A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Part 15 - God in the Rāmānuja School

We have seen that according to Rāmānuja the nature and existence of God can be known only through the testimony of the scriptures and not through inference. Veṅkaṭa points out that the Sāṃkhya theory that the world-creation is due to the movement of prakṛti, set in operation through its contiguity with the puruṣas, is inadequate; for the Upaniṣads definitely assert that just as the spider weaves its net, so does God create the world. The scriptures further assert that God entered into both the prakṛti and th epuruṣaṣ, and produced the creative movement in them at the time of creation[1]. The Yoga view of God—that He is only an emancipated being who enters into the body of Hiraṇyagarbha or adopts some such other pure body—is also against all scriptural testimony. It is also idle to think that the world-creation is the result of the cooperative activity of the emancipated spirits, for it is much against the scriptural testimony as also against the normal possibility, since there cannot be such an agreement of wish among the infinite number of emancipated beings that would explain the creation of the world by unobstructed co-operation.

Thus, on the strength of the scriptural testimony it has to be admitted that God has engaged Himself in world-creation, either for the good of the created beings or through His own playful pleasurable activity. The enjoyment of playful activity is not to be explained as anything negative, as avoidance of ennui or langour, but as a movement which produces pleasure of itself[2]. When we hear of God’s anger, this is not to be regarded as indicating any disappointment on God’s part, for He is ever complete in Himself and has nothing to attain or to lose. So God’s anger is to be interpreted simply as meaning His desire to punish those who deserve punishment.

According to the Rāmānuja system the individual souls and the material world form the body of God (śartra). Anantārya of the Śeṣārya family, following Veṅkaṭa’s treatment of this doctrine in the Nyāya-siddhā-ñjana, elaborates upon the same and enters into a critical analysis of the conception and significance of the notion of the body of God, which is not unworthy of our notice. He refuses to accept the view that the notion of body (śarīra) involves a class-concept (jāti) ; for though the notion of a body is found applicable in each specific instance of a body, the existence of such a notion is always associated with one or other of those specific instances and as such it does not justify the assumption of the existence of a separate category as a self-existent universal bodiness. All that one can say is that there is a universal notion of bodiness associated with the individual bodies[3]. All notions of class-concepts may therefore be explained in the same manner as notions which are associated with particular kinds of groupings in their aggregate characters, and in this way they may be regarded as somewhat similar to collective notions such as an army or assembly[4].

Vātsya Śrīnivāsa, however, in his Rāmānuja-siddhānta-saṃgraha, explains the notion of class-concepts as being based upon the notion of close similarity of collocative groupings. He says that when two col-locative groupings are both called cow, nothing more is seen than those individual collocative groupings. That they are both called cow is due to the fact of close similarity (sausādṛśya) subsisting between those groupings[5]. Thus there is no other entity apart from our notion of universality arising from specific similarity of similar groupings (tāvad-viṣayaka-jñana-rūpa-jāti-viṣayakatvā-ṅgīkārena).

Anantārya refers to the definition of śarlra in the Rāmānuja-bhāṣya as that which is liable to be held or controlled in its entirety for the purpose of spirit, and is thus merely a means to its end (cetanasya yad dravyaṃ sarvā-tmanā svārthe niyantuṃ dhārayituṃ śakyaṃ tac ceṣṭai-ka-svarūpañca tat tasya svarūpaṃ). Sudar-śanācārya, the author of the Śruta-prakāśikā, interprets this definition as meaning that when the movement of anything is wholly determined by the desire or will of any spirit and is thus controlled by it, the former is said to be the body of the latter (kṛti-prayukta-svīya-ceṣṭā-sāmānyakatva-rūpa-niyāmyatvaṃ śarīra-pada-pravṛtti-nimittam)[6]. When it is said that this body belongs to this soul, the sense of possession (ādheyatva) is limited to the fact that the movements in general of that body are due to the will of that spirit or soul[7]. A servant cannot be called the body of his master on the same analogy, for only some of the movements of the servant are controlled by the will of the master. The assumption that underlies the above definition is that the movement in the animal and vegetable bodies presided over by individual souls and in the inanimate objects presided over by God is due to the subtle will-movements in these specific souls, though they may not always be apprehended by us[8].

But anticipating the objection that there is no perceptual evidence that the physico-biological movements of bodies are due to subtle volitions of their presiding souls, a second definition of śarlra has been suggested in the bhāṣya of Rāmānuja. According to this definition a body is said to be that which may as a whole be held fast and prevented from falling by the volitional efforts of a spirit[9]. But an objection may still be raised against such a definition, as it cannot explain the usage which regards the souls as being the bodies of God (yasyā’tmā śarīram). The souls have no weight and as such it is absurd to suppose that God prevents them from falling down, and in that way they are related to Him as bodies. The definition may therefore be modified to the extent that a body is that which is wholly held together in a contactual relation with a particular spirit through its own volition[10].

But a further objection may also be raised against this modification, for the definition, even so modified, fails to include time and other entities which are all-pervasive. Now the contactual relation subsisting between two all-pervasive entities is held to be eternal and uncaused. So the contactual relation of God with time and the like cannot be held to be caused by the volition of God, and if this be held to be the connotation of the body, time, etc., cannot be regarded as the body of God. So a different definition has been given which states that a body is a substance which is wholly dependent upon and subservient to a spirit. Dependence and subserviency are to be understood in the sense of productivity of a special excellence. Now, in the present context the special excellence which is produced in the spirit is its determination either as a cause or as an effect.

When Brahman is regarded as cause, such causality can be understood only in relation to its association with the subtle constituents of matter and individual souls, and its evolution into the effect-stage as the manifold world is intelligible only through the transformation of the subtle matter-constituents in gross material forms and the spirits as endeavouring towards perfection through their deeds and rebirths. Brahman as such, without its relation to matter and souls, can be regarded neither as cause nor as effect. That it can be viewed as cause and effect is only because it is looked at in association with the causal or the effectuated states of matter and souls. The latter, therefore, are regarded as His body because they by their own states serve His purpose in reflecting Him as cause and effect.

The definition, however, needs a further modification in so far as the determining relation of the body is such that there is never a time when such a relation did not subsist. The relation conceived in this way (apṛthak-siddha) is not something extraneous, but is a defining constituent of both the body and the soul, i.e. so long as either of them exists they must have that relation of the determiner and the determined (yāvat sattvam asambandhanā-rthayor eva’pṛthak sambandhā-bhyupagamāt)[11]. Thus, even the emancipated souls are associated with bodies, and it is held that with death the body associated with the living soul is destroyed; the so-called dead body is not the body with which the living soul was in association[12]. But it may again be objected that the soul also determines the actions and efforts of the body and being inseparably connected with it, the soul may also be called the body of the body according to the definition. To meet this objection the definition is further modified, and it is held that only such inseparable relation as determines the causality or elīectness in association with the production of know ledge can be regarded as constituting the condition of a body.

The whole idea is that a body, while inseparably-connected with the soul, conditions its cognitive experiences, and this should be regarded as the defining characteristic of a body[13]. This definition of Sarīra is, of course, very different from the Nyāya definition of “body” (śarīra) as the support (āśraya) of effort (ceṣṭā), senses (indriya), and enjoyment (bhoga)[14]. For in such a definition, since there may be movement in the furthest extremities of the body which is not a direct support of the original volition of the soul, the definition of the notion of support has to be so far extended as to include these parts which are in association with that which was directly moved by the soul. Extending this principle of indirect associations, one might as well include the movement of objects held in the hand, and in that case the extraneous objects might also be regarded as body, which is impossible. The defence of the Naviyāyikas would, of course, be by the introduction of the relation of inseparable coherence (samavāya) in which the parts of a body are connected together in a way different from any other object. But it has already been pointed out that the samavāya relation is not admitted by the Rāmānujists.

Brahman may be regarded as the material cause of the world through its body as prakṛti and the souls. Though a material cause, it is also the instrumental cause just as the individual souls are the efficient causes of their own experiences of pleasure and pain (through their own deeds), of which, since the latter inhere in the former, they may be regarded as their material causes. On the other hand, God in Himself, when looked at as apart from His body, may be regarded as unchangeable. Thus, from these two points of view God may be regarded as the material and efficient cause and may also be regarded as the unchanging cause.

Bhāskara and his followers hold that Brahman has two parts, a spirit part (cidaṃśa) and a material part (acidaṃśa), and that it transforms itself through its material part and undergoes the cycles of karma through the conditions of such material changes. Bhāskara thinks that the conditions are a part of Brahman and that even in the time of dissolution they remain in subtle form and that it is only in the emancipated stage that the conditions (upādhi), which could account for the limited appearance of Brahman as individual souls, are lost in Brahman. Veṅkaṭa thinks that the explanation through the conception of upādhi is misleading. If the upādhi con-stitutes jīvas by mere conjunction, then since they are all conjoined with God, God Himself becomes limited. If the conception of upādhi be made on the analogy of space within a jug or a cup, where space remains continuous and it is by the movement of the conditioning jugs or cups that the space appears to be limited by them, then no question of bondage or emancipation can arise. The conception of upādhi cannot be also on the analogy of the container and the contained, as water in the jug, since Brahman being continuous and indivisible such a conception would be absurd. The upādhis themselves cannot be regarded as constitutive of individual souls, for they are material in their nature.

Yādavaprakāśa holds that Brahman is of the nature of pure universal being (sarvā-tmakaṃ sad-rūpaṃ brahma) endowed with three distinct powers as consciousness, matter and God, and through these powers it passes through the various phenomenal changes which are held up in it and at the same time are one with it, just as one ocean appears in diverse forms as foam, billows and waves. Veṅkaṭa says that instead of explaining the world-creation from these makeshift points of view, it is better to follow the scriptures and regard Brahman as being associated with these changes through its body. It is wrong also to regard God, world and spirit as being phenomenal modifications of one pure being as Kātyāyana does[15]. For the scriptures definitely assert that God and the changeless Brahman are one and identical. If the transformation is regarded as taking place through the transformation of the powers of Brahman, then the latter cannot be regarded as the material cause of the world, nor can these transformations be regarded as creations of Brahman.

If it is said that Brahman is both identical and different from its powers, then such a view would be like the relative pluralism of the Jains. There is a further view that Brahman in His pure nature exists as the world, the souls and God, though these are different and though in them His pure nature as such is not properly and equally evident. Veṅkaṭa holds that such a view is contradicted by our experience and by scriptural texts. There is again another view according to which Brahman is like an ocean of consciousness and bliss, and out of the joy of self-realization undergoes various transformations, a small portion of which he transforms into matter and infuses the spiritual parts into its modifications. Thus, Brahman transforms itself into a number of limited souls which undergo the various experiences of pleasure and pain, and the whole show and procedure becomes a source of joy to Him. It is not a rare phenomenon that there are beings who derive pleasure from performing actions painful to themselves. The case of incarnations (avatāra) again corroborates this view, otherwise there would be no meaning in the course of misery and pain which they suffer of their own free will.

Veṅkaṭa observes that this view is absolutely hollow. There may be fools who mistake painful actions for sources of pleasure. But it is unthinkable that Brahman, who is all-knowing and allpowerful, should engage in an undertaking which involves for Him even the slightest misery and pain. The misery of.even a single individual is sufficient evil and the total miseries of the whole world of individual selves are intolerable in the extreme. Therefore, how can Brahman elect to shoulder all this misery of His own free choice without stultifying Himself? The case of incarnations is to be understood as that of actors on the stage. Further, this view contradicts the testimony of all scriptures. Veṅkaṭa thinks that the view of his school is free from all these objections, as the relation of the Brahman and individuals is neither one of absolute identity nor one of identity and difference but one of substance and adjuncts. The defects in the adjuncts cannot affect the substance nor can the association between them be a source of pollution to Brahman, the substance, because association becomes so only when it is determined by karma[16].

On the theological side Veṅkaṭa accepts all the principal religious dogmas elaborated in the Pañcarātra works. God is, of course, omniscient, omnipotent and all-complete. His all-completeness, however, does not mean that He has no desires. It only means that His desires or wishes are never frustrated and His wishes are under His own control[17]. What we call our virtue and sins also proceed through His pleasure and displeasure. His displeasure does not bring any suffering or discomfort. But the term “displeasure” simply indicates that God has a particular attitude in which He may punish us or may not extend His favour.

The scriptural injunctions are but the 'commands of God. There is no separate instrumental as apūrva or adṛṣṭa which stands between the performance of deeds and their fruition and which, while it persists when the deeds are over, brings about the effects of these actions. But God alone abides and He is either pleased or displeased by our actions and He arranges such fruits of actions as He thinks fit[18]. The scriptures only show which kinds of actions will be pleasing to God and which are against His commands. The object of the scriptural sacrifices is the worship of God, and all the different deities that are worshipped in these sacrifices are but the different names of God Himself. All morality and religion are thus reduced in this system to obedience to God’s commands and the worship of Him. It is by God’s grace that one can attain emancipation when there is an ultimate expansion of one’s intellect, and by continual realization of the infinite nature of God one remains plunged as it were in an ocean of bliss compared with which the so-called worldly pleasures are but sufferings[19].

It is not ultimately given to man to be virtuous or vicious by his own efforts, but God makes a man virtuous or vicious at His own pleasure or displeasure, and rewards or punishes accordingly; and, as has already been said, virtue and vice are not subjective characters of the person but only different attitudes of God as He is pleased or displeased. Whomsoever He wishes to raise up He makes perform good actions, and whomsoever He wishes to throw down He makes commit sinful actions. The final choice and adjudgment rests with Him, and man is only a tool in His hands. Man’s actions in themselves cannot guarantee anything to him merely as the fruits of those actions, but good or bad fruits are reaped in accordance with the pleasure or displeasure of God[20].

Footnotes and references:


prakṛtiṃ puruṣam cai’va praviśya tme-ccḥayā hariḥ.
kṣobhayāmāsa saṃprāpte sarga-kāle vyayā-vyoyau.
p. 252.


krīḍā-yogād arati-yogaḥ tad-abhāvād vā tad-abhāvaḥ syāt,
maī’vaṃ krīḍā hi prīti-viśeṣa-prabhaz’aḥ svayaṃ-priyo vyāpāraḥ.
p. 255.


na ce’daṃ śarīram idaṃ śarīram ity anugata-pratītir eva tat-sādhikā, anugatā-pratīteḥ bādhaka-virahe jāti-sādhakatvād iti vācyant, siddhānte amigata-pratīteḥ samsthāna-viṣayakatvena tad-atirikta-iāti-sādhakatvā-sambhavāt.
     Anantārya, Śarīra-vāda (MS.).


eka-jātīyam iti vyavahārasya tat-tad-upādhi viśeṣeṇo-papatteḥ, rāśi-sainya-pariṣad-araṇyā-diṣv aikya-vyavahārādivat, upādhiś cā’yam anekeṣām eka-smṛti-samārohaḥ.
, p. 180.


ayaṃ sāsnā-dimān ayam api sāsnā-dimān iti sāsnā-dir eva anuvṛtta-vyai'ahāra-viṣayo dṛśyate, anuvṛttu-dhī-vyavahāra-viṣayas tad-atirikto na kaś cid api dṛśyate. tasmād ubhaya-sampratipanna-saṃsthānenai’va susadṛśo-pādḥi-vaśād anugata-dhī-vyavahāro-papattāv atirikta-kalpane mānā-bhāvāt, susadṛśatvam eva gotvā-dīnām anuvṛttiḥ.

Vātsya Śrīnivāsa defines close similarity as the special character which may be regarded as the cause of the apprehension of generality amidst differences (pratiyogi-nirūpya-prativyakti- vilakṣaṇa-viṣaya- niṣṭha- sadṛśa-vyavahāra- sādhā-rana-kāraṇa-dharma-viśeṣaḥ sausādṛśyam). This similarity leads to the application of names to similar objects. When it subsists between two substances, we call it similarity of character (dkarma-sādṛśya). When it subsists between entities other than substances (a-dravya) we call it similarity of essence (sva-rūpa-sādṛśya).


Śarīra-vāda (MS.).


etaj-jīvasye’daṃ śarīram ity-ādau ādheyatvaṃ tasya ca śarīrā-padārthai-kadeśe kṛtau anvyayād vā taj-jīva-niṣṭha-kṛti-prayukta-svīya-ceṣṭā-sāmānyakam idam iti bodhaḥ.


jīva-śarīre vṛkṣādau īśvara-sarīre parvatādau ca sukṣmasya tat-tat-kṛti-prayukta-ceṣṭā-viśeṣasya aṅgīkārān na śarīra-vyavahāra-visayatvā-nupapattiḥ.


yasya cetanasya yad dravyaṃ sarvā-tmanā dhārayituṃ śakyaṃ tat tasya śarīram itikṛti-prayukta-sva-pratiyogika-patana-pratibandhaka-saṃyoga-sāmānya-vattvaṃ sarīra-pada-pravṛtti-nimittam.


Patana-pratibandhakatvaṃ parityajya kṛti-prayukta-sva-pratiyogika-saṃ-yoga-sāmānyasya śarīra-pada-pravṛtti-nimittatva-svīkāre’pi kṣati-virahāt.


Śarīra-vāda, p. 8 (MS.).


mṛta-śarīrasya jīva-sambandha-rahitatayā’pi avasthāna-darśanena yāvat-sattvam asambandhā-narhatva-virahad iti cet na pūrva-śarīratayā’vasthitasya dravyasya cetana-viyogā-nantara-kṣaṇe eva nāśā-bhyūpagamena anupapatti-virahāt.


tac-cheṣatvaṃ hi tan-niṣṭhā-tiśayā-dhāyakatvaṃ, prakṛte ca tan-niṣṭhā-tiśayaḥ kāryatva-kāraṇatvā-nyatara-ūpo jñānā-vacchinnā-nuvogitūkā-pṛthak-siddhi-sambandhā-vacchinna-kāryatva-kāraṇatvā-nyatarā-vacchedakatvaṃ śarīra pada-pravṛtti-nimittam ityarthaḥ.

Brahman as associated with subtle matter and spirits is the cause, and as associated with cross matter and the souls passing through diverse gross states may he regarded as effect. The subtle and the gross states of matter and spirits may thus be regarded as determining the causal and effect states of the Brahman. —

sūkṣma-cid-acid-viśiṣṭa-brahmaṇaḥ kāraṇatvāt sthūla-cid-acid-7 iśiṣṭasva ca tasya kārvatvāt brahma-niṣṭḥa-kāryatva-kāraṇatvā-nyatarā-vacchedakutvasya pra-pañca-sāmānye sattvāt.


Ceṣṭe-ndriyā-rthā-śrayaḥ śarīram.
I. I. II.


īivara-vyākṛta-prāṇair virāṭ-sindhur ivo’rmibhiḥ
yat pranṛtya divā bhāti tasmai sad-brahmaṇe namaḥ.
quoted in Sarvārtha-siddhi, p. 298.


asman-mate tu viieṣaṇa-gatā doṣā na viśeṣyaṃ spṛśanti,
akarma-vaśya-saṃsargaja-doṣāṇām asambhavācca.
p. 302.


āpta-kāma-iabdas tāvad īśitur eṣṭavyā-bhāvam icchā-rāhityaṃ vā na brūte . . .
iṣṭaṃ sarvam asya prāptam eva bhavatīti tātparyaṃ grāhyam.
. .
sarva-kārya-viṣaya-pratihatā-nanyā-dhīne-chāvān Īśvaraḥ, jīvas tu na tathā.
p. 386.


tat-tat-karma-caraṇa-pariṇate-śvara-buddhi-viśeṣa eva adṛṣṭam.
p. 665.


Tattva-muktā-kalāpa, pp. 663, 664.


sa evcinaṃ bhūtiṃ gamayati, sa enaṃ prītaḥ prīṇāti eṣa eva sādhu karma kārayati taṃ kṣipāmy ajasram aśubhā-nityā-di-bhiḥ prumāṇa-śataiḥ īśvara-prīti-kopābhyāṃ dharmā-dharma-phala-prāptir avagamyate.
p. 670.

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