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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Indian philosophical speculation burgeoned in texts called Upaniṣads (from 800 bc), where views about a true Self (ātman) in relation to Brahman, the supreme reality, the Absolute or God, are propounded and explored. Early Upaniṣads were appended to an even older sacred literature, the Veda (‘Knowledge’), and became literally Vedānta, ‘the Veda’s last portion’. Classical systems of philosophy inspired by Upaniṣadic ideas also came to be known as Vedānta, as well as more recent spiritual thinking. Classical Vedānta is one of the great systems of Indian philosophy, extending almost two thousand years with hundreds of authors and several important subschools. In the modern period, Vedānta in the folk sense of spiritual thought deriving from Upaniṣads is a major cultural phenomenon.

Understood broadly, Vedānta may even be said to be the philosophy of Hinduism, although in the classical period there are other schools (notably Mīmāṃsā) that purport to articulate right views and conduct for what may be called a Hindu community (the terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ gained currency only after the Muslim invasion of the South Asian subcontinent, beginning rather late in classical times). Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), the great popularizer of Hindu ideas to the West, spoke of Vedānta as an umbrella philosophy of a Divine revealed diversely in the world’s religious traditions. Such inclusivism is an important theme in some classical Vedānta, but there are also virulent disputes about how Brahman should be conceived, in particular Brahman’s relation to the individual.

In the twentieth century, philosophers such as Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, K.C. Bhattacharyya and T.M.P. Mahadevan have articulated idealist worldviews largely inspired by classical and pre-classical Vedānta. The mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo propounds a theism and evolutionary theory he calls Vedānta, and many others, including political leaders such as Gandhi and spiritual figures as well as academics, have developed or defended Vedāntic views.

Citing this article:
Phillips, Stephen H.. Vedānta, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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