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Advaitha, Dvaitha and VisishtAdvaitha

(by Sri Mani Varadarajan, USA)

One of the central questions concerning Vedanta philosophers is the relationship of the individual self to the Absolute or Supreme Self. The *sole purpose* for this question is to determine the nature of contemplative meditation and to determine whether moksha, the state of release, is something worth seeking.

The Dvaita school, inaugurated by Madhvacharya (Ananda Tirtha), argues that there is an inherent and absolute five-fold difference in Reality -- between one soul and another, between the soul and God, between God and matter, between the soul and matter, and between matter and matter. These differences are not only individuations, but also inherent qualitative differences, i.e., in its essentially pure state, one individual self is *not* equal to another in status, but only in genus.

Consequently, any sort of unity, whether it be mystical or ontological, between the individual self and God is impossible in Dvaita. Hence the term ``Dvaita'' or ``dualism''. Liberation consists of experiencing one's essential nature in parama padam as a reflection of God's glory.

The Advaita school, represented in its classical and most powerful form by Sankaracharya, argues that only the Absolute Self exists, *and* all else is false. Liberation consists in the realization that individuality is false, and the one's very essence is the Absolute Self, pure undifferentiated consciousness, one without a second. Since there is only one, and nothing else, the system is called Advaita, or ``non-dualism''.

Visishtadvaita is also an Advaita, since only God the Absolute Self exists. However, our concept of God, the supreme divine reality, includes as its fundamental modes the individual selves and all of matter. In other words, God is the indwelling Self of all, and this ``all'' is real as they are included in His body. Therefore, Visishtadvaita literally means non-duality of the qualified, since God is qualified by innumerable attributes, including individual selves and matter.