What are Vedas and Upanishads?
Upanishads represent the central teachings of the Vedas in concentrated form. Hence, they are also known as Vedanta. Upanishads are teachings towards the end of the Vedas. They represents the conclusion of the Vedic teachings. Synonymously known as Upanishads, they represent the philosophical foundations of Sanatana Dharma. Although Bhagavad Gita represents the most popular text of the Vedic Pantheon, it is the essence of the Upanishads.
A great metaphor in this regards is that, the Upanishad is a “Cow”, the Bhagavad Gita is the milk and Lord Krishna is the milkman, milking 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.
Emergence of Different Schools of Vedanta Philosophy
The concept of Dualism (Dwaita) and non-dualism (Advaita), comes from the commentaries on the Brahma Sutras. Sri Adi Shankaracharya wrote commentaries on the Brahma Sutras about 1400 years ago. His commentaries known as Shankara Bhashya, explain the Upanishads. The commentaries also represented the interpretation of Upanishads, Gita and 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 Adi Shankara’s arguments with conviction claim that there is only one essential component of existence, Brahman. He professed that all other expressions were secondary to this fundamental component of Brahman.
Difference in Advaita and other Duality Schools
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 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 while Jeev represents the living entity. On the other hand, Bhagawan represents the controlling entity where Maya and Jeev are subservient to Him. Sri Shankara’s driving methodology is Jnana whereas other schools have Bhakti as their basis towards understanding Reality.
Sri Ramanuja’s commentaries on the Gita, Brahman Sutra and Upanishads is known as Sri Bhashya, where he 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.
Dwaita-Vedanta clearly proclaims that Brahman is Supreme. But, Brahman is not formless. He has 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 the one, who is capable of listening to prayers and granting boons.
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. It also includes Karma which becomes the driving force of our continuance in various bodily forms. Our intentions generate Karma. Generation of Karma forms the cycle of cause and effect. The consequences controlled by cause and effect give rise to ‘Sukha-Dukha’ or ‘pleasure-pain’. To experience fleeting emotions and states of existence, we need a body. This explains the cycle of birth and death.
The jivatma includes the soul as well as the subtle body of emotions. Also, jivatma has a thought-body that travels together in his journey from one body to another. All Indic thought systems like Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism accept the theory of ‘Reincarnation and Karma.’
Shuddha-Advaita Vedanta and Dwaita-Adwaita 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”.
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