Transliteration Key

The mImAm.sA (literally, enquiry) schools admit of Sruti (that which is heard, i.e. revelation) as a pramANa. Usually, the word mImAm.sA refers exclusively to the pUrva mImAm.sA school. The uttara mImAm.sA school is more popularly known as vedAnta. A wide variety of texts, collectively called smRti (that which is remembered), is taken as a lower authority that is valid when it does not conflict with Sruti. Other sources of knowledge accepted by both pUrva mImAm.sA and vedAnta are: pratyaksha (sensory perception), upamAna (analogy), anumAna (inference), arthApatti (postulation) and anupalabdhi/abhAva (non-cognition/absence). The first three are borrowed from the nyAya-vaiSeshika schools, but arthApatti and anupalabdhi are unique to the bhATTa school of mImAm.sA thought. The mImAm.sA school of prabhAkara, called guru-mata, does not accept abhAva as an independent pramANa. Above all these, the veda stands as the supreme source of knowledge. The primacy concern of mImAm.sA is textual exegesis, in addition to being a school of philosophy. Theology and religion are inseparable from philosophy in the mImAm.sA schools. However, both pUrva and uttara mImAm.sA schools maintain that Sruti exists only to reveal that which cannot be known otherwise. Moreover, Sruti cannot deny a fact that is amenable to ordinary perception, e.g. no amount of repetition by the vedas that fire is cold will make fire cold. Thus, if there occurs a statement in Sruti that goes contrary to perception, it requires interpretation in a metaphorical or allegorical sense. Hence, there is a place for logical thinking based on perception and inference in these schools.

pUrva mImAm.sA interprets the vedas mainly as a set of injunctions (vidhi), with adjoining recital (mantra) and commentary (arthavAda) portions. Thus, a statement, "he who is desirous of heaven should perform the jyotishToma rite" is a vidhi, an injunction, and the rite itself is to be performed with the relevant mantras. The knowledge conveyed by this statement is not known by any other means, and its purpose is to impel the listener to action. According to pUrva mImAm.sA, this heaven is the highest salvation that is available to human beings, and thus the vedas are the sources of knowledge about both dharma and moksha. The upanishads and brAhmaNas which relate to the said jyotishToma rite are considered to be the arthavAda, the explanatory commentary. The knowledge conveyed by the upanishads is also not known by any other means, but the upanishads are considered to be subordinate to the statements which impel man to action. Along with injunctions, there are also pratishedhas, statements which prohibit certain actions. The tradition of such textual exegesisis codified in the mImAm.sA sUtras of jaimini, with commentaries by Sabara, and sub-commentaries by kumArila bhaTTa and prabhAkara. The mImAm.sA that is taught in traditional vaidIka pAThaSAlAs in India today is based mainly upon the SAbara bhAshya and kumArila's vArttikas. This school is called bhATTa mImAm.sA; the rival school called guru mata, following prabhAkara's interpretation, is mostly extinct today.

uttara mImAm.sA, also called vedAnta, does not consider the upanishads and brAhmaNas as arthavAda subservient to vidhis. Instead, they are seen to be sources of brahman knowledge, addressed solely to those who seek moksha. The rituals enjoined in the vedas are applicable to the realm of dharma, but the one who seeks liberation does not merely desire a place in heaven; he is in search of ultimate Reality itself. The upanishads are viewed as those portions of the Sruti that address philosophical questions about Reality, here called brahman. This tradition of exegesis follows the brahmasUtras of bAdarAyaNa. Within vedAnta, there is considerable difference of opinion on whether the upanishads enjoin anything at all. The non-advaita schools consider some of the statements in the upanishads to be injunctions. The most famous example is AtmA vA are drashTavya: Srotavya: mantavya: nididhyAsitavya:. Most, if not all, non-advaita schools would take this to be an injunction. In contrast, the advaitin approach to this statement is to treat it as advice to the mumukshu, not as an injunction. This is because the AtmA is an accomplished fact; it is not a result of any action and therefore meditation on the innermost AtmA cannot be enjoined. In this respect, knowing the Atman contrasts with the heaven which is attained as a result of the performance of the jyotishToma sacrifice. According to advaita vedAnta, the veda addresses itself to two kinds of audiences - the ordinary ones who desire the transitory heaven and other pleasures obtained as a result of ritual sacrifices, and the more advanced seeker who seeks to know brahman. Thus, the pUrva mImAm.sA, with its emphasis on the karma kANDa of the vedas, is meant for the first audience, to help lead its followers along the way. However, the vedAnta, with its emphasis on the jnAna kANDa, is meant for those who wish to go beyond such transient pleasures.

As a mImAm.sA, vedAnta has a function of textual exegesis, with its uniquely Indian views on the origin, relevance and scope of revelation. In itself, any school of vedAnta can be considered to be a philosophy and also as a religion, there being no distinct line that can be drawn between the two, at least in the Indian context. vedAnta literally means "the end of the vedas." This can be interpreted in more ways than one. From the textual point of view, the upanishads, the source books of the vedAnta, are considered to be the end of the vedas. From a philosophical point of view, vedAnta is the fruit or the goal of all the vedas. The philosophical interpretation is more preferable in the tradition. This is because the vedic texts are considered to be eternal, revealed scripture, so that they have no definable chronological beginning or end. advaita vedAnta is the oldest living school of vedAnta. It is also generally considered to be the premier school of vedAnta,and the word vedAnta is used synonymously with advaita in most literature.

vedAnta bases itself mainly upon three sets of texts, called prasthAna trayI. These are the upanishads (Sruti prasthAna), the bhagavad gItA (smRti prasthAna) and the brahmasUtras of bAdarAyaNa (nyAya prasthAna). A working definition for a Hindu tradition to be called vedAnta is that it should have definitive commentarial texts on the three prasthAnas. Consequently, the following brief description overlooks important traditions like those of Kashmir Saivism and southern Saiva siddhAnta.

An essential identity between Atman and brahman is upheld in advaita vedAnta. The personality of SankarAcArya and the force of advaita teaching is so strong that most post-Sankaran schools of vedAnta consciously define their doctrines against advaita thought. A number of pre-Sankaran vedAntins seem to have been proponents of bhedAbheda (bheda+abheda, or identity in difference). The earliest post-Sankaran school of vedAnta is also one of bhedAbheda. This is seen from the commentaries of bhAskarAcArya, which are still available, although the number of followers of this school is quite small. In the 14th century, SrIpati paNDita, a commentator from the vIraSaiva tradition, also identifies himself as a bhedAbhedavAdin. However, in general, the vIraSaiva school does not pay much attention to vedAntic questions. Some early advaita vedAnta influence on the monistic schools of Kashmir Saivism is also postulated. However, these schools base themselves upon an independent set of texts, namely the Saiva Agamas, and do not consider themselves to be vedAntic in origin.

A body-soul relationship between Atman and brahman is upheld in the school known as viSishTAdvaita. Here, the highest brahman is considered as a "person" with a body consisting of souls and matter. Theistic devotion to this highest brahman is held to be the sole means to final moksha. The viSishTAdvaita schools split on the question of identifying the highest brahman with Siva or vishNu, the Great Gods of Hinduism. The school of SrIkaNTha regards Siva to be the highest brahman, and teaches a variety of viSishTAdvaita. However, appayya dIkshita reinterpreted SrIkaNTha's thought in terms of advaita vedAnta, and consequently, this school has come to be known as SivAdvaita. Thus, only the vedAnta schools associated with vaishNava religion have maintained an identity distinct from advaita vedAnta.

Most people understand the word viSishTAdvaita to refer to the SrI vaishNava school of rAmAnujAcArya, which considers the highest brahman to be vishNu as SrImannArAyaNa, and continues to have a distinct identity in southern India, with major centers at Srirangam and Kancipuram. There is remarkable similarity between the teachings of rAmAnuja and SrIkaNTha, except that while the former insists upon the supremacy of nArAyaNa, the latter insists upon that of paramaSiva. Many northern bhakti schools trace their thought to rAmAnuja's tradition, through the person of rAmAnanda, a SrI vaishNava monk, who travelled extensively in the north and had many disciples. These vaishNava monks also belong to the tradition of tridaNDI sam.nyAsa, as compared to the ekadaNDI sam.nyAsa tradition of the daSanAmI monks. The tridaNDI ascetics carry a staff that consists of three sticks tied together, symbolizing the unity of three separate entities (God, individual soul and matter). The ekadaNDI monks carry a single stick, symbolizing the essential identity of brahman and Atman.

Complete difference and dualism is taught in the dvaita school of AnandatIrtha (also known as pUrNaprajna). This is a vaishNava tradition, centered at Udupi in Karnataka. AnandatIrtha was the disciple of an advaita daSanAmI monk named acyutapreksha tIrtha, but he completely rejected advaita teaching. Because of this historical legacy, monks of the dvaita tradition continue to use daSanAmI suffixes, especially tIrtha, and are ekadaNDI sam.nyAsins, although they would not interpret their single staff as a symbol of brahman-Atman identity. The gauDiya vaishNavas claim to be affiliated to the dvaita tradition, but their teaching of acintya bhedAbheda is quite different philosophically. They have also affiliated themselves with the tridaNDI sam.nyAsa tradition in recent times. And there is the devotional vaishNava school of vallabhAcArya, which is known as pushTi-mArga, and as SuddhAdvaita. Despite this name, this school should not be confused with advaita vedAnta. The gauDiya vaishNavas have substantial following in Bengal, and the vallabha school in Gujarat. nimbArka, another vaishNava teacher, taught dvaitAdvaita, which is similar to bhedAbheda. This is a vaishNava school that has a small following in the plains of the Yamuna river.


Last updated on May 5, 1999.

Back The advaita home page