One of the major theological cum philosophical schools of the Vedānta darśana. Brought to maturity by Rāmānuja, its teachings provide the doctrinal basis for Śrī Vaiṣṇavism. Rāmānuja maintains, against Śaṅkara's nondualism (Advaita), that the individual self and brahman (= God) are not completely identical: rather, individual selves and the material world are both real and at the same time ‘modes’ (prakāras) of brahman. In this way they are analogous to God's ‘body’: inhabited by the Paramātman (= God), they are ultimately dependent upon Him. For Rāmānuja, therefore, the universe of multiplicity and change, rather than being ultimately an ‘illusion’ (māyā), and thus a function of ignorance (avidyā) (as Advaita would have it) is, in fact, a real transformation (pariṇāma) of a pre-existing cause (brahman). Māyā therefore represents the way in which God manifests the reality of material nature (prakṛti.)
The first ācārya of the Viśiṣṭādvaita school is said to have been Nāthamuni; he was succeeded by two of his disciples, Puṇḍarīkākṣa and Rāma Miśra, but no complete works survive from these three early teachers. Rāma Miśra is said to have taught Nāthmuni's grandson, Yāmuna, regarded as the second ācārya in the lineage; his pupils in turn are claimed to have taught the third ācārya, Rāmānuja. Notable teachers after Rāmānuja include Vedāntadeśika and Piḷḷai Lokācārya, the major theologians of, respectively, the Vaṭakalai and Teṉkalai subschools. See also bhedābheda(vāda); Rāmānuja; satkāryavāda; Śrī Vaiṣṇavism.