Q: What are the primary texts of Advaita Vedanta?
A: There are three primary texts of Advaita Vedanta. Together they form what is called the prasthana traya, the “three means” or “three foundations/pillars” of Vedanta.
The first primary text is actually a group of texts called the Upanishads. In turn, the revelations of the Upanishads form the basis of the other two primary Vedanta texts: The Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. The Brahma Sutras are an attempt to systematize the teachings of the Upanishads and harmonize their internal inconsistencies. The Bhagavad Gita takes the essential teachings of the Upanishads and puts them into a story form that is easier for people to relate to and learn from.
A note: There are many Upanishads but the ten most commonly cited by Vedanta are the Aitreya, Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Isa, Kena, Katha, Mandukya, Mundaka, Prashna and Taittiriya. These are considered to be the mukhya (primary) Upanishads because they were commented on by Shankaracharya, Advaita Vedanta’s greatest teacher. Shankara also supposedly commented on the Svetasvatara Upanishad but because the style of this commentary differs from his commentaries on the ten other Upanishads (as well as the style of his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras) it is widely believed to be spurious. Some, however, claim that the Svetasvatara commentary was originally an authentic work of Shankara but was later heavily re-worked by other authors to arrive at its present form. As such, it’s still thought of as a useful tool for teaching Vedanta. But it’s not considered to be a reliable guide to Shankara’s interpretation of Vedanta.
Another significant Upanishad, despite not being commented upon by Shankara, is the Kaivalya Upanishad.
Hope that helps – Vishnu
S: Why are the proponents of Neo-Advaita so opposed to the teachings of “traditional” Advaita, i.e., those of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj?
Vishnu: Probably because many modern Advaita Vedanta teachers make it their business to go out of their way to criticize Neo-Advaita (a term created by Advaita Vedantins, not “Neo-Advaitins themselves), as if they fancied themselves to be the great Shankaracharya, riding into philosophical battle to maintain the purity of the so-called tradition.
As a note, Nisargadatta Maharaj, while highly respected by Advaita Vedantins, is not considered to be “traditional” Vedanta, whatever “traditional” may mean (Vedantins can’t seem to agree, although what usually passes for “traditional” Vedanta these days is Vedanta as taught by Swami Dayananda and his disciples). The reason Nisargadatta isn’t considered “traditional” in this sense is that he doesn’t unfold the teaching in a systematic way, using the scriptures of Vedanta (Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutra and later works derived from these three such as Upadesha Sahasri) as the framework for his teaching. Nor does he use the method of self-inquriy (atma vichara) contained in those scriptures, which was further developed by teachers such as Shankara.
Nisargadatta, at least in my experience, is actually championed by many so-called “Neo-Advatins.” So as far as I know, most of them are not opposed to his teachings at all.
S: Thank you for your answer. I have attended meetings with some of the more well known Non-Duality teachers and asked them the same question. None of them gave any credence to the older teachings and practices, even pronouncing outright that to follow them would be completely useless as they miss the point entirely. I asked JN, for example, if his “liberation” was not identical to Nisagardatta’s. Surely they can’t be separate? He thought my question ridiculous and became visibly irritated by it. The more modern non duality teachers will stress over and over again the uselessness of spiritual practice as a means to enlightenment. You could liken it to the old story of a zen master burning a wooden Buddha to keep warm, but I can’t help feeling that to throw aside the older teachings of Advaita is both arrogant and futile.
V: You’re welcome S. While I can’t say that Advaita Vedanta is the only way to directly realize the truth of non-duality, it is certainly a very good, time-tested way that worked for me. My teachers always met me exactly where I was at and never dismissed or ridiculed my questions.