Advaita and Vishishtadvaita
by Swami Sivananda
Both systems teach Advaita, i.e., non-duality or monism. There exist not several fundamentally distinct principles, such as the Prakriti and the Purusha of the Sankhyas, but there exists only one all-embracing being. While, however, Advaita taught by Sri Sankara is a rigorous absolute one, Sri Ramanuja's doctrine has to be characterised as Vishishta Advaita, i.e., qualified non-duality, non-duality with a difference.
According to Sankara, whatever is, is Brahman, and Brahman itself is absolutely homogeneous, so that all difference and plurality must be illusory.
According to Ramanuja also, whatever is, is Brahman; but Brahman is not of a homogenous nature, but contains within itself elements of plurality owing to which it truly manifests itself in a diversified world.
The world with its variety of material forms of existence and individual souls is not unreal Maya, but a real part of Brahman's nature, the body investing the universal Self. The Brahman of Sankara is in itself impersonal, a homogeneous mass of objectless thought, transcending all attributes; a personal God it becomes only through its association with the unreal principle of Maya so that strictly speaking Sankara's personal God, his Isvara, is himself something unreal, Ramanuja's Brahman, on the other hand, is essentially a Personal God, the all-powerful and all-wise ruler of a real world permeated and animated by his spirit. There is thus no room for the distinction between Parama Nirguna and an Aparama Saguna Brahman, between Brahman and Isvara.