Lingayats and Veerashaivites are often considered the same Shaivite sect. However, there are many who consider them distinct to each other. What is the difference between the two?
Well just stating the differences between the two as has been stated in OneIndia. The following is an article excerpt:
Who are Veerashaivas
Veerashaivas are worshippers of Lord Shiva. They precede Basavanna, the founder of Lingayatism. Veerashaivas do not worship any God other than Shiva and can be found spread across India. Pashupatha Shaiva, Soma Shaiva, Dakshina Shaiva, Kala Mukha Shaiva, Lakula Shaiva, Yavala Shaiva, Samanya Shaiva, Mishra Shaiva, Shuddha Shaiva, Adi Shaiva, Anu Shaiva, Avantara Shaiva are some of the sects within Shaivism. Veerashaiva is one such sect and people from the community are found largely in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Those who consume non-vegetarian food call themselves Kshatriya Shaiva while those who are vegetarians call themselves Brahmana Shaiva. All sects of the Veerashaiva follow the 'Pancha Peeta', five mutts. Kashi mutt, Rameshwaram Mutt, Ujjaini Mutt, Rambhapura Mutt and Srishaila Mutt are the core holy places for the community.
Who are Lingayats?
Lingayats are followers of Basavanna and his teachings. Veerashaivas in Karnataka, influenced by the preachings of Basavanna adapted the same into their lives and faith. Basavanna's teachings were incorporated to base sects that led to the formation of new sects like Banajiga Lingayat, Panchamasali Lingayat, Ganiga Lingayat, Gowda Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat.
There are many differences
Veerashaiva and Lingayat ways of life are different. Their beliefs, practices and faith are different. Veerashaiva worship Lord Shiva, the one mentioned in Hindu mythology. But the Shiva that Basavanna referred to is not the Hindu mythological Shiva. Basavanna's Shiva is a formless, seamless figurative entity. Lingayats argue that this was the very reason that Basavanna never mentioned about the Hindu mythological Shiva in any of his Vachanas. In terms of religious practice, Basavanna propagated only the worship of Ishta Linga. He did not encourage rituals and ceremonies of offering, prayer and sacrifice. Veerashaivas, however, encourage such rituals in stark contrast. Basavanna had suggested wearing of the Ishtalinga on one's neck but Veerashaivas have done away with the practice.
Hopefully it may help you in some way.
Shakti vishishth advait of the virashaiv dharm, exposing Shakti, is different from lingayat dharm, stressing monotheistic Shiv, that can be classified as vishishth advait and not as sunyavad siddhant like one commentator claims, which is a Buddhist doctrine.
In modern times the virashaiv darshan (school of philosophy) has become corrupt with their acharyas (instructors) posing as self-realized gurus (teachers) whom they are not. On the other hand, lingayat darshan considers itself to be a separate religion, which it is not and which was never intended so by their founder, saint Basava. He only reformed the virashaiv school.
Another doctrine, Shiv vishishth advait of Srikantha Sivacharya belonging to shraut Shaiv siddhant, is one step below evidently nondualistic Shiv advait - also called Shaiv vedant - of Mahayogi Appayya Dikshita who was an avatar of Shiv and a greatest philosopher of all times. It presents an original approach like in the Vedic times - see Shvetashvatara Upanishad of Krishna Yajurveda, the foundational text of Shaiv sampraday. The main shastr in this tradition is Shiva Purana. According to Matsya Purana, Puranas were composed by Lord Brahma as first scriptures even before Vedas and next compiled by Rishi Vyas!
Though himself a follower of also nondualistic advait vedant (brahma or absolute as the ultimate reality), Dikshita claimed it to be equal with Shiv advait, in which the Lord is brahma, and held both in the highest esteem, other darshans being of graduated lower levels. He wrote about all schools of philosophy not to criticize but to reconcile them, what was appreciated by everyone.
Once upon a request of disciples the saint miraculously showed them his Shiv svarup. Appayya was also a staunch devotee of the Lord. He owned and worshipped Panch Shivlings. On his deathbed Dikshita materialized another body (bilocation) in which he entered the famous Chidambaram Temple of Tamil Nadu to merge in the Natraj image. Thus the saint did not die but attained union with Shiv whom he really was.
References on the Shiv advait doctrine (siddhant) in English:
- "Appaiya Dikshita - Complete listing of works of Appayya deekshita", (iii) Sivadvaita Works of appayya deekshita, https://shaivam.org;
- "Ātmārpaṇastuti of Srimad Appayya Dikshitendra" (With translation by S.N. Sastri), Atmarpanastuti - Sanskrit Documents;
- "Ātmārpaṇa Stuti-English and Tamil by Appayya Dikshitar" by IIakiya Mamani, Samskrita Ratna, Dr. R. Thiagarajan (Chennai: Appayya Dikshita Foundation, 2008), https://archive.org;
- Ramesan N., "Sri Appayya Dikshita" (Madras: B.G. Paul + Co., 1972);
- "Sivadvaita Nirnaya by Appayya Diksita", https://archive.org;
- "Śivatattvaviveka by Appayya Dikshita, http://gdurl.com/UGXS ;
- "Svetasvatara Upanishad", Spirit Apps