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Worship of Vishnu as the supreme deity, as well as of his incarnations, mainly Rama and Krishna.

Vaishnavism is one of the major forms of modern Hinduism, along with Shaivism and Shaktism, and is probably the most popular and most widely practiced. Characterized by an emphasis on bhakti, its goal is to escape from the cycle of birth and death in order to enjoy the presence of Vishnu. The philosophical schools into which Vaishnavism is divided are distinguished by their varying interpretations of the relationship between individual souls and God, and include aspects of monism and dualism.

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▪ Hindu sect
also called  Vishnuism, or Viṣṇuism,  Sanskrit  Vaiṣṇavism,  

      worship of the god Vishnu and of his incarnations, principally as Rāma and as Krishna. It is one of the major forms of modern Hinduism—with Śaivism and Shaktism (Śāktism).

      A major characteristic of Vaishnavism is the strong part played by bhakti, or religious devotion. The ultimate goal of the devotee is to escape from the cycle of birth and death so as to enjoy the presence of Vishnu. This cannot be achieved without the grace of God. Vishnu is not only the end (upeya) but also the means (upāya). For his part, the devotee must cultivate the auxiliary disciplines of karman, the path of good works, and jñāna, the way of spiritual knowledge.

      Sectarian Vaishnavism had its beginnings in the cult of Vāsudeva-Krishna (Vāsudeva), who may have been a Yādava tribal leader (c. 7th–6th century BC). The Vāsudeva cult coalesced with others worshiping the deified sage Nārāyaṇa so that by about the 2nd century AD Vāsudeva, Krishna, and Nārāyaṇa appeared in the celebrated religious poem the Bhagavadgītā as interchangeable names of Lord Vishnu. The cult of the pastoral Krishna was soon added.

      The philosophical schools of Vaishnavism differ in their interpretation of the relationship between individual souls and God. The doctrines of the most important schools are: (1) Viśiṣṭādvaita (“qualified monism”), associated with the name of Rāmānuja (11th century) and continued by the Śrīvaiṣṇava sect, prominent in South India; (2) Dvaita (“dualism”), the principal exponent of which was Madhva (13th century), who taught that although the soul is dependent on God it is not an extension of God, that the soul and God are separate entities; (3) dvaitādvaita (“dualistic monism”), taught by Nimbārka (12th century), according to which the world of souls and matter is both different and not different from God; (4) śuddhādvaita (“pure monism”) of Vallabha, which explains the world without the doctrine of maya (illusion); (5) acintya-bhedābheda (“inconceivable duality and nonduality”), the doctrine of Caitanya, in which the relation between the world of souls and matter on the one hand and God on the other is not to be grasped by thought but is both different and nondifferent.

      In addition to these philosophical schools, each of which has its own sectarian following, Vaishnavism also includes a number of popular expressions of devotionalism, which were furthered in the late medieval period by the vernacular writings of Rāmānanda and his disciples and by Vaishnava poets such as Tulsīdās in the Hindi area, Mīrā Bāī in Gujarāt, and Nāmdev and Tukārām in the Marāthā country.

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Universalium. 2010.

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