What are Vedas and Upanishads? | Dvaita, Advaita and Vishishtadvaita Philosophy

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Representation of Upanishads

Upanishads represent the central teachings of the Vedas in concentrated form, available towards the end of the Vedas. Hence they are also known as Vedanta, or teachings towards the end of the Vedas. Vedanta represents the conclusion of the Vedic teachings. Upanishads represent the philosophical foundations of Sanatana Dharma. Although the Bhagavad Gita represents the most popular text of the Vedic Pantheon, it represents the essence of the Upanishads. A great metaphor in this regards is that the Upanishads is the “Cow”, the Bhagavad Gita is the milk and Lord Krishna is the milkman who milks the cow. Arjuna is the calf to whom the milk is served. There is another famous text known as the Brahma Sutra written by Sri Badrayana Vyasa which contains 555 aphorisms that describe the nature of Reality. It embodies the philosophy of Vedanta. Upanishads represent mystique and poetry. The Brahma Sutras raise questions regarding consciousness through short aphorisms.

Milestones of Dwaita And Advaita Vedanta

The concept of Dualism namely Dwaita and non-dualism namely Advaita, comes from the commentaries on the Brahma Sutras. Sri Adi Shankaracharya wrote commentaries on the Brahma Sutras about 1400 years ago, known as Shankara Bhashya, explaining the Upanishads. Later there were commentaries on the Brahma Sutra that were written by Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Madhvacharya etc. The paradigm that was set forth in these commentaries gave rise to different schools of Vedanta. The commentaries also represented the interpretation of Upanishads, the Gita and the Brahma Sutras in particular. The commentaries of Sri Shankara is called the “Prasthana Trayi” or the triple canon. It is also known as the “Sariraka Mimamsa Bhashya”. The works of Sri Adi Shankara formed the basis of Advaita Vedanta also known as Kevala Advaita. Sri Ramanuja’s commentary on the Gita, Brahman Sutra and Upanishads is known as Sri Bhashya, where he powerfully and openly disagrees with Sri Adi Shankara’s commentary. The works of Sri Ramanujacharya formed the basis of Vishishta Advaita Vedanta. After 250 years of Sri Ramanujacharya’s disappearance, Sri Madhvacharya appeared on the scene. He disagreed with both the interpretations of Sri Adi Shankara and Sri Ramanujacharya. His commentary on the Upanishads, Gita and Brahma Sutra is known as the “Purna Prajna Bhashya”. The philosophy of “Dwaita Vedanta” was established by Sri Madhvacharya based on his commentaries. This is the Dualistic Vedanta. Sri Vallabhacharya, came later and he established a philosophy known as “Shuddha Advaita Vedanta” and his commentaries are known as the “Anu Bhashya”. Around the same time, Sri Nimbarkacharya came out with his commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads known as the “Vedanta Parijata Bhashya”. His philosophy is known as the Dwaita-Advaita Vedanta. The followers of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu established the philosophy of Acintya-Bhed-Abhed. The sect which follows the teachings of this philosophy is known as the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sect. The commentary on the Brahma Sutra and the Gita was written by a great scholar of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sect known as Sri Baladeva Vidyabhushan and the commentary is known as “Govinda-Bhashya”.

Difference in Advaita and other Duality Schools

One major difference between the Advaita Vedantins and the rest of the philosophy is a fundamental one. Sri Adi Shankara’s arguments are based on the premise that there is only one essential component of existence and that is Brahman. He professed that all other expressions were secondary to this fundamental component of Brahman. The rest of the schools of thought is based on three fundamental components and not one. The three fundamental components are Maya, Jeev and Bhagawan. Maya represents the illusory potency. Jeev represents the living entity while Bhagawan represents the controlling entity where Maya and Jeev are subservient to Bhagawan. Sri Shankara’s driving methodology is Jnana whereas other schools have Bhakti as their basis or driving methodology towards understanding Reality.

Philosophy of Dwaita Vedanta

Dwaita-Vedanta clearly proclaims that Brahman is Supreme and that Brahman has form, the form of Maha-Vishnu. Maha Vishnu is independent in all respects. All other living and non-living entities are dependent on Maha Vishnu for their upkeep and survival. Maha Vishnu is one, who is capable of listening to prayers and granting favors. The source of the Material Universe is “Prakriti” or Jagat, in simple language it stands for Mother Nature. Even our own minds are a product of Material Nature alone. Living entities are managed by Nature. Nature also includes Karma which becomes the driving force of our continuance in various bodily forms. The intentions that we hold, generate Karma which serves as our projector into the cycle of cause and effect. The consequences controlled by cause and effect give rise to “Sukha-Dukha” roughly translated as pleasure and pain. To experience pleasure and pain, we need a body. Thus we travel from body to body fueled by Karma. This explains the cycle of birth and death. The jivatma includes the soul as well as the subtle body of emotions and thought-body which engulfs the soul and travels together, as it changes the body. All Indic thought systems accept the theory of reincarnation and Karma which includes religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

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