The Distinction between Advaya and Advaita (from The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, by Prof. T.R.V. Murti, 1955, 1960, London 1968)
In all the three absolutisms [Madhyamaka, Vijñanavada and Vedanta] the highest knowledge is conceived as Intuition, beyond all traces of duality. A distinction must, however, be made between the advaya of the Madhyamaka and the advaita of the Vedanta, although in the end it may turn out be one of emphasis of approach. Advaya is knowledge free from the duality of the extremes (antas or dristis) of ‘is’ and ‘is not’, ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ etc. It is knowledge freed of conceptual distinctions. Advaita is knowledge of a differenceless entity: Brahman (Pure Being) or Vijñana (Pure consciousness). The Vijñanavada, although it uses the term advaya for its absolute, is really an advaita system.
Advaya is purely an epistemological approach; the advaita is ontological. The sole concern of the Madhyamaka advaya-vada is the purification of the faculty of knowing. The primordial error consists in the intellect being infected by the inveterate tendency to view Reality as identity or difference, permanent or momentary, one or many etc. These views falsify Reality, and the dialectic administers a cathartic corrective. With the purification of the intellect, Intuition (prajña) emerges; the Real is known as it is, as Tathata or bhutakoti. The emphasis is on the correct attitude of our knowing and not on the known..
The Madhyamika has no doctrine of existence, ontology. This would be, according to him, to indulge in dogmatic speculation (dristivada). To the Vedanta and Vijñanavada, the Madhyamika, with his purely epistemological approach and lack of a doctrine of reality, cannot but appear as nihilistic (sarva-vainashika, shunya-vada). The ‘no-doctrine’ attitude of the Madhyamika is construed by Vedanta and Vijñanavada as a ‘no-reality’ doctrine; they accuse the Madhyamika, unjustifiably, of denying the real altogether and as admitting a theory of appearance without any reality as its ground. In fact, the Madhyamika does not deny the real; he only denies doctrines about the real. For him, the real as transcendent to thought can be reached only by the denial of the determinations which systems of philosophy ascribe to it. When the entire conceptual activity of Reason is dissolved by criticism, there is Prajña-Paramita.