Vedanta [key], one of the six classical systems of Indian philosophy. The term “Vedanta” has the literal meaning “the end of the Veda” and refers both to the teaching of the Upanishads, which constitute the last section of the Veda, and to the knowledge of its ultimate meaning. By extension it is the name given to those philosophical schools that base themselves on the Brahma Sutras (also called the Vedanta Sutras) of Badarayana (early centuries a.d.), which summarize the Upanishadic doctrine. The best-known and most influential of the schools of Vedanta is that of Shankara (a.d. 788–820), known as the nondualist or advaita Vedanta. Shankara attempted to show that the teaching of the Upanishads was a self-consistent whole. According to Shankara, the ultimate reality is Brahman or the Self, which is pure reality, pure consciousness, and pure bliss. The world has come into being from Brahman and is wholly dependent on it. The criteria of reality are immutability and permanence. Since the world is constantly changing, and since its existence is not absolute but dependent on Brahman, the world is called illusion or maya. Brahman exists as the Absolute, without qualities (nirguna), and also exists with qualities (saguna) as a personal god, Ishvara, who presides over the world of appearance. Shankara divided the Veda into two sections, that dealing with duties and ritual actions (karmakanda) and that dealing with knowledge of reality (jnanakanda) contained in the Upanishads. Spiritual liberation is achieved not by ritual action, which is for those of inferior spiritual capacity, but by eradication of the ignorance (avidya) that sees the illusory multiplicity of the world as real, and by attainment of knowledge of the Self. The qualified nondualism or vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja (1017–1137) argued against Shankara, holding that Brahman is not devoid of qualities, but rather is the possessor of divine qualities. The world and individual souls are not illusion, but have intrinsic reality, although they are dependent on God. Ramanuja, a worshiper of Vishnu, advocated devotion or bhakti as a means of salvation. The dualist or dvaita Vedanta of Madhva (1197–1276) attacked the monistic followers of Shankara and defended a pluralist standpoint. He asserted the permanently separate reality of the world, souls, and God, who is identified with Vishnu. Vedanta in one or the other of its forms has had a pervasive influence on the intellectual and religious life of India, and it is still a living tradition. Well-known modern Vedantists include Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Swami Vivekananda, and Aurobindo Ghose (Sri Aurobindo).
See bibliography under Hindu philosophy.
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