5. The Path to Salvation
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5. The Path to Salvation

A famous mantra of the Mundaka Upanisad runs - "Two are the types of knowledge that the seekers of Brahman should master. The lower one comprises of the four Vedas and the six Vedangas. And that which is intuitive is the higher knowledge."

This mantra is not meant to disparage the Vedas, but rather to stress that the path to salvation is one of experience and realization, rather than one of verbal comprehension and intelligence.

Sri Ramanuja too holds that both these lower and higher wisdoms are essential for one's emancipation. According to him, the lower wisdom consists of learning the scriptures from the Guru, and acting according to them, performing selfless action conjoined with actions conducive to the blossoming of higher wisdom (like meditation, sacrifice).

Hence, Sri Ramanuja holds the doctrine of Jnana-karma samuccaya (combination of works and knowledge) in the preliminary stages of the way to salvation. Thus, as the devotee progresses on the path of salvation, he becomes more and more receptive to Divine grace and his samkalpa (resolve) is more and more in tune with Divine Will. He continues to perform his actions, but no longer for the fruit that accrues to it, but out of pure love for God. Eventually, a stage is reached when the fresh actions of the devotee stop bearing fruit and the union of God and His votary becomes more and more strong and continuous, uninterrupted. Eventually, Salvation results.

Divine Grace:

Sri Ramanuja interprets scriptural statements implying divine grace literally. However, this does not mean that Brahman is arbitrary in showering His grace on people. Rather, it is only someone who has reached a certain stage of spiritual life - the devotionally and theological informed stage of the 'beloved' in point of fact - who becomes the recipient of divine salvific grace. One of the salvific aids which the Lord bestows upon men are, among others, the life giving message of the scriptures containing directions for discerning meritorious and un-meritorious actions and for performing salvific ones.

The Lord Himself indwells the person as her inner controller and support, desirous of guiding her to the true and final end. In other words. In so far as our world contains a real possibility for our eventual liberation, as its inhabitants, we may be regarded as the recipients of a general divine salvific initiative.

Ramanuja's View on Emancipation of Sudras (persons with little propensity for spiritual life):

Sri Ramanuja subscribed to the view that although Sudras were free to study the Smritis (Non-revealed scriptures), they were barred from reading the Vedas, and hence it is very difficult for them to attain salvation in their present lives. Yet, by leading virtuous lives according to the dictates of the varnasrama dharma (duties corresponding to their psycho-physical nature and stage of life), they could hope to be reborn in their next lives as suvarnas (members of the first three varnas) and thus attain salvation.

Categories of Votaries:

Sri Ramanuja follows the Gita 7.28 in classifying the votaries of God. They can be power seekers (aiswaryarthins), Seekers of liberation (kaivalyarthins), or the knowledgeable (jnanis) who seek only divine love and communion with God. Sri Ramanuja opines that in His mercy, God does fulfill the desires of the first and moreover, if they co-operate with God, they might even attain liberation. Sri Ramanuja equates the second with the followers of Samkhya and Yoga and the last with Bhaktas (Devotees). He states that the last two attain the same goal, but that salvation is easier had by jnanis than by kaivalyarthins. Moreover, it is the jnanis who see the true nature of God and of salvation as that comprising loving communion with God and who see Him rightly as their antaryamin. While in this world, the jnanis perform all their actions out of selfless love of God and surrender the fruits of their karmas unto Him. The samkhya-yogins too obtain the goal of the Bhaktas but it is only later that they too perceive the truth in the fashion of the followers of the path of Bhakti.

A lasting achievement of Sri Yamuna and Sri Ramanuja was the way they were able to weld the practical religion of Bhakti (devotion) towards a personal God with the intricate metaphysics of Vedanta. Thereby, they paved the way for what is now called Hinduism, and also led to an integration of the laity and the scholarly sections of the Hindu Society.

6. A Summary of Visistadvaita Theology:

Sri Ramanuja bases his theology on the ensouling-ensouler (sarira-saririn)model. This model naturally leads to several pairs of terms which clearly describe the relationship between Brahman on one hand and the finite selves and the universe on the other. The pairs of terms are defined by him in such a manner as to communicate that the finite selves (jivas) and the Universe are intricately woven with Brahman with the latter being the dominant element, and yet they are also different from Him.

The sarira-saririn model also enables Sri Ramanuja to refute the notions of the Advaitins and other Vedantins, as well as of other schools of philosophy and at the same time, he is able to skillfully weld the seemingly contradictory concepts of: .
The Personal and Transcendental natures of God; .
Divine grace and free will; .
Immutability of self vs. its capability to be a doer and a knower of transient things; .
The monistic and dualist scriptural texts, and so on.

Thus, the traditional term 'Visistadvaita' for this school of Hindu Theology/Philosophy is perfectly appropriate in this regard.

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