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 lingyat dharm, stressing monotheistic Shiv, that can be classified as vishishth advait and not as sunyavad siddhant, which is a Buddhist doctrine.
In modern times the virashaiv dharm has become corrupt with their acharyas (spiritual instructors) posing as self-realized gurus (spiritual teachers) whom they are not. On the other hand, lingyat dharm considers itself to be a separate religion, which it is not (Shiv is a Hindu God) and which was never intended so by their founder, saint Basava. He only reformed the viashaiv dharm.
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 saint Appayya Dikshita who was a partial avtar (incarnation) of Shiv and a greatest philosopher of all times. It presents an original approach like in the Vedic times - see Shvetashvatar Upanishad of Krishna Yajurved, the foundational text of Shaiv sampraday, though substantially mistranslated in vedantic editions. The main scripture in this tradition is Shiv Puran. According to Matsya Puran, Purans were composed by Lord Brahma as first shastrs even before Vedas and next compiled by Rishi Vyas.
Though himself a follower of nondualistic advait vedant (brahma, absolute as the ultimate reality), Dikshita claimed it to be equal with shiv advait (nonduality of Shiv), in which the Lord is brahma as per Shiv Puran ("Lord Shiv said: I am the supreme brahma") and held both in the highest esteem, other darshans (philosophical schools) being of graduated lower levels. He wrote about all schools of philosophy not to criticize but to reconcile them, what was appreciated by all.
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 truly was.
Ultimately, the Lord is both personal as the adi guru (first spiritual teacher) called Dakshinamurti (Suta Samhita of Skand Puran) and impersonal as brahma (Shiv Puran).
Bibliography of the shiv advait doctrine (siddhant)
- "Works of Sri Appaiya Dikshita: (iii) Sivadvaita Works of appayya deekshita", https://shaivam.org;
- "AtmArpaNastuti of shrimad Appayya Dikshitendra" (With translation by S.N. Sastri); https://sanskritdocuments.org
- "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" (Srimad Appayya Dikshitendra Granthavali Prakasana Samiti, Hyderabad, 1972), https://archive.org;
- Shiv Puran (Hindii);
- "Sivadvaita Nirnaya by Appayya Diksita", https://archive.org;
- "Śivatattvaviveka by Appayya Dikshita", http://gdurl.com/UGXS ;
- "Svetasvatara Upanishad", Spirit Apps