Sunday, October 24, 2010

Basic Doctrine of Visistadvaita Vedanta

Visistadvaita is qualified non-dualism. Though the school existed much earlier, Ramanujacarya was the best proponent of the school. Hence it came to be known as Ramanuja darsana. Specifically, his commentary on Brahma Sutras is called Sri Bhashya.

Visistadvaita is closely related to Sri Vaishnava, hence it is seen more as a philosophy of religion rather than an independent spiritual philosophy that is followed by any religion.

Visistadvaita as the term indicates is Advaita that accepts viseshas. Visistadvaitins accept basic advaita or non-duality of jiva and para. In the liberated state jiva is para. Jiva has viseshas of consciousness in unliberated state, unlike in Advaita where jiva is just a witness even in unliberated state (in fact liberation is not for the jivatma, it is for the entity jiva consisting of sukshma sarira etc, which is bound by Prakriti or Maya).

Visistadvaitins accept three pramanas or sources for knowledge: pratyaksha, anumana, sabda.

There are three Tatvas (Tatva-traya) - Isvara, Jiva and Prakriti. Isvara or Brahman is the only independent reality. Jiva and Prakriti are realities dependent on Brahman.


Both nirguna brahman and Isvara are accepted and worshipped. Entire world is the play or lila of Isvara. And Isvara hence could be worshipped as sakara. This can also be understood in the light that Visistadvaita is religion + philosophy. Both upasana and Vedanta are closely knit.

The eternal is said to be five-fold, and worshipped in these five forms:

Para - The eternal being. This is Sri Maha Vishnu in times of non-creation in Vaikuntha, sleeping in the coils of infinity.
Vyuha - The one with four aspects, Sankarshana, Vasudeva, Pradyumna and Aniruddha (Vishnu Sahasranama praises Him as caturvyuha, or having four vyuhas).
Antaryamin - The One (as soul) that pervades all creation.
Vibhava - The glorious incarnations of God, such as Sri Rama and Sri Krishna.
Arca - The forms of worship, such as incarnations, idols. Example of Arca-avatara is Venkateswara.


Jiva (individual soul) is said to be anu (indivisible), avyakta (unmanifest), acintya (unthinkable), nirvikara (having no distortion or transformation) and jnanasraya (the abode of knowledge). Jiva is an indivisible part of Isvara.

There are three types of Jivas, bound, liberated and eternal. Any Jiva prior to liberation or moksha is said to be bound. Post liberation the Jiva is mukta, and merges in Isvara. There are eternal jives too, that are not bound but exist - such as devatas, consorts, servants, vehicles of Vishnu (Garuda, Java-Vijaya etc).


Prakriti is the cause of manifestation. It causes the three consciousness qualities, satva, rajas and tamas. There are two forms of satva, suddha satva and misra satva. Suddha satva is one that is not touched by rajas and tamas - this is the one that manifests in Vaikuntha, creating the “eternal” beings like Garuda and Ananta. This is said to be nitya vibhuti. The phenomenal world is caused by misra satva, a combination of all the three qualities. This is said to be lila vibhuti.


Visistadvaita does not accept the jivanmukti concept of Advaita. According to Visistadvaita, liberation is possible only after the jiva leaves the body. There are different types in this. One is reaching Isvara after death. Another is reaching higher worlds (like swarga) after death, and moving to still higher worlds and ultimately reaching Isvara sannidhya. This is called krama (gradual, stepwise) mukti.

There are four kinds of Isvara sannidhya, in ascending order of evolution:

Salokya - Living in the world of Isvara (ex. Vaikuntha)
Sameepya - Living close to Isvara
Sarupya - Looking just like Isvara
Sayujya - Becoming one with Isvara

Moksha sadhana

There are three concepts in path to liberation, Tatva, hita and purushartha. Tatvas are three as discussed. Hita is fivefold, swa-swarupa (knowing the nature of self), para-swarupa (knowing the nature of the eternal), purushartha swarupa (fulfillment of purposes or goals of life - dharma, Artha, kama and moksha), upaya swarupa (means methods or paths to moksha) and virodhi swarupa (obstacles in attainment of moksha).

There are five avarodhas (virodhi) or obstacles in the path of evolution: Obstacles in realizing self, in realizing God, in liberation, in following means to realization and in attainment of goals

Moksha Upaya is fivefold:

Karma - this includes karma kanda, panca maha yajnas, dhyana, japa etc.

Jnana - This includes vairagya, dhyana, nididhyasana etc found in jnana marga.

Bhakti - This includes devotion and worship. There are seven aids for bhakti, viveka (discrimination and purity), vimoka (detachment), abhyasa (practice), kriya (works, specifically the panca maha yajnas), kalyana (truthfulness, peace of mind, gentleness etc), anavasada (untouched by sorrow or disappointment), anuddharsha (untouched by excitement).

Prapatti (or saranagati) - Prapatti is consecration and surrender. This includes surrender of ego, doing things only to please God and abstaining from all that action that on the contrary (take one towards worldliness), having faith and attributing one’s own caretaking to Isvara.

Acaryabhimana - Having faith in, respecting and following teachers’ words.

The Seven objections to Sri Sri Shankara's Advaita:

Srimad Ramanuja picks out what he sees as seven fundamental flaws in the Advaita philosophy to revise them. He argues:

I. The nature of Avidya. Avidya must be either real or unreal; there is no other possibility. But neither of these is possible. If Avidya is real, non-dualism collapses into dualism. If it is unreal, we are driven to self-contradiction or infinite regress.

II. The incomprehensibility of Avidya. Advaitins claim that Avidya is neither real nor unreal but incomprehensible {anirvachaniya.} All cognition is either of the real or the unreal: the Advaitin claim flies in the face of experience, and accepting it would call into question all cognition and render it unsafe.

III. The grounds of knowledge of Avidya. No pramana can establish Avidya in the sense the Advaitin requires. Advaita philosophy presents Avidya not as a mere lack of knowledge, as something purely negative, but as an obscuring layer which covers Brahman and is removed by true Brahma-vidya. Avidya is positive nescience not mere ignorance. Srimad Ramanuja argues that positive nescience is established neither by perception, nor by inference, nor by scriptural testimony. On the contrary, Srimad Ramanuja argues, all cognition is of the real.

IV. The locus of Avidya. Where is the Avidya that gives rise to the (false) impression of the reality of the perceived world? There are two possibilities; it could be Brahman's Avidya or the individual soul's {jiva.} Neither is possible. Brahman is knowledge; Avidya cannot co-exist as an attribute with a nature utterly incompatible with it. Nor can the individual soul be the locus of Avidya: the existence of the individual soul is due to Avidya; this would lead to a vicious circle.

V. Avidya's obscuration of the nature of Brahman. Sankara would have us believe that the true nature of Brahman is somehow covered-over or obscured by Avidya. Srimad Ramanuja regards this as an absurdity: given that Advaita claims that Brahman is pure self-luminous consciousness, obscuration must mean either preventing the origination of this (impossible since Brahman is eternal) or the destruction of it - equally absurd.

VI. The removal of Avidya by Brahma-vidya. Advaita claims that Avidya has no beginning, but it is terminated and removed by Brahma-vidya, the intuition of the reality of Brahman as pure, undifferentiated consciousness. But Srimad Ramanuja denies the existence of undifferentiated {nirguna} Brahman, arguing that whatever exists has attributes: Brahman has infinite auspicious attributes. Liberation is a matter of Divine Grace: no amount of learning or wisdom will deliver us.

VII. The removal of Avidya. For the Advaitin, the bondage in which we dwell before the attainment of Moksa is caused by Maya and Avidya; knowledge of reality (Brahma-vidya) releases us. Srimad Ramanuja, however, asserts that bondage is real. No kind of knowledge can remove what is real. On the contrary, knowledge discloses the real; it does not destroy it. And what exactly is the saving knowledge that delivers us from bondage to Maya? If it is real then non-duality collapses into duality; if it is unreal, then we face an utter absurdity.

No comments:

Post a Comment