A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of aḻvars and shri-vaishnavas on certain points of controversy in religious dogmas: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “the aḻvars”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - Āḻvārs and Śrī-vaiṣṇavas on certain points of controversy in religious dogmas

The Aragiyas Nāthamuni, Yāmuna, Rāmānuja and their adherents largely followed the inspirational teachings of the Āḻvārs, yet there were some differences of opinion among them regarding some of the cardinal points of religious faith. These have been collected in separate treatises, of which two may be regarded as most important. One of them is called Aṣṭādaśa-rahasyārtha-vivaraṇa, by Rāmānuja himself, and the other is called Aṣṭādaśa-bheda-nirṇaya[1]. Veṅkatanātha and others also wrote important treatises on the subject. Some of these points of difference may be enumerated below.

The first point is regarding the grace of God (svāmi-kṛpā). It is suggested by the Āḻvārs that the grace of God is spontaneous and does not depend on any effort or merit on the part of the devotee. If God had to depend on anything else for the exercise of His divine prerogative grace, it would be limited to that extent. Others, howrever, say that God’s grace depends on the virtuous actions of the devotees. If that were not so, all people would in time be emancipated, and there would be no need of any effort on their part. If it was supposed that God in His own spontaneity extended His grace to some in preference to others, He would have to be regarded as partial. It is therefore to be admitted that, though God is free in extending His mercy, yet in practice He extends it only as a reward to the virtuous or meritorious actions of the devotee.

God, though all-merciful and free to extend His mercy to all without effort on their part, does not actually do so except on the occasion of the meritorious actions of His devotees. The extension of God’s mercy is thus both without cause (nirhetuka) and with cause (sahetuka)[2]. Here the latter view is that of Rāmānuja and his followers. It must, however, be pointed out in this connection that the so-called differences between the Āḻvārs and the Rāmānujists on the cardinal points of religious faith are a discovery of later research, when the writings of the Āḻvārs had developed a huge commentary literature and Rāmānuja’s own writings had inspired many scholars to make commentaries on his works or to write independent treatises elucidating his doctrines.

The later scholars who compared the results of the Āḻvār and the Rāmānuja literatures came to the conclusion that there are some differences of view between the two regarding the cardinal faith of religion. This marks a sharp antithesis between the Āḻvāric Teṅgalai school and the Vadagalai school, of which latter Yeṅkata was the leader. These differences are briefly narrated in the Aṣṭādaśa-bheda-nirṇaya. The cardinal faith of religion according to Rāmānuja has been narrated in the Aṣṭādaśa-rahasyārtha-vivaraṇa. The main principle of religious approach to God is self-surrender or prapatti. Prapatti is defined as a state of prayerfulness of mind to God, associated with the deep conviction that He alone is the saviour, and that there is no way of attaining His grace except by such self-surrender[3]. The devotee is extremely loyal to Nārāyaṇa and prays to Him and no one else, and all his prayers are actuated by deep affection and no other motive.

The virtue of prapatti involves within it universal charity, sympathy and friendliness even to the most determined enemy[4]. Such a devotee feels that the Lord (svāmī), being the very nature of his own self, is to be depended on under all circumstances. This is called the state of supreme resignation (nirbharatva) in all one’s affairs[5]. The feeling of the devotee that none of the assigned scriptural duties can be helpful to him in attaining the highest goal is technically called “upāya-śūnyatā,” i.e. the realization of the uselessness of all other means. The devotee always smiles at all the calamities that may befall him. Considering himself to be a servant of God, he cheerfully bears all the miseries that may be inflicted on him by God’s own people. This is technically called “pāra - tantrya” or supreme subordination.

The devotee conceives his soul as a spiritual essence which has no independence by itself and is in every respect dependent on God and exists for God[6]. The Vaiṣṇavas are often called ekāntins, and have sometimes been wrongly considered as monotheists; but the quality of ekāntitva is the definite characteristic of self-surrender and clinging to God in an unshaken manner—the fullest trustfulness in Him under all adverse circumstances. The devotee’s mind is always exhilarated with the divine presence of the Lord who animates all his senses—his inclinations, emotions and experiences.

The fullness with which he realizes God in all his own activities and thoughts, and in everything else in the universe, naturally transports him to a sphere of being in which all mundane passions—antipathy, greed, jealousy, hatred—become impossible. With the divine presence of God he becomes infused with the spirit of friendship and charity towards all beings on earth[7]. The devotee has to take proper initiation from the preceptor, to whom he must confess all that is in his mind, and by abnegating all that is in him to his preceptor, he finds an easy way to conceive himself as the servant of Viṣṇu[8]. He must also have a philosophical conception of the entirely dependent relation of the human soul and all the universe to God[9]. Such a conception naturally involves realization of the presence of God in all our sense activities, which presence in its fullness must easily lead to the complete control of all our senses. T

hrough the realization of God’s presence in them, the devotees play the part of moral heroes, far above the influences of the temptation of the senses[10]. The normal religious duties, as prescribed in the Vedas and the smṛtis, are only for the lower order of the people; those who are given entirely to God with the right spirit of devotion need not follow the ordinary code of duties which is generally binding for all. Such a person is released by the spontaneous grace of God, and without performing any of the scriptural duties enjoys the fruits of all[11]. He is always conscious of his own faults, but takes no notice of the faults of others, to which he behaves almost as a blind man; he is always infused with the consciousness that all his actions are under the complete sway of the Lord. He has no enjoyment for himself, for he always feels that it is the Lord who would enjoy Himself through all his senses[12].

In the Aṣṭādaśa-bheda-nirṇaya it is said that according to the Āḻvārs, since emancipation means the discovery of a lost soul to God or the unlimited servitude of God, emancipation is for the interest of God and not of the devotee. The service of the servant is for the servitude of God alone. It has therefore no personal interest for the devotee[13]. According to the Aragiyas, however, emancipation, though primarily for the interest of the Lord, is also at the same time for the interest of the devotee, because of the intense delight he enjoys by being a servant of God. The illustration of lost objects discovered by the master does not hold good, because human beings are conscious entities who suffer immeasurable sorrow which is removed by realizing themselves as servants of God.

Though the devotee abnegates all the fruits of his actions in a selfsurrender, yet he enjoys his position in the servitude of God and also the bliss of the realization of Brahman. Thus, those who take the path of knowledge (upāsaka) attain Brahma knowledge and the servitude of God, and those who take the path of self-surrender (prapatti) also attain Brahma knowledge and the servitude of God. In the state of salvation (mukti) there is no difference of realization corresponding to the variation of paths which the seekers after God may take[14]. Again, in the Āḻvār school of thought, besides the four ways of scriptural duties, philosophic wisdom, devotion to God and devotion to teachers, there was a fifth way, viz. that of intense selfsurrender to God, i.e. prapatti. But the Aragiyas thought that apart from prapatti there was only one other way of approaching God, namely devotion, bhakti-yoga. Rāmānuja and his followers maintain that karma-yoga and jñāna-yoga only help to purify the mind, as a preparation for bhakti-yoga. The devotion to the preceptor is regarded only as a form of prapatti', so there are only two ways of approach to God, viz. bhakti-yoga and prapatti[15].

Further, Śrī occupies an important position in Śrī-vaiṣṇavism. But as there are only three categories in the Śrī-vaiṣṇava system, a question may naturally arise regarding the position of Śrī in the threefold categories of cit, acit and parameśvara. On this point the view of the older school, as described in Ramya-jāmātr muni’s Tattva-dīpa, is that Śrt is to be identified with human souls and is therefore to be regarded as atomic in nature[16]. Others, however, think that Śrī is as all-pervasive as Viṣṇu. Filial affection (vātsalya) for God is interpreted by the older schools as involving an attitude in which the faults of the beloved devotee are points of endearment to Him[17]. In the later view, however, filial affection is supposed to involve an indifference or a positive blindness towards the faults of the devotee. God’s mercy is interpreted by the older school as meaning God’s affliction or suffering in noticing that of others. Later schools, however, interpret it as an active sympathy on His part, as manifested in His desire to remove the sufferings of others on account of His inability to bear such miseries[18].

Prapatti, otherwise called nyāsa, is defined by the older school as a mere passivity on the part of the Lord in accepting those who seek Him or as a mental state on the part of the seeker in which he is conscious of himself only as a spirit; but such a consciousness is unassociated with any other complex feeling, of egoism and the like, which invests one with so-called individuality. It may also mean the mental state in which the seeker conceives himself as a subsidiary accessory to God as his ultimate end, to Whom he must cling unburdened by any idea of scriptural duties[19]; or he may concentrate himself absolutely on the supreme interest and delight that he feels in the idea that God is the sole end of his being. Such a person naturally cannot be entitled without self-contradiction to any scriptural duty. Just as a guilty wife may return to her husband, and may passively lie in a state of surrender to him and resign herself, so the seeker may be conscious of his own true position with reference to God leading to a passive state of surrender[20].

Others think that it involves five elements:

  1. that God is the only saviour;
  2. that He is the only end to be attained;
  3. that He alone is the supreme object of our desires;
  4. that we absolutely surrender and resign ourselves to Him[21];
  5. and supreme prayerfulness—all associated with absolute trustfulness in Him.

There are some who define the prapanna, or seeker of God, as one who has read the Āḻvār literature of prabandhas (adhīta-prabandhaḥprapannaḥ). Others, however, think that the mere study of the prabandhas cannot invest a man with the qualities of prapatti. They think that he alone is entitled to the path of prapatti who cannot afford to adopt the dilatory courses of karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga and bhakti-yoga, and therefore does not think much of these courses. Again, the older school thinks that the person who adopts the path of prapatti should give up all scriptural duties and duties assigned to the different stages of life (āśrama); for it is well evidenced in the Gītā text that one should give up all one’s religious duties and surrender oneself to God. Others, again, think that the scriptural duties are to be performed even by those who have taken the path of prapatti.

Further, the older school thinks that the path of knowledge is naturally against the path of prapatti ; for prapatti implies the negation of all knowledge, excepting one’s self-surrendering association with God. The paths of duties and of knowledge assume an egoism which contradicts prapatti. Others, however, think that even active self-surrender to God implies an element of egoism, and it is therefore wrong to suppose that the paths of duties and of knowledge are reconcilable with prapatti on account of its association with an element of egoism. The so-called egoism is but a reference to our own nature as self, and not to ahaṅkāra, an evolute[22]. Again, some think that even a man who has adopted the path of prapatti may perform the current scriptural duties only with a view to not lending any support to a reference to their cases as pretexts for neglect of normal duties by the unenlightened and the ignorant, i.e. those that have adopted the path of prapatti should also perform their duties for the purpose of loka-saṃgraha. Others, however, think that the scriptural duties, being the commandments of God, should be performed for the satisfaction of God (bhagavat-prīty-artham), even by those who have taken the path of prapatti. Otherwise they would have to suffer punishment for that.

The accessories of prapatti are counted as follows:

  1. A positive mental attitude to keep oneself always in consonance with the Lord’s will (ānukūlyasya samkalpaḥ);
  2. a negative mental attitude (prātikūlyasya varjatiam), as opposing anything that may be conceived as against His will;
  3. a supreme trustfulness that the Lord will protect the devotee (rakṣiṣyatīti riśvāsaḥ) ;
  4. prayer to Him as a protector (goptṛtva-varaṇam);
  5. complete self-surrender (i ātma-nikṣepaḥ);
  6. a sense of complete poverty and helplessness (kārpaṇyatn).

The older school thinks that the man who adopts the path of prapatti has no desires to fulfil, and thus he may adopt any of these accessories which may be possible for him according to the conditions and inclinations of his mind. Others, however, think that even those who follow the path of prapatti are not absolutely free from any desire, since they wish to feel themselves the eternal servants of God. Though they do not crave for the fulfilment of any other kind of need, it is obligatory upon them to perform all the six accessories of prapatti described above.

The older school thinks that God is the only cause of emancipation and that the adoption of the path of prapatti is not so; the later school, however, thinks that prapatti is also recognized as the cause of salvation in a secondary manner, since it is only through prapatti that God extends His grace to His devotees[23]. Again, the older schools think that there is no necessity for expiation (prāyaścitta) for those who adopt the path of prapatti; for with them God’s grace is sufficient to remove all sins. The later schools, however, think that, if the follower of the path of prapatti is physically fit to perform the courses of expiation, then it is obligatory on him. According to the older school a man possessing the eight kinds of devotion (bhakti), even if he be a mleccha, is preferred to a Brahman and may be revered as such. According to the later schools, however, a devotee of a lower caste may be shown proper respect, but he cannot be revered as a Brahman. Again, on the subject of the possibility of pervasion of the atomic individual souls by God, the older schools are of opinion that God by His infinite power may enter into the atomic individuals; the later schools, however, think that such a pervasion must be of an external nature, i.e. from outside.

It is not possible for God to penetrate into individual souls[24]. As regards Kaivalya the older schools say that it means only self-apperception. He who attains this state attains the highest stage of eternity or immortality. The later school, however, thinks that he who has merely this self-apperception cannot attain immortality through that means only; for this self-apperception may not necessarily mean a true revelation of his nature with reference to God. He can realize that only as he passes through higher spheres and ultimately reaches Vaikuntha—the abode of God, where he is accepted as the servant of the Lord. It is such a state that can be regarded as eternal[25].

Footnotes and references:


Both these are MSS.


kṛpā-sva-rūpato nir-hetukaḥ, rakṣaṇa-samaye cetavā-kṛta-sukṛtena sa-hetuko bhūtvā rakṣati.
     (Aṣṭādaśa-bheda-nirṇaya, MS. p. 2.)


an-anya-sādhye svābhīṣṭe mahā-viśvāsa-pūrvakam
tad-eko' pāyatā yācñā prapattiḥ śaraṇā-gatiḥ.
p. 3.

Rāmānuja, in his Gadya-trayam, says that such a state of prayerfulness of mind is also associated with confessions of one’s sins and shortcomings and derelictions, and with a feeling that the devotee is a helpless servant of God extremely anxious to get himself saved by the grace of the Saviour. See the Gadya-trayam, Śaraṇā-gati-gadyam, pp. 52—54.


This is technically known as Prapatti-naiṣṭḥikam ( Aṣṭādaśa-rahasyārtha-vivaraṇa, pp. 3-7). Cf. the parables of the pigeon and the monkey in the above section.


The interpretation is forced out of the conception of the word “svāmin,” which etymologically involves the word “svam” meaning “one’s own.”


  jñāna-mayo hi ātmā śeṣo hi paramā-tmanaḥ iti jñānā-nandamayo jñānā-nanda-guṇakaḥ san sva-rūpaṃ bhagavad-adhīnaṃ sa tad-artham eva tiṣṭhatī’ ti jñātvā' vatiṣṭhate iti yad etat tad-a-prākṛtatvam.
p. 11.


This virtue is technically called nitya-raṅgitva.


The five saṃskāras that a paramaikāntin must pass through are as follows:

tāpaḥ pauṇḍras tathā nāma mantro yāgaś ca pañcamaḥ
amī te pane a saṃskārāḥ paramaikānti-hetavaḥ.

Ibid. p. 15.


This is technically called sambandḥa-jñānitvam. The conception that everything exists for God is technically called śeṣa-bhūtatvam. Ibid. p. 18.

This naturally implies that the devotee must work and feel himself a servant of God and of His chosen men. The service to humanity and to God then naturally follow from the philosophical conception of the dependence of the human souls, and of the universe, on God as a part of Him and to be controlled by Him in every way. This is again technically called śesa-vṛtti-paratva. Ibid. pp. 19-20.


This is technically called the nitya-śūratva.


  jñāna-niṣṭho virakto vā mad-bhakto hy a-napekṣakaḥ
sa liṅgān āśramān tyaktvā cared a-vidhi-gocaraḥ

ity evam iṣaṇa-traya-vinirmuktas san bhagavan-nir-hetuka-kaṭākṣa eva mokṣo-pāyaḥ iti tiṣṭhati khalu so’dhikārī sakala-dharmāṇām avaśyo bhavati.
p. 23

This spirit of following God, leaving all other scriptural duties, is technically called a-vidhi-gocaratva. In another section of this work Rāmānuja describes mokṣa or salvation as the conviction that the nature of God transcends, in bliss, power and knowledge, all other conceivable things of this or any other universe. A desire to cling to God as a true means of salvation is technically called mumuk-ṣutva. The doctrine of a-vidhi-gocaratva herein described §eems to be in conflict with Rāmānuja’s view on the subject explained in the bhāṣya as interpreted by his many followers. This may indicate that his views underwent some change, and these are probably his earlier views when hewas under the influence of the Āḻvārs.


This is technically called parā-kaśatva (Ibid. pp. 23—24). The attitude of worshipping the image as the visible manifestation of God is technically called upāya-svarūpa-jñāna. The cessation of attachment to all mundane things and the flowing superabundance of love towards God, and the feeling that God is the supreme abode of life, is technically called ātmā-rāmatva.


phalaṃ mokṣa-rūpam, tad bhagavata eva na svārthaṃ yathā
prunaṣṭa-drṣṭa-dravya-lābho dravyavata eva na dravyasya;
tathā mokṣa-phalaṃ ca svāmina eva
na muktasya;
yad vā phalaṃ kaiñkaryaṃ tat parā-rtham eva na svā-rtham;
kṛtaṃ kaiñkaryaṃ sva-tantra-svāmy-artham eva.
p. 2.


Ibid. p. 3.


ataḥ prapatti-vyatirikto bhakti-yoga eka eve’ ti. Ibid. p. 4.


Ibid. In the next section it is urged that, according to some, Nārāyaṇa and not Śrī is the only agent who removes our sins, but others hold that sins may be removed also by Śrī in a remote manner, or, because Śrī is identical with Nārāyaṇa ; as the fragrance is with the flower, she has also a hand in removing the sins. Ibid. p. 5.

lakṣinyā upāyatvaṃ bhagavata iva sākṣāt abhyupagantavyam.


yathā kāmukoḥ kāminyā mālinyaṃ bhogyatayā svīkaroti tathā bhagavān āśrita-doṣam svīkaroti itare tu vātsalyaṃ nāma doṣādarśitvam.
p. 6.

It is further suggested that, if a devotee takes the path of prapatti, he has not to suffer for his faults as much as others would have to suffer.


The first alternative is defined as para-duhkha-duḥkhitvaṃ dayā. The second alternative is svārtha-nirapekṣa-para-duḥkha-sahiṣṇutā dayā; sa ca tan nirākaraṇecchā. In the first alternative dayā is a painful emotion; in.the second it is a state of desire, stirred up by a feeling of repugnance, which is midway between feeling and volition. Ibid. p. 6.


prapattir nāma a-nivāraṇa-mātram a-cid-vyāvṛtti-mātraṃ vā a-vidheyaṃ śeṣatva-jñāna-mātram vā pura-śeṣatui-ka-rati-rūpa-pariśuddha-yāthātmya-jñāna-mātrani vā. Ibid. p. 6.

According to some, any of these conditions would define prapatti

ato’prati-ṣedhādy-anyatamai’ va iti kecit kathayanti.



atyanta-para-tantrasya virodhatvena anuṣṭhānā-mipapatteḥ, pratyuta anuṣṭatur ānarthakyamuktam Śrīvacana-bhūṣaṇa, ciram anya-parayā bhāryavā kadācid bhartṛ-snkāśam āgatayā mām angīkuru iti vākyavat cetana-kṛta-prapattir iti.
p. 6.


In the second alternative it is defined as follows:

an-anya-sādhye svō-bhīṣṭe mahā-viśvāsa-pūrvakam
tad-eko’-pāyatā yācñā prapattiś śaraṇā-gatiḥ.

These are the five aṅgas of prapatti, otherwise called nikṣepa, tyāga, nyāsa or śaraṇā-gati (Aṣṭādaśa-bheda-nirṇaya, pp. 6, 7). The difference between the first and second alternative is that, according to the former, prapatti is a state of mind limited to the consciousness of its true nature in relation to God; on the part of God also it indicates merely a passive toleration of the seekers flocking unto Him (a-nivāraṇa-mātram). In the second alternative, however, prapatti is defined as positive self-surrendering activity on the part of the seekers and unconditional protection to them all on the part of God. It is, therefore, that on the first alternative the consciousness of one’s own true nature is defined in three ways, any one of which would be regarded on that alternative as a sufficient definition of prapatti. The first one is merely in the cognitive state, while the second involves an additional element of voluntary effort.


Ibid. pp. 8, 9.


Aṣṭādaśa-bheda-nirṇaya, p. 10.


Aṣṭādaia-bheda-nirṇaya, p. 12. The view is supported by a reference to Varadācārya’s Adhikaraṇa-cintāmaṇi.


The eighteen points of dispute as herein explained have been collected in the Aṣṭādaia-bheda-nirṇaya, according to the ancients in a verse quoted from them as follows:

bhedah svāmi-kṛpā-phalā-nya-gatiṣu śrī-vyāpty-upāyatvayos
tad-vātsalya-dayā-nirukti-vacasornyāse ca tat kartari
dharma-tyāga-virodhayos sva-vihite nyāsā-ñga-hetutvayoḥ
prāyaścitta-vidhau tadīya-bhajane' nuvyāpti-kaivalyayoḥ.

Ibid. p. 1.

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