The ultimate aim of all philosophies is to realize Brahman, but the paths pursued are different. It is like reaching a particular place through different routes. A particular route may take a longer time to reach the destination, whereas some other routes lead to the destination quickly. Similarly, some routes could be tough to navigate and other routes could be easy to navigate. Though there are a number of philosophies, following are the philosophies that are actively pursued today and they are dvaita or dualism, advaita or non-dualism and viśiṣṭādvaita or qualified non-dualism. Before understanding other philosophies like sāṅkhya and trika, understanding dvaita, advaita and viśiṣṭādvaita is necessary.

Dvaita or dualistic philosophy is the most pursued philosophy today, through everyone believes that he or she is following advaita or non-dualism. In dvaita philosophy, God and the practitioner are on different planes. God is worshiped on a pedestal and the practitioner places himself at a much lower plane. In difficult times, he looks at the sky with reverence, seeking His intervention. In everyday life, the practitioner spends considerable time in worshipping idols, paintings, etc depicting various forms of gods and goddesses. He makes considerable preparations for his worship by procuring materials that are needed in ritual worships such as flowers, offerings, etc. If something is missing, he either yells at his disciples or his family members. Their primary concern is for procuring materials, for which he spends more time than spending time for performing rituals. When something is not available or not ready, he loses his focus on God as his mind becomes agitated. Mind is the gift of God to the humanity. A pure mind is an absolute necessity in any form of worship, so that the focus on the God invoked during a ritual is not lost.

There are other categories of individuals, who perform rituals for the sake of pride and publicity. They spend a lot of money in procuring materials such as flowers, fruits, etc. They send across invitations to a number of people to showcase their wealth and prosperity. In such instances, the purpose is lost and thought about God becomes disoriented in the midst of dissonance. Generally material things are discussed, leaving no scope to establish commune with God. These types of worships lead to the accumulation of tons of karmas. Whether these karmas are good or bad is altogether a different question, as karma is always a karma, which has the power to postpone liberation. Good karma and bad karma purely depends upon one’s mind. If a ritual is organized only to showcase one’s wealth, undoubtedly it produces bad karmas. As long as karmas prevail, whether it is good or bad, one has to undergo the pains of transmigration.

Undoubtedly dualistic rituals lay the requisite foundation to pursue pure spiritual path explained in Upaniṣad-s. One cannot effectively follow non-dualism without going through a shorter phase of dualism. But at the same time, if one continues to dwell only on dualism without making any progress towards non-dualism, he or she cannot effectively pursue the path leading to liberation. All the epics and purāṇa-s dwell at length on dualism. Undoubtedly they explicitly explain the purpose of one’s life and associated moral and ethical values. They are treasures to humanity and if one perfectly pursues the paths prescribed in these Scriptures, his spiritual journey becomes much easier. At the same time, repeatedly reading these Scriptures without going to the next stage viz. learning and understanding Upaniṣad-s will undoubtedly be a futile exercise. If one repeatedly reads Rāmāyaṇa by making vows, what purpose is being achieved? There are only two possibilities. The reader should have attained all the qualities of Rāma or he could be simply wasting his time. The purpose of reading Rāmāyaṇa is to follow the footsteps of Rāma and lead an ethical life. If this is not achieved, no purpose is served by reading these sacred Scriptures. He undoubtedly wastes the precious gift of God, the human birth. Only through human birth, liberation is possible, as liberation can be attained only through the mind.

Therefore, dualism or dvaita cannot lead to liberation, but only lays a strong foundation while moving forward to non-dualism or advaita. The difference between the two is that in dualism, one considers God as different from him and in the case of non-dualism the aspirant considers that God is within and the same God dwells in all other beings. In between dvaita and advaita, there is viśiṣṭādvaita or qualified non-dualism. According to viśiṣṭādvaita, an individual soul is different from the Supreme Soul or Brahman. It says that the individual soul, though dependent on the Supreme Soul, yet different from the Supreme Soul and the individual soul ultimately unites with the Supreme Soul during liberation, as is the case with advaita philosophy. The significant difference between advaita and viśiṣṭādvaita is that the latter does not accept the individual soul as the reflection of the Brahman, which is the fundamental principle of advaita.

An aspirant can effectively move to advaita from dvaita only through viśiṣṭādvaita. In dvaita the aspirant thinks that he and Brahman are totally different. In viśiṣṭādvaita, he realizes that Brahman is the cause for his soul within, yet his soul is different from Brahman. In the final stages of viśiṣṭādvaita, he also realizes that he has to ultimately become one with the Brahman. It is called qualified non-dualism, because the aspirant thinks that his soul though different from Brahman has to merge with Him finally for liberation. Though viśiṣṭādvaita was in existence before Rāmānuja, it is only Rāmānuja who populated viśiṣṭādvaita. One of the best works of Rāmānuja is Vedārtha Saṅgraha, wherein he has quoted a number of references from different Upaniṣad-s and interpreted them to substantiate the philosophy of viśiṣṭādvaita. According to viśiṣṭādvaita, apart from attaining knowledge, one should worship Him in a form and also meditate on Him. When it is coming to worship, a form is needed and according to Rāmānuja that form is Viṣṇu. Combination of knowledge, worship and meditation leads to realization of Viṣṇu. Rāmānuja while explaining “I am That” says that the individual self is subservient to the Lord and is controlled by Him and has Him as the sole support. The word ‘subservient’ is important part of viśiṣṭādvaita. By saying that every soul is subservient to Brahman, he clearly establishes that individual soul is not the same as Brahman, a point highly emphasized in dvaita philosophy. Rāmānuja often uses the phrase parama-pada or the highest position while referring to Lord Viṣṇu. But, as far as the concept of karma is concerned, there is no difference of opinion between advaita and viśiṣṭādvaita.

There are three factors in God realization. First is Brahman, second is the universe and the third one is the individual soul. In dvaita or dualism, these three factors remain unconnected to each other. An individual soul and Brahman are like a railway track where two rails always remain apart. In viśiṣṭādvaita, universe and soul are considered as the qualities of Brahman and not the Brahman Himself, who is considered as the Superior entity. A triangle is formed in viśiṣṭādvaita by connecting Brahman with an individual soul and Brahman with the universe. In the case advaita, it is only a circle and all the three are the same and that is Brahman. Everything prevails only in the circle called Brahman. He prevails everywhere and He is all pervasive and omnipresent.

Liberation is not a complicated process, provided it is understood in the proper perspective. One has to commence his spiritual journey at some point in his or her life. Generally, one’s spiritual journey commences with worshipping God as enumerated in dvaita. This worship should be done all alone and in privacy, establishing a strong connection with God. This can be achieved with practice. He then has to approach a Guru (not guru). The difference between Guru and guru is extremely significant in spiritual life. The former is the one, who is a Self-realized person and the latter is not. A realized Guru knows the power of mantras and depending upon the aspirant, he initiates a mantra after accepting him as his disciple. After the initiation, the aspirant continues to perform his daily rituals such as worship and offerings and at the end of ritualistic worship he recites the mantra initiated by his Guru as directed by him. There will be a point where the aspirant gradually reduces his ritual worship and spends more time in reciting the mantra. This transformation happens due to the one to one teaching by his Guru. At some point, Guru will begin to teach about Self and will ask his disciple to meditate. Guru perfectly knows the state of his disciple either by seeing him or during the one to one question and answer sessions. The aspirant’s mind will now begin to guide him due to the influence of Guru’s teachings. Due to his Guru’s teachings, he will move away from ritualistic worship and spend more time by reciting the initiated mantra. For every mantra, there is a certain number of recitations fixed to attain perfection in that mantra, which is generally known as mantra siddhi. Mantra siddhi does not mean conferring supernatural powers. Mantra siddhi means by the recitation of the mantra, one enters the state of bliss. Bliss is possible only if his mind is entirely pervaded with the vibrations of the mantra recited. Mantra takes time to cause such vibrations. The prescribed number of counting of each mantra depends upon the ability of the mantra to cause bliss. When he advances still further towards his ultimate goal with faith and confidence, the mantra ceases automatically during his meditation. Now the stage is set for him to confidently move forward in the path of spirituality. As the first step in the right direction, he begins to experience bliss, an inexplicable happiness.

Not everyone is blessed with a Guru. In such situations, one has to learn by himself by going through Upaniṣad-s, Bhagavad Gita, etc. However, while choosing a mantra for recitation, one has to surely make enquiries with learned persons. Though he can recite the mantra without initiation, the choice of mantra is important. At the end of his spiritual journey he confidently affirms “I am That”.

(to be continued)