According to the Advaita Vedānta Brahman, the Absolute is one, without a second. The jīvas or the individual souls, though apparently limited and many, are Brahman itself, in the ultimate analysis. How the One becomes or appears as the many is metaphysically indefinable. But it is, however, describable figuratively or analogically. The two well-known theories that have successfully attempted this are: bimba-pratibimba-vāda, also called pratibimba-vāda (‘theory of reflection’) and avacchedavāda (‘theory of limitation’).
According to the former theory, māyā and avidyā act like reflecting media. When Brahman is reflected in māyā, it becomes Īśvara; when reflected in avidyā, it becomes the jīvas. Though the reflected images (called ‘pratibimba’) are affected by the media, the original (called ‘bimba’) is not. Also, when one reflected image is affected by the changes in the particular medium, other reflections may not be so affected. This explains the different condi-tions of the different jīvas though all the jīvas are reflections of the same Brahman. When the reflecting media are done away with, the reflections too disappear, leaving only the original intact. This view was propounded mainly by Padmapāda (A. D. 820) and his successors and is one of the characteristic features of the Vivaraṇa School.
In the latter theory, propounded by the Bhāmatī School, when Brahman the Absolute, appears to be limited by māyā, it becomes Īśvara; when limited by avidyā, it becomes the jīvas. A classic example for this limitation theory is the sky or space (ākāśa) and containers like a pot. Though space is unlimited, it appears to be limited by a pot or a room or a house. On the destruction of these limiting adjuncts, space ‘regains’ its original status.
See also ADVAITA VEDĀNTA DARŚANA.