Difference between Advaita & Vishishtadvaita?

The absolute main difference between Vishishtadvaita and Advaita Vedanta lies in their understanding of the relationship between the individual being (jiva), the universe (jagat), and the ultimate reality (Brahman):

Vishishtadvaita (Qualified Non-Dualism): This school maintains that Brahman is a personal deity with attributes (saguna Brahman), and that the jivas and the jagat are distinct but inseparable from  Brahman.

The jivas are eternally subservient to Brahman and maintain their individuality even after liberation or enlightenment (moksha).

The universe is not apparent, but a real manifestation of Brahman. Thus, Vishishta Advaita presents a qualified monism where Brahman is one, but qualified by the plurality of individual beings and the material world.

Advaita Vedanta (Non-Dualism): Advaita posits that Brahman is the only reality, without attributes (nirguna Brahman), and that both the jivas and the jagat are appearances.

In other words, Brahman enjoys an incidental power (called maya) to manifest the universe. Just like you, right now, enjoy a potential power to manifest a complex dream world that's filled with dream time, space, mountains, people, emotions, etc. When the power is activated, the entire dream is made out of you and has no existence apart from you — the one conscious being in whom the entire dream is appearing, being sustained and resolves into.

And because the dream character has never been told about the reality, the focus was always on forms, thereby taking oneself to be one form separate from all other forms. Consequently “I” becomes one small, mortal entity in the vast universe.

Liberation (moksha) in Advaita Vedanta is removing the false notion that I am different from “that”. The “this” and “that” is negated by knowledge, as it was never true to begin with.

The main difference is that Visistadvaita understands Brahman, sentient beings, and the universe as three distinct realities that are inseparably linked. Whereas Advaita Vedanta posits that Brahman is the only reality, and since you are not apart from reality, you too are Brahman.

Comparison Table:

Below table attempts to outline the key philosophical differences between the two schools:

Aspect Vishishtadvaita Advaita Vedanta
Ultimate Reality (Brahman) Personal, with attributes (Saguna Brahman). Impersonal, without attributes (Nirguna Brahman); pure consciousness.
Nature of Reality Qualified non-dualism. Brahman is one, but with internal distinctions: sentient beings (cit), and insentient matter (acit). Non-dualism. Brahman is the sole reality; the world is apparent (Maya).
Living Beings (Jivas) Distinct from Brahman but dependent; they are real and eternal. Identical with Brahman; the sense of individuality is due to ignorance (Avidya).
World (Acit) Real, and a body of Brahman. The physical universe is a real part of Brahman. Unreal, a manifestation of Maya; doesn't truly exist apart from Brahman.
Knowledge of Ultimate Reality Through devotion and surrender to a personal God (Bhakti), combined with knowledge and virtue. Through self-inquiry and the acquisition of self-knowledge (Jnana), leading to the realization that the self (Atman) is Brahman.
Liberation (Moksha) Attainment of an eternal service to and communion with a personal God in Vaikuntha (the abode of Vishnu). Realization of the non-difference between Atman and Brahman, leading to the cessation of giving “I” a separate reality apart from the whole, and end of rebirth.
Ethical Conduct Follows a theistic discipline, emphasizing prescribed duties (Dharma) and devotion. Emphasizes objectivity (seeing things as they are, rather then imputing one's own subjective values onto objects), Dharma (moral standards) and the pursuit of knowledge.
Scriptural Interpretation Interprets the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Brahma Sutras in a way that supports theism and qualified monism. Points out the relative or apparent nature of the world and the oneness of Atman and Brahman.
Role of Grace Divine grace is essential for liberation; the grace of God is the ultimate means of achieving moksha. God's grace is earned by following a clean & decent life of ethics, through own self-effort of self-reflection, contemplation and following the Vedantic methodology under the guidance of a qualified teacher.

More on Wikipedia.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Articles Popup 1

Advaita Vedanta Zoom webinar online classesBe Informed of Upcoming Vedanta Classes...

Sign up for our notification list to be informed of upcoming Zoom events and retreats — covering various chapters from Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita — the source of all non-dual teachings.