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Sri Visishta-advaita Vedanta of Sri Vaishnavas

Introduction

The primary point to understand in vaishnava philosophy is that Vedas are the true and complete sources of un-contaminated knowledge, as they are coming from the Supreme Lord directly( apaurusheya). The philosophical parts of vedas are famously known as Upanishas and are the basis of knowing ultimate purpose of one's existance. Sri Badarayana (vyasa deva) has compiled a set of rules called Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Sutras. They are the final conclusion of vedas. Apart from these, Srimad Bhagavad gita is the conversation of Supreme Brahman, Sri Krishna, and living entity Arjuna. These three sources upanishads, Vedanta sutras and Srimad Bhagavad gita collectively called as Prasthana trayee. Any speculation or imagination is not accepted as the conclusive siddhanta, but only the philosophy that is in complete consensus with prasthana trayee.

There are many interpretations given to vedanta sutras before and after Sri Ramanuja Acharya, but yet his philosophy of Sri Visishtadvaitha stands in the front to be accepted as the authoritative purport of vedas, as it flawless and is in complete consent with all the injunctions of vedas. Sri Ramanuja has firmly established Sri Visishta-advaitha as the siddhanta of vedas in his Sri Bhashya, commentary on Vedanta Sutras. Sri Ramanuja has established that Devotion unto the Supreme Lord is the only means to realise Brahman in full, as against advaitins who see it as one of the means. Devotion unto the Supreme Lord, Sriman Narayana, is not a sentimental belief, but rather the conclusion of vedas as proved by Sri Ramanuja. Ramanuja gives authoritative answer from scriptures to those who believe bhakti-yoga is less-intelligent compared to gnana yoga, infact he proves that bhakti-yogis have perfected gnAna yoga already and are only true practioners of the conclusions of vedanta. Seekers of logic and truth are welcome to read his Sri bhashya and other works in scriptures section.

However, it is important to note that Sri Visishta-advaitha is not newly invented by Sri Ramanuja Acharya but it is coming eternally from Sriman Narayana Himself in an unbroken disciplic succession.

He clearly states in VEdArtha Sa~ngraha that he follows only the siddhAnta held by Sages from distant past. Some important rishis whose writings were utilized/quoted by Bhagavad RAmAnuja are :

a. Sage BOdhAyana : In tattvaTeeka, SwAmi DESikan identifies him to be same as Sage Upavarsha. He wrote an extensive VRutti ie.gloss on Brahma SUtras.

b. Sage TaNka (alias BrahmAnandin, vAkyakAra) : Wrote "vAkyas" - very short notes on CHAndOgya Upanishad.

c. Sage dramiDa : Followed Sage TaNka's vAkyas and commented upon CHAndOgya Upanishad, called as "dramiDabhAshya".

d. Sages GuhadEva, KaparDin and BhAruchi.

The complete philosophy of Sri Visishtadvaitha is sung as songs by the alwar saints of this great Vaishnava sampradaya lineage. The divine songs of alwars are famously called Divya Prabhandam or Tamil Veda (as they are sung in tamil language). It is very important to understand that philosophy should not be accepted if the source of philosophy is not coming from the Supreme Lord Himself, in an unbroken chain of acharyas.

The Lord of Kaancheepuram Shree Varadaraja Swamy cleared the doubts of Shree Raamaanuja through Tiru Kachi Nambi who was at his service and with whom the Lord used to talk. The Lord told six statements in a precise manner to explain our Visistaadvaita Shree Vaishnava matam (philosophy and practice). These statements with brief explanation are as follows:

  1. Ahameva Param Tatvam

  2. Darsanam Bhedam Eva Cha

  3. Upayeshu Prapatisyaat

  4. Antima Smruthi Varjanam

  5. Dehaavasaane Muktisyaat

  6. Poornaachaaryam Samaasraya

The first statement means Shreeman Naaraayanan is the supreme self, who is unparalleled and unsurpassed

The second statement means The philosophical system is based on the natural difference between insentient, sentient and the supreme Lord – The Lord has all the insentient and sentient entities as his body, and He is the soul of everything

The third statement means The way (means) to get salvation is surrendering to the feet of the Lord; (Bhakti is impossible as it requires the person to have necessary qualification and ability)

The fourth statement means,There is no need to adopt contemplation on the Lord during our final breath (which is a requirement for Bhakti Yogis)”

The fifth statement means, After the soul departs from the material body, it gets salvation in case he/she has adopted the means of surrender. (The soul on getting salvation crosses all material worlds and reaches the transcendental world Paramapadam Shree Vaikuntam and eternally serves the Lord with ultimate & infinite bliss)

The sixth statement means, one should approach a fully qualified Shree Vaishnava preceptor (here, for Shree Raamaanuja, it is Periya Nambi) and get enlightened.

 

Sri visishta-advaitha

Many people mis-interpret that Sri Visishta-advaitha is some thing that we get if we add some attributes to advaitha. It is important to note that, Sri Visishta-advaitha has a completely different perspective on the whole vocabulary of vedic literature. Sri Visishta-advaitha can be roughly translated into English as "qualified non-difference". The philosophy declares that Brahman is one Absolute truth without second yet it can have varieties within Brahman.

This Para Brahman is Supreme Lord Sriman Narayana (not some energy or light but the Supreme Person) Himself and within Him there are two distinct realities namely achit(insentient) and chit (eternal and sentient). In total, there are three distinct realities Narayana (Brahman or Ishvara or Paramatma), jIvAtma (chit) and matter (achit).

The nature of jIvAtma is similar to that of ParamAtma, namely sat-chid-ananda swaroopa, and always dependant on ParamAtma. Matter is temperory, as it transforms from one state to another, but exists eternally hence real. Both chit and achit are completely dependant on ParamAtma for their existance, and the foundation of Paramatma (antaryAmin) within chit and achit is like that of a thread within the garland of pearls which keeps the garland in-tact. Both jIvAtman and matter are never independant of Paramatma and are meant for the pleasure of Ishvara. More precisely the relation between chit and achit with Paramatma is explained as sharIra and sharIri, which means body and embodied. Sriman NArAyaNA is the sarIrI and, all chit & achit are His sarIrA. This eternal sarIra sarIrI bhAvA is composed of the following three things:

AdheyatvA (i.e. being supported by a sarIrI): Existence of the sarIrA(body) is due to the sarIrI i.e. sarIrI supports the sarIrA. In other words, jIvatman and matter are completely dependant on Sriman Narayana for existance.

niyamyatvA (i.e. being controlled by a sarIrI): Not only that sarIrA derives its existence from a sarIrI, it is also being controlled by the sarIrI. So, sarIrA acts as per the will/desires of sarIrI.

seshatvA(i.e. existing for the pleasure of sarIrI): Not only that sarIrA is supported & controlled by sarIrI, it exists only for the pleasure of sarIrI, i.e. sarIrI is sarIrA's Master.

It is important to note that Sriman Narayana is not confined within the sarIra namely chit and achit, but He is beyond them. One may rise a question that jIvAtman has consciousness where as matter is unconscious and the siddhanta places both of them at the position of sarIra. when we take a sarIra of a dead person, it still has some substance, the sarIra of a dead man is not vanishing, and the matter of the body is held by the paramAtma within the body. Hence it is to be understood that both chit and achit are held by paramAtma within them alike, they depend on the Lord alike for their very existance.

Sri Visishta-advaitha philosophy identifies that mAya or illusion or avidya is not imagining something that is non-existant but rather mis-identification. The mAya is the product of karma (action) that is not performed for the satisfaction of Isvara. Sri Visisha-advaitha denies people who donot perform their prescribed activities and recommends to perform actions with the results sacrificed for the satisfaction of the Lord. Liberation of jIvatman doesnot mean to lose the identification of self or merging into God, but rather to serve the Divya dampathi (Sri Lakshmi Narayana) eternally in Sri Vaikuntha. One who is liberated is free from cycle of repeated birth and death.

Sri Visishta-advaitha philosophy conclusively refutes advaitha(absolute non-duality) and bheda-abheda (simultaneous one-ness and difference of jiva and paramatma) and identifies clear distinction between Jiva and ParamAtma. There is no overlap of jIva and paramAtma at any stage (jIva is always subordinate to paramAtma) . It is also notable that Sri Visishta-advaitha doesnot identify any differences between jIva-jIva and matter-matter unlike in dwaitha school. Both chit and achit are attributes of Brahman.

Sruti pramANa for SarIra -SarIri bhAva of SrI visishTAdvaitam

Brahman

Brahman is sAkAri (has His own distinguished transcendental form beyond any imperfection), Sarvaguna, possessing infinite number of attributes. He possesses infinite number of kalyANa guNas (auspicious) qualities like jnana (knowledge), bala (strength), veerya (courageousness), soundarya (beauty), shakti (power), tejas (brilliance), satyakama (desire of good), satyasamkalpa, kaarunya (merciful compassion) and so on. He is Nirguna (qualitiless) in a sense that He is the antithesis of all imperfections and negative qualities, like anger, pain, hunger, death, evil, cowardice, sickness and so on. Brahman is eternal, pervades all, is the cause of the entire creation (of souls and matter), Lord of all creation, the only Independent Entity and the Support of the other two entities (souls and the world). jIva is subservient to Brahman and possesses various relationships to Brahman such as: sarira/sariri (body/indweller), Prakara/Prakari (attribute or mode/substance), sesha/seshi (Owned/owner), amsa/amsi (part/whole) (an example here is that of the light and the sun, the light is part of the sun and is different from it), adharadeya-sambandha (supporter-supported), Niyamya/Niyanta (controlled/controller) and Rasksya/Raksaka (redeemed/redeemer). These are the prominent relationships that both the Jiva and matter (jagat) inherently possess with Brahman. There are other relationships that the Jiva exclusively possesses with Brahman. Brahman can be experienced as the father, son, mother, sister, wife, husband, friend, lover and lord by jIva.

Achit

Before the time of each creation and during pralaya (dissolution), the universe exists in a subtle and unevolved state - without name and form - within Brahman. When creation occurs, the universe evolves itself and issues out with name and form, this is what is called creation. Ramanujacharya adds that Brahman is the ruling or underlying principle behind it. The universe emanates from Brahman and remains within Brahman as a distinct entity, which also possess Brahman as the antaryamin, or in-dwelling soul. Brahman creates the world just as a spider creates it's webs out of itself. Even as the web is a different entity from the spider, so is the world a different entity from Brahman. The creation of the universe is but a sport or leela of the Lord. It is a spontaneous, joyous, creative activity by Brahman, which gives the Jiva a purpose in life, which again is to understand its true identity and its dependent elationship with Brahman.

Matter does not always just mean gross substance that you can touch and feel, but rather it refers to the insentient beings, sometimes matter can be subtle too (example: mind). The Visishta-advaita theory says that the insentient universe is not created, but exists at all times, in either some name or form or without name and form; but regardless, it exists and is not created, for it is an eternal "part" or mode for Brahman. It just changes from one stage to other, hence it is also real(sat).swaroopa (constitution) of the Jiva.

swaroopa(constitution) of jIva:

The Jiva too is not created; rather Brahman brings it into manifestation from its subtle state or "sleeping" state. Creation here refers to drawing something out. The individual soul is different from Brahman because Brahman is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of Universe; He is the abode of infinite kalyana gunas and is beyond the shadow of imperfections. Brahman is in all the individual souls as the inner Self of these souls, just as the Jiva is the self to the body.

The Jiva is a conscious entity, who is aware of its own existence and the existence of others. Consciousness is the essence and quality of the individual soul. Consciousness as a quality can contract or expand, and is in a state of constant flux. It is dynamic, not static. Both memory and recognition prove its existence. Moreover, the absence of consciousness does not mean the absence of the self, i.e., in sleep it is said that consciousness ceases to persist and the self persists. Ramanuja asserts that "the very fact that one is able to remember what has happened before he went to sleep is also proof that the self persisted through sleep although consciousness had come to an end."

The individual soul is also a knowing subject. Jnana (knowledge) is an attribute of the Jiva. The Jiva possesses dharmabhuta jnana or attributive consciousness. This means that the Jiva is the subject and a self-luminous substance, it is of the nature of substance-attribute. In other words, the Jiva possesses a distinct "I" that exists at all times, even upon union with Brahman. The Jiva is also an agent. What that means is that the Jiva has the ability to make choices and do things of its own will. According to Ramanuja, from this stems the Jiva's moral and social responsibility. The Jiva is liable for the fruits of its actions. The Jiva is sentient, a subject of consciousness and experience, a self-luminous substance, an agent and enjoyer(to some degree). But the defining characteristic of the Jiva is that it is ontologically dependent on Brahman. The Jiva is not totally free, nor is it totally bound. Rather, it possesses what can be best put as self-determination. In other words, the Jiva undertakes actions that are approved or disapproved by the Supreme Being residing inside it, and accordingly the law of karma takes jurisdiction. When I talk about approval or disapproval of the Supreme, it must be understood in the sense of obeying or disobeying the scriptures and the law of karma.

Ramanuja makes an analogy of two master's owning a property, if one master wishes to transfer that property to a third party he can't do it without the approval of the partner. The approval is given, but the act itself is performed by the selling partner, so the fruit belongs to him too. This Ramanuja refers to as anumati dana, or lending approval. In this way the responsibility falls on the individual soul, and not upon Brahman, who only gave His lending approval to the Jiva, informing the Jiva that he is responsible for his own action and that the lord only gives His approval to actions - whatever the action is.

There is a quote by Pillai Lokacharya regarding this concept: "Even the All-loving Father, the Great Isvara, does not force His presence on the soul, not yet ripe to receive Him. With infinite patience He waits and watches the struggle of the soul in Samsara (the realm of birth and death), since the struggle is necessary for the full unfolding of the faculties of the Jiva." The individual soul is intrinsically free from evil or imperfections, different from the body and is characterized by knowledge and bliss. In its present state, however, it suffers from the illusion of suffering and ignorance.

There exist three types of Jivas: 1) the Nityas, or the eternally free Jivas who were never in Samsara, 2) the Muktas, or the Jivas that were once in Samsara but are free, and finally 3) Baddhas (bound), or the Jivas still in Samsara. All readers of this present work are necessarily Baddhas.

Purusha-artha or the purpose one's existance:

 In human life, according to the Vedas, there are four goals, namely, Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure), Dharma (righteousness) and Moksha (absolute subjective freedom). The first three goals are not ends in themselves according to Sri Visista-advaita philosophy. Artha, Kama and Dharma must be pursued with the ideal of Moksha as the goal. These three pursuits are means to identify the real Parama-Purushartha (supreme end): Moksha. Moksha itself is the goal. Moreover Artha, Kama and Dharma must be pursued in moderation and within moral and ethical means.

Moksha, according to Ramanujacharya, is attaining to the likeness or similar nature of Brahman. Moksha is not the destruction of the "I" in the atman, but it is the destruction of the false sense of "I", the ahamkara (false ego or pride), confusion of oneness with the body, karma and so on. The true "I" of the individuality of the atman persists even through Moksha because it is a different entity than Brahman, who is the inner soul of the atman. The individual Jiva attains to the nature of Brahman and attains His qualities, such as complete freedom from imperfections/evil/sin and so on, which in actuality is its true nature, which was concealed by the power and effects of Karma. Upon Moksha, the Jiva attains autonomy and freedom, but is still dependent on the Lord and meant to serve the Lord eternally, who has granted the Jiva its true nature. In other words, just because the Supreme Being is the source of all the qualities and nature of the individual atman, for that reason is the individual liberated soul dependent on the Supreme. The individual atman possesses all the qualities of the Lord except for the ability to create, govern and destroy the Universe. We do not have the ability to grant Moksha either, and we are still atomic in size when compared to the Lord, who is all pervading.

The bliss of the Lord becomes the bliss of the Jiva. The Jiva no longer has any independent desires, for it has Brahman, the all-desire and the all-bliss. Ramanuja ends his Shri-bhashya on this topic. From Tattva, or Truth, one goes to Hita, or the Path, and that leads to Purushartha, or Moksha. Concluding Thoughts

Summary

To summarize, there is One unified reality that is qualified by real plurality within it.

That is to say jIva and matter as part of Brahman. Brahman is the abode of infinite auspicious qualities, like bliss, love, compassion, power, strength, energy, grace, mercy and so on. Brahman is also the antithesis of everything opposed to purity and imperfection, such as age, hunger, anger, pain, hate, weakness and so on. The Jiva is a real entity that has existed forever and will continue to exist forever as an individual soul, which possesses consciousness, bliss and knowledge as essential qualities and as its intrinsic nature. Its swaroopa is to serve the Isvara. It is atomic in dimension and has all the qualities of Brahman upon liberation (Moksha), except for the power to create, sustain and destroy. It cannot grant Moksha, and remains always atomic in nature. The Jiva possesses within it the Antaryamin Brahman who sits within the soul and is a witness to all its actions.

The Universe is a real entity that exists always. It may not exist always in the same name or form, but it always exists nonetheless. During the period in which creation has not taken place, the universe of matter exists in a subtle state within Brahman. When creation occurs, the universe of matter is brought forth and assumes name and form. The universe comes out of, and remains in, Brahman. The act of creation, sustenance and destruction of the Universe is a divine leela, or sport, of the Lord. It is the ultimate expression of Brahman's love for His "parts", or modes.

Bhakti or Prapatti are the only sadhya upAyAs(probable means for liberation), as they themselves cannot yield us liberation, but real sAdhya upAya (sure means of liberation) is the Lotus feet of the Lord(Mercy of the Lord). Liberation means coming back to original swaroopa of jIva. Even in the state of Moksha, the Jiva performs loving service and devotional contemplation upon the Lord, though not for the want of any desires, but out of pure love to the Lord.

In terms of theology, Ramanujacharya puts forth the view that both the Supreme Goddess Lakshmi and Supreme God Narayana together constitute Brahman - the Absolute. They are both inseparable, co-eternal, co-absolute and are always substantially united. Thus, in reference to these dual aspects of Brahman, the Supreme is refered to in the eternal Sri Vaishnava Sampradaya as Sriman Narayana.

Sri Lakshmi and Narayana possess spiritual bodies composed of shuddha-sattva, or pure goodness. This is the basic theology of Sri Vaishnavism, both shruti (The Vedas, Upanishads, etc.) and smriti (Puranas, Itihasas, etc.) are used to support this view.

The Lord is simply waiting for us to take the first step towards Him, and when we take that first step, He immediately rushes forth, taking infinite number of steps, to be with His devotee as the expression of His love. In the mystic sayings of the Alvars (the great saints of the Sri Vaishnava tradition), it has been said that although the Lord is the Supreme Sovereign, He becomes a servant to His devotees out of His infinite love for them.For a devotee of the lord neither Moksha nor mundane life is ever desireed or needed -- loving service to the Lord is all that there is. To the devotee this service is all the Moksha, or freedom, that is needed.

!! Srimathe Ramanujaya nama: !!

 

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