A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of bhaskara and ramanuja: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifth part in the series called the “philosophy of the ramanuja school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Every careful reader of Bhāskara and Rāmānuja must have noticed that Rāmānuja was largely indebted for his philosophical opinions and views to Bhāskara, and on most topics their doctrines are more or less the same. It is possible that Rāmānuja was indebted for his views to Bodhāyana or other Vaiṣṇava writers, but, however that may be, his indebtedness to Bhāskara also was very great, as a comparative study of the two systems would show. However, the two systems are not identical, and there is an important point on which thev disagree. Bhāskara believed that there is Brahman as pure being and intelligence, absolutely formless, and the causal principle, and Brahman as the manifested effect, the world. According to Bhāskara there is no contradiction or difficulty in such a conception, since all things have such a dual form as the one and the many or as unity and difference. “Unity in difference” is the nature of all things. Rāmānuja, however, holds that difference and unity cannot both be affirmed of the same thing.

Thus, when we affirm “this is like this,” it is not true that the same entity is both the subject and the predicate. For example, when “this” in the above proposition stands for a cow, the predicate “like this” stands for its particular and unique description of bodily appearance. The latter is only the attribute of the former and determines its nature and character. There is no meaning in asserting the identity of the subject and the predicate or in asserting that it is the same entity that in one form as unity is “subject” and in another form as difference is the predicate. Bhāskara argues that the conditions and the conditioned (avasthā-taadvasthaś ca) are not wholly different; nor are the substance and its attributes, the cloth and the whiteness, entirely different. There are no qualities without substance and no substance without qualities. All difference is also unity as well.

The powers or attributes of a thing are not different from it; the fire is the same as its power of burning and illuminating. So everything is both unity and difference, and neither of them may be said to be wholly reducible to the other. But Rāmānuja maintains that all propositions are such that the predicate is an attribute of the subject. The same attributive view is applicable to all cases of genus and species, cause and effect, and universals and individuals. The “difference” and the “unity” are not two independent forms of things which are both real; but the “difference” modifies or qualifies the nature and character of the “unity,” and this is certified by all our experience of complex or compound existence[1]. According to Rāmānuja the affirmation of both unity and difference of the same entity is self-contradictory. The truth of “difference” standing by itself is not attested by experience; for the difference of quality, quantity, etc., always modifies the nature and character of the subject as “unity,” and it is this alone that is experienced by us.

Bhāskara urges that, though there is the twofold Brahman as the manifested many and as the unmanifested formless identity of pure being and intelligence, it is only the latter that is the object of our highest knowledge and worship. Rāmānuja, however, denies this formless and differenceless Brahman and believes in the qualified complex Brahman as the transcendent and immanent God holding within Him as His body the individual souls and the world of matter. Regarding the relation of Brahman and the individual souls (jīva ) Bhāskara says that a jīva is nothing but Brahman narrowed by the limitations of the mind substance (antaḥkaraṇo - pādhy-avacchinna). When it is said that jīva is a part (aṃśā) of Brahman, it is neither in the sense of part or of cause that the word aṃśa is used, but in the technical sense of being limited by the limitation of mind. This limitation is not false or unreal, and it is on account of it that the individual souls are atomic. According to Rāmānuja “difference” is felt as a result of ignorance and the difference is therefore unreal. With Rāmānuja the identity of Brahman with the individual souls is the last word.

The apparent difference of imperfection, finiteness, etc., between the individual souls and the perfection and infiniteness of Brahman is due to ignorance (avidyā), and is found to be false as soon as the souls realize themselves to be forming the body of Brahman itself. “Difference” as such has no reality according to Rāmānuja, but only modifies and determines the character of the identical subject to which it refers. The subject and its character are identical. Bhāskara considers identity and difference as two modes, both of which are alike independently true, though they are correlated to each other. In criticism of Bhāskara it is said that, if the limitations of Brahman were also true, then they would wholly limit Brahman, since it has no parts, and thus it would be polluted in its entirety. This objection to Bhāskara’s view in some of its subtle aspects is made with dialectical skill by Rāmānuja[2]. But it does not appear that it has much force against Bhāskara, if we admit his logical claim that unity and plurality, cause and effect, are two modes of existence of the same reality and that both these forms are equally real. It does not seem that the logical position of Bhāskara has been sufficiently refuted.

Rāmānuja also speaks of Brahman as being identical with individual souls or the material world and yet different therefrom, but only in the sense in which a character or a part may be said to be at once identical with and different from the substance possessing the character or the whole to which the part is said to belong. The individual souls and the inanimate creation cannot stand by themselves independently, but only as parts of Brahman. So from the fact that they are parts of Brahman their identity (abheda) with Brahman becomes as primary as their difference (bheda), inasmuch as the substance may be considered to be different from its attributes[3]. The main difference that remains on this point between Bhāskara and Rāmānuja is this, that Bhāskara does not think it necessary to introduce the conception of body and parts, or substance and attributes. According to his doctrine Brahman is immanent and transcendent at the same time, identity and difference can be affirmed of a thing at one and the same time; and this can be illustrated from the cases of cause and effect, or substance and attributes, etc.

Footnotes and references:




Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣya, pp. 265, 266, with the Śruta-prakāśikā, Nirnavasāgara Press, Bombay, 1916.


jīvavat-pṛthak-siddhy-anarha-viśeṣaṇatvena acid-vastuno brahmā-ṃśatvaṃ; viśiṣ ṭa-vastv-eka-deśatvena abheda-vyavahāro mukhyaḥ, viśeṣaṇa-viśeṣyayoḥ svarūpa-svabhāva-bhedena bheda-vyavahāro’pi mukhyaḥ.
in. 2. 28.

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