Vedanta is the best-known philosophical school of India, to the point where its name is virtually synonymous with Indian Philosophy worldwide. Unlike its fellow Vedic schools of thought, Vedanta goes deeply into Vedic wisdom to come up with theological interpretations of God, instead of developing its own metaphysical systems. Of the orthodox traditions emanating from the Vedas, Vedanta may be considered the school of scriptural exegesis (the philosophical interpretation of texts). This closeness to the original scriptural inspiration is surely the reason for its unending popularity throughout world culture and history.
Schools of ‘Inquiry’ in Indian Philosophy.
Within the set of six orthodox philosophies in the Vedic tradition, Vedanta philosophy is commonly paired with the Mimamsa school. Both are concerned with inquiry (Mimamsa) into the Vedas, and are similarly text-based. Indeed, Vedanta also goes by the name of UttaraMimamsa, or the ‘later enquiry’ - a reference to the parts of the Vedas that guide its interpretive process. Unlike the Mimamsa school, which concentrates on the strict performance of ritual as prescribed in the earlier parts; Vedanta confines itself to the later, more contemplative parts of the Vedas – chiefly, the Upanishads.
The Three Sources of Vedanta Philosophy.
All traditions of Vedanta base their philosophical and theological interpretations on three texts – texts believed to contain the very essence of the Vedas. The first and foremost of these is the Upanishads - a compilation of the highest insights of the Vedas, and considered to have the status of revealed knowledge. The second text of the Vedanta canon is the Brahma Sutra - an incredibly concise and complex commentary on Upanishadic wisdom and considered to be a work of logic. The final text of the set is the Bhagavad Gita - contained within the epic Mahabharata and emanating from the oral tradition as ‘remembered’ knowledge.The schools of Vedanta place differing emphases on these texts, with some of the more bhakti-oriented schools greatly prioritizing the insights of the Bhagavad Gita to support their creed.
The Schools of Vedanta.
The most famous school of Vedanta is undoubtedly that of AdiShankara’s Advaita Vedanta– based on an interpretation of the Upanishads that identifies soul (Atman) entirely with God (Brahman). This is also the school to have been most successfully transported abroad, and because of this, many have the misconception that Vedanta itself refers to non-dualism. However, this is not the case: Vedanta consists of up to ten schools each differing in their view on dualism. There can be no simpler way to phrase these differences than with Swami Sivananda’s words on the three main branches:
Madhva said: "Man is the servant of God," and established his Dvaitaphilosophy. Ramanuja said: "Man is a ray or spark of God," and established his Visishtadvaita philosophy. Sankara said: "Man is identical with Brahman or the Eternal Soul," and established his KevalaAdvaita philosophy.
The three Vedanta schools mentioned are Dualism, Qualified Non-Dualism and Non-Dualism, respectively. These represent the earliest three schools of interpretation, and later spawned several others. With the exception of Advaita Vedanta, all other schools can be located within the tradition of Vaishnavism (Vishnu worship) in India.
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