VisishtAthwaitham – Sri Ramanuja

Srivaishnavam  Parambaryam, Traditions &  The Culture that stands Class apart from others
Essence of Srivaishnavam Practices – Sri Ramanuja & Visishtathvaitham


Vanamamali Dr.T.D. Muralidharan

(Director , Ubhaya Vedanta International Research Centre , Mumbai )

The six systems of Hindu Philosophy have come down to us from hoary antiquity. These systems of philosophy fall in to three groups, viz., Nyaya and Vaisesika, Sankhya and Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Each system has its own special field of inquiry, where it zealously defends its findings, but in other matters it is content to borrow from the others. Mimamsa is also called Purva Mimamsa and the Uttara mimamsa. Uttara Mimamsa is also called Vedanta. The Purva Mimamsa is so called because it aims at a rational settlement of the doubtful points in the initial or rituality portion (Karma Kanda) of the Vedas, while the Uttara-Mimamsa or Vedanta deals with their final or Philosophical portion (Jnana kanda), which consists of the Upanisads.

The compiler of the Vedas is Vyasa and Vyasa himself is the author of Brahma Sutra. Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhava are the commentators of the Brahma Sutra. Sankara is the founder of Advaita and Madhava is the founder of Dvaita school of thought, whereas Ramanuja is the expounder of Visistadvaita philosophy. It means before Ramanuja, the Visistadvaita School was established by various Acharyas like Nathamuni, and Yamunamuni. Ramanuja followed his Acharya’s path and expounded the system far and wide.

In the Vedantma Philosophy, Prasthanatraya are important I.e. 1. the commentary for Brahma Sutra 2. The commentary for Upanisads and 3. the commentary for Gita. Madhava and Sankara did commentaries for the three which is commonly called prasthanatraya. Ramanuja too did commentary for Brahma Sutra and for Bhagavad Gita, but he did not do commentary for Upanisad as Sankara and Madhava did. Now the question arises why Ramanuja did not make commentary for Upanisad?

It seems that many of the places Ramanuja agrees with the view of Sankara in Upanisad Bhasya. Why we have to say about Upanisad Bhasya, even in Brahma Sutra Bhasya, in many places, Ramanuja agrees with the view of Sankara. We can see, in some of the places in Ramanuja’s Sri Bhasya is the verbatim of Sankara Bhasya. It clearly shows that where ever he differed with Sankara, there his writings shows the keenness of his intellect, the vastness of his learning, and the sincerity and seriousness of his character and depth of his devotion. He was an excellent mediator in controversies and he had no harsh word anywhere for his opponents.

Ramanuja’s system of religious philosophy is called Visistadvaita or Visista Advaita to distinguish it from Sri Sankaracharya’s Advaita. There are some passages or texts in the Upanisads which state that Brahman alone exists and that there is no second to it. Basing his system on such texts, Sankara maintains that there is only one single reality or Real, namely Brahman. The multitudinous objects and beings which we see around, above and below us in the universe are, according to him, unreal and illusory appearances like the mirage and like the silver which sometimes appears as an illusion on the shell. The world that exists around us consists of sentient beings, chit and non-sentient things, achit. Sankara holds that all these are illusory projections (mithya) on the only real entity which is Brahman. His system of philosophy is, therefore, called Advaita, the philosophy which treats of only one Reality without the second. Sankara states that this Brahman has no attributes or qualities by which it can be described or defined and that we can only speak of it as mere consciousness (Chit or Jnana). It is not consciousness, which is conscious of anything within it or outside of it, for there is nothing else within it or outside of it. It is the only real and nothing more can be said of it except that it is the opposite of non-existence, non-consciousness and finiteness.

Ramanuja interprets these texts which declare the oneness of Brahman and its having no second in the universe in the different way. According to him, Brahman is said to be the only Reality in the Srutis or Upanisads in the same way as a man who has a body and the senses in addition to his soul, or atma is said to be a single entity. In fact the passage referred to already in the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad called Antaryami Brahmana declares, in unmistakable terms, that the Universe consisting of sentient beings, jives and non-sentient things (matter) are all the body of Brahman and that Brahman is their inner self or soul.

All sentient, be they gods, men animals or plants, are the body of Brahman and, like wise, all inanimate things are its body. On the authority of such texts, Ramanuja explains the passage stating Brahman to be the only Reality as meaning that Brahman that has for its body the universe of sentient beings and non-sentient things (Chit and achit) is the only real. The body is an attribute or viseshana of the self. So the universe consisting of Chit and Achit, which, according to Srutis, is the body of Brahman, is a Viveshana or attribute of Brahman. Unlike Sankara, Ramanuja holds that Brahman has an infinite number of auspicious qualities and finds many passages in the Upanishads to support his view. So the Reality that the Srutis speak of is Brahman with tis Viseshanas or attributes and qualities (Chit and Achit and Gunas). All these are as real as Brahman itself and being inseparable from their inner self or soul, they are included in Brahman when it is declared to be the only real. Ramanuja’s religious philosophy is therefore called Visista Advaita or the philosophy that treats of the one Reality, namely Brahman, with all its inseparable attributes or Viseshanas included within it.

TRS Iyengar

TRS Iyengar

Born on Makara Uthiradam star, native of Mukkur and brought up in Ladavaram village near Arcot and now well settled in Mumbai for over five decades. Presently, at 70, trying to run this website without any commercial expectations or profit motive, just for the sake of our future generations to understand about Sanatana Dharma & Srivaishnavam sampradayam.Within my limited knowledge that I put it here, what I learnt from the world.

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