A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of god according to ramanuja, venkatanatha and lokacarya: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “the philosophy of yamunacarya”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - God according to Rāmānuja, Veṅkaṭanātha and Lokācārya

Bhāskara had said that, though Īśvara is possessed of all good qualities and is in Himself beyond all impurities, yet by His Śakti (power) He transformed Himself into this world, and, as all conditions and limitations, all matter and phenomena are but His power, it is He who by His power appears as an ordinary soul and at last obtains emancipation as well. Rāmānuja holds that on this view there is no essential form of Brahman which transcends the limits of all bonds, the power (Śakti) which manifests itself as all phenomena. Brahman, being always associated with the power which exists as the world-phenomena, becomes necessarily subject to all the defects of the phenomenal world. Moreover, when a Śakti, or power of Brahman, is admitted, how can Brahman be said to suffer any transformation ? Even if the Śakti (power) be regarded as its transformation, even then it cannot be accepted that it (Brahman) should combine with its Śakti to undergo a worldly transformation.

Another Vedāntist (probably Yādavaprakāśa, the Preceptor of Rāmānuja in his early days) held that Brahman, in its own essence, transformed itself into the world; this theory also is open to the objection that the Brahman, being transformed into the world, becomes subject to all the impurities and defects of the world. Even if it is held that in one part it is transcendent and possesses innumerable good qualities and in another suffers from the impurities associated with its transformation into the world, then also that which is so impure in one part cannot have its impurity so counterbalanced by the purity of its other half that it can be called Īśvara.

Rāmānuja, therefore, holds that all the changes and transformations take place in the body of the Īśvara and not in His essence. So Īśvara, in His pure essence, is ever free from all impurities, and the possessor of all the best qualities, untouched by the phenomenal disturbances with which His body alone is associated. The matter which forms the stuff of the external world is not what the Sānikhya calls the gnṇa substances, but simply the prakṛti or the primeval causal entity, possessing diverse qualities which may be classified under three different types—the sattva, the rajas and the tamas. This prakṛti, however, in its fine essence, forms the body of Īśvara and is moved into all its transformations by Īśvara Himself. When He withholds prakṛti from all its transformations and annuls all its movement, we have the state of pralaya, in which Īśvara exists in the kūraṇa or causal state, holding within Him the. prakṛti in its subtle state as His body. Prakṛti is a body as well as a mode (prakāra) of Īśvara, and, when it is in a manifested condition, we have the state of creation.

Prakṛti undergoes its transformations into tan-mātra, ahaṅkāra, etc.; but these are yet the subtle substance forming parts of Īśvara’s body. The transformations through which prakṛti passes in the origination of tan-mātra, ahaṅkāra, etc., are not the results of the collocation of the gima reals, as we saw in the case of the Sāṃkhya, but may be regarded as the passing of prakṛti through different stages, each stage being marked out by the special character of the prakṛti while passing through that stage. The word guṇa here has then its ordinary meaning of quality; and it is supposed that the prakṛti, as it is moved by Īśvara, continues to acquire new qualities. The present state of the world also represents prakṛti in a particular state wherein it has acquired the qualities which we note in the phenomenal world of ours.

We have seen before that the existence of Īśvara was inferred by Yāmuna on Nyāya lines. But Rāmānuja thinks that there is as much to be said in favour of the existence as against it. Thus he says that, even supposing that the hills, etc., are effects, it cannot be said that they were all created by one person; for even all jugs are not made by the same person; Īśvara may also be denied, after the Sāṃkhya mode, and it may be imagined that in accordance with the Karma of men the world arose out of a combination of the original guṇas. There is thus as much to be said against the existence of Īśvara as in favour of it. Rāmānuja holds that Īśvara cannot be proved by inference, but is to be admitted on the authority of the sacred texts[1].

The Nyāya and Yoga, moreover, conceived Īśvara to be only the nimitta-kāraṇa, or instrumental cause; but according to Rāmānuja Īśvara is all-pervading in all space and in all time. This all-pervasiveness of God does not mean that His reality is the only reality everywhere, or that He is identical with the world-reality, and all else is false. It means, as Sudar-śanācārya has said in his Śruta-prakāśikā on the Rāmānuja-bhāṣya, 2nd sūtra, that there is no measure with which He may be limited by any spatial relation. Varada and Nārāyaṇa, however, and Veṅkaṭanātha, agree in interpreting all-pervasiveness as the absence of any limit to His good qualities (iyad-guṇaka iti pariccheda-rahitaḥ)[2]. There is nothing else than Īśvara’s body, so by His body also he may be conceived as pervading the whole world. Thus, Īśvara is not only nimitta-kāraṇa but also upādāna-kāraṇa, or material cause as well.

Venkata establishes in some detail that the highest Īśvara is called Nārāyaṇa and His power, as presiding over matter and souls, is called Lakṣmī. Īśvara has His manas, and His eternal senses do not require any body or organs for their manifestation. Venkata also mentions three modified forms of manifestation of Lord Vāsudeva, namely Saṃkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha. This vyūha doctrine of the Pañcarātra has been briefly discussed in Varavara’s bhāṣya on the Tattva-traya of Lokācārya.

These three,

  1. Saṃkarṣaṇa,
  2. Pradyumna,
  3. and Aniruddha,

are said to be the three different forms of Vāsudeva, by which He controls the individual souls (jīva), the manas and the external world. That form of activity by which the jīvas were separated from the prakṛti at the beginning of the creation is associated with a form of Īśvara called Saṃkarṣaṇa. When this separating activity passes and dominates over men as their manas and ultimately brings them to the path of virtue and good, it is said to be associated with a form of Īśvara called Pradyumna. Aniruddha is that form of Īśvara by which the external world is generated and kept in order, and in which our experiences and attempts to attain right knowledge are fulfilled. These forms are not different Īśvara, but are imagined according to the diversity of His function. Īśvara' s full existence is everywhere; He and His forms are identical. These forms are but manifestations of the power of Vāsudeva and are therefore called Vibhava. Such manifestations of His power are also to be found in great religious heroes such as Vyāsa, Arjuna, etc.

Lokācārya, in describing Him further, says that in His real essence Īśvara is not only omniscient, but this omniscience is also associated with complete and eternal joy. His knowledge and powers do not suffer any variation or comparison, as they are always the very highest and the most inconceivable by any one else. He moves us all to action and fulfils our desires according to our karmas. He gives knowledge to those who are ignorant, power to those who are weak, pardon to those who are guilty, mercy to the sufferers, paternal affection and overlooking of guilt to those who are guilty, goodness to those who are wicked, sincerity to the crooked, and goodness of heart to those who are wicked at heart. He cannot bear to remain separated from those who do not want to be separated from Him, and puts Himself within easy reach of those who want to see Him.

When he sees people afflicted, He has mercy on them and helps them. Thus all His qualities are for the sake of others and not for Himself. His affection for us is of a maternal nature, and out of this affection He neglects our defects and tries to help us towards the ideal of good. He has created this world in Himself, not in order to satisfy any wants but in a playful manner, as it were through mere spontaneity (līlā). As in creation, so in keeping the created world in order, and in dissolution, His playful spontaneity upholds everything and brings about everything. Dissolution is as much of His play as creation. All this is created in Himself and out of Himself.

Footnotes and references:


See Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣya, 3rd sūtra.


See Nyāya-siddḥāñjana of Veṅkaṭanātha.