Vivartavada is the Vedantic theory of causation; it is the method of asserting this doctrine.


The Sanskrit word - vivarta (विवर्त) means alteration, modification, change of form, altered condition or state. According to Advaita Vedanta, vivarta involves vikara or modification but only apparent modification (of the real which does not change). Therefore, the world is vivarta of the sole real entity Brahman, and merely an illusion.[1] The term, Vivartavada is derived from the word vivarta and refers to the Theory of Causation that was proposed by Adi Sankara to explain the world-appearance or is the method to assert the Vedanta doctrine.[2]


Vivartavada is a philosophical term that refers to 'the origin of the universe from the manifestation or appearance of the unique Brahman' or in other words it refers to the material causehood of Brahman; it is juxtaposed to the term parinamvada.[3] It denotes the Advaita theory of Superimposition (adhyasa) which is in concurrence with the statements of the Upanishads to the effect that when ignorance is ended by right knowledge the true nature of an object becomes known. The relation that obtains between Brahman and the world as between the creator and the created has in its background the general theory of Satkaryavada, the theory which is based on the premise that the effect pre-exists in its cause, and vivartavada according to which theory the effect, this world, is merely an unreal (vivarta) transformation of its cause, Brahman. Advaita Vedanta holds Creation to be only an apparent change and not a modification of Brahman in reality. Brahman is reality and reality is non-dual,[4] for which reason Sankara in his Vivekachudamani Sloka 261 reiterates - एकमेव सदनेककारणं – That which exists as one only, is the cause of multiplicity, superimposed.[5]

Buddhist view

Buddhist thinkers and teachers have expressed their views on the concept of Duality developed by the Vedic thinkers and teachers. Zen teaches that we should be free from dualities in order to be what we are meant to be, and that duality is due to ego which veils reality from its true essence (explained by Buddhists in terms of non-essence); ego, which is an artificial condition not having a true identity because it is a creation of the mind, and distorts reality in an attempt to perceive what it wants to perceive and not what it is. Taoism teaches that reality is like the un- carved block (the symbol of Tao), one must not carve the block lest Tao is changed. Sankara considers Maya as a temporary or phenomenal reality and Brahman as the Ultimate reality; and that living in Maya the Jiva (the 'ego-self') superimposes its own interpretation of reality onto reality, and thus Brahman remains hidden or concealed and Maya is viewed as the ultimate reality.[6]

Basics of Advaita Vedanta

There are broadly seven basics of the Advaita philosophy advocated by Adi Shankara, and they are:-

  1. There are three levels of Satya (Truth) – a) the 'Transcendental' or the Paramarthika level, in which Brahman is the only reality and nothing else exists apart from Brahman, b) the 'Pragmatic' or the Vyavaharika level, in which both Jiva and Ishwara are true and, c) the 'Apparent' or the Prathibhasika level, in which even the material world is false, an illusion.
  2. Brahman (Nirguna) due to ignorance (avidya)is visible as the material world and its objects,.
  3. Maya is the complex illusionary power of Brahman that causes Brahman to be seen in many forms.
  4. Ishvara or the Saguna Brahman is the reflection of the Self falling upon the mirror of Maya, it is ignorance which is the cause of unhappiness and sin in the mortal world.
  5. Atman is the soul or the self that is identical with Brahman, it is not part of Brahman that ultimately dissolves into Brahman but the whole Brahman itself; Atman is alone, when its reflection falls on Avidya it becomes the Jiva and experiences the world existence through the senses.
  6. Moksha or Liberation results when Maya is removed when there ultimately exists no difference between the Jiva and the Atman.
  7. Creation – Though the karana named Brahman, due to vivarta, appears as the karya named jagat, there is actually no separate karya in reality – Brahman is the only reality and jagat is mithya ('illusion').

Advaita denies real creation from the level of the highest truth, at ordinary level it accepts the world just as it appears to common sense. Ajativada (the theory of no origination of Gaudapada) is associated with Vivartavada (the theory of manifestation of Sankara), they are the same teaching at the parmartha basis but from two different angles viz. a) when the focus is kept on the changeless Brahman, and as a consequence of that perspective the world is seen to be merely an unreal appearance, the teaching is ajativada; and b) when the focus shifts to the empirical fact of the world-appearance, and specifically onto the relation between the world-appearance and Brahman, the teaching is vivartavada, the former finds the world to be a dream and a magic, whereas to the latter, the world existence is illusory.[7] Aurobindo considers Vivartavada to be the denial of causation and the assertion of identity presupposing parinama or 'effectual transformation'.[8]


The 'Theory of Manifestation' propounded by the Advaita Vedanta is not without its opponents. Vijnanabhiksu portrays casual relation as having three terms – unchangeable locus cause, changeable locus cause and effect – the locus cause is inseparable from and does not inhere in the changeable cause and the effect .[9] and, the Pratyabhijna philosophy of Somananda refutes the Arambhvada (the 'Realistic view' of the Nyaya-Vaisesika), the Parinamavada (the theory of Transformation of the Sankhya-Yoga) and the Vivartavada (the theory of Manifestation of the Advaita), by postulating the theory of Svatantryavada (the 'Universal voluntarism') which states that it is due to the sovereignty of God’s Will that Effect evolves from Cause.[10] Whereas Ramanuja accepts Prakrti as the material cause but Madhava rejects this contention since material cause does not mean that which controls and superintends; Madhava also rejects the Vivartavada because it does not accept any effect that has got to be accounted for.[11]In his philosophy of pure non-dualism (Shuddhadvaita), Vallabhacharya also does not support 'vivartavada' and propounds that Maya (or the 'Jagat') is real and is only a power of Brahmana who himself manifests, of his own will, as Jiva and the world[12] and there is no transformation of Brahmana in doing so, just as a gold ornament still remains gold only. Shuddhadvaita is also therefore known as ‘Avikṛta Pariṇāmavāda’ (Unmodified transformation).[13]


  1. "The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Digital Dictionaries of Asia.
  2. "Sanskrit dictionary".
  3. Vassilis Vitsaxis. Thought and Faith. Somerset Hall Press. p. 535.
  4. The Mystery of Creation. Chinmaya Mission. p. 30.
  5. Sri Candrashekhara Bharati of Srngeri. Sri Samkara’s Vivekacudamani. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 274.
  6. Ishwar C. Harris. The Laughing Buddha of Tofukuji. World Wisdom Inc. p. 34.
  7. Michael Comans. The Method of Early Vedanta. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. pp. 355–356.
  8. Ramacandra Misra. The Integral Advaitism of Aurobindo. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 219.
  9. Andrew J. Nicholson. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press. p. 48.
  10. Krishan Lal Kala. The Literary Heritage of Kashmir. Mittal Publications. p. 278.
  11. Chen-chi Chang. A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras. Motilal Banarsidass publishers. p. 246.
  12. Devarshi Ramanath Shastri, “Shuddhadvaita Darshan (Vol.2)”, Published by Mota Mandir, Bhoiwada, Mumbai, India, 1917.
  13. “Brahmavād Saṅgraha”, Pub. Vaishnava Mitra Mandal Sarvajanik Nyasa, Indore, India, 2014.
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