Dr. Anima Sen Gupta’s book; “A Critical Study of the Philosophy of Ramanuja,” is a lucid and authentic presentation of Visistadvaita Vedanta as expounded by Bhagavan Ramanuja.
Visistadvaita Darsana advocates on the philosophical side a type of Absolutism, a kind of organic conception of Reality, and inculcates on the religious side, belief in a single supreme God who from His boundless mercy saves those who are His ardent devotees. Ramanuja did not initiate a new school of Vedanta, but reaffirmed faith in an old doctrine treasured and elucidated by ancient masters (purvacaryas) like Bodhayana, Tanka, Darmida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Bharuci. He acknowledges his indebtedness to them, and more particularly to Bodhayana from whose Vrtti on the Brahma Sutras he frequently quotes, and to his own paramaguru Yamunacarya, whose Siddhitraya and Gitarthasamgraha furnished the basis for his own Sri Bhasya and Gita-Bhasya. The system, however, owes not a little to Ramanuja. To appreciate the full extent of his contribution to Vedantic thought and religion one should view his teachings in the context of the social milieu in which he lived and taught.
In the heyday of Buddhism and Jainism, the Hindu faiths suffered a serious set back. Among those who helped to stem the rising tide of the heretical schools and enable the Hindu faiths to build up their inner resources, casting away the overgrowth of ritualism and an attitude of exclusiveness, the Vaisnavite Saints, known as Alvars (Persons immersed in the rapture of God-love) and the Saivite saints, known as Nayanmars, who flourished in the early centuries of the Christian era, played a leading role. They revealed in exquisite strains their characteristic religious experiences. To save mankind from atheism and religious indifference and to throw open the doors of wisdom to all, without any distinction of caste, creed or sex, these stalwarts of the spirit, in whom we find Indian Bhakti at its best, tried the novel but effective expedient of expounding divine mysteries in Tamil, the speech of the common folk, the language which they knew best and which spoke to their hearts.
While these Tamil saints sought to awaken the religious sentiments of the common people and to redeem them from rank atheism and the morass of asceticism, eminent Mimamsakas like Kumarila Bhatta and great exponents of Vedanta like Samkara dealt deadly blows at the philosophical teaching of the Buddhist schools. Unable to withstand this onslaught, Buddhism gradually declined.
But Hinduism procured this victory over heretical schools at great cost. For, in course of time the Mimamsakas who had helped to overthrow the enemy came to attach more importance to sacrificial rites than to the gods themselves, who they were intended to worship. This meant the spread of the evils of ritualism, blind formalism and the drying up of the springs of spiritual life. The ritualistic Mimamsaka relegated the really philosophical portions of the Vedas, namely the Upanisads, to a position of unimportance. The excessive emphasis which he laid on the Vedic ritual as a means of obtaining supreme blessedness promoted an illiberal spirit which kept out large sections of the people from either reading the Vedas or performing the ritual enjoined therein.
Master minds like Samkara, who with their vast learning and matchless dialectical skill, were largely responsible for defeating the enemy were followed by lesser men who could not fully understand the lofty thoughts of their great master and seemed to incorporate into their system many of the doctrines of their opponents. Thus victory seemed in a sense pyrrhic. Belief in a god who is but a phenomenal entity, and in a Jiva who is merely an appearance of the truly Real, and in a world that is illusory (Mithya) might, it was feared. Tend to atheism and skepticism and to a reduction of ethics and religion to useful fictions. The Mimamsakas laid undue stress on rituals; and the later Advaitins went to the opposite extreme and insisted upon the need for renunciation of all actions (karmasamnyasa). The outlook for Hindu thought was not at all pleasant. It was at this juncture that a succession of brilliant thinkers, Nathamuni, (9th century), Yamunacarya and Bhagavan Ramanuja came upon the scene. Theirs was indeed a difficult task. They had to defend Hinduism against two classes of opponents-those who repudiated the Vedic authority and those who accepted the Vedas but took considerable liberties in interpreting them. The atheism and skepticism of the Buddhists, the relativism of the Jains and illusionism of the Vedantins had to be refuted. The upanisadic view of Reality ad the intensely religious conception of life characteristic of the bhakti cult set forth in the ekayana Sakha of the White Yajur Veda had to be synthesized. While it was necessary to discard sacrificial ritualism which had outgrown its original purpose and begun to deny God, it was equally necessary to insist upon the importance of moral endeavour. If devotion to God, service to humanity and selflessness should be permanent values in human life and not wither away like the abstract moralism of the Buddhists, the firm theoretical foundation on which they are based must be made known.
The social order that prevailed excluded women and the lower castes from the privileges of religious thought and practice and naturally the axe had to be laid at this exclusiveness. The reconstruction of Vedantic thought and religion effected by these Acaryas was as timely as it was sublime. Their place in the history of Visistadvaita Siddhanta and its own special features are described by Vedanta Desika in the following words:-
“Our system of philosophy was started (on a new phase of its career) by Nathamuni; it was considerably developed by the works of Yamunacarya and was greatly strengthened (rendered proof against attack) by Ramanuja. It is competent to dispel all kinds of ignorance (tamas), for it does not contradict perception; in its inferences, it has the great merit of economy of thought. It is in no way antagonistic to the spirit of the scriptures”. Speaking specifically of Ramanuja’s great services to the cause of philosophy, the same author say in his Yatirajasaptati that Ramanuja saved from extinction the soul which was caught in the wild-fire of illusionism. As Maxmuller puts it, Ramanuja attempted to give Hindus their souls back.
A notable feature of Ramanuja’s philosophy is the spirit of synthesis that pervades it. His is indeed a truly synoptic vision. The scriptural authority for this system is described as being two-fold Ubhaya-Vedanta, the Vedas including the upanisads, Itihasas, Puranas and Smrtis of the one side and the Hymns of the Alvars on the other. Not only does Ramanuja show that the Sanskritic and the Tamil scriptures teach an identical doctrine but he also points out that the teachings of the Pancaratra Agamas are quite consistent with the Vedas. Of the Vedas themselves, the Karma-Kanda and the Jnana-kanda thereof, are exhibited as constituting complementary parts of one unified sastra, the former elaborating the means of worshipping Brahman and the latter expounding the nature of the adorable Lord and of the worshipping souls, and of the world wherein they play their part. The Jnana-kanda, the vast body of upanisads is clearly explained as setting forth one integral body of doctrines. The seemingly contradictory statements, the bhedasrutis which speak of the Jiva and the world as being distinct from Brahman, and the abheda-srutis, which declare the absolute identity of man and material nature with Brahman and the absence of plurality, and reconciled without having to raise the abheda srutis to the rank of mahavakyas (great utterances) and belittling the value of the more numerous bheda srutis as dealing with lower knowledge. Ramanuja shows that each set of texts could be understood in its primary significance and assigned equal validity with the help of the ghataka-srutis. He could not bring himself to accepting the view that the Upanisads speak in two voices.
The doctrine peculiar to Visistadvaita (pradhana prati tantra) which marks it off from all other schools of Vedantic though, the concept of animate and inanimate nature as forming the body (sarira) of Brahman and Brahman as the soul (Saririn) of all the universe is a key concept in Visistadvaita. All the aspects of the system, metaphysical, ethical, religious and mystical, centre round this. As Vedanta Desika puts it: “Only he who understands the world to be the Lord’s body could be said to have grasped the true significance of the unfathomable Vedas and reduce to order the tangled skein of scriptural texts.”
In his treatment of the hita (the way), the same spirit of synthesis is noticeable. The sadhana is the spiritual ascent of the aspirant. There is a synthesis of divine grace and human endeavour. There can be no (sadhjya) achievement without (endeavour) sadhana. Karma, Jnana and Bhakti are presented as aspects of a progressively developing process culminating in paramabhakti (intellectual love of God).
The supremely Real is not only the metaphysical Absolute but also the God of religion. He is no other than Sriman Narayana, the all-pervading reality, in whom all things abide, and through whom individual souls progress to perfection and in whom they reach everlasting and limitless bliss. The Divine is conceived as the home of inexhaustible perfection. Of special interest to the souls caught up in samsara are His attributes of vatsalya, saulabhya and sausilya. The Lord of mercy is ever ready to extend His helping hand to all aspiring souls. As Raksaka He is siddhopaya He is thus the prapya and the prapaka; and the tattva, the hita and the purusartha.
The Lord of mercy incarnates time out of number to save the wayward soul. The descent of Brahman (avatara) with His soul-hunger into the abodes of men and the ascent of the Jiva with its God-hunger meet in the unitive stage of Brahmanubhava. To the Visistadvaitic Acaryas belongs the glory of democratizing the traditional religion of love by popularizing the nyasa vidya of the upanisads as prapattimarga (the path of absolute self-surrender). All Jivas with God as their indwelling Love are equally entitled to redemptive grace.
They resolutely set themselves against conservative tendencies. The system boldly invite all to share in its spiritual hospitality. Salvation is not the monopoly of any section or of any individual. Even the lowliest of the low and the worst among the sinners may be sure of God’s abounding mercy if only he places his trust in Him. The Gita says. “Whosoever worships any deity with true devotion, in him I deepen that devotion, and he ultimately reaches me; and even those who worship other divinities worship me”.
As stated by Ramanuja in the concluding verse of the Vedarthasamgraha the marks of the truly philosophical attitude are as follows:
Openness of mind, width of vision, depth of insight, freedom from rancour, keen eye for the essential and anxiety to keep close to authority. Without a doubt, he exemplified in himself this philosophic attitude.
In this excellent book Dr. Anima Sen Gupta writes with sympathy, understanding, clarity and critical acumen. The distinctive feature of Ramanuja’s philosophy have been faithfully presented. Her work is fully documented and is a very valuable addition to the book on Visistadvaita Siddhanta.
Dr. Anima Sen Gupta’s work “A critical study of the philosophy of Ramanuja” is a welcome publication. It is indeed a work of extraordinary merit.
In this valuable work, the author has not only stated and explained the various doctrines of the great commentator and thinker Ramanujacharya, but she has also tried to study them systematically and critically. The author’s knowledge of the philosophy of Ramanuja is deep, exact and free from sectarian prejudice. Her approach to treatment of the subject is not merely that of an expositor or commentator, but also that of a critical and comparative thinker. This volume is indeed a valuable addition to the literature on the philosophy of Ramanuja.
The author Dr. Anima Sen Gupta is a young lady scholar, working as Reader in philosophy, Patna University, and also as Head of the Department of Philosophy, Magadh Mahila College, Patna. She has devoted herself to the study of philosophy and has already published two pioneering works, namely “The Evolution of Samkhya School of Thought” and “Chandogya Upanishad: samkhya point of view.” Her another work entitled “Essays on samkhya and other systems of Indian philosophy” has recently been published.
Dr. Anima Sen Gupta is a very promising writer: she is bound to shine in the firmament of Indian thought. I congratulate her on this work which I consider as her first magnum opus to be followed by others.
My she lived a long and healthy life to serve the cause of Indian philosophy !
Brahma Sutras (79)
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