VishishtAdvaita Vedanta (IAST "IAST|Viśishṭādvaita Vedanta";Sanskrit: विशिष्टाद्वैत)) is a sub-school of the Vedānta (literally, "end or the goal of Knowledge", Sanskrit) school of Hindu philosophy, the other major sub-schools of Vedānta being "Advaita" and "Dvaita". "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 characterised by multiplicity. It can be described as qualified monism or attributive monism.

"Asesha Chit-Achit Prakaaram Brahmaikameva Tatvam" - Brahman as qualified by the sentient and insentient modes (aspects or attributes) is the only reality.

It is a school of Vedanta philosophy which believes in all diversity subsuming to an underlying unity. Ramanuja, the main proponent of Visishtadvaita philosophy contends that the Prasthana Traya ("The three courses") i.e. Upanişads, Bhagavad Gītā, and Brahma Sūtras are to be interpreted in way that shows this unity in diversity, for any other way would violate their consistency.


The VisishtAdvaitic 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 Vedanta Sangraha. In the line of the philosophers considered to have expounded the VisishtAdvaitic system, the prominent ones are Bodhayana, Dramida, Tanka, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Bharuci. Besides these philosophers, Ramanuja's teacher Yamunacharya is credited with laying the foundation for what culminates as the Sri Bhashya.
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 Sutras. Natha-muni 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 Alwars, 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 VisishtAdvaita philosophy. The philosophy itself is considered to have existed long before Ramanuja's time.Fact|date=April 2008 Ramanuja continues along the line of thought of his predecessors while expounding the knowledge expressed in the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita.

Vedanta Desikan, one of the foremost learned scholars 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.

Pillai Lokacharya is associated with the Tenkalai sect of Sri Vaishnavism. He is said to have 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. Fact|date=June 2008. He is said to have lived for 106 years, during which time, he also helped to safeguard the idol of Ranganatha at Srirangam from Muslim invaders Fact|date=June 2008. Pillai Lokacharya confirmed the basics of the Sri Vaishnava system in his 18 works popularly known as "Ashtadasa Rahasyangal" ("the eighteen secrets") also called the Rahasya granthas ("doctrines that explain the inner meanings").

An important point to be noted here is that though these are two Schools of Sri Vaishnavism (the religion) there are no differences in the doctrines of Vishistadvaita.POV-statement|date=April 2008 There are only differences in issues related to the method of following (for Eg. There is difference in the concept of sharanagati), status of Sri and the status of nitya karmanushtanams. The Philosophy of Vishistadvaita is essentially same.

Key Principles of VishishtAdvaita

The understanding of the 3 principles of VishishtAdvaita namely, Tattva, Hita and PurushArtha are essential pre-requisites for an aspirant of that knowledge which leads to liberation.POV-statement|date=April 2008

*Tattva: The knowledge of the 3 real entities namely, jIvA (the sentient); Jagat (the insenient) and Ishvara ("Vishnu-Narayana" or "Parabrahman")

*Hita: The means of realisation i.e. through Bhakti (devotion) and Prapatti (self-surrender)

*PurushArtha: The goal to be attained i.e. moksha or liberation from bondage.



Pramā, in Sanskrit, refers to the correct knowledge, arrived at by thorough reasoning, of any object. IAST|Pramāṇa ("sources of knowledge", Sanskrit) forms one part of a IAST|tripuṭi (trio), namely,
#, the "subject"; the "knower" of the knowledge
#, the "cause" or the "means" of the knowledge
# Prameya, the "object" of knowledge

In VisishtAdvaita Vedānta, the following three IAST|pramāṇas are alone accepted as valid means of knowledge:

* — the knowledge gained by means of "perception"
* — the knowledge gained by means of "inference"
* IAST|ṣabda — the knowledge gained by means of "Sruti"

"Perception" refers to knowledge obtained by cognition of external objects based on sensory perception. In the modern day usage this will also include evidence obtained by means of observation through scientific instruments since they are only an extension of perception.

"Inference" refers to knowledge obtained by deductive reasoning and analysis.

"Sruti" refers to knowledge obtained from scriptures which primarily are Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita

Rules of Epistemology

The following rules of hierarchy apply to the issues when there is apparent conflict between the 3 modes of acquiring knowledge:POV-statement|date=April 2008

*IAST|ṣabda or IAST|Sruti Pramāṇa occupies the highest position in matters which cannot be settled or resolved by IAST|Pratyakṣa or Anumāna.

*Anumāna occupies the next position. When an issue cannot be settled through sensory perception alone, it is settled based on Anumāna i.e. whichever argument is more logical.

*When IAST|Pratyakṣa yields a definitive position on a particular issue, such a perception cannot be ignored to interpret IAST|ṣabda in a way which violates that perception.



The ontology in VishishtAdvaita consists of explaining the relationship between Ishvara ("Parabrahman"), the sentient beings ("chit-brahman") and the insentient Universe ("achit-brahman"). In the broadest sense, Ishvara is the Universal Soul of the pan-organistic body consisting of the Universe and sentient beings. The description of the three ontological entities is given 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. Ishvara is Parabrahman endowed with innumerable auspicious qualities (Kalyana Gunas). Ishvara is perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, creator of the universe, its active ruler and also the 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 Māyā — His divine power.

Ishvara is considered to have a 2-fold characteristic: he is the indweller of all beings and all beings also reside in Ishvara.Fact|date=April 2008


When Ishvara is thought of as the indweller of all beings, he is referred to as the paramātmān, or the innermost self of all beings. Ishvara is also the self for the non-conscious Universe.POV-statement|date=April 2008

"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 Upanishad 3.7.4-14


When Ishvara is thought of as the all encomposing and the residence of all beings i.e. 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.Or|date=April 2008

"Sarvam khalvidam Brahma" Chandogya Upanishad

"Isavasyam idam sarvam" Isa Upanishad


Chit is the world of sentient beings, or of entities possessing consciousness. It is similar to the Purusha of 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" conscousness, or more specifically self-consciousness. 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 of Samkhya system


There is a subtle difference between Ishvara and Brahman. Ishvara is 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 attributes. "

The relationship between Brahman and Jivas, Jagat is expressed by Rāmānujā in numerous ways. He calls this relationship as one of:

*Sarira/Sariri ("body/indweller");
*Prakara/Prakari ("attribute or mode/substance");
*Sesha/Seshi ("Owned/owner");
*Amsa/Amsi ("part/whole");
*Adharadeya/Sambandha ("supporter/supported");
*Niyamya/Niyanta ("controlled/controller");
*Rasksya/Raksaka ("redeemed/redeemer");

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 Brahman mean?

Ramanuja argues vehemently against understanding Brahman as one without attributes. Brahman is Nirguna in the sense that impure qualities do not touch it. He provides three valid reasons for staking such a claim:

Sruti/ Sabda Pramana: All sruti and sabda's denoting Brahman always list either attributes inherent to Brahman or not inherent to Brahman. The Sruti's only seek to deny Brahman from possessing impure and defective qualities which affect the world of beings. There is evidence in the Sruti's to this regard. The Sruti's proclaim Brahman to be beyond the tri-gunas which are observed. However, Brahman possess infinite number of transcendental attributes, the evidence of which is given in vakhyas like "satyam jnanam anantam Brahma"

Pratyaksha Pramana: Ramanuja states that "a contentless cognition is impossible". And all cognition must necessarily involve knowing Brahman through the attributes of Brahman.

Anumana Pramana: Ramanuja states that "Nirgunatva" itself becomes an attribute of Brahman on account of the uniqueness of no other entity being Nirguna.

Theory of Existence

VishishtAdvaita adheres to a system of complete reality.POV-statement|date=April 2008 The three ontological entities i.e. Ishvara, Chit and Achit are fundamentally real. It upholds the doctrine of "Satkaryavada" as against "Asatkaryavada".


*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 cause.

More specifically, the effect is a modification of what exists in the cause and doesnot 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 VishishtAdvaita system. The Samkhya system adheres to Prakriti-Parinama vada whereas Vishishtadvaita is a modified form of Brahma-Parinama vada.

IAST|Kārya and kāraṇa

The IAST|kāraṇa ("cause") and IAST|kārya ("effect") in Vishishtadvaita is different form other systems of Indian Philosophy. Brahman is both the IAST|kāraṇa("cause") and the IAST|kārya("effect"). Brahman as the cause does not become the Universe as the effect.

Brahman is assigned two IAST|kāraṇatvas ("ways of being the cause"):

#IAST|Nimitta kāraṇatva — "Being the Efficient/ Instrumental cause". For example, a goldsmith is assigned IAST|Nimitta kāraṇatva as he acts as the maker of jewellery and thus becomes the jewellery's "Instrumental cause".

#IAST|Upādāna kāraṇatva — "Being the material cause". For example, the gold is assigned IAST|Upādāna kāraṇatva as it acts as the material of the jewellery and thus becomes the jewellery's "material cause".

The Universe and Sentients always exist, much like Brahman.POV-statement|date=April 2008 However, they undergo transformation. 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 Brahman is internally not distinguishable by name and form. The effect state is when the internal distinction becomes pronounced. POV-statement|date=April 2008

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 eg. "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 doesnot become "James" because of the change.


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 accordiance 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

All Vedantic schools need to substantiate the meaning espoused by Mahāvākyas which occur throughout Upanishadic literature.POV-statement|date=April 2008Fact|date=April 2008 The interpretation of these "Grand Pronouncements" serve as the cornerstone for establishing each school of thought. The most significant among them is:POV-statement|date=April 2008

1. sarvam khalv idam brahma from Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1

Translated literally, this means "All this is Brahman". The ontology of Vishishtadvaita system consists of:

1. Ishvara is "Para-brahman" with infinite superlative qualities, whose substantive nature imparts the existence to the modes

2. Jivas are "chit-brahman" or sentient beings (which possess consciousness). They are the modes of Brahman which show consciousness.

3. 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. Hence, "all this is Brahman" denotes the triad of entities.POV-statement|date=April 2008

2. ayam ātmā brahma from Mandukya Upanishad 1.2

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 Upanishad 6.8.7

Translated literally, it means "Thou art that"

"that" here refers to "Brahman" and "thou" refers to "jiva"

The vākya establishes the identity of the jiva and Brahman. The issue here is if the identity involves establishing a unique identity or a universal identity. The difference is as follows:

1. Unique Identity:

Atman is Brahman; Nothing else is Brahman; Brahman is reality and therefore everything else is illusion

2. Universal Identity:

Atman is Brahman in the same way as everything else is Brahman. POV-statement|date=April 2008

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 eg. 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.

Understanding Neti-Neti

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 understaning of Brahman.In the overall sense, this phrase is accepted to refer to the indescribable nature of Brahman who is beyond all rationalisations. All descriptions of such an entity will necessarily have to be partial or fall short of the actual.POV-statement|date=April 2008

The typical interpretation of Neti-Neti is "not this, not this" or "neither this, nor that". 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 as 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 is a state where the jiva achieves one-ness with Brahman in terms of all knowership and possessing qualities free from all wordly evils and defects. The jiva however does not possess the power to manifest/create and unmanifest/destroy. Neither does it have the power to grant Moksha. Fact|date=April 2008POV-statement|date=April 2008

The union of Atman and Brahman is likened to a situation where tiny lamps come under the blaze of the Sun. The lamp and Sun are still identifiable as different sources of light and yet the light arising from them is indistinguishable.POV-statement|date=April 2008 Fact|date=April 2008 Moksha does not involve destruction of the self ("I") consciousness of the jiva.

Comparison with Western Non-dualism

Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Dutch rationalist philosopher, in his magnum work Ethics establishes the nature of God. Spinoza's pan-organistic God (i.e. God revealed as orderly nature) is comparable to Brahman (having the individual selves' and Universe as its body)

Spinoza makes the following propositions on the nature of God in his work "Ethics". These positions closely reflect the VishistAdvaitic position on the nature of Brahman:

PROPOSITION XI. God, or substance consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.

PROPOSITION XV. Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.

PROPOSITION XVII. God acts solely by the laws of his own nature and is not constrained by anyone.

PROPOSITION XVIII. God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.

PROPOSITION XIX. God and all the attributes of God are eternal.

PROPOSITION XXX. Intellect, in function finite, or in function infinite, must comprehend the attributes of God and the modifications of God, and nothing else.

VisishtAdvaita and Sri Vaishnavism

The Absolute Supreme Reality referred to as Brahman, is a Transcendent Personality with infinite superlative qualities. He is Narayana, also known as Lord Vishnu. He is also the other two members of the Trimurti, namely, Creator Brahma and Shiva, the Lord of Deluge.POV-statement|date=April 2008

"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 Supreme Goddess 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 Vaishnava Sampradaya as Sriman Narayana.


Vishishtadvaita conclusions may be briefly summarised as below.

Narayana is the Absolute God. The Soul and the Universe are only parts of this Absolute and hence, Vishishtadvaita is panentheistic. 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. This is the qualification part of the non-duality.

Vishishtadvaita philosophy provided the philosophical basis for the establishment of Sri Vaishnavism and gave Vedantic backing to the brimming devotion of the Alwar saints and their composition of wonderful poetry and devotional songs in praise of Lord Vishnu.POV-statement|date=April 2008 The succession of great Master-Expositors and spiritual giants of Vishishtadvaita school starts with the twelve Alwars,Fact|date=April 2008 who left behind an imperishable legacy of Tamil devotional poetry in the form of 4000 songs, now called the Nalayira divya prabandham.POV-statement|date=April 2008


ee also


External links

*Biographies of [ Ramanuja] and [ Vedanta Desika]
* [ Ramanuja and VisishtAdvaita]
* [ more information]
* [ Advaita and VisishtAdvaita]
* [ more information]
* [ The non-absolutist school of Hindu philosophy]

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