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It is often said Adi Shankaracharya and Dhyaneshwar advocated the same philosophy: Advaita Vedanta.

However, after some research, I found out that there are some sharp contrasting differences in the philosophies of the two individuals:

  1. Shankara terms the world as mithya (illusion) whereas Dhyaneshwar, like other Vaishnava philosophers, sees the world as a manifestation of Brahman and hence, real.

  2. Shankara believes only Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are eligible for Self-realization. On the other hand, Dhyaneshwar argues that people of all castes and even intercaste progenies are eligible for Self-realization.

  3. It is unclear whether Dhyaneshwar subscribes to the Vedanta school as he regards all castes eligible for Self-realization and also is an admirer of the Nathas, something which is heavily criticised in the Brahma Sutras. Dhyaneshwar also remains silent when the Brahma Sutras text is mentioned in the Bhagavad-Gita.

My questions are:

  • Does the Varkari sect founded by Dhyaneshwar subscribe to the Vedanta school? If yes, how do they interpret the caste restrictions on Self-realization in the Brahma Sutras?
  • What other striking differences are there between the philosophies of Adi Shankaracharya and Dhyaneshwar?
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From the preface M.R. Yardi's English translation of the "Jnaneshwari":

The Shankara-bhashya and Jnaneshwari also differ in their view as to which Yoga is considered more important in the Gita. Shri Shankara regards the Yoga of knowledge as primary, with both the Yoga of action and the Yoga of devotion, as subsidiary and supportive to it. He states that the seeker attains liberation in the following order - purification of the mind through karmayoga, renunciation, the way of knowledge, and self- realisation. In the opinion of Shri Jnaneshwar all the methods of Yoga are equally valid and one has to adopt the Yoga accordingly, to his aptitude. Shri Jnaneshwar, while commenting on the Yoga of meditation in the sixth chapter, has expounded the Yoga of Kundalini and extolled it as pantharaja, the best way. He has explained this Yoga in other chapters also. This view may not have been acceptable to Shri Shankara. Further, Shri Jnaneshwar says that the performance of one’s duty is tantamount to nitya-yajna and if it is performed in a selfless spirit and with dedication to God, it leads to liberation independently. Further he says that in order to reach the lofty peak of liberation, devotion is an easy foot-path and that it is attained step by step (kramayoga) by performing one’s duty, devotion to God, attainment of knowledge and non-dual devotion. In this way, the devotee becomes jnani-bhakta, who is most dear to God and becomes one with him. On the other hand, the other commentators of God hold, that liberation is achieved through devotion to a personal God and even after attainment of liberation, the devotee retains his individuality and lives in the presence of God. It is thus obvious, that Shri Jnaneshwar consulted the Shankarabhashya and not the other commentators. But he did not follow it blindly, but formed his own views about the message of the Gita.

There maybe other differences other than this. Will update if I find more.

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