A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of vitthala’s interpretation of vallabha’s ideas: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventh part in the series called the “the philosophy of vallabha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 7 - Viṭṭhala’s Interpretation of Vallabha’s Ideas

Viṭṭhala, the son of Vallabha, wrote an important treatise called Vidvanmaṇḍana upon which there is a commentary, the Suvarṇa-sūtra, by Puruṣottama. The central ideas of this work may now be detailed.

There are many Upaniṣadic texts which declare that Brahman is without any determinate qualities (nirviśeṣa) and there are others which say that He is associated with determinate qualities, i.e., He is saviśeṣa. The upholders of the former view say that the guṇas or dharmas which are attributed by the other party must be admitted by them as having a basis of existence somewhere. This basis must be devoid of qualities, and this qualityless being cannot be repudiated by texts which declare the Brahman to be endowed with qualities; for the latter can only be possible on the assumption of the former, or in other words the former is the upajīvya of the latter. It may, however, be argued that the śruti texts which declare that the Brahman is qualityless do so by denying the qualities; the qualities then may be regarded as primary, as the ascertainment of the qualityless is only possible through the denial of the qualities. The reply is that, since the śruti texts emphasize the qualityless, the attempt to apprehend the qualityless through qualities implies contradiction; such a contradiction would imply the negation of both quality and qualityless and lead us to nihilism (śūnya-vāda).

If, again, it is argued that the denial of qualities refers only to ordinary mundane qualities and not to those qualities which are approved by the Vedas, then there is also a pertinent objection; for the śruti texts definitely declare that the Brahman is absolutely unspeakable, indefinable. But it may further be argued that, if Brahman be regarded as the seat of certain qualities which are denied of it, then also such denial would be temporarily qualified and not maintained absolutely. A jug is black before being burnt and, when it is burnt, it is no longer black, but brown. The reply proposed is that the qualities are affirmed of Brahman as conditioned and denied of Brahman as unconditioned. When one’s heart becomes pure by the worship of the Brahman as conditioned he understands the nature of Brahman as unconditioned. It is for the purpose of declaring the nature of such a Brahman that the texts declare Him to be qualityless: they declare Him to be endowed with qualities when He is conditioned by avidyā. To this Viṭṭhala says that, if Brahman is regarded as the Lord of the world, He cannot be affirmed as qualityless. It cannot be argued that these qualities are affirmed of Brahman as conditioned by avidyā ; for, since both Brahman and avidyā are beginningless, there would be a continuity of creation; the creation, being once started by avidyā, would have nothing else to stop it. In the Vedāntic text it is the Brahman associated with will that is regarded as the cause of the world; Other qualities of Brahman may be regarded as proceeding from His will.

In the Śaṅkarite view, according to which the will proceeds from the conditioned Brahman, it is not possible to state any reason for the different kinds of the will. If it is said that the appearance of the different kinds of will and qualities is the very nature of the qualities of the conditioned, then there is no need to admit a separate Brahman. It is therefore wrong to suppose that Brahman exists separately from the guṇas of which He is the seat through the conditions. In the Brahma-sūtra also, immediately after launching into an enquiry about Brahman, Bādarāyaṇa defines His nature as that from which the creation and destruction of the world has proceeded; the Brahma-sūtra, however, states that such creative functions refer only to a conditioned Brahman. It is wrong to say that, because it is difficult to explain the nature of pure Brahman, the Brahma-sūtra first speaks of the creation of the world and then denies it; for the world as such is perceived by all, and there is no meaning in speaking of its creation and then denying it—it is as if one said “My mother is barren”. If the world did not exist, it would not have appeared as such. It cannot be due to vāsanā ; for, if the world never existed, there would be no experience of it and no vāsanā. Vāsanā also requires other instruments to rouse it, and there is no such instrument here.

It cannot be said that the avidyā belongs to th e jīvas, because the jīvas are said to be identical with Brahman and the observed difference to be due to false knowledge. If knowledge destroys avidyā, then the avidyā of the jīva ought to be destroyed by the avidyā underlying it. Again, if the world is non-existent, then its cause, the avidyā, ought also to be non-existent. What is jīva ? It cannot be regarded as a reflection of Brahman; for only that which has colour can have reflection; it is not the formless sky that is reflected in the sky, but the rays of the sun hovering above. Moreover, avidyā is all-pervasive as Brahman: how can there be reflection? Again such a theory of reflection would render all our moral efforts false, and emancipation, which is their result, must also be false; for the means by which it is attained is very false. Moreover, if the Vedas themselves are false, as mere effects of avidyā, it is wrong to suppose that the nature of Brahman as described by them is true. Again, in the case of reflections there are true perceivers who perceive the reflection; the reflected images cannot perceive themselves. But in the case under discussion there are no such perceivers. If the Paramātman be not associated with avidyā, He cannot perceive the jīvas, and if He is associated with avidyā, He has the same status as the jīvas. Again, there is no one who thinks that jīva is a reflection of the Brahman on the antaḥkaraṇa; upon such a view, since the jīvanmukta has an antaḥkaraṇa, he cannot be z jīvanmukta. If the jīva is a reflection on avidyā, then the jīvanmukta whose avidyā has been destroyed can no longer have a body. Since everything is destroyed by knowledge, why should there be a distinction in the case of the prārabdha karma ? Even if by the prārabdha karma the body may continue to exist, there ought not to be any experience. When one sees a snake his body shakes even when the snake is removed; this shaking is due to previous impressions, but prārabdha karma has no such past impressions, and so it ought to be destroyed by knowledge; the analogy is false. It is therefore proved that the theory of the jīva as reflection is false.

There is another interpretation of the Śaṅkara Vedānta, in which it is held that the appearance of the jīva as existing separate from Brahman is a false notion; impelled by this false notion people are engaged in various efforts for self-improvement[1]. On this explanation too it is difficult to explain how the erroneous apprehension arises and to whom it belongs.

The jīva himself, being a part of the illusion, cannot be a perceiver of it, nor can the nature of the relation of the avidyā and the Brahman be explained; it cannot be contact, because both avidyā and Brahman are self-pervasive; it cannot be illusory, since there is no illusion prior to illusion; it cannot be unique, since in that case even an emancipated person may have an error. Again, if avidyā and its relation are both beginningless and jīva be also beginningless, then it is difficult to determine whether avidyā created jīva or jīva created avidyā.

It must therefore be assumed that the bondage of the jīvas or their existence as such is not beginningless. Their bondage is produced by avidyā, which is a power of God, and which operates only with reference to those jīvas whom God wishes to bind. For this reason we have to admit a number of beings, like snakes and others, who were never brought under the binding power of avidyā[2]. All things appear and disappear by the grace of God as manifesting (āvirbhāva) and hiding (tirobhāva). The power of manifesting is the power by which things are brought within the sphere of experience (anubhava-viṣayatva-yogyatāvirbhāvaḥ), and the power of hiding is the power by which things are so obscured that they cannot be experienced (tad-aviṣaya-yogya tātirobhāvaḥ). Things therefore exist even when they are not perceived; in the ordinary sense existence is defined as the capacity of being perceived, but in a transcendental sense things exist in God even when they are not perceived. According to this view all things that happened in the past and all that may happen in the future—all these exist in God and are perceived or not perceived according to His will[3].

The jīva is regarded as a part of God; this nature of jīva can be realized only on the testimony of the scriptures. Being a part of God, it has not the fullness of God and therefore cannot be as omniscient as He. The various defects of the jīva are due to God’s will: thus, in order that the jīva may have a diversity of experience, God has obscured His almighty power in him and for securing his moral efforts He has associated him with bondage and rendered him independent. It is by obscuring His nature as pure bliss that the part of God appears as the jīva. We know that the followers of Madhva also regard the jīvas as parts of God; but according to them they are distinct from Him, and the identity of the Brahman and the jīva is only in a remote sense. According to the Nimbārkas iīvas are different from God, and are yet similar to Him: they too regard jīvas as God’s parts, but emphasize the distinctness of the iīvas as well as their similarity to Him. According to Rāmānuja God holds the jīvas within Himself and by His will dominates all their functions, by expanding or contracting the nature of the jīva’s knowledge. According to Bhāskara jīva is naturally identical with God, and it is only through the limiting conditions that he appears as different from Him. According to Vijñāna-bhikṣu, though the jīvas are eternally different from God, because they share His nature they are indistinguishable from Him[4].

But the Vallabhas hold that the jīvas, being parts of God, are one with Him; they appear as jīvas through His function as āvirbhāva and tirobhāva, by which certain powers and qualities that exist in God are obscured in the jīva and certain other powers are manifested. The manifestation of matter also is by the same process; in it the nature of God as intelligence is obscured and only His nature as being is manifested. God’s will is thus the fundamental determinant of both jīva and matter. This also explains the diversity of power and character in different individuals, which is all due to the will of God. But in such a view there is a serious objection; for good and bad karmas would thus be futile. The reply is that God, having endowed the individual with diverse capacities and powers for his own self-enjoyment, holds within His mind such a scheme of actions and their fruits that whoever will do such actions will be given such fruits. He does so only for His own self-enjoyment in diverse ways. The law of karma is thus dependent on God and is dominated by Him[5]. Vallabha, however, says that God has explained the goodness and badness of actions in the scriptures. Having done so, He makes whoever is bent upon following a particular course of conduct do those actions. Jīva’s will is the cause of the karma that he does; the will of the person is determined by his past actions; but in and through them all God’s will is the ultimate dispenser. It is here that one distinguishes the differences between the maryādā-mārga and the puṣṭi-mārga : the maryādā-mārga is satisfied that in the original dispensation certain karmas should be associated with certain fruits, and leaves the individual to act as he pleases; but the puṣṭi-mārga makes the playful activity of God the cause of the individual’s efforts and also of the law of karma[6].

The Upaniṣad says that, just as sparks emanate from fire, so the jīvas have emanated from Brahman. This illustration shows that the jīvas are parts of God, atomic in nature, that they have emanated from Him and may again merge in Him. This merging in God (Brahma-bhāva) means that, when God is pleased, He manifests His blissful nature as well as His powers in the jīva[7]. At the time of emancipation the devotees merge in God, become one with Him, and do not retain any separate existence from Him. At the time of the incarnation of God at His own sweet will He may incarnate those parts of Him which existed as emancipated beings merged in Him. It is from this point of view that the emancipated beings may again have birth[8].

It is objected that the jīvas cannot be regarded as atomic in nature, because the Upaniṣads describe them as all-pervasive. Moreover, if the jīvas are atomic in natnre, they would not be conscious in all parts of the body. The analogy of the sandal-paste, w'hich remaining in one place makes the surrounding air fragrant, does not hold good; for the surrounding fragrance is due to the presence of minute particles. This cannot be so with the souls; consciousness, being a quality of the soul, cannot operate unless the soul-substance is present there. The analogy of the lamp and its rays is also useless; the lamp has no pervasive character; for the illumination is due to the presence of minute light-particles. To this Viṭṭhala replies that Bādarāyaṇa himself describes the nature of the jīvas as atomic. The objection that qualities cannot operate in the absence of the substance is not valid either. Even the Naiyāyikas admit that the relation of samavāya may exist without the relata. The objection that the fragrance of a substance is due to the presence of minute particles of it is not valid; for a piece of musk enclosed in a box throws its fragrance around it, and in such cases there is no possibility for the minute particles of the musk to come out of the box; even when one touches garlic, the smell is not removed even by the washing of the hand. It must therefore be admitted that the smell of a substance may occupy a space larger than the substance itself. There are others who think that the soul is like fire, which is associated with heat and light, the heat and light being comparable to consciousness; they argue that, being of the nature of consciousness, the soul cannot be atomic. This is also invalid; for the Upaniṣad texts declare that knowledge is a quality of the soul, and it is not identical with it. Even heat and light are not identical with fire; through the power of certain gems and mantras the heat of the fire may not be felt; warm water possesses heat, though it has no illumination. Moreover, the Upaniṣad texts definitely declare the passage of the soul into the body, and this can only be possible if the soul is atomic. The objection that these texts declare the identity of souls with Brahman cannot be regarded as repudiating the atomic nature of the jīvas; because this identification is based on the fact that the qualities of knowledge or intuition that belong to the jīvas are really the qualities of God. The jīvas come out of Brahman in their atomic nature and Brahman manifests His qualities in them, so that they may serve Him. The service of God is thus the religion of man; being pleased with it God sometimes takes man within Himself, or at other times, when He extends His highest grace, He keeps him near Himself to enjoy the sweet emotion of his service[9].

The Śaṅkarites think that Brahman is indeterminate (nirviśeṣa) and that all determination is due to avidyā. This view is erroneous; for the supposed avidyā cannot belong to th e jīvas; if it did, it could not affect the nature of Brahman. Nor can it belong to Brahman, because Brahman, being pure knowledge, is destructive of all avidyā; again, if the avidyā belonged to the Brahman from beginningless time, there would be no nirviśeṣa Brahman. It must therefore be admitted that Brahman possesses the power of knowledge and action and that these powers are natural to and identical with Him. Thus God, in association with His powers, is to be regarded as both determinate and indeterminate; the determinate forms of Brahman are, however, not to be regarded as different from Brahman or as characters of Him; they are identical with Brahman Himself[10].

If māyā is regarded as the power of Brahman, then Vallabha is prepared to admit it; but, if māyā is regarded as something unreal, then he repudiates the existence of such a category. All knowledge and all delusion come from Brahman, and He is identical with so-called contradictory qualities. If a separate māyā is admitted, one may naturally enquire about its status. Being unintelligent (jaḍā), it cannot of itself be regarded as the agent (kartṛ); if it is dependent on God, it can be conceived only as an instrument—but, if God is naturally possessed of infinite powers, He cannot require any such inanimate instrument. Moreover, the Upaniṣads declare that Brahman is pure being. If we follow the same texts, Brahman cannot be regarded as associated with qualities in so far as these guṇas can be considered as modifications of the qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. It is therefore to be supposed that the māyā determines or modifies the nature of Brahman into His determinate qualities. To say that the manifestation of māyā is effected by the will of God is objectionable too; for, if God’s will is powerful in itself, it need not require any upādhi or condition for effecting its purpose. In reality it is not possible to speak of any difference or distinction between God and His qualities.

Footnotes and references:


asmin pakṣe jīvasya vastuto brahmatve bheda-bhānasya jīva-padavācyatāyāś ca duṣṭatvaṃ na tu svarūpātirekatvaṃ na vā mokṣasya apuruṣārthatvaṃ na vā pāralaukika-prayatna-pratirodhaḥ.
      Puruṣottama’s Suvarṇa-sūtra on Vidvanmaṇḍana, p. 37.


yad-bandhane tad-icchā tam eva sa badhnāti. 
      Puruṣottama’s Suvarṇa-sūtra, P. 35


asmin kāle asmim deśe idaṃ kāryam idaṃ bhavatu iti iccha-viṣayatvam āvir-bhāvaḥ tadā tatra tat mā bhavatu iti icchā-viṣayatvaṃ tirobhavaḥ.
p. 56.


jīvānāṃ nitya-bhinnatvam aṅgīkṛtya avibhāga-lakṣaṇam aṅgīkṛtya sajā-tīyatve sati avibhāga-pratiyogitvam aṃśatvaṃ tad-anuyogitvaṃ ca aṃśitvam.
, p. 85.


krīḍaiva muktyā anyat sarvam upasarjanībhūtaṃ tathā ca tadapekṣyā bhagavān vicitra-rasānubhavārtham evaṃ yaḥ kariṣyati tam evaṃ kariṣyāmīti svayam eva kāryādau cakāra.
, p. 91.


ācāryas tu yathā putraṃ yatamāna-valaṃ vā padārtha-guṇa-doṣau varṇayan api yat-prayatnābhiniveśaṃ paśyati tathaiva kārayati. phala-dānārthaṃ śrutau karmāpekṣā-kathanāt phaladāne karmāpekṣaḥ karma-karaṇe jīva-kṛta-prayatnā-pekṣaḥ, prayatne tat-karmāpekṣaḥ, svargādi-kāme ca lokapravāhāpekṣaḥ kāraya-tīti na brahmaṇo doṣagandho’pi, na caivam anīśvaratvam. ṃaryādāmārgasya tathaiva nirmāṇāt. yatra tvanyathā tatra puṣṭi-mārgāṅgīkāra ityāhuḥ. ayamopi pakṣaḥ svakṛtamaryādayā eva hetutvena kathanān maryādākaraṇe ca krīḍeccham ṛte hetvantarasya sambhavād asmaduktānnātiricyate.
, p. 92.


brahma-bhāvaśca bhagavad-ukta-sādhanakaraṇena santuṣṭāt bhagavata ānanda-prākaṭyāt svaguṇa-svarupaiśvaryādi-prākaṭyāc ceti jñeyam....
      Ibid. p. 96.


mokṣe jīva-brahmaṇor abhinnatvād abhinnasvabhāvenaiva nirūpaṇād ityarthaḥ. tenādi-madhyāvasāneṣu śuddha-brahmaṇa evopādānatvāt....svāvatā-rasamaye krīḍārthaṃ sākṣād yogyās ta eva bhavantīti tānapyavatārayatīti punar nirgama-yogyatvam, idameva, muktānupasṛpya vyapadeśāditisūtreṇoktam....muktā api līlā-vigrahaṃ kṛtvā bhajanti iti.
p. 97.


ata eva sahaja-hari-dāsya-tadaṃśatvena brahma-svarūpasya ca nijanisarga-prabhu-śrīgokula-nātha-caraṇa-kamala-dāsyam eva sva-dharmaḥ. tena cātisaṃ-tuṣṭaḥ svayaṃ prakaṭībhūya nija-gunāṃs tasmai dattā svasmin praveśayati svarūpānandānubhavārtham. athavā’tyanugrahe nikate sthāpayati tato’dhika-rasa-dāsya-karaṇārtḥam iti.
p. 110.


brahmaṇyapi mūrtāmūrtarūpe sarvataḥ veditavye evaṃ tvanena prakāreṇa veditavye brahmaṇa ete rūpe iti; kintu brahmaiva iti veditavye.
p. 138.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: