I was reading a few sample pages of a book, where the author gives an introduction of the two monistic schools of vedanta, namely advaita and vishisht-advaita. While doing so he used terms like "absolute identity" for advaita and "organic unity" in the case of vishisht-advaita.

Here are the passages from the book Fundamentals of Vishisht-advaita vedanta by S.M. Srinivasa Chari -

According to one view, which upholds absolute monism, as propounded by Shankara, the universe is not ultimately real but a phenomenal appearance of reality. The ultimate reality (in advaita) is absolutely one in the sense that it does not admit any kind of differentiation, either internal or external. Such an absolute identity would imply denial of ultimate reality to individual souls and the universe. This type of monism advocated by Shankara is advaita vedanta.

According to the second view held by Ramanuja, the ultimate reality though one, is not the absolute without any differentiation since such a transcendental undifferentiated being is inconcievable ans also logically untenable. We have to admit the reality of the universe with which we are surrounded and also of the individual souls which experience the external world.

Accordingly, Ramanuja acknowledges three fundamental real entities - matter (acit), soul (cit) and God (isvara). On the basis of the principle of organic relation, upholds that ultimate reality is one as a unity. Isvara as the creator of the universe is the immanent ground of existence and also the inner Self of all things in the universe. He sustains and controls cit and acit. Cit and acit depend on Isvara for their very existence and are organically related to Isvara.

The oneness of reality (in vishisht-advaita) is to be understood not in the sense of absolute identity (as in Sankara's advaita) but as an organic unity.

What do Advaitins mean by 'Absolute' or "Absolute Oneness" and how is it different from Ramanuja's qualified monism? What do the followers of Ramanuja mean by 'qualified' or "organic unity" here?

Thank you.

  • What is the Sanskrit term they use for "absolute"?
    – Rickross
    Apr 29, 2022 at 7:44
  • Please cite some source using the same.
    – hanugm
    Apr 29, 2022 at 8:11
  • @Rickross Is it Brahman? If so, then what is the meaning of Brahman? ... Oh and i have edited my question too. Apr 29, 2022 at 8:33
  • Not sure @TheCrimsonUniverse
    – Rickross
    Apr 30, 2022 at 6:49

1 Answer 1


It is necessary to understand the concept of bheda or distinction to understand the difference between Advaita Vedanta of Sri Sankara and Vishistadvaita Vedanta of Sri Ramanuja.

Distinction (Bheda)

In Hindu philosophy, such as in Vedanta, three kinds of distinction (bheda) are recognized. They are as follows: (1) The distinction between objects of the same kind, such as the distinction between one cow and another cow. This is called sajatiya-bheda in Sanskrit.

(2) The distinction between objects of different kinds, such as the distinction between a cow and a horse. This is called vijatiya-bheda.

(3) The distinction between different parts of the same object, such as the distinction between the tail and legs of the same cow. This is called svagata-bheda.

Journey from Many to One essentials of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Bhaskarananda

Advaita Vedanta

The concept of Brahman in Advaita Vedanta has no distinction or bheda of any kind. This idea is called absolute identity. Brahman is not made of independent parts. So how does Advaita Vedanta explain the body-mind complex of Jiva and jagat given that Brahman has no inner distinction? It answers this question by claiming that the body-mind complex of Jiva and jagat have no ultimate existence and are dream like.

Vishistadvaita Vedanta.

The school of Qualified Non-dualism or Vishishtadvaita-vada, is a school of theism. Its main exponent was Ramanuja. According to this school, there are three ultimate realities – Ishvara (Saguna Brahman), chit (jiva) and achit (Mother Nature or prakriti that evolves as this material universe).

They exist in an inseparable relationship. Chit and achit, however, are dependent upon Ishvara, who is independent. Chit and achit are included in Ishvara as constituent parts. Such separation or distinction within Ishvara is called svagata-bheda.

Ishvara is Vishnu. Ishvara is the repository of infinite virtues. He is omnipotent, omniscient, self-existent, and of the nature of consciousness. In relation to Ishvara, the jiva is like an atom (anu) and is subservient to Him. Ishvara is both the efficient and material cause of this world.

Upasana consists of ritualistic worship, devotional practices and various kinds of meditation on God. The God-experience of an individual is possible only through the grace of God. A person can have moksha only after the person’s death. Moksha means living blissfully in Vaikuntha (the abode of Vishnu) in spiritual bodies. They acquire many divine powers such as omniscience, but unlike God they cannot create, sustain, or dissolve the world. In spite of their exalted state they remain subservient to God.

Journey from Many to One essentials of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Bhaskarananda

In Vishistadvaita Vedanta Ishvara is made of Narayana, Jiva (chit or conscious beings) and achit ( unconscious matter) and thus has svagata-bheda. Ishvara is like a fruit with three independent parts, seed, flesh and skin. This is the reason why Brahman here has organic unity (made up of independent parts) and not absolute identity. Jiva and jagat are real and not dream like. Brahman here is unity but qualified by distinction.

The universe and its living beings make up the body of God in Vishistadvaita Vedanta.

Universe and Brahman

You are the primordial deity with no origin. You are Prakrti, you are Purusa, the protector of the world. You are Visnu the lord of the universe. You are Brahma, with the universe for your body. You are the first principle. O Visnu, you alone are the greatest luminary. You are the supreme soul, O lord of Sri, you are the greatest abode. O lord of the earth, Rudra enveloped by tamas originated from your fury. Brahma, the creator of the universe enveloped by rajas was born of your grace. The lord enveloped by sattva, was born of your grace. O Visnu, O Rudra, you are identical with the universe.

Linga Purana I.36.4-8

Ishvara is said to be the efficient cause of the universe because the universe and its living beings do not have any existence apart from Him. The dependence is not mutual but one sided with the universe and its living beings being dependent on Ishvara and not the other way.

  • 1
    Thank you for the beautiful answer ... Your fruit example was quite helpful. Is it ok to say that in vishisht-advaita, the insentient jagat with the innumerable chit-jivas, make up the cosmic body of Narayana? I read somewhere that devas reside in head of virat-purusha, humans in waist region and yakshas probably in the legs of the cosmic purusha. All these are within His body. Is this what vishisht-advaitins believe in? ... Also could you please give a simple definition of Efficient cause, like what it actually means in both these philosophies? Thanks. Apr 29, 2022 at 12:16
  • Vishistadvaita Vedanta does believe that the universe and its living beings form the body of Ishvara. That is all I know. I have tried to explain efficient cause in Ramanuja Vedanta. Apr 30, 2022 at 4:51

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