வியாழன், 4 ஆகஸ்ட், 2016

Sri Ramanuja and his Visishtadvaitavada


-MEERA S. SASHITAL



Ramanuja’s Visishtadvaita believed in the existence of a God with attributes whereas the Advaita School regarded God as the only Reality and the rest of manifestation as unreal and impermanent, writes MEERA S. SASHITAL.

India is proud of producing countless saint-poets, singer-saints and philosophers and Ramanuja also forms one of them. After Sankara’s (A.D. 788-820) Advaita Vedanta it was Ramanuja who came up with his philosophy of Visistadvaitavada.

Ramanuja was born in the year 1017 A.D. in the village of Perumbudur, 48 kms (30 miles to the south-west of Madras or Chennai. His father’s name was Keshava Diksita and his mother’s was Kantimathi. They were of pious nature. Ramanuja’a actual name was Perumal. Ramanuja was considered by his followers as reincarnation of Laksmana brother of Lord Rama. Ramanuja lost his father early in life and was brought up by his uncle named Sailapurna.


After Ramanuja lost his father, he went to Kancheepuram to prosecute his further studies. Ramanuja at the appropriate age had his ‘Upanayana’ (thread ceremony) and after his preliminary studies in Sanskrit went in for higher studies. Endowed with a sharp intellect and a prodigious memory, he was well-educated even at a young age. Being a brilliant student he began studying Vedas under Yadavaprakasha, a scholar of Vedanta and Advaita philosophy.

Yadavaprakasha’s leanings towards dry monism, bereft of devotion to a Personal God brought Ramanuja into conflict with him. He was not satisfied with the teacher’s interpretations of Vedic texts. He gave his own interpretations which appealed more to his co-students. Yadavaprakasha becomes very jealous of Ramanuja and to get rid of him sends him to Varanasi on the pretext of a pilgrimage. However, Ramanuja had decided to leave his teacher for good.

Yamunacharya was the head of the important Vaishnavite instituton. He was a great sage and a scholar and was the head of the Mutt at Srirangam. By now, Visishtadvaita system of philosophy was well established in Southern India and followers of this creed were in charge of important Vaishanavite temples at Kancheepuram, Srirangam, Tirupathy and other places.

Meanwhile Ramanuja’s name had become so well-known that Yamunacharya having heard of his fame decides to install him as his successor. However, he dies before he could carry out his wish. When Ramanuja reached the burial ground before the body was consigned to the earth, he found three fingers of his right hand clenched. Ramanuja was informed that Yamunacharya before his death had left instructions for Ramanuja to fulfill his three wishes.

Learning of the dead-saint’s last desires – three in number and unfulfilled during his lifetime, he openly promised before the gathering of mourners to fulfill all of them. And lo! The three fingers opened out. The first wish was that a Visishtadvaita Bhashya should be written for the Brahma Sutras of Vyasa which hitherto had been orally taught to the disciples of Visishtadvaita philosophy, and that names of Parasara, author of Vishnu Purana and Saint Sadagopa should be made well-known.

Ramanuja was married at the young age of sixteen according to the customs prevailing at that period. However he was in close touch with Kanchipurna, a great devotee of God, whose company he often sought and felt inspired. But as he belonged to the Sudra caste, Ramanuja’s wife looked down upon him. This, as also his wife’s incapacity to understand his psychological make-up and rise to his level of thinking, made Ramanuja renounce the world and take ‘Sanyasa’ at Kanchipuram in front of the temple of Varadaraja (Vishnu), assuming the new name ‘Yatiraja’.

Ramanuja, it seems, later took mantra from Mahapurna an outstanding Vaishnavite scholar of those days and settled down at Srirangam. After the death of Yamunacharya, his disciples at Srirangam made Ramanuja the head of Visishtadvaita Mutt at Srirangam. He also received the sacred ‘astaksarimantra’ (eight-syllabled Mantra of Narayana) as Japa from the great saint Nambi.

After a lot of persuasion, Nambi initiated Ramanuja on condition that he gave this Mantra only to deserving disciples as the Mantra was powerful and gave salvation. But because of Ramanuja’s large heartedness and love of humanity, he went on spreading the Mantra everywhere irrespective of caste and creed. At first Nambi was furious but Ramanuja said “I will gladly suffer the tortures of hell myself if millions of people could get salvation by learning the Mantra through me.” Nambi was convinced and fell at his feet.

Ramanuja took over the management of the temple of Srirangam and reorganized it. He began to teach the doctrine of Visishtadvaita which was also called qualified Monism. Ramanuja was the founder of the Visishtadvaita School of thought which differed from the Advaita School as postulated by Shankaracharya, the renowned philosopher.

Ramanuja’s Visishtadvaita believed in the existence of a God with attributes whereas the Advaita School regarded God as the only Reality and the rest of manifestation as unreal and impermanent. According to Advaitism the one Brahman is without attributes but Ramanuja regarded the attributes also as real and permanent and controlled by one Brahman even in relation to their modifications and evolutions.

As promised before the dead-body of Yamunacharya, Ramanuja wrote the Sribhasya, a detailed commentary on the Brahmasutras (or Vedantasutras) of Badarayana (Vyasa) according to theistic (Vaisnavite) philosophy, now well-known as Visishtadvaita. He had already fulfilled the first promise by his discourses on the Tiruvaymoli of Nammalvar and by giving the Divyaprabandhams a status equal to that of the Sanskrit scriptures.

As regards the third, it was fulfilled by giving the name Parasarabhatta, to the son of his prominent disciple Kuresa and urged him to write a bhasya or commentary on the well-known hymn of Visnu, the Visnusahasranama, thereby perpetuating the memory of the great sage Parasara (father of Vedavyasa and composer of the Visnupurana). Ramanuja wrote (in Sanskrit) eight works in all, of which the Sribhasya was the magnum opus.

Ramanuja’s sect of Vaishanavas is called Sri Sampradaya. Ramanuja also wrote three other books – Vedanta Sara (essence of Vedanta), Vedanta Sangraha (resume of Vedanta) and Vedanta Deepa ( the light of Vedanta). Ramanuja travelled throughout India to spread his doctrine. Once on his way back he visited Tirupathy hills. There he found the Saivites and the Vaishnavites quarrelling over an issue that the image of the Lord in the Tirupathy temple was Saivaite or a Vaishnavita one.

Ramanuja suggested that both the emblems of Shiva and Vishnu be kept at the feet of the Lord and locked the door of the temple. Next day, when the door of the temple was opened, they found that the image of the Lord was wearing the emblem of Vishnu and those of Shiva were as it is. This decided that the temple was a Vaishnavite one and till today it has remained so.

During his long stay at Srirangam, Ramanuja was able to win many disciples by his preachings. He overpowered both the Jains and the Buddhists by his teachings and convinced them to wean them away. He also trained in his Mutt (monastery) seventy four pious householders to become family Gurus to devotees and followers. Ramanuja’s life was very simple and saintly and entirely dedicated to God. His message spread even to the North through Ramananda who preached Vaishnavism and Bhakti Movement to his followers. Ramanuja after an active life dedicated to Vaishnavism and preaching Visishtadvaita left his mortal body at the ripe age of 120 in the year 1137 AD.

“By advocating a balanced combination between Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakti , Ramanuja raised Vedanta to sublime levels. By according an equal status to the Tamil works of the Alvars he has shown that in true religion spiritual content is primary whereas the ‘language of the gods’ is of secondary importance.”

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Courtesy: The FREE PRESS Journal
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