A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Part 4 - Viśiṣṭādvaita doctrine of Soul according to Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha

The existence of souls as separate self-conscious entities, in contradistinction to the doctrines of other systems, had been established by Yāmuna, as we have shown in some detail in our section on his doctrine of soul. The soul is atomic in its size, as we have already found stated by Yāmuna. Barada, Viṣṇu Miśra and Veṅkaṭanātha held that in the ordinary phenomenal state its knowledge expands and contracts. At the time of emancipation it has its highest expansion in which it pervades the whole world. The cause of its contraction and expansion is its karma, which is also called avidyā. Rāmānuja, in his Vedānta-dīpa, indulged in the simile of the ray of a lamp in explaining the rise of knowledge in different parts of the body, despite the atomic soul being located in only one part. The soul exists in one part of the body and spreads out its knowledge over all other parts of the body, like the rays of a lamp. Rāmānuja says that Īśvara allows the individual selfconscious souls to perform whichever action they have a desire to attempt. Movement is possible only through the approval by Īśvara of the desires of individual souls.

The self-conscious souls desire things according to their own free will, and in this they are not hampered by Īśvara ; Īśvara always allows the individual souls to act, i.e. to move their limbs according to their desires. This is a sort of occasionalism, which holds that, in every action which I am performing, I am dependent on Īśvara' s will. I can move my limbs because He wishes it. Apart from this general law that Īśvara is a supporter of all actions, there are some exceptions of particular favour and disfavour. To those who are particularly attached to Him He is more favourably disposed, and by His grace generates in them such desires that they adopt actions by which they may easily win Him. Into those who are particularly opposed to Him He imports such desires that they are led farther away from Him[1]. Īśvara exists in us all as the inner controller. This inner controller is represented by our individual soul. This individual soul is free in all its desires, knowledge, and attempts[2]. This freedom of will, knowledge, etc., is given to us all by Īśvara, and He also arranges that the movements in the material world may take place in accordance with our desires. Thus He not only gives us freedom of will, but also helps the realization of that will in the external world, and ultimately grants good and evil fruits according to our good and evil deeds[3].

Thus Īśvara’s control over us does not rob us of our freedom of will. Even His favour and disfavour consist in the fulfilment of a devotee’s eager desire to be associated with Him, and His disfavour consists in fulfilling the desire of a confirmed sinner, leading him away into worldly pleasures farther from Him. The self is often called jñāna, or consciousness, because of the fact that it is as self-revealing as consciousness[4]. It reveals all objects, when it comes in touch with them through its senses. The souls are, however, all held in Īśvara. Rāmānuja had spoken of the souls only as being the body of Īśvara ; but Lokācārya and Varavara further hold that, as the external material objects exist for the sake of the souls, so the souls exist for the Īśvara', as Man is the end for which the external objects of enjoyment exist, so Īśvara is the end (śeṣa) for which Man exists as the object of His control and support (śeṣī).

The self, though pure in itself, becomes associated with ignorance and worldly desires through coming into touch with matter (acit). Avidyā, or ignorance, here means want of knowledge, misapplication of characteristics, false know ledge, etc. This ignorance, or avidyā, which is the cause of many worldly desires and impure instincts, is generated by the association of the souls with matter; when this association is cut away, the self becomes divested of the avidyā and emancipated[5].

Rāmānuja says in his Vedārtha-saṃgraha that Īśvara grants emancipation from worldly bonds to a person, when he, after acquiring true knowledge from the śāstras according to the instruction of good teachers, engages himself every day in self-control, penance, purity; practises forgivingness, sincerity, charity, noninjury; performs all the obligatory and ceremonial duties; refrains from prohibited actions, and afterwards surrenders himself completely to the Lord; praises Him, continually thinks of Him, adores Him, counts His names, hears of His greatness and goodness, speaks of it, worships Him, and has all the darkness of his soul removed by His grace. The ordinary obligatory and ceremonial duties have to be performed; all the highest ethical virtues have to be practised and a true knowledge attained from the śāstras. It is only when a man has thus qualified himself that he can ultimately attain emancipation from all worldly bonds by supreme self-surrender and bhakti to the Lord. Bhakti, or devotion, with Rāmānuja means continual thinking of Him. Without it pure knowledge cannot give us emancipation. The special feature of bhakti is this, that by it a man loses all interest in everything else than that which is done for the sake of the dearest. Finally bhakti is not with Rāmānuja feeling, but a special kind of knowledge (jñāna-viśeṣa) which seeks to ignore everything that is not done for the sake of Īśvara, the dearest to us all[6].

Veṅkaṭanātha says that the performance of karmas makes a man fit to inquire into true knowledge, and the acquirement of true knowledge makes a man fit to attain devotion, or bhakti. When a man is fit to inquire after true knowledge, he may give up the karmas. Bhakti is, according to Veṅkaṭanātha, the feeling of joy (prīti) in the adorable, and not mere knowledge. Emancipation as sāyujya (sameness of quality) with Īśvara is the result of such bhakti. In this state of sāyujya, the human soul participates in the qualities of omniscience, bliss, etc., of Īśvara. The human soul cannot, of course, wholly participate with Īśvara, and such of His qualities as the power of creating and controlling the world, or of granting emancipation to human souls, remain ever with Īśvara alone. Human souls can participate only in His knowledge and bliss and can be as omniscient and as blissful as He. In this state of emancipation Man remains in an eternal and infinite blissful servitude to Īśvara. This servitude to Īśvara is not painful in the least, like other services. When a man forgoes all his personal vanity and merges all his independence in His service, and considers himself as His servant whose only work is to serve Him, this is indeed the state of bright joy.

Veṅkaṭanātha, however, further differentiates this Vaiṣṇava emancipation, as the thinking of the Īśvara as the most supreme, and thereby deriving infinite joy, from the other type of kaivalya, in which Man thinks of himself the Brahman and attains kaivalya. There also the association with avidyā and the world is indeed destroyed, and the man is reduced to oneness; but this is hardly a desirable state, since there is not here the infinite joy which the Vaiṣṇava emancipation can bring. Rāmānuja has written of mukti as a state which a man can acquire when he is divested of all avidyā, and has the natural intuition of the Supreme Soul and his relations with Him. He had distinguished this state from that mukti in which a man is divested of all karmas and realizes himself in himself, as obstructing the qualities of Īśvara from him. This kaivalya, or realization of one’s own self as the highest, is thus distinctly a lower emancipation. It is not out of place to say that Veṅkaṭanātha had pushed bhakti and the human goal of mukti distinctly further on to the side of feeling, by defining bhakti as a feeling of joy and mukti as servitude to Īśvara.

Footnotes and references:


See Varavara’s commentary on the Tattva-traya.


See Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣya, n. 3. 40, 41.


See Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣya, XI. 3. 40, 41.


See Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣya, n. III. 29, 30.


See Varavara’s commentary on the Tattva-traya, Cit-prakaraṇa.


See Vedārtha-saṃgraha, p. 146.