Vedanta

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Vedanta

Vedanta (vĭdänˈtə, –dănˈ–), 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).

Bibliography

See bibliography under Hindu philosophy.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vedanta

 

literally, the end or completion of the Vedas. In a more general sense the word “Vedanta” designates the rather indefinite whole of the idealistic religious-philosophic schools and teachings in Indian philosophy that are based on the conception of atman-brahman and are expounded in the religious-philosophic Vedic texts, especially in the Upanishads and partly in the epic texts Ramayana and Mahabharata (particularly the Bhagavad Gita of the latter); also in the sutras and later commentaries. If understood in this sense, Vedanta represents the most persevering, conservative, and widespread spiritual trend that has existed in India since ancient times. It comprises, apart from the Vedas themselves, the Purva Mimamsa and part of the Samkhya, several medieval Saivite and Vaishnava teachings, especially the Shaiva-Siddharta, and a number of neo-Hinduistic doctrines of modern and recent times, such as the so-called integral Vedanta of the social and religious reformer Vivekananda.

The basic philosophic categories of Vedanta are brahman, the cosmic soul; at man, the individual soul; purusha, the abstract spiritual principle; prakriti, the abstract material principle, the nature; artha, sense, meaning, purpose, value; jñana, knowledge; avast ha, mental state; and maya, illusion. The schools, tendencies, and teachings in Vedanta are distinguished by the category that they regard as basic among these and by how they think the categories stand in relation to each other. However, all the variants of Vedanta recognize the single spiritual principle as supreme. Common to all tendencies of Vedanta is also their acceptance of yoga as the fundamental practical means for attaining the highest state of the soul—that is, deliverance and detachment from the world.

Vedanta itself, or Uttara Mimamsa (also called Brahma Mimamsa), proceeds in its philosophic premises from the work Vedanta Sutra or Brahma Sutra, attributed to the sage Badarayana (about the fourth to the third century B.C.). According to Vedanta the supreme reality is brahman, with purusha and prakriti as its modifications. Brahman is not created; it is eternal, without qualities, the cause of all the universe, being at the same time the initial material of the world. Atman unites itself to brahman by way of knowledge of brahman (brahmavidya) but does not become identical with it. According to the teaching of the Indian sage Gaudapada of the seventh century A.D., set forth in the work Gaudapadya Karika (a commentary to the Mandukya Upanishad), all the world of appearances is illusory, like maya, but its spiritual atmanic principle is not duplicated. This doctrine was given the name advaita vedanta, the Vedanta of nondualism. The concept of nondualism was further developed by the greatest thinker of India, Shankara (eighth-ninth centuries), as the “conception of unreality,” mayavada, according to which atman and brahman were equally real, but the world of experience unreal. The characteristic At the religious level atman-brahman was identified with the god Shiva (Ishvara). Maya as the other symmetric principle of the universe was viewed by Shankara as eternal. Shankara assumed that the concept of reality itself was without meaning in relation to empirical facts. The individual soul can be in one of four psychic conditions: awake, sleeping, deeply sleeping, and transcending. From the viewpoint of each subsequent state everything experienced in the former state is unreal and illusory.

The next important modification of Vedanta was the doctrine of Vishishtadvaita, created by the greatest authority of Vedanta, Ramanuja (11th—12th centuries). According to this conception all things are known by comprehending brahman. The chief instrument of knowledge is not reason but divine intuition; however, truth already attained by intuition must be organized and approved by the intellect in order to be formulated as theory. Brahman as the final reality is not conceived dualistically (advaita), but it is possible to determine particular differences (vishishta) in the appearances of its substance and its attributes Unlike the mayavada, the conception of Ramanuja was based on the assumption that the material bodies and the individual souls have their own real existence, although the existence of brahman possessed infinitely greater reality. Just as the individual soul was regarded as the atman substance, the “ego,” of the body, thus the brahman was seen as the “ego” of all being (with which the god Vishnu was identified).

Other prominent representatives of medieval Vedanta were Madhva (ninth century), Bhaskara (tenth century), Yadavaprakasha (11th century), and Vedantadeshika (13th century). At about the 12th century, south Indian Vedanta split into two movements, the northern (Vadagalas), and the southern (Tengalas), but this division concerned mainly the Vishnuite schools. Vedanta developed in an unceasing struggle, first against the schools of Buddhism, which denied the necessity of philosophic teaching on existence (especially the school of Nagarjuna), and later against the logical school of Nyaya and other movements.

In modern and recent times one can relate Vedanta to some degree to the conceptions of Rammohan Roy, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo Ghose, S. Radhakrishnan, and others.

REFERENCES

Müller, M. Shest’ sistem indiiskoi filosofii. Moscow, 1901.
Chatterjee, S., and D. Datta. Vvedenie v indiiskuiu filosofiiu. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from English.)
Ideologicheskie techeniia sovremennoi Indii. Moscow, 1965. (Collection of essays.)
Deussen, P. Das System der Vedânta … , 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1906.
Badarajana Brahmasutras, parts 1-2. Calcutta, 1926.
Cultural Heritage of India, 2nd ed., vol. 3. Calcutta, 1954.
The Vedânta-Sûtras: With the Commentary by Sankaracharya, parts 1-3. Translated by G. Thibault. Delhi [1966-68].

A. M. PIATIGORSKII

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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