Excerpts from commentaries and articles by Swami Chinmayananda]
Q: What are the schools of philosophy propagated by Madhvacharya, Ramanujacharya and Sankaracharya and what is the difference between them?
A: According to the types of people that constitute a given community, at any given era of history, different types of “relationships” between man and God are found emphasized.
MADHAVACHARYA emphasized that the devotee and the Lord are ever separate — the DVAITA philosophy. RAMANUJACHARYA, yet at another period, declared that man is not totally “different” from the Lord, but that he and his Lord have a “part-and whole” relationship. The Lord is the “whole,” while the devotee is a “part” of Him — the VISHISTADVAITA philosophy. ADI SANKARACHARYA insisted that ultimately the devotee, in his essence, is identical to the Supreme — the ADVAITA philosophy.
When you consider yourself as a mere physical body, then the Lord, the God, the Higher Reality is totally different from you. You are born, He is Unborn. You are imperfect, He is Perfect. You are changing, He is Changeless. This is (MADHVA’S) DVAITA standpoint. He is the Master and you can only humbly pray to Him.
RAMANUJA considers the individual seeker as a mind and intellect, and as such, he discovers in man a ray of the glory of the Lord. According to him, man is not different from the Lord — he is a part and the Lord is the Whole – VISHISTA ADVAITA.
From SANKARA’S standpoint, you are neither the gross body nor the subtle body. But you are the very Self in you, and as such, there is no distinction between the Self in you and the Self everywhere – ADVAITA.
Some students, in their total identification with the body consider themselves to be the body. Such students can have but one relationship with the Supreme that they are entirely different from It. Accordingly, they have been told that they are entirely different from God. Such students are addressed by ACHARYA MADHVA, and his school of thought is known as DVAITA or ‘dualism’.
The second type of student, slightly more intellectual, insists, ‘I am a composite being, comprising an anatomical structure with physiological functions and also a psychological entity with intellectual abilities. I am the body, the jeeva, the individuality, the thinking-feeling entity.’ The psychological and intellectual entity has the glow of reflected divinity, just as in the achievements of an artist or a scientist there is certainly a spark of divinity. Such students are addressed by SRI RAMANUJACHARYA. He says, “You are not separate from Truth. You are a part and He is the whole.” This school of thought is VISHISTA-ADVAITA or ‘Qualified non-dualism’.
The third variety of students, however, are the intellectual giants, who develop a subtle intellect through sadhana and discriminate between the Real and the unreal. They have the capacity to live up to their convictions by fully accepting what is Real, ever rejecting what is unreal. As a result of their dispassionate discrimination, they consider themselves to be entirely different from their matter vestures and realize their identity with the Supreme, the Brahman. Such students are addressed by SRI SANKARA, for he says, “Thou art nothing but Brahman.” This school of philosophy is known as ADVAITA or ‘non-dualism’.