Cause and effect are an important topic in all schools of Vedanta. These concepts are discussed in ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism, and other Indian religions, using synonymous terms. Cause is referred to as kāraṇa (कारण), nidana (निदान), hetu (हेतु) or mulam (मूलम्), while effect is referred to as kārya (कार्य), phala (फल), parinam (परिणाम) or Shungam (शुङ्ग). Vedanta sub-schools have proposed and debated different causality theories.
All schools of Vedanta subscribe to the theory of Satkāryavāda, which means that the effect is pre-existent in the cause. But there are different views on the causal relationship and the nature of the empirical world from the perspective of metaphysical Brahman. The Brahma Sutras, the ancient Vedantins, most sub-schools of Vedanta, as well as Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy, support Parinamavada, the idea that the world is a real transformation (parinama) of Brahman.
Scholars disagree on the whether Adi Shankara and his Advaita Vedanta explained causality through vivarta. According to Andrew Nicholson, instead of parinama-vada, the competing causality theory is Vivartavada, which says "the world, is merely an unreal manifestation (vivarta) of Brahman. Vivartavada states that although Brahman appears to undergo a transformation, in fact no real change takes place. The myriad of beings are unreal manifestation, as the only real being is Brahman, that ultimate reality which is unborn, unchanging, and entirely without parts". The advocates of this illusive, unreal transformation based causality theory, states Nicholson, have been the Advaitins, the followers of Shankara. "Although the world can be described as conventionally real", adds Nicholson, "the Advaitins claim that all of Brahman’s effects must ultimately be acknowledged as unreal before the individual self can be liberated".
However, other scholars such as Hajime Nakamura and Paul Hacker disagree. Hacker and others state that Adi Shankara did not advocate Vivartavada, and his explanations are "remote from any connotation of illusion". According to these scholars, it was the 13th century scholar Prakasatman who gave a definition to Vivarta, and it is Prakasatman's theory that is sometimes misunderstood as Adi Shankara's position. To Shankara, the word maya has hardly any terminological weight. Andrew Nicholson concurs with Hacker and other scholars, adding that the vivarta-vada isn't Shankara's theory, that Shankara's ideas appear closer to parinama-vada, and the vivarta explanation likely emerged gradually in Advaita subschool later.
According to Eliot Deutsch, Advaita Vedanta states that from "the standpoint of Brahman-experience and Brahman itself, there is no creation" in the absolute sense, all empirically observed creation is relative and mere transformation of one state into another, all states are provisional and a cause-effect driven modification.
Two sorts of causes are recognised:
- Nimitta kāraṇa, the efficient cause.
- Upādāna kāraṇa, the material cause.
Advaita states that effect (kārya) is non-different from cause (kāraṇa), but the cause is different from the effect:kārya is not different from kāraṇa; however kāraṇa is different from kārya
This principle is called kārya-kāraṇa ananyatva.
When the cause is destroyed, the effect will no longer exist. For example, cotton cloth is the effect of the cotton threads, which is the material cause. Without threads there will be no cotton cloth. Without cotton there will be no thread.
According to Swami Sivananda, in his comments on the Brahmasūtra-Bhāṣya 2.1.9, Adi Shankara describes this as follows:
Despite the non-difference of cause and effect, the effect has its self in the cause but not the cause in the effect.
The effect is of the nature of the cause and not the cause the nature of the effect.
Therefore the qualities of the effect cannot touch the cause.