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Part I - Shri Sampradaya
A Pre-Ramanuja Period
I. The Alvars
a) It is believed that the verses in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (11.5.38-40) are a prophecy for the appearance of the Alvars, the saints of South India. "My dear king, the inhabitants of Satya Yuga and other ages eargerly desire to take birth in this age of Kali, since in this age there will be many devotees of the Supreme Lord, Narayana. These devotees will appear in various places but will be especially numerous in South India. O master of men, in the age of Kali those persons who drink the waters of the holy rivers of Dravida-desha such as the Tamraparni, Kritamala, Payasvini, the extremely pious Kaveri and the Pratici Maharadi, will almost all be purehearted devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva".
b) The word Alvar means ‘one who has a deep intuitive knowledge of God’ or ‘one who is immersed in the contemplation of God’.
c) The Alvars are twelve in number and, according to modern historical research, they flourished in the period between the second century AD and the eighth century AD. But according to ancient Shri-Vaishnava literature some of them appeared in the end of the Dvapara Yuga and others in the beginning of the Kali Yuga.
d) They were all Maha-Bhagavatas who manifested devotional ecstacy of Bhagavat-prema in the highest degree. All of them had divine darshana of the Lord and they were continuosly immersed in love of God. They expressed their mystic realizations in fine poetry.
e) They were born into different castes and at different times, but basically they had the same devotional mood.
f) The twelve Alvars are: 1) Poygai (incarnation of the Vishnu’s gada, the mace), 2) Bhutam (Vishnu’s shanka, conch), 3) Pey (Vishnu’s nandaka, sword), 4) Tirumalishai (Vishnu’s cakra), 5) Nanmalvar (Vishvaksena), 6) Madhurakavi, 7) Kulashekhara (kaustubha), 8) Periy (Garuda), 9) Andal (Bhu-devi), 10) Tondaradippodi (vanamala, Vishnu’s garland), 11) Tiruppan and 12) Tirumangai (sharnga, Vishnu’s bow).
g) The most prominent of them is Nanmalvar, who composed the famous Tiruvaymoli, also called Dramidopanishad, which is unsurpassed in mystic literature. He is the founder of the prapatti school.
h) The poems composed by the Alvars were written in Tamil language and they altogether (four thousand verses) are called Nalayira-divya-prabhandam. These hymns express the state of the soul completely dependent and surrendered to the Lord. Also they glorify the qualities of Lord Narayana, and the most important arcana-murtis of Lord Vishnu all around India, especially Lord Ranganatha of Shri Rangam. In many passages the Alvars address to Lord Krishna in Vrindavana in the mood of vatsalya-bhava and even in the mood of the gopis, aspiring conjugal relationship with Krishna.
i) This Divya-prabhanda has very much importance in the Shri-sampradaya, and it is taken as equivalent to the prashthana-traya, being also known as Ubhaya-Vedanta.
II. The Acaryas
* While the Alvars were divers into divinity, the Acaryas who followed them became the expositors of the Alvar's experience and the apostles of Shri-vaishnavism as the system is now known.
The first pontiff of Shri-Vaishnavism was Nathamuni, descendent of the Bhagavat immigrants from regions where the Ganges flows. He was born at Mannagudi in the South Arcot district in 824, and he became a muni even in his youth. Tradition ascribes to him the miraculous discovery of the lost Tiruvaymoli of Nanmalvar and then of the entire Prabandha. While at Kumbakonam, he happened to hear the recitals of the hymns of Nanmalvar. Nathamuni then realized the sweetness of those divine songs and became eager to recover the whole work. He went to Tirunagari where the whole of the Prabandha was miraculously revealed to him by the Alvar himself after having recited twelve thousand times a verse composed by Madhurakavi Alvar in adoration of his guru Nanmalvar. Nathamuni grouped the Prabandha on the Vedic model into four parts and its recitation was introduced as a part of the temple worship at Shri Rangam and this practice is even now followed in all Shri-Vaishnava temples. Nathamuni wrote two important works - Nyaya-tattva (the first treatise on Vishishtadvaita philosophy) and Yoga-rahasya - but not available nowdays. He passed away in samadhi in 920.
* The next important acarya was Alavandar or Yamunacarya, the grandson of Nathamuni (916-1036). Even as a boy, he showed his prodigious learning and skill when he accepted the challange of the court pandita of the Cola king made to his guru and easily vanquished him in the learned assembly of the king by a clever puzzle. He was at once greeted by the queen as Alavandar for having conquered the proud pandita, and was granted a portion of the kingdom according to the terms of the polemic duel. He lived a life of luxurious ease, when a sudden change came over him after an interview with the old teacher Rama Mishra, Nathamuni's disciple, who intimated to him the news of the patrimony bequeathed to him by his grandfather in the form of a valuable treasure hidden between two rivers. He eagerly followed the guru to take possession of the treasure, and when he was shown the shining shrine at Shri Rangam, he became converted, was overjoyed and took sannyasa. His whole life was dedicated thereafter to spirituality and service, and he made Shri Rangam a veritable Vaikuntha on earth. He wrote few important works, the most important of these is Siddhitraya consisting of three parts - Atmasiddhi, Ishvarasiddhi and Samvitsiddhi - each being devoted to one of the three fundamental doctrines of of Vishishtadvaita. Yamunacarya's Stotra-ratna, a masterpiece of lyrical devotion, reveals his discerning faith in Narayana and Shri and the intense humility of the philosophic devotee who pours forth his heartfelt bhakti soul stirring verses to which there is no parallel in Stotra literature.
B Shri Ramanujacarya
I. His Life
* Shri Ramanuja was born in Shriperumbudur, near Kanci, in 1017 as the son of Asuri Keshava Somayajin and Kantimati, sister of Shri Shailapurna, the grandson of Yamunacarya. From his childhood he showed signs of Vedantic genius and he was sent to Kanci to have a course of studies in Vedanta under the great Advaita teacher Yadavaprakasha. It is said that his teachings did not satisfy the budding Vishishtadvaita.
* One day, when Yadavaprakasha explained the Taittiriya text - satyam jnanam anantam brahma - in terms of absolute identity, the disciple felt that the identity was on explanation at all and reconstructed the text by saying that Brahman is and has satya, jnana and ananda as His essential ontological attributes. The guru's exposition at another time of the Upanishadic description - kapyasam - of the lotus to which the beautiful eyes of Bhagavan were compared by translating that expression as 'the red posterior of the monkey' brought tears of grief to the eyes of Ramanujacarya, and he immediately corrected the ugly analogy by giving the true meaning of that term as 'the well developed lotus that blossoms at day-dawn'.
* These reinterpretations aroused the anger and jealousy of the teacher who, in consultance with some trusted disciples, arranged for a pilgrimage to Benares with the evil idea of drowning Ramanuja in the Ganga and attributing it to an accident. On the way, Ramanuja was informed of the conspiracy and he escaped in the dead of night while they were passing through a wilderness.
* Weary and footsore, Ramanuja wandered several days till a hunter and a huntress met him and offered to take him to Kanci, which they said was their destination too. When they were very near Kanci the couple suddenly disappeared after asking Ramanuja for a little water and on his looking around, the lofty towers of Lord Varadaraja in Kanci greeted his wondering eyes. Ramanuja at once realized that Lord Varada and His consort had rescued him in that miraculous manner and as they had asked him for water he made it a point from that day onwards to fetch a potful of water every day from a well near the spot they disappeared, to be used in their daily puja.
* Yadavaprakasha later on became a disciple of Ramanuja. At this time, saint Tirukkacci Nambi had daily contact and converse with the Lord, and Ramanuja came under his spiritual influence.
* Ramanuja never met Yamunacarya face to face though the latter had seen Ramanuja and, and unwilling to disturb his studies, had blessed him from a distance. Five of Yamunacarya's disciples imparted the teachings of Yamunacarya to young Ramanuja who was to become the chief propagator of Vishishtadvaita.
* To dedicate himself wholly to the cause of religion and the service of humanity, he joined the sannyasa order and became yatiraja or the prince of sannyasis on account of his austere and ascetic life. While he settled down at Shri Rangam and prepared himself to carry out his mission, he had to meet an Advaitic controversialist called Yajnamurti, and seventeen days disputation on the opponent was defeated.
* He started on a pilgimage round the country from Rameshvara to Badrinnath by the West coast and returned via the East coast. With his ever faithfull disciple Kuresha, he reached Shri Nagar and secured a manuscript copy of the Bodhayana vritti, which Kuresha, with his prodigious memory, was able to learn by heart even at the very first reading. He was thus able to bring out his Shri-bhashya by literally following tradition and is said to have earned the title of Bhashya-kara in Kashmir from Sarasvati herself.
* At this time occured the persecution of the Vaishnavas by the Cola king, Kolottunga Cola I, who, in his bigoted zeal for the spread of Shaivism, tried to repress the Vaishnavas by capital punishment. As Kuresha and the venerable Mahapurna refused to change their faith, their eyes were plucked out. Ramanuja's retirement to Melkote at this critical period was an epoch in its religious history, as it led to the conversion of a large number of Jains and also of Vitthaladeva, the king of the Kausalas, followed by the construction of the city of Melkote and the construction of a temple for Yadavadri-pati.
* His return to Shri Rangam in 1118 after an absence of two decades was greeted with great joy by the whole Shri-Vaishnava community and the remaining years of his life were devoted to the consolidation of his missionary work by organizing temple worship and establishing seventy four spiritual centres in different parts of the country, presided over by his disciples, to popularize Vishishtadvaita. Shri Ramanujacarya passed away in 1137 full of honours after a long span of 120 years.
II. Shri Ramanuja's Works
Nine works are credited to Shri Ramanuja:
1) Vedartha-sangraha - a concise statement of the philosophical doctrines of the Vedas, with special references to important passages in the Upanishads.
2) Vedanta-sara - (‘The essence of the Vedanta’) a very brief commentary on the Vedanta-sutra.
3) Vedanta -dipa - (‘Lamp of the Vedas’) a longer commentary, but still brief, on the Vedanta-sutra.
4) Shri-bhashya - (‘The beautiful commentary’) a fairly comprehensive commentary on the Vedanta-sutra which systematically refutes all schools of thought, heterodox as well as orthodox, other than Vishishtadvaita, and constitutes the main philosophical treatise on this particular branch of Vedanta.
5) Sharanagati-gadya - a prayer in poetic prose, based on unbounded faith in the Lord's grace and describing complete surrender to His will.
6) Shri-ranga-gadya - another prayer in poetic prose, describing the famous shrine at Shri Rangam and the gracious presence of the Lord there as the deity.
7) Shri-Vaikuntha-gadya - yet another prose poem, describing the glories of the Supreme abode and the beatitude of liberation.
8) Gita-bhashya - a commentary on Bhagavad-gita.
9) Nitya-grantha - a manual of everyday worship and devotion.
C Vishishtadvaita Vedanta Philosophy
I. Meaning of the Term Vishishtadvaita
The system of philosophy as expounded by Shri Ramanujacarya is called Vishishtadvaita. The term advaita means non-dualism emphasising the oneness of the ultimate Reality. Though all schools of thought upholding monism agree that the ultimate Reality is one only, they differ widely from one another when it comes to determining the sense in which Reality is one. The fundamental problem with monism is to account for the world of plurality as well as the infinite number of souls. The issue with which a monism is confronted is how does the 'one' become 'many' and how is the one Reality related to the manifold universe of matter and spirit? There are two ways of resolving this important metaphysical problem. According to one view, which upholds absolute monism as propounded by Shankaracarya, the universe is not ultimately real but a phenomenal appearance of Reality. The ultimate Reality is absolutely one in the sense that it does not admit any kind of differentiaton, either internal or external. Such an absolute identity would imply denial of ultimate reality to individual souls and the universe. This type of monism advocated by Shankaracarya is known as Advaita Vedanta.
According to the second view held by Ramanujacarya, the ultimate Reality, though one, is not the Absolute without any differentiation since such a transcendental indifferentiated Being is inconceivable and also logically untenable. We have to admit the reality of the universe with which we are surrounded and also the individual souls which experience the external world. Accordingly, Ramanuja acknowledges three fundamental real entities - matter (acit), soul (cit) and God (Ishvara) - and on the basis of the principle of organic relation, upholds that ultimate Reality is one as a unity. Ishvara as the creator of the universe is the immanent ground of existence and also the inner self of all things in the universe and as such He sustains and controls cit and acit. Cit and acit depend in Ishvara for their very existence and are organically related to Ishvara in the same way as the physical body is related to the soul within. The oneness of Reality is to be understood not in the sense of absolute identity but as an organic unity. Brahman, alone, as organically related to the entire cit and acit, is the one ultimate Reality. Though there is absolute difference between Ishvara and the other reals and also among the individual souls and matter, the ultimate Reality is considered one because as an organic unity it is one. In this sense, the system of Vedanta expounded by Shri Ramanujacarya is described as Vishishtadvaita which means oneness of the organic unity.
II. Fundamental Metaphysical Categories
a) Theory of Aprithak-siddhi
* According to this theory, the relation between substance and its attributes are inseparable. For instance, in blue lotus, the blueness which is a quality cannot be separated from the flower. When an object is perceived it is seen as inherently connected with the quality. Being inherent in substance, the attributes form an integral part of it. Substance, which is the basis for the attributes does not however depend on them for its existance, but nevertheless it needs attributes because the svarupa of an entity is determinable only through its essential attributes.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, a svarupa devoid of attributes is a non-entity. The relation of aprithak-siddhi is obtained not only between substance and attribute but also between two substances. In this way, the physical body (sharira) and the soul within (atma), though both are substances (dravya), are inseparable. The very concept of sharira necessharily presupposes its relation to a soul. A body as a living organism cannot exist by itself without a soul to sustain it.
b) The Concept of Body-Soul Relation
* The physical body is necessharily dependant upon the soul for its existence; it ceases to be a body the moment the soul departs from it. It is wholly controlled by the soul. It exists wholly for the use of the self. Because there is an intimate or inseparable relation between the self and the body, it is possible that the latter can be supported, controlled and used for its purpose by the former.
* On the basis of this theory of body-soul relation the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta maintains that the entire universe of cit and acit stands in relation of the body and soul. All sentient and nonsentient beings constitute the sharira or body of Ishvara in the technical sense that the former are wholly dependent on the latter for their existence; they are completely controlled by Ishvara and they subserve the purpose of the Supreme Being. Ishvara is called the atma or sariri because He is the ground or support (adhara) for the universe,. He is the controller (niyanta) and uses it for His own purpose. The three concepts used to explain comprehensively the organic relationships that exists between Brahman and universe of cit and acit are: adhara-adheya (the sustainer and sustained), niyanta-niyamya (the controller and controlled) and sheshi-shesha (the self subsistent and dependent).
c) The Concept of Cause and Efffect
* The concept of cause and effect is the most fundamental metaphysical category. It assumes greater importance than other concepts as it provides the key to understanding of the knotty problem of how the 'one' becomes 'many'. The Shad-vidya of Chandogya Upanishad asks: "What is that by knowing which everything else is known?" According one school of thought, cause and effect are not the same. The effect is a product of the cause but the former is not already existent in the cause. This is known as asat-karya-vada, attributed to the Nyaya-Vaisheshika system. According to another school of thought, the effect exists in the cause in a potential form and it is only a manifestation of what already exists. This is the sat-karya-vada held by the Sankhya System.
* There is another view which does not accept either of the above theories. The effect does not exist in the cause nor is it distinct from the cause. The two are different states of one and the same substance(entity). This is the theory of Vishishtadvaita Vedanta which is regarded as a modified sat-karya-vada. As against these accepted views, we have other theories of casuality which question the very basic concept of cause and effect. Thus, according to the Carvaka school, there is no such thing as cause and effect. The Buddhists for whom everything is momentary also deny the very existence of cause and effect as enduring entities.
* The Advaita school, though they accept the concept of cause and effect, deny ultimate reality to it because causal relation is logically unintelligible. [The argument here is that two entities - Brahman and the universe - as real with different nature cannot be identical. If one is real (Brahman) and the other illusory (the universe), then it is possible to regard them as non- distinct].
III. Pramanas and their Validity
* Pramana is defined as that which is the mean of prama or valid knowledge. According to Vishishtadvaita, a knowledge to be valid should fulfil two conditions. It should reveal things as they are and should also serve the practical interests of life. Pramana therefore signifies the essential means of arriving at valid knowledge.
* The Vishishtadvaita admits three pramanas; perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumana) and verbal testimony (shabda). All the three pramanas reveal the truth and are therefore equally valid. Of the three, pratyaksha is an important pramana because it serves as the basis for the other two pramanas. Inference depends on perception for establishing the logical concomitance. Verbal testimony also depends on hearing of the sound of the words and the comprehension of their meaning.
* In view of this, pratyaksha is regarded as upajivya or that which offers subsistance, and anumana as well as shabda as upajivaka or that which subsists on another. This means that inference and verbal testimony cannot contradict what is proved by perception.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, if the knowledge arises from anumana and shabda is opposed to perceptual experience, the former cannot be taken as valid. It does not mean that scriptural statements which conflict with perceptual experience have to be rejected as invalid. But, on the contrary, they have to be accepted but interpreted in such a way as to overcome the conflict. Thus, the Vishishtadvaita gives equal importance to all three pramanas through which we can get to know the reality.
IV. Theory of Knowledge
a) Knowledge as an Attribute of jiva
* The jiva, which is a permanent spiritual entity, is of the nature of consciousness (jnana-svarupa). It means that knowledge or consciousness is his very essence (svarupa-jnana), or in other words, the jiva is a knowing subject. But besides this, according to Vishishtadvaita, the jiva has another type of knowledge by which the objects outside are revealed to him. That means - the jiva is knowledge, and also, the jiva has knowledge.
* This kind of knowledge which can reveal the objects outside is an attribute of the jiva, and it is called dharma-bhuta-jnana. There is a logical justification for maintaining dharma-bhuta-jnana as distinct from svarupa-jnana. According to the shastras, the jiva is eternal and immutable, and as such he cannot undergo modification, whereas, knowledge is subject to constant modification, as it is confirmed by our experience. Knowledge manifests itself when it comes into contact with objects through mind and sense organs and it ceases to function whenever it is not in contact with any object. If svarupa-jnana alone is accepted, then the modifications that take place in respect of knowledge will have to be credited to the jiva and this would go against his immutable character. According to Ramanuja, the relation of jiva to knowledge is comparable to the flame (of a lamp) and its luminosity.
b) Knowledge is Self-Luminous
* Knowledge reveals itself as well as the object. This is described as svayam-prakasha. It means, according to the Vishishtadvaita, that jnana, at the time of revealing an object, does not require to be manifested by another jnana. It is like light which reveals the object around it but does not require another light for it to be revealed.
c) Knowledge is Eternal
* Since the self is eternal (nitya), knowledge, which is its essential attribute (dharma), is also eternal. The view that knowledge is eternal has certain important implications. It signifies that knowledge persists in all states of our experience including the state of sushupti (deep sleep).
* Another point is that jnana endures as in the state of bondage of jiva, even in the state of moksha. During the state of bondage, jnana is causually determined by the law of karma and as such its function is restricted. But in the state of mukti, it is infinite and all-pervasive (vibhu). The jiva then becomes omniscient (sarvajna).
V. Knowledge and the External World
* As explained earlier, knowledge is relational, and therefore it necessharily implies a subject to which it belongs and an object to which it refers. This theory presupposes above all the reality of the external object and its existence independent of knowledge.
* It is the function of knowledge to reveal the external world to the knowing subject. Jnana radiates from the jiva, comes into contact with the object through the manas and sense organs, and reveals it. The knowledge of the object thus arises when jnana comes into contact with an object through the inner and outer senses. This is the Vishishtadvaita theory of knowledge.
* A subject-object relation is called in this philosophy - vishaya-vishayi-bhava sambandha. Vishaya means the object and vishayi means the subject or consciousness. By the fact that the two are related whenever cognition arises, the relationship is described as one of subject-object. It is a unique relation or svarupa-sambandha. Although the individual self or jivatma is the subject which cognises the object presented to it by knowledge, the self does not have direct relation to the external object. The direct contact or samyoga takes place between knowledge and the object outside it whenever knowledge is in contact with the object through manas or the internal cognitive organ and the senses. The cognitive relation is thus temporal and direct. A samyoga or external relation is possible, because in this system knowledge is also regarded as dravya or substance.
VI. The Doctrine of Jiva
* The jiva or the individual self is an eternal spiritual entity and is distinct from the Supreme Self or Brahman. Even in the state of moksha, it does not lose its individuality. Jivas are infinite in number and they are essentially of the nature of knowledge (jnana- svarupa).
* Some different theories of jiva: the Carvaka view that body itself is jiva; the Nyaya theory that jiva is not of the nature of consciousness; the Advaita view that jiva , which is pure consciousness, is identical with Brahman; the Vaisheshika view that the jiva is all pervasive (vibhu); the Jaina view that the jiva is of the size of the body which it occupies.
a) Jiva as Different from Body and Mind
* When we say 'my hand', 'my leg', the hand, the leg, etc appear to be different from 'myself'. In the same way when we get the experience in the form 'my body', the body which is the aggregate of the various organs should be considered as distinct from the self.
* Then a question arises: How do we explain the expression 'myself' (mama-atma)? Would it mean that atma is different from the self? As self and atma cannot be different, such an expression has to be understood in its secondary sense. That is, the atma here means the mind and not the self. That the body and self are different is evident from various scriptural texts. For example, the shruti says that a person who has performed meritorious deeds will be reborn with merit. Similarly, a person who has done wicked deeds will be reborn into evil. Such scriptural statements would become meaningless if the self is not admitted to be different from the body.
* Jiva is also different from the mind (manas) because it is established by pramanas that manas serve as an instrument (karana) for recollection of past experience by jiva. What is a karana for an agent cannot itself be the agent karta.
b) Jiva as the Subject of Knowledge
* Jiva is not a non-sentient entity (jada) with knowledge as its accidental and external quality. Instead jiva is an eternal entity of the nature of knowledge (jnana-svarupa) and the subject of knowledge (jnata). However, jiva is not merely jnana-svarupa, as Advaita says, but it also possesses knowledge as an essential attribute. It is the substrate for knowledge, which means that jiva is also the knowing subject.
* Jnana is defined as that which manifests something (artha-prakashah). This characteristic feature of jnana is common to both the substrate (atma) and its dharma (jnana). The former reveals itself and the latter manifests objects. As both reveal something, the term jnana is applicable to both. In this case, these two entities are of the same nature but one is acting as a substance and the other as attribute. As in the case of the flame of a lamp (dipa) and its luminosity (prabha) are the same character since the element of fire or brightness (tejas) is common to both.
* The jiva constituted of knowledge which is known as dharmi-jnana or substantive-knowledge, reveals itself and not the external objects; it knows what it is revealed to it. On the other hand, knowledge as the essential attribute of the self known as dharma-bhuta-jnana or attributive knowledge reveals itself as well as the external objects to the self and does not know them.
c) Jiva as Self-Luminous
* Self-luminosity or svayam-prakashatva of atma is not to be understood in the sense that atma reveals itself as 'I' to all at all times. It reveals itself as 'I' to each individual, whereas for others it is known through their knowledge as 'he' or 'you'.
* If atma which is nitya is self-luminous, it should manifest itself always. But, some say, in sushupti or deep sleep we do not have the experience of anything,and it is not therefore possible to assert that atma reveals itself in that state. Against this argument it is explained that even during the state of deep sleep atma reveals itself as'I'. This is evident from the experience which arises in the form 'I slept happily' soon after waking up. This experience cannot be generated by mind because in this state of deep sleep it is inactive. Then, it is an experience of the self in the form of enjoying its own bliss (sukha).
d) Jiva is Eternal
* Are jivas eternal? There is a theory which says that Brahman alone is eternal and all else including the jivas originate from Brahman and dissolve in it. In support of this it is quoted the famous Chandogya Upanishad text which says that in the beginning there was being, one only without a second. Accordingly, it is believed that jivas come into existence or are produced at the time of evolution, in the same way as acit or matter is brought into existence. Against this view, there are numerous scriptural texts which speak of atma as nitya and that it is not subject to any origin or distinction. Such texts that affirm the contrary have to be understood to mean that jiva are born in the sense that they become associated with the physical bodies. As it is made explicit in the Bhagavad-gita, the birth of jiva is only its association with a physical body and death is its disassociation from it.
* The Buddhists hold the view that at each moment jiva undergoes change. This would mean that jiva which is constantly in a state of flux cannot be a permanent entity. If such a theory is accepted, there would be no scope for human endeavour to achieve something at a latter period.
* It may be said that jivas continue to exist till they achieve moksha and that thereafter they would cease to exist. The Vishishtadvaita does not accept this view because the jivas do exist in the state of moksha without losing their individuality. When the jivas become free from the shackles of karma, they manifest themselves in their true nature in the state of moksha.
e) Jiva is Karta and Bhokta
* We have already seen that jiva is a knowing subject (jnata). The same jiva who is the knower is also the agent of action (karta) and enjoyer of pleasure and pain (bhokta). This means the same atma who performs karma also enjoys the fruit of action.
* The Advaita philosophy however does not admit that the true self which is pure undifferentiated conscious is the knower since as knowership involves change, while the self must be immutable. The functions such as knowing, feeling and willing are the characteristics of the empirical ego, the consciousness conditioned by the internal organ (antahkarana). The cognisership (jnatritva) actually belongs to the internal organ. The self appears to be the knower because of the superimposition of the internal organ on it.
* This theory does not have foundation because it is proved that superimposition of cognisership on the self is an impossibility since the self, according to Advaita, is an indifferential being. There are many other details for proving this point, but an important point should be considered whether or not the act of knowing involves change or some modification in respect of the individual self, which according to the sastras is immutable (nirvikara). For explaining this question, the Vishishtadvaita philosophy affirms that whatever modification take place, these apply to attributive knowledge (dharma-bhuta-jnana), which is distinct from the self and, in this way, the atma remains unaffected by them.
* It may be noted that jiva is regarded as jnata or knower in the sense that it is the ashraya or substrate for knowledge through which all experiences take place. By being ashraya for jnana which is subject to modifications, jiva is not subjected to any change. In the same way, kartritva and bhoktritva admitted in jiva do not involve change in it. Jiva is karta or doer in the sense that it is the ashraya or substrate for kriti or effort.
* The same explanation holds good for jiva being the bhokta. Bhoga is the experience in the form of pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain are different states (avasthas) of jnana. Pleasure is an agreeable disposition of the mind (anukulatva-jnana) and pain is the disagreeable one (pratikulatva-jnana). As jiva is the ashraya for such states of experience, it is regarded as bhokta or enjoyer of pleasure or pain. The pain involved in such mental disposition applies to the attributive knowledge (dharma-bhuta-jnana) and not to jiva.
f) Theory of Free-Will and Determination
* If the action of jiva is controlled by Paramatma, does the jiva have any freedom at all to act? If jiva has no freedom to act, the scriptural injunctions enjoying duties to be performed by the individual can have no significance.
* A distinction is drawn between the initial action of the individual and the subsequent activity. In all human effort, the individual initially wills to do a thing. To this extent he is free to do what he desires. Based on this initial action, the subsequent action which follows it is approved by Ishvara. By according such an approval, Ishvara incites the individual to proceed further. Ishvara gives his approval to the activity initiated by an individual, he does not become the karta, the doer. The real karta is the individual.
g) Plurality of the Individual Selves
* The jivas which are eternal spiritual entities are infinite in number. They are not only different from one individual to another but are also distinct from Brahman, the Supreme Self.
h) Jiva as Anu
* Jiva is described in the shastras to be infinitesimal, or anu. The monadic character of jiva is its natural form. That is, it is not caused or conditioned by any physical limitation. Ishvara is vibhu or all-pervasive but He is described as infinitesimal in the inner recess of the heart. Here the anutva of Paramatma is not His natural character but is caused by physical limitation (aupadhika) No such limitation is mentioned in respect of jivatma. Therefore anutva of jiva is its natural state.
* While describing jiva as infinitesimal, the Upanishad uses the expression that jiva is ananta or infinite. In another place, jiva is described as nitya and sarvagatah, that is, it is eternal and pervades everywhere. This gives the impression that jiva is vibhu or all-pervasive. But the Vishishtadvaita points out that such description of jiva as pervading everywhere are to be understood to mean that jiva as a spiritual entity could enter into any material substance without obstruction.
* Even though jiva is not all-pervasive, its attributive jnana is infinite and all-pervasive like the light of the sun. The infinite character (anantya) applies not to jiva but to its attributive knowledge. This means that jiva is anu, whereas its knowledge is capable of becoming infinite. In the state of mukti, when the jiva is totally free from karma it becomes omniscient.
i) Jiva and Brahman
* Ishvara and jiva are two spiritual entities which are absolutely real and also distinct. The Shvetashvatara Up. says: “There are two, the one knowing, the other not knowing, both unborn, the one a ruler, the other not a ruler”. The Mundaka Up. describes jiva as one caught up in bondage, whereas Ishvara is free from it. The Antaryami Brahmana of the Brihad-aranyaka Up. refers to Brahman as the indweller of jivatma. The Vedanta-sutra states categorically that Brahman is different from jiva which is subject to karma.
* The scriptural texts also speak of non-difference between Brahman and jiva. Thus says the Chandogya Up.: “Thou art that” (tat-tvam-asi). The Brihad-aranyaka Up. equally asserts the identity: “This self is Brahman” (ayam-atma-brahma). How do we account for such texts which emphasise non-difference or identity of Brahman and jiva?
* Ramanuja does not accept the bhedabheda theory because, according to him, it would ammount to the admission of the defects of jiva in Brahman. Nor does he subscribe either to the view of the dualist emphasising only difference or to that of monist upholding only non-difference, because in either case the validity of all the Upanishadic text cannot be maintained.
* Then, Ramanuja resorts to a sutra which acknowledges the two conflicting views about jiva and Brahman as different (nana) and also non-different (anyatha ca), and uses the expression ‘amsha’ to explain the relation of jiva and Brahman. (Vedanta-sutra II.3.42: amsho nanavyapdeshat anyatha ca...) while commenting on this sutra, Ramanuja states that jiva is to be accepted as an integral part (amsha) of Brahman in order to account for its non-difference as well difference from Brahman.
* By adopting the metaphysical category of substance and attribute and the concept of aprithak-siddhi, Ramanuja explains the relation of jiva to Brahman. From ontological stand point Ramanuja explains the relation of jiva to Brahman on the basis of the concept of body-soul relation (sharira-shariri-bhava). Brahman as the material cause of the universe and ground of all existence is the adhara and the jivas are described as adheya, that which depends on it for its existence. Brahman as the immanent spirit and the inner controller of the universe of cit and acit is the niyanta and jiva is the niyamya, one which is controlled by Ishvara. From the ethical and religious stand point, jiva is described as shesha, as one who subserves God, and God as sheshin, the Master of all. This threefold relationship is described as sharira-shariri-sambandha, or the relation of the body to the soul. Thus jiva is an integral part (amsha) or mode (prakara) of Brahman and it is therefore distinct but inseparable from it.
VII. The Doctrine of Ishvara.
* In this section we are going to deal with three very important philosophical issues. The foremost one is whether or not the Absolute of metaphysics or Brahman described in the Upanishads as the ultimate Reality is the same as Ishvara or the personal God of religion who is conceived as the creator and controller of the universe. The second important issue is whether Brahman which is regarded as the material cause of the universe (upadana-karana) by the Upanishads undergoes any transformation or does it appear itself as the phenomenal universe owing to cosmic ignorance (avidya). The third issue is whether it is possible to prove the existence of God by means of logic arguments without resorting to scriptural testimony.
* The first issue is related to a crucial problem in Vedanta metaphysics which raises the question whether there are two realities, the one higher which is pure Being, the Absolute of metaphysics, and the other lower which is of lesser reality. This involves the question whether Brahman is nirguna, the undifferentiated transcendental Being or saguna, a God endowed with attributes.
* The second issue is related to the major controversy in Vedanta as to whether vivarta-vada or the theory of the illusory appearance of Brahman as the phenomenal universe is sound and tenable. This involves a critical examination of the doctrine of avidya as formulated by the Advaita Vedanta in all its aspects including the issue whether the universe is illusory in character.
* The third issue refers to the controversy between Naiyayikas and Vedantins whether or not the existence of God can be proved by means of logical arguments. While Naiyayikas hold that the existence of God can be proved by means of logic, Vedantins maintain that revealed scripture (shruti) is the sole authority for understanding the nature and existence of God.
a) Proofs for the Existence of God
* Those who do not accept the existence of God argue that the concept of God as the creator of the universe is untenable, because God does not possess a body for the purpose of creating the universe. But such arguments are not valid because, as stated in the shruti, Ishvara can create the universe by his will (sankalpa) without the aid of a body. Neither inference (anumana) nor the statements of the atheists can disprove the existence of God. Shruti or revealed scripture is the sole authority for knowing the existence of God.
* The Advaitin questions the view that Brahman is to be known through revealed scripture. According to him, Brahman as the transcendental reality is self established and is beyond all speach and thought. It cannot be grasped by the intellect. Thus the Upanishadic texts say - (Mund. Up. I.1.5 - yat tad adreshyam agrahyam) - that reality is unperceivable and ungraspable. Another text states - (Tait. Up. II.9.1l - yato vaco nivartante aprapya manasa saha) - “From whom speech and mind turn away, because they are unable to reach him”. Brahman is therefore avedya - beyond all empirical pramanas and cognition.
* The Vaishnavas criticises this view. It is not correct to say Brahman cannot be know by means of scriptural texts. The very Upanishads say Brahman is only knowable by shruti. Thus the Katha Up. (II-15) states: sarve vedah yat padam amananti - "All Vedas speak of this nature". There are several texts that say Brahman is describable by words and also knowable. (Chand.Up. I.6.7.: tasyoditi nama; Brihat.Up. 4.3.6.: atha namadheyam satyasya satyam). The Upanishadic text which speaks of Brahman as beyond words and thought can only mean that Brahman which is infinite cannot be adequately described by words, and cannot be also know in all its fullness by our finite mind. If this interpretation were not accepted, there would be conflict with both the earlier and later statements made in the same Upanishadic passage.
* Another impersonalist argument is that the terms Brahman, atma, etc mentioned in the Upanishads do not have a primary import (mukhyartha) in respect of Brahman, but they only have a secondary (lakshana). That is, these words do not refer directly to Brahman but indirectly. This is explained in the analogy of the moon seen through the branch of a tree (shakha-candra-nyaya). The moon visible as if close to the tree branch is made use of to identify the real moon which is far distant in the sky. Though there is no connection between the bough and the moon , the former serves the purpose of identifying the moon in the sky. In the same way, the term Brahman in the Upanishads serves to convey the knowledge of Brahman without having direct reference to Brahman.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, there is no difficulty at all in accepting primary import in respect of Parabrahman, the higher reality postulated by the impersonalists. The word Brahman, atma etc and all the Upanishadic texts related to the discussion on the nature of Brahman refer directly to the higher Brahman. If it is argued that direct reference is only to the lower Brahman (apara-Brahman), then the statements relating to the higher Brahman become invalid, and the very existence of such a Brahman would be questionable. It is impossible to maintain that Brahman is unknowable. Even if Brahman were the content of the indirect reference, it would become the object of knowledge to that extent. It is therefore more appropriate and logical to accept that Brahman is known through the scripture and that scripture is the sole authority for proving the existence.
b) The Nature of Ultimate Reality
* According to the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta, the ultimate reality or Brahman referred to in the Upanishads is the personal God of religion. It rejects the theory of two Brahmans admitted by Advaita Vedanta - the higher Brahman (Para) which is the Absolute Being devoid of all attributes and a lower Brahman (apara) endowed with attributes which is of lesser reality. There is only one Brahman which, as the Vedanta Sutras clearly point out, is the creater of the universe and which is qualified with infinite auspicious attributes. Such a reality is none other than the personal God of religion. Thus, Shri Ramanujacarya assserts that the term Brahman denotes Purushottama, the Supreme Person or self, who is essentially free from all imperfections and possesses infinite auspicious attributes os unsurpassable excellence.
* The Mahopanishad I.1 says: eko ha vai Narayana asit - “Narayana alone existed in the beginning.” Acccording to the gramatical principle formulated by Panini the term Narayana is treated as a specific proper name (samjna-pada) and is applicable to one specific Being only but not to any other entity like the general terms such as Brahman, sat and atma. It is therefore concluded that Brahman referred to in the Upanishads as the cause of the universe is the same as Narayana. Further the Subala Upanishad describes Narayana as antaratma the inner controller of all beings in the universe. Only that which is the creator of the universe could be the antaryami or inner controller of all beings. Several texts confirm this point. On the basis of the shastras it is then asserted that Narayana is the very Brahman described in the Upanishads as the creator of the universe. And Vishnu the Supreme God of religion as upheld in the Vedas, is used as synonymous.
c) The Theory Of Nirguna Brahman
* The Advaita advocates the theory of two Brahmans - para and apara - or the higher and lower. This theory is based primarily on the strength of a few scripual texts. There are Upanishadic statements which describe Brahman as devoid of qualities. There are also statements which speak of Brahman as qualified by numerous attributes. These two kinds of statements are known as nirguna shrutis and saguna shrutis.
* The impersonalists consider that the nirguna shrutis are of greater validity than the saguna shrutis. For proving this theory they use the Mimamsha principle of interptetation apaccheda-nyaya , the principle of the subsequent sublating the earlier.
* But, on the other side, the Vishishtadvaita does not accept the theory of two Brahmans. Taking its firm stand on scriptural evidence, it asserts that the ultimate reality is Brahman as qualified by numerous attributes. It would not be appropriate to accept the validity of a few scriptural texts which speak of Brahman as devoid of qualities and discard the large number of saguna shrutis as invalid in the basis of apaccheda-nyaya. Vedanta Deshika points out that instead of apaccheda-nyaya in this case, another principle of interpretation has to be applied -.
* According to the application of utsargapavada nyaya, if some texts affirm that Brahman possesses qualities, and others deny the same, the later should be understood to mean the denial of the qualities other than those mentioned in the former. In other words, the implication of the negative texts is that Brahman is devoid of such inauspicious attributes as changes, karma, etc but not that it is devoid of all characteristics. Such an interpretation, though it restricts the import of the negative texts to some extent, maintains the validity of both the saguna and nirguna shrutis. As the contents of the two texts apply to different aspects of reality, there is absolutely no conflict between them. Thus, on the basis of scriptural evidence it is not possible to establish that Brahman is nirguna and that it is higher than saguna Brahman.
* Shri Ramanujacarya has repeatedly stated in his Shri-bhashya that the concept of nirvishesha-vastu, an entity totally devoid of all differentiation, whether it be a physical object or consciousness or even the Ultimate reality is untenable both on logical and metaphysical grounds. From the standpoint of logic and epistemology it is impossible to prove the existence of a nirvishesha-vastu by any of the accepted pramanas. All knowledge reveals an object only as qualified. Such and undifferentiated reality as being beyond all thought and speech is a metaphysical abstraction. Therefore Vishishtadvaita rejects this concept of nirguna Brahman and upholds that the Ultimate Reality is only a savishesha Brahman which is the same as the personal God of religion.
d) God and His Attributes
* According to Vishishtadvaita, Brahman conceived as savishesha implies that it also possesses a bodily form (vigraha) and is qualified by attributes (guna) and the properties (vibhutis) which comprise the transcendental realm as well as the cosmic universe of sentient souls and non-sentient matter. As far as the body of Brahman is concerned, it is not governed by karma as the bodies of the bound individual soul are, but is assumed by Ishvara out of His free will (iccha) for the benefit of His devotees to enable them to offer prayers and do meditation. The bodily form assumed by Ishvara in His eternal abode is nitya. It is constituted of pure sattvika stuff known as shuddha-sattva. There are several pramana supporting the existence of a nitya-vigraha or umblemished and imperishable bodily form for Ishvara.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, every entity in the universe, both physical and ontological, consists of two aspects; the substantive aspect (svarupa) which is dharmi and the attribute aspect (svabhava) which is dharma. In the light of this statement , a question arises: what is the svarupa of Brahman?
* Ramanuja says that these five distinguishing characteristics determine the svarupa of Brahman: 1) satyam (absolutely non-conditioned existence); 2) jnana (eternal and non-contracted knowledge); 3)anantam (not limited by space or time), from the text (Tait.Up I.1) satyam jnanam anantam brahma; 4) anandam (unsurpassable bliss), from the same text - anandam brahmano vidvan and; 5) amalam (free from all imperfections).That entity which is characterised by these five attributes is the svarupa of Brahman. In other words, when we speak of the svarupa of Brahman, we describe it as satyam or reality, jnanam or knowledge, anantam or infinitude, anandam or bliss and amalam or purity. When we speak of the essential characteristics of Brahman, we describe them as satyatva, jnanatva, anantatva etc.
* The Taittiriya Up. (III.1) offers another important definition of Brahman: yato va imani bhutani jayante, yena jatani jivanti, yat prayanty abhisamvishanti tad vijijnasasva tad brahmeti “that form which all things are born, in which they live on being born. and unto which they enter when they perish; that is Brahman”. It refers to three fundemental functions of Brahman - creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. Also in Vedanta Sutra it is stated: janmadyasya yatah. This charecteristic of Brahman as the creator of the universe, though it is an important function of the Supreme Being, does not constitute the svarupa unlike satyata, jnanatra etc, but the attributive or functional character of Brahman.
* Besides the five distinguishing characteristics, six other important attributes are also admitted in Ishvara; jnana (knowledge, or more specifically, dharma-bhuta-jnana of Brahman. He is omniscient, sarvajna); bala (strength, or the quality by which Ishvara supports everything); aishvarya (lordship, or the quality of being the creator and controller of the universe); virya (virility refers to that quality of Ishvara who, in spite of his being the material cause of the universe, remains unaffected by the changes, vikara); shakti (power or that special quality through which Ishvara causes the evolution of the prakriti into the manifold universe); and tejas (splendour, which means that Ishvara does not depend on any external aids for creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe).
e) The Five Manifestations of God
* According to Vishishtadvaita, God manifests Himself in five forms:
1) Para, the transcendental form.
2) Vyuha or the divine manifestation as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha for purposes of meditation and creation of the universe.
3) Vibhava or the several incarnations of God in the universal manifestations such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Rama etc
4) Archa, that is, entering into the substance chosen by devotees, as, for example, idols in the sacred temples.
5) Antaryami, that is, residing within the inner recess of our hearts for purposes of meditation.
* Ishvara is the creator of the universe. He creates the universe in accordance with the karma of the individual soul. The purpose of creation is two fold: compassion towards the suffering humanity and divine sport. Creation of the universe is a divine sport from which Ishvara derives ananda. It also serves the purpose of providing the individual soul caught up in the ocean of bondage and opportunity to escape from it and attain the final release.
* The question which is raised here is: if God is all compassionate and if the universe is his own creation, why should there be so much suffering in the universe and such wide disparities in the suffering and happiness of individuals? This is explained, as in all theistic Indian systems, as being the karma of each individual which varies from to another according to past deeds. God dispenses good to those who have done good deeds and evil to those who have done evil deeds.
f) Material Causality of Brahman.
* One of the major problems of Vedanta is to provide a satisfactory explanation of the material causality of Brahman. The Upanishads indicate that Brahman is the material cause (upadana karana) of the universe on the anology of the lump of clay being the material cause of the pot. On the strength of the Upanishadic teaching all Vedantists except Madhva accept that Brahman is the material cause of the universe. The shruti texts also categorically declare that Brahman is immutable, that is, not subject to any kind of change. The causality of Brahman thus needs to be accounted for without affecting the svarupa of Brahman. How is this to be done? Each school of Vedanta attempts to offer an explanation in this regard. There are three important theories of material causality of Brahman:
1) Brahman itself transforms into the universe - a view held by Yadavaprakasha and Bhaskara. This is known as Brahma-parinama-vada.
2) Brahman associated with cit and acit in their subtle form is the material cause of the universe - this view is held by Vishishtadvaita and it may be regarded as modified Brahma-parinama-vada.
3) Brahman as the basis of the illusory appearance of the universe is its material cause. This is the Advaita view known as vivarta-vada.
VIII. Brahman and Universe
a) Refutation of Vivarta-vada theory
* Shri Ramanujacarya in his Shri-bhashya has levelled a seven-fold objection against this doctrine (sapta-vidhanupapatti):
1) ashrayanupapatti: What is the locus or support of maya? Where does avidya reside? If there is any such thing as maya or avidya, we are justified in asking for its seat or abode. Verily, it cannot exist in Brahman, for then the unqualified monism of Brahman would break down. Moreover, Brahman is said to be pure self-luminous consciousness or knowledge and avidya means ignorance. Then how can ignorance exist in knowledge? Again, avidya cannot reside in the individual self, for the individuality of the self is said to be the creation of avidya. How can the cause depend on its affect? Hence avidya cannot exist either in Brahman or the jiva. It is an illusory concept, a figment of the mayavadi's imagination. If it resides anywhere, it resides only in the mind of the mayavadi who has imagined this wonderful pseudo-concept, this logic myth.
2) tirodhananupapatti: How can avidya conceal Brahman? If it does, then Brahman is not self-conscious and self-luminious subject. If Brahman is of the nature of self-luminosity and self proved knowledge, ignorance cannot cover or veil its essence. It is as absurd as to say that darkness can hide light or that night can act as a veil on day.
3) svarupanupapatti: What is the nature of avidya? Is it positive or negative or both or neither? If it is positive how can it be avidya? Avidya means ignorance and ignorance means absence of knowledge. To regard ignorance as positive is to accept self contradiction. Moreover, if ignorance is positive how can it be ever destroyed? No positive entity can be destroyed. As the mayavadi admits that ignorance is removed by knowledge, ignorance can never be positive. And if avidya is negative, then how can it project this world illusion on Brahman? To say that avidya is both positive and negative is to embrace self- contradiction. And to say that it is neither positive or negative is to give up all logic.
4) anirvacaniyatvanupapatti: Avidya is defined by the mayavadi as indefinable; it is described as indescribable. This is a clear self-contradiction. To avoid this the mayavadi says that avidya is not absolutely indescribable, that to call it ‘indescribable’ means that 'it cannot be described as either real or unreal'. But this is absurb. This shows that the mayavadi is giving up all logic. How can a thing be neither real or unreal? This is merely verbal jugglery. Reality and unreality are both exhaustive and exclusive, They are contradictories not contraries. Between themselves they exhaust all possibilities of predication. A thing must be either real or unreal. There is no third alternative. All our cognitions relate to either entities or non-entities. To refute this is to refuse to think. To maintain a third alternative is to reject the well established canons of logic - the law of contradiction and the law of excluded middle.
5)Pramananupapatti: By what pramana or means of valid cognition is avidya cognized? Avidya cannot be perceived , for perception can give us either an entity or a non-entity. It cannot be inferred for inference proceeds through a valid mark or middle term which avidya lacks. Nor can it be maintained on the authority of the scriptures for they declare maya to be a real wonderful power of creating this wonderful world which really belongs to God.
6) Nivartakanupapatti: There is no remover of avidya. The mayavadi believes that knowledge of the unqualified attributeless Brahman removes avidya. But such knowledge is impossible. Discrimination and determination are absolutely essential to knowledge. Pure identity is a mere abstraction. Identity is always qualified by diference and distinction. Hence there can be no knowledge of an undifferentiated attributeless thing. And in the absence of such knowledge nothing can remove avidya.
7) Nivrity-anupapatti: In the last point we were told that there is no remover of avidya. This point tells us that there is no removal of avidya. Avidya is said to be positive (bhava-rupa) by the mayavadi. How, then can a positive thing be removed? A thing which positively exists cannot possibly be removed from existence by knowledge. The bondage of the soul is due to karma which is a concrete reality and cannot be removed by abstract knowledge. It can be removed by karma, jnana, bhakti and prasada. The ignorance of the soul is destroyed when the karmas are destroyed and when the soul flings itself on the absolute mercy of the Lord who, pleased by the souls constant devotion, extends His grace to him.
IX. Sadhana and Mukti
a) Eligibility of Jiva for Moksha
* While considering the basic nature of moksha, two basic questions arise. First, is there scope at all for the soul to escape from the so-called bondage? Secondly, if there be, would all souls be eligible for moksha? The first question arises because of the accepted fact that souls are caught up in the continious cycle of birth and deaths. Karma which causes bondage to the soul is beginningless, and it flows continously like the stream of a river. If jiva is caught up in such a constant stream of births and deaths, would there be any scope for its escape from it? There is a view, according which karma, unless it is experienced, does not cease to have its influence on the individual even after millions of kalpas. How then can jiva escape from bondage?
* It is no doubt true that jiva is passing through the cycle of karma-vidya. Nevertheless, a stage arises in this long march when good karma becomes ripe to provide an opportunity for the individual an escape from bondage. As a result of the meritorious deed performed in earlier births , the individual comes into contact with a man of spiritual wisdom. Through their influence, he earns further merit by doing good deeds and thereby becomes the object of grace of Ishvara. As a result of this he becomes an aspirant for moksha (mumukshu) and thereafter he undertakes Brahmopasana or the meditation on Brahman which is the means to moksha. The upasana helps to get rid of the past karma as well as the karma of the future. Once the jiva becomes free from karma, it achieves moksha.
* It is interesting to note how the jiva becomes a mumukshu, an aspirant for moksha. In the state of dissolution (pralaya) jiva is almost like a non-intelligent material entity. At the time of creation, jiva escapes from this condition and comes back to life being endowed with a physical body and consciousness through the compassion of Ishvara. Even as a living individual, the jiva has to pass through various states of waking, dream, dreamless sleep, death or half-death in the form of swoon.
* All these states involve some amount of suffering that the jiva has to suffer during its lifetime. What is considered to be happiness at this stage is a misnomer. According to men of philosophical wisdom, happiness is comparable to the firefly. It is highly transitory in character. If one realises through philosophic wisdom that life is nothing but suffering (duhkha) and the so-called happiness is rooted only in suffering (duhkha- mula) one naturally looks forward to to the permanent and real happiness. Only such individuals who develop a detachment towards worldy pleasures of evanescent character become the aspirant of moksha.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, jivas are classified as baddhas, those who are in bondage; muktas, those who are released from bondage, and nityas, those who are eternally free, that is, those who never had bondage.
* All jivas are eligible for moksha but, however, only an individual who is desirous of attaining moksha has to endeavour for it by adopting the prescribed sadhana and he will no doubt achieve it with God's grace. God in order to shower this grace looks forward to a sincere desire for release on the part of an individual.
b) Bhakti as the Means to Moksha
* Bhakti as a means or upaya to moksha is defined as unceasing meditation done with love on the Supreme Being. It is thus regarded as knowledge (a mental activity) in the form of love of God. It is generated by scrupulous observance of religious duties as laid down by scripture in accordance with one's varna and ashrama, along with spiritual knowledge. The performance of one's duties and rituals (karma) will have to be observed, as explained in the Gita, purely as a divine service for the pleasure of God (bhagavat-priti) and not in any expectation of any rewards thereof. This in brief is the Vishishtadvaita view of sadhana for moksha.
* The justification for introducing the concept of Bhakti is provided on the authority of a specific passage in the Mund Up. and three relevant verses in the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanidadic text says (Mund Up. 3.2.3) nayam atma pravacanena labhyo, na medhaya na bahuna shrutena / yam evaisha vrinute tena labhyah, atma vivrinute tanum svam. “This self (Brahman) cannot be attained by the study of the Vedas, nor by meditation nor through much hearing. He is to be attained only by one who the self chooses. To such a person, the self reveals the nature.”
* This verse and other in the Gita (11.53-54) seem to contradict the statement in the Brihad-aranyaka Up (6.5.6): atma va are drashtavyah shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyasitavyah, which says that the process of self realization implies shravana (hearing) manana (reflection) and nididhyasana (contemplation). The explanation is that what is negated in that particular verse in Mund.Up is that mere shravana, etc devoid of intense bhakti is of no use for God realzation.
* Therefore it is only the unconditional deep-rooted love for God that serves as a means to know God in His true form, to have this vision and eventually to attain Him. This means that divine vision is possible only through God's grace and in order to earn it one has to be deeply devoted to God.
* Thus the terms such as jnana, upasana, dhyana, dhruvanushmriti, etc which are used in the Upanishads as means of moksha are to be understood to mean the same thing. Otherwise it would amount to the admission of different means of moksha. If the means be different, the goal to be achieved would also be different. Actually, the goal is the same for all, and hence the means should all be the same. Therefore, it is concluded that all these terms, though they appear to have different meanings, should have the meaning of the specific term bhakti, according to the Mimamsha principle of interpretation.
* If jnana alone is considered as the sole means to moksha, as the impersonalists contend, all the upanishadic texts referring to upasana become meaningless. Bhakti as a upaya for moksha is described in the Gita as bhakti-yoga. It is a life-long rigorous discipline involving the acquisition of spiritual knowledge, development of certain ethical virtues and observance of religious duties as laid down by sacred texts.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, bhakti-yoga is to be preceded by the practice of karma-yoga and jnana-yoga referred to in the Bhagavad Gita. Karma-yoga emphasises the disinterested performance of action (karma), such as sacrifice (yajna), charity (dana) and austerity (tapas) as divine service without any expectation of rewards thereof. Jnana-yoga signifies constant meditation upon atma, the individual self with control of the mind and senses. The two are inter-related and the aim of both is self realization (atmavalokana). Both these subserve bhakti, and as such they are the subsidiary means to bhakti-yoga, which is the direct means to God realization.
* The four main requirements or adhikara for bhakti-yoga are:
a) a clear philosophic knowledge of the realms of karma, jnana and bhakti
b) the will to rigorously undergo the discipline in due order
c) the shastric qualification of birth as an essential aid to bhakti, and
d) sattvic patience to endure the prarabdha-karma till it is exhausted or expiated.
* According to Vishishtadvaita, although bhakti is a desirable means to mukti, it is not easily practiced in this age of Kali Yuga owing to its ardousness. But shastra, in its infinite mercy to the erring humanity, guarantees God to all Jivas irrespective to their status and situation in life. It has provided for the weak and infirm an alternate path to mukti known as prapatti, or the absolute self-surrender to God.
* The only pre requisite for prapatti is the change of heart or contrition on the part of the mumukshu and his absolute confidence in the saving grace of God. It is the essence of the religion of prapatti that the Lord of grace seeks the prapanna and draws him to himself. The act has a summary effect, as it destroys even prarabdha-karma.
* The supreme merit of prapatti lies in the universality of its appeal to all casts and classes, the guarantee of salvation to all jivas who cannot follow the arduous path of bhakti.
c) The Nature of Mukti
* In the state of moksha, jiva becomes totally free from the shackles of karma and as such its jnana manifests itself in its fullness. Jiva becomes omniscient and is thus capable of comprehending Brahman in all its splendour. Once this state is reached by jiva there is never a return to the stage of bondage.
* On the strength of scriptural texts, it is admitted that jiva attains a status in moksha almost equal to Brahman. Thus, the shruti says that the jiva in the state of mukti enjoys supreme equality (parama-samya) with the Lord.
* The impersonalists take the text (Mund. Up. 3.2.9) brahma veda brahmaiva bhavati, which literally means that “the knower of Brahman becomes Brahman”, and which implies the identity (tadatmya) of the individual self and the Brahman.
* But the Vishishtadvaita points out that this text does not so much refer to identity as to equality (sadharmya), that means that the individual self attains the status of Brahman rather than that it becomes one with Brahman. The self becomes almost equal to Brahman in every respect except in the matter of the creation. sustenance and dissolution of the universe which belong exclusively to the Lord.
* It is admitted that the individual soul in the state of moksha could assume a body out of its free will (sankalpa) for the purpose of enjoying bliss or for movement. Such a body assumed by the jiva is not a karmic body and as such no bondage is caused to it. The jiva could also remain without a body if he so desires.
D Post-Ramanuja Period
* For nearly two centuries after the advent of Shri Ramanuja, there was no significant contribution to the Vishishtadvaita system by way of major philosophic works. The acaryas who succeeded Ramanuja, though some of them were eminent Vedantists such as Parasara Bhatöa, Vishnucitta, Vatsya Varada, Sudarshana Suri and Atreya Ramanuja confined their attention primarily to the dissemination of the philosophy of Ramanuja. Some of the acaryas such as Pillan, Nanjiyar, Periavaccan Pillai, etc who were attracted by the devotional hymns of the Alvars in Tamil were preocupied with writing elaborate commentaries on them, mainly Nanmalvar's Tiruvaymoli.
* It was at this time that the schism in Shri-vaishnavism became marked and gave rise to the schools of Tenkalai and Vadakalai. The first formulator of the Tenkalai school was Pillai Lokacarya and the head of the Vadakalai was the famous Vedanta Deshika, regarded as the most prominent sucessor of Shri Ramanujacarya. Till now the differences between these two schools persist and they even use different tilaks. However, philosophically speaking, there is no fundamental differences, but it refers basically to matters of opinion. In finding out the heart of Vaishnavism, the works of the Tenkalai school which are mostly in Tamil language are complementary to those of the Vadakalai, and Vedanta Deshika is aclaimed by both the schools in their Vedantic aspect as the defender of Vaishnavism regarded as Vishishöadvaita-darshana.
I. Pillai Lokacarya (1264-1327)
* He was the older contemporary of Vedanta Deshika and is generally regarded as the first proponent of the Tenkalai school. His spiritual master is traced to Ramanuja hierarchically through Periyavaccan Pillai, Nampillai, Nanjiyar, Parasara Bhaööa and Shri Ramanuja. When the muslims sacked Shri Rangam and slaughted the Vaishnavas and commited sacrilege in the temple, he took a leading part in removing the deity to a place of safety. He composed the eighteen Rahasyas or sacred manuals of Tenkalaism, mostly in Manipravala or sanskritized Tamil.
* Pillai Lokacarya was suceeded by Manavala Mahamunigal, who is revered by the Tenkalais as their greatest acarya. The chief contribution of Tenkalaism to the cause of Shri-vaishnavism consists in its democratic dissemination to all people, of the truths of the darshana confined till then to the higher castes.
II. Vedanta Deshika (1268-1369)
* He was born at Tuppil in Kanci and got the name Venkatanatha. His father was Ananta Suri and his mother Totaramba, sister of Atreya Ramanuja. He studied with his uncle Atreya Ramanuja, and it is said that he accompanied him to Vatsya Varadacarya's place, when he was five years old. The story goes that even at such an early age he showed so much precocity that it was predicted by Vatsya Varada that he would become a great pillar of strength for the Vishishöadvaita school.
* Vedanta Deshika was an unrivalled example of jnana and vairagya. It is said that he used to live by uncha-vritti, receiving alms in the streets, and spent all his life in writing philosophical and religious works. While he lived in Kanci and Shri Rangam, he had to work in the midst of various rival sects, and Pillai Lokacarya, who was senior to him in age and was the supporter of the Tenkalai school, against which Vedanta Deshika fought, wrote a verse in praise of him. Though the leaders of these two schools were actuated by a spirit of sympathty with one another, their followers made much of the differences in their views and constantly quaralled with one another, and it is a well known fact that these sectarian quarrells exist even today. During the general massacare at the temple of Shri Rangam, Vedanta Deshika hid himself amongst the dead bodies and fled ultimately to Mysore.
* It is important to note that Vedanta Deshika had to accomplish two major tasks - the first was refutation of the Mayavadi philosophy which undermined the fundamental tenants of Vishishöadvaita, and the second and greater task was to present a constructive exposition of the fundemental doctrines of Vishishöadvaita. The first task was fulfilled by writing an independent polemical work entitled Shatadushani. As the title suggests, one hundred philosophical issues were addressesd for systematic criticism by adopting the dialetical method. Vedanta Deshika was a prolific writer and he wrote more than a hundred works not only in the realm of philosophy and religion but also in the field of poetry and drama. His chief works, besides Shatadushani, are Tattva-mukta-kalapa, Nyaya-parishuddhi, Nyaya-siddhanjana, Sarvartha-siddhi, Tattra-öika (a commentary on Shri-bhashya) and many others.
III. Differences between Tenkalai and Vadakalai Schools.
* The split between these two schools widened in course of time and the patrams or laudatory verses recited in the temple worship today in praise of leading acaryas are a signal for sectarian strife, though there is no actually intrinsic cause for such dissention.
* Some divergent points are:
a) Tenkalai school emphasizes the value of the Tamil Prabandha over all Sanskrit scriptures and regards the Alvars as in higher levels in terms of religious authority. The Vedakalai gives emphasis to Sanskrit literature and gives equal value to the rishis and Alvars.
b) According to Vadakalai school, Shri Lakshmi Devi possesses the same spiritual status as Shriman Narayana. They are One, although seperated. Yet the Tenkalai school stresses the logic of monotheism that only Narayana is the Supreme. Shri Lakshmi would be a special category of jiva above all else.
c) While the Vadakalai school afirms that bhakti-yoga and prapatti-yoga as sadhyopaya, or the means to moksha which has to be affected by the aspirant, the Tenkalai school interprets prapatti not as a yoga or human endeavour, but a mere faith in the grace of God. The Vedakalai says that the Tenkalai denial of human initiative as requisite condition of redemption leads to the predication of arbitrariness and favouritism in the divine will.
d) The Tenkalai view is based on nirhetuka-kaöaksha, or grace not arising from any cause, and its position is compared to the marjara-nyaya analogy -'the cat carrying the kitten in its mouth'. Yet the Vadakalai view is based on sahetuka-kaöaksha, or grace arising from a cause, and its position is compared to the markaöa-nyaya analogy -'the young monkey clinging to the mother for protection'.