In the Shikshapatri, Lord Swaminarayan has said, “I believe in Unique non-duality- “Matam Vishishta dvait me.” What is the meaning of this word? To appreciate the meaning of the above question, one should look into the history of Indian Philosophy. All Sampradayas try to explain, of course, in their own way, the nature, the form and the relation which exist between Jivas, Jagat or Maya and Jagdishwar i.e. God Supreme. Of these Sampradayas in Indian Philosophy, five Schools are considered as the foremost:
1. Kewaladvait Mat (Only non-duality) propagated by Shri Shankaracharya
2. Vishishta-dvait Mat (Unique non-duality) by Shri Ramanujacharva
3. Dvaitadvait Mat (Duality in non-duality) by Shri Nimbarkacharya,
4. Shuddhadvait Mat (Pure non-duality) by Shri Vailabhacharya
5. Dvait Mat (Dualism) by Shri Madhavacharya
Except Shri Madhavacharya, the other four have all used the word advait (non-duality) to explain the nature, form and relations, existing between the above trio. But in order to distinguish their belief from the other, they have qualified it by prefixing different adjectives viz. Kewal, Vishishta, Dvait and Shudhha before the word Advait. In short Advait, means non-duality. Shri Shankaracharya advocates that the advait existing between Jiva, Jagat and Jagdishwar is Kewal i.e. absolute or complete.
Against this Shri Ramanujacharva contends that it is not Kewal but is qualified (Vishishta); while Shri Vailabhacharya asserts that it is neither Kewal nor Vishishta, but it is Suddha (pure); white Shri Nimbarkacharya maintains that it is Dvait (duality) and Advait (non-duality) both together. Against all these four, Shri Madhavacharya firmly says that there is no Advait of any kind between Jiva, Jagat and Jagdishwar, but there is duality (Dvait) for ever. Lord Swaminarayan said that it is not proper to use this word Advait to explain the nature, form and relations between Jiva, Jagat and Jagdishwar. He said that Jivas, lshwars, Maya Brahmn and Parbrahm, all these five are Anaditatvas i.e. objects to which no beginning can be ascribed. But God Supreme alone is Ek Meva Dwitiya i.e. one and one only without a second. All sentient beings (Satt and Chitt objects), including even the Aksharbrahmn are all pervaded, sustained and controlled by God Supreme. The word Advait, therefore, should be used only to explain the nature, form and power of God Supreme. It should not be used to explain the relation between the above trio.
Word Vishistadvait is a technical term or philosophy used by three Dharmacharya viz. Shri Ramanujacharya, Shri Kaulihaacharya and Shri Bagvaacharya. Jivas (souls) which are by nature sentient and immortal reside in the body, which is non-sentient and mortal and perform various kinds of acts and enjoy fruits thereof. Jivas are, therefore, described as Shariri of the mundane body. Similarly, all sentient beings which include all Jivas, all lshwars (divinities engaged in the work of creation etc. of the world),Maya, AksharbrahmnPurushas (i.e. Muktas) and Akshar brahmn as welt as all non-sentient objects which include Maya also. (Maya is described in the Shastras both as sentient and non-sentient objects). All are described as body of the God Supreme whereas God Supreme. who in respect of nature, form, quality power etc., is quite different and independent of all the sentient beings and non-sentient objects, is described as their Shariri. In other words, God Supreme is thus qualified (Vishisht) by two adjectives in the form of sentient beings and non-sentient objects. Thus qualified, God Supreme is only one without a second. This, in short, is the substance to the word Vishistadvait Mat.
As said above, three Dharmacharyas have preached Vishistadvait Mat in order to distinguish one from the other. They are known in the history of Indian Philosophy as Vaishnav, Shaiv-Shakti and Shaiv-Vishistadvait Mat respectively. Lord Swaminarayan no doubt accepted the Vishistadvait Mat of Shri Ramanujacharya as his own; but at the same time He has introduced a novel and independent definition of Sharir. Shri Ramanujacharya has defined the word in his commentary of the Sutra “Nu Tu Drastant Bhavat” of the Brahmasutras (2-1-9). In this translation of Shri Bhashya of Shri Ramanujacharya, Dr. George Thibau has translated it in the following words:
“Any substance, which a soul is capable of completely controlling and supporting for its own purposes and which stands to the soul entirely in subordinate relation, is the body of soul. In this sense all sentient and non-sentient beings together constitute the body of supreme person for they are completely controlled and supported by Him, for His own aims are entirely sub-ordinate to Him.”
But this definition of Sharir is not proper. Even Dr. Thibau himself and other learned scholars like Dr Radhakrishnan, Dr. Das Gupta have criticized this definition. It may be noted that God Supreme has no personal aims to gain by becoming Shariri of various sentient and non-sentient beings. Again Jivas, lshwars and Brahmn are all Anaditatvas. It, therefore, can not be said that they own their existence to God Supreme. Lord Swaminarayan, therefore, has defined the words in a different way. He has said that God Supreme is the Shariri of all sentient and non-sentient bodies on account of their being, Adhin and Asamarth, whereas God Supreme alone is Vyapya, Sarva Vyapak, Sarvatantra Swatantra and Sarva Samarth. God Supreme is the only omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent person. There are some other points also, in which lie has differed from Shri Ramanujacharya. It is thus clear that Vishistadvait Mat propounded by Lord Swaminarayan differs in some major aspects from the one preferred by Shri Ramanujacharya.