Difference between Advaita & Vishishtadvaita?

There are two main schools of non-dual Vedanta: advaita and vishishtadvaita (विशिष्टाद्वैत).

Advaita says that the fundamental nature of reality is nothing other than limitless conscious existence.

Vishishtadvaita, or qualified non-dualism, by Ramanuja (11-12 century AD), says that even though there is ultimately only one fundamental reality, there is a second force referred to as māyā (माया) that causes Brahman to become multitudinous objects.

Advaita counters this by saying that maya is an inherent aspect of Brahman that doesn’t cause Brahman to become objects, but rather only to appear to be such.

The argument gets rather complex, but that is the basic gist of it.

Both acknowledge the ultimate non-dual nature of reality, but haggle over how manifestation arises out of or appears within Brahman.

I think the argument is intriguing but has little to do with alleviating suffering.

Either understanding can serve as the basis of understanding the limitations of the apparent reality and how ultimately limitless conscious existence is the unassailable fundamental reality.

Technical comparison:

Vishishtadvaita means distinguished non-dualism, or qualified non-dualism.

In the realm of Indian philosophy, two prominent schools of thought are Viśiṣṭādvaita and Advaita Vedanta. Both traditions discuss the nature of Brahman, the ultimate reality, but present differing viewpoints.

Vishishtadvaita proposes that:

  1. Brahman possesses two aspects: nirguna (without attributes, a concept also accepted by Advaita) and saguna (with attributes, which Advaita refutes).
  2. According to Advaita, Brahman is fundamentally nirguna, pure existence-consciousness. However, it also has the potential to manifest as saguna (names and forms) due to its power of māyā.
  3. This philosophy acknowledges three distinct realities:
    • Brahman: the highest reality, a concept agreed upon by both schools.
    • Living beings (cit), also known as jīvas.
    • Nature or matter (acit), which can be conceptualized as the 5 elements.
  4. It attributes specific qualities to Brahman when viewed as God (Isvara), a perspective Advaita rejects.
  5. Both living beings and matter are seen as projections of Isvara, an idea Advaita concurs with. However, unlike AdvaitaVishishtadvaita does not view them as mere appearances, but attributes to them absolute reality.
  6. Living beings and matter are dependent realities, relying on Brahman for their existence, a viewpoint shared by Advaita.
  7. Brahman, in contrast, is an independent reality that doesn't require either living beings or matter for its existence. Advaita concurs with this view.
  8. Living beings are considered both dependent upon and inseparable from Brahman, a concept Advaita agrees with.
  9. Paradoxically, while living beings are dependent on Brahman, they also enjoy an independent existence from it, almost like mini-Brahmans that only exist because of Brahman. This notion is disputed by Advaita.
  10. Living beings are seen as bound or ignorant, a concept Advaita accepts.
  11. Both agree at the end of each creation cycle, jivas and matter dissolve back into Brahman.
  12. Each creation of Brahman is distinct from Brahman, a viewpoint not accepted by Advaita.
  13. Brahman and living beings are both similar and dissimilar. Advaita, on the other hand, suggests they are dissimilar during the stage of ignorance but are recognized as identical during the stage of liberation.

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