- Advaita (non-dual, from the root dvi, or two) is a term used to describe the unitary philosophies and religious movements in India. Rather than a definition of these schools of thought as unitary or monist, the negative description is generally used. Advaita is usually translated as “non-dual.” Duality would imply that there is more than one reality; non-duality implies that there is nowhere a second to the one reality.A number of philosophies in Indian tradition are conventionally called advaita. Their character-istics vary considerably. Best known is “absolute advaita,” formulated by the Vedanta founder SHANKARA, in which the individual self, and all apparently separate selves, are understood to be nothing but the ultimate Self, that is, non-dual with it; there are no distinctions between selves. A further aspect of Shankara’s advaita system is that the world is false or MAYA, illusion. Only the one BRAHMAN is true.The views of RAMANUJA and VALLABHA are also technically referred to as advaita or non-dualistic, as both their systems maintain that individual selves are nothing but the ultimate Self. However, they both also include qualifying language to show that they do not hold Shankara’s absolute view. In their understanding, the highest Self or brahman is God and therefore has certain inherent characteristics that distinguish it from any other self. No individual self can possess the power and supremacy of the divinity; in fact, both Ramanuja and Vallabha see the individual selves as being distinct from each other. Similarly, Ramanuja and Vallabha qualify their advaita belief that the world or universe is in fact nothing but the divinity: from another perspective the world is different from the divinity.Many other Vedantins similarly could be called advaita with these sorts of reservations. They sometimes use terms like Dvaitadvaita (non-dualist and dualist) or BHEDABHEDA (both different and non-different). Philosophically they are quite similar to Ramanuja and Vallabha.Finally, most TANTRIC philosophical systems are also termed advaita or non-dual. In these cases, the individual self is understood as being precisely brahman, God or Goddess, with no reservations. The power inherent in the divinity is understood to belong to any individual, at the highest level of realization. The world too is understood to be non-dual with the divinity.Further reading: M. M. Agarwal, The Philosophy of Nim-barka (Varanasi: Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, 1983); Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Phi-losophy, 5 vols. (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975); Julius J. Lipner, The Face of Truth: A Study of Mean and Metaphysics in the Vedantic Theology of Ramanuja (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1986); Unmesha Mishra, Nimbarka School of Vedanta (Allahabad: Tirabhukti, 1966); G. V. Tagare, Brahma-vada Doctrine of Sri Val-labhacarya (New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1998); Swami Tapasyananda, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta (Lives and Philosophies of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, Vallabha and Chaitanya) (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1990); P. B. Vidyarthi, Divine Personality and Human Life in Ramanuja (New Delhi: Oriental, 1978); Ramnarayan Vyas, The Bhagavata Bhakti Cult and the Three Acaryas, Sankara, Ramanuja and Vallabha (Delhi: Nag, 1977).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.