Vedanta, literally the end or conclusion (anta) of the VEDA, is the most important philosophical school in Indian tradition. It is a wide and capa-cious field that includes those who adhere to a strict non-dualist (ADVAITA) perspective, those who believe in a non-dualism with certain reserva-tions, and those who believe in the type of dual-ism (DVAITA) that states that God and the human soul will never be one.
   The one basic requirement of Vedanta is that it rest upon the three basic texts: the UPANISHADS, the VEDANTA SUTRAS, and the BHAGAVAD GITA. Most commonly known in both India and the West is the Vedanta of SHANKARA, the seventh-century philosophical savant. This Vedanta understands that the world is illusory, M AYA, and only the transcendent ultimate reality, the BRAHMAN, is real. That brahman has no characteristics and does not act in any way. It is a pure plenum or totality that is sometimes characterized as infinite being (sat), infinite consciousness (cit), and infinite bliss (ANANDA). (See SAT-CHIT-ANANDA.)
   A second type of Vedanta might best be described as BHAKTI Vedanta or devotional Vedanta. Here the oneness of the godhead is also under-stood, but the world is seen to be real and perme-ated by God in the form of VISHNU, usually, or his incarnations RAMA or KRISHNA. (Vedantas that emphasize SHIVA in this way are rare.) There is no duality of soul, world, and God, but God is seen as supreme and all other realities as subsidiary. It is non-dualism with the reservation that the god-head has supreme power to act.
   Finally, there is the rare minority sect of Vedanta championed by Sri MADHVA, who argues that the soul, the world, and God are all separated from each other eternally and will never be one. All is dependent upon the radically transcendent God.
   In the Neo-Vedanta of the followers of RAMA-KRISHNA, reality is still one, but “God” may be characterized as “Allah” or “Christ” as well as in the usual Hindu ways. Because of the power of the word Vedanta, even systems like that of SRI AUROBINDO that resemble the TANTRA will be char-acterized as Vedanta. His followers have some-times called his system Integral Vedanta.
   All systems of Vedanta (except that of Aurobindo) agree that the highest goal is to break the bonds of KARMA and realize mukti, or liberation.
   Further reading: Surendranath Dasgupta, The History of Indian Philosophy, 5 vols. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1975); Swami Tapasyananda, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta (Lives and Philosophies of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, Vallabha and Chaitanya) (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1990).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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