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The Upanishads
Advaita Vedanta (a sub-school of Vedanta schools of Hindu philosophy)
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Bhagavad Gita
Philosophy of Everyday Life

What is the difference between Dvaita, Advaita and Visishtadvaita?


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18 Answers
Sanidhya Khilnani, works at Microsoft
Answered 224w ago
Very simply stated, the difference lies in the definition and nature of Reality as understood by each of these schools.
Ever since the Vedas and Puranas, self-realization has been a fundamental concept in Hindu scriptures.
The differences in the interpretation and understanding of Reality, 'I' and the means to Real-I-zation are central to the distinction between these schools of philosophy, that formed around the concepts purported by these scriptures.
The Dvaita or "dualist" school of Hindu Vedanta philosophy originated in 13th-century South India with Sri Madhvacarya (Madhva). Madhva, who considered himself an avatara of the wind-god Vayu, argued that a body of canonical texts called the "Vedanta" or "end of the Veda" taught the fundamental difference between the individual self or atman and the ultimate reality, brahman. According to Madhva there are two orders of reality: 1. svatantra, independent reality, which consists of Brahman alone and 2. paratantra, dependent reality, which consists of jivas (souls) and jada (lifeless objects). Although dependent reality would not exist apart from brahman's will, this very dependence creates a fundamental distinction between brahman and all else, implying a dualist view. By interpreting the Vedanta materials (especially the Upanisads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahmasutras) along these lines, Madhva deliberately challenged the non-dualist reading in which the atman was identified with brahman. Madhva argued that the scriptures could not teach the identity of all beings because this would contradict ordinary perception, which tells us that we are different both from one another and from God. Madhva and his followers call their system tattvavada, "the realist viewpoint".

Without going into the history of how these schools came into being (which is quite interesting in itself), here's a summary of differences:


Reality - Any entity which is finite, temporal or can be defined using attributes is treated as unreal and the spirit (aatman) is supposed to be the only real entity.
Madhava departed from the tenets of mainstream Vedanta philosophy by denying that God is both the material and the efficient causes of the world. According to Madhava's philosophy, matter and soul, time and space are all dependent realities, which exist by the will of God. The aim is to make one realize the profound significance of the distinction between what is independent and what is dependent. Dvaitins uphold the existence of a plurality of individual selves and the mind's independence. Both are existentially dependent upon Lord Vishnu who is only truly independent and is a self sufficient reality that sustains everything. Devotion to a personal deity leads to release from rebirth. Madhava's Dvaita principle forms a comprehensive philosophy of the Vedantic tradition. The second most important teaching of Madhava is that the Supreme Being cannot be a mere abstraction but is a perfect personality of infinite and auspicious attributes of perfection.

The spirit is attribute-less and infinite by definition. Any entity outside the realm of the spirit is Maya (unreal, finite, temporal and illusory).

I - Consists of the spirit together with a finite material triad of body, mind and intellect. And since the triad is finite and unreal, one must identify the 'I' with the spirit and not with the body/mind or intellect.
Madhva's pluralistic ontology is founded on his realist epistemology, which in turn affects his Vedic hermeneutics. He argues that God and the human soul are separate because our daily experience of separateness from God and of plurality in general is presented to us as an undeniable fact, fundamental to our knowledge of all things. Madhva's emphasis on the validity of experience as a means of knowledge is intended to refute the nondualist position that the differences we experience in daily life are ultimately a shared illusion with the ambiguous ontological status of being neither real nor unreal. In Madhva's view, Advaita's denial of the innate validity of knowledge acquired through sense perception completely undermines our ability to know anything since we must always question the content of our knowledge. This questioning would encompass our knowledge of the sacred canon, which is accessible to us only through our ability to perceive it and to draw inferences from it. Madhva argues that perception and inference must be innately valid and the reality they present us with must be actually and ultimately real since such a position is the only one that allows us to know the content of the Vedas. The Vedas alone are responsible for teaching us about the nature of the self and brahman.

The means to realization - Is to understand this real nature of the spirit and the unreal nature of the material-world. With practice (yoga) and consciousness, the goal of life should be to become one with this reality of Brahman/Aatman.
Dvaita philosophy was advocated in reaction to the ultimately anti-theistic non-dualism of Advaita Vedanta and as a response to the Vishishta-advaita of Ramanuja. Dvaita simply means 'dualism.' According to the Dvaita School there is a difference between the self and the Supreme power. Madhava advocated the belief that Lord Vishnu is the only "Brahman" in the universe and the absolute force. All other gods and goddesses are his subordinates. However, the philosophy does point out differences between Vishnu and the self; self and matter; Brahman and matter and several selves. Despite the differences there is a distinct relationship between all these, as the Lord desires it. Nothing on this earth can survive without Lord's will.

Such a person is supposed to be jivanmukta or liberated from the cycles of birth and death.

As you can see, this is a very binary view of reality. Things are either real or unreal. If you can experience reality and be one with it, you are liberated, else you are under bondage.
Madhvacharyaadvocated a Theology of Vaishnavism that understands God to be endowed with attributes. Madhva states that Lord Vishnu is not just any other deity, but rather the Supreme One. Five fundamental, eternal and real differences exist in his Dvaita philosophy.

While the school does believe in worship of God, the conceptualization of God is primarily an abstraction created to act as a North Star to help imagine and understand the otherwise inconceivable, attribute-less, infinite spirit.
This aspect of Madhva's realist epistemology is important not only because it bolsters Madhva's claim that the atman and brahman are permanently distinct as revealed to us by experience, but because it means that the sacred texts must be read in consonance with the data we receive from our everyday experience, even though the Vedas present us with knowledge of a supra-sensible realm. Madhva argues that the Vedas cannot teach non-difference between the atman and brahman or a lack of true plurality since this would directly contradict our experience. In Madhva's view the sacred texts teach pancabheda, the five-fold difference between 1. Visnu and jivas 2. Visnu and jada 3. jiva and jada 4. one jiva and another and 5. one form of jada and another.

Hence, ritualistic worship and discussions on the superiority of one God over another are generally considered redundant.

As mentioned on the cover of this book, the swan (hansa in Sanskrit) is one of the most perfect metaphors used to describe the Advaita view of life:
The greatest masters in the advaita tradition are called paramahamsas - the great swans. The word hamsa is a variation of so'ham: I am He, which constitutes the highest realization.
Like Ramanuja, Madhva identifies brahman with Visnu. However, he argues that any system that allows for any identification of the atman with brahman undermines Visnu's supremacy, compromises His status, and strips devotional acts of their meaning. Madhva's insistence on the modal distinction between the atman and brahman, wherein the former is inalterably dependent upon--and therefore, fundamentally different from--the latter, insures Visnu-as-brahman's complete and utter transcendence of the human soul. For Madhva, this view alone makes devotion [bhakti] an essential component of religious belief and practice. Attaining Visnu's grace is the soul's only hope of achieving liberation [moksa] from the cycle of rebirth (samsara).

There are other equivalences between the swan and the advaitin, that make the swan a particularly apt symbol for advaita vedAnta. The swan stays in water, but its feathers remain dry. Similarly, the advaitin lives in the world, yet strives to remain unaffected by life's ups and downs.
The only obscurity lies in whether it is only the apparent multiplicity of the phenomenal world that is illusory in the theory of maya, or else the phenomenal world altogether. Krishnamurti, for example, says that trees, nature, the cosmos, pain, etc., are real independent of man's awareness of them, or at least independent of thought.1 But the tree that is seen in avidya to be separate from the earth, the sky, and from the jiva -- is this tree seen not at all by the jivanmukta (free man), who must still eat its fruit to survive; or is it merely seen as not separate from the rest of the world (unified as saguna brahman), and this world seen as not-different from brahman (as nirguna brahman)? If the latter is the proper interpretation (and there may be academic dispute over this point), then Krishnamurti might be considered, for all intents and purposes, to be an Advaitic jivanmukta who sees brahman in all things (i.e., who sees only brahman).

In India, the swan is also mythically credited with the ability to separate milk from water. Similarly, the advaitin discriminates the eternal Atman from the non-eternal world. The Atman that is brahman is immanent in the world, just like milk is seemingly inseparably mixed with water, but It can never be truly realized without the nitya-anitya-vastu viveka - right discrimination between the eternal and ephemeral - that is essential for the advaitin.
Like Ramanuja, Madhva opposes Sankara's conception of Brahman as nirguna or without qualities and as a pure self- consciousness. Madhva views Visnu as preeminent above all other deities on the basis of His unique characteristics. This emphasis on Visnu's particular collocation of attributes that renders Him distinct from all other gods, human souls, and the material world reveals another critical component of Madhva's philosophy which is his acceptance of an ontological plurality as a fundamental facet of being. Indeed, Madhva rejects the notion that brahman is the only truly existent entity (tattva) and he maintains that, even though living beings and inert matter are dependent upon Brahman, such dependence differentiates them from Him and makes them discrete entities (tattvas). Thus, reality in Madhva's system consists of three basic elements: God, the souls (jivasi), and insentient matter (jada).

The swan is thus a symbol for the jIvanmukta, who is liberated while still alive in this world, by virtue of having realized Brahman. [1]


Reality - The dvaita philosophy classifies reality into three parts, each different from the other. These are - sentient entities, insentient entities and God or the Supreme entity.
While Ramanuja's system of Visistadvaita Vedanta or "qualified non-dualism" modifies Sankara's position on the soul's identity with brahman, Madhva also rejected it. Ramanuja assumes a plurality of individual souls whose identity remains intact even after liberation but maintains that the souls share the essential nature of brahma. The souls are eternal particles issuing from brahman, who as their source retains its transcendence. Ramanuja maintains Visnu's distinct difference from the human soul and his supremacy as creator and redeemer. Ramanuja identifies brahman with Visnu, holding that brahman is saguna, i.e. possesses attributes, in contrast to Sankara's attributeless or "nirguna" brahman.

Each of these is considered to be real. While some may be temporary and others eternal, they are each still very real. Each sentient entity is supposed to be different from another and so is each insentient entity from another insentient entity.
Madhvacharya's philosophy forms some of the core Indian beliefs on the nature of reality. He is considered one of the influential theologians. He revitalized a Hindu monotheism. Great leaders of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement in Karnataka, Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa were strong proponents of this philosophy. Raghavendra Swami was a leading advocator of this philosophy. Madhava's theology influenced scholars such as Nimbarka, Vallabhacharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Madhava's aim was to offer a new insight and analysis of the classical Hindu texts thereby resulting in the Dvaita tradition. He who built a convincing alternative system of Vedantic interpretation that took on Advaita fully. His doctrine of eternal damnation differs from Hinduism. Many of his doctrines resemble strict monotheism. He considered the role of Bhakti more important than any other schools of Vedanta. The third is the belief in the supremacy of Lord Vishnu over other deities. He differed from the traditional Hindu beliefs. For instance, souls are divided into three categories. One is that can be liberated, the other is that is subject to eternal rebirth and the third one is eventual sentence to hell. In contrast Hindus believe in universal salvation. Madhvacharya puts forth that Brahman and Atman are eternally different, with God always being the Superior one.

The five types of differences are shown below:

I - is supposed to be the insentient body containing a sentient soul, which is different from the ever-powerful Supreme God, from other insentient objects and from other souls. There is a gradation of souls in the world.
When one has examined the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti closely, one is hard put to find any distinction whatever between his ideas and those of the Advaita Vedantic tradition. It is unclear whether there are any differences -- which would indicate something of a contradiction in Krishnamurti, insofar as he denies all tradition. Only two points of divergence have suggested themselves to me: one involves an unclear ontological point of considerable importance and the other is a subtle but significant methodological distinction.

A soul's grade or level is determined by the free-will and actions of the sentient being that the soul resides in. The process of action and reaction that results in an increase or decrease in grade is karma.
His basic teaching is that humanity should work hard for its salvation and that work should be treated as the worship of God and offered to him in prayerful dedication and is based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and that Karma Yoga is the path for mortals.

The means to realization - is to understand and experience this reality in its fullness and analyze and understand these five types of differences between real entities. Realization is attained and liberation is achieved, when by yoga and actions the soul is able to purify itself and be one with God and God accepts the soul in It's abode.
The possible ontological distinction is what Krishnamurti (hereafter "K.") gives evidence of being, primarily, a realist and would seem to favor a parinamavada interpretation of the relationship between the phenomenal world of apparent multiplicity and the non-dual essence or Brahman. This interpretation (giving reality to the effect -- i.e., the world -- as an actual, and not merely apparent, transformation of the cause -- i.e., Brahman) is accepted by the dualistic Samkhya school of Hinduism but rejected by the Advaitins.

Liberation achieves freedom from birth and death but even in the heavenly abode the gradation of souls still persists.

Since the Dvaita school believes in purification of the soul by actions and treats God as a distinct real entity, the means to attain realization are more akin to Karma Yoga (the path of action) or Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotional service) as opposed to Jnana yoga (the path of knowledge / meditation) which is more in tune with the Advaita school.
This unclear methodological divergence with Advaitic tradition is perhaps clarified and reinforced in light of K's theory of karma, already discussed. Since knowledge, tradition, etc., is all a matter of memory, of conditioning contained physically in certain portions of the brain, then what is called for is a quieting of this brain-activity, and thus an awakening of a dormant, unconditioned portion of the brain (or a becoming aware of that already operant region). That brain, in silent meditation, has "a religious quality of unity" (BV, 156). K. often uses the synonyms whole, holy, healthy, and sane. Thus the religious mind is not only a pure instrument for perceiving truth -- it is truth (T&A, 20).

While Dvaita emphasizes the differences and plurality among entities and lays downs a gradation and heiarchy, Advaita emphasizes the unity in all reality.


The school recognizes the distinction of entities as proposed by the Dvaita school. However, it also believes that these entities (including the sentient and insentient ones) are nothing but different modes of Brahman (the one true reality).
Madhva's Dvaita Vedanta is recognized as one of the three major schools of Vedanta (besides Sankara's Advaita and Ramanuja's Visistadvaita Vedanta). It has been further developed by such major figures as Jayatirtha (1356-1388) and Vyasaraya (1478-1589) and is kept alive by a still flourishing community [Madhva sampradaya] in India with its main center at Udipi (Karnataka).

This is explained by the following metaphor:

The notion of unity may be illustrated by the example, “A purple robe.” Here purpleness is quite different from robe. The latter is a substance while the former is an attribute. This integral and essential relation is not found in the case of a man wearing a wrist-watch.
The similarities, then, are remarkable. Each of the following Advaitic notions has a close correlate in Krishnamurti's teaching: non-dual Brahman (absolute or ground of existence), maya (illusion), upadhi (limitation), adhyasa (superimposition), karma (causation or bondage), avidya (ignorance), badha (sublation or subration), the via negativa (negative method), moksa (freedom), the mahavakya (great saying, expression of the truth), nirvikalpa-samadhi (non-dual Brahman-consciousness), and susupti (dreamless sleep as a state of awareness). How these notions find correlates in Krishnamurti I will demonstrate after examining the differences.

If the former relation is inseparable (apṛthaksiddhi), the latter is separable and external. A word signifying attribute does not stop after denoting the usual meaning, but extends till it reaches the substantive. This is the true significance of an attribute. The individual selves and the world constitute the body of Brahman who is their inner self.
For Krishnamurti, then., non-dual consciousness (cp. nirvikalpa-samadhi) is God and this consciousness in man is alone God. This emphasis on God in man might be purely referential -- that is to say, of the many things known to the mind of the listener, it is man, the listener himself, who alone is "the door to truth" and thus (potentially) is truth. Whether, with the decay of the brain cells following death, some aspect of an individual's consciousness survives and "returns" (sic: this indicates duality) to God or brahman forever, is a question that K. does not answer but which I suspect he would answer in the negative.

Brahman is the integral principle without whom neither the self nor the world can exist. Hence all names finally denote him.[2]

The school therefore upholds both unity and plurality at the same time:

We uphold unity because Brahman alone exists with all other entities as his modes. We uphold both unity and plurality, as the one Brahman himself has all the physical and spiritual entities as his modes and thus exists qualified by a plurality.
Madhva's belief in the innate difference of one soul from another led to some interesting doctrines in his system. He believed in a hierarchy of jivas, based upon their innate configurations of virtues (gunas) and faults (dosas). For example, Visnu is supreme because He possesses all qualities in their most fulfilled and perfect form. Furthermore, because Madhva believed that souls possess innate characteristics and capacities, he also maintained that they were predestined to achieve certain ends. This perspective put Madhva at odds with traditional Hindu views of the karma theory wherein differences in social and religious status are explained via past moral or immoral acts. For Madhva, each individual being possesses an innate moral propensity and karma is merely the mechanism by which a given soul is propelled towards his or her destiny.

We uphold plurality as the three entities — the individual selves, the world and the supreme Lord — are mutually distinct in their substantive nature and attributes and there is no mutual transposition of their characteristics [2]

The jiva and Jagat are the real modifications (Parinama) of chit and achit part of Brahman.

The knowledge required for liberation can only be attained when the Jiva surrenders itself to God (Prapatti and Sharanagati).

Ramanuja, the propounder of Vishistadvaita, rejects Advaitic conception of Maya, by seven anupapattis (objections).

Advaita and Dvaita: Bridging the Gap (The Ramakrishna Tradition's Both/And Approach to the Dvaita/Advaita Debate) (2008)

According to him, neither scriptures nor reasoning supports Advaitic Maya. Maya, in fact, should be identified with Achit of Brahman.


There are three realities, God, chit and achit. God is the Independent reality and chit and achit are the dependent reality. Chit and achit are not part of God, their modification gives respectively the Jiva and Jagat.

There exist five kinds of differences (Pancha-vidha-bheda), which are real and beginning-less. These are:

  1. Between God and individual souls.
  2. Between God and matter
  3. Between individual souls and matter
  4. Between one soul and another
  5. Between one material thing and another

A liberated soul, though it attains some qualities of Brahman, though even in this state it is much inferior to God. Through total devotion and surrender, the soul attains nearness to God.

3.1k Views · 4 Upvotes
Vamsi Emani, Thinker.
Updated 153w ago
"I am a weakling. I have no will of my own. All actions are His'. God is my guardian and protector. I worship him with love and devotion. for, I am his humble servant." Dwaita

"There are no two. There is only One. I am not the body. I am not the mind. I am the Self. Aham Brahmasmi. I am that transcendental consciousness (nirguna parabrahman - without attributes) that stands as the basis for all creation (maya) yet beyond everything that is created." Adwaita

"God is the indweller of my heart. I worship the Saguna Brahman (God with attributes) that pervades everything as the spirit. Brahman although independent and absolute, is everything (creation included). I am the spirit/soul/self whose existence is dependent on the universal spirit (Vishnu)." Vishistadwaita

In Dwaita, one sees oneself as a separate entity from God. In this school of philosophy, one is exclusively devoted to a personal God.

In Adwaita, emphasis is laid on transcendental God as pure consciousness. It has more to do with the subjective nature of God. All that is objective i.e the creation is discarded as Maya or as an illusion, in spite of the fact that Maya also owes its existence to brahman.

Vishistadwaita, emphasis on the fact that individual soul is part and parcel of the super soul. Being a part of the super soul does not mean that the supersoul and the individual soul are exactly the same.

Though these three schools are exclusively classified into categories, they lead to the same end goal of "Self" realization.
24.6k Views · 106 Upvotes

Enta matramuna evvaru talachina anta matrame neevu”-Annamacharya.

“O Lord, you appear to your devotees in whatever form they wish for!”

A simple Google search will give clear-cut differences between each of the schools.

But, apart from conceptualisation,what are the practical differences among them?

Dvaita: There is heirarchy of Gods. The Supreme Lord is Hari and down the order you have Lakshmi,Shiva and many others. There is also hierarchy among Jeevas wherein Vayu is the highest. There is Panchabhedatattva where differences among sentient and non sentient beings are elaborated in permutations and combinations.

Interestingly, there is a concept of mukti-yogyas, nitya-samsaris and tamo-yogyas- those who are eligible for liberation, those who prevail in the cycle of birth and death and those that are meant to be in hell( I don't know if that's for eternity).

Madhva's attempts to locate his controversial views in the canonical Vedanta texts often proved difficult. He is perhaps most famous for his idiosyncratic rendering of the Chandogya Upanisad's statement tat tvam asi or "you (the atman) are that (brahman)." By carrying over the 'a' from the preceding word, Madhva rendered the phrase atat tvam asi or "you are not that." Some scholars have speculated on "foreign," particularly Christian, influences on Madhva's thought but current scholarly consensus maintains that political and social changes in Madhva's region prompted a new approach to old religious convictions.

What implication does this have on a practitioner? He leads his whole life adhering to rituals and customs praying Gods in an order, trying to prove superiority of Vishnu over others( Hari Sarvottama,Vayu Jeevottama is their most popular slogan) and so on..thereby having very less scope for individual Vichara and Sadhana for getting over Samsara,lest he should fall into abyss.

Vishishtadvaita: Sharanagati(surrender) is the keyword. Brahman is Saguna with infinite attributes. All beings are different modes of Brahman. Brahman here means Mahavishnu. Surrender to Brahman gives Moksha. Moksha here means to enjoy proximity to Brahman. While devotion is just an ad hoc path, surrender is the ultimate and sole means to Moksha.

Again, no much scope for Vichara for the practitioner except to follow Bhakti Yoga in anticipation of the Lord's grace. Sangatya( closeness) to God is his ultimate aim.

Advaita: This is pantheism. This is a step beyond God. There is this entity Brahman upon which the manifest Universe exists. Reality is Brahman and Universe is what Brahman appears as, to ignorant eyes. What's the good news? Each one of us is Brahman because we are what Brahman just “appears to be”.

There is not just scope for Vichara here, it is Vichara alone that negates the world at macrocosmic level and the mind at the microcosmic level. Where is Bhakti placed here? As long as the world and the mind exist, Saguna Brahman does exist. In fact,he is the one who has to bestow Atmajnana upon the practitioner. But, honest individual effort is required. Jnana is superior to Bhakti and Karma. The greatest Jnani is considered the greatest Bhakta. Liberation is not going to heaven after death,but it happens right here;challenging but not impossible.A liberated person lives in the same world where we all live,yet he rests in his true Self,Brahman. Advaitin doesn't bother which form of Ishvara is Supreme,he need not stick to customary religious practices. All he needs to do is negate the mind and ego which might of course even take more than a few lifetimes!

Dvaita, Vishistadvaita and Advaita are like different grades of schooling. One starts with elementary level( dualistic) and proceeds to a higher grade( qualified monism) and ends up with graduation (non dualism). It's up to oneself what grade to stop at.

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