A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of prapatti doctrine as expounded in shrivacana-bhushana of lokacarya: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the nineteenth part in the series called the “philosophy of the ramanuja school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 19 - Prapatti Doctrine as expounded in Śrīvacana-bhūṣaṇa of Lokācārya

(and Saumya Jāmātṛ Muni’s Commentary on it.)

According to the Śrīvacana-bhūṣaṇa the mercy of God remains always as submerged in His justice, but yet it always exists and its apprehension by us is obstructed by certain conditions. It is not produced by our efforts, for then God would not always be merciful (anudbhūta-dayā-dy-udbhāvaka-puruṣa-kāra-sāpekṣakatvenityo-dbhū-ta-dayā-di-mattvaṃ vyāhataṃ syāt 35. B.).

The mercy of God is dependent on Him and on no one else; yet there exists in Nārāyaṇa the deity Lakṣmī who is like the essence of Him or the body of Him, and who has voluntarily reconciled her will absolutely with that of Nārāyaṇa. Though in such a conception the Lakṣmī is dependent on Nārāyaṇa, yet for the devotees Nārāyaṇa and Lakṣmī go together, and for him the mercy of God is to be attributed to both Lakṣmī and Nārāyaṇa taken as a whole.

The conception of Lakṣmī is such that she is the greatest object of love for Nārāyaṇa, who has conceived her as a part of Himself, and Lakṣmī has also so identified herself with Him that there is no separate existence for her. As such Lakṣmī has not to make any special effort for bringing Nārāyaṇa in consonance with her will; for there is practically no existence of duality, and for this reason there is no necessity for devotees to cling separately to Lakṣmī. The nature of Lakṣmī is the pure essence of the mercy of God[1].

When the devotee is in a state of separation from God through the wrong conception of his own independence and separate individuality, he has to make an effort in the negative direction in forsaking his own sense of freedom and adopting God as his ultimate end. But once he has forsaken his false egoism and surrendered himself entirely to God, there is no need of further effort on his part. At such a stage through the influence of Lakṣmī all the sins of the devotee are destroyed and through her influence God extends His mercy to him[2]. Lakṣmī also rouses in the human mind through internal moral persuasion the belief in the necessity of seeking His friendship. She performs the dual function, first that of turning the minds of the people, who are under the sway of beginningless avidyā by which they are always being attracted by mundane interest to God; and, secondly, she also melts the heart of God Who is bent upon giving fruits in accordance with the deserts of the people, and persuades Him to extend His bliss to all people by overruling the bondage of karma.

The prapatti, as seeking the protection of God, is not restricted by any limiting conditions of holy or unholy places, or of any special time, or of any special mode, or of any caste restriction, or that it can produce only this or that result. When God accepts any person through prapatti He forgives all his faults of commission and omission. The only fault that He does not forgive is insincerity or cruelty (kraurya). People take to prapatti either because they feel helpless and know no other means of saving themselves, or because they are very wise and definitely know that this is the best means, or because they are naturally attached to God, like the Āḻvārs[3]. In the first case true knowledge and devotion are at the minimum; in the second case there is not so much ignorance but devotion also is of the normal extent. In the third case ignorance is least and attachment is at its highest and as such even true knowledge of the nature of God is engulfed as it were by an excess of attachment. In the first case the consciousness of one’s own ignorance is strongest; in the second case the consciousness of one’s humbleness and ignorance is equally balanced with the true knowledge of the essence of God and the relation of one’s nature with Him.

The devotee who has in great love surrendered himself to God has occasional communion and detachment with Him. In the first case he is filled with ecstatic joy by coming in direct contact with God as associated with noble qualities. But at the moment of detachment the memory of that communion and ecstasy of joy is a source of dire pain. It has been related above that God’s mercy is continuous and ever-flowing; but in spite of this, on account of obstructive tendencies which by investing us with a false belief in our own independence lead to the assertion of our false individuality, the course of God’s mercy is obstructed. The adoption of prapatti removes the obstructive attitude and renders it possible for God to extend Ilis mercy to us. In such a conception prapatti is to be regarded only as a negative means. The positive means (upāya) is God Who extends His mercy. Prapatti therefore should not be regarded as the cause of our deliverance. It only removes our obstructive tendencies, and cannot therefore be regarded as an clement of the cause that secures our deliverance—that cause being God and God alone.

God is thus both the means and end of attainment, and the only absolute means for the devotee to attain Him. The prapatti view here propounded flatly denies the necessity of any other means. The essence of prapatti consists in the passivity involved in the mental attitude of the devotee surrendering himself to God and thus giving occasion for God’s affecting powers to affect him favourably. When the devotee ceases to concern himself with any anxiety as to how he may be saved, then God exerts His will to save him[4]. This view of God’s relationship with the devotee involves within it the philosophical doctrine that the individual souls exist for God and have no end to realize for themselves. It is only through ignorance that the individual seems to possess an independent end for himself. The denial of this position through excessive love of God renders the philosophical reality of their mutual relationship realizable as a spiritual fact.

The definition of soul as consciousness and bliss and as atomic is only an external description (tatastha). The internal situation (antaraṅga) of the relation of the individual soul with God may best be described as his servitude to Him.

The nature of emotional attachment which is associated with prapatti is such that the devotee by his tender love for God induces the same in Him so that the emotion of love may be regarded on the one hand as a consciousness of bliss and on the other hand as a relation in which the lover and the beloved are the constituents. The first inferior stage of prapatti is not always actuated by deep natural attachment, but by a sense of one’s own insignificance and helplessness[5]. In the second stage called the upeya the devotee is so much actuated by his deep love for God that he loses all considerations for himself, and the intoxication of love may grow so deep that it may lead to the annihilation of his body. But the prospect of such an annihilation does not deter him from moving forward in the path of intoxication, for at that stage he loses all interest in the consequences of such an attachment. He is simply lost in God through intoxicating emotion. This is technically called rāga-prāpta-prapatti.

The relation between the devotee and God is interpreted on the analogy of the wedding of the mistress with her lover, of the Gopikā with Kṛṣṇa, and it is held that the deep emotion is like the erotic emotion that leads to the wedding of the bridegroom with the bride. Bhakti or devotion is described as a special kind of consciousness dissociated from ignorance which reveals itself in the form of a deep emotion. The devotee is supposed to pass through all the stages which a love-stricken woman would do. All the emotions of the devotee, the lover, are for rousing the pleasure of God. Just as a woman’s behaviour under the influence of love is intended to bring a smile or twinkle into the eyes of her lover, so the emotion of the devotee is intended solely to please God[6]. This is regarded as siddha-prema or natural love.

Devotees intoxicated by such a love are not necessarily subjected to any kind of code of duty. It is only those whose intoxication bv love is so great that they cannot wait and pass through any such discipline as is prescribed in the vaidhī or the upāya stage of prapatti who are driven to embrace God as it were with their melting hearts. The ordinary rules of prapatti are utterly unbinding on these people. In the adoption of prapatti of all the three types mentioned above the personal effort (puruṣakāra) necessary is limited to the extent that the individual should hold himself in absolute self-surrender so that God may be inclined to accept even his faults and defects as they are and remove them by His divine grace. In the case of those who are advanced in the stage of prapatti —the paramārtas —God removes even all the prārabdha-karmas and grants them immediate emancipation[7].

The person who adopts the path of prapatti is not anxious to attain even emancipation. He has also no specific preference as to the nature of the spiritual emancipation that may be granted to him. To desire emancipation and to attach any preference to any possible state of existence involves an egoistic desire. But the person who has sincerely adopted the path of prapatti must annihilate altogether even the last traces of egoism. On the one side egoism means ignorance, for it is only by false knowledge that a man asserts himself as having an independent being. On the other side egoism means insincerity (kraurya). It has been said above that God may forgive all our sins excepting insincerity. The fundamental requirement of prapatti therefore consists in the annihilation of egoism. It is only through the annihilation of egoism that the perfect selfsurrender required by prapatti is possible[8].

The four stages precedent to the attainment of the summum bonum through prapatti are as follows:

  1. jñāna-daśā, i.e. the state in which through the instructions of the teacher the devotee attains self-knowledge in relation to God.
  2. varaṇa-daśā, the state in which the devotee adopts God in a spirit of helpless surrender as the only protector,
  3. prāpti-daśā, the state in which he realizes God.
  4. prāpyā-nubhava-daśā, i.e. the state in which, having realized God, he attains the summum bonum[9].

The doctrine of prapatti is, indeed, very old. It is found in the Ahirbudhnya-saṃhitā, Lakṣmī Tantra, Bharadvāja-saṃhitā and other Pañca-rātra works. The Śrīvaiṣṇava writers trace its origin to much older literature such as the Taittiriyopaniṣad, Katho-paniṣad and the Śvetāśvatara, the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. The nature of prapatti in the Ahirbudhnya-saṃhitā has already been discussed. In the Bharadvāja-Saṃhitā the prapatti is described as self-surrender to God, and the descriptions that it gives are more or less the same as those found in the Ahirbudhnya. The devotee who adopts the path of prapatti is not exempted from the ordinary duties of a Vaiṣṇava or from the regular caste duties.

The Bharadvāja-saṃhitā describes in some detail the courses of action which are favourable or unfavourable to the adoption of such a path. Rāmānuja, in his Śaraṇā-gati-gadya, advocates the path of prapatti in which the devotee seeks protection not only of Nārāyaṇa but also of Lakṣmī. But it does not appear either in the Śaraṇā-gati-gadya or in his commentary of the Gītā that a person who has adopted the path of prapatti is exempted from the normal caste and other duties, nor is the function of Lakṣmī in awarding the fruits of prapatti explained by him.

In his explanation of the Bhagavad-gītā text (sarva-dharmān parityajya, etc., 18. 66), he says that the devotee should perform all his normal duties without any motive of attaining fruits thereby[10]. As regards the destruction of the prā-robdha-karma also, Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha hold that though most of it is destroyed by the grace of God, yet a trace of it is left[11]. Vātsya Varada, in his Prapanna-pārijāta, follows the same idea. Veṅkaṭanātha also repeats the same view in his Nyāsa-viṃśati and Nyāsa-tilaka, and Aṇṇayārya, a disciple of Vedāntī Rāmānuja, follows the idea in his Prapatti-prayoga. Varadanātha, the son of Veṅkaṭanātha, also repeats the idea in his Nyāsa-tilaka-vākhyā and Nyāsa-kārikā.

The view of Lokācārya and Saumya Jāmātṛ muni, the leaders of the Teṅgalai school, differs from it to the extent that while the above-mentioned prapatti doctrine may be true of the inferior devotees, the superior devotees who are absolutely intoxicated with God’s love are through the very nature of their psychological intoxication unable to follow' any of the normal duties and are entirely exempted from them. Their prāraddha-karma may also be entirely destroyed by God’s grace. The distinction between the Varagalai and Teṅgalai schools depends largely on the emphasis given by the latter to the superior type of prapatti.

Footnotes and references:


devyā kāruṇya-rūpaye'ti taḍ-guṇa-sāratvena kāruṇyaṃ svayam eve'ti.


prapatter ḍeśa-niyamaḥ kāla-niyamaḥ prakāra-niyamaḥ aḍhikāri-niyamaḥ phala-niyamaś ca nāsti.

The above idea is supported in the commentary by a quotation from Bhāraḍvāja-saṃhitā which runs as follows:

brahma-kṣatra-viśaḥ śūḍrāḥ striyaś cantara-jātayaḥ
sarva eva prapadyeran sarva-ḍḥātāraṃ acyutam.


As an illustration of the last type a few lines from Śrīvacana-bhūṣaṇa-vyākhyā may be quoted:

bhakti-pcravaśyena prapannā bhagavat-prema-puuṣ-kalyena pādau stabdhau manaḥ śitḥilaṃ bhavati cakṣur bfnamati pādau hast an ca niśceṣṭau ity ukta-prakāreṇa śithila-karaṇatvena sādhanā-nuṣṭḥāna-yogyatā-bhāvād ananya-gatikās santas tasmin bhara-samarpaṇaṃ kṛtaṃ.



asya icchā nivṛttā cet tasye’cchā asya kāryakarī bhavati.


This is regarded as the upāya stage where the devotee seeks God as the means to his highest attainment.


ajñāna-nirrtti-pūrvakn-bhakti-rūpā-pannaṃ jñānaṃ prasādhitam. mahad-vivāha-janaka-kāmaṃ samudra-tulyatayā varddhayan megha-sadṛśa-vigrahosmat-kṛṣṇa ity evaṃ-bhūta-pravṛtti-hetor bhakter utpādako varddhakaś ca. sā eva hi tasya bhakti-pāravaśya-nirandhanā pravṛttir upāya-phalam ity ucyate. . . . prāpya-tvarayā strī-vratayā netra-bhramaṇena etasya sambhramā sari e mad-viṣayasāṃ kṛtvā evam arasthā labdhā iti tan-mukha-vikāśā-rthaṃ kṛiyamāṇa-kaiṅkaryavad upeyā-ntarbhūtā.


evam-bhūtasya śarīra-sthiti-hetuḥ prārabdha-karme’ti na vaktuṃ śakyate sarva-pāpebhyaḥ mokṣayiṣyāmi ity anena virodhāt.


Śrīvacana-bhūṣaṇa-vyākhyā. MS.


etad-anubhava-janita-prīti-kārita-kaiṅkaryam eva parama-puruṣā-rthah.


Veṅkaṭanātha in his Tātparya-dīpikā on Rāmānuja-bhāṣya on the Gītā (verse 18. 66) says:

etac-chlokā-pōta-pratītyū kūṭa-yuktibhīśca yathā varṇā-śrama-dharma-svarupa-tyāgā-di-pakṣo no’deti tathā upapāditam.


sādhya-bhaktistu sā hantrī prāravddhasya pi bhūyasī.
     (Rtihasya-rakṣā commentary of Veṅkaṭanātha on Śaraṇā-gati-gadya, p. 50. Vānīvilāsa Press, 1910).

In the Nyāsa-viṃśati and the Nyāsa-tilaka as commented in the Xyāsa-tilaka-vyākhyā by Veṅkaṭanātha’s son Varadanātha prapatti is defined in the same manner as that by Lokācārya. Prapatti is an old doctrine in Southern Vaiṣṇavism and its fundamental characters are more or less final. In the Svāsa-tilaka-vyākhyā great emphasis is laid on the fact that prapatti as a path of approach to God is different from the path of bhakti and superior to it. In the Śrīvacana-bhūṣaṇa there is a tendency to treat bhakti as an intermediary way to prapatti.

In the Nyāsa-tilaka-vyākhyā it is said that the chief difference between bhakti and prapatti is

  1. firstly that the former is of the nature of unbroken meditation, while the latter has to be done once for all;
  2. secondly, the prāravdha-karma cannot be destroyed by the former, whereas in the latter it can be so done by the grace of God;
  3. thirdly, the former needs various accessory methods of worship— continual effort and continual action—whereas in the latter we have excessive faith;
  4. fourthly, the former produces fruit after a long time whereas the latter applies only to those who want immediate fruit;
  5. fifthly, the former may have different objectives and may yield different fruits accordingly, whereas the latter being of the nature of absolutely helpless surrender produces all fruits immediately.

High faith is the foundation of prapatti. In and through many obstacles this faith and attachment to God leads the devotee to his goal. For these reasons the path of bhakti is inferior to the path of prapatti. Prapatti to the teacher is regarded as a part of prapatti to God. The difference between the conception of prapatti in the Śrīi'acana-bhūṣaṇa and the Nyāsa-tilaka is that the latter holds that even those who adopt the path of prapatti should perform the obligatory duties imposed by the scriptures and refrain from committing the acts prohibited by them; for the scriptures are the commands of God. The former however thinks that a man who adopts the path of prapatti by the very nature of the psychological state produced by it is unable to adhere to any programme of duties outlined by the scriptures. He therefore transcends it.

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