IAST Viśiṣṭādvaita; Sanskrit:
विशिष्टाद्वैत) is one of the most popular
schools of the
Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.
means the end of the Vedas. VishishtAdvaita (literally "Advaita with
uniqueness; qualifications") is a non-dualistic school of Vedanta
philosophy. It is non-dualism of the qualified whole, in which Brahman
alone exists, but is characterized by multiplicity. It can be
described as qualified monism or qualified non-dualism or attributive
monism. It is a school of
Vedanta philosophy which believes in all
diversity subsuming to an underlying unity.
Ramanuja, the main proponent of
Vishishtadvaita philosophy contends
Prasthanatrayi ("The three courses"), namely the Upanishads,
the Bhagavad Gita, and the
Brahma Sutras are to be interpreted in a
way that shows this unity in diversity, for any other way would
violate their consistency.
Vedanta Desika defines Vishishtadvaita
using the statement, Asesha Chit-Achit Prakaaram Brahmaikameva
Tatvam : Brahman, as qualified by the sentient and insentient
modes (or attributes), is the only reality.
Part of a series on
Achintya Bheda Abheda
Achintya Bheda Abheda
Shastras and Sutras
Other Indian philosophies
2 Key principles
3.1.1 Rules of epistemology
4.2 Theory of Existence
4.2.1 Kārya and kārana
6 Interpretation of Mahāvākyas
6.1 Understanding Neti-Neti
7 Purpose of human existence
Bhakti as the means of attaining moksha
Vadakalai schools of thought
9 Traditions following Vishishtadvaita
9.1 Visishtadvaita and Sri Vaishnavism
11 See also
13 External links
The Vishishtadvaitic thought is considered to have existed for a long
time, and it is surmised that the earliest works are no longer
available. The names of the earliest of these philosophers is only
known through Ramanuja's Vedartha Sangraham. Bodhayana, Dramida,
Tanka, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Bharuci the prominent ones in the line of
the philosophers considered to have expounded the VisishtAdvaitic
Bodhayana is considered to have written an extensive vritti
(commentary) on the Purva and Uttara Mimamsas. Tanka is attributed
with having written commentaries on Chandogya
Upanishad and Brahma
Nathamuni of the ninth century AD, the foremost
Acharya of the
Vaishnavas, collected the Tamil prabandhas, classified them, made the
redaction, set the hymns to music and spread them everywhere. He is
said to have received the divine hymns straight from Nammalvar, the
foremost of the twelve Alvars, by yogic insight in the temple at Alwar
Thirunagari, which is located near
Tirunelveli in South India.
Yamunacharya renounced kingship and spent his last days in the service
of the Lord at
Srirangam and in laying the fundamentals of the
Vishishtadvaita philosophy by writing four basic works on the subject.
Ramanuja is the main proponent of
Vishishtadvaita philosophy. The
philosophy itself is considered to have existed long before Ramanuja's
Ramanuja continues along the line of thought of his
predecessors while expounding the knowledge expressed in the
Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita.
Vedanta Desika and Pillai
Lokacharya, disciples in the tradition of Ramanuja, had minor
disagreements not on the philosophy, but on some aspects of the
theology, giving rise to the
Thenkalai schools of
thought, as explained below.
Swaminarayan, the founder of
Swaminarayan Hinduism, also propagated
this philosophy and based the
Swaminarayan Sampraday (original name is
Uddhava Sampraday) on these ideals.
There are three key principles of Vishishtadvaita:
Tattva: The knowledge of the 3 real entities namely, jiva (living
souls; the sentient); ajiva (the nonsentient) and Ishvara
(Vishnu-Narayana or Parahbrahman, creator and controller of the
Hita: The means of realization, as through bhakti (devotion) and
Purushartha: The goal to be attained, as moksha or liberation from
Pramana refers to the correct knowledge, arrived at by thorough
reasoning, of any object.
Pramana ("sources of knowledge", Sanskrit)
forms one part of a triputi (trio).
Pramatir, the subject; the knower of the knowledge
Pramana, the cause or the means of the knowledge
Prameya, the object of knowledge
Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, only the following three pramanas are
accepted as valid means of knowledge:
Pratyaksa — the knowledge gained by means of perception. Perception
refers to knowledge obtained by cognition of external objects based on
sensory perception. In modern-day usage this will also include
knowledge obtained by means of observation through scientific
instruments since they are an extension of perception.
Anumana — the knowledge gained by means of inference. Inference
refers to knowledge obtained by deductive reasoning and analysis.
Shabda — the knowledge gained by means of shruti.
Shruti refers to
knowledge gained from scriptures - primarily the Upanishads, the
Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
Rules of epistemology
There are three rules of hierarchy when there is apparent conflict
between the three modes of acquiring knowledge:
Shabda or Shruti,
Pramana occupies the highest position in matters
which cannot be settled or resolved by pratyaksa (perception) or by
Anumana occupies the next position. When an issue cannot be settled
through sensory perception alone, it is settled based on inference,
that is, whichever is the more logical argument.
When pratyaksa yields a definitive position on a particular issue,
such a perception cannot be ignored by interpreting
Shabda in a way
which violates that perception.
The ontology in
Vishishtadvaita consists of explaining the
Ishvara (Parabrahman), the sentient beings
(chit-brahman) and the insentient Universe (achit-brahman). In the
Ishvara is the Universal Soul of the pan-organistic
body consisting of the Universe and sentient beings. The three
ontological entities are described below:
Ishvara (denoted by Vishnu-Narayana) is the Supreme Cosmic Spirit who
maintains complete control over the Universe and all the sentient
beings, which together also form the pan-organistic body of Ishvara.
The triad of
Ishvara along with the universe and the sentient beings
is Brahman, which signifies the completeness of existence.
Parabrahman endowed with innumerable auspicious qualities (Kalyana
Ishvara is perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal,
independent, the creator of the universe, its active ruler and also
its eventual destroyer. He is causeless, eternal and unchangeable
— and is yet the material and the efficient cause of the universe
and sentient beings. He is both immanent (like whiteness in milk) and
transcendent (like a watch-maker independent of a watch). He is the
subject of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the
fruits of one's Karma. He rules the world with His Maya — His divine
Ishvara is considered to have a 2-fold characteristic: he is the
indweller of all beings and all beings dwell in Ishvara.[citation
Ishvara is thought of as the indweller of all beings, he is
referred to as the Paramatman, or the innermost self of all beings.
He who inhabits water, yet is within water, whom water does not know,
whose body water is and who controls water from within — He is your
Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.
He who inhabits the sun, yet is within the sun, whom the sun does not
know, whose body the sun is and who controls the sun from within —
He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal - Brihadaranyaka
Ishvara is thought of as the all encomposing and the residence of
all beings that is, all beings reside in Ishvara, he is referred to as
the paramapurusha. The sentient beings and the insentient universe
which form part of the pan-organistic body of
Ishvara are encapsulated
by Ishvara.[original research?]
Sarvam khalvidam Brahma Chandogya Upanishad
Isavasyam idam sarvam Isha Upanishad
Chit is the world of sentient beings, or of entities possessing
consciousness. It is similar to the
Samkhya system. The
sentient beings are called Jīvās and they are possessors of
individual consciousness as denoted by "I". The scope of Chit refers
to all beings with an "I" consciousness, or more specifically
self-awareness. Therefore, all entities which are aware of their own
individual existence are denoted as chit. This is called Dharmi-jnana
or substantive consciousness. The sentient beings also possess varying
levels of Dharma-bhuta-jnana or attributive consciousness
The jivas possess three different types of existence:
Nityas, or the eternally free Jivas who were never in Samsara
Muktas, or the Jivas that were once in
Samsara but are free
Baddhas, or the Jivas which are still in Samsara
Achit is the world of insentient entities as denoted by matter or more
specifically the non-conscious Universe. It is similar to the Prakriti
There is a subtle difference between
Ishvara and Brahman.
the substantive part of Brahman, while jivas and jagat are its modes
(also secondary attributes), and kalyanagunas (auspicious attributes)
are the primary attributes. The secondary attributes become manifested
in the effect state when the world is differentiated by name and form.
The kalyanagunas are eternally manifest.
Brahman is the description of
Ishvara when comprehended in fullness–
i.e., a simultaneous vision of
Ishvara with all his modes and
The relationship between
Brahman and Jivas, Jagat is expressed by
Rāmānujā in numerous ways. He calls this relationship as one of:
sharIra/sharIrI (शरीर/ शरीरी) (body/indweller);
prakAra/prakArI (attribute or mode/substance);
These relationships can be experienced holding
Brahman as the father,
son, mother, sister, wife, husband, friend, lover and lord. Hence,
Brahman is a personal being.
What does Nirguna
Ramanuja argues vehemently against understanding
Brahman as one
Brahman is Nirguna in the sense that impure
qualities do not touch it. He provides three valid reasons for staking
such a claim:
Shabda Pramana: All shrutis and shabdas denoting Brahman
always list either attributes inherent to
Brahman or not inherent to
Brahman. The shrutis only seek to deny
Brahman from possessing impure
and defective qualities which affect the world of beings. There is
evidence in the shrutis to this regard. The shrutis proclaim Brahman
to be beyond the tri-gunas which are observed. However, Brahman
possesses an infinite number of transcendental attributes, the
evidence of which is given in vakhyas like "satyam jnanam anantam
Brahma" (Taittiriya Upanishad).
Ramanuja states that "a contentless cognition is
impossible". And all cognition must necessarily involve knowing
Brahman through the attributes of Brahman.
Ramanuja states that "Nirgunatva" itself becomes an
Brahman on account of the uniqueness of no other entity
Ramanuja had simplified relationship between bramha and
soul.According to him though soul is integral part of bramha it has
Theory of Existence
The three ontological entities i.e. Ishvara, Chit and Achit are
fundamentally real. It upholds the doctrine of
Satkaryavada as against
Satkaryavada is pre-existence of the effect in the cause. It maintains
that karya (effect) is sat or real. It is present in the karana
(cause) in a potential form, even before its manifestation.
Asatkaryavada is non-existence of the effect in the cause. It
maintains that karya (effect) is asat or unreal until it comes into
being. Every effect, then, is a new beginning and is not born out of
More specifically, the effect is a modification of what exists in the
cause and does not involve new entities coming into existence. This is
called as parinamavada or evolution of effect from the cause. This
doctrine is common to the
Samkhya system and
Samkhya system adheres to Prakriti-Parinama vada whereas
Vishishtadvaita is a modified form of Brahma-Parinama vada.
Kārya and kārana
The kārana (cause) and kārya (effect) in
different from other systems of Indian Philosophy.
Brahman is both the
kārana (cause) and the kārya (effect).
Brahman as the cause does not
become the Universe as the effect.
Brahman is assigned two kāranatvas (ways of being the cause):
Nimitta kāranatva — Being the Efficient/ Instrumental cause. For
example, a goldsmith is assigned Nimitta kāranatva as he acts as the
maker of jewellery and thus becomes the jewellery's Instrumental
Upādāna kāranatva — Being the material cause. For example, the
gold is assigned Upādāna kāranatva as it acts as the material of
the jewellery and thus becomes the jewellery's material cause.
According to Vishishtadvaita, the Universe and Sentients always exist.
However, they begin from a subtle state and undergo transformation.
The subtle state is called a causal state, while the transformed state
is called the effect state. The causal state is when
internally not distinguishable by name and form.
It can be said that
Vishishtadvaita follows Brahma-Prakara-Parinama
Vada. That is to say, it is the modes (Jivas and Jagath) of Brahman
which is under evolution. The cause and effect only refer to the
pan-organistic body transformation.
Brahman as the Universal Self is
unchanging and eternal.
Brahman having the subtle (sūkshma) chit and achit entities as his
Saareeram/Prakaaram(body/mode) before manifestation is the same
Brahman having the expanded (stūla) chit and achit entities as
Saareeram/Prakaaram(body/mode) after manifestation.
The essential feature is that the underlying entity is the same, the
changes are in the description of that entity.
For e.g. Jack was a baby. Jack was a small kid. Jack was a middle-aged
person. Jack was an old man. Jack is dead
The body of a single personality named Jack is described as
continuously changing. Jack does not become "James" because of the
Souls and Matter are only the body of God. Creation is a real act of
God. It is the expansion of intelligence. Matter is fundamentally real
and undergoes real revelation. The Soul is a higher mode than Matter,
because it is conscious. It is also eternally real and eternally
distinct. Final release, that comes, by the Lord's Grace, after the
death of the body is a Communion with God. This philosophy believes in
liberation through one's Karmas (actions) in accordance with the
Vedas, the Varna (caste or class) system and the four Ashramas (stages
of life), along with intense devotion to Vishnu. Individual Souls
retain their separate identities even after moksha. They live in
Fellowship with God either serving Him or meditating on Him. The
philosophy of this school is SriVaishnavism, a branch of Vaishnavism.
Interpretation of Mahāvākyas
1. sarvam khalv idam brahma from Chandogya
Translated literally, this means All this is Brahman. The ontology of
Vishishtadvaita system consists of:
Ishvara is Para-brahman with infinite superlative qualities, whose
substantive nature imparts the existence to the modes
b. Jivas are chit-brahman or sentient beings (which possess
consciousness). They are the modes of
Brahman which show
c. Jagat is achit-brahman or matter/Universe (which are
non-conscious). They are the mode of
Brahman which are not conscious.
Brahman is the composite whole of the triad consisting of Ishvara
along with his modes i.e. Jivas and Jagat.
2. ayam ātmā brahma from Mandukya
Translated literally, this means the Self is Brahman. From the earlier
statement, it follows that on account of everything being Brahman, the
self is not different from Brahman.
3. Tat tvam asi from Chandogya
Translated literally, it means Thou art that
that here refers to
Brahman and thou refers to jiva
Rāmānujā chooses to take the position of universal identity. He
interprets this passage to mean the subsistence of all attributes in a
common underlying substratum. This is referred to as
samānādhikaranya. Thus Rāmānujā says the purport of the passage
is to show the unity of all beings in a common base. Ishvara
(Parabrahman) who is the Cosmic Spirit for the pan-organistic body
consisting of the Universe and sentient beings, is also simultaneously
the innermost self (Atmān) for each individual sentient being
(Jīvā). All the bodies, the Cosmic and the individual, are held in
an adjectival relationship (aprthak-siddhi) in the one Isvara.
Tat Tvam Asi declares that oneness of Isvara.
When multiple entities point to a single object, the relationship is
established as one of substance and its attributes.
For e.g. in a statement:
Jack is a tall and intelligent boy
The descriptors tall-ness,intelligence and boy-ness all refer to a
common underlying Jack
Similarly, when the upanishads declare
Brahman is the Universe,
Purusha, Self, Prana, Vayu, and so on, the entities are attributes or
modes of Brahman.
If the statement tat tvam asi is taken to mean as only the self is
brahman, then sarvam khalv idam brahma will not make sense.
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This is an upanishadic concept which is employed while attempting to
know Brahman. The purport of this exercise is understood in many
different ways and also influences the understanding of Brahman. In
the overall sense, this phrase is accepted to refer to the
indescribable nature of
Brahman who is beyond all rationalisations.
Upanishad 2-9-1 passage "yato vacho nivartanthe.." (words
recoil, mind can not grasp...) etc., state the same concept regarding
Brahman . The visishtadvaita interpretation is that these passages do
not indicate a black hole, but the incompleteness of any statement or
thought or concept concerning Brahman.
Brahman is these and more. This
interpretation is consistent with "sarvam kalvidam brahma". Antaryami
Brahmanam of Brihadaranyaka
Upanishad passage "yasya prithvi sariram
yasya atma sariram" is also interpreted to show that
Brahman is not a
zero point - "nirvisesha chinmatra" (an entity which has nothing
The typical interpretation of Neti-Neti is not this, not this or
neither this, nor that. It is a phrase meant to convey the
Brahman in words and the futility of trying to
Brahman with conceptual models.In VisishtAdvaita, the
phrase is taken in the sense of not just this, not just this or not
just this, not just that. This means that
Brahman cannot be restricted
to one specific or a few specific descriptions. Consequently, Brahman
is understood to possess infinite qualities and each of these
qualities are infinite in extent.
Purpose of human existence
The purpose or goal of human existence is called purushartha.
According to the Vedas, there are four goals namely artha (wealth),
kama (pleasure), dharma (righteousness) and moksha (permanent freedom
from worldly bondage). According to this philosophy, the first three
goals are not an end by themselves but need to be pursued with the
ideal of attaining moksha.
Moksha means liberation or release from samsara, the cycle of rebirth.
Bhakti as the means of attaining moksha
Yoga is the sole means of liberation in Vishishtadvaita.
Bhakti (devotion), a
Jiva ascends to the realm of the Lord,
where it continues to delight in His service.
Yoga and Jnana
Yoga are natural outcomes of Bhakti, total surrender, as the devotee
acquires the knowledge that the Lord is the inner self. A devotee
realizes his own state as dependent on, and supported by, and being
led by the Lord, who is the Master. One is to lead a life as an
instrument of the Lord, offering all his thought, word, and deed to
the feet of the Lord. One is to see the Lord in everything and
everything in Him. This is the unity in diversity achieved through
devotion. However Sri
Ramanuja and the Vishishtadvata tradition
accept Saranagati, total surrender at the Lord's lotus feet alone as
the sole means to moksha, liberation from samsara and going to
Vaikuntha. This is a distinguishing feature of this school of
philosophy, as both Adi shankara's advaita and ananda tirtha's dvaita
accept bhakthi for moksha. Swami
Ramanuja has supported this opinion
with various citations directly from the vedas, and various incidents
highlighting sharangathi as means to moksha, over bhakthi. Observing
total surrender at the lord's feet guarantees moksha at the end of
this birth, and in the time between sharanagathi and death, the
surrendered soul may spend his time piously by involving in devotion.
So bhakthi is not a moksha sadhana, but just for anubhava in the
Vadakalai schools of thought
[ one of the foremost learned scholars and philosophers of medieval
India, wrote more than a hundred works in Sanskrit and Tamil. All are
characterised by their versatility, deep spiritual insight, ethical
fervour and excellent expressions of devotional emotion in delightful
style. His Paduka-sahasram is a classic example. He was a great
teacher, expositor, debater, poet, philosopher, thinker and defender
of the faith of Vaishnavism. The
Vadakalai sect of Sri Vaishnavism
associate themselves with
Vedanta Desikan and Ramanujacharya.
Pillai Lokacharya literally meaning "Teacher for the whole world" is
one of the leading lights on the Sri
Vedanta philosophy. His
work Sri Vachana Bhusanam is a classic and provides the essence of
Tenkalai sect of Sri
Vaishnavism looks up to him apart
Ramanuja and Swami Manavala Mamuni. He was a senior
Vedanta Desika. He is said to have been born as an
amsa ("essence") of Kanchi Devaraja (Varadaraja) Perumal to document
and immortalize Ramanuja's message in the month of Aippaci under the
star Thiruvonam (Sravana), in the year 1205 CE. He is said to have
lived for 106 years, during which time, he also helped to safeguard
the idol of Ranganatha at
Muslim invaders. Pillai
Lokacharya confirmed the basics of the Sri
Vaishnava system in his 18
monumental works popularly known as Ashtadasa Rahasyangal ("the
eighteen secrets") also called the Rahasya granthas ("doctrines that
explain the inner meanings") out of which Sri Vachana Bhushanam and
Mumukshuppadi are the most famous.
Manavala Mamuni expanded on and
popularized Lokacharya's teachings arguments in Tamil.
Traditions following Vishishtadvaita
Sri Sampradaya of south India.
Ramanandi Sect of Northern India, it has the largest monastic
order in whole India.
Swaminarayan Sampraday of Gujarat.
Dāmodariya Vaiśņava sampraday of Assam.
Visishtadvaita and Sri Vaishnavism
The Absolute Supreme Reality referred to as Brahman, is a Transcendent
Personality. He is Narayana, also known as Lord Vishnu.
A man who has discrimination for his charioteer and holds the reins of
the mind firmly, reaches the end of the road; and that is the supreme
position of Vishnu. - 1.3.9 Katha Upanishad
Beyond the senses are the objects; beyond the objects is the mind;
beyond the mind, the intellect; beyond the intellect, the Great Atman;
beyond the Great Atman, the Unmanifest; beyond the Unmanifest, the
Purusha. Beyond the
Purusha there is nothing: this is the end, the
Supreme Goal.- 1.3.10,11 Katha Upanishad
In terms of theology, Ramanujacharya puts forth the view that both the
Lakshmi and Supreme God Narayana together constitute
Brahman - the Absolute. Sri
Lakshmi is the female personification of
Brahman and Narayana is the male personification of Brahman, but they
are both inseparable, co-eternal, co-absolute and are always
substantially one. Thus, in reference to these dual aspects of
Brahman, the Supreme is referred to in the Sri
Narayana is the Absolute God. The Soul and the Universe are only parts
of this Absolute and hence,
Vishishtadvaita is the solution to
panentheistic and pantheistic ideologies. The relationship of God to
the Soul and the Universe is like the relationship of the Soul of Man
to the body of Man. Individual souls are only parts of Brahman. God,
Soul and Universe together form an inseparable unity which is one and
has no second. This is the non-duality part. Matter and Souls inhere
in that Ultimate Reality as attributes to a substance [needs to
improvisation]. This is the qualification part of the non-duality.
^ Chandrankunnel, Matthew (2008).
Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics. New
Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House. p. 945.
^ Jones, Constance (2007). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. New York:
Infobase Publishing. p. 490. ISBN 0816073368.
^ Williams, Raymond (2001). Introduction to
Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press. p. 35. ISBN 0 521
^ J.L.Mehta VOl3
^ a b Chandrankunnel, Matthew (2008).
Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics.
New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House. p. 946.
Viśiṣṭādvaita doctrine of Soul according to Rāmānuja and
Veṅkaṭanātha, Surendranath Dasgupta, 1940
Ramanuja and VisishtAdvaita
Advaita and VisishtAdvaita
Acintya bheda abheda
Buddhist philosophy and Early Buddhist schools
All 108 texts
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Sampradayas of Vaishnavism
Kumara-sampradaya of Nimbarka
Brahma Sampradaya of Madhvacharya
Sri Sampradaya of Ramanuja
Rudra sampradaya of Vishnuswami