana's lifetime differ between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

The Brahma Sutra is a critical study of the teachings of the Upanishads. It was and is a guide-book for the great teachers of the Vedantic systems. Bādarāyana was not the first person to systematise the teachings of the Upanishads. He refers to seven Vedantic teachers before him:

From the way in which Bādarāyana cites the views of others it is obvious that the teachings of the Upanishads must have been analyzed and interpreted by quite a few before him and that his sytematization of them in 555 sutras arranged in four chapters must have been the last attempt, most probably the best.

Between Brahma Sutras and Shankara

According to Nakamura, "there must have been an enormous number of other writings turned out in this period, but unfortunately all of them have been scattered or lost and have not come down to us today". In his commentaries, Shankara mentions 99 different predecessors of his Sampradaya. In the beginning of his commentary on the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Shankara salutes the teachers of the Brahmavidya Sampradaya. Pre-Shankara doctrines and sayings can be traced in the works of the later schools, which does give insight into the development of early Vedanta philosophy.

The names of various important early Vedanta thinkers have been listed in the Siddhitraya by Yamunācārya (c.1050), the Vedārthasamgraha by Rāmānuja (c.1050–1157), and the Yatīndramatadīpikā by Śrīnivāsa-dāsa. Combined together, at least fourteen thinkers are known to have existed between the composition of the Brahman Sutras and Shankara's lifetime.

Although Shankara is often considered to be the founder of the Advaita Vedanta school, according to Nakamura, comparison of the known teachings of these early Vedantins and Shankara's thought shows that most of the characteristics of Shankara's thought "were advocated by someone before Śankara". Shankara "was the person who synthesized the Advaita-vāda which had previously existed before him". In this synthesis, he was the rejuvenator and defender of ancient learning. He was an unequalled commentator, due to whose efforts and contributions the Advaita Vedanta assumed a dominant position within Indian philosophy.


Main article: Gaudapada

Gaudapada (6th century) was the teacher of Govinda Bhagavatpada and the grandteacher of Shankara.

Māṇḍukya Kārikā

Gaudapada wrote or compiled the Māṇḍukya Kārikā, also known as the Gauḍapāda Kārikā and as the Āgama Śāstra. The Māṇḍukya Kārikā is a commentary in verse form on the Mandukya Upanishad, one of the shortest but most profound Upanishads, or mystical Vedas, consisting of just 13 prose sentences. In Shankara's time it was considered to be a Śruti, but not particularly important. In later periods it acquired a higher status, and eventually it was regarded as expressing the essence of the Upanisad philosophy.

The Māṇḍukya Kārikā is the earliest extent systematic treatise on Advaita Vedānta, though it is not the oldest work to present Advaita views, nor the only pre-Sankara work with the same type of teachings.

Buddhist influences

According to B.N.K. Sharma, the early commentators on the Brahma Sutras were all realists, or pantheist realists. During the same period, the 2nd-5th century CE, there was a great idealist revival in Buddhism, which countered the criticisms of the Hindu realists. The works of Buddhist thinkers like Nagasena, Buddhaghosa and Nagarjuna, all of them Brahmin converts to Buddhism, "created a great sensation and compelled admiration all around". Other Brahmins, faithful to Brahminism but equally impressed by these developments in Buddhist thought, looked for and found in some portions of the Upanishads "many striking approaches to the metaphysical idealism of the Buddhists". During the 5th and 6th centuries there was a further development of Buddhist thought with the development of the Yogacara school.

It was Gaudapada who further bridged Buddhism and Vedanta. He took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra) and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation". Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines) into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara". At the same time, Gaudapada emphatically rejected the epistemic idealism of the Buddhists, arguing that there was a difference between objects seen in dreams and real objects in the world, although both were ultimately unreal. He also rejected the pluralism and momentariness of consciousnesses, which were core doctrines of the Vijnanavada school, and their techniques for achieving liberation.

Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy, which uses the term "anutpāda". "Ajātivāda", "the Doctrine of no-origination" or non-creation, is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of Gaudapada.

Richard King has noted that Ajativada has a radically different meaning in the context of respectively Vedanta and Buddhism. Buddhist writers take Ajativada to imply that there are no essences in factors, and therefore change is possible. Gaudapada made the opposite interpretation, advocating the absolutist position that origination and cessation were unreal, the only Ultimate reality (Brahman) being unoriginated and unchanging.

According to Gaudapada, the Absolute is not subject to birth, change and death. The Absolute is aja, the unborn eternal. The empirical world of appearances is considered unreal, and not absolutely existent.

Shri Gaudapadacharya Math

Main article: Shri Gaudapadacharya Math

Around 740 AD Gaudapada founded Shri Gaudapadacharya Math, also known as Kavaḷē maṭha. It is located in Kavale, Ponda, Goa, and is the oldest matha of the South Indian Saraswat Brahmins.

Unlike other mathas, Shri Gaudapadacharya matha is not a polemical center established to influence the faith of all Hindus, its jurisdiction is limited to only Dakshinatya Saraswat Brahmins.

Adi Shankara

Main article: Adi Shankara

Adi Shankara (788–820), also known as Śaṅkara Bhagavatpādācārya and Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, synthesised and rejuvenated the doctrine of Advaita. It was Shankara who succeeded in reading Gaudapada's mayavada into Badarayana's Brahma Sutras, "and give it a locus classicus", against the realistic strain of the Brahma Sutras. His interpretation, including works ascribed to him, has become the normative interpretation of Advaita Vedanta.

Late-Classical Hinduism

See also Late-Classical Age and Hinduism Middle Ages

Shankara lived in the time of the so-called "Late classical Hinduism", which lasted from 650 till 1100 CE. The previous period was the "Golden Age of Hinduism" (ca. 320–650 CE), which flourished during the Gupta Empire (320 to 550 CE) until the fall of the Harsha Empire (606 to 647 CE).

Prior to this "Golden Age" the "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis" emerged, which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.

During the classical period, power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardizarion of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy. Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but the orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty. The position of the Brahmans was reinforced, and the first Hindu temples emerged during the late Gupta age.

After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, power became decentralised in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states". The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms. "The great king was remote, was exalted and deified", as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the centre of the mandala.

The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry. Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism" was diminished. Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra, though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development". Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords. Buddhism lost its position, and began to disappear in India.

Buddhism, which was supported by the ancient Indian urban civilisation lost influence to the traditional religions, which were rooted in the countryside. In Bengal, Buddhism was even prosecuted. But at the same time, Buddhism was incorporated into Hinduism, when Gaudapada used Buddhist philosophy to reinterpret the Upanishads. This also marked a shift from Atman and Brahman as a "living substance" to "maya-vada", where Atman and Brahman are seen as "pure knowledge-consciousness". According to Scheepers, it is this "maya-vada" view which has come to dominate Indian thought.

Philosophical system

Shankara systematised the works of preceding philosophers. His system marks a turn from realism to idealism.

Shankara's synthesis of Advaita Vedanta is summarised in this quote from the Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, one of his Prakaraṇa graṃthas (philosophical treatises):

In half a couplet I state, what has been stated by crores of texts;
that is Brahman alone is real, the world is mithyā (not independently existent),
and the individual self is nondifferent from Brahman.

According to Sringeri Math, Shankara's message can be summarised even shorter:

The eternal, impersonal, consciousness Absolute is the Brahman, the one without a second.


Main article: Adi Shankara bibliography

Adi Shankara's main works are his commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi, which consist of the Brahma Sūtras, Bhagavad Gītā and the Upanishads. According to Nakamura, Shankara's Brahma-sūtra-bhāsya, his commentary on the Brahma Sūtra, is "the most authoritative and best known work in the Vedānta philosophy". Shankara also wrote a major independent treatise, called "Upadeśa Sāhasrī", expounding his philosophy.

The authenticity of the "Vivekachudamani", a well-known work ascribed to Shankara, is doubtful, though it is "so closely interwoven into the spiritual heritage of Shankara that any analysis of his perspective which fails to consider [this work] would be incomplete".

The authorship of Shankara of his Mandukya Upanishad Bhasya and his supplementary commentary on Gaudapada's Māṇḍukya Kārikā is also disputed.

Advaita Mathas

See also: Dashanami Sampradaya

Advaita Vedanta is, at least in the west, primarily known as a philosophical system. But it is also a tradition of renunciation. Philosophy and renunciation are closely related:

Most of the notable authors in the advaita tradition were members of the sannyasa tradition, and both sides of the tradition share the same values, attitudes and metaphysics.

Shankara, himself considered to be an incarnation of Shiva, established the Dashanami Sampradaya, organizing a section of the Ekadandi monks under an umbrella grouping of ten names. Several other Hindu monastic and Ekadandi traditions remained outside the organisation of the Dasanāmis.

Adi Sankara organised the Hindu monks of these ten sects or names under four Maṭhas (Sanskrit: मठ) (monasteries), with the headquarters at Dvārakā in the West, Jagannatha Puri in the East, Sringeri in the South and Badrikashrama in the North. Each math was headed by one of his four main disciples, who each continues the Vedanta Sampradaya.

According to Pandey, these Mathas were not established by Shankara himself, but were originally ashrams established by Vibhāņdaka and his son Ŗșyaśŗnga. Shankara inherited the ashrams at Dvārakā and Sringeri, and shifted the ashram at Śŗngaverapura to Badarikāśrama, and the ashram at Angadeśa to Jagannātha Purī.

Monks of these ten orders differ in part in their beliefs and practices, and a section of them is not considered to be restricted to specific changes made by Shankara. While the dasanāmis associated with the Sankara maths follow the procedures enumerated by Adi Śankara, some of these orders remained partly or fully independent in their belief and practices; and outside the official control of the Sankara maths.

The advaita sampradaya is not a Saiva sect, despite the historical links with Shaivism:

Advaitins are non-sectarian, and they advocate worship of Siva and Visnu equally with that of the other deities of Hinduism, like Sakti, Ganapati and others.

Nevertheless, contemporary Sankaracaryas have more influence among Saiva communities than among Vaisnava communities. The greatest influence of the gurus of the advaita tradition has been among followers of the Smartha Tradition, who integrate the domestic Vedic ritual with devotional aspects of Hinduism.

According to Nakamura, these mathas contributed to the influence of Shankara, which was "due to institutional factors". The mathas which he built exist until today, and preserve the teachings and influence of Shankara, "while the writings of other scholars before him came to be forgotten with the passage of time".

The table below gives an overview of the four Amnaya Mathas founded by Adi Shankara, and their details.

Direction Maṭha Mahāvākya Veda Sampradaya
Padmapāda East Govardhana Pīṭhaṃ Prajñānam brahma (Consciousness is Brahman) Rig Veda Bhogavala
Sureśvara South Sringeri Śārada Pīṭhaṃ Aham brahmāsmi (I am Brahman) Yajur Veda Bhūrivala
Hastāmalakācārya West Dvāraka Pīṭhaṃ Tattvamasi (That thou art) Sama Veda Kitavala
Toṭakācārya North Jyotirmaṭha Pīṭhaṃ Ayamātmā brahma (This Atman is Brahman) Atharva Veda Nandavala

According to the tradition in Kerala, after Sankara's samadhi at Vadakkunnathan Temple, his disciples founded four mathas in Thrissur, namely Naduvil Madhom, Thekke Madhom, Idayil Madhom and Vadakke Madhom.

Smarta Tradition

Main article: Smarta Tradition

Traditionally, Shankara is regarded as the greatest teacher and reformer of the Smartha. According to

Not all Brahmins specialized in this Smriti tradition. Some were influenced by Buddhism, Jainism or Charvaka tradition and philosophy. This did not mean that all these people rejected the authority of Vedas, but only that their tradition of worship and philosophy was based not on smriti texts. In time, Shankaracharya brought all the Vedic communities together. He tried to remove the non-smriti aspects that had crept into the Hindu communities. He also endeavoured to unite them by arguing that any of the different Hindu gods could be worshipped, according to the prescriptions given in the smriti texts. He established that worship of various deities are compatible with Vedas and is not contradictory, since all are different manifestations of one nirguna Brahman. Shankaracharya was instrumental in reviving interest in the smritis.

According to Hiltebeitel, Shankara established the nondualist interpretation of the Upanishads as the touchstone of a revived smarta tradition:

Practically, Shankara fostered a rapprochement between Advaita and smarta orthodoxy, which by his time had not only continued to defend the varnasramadharma theory as defining the path of karman, but had developed the practice of pancayatanapuja ("five-shrine worship") as a solution to varied and conflicting devotional practices. Thus one could worship any one of five deities (Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Surya, Ganesa) as one's istadevata ("deity of choice").

The Sringeri monastery is still the centre of the Smarta sect. In recent times bhakti cults have increasingly become popular with the smartas, and Shiva is particularly favored. In modern times Smarta-views have been highly influential in both the Indian and western understanding of Hinduism via Neo-Vedanta. Vivekananda was an advocate of Smarta-views, and Radhakrishnan was himself a Smarta-Brahman. According to,

Many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to Advaita Vedanta as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers.

Advaita Vedanta sub-schools

After Shankara's death several subschools developed. Two of them still exist today, the Bhāmatī and the Vivarana. Perished schools are the Pancapadika and Istasiddhi.

These schools worked out the logical implications of various Advaita doctrines. Two of the problems they encountered were the further interpretations to the concepts of maya and avidhya.


Main article: Bhamati

The name of the Bhamati-subschool is derived from Vachaspati Misra's commentary on Adi Shankara's Brahmasutra Bhashya. According to legend, Misra's commentary was named after his wife to praise, since he neglected her during the writing of his commentary.

Vachaspati Misra Bhamati attempts to harmonise Sankara's thought with that of Mandana Misra. The Bhamati-school takes an ontological approach. It sees the Jiva as the source of avidya.


The name of the Vivarana-school is derived from Prakasatman's Pancapadika-Vivarana, a commentary on the Pancapadika by Padmapadacharya.

Prakasatman was the first to propound the theory of mulavidhya or maya as being of "positive beginningless nature".

The Vivarana-school takes an epistemological approach. It sees Brahman as the source of avidhya. Critics object that Brahman is pure consciousness, so it can't be the source of avidya. Another problem is that contradictory qualities, namely knowledge and ignorance, are attributed to Brahman.

Later developments

The prominent names in the later Advaita tradition are Prakāsātman (tenth century), Vimuktātman (tenth century), Sarvajñātman (tenth century), Śrī Harṣa (twelfth century), Citsukha (twelfth century), ānandagiri (thirteenth century), Amalānandā (thirteenth century), Vidyāraņya (fourteenth century), Śaṅkarānandā (fourteenth century), Sadānandā (fifteenth century), Prakāṣānanda (sixteenth century), Nṛsiṁhāśrama (sixteenth century), Madhusūdhana Sarasvati (seventeenth century), Dharmarāja Advarindra (seventeenth century), Appaya Dīkśita (seventeenth century), Sadaśiva Brahmendra (eighteenth century), Candraśekhara Bhārati (twentieth century), and Sacchidānandendra Saraswati (twentieth century).


Early influence

According to Richard E. King,
Although it is common to find Western scholars and Hindus arguing that Sankaracarya was the most influential and important figure in the history of Hindu intellectual thought, this does not seem to be justified by the historical evidence.

According to King, until the 10th century Sankara was overshadowed by his older contemporary Mandana-Misra. In the centuries after Sankara it was Maṇḍana Miśra who was considered to be the most important representative of Vedanta.

Prior to Shankara, views similar to his already existed, but did not occupy a dominant position within the Vedanta. The early Vedanta scholars were from the upper classes of society, well-educated in traditional culture. They formed a social elite, "sharply distinguished from the general practitioners and theologians of Hinduism." Their teachings were "transmitted among a small number of selected intellectuals". Works of the early Vedanta schools do not contain references to Vishnu or Shiva. It was only after Shankara that "the theologians of the various sects of Hinduism utilized Vedanta philosophy to a greater or lesser degree to form the basis of their doctrines," whereby "its theoretical influence upon the whole of Indian society became final and definitive."


Indian nationalism and Hindu Universalism

Main articles: Hindu nationalism and Hindu reform movements

With the onset of the British Raj, the colonialisation of India by the British, there also started a Hindu renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west. Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas, and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis and the popular picture of 'mystical India'. This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by the Hindu reformers, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground. The Brahmo Samaj, who was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church, played an essential tole in the introduction and spread of this new understanding of Hinduism.

Vedanta came to be regarded as the essence of Hinduism, and Advaita Vedanta came to be regarded as "then paradigmatic example of the mystical nature of the Hindu religion". These notions served well for the Hindu nationalists, who further popularised this notion of Advaita Vedanta as the pinnacle of Indian religions. It "provided an opportunity for the construction of a nationalist ideology that could unite HIndus in their struggle against colonial oppression".

Vivekananda's Neo-Vedanta

Main articles: Neo-Vedanta, Swami Vivekananda, and Ramakrishna Mission

A major proponent in the popularisation of this Universalist and Perennialist interpretation of Advaita Vedanta was Vivekananda, who played a major role in the revival of Hinduism, and the spread of Advaita Vedanta to the west via the Ramakrishna Mission. His interpretation of Advaita Vedanta has been called "Neo-Vedanta". In a talk on "The absolute and manifestation" given in at London in 1896 Swami Vivekananda said,

I may make bold to say that the only religion which agrees with, and even goes a little further than modern researchers, both on physical and moral lines is the Advaita, and that is why it appeals to modern scientists so much. They find that the old dualistic theories are not enough for them, do not satisfy their necessities. A man must have not only faith, but intellectual faith too".

Vivekananda emphasised samadhi as a means to attain liberation. Yet this emphasis is not to be found in the Upanishads nor with Shankara. For Shankara, meditation and Nirvikalpa Samadhi are means to gain knowledge of the already existing unity of Brahman and Atman, not the highest goal itself:

[Y]oga is a meditative exercise of withdrawal from the particular and identification with the universal, leading to contemplation of oneself as the most universal, namely, Consciousness. This approach is different from the classical Yoga of complete thought suppression.

Vivekenanda's modernisation has been criticised:

Without calling into question the right of any philosopher to interpret Advaita according to his own understanding of it, ... the process of Westernization has obscured the core of this school of thought. The basic correlation of renunciation and Bliss has been lost sight of in the attempts to underscore the cognitive structure and the realistic structure which according to Samkaracarya should both belong to, and indeed constitute the realm of māyā.


Main article: Neo-Advaita

Neo-Advaita is a New Religious Movement based on a popularised, western interpretation of Advaita Vedanta and the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Neo-Advaita is being criticised for discarding the traditional prerequisites of knowledge of the scriptures and "renunciation as necessary preparation for the path of jnana-yoga". Notable neo-advaita teachers are H. W. L. Poonja, his students Gangaji Andrew Cohen, and Eckhart Tolle.


Main article: Nondualism

Advaita Vedanta has gained attention in western spirituality and New Age, where various traditions are seen as driven by the same non-dual experience. Nonduality points to "a primordial, natural awareness without subject or object". It is also used to refer to interconnectedness, "the sense that all things are interconnected and not separate, while at the same time all things retain their individuality".

Georg Feuerstein is quoted by nonduality-adepts as summarizing the Advaita Vedanta-realization as follows:

The manifold universe is, in truth, a Single Reality. There is only one Great Being, which the sages call Brahman, in which all the countless forms of existence reside. That Great Being is utter Consciousness, and It is the very Essence, or Self (Atman) of all beings."


See also: Works of Adi Shankara

Advaita Vedanta is based on the inquiry into the sacred texts of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. Adi Shankara gave a systematisation and philosophical underpinning of this inquiry in his commentaries. The subsequent Advaita-tradition has further elaborated on these sruti and commentaries.

Textual authority

The order of precedance regarding authority of Vedic Scriptures is as follows,

If anyone of them contradicts the preceding one, then it is disqualified as an authority to judge. There is a well known Indian saying that Smṛti follows Śruti. So it was considered that in order to establish any Theistic Philosophical theory (Astika Siddhanta) one ought not contradict Śruti (Vedas).

Prasthānatrayī – Three standards

Main article: Prasthanatrayi

Adi Sankara has chosen three standards, called Prasthānatrayī, literally, three points of departure (three standards). Later these were referred to as the three canonical texts of reference of Hindu philosophy by other Vedanta schools.

They are:

  1. The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthāna (injunctive texts), (part of Śruti)
  2. The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sādhana prasthāna (practical text), (part of Smṛti)
  3. The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyāya prasthāna or Yukti prasthana (part of darśana of Uttarā Mīmāṃsā)

The Upanishads consist of twelve or thirteen major texts, with many minor texts. The Bhagavad Gītā is part of the Mahabhārata. The Brahma Sūtras (also known as the Vedānta Sūtras), systematise the doctrines taught in the Upanishads and the Gītā.

Sankara Bhagavadpāda has written Bhāshyas (commentaries) on the Prasthānatrayī. These texts are thus considered to be the basic texts of the Advaita-parampara.


Additionally there are four Siddhi-granthas that are taught in the Advaita-parampara, after study of the Prasthana-trayi:

  1. Brahmasiddhi by Mandana Mishra (750–850),
  2. Naishkarmasiddhi by Sureswara (8th century, disciple of Sankara),
  3. Ishtasiddhi by Vimuktananda (1200),
  4. Advaita Siddhi, written by Madhusudana Saraswati - 1565-1665.

Introductory texts

Introductory texts from the Advaita Vedanta tradition include:

  • Ashtavakra Samhita (pre-Sankara), with traces of Advaitism.
  • Tattvabodha (Shankara), an introductory text explaining the terminologies used in Advaita Vedanta.
  • Atmabodha, A Treatise on the knowledge of Atma (Shankara).
  • Vedantasara (of Sadananda) (Bhagavad Ramanuja, 1017 to 1137 A.D.)
  • Vakyavrtti
  • Laghu-Vakyavrtti
  • Drg-Drsya-Viveka
  • Panchikaranam
  • Vedanta-Paribhasha (of Dharmaraja Adhvarindra)
  • Advaita-Makaranda (of Lakshmidhara Kavi)
  • Aparoksha-Anubhuti
  • Dakshinamurti-Stotram
  • Panchadasi (of Vidyaranya)
  • Kaupina-pancakam
  • Sadhana-panchakam
  • Manisha-pancakam
  • Dasasloki

Modern texts

Treatises on Advaita Vedanta are still being written. The works of Swami Vivekananda, such as his writings on Jnana yoga, have been influential in the spread of Advaita Vedanta in the west.


Main article: Hindu philosophy

The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta is based on the sacred texts of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. Adi Shankara gave a systematisation and philosophical underpinning of this inquiry in his commentaries, which have become central texts in the Advaita Vedanta tradition.

Puruṣārtha – Chief aims of human life

Indian philosophy emphasises that "every acceptable philosophy should aid man in realising the Purusarthas, the chief aims of human life:

According to Puligandla:

Any philosophy worthy of its title should not be a mere intellectual exercise but should have practical application in enabling man to live an enlightened life. A philosophy which makes no difference to the quality and style of our life is no philosophy, but an empty intellectual construction.

Advaita Vedanta gives an elaborate path to attain moksha. It entails more than self-inquiry or bare insight into one's real nature. Practice, especially Jnana Yoga, is needed to "destroy one's tendencies (vAasanA-s)" before real insight can be attained.


Main article: Moksha

The aim of Advaita Vedanta is liberation, by knowledge of the identity of atman and Brahman. According to Adi Śankara, knowledge of Brahman springs from inquiry into the sacred texts of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras. It is obtained by following the four stages of samanyasa (self-cultivation), sravana, listening to the teachings of the sages, Manana, reflection on the teachings, and Dhyana, contemplation of the truth "that art Thou".

Identity of Atman and Brahman

See also Jnana, Prajna and Prajñānam Brahma

Moksha is attained by realizing the identity of Atman and Brahman. According to Potter,

8. The true Self is itself just that pure consciousness, without which nothing can be known in any way.
9. And that same true Self, pure consciousness, is not different from the ultimate world Principle, Brahman ...
11. ... Brahman (=the true Self, pure consciousness) is the only Reality (sat), since It is untinged by difference, the mark of ignorance, and since It is the one thing that is not sublimatable.

"Pure consciousness" is the translation of jnanam. Although the common translation of jnanam is "consciousness", the term has a broader meaning of "knowing"; "becoming acquainted with", "knowledge about anything", "awareness", "higher knowledge".

"Brahman" too has a broader meaning than "pure consciousness". According to Paul Deussen, Brahman is:

According to David Loy,

The knowledge of Brahman ... is not intuition of Brahman but itself is Brahman.

The same nuance can be found in satcitananda, the qualities of Brahman, which are usually translated as "Eternal Bliss Consciousness", "Absolute Bliss Consciousness", or "Consisting of existence and thought and joy". Satcitananda is composed of three Sanskrit words:

This knowledge is intuitive knowledge, a spontaneous type of knowing, as rendered in the prefix pra of prajnanam Brahman,

Mahavakya – The Great Sentences

Main article: Mahāvākyas

Mahavakya, or "the great sentences", state the unity of Brahman and Atman, or "the inner immortal self and the great cosmic power are one and the same". There are many such sentences in the Vedas, however only one such sentence from each of the four Vedas is usually chosen.

Sr. No. Vakya Meaning Upanishad Veda
1 प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म (pragñānam brahma) Prajñānam is Brahman Aitareya V.3 Rgveda
2. अहं ब्रह्मास्मि (aham brahmāsmi) I am Brahman, or I am Divine Brhadāranyaka I.4.10 Shukla Yajurveda
3. तत्त्वमसि (tat tvam asi) That thou art Chandogya VI.8.7 Samaveda
4. अयमात्मा ब्रह्म (ayamātmā brahma) This Atman is Brahman Mandukya II Atharvaveda


Advaitins believe that suffering is due to Maya (also known as Mithya or Vaitathya). Only knowledge of Brahman can destroy Maya. At the relative plane Jiva and Iswara "are regarded as different from and of a lower order of reality than the original consciousness that is the absolutely real (paaramaarthika) Brahman". When Maya is removed, the truth of "Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya Jivo Brahmaiva Na Aparah" is realised:

Brahman (the Absolute) is alone real; this world is unreal; the Jiva or the individual soul is non-different from Brahman.

Such a state of bliss when achieved while living is called Jivanmukta.

Necessity of a Guru

See also: Guru-shishya tradition
Guidance of a Guru

According to Śankara and others, anyone seeking to follow the philosophy of Advaita Vedānta must do so under the guidance of a Guru (teacher). It is the teacher who through exegesis of Sruti and skilful handling of words generates a hitherto unknown knowledge in the disciple. The teacher does not merely provide stimulus or suggestion.

=Qualities of the Guru

The Guru must have the following qualities (see Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.12):

  1. Śrotriya — must be learned in the Vedic scriptures and Sampradaya
  2. Brahmaniṣṭhā — literally meaning 'established in Brahman'; must have realised the oneness of Brahman in everything, and in himself/herself.

The seeker must serve the Guru, and submit questions with all humility in order 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').

Advaita practice

Practice, especially Jnana Yoga, is needed to "destroy one's tendencies (vAasanA-s)" before real insight can be attained.

Jnana Yoga – Four stages of practice
Main article: Jnana Yoga

Classical Advaita Vedanta emphasises the path of Jnana Yoga, a progression of study and training to attain moksha. It consists of four stages:

Bhakti Yoga
Main article: Bhakti

The paths of Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are subsidiary.

In Bhakti Yoga, practice centres on the worship God in any way and in any form, like Krishna or Ayyappa. Adi Shankara himself was a proponent of devotional worship or Bhakti. But Adi Shankara taught that while Vedic sacrifices, puja and devotional worship can lead one in the direction of jnana (true knowledge), they cannot lead one directly to moksha. At best, they can serve as means to obtain moksha via shukla gati.

Karma Yoga
Main article: Karma yoga

Karma yoga is the way of doing our duties, in disregard of personal gains or losses. According to Sri Swami Sivananda,

Karma Yoga is consecration of all actions and their fruits unto the Lord. Karma Yoga is performance of actions dwelling in union with the Divine, removing attachment and remaining balanced ever in success and failure.
Karma Yoga is selfless service unto humanity. Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action which purifies the heart and prepares the Antahkarana (the heart and the mind) for the reception of Divine Light or attainment if Knowledge of the Self. The important point is that you will have to serve humanity without any attachment or egoism.

Epistemology – Ways of knowing

See also: Epistemology

Epistemology (from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning "knowledge, understanding", and λόγος (logos), meaning "study of") is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge.

PramāṇasCorrect knowledge

Main article: Pramana

Pramāna, (sources of knowledge, Sanskrit प्रमाण), refers to the correct knowledge, arrived at by thorough reasoning, of any object.

Six pramāṇas

In Advaita Vedānta, as in the Bhāṭṭa school of Mimāṃsā, the following pramāṇas are accepted:

  1. Pratyakṣa (perception), the knowledge gained by means of the senses. That which is immediately perceived to be so; This knowledge can be corrected, e.g. if one perceives a piece of rope to be a snake.
  2. Anumāna (inference), the knowledge gained by means of inference. That which is perceived as true through previous knowledge, e.g. to knows that it is a fire because smoke can be seen in the sky (the two are related through a universal law)
  3. Śabda (verbal testimony), the knowledge gained by means of texts such as Vedas (also known as Āptavākya, Śabda pramāṇa)
  4. Upamāna (comparison), the knowledge gained by means of analogy or comparison. That which is perceived as true since it compares to previous, confirmed, knowledge. To know that something is something, e.g. a cat, because one has seen cats before.
  5. Arthāpatti (postulation), the knowledge gained by superimposing the known knowledge on an appearing knowledge that does not concur with the known knowledge. I.e. To see someone gain weight while knowing they are fasting, imposes the knowledge that the person is secretly eating.
  6. Anupaladbhi (negation), the knowledge gained through the absence of the object. That which is true through a negation. Classic e.g. karatale ghato nasti – the pot is not on the palm. The pot could be elsewhere. So the place (on the palm) of its absence is also important.

Perception, inference and verbal testimony have the same meaning as in the Nyaya-school. Regarding comparison, postulation and non-cognition Advaita Vedanta views which somewhat differ from the Nyaya-school.

Pramātṛ, Pramāṇa and Prameya

Pramāṇa 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
  3. Prameya, the object of knowledge
Domains of knowledge

Shankara refused, where he considered it appropriate, to take a literal approach to scriptural statements and adoption of symbolic interpretation. In a famous passage in his commentary on the Brahmasutra's of Badarayana, Shankara writes

For each means of knowledge (PramaNam) has a valid domain. The domain of the scriptures {Shabda PramaNam} is the knowledge of the Self. If the scriptures say something about another domain – like the world around us – which contradicts what perception {Pratyaksha PramaNam} and inference {Anumana PramaNam} (the appropriate methods of knowledge for this domain) tells us, then, the scriptural statements have to be symbolically interpreted.

Sruti and anubhava - canonical texts and personal experience

According to a common interpretation, Shankara emphasizes the role of personal experience (anubhava) in ascertaining the validity of knowledge. Anantanand Rambachan quotes several modern interpretators in defence of this interpretation, especially Radakrishnan. Yet, according to Rambacham himself, sruti is the main source of knowledge for Shankara.

According to Swami Dayananda Saraswati, anubhava has a more specific meaning than "experience", namely "direct knowledge". Interpreting anubahva as "experience" may lead to a misunderstanding of Advaita Vedanta, and a mistaken rejection of the study of the scriptures as mere intellectual understanding. Stressing the meaning of anubhava as knowledge, Saraswati makes clear that liberation comes from knowledge, not from mere experience. Saraswati points out that "the experience of the self ... can never come because consciousness is ever-present, in and through each and every experience."

According to Hirst, anubhava is the "non-dual realisation gained from the scriptures", which "provides the sanction and paradigm for proper reasoning", when interpreted by a self-realized Advaitin teacher. This "knowledge of Brahman, is identical with that self which is to be known as witness, not as object".

Davis translates anubhava as "direct intuitive understanding". And according to Comans, Shankara uses anubhava interchangeably with pratipatta, "understanding".

Kāraṇa and kārya – cause and effect

Cause (kāraṇa) and effect (kārya) are an important topic in all schools of Vedanta.

Creation of the world

See also: Satkāryavāda and Ajativada

All schools of Vedanta subscribe to the theory of Satkāryavāda, which means that the effect is pre-existent in the cause. It is explained in a central passage at Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.1.4-5, where the sage Aruni explains the worlings causality to his son, Śvetaketu, using the example of the relation of clay to a pot:

It is like this, son. By means of just one lump of clay one would perceive everything made of clay—the transformation is a verbal handle, a name—while the reality is just this: "It's clay." It is like this, son. By means of just one copper trinket one would perceive everything made of copper—the transformation is a verbal handle, a name—while the reality is just this: "It's copper."

But there are two different views on the status of the "effect", that is, the world. Most schools of Vedanta, as well as Samkhya, support Parinamavada, the idea that the world is a real transformation (parinama) of Brahman. According to Nicholson, "the Brahma Sutras also espouse the realist Parinamavada position, which appears to have been the view most common among early Vedantins". Adi Shankara and Advaita Vedanta adheres to the other view, Vivartavada, which says that the effect, the world, is merely an unreal (vivarta) transformation of its cause, Brahman:

[A]lthough Brahman seems to undergo a transformation, in fact no real change takes place. The myriad of beings are essentially unreal, as the only real being is Brahman, that ultimate reality which is unborn, unchanging, and entirely without parts.

Nimitta kāraṇa and Upādāna kāraṇa

Two sorts of causes are recognised:

  1. Nimitta kāraṇa, the instrumental cause. A potter is the instrumental cause when he makes a pot.
  2. Upādāna kāraṇa, the material cause. The clay is the material cause of the pot.

Brahman is the instrumental cause of existence:

That Lord has created all the forms and is calling them by their names (Aranyaka 3.12.7)
He thought, "Let Me create the worlds" (Aitareya Upanishad 1.1.1)

But Brahman is also the material cause:

Dear boy, just as through a single clod of clay all that is made of clay would become known, for all modifications is but name based upon words and the clay alone is real (Chandogya Upanishad 6.1.4)
(He thought) Let me be many, let me be born (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.6.4)

Thus, based on these and other statements found in the Vedas, Advaita concludes that Brahman is both the instrumental cause and the material cause.

kārya-kāraṇa ananyatva

Advaita states that effect (kārya) is non-different from cause (kāraṇa), but the cause is different from the effect:

kārya is not different from kāraṇa; however kāraṇa is different from kārya

This principle is called kārya-kāraṇa ananyatva.

Effect is not different from cause

When the cause is destroyed, the effect will no longer exist. For example, cotton cloth is the effect of the cotton threads, which is the material cause. Without threads there will be no cotton cloth. Without cotton there will be no thread.

In the Brahmasūtra-Bhāṣya 2.1.9 Adi Shankara describes this as follows:

Despite the non-difference of cause and effect, the effect has its self in the cause but not the cause in the effect.
The effect is of the nature of the cause and not the cause the nature of the effect.
Therefore the qualities of the effect cannot touch the cause.
Cause is different from effect

The cause is different from the effect. For example, the reflection of the gold ornament seen in the mirror is only the form of the ornament. It is not the ornament itself, since the reflection itself is not the gold.

Brahman is different from the world

This reasoning implies that the world is not different from Brahman, but Brahman is different from the world:

All names and forms are real when seen with the Sat (Brahman) but are false when seen independent of Brahman.

Ontology – The nature of being

See also: Ontology and substance ontology

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.

Advaita Vedanta is a so-called substance ontology, an ontology "which holds that underlying the seeming change, variety, and multiplicity of existence there are unchanging and permanent entities (the so-called substances)". In contrast, Buddhism is a process ontology, according to which "there exists nothing permanent and unchanging, within or without man".

Criterion of Sublation

See also: Aufheben

Sublation is replacement of a "truth" by a higher "truth", until no higher truth can be found. Shankara uses sublatibility as the criterion for the ontological status of any content of consciousness:

Sublition is essentially the mental process of correcting and rectifying errors of judgement. Thus one is said to sublate a previous held judgment when, in the light of a new experience which contradicts it, one either regards the judgment as false or disvalues it in some significant sense ... Not only judgment but also concepts, objects, relations, and in general any content of consciousness can be sublated.

Three Levels of Reality

See also: Two truths doctrine

Advaita took over from the Madhyamika the idea of levels of reality. Usually two levels are being mentioned, but Shankara uses sublation as the criterion to postulate an ontological hierarchy of three levels:


Main articles: Brahman and Nirguna Brahman
Absolute Truth

Brahman is Paramarthika Satyam, "Absolute Truth". It is

* the true Self, pure consciousness ... the only Reality (sat), since It is untinged by difference, the mark of ignorance, and since It is the one thing that is not sublatable".

"Brahman" has a broader meaning than "pure consciousness". According to Paul Deussen, Brahman is:

Other than Brahman, everything else, including the universe, material objects and individuals, are maya. Brahman is absolute reality, unborn and unchanging. According to Advaita Vedanta, consciousness is not a property of Brahman but its very nature. In this respect Advaita Vedanta differs from other Vedanta schools.

Brahman is the Self-existent, the Absolute and the Imperishable. Brahman is indescribable. It is at best Satchidananda, Infinite Truth, Infinite Consciousness and Infinite Bliss.

Brahman is free from any kind of differences or differentiation. It does not have any sajātīya (homogeneous) differentiation because there is no second Brahman. It does not have any vijātīya (heterogeneous) differentiation because there is nobody in reality existing other than Brahman. It has neither svagata (internal) differences, because Brahman is itself homogeneous.

Brahman is often described as neti neti, "not this, not this" since Brahman cannot be correctly described as this or that.


Due to ignorance (avidyā), Brahman is visible as the material world and its objects (nama rupa vikara). The actual Brahman is attributeless and formless. Brahman, the highest truth and all (reality), does not really change; it is only our ignorance that gives the appearance of change.

The notion of avidyā and its relationship to Brahman creates a crucial philosophical issue within Advaita Vedanta thought: how can avidyā appear in Brahman, since Brahman is pure consciousness?

Sengaku Mayeda writes, in his commentary and translation of Adi Shankara's Upadesasahasri:

Certainly the most crucial problem which Sankara left for his followers is that of avidyā. If the concept is logically analysed, it would lead the Vedanta philosophy toward dualism or nihilism and uproot its fundamental position.
Logical proofs

Adi Shankara based his teachings of Brahman on various arguments:


Main article: Ātman (Hinduism)
True Self

Ātman (IAST: ātman, Sanskrit: आत्मन्) is a Sanskrit word that means 'self'. Ātman is the first principle, the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual.

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 is true only in the pragmatic level. In the transcendental level, only the one Atman, equal to Brahman, is true.

Ātman is not a part of Brahman that ultimately dissolves into Brahman, but identical with Brahman. The characteristics of Atman are Consciousness, Reality and Bliss.

Atman, being the silent witness of all the modifications, is free and beyond sin and merit. It does not experience happiness or pain because it is beyond the triad of Experiencer, Experienced and Experiencing. It does not do any Karma because it is Aaptakaama. It is incorporeal and independent.


According to Advaita Vedanta the Atman is covered by five koshas, usually rendered "sheath". They are often visualised like the layers of an onion:

According to the Kosha system in Yogic philosophy, the nature of being human encompasses physical and psychological aspects that function as one holistic system. The Kosha system refers to these different aspects as layers of subjective experience. Layers range from the dense physical body to the more subtle levels of emotions, mind and spirit. Psychology refers to the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of our being. Together, all aspects make up our subjective experience of being alive.

The five sheaths (pancha-kosas) are alluded to in the fourteen verse of the Atmabodha. From gross to fine they are:

  1. Annamaya kosha, food-apparent-sheath
  2. Pranamaya kosha, air-apparent-sheath
  3. Manomaya kosha, mind-stuff-apparent-sheath
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha, wisdom-apparent-sheath
  5. Anandamaya kosha, bliss-apparent-sheath (Ananda)

According to Vedanta the wise man should discriminate between the self and the koshas, which are non-self.

Avasthåtraya – Three states of consciousness

Adi Shankara discerned three states of consciousness, namely waking (jågrat), dreaming (svapna), and deep sleep (suƒupti), which correspond to the three bodies:

  1. The first state is the waking state, in which we are aware of our daily world. "It is described as outward-knowing (bahish-prajnya), gross (sthula) and universal (vaishvanara)". This is the gross body.
  2. The second state is the dreaming mind. "It is described as inward-knowing (antah-prajnya), subtle (pravivikta) and burning (taijasa)". This is the subtle body.
  3. The third state is the state of deep sleep. In this state the underlying ground of concsiousness is undistracted, "the Lord of all (sarv'-eshvara), the knower of all (sarva-jnya), the inner controller (antar-yami), the source of all (yonih sarvasya), the origin and dissolution of created things (prabhav'-apyayau hi bhutanam)". This is the causal body.

A fourth state is Turiya, pure consciousness. It is the background that underlies and transcends the three common states of consciousness. In this consciousness both absolute and relative, Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman, are transcended. It is the true state of experience of the infinite (ananta) and non-different (advaita/abheda), free from the dualistic experience which results from the attempts to conceptualise ( vipalka) reality. It is the state in which ajativada, non-origination, is apprehended.

Empirical reality

Main articles: Maya (Hinduism) and Māyā

According to Adi Shankara, Māyā (/mɑːjɑː/) is the complex illusionary power of Brahman which causes the Brahman to be seen as the material world of separate forms. Its shelter is Brahman, but Brahman itself is untouched by the illusion of Māyā, just as a magician is not tricked by his own magic.

All sense data entering ones awareness via the five senses are Māyā. Māyā is neither completely real nor completely unreal, hence indescribable. Māyā is temporary and is transcended with "true knowledge", or perception of the more fundamental reality which permeates Māyā.

Maya has two main functions:

  1. To "hide" Brahman from ordinary human perception,
  2. To present the material world in its (Brahmam) place.

Swami Vivekananda explains the concept of Māyā as follows:

Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts—what we are and what we see around us ...
What does the statement of existence of the world mean then? ... It means that it has no absolute existence. It exists only in relation to my mind, to your mind and to the mind of everyone else ... We have to work in and through it. It is a mixture of existence and non-existence ... There is neither how nor why in fact; we only know it is and that we can not help it ... The very basis of our being is contradiction.
The world is unreal and real

The world is both unreal and real. but something can't be both true and false at the same time; hence Adi Shankara has classified the world as indescribable.

Adi Sankara says that the world is not real (true), it is an illusion. Adi Sankara gives the following reasoning:

  • Whatever thing remains eternal is true, and whatever is non-eternal is untrue. Since the world is created and destroyed, it is not real (true).
  • Truth is the thing which is unchanging. Since the world is changing, it is not real (false).
  • Whatever is independent of space and time is real (true), and whatever has space and time in itself is not real (false).
  • Just as one sees dreams in sleep, he sees a kind of super-dream when he is waking. The world is compared to this conscious dream.
  • The world is believed to be a superimposition of the Brahman. Superimposition cannot be real (true).

Adi Sankara also claims that the world is not absolutely unreal (false). It appears unreal (false) only when compared to Brahman. At the empirical or pragmatic level, the world is completely real:

The world being both unreal and real is explained by the following. 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.

Īsvara – The Supreme Lord

Īsvara (pronounced [ˈiːʃvərə], literally, the Lord) Parama Īshvara means "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. Isvara is Brahman with Maya – the manifested form of Brahman. Adi Shankara uses a metaphor that when the "reflection" of the Cosmic Spirit falls upon the mirror of Maya, it appears as the Ishvara or Supreme Lord. The Ishvara is true only in the pragmatic level. God's actual form in the transcendental level is the Cosmic Spirit.

Ishvara is false and true

Ishvara is, in an ultimate sense, described as "false" because Brahman appears as Ishvara only due to the curtain of Maya. However, 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.

Saguna Brahman

Ishvara can be described as Saguna Brahman or Brahman with attributes that may be regarded to have a personality with human and Godly attributes. This concept of Ishvara is also used to visualise and worship in anthropomorphic form deities such as Shiva, Vishnu or Devi by the dvaitins which leads to immense confusion in the understanding of a monistic concept of God apart from polytheistic worship of Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti in Hinduism.

Main article: Karma in Hinduism

Ishvara is the distributor of the fruits of one's Karma. Whenever referencing Brahman, is referencing God. God is the highest knowledge theoretically possible. Devotion (Bhakti) will cancel the effects of bad Karma and will bring a person closer to the true knowledge by purifying his mind. Slowly, the difference between the worshipper and the worshipped decreases and upon true knowledge, liberation occurs.

Creation of the world
See also: Satkāryavāda and Ajativada

The universe is believed to be the creation of the Supreme Lord Ishvara. Maya is the divine magic whereby Ishvara creates the world.

Adi Shankara assumes that Creation is recreation or play of Ishvara. It is His nature, just as it is man's nature to breathe. Creating the world for any incentive slanders the wholeness and perfection of Ishvara. Creating the world for gaining something is against His perfection. Creating the world out of compassion is illogical, since the emotion of compassion cannot arise in a blank and void world in the beginning, when only Ishvara existed.

A criticism against Satkāryavāda is the question how Ishvara, whose form is spiritual, can be the effect of this material world. Adi Shankara says that just as from a conscious living human, inanimate objects like hair and nails are formed, similarly, the inanimate world is formed from the spiritual Ishvara.

Ishvara in the Vedas

The sole proof for Ishvara that Adi Shankara gives is Shruti's mentions of Ishvara, as Ishvara is beyond logic and thinking. This is similar to Kant's philosophy about Ishvara in which he says that "faith" is the basis of theism. However, Adi Shankara has also given few other logical proofs for Ishvara, but warning us not to completely rely on them:

Status of ethics

Some claim that there is no place for ethics in Advaita, "that it turns its back on all theoretical and practical considerations of morality and, if not unethical, is at least 'a-ethical' in character".

Ethics does have a firm place in this philosophy. Ethics, which implies doing good Karma, indirectly helps in attaining true knowledge. Many Advaitins consider Karma a "necessary fiction". Karma cannot be proven to exist through any of the Pramāṇas. However, to encourage students to strive towards Vidyā (spiritual knowledge) and combat Avidyā (ignorance), the idea of Karma is maintained.

Truth, non-violence, service of others, pity, are Dharma, and lies, violence, cheating, selfishness, greed, are adharma (sin). However, no authoritative definition of Dharma was ever formulated by any of the major exponents of Advaita Vedanta. Unlike ontological and epistemological claims, there is room for significant disagreement between Advaitins on ethical issues.

Advaita and other Indian philosophies

See also: Vedanta, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Hindu denominations

Advaita developed in a multi-facetted religious and philosophical landscape. The tradition developed in interaction with the other traditions of India, Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism, as well as the other schools of Vedanta.

Influence of Mahayana Buddhism

Although Shankara's Advaita, like other traditions of Vedanta, claims to base itself chiefly on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras, many authorities from India and elsewhere have noted that it shows signs of influence from Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana schools with whom Shankara's Advaita is said to share similarities are the Madhyamaka, founded by Nagarjuna, and the Yogacara, founded by Vasubandhu and Asanga in the early centuries of the Common Era.

John Grimes writes that while Mahayana Buddhism's influence on Advaita Vedanta has been ignored for most of its history, scholars now see it as undeniable.

Eliot Deutsch and Rohit Dalvi state:

In any event a close relationship between the Mahayana schools and Vedanta did exist with the latter borrowing some of the dialectical techniques, if not the specific doctrines, of the former.

S. Mudgal noted that among some traditionalist Indian scholars, it was the accepted view that Shankara

Adopted practically all ... dialectic (of the Buddhists), their methodology, their arguments and analysis, their concepts, their terminologies and even their philosophy of the Absolute, gave all of them a Vedantic appearance, and demolished Buddhism ... Sankara embraced Buddhism, but it was a fatal embrace".

This influence goes back at least to Gaudapada:

Gaudapada rather clearly draws from Buddhist philosophical sources for many of his arguments and distinctions and even for the forms and imagery in which these arguments are cast.

Michael Comans has also demonstrated how Gaudapada, an early Vedantin, utilised some arguments and reasoning from Madhyamaka Buddhist texts by quoting them almost verbatim. However, Comans believes there is a fundamental difference between Buddhist thought and that of Gaudapada, in that Buddhism has as its philosophical basis the doctrine of Dependent Origination, while Gaudapada does not at all rely on this principle. Gaudapada's Ajativada is an outcome of reasoning applied to an unchanging nondual reality, the fundamental teaching of the Upanishads.

Upanishadic influences

A few authors are of the opinion that the similarities in Advaita and certain aspects of Buddhism were due to the Upanishadic influence on both streams. For instance, NeoVedantin Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, an important intellectual figure of 20th century India, wrote in his book Indian Philosophy:

"There are no doubt similarities between the views of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, and this is not surprising in view of the fact that both these systems had for their background the Upanishads."

In the same vein, C.D Sharma, in his A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, states:

Buddhism and Vedanta should not be viewed as two opposed systems, but one which starts with the Upanishads, finds its indirect support in Buddha, its elaboration in Mahayana Buddhism, its open revival in Gaudapada, (and) which reaches its zenith in Sankara."

Mudgal states that the Advaita according to Shankara is a synthesis of two independent and opposing streams of thought, the Upanishadic and the Buddhist, representing the orthodox and the heterodox respectively.

According to Geoffrey Samuel, the similarities between Buddhism and the Upanishadic tradition are not due to a shared Upanishadic background, but to a shared shramanicbackground. Buddhism, Jainism and the Upanishadic tradition shared a "floating body of wisdom sayings, circulated primarily in oral form." This tradition developed between 1000 and 500 BCE in the central Ganges Plain, and differed from the Brahmanical ideology which developed in the western Ganges Plain in the Kuru-Panchala region. Both traditions form part of the "classical synthesis" or ""Hindu synthesis""


In India, the similarity of Shankara's Advaita to Buddhism was brought up by his rivals from other Vedanta schools, while on the other hand, Mahayanists such as Bhavyaviveka had to defend themselves from Theravada Buddhist accusations of the Mahayana doctrine being just another form of Vedantism.

Shankara defended himself against these accusations:

Shankara's criticisms of Buddhism are nevertheless powerful and they exhibit clearly at least how Shankara saw the difference between Buddhism and his own Vedantic philosophy.

Modern praise of the Buddha

In modern India, spiritual gurus following the tradition of Advaita Vedanta have generally been enthusiastic in their praise of the Buddha. Swami Vivekananda of the monastic Ramakrishna Mission, a leading figure in the late 19th century religious scene in India, spoke highly of the Buddha and the similarities between Advaita and Buddhist thought.

Common core thesis

See also: Perennial philosophy

Western scholars like N.V. Isaeva state that the Advaita and Buddhist philosophies, after being purified of accidental or historical accretions, can be safely regarded as different expressions of the same eternal absolute truth. The comparison breaks down, of course, when one realizes that Gautama the Buddha denied the existence of the Atman whereas Atman is central to Advaita Vedanta.

Ninian Smart, a historian of religion, noted that the differences between Shankara and Mahayana doctrines are largely a matter of emphasis and background, rather than essence.

Relationship with other forms of Vedanta

The exposition and spread of Advaita by Sankara spurred debate with the two main theistic schools of Vedanta philosophy that were formalised later: Vishishtadvaita (qualified nondualism), and Dvaita (dualism).


Main article: Vishishtadvaita

Yamunacharya, a 10th-century AD proponent of the Vishishtadvaita philosophy that opposed Shankara's Advaita, compared Advaita to Buddhism and remarked in his Siddhitraya that for both the Buddhists and the Advaitins, the distinctions of knower, known and knowledge are unreal. The Advaita traces them to Maya, while Buddhist subjectivism traces them to buddhi. Ramanujacharya, another prominent Vishishtadvaita philosopher, accused Shankara of being a Prachanna Bauddha, that is, a hidden Buddhist


Main article: Dvaita

The Dvaita, founded by Madhvacharya (1238–1317 AD), was partisan to Vaishnavism, building on a cogent system of Vedantic interpretation that proceeded to take on Advaita in full measure. Madhvacharya's student Narayana, in his Madhvavijaya, a hagiography of Madhva, characterised Madhva and Shankara as born-enemies, and describes Shankara as a "demon born on earth". Surendranath Dasgupta noted that some Madhva mythology went so far as to characterise the followers of Shankara as "tyrannical people who burned down monasteries, destroyed cattle and killed women and children".

Advaita and Kashmir Shaivism

Over time, followers of Advaita came to consider Shankara as an incarnation or Avatar of the God Shiva. The Kashmir Shaivism tradition founded by Abhinavagupta is also non-dualist in outlook, much like the Advaita Vedanta, though it differs in many significant ways. For example, while Advaita Vedanta is based on the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita, Kashmir Saivism is based on a monistic interpretation of the Bhairava Tantras and Kaula Tantras. Some authors have suggested a link between the two, with philosophy of Vedantins such as Gaudapada finding its further development and theistic expression in Abhinavagupta.

Advaita and Sufism

Sufism is the mystical tradition of Islam. According to Sufi scholar Martin Lings,

Prince Dara Shikoh (d.1619), the Sufi son of the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, was able to affirm that Sufism and Advaita Vedantism (Hinduism) are essentially the same, with a surface difference of terminology.

List of teachers

Main article: List of teachers of Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta has had many teachers over the centuries in many teachers in different countries.


Wikipedia:Advaita Vedanta