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An old blog (2004) on Vaisnava Philosophies of Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Caitanya, Bhaskara and Yadavaprakasa

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An old blog (2004) on Vaisnava Philosophies of Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Caitanya, Bhaskara and Yadavaprakasa Empty An old blog (2004) on Vaisnava Philosophies of Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Caitanya, Bhaskara and Yadavaprakasa

Post by Seva Lamberdar Wed Nov 10, 2021 10:28 am

Vaisnava traditions and philosophies have their origins in the Vedas, Upanisads, Brahma Sutra (or Vedanta Sutra), Vedanta, Samkhya, and Puranas etc. The Vedas speak of the Absolute in itself and the inner ruler. The Pachratra Agama accept the theory of Vyuahas or manifestations. The Puranas inculcate the worship of the avatars. The Prabandham deals with devotional utterances. Brahman / Isvara, Bhagavan or the chief deity in Vaisnavism is as Visnu (Vishnu) -- a solar deity (in the Rik Veda) indicating Brahman as the Preserver -- or his incarnation. The distinctive features of Vaisnavism are found in the Pancaratra, mentioned in the Mahabharata. Despite doctrinal differences among various Vaisnava schools, they generally agree in rejecting the conception of maya (basic to Samkara's advaita system); in regarding God as personal (Isvara); and the individual soul as possessed of inalienable individuality, finding its true being not in an absorption in the Supreme but in fellowship with him. The Supreme has six perfections of knowledge, energy, strength, lordship, vigor and brilliance. God, as the antaryamin (Immanent), dwells in all beings and accompanies the soul in all its wanderings. The God in man is like a flash of lightning in the heart of a blue cloud. Isvara or the Immanent is said to be the highest of all.

Religiously, among Vaisnavas there is emphasis on deity worship and bhakti. It accepts the doctrines of karma and rebirth and the possibility of release through virtue and wisdom. Devotion to God, and not assent to dogma, is the essence of bhakti. And moksa (or moksha) leads to equality with God.

(Visistadvaita or qualified non-dualism)


Ramanuja's theism is strongly influenced by Vedanta, Upanisads, Vedanta Sutra, Tiruvaymoyi of Nammalvar, and hymns of Alvars. He concentrates his attention on the relation of the world to God and argues that God is indeed real and independent; but the souls of the world are real also, though their reality is utterly dependent on God. He believes in a spiritual principle at the basis of the world, which is not treated as an illusion. He insists on the continued individual existence of the released souls. Though the world of matter and the individual souls have a real existence of their own, still neither of them is essentially the same as Brahman. For, while Brahman is free from all imperfection, matter is unconscious, and the individual souls are subject to ignorance and suffering. Yet they all form a unity, since matter and souls have existence only as the body of Brahman, i.e. they can exist and be what they are simply because Brahman is their soul and controlling power. Apart from Brahman they are nothing. The individual soul and inanimate nature are essentially different from him, though they have no existence or purpose to serve apart from him or his service. So Ramanuja's theory is an advaita or non-dualism, though with a qualification (visesa), viz. that it admits plurality, since the supreme spirit subsists in a plurality of forms as souls and matter. It is therefore called visistadvaita or qualified non-dualism.

Ramanuja accepts perception, inference and scripture as valid sources of knowledge. He also adopts the theory of sat-karya-vada. Every effect implies a pre-existent material cause. Alteration of state is the meaning of causation. Threads are the cause of cloth, for cloth is only a cross arrangement of threads. Existence and non-existence are different states of a substance. Non-existence is only relative and not absolute. Moreover, while substances serve as the material cause, non-substances cannot do so. The substances are prakrti or matter, kala or time, suddha-tattva or pure matter, dharma-bhuta-jnana or attributed consciousness, jiva or the individual soul, and Isvara or God. While the first three are unconscious (jada), God and soul are conscious (ajada), and jnana has the features of both. It is unlike unconscious substances since it can manifest itself and external objects. Knowledge however is never for itself, but is always for another, the self. Knowledge is a unique adjunct of the self, and is called dharma-bhuta-jnana.

Whereas Samkara believes that the distinction between subject and object is a relative one (since the real is one undifferentiated Brahman), Ramanuja holds the view that the nature of consciousness testifies to the existence of a permanent thinking subject, as well as objects distinct from the self. Knowledge involves the perception of difference. There is no source of knowledge enabling us to apprehend mere undifferenced being.

Ramanuja (b. 1027) had a great influence on the successive theistic movements.


From Ramanuja's theory of knowledge, it follows that the real cannot be a bare identity. It is a determinate whole, which maintains its identity in and through the differences. According to him, there exists an absolute self, and every finite reality is an expression of this self. To make reciprocal interaction among a plurality of existents possible, the constituent elements of the world-whole must have a common bond of unity and interdependence, which must be a spiritual principle. This demands a conservation of the finite and an admission of the infinite (God) as a personal being. In the ultimate reality called God, there exists determination, limitation, difference, other-being which is at the same time dissolved, contained and gathered together in the one. Finitude is in the infinite itself. Brahman has internal difference (Svagta-bheda) and is a synthetic whole, with souls and matter as his moments (cid-acid-visista). The qualities of being (sat), consciousness (cit) and bliss (ananda) give to Brahman a character and a personality. Brahman's knowledge is immediate, and is not dependent on the organs of sense. He is all-knowing and has direct intuition of all. Brahman is the supreme personality, while the individuals are personal in an imperfect way. Personality implies the power to plan and realize one's purposes. God is perfect personality, since he contains all experience within himself and is dependent on nothing external to him. The differences necessary to personality are contained within himself. The most prominent qualities of God are knowledge, power and love (karuna). Out of his love, God has created the world, established laws, and helps constantly all who seek to attain perfection. While each quality by itself is different from the others, they all belong to one identity and do not divide its integrity of being. The Lord's connection with them is natural (svabhavika) and eternal (sanatana). These attributes are said to be abstract, as distinct from matter and souls, which are also called attributes of God. Isvara is the support of his own essential qualities, as well as those of the objects dependent on him. The supreme has "a divine form peculiar to itself, not of the stuff prakrti and not due to karma."

The Individual Soul

The absoluteness of God is qualified in Ramanuja to admit the existence, within the scope of his universal activity, of free spirits, which, though they draw all they are from God, yet possess such spontaneity and choice that they deserve to be called persons. Thus, the individual soul, through a mode of the supreme, is real, unique, eternal, endowed with intelligence and self-conscious, without parts, unchanging, imperceptible and atomic. It is the knower, the agent (karta), and the enjoyer (bhokta). It is attached, on the human plane, to the gross body, the vital breath (prana), which is an instrument as much as the sense organs, the five organs of action and manas (mind). Manas reveals to the soul the inner states and, with the aid of the senses, conveys knowledge of the outer states. The functions of manas are threefold: decision, self-love, and reflection (cinta). In spite of the atomic size of the jiva (soul), through its attribute of knowledge which expands and contracts, it is able to feel pleasure and pain all over the body, even as the flame of the lamp, though tiny in itself, illumines many things by means of its light, which is capable of contraction and expansion. It can apprehend objects far away in space and remote in time. The cognition of the souls, as in the case of God, is eternal in character, self-sustained, extends over all things, and is valid; albeit its range is narrowed on account of defects, such as past karma and the like. The plurality of the souls is evident from the distribution of pleasures and pains. Until liberation, they are bound to prakrti, which serves as a vehicle to the jiva, even as a horse does to the rider. The bondage to the body, "this muddy vesture of decay," obstructs the vision of the eternal and prevents the soul from recognizing the kinship with God.

The soul remains unchanged in its essential nature, maintaining its identity, through all processes of birth and death. At each pralaya (dissolution of the world), the particular forms of the souls are destroyed, though the souls themselves are indestructible. They cannot escape the consequences of their past lives, and they are again thrust into the world at the new creation with appropriate endowments. Association with or dissociation from bodies, resulting in expansion or contraction of intelligence, is what birth or death means, and, until release, the souls are attached to the necessity of the bodies. In pralaya, they are connected with subtle stuff, which does not admit of differentiation, by name and form. The self cannot bear witness to its own past, since memory does not reach beyond the present embodiment.

The characteristic essence of the jiva is the consciousness of self. This self-distinction constitutes the very being of the self. So long as the souls are attached to the bodies due to karma, their acts are largely determined; but when freed from the bodies, they realize their wishes by their mere will. The jiva is not one with God, since it differs in essential character from him. It is said to be a part (amsa) of Brahman. Though it cannot be a part cut out of the whole since Brahman admits no divisions, yet it is comprised within the universal self. The souls are regarded as the effects of Brahman, since they cannot exist apart from him, and yet they are not produced effects, as ether and the like. Note also that the inner ruler has regard in all cases to the volitional effort , which prompts a man's action. He does not care to upset his own laws and interfere with the world-scheme. God, though immanent in the world, does not wish to be intrusive.

There are three classes of the jivas: eternal (nitya), or those dwelling in Vaikuntha . enjoying bliss and free from karma and prakrti; the freed (mukta), or those who achieve liberation through their wisdom, virtue and devotion; and the bound (baddha), or those who wander in samsara owing to their ignorance and selfishness. While the soul can rise to the highest, it can also sink to the lowest, becoming more and more immersed in the body till the life of intelligence is lost, as it were, in the obscure animal movements of sensation and appetite. The souls wandering in the samsara are of four classes: celestial or superhuman, human, animal, and stationary (sthavara). While all souls are of one kind, their distinctions are due to the bodies with which they are associated. The soul, when moving towards another embodiment, is enveloped by the rudiments of the elements, which serve as the substrate of life.


Prakrti or matter, kala or time, and suddha-tattva or pure matter, are the three non-conscious substances. They are objects of experience (bhogya), liable to changes and indifferent to the ends of man. The existence of prakrti is not an object of perception or of inference. It is accepted on the authority of the scripture. Its three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas are evolved in it at the time of the world-creation. In pralaya matter exists in an extremely subtle condition, without distinction of name and form, and is called tamas. At creation, from the tamas mahat appears; from mahat ahamkara; and so on.

Kala or time is given an independent place. It is the form of all existence. It is really an object of perception. Distinctions of days, months, etc., signify the relations of time. Note also that matter is uncreated (aja), though its forms appear and disappear. While both souls and matter constitute the body or attributes of God, he is directly connected with the souls, and only indirectly with matter, which is controlled by the souls. Matter is more completely dependent on Brahman than the souls, which have freedom of choice. The latter can partake in the divine life, and thus be lifted above change and death.

Identity in God, souls and matter

Souls and matter are comprehended within the unity of the Lord's essence and are related to the Supreme as attributes to a substance, as parts to a whole, or as body to the soul which animates it. They are also called prakaras or modes, sesas or accessories, niyamya or the controlled, while God is the supporter (prakari), controller (niyanta) and the principal (sesi). They are real and permanent, though subject to the control of the one Brahman in all their modifications and evolutions. The relation of body to soul is said to bring out roughly the nature of the dependence of the world on God. Since the body (sarira) decays when the soul departs, it has only derivative being; the movements of the body are subject to the will of the soul. The world stands in the same relation to God, deriving its being from him and subject to his will. Isvara exists, with the jiva -- Self with senses or Atman with ego -- as his inner and the world as his outer body. If souls and matter are attributes of God, it does not mean that they are not in themselves substances possessing attributes, with their own distinct modes, energies and activities. The illustration of the soul and body points out that the body has its own qualities, though it qualifies the soul. Thus there is a harmony of the universe and the interaction of the reals, so as to form one world. The world is one because of the organic connection to the multiplicity of spiritual reals and a place and a function to each of them. Souls (bhokta), matter (bhogya), and God (prerita) are three, on account of their natural differences (svarupabhed), but one on account of the identity (aikyam) of the modes and substance (prakara and prakari). Identity means only inseparable existence (aprthasiddhi).

God, from within the cosmic order, sustains it as its ultimate ground and support, and receives it back on its dissolution. Creation and dissolution are not to be taken as events in time, but are to be interpreted as signifying logical dependence on one Supreme. Brahman alone is uncaused, while all the rest is caused. Though he is responsible for the world, which is imperfect, he is not touched by its imperfections. The supreme spirit is identified with Vishnu by Ramanuja, and the highest attributes are ascribed to him.

The divine spirit can be envisaged in several ways. "Brahman" may denote the central unity when souls and matter are regarded as its attributes, or the combined whole when the real is said to be Brahman and Brahman alone. Brahman is the supreme reality, of which the world is the body or the attribute. This world may be manifest, as in creation, or unmanifest, as in dissolution (pralaya). Even in the latter condition the attributes of souls and matter exist, though subtly. The condition of absolute liberation for all is the consummation of the world.


According to Ramanuja, every effect involves a material cause, and the effect of the world implies free existing souls and unevolved matter. Though souls and matters are the modes of God, they have enjoyed the kind of individual existence, which is theirs from all eternity, and cannot be entirely resolved into Brahman. They have a sort of secondary subsistence, which is enough to enable them to develop on their own lines. They exist in two different conditions which periodically alternate, the first being a subtle state when they do not possess the qualities by which they are ordinarily known, when there is no distinction of individual name and form, when matter is unevolved and intelligence is contracted. It is the state of pralaya when Brahman is said to be in a causal condition (karan-avastha). When creation takes place on account of the will of the Lord, subtle matter becomes gross and souls enter into connection with material bodies corresponding to the degree of merit or demerit acquired by them previously, and their intelligence undergoes certain expansion. Brahman, with souls and matter thus manifested, is said to be in the effect condition. Creation and destruction are only relative and signify different states of the same causal substance, namely Brahman. Souls and matter have a twofold existence, a causal existence and an effect existence. In their causal existence the souls are unmaterialized and nature is in equipoise; but when the time for creation comes, the souls, under the influence of their karma, disturb the equilibrium of the three gunas, and prakrti works out the fruits of their karma under divine providence. It is to enable the souls to undergo the experiences for which their deeds have entitled them that creation is brought about. God creates the world to suit the karma of the souls. In this sense God's creative act is not independent or absolute. In any case, nature and souls are instruments of God's play (lila), and cannot at any time offer any resistance to his will.

Ethical and Religious Life

Ramanuja grants to the individual souls freedom to act according to their own free will. So far as responsibility is concerned, each individual is an other to God, a different person. When the soul fails to recognize its dependence on God, God helps it to realize the truth by the machinery of karma, which may lead to the punishment on the soul, thus reminding it of its sinful efforts. Through the operation of the indwelling God, the soul recognizes its sinfulness and entreats God for help. In Ramanuja's philosophy great emphasis is placed on the conviction of sin and man's responsibility for it.

As a theist, Ramanuja believes that salvation is possible, not through jnana and karma, but through bhakti and prasada (grace). Jnana, in the scriptures, stands for dhyana, or meditation, and nididhyasana or concentrated contemplation. Bhakti is gained through concentration on the truth that God is our innermost self and that we are but modes of his substance. But such jnana cannot be had unless the bad karma is destroyed. Work undertaken in a disinterested spirit helps to remove the past accumulations. So long as karma enjoined in the scriptures is undertaken with a selfish motive, the end cannot be gained. The results of ceremonial observances are transitory, while the result of the knowledge of God is indestructible. If we perform work in the spirit of dedication to God, it helps us in our effort after salvation. Work performed in such a spirit develops the sattva nature and helps the soul to see the truth of things. The two, jnana and karma, are means to bhakti, or the power which tears up our selfishness by the roots, gives new strength to the will, new eyes to the understanding and new peace to the soul.

Bhakti, in Ramanuja, is man's reaching out towards a fuller knowledge of God quietly and meditatively. He insists on an elaborate preparation for bhakti, which includes viveka, or discrimination of food; vimoka, or freedom from all else and longing for God; abhyasa, or continuous thinking of God; kriya, or doing good to others; kalyana, or wishing well to all; satyam, or truthfulness; arjavam, or integrity; daya, or compassion; ahimsa, or non-violence; dana, or charity; and anavasada, or cheerfulness and hope. Thus bhakti is not mere emotionalism, but includes the training of the will as well as the intellect. It is knowledge as well as obedience to his will. Bhakti is loving God with all mind and all heart. It finds its culmination in an intuitive realization of God.


Bhakti and moksa are organically related, so that every stage of bhakti is a type of perfecting oneself. Bhakti is salvation in becoming, and is regarded as superior to the other methods, since it is its own reward. The soul becomes through bhakti more and more vividly conscious of its relation to God, until at last it surrenders itself to God, who is the soul of its soul. Salvation is not the disappearance of the self, but its release from the limiting barriers. For disappearance of the self will be the destruction of the real self. Moreover, the released soul attains the nature of God, though not identity with him. It becomes omniscient and is ever having the intuition of God. It desires nothing else, and so has no chance of returning to samsara. It is egoity that is opposed to salvation, and not individuality. The essential nature, though something eternally accomplished, is, in the state of samsara, obscured by avidya and karma. The state of release means the unimpeded manifestation of the natural qualities of intelligence and bliss. The released soul is not subject to the law of karma. One attains to fellowship with God after exhausting all karma and throwing off the physical body . thus, in Ramanuja, there is no jivanmukti. In a state of release the souls are all of the same type. Thus the individuality determined by bodily connections, i.e. during life, is not eternal. When the individuality is shattered the soul is said to attain the nature of Brahman and manifest its own true nature. It does not develop any new character. In the released condition the souls have all the perfections of the Supreme except in two points. They are atomic in size, while the supreme spirit is all-pervading. Moreover, the soul has no power over the creative movements of the world, which belong exclusively to Brahman.


(Dwaita or dualism)


A leading form of reaction against Samkara's Advaitism is the dualistic philosophy associated with the name of Madhva, which has many points in common with Ramanuja's view of reality. Madhva stands out for unqualified dualism and insists on the five great distinctions of God and the individual soul, God and matter, the individual soul and matter, one soul and another, and one part of matter and another. It will perhaps be better to visualize creation as comprising of all the souls and the world of matter. Thus the duality, as Madhva suggests, between God and creation. The exclusive mediatorship through Vayu, the son of Vishnu, is also there. In view of the fact that Madhva's commentary on the Kena Upanisad is taken from Brahmasara, it is reasonable to think that there was the tradition of dualism even prior to Madhva. Madhva also makes clever use of the Samkhya and the Nyaya-Vaisesika theories.

The differences with Ramanuja include that while Ramanuja thinks that the individual souls are similar in their natural essence, Madhva makes them different. Madhva denies that Brahman is the material cause, which Ramanuja admits. For Madhva, the universe is not the body of God. In Ramanuja, there are no souls disqualified for salvation and there are no differences in the enjoyment of bliss for freed souls.

Madhva accepts the three sources of knowledge: perception, inference and scriptural testimony. Comparison is regarded as a variety of inferences. Perception is confined to the facts open to the senses. Inference is incapable of supplying us with new facts, though it helps us to test and systematize the facts obtained through other means. We have to depend on the Vedas for a true knowledge of reality. Madhva accepts the authoritativeness of the Vedas as a whole, and does not discriminate between the different parts of it.

Reality (padartha) is of two kinds, according to Madhva, independent (svatantra) and dependent (paratantra). God, the supreme person, is the only independent realty. The dependent beings are of two kinds, positive (bhava) and negative (abhava). Of the positive we have two varieties, conscious (cetana) souls, and unconscious (acetana) entities, like matter and time. Unconscious existence is either eternal like the Vedas, eternal and non-eternal like prakrti, time and space, or non-eternal like the products of prakrti.


There are three entities existing from all eternity to all eternity, fundamentally different from one another, which are God, soul and the world. Though these are all real and eternal, the latter two are subordinate to God and dependent on him. Independent reality is Brahman, the absolute creator of the universe. We can know his nature through the study of the Vedas, and so his nature is not indefinable. When the Supreme is said to be indefinable, all that is meant that a complete knowledge of him is difficult to acquire. Brahman is unsurpassed in excellence and without an equal, since it penetrates everywhere. The attributes of God are absolute in their character and so do not limit him. Brahman possesses every kind of perfection. He is identified with Vishnu, and is said to direct by his will the world and all that is in it as an absolute ruler. He creates and destroys the world again and again. He is endowed with a supernatural body and is regarded as transcendent to the world as well as immanent, since he is the inner ruler (antaryamin) of the souls. He manifests himself in various forms (vyuhas), appears periodically in incarnations (avataras), and is said to be mystically present in the sacred images. He creates, maintains and destroys the universe, imparts knowledge, manifests himself in several ways, condemns some and redeems others. By his side is Laksmi, capable of assuming various forms, but without a material body, coeternal with him and all pervading. She witnesses the glory of God through eternity and, unlike other gods and goddesses who acquire release after many existences, she is eternally redeemed. She is the personification of God's creative energy. She is the intelligent prakrti, though God is greater than she is in point of subtlety and the extent of qualities. God rules the souls and matter, though he does not create them from nothing or reduce them to nothing. He is the efficient cause but not the material cause of the universe. God takes into account the karma of individuals, but he is not dependent on karma.

The Individual Soul

Everything on earth is, according to Madhva, a living organism. The universe is a vast expansion of animated nature with every atom of space filled with jivas (beings comprising of body and soul). Madhva regards the distinction between Brahman and jiva real, and holds that it is wrong to think that the jiva and Brahman are non-different in release and different in samsara (world), since two different things cannot at any time become non-different or vice versa. Though absolutely dependent on Brahman, the jivas are essentially active agents and have responsibilities to bear. The soul is not an absolute agent, since it is of limited power, depending, as it does, on the guidance of the Lord. The jiva is said to be of the atomic size as distinct from Brahman who is all pervading. Though limited in size, it pervades the body on account of its quality of intelligence. The organ of knowledge is called saksin, to which the material manas (mind) presents its impressions. It is the cognizing principle to which is due the consciousness of I-ness (ego), which is the basis of individuality. The soul is by nature blissful, though it is subject to pain and suffering, on accounts of its connection with material bodies due to the past karma. So long as it is not freed from its impurities, it wanders about in changing forms of existence. The qualities like bliss become manifest at the time of release. Though the souls are eternal, they are said to be born with reference to their embodied connection. No two jivas are alike in character. Each has its own worth and place in the scale of existence. The jivas are dependent on the Lord, who, however, impels them to action according to their previous conduct.

The conscious souls are of three kinds: (1) those eternally free (nitya), like Laksmi; (2) those who have freed themselves from samsara (mukta) devas and men, rsis and fathers; and (3) the bound (badha). The last class (3) includes both those who are eligible for release (mukti-yogya) and those who are not eligible for it (mukti-ayogya). These latter (mukti-ayogya) are metaphorically either those intended for hell (constant suffering) or the blinding darkness (tamo-yogya) or those who are bound to the circuit of samsara for all time. While some are preordained for salvation by their inherent aptitude, others are destined for hell, while a third class keeps revolving on the wheels of samsara from eternity to eternity, now enjoying, now suffering, in endless alteration. This threefold classification is based on the three gunas (due their association to the corresponding bodies perhaps). The Sattvika soul goes to heaven, the rajasa revolves in samsara, while the tamasa falls into hell. The living beings comprise of gods, men, animals and plants. Even among the souls destined for salvation, no two souls possess the same degree of eligibility.

The World of Nature

Material products are the objects of the inanimate world and form the bodies and organs of all beings. They all originate from the primary matter, prakrti, and return to it in course of time. Though prakrti appears to be homogeneous, it is really composed of different principles in a subtle state. It develops into the perceptible universe when worked up by God and the souls. God moulds forms out of prakrti, which is the material cause and in which he exists himself in various forms. Before we get from the unmanifested prakrti to the well-developed forms of creation, we have twenty-four transitional products of creation which are mahat (the first formed matter from which the rest evolves); ahamkara (ego); buddhi (intellect); manas (mind); ten senses (working in cooperation with the manas): five related to perception or the functions of sense-objects (e.g. seeing, hearing, touching / tactility, tasting, smelling), and the other five related to the organs of action (as functions of the tongue, feet, hands, evacuation and reproduction); five sense-objects (form / color, sound, touch or tactile, taste or rasa, odor); and the five great elements (fire or light, ether / space, air, water, earth). These exist in the primordial prakrti in subtle forms before their evolution.

God and the World

Madhva rejects all attempts to reduce the world of souls and nature to a mere illusion or an emanation of God, and sets forth an absolute dualism. The individual soul is dependent on God, since it is unable to exist without the energizing support of the universal spirit, even as the tree cannot live and thrive without its sap. Even Laksmi, the consort of Vishnu, though supreme and eternal, is dependent on God. She is the presiding deity over prakriti, which is the material cause of the world. Isvara somehow energizes prakrti, which forms no part of his being. Madhva uses the etymological meanings of Atman and Brahman with identifications of the individual and the universal self. The Atman is Brahman, since it grows or since it penetrates everywhere.

The supremacy of God introduces order and unity into the universe, in spite of ultimate differences. Through the category of visesa (particularity), which distinguishes a quality from a substance, a part from a whole, the one and many are brought into relation. By means of the category of visesa, it is possible to account for the world of distinctions without assuming the latter is ultimate. It is through the functioning of visesa that there is difference or bheda. If visesa is different from the Supreme, it breaks the integrity of the Supreme; if it is non-different from it, it cannot be called visesa (Vaisesika philosophy).

Ethics and Religion

It is knowledge that produces the feeling of absolute dependence on God and love for him. A correct knowledge of all things, material and spiritual, leads to knowledge of God, which naturally results in the love for God. Towards the close of his Tattvaviveka, Madhva says: "Surely he finds release from samsara who understands that all this limited existence is ever under the control of Hari."

A sound moral life is a preliminary for salvation. The moral rules are to be obeyed and obligations fulfilled without any desire or claim for fruit. A virtuous life helps us to win insight into truth. We can gain true knowledge from a study of the Vedas, which is usually difficult (for people with varying educational and social backgrounds) and therefore must be carried out under the proper guidance. Each individual has in him the capacity for the perception of a particular aspect of Brahman. Madhva encourages all to study the Vedanta. Meditation, or the act of absorbing oneself as often and as intensely as possible in the glory of God, is advised. In the act of meditation the soul can by divine grace arrive at a direct intuitive realization of God. When the soul has this vision, as steady as the sun and not merely as swift as lightning, its fetters fall off and it is said to be redeemed.

Though, in a sense, the states of the soul are brought about by Brahman, it is also admitted that the grace of the lord is proportional to our devotion. Our conduct cannot by itself lead us to freedom; God must cooperate. The supreme that is non-manifested cannot be made manifested by the force of our efforts. He reveals himself when pleased with our devotion. The grace of God corresponds to the faith of the worshipper. There is the belief in divine predestination and human freedom. Insight, devotion, performance of rites and ceremonies, are insisted on. God (Vishnu) can be worshipped in word (veracity, sacred study), act (charity) and thought (mercy and faith). Worship of God is the indispensable, preliminary condition for obtaining the divine grace. Works done with knowledge help us in the upward progress. Rites and sacrifices are recommended, but animal sacrifices are forbidden.

The soul may continue the bodily existence so long as its prarabdha (previously acquired) karma is operative (not exhausted), but when it departs from the body it is freed absolutely. Absolute liberation and embodied life are not compatible. The author of the Nyaymrta argues that he, who has the vision of the truth but not the grace of God necessary to effect freedom, continues to live in the flesh. This is jivanmukti (liberation in life). Complete freedom is possible only through the grace of God. Release, according to the Bhagavata, is fellowship with God and not identification with him. In the state of release, there is absence of pain as well as the presence of positive enjoyment. But the soul is not capable of rising in equality with God. It is only entitled to serve him. While those who attain release escape from the world of Samsara, others pass on at death to a different existence, which is determined by the law of karma.


(Dvaitadvaita or dualistic non-dualism)

Nimbarka's theory is called dvaitadvaita or dualistic non-dualism. He indicated the distinctness of Jiva (conditioned soul), Isvara and Jagat (world). Jiva is of the form of knowledge -- it is knowledge as well as the possessor of knowledge -- even as the sun is light as well as the source of light. Thus the relation of the soul to its attribute is that of the dharmin ( the qualified) to the dharma (the qualification). It is one of difference and non-difference. Between the qualification and the qualified there is no absolute identity, but only the non-perception of the difference. Though jiva is atomic in size, on account of its possession of the omnipresent quality of knowledge, it is able to experience the pleasures and the pains throughout the body. The jiva is the agent of activity, but has no independent knowledge or activity. The jiva continues to exist in dreamless sleep and the state of release. As Isvara is the governor, the jiva in all states has the nature of being governed. The number of jivas is infinite, though the supreme spirit sustains them all.

The inanimate world has three principal categories (tattvas), which are: (1) aprakrta, or what is not derived from the primordial prakrti, such as the stuff of the divine body which is the basis of the nitya-vibhuti (eternal glory) of Isvara; (2) prakrti, or what is derived from prakrti with its three gunas; and (3) kala, or time. Prakrti and kala are the basic principles of cosmic existence. These three categories are also eternal like the individual souls.

The eternal nature of Isvara is to govern. The predicateless character is refuted in Brahman who has attributes of good and auspicious qualities. The supreme spirit is identified with Krsna, and is regarded as possessing all auspicious qualities and exempt from the faults of egoism, ignorance, passion and attachment. He is the material and the efficient cause of the universe. He is the material cause, since creation means the manifestation of his powers (sakti) of cit (consciousness) and acit (unconsciousness) in their subtle forms. Through Brahman's sakti, or energy, the world is produced where each separate soul finds fit embodiment. Sakti of Brahman is the material cause of the world, and the changes of sakti do not touch the integrity of Brahman. What Ramanuja calls the "body" of Brahman is the sakti according to Nimbarka. God does not stand in need of materials to construct the world. He is all-powerful, and by his mere will he is able to create the world. He is the efficient cause of the universe, since he brings about the union of the individual souls with their respective karmas and their results and the proper instruments for experiencing them. Brahman is thus both the efficient and the material cause of the world.

The relation of the three principles of jiva, the world and God, is not one of absolute identity or non-distinction. Nor can it be said that three principles are absolutely distinct. Both difference and non-difference are real according to Nimbarka. Creation (soul and the world) is different from Brahman (Isvara), since it possesses natures and attributes different from those of Brahman. Moreover, creation is not different from Isvara, since it cannot exist by itself and depends absolutely on Brahman. The difference signifies distinct and independent existence, and non-difference signifies the impossibility of independent existence. The individual souls and the world are not self-sufficient, but are guided by Isvara. In pralaya (dissolution), these two get absorbed into the nature of Isvara, who contains the subtle forms of jiva and jagat. Between the periods of dissolution and re-creation, all existence, conscious and unconscious, dwells in him in a subtle state. The usual theory (e.g. in the Samkhya) which traces the evolution of nature to the three gunas is accepted.

The supreme spirit is conceived as free from all defects, a storehouse of all beneficent attributes, possessed of a heavenly body, full of beauty and tenderness, sweetness and charm. Souls are infinite in number and are atomic in size. Each soul is a ray of Brahman individualized. The theory attempts to avoid the affirmation of an absolute identity, where attributes are confused and distinctions abolished, and, at the same time, tries to escape from mere pluralism, which would impair the omnipresence of Brahman and limit his nature and sovereignty.

The pure nature of the jiva is obscured by its karma, which is the result of avidya. Avidya is beginningless, yet through the grace of God can be terminated. Prapatti, or complete submission to God is the way to deliverance. Those who possess this attitude, through bhakti or devotion eventually come to the realization of God. In Nimbarka, Krsna and Radha take the place of Narayana and his consort.

Bhakti involves a knowledge of the supreme reality; the nature of the individual soul; the fruit of divine grace or moksa -- which is an uninterrupted realization of the nature and attributes of Brahman, resulting in the absolute destruction of all selfishness and ignorance; and the nature of the hindrances to God-realization -- such as (1) the erroneous identification of the soul with the body, the senses or the mind, (2) dependence on another than God, (3) violation of or indifference to his commandments, and (4) confusion of God with ordinary beings. Bhakti is not meditation, but love and devotion. Karma is said to be the means for the acquisition of brahma-jnana (divine knowledge), carrying with it devotion. Thus karma (yoga) leads to jnana (yoga) leading to bhakti (yoga) or devotion.

While both Ramanuja and Nimbarka regard difference and non-difference necessary, Ramanuja emphasizes more on the identity. For Nimbarka, the two (difference and non-difference between God and Creation) are equally real and have the same importance.

Nimbarka's philosophy also had the general support of Kesava, who in his commentary on the Brahma Sutra developed the theory of the transformation (parinama) of Brahman. A distinction is made there between the independent reality of Purusottama (God) and the dependent realities of jiva and prakrti. While both jiva and Isvara are self-conscious, the former is limited, and the latter is not. While the jiva is the enjoyer (bhktr), the world is the enjoyed (bhogya), and Isvara is the supreme controller.


(Suddhadvaita or pure non-dualism)

Vallabha's view is different than those of Samkara and Ramanuja, and is called Suddhadvaita or pure non-dualism. He declares that the whole world is real and is subtly Brahman. The individual souls and the inanimate world are in essence one with Brahman. Jiva, kala or time, and prakrti or maya, are considered eternal existences; they are referred to the being of Brahman and have no separate existence. Those who accept the force of maya as the explanation of the world are not pure Advaitins, since they admit a second to Brahman. While Samkara traces the world to Brahman through the force of maya, Vallabha holds that Brahman can create the world without any connection with such a principle as maya. God is personified as Krsna, when he is endowed with the qualities of wisdom (jnana) and action (kriya). Even as the transcendent and having no physical body, God can create the world by the mere force of his will. Not only is he karta or agent of action, he is also bhokta (enjoyer). Though he has no need to assume a body, he appears in various forms to please his devotees. The highest, when associated with action only, is yajna-rupa, who can be propitiated by karmas, as stated in the Brahmanas; when associated with wisdom, it is Brahman, and can be approached through jnana, as stated in the Upanisads. Krsna the Supreme has to be worshipped according to the principles of the Gita and the Bhagavata.

In human and animal souls the quality of ananda is suppressed, while in matter consciousness is also suppressed. Brahman becomes whatever wills by the evolution and involution of its qualities.

The jiva is atomic in size, is one with Brahman, and constitutes a part of it. When the ananda of Brahman is obscured, we have jiva. There are three kinds of jivas: the pure (suddha) jivas -- with lordly qualities and without avidya; the mundane (sansarin) jivas -- caught in the meshes of avidya, and experiencing birth and death by reason of their connection with gross and subtle bodies; and the liberated (mukta) jivas -- freed from the bonds of samsara through insight into truth (vidya). When the soul attains release, it recovers its suppressed qualities and becomes one with God.

The inanimate world also is filled with Brahman. In it the two qualities of Brahman, knowledge and bliss, are obscured, and what remains is pure sattva or existence. Since it is Brahman that is manifested in the form of the world, the latter is regarded as the effect of Brahman. Creation and destruction of the world are only the manifestation and non-manifestation of the Supreme who puts on these forms. Brahman becomes a product and is apprehended in the state of creation, while in destruction the world returns to its original form, and ceases to be an object of perception. The world is therefore as eternal and real as Brahman himself, and its creation and destruction are due to the power (sakti) of Brahman. The world cannot be regarded as an illusory appearance; nor is it essentially different from Brahman. Brahman is the material and the efficient cause of the world.

Vallabha looks upon God as the whole and the individual as the part; but, as the individual is of the identical essence with God, there is no real difference between the two (like the analogy of sparks to fire). The individual soul is not the Supreme clouded by the force of avidya, but is itself Brahman, with one attribute (ananda) rendered imperceptible. The soul is both a doer and enjoyer. It is atomic in size, though pervading the whole body by its quality of intelligence (like sandal-wood makes its presence felt through its scent even where there is no sandal-wood).

The world of maya is not regarded as unreal, since maya is nothing else than a power hich Isvara of his free will produces. He is not only creator of the universe but is the universe itself. Vallabha accepts the Brhadaranyaka account, that Brahman desired to become many, and he became the multitude of individual souls and the world. Though Brahman in himself is not known, he is known when he manifests himself through the world.

Bhakti is the chief means of salvation, though jnana is also useful. Karmas precede knowledge of the Supreme, and are present even when this knowledge is gained. The liberated perform all karmas. The highest goal is not mukti or liberation, but rather eternal service of Krsna and participation in his sports in the celestial Brndavana. Vallabha distinguishes the transcendent consciousness of Brahman from Purusottama. He lays a great stress on a life of unqualified love to God.


(Acintya Bhedabheda or inconceivable difference-nondifference)

The Caitanya's bhakti movement is based on the bhakti (devotion) to Radha-Krsna. The philosophical classics of this school are by Jiva Goswami (Caitanya's student) and Baladeva (a later author). These writers were greatly influenced by the views of Ramanuja and Madhva. They admit five principles of God, souls, maya or prakrti, svarupa-sakti (with its two elements of jnana or knowledge and suddhatattva or pure matter), and kala or time.

The traditional account of the sources of knowledge, including Vedic testimony, is accepted. The intuition of Brahman, pure and simple, is, for Jiva Goswami, an undoubted fact of consciousness, though it requires to be transcended. The ultimate reality is Vishnu, the personal God of love and grace, possessing the usual attributes of sat, cit and ananda. He is nirguna, in the sense that he is free from the qualities of prakrti and saguna, since he has the qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, etc. These qualities express the nature of Brahman and inhere (through svarupa-sambahdha) in him. His former nature is unchangeable, while his latter is subject to modifications. He is the source, support and end of the world, the material and efficient cause of the universe. He is the efficient cause through his higher energy (para-sakti), and material cause through his other energies (apara-sakti and avidya-sakti). The chief character of God is love and power of joy. God assumes infinite forms, of which the chief is that of Krsna, whose supreme delight is love. Krsna, when identified with the Supreme, has three powers, cit, maya and jiva. By the first (cit) he maintains his nature as intelligence and will, by the second (maya) the whole creation is produced, by the third (jiva) the souls. The highest manifestation of the cit power of Krsna is the power of delight. Radha is the essence of the delight-giving power.

The universe and its creatures have come into being through the powers of God. They are dependent on him, though separate and distinct from him. They are neither one with God nor different from him. An inconceivable difference-nondifference (by virtue of the acintya-sakti of God) is the truth of things. The world is real and not illusory; it is called maya on account of its nature, since it attracts men to itself and away from God. The servant of God becomes, through the power of maya, the slave of the world.

The soul is different from the Lord, who is the ruler. God is omnipresent while the soul is of atomic size. At the time of creation, the Supreme remembers the constitution of the world immediately preceding the pralya (dissolution) and desires to "become manifold," i.e. give separate existence to the enjoying souls and the objects of enjoyment merged in him. He creates the entire world from the great principle of mahat down to the cosmic egg and Brahma. Note that while Ramanuja regards the souls and matter as the adjectives (visesanas) of God (and thus not as separate from God), the Caitanya school (including Jiva Goswami and Baladeva) regards them as the manifestations of God's energy (or as God's inconceivable energy or acintya-sakti). The latter (Caitanyas') are averse to making unconscious prakrti a predicate of God, which may introduce an element of discord into his nature.

The souls become fettered by the bonds of the world through the power of maya, which makes them forget their real nature. The force of karma can be overcome if we have bhakti. By the development of love for Krsna, we can have intuition of the divine. God's affection for his creatures is said to be brought out in his love for Radha. It is the desire of the creator that his creature should cleave to him only in the hope of salvation. Kama or sexual love is distinguished from prema or spiritual love. Bhakti is the way to salvation. Study of the scriptures is inculcated. Reverence for the guru is recommended. The distinctions of castes are ignored. No person is too low for the grace of God. Ethical virtues of mercy towards all creatures, humility, tranquility, freedom from worldly desires and purity of heart are emphasized.

Salvation consists in the eternal experience of love. Souls upon liberation realize their status as the servants of God, and are utterly devoted to him. Love is release. Bhakti is the true mukti. Through mukti, soul's bondage to rebirth is broken, and it attains to a status of equality with God, though it is never absorbed in God. Note that even though some of writers belonging to Caitanya's school call themselves as the followers of Madhva, in their thought they are really nearer to Ramanuja, since in overall their emphasis (as Caitanyas') is more on identity than on differences.


(Bhedabheda-vada or real difference-nondifference)

Bhaskara does not favor either Samkara's views or those of Pancaratra Vaisnavas. He is an upholder of the bhedabheda-vada, or the doctrine that unity and multiplicity are equally real. Brahman is not an undifferentiated mass of pure consciousness, but possesses all perfection. The causal state of Brahman is regarded as a unity, while its evolved condition is one of multiplicity. Things are non-different in their causal and generic aspects and different as effects and individuals. Non-difference does not absorb difference as fire consumes grass. The two are equally real. Bhaskara believes in the real evolution. He regards the illusion theory as unauthentic. He holds that the world of matter has real existence, though it is essentially of the same nature as Brahman. When matter acts on Brahman, it serves as a limiting adjunct in the form of body and senses and results in the rise of individual souls. The jiva is naturally one with Brahman, while its difference from Brahman is due to limitations and not avidya. The relation of jivas to Brahman is illustrated by the analogy of sparks and fire. Karma, according to Bhaskara, is an essential means to acquiring knowledge (jnana) which results in salvation. Thus he adopts the view of jnana-karma-samuccaya (the combination of karma and jnana).


Yadava Prakasa
(svabhaviko bhedabheda-vada or simultaneous difference-nondifference)

Yadava adopts Brahma-parinama-vada , or the theory of the transformation of Brahman. He holds that Brahman is really changed into cit (spirit), acit (matter), and Isvara (God). If Isvara is brought under cit, both conscious and unconscious forms are only different states of one substance and not different substances themselves. It is called the doctrine of simultaneous difference and non-difference. While Brahman undergoes changes, it does not forfeit its purity. Yadava does not see a contradiction in saying that a thing can be different and at the same time non-different from itself. He says that all things always present themselves under these two different aspects. They present non-difference so far as their causal substance (karana) and the class characters (jati) are concerned; they present difference so far as their effected condition (karya) and individual characteristics (vyakti) are concerned. Brahman and the world are thus both different and non-different. While Bhaskara believes that Brahman undergoes in a way the experiences of the finite souls, Yadava contends that Brahman remains in its pristine exalted condition. If we believe that the three, God, soul and matter are ultimate realities and not transformations of Brahman, we are in a realm of misconception. For removing false knowledge, both karma and jnana are considered useful. Brahman alone is real, and all else is produced from Brahman. For Yadava, distinctions are as real as the identity, while for Bhaskara the distinctions are due to upadhis (limitations), which are real, while the identity is the ultimate truth. Ramanuja objects to Yadava's concept of Isvara as a modification of Brahman on the ground that there is none beyond Isvara.



To majority of people, the distinction between Dwaita and Advaita is not important. Their relationship with God is developed and based according to their personalities, perceptions, knowledge and resources etc. It is like being near the base of a mountain, and perhaps not looking very far. In such a situation, the person is quite aware of himself and the surroundings: other people, animals, trees and rocks etc. Moreover, he may also notice the mountain peak in the background. This situation to him and others would appear satisfactory and normal. But, over time, he may begin to look at things differently and realize that all these constituents (he, the surroundings, and the peak) basically signify the mountain, in its completeness (with sentient and insentient beings), and nothing more.

Note that all new ideas and movements are basically the offshoots (with slight modifications from time to time) of ancient ideologies, philosophies, theologies, practices and traditions.

Generally, all different sects still portray:

(1) one monotheistic God or Brahman (even though polymorphically as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Mahesh, Om, Onkar, Savitar, Agni, Supreme-teacher, Supreme-spirit, and so on ); and

(2) one humanity (men and women still occupied with the same type of ancient castes or occupations: brahmin, preacher, teacher, administrator, guru, soldier, kshatriya, vaishya, farmer, shudra, worker, and so on).


Compiled from: Indian Philosophy, Vol. 2, by S. Radhakrishnan, ISBN 019563821-4, pp. 268-273, 659-721, 737-765;
by: Dr. Subhash C. Sharma
Date: Apr. 24, 2004 (original)
Seva Lamberdar
Seva Lamberdar

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