Vedanta

Doctrines Vedanta is from the Sanskrit meaning "end of the Vedas." This primarily refers to the Upanishads. Vedanta is the most widespread of the six philosophical systems of Hinduism and has contributed most directly to the development of later Hindu thought. There are three main schools of Vedanta.
The basic doctrine of Vedanta philosophy is that the atman, self or soul, is identical with Brahman, the All-Soul or Absolute Reality. Brahman is entire and indivisible so one cannot exist separately as a part or an emanation of Brahman. Nothing real exists besides Brahman. This is the doctrine of the oldest school of Vedanta called Advaita, or nondualism, which was expounded by the philosopher Shankara. As reality is nondual, the world of phenomena only appears to be real. It is described as maya, illusion, but it does have empirical viability sustained by avidya, ignorance, and only dispelled by vidya, knowledge, in the form of jnana, meditative insight. Shankara's personality is paradoxical, for though strongly teaching the Advaita doctrine, he also composed some beautiful and moving hymns. The teachings of Shankara were elaborated by a long line of scholars.
The second most important school is Visistadvaita, qualified nondualism, advocated by Ramanuja. This is the doctrine of one God qualified by cit, souls, and acit, matter. God is the only absolute reality and the only object worthy of love and devotion. Matter and souls are equally ultimate and real and are the visesanas, qualities, of God, and are dependent on God as they exist entirely for and within him. Ramanuja successfully joined personal theism with absolutistic philosophy. Lack of faith was more important to him than ignorance in obscuring God. Bhakti, devotion, was essential to gain liberation.
The Dvaita school was founded by Madhva. Reality consists of two principles, God as the one infinite independent principle, and matter and souls, which is finite reality and dependent on God. The material world is essentially real and the distinction between God and jivas, souls, is real and beginningless. There is a fivefold distinction: between God and jivas, between God and insentient objects, between jivas, between jivas and insentient objects, and between insentient objects. Jivas are subject to God and infinite in number with a gradation according to karma. Moksha, liberation, is attained by the blissful experience of one's pure nature through devotion as a servant of Krishna.
Besides the three main schools, there have been a number of subschools, some of which have split into further groups. The more significant are the traditions of Nimbarka (see Nimavats), Vallabha (see separate entry), and Caitanya (see Gaudiya Vaishnavas). Also see entries on Shankara and Dashanamis. Vedantic doctrines have been important in modern Hindu reform movements, such as the Brahmo Samaj (see separate entry), and to many yoga schools. New forms of Vedanta continue to appear, with more recent examples being Radhakrishnan, Sri Aurobindo (see Aurobindo Ashram) and the Ramakrishna Mission (see separate entry).

History Historically, there are three periods of Vedanta. First is the creative period of the Upanishads. The Upanishads were an intellectual and social rebellion against the closed mechanical priesthood supported by the Brahmanas. The oldest Upanishads date from the eighth century BCE and are Vedic in being associated with the Brahmanas, texts dealing with the sacred power in the sacrificial ritual. These early Upanishads are the Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, and Kansitaki Upanishads. Of later origin are the Upanishads of a third group, which has only a slight Vedic association or none at all. Many of them are sectarian. Other texts called Upanishads have been written into modern times.
The second historical period is that of the systematisation and harmonisation of the Upanishads. The most important text in this is Bandarayanas's Brahma Sutra or Vedanta Sutra. This was a synthesis of Upanishadic doctrine written early in the Common Era. After the Brahma Sutra came a long period of development. The grammarian Bhartrhari in about the fifth century conceived Brahman as essentially word symbolised by om. Gandapada commented on the Mandukya Upanishad and said in his doctrine of non-origination that the world is maya, only an appearance. Buddhist influence can be seen in his work.
The third historical period is that of commentaries on the Brahma Sutra and commentaries on those commentaries as well as other Vedantic works. The most outstanding exponent of Vedanta was Shankara. It is believed by some scholars that Shankara was first a follower of Patanjali's yoga system. Gandapada was the main influence on Shankara, and tradition says he was the teacher of Shankara's teacher. Shankara lived in the eighth century. Many pupils and teachers continued the work of Shankara including Mandava Misra and Padmapada. Others founded subschools such as Vacaspati, who joined the teachings of Shankara and Mandana Misra. Other writers of the school of Shankara include Vidyaramja in the fourteenth century, Prakasananda and Madhusudana in the sixteenth century, and Sadananda Vyasa in the seventeenth century. Ramanuja, the founder of Visistadvaita Vedanta, lived from 1017 to 1137 and Madhva, the founder of Dvaita Vedanta, lived from 1238 to 1317. The followers of Shankara opposed and persecuted Madhva, who probably as a result taught that Shankara was a reincarnation of the demon Manimat from the Mahabharata.
Vedanta has had an important impact on the West, starting with the visit of Swami Vivekananda to the World's Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. In 1894 he established the Vedanta Society in New York and talked on Vedanta all over America before returning to India to found the Ramakrishna Mission, which is today the foremost Vedanta-inspired religious organisation.

Symbols Vedanta in theory does not have a wide use of symbolism, especially Advaita. But in practice there are symbols. The sacred syllable om symbolises Brahman as being essentially word or speech. There are even images of Shankara worshipped by devotees. An example is the one in a small shrine near Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh on the site where Shankara performed penance during his travels around India. Modern Vedanta-based groups such as the Ramakrishna Mission have evolved their own symbolism (see Symbols in Ramakrishna Mission).
Ramanuja's school is largely followed by the Shri Vaishnavas, in which devotion plays a large part and is involved with temples and the images of Sri and Vishnu in various forms (see Shri Vaishnavas). Madhva established his main temple himself at Udipi, which he consecrated to Krishna. In this temple he installed an image of Bala Krishna obtained from Dwarka, and the temple still flourishes. The Madhva school also venerates the other avataras, incarnations, of Vishnu, as well as and the five orthodox gods.

Adherents Nearly all educated Hindus in modern India are adherents of the Vedanta. About three-quarters follow Shankara's Advaita school, and the remainder are divided among the other schools. Shankara set up the monastic orders of the Dashanamis, with a network all over India (see Dashanamis). Shri Vaishnavas in South India follow Ramanuja's school (see Shri Vaishnavas), and the Madhvas are also mainly in South India.
There have been and still are many followers of Vedanta in the West. Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and others were attracted to the Vedanta Society, established in New York in 1894. Many schools of yoga have Vedanta as a philosophical base and these are widespread in the West.
In India new forms of Vedanta continue to appear and attract adherents. Reform groups such as the Brahmo Samaj are Vedanta inspired. The eclectic thought of Radhakrishnan is based on the Vedanta, but though influential no actual school was founded by him. Sri Aurobindo established a large ashram at Pondicherry. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission is the major Vedantic organisation with centres all over India and the world (see Ramakrishna Mission). The Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre in England produces a magazine Vedanta (formerly called Vedanta for East and West).

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, P.O. Belur Math, Dt. Howrah, West Bengal 711202, India.