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What Is The Difference Between Dvaita And Advaita?

By Advaita is meant the non-duality of Brahman, or rather the denial of duality in Brahman. The central concept of Vedanta darshana is that Brahman is the ultimate cause of the universe and the ultimate Reality. This is accepted by all schools of Vedanta — dualistic as well as non-dualistic. What then is the difference between Dvaita and Advaita?

One basic difference is that according to dualistic schools individuality is real and persists even in the state of mukti, whereas in Advaita individuality is unreal and does not persist in the state of mukti. Shankara says: ‘What is called jiva is not absolutely different from Brahman. Brahman itself, being conditioned by adjuncts such as buddhi, intellect, and the like, comes to be called “doer” and “experiencer”. ’‘The difference between the individual self and the supreme Self is due to the presence of limiting adjuncts, such as the body, which are set up by names and forms and are created by avidya; there is actually no difference.’

In the dualistic schools the word ‘Atman’ is used to refer only to the individual self, and not to Brahman. When the Atman identifies itself with mind and body, it is called jiva. In the state of mukti this identification disappears, but the Atman, although it becomes almost similar to Brahman, remains distinct and separate from Brahman. Here, the relationship between Atman and Brahman is an organic relationship, like that between the part and the whole. The type of difference that exists between Brahman and the individual selves is known as svagata-bheda.

Advaita denies svagata-bheda in Brahman. According to Advaita, in the state of mukti the Atman does not remain distinct from Brahman but becomes one with it. In fact, there is no distinction between Atman and Brahman; as soon as the identification with mind and body disappears, the distinction between Atman and Brahman also disappears. Hence, Advaitins use the terms Atman and Brahman interchangeably.

Dualistic schools perspective:

  • Individuality is considered real and persists even in the state of mukti.
  • In dualistic schools, there's a distinction between individual self (jiva) and supreme Self (Brahman).
  • The difference between individual self and supreme Self is attributed to limiting adjuncts, such as the body, created by avidya (ignorance).

Advaita perspective:

  • Individuality is considered unreal and does not persist in the state of mukti.
  • According to Advaita, there's no distinction between Atman (individual self) and Brahman (supreme Self).
  • In the state of mukti, Atman merges with Brahman, and there's no distinction between them.

Difference in terminology:

  • In dualistic schools, "Atman" refers only to the individual self, not Brahman.
  • In Advaita, "Atman" and "Brahman" are used interchangeably after the dissolution of identification with mind and body. 

We may conclude with a statement made by Krishnachandra Bhattacharya, one of the original thinkers and great scholars of Indian philosophy of the twentieth century: ‘The illusoriness of the individual self is apparently the central notion of Advaita Vedanta. Every vital tenet of the philosophy — Brahman as the sole reality, the object as false, Maya as neither real nor unreal, Ishwara as Brahman in reference to Maya, moksha (liberation) through knowledge of Brahman and as identity with Brahman — may be regarded as an elaboration of this single notion.’

Source - excerpts from article titled 'Four Basic Principles of Advaita Vedanta' by Swami Bhajanananda in the Prabuddha Bharata Magazine January 2010 issue.