INTRODUCTION TO VEDANTA
Uttar Mimamsa is the Vedanta, one of the most significant of all Indian philosophies. As compared to other systems, its advent and growth is recent. Still it is the most influential orthodox philosophical systems of India.
The Vedas are the most valuable scriptures of the mankind. They present the most exalted form of superhuman knowledge and wisdom. The Vedas are eternal. They are timeless since they might have taken ages to acquire the written form.
The four Vedas are: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Each of the Vedas is divided into four parts : The Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. The Upanishads are the concluding parts of the Vedas. They expound the supreme philosophical knowledge. The word ‘Vedanta’ usually refers to the Upanishads. The word is a compound of ‘Veda’ and ‘Anta’. It means the ending portion of the Vedas. However, the word ‘Vedanta’, in a broad sense, covers not only the Upanishads but all the commentaries and interpretations associated with the Upanishads. All these works constitute the Vedanta philosophy.
The great scholar Badarayana(?500-200 B.C) initiated the efforts to simplify the Upanishadic philosophy. Badarayana is also known as Ved Vyasa. He was the first scholar to take up the challenging task of systemizing the immensely vast philosophical doctrines of the Upanishads. The result of his efforts was one of the most illustrious works on Vedanta. Badarayana’s work is known as Brahma-Sutra or Vedanta-Sutra. It is also referred to as Uttar-Mimamsa-Sutra. The Brahma-Sutra has 555 sutras. Most of them are aphoristic and almost unintelligible at first sight. Hence, a number of commentaries were written to interpret them. Among these the commentaries of Shamkaracharya, Ramnujacharya and Madhavacharya are regarded authentic and are held in very high view. They are regarded as the greatest scholars of Indian philosophy. They are not only the principal commentators of Brahma-Sutra (Vedanta-Sutra) but are also its leading interpreters. Thus, we have three major schools of Vedanta based on the philosophy of the distinguished trio: Advaita(non-dualism) of Shamkaracharya, Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism) of Ramnujacharya and Dvaita(dualism) of Madhvacharya.
All three schools are founded on the Vedanta philosophy. However, there have been differences among them. Even the followers of a particular system, within their own fold, differ to some degree on certain issues.
The Vedanta philosophy is focused on the Jagat(the universe), the Jiva(individual soul) and the Brahman (the Supreme Being). Brahman is the repository of all knowledge and power. Jivas are trapped in the Jagat. Attached to the physical world and driven by passions and desires, they remain chained to ceaseless actions (karma). As a result, they subject themselves to countless births in various forms. Their transmigration from this birth (life) to the next depends on the karma (the quality of action). Moksha or mukti (liberation) is the goal of life. This philosophy, in general, is accepted by all the three schools. Now let us understand the basic difference among the three schools.
Dvaita refers to ‘two’. Dvaita school is based on the concept of dualism. Madhavacharya emphasizes the distinction between God and individual soul (Jiva). In addition, the school differentiates God from matter as well as the soul from matter. The school maintains that the God, Jiva and the Jagat are three separate and everlasting entities. God governs the world and has control over the souls. The souls in its ignorance remains shackled in the world. By devotion and God’s mercy, the soul can migrate to the Heaven above. It can obtain Mukti from the cycle of life and death and live with God forever in the Heaven.
Vishishtadvaita literally means “qualified non-dualism”. Ramanujacharya stresses that God alone exists. He says that Brahman is God. He is not formless. The Cosmos and the Jivas form his body. When the Jiva (soul) realises that he is a part of Paramatman (God), the soul is liberated. On liberation, his soul enjoys infinite consciousness and infinite bliss of God. The soul is in communion with God, but it does not share the power of the creation or destruction.
Advaita means “non-dualism”. Brahman is the sole Supreme Reality. Brahman, Jagat and Jiva are not different, separate entities.