By Patrick Horn (“Rishi”)
Swami Vivekananda says, “All the schools of Hindu philosophy start from the Vedanta or Upanishads, but the monists took the name to themselves as a speciality, because they wanted to base the whole of their theology and philosophy upon the Vedanta and nothing else. . . . This is the non-dualistic Vedantism. It is too abstruse, too elevated to be the religion of the masses. . . . Yet there are a few brave souls in the world who dare to conceive the truth, who dare to take it up, and who dare to follow it to the end.” The question inevitably arises, “How do we know?” Vedantic epistemology is not mere intellectual cogitation but the means to discern Truth. Vedanta offers three steps to absorption in Brahman: revelation, reasoning, realization. First, it is necessary to hear about it. Then, questioning and testing. Finally, in integrating the insights gained from study, contemplation, and direct experience of the Real, there is nothing further to be known.

Swamiji teaches three divisions of orthodoxy: nyaya-vaisika (rational-atomism), samkyha-yoga (statistical-metaphysics), and mimamsa-vedanta (testimony and scriptural authority). There are six valid methods of knowledge: pratyaksa (sense-perception of the empirical world), anumana (inference divided into reasoning from cause to effect [a priori Platonic deduction – the Way of the Thunderbolt] or from effect to cause [a posteriori Aristotlean induction – the Way of the Serpent]), upamana (comparison — a is to b = c is to x), arthapatti (postulation – if y, then z), anupalabdhi (negation), and sabda (witness to the sensible and suprasensible that does not contradict logic). Oral or written witness from a trustworthy source is the most potent instrument for knowledge transmission. Confidence in the words of an authority need no verification.


Swamiji reveals the principles common to the various schools of Vedanta. The first agreement is the existence of God. The second agreement is the possibility of knowledge of God. The third agreement is the cyclical creation and dissolution of the manifested universe. The dvaita (dualism) school of Vedanta is associated with the philosopher Madhva (1238-1317) and Chaitanya (1486-1534). It emphasizes devotion to a personal god. Swamiji says, “What are these gods? They mean certain states, certain offices . . . some soul which was very high has gone to fill that post in this cycle . . . and the man who is very good in this cycle will go and fill that post in the next cycle.” The ruler of a cycle is called Kalpa-niyamaka-Isvara.

The vishishtadvaita (qualified monism) school of Vedanta, associated with Ramanuja (1017-1137), proposes that the personal god, the multiplicity of souls, and the apparent universe are all manifestations of Brahman. Unlike the advaita (non-dualism) of Shankara (788-820), which negates the world of appearances as impermanent and therefore unreal, qualified monism accepts the plurality of forms and a diversity of attributes as conditionally real. It is similar to how waves do not exist without the ocean; the ocean is the waves and exists regardless of the tide. Man conquers ignorance through love and altruistic work and thus attains unity with God and freedom.