No Vedantic Schools of Duality Present Till the Time of Shankara


  1. Introduction
  2. The intent of this article
  3. A Brief About the Methodology of Shankara Advaita
  4. Non-Advaitic Vedantins are Never Mentioned by Shankara
  5. Proof that Vedantins at the Time of Shankara Were All Advaitins
  6. No Vedantin Recognizing the Distinction Between the Individual and the Supreme Self During Badarayan’s Time
  7. Some Doctrines of Other Advaita Schools Referred to by Shankara and Refuted
    1. Brahmadatta and Bharatrprapanca: Moksha is Achieved through Knowledge along with Meditation: Not Just Knowledge
    2. Prasankhyanavada School – Moksha is Achieved through Repeated Practice/Affirmation of Listening and Reflection
    3. Bhagavatas: Moksha is Attained through Meditation Only
  8. Conclusion


In my last article – Difficulties in Finding the True Method of Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya – Part 2: Pre-Shankara Schools – I mentioned the various schools and teachers of Vedanta that were existent before Shankara arrived on the scene. I also mentioned in my article – Difficulties in Finding the True Method of Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya – Part 1 – how all schools of Vedanta came from the Upanishads – the final portion of the Vedas. The purpose of these articles was to show that within Vedanta itself there are different views and schools which have got mixed with Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta in modern times.

Shankara was active, according to most scholars, somewhere in the first half of the 8th Century CE: almost 1000 years after the early Upanishads were composed. Many Vedanta schools sprung up from these Upanishads in this long span. We don’t have any documentary evidence of these schools but they are mentioned in the Brahmasutra of Badarayana and the Brahmasutra Bhashya of Shankara. These schools are taken up alternatively by these two authors, either for consolidation of their views, or refutation of views not belonging to their tradition. A summary of them has been provided in the Part 2 article mentioned above.

In this article, I contend that there were absolutely no schools of Vedanta prior to Shankara which had any notion of Qualified Non-Duality (Vishishtadvaita) or Duality (Dvaita) as expressed by later founders Ramanuja (early 12th Century C.E) and Madhava (early 13th Century C.E.). True, there were schools which differed on the status of the relationship between the individual soul and Absolute Brahman, but they were all united in their Non-Duality claim that (at least) soul attained union with Brahman after liberation. All these views with their proponents have been shown in a table here. Both the later Vedanta schools founded by Ramanuja and Madhava, who claim their roots in some of these schools, on the other hand, maintain that the individual soul is always distinct from the Absolute even after liberation. I have taken the entire extract of arguments from Satchidanandendra Swami’s book, “Shuddha Shankara Prakriya Bhaskara” to show how the schools of Ramanuja and Madhava don’t find any basis in the schools prevalent till the time of Shankara.

I have provided the relevant page nos. of paragraphs from the above-mentioned book in square brackets as [p. ]

The intent of this Article

The following reasons form my intent for writing this article

  1. To show how that Advaita is the ancient philosophy of the Upanishads
  2. Examine other Vedanta schools mentioned by Shankara in his Bhashyas and show how they are different from Shankara’s Advaita and how despite their difference they did not subscribe to any form of later Dualist and Qualified Non-Dualist schools. They were all Advaitic
  3. By examining the approaches of non-Shankara schools to liberation, we shall correct many of the misconceptions that have crept in the genuine teachings of Shankara today
  4. Extricate and elucidate the true teachings of Shankara and keep them alive for posterity

Abbreviations Used

  • B.Bh. – Bhaskara Sutra Bhashya
  • Bg. Bh. – Bhagavad Gita Bhashya of Shankara
  • Br. – Brahadaranyaka Upanishad
  • Br. Bh – Brahadaranyaka Bhashya of Shankara
  • Bs. Bh – Brahmasutra Bhashya by Badarayana
  • Nai. – The Naishkarmya-Siddhi by Sureshvaracharya
  • V.Bh. – Vacaspati Mishra’s Bhamati, a commentary on Shankara’s Sutra-Bhashya
  • V.D – Vedanta Dipa by Ramanuja

A Brief About Methodology of Shankara Advaita

Before I go into the details of other schools, I would like to mention that the basic methodology of Shankara Advaita comes from the metaphysical view of the identity between individual soul and Brahman. In Shankara’s Advaita, the appearance of individual souls and plural universe is just an erroneous superimposition on the Absolute non-dual reality called Brahman. Consequently, liberation in Shankara Advaita cannot be a matter of any action like good deeds, worship or meditation. This is because the very basis of action is a plurality of the actor-action-objects of action. This plurality is born out of an erroneous perception; that there is an individual actor, acting in a plural world of objects, is itself an outcome of error. So according to Shankara no amount of action can bring liberation, as action proceeds from the wrong assumption of the existence of plurality. Only intuitive knowledge about the fact that you are not an individual, but Brahman, is what gives you liberation. For this knowledge to accrue, action is seen as an indirect and preliminary means to make the mind capable of assimilating this absolutely counter-intuitive knowledge of non-dual, formless Brahman

Non-Advaitic Vedantins Are Never Mentioned by Shankara

Shankara recognizes Advaita alone as the system of thought taught in the Upanishads. While the followers of Vishishtadvaita, Dvaita and other schools of Vedanta that are prevalent today lay equal claim to the possession of the Vedantic tradition, an examination of Shankara’s Bhashyas shows that these schools of thought have come into vogue only very recently. For we find absolutely no trace of any reference by Shankara to Vedantic schools other than Advaitic even when he undertakes to refute systems opposed to his own. The dualistic schools that he regards as his adversaries are all evidently non-Vedantic. Not a word is to be found in all Shankara’s writings concerning schools akin to Madhvacarya’s Dvaita, Ramanujacarya’s Vishistadvaita, Vallabha’s Shuddhadvaita or any other non-Advaitic Vedantic school, whether in considering the objections of other schools against his own system, or in refuting dualistic doctrines. [p.1]

This reticence on his part would be altogether unaccountable if schools other than Advaitic had been current during or before his time. The only dualists that Shankara ever recognizes in his writings are the followers of other Darshanas or systems, such as those of the Sankhyas, the Vaisheshikas, the Buddhists, the Jains and the Pashupatas. It would surely be strange that he never alluded to a Dvaitic Vedantin in all his works, if indeed a non-Advaita Vedantic school were in existence at the time. For no contemporary Vedantin of another school would concede that S’ankara’s position had been conclusively proved by the mere refutation of one or more non-Vedantic systems, while opponents from the Vedantic schools were quietly ignored.

An indirect confirmation of this fact may be found in the evidence furnished by the non-Vedantic systems such as the Sankhya contemporaneous with Vedanta. Whenever any of these systems refer to Vedanta, they presume that Advaita alone is the Vedantic doctrine. Never once does any of them make the least reference overt or covert to non-Advaitic Vedanta. In fact, non-Vedantic systems of India whether at the time of Shankara or before him, never disclose the least suspicion of the existence of any shade of Vedanta which is not Advaitic. [p.2]

Proof that Vedantins at the Time of Shankara Were All Advaitins

The non-existence of Dvaita Vedanta in ancient times is not to be merely inferred from the argument of silence advanced above. There are direct statements in Shankara’s Bhashyas themselves which corroborate this supposition :

‘There is no dissension among the followers of the Upanishads as to the uniformity of Upanishadic teaching concerning the identity of the individual and the Supreme Self.’ [Br. Bh. 2-1-20]

‘All teachers of Moksha (release) hold that correct knowledge alone leads to the final release.’ [Bs.Bh. 2-1-11.]

It goes without saying that if there were schools insisting upon the absolute difference of the individual soul and Brahman, Shankara could not have proclaimed with such assurance that there was universal agreement among Vedantins regarding the identity of the two. Nor could he have made the sweeping statement that knowledge was considered as the one means to final release, if he had met with schools contending that Divine Grace, Bhakti, or any similar means other than Jnana/Knowledge was the direct and immediate conduit leading to it [p.3]

No Vedantin Recognizing the Distinction Between the Individual and the Supreme Self During Badarayan’s Time

As I mentioned in my earlier article Badarayana, the author of the Brahmasutra Bhashya, has three Sutras alluding to three Rishis who are divided in their opinion regarding the relation between the individual self and the Supreme Self. The aphorisms are supposed to express three different views in connection with the discussion of the Brhadaranyaka passage “Atman alone, my dear, is to be heard, reflected upon, and contemplated” (Br. 2-4-5). It has to be decided there how the text at the commencement could describe the individual self as the most lovable, if really the Supreme Self were intended to be taught. Asmarathya and other teachers have argued and explained the passage each in consonance with their respective views as follows{p.4] :

1. ‘The teacher Asmarathya thinks that this is a reference to the aspect of identity of the conscious self and the Supreme Self merely to justify the opening proposition ‘Atman being known, all this becomes known.” [Bs.Bh. 1-4-20]

2. ‘The teacher Audulomi is of opinion that the individual knowing self, which is impure on account of its association with the conditioning factors, viz., the aggregate made up of the body, the senses, the manas (thought) and buddhi (understanding) becomes clear through knowledge, meditation and other acts of discipline, and can become unified on departure from the coil of the body etc. It is in anticipation of this future union that the opening text begins with the assumption of identity.’ [Bs.Bh. 1-4-2]

3. ‘The teacher Kas’akrtsna opines that the statement of identification at the commencement, is because of this very Supreme Self being manifest in the form of this knowing self also.’ [Bs.Bh. 1-4-22]

Each of the three different views presumes the identity of the individual self and the Supreme Self as is evident from S‘ankara’s further comment on these standpoints :

(a) While Asmarathya accepts the identity of the individual soul with the Higher Atman, it is evident from his saving clause ‘pratijnasiddheh’ (to justify the opening proposition) that some kind of cause-and-effect relation (between the individual self and the Supreme Self) is intended.

(b) In the case of Audulomi, on the other hand, both distinction and identity are expressly referred to two different states. 

[Hence simultaneous identity and difference accepted by Asmarathya has been obviously rejected here. ]

(c) Kas’akrtsna opines that the Supreme Lord himself without undergoing any modification whatsoever, is the individual self, and not another self. p.174.

So then, on the whole, according to Shankara, Badarayana regards all the three teachers, in spite of divergence of opinion with regard to the present state of the individual soul, are unanimous as to the identity of the individual self with the Supreme Self in the state of final release. Hence we may safely conclude that according to Shankara, schools according with Ramanuja’s in insisting that ‘the Supreme Self is absolutely distinct from and dissimilar to the individual self-bound or free’ (VD. p. 114) were not in existence during or before the time of the author of the Vedanta Sutras. Much less was there any talk, among Vedantins, of individual souls being servants of God, servants of eternally higher and lower ranks.[p.5-6]

Various Doctrines of Other Advaita Schools Referred to by Shankara and Refuted

There are various other doctrines of Non-Shankarite Advaitins interspersed among Shankara’s comments on the Prasthanatrayi (the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Vedanta Sutras). I am taking up some of these for discussion who have different methods for achieving liberation apart from knowledge.

1.) Brahmadatta and Bharatrprapanca: Moksha is Achieved through Knowledge along with Meditation: Not Just Knowledge

This school says, It is true that the Shastra is the only pramana (source of valid knowledge) for Brahman, but Brahman is presented therein only as subservient to the injunction of meditation” Which means that shrutis can give only indirect knowledge. This direct knowledge has to be converted to direct knowledge of Brahman through meditation. These views belong to pre-Shankara Vedantins – Brahmadatta and Baharatrprapanca discussed in my previous article. Many modern-day Advaitins unwittingly subscribe to this school as Shankara’s Advaita.

(To explain) : There are many Vedic injunctions like these: ‘Atman alone is to be seen’, ‘The Atman free from all sin….. is to be sought out and to be realized’, ‘He is to be meditated upon as Atman (the all-pervading Self)’, ‘One should meditate upon the Atma-loka alone’, and ‘Knowing Brahman one becomes Brahman itself’. The question arises here ‘Who is that Atman?’, ‘Which is that Brahman ?’. And all the Upanishads are meant to point out the nature of that Atman or Brahman, such texts for instance as the following: ‘He is ever-pure, omniscient, all-pervading, self-contented forever’, ‘Of the nature of being ever pure, ever conscious, and free forever’, ‘Brahman is Consciousness and Bliss’ and so on. And from its meditation accrues the eschatological Moksha, known only through the Shastra.” [Bs.Bh. 1-1-4,]

Also, we learn from the Brahadaranyaka that a section of the school contended that meditation (rather than knowledge) could even dispel ignorance (avidya).

“Not this, not that’, ‘Not gross’, ‘One without a second’, “Beyond hunger etc.” – these and other such texts are for setting forth the nature of the Atman to be meditated upon. And the fruit of this Upasana is either release or the removal of avidya.” [Br. Bh. 1-4-7]

It is noteworthy that while this school agrees with the later Ramanuja school in insisting that the knowledge recommended in the Shrutis – for the removal of avidya- has to be followed with the practice of Upasana: and not mere knowledge of the nature of Brahman, this school unlike Ramanuja’s, openly declares that texts like neti neti, which negate all specific characteristics, describe the true nature of Brahman. For instance, see this

“Can it not be that Brahman is pluralistic? It possesses many potentialities just as a tree has many branches. Hence unity and plurality are both real. Just as a tree is one in itself, but many as the branches; a sea is one as a whole, while it is many in its aspect as foam, the waves and the like; clay, one in itself, maybe many also in so far as it is pots and cover-lids. (So also Brahman is both one and many). In this case, knowledge of Brahman in its aspect as one would lead to release, while in its aspect as many, it may serve practical purposes in so far as it is useful for human procedure, mundane and Vedic, as inculcated in the Karma-kanda (a portion of the Vedas devoted to works).” [Bs. Bh 2-1-14]

This doctrine seems to belong to Bhartrprapanca, a sustained refutation of whose views is prominent throughout the Brahadaranyaka Bhashya of Shankara (See Br. 5-1) [p.7]

2.) Prasankhyanavada School – Moksha is Achieved through Repeated Practice/Affirmation of Listening and Reflection

There was a school which insists that the repeated practice of shravana/listening/reading of scriptures combined with manana throughout life is required even after one has acquired Self Knowledge through these processes. It is called the Prasankhyanavada School. Some modern Shankara Advaitins seem to entertain this notion too.

The doctrine of the Prasankhyana Vadins was as follows. It is true (they said) that any form of karma/action does not lead to knowledge. But actions are needed in the Upanishads for the practice of repeated affirmation. For there cannot be knowledge of the Self simply from hearing the relevant texts once. Again, there cannot be knowledge of the Self simply through the texts without reasoning cover them, so there must be repeated practice at that too. Or again, since hearing the texts and reasoning over them will only yield general (abstract) knowledge of the Self, the practice of repeated affirmation (abhyasa) is needed for particular concrete experience. Or again, we may admit that metaphysical Ignorance is removed when metaphysical knowledge once arises. Nevertheless, metaphysical Ignorance persists spontaneously, without regard to cause and effect. It cannot be definitively eliminated, any more than the ordinary ignorance that keeps on cropping up with regard to new objects (in ordinary life) can be eliminated. On the contrary, it is certain to arise again, on account of the impressions accumulated during many previous lives. So there has to be the practice of repeated affirmations of the truth (throughout life) to keep metaphysical Ignorance at bay. For we have the Upanishadic text, ‘Once the wise Brahmin has acquired knowledge, he should practise repeated affirmation’ (Brhad.IV.iv.21). [The Method of the Vedanta, Sri Swami Satchidanandendra, page 223]

This view is stated at some length and refuted separately in the third chapter, of the Naishkarmya Siddhi of Suresvaracharya.

3.) Bhagavatas: Moksha is Attained through Meditation and Worship Only

There is another school mentioned by Shankara by the name of Bhagavatas which believed that Moksha cannot be attained by knowledge at all but continuous meditation and worship:

“Here the Bhagavatas are of the following opinion: Bhagavan Vasudeva is the one really real stainless entity. He stands divided into four forms, the Vasudeva Vyutha, the Sankarshana Vytha, the Pradyumna Vyutha and the Aniruddha Vyutha. By the appellation ‘Vasudeva’ is meant the Supreme Self, by ‘Sankarshana’ the individual self, by ‘Pradyumna’ is meant the mind and by ‘Aniruddha’ the ego. Of these, Vasudeva is the ultimate cause, the others- Sankarashana and the rest-are its effects. Now by worshipping this Supreme Lord the Bhagavan for all the hundred years of one’s life by means of reverential approach, collecting the means of worship, sacrifice, study of the Shastras and Yoga, one becomes free from all mundane troubles and attains Bhagavan Himself.” [Bs.Bh. 2-2-42]

The Bhagavathas alluded to here believed in the absolute union of the individual self with Brahman in the state of final release. The individual self, they supposed, is born from Bhagavan and finally becomes merged in Him by means of continued meditation. This view of the school is refuted in Shankara’s Gita-Bhashya (13-2). This school is referred to in the Brhadaranyaka Bhashya also (Br.Bh. 2-1-20). It is significant that in both these references the Bhagavatas are represented as teaching that the individual self is transformed into Brahman in the state of release [p.10].

Cessation of Samsara has to be accomplished by me by means of the knowledge of Kshetra and Kshetrajna and through the realization of Kshetrajna the Lord by means of meditation and then taking on His form ( tatsvarupavasthanena).” [Bg. Bh. 13-2]

“And through worship, he realizes and becomes Brahman, the Lord of all (Sarvesitr Brahma bhavati ) [Br. Bh. 2-1-20]

It is crystal-clear that these Bhagavatas referred to in Shankara’s Bhashyas have nothing to do with either the Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja or the Dvaita of Madhva both of whom claim to be Bhagavatas following the Pancaratra Agama, since (a) neither of these latter schools would subscribe to the doctrine that the Jiva becomes Brahman (b) nor to that which insists that Vasudeva is ‘the sole Reality of the nature of Pure Consciousness [Bs.Bh.], nor yet to the teaching that all the four Lord’s manifestations are equally without any distinctive features whatever [Bs.Bh.]. Hence a critical student of the history of Vedantic thought has no-option but to conclude that the Pancaratra System has undergone certain modifications and split itself into the Vishistadvaita and Absolute Dvaita branches after the time of Shankara. That Shankara’s version of the Pancaratra doctrine is the more ancient one is confirmed by Bhaskara a recent opponent of S’ankara, who quotes the following shloka (repeated by Vacaspati Mishra still later in his Sutra Bhashya [p.11]

“The Pancaratras also declare that there is a distinction and difference between Jiva and the Supreme Self till the state of release. For the released soul, however, there is no distinction whatever for the cause of distinction is absent.” [BBh. p. 81, Nirnaya Sagar Press; VBh. 1-4-21]

Again among the Gaudapada’s Karikas, we have the following in Verse 3.1

The Jīva betaking itself to devotion (upāsanā) thinks itself to be related to the Brahman that is supposed to have manifested Himself. He is said to be of narrow intellect because he thinks that before creation all was of the nature of the unborn (Reality).

In this Shloka, Gaudapada, as explained by Shankara, says that the aspirant who thinks that he is born from the Unborn Brahman and will again attain that Brahman by dint of Upasana, knows only the limited Brahman and is hence considered to be suffering from an inferiority complex by knowers of Brahman eternally unborn.

This allusion is evidently to the doctrine of the same Bhagavatas who believed in the origin of the Jiva from Vasudeva and who are criticized in Shankara’s Sutra Bhashya (Bs.Bh. 2-2-42). The present-day Vishishtadvaitins and Dvaitins, however, think that the Bhagavatas do not preach this doctrine of Jiva’s origination thus disclosing that their views of the Pancaratra system vary from that of the original Bhagavatas in this respect also.[p.12]


For all the above reasons, it is indubitable that during the time of Shankara and even before that, all the varieties of Vedantic schools were Advaitic in the sense that they taught the absolute oneness of Jiva and Brahman in the state of Mukti or final release. Shankara’s school, which had been existing side by side with other monistic schools, was to be distinguished from others only in the peculiar method of presentation of Vedantic Advaita which it had adopted from the beginning.[p.13]

One thought on “No Vedantic Schools of Duality Present Till the Time of Shankara

  1. […] There are numerous commentaries embodying the conflicting interpretations of the several Bhashyakaras of Vedanta whose followers are extant to this day. For any scholar skilled in exegetics might bring out any additional system of his own without impunity out of these utterances of the ancient sages, if only he could adduce cogent reasons to show that his system is consistently built. And no one can rule out the legitimacy of the ingress of any system or systems in the future, each one of them resting its structure on the foundation of consistency and even on some individual intuition and experience to be gained through spiritual discipline. I have talked about the various schools of Vedanta – Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita in my article No Vedantic Schools of Duality Present Till the Time of Shankara […]


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