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Advaita, Viśiśtādvaita and Dvaita – The three flavors of Vēdānta śāstra

Course content:

This course focuses on the conceptual overview of the three “Schools of Vedantic Thought”: Advaita, Dvaita and Visistadvaita known as “mata-traya”. It covers the whole range of possibilities, with reference to the relationship between the three main entities in question i.e., Jiva (living beings), Jada (matter) and Ishwara (Lord) as being one and the same i.e., non-dual, (abheda), or fundamentally and irreconcilably different (bheda) or something in-between (visista). All the other schools of thought within Hindu thought, end up being some variation or combination of these three fundamental perspectives.

This is an advanced level course. however, fundamental concepts of Advaita, Visistadvaita and Dvaita will be covered in reasonable detail. Basic level knowledge of Sanskrit will be useful but not necessary. Any reference to Sanskrit verses will be explained in English. Since it is a
11-week course, it will be difficult to go into detailed analysis of the commentaries of Acharyas on the Upanishads, Brahma sutras and the Bhagavadgita, known as the Prasthana-traya . A detailed explanation of these three views may take more than several hundred hours of lectures. However, relevant portions of these texts will be dealt with at an introductory level.

At the completion of this course, students will gain a greater clarity regarding common misconceptions held by many people, regarding these three perspectives. At the end of the course, one will be able to understand conceptually these three schools of thought at a reasonable level of depth. The focus is not on the scriptural texts such as Brahma Sutras, Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. However, the concepts will be explained and references to these scriptures will be given with some explanation as to how these acharyas come up with their school of thought. At the end in 2 or 3 lectures, concepts will be introduced to arrive at some form of reconciliation between these three schools: Advaita, Dvaita and Visistadvaita

Course Learning Objectives:

In this course students will be able to:

1. Distinguish the unique views and concepts of these three schools of thought.

2. Understand the implication of the differences between these schools of thought.

3. Relate the concepts to the scriptural texts : Brahma-sutras, Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads

4. Understand the references to the concepts in the major works of Acharyas of these schools of thought.

5. To understand some concepts to arrive at a reconciliation between these three schools of thought Advaita, Dvaita and Visistadvaita

While no prior knowledge of Sanskrit is required, it will definitely be helpful. Prior knowledge of the perspectives of anyone Acharya will also be valuable.

Class Structure

There will be a minimum of 1 contact hour with one or more faculty every week. The class is structured in a way that promotes discussion and debate based on self-study and reflection each week. While the content being discussed in each class will be concluded within 60 minutes, the discussion time will be free format and can continue for an additional 30 minutes maximum. During the course, students will be required to submit one short essay of around 1000 to 1500 words. They need not be academic quality papers – but should be based on students’ self-reflection on what they have learned and assimilated so far.

Required / Elective: Elective

Prerequisites: Admission into a Program of Study

Faculty / InstructorMr. Krishna Kashyap

Time: 8:30 pm EST – 10:00 pm EST

Day: Every Monday

Start Date: January 17, 2022

End Date: March 28, 2022

Quarter Offered: Winter 2022

The Three Vedantic Perspectives on the Bhagavad Gita

Course content:

This course will summarize the views of Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya on the Bhagavad-Gita. These acharyas are the pioneers of Advaita, Visistadvaita and Dvaita Schools of Vedanta. These three schools cover the entire gamut of possibilities: with three entities of Jiva (living beings), jada (matter) and Ishwara (God) as being one (abheda), or different (bheda) or something in-between (visista). All the other schools of thought in Hindu Dharma, are constituted by some combination of these three fundamental perspectives. These three schools are known as mata-traya or the 3 major schools. Their view of the Bhagavad Gita is comprehensive and definitive.

All these three Acharyas agree that the Bhagavad-Gita presents the gist of the Upanishads in a concise manner, as taught by Avatar Sri Krishna, who is none other than Brahman.

This is an advanced level course. A basic knowledge of Sanskrit will be useful but not necessary. Any reference to Sanskrit verses will be explained in English. Relevant portions of the three commentaries on the Gita will be explored at an intermediate level. We will also try to reconcile these apparently divergent views in the last 2 classes of the course.

  • Introduction and Background of Gita as per the three Acharyas (S, R, M)
  • Summary of Gita according to Shankarāchārya
  • Summary of Gita according to Sri Rāmānujācharya
  • Summary of Gita according to Sri Madhvāchārya
  • A “Samanvaya” or establishment of the close relationship between these three schools (mata traya samanvaya)

At the completion of this course, students will gain a greater clarity regarding common misconceptions held by many people, regarding these three perspectives.  Students will clearly understand how these three schools of philosophy approach the Bhagavadgita, which is one of the three main textual sources of Arsha Vidya or the “philosophy of the Rishis”, known as “PrasThana traya”, the other two being the Brahmasutras and the Upanishads.

Course Learning Objectives:

In this course students will be able to:

  1. Appreciate the Bhagavad-Gita from three perspectives of 3 Acharyas.
  2. Distinguish the unique views and concepts of these three schools of thought.
  3. Gain a greater clarity regarding common misconceptions held by many people, regarding these three perspectives.
  4. Recognize the underlying unity of Hindu thought, while appreciating the diversity of perspectives that emerge from that fundamental unity
  5. Recognize how all these Yoga’s lead to “Sharanagati” or “Jnana”, no matter where they begin.

While no prior knowledge of Sanskrit is required, it will definitely be helpful. Prior knowledge of the perspectives of anyone Acharya will also be valuable.

Class Structure

There will be a minimum of 1 contact hour with one or more faculty every week. The class is structured in a way that promotes discussion and debate based on self-study and reflection each week. While the content being discussed in each class will be concluded within 60 minutes, the discussion time will be free format and can continue for an additional 30 minutes maximum. During the course, students will be required to submit a paper of 1000 to 1500 words. They need not be academic quality papers – but should be based on students’ self-reflection on what they have learned and assimilated so far.

Required / Elective: Elective

Prerequisites: Admission into a Program of Study

Faculty / InstructorMr. Krishna Kashyap

Time: 8:30 pm EST – 10:00 pm EST

Day: Every Sunday

Start Date: April 17, 2022

End Date: June 26, 2022

Quarter Offered: Spring 2022