What Is Advaita?

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A (no) + dvaita (two)

Advaita Definition

Advaita is a non-dualist school or spiritual path of Vedanta that means “one reality”. All religions are said to lead to the same reality, according to Advaita. 

Advaita Vedanta philosophy says that the individual soul and ultimate reality are the same.

It is often referred to as Advaita Vedanta अद्वैत वेदान्त. It is worth noting that Veda means knowledge, and Vedanta means the end of the Vedas as found in the Upanishads.

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Advaita Deep Dive

The six schools of Indian philosophy

Advaita Vedanta is a branch of Vedanta which is one of the six philosophical schools within Hindu philosophy. As well as Advaita (which we’ll look at in depth later) the other five schools are:

1. Nyaya – The Nyaya philosophy can be found in the Nyaya Sutras by Gautama and is based on knowledge and logic. It sees God as the creator and destroyer of the universe.

2. VaisheshikaKarma is at the heart of action, all of which is within a cyclic process. A key Vaisheshika text is the Prashastapada, and it explains the metaphysics of the universe in an objective way.

3. Samkhya – A dualistic philosophy based on purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti which are independent of each other.

4. Yoga – A dualistic philosophy similar to samkhya that was described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yoga aids control of the mind, body, and sense organs as a way to attain liberation. 

The eight limb practices are yama (self-control), niyama (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (fixing the mind), dhyana (concentration), Samadhi (enlightenment).

5. Minamsa – A key text in the Mimansa philosophy is the Sutra of Gaimini which embraces the Nyaya-Vaisheshika teachings and the importance of knowledge.

6. Advaita Vedanta – Advaita Vedanta is one of the main schools of Vedanta of which there are three. The other two main schools are Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism) and Dvaita (dualism).

Within the Advaita Vedanta system, Jnana (knowledge) yoga is the path to moksha (liberation) and freedom from the cycle of rebirth. It is also thought that Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga is an appropriate path because of its inward focus and control of the senses.

a golden womans face with gold spirals coming out

How is Advaita Vedanta different from the other Vedas?

Advaita Vedanta’s non-dualist approach means that the Self (Atman) and Brahman are one and the same.

Advaita Vedanta is the realization that Atman and Brahman are identical and that liberation can be attained while alive.

It is the knowledge that the world is an illusion (maya) of transitory nature that defines Advaita. Atman is a mere reflection of Absolute reality, of which both are the same.

Where can the teachings of Advaita Vedanta be found?

Vedanta can be found in the canon of Hindu texts called the Prasthanatrayi, which consists of the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, and especially the Upanishads.

Advaita Vedanta influences

Advaita Vedanta is influenced by various Indian philosophical texts and traditions as well as Buddhism and is often attributed to the writings of Acharya Gaudapada and Acharya Shankara.

Advaita Vedanta & Liberation

Moksha is the liberation from the cycle of rebirth and freedom from suffering. This is achieved through the knowledge that we are both Atman and Brahman.

Tat tvam asi (that you are) – Upanishads

The cycle of rebirth is triggered by karma. Karma is the good and bad actions within one’s life that contribute to samsaras and karmic residue. These affect what kind of life one will be reborn into or if the practitioner will escape the cycle of rebirth through the attainment of moksha.

a silhouette of a woman against a purple starry background, representing advaita

What does Advaita Vedanta teach us?

The predominant message of Advaita Vedanta is that each of our actions are governed by our knowledge and intellect. 

Advaita Vedanta philosophy says that the individual soul and ultimate reality are the same. Separation of these two things are perceived in the presence of ignorance.

Perception of duality is considered superimposition. Advaita helps us to recognize the truth through knowledge. For example, Advaita is the path to enable us to move beyond the ‘superimposed’ duality of things. 

The goal of Advaita is to move beyond the cyclic samsaras by realizing that Atman and Brahman are the same and thus see that the universe is Brahman and not the superimposed so-called “reality” that we live in the day-to-day with names and objects etc. 

Freedom comes from the knowledge that one is not different from the universe.

Advaita in your life

Taking the teaching of Advaita Vedanta into your life is a big one and relies on thinking of one’s actions at all times. This means that everything that is actioned within life may impact future rebirth.

Living a good and ethical life is paramount to the teachings of Advaita and it is a great compliment to an everyday asana practice.

In those times where we are drawn to the minutia of life and the mundane the knowledge that we are not in fact what we perceive but we are the universe, the ultimate reality, God.

Next time you feel overwhelmed zoom out and take a look at the non-dualist teachings of Advaita Vedanta.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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