A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Part 5 - Criticism of the views of Rāmānuja and Bhāskara

The view of Rāmānuja and his followers is that the souls and the inanimate world are associated with God as His qualities. The function of qualities (viśeṣana) is that by their presence they distinguish an object from other similar objects. Thus, when one says “Rāmathesonof Daśaratha,” the adjective “son of Daśaratha” distinguishes this Rāma from the other two Rāmas, Balarāma and Paraśurāma. But no such purpose is served by styling the individual souls and the inanimate nature as being qualities of Brahman, for they do not distinguish Him from any other similar persons; for the Rāmānujists also do not admit any other category than the conscious souls, the unconscious world and God the controller of them both. Since there is nothing to differentiate, the concept of the souls and matter as quality or differentia also fails. Another function of qualities is that they help the substance to which they belong to become better known. The knowledge of souls and matter as qualities of God does not help us to know or comprehend Him better.

Again, if God be associated with matter and souls, He is found to be associated with their defects also. It may be argued whether the Brahman in which the souls and matter are held to abide is itself unqualified or qualified. In the former alternative the Rāmā-nujas like the Śaṅkarites have to admit the existence of an unqualified entity and a part in Brahman has to be admitted which exists in itself as an unqualified entity. If the Brahman be in part qualityless and in part associated with qualities, then it would in part be omniscient only in certain parts of itself. Again, if the pure unassociated Brahman be regarded as omniscient, then there would be one Brahman associated with omniscience and other qualities and another Brahman associated with matter and soul, and the doctrine of qualified monism would thus break down.

The pure Brahman being outside the souls and matter, these two would be without a controller inside them and would thus be independent of God. Moreover, God in this view would be in certain parts associated with the highest and purest qualities and in other parts with the defiled characters of the material world and the imperfect souls. In the other alternative, i.e. if Brahman as associated with matter and souls be the ultimate substance which is qualified with matter and souls, then there would be two composite entities and not one, and God will as before be associated with two opposite sets of pure and impure qualities. Again, if God be admitted to be a composite unity and if matter and souls which are regarded as mutually distinct and different are admitted to be constituents of Him though He is different in nature from them, it is difficult to imagine how under the circumstances those constituents can be at once one with God and yet different from Him[1].

In the Nimbārka view Śrī Ivṛṣṇa is the Lord, the ultimate Brahman and He is the support of the universe consisting of the souls and matter which are derivative parts of Him and are absolutely under His control and thus have a dependent existence only (para-tantra-sattva). Entities that have dependent existence are of two kinds, the souls which, though they pass through apparent birth and death, are yet eternal in their nature and the substance of the corporeal structure that supports them, the matter. The scriptural texts that speak of duality refer to this duality that subsists between the ultimate substance, the Brahman, which alone has the independent existence, and souls and matter which have only a dependent existence. The scriptural texts that deny duality refer to the ultimate entity which has independent existence which forms the common ground and basis of all kinds of existence. The texts that try to refer to Brahman by negations (neti, neti) signify how Brahman is different from all other things, or, in other words, how Brahman is different from matter and the souls which are limited by material conditions[2].

Brahman is thus the absolute Being, the abode of all good and noble qualities, which is different from all entities having only dependent existence. The monistic texts refer to the fact, as has already been noted, that the world of matter and the infinite number of souls having but dependent existence cannot exist independent of God (tad-apṛthak-siddha) and are, in that sense, one with Him. They also have the essence of their being in Brahman (brahmā-tmatva), are pervaded through and through by it (tad - vyāpyatva), are supported in it and held in it and are always being completely controlled and dominated by it[3]. Just as all individual objects, a jug, a stone, etc., may be said to have substantiality (dravyatva) permeating through them by virtue of their being substances, so the souls and the matter may be called God by virtue of the fact that God permeates through them as their inner essence. But just as none of these individual objects can be regarded as substance per se, so the souls and matter cannot also be identified with God as being one with Him[4].

The Bhāskarites are wrong in asserting that the individuals are false inasmuch as they have only a false appearance through the limitations (upādhi) imposed upon the pure Brahman. The nature of the imposition of Brahman by the so-called conditions is unintelligible. It may mean that the atomic individual is the iesult of the imposition of the conditions on Brahman by which the Brahman as a whole appears as the individual soul or by which the Brahman is split asunder, and being thus split appears as the individual self or the Brahman as qualified by the conditions or that the conditions themselves appear as the individuals. The Brahman being homogeneous and unchangeable cannot be split asunder. Even if it can be split asunder, the individual selves being the products of such a splitting would have a beginning in time and would not thus be eternal; and it has to be admitted that on such a view Brahman has to be split up into as many infinite parts as there are selves. If it is held that the parts of Brahman as limited by the conditions appear as individual souls, then Brahman would be subject to all the defects of the conditions which could so modify it as to resolve it into parts for the production of the individual selves. Moreover, owing to the shifting nature of the conditions the nature of the selves would vary and they might have in this way spontaneous bondage and salvation[5]. If with the shifting of the conditions Brahman also shifts, then Brahman would not be partless and all-pervasive.

If it is held that Brahman in its entirety becomes envisaged by the conditions, then, on the one hand, there will be no transcendent pure Brahman and, on the other, there will be one self in all the different bodies. Again, if the individuals are regarded as entirely different from Brahman, then the assertion that they are but the product of the conditioning of Brahman has to be given up. If it is held that the conditions themselves are the individuals, then it becomes a materialistic view like that of the Cārvākas. Again, it cannot be held that the conditions only cover up the natural qualities of Brahman such as omniscience, etc., for these being natural qualities of Brahman cannot be removed.

Further questions may arise as to whether these natural qualities of Brahman are different from Brahman or not, or whether this is a case of difference-in-identity. They cannot be absolutely different, for that would be an admission of duality. They cannot be identical with Brahman, for then they could not be regarded as qualities of Brahman. If it be its own essence, then it cannot be covered up, for in that case Brahman would lose all its omniscience. If it is held that it is a case of dif-ference-in-identity, then it comes to an acceptance of the Nimbārka creed.

Again, if it is held that the so-called natural qualities of omniscience, etc., are also due to conditions, it may be asked whether such conditions are different from or identical with Brahman. In the latter alternative they would have no capacity to produce any plurality in Brahman. In the former alternative, it may be asked whether they are moved by themselves into operation or by some other entity or by Brahman. The first view would be open to the criticism of self-dynamism, the second to that of a vicious infinite, and the third to a vicious circle. Moreover, in this view, Brahman being eternal, its dynamism would also be eternal; at no time would the conditions cease to operate, and thus there would be no emancipation. The conditions cannot be regarded as false, unreal or non-existent, for then that would be an acceptance of the Nimbārka creed[6].

It may further be asked whether the conditions are imposed by certain causes or whether they are without any cause. In the former alternative we have a vicious infinite and in the latter even emancipated beings may have further bondage. Again, it may be asked whether the qualities, e.g. omniscience, that belong to Brahman pervade the whole of Brahman or whether they belong only to particular parts of Brahman. In the former view, if there is entire veiling of the qualities of Brahman there cannot be any emancipation and the whole field of consciousness being veiled by ignorance there is absolute blindness or darkness (jagad-āndhya-prasaṅga). In the second view the omniscience of Brahman being only a quality or a part of it the importance of Brahman as a whole fails.

Following the Bhāskara line it may be asked whether the emancipated beings have separate existence or not. If the former alternative be admitted, and if after destruction of the conditions the individuals still retain their separate existence then the view that differences are created by the conditions has to be given up (aupādhika-bheda-vādo datta-jalāñjaliḥ syāt). If the distinctness of the souls is not preserved in their emancipation, then their very essence is destroyed, and this would almost be the same as the māyā doctrine of the Śaṅkarites, who hold that the essential nature of both God and souls is destructible.

It is wrong to suppose that individuals are but parts of which a structural Brahman is constituted, for in that case, being made up of parts, the Brahman would be itself destructible. When the scriptures speak of the universe and the souls as being but a part of Brahman, the main emphasis is on the fact that Brahman is infinite and the universe is but too small in comparison with it. It is also difficult to imagine how the minds or the antaḥkaraṇas can operate as conditions for limiting the nature of the Brahman. How should Brahman allow these so-called conditions to mutilate its nature? It could not have created these conditions for the production of individual souls, for these souls were not in existence before the conditions were in existence. Thus the Bhāskara doctrine that the concept of distinction and unity of Brahman is due to the operation of conditions (aupādhika-bhedābheda-vāda) is entirely false.

According to the Nimbārka view, therefore, the unity and difference that exist between the individuals and Brahman is natural (svābhāvika) and not due to conditions (aupādhika) as in the case of Bhāskara. The coiling posture (kuṇḍala) of a snake is different from the long snake as it is in itself and is yet identical with it in the sense that the coiling posture is an effect; it is dependent and under the absolute control of the snake as it is and it has no separate existence from the nature of the snake as it is. The coiled state of the snake exists in the elongated state but only in an undifferentiated, unperceivable way; and is nothing but the snake by which it is pervaded through and through and supported in its entirety. So this universe of matter and souls is also in one aspect absolutely identical with God, being supported entirely by Him, pervaded through and through by Him and entirely dependent on Him, and yet in another aspect different from Him in all its visible manifestations and operations[7].

The other analogy through which the Nim-bārkists try to explain the situation is that of the sun and its rays which are at once one with it and are also perceived as different from it. The difference of this view from that of the Rāmānujists is that while the latter consider that the souls and the matter qualify the nature of Brahman and are in that sense one with it, the former repudiate the concept of a permanent modification of the nature of Brahman by the souls and matter.

Footnotes and references:


Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, p. 342.


vastutas tu ne’ti ne’tī’ti nañbhyāṃ prakṛta-sthūla-sūkṣmatvāṃ-di-dharmavat jaḍa-vastu-tad-avacchinna-jīva-vastu-vilakṣaṇaṃ brahme’ti pratipādyate.
p. 347.


tayoś ca brahmā-tmakatva-tan-niyamyatva-tad-vyāpyatva-tad-adhīna-sattva-tad-ādheyatva-di-yogena tad-apṛthak-siddhatvāt abhedo’pi svābhāvikaḥ.
p. 355.


yathā ghaṭo draryaṃ, pṛthirī-dravyam ity-ādau dravyatva-vacchinnena saha ghaṭatvā-vacchinna-pṛthivītvā-vacchinnayoḥ sāmānādhikaraṇyaṃ mukhyam eva viśeṣasva sāmānyā-bhinnatva-niyamāt evaṃ prakṛte’pi sārvajñyā-dy-anantā-chintvā-parimita-viseṣā-vacchinnenā’paricchinna-śakti-vibhūtikena tat-padārthena parn-bhrahmaṇā svā-tmaka-cetana-cetanatvā-vacchinyayos tad-ātma-rūpayos tvam-ādi-padārthayoḥ sāmānādhikaraṇyaṃ mukhyam eva.
pp. 355—356.


kiñ ca upādhau gacchati sati upādhinā svā-vacchinna-brahma-pradeśā-karṣanā-yogāt amukṣnṇam upādhi-saṃyukta-pradeśa-bhedāt kṣane kṣane bandha-mokṣau syātām.
, p. 357.


Para-pakṣa-giri-vajra, p. 358.


yathā kuṇḍalā-vosthā-pannasyo aheḥ kuṇḍalaṃ vyaktā-pannatvāt pratyakṣa-pramāṇa-gocaraṃ tad-bhedasya srābhāx ikatvāt lambāyamānā-vasthāyāṃ tu sarpā-yutā-vacchinna-svarupeṇa kuṇḍalasya tatra sattve'pi aryakta-nāma-rupatā-pattyā pratyakṣā-gocaratvaṃ sarvā-tmakatva-tad-ādheyatva-tad-vyāpyatvā-dinā tad-apṛthak-siddhatvād abhedasyā’pi svābhāvikatvam.
p. 361.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: