INTRODUCTION to Vedanta philosophy:
Let’s start with the word Vedanta, which consists of two words ‘ved+anta’. Literally, ‘ved’ means ‘Vedas’ and ‘anta’ refers to ‘to the end’. So the word ‘Vedanta’ meaning is,’ the end of the Vedas’. Let’s elaborate on its meaning by knowing more about it. Vedanta is the last and concluding portion of the Vedas. And it consists of Upanishad. So philosophy based on Upanishads is known as Vedanta Darshanam. Vedanta is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. The other schools are Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, and Mimamsa.
The reason behind the name being Vedanta, and not anything else, is that it includes not only the end and concluding portion of Vedas. But also the cream, the essence, and the height of Vedic philosophy. Vedanta contains many sub-tradition based on a common textual connection called the Prasthana Trayi. The main traditions of Vedanta are also discussed in this article below under a different subheading.
PRASTHANA TRAYA: The three canonical works
Prasthana traya literal meaning is the three sources. And it refers to the three canonical works, the Upanishads, the Brahma sutra, and the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanishads are also known as Sruti( heard or repeated) Prasthana, the Brahma Sutra as Nyaya( reason-based) Prasthana, and the Bhagavad Gita as Smriti( remembered tradition) Prasthana. Let’s get into the detail that what do these three conical contain.
THE UPANISHADS: Sruti Prasthana
This work includes the concluding portion as well as the cream of Veda. Hence rightly called Vedanta. The word Upanishad consists of ‘Upa+ ni+sad’. The root word is ‘sad’ which means ‘to sit down, to destroy, and to loosen. While ‘Upa’ means ‘nearby’ and’ Ni’ means ‘devotedly’. The complete meaning of the word is ‘ to sit down near the teacher devotedly to receive his all teaching which loosens all doubts and destroys all ignorance of the disciple.
There are 108 Upanishad among them 10 to 11 are considered as important and authentic. The idea of Moksha, which is the final goal as per Hindu religion and culture has its origin from Upanishad. Apart from that Upanishads contain the knowledge of Brahman ( God), Atman ( soul), rebirth, the rituals, and spiritual significance of some Vedic beliefs and practices. The teaching of Upanishad is of a higher level. So they were taught only to the qualified students secretly in a private setting only.
The Brahma Sutra: Nyaya Prasthana
The Manifold meaning of the passages in the Upanishads gave a base to the different interpretations. The cause of false impressions is Avidya or ignorance. So to clear Apparent contradictions of the Upanishad passage and show the fundamental meaning, Vyasa, also known as Badarayana wrote the Brahma Sutra. The Brahma Sutra claims to be a summary of Upanishad. The reason behind its names is that it mainly deals with the Brahmans, described in the Upanishads.
Brahma Sutra has four adhyaya, each adhyaya has four padas and each padas has four adikaranas and adhikarana (191), composed of sutras (555). Adhikarana contains a topic, doubts, opponent’s view, established conclusion, and finally the connection between different sections of adhikarana. The four adhyaya in Brahma Sutra are (1) Samanvayadhyaya (2) Avirodhadhyaya (3) Sadhanadhyaya and (4) Phaladhyaya. The first adhyaya attempts to harmonize the principles of various Upanishads. The second one tries to destroy the contradictions. The third adhyaya discusses various methods of meditation. And the fourth one talks about the phala (fruit) of the study of Vedanta.
Brahmasutra attracts many scholars, who also commented about this work. The earliest commentary found was of Sri Sankaracharya. Many other commentaries of Ramanuja and Madhvacharya are also important.
THE BHAGAVAD GITA: Smriti Prasthana
‘Bhagavad Gita’, Literally means The Lord’s song. The book contains 18 chapters called yogas. It is a poetic work. Here Srikrishna, the supreme lord teaches the recipient Arjuna. Arjun here is the great warrior and represents humans here, liable to be upset and confused during the chaos. The question answered by Lord, and the doubt whose solution is given by Srikrishna are relevant. As well as they also valid even today.
The schools of Vedanta philosophy: Philosophies of Vedic acharyas
There are many schools in Vedanta. Among them only three gaining importance over the others nowadays. The list of the schools of Vedanta along with their founder’s name is as follows:
Name – Founder
Advaita – Sri Sankaracharya
Vishishtadvaita – Ramanuja
Dvaita – Madhvacharya
Bhedabheda – Bhaskara and Yadav Prakash
Dvaitadvaita – Nimbarka
Shuddhadvaita – Vallabha
Achintya Bheda Abheda – Chaitanya
There are three main schools that gained precedence over the other by the time. They are known as Advaita, Visistadvaita, and Dvaita. All schools of Vedanta mainly deal with the relationship between Brahman (God), Atman(soul), and the world.
Advaita Vedanta philosophy:
It is the oldest among all schools of Vedanta. Advaita Vedanta was propounded by Adi Sankaracharya (8th-9th century AD). This Vedanta denied the reality of the world. And accepted only Brahman as reality. Brahman is indeterminate and non-duel. It is beyond the limits of our speech and mind. According to this school, no one can describe god correctly. The cause of the universe and the cause of all causes is Brahman by the Upanishads.
To define the unity of all things the many examples are given. One of these examples is, we can make many different ornaments of gold by shaping it but the main constituent particle is gold. Gold is the only real substance in them. So the individual soul is non-different from Brahman.
This school of the Vedanta was founded by Ramanuja. According to this school, the world is real. And it denied the individuality of soul and matters. The soul and body are part of the supreme being. Vishishtadvaita accepts that souls and objects are mutually different. This school says that through devotion and surrender one can attain the supreme self.
Madhvacharya (12th -13th century AD) is the founder of the Dvaita school of philosophy. He also wrote Prasthanatraya Bhasyas (commentaries), and other works on Dvaita philosophy. He also wrote commentaries on Brahma Sutra and Bhagavatam. According to this school, matter, soul, and God are all different from each other. And Devotion is the means in this school to attain Moksha (salvation). According to Madhva, Brahman, identified with Sri Vishnu, is the Supreme reality.
Other schools of Vedanta philosophy:
Other schools mainly contain various variations of the three main school.
Nimbarka ( 11th century AD) is the founder of this school. This school says that soul and Nature are different from each other. And also nothing is different from the independent reality of Brahmans.
Vallabha (15-16th century AD) is the founder of this school. According to this school, the world is a transformation of God, not his projection. Hence it is real. And since the world is the transformation of God nothing can be different from almighty God.
Achintya Bheda Abheda:
This school is based on the teachings of Chaitanya (5th century AD). It is made popular by Jiva Gosvami. According to this school, Krishna is the highest supreme Brahman. And Krishna has numerous forms and manifestations and who in essence is truth, consciousness, and bliss (Sat-chit-ananda). As per this school, the souls are different from God. Salvation( Moksha) can be achieved by the right knowledge and devotion.
Importance of Vedanta philosophy in our human life:
- Vedanta teaches us that everyone is complete, lacking nothing.
- It teaches and helps us in knowing and understanding ourselves.
- It also helps us to solve many problems and sufferings in our life by cognitive changes and a way of life.
Summary of Vedanta Philosophy:
Vedanta is among the six schools of Hindu philosophy. It has many sub-tradition too based on Prasthana Traya(the Three canonical works). The Upanishads, The Brahma Sutra, and The Bhagavad Gita played an important role in forming the basis of Vedanta. Vedanta is the cream, conclusion, or height of Vedas. There are many schools in Vedanta. These schools contain the different views of many philosophers about the relationship between Brahman, Atman, and the world. There are three main schools of Vedanta, known as Advaita, vishishtadvaita, and Dvaita. Advaita especially gets more dominance over the other schools. Advaita Vedanta gains its popularity among the people because of the influence of Swami Vivekananda. Since Vedanta deals with philosophy and various ways of living life. Therefore the knowledge of Vedanta is essential in our day-to-day life. The importance of the teachings of Vedanta is eternal and uttermost.