Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Bhedabheda Philosophy of Nimbarka-Metaphysical position vs Advaita and Vishistadvaita Vedanta


Bhedabheda or difference-nondifference philosophy is one of the five schools of Vedanta. The Vedanta philosophies are based on the Upanishads. The five schools are: Dvaita, Bhedabheda, Vishistadvaita, Shudhadvaita and Kevala Advaita.

Bhedabheda and Shudhadvaita are considered to be forms of Vishistadvaita. Bhedabheda is considered closer to Dvaita than the pure Vishistadvaita of Ramanuja.

Vedanta Philosophy five 5 schools

The main exponent of Bhedabheda is Nimbarka.

Nimbarka was a scholar from Andhra Pradesh. There is some controversy regarding his dates, but it is generally agreed that he lived around the eleventh century.

There are many legends connected with his life. One of the most famous is that once the Lord Brahma came to his Ashram, but at the time of having dinner, He refused saying that the sun had gone down. Nimbarka is then said to have brought out the sun, which was seen through some Neem trees, hence his name (Nimbarka means ‘sun between the neem trees’).

Nimbarka traveled around India and established his philosophy. His most famous work is Vedanta Parijat Saurabh, a commentary on the Brahma Sutras, where he extablished is philosophy.

Nimbarka founded an order, the Nimbarka Sampradaya, and appointed a leader among his disciples. This order and the line of disciples has continued unbroken to this day, the present leader is based in Rajasthan where the Sampradaya is mostly based. A Shaligram, a black stone, is founded with the leader of the Sampradaya and this is believed to have been handed down by Nimbarka himself.


In Bhedabheda, the world is said to be an attribute of Brahman, or an attribute of God.

Attributes are the qualities that we see in an object.

For example, we see a ball is round. This roundness is an attribute or quality of the ball. Roundness does not exist apart from the ball, nor does the ball exist apart from its quality of roundness. We cannot perceive roundness without perceiving the ball, nor perceive the ball without perceiving its roundness. Yet roundness and ball are two different things, we cannot say they are the same thing. Hence the quality of an object is both different and non-different from its supporting object.

So also Bhedabheda says, the world is a quality of Brahman.

When we see a human soul with all its qualities like fear, love, sadness, etc. the soul with these qualities are an attribute or quality of Brahman. This property, the soul, is a property of Brahman, a quality which is displayed by Brahman. All other objects in the world, both living and non-living, are thus qualities of Brahman. These attributes are the attributes that we see when we see Brahman.

But again, an attribute is a real existing thing. It is the attribute of roundness associated with the ball which makes it a ball. Although the roundness subsists on the substance which is the ball, yet it is of equal importance, so to say, in causing the ball to be manifested. The attribute is supported by the ball, but it has independent existence.

Hence the qualities, the soul, etc. are different from Brahman. At the same time, they are non-different, because they are supported on Brahman. Hence the world is different-nondifferent or Bheda-Abheda from Brahman.

Hence both our soul and God exists as equally real. There is no denial of the reality of both, and hence this is Vishistadvaita.

In pure Vishistadvaita (of Ramanuja), emphasis is on the non-difference between ‘part and whole’, as in spark and fire, wave and ocean, etc. The difference of qualities or attributes is not emphasized. In Bhedabheda, by emphasizing this difference of attributes also, along with the difference of ‘part and whole’, a greater distance is put between the soul and Brahman, so to say, bringing it nearer to Dualism.

Bhedabheda or Dvaitadvaita followed many Dualistic precepts. Brahman or the Absolute is described in purely dualistic terms. The highest object of worship in Nimbarka’s path is Krishna, a form of Vishnu. Worship of Radha-Krishna is the chief spiritual practice in Bhedabheda.

Salvation is to be attained through devotion to the Lord. The means of salvation are: karma (work), vidya (knowledge), dhyana (meditation), prapatti (self-surrender and guru prassatti (serving the Guru).

Of these, Prapatti is the method most extolled. It means a complte surrender to the Lord. Only through a complete surrender of our ego and pride can we hope to attain salvation from the Lord.

Another form of Bhedabheda is Achintya Bhedabheda of Chaitanya Mahapurush.

Chaitanya Mahapurush was a Bhakti saint from West Bengal. He founded an important school of Bhakti which is still very strong. Chaitanya’s Bhakti movement was founded on the Bhedabheda philosophy of Nimbarka.

Chaitanya named his philosophy Achintya Bhedabheda. He said that as the relation of Brahman with the world was both different and non-different, this relation could not be known or imagined by the mind and was hence ‘Achintya’ (unthinkable).

Sometimes confusion arises Bhedabheda and Advaita because of the word, ‘achintya’, which is similar to the word, ‘Anavircaniya’(indescribable) used by Shankaracharya in Advaita definitions.

The two words have roughly the same meaning. But there is no comparision because the words are used in two entirely different aspects in these two philosophies.

In Advaita, the reality of the world is denied. The world is said to have a relative existence, and is exists without absolute reality in itself, in a state of half reality-half falsity, so to say. What this state of the world exactly is, in this relative reality, cannot be described and it is to this ontological or metaphysical state of relative existence that the word ‘Anavircaniya’ is used.

In Acintya Bhedabheda, the existence of the world is not doubted and it is as real as Brahman. There is no ambiguity of the existence of the world. It is in the relation of the world to Brahman that the word ‘achintya’ is applied, to say that the relation of the world to Brahman cannot be known.

Hence in Advaita, ‘anavircaniya’ is used for the primary ontological question of existence of the world itself, while in Chaitanya’s philosophy, the ontological existence is not doubted and it is the secondary question of the relation with Brahman that is described by Achintya.

Bhedabheda, along with all of Vishistadvaita, rose as a reaction against Advaita.

Advaitavada is seen as too much of an intellectual philosophy with no appeal for the heart. Brahman in Advaita is an impersonal Absolute and there is no question of creation or sovereignity over us. There is also no power to appeal to in Advaita, none to whom we can address our prayers or seek for help. There is no Bhakti in Advaita. At the same time, Dualism is too much of a servant-master relationship and there is too big a gulf with God.

In Vishistadvaita, Brahman is a creator God who is superior to us and to whom we can pray to and seek blessings from, and at the same time find Him within our hearts. For those who seek an attitude of Bhakti towards the Absolute, Visishtadvaita in its different forms, including Bhedabheda, is the ideal path.

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