Advaita Vedānta

Advaita Vedānta, (Sanskrit: अद्वैत वेदान्त) is the dominant sub-school of the Vedānta (literally, end or the goal of the Vedas). The other major sub-schools of Vedānta are dvaita-advaita and Viśishṭādvaita. Advaita (literally, non-duality) is often called a monistic system of thought. The word "Advaita" essentially refers to the identity of the atman (Self) and the Brahman (Whole). The key source texts for all schools of Vedānta are the Prasthanatrayi — the canonical texts consisting of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. The first person to explicitly consolidate the principles of Advaita Vedanta was Adi Shankara.

Adi Shankara

Adi Sankaracharya consolidated the Advaita Vedanta which was already inherent in Vedic scriptures and was approved and accepted by Gaudapada and Govinda Bhagavatpada siddhānta (system). Continuing the line of thought of some of the Upanishadic teachers, and also that of his own teacher's teacher Gaudapada, (Ajativada), Adi Shankara expounded the doctrine of Advaita — a nondualistic reality.

He wrote commentaries on the Prasthana Trayi. A famous quote from Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, one of his Prakaraṇa graṃthas (philosophical treatises) that succinctly summaries his philosophy is:

Brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā, jīvo brahmaiva nāparah — Brahman is the only truth, the world is illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self

This widely quoted sentence of his is also widely misunderstood. In his metaphysics, there are three tiers of reality with each one sublating the previous. The category illusion in this system is unreal only from the viewpoint of the absolutely real and is different from the category of the Absolutely unreal. His system of vedanta introduced the method of scholarly exegesis on the accepted metaphysics of the Upanishads, and this style was adopted by all the later vedanta schools. Another distinctive feature of his work is his refusal to be literal about scriptural statements and adoption of symbolic interpretation where he considered it appropriate. In a famous passage in his commentary on the Brahmasutra's of Badarayana, he says "..For each method of knowledge has a valid domain. The domain of the scriptures is the knowledge of the Self. If the scriptures say something about another domain - like the world around us - which contradicts what perception and inference (the appropriate methods of knowledge for this domain) tells us, then, the scriptural statements have to be symbolically interpreted…"

Adi Shankara's contributions to Advaita are crucial. His main works are the commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi (Brahma Sūtras, Bhagavad Gītā and the Upanişads) and the Gaudapadiya Karikas. He also wrote a major independent treatise expounding his philosophy, called Upadeśa Sāhasrī.

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