Definitions

Vedanta (Sk.). A mystic system of philosophy which has developed from the efforts of generations of sages to interpret the secret meaning of the Upanishads. It is called in the Shad-Darshanas (six schools or systems of demonstration), Uttara Mîmânsâ, attributed to Vyâsa, the compiler of the Vedas, who is thus referred to as the founder of the Vedânta. The orthodox Hindus call Vedânta—a term meaning literally the “end of all (Vedic) knowledge”—Brahma-jnâna, or pure and spiritual knowledge of Brahmâ. . . . Sankarâchârya, who was the popularizer of the Vedântic system, and the founder of the Adwaita philosophy, is sometimes called the founder of the modern schools of the Vedânta.

Sri Sankaracharya (Sk.). The great religious reformer of India, and teacher of the Vedânta philosophy—the greatest of all such teachers, regarded by the Adwaitas (Non-dualists) as an incarnation of Siva and a worker of miracles. He established many mathams (monasteries), and founded the most learned sect among Brahmans, called the Smârtava. The legends about him are as numerous as his philosophical writings. At the age of thirty-two he went to Kashmir, and reaching Kedâranâth in the Himalayas, entered a cave alone, whence he never returned. His followers claim that he did not die, but only retired from the world.

Advaita (Sk.). A Vedânta sect. The non-dualistic (A-dwaita) school of Vedântic philosophy founded by Sankarâchârya, the greatest of the historical Brahmin sages. The two other schools are the Dwaita (dualistic) and the Visishtadwaita; all the three call themselves Vedântic.

Theosophical Glossary, H. P. Blavatsky


Foundational Texts

“Like the great Veda Vyāsa, Bādarāyaṇa [the codifier of Vedanta Darsana] divided the whole of the Vedas into two main parts—the Karmakāṇda and the Jñānakāṇda—the exoteric and the esoteric, and arranged the latter into Ten Principal Upanishads. Again he separated the Bhagavadgītā from the rest of the Mahābhārata and made it—perhaps with slight alterations—an independent authority like the Upanishads for his new school of philosophy. But bare quotations from these Śrutis and Śmṛitis were not enough to satisfy the growing demands of the intelligent inquirers of his time. Further, there were apparent inconsistencies between the various texts of the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgītā, which required to be reconciled and explained away by means of strict reasoning. To reduce, therefore, the teachings of the Upanishads and of the Bhagavadgītā or the Mahābhārata to a consistent and systematic whole, to explain away apparent contradictions in those various texts, and to refute all objections that have been or might be urged against them, it was necessary for Bādarāyaṇa that he should compose a work strictly based on reasoning. He accordingly composed his famous Vedānta Sūtras in four chapters in 556 aphorisms. Each of these four chapters (Adhyāyas) comprises in its turn four sections (Padas) and each section a number of sub-sections (Adhikaraṇas).

“These three—the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgītā and the Vedānta Sūtras—constitute, according to Bādarāyaṇa, the complete canon of the Vedānta Darśana. They are called the three Prasthānas or Institutes of Vedāntic teaching, the Upanishads being called the Śruti-Prasthāna (Scriptural Institute); the Bhagavadgītā, the Smṛiti-Prasthāna (Traditional Institute); and the Vedānta Sūtras, the Nyāya-Prasthāna (Logical Institute).”—from The Age of Sankara, by T. S. Narayana Sastry, p. 42-47

Thus the Prasthana Traya (Prasthānatrayī) compose the primary authoritative sources in Vedanta, these being:

1. The Upanishads (sruti prasthana)
2. The Bhagavad Gita (sadhana or smriti prasthana)
3. The Brahma (or Vedanta) Sutras (nyaya prasthana)


Sub-Schools of Vedanta

There are three main sub-schools under the banner of Vedanta: the Advaita (non-dualistic), the Visishtadvaita (qualified non-dualistic), and the Dvaita (dualistic). The Advaita is the oldest of the three and the most prominent. For a detailed summary of these sub-schools, see S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Vol. 2, p. 430 etc.

Advaita Vedanta

The Advaita, founded by Adi (“the first”) Sankaracharya, is the principle school of Vedanta and the one which is most aligned with the philosophy taught by H. P. Blavatsky’s teachers and their students (including the esoteric Advaitin T. Subba Row). Blavatsky referred to Sankaracharya as “the greatest of the Esoteric masters of India” (SD 1:86) and “one of the greatest minds that ever appeared on Earth” (SD 1:522). The systematic philosophy (see “Short Survey of the Vedanta System”) and the practical ethics (see “Qualifications of Chelaship”) taught by Sankara are among the most profound of any systems available to students today. For many students of Theosophy, including H. P. Blavatsky, T. Subba Row, and other prominent early theosophists, the Advaita is considered to be the true Vedanta philosophy and the other sub-schools are seen as erring in their interpretations of Vedanta doctrine.


Selected Translations of Works by Sankaracharya:

See also:

Śankarāchārya’s Collected Works: An Annotated Bibliography of Published Editions in Sanskrit by David Reigle
Works of the Original Śankarāchārya by David Reigle
Collected Works of Sankara (Sanskrit), 1910 Vani Vilas Press Edition


Selected Articles related to Sankaracharya:

For more Advaita Vedanta texts, translations, commentaries and articles, see below.


Visishtadvaita

The Visishtadvaita, founded by Ramanuja, presents a kind of “qualified non-dualism,” based on a particular approach to the teachings in the primary Vedanta texts. However, the philosophy presents some striking problems in its logic, as was pointed out by H. P. Blavatsky in her notes on the “Catechism of the Visishtadvaita Philosophy,” published in the Theosophist in 1883 (see below). Blavatsky refers to the their school as “the most tenaciously anthropomorphic in all India” (SD 1:132), and “one which anthropomorphises even Parabrahma” (SD 1:233), and when asked a question related to this school, she remarked: “Do you know what a Visishtadvaita is? They believe in a personal God, and they are dualists. They are Vedantins, but they have got no right to the name of Vedantins . . .” (SDD, p. 376). The disagreements between the Visishtadvaitins and the Advaitins are not merely in regards to secondary details of Vedanta philosophy, but rather are primary and fundamental differences in perspective on the core questions of the nature of reality. Thus while the Visishtadvaitins refer to themselves as Vedantins, the core of their philosophy is ultimately irreconcilable with the non-dualist perspective of the much older Vedanta school. For more, see Blavatsky’s notes on the above-mentioned Catechism, as well as SD 1:132, 233, 451, 522, etc.

Selected Articles:


Dvaita

The Dvaita school, founded by Madhvacharya, is a strongly dualistic philosophy, its fundamental starting point being that there are two realities: God and Individual Souls. The Dvaitin, like the Visishtadvaitins, follow a theistic Vaishna approach, i.e. they identify Vishnu as a monotheistic God, and as the one independent reality. The Individual Souls (Jivatmas) are regarded as a distinct reality from Vishnu, but dependent upon him. As with all dualistic philosophies (see also the later developments in Sankhya thought), there arise significant logical problems from the premise of two independent realities. The solutions to such problems are laid out in the Proem of The Secret Doctrine, and in other sources from theosophical authors.



Translations


Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.


For Further Study:

Bibliography entry for Advaita Vedanta, from the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies

Main Texts of Advaita-Vedanta (advaita-vedanta.org)

Main Texts of Avaita-Vedanta (sankaracharya.org)