1. Sri Ramanuja's View on Logos (Sruti)
Introduction: All the six schools of orthodox Hindu philosophy hold that the Vedas are divine revelation.
While the various schools differ outwardly on their perception of the exact nature of the Vedic revelation, they all accept
the authority of the Vedas and hold that the Vedas are the key to salvation of humanity. The six systems also differ in their
world view, and the path to salvation.
Vedanta has its own view about the nature of God ('Brahman'), His relation to this Universe and to humanity,
the way by which humans can attain salvation, and finally the nature of the state of salvation.
Vedanta states that its principal subject matter viz. Brahman is, in reality, beyond perception and description
by any of the senses. Thus, for instance, a famous Upanisadic text reads: "He (Brahman) cannot be grasped with words, from
Him speech returns" (Taittiriya Upanisad) and so on. Thus, the scriptures (the Vedas) are the only valid means of comprehending
Him, since they have been revealed by Him. In particular, the dominant school of Advaita Vedanta of Sri Samkaracarya held
that Brahman is devoid of all attributes and so cannot be described through speech. And yet, Sri Samkaracarya held that argument
can be used as the handmaiden towards arriving at the correct import of scripture.
Sri Ramanuja held, in contrast to Advaitins, that Brahman cannot be attributeless. Yet, he postulated that
the form and nature of Brahman is unique, something that cannot be described or stated. However, he too held that scriptural
statements that are contrary to logic are worthless and that in such cases, the statement should be interpreted so as to bring
out its metaphorical sense.
Revelation and the Role of God: The Mimamsa school of Philosophy had developed an elaborate theory regarding
the logical interpretation as well as origination of logos. This theory was accepted in toto by Vedantins, but they did not
restrict themselves to the arguments stated by the Mimamsakas. Both the schools held that the Vedas were 'Apaurusheya'. This
designation implied that the words, their order, their accents, the relationships between the words and their meanings and
their mutual relationships were eternal and uncreated. The Mimamsakas stopped at that, for this understanding of the nature
of the Vedas was sufficient for their flawless performance of ritual - their primary concern. In fact, some sub-schools of
Mimamsa, such as the followers of Bhatta Kumarila, did not admit the possibility of the existence of God, since God was of
no relevance to the flawless performance of ritual. Some, like Bhartrmitra went a step farther and declared that those parts
of the Vedas that did not concern themselves with rituals were merely eulogistic in nature.
Vedantins of all hues vehemently opposed this attitude of the Mimamsakas and decried the restricted meaning
they gave to the term 'Apauruseya' applied to the Vedas. Sri Ramanuja, while accepting the meaning of 'Apauruseya' according
to the Mimamsakas also insisted upon the acceptance of the role of Brahman in the process of revelation.
Sri Ramanuja said that the creation periodically undergoes a Grand Dissolution, when all created entities,
the demigods like Brahma (Hiranyagarbha), Siva and even the Vedas suffer destruction. Two consecutive Grand Dissolutions are
interspersed by several partial dissolutions, during which the Vedas disappear, but entities like Hiranyagarbha survive. This
cycle of creation/destruction has been going on for eternity.
At the beginning of each creation, after the Grand Dissolution is over, Brahman creates the Universe afresh,
exactly as in the previous cycle. He intuitively remembers the eternal Vedas and reveals them to Hiranyagarbha (Brahma). The
latter, in turn reveals them to Rishis (Seers) who preach them in the original word order, accent etc. to several others and
thus, the Vedas are promulgated from one generation to another without alteration or destruction. However, at each partial
dissolution, the Vedas are lost and thereafter, the Rishis recall them by virtue of their latent mental impressions (samskaras).
In other words, the Vedas are always present with Brahman in their latent form and are made manifest by Him
at the beginning of each creation subsequent to a Grand Dissolution. Thereafter, Hiranygarbha takes over the promulgation
of Vedas to mankind and from him, the Rishis look after their survival. In this way, the eternity of the Vedas, i.e., their
'Apaurusheyaness' is ensured and so also the role of Brahman in their revelation.
Ramanuja adduces another reason for the eternal nature of the Vedas, one which clearly contrasts the position
adopted by the Mimamsakas. The latter preach that all Vedic statements enjoin some action, while Vedantins hold that Brahman
is the goal of all Vedic Revelation. Also, Brahman is 'kutastha' and 'satyasya satyam', i.e., eternal and unchangeable. If
the subject matter, viz. Brahman, is eternal, the eternity of Vedas is established automatically. To summarize, the eternity
of the Vedas lies in the fact that they are rooted in Brahman's essence rather than in His will.
Refutation of Sri Prabhakara's view on the nature of Sruti:
At the time of Sri Ramanuja, there were two main schools of Mimamsa- The school of Sri Kumarila Bhatta and
the school of Sri Prabhakara, the pupil of Sri Kumarila. Sri Prabhakara opined that the meaning of a word can be learned from
our preceptor or parent when they act it out to us. In other words, all words naturally denote some action to be performed.
Hence, all those words and sentences which describe something existent are merely of an auxiliary nature since they have been
used for such a purpose - a purpose that is different from their natural one.
From this it follows that the concluding portions of Vedas, viz. the Upanisads, also are auxiliary to the
former parts viz. the Brahmanas. As a corollary, Brahmavidya (spiritual portions of scriptures) constitutes a 'barren' or
a 'laudatory' portion of the Vedas having no independent authority. To summarize, the Vedas are essentially prescriptive rather
than fact assertive. They cannot be used as an authoritative source of knowledge for existence and description of some transcendent
full blown entity such as Brahman.
Sri Ramanuja refutes this theory of the nature of the 'word' by adopting the technique of reductio ad absurdum
and also by showing that Sri Prabhakara's understanding of the theory of language is erroneous. Firstly, he makes the ritualist
confess that all action is performed with some fruit that would result from the same. This fruit is some form of pleasure.
The result is that Sri Prabhakara's view can be summarized as- 'All the Vedas preach the performance of actions that lead
to some happiness and pleasure.' This view is nothing but disguised materialism - as Sri Ramanuja opines, and so is to be
Another opinion of the Mimansakas was that it is redundant to assume the presence of some Supernatural Entity
that bestows the fruits of one's actions. For this purpose, it was sufficient for them to postulate the principle of 'Apurva'
which performed the aforesaid functions. Thus, in their opinion, the scriptural passages concerning gods etc. were arthavadas
(laudatory) and not vidhi (injunctions).
The Vedantins opposed this opinion tooth and nail. They said that the scriptures dwelt at just as great a
length on the nature and activities of gods as of the glorious nature of the ritual itself. Hence, the adhyatmika (spiritual)
and adhidaivika (cosmological) portions of the Vedas must also have equal validity with the adhiyajnika (ritualistic) portions.
As a corollary, the Upanisads are as valid as the Brahmana and the Mantra portions of the Vedas.
Finally, through razor sharp arguments, Sri Ramanuja proves that scriptural passages must have a referent
and it is not preposterous to propose Brahman to serve this purpose. This is because Brahman is the inner abiding soul (anataryamin)
of the entire creation and therefore all nouns must ultimately refer to Him.
Sri Ramanuja on the Interpretation of Logos:
The Nyaya school of Hindu Philosophy recognizes four sources of knowledge: Direct Perception (Pratyaksha)
, Inference (Anumana) , Valid Testimony/Scripture (Sabda), and Comparison (Upamana). Visistadvaita Vedanta recognizes the
first three but admits only the third for gaining an understanding of Brahman. This is because it is held that Brahman is
beyond description and comprehension by ordinary means and so it is only Divine revelation that can describe Him. However,
all Vedantins distinguish between the a) 'word knowledge' of Brahman derived by a study of scriptures together with their
correct understanding and interpretation, which in turn prepares one for b) an intuition of the nature of Brahman.
This leads us to the mutual differences of the various schools amongst Vedanta on the utility of Scripture
in understanding the nature of Brahman. The Advaitins postulate a two fold Brahman - a "lower" Saguna Brahman (with attributes)
and a "higher" Nirguna (attributeless) Brahman. Sri Samkaracarya holds that Nirguna Brahman is pure consciousness and a perfect
non-differentiated entity. Hence It cannot be designated by any word or sentences of scripture.
To suit this line of reasoning, scriptural statements like "Reality, Knowledge and Infinity is Brahman" (Taittiriya
Upanisad) are interpreted by Advaitins in a particular way in which the qualifications Reality and Infinity are taken as mere
qualifications of the word Knowledge. Also, according to them, these two words merely state that Brahman is not finite and
is not something that is subject to change. In other words, these merely denote a Nirguna Brahman rather than positively qualifying
Sri Ramanuja criticizes this theory of language of the Advaitins. He says that language is composed of words
and sentences. Considering the word first, it is formed by the conjunction of the radical element and the suffix. Through
its radical element a particular word keeps its root sense in various verbal forms, but through its different suffixes, it
undergoes differentiation as to gender, number and case. Thus, differentiation in words inherently leads to a differentiation
in and of objects. Therefore language, inclusive of Sruti, as composed of words and sentences, is intrinsically incapable
of making known a pure and a homogeneous entity like the Brahman of the Advaitins. Now, Sri Ramanuja argues, the sole purpose
of scripture is to teach a transcendental entity like Brahman. And, if it is incapable of doing even that, as the Advaitins
argue, then the scripture becomes totally redundant.
Sri Ramanuja's Theory of Correlative Predication:
As stated above, Advaitins interpret Upanisadic statements in a particular manner to uphold their theory of
two-fold Brahman. Let us review Sri Ramanuja's critique of the Advaitin interpretation of two such texts- Taittiriya Upanisad
2.1.1 and Chhandogya Upanisad 6.8.7
Now, Taittiriya Upanisad 2.2.2 reads "Satyam jnanam anantam Brahman" or Reality, Knowledge and Infinity is
Brahman. Sri Ramanuja enters into the nuances of Sanskrit grammar and argues that correlative predication is the application
to one object of more than one word having different grounds for their occurrence. Since in this text, all the three adjectives
have the same ending and are in neuter gender, they qualify Brahman equally and simultaneously.
Sri Samkaracarya too agrees to this rule of grammar, but says that these should be ignored in the case of
texts treating of the nature of Brahman. Ramanuja decries these text torturing interpretations of the Advaitins and says that
by having to resort to oblique meanings in such a large number of cases, by appealing to a foreclosed intention of scripture,
and by shifting the onus of correlative predication to the epistemological side, the Advaitin has taken too much liberty with
the rules of Sanskrit grammar.
He argues that since a non-literal meaning of scriptural statements ought to be preferred to a literal one
only when there are sufficient grounds for doing so, and since the Advaitins are resorting to circular reasoning in the interpretation
of such texts, such a treatment of the sacred texts is totally unwarranted. In other words, this text does refer to a qualified
entity Brahman who has all the qualities as mentioned in the text. Such an interpretation allows Sri Ramanuja to postulate
a Brahman that is at once transcendental as well as supreme.
Chhandogya Upanisad 6.8.7 reads: "Tat tvam asi" or 'That thou are'. The Advaitin takes this scriptural statement
again as a reaffirmation of his thesis that the Ultimate Reality is a pure, undifferentiated entity. Ramanuja differs and
offers and alternate explanation on the basis of his 'sarira-saririn model' as follows: He states that the inanimate universe,
as well as the jivas (individual souls), may be considered as constituting the "body" of Brahman. Further, they are His modes
('prakara') and He is the Mode Possessor. Just as when we call someone 'Hari' or 'Rama' , we are referring to the aggregate
of the jiva and the body that this jiva (soul) animates, and just as the body cannot exist independent of the soul, so also,
the "body" (the world, jagat, and the infinite jivas, or living beings) of Brahman cannot be conceived as being independent
of Brahman. Moreover, every word finds its first denotative stopping place in its natural referent and since this referent
is Brahman's mode, its final denotative stopping place is Brahman himself, the mode possessor. Consequently, it is in this
sense that the statement of Chhandogya Upanisad is made.
To summarize, Sri Ramanuja states that far from propounding an absolute identity of Brahman with animate and
inanimate creation, such statements affirm an identity-in-difference relation between Brahman and the world. Sri Ramanuja
thus believes that by adopting this principle of theology, he can interpret both the monistic and the dualistic statements
of the Upanisads literally, unlike the Advaitins who are constrained to interpret the latter figuratively.
Further, Sri Ramanuja adds that the Advaitin assertion that Brahman is, in essence, a non differentiated entity,
is also contradicted by scriptural statements like - "That (Brahman) thought, 'Let Me be many." (Aitreya Upanisad)