Page 2 - Writings and Visistadvaita: The Philosophy of Sri Vaisnavism
The Writings of
During his lifetime Ramanuja
wrote relatively few works compared to Sankara
or Madhva, but what he did write had a major impact on the
development of Vaisnavism in India. In fact Ramanuja
has left us with nine works: Sri-bhasya, Vedanta-dipa, Vedanta-sŒra, Vedanta-samgraha,
three prose works (gadyas): Saranagati-gadya, Sriranga-gadya and Vaikuntha-gadya,
the Gita-bhasya and Nitya-grantha.
Unfortunately, Ramanuja wrote no commentaries
on the Upanisads as did his colleagues Sankara
The Sri-bhasya is Sri Ramanuja's magnum opus.
It is his commentary on Bodhayana's Vedanta-sutra. It was completed when he was around a hundred years old.
Here Ramanuja presents the fundamental philosophical
principles of Visistadvaita based on his interpretation of the Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita and
other smrti texts, the previous acaryas, and
of course the Vedanta-sutra itself.
This is done by way of refuting Sankara's advaita-vedanta and
in particular his theory of maya. In
his Sri-bhasya he describes the
three categories of reality (tattvas): God, soul and matter, which have been used by the later
Vaisnava theologians including Madhva. The principles
of bhakti as a means to liberation (moksa)
are also developed. The Vedanta-dipa and
the Vedanta-sara are also commentaries
of the Vedanta-sutra, although in more
The Vedanta-samgraha is a summary of Ramanuja's
views on the important Upanisads. In particular it is an exposition of the doctrines
of categories of reality (tattva), the means to liberation,
the goals of human life (purusarthas), the supremacy of Visnu and the powers of God. Next is Ramanuja's
famous commentary of the Bhagavad-gita called the Gita-bhasya.
In this work Ramanuja establishes the Supremacy
of Visnu in the form of Krsna and discusses
the details of bhakti-yoga, jnana-yoga,
karma-yoga as the means to moksa. He also
briefly discusses the Sri Vaisnava principal
of prapatti or selfless surrender to God. The three gadyas are prose lyrics that also expound
the doctrine of selfless surrender to God. Finally the Nitya-grantha explains
the daily rituals and the mode of worship for Sri Vaisnavas.
The writings of Ramanujacarya
are most important because they provide a systematic account
of the philosophic and religious principles of devotion for
the first time in the history of Vaisnavism. Before
Ramanuja's we only had pieces of such an approach.
Ramanuja's writings also demonstrated how Vaisnavism
could logically standup in the face of Sankara's advaita-vedanta.
Visistadvaita: The Philosophy of Sri Vaisnavism
The system of philosophy held by
the Sri Vaisnavas and taught by Ramanujacarya
is known as Visistadvaita. The term advaita literally means non-dualism (na
dvaita) and it stresses the oneness of ultimate Reality.
This philosophical perspective is also called monism. In
Hindu thought there are many schools that uphold the principle
of monism although they do not all agree when it comes to
determining in what sense Reality is one. The main problem
of monism is to account for the diversity of the world and
souls within the world. The issue that faces a monist is
as follows: How does the One become many? In other words
how does the one Reality relate to the diverse world of matter
and spirit? There are a number of ways to resolve this important
theological problem. The way proposed by Sankara's
school of absolute monism, called advaita, was to
conclude that the world is ultimately not real, but only
a phenomenal appearance of Reality. Ultimate Reality is absolutely
one in the sense that it does not admit any kind of differentiation
(visesa). Such an interpretation of monism implies the denial
of reality to both the world and to the individual souls
within this world. Both are unreal. The fact that we see
distinction within this world and a plurality of souls is
accounted for by the doctrine of illusion (mayavada). It is only due to illusion that
we see this world as real and fail to see the oneness. Thus Sankara's
form of monism is sometimes called mayavada.
The approach to the theology of monism as held by Sri Vaisnavas
and Ramanuja is different. Sri Vaisnavas
propose that ultimate Reality, although one, is not Absolute
without any differentiation. They admit the reality of the
world and the plurality of souls within this world. The world
appears real because it is real and not due to some form
of illusion (maya) as Sankara proposes. Accordingly
Ramanuja teaches three fundamental categories
of Reality: God (isvara), soul (cit), and matter (acit). On the basis of the principle of organic relation
he upholds that ultimate Reality is one as a unity. God,
as the creator of the world, is the immanent ground or inner
soul of existence. God sustains and controls both the individual
souls as well as matter. Soul and matter are dependant on
God for their very existence and are organically related
to God in the same way as the physical body is related to
the soul within. The oneness of Reality is understood not
in the sense of absolute identity, but as an organic unity.
Though there is absolute difference between God and the other
two categories of Reality, and for that matter between soul
and matter, ultimate Reality is considered one because as
an organic unity it is one. In this sense Ramanuja's
philosophy may be defined as "oneness of the organic
unity" (visistadvaita). More commonly visistadvaita is
translated as "differentiated" monism (visistadvaita)
as opposed to Sankara's absolute monism (advaita).
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Philosophical System, with an account of Ramanuja and
Vaishavism. Madras: G. A. Natesan, 1911? (Microfiche)
Swami, The Life of Sri Ramanuja, Madras: Sri Ramakrishna
Srinivasa Chari, S. M. Visistadvaita Vedanta. Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.
Dewan Bahadur, The Sri Vaishnava Brahmans. Delhi: Gian Publishing House, 1986.
Surendranath, A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume III.
Delhi: Motilal Banasidass, 1975.
"Ramanuja." Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 Encyclopedia
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