4. The Nature of Brahman
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4. The Nature of Brahman

Sri Ramanuja's Definitions and Descriptions of the Divine Nature:

Most literary compositions of Hindu Dharma commence with a verse or a prose passage of an auspicious nature. These passages are called 'Mangalacarana' or 'Mangalaslokas.' Ramanuja's works are no exception. If we compare the attributes of the divine as described in the mangalaslokas of four works - Vedarthasamgraha, Sri Bhasya, Vedantadipa and Vedantasara, it is apparent that they are saturated with devotion of an emotional type towards a personal deity (Lord Visnu along with His divine consort Sri) and a complete surrender to His mercy and will. And yet, the description does not deviate from the philosophical doctrines of Visistadvaita .

Rather, it appears that these devotional aspects are intertwined, or superimposed, on a Visistadvaitic framework. Thus, Sri Ramanuja does not fail to mention that the Supreme Being is the inner abiding soul of the entire Universe (animate as well as inanimate). The verses dwell upon the auspicious qualities of Lord Visnu (Kalyanagunas) and state that he is totally devoid of all negative attributes.

In his Sri Bhasya and elsewhere, Sri Ramanuja has given several definitions of Brahman. All these definitions, although not very systematic, are quite in tune with each other, as well as with the contents of the managalaslokas. Thus, the transcendental nature of the Lord is described, it is stated that He is an infinite repository of all kalyanagunas and is free of any negative qualities. At the same time, the personal aspect of the Supreme Being is also touched upon and God is depicted as a benevolent being who showers His mercy on His devotees. Whether the context warrants it or not, Sri Ramanuja does not fail to mention these attributes of God whenever he treats of the nature of God.

From all these descriptions of the Lord in his works, Sri Ramanuja appears to be countering, by proxy, the Advaitic position that the ultimate nature of the Supreme Being is that which is without any attributes. In contrast, Sri Ramanuja states that the ultimate nature of the Supreme Being comprises a host of auspicious qualities to an infinite extent and a total absence of negative qualities. This is in line with Sri Ramanuja's emphasis on devotion to Lord, for how is surrender and devotion possible towards a Being Who is devoid of any attributes. Here and there, especially in his commentary on the Gita, Sri Ramanuja tends to equate his Supreme Being with the divine pair of Sri Visnu and Sri Laksmidevi.

A significant passage in the Vedarthasamgraha tries to reconcile the description of the Person God elucidated by Ramanuja with the rigorous definition of the nature of God. Sri Ramanuja does not see any contradiction or mutual exclusiveness in the Impersonal and the Personal aspects of God. This is because, as Sri Ramanuja states, the inherent nature of the Supreme Reality is one of positive attributes. Hence, it is but fitting that a person desirous of salvation should dwell upon these glorious attributes of God. For instance, God is an ocean of mercy and therefore a devotee should seek to surrender himself to the will of God with devotion.

Svarupa and Svabhava: Two kinds of Divine Essence:

Brahmasutra 1.1.2 reads - "From Whom origination etc." Commenting on this aphorism, Sri Samkaracarya states that Brahman is that entity from which arises the Universe, by Whom all this is sustained and in Whom it eventually dissolves. He further adds that this aphorism delineates a 'tatastha lakshana' of Brahman as opposed to 'swarupa lakshana.' The implication is that some attributes of Brahman are central to His being, and Brahman cannot be conceived in any manner whatsoever without these. Such attributes are 'svarupa lakshana.' On the other hand, 'tatastha lakshana' are His attributes that describe Him only in a very limited sense, or in relation to other entitities. The latter thus are merely secondary attributes.

A similar distinction seems to made by Sri Ramanuja in his Sri Bhasya while discussing the nature of Brahman. Following the line of the Upanisads, he ascribes five divine attributes - sat (reality), jnana (knowledge), ananta (infinity), amalatva (purity) and ananda (bliss). According to him, these five attributes are basic to the nature of Brahman and are His very essence. What then becomes of the 'kalyanagunas' of which Sri Ramanuja is so fond of whenever he describes Brahman? These become the 'svabhava' or secondary attributes of Brahman.

The list of these secondary attributes is normally preceded by the sadgunas or the six attributes covered by the term Bhagavan as discussed in the Visnu Purana and in the Pancaratra texts.

While Sri Ramanuja is not so strict in drawing a line of distinction between these primary and secondary attributes compared to his successors, like Sri Sudarsana Suri, nevertheless in the section of Brahmasutras concerning the various vidyas (meditations), he does not fail to mention that all the svarupagunas, or primary attributes, of Brahman are to be contemplated upon in all the meditations while various meditations encompass only certain of the svabhavagunas or secondary attributes.

This second grade treatment given by Sri Ramanuja to the kalyanagunas, of which the later Sri Vaisnava teachers are so fond, shows that Sri Ramanuja was initially trained as an orthodox Vedantin and it was only later that he took whole heartedly to the teachings of the Pancaratrins. This is substantiated by his traditional biographical accounts also, which clearly state that Sri Ramanuja studied under Sri Yadava Prakasa - a Vedantin of the Bhedabheda school, and that later, he took over the administration of the famous Sri Ranganathaswamy temple.

Ramanuja hints at a possible reason for this two-fold classification of the attributes of Brahman. In his scheme of things, Brahman is the indwelling, unchanging reality and at the same time, the controller of the individual souls (jivas), as well as the controller of inanimate creation. The unchanging aspect of God is denoted by the svarupagunas while the sesa-sesin relationship between Brahman and the jivas/prakriti are clarified by the kalyanagunas and svabhavagunas of Brahman.



The Svarupagunas of Brahman and His relation to Jivas and the Universe:

Sri Ramanuja's definitions of the five svarupagunas themselves leads to the distinction of Brahman from the jivas and the inanimate creation. For this, let us consider how Sri Ramanuja defines the five svarupagunas.

Regarding satya, Sri Ramanuja states that in so far as mere existence is concerned - the inanimate universe, the jivas and Brahman- all three exist. However, the inanimate universe exists as a mere mode (prakara) of Brahman at the time of the Dissolution of the Universe (pralaya), and is absorbed in Brahman, only to be again made manifest later. The jivas too are dormant in the time of pralaya and in the manifest state of the universe, they can be either in the released state or in the bonded state. The latter souls, in the course of time, and with the practice of the means of salvation, eventually attain salvation. Thus, it is clear that the inanimate Universe, as well as the jivas, do undergo some change in their states and that this change is effected by Brahman, who Himself is ever the same and does not undergo any change. Therefore, it is Brahman Who is the Truth of truth (satyasya satya).

Coming to jnana or consciousness, the inanimate universe is bereft of the same. The jivas possess consciousness no doubt, but their consciousness is contracted in their state of bondage. On the other hand, Brahman is ever released and so unlike the jivas, He possesses infinite knowledge at all times.

The third attribute is anantatva or infiniteness. The jivas are finite in extent and even after they attain salvation, it is only their knowledge that becomes infinite. On the contrary, Brahman is infinite in extent and His excellent qualities are present to an infinite degree.

The fourth attribute namely ananda or bliss does not require much elaboration. Brahman is full of bliss eternally whereas the jivas do not possess the same in their state of bondage, but do so upon liberation.

Sri Ramanuja seems to lay the greatest stress on amalatva or purity as the distinguishing attribute of Brahman. The inanimate creation is without doubt full of imperfections and impurities. The jivas, in essence too are free of evil but are capable of connection with evil and imperfections in the inanimate Universe. Brahman, on the contrary, is free of all evil and imperfections. Even though He too has a "body" that is comprised of jivas and the inanimate creation, He does not experience pain or pleasure by virtue of being "embodied".

An important reason for Sri Ramanuja's emphasis on the purity of God is his devotional attitude towards God. Such an attitude warrants the intense belief that the deity is perfect, nay, the very antithesis of evil and imperfection. A serious implication of his insistence on Brahman's purity is the Visistadvaita position that only scripture is the means of knowing Brahman. This is because Brahman is totally distinct from all other entities which are known through other means of knowledge and therefore can be known only by a special and a perfect means of knowledge - such a means is the scripture.

Sri Ramanuja's emphasis on the perfection of Brahman also naturally leads to his criticism of the Bhedabheda and Advaitic positions regarding Brahman since both allow for an association between Brahman and evil.

Brahman as the Supreme Creator:

The second aphorism of the Brahmasutras states that Brahman is the cause of the origination, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. Ramanuja, along with most commentators of the Brahmasutras, adds that Brahman is the efficient as well as the material cause of the universe. He repeats the same idea over and over again in his Sri Bhasya and elsewhere. This seems perplexing considering that Ramanuja acknowledges the independent identity of jivas as well as Prakrti (matter).

This apparent contradiction is well resolved if it is considered that the jivas and Prakriti form an organic whole with Brahman and constitute his metaphorical body. Under sutra 1.4.23, Ramanuja argues that in the state of pralaya, the jivas and Prakriti are present in such a subtle condition in connection with Brahman that there is no way we can describe the independent existence of these entitities at that time. This is why Brahman has rightly been called the material cause of the Universe, as well as its efficient cause.

The question that arises is how can a perfect creator effect a Universe that is full of imperfections. These and similar questions are dealt with in the first section of the second chapter of the Brahmasutras. Sri Ramanuja briefly expands on this theme as presented in the Brahmasutras and declares that Brahman is not partial or prejudiced towards anyone, but rather He creates the Universe full of good and bad things based on the residual karmas of jivas from the previous creation.

A more serious question is about the either selfish or altruistic motive that Brahman might have in the creation of the universe. Considering Sri Ramanuja's emphasis on the kalyanagunas of Brahman, one might be tempted to conclude that he attributed the creation to Brahman's altruistic desire that the jivas should reap the fruits of their residual actions and work their way to their salvation. Instead, Sri Ramanuja strictly follows the line of the Brahmasutras. He states that Brahman, being ever the Lord, cannot have any selfish desire to cause Him to create the universe. Secondly, He is also not driven by any desire to do good to the jivas in bondage since if this were the case, He would have created a universe free of all imperfections. Rather, the act of creation is a sport or a play on the part of Brahman as it were. It is a part of His nature. Just as human beings inhale and exhale naturally without any desire to perform these actions, so does Brahman create, sustain and eventually dissolve the universe. The fact the universe is fully capable of enabling the jivas to attain liberation is only incidental.

The fact that the author of Brahmasutras chooses to mention the act of the creation of the Universe as a defining attribute of Brahman is not missed by Sri Ramanuja either. He takes this attribute of Brahman as indicative of His uniqueness and His superiority to all that exists.

Brahman as Antaryamin - the Indwelling Soul:

A characteristic feature of the Visistadvaita school of philosophy is its tenet that Brahman is the inner dweller of jivas as well as the inanimate Universe. Ramanuja utilizes this tenet to explain the monistic statements of Upanisads. For instance, in his Vedarthasamgraha, he discusses the sadvidya section of Chhandogya Upanisad and its famous mahavakya 'tat tvam asi' in great detail. Here, he contends that just as in ordinary parlance, things are referred to by the identity of their indwelling soul, so also, here the jiva is referred to by its inner dweller Brahman. For instance, we all know that humans are in essence, the soul. And yet, on seeing a person/his body, we say - " Ram is coming" and so on. In a likewise manner, there is no discrepancy if all things are equated to Brahman by Upanisads since He is the indwelling soul of all entitities.

Sri Ramanuja defines a body as something that an intelligent being is able to completely control and support for his purposes, and the essential nature of which is entirely subservient to that intelligent self.

Sri Ramanuja also clarifies that the imperfections of the Universe and the jivas do not stain Brahman at all. Brahman is also unaffected by the karmas of jivas and possessing these bodies adds to His majesty and lordship.

The entire opinion of Sri Ramanuja in this regard can be summed up in his own words that form his comment on Brahmasutra 1.1.18:
"Thus the entire group of intelligent and non-intelligent entities, which are different from Him, constitute His body, and He alone is the unconditioned Self, ensouling that body. For this very reason, competent authorities (abhiyuktaih) call this doctrine concerning the Supreme Brahman by the name 'Sariraka": the doctrine of the embodied Self." Sri Sudarsana Suri clarifies that by 'competent authorities' is meant Vrttikara Bodhayana, etc.

The Relationship of Brahman with the Jivas and the Universe:

Since Brahman is the Indwelling Soul of the jivas and the Universe, He is related to them in multifarious ways. Sri Ramanuja uses several terms to describe these relationships:

1. Adhara and Adheya: The former means a support, substratum, or container and the latter means that which is supported or contained. Brahman is the adhara, or support, of the jivas and the Universe as all finite beings are completely dependent on Him for their essential nature, continued existence in the phenomenal realm and actual functioning or activity.

2. Niyanta and Niyamya: The second aspect of the self-body relationship is that between the ruler or controller and that which is ruled. This conception clearly expresses the personal and dynamic character of God's relationship to the universe.

3. Antaryamin: Since God abides within all finite beings, he may be called the inner ruler, or the anataryami. The Anataryami Brahman section of the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad thus plays an important role in the theology of Sri Ramanuja and he pays great attention to it in his commentary on Brahmasutra 2.1.15.

4. The Jivas and the Universe as Vibhutis of Brahman: For Sri Ramanuja, the term Vibhuti connotes the material Universe and the jivas. These are vibhutis of Brahman since He abides in them, controls them, fashions them, enjoys them and since their very existence is eternally dependent on Him. One thing to be noted however is that Sri Ramanuja, while designating Siva, Brahma, Indra etc. also as vibhutis of Brahman (who is equated with Narayana) is at pains to point out that Sri Rama and Sri Krishna are not vibhutis of Narayana, but are rather one with Him and the same as Him. In order to justify his designation of finite selves and the universe as vibhutis of Brahman, Sri Ramanuja states that these are possessed by Brahman and therefore are manifestations of His glory. Thus, he brings out the true meaning viz. 'glory', of the word vibhuti and fits it into the Visistadvaita school of philosophy.

5. The Sesa-Sesin relationship: Another pair of words that Ramanuja uses to designate the relationship between Brahman on the one hand and the finite selves and the universe on the other is sesa and sesin. He does not use these terms as frequently as the other terms and yet they do occupy an important place in his theology.

In his various writings, Sri Ramanuja refutes the Mimamsaka appropriation of these terms and the restriction of the meaning of these terms by them. In particular, he attacks the definitions of these terms as given by the followers of the Prabhakara school of Mimamsa.

Thus, for Sri Ramanuja, the term 'sesa' does not mean merely something that is a remnant of a more important thing or something that is auxiliary to a main thing. Rather, he says:

"The sesa-sesi relationship in any situation means just this: the sesa is that whose essential nature consists solely in being useful to something else by virtue of its intention to contribute some excellence to this other being, and this other is the sesi."

Thus, in Sri Ramanuja's scheme of things, Brahman is the sesi, everything else is sesa, since the finite selves and the universe are subservient to the will and lordship of Brahman. God is the owner and finite selves are like his servants (dasa). And yet, God is an ocean of mercy and delivers His devotees from bondage. God not only merely grants salvation to His devotees, rather He plays a much more active role in that He is 'responsible' for their salvation. By defining these two terms thus, Ramanuja sets the path clear for the subsequent doctrine of 'Prapatti' that was expounded in Sri Vaisnava texts like 'Yatindramatadipika' of Srinivasadasa.

It is easy to relate these two terms to the terms 'adhara- adheya' and this is what Sri Ramanuja does in his treatment of the 'sadvidya' of Chhandogya Upanisad in the Vedarthasamgraha. He also counters possible objections to his definitions of the terms 'sesa-sesi'. For instance, he states that the desire on the part of everyone to be independent of all kinds of control does not contradict our dependence on God for salvation, since it is He who is the goal and the abode of all bliss. When the sacred texts laud the desire of all finite beings to be independent, what is really meant is the desire to be free from the bondage of the material body, and not freedom from the will of Brahman. This is because God is an ocean of all auspicious qualities and complete detachment from Him is unthinkable for any sensible person.

This particular definition of sesa-sesi allows Ramanuja to build the religious institution of worship harmoniously into his philosophical system of Vedanta - something that Sri Samkaracarya was unable to do. The latter had to envisage a two-fold Brahman to accommodate the act of worship and stated that only the "lower" (Saguna) Brahman can be worshipped - the "Higher Brahman" being beyond of all worship, since He is devoid of all gunas.

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Brahman as the Compassionate Savior of Jivas:

In Sri Ramanuja's theology, God is not a passive onlooker, as He is in the Theistic Samkhya, but rather an active participant in the affairs of finite selves. Not only does He reward or reprimand them for their actions, but also occasionally showers His grace on them, to lead them to Him. Ramanuja distinguishes between God's grace and His rewards for the actions of finite selves, but sees no contradiction between Divine grace and free will.

According to Mimamsa, karmas generate an invisible principle called 'apurva' that results in the allocation of fruits of corresponding actions to finite selves. Sri Ramanuja refutes the existence of 'apurva' and emphatically declares that God alone is the dispenser of the fruits of our actions. Unlike Advaitins, Sri Ramanuja states that meditation itself is an act, or karma. But it is different from other karmas in the sense that it not only yields God's pleasure and the accompanying happiness, but also nullifies the mass of sins accumulated by the finite self (jiva) over several previous lives.

Karmas that bring about God's grace are classified into two categories by Sri Ramanuja. Thus yajnas (sacrifices), daana (charity), oblations etc. are indirect aids toward propitiating Brahman, while praise, worship etc. are more direct means. However, Sri Ramanuja clarifies that we must not perform these actions to please God. Rather, as devoted servants, we ought to perform these karmas since it is our duty to do so. Likewise, God is under no obligation to react favorably to these karmas of the finite selves. Rather, He reacts favorably since He is an ocean of mercy and because He is the sesi (master) of all finite selves and desires to save them.

Is Brahman accessible or inaccessible?:

In the introduction to his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Ramanuja discusses two specific and apparently antithetical attributes of God that are a part of his theology. In these passages, he expands upon the transcendental nature of the Supreme Being in the usual manner and adds that the His true nature cannot be realized with even tremendous effort by even demigods like Brahma. However, the Supreme Being (Who is equated with Sriman Narayana) is also an ocean of mercy and therefore abandons His supreme nature to incarnate from time to time to deliver mankind from sin and evil.

The first aspect of God can be designated by the word 'paratva' while the second by the word 'saulabhya'. These two words are not used by Sri Ramanuja himself but are rather introduced by Sri Venkatanatha, who lived two centuries later. Nevertheless, these two terms are very useful in describing the theology of Sri Ramanuja.

It is significant to observe that whenever God is spoken of by Ramanuja as being inaccessible, he is also described by qualities that are reminiscent of splendor, power and the like and when He is spoken of as accessible to His devotees, the beneficent and merciful nature of God is stressed. Thus in the latter case, God is spoken of as being tender, beautiful, concerned for His devotees, friendly to those who worship and serve Him and the like.

It might be said that Sri Ramanuja held that the attainment of God was very difficult for people on their own volition and that it is rather Divine grace that leads to salvation. Or in other words, Brahman is both the goal to be reached and the means to attain that goal. Sri Ramanuja himself does not state which of the two aspects of God is more important, but later Sri Vaisnava teachers tend to emphasize more on the gracious nature of God in causing the salvation of His devotees.

The Divine Form of the Lord:

A unique feature of Sri Ramanuja's theology is his postulation of a personal, immutable and a magnificent form of God that survives the universal dissolution. If God already has the universe and the finite selves as His body, then what is the need to have another one? Sri Ramanuja adduces four reasons:

1. Firstly, scriptural texts themselves indicated at many places that the Lord possesses a Supernatural Form. Sri Ramanuja proposes that we should interpret these texts at their face value.

2. The acceptance of the Supernal Form of God would make possible the comprehension and reconciliation of apparently conflicting scriptural texts in a literalist manner. For instance, they would allow the possibility of the Lord enjoying all the Praktrtic (material) endowments through His Supernal Form.

3. Sri Ramanuja appeals to the authority of Bhagavan Badarayana (the author of the Brahmasutras), Acarya Tanka and Dramidacarya to propose the existence of the divine form. He quotes statements from their works to the effect that God possess an Eternal and Pure Form.

4. Lastly, it is consistent with the fact that Lord is an ocean of mercy and compassion that His divine form serves to attract the earnest devotees towards Him.

It is surprising to note that while on the one hand, Sri Ramanuja is very insistent about the supreme and transcendental nature of God and declares that the finite selves, as well as the universe, constitute His body, on the other hand, he feels the need to state with almost equal insistence that God possesses, in addition, His own body that is free of all imperfections and is possessed of infinite splendor, glory, brilliance and extent.

Such an insistence on the existence of a Divine Form in addition to the His 'body' constituted by the finite selves and the universe almost seems to be redundant. Yet Sri Ramanuja justifies his standpoint by taking recourse to scriptural texts that clearly seem to describe such a body possessed by God. The theological reasons for this doctrine are not far to seek. The concept of a perfect body for God fits very well into a scheme that includes a host of kalyanagunas as attributes of God.

Sri Ramanuja's successors, like Sri Venkatanatha, who placed stress more on the kalyanagunas of Brahman, also praise eloquently this divine form of God. In fact, in Sarvarthasiddhi, Sri Venkatanatha quotes a statement of the ancient (pre-Sankara) Vedantin Dramidacarya to the effect that this divine body of God is eternal and is composed of sattva only. Sri Ramanuja also quotes the Acarya Tanka (also pre-Sankara) in his Vedarthasamgraha to this effect and stresses that the essential 'form' of God is eternal and pure and is not to be assumed only temporarily for the benefit of his devotees. This particular concept seems to have been incorporated with Vedanta by Sri Ramanuja from the Pancaratra literature.

Sri Ramanuja goes even further. He describes this divine abode of Brahman along the lines of the descriptions given in the Vaisnava texts like Visnu Purana and Pancaratra texts like the Paramasamhita. Thus, God is adorned with jewels of matchless beauty, He wears a yellow garment and is served eternally by attendants ('suris') who are more real than the finite selves like Brahma and Siva. The word 'suri' is reminicent of the Rg Vedic verse- "Tadvisnoh paramam padam sada pasyanti suriyah."

However, more detailed descriptions of the same are reserved for his overtly theological works like the Vaikunthagadya.

From these descriptions in the works of Sri Ramanuja, it is clear that he is trying to synthesize the views of the Pancaratra and Bhagavata school with the Vedantic conception of God. Rather, he views these Vaisnava descriptions as further clarifications of the nature of Brahman as revealed in the Vedas and Vedantas (Upanisads). Thus, Sri Ramanuja sees no contradiction in the two descriptions of Brahman as given in these two groups of texts. This is why, his followers termed the Visistadvaita school of Vedanta as 'Ubhaya-vedanta' or the two-fold Vedanta.

Sri Ramanuja beautifully weaves his concept of God's eternal body with His accessibility. He says that although the form of God cannot be grasped by our organs of perception, yet its very beauty attracts His devotees. Thereafter, God, through His mercy, reveals His form to His blessed devotees and grants them Eternal Salvation.

Sri Ramanuja's Concept of Avataras (Divine Incarnations):

In addition to His Supernal Form, the Lord also assumes avataras periodically. There is a difference in the avataric form and the Supernal Form of the Lord. The latter is seen only during the existence of the world and depends upon the will of Lord, and the state of the Universe, whereas the Supernal form is contingent on none of these.

According to Sri Ramanuja, God assumes avataras periodically for three purposes- .
To restore the divine natural laws (dharma) and to confound their opponents. .
To act as an appropriate refuge and mainstay for his devotees .
As an exemplar, teacher and divine archetype, a particular lineage or order of being.

The assumption of Avataras by God is thus quite consonant with His merciful and compassionate nature.

Sri Ramanuja does not elaborate unambiguously on the supernal form of God, not even in his work 'Saranagatigadya'; although we might assume it to be the same as that described for Sri Visnu in the Pancaratra and the Bhagavata texts.

The Divine Names of Brahman:

In his writings, Sri Ramanuja has used several adjectival names for Brahman - names that became much hallowed in the later Sri Vaisnava tradition. However, just as some gunas (attributes) of Brahman are basic to His nature and contemplation of Brahman is impossible without contemplating these gunas (svarupagunas), whereas other gunas of Brahman are merely secondary attributes, in a similar manner, some names of Brahman are primary and more hallowed than His other names - which are secondary.

While in Advaita Vedanta, the Superior or the "Higher Brahman" is devoid of any gunas, and so cannot be designated by any names, in Visistadvaita Vedanta, the ultimate Reality itself is an ocean of auspicious qualities. These names then serve to denote this Supreme Reality in Sri Ramanuja's school of Vedanta.

In the Sri Vaisnava tradition, great importance is laid on the name Sriman Narayana (Narayana, or Visnu, united with His eternal divine consort Sri). At numerous places, Sri Ramanuja states that Narayana is the proper name of Brahman. He then produces several scriptural statements to the effect that Siva and Brahma etc. are merely names of created devas while Narayana is the Supreme Being that is extolled in the Vedantas as Brahman.

Ramanuja also frequently uses the name 'Purusottama' for God. For him, this name does not mean 'The best among men' but rather as a Being who is superior to and the master of all finite selves and also the Universe. It is significant to note that the word 'Purusa' is used for God in the famous Purusasukta of Rigveda (RV X.90). The seer of this hymn is, incidentally, Rishi Narayana - who is credited to be the founder of the Pancaratra sect. Sri Ramanuja, commenting on Gita Chap. XV remarks that Brahman is Purusottama because He is the very antithesis of anything defiling, as opposed to the finite selves that come under the influence of the imperfections of the universe. Verse XV.16 of the Gita refers to the finite selves and the universe as Purusas, and Sri Ramanuja takes this opportunity to distinguish 'Purusa' from 'Purusottama', or the Supreme (uttama) Person (purusa).

The general term for God used by Sri Ramanuja is Isvara. A related name is Bhagavan. Sri Ramanuja often quotes the famous slokas of the Vishnu Purana to state the definition of the word 'Bhagavat.' In all such cases, Sri Ramanuja uses this scriptural citations to refute the Advaitic position that the Supreme Nature of Brahman is that He is devoid of any gunas, or attributes. The relevant verses of the Visnu Purana list six kalyanagunas of Brahman under the term 'Bhagavat' and also state that He alone is the worthy recipient of all worship. Others are denoted by these terms only in a secondary manner. The six kalyanagunas listed in these verses are jnana (knowledge), bala (strength), aisvarya (lordship), virya (valour), sakti (power) and tejas (splendor).


To summarize, Brahman, for Sri Ramanuja, is an unfathomable ocean of all good, blissful and benevolent attributes like mercy, compassion, truth and more. Moreover, He is the very antithesis of all that is evil and bad. But beyond these kalyanagunas (excellent attributes), Brahman is possessed of the nature of infinity, consciousness, bliss, purity, and reality; and these five attributes constitute his very essence, his very nature - as unrelated to His relationship to finite selves (jivas) or to the material world (samsara).

Brahman is also the material (upadana karana), as well as the efficient cause (nimitta karana), of the Universe. He is the efficient cause because he effects the Universe. Moreover, in the state of the Grand Dissolution (pralaya), the inanimate Universe and the finite selves (jivas) exist in a very subtle form, merged with Brahman and as his modes. They form one entity with Him, totally dependent on Him. As a result, Brahman might be regarded as the material cause of the Universe as well. The soul-ensouled (sarira-saririn) model of Sri Ramanuja enables him to refute the corresponding notions of the Bhedabhedavadins like Sri Bhaskara and Sri Yadava Prakasa and also the Advaitin position on this issue.

Sri Ramanuja also dwells upon the 'Satyasamkalpa' nature of Brahman as stated in the scriptures and for him, it means that the Lord has utter sovereignty in effecting the Universe. He says that Satyasamkalpa signifies that the proper forms, the continuance, the activities and the distinctions of conscious and non-conscious beings, of permanent and transient entities, all depend on the will of God. Brahman does not rest by the origination of this Universe alone. He also looks after its continuance and sustenance.

athAto "brahma" zignAsA - Then thereafter be inquisitive to enquire about "the Absolute"