Ramanuja’s Interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita

by Abani Sonowal | 2020 | 71,683 words

This page relates ‘Chapter 2: Metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gita’ of the study on Ramanuja’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita (a narrative between Krishna and Arjuna). While Ramanuja expounds Vishishtadvaita philosophy, this study examines his interpretation compared to the text of Bhagavadgita.

Chapter 2: Metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gītā

This second chapter examines Rāmānuja’s commentaries on verses related to metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gītā. Rāmānuja divides the chapters of Bhagavad-gītā into three groups. Each group is of six chapters. According to Rāmānuja, the first six chapters teach the realisation of the real nature of individual self, which forms the essential ingredients in the worship of Vāsudeva–who is Supreme Brahman with auspicious boundless qualities[1] . Further, this realisation is accomplishable through the two disciplines known as jñāna yoga and karma yoga. [2] Again, in the middle groups of six chapters, the discipline of yoga of one-pointed and uninterrupted devotion is taught. This can be attained as a result of the knowledge of the true nature of the Lord, who constitutes the highest goal, and of His glories.[3] In the last group of six chapters, the real nature of the prakṛti, of the self, of the universe which consists of the knowledge of the true nature of the Lord, and the discipline of yoga of onepointed and uninterrupted devotion in combinations are taught. The Lord and essential character of the disciplines such as karma, jñāna and bhakti yoga which are taught in the first two groups are thoroughly examined in his Gītā Bhāṣya. In the last group of six chapters (hereafter Chapter ) such as in Chapter XIII, the attributes of the body and the self, essential nature of both, and the cause of association and separation of both are mentioned.[4] In Chapter XIV, the nature of the guṇas of prakṛti and how they form the cause of bondage and the manner in which guṇas can be stopped are mentioned.[5] In Chapter XV, there is teaching of the adorable Lord exercising sovereign control over destructible and indestructible entities, consisting of the bound and the free souls. Here, it is also taught that the Lord is the Supreme Person because of His supreme greatness being opposite of all that is evil and He being the possessor of endless auspicious qualities. He is of a kind of his own different from the destructible and indestructible, which forms the subject of His sovereign control.[6]

The metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gītā starts from the Chapter II, and gets elaborated in Chapter VII, XIII, XIV and XV. The metaphysics concern real nature of the body and the soul, the Supreme Brahman, the kṣetra and kṣetrajña, three guṇas of prakṛti etc. and also kṣara and akṣara.

Rāmānuja finds Viśīṣtādvaitic metaphysics through his Gītā Bhāṣya in the Bhagavadgītā. This needs to be investigated not for its internal consistency but to find out whether it is the metaphysics present in the words of the Bhagavad-gītā. Rāmānuja in his Gītā Bhāṣya claims to find Viśīṣtādvaitic nature of Absolute Reality, individual self and matter in Bhagavad-gītā. These three are not separated from each other but organically interconnected. Rāmānuja regards God as the Absolute Reality possessed of two integral parts, matter and finite spirits. For him God and Brahman are identical. Brahman is the only reality in the universe in the sense that outside and independent of God there is no other reality. “But God contains within Himself the material objects as well as the finite souls which are real”.[7] The jīvas and the material nature, i.e. Prakṛti constitutes the body of God. According to Rāmānuja, Brahman is ‘nirgūṇa’ not in the sense of being devoid of any attributes, but in the sense of being free from undesirable attributes.[8] The jīvas and the material world are distinct from it and eternal in character.[9] But this kind of metaphysics is not apparent in the text of the Bhagavad-gītā. In this chapter an attempt will be made to investigate whether or not this kind of Viśīṣtādvaitic metaphysics is actually present in the Bhagavad-gītā.

The teaching of the metaphysics concerning immortality of the soul appears in Chapter II of the Bhagavad-gītā verses 11-29. When Arjuna was perplexed, lost his natural courage due to love of his relatives and friends whom he saw lined up for the battle and who shall meet certain death on the battlefield, Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Being introduces the teaching of the nature of the self and the body. Arjuna considered the war to be futile, even though he knows that it is the greatest duty for him to fight. Arjuna took refuge in Kṛṣṇa to learn what the correct course of action is. Then, Kṛṣṇa understood that Arjuna’s delusion would only be overcome by the knowledge of the real nature of the self. Chapter II also deals with the teaching of sat- asat, bhāvaabhāva etc. The purpose of the content of Chapter II is the persuasion of Arjuna to fight against his enemies by reminding of his dharma or the svadharma as a kṣatriya. Rāmānuja’s interpretations of Chapter II.4-29 are not according to the original meaning of the text.

Rāmānuja accepts the multiplicity of individual selves in his Viśiṣṭādvaita philosophy and says that individual selves are many in numbers. Rāmānuja applies his idea of multiplicity of selves in the Bhagavad-gītā also to make it consistent with his philosophy rather than interpreting it adhering to the text. When Kṛṣṇa teaches Arjuna the character of the self in Chapter II.12[10] , Rāmānuja takes this verse to be in line with his idea of multiplicity of the selves.

Commenting on this verse Rāmānuja says:

“The foregoing teaching implies that the difference between the Lord, the sovereign over all, and the individual selves, as also the differences among the individual selves themselves, are real. This has been declared by the Lord Himself. For, different terms like ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘these’, ‘all’ and ‘we’ have been used by the Lord while explaining the truth of eternality in order to remove the misunderstanding of Arjuna who is deluded by ignorance.”

His defence of this kind of reading of Chapter II.12 is by way of refutation of alternative readings like the Upādhi theory of Bhāskara the Vedāntin and the Ignorance theory of Advaitins like Śaṃkara which deny any ultimate difference between the Lord and the Jīvas. The present scholar not being interested in the comparative study of various interpretations will not examine Rāmānuja’s refutation of these theories. The prime question is whether Rāmānuja is faithful to the words in the text of the Bhagavad-gītā itself. For Rāmānuja, the Supreme Reality is Supreme Person, Supreme Self. The Supreme Self and the selves are eternal. For him, souls are many and each soul is different from each other among themselves and also from the Supreme Self. Rāmānuja takes the use of words like ‘you’, ‘I’, ‘these’, ‘all’ and ‘we’ etc. in Chapter II.12 to mean the multiplicity of the selves. But it appears that Chapter II.12, contrary to appearance, does not accept the multiplicity of the souls. Rather there is one soul identical with Supreme Reality. The plural used in Chapter II.12 appears to be with reference to the distinction of bodies.

On the point whether there is one self or many individual souls, and whether the plural is with respect to multiplicity of the individual souls or multiplicity of distinct bodies, the text of the Bhagavad-gītā seems to be in favour of one self view rather than that of Rāmānuja’s view of multiple individual selves. In the text of the Bhagavadgītā nowhere soul is mentioned in plural in Chapter II, it is always mentioned in singular, e.g. Chapter II.13, Chapter II17, 26 and Chapter II.29, 30 while plural is used for bodies, e.g. Chapter II.18, Chapter II.22, 30.

The reader needs to pay close attention to how Kṛṣṇa is speaking in Chapter II.12. The first thing to be noticed is that the negative particle na is repeated six times in the verse: four times in first line and twice in the second line. This repetition is to draw attention to the speech itself. Secondly, all the three grammatical puruṣasahaṃ: uttam-puruṣa (puruṣottama) [1st person in English], tvaṃ: madhyam puruṣa [2nd person in English], and ime janādhipāḥ: pratham puruṣa [3rd person in English] occur in the very first line of the verse. This is drawing attention to the metaphysics of grammatical puruṣas. Thirdly, the first line indicates I-Thou structure, i.e. dialogical structure and the topic between the I and Thou is a collectivity ‘these rulers of people’ and the second line absorbs the I and Thou into the collectivity to make it a ‘We’. This indicates that the concern is not with the individual speaker or hearer but the collectivity to which one belongs harboring that collectivity as speaker and hearer in oneself. Fourthly, instead of saying positively that I, thou and these rulers were there all the time, Kṛṣṇa says negatively that it is not the case that I, thou, and these rulers were not there ever. Similarly, instead of saying we all shall be there from this time onwards, Kṛṣṇa says it is not the case that we all shall not be there. Kṛṣṇa in his negative formulation is ruling out the abhāva of the collectivity at any time past, present and future, as the collectivity is sat ‘eternal’. Kṛṣṇa will draw this conclusion in Chapter II.16. Fifthly, although Kṛṣṇa speaks in a manner where the reference to past and future is explicit, it is to be noted that the present is also covered implicitly in the very speaking of the dialogue, that is going on in the present time between I and Thou with respect to presently perceived ‘these rulers of people’ severally and collectively. And lastly, the preponderance of sarvanāma (pronoun in English) - ahaṃ (I), tvaṃ (Thou), ime (These), and vayam (We) is noticeable in the verse. All the sarvanāma are names of the same sarva ‘a collectivity of all’, which has being as puruṣa in each member of the collectivity (sarva). The occurrence of the word sarve ‘all’ is to indicate samaṣṭi ‘the collectivity’ of all, which remains the invariable concomitant of each and every sarvanāma applied to speaker, hearer or the one spoken about. That a samaṣṭipuruṣa ‘collective person’ is involved will become clear in the next verse, i.e. Chapter II.13.

Kṛṣṇa in Chapter II.12 is not beginning any argument for the immortality of soul, as it is interpreted traditionally, but using the metaphysics of Saṃskṛt grammar to clarify the true nature of the speaker and hearer, and by extrapolation the perceiver and doer (kartṛ) in each of us. If one does not take care of the true nature of the speaker, hearer, perceiver and doer in himself, then he will err in performing the corresponding function. How any action is performed by the samaṣṭipuruṣa ‘collective person’, who is present as self in each, comes out in the next verse, i.e. Chapter II.13, spoken by Kṛṣṇa where an explanation of the involvement of the collective puruṣa as self in action is given.

In fact the Bhagavadgītā explicitly makes it clear that there is only one soul in all the bodies in Chapter XIII.1-2:

idaṃ śarīraṃ kaunteya kṣetram ity abhidhīyate/
etad yo vetti taṃ prāhuḥ kṣetrajña iti tadvidaḥ //
kṣetrajñaṃ cāpi māṃ viddhi sarvakṣetreṣu bhārata/
kṣetrakṣetrajñayor jñānaṃ yat taj jñānaṃ mataṃ mama //

“This, the body, O son of Kuntī, is holistically thought of as Kṣetra; him who feelingly knowingly resolves it, they, who feelingly knowingly resolve of them, call Kṣetrajña (knowledgeable resolver of Kṣetra). And you [Arjuna] also penetratively know Me [Kṛṣṇa] as Kṣetrajña in all Kṣetras, O Bhārata. The knowledgeable resolve of Kṣetra and Kṣetrajña is deemed by Me as the knowledgeable resolve.”

Ramanuja had considerable difficulty in interpreting the Chapter XIII.2 as it indicated one soul in all bodies. He had to write one of the longest explanations to make this verse consistent with multiplicity of souls, and he deviated from the text without interpreting the verse as such.

Since, Rāmānuja accepts not only the multiplicity of the selves but also the eternality of the multiplicity of selves, he in Chapter II.13 has given a meaning according to the analogy of the passing of the soul from one body to another with change of the states of body to explain the relationship between the individual self and the body. The verse says: dehino’smin yathā dehe kaumāraṃ yauvanaṃ jarā/tathā dehāntara–prāpir dhīras tatra na muhyati/ / Rāmānuja [giving the analogy of the body and the self or soul] explaining the verse says, that because of the conviction that the soul is eternal one does not grieve that the soul is lost, when an embodied soul gives up the stages like childhood and attains youth and old age. Similarly, the wise man knowing the soul to be eternal does not grieve when there is attainment of another body for the soul giving up the existing body. As the multiple eternal souls are subject to beginningless karma these become endowed with the bodies suitable respectively to their karmas.

Rāmānuja’s interpretation of the Chapter II.13 appears not to get the import of the analogy fully. The soul experiences transition from one body to another just as it experiences in the body transition from one state of body to another–from childhood to youth and from youth to oldage. Firstly, the transition from one state of the body to the next state is continuous and not discrete as there is no demarcating line to separate one state of body from the next state. Secondly, the body is inseparable from its state, as it is always in one or the other state. None of the multiple souls as conceived by Rāmānuja satisfies these two points. The transition of soul from one body to another is discrete and not continuous as bodies are clearly demarcated from each other. The soul can be in a disembodied condition unlike the body which cannot be without one. It appears that Chapter II.13 is explaining the relation of the collective body of the collective person (samaṣṭipuruṣa) as the transition of the collective person from one collective body to another in continuity without a demarcating line. For, some people are born and some die in it, and the collective person is always with one or the other state of the collective body. Since, Rāmānuja accepts law of karma, ātmans depending on their past karmas get into bondage with a suitable bodies, he believes that the ātmans performs acts which are prescribed by the śāstras not for the sake of results but to be released from their bondage to these bodies. So, the ātmans inevitably come into contact with objects through the senses of their bodies and these contacts cause sensation of pain and pleasure. These contacts with objects should be suffered until the acts have been performed. If one is persistent, one will be able to endure them, for they are transient by nature, i.e. the transitory and the transitoriness will cease to exist as such, as soon as the evil which has caused the ātmans’ bondage has been annihilated. Therefore, one should persist in performing acts and one should consider the pain, which invariably accompanies the performance of acts, as pleasure. If one performs acts, not for the sake of their results but because, they are means of attaining immortality, and then one will attain immortality. One is capable of doing so precisely because the ātmans are immortal.

Rāmānuja accepts the Law of karma from the very beginning without any argument. It is eternal for him. The soul acquires the body according to its past karmas due to the operation of the beginningless law of karma. But the Bhagavad-gītā in Chapter II.13-15 does not say anything about the concept of law of karma.

In fact the Bhagavad-gītā appears to deny the law of karma in Chapter V.14:

na kartṛtvaṃ na karmāṇi lokasya sṛjati prabhuḥ /
na karmaphalasaṃyogaṃ svabhāvas tu pravartate//

“Neither agency nor does people’s action the Prabhū sends forth, nor union with the fruits of actions. But it is own being that operates.”

Rāmānujācārya writes commenting on Chapter V.14:

“The “master”, in its own essential nature is not subject to Karma and therefore, does not create (a) the agency that is characteristic of the body of the deities in this world consisting of animals, men and other unmoving beings, in association with prakṛti or (b) their various and particular activities and (c) the results of those actions (Karma) which bring about its embodiment as a sentient being. What then creates (agency and its results)? It is the svabhāva alone that acts. Svabhāva is comprised of subliminal activators (vāsanā) originating from engagement with Prakṛti. What is meant is that functioning from the beginingless time [or time immemorial] transformed into the form of bodies of deities etc. arising from previous karmas, is the self conceit [ego] generated in those bodies in association with prakṛti, from it arise subtle subliminal activators and from these subtle subliminal activators arise the being of agency etc. these are not there in the self in its own form.”[11]

Rāmānujācārya’s interpretation appears to be erroneous as the non-agent nature of the self or puruṣa does not prevent him from creation of fourfold varṇa, it also cannot prevent his creation of agency, karmas, and the union of fruits with action for people. So, the reason for the Prabhū not creating these things must be something else. The context makes it clear that it is meant as a denial of karmavāda, i.e. doctrine of karma altogether rather than its mere denial for the prabhū only.

It also appears that Rāmānuja fails to grasp the full import of the Chapter II.22 in the Bhagavad-gītā. This verse says:

vāsāṃsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya navāni gṛhṇāti naro’parāṇi/
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny anyāni saṃyāti navāni dehī//

“As a man casts off worn out clothes and takes on new ones, even so the embodied [Self] discards worn out bodies and enters into new ones.”

Rāmānuja commenting on this verse writes:

“That those who give up their bodies in a righteous war get more beauteous bodies than before, is known through the scriptures. Casting off worn-out garments and taking new and beautiful ones, can only be a cause of joy, as seen here in the case of new garments.”[12]

It appears that Rāmānuja reads Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.22, just like Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.13, as concerned with the jīvātman and its body. But his reading seems erroneous as it is dictated not by logic of the verse but by his prior commitment to the cycle of birth and death of jīva in saṃsāra governed by law of karma. But this kind of reading of the verse is erroneous because he has not taken into consideration semantic syntax of Bhagavad-gītā in Chapter II.22, which determines the meaning of the analogy given in it. The expression ‘naro’ and dehī are in singular but expressions vāsāṃsi jīrṇāni, navāni …’parāṇi, śarīrāṇi …jīrṇāny, anyāni… navāni are in plural indicating that man has many old garments which he discards and he acquires many new garments and similarly a single dehīn has many old bodies which he discards and it acquires many new bodies. This feature of having many bodies at a time like the man having many garments at the same time is satisfied by the collective self or collective person, but not by any jīvātman. Rāmānuja having commitment to the cycle of birth and death of jīva under the control of law of karma assumes that multiplicity of bodies of dehīn as due to sequentially discarded or acquired bodies. He accounts for the multiplicity of garments of a man in the same way. But this is not a natural reading as it is reading backwards as if the issue under discussion is the garments of man which is to be understood in analogy to bodies of jīvātman (=man), which are sequentially acquired and discarded one at a time in the cycle of birth and death under law of karma. But that is not the issue at all. The issue is that of discarding and acquiring (not acquiring and discarding) of many bodies by a single dehīn which has to be understood in analogy to discarding and acquiring of many garments by man. A more natural reading would take the dehīn to be the collective self or collective person, which discards many old bodies, as many human beings die in the collective body of the collective person and acquires many new bodies by birth of many human beings in the collective body of the collective person. So, Rāmānuja is not actually faithful to the nuances of the terms in the verses and the semantic syntax of the verses due to his prior doctrinal commitments, which prevent him from seeing the meaning present in the verse due to its semantic syntax.

Rāmānuja finds arguments for the immortality of the individual soul in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.17 on the basis of its pervasiveness. The self, for Rāmānuja, is subtle, i.e. ‘sukṣma’ on account of its pervasiveness. It pervades everything. As it is subtle nothing can destroy it. It cannot be divided into parts like other gross elements. It is like consciousness which cannot be divided into parts. Since, it is sukṣma there is no question of separation of parts or its destruction. There cannot be any thing subtler than self. Commenting on Chapter II.17[13] of the Bhagavad-gītā Rāmānuja writes that the self is impenetrable. The meaning is that nothing can penetrate the self.

Chapter II.18 of the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa teaches Arjuna the destructibility of the body which is the certain character of its own.

The verse says:

antavanta ime dehā nityasyuktāḥ śarīriṇaḥ/
anāśiṇaḥ aprameyasya tasmāt yudhyasva bharata//

In the verse, the saṃskṛt words like ‘antavanta’ means ‘have an end’ ‘imedehā’ means ‘all these bodies’, ‘nityasyuktāḥ’ means ‘nitya or eternal’, ‘śarīriṇaḥ’ means ‘embodied self’. The meaning is that all these bodies i.e. all the bodies have an end; they are going to have an end at sometime. The reasoning of Rāmānuja is that the word ‘dehā’ indicates that body can be increased. Those things which can increase or decrease are finite. Thus, bodies are finite. Those bodies which are conglomerated elements serve to enable their innate ātmans to undergo their previous karman. Therefore, if that karman is consumed, then the bodies will perish. But the embodied self is eternal or nitya which does not have an end. Ātman is eternal because it is not the object but the subject of knowledge as it is aprameya. Therefore, the ātman, which is forming a unity by itself cannot be understood to exist in a plurality of forms or to be liable to increase and decrease, and hence imperishable.

Rāmānuja appears to be speaking of individual self different in each of these bodies. Yet the verse uses ‘śarīriṇaḥ’ in singular unlike ‘imedehā’ which is in plural. Since, he has already accepted the concept of many selves as ‘you’, ‘me’, ‘he’, etc. Rāmānuja makes no comment on the use of singular ‘śarīriṇaḥ’ and plural ‘imedehā’. It appears that Rāmānuja has not grasped the full import of the verse, which seems to be speaking of one and same self in all the bodies.

Later, in Chapter VI.29 Bhagavad-gītā states:

sarvabhūtastham ātmānaṃ sarvabhūtāni cātmani/
īkṣate yogayuktātmā sarvatra samadarśanaḥ//

“The Self abiding in all existents, and all existents (abiding) in the Self, sees he whose self has been harnessed by Yoga, who sees the same everywhere.”

This clearly indicates that there is one self in all the existents and hence in all the bodies. Rāmānuja interprets this verse as speaking of not the same one self but similarity of all individual selves, making them having the single nature, i.e. the nature of knowledge. In his view when separated from the body all selves are alike because of their being forms of centres of intelligence, and the perceived difference is only due to body. This reading of Rāmānuja is problematic. His reading makes selves separated from the body as indistinguishable from each other, making his position that of the advatins. It appears, as mentioned before, from the very beginning Kṛṣṇa is speaking of the collective self that is in all bodies and all existents are incorporated in this single corporate self.

Again, commenting on the verse he writes, ‘the bodies of the embodied self are made up of combination of elements of matter for experiencing the effects of karma.’ The bodies i.e. dehā are made up of elements is correct, because dehā has its growth, decay etc. Since, diḥ means to grow, so bodies are marked by growth. They have an end and have the characteristics of perishability. But regarding the idea ‘the bodies which are made up for experiencing the effects of karma’ is problematic and Rāmānuja has no textual evidence for this interpretation. For, Rāmānuja has just presupposed the idea of karmavāda in his interpretation; he is not reading the Bhagavadgitā on its own terms, rather his attempt is to reconcile the verses of the Bhagavadgitā with his presupposed karmavāda. But the idea of karmavāda is not present in the Chapter II.17.

In a summary form, the metaphysical claims that Rāmānuja finds in the Bhagavad-gītā for the immortality of the individual soul and mortality of the bodies can be presented as follows: firstly, being a unit it can neither increase nor decrease. Secondly, it is subject of knowledge and not object of knowledge. And lastly, it pervades all that is different from it. In contrast, the body is mortal because, firstly, it exists in plurality of forms as it can increase or decrease, it serves to enable its innate ātman to undergo its karman and lastly, it can be pervaded.

Bhagavad-gītā in Chapter II.16 states an important metaphysical principle in general terms: nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ/ ubhayor api dṛṣṭo’ntas tv anayos tattvadarśibhiḥ// Rāmānujācārya turns the general principle into a specific principle in his commentary.

He writes:

“‘The unreal,’ that is the body, can never come into being. ‘The real’, that is the self, can never cease to be. The finale about these, the body and the self, which can be experienced, has been realized correctly by the seers of the Truth. An analysis ends in conclusion, the term ‘finale’ is used here.”[14]

Rāmānujācārya it appears has failed to bring out the pairs of distinctions sat-asat and bhāva-abhāva correctly in his explanation. In his commentary on

Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.16 he further writes:

asattvam is due to perishable own being and sattvam is due to imperishable own being.”[15]

So, in his view both asat and sat have bhāva. But it is clearly against the metaphysical principle that asat has no bhāva. But it is clearly against the metaphysical principle that asat has no bhāva. When confronted with the claim of Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter IX.19: ‘I am sat and asat[16] Rāmānujācārya changes the meaning of sat and asat.

He writes in his Bhāṣya:

Sat is that which is in the present time. Asat is that which was in the past and that which (may be in the future, but) has not come into the present time.”[17]

This new explanation of sat and asat is different from how it was explained before. Rāmānujācārya further shifts the meaning of sat and asat while explaining the claim in Bhagavadgītā Chapter XIII.12 regarding Brahman: “not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’.”[18]

He writes:

“The terms sat and asat cannot express the essential nature of the self because the self [in its essential nature] is free from both the states of effect and cause.”[19]

The explanation of the two terms he gives here:

“However, it is said to be sat when it is distinguished in the forms of gods, humans and animals etc. Then unfit for those (names and forms) in the condition of cause it is said to be asat. So also is śruti—-‘In the beginning was verily this asat. From that was generated the sat (Tait. Up. 2.7.1); ‘this was then undifferentiated. It differentiated only into name and form’ (Br.Up.1.4.7).”[20]

Rāmānujācārya gives the reason now why Brahman cannot be said to be sat and asat:

“The appearance of the self in the states of cause and effect occurs due to the covering by ignorance in the form of action, not because of its own form. So then, the terms sat and asat do not describe the true nature of the self.”[21]

So, in the hands of Rāmānujācārya the terms sat and asat receive different meanings in different occasions of use in the Bhagavad-gītā.

The Chapter II.27 also states a principle of metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gītā:

jātasyai dhruvaṃ mṛtyur dhruvan janma mṛtasya ca/
tasmāt apriharya artha na tvam śochitum arhasi//

Rāmānujācārya understands the metaphysical principle stated in Chapter II.27 as follows:

“Death of that which is born is certain–inevitably seen. In the same way birth of dead is inevitable.”[22]

Rāmānujācārya answers the question:

“How is this [inevitable] birth of dead established?”[23]

He answers:

“Birth and death are the particular states of sat dravya (real substance)...when a substance having a state called ‘birth’ obtains another opposite state then it is called ‘death’ … every changing substance’s succession of change is inevitable. There a substance-in-a-prior-state obtaining the subsequent-state is its [the substance-in-the-prior-state’s] death, and that [obtaining the subsequent second state] is its [the-substance-in-the-second-state’s] birth.”[24]

So, every real substance is caught in this indefinite series of birth and death. Rāmānujācārya understands the Chapter II.27 as advocating the cycle of birth and death of individual souls.

But it appears that Rāmānujācārya is erroneously taking the self as substance albeit a real one. He is saying something, which contradicts Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.20, and also Kaṭha Upaniṣad verse 2.18. In Chapter II.27 the words ‘jātasyai dhruvaṃ mṛtyur’ means somebody who is born, will die. And similarly, ‘dhruvan janma mṛtasya ca’ means somebody who has died, will also born again. This is how Rāmānuja has interpreted. But that does not appear to be the meaning of the Chapter II.27. What it says is ‘jātasyai dhruvaṃ mṛtyu’ which means something, which has birth, has also death. Similarly, ‘dhruvan janma mṛtasya ca’ means the thing which has death, also had a birth but it is not meant that there is a death and it will be born again as Rāmānuja has maintained. What it is ruling out is that there can be a thing which has birth but no death, or has death but no birth. Birth and death are indissolubly connected together according the metaphysics of the Bhagavad-gītā. Hence, as per the principle there are only two types of things: things which have birth and death, and things which are birthless and deathless. There is no possibility of things with birth but no death, or with death but no birth.

According to the Bhagavad-gītā, in human life there is one death and one birth. If one takes birth, he will definitely experience death also in time. If something which has come to an end, then it must have had a birth or beginning. So, beginning and end are interrelated. If there is a beginning, then there is an end, and if there is an end, then there must have been a birth or beginning. There cannot be such thing that which was unborn, but dies. The unborn cannot die and that which is born cannot be eternal. But people understand it in reverse way. This is also not understood by ancient thinkers. Both these principles have been termed upside down by all the classical thinkers. They have understood it as the cycle of birth and death that if birth leads to death and death leads to birth. This is how classical thinkers have understood. But this is not the actual meaning. Nothing can have birth without death and similarly, nothing can have death without birth. That means if something has died then it must have birth, but is not such that it will be born again. But this is not the idea. What the idea is if something has ended, it means, it had a beginning and if something had a beginning, it will have an end. If something has no end then that thing will have no beginning i.e. anādi. There are two realities which have no beginning and no end and it is called ‘sat.’ But that which has beginning and end is temporary i.e. ‘asat.’ These are covered under the same principles. These are related. Because manifestation requires both sat and asat together. Otherwise manifestation will not be possible. And that which has neither sat nor asat is called unmanifested.

So, from the above discussion it is seen that Rāmānuja is reading a cycle, i.e. death–birth–death and again birth i.e. rebirth, in the Chapter II.27. But this reading as argued above appears to be erroneous.

The Chapter II.28 of the Bhagavadgītā says:

avyaktādīni bhūtāni vyakta-madhyāni bhārata–avyakta-nidhanāny eva tatra kā paridevanā.

Commenting on this verse Rāmānuja writes:

“Human beings etc. (i.e. bodies) exist as entities; their previous stages are unknown, their middle stages in the form of man etc., are known, and their (final) and future stages are unknown. As they exist in their own natural stages, there is no cause for grief.”[25]

This explanation makes the verse unfitting to the context. In the previous verse (II.27) somethings are known to be jāta ‘born’ and mṛta and invariable concomitance of janma and mṛtu is declared to hold good and at the same time if it is claimed that the beginning and ends of these are unknown or unmanifest, then it appears to be illogical. In the next verse (II.29) what is discussed is referred to by the expression enam ‘this’ (masculine, accusative, singular) and it is emphasized by repeating twice in the same verse. If what is referred to by enam ‘this’ is not discussed in the previous verse (II.28), then to suddenly discuss enam ‘this’ in the Chapter II.29 is also absurd. Previous discussion proximate to Chapter II.28 regarding what is referred to by enam ‘this’ is in Chapter II.26, and if enam ‘this’ of Chapter II.29 is taken as referring to the referent of enam ‘this’ of Chapter II.26, i.e. two verses earlier, then it makes both Chapter II.27 and 28 as unnecessary interruption of the flow of discussion. But Chapter II.26 via Chapter II.27 and Chapter II.28 to 29 and beyond is a single continuous reasoning. So, we have to assume that what is referred to by enam ‘this’ in Chapter II.29 has already been presented in Chapter II.28 itself. So, Chapter II.28 is not about many bhūtāni ‘existents’ but about something that has unmanifest beginnings (avyaktādīni) and unmanifest endings (avyaktanidhanāni) but manifest amongst existents (vyakta madhyāni bhūtāni). So, it appears that Rāmānuja’s interpretation of Chapter II.28 is not acceptable.

The interpretation of the Chapter II.29[26] of Bhagavad-gītā is also problematic. Commenting on the verse he writes that ‘among the countless creatures of the universe, someone, through the great penance, gets rid of sins and augments his store of religious merits.’ Here also Rāmānuja tries to bring in the theory of law of karma. But this is not what is said in the text of the Bhagavad-gītā. He is not reading the Bhagavad-gītā in its own terms; rather his attempt is to reconcile what is said in the Bhagavad-gītā with the idea of karmavāda to which he has prior commitment.

Rāmānuja’s comments on the Chapter VII of Bhagavad-gītā also deal with important metaphysical issues, especially the Supreme Self or the God. According to Bhagavad-gītā Chapter VII.4–5[27] , the supreme self or the God has two prakṛtis: lower (aparā) and higher (parā). Parā means higher prakṛti, the knowledge of the self, and aparā prakṛti is lower prakṛti, the knowledge of the eight material principles. The lower prakṛti has been divided into eight kinds i.e. earth (bhūmi), water (āpa), fire (anala or agṇī), air (vāyu), ether (kham or ākāśa), mind (mānas), intellect (buddhi) i.e. the principle called mahat, and also ahaṃkāra or the principle of ego. These are called lower prakṛti or aparā prakṛti. God’s higher prakṛti is not of the same type as the lower prakṛti, which is non-spiritual. The lower prakṛti consists of the objects of experience of the individual selves (jīvātmans), which are spiritual beings. The higher prakṛti is constituted by the spiritual beings themselves. That means that the higher prakṛti is constituted by the individual selves (jīvātmans). The higher prakṛti is God’s main prakṛti, for the individual selves (jīvātmans), which are spiritual, experience the lower, non-spiritual or material prakṛti. The higher prakṛti of God supports his lower prakṛti. All beings, from Brahmā to tuft of grass, are composed of cit and acit, whether they exist in inferior condition or superior condition and all these beings originate from the two prakṛtis of God. Therefore, the God is their origin and their dissolution, and He is their śeṣin (Commentary on Chapter VII.6). God is absolutely superior, not only because He is the cause of the two prakṛtis, which are themselves the causes of all things, and not only because He is the śeṣin of even the individual selves (jīvātmans), but also because He possesses such qualities as knowledge, power, force etc. (Commentary on Chapter VII.7).

He further writes explaining what Kṛṣṇa is saying in Chapter VII.7:

sarvam idaṃ cidacidvastujātaṃ kāryāvasthaṃ kāraṇāvasthaṃ ca maccharīrabhūtaṃ sūtre maṇigaṇavad atmatayāvasthite mayi protam āśritam/

“The aggregate of all the animate and inanimate things, whether in their causal state or in the state of effect, is strung on Me who abide as their Self, as a row of gems on a thread. They depend on Me.”

Hence, all spiritual and non-spiritual things constitute God’s body and depend on God, who is their Ātman. Clearly, the Bhagavad-gītā in these verses is advocating the collectivist conception of person with his collective body, which incorporates all beings. But Rāmānuja, because of his commitment to Viśiṣṭādvaita reads the verses in the Bhagavad-gītā as preaching its metaphysics.

According to Rāmānuja God, the Supreme Person, is modified by all existing beings and things which modify him by constituting the body of which He is the ātman. From this point of view all words express God. So, by applying the grammatical rule of samānādhikaraṇaya or functional co-ordination, God is said to be the quintessence of all entities. All these entities with their peculiar individuality and characteristics have originated from God, are śeṣa of God and depend on God inasmuch as they constitute his body, and God himself is modified by all these entities of which He is the ātman. (Commentay on Chapter VII.8-11)

The entities, which are of the nature of sattva, rajas and tamas and which exist in this world in the forms of body, senses, material objects and their causes, depend on God whose body they constitute. God himself, however, does not depend on them. The relation of God to his body is not the same as that of the individual ātmans to their bodies. With the latter, the bodies, though depending on the ātmans, serve some purpose for the sustenance of the ātmans within them. In the case of God, his body serves no purpose at all. It serves nothing but his sport. God is beyond all entities of sattva, rajas and tamas nature, because of his auspicious qualities which are peculiar to him and because these entities are modifications of him (Commentary on Chapter VII.13). But, although God is eternal and always forms a unity in himself, He is not known to the world constituted by gods, men, animals, immovable etc., for the world is perplexed by the entities consisting of guṇas, however small and transient they may be, which are the material objects to be experienced by means of body and senses in accordance with previous karman.

There are multiple problems in Rāmānuja’s reading of the Chapter VII.4-13.The Chapter VII.7[28] of the Bhagavad-gītā mentions as to how the universe is interrelated with the Supreme Self. Rāmānuja divides Chapter VII.7 into two sections. First, he interprets the first half of the verse and then the second half of the verse. What is said in the first half is that, since, the prabhūḥ or the Supreme Brahman is both prabhāva and pralaya, He is the highest and nothing else is higher than Him.

In the second half, it is said:

“Just as the gems are strung on the string; similarly, the entire universe is also strung on Me [Kṛṣṇa] like a thread (sutra).”

Here Brahman is in everything of the world and everything in the universe is strung on Him. It is like gems are strung on a thread, the entire universe is strung on Him as if He is the string, sutra of the universe. For example, the ātman i.e. the self is also a sutra i.e. thread, so the self is said to be ‘sutrātman’ i.e. ātman is like the thread which is in all the bodies. This analogy of thread and gems goes against the view that entities in the world are modifiers of the God. For even when the gems are strung on the thread, they do not modify the thread. The relation between the thread and gems is not of viśeṣya-viśeṣaṇa. Therefore, the relation between the entities constituting the body of God is not related to God as viśeṣaṇa to viśeṣya. It is his prior commitment to the metaphysics of Viśiṣṭādvaita, which is making him to read Chapter VII.7 as he has done.

Rāmānuja says,

“The aggregate of all the intelligent things which form My body [Kṛṣṇa] both in their causal state and in their state as effect are like collection of gems on a string, strung on Me [Kṛṣṇa] who remains as their self, that is they find their rest and support in Me.”

If the God is the self in all bodies then obviously it is a collective self constituted by all things and then the individual self (jīvātman) cannot be mere viśeṣaṇa of the God, but has to be the same as the Supreme Self itself.

Rāmānuja has not interpreted from Chapter VII.8-11. He merely quotes Chapter VII.811 after stating:

“Thus, as everything constitutes the body of the Supreme Person forming only a mode of His who is their Self, the Supreme Person alone exists, and all things (which we speak of as diversity) are only His modes Therefore, all terms used in the common parlance for different things, denote Him only. Śrī Kṛṣṇa shows this by coordinating [sāmānādhikaraṇyena] some important ones among these entities with himself.”[29]

After quoting the four i.e. Chapter VII.8-11 once again Rāmānuja makes the same observation:

“All these entities with their peculiar characteristics are born from Me alone. They depend on Me; inasmuch as they constitute My body, the exist in Me alone. Thus, I alone exist while all of them are only My modes.”[30]

Rāmānuja in his comments on Chapter VII.8-11 is taking help of the idea of sāmānādhikaraṇa from Saṃskṛt Grammar. Sāmānādhikaraṇa is a technical term which is used when two different words denote one thing cf Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī 1.2.42:

tatpuruṣaḥ samānādhikaraṇaḥ karmadhārayaḥ

A Tat-puruṣa compound, the case of each member of which is the same, is called karmadhāraya or Appositional Determinative compound.”

But it appears that Rāmānuja has misapplied the idea of sāmānādhikaraṇa in understanding Chapter VII.8-11. Kṛṣṇa makes statements like:

raso’ham apsu … prabhāsmi śaśisūryayoḥ praṇavas sarvavedeṣu śabdaḥ khe pauruṣaṃ nṛṣu etc.

“I am the taste in the waters…I am light in the sun and the moon; sacred syllable Om in all the Vedas, sound in the ether, and manliness in men am I,” etc.

Here the Supreme Self is identifying himself with the essential qualities of things. The terms denoting the Supreme Self and terms denoting various things do not refer to the same thing as there is real difference between the Supreme Self and individual selves in his own view, and it follows that the various things cannot be called mere modes of the Supreme Self.

Rāmānuja tries to dispel this kind of objection in the interpretation of the initial verses of Chapter XIII of the Bhagavadgītā where he refers to his own use of the idea of sāmānādhikaraṇya where the relationship between the self and the body introduced earlier is examined.

Kṛṣṇa in Chapter XIII.1 of Bhagavad-gītā says:

idaṃ śarīraṃ kaunteya kṣetram ity abhidhīyate /
etad yo vetti taṃ prāhuḥ kṣetrajña iti tadvidaḥ//

“This, the body, O son of Kuntī, is called the field, Kṣetra. He who knows it is called field-knower, Kṣetrajña, by those who know the self.”

Rāmānuja comments that even though the body may be put in sāmānādhikaraṇya with the experiencing- ātman, e.g. in the statement “I am lean”, etc. the former is different from the latter. The sages who have exact knowledge of the body term it field of experience of experiencing- ātman. An individual self, who knows his body and, because of this very knowledge, must be different from his body which is the object of his knowledge, is called a kṣetrajña by the sages. That individual self may, when perceiving entities different from his body, consider his knowing ātman to be in a relation of sāmānādhikaraṇya to his body, for instance in the proposition: “I who am a man know this jug”;still, when he perceives his body he will know that it is an entity different from his ātman and of the same kind as a jug, because being an object of the ātman’s knowledge it is of the same kind as other objects of knowledge, so that the proposition can be made: “I know my body too, in the same way as I know a jug.” Rāmānuja explains that one may conceive the ātman to be in a relation of sāmānādhikaraṇya to the body inasmuch as both are indissolubly connected. For the body serves only to ‘particularise’ an ātman as belonging to a certain class. In itself the knowing self is not accessible to the organs of vision etc., because its form is peculiar to itself alone and accessible only to a mind prepared by yoga. But this does not justify the fools in regarding this knower as prakṛti, only because it is proximate to prakṛti.

Kṛṣṇa in Chapter XIII.2 of the Bhagavad-gītā says:

kṣetrajñaṃ cāpi māṃ viddhi sarvakṣetreṣu bhārata/
kṣetrakṣetrajñayor jñānaṃ yat taj jñānaṃ mataṃ mama//

“And know Me also as Field-knower, Kṣetrajña in all Fields, Kṣetras, O Bharata. The Field, Kṣetra and Field-knower, Kṣetrajña is, in My view, the true knowledge.”

According to Rāmānuja kṣetrajña is the Supreme Self, i.e. the Supreme Self is its proper form; the same holds good with respect to kṣetra also. As stated earlier, kṣetra and kṣetrajña may be put in sāmānādhikaraṇya, both being indissolubly connected because the kṣetra particularises the kṣetrajña. In the same way kṣetra and kṣetrajña may be put in sāmānādhikaraṇya with the Supreme Self, because it is the sole nature of both to particularise the Supreme Self or the God. Kṣetra and kṣetrajña are merely constitutive of God’s body. God or the Supreme Self is the inner Ruler of all kṣetrajñas and therefore constitutes their ātman; so they may be put in sāmānādhikaraṇya with God. One should know that kṣetra and kṣetrajña are distinguishable and that God is the ātman of both.

In Rāmānuja’s interpretation of Chapter XIII.1-2 appears to be erroneous. Particularisation of the multiple kṣetrajñas through sāmānādhikaraṇya with their respective bodies is required as kṣetrajñas are not available to the senses to be distinguished from each other but bodies are available to the senses to be distinguished from each other. As there are multiple bodies, due to sāmānādhikaraṇya of kṣetrajñas with respective bodies, kṣetrajñas are multiple and have real difference from each other as bodies have real difference from each other as their respective bodies are their viśeṣaṇa. The Supreme Self or the God is also not knowable through the senses, and hence particularization of the Supreme Self or the God takes place through sāmānādhikaraṇya with both kṣetras and kṣetrajñas making them viśeṣaṇa of God. Now the question arises: why the particularization of God through sāmānādhikaraṇya with many kṣetras and kṣetrajñas do not make it multiple while as particularization of self or kṣetrajña through sāmānādhikaraṇya with kṣetra makes them multiple? The answer is that it is Rāmānuja’s prior commitment to metaphysics of viśiṣṭādvaita that is making him to read sāmānādhikaraṇya in two ways once to make each particular body the viśeṣaṇa of respective selves and again to make all the bodies and selves as viśeṣaṇa of God or the Supreme Self to constitute its body.

A kṣetra as Bhagavadgīta presents is constituted by five great elements, such as earth (prithivi), air (vāyu), water (āpa), fire (teja) and ether (ākāśa), and the ego (ahaṃkāra), the intellect (buddhi), the mind (mānas), and the avyakta. It also includes the five organs of action, five senses and the five objects of senses etc. The five objects of senses known as tanmātras are sound (śabda), smell (gaṇdha), form/colour (rūpa), touch (sparśa) and taste (rasa). Here buddhi is called mahat and avyakta is called prakṛti in subtle state.

In Chapter XIII.2 Kṛṣṇa says Arjuna that He is the kṣetrajñam in all the kṣetras, which means that Kṛṣṇa Himself is the kṣetrajña. While reading this verse Rāmānuja appears to be deviating from the actual meaning of the verse. In Rāmānuja’s view the meaning is that the kṣetras and kṣetrajñas both are His body i.e. all the bodies are His body such as men, gods etc. He is the self of all kṣetras and kṣetrajñas, since they constitute His body only. He makes a threefold distinction: multiple kṣetras, multiple kṣetrajñas and one Supreme Self or God because of his viśiṣtādvaitic philosophy. According to this distinction, bodies are kṣetras which are made up of prakṛti, the selves are kṣetrajñas, and the Brahman is the Supreme Self. These are three ultimate entities in the philosophy of Rāmānuja. He applies this philosophy of threefold distinction to the Bhagavad-gītā to make it consistent viśiṣtādvaitic philosophy in his Gītā Bhāṣya. In his interpretation of this verse, he writes: “the kṣetra which is an aggregate of the earth and other elements, and also kṣetrajña have the Lord for their self.” This sentence gives the indication of three distinction mentioned earlier. But it is clearly said that He, Kṛṣṇa is the self or the kṣetrajña in all the bodies. Kṣetrajña is the Lord and there is no distinction of Lord and kṣetrajña or self. But in Rāmānuja’s understanding kṣetrajña is a self itself and the Lord is the Supreme Self.

Rāmānuja commenting on Chapter XIII.2 writes:

“Know as Myself, the Field-knower also who is the only form of the Knower in all the bodies like divinities, men. That is, know him as having Me for his self. By the word ‘also’ (api) in “Know Me also (api) as the Field Knower in all Fields,” it is made out by implication that it has been taught, “know the Field also to be Myself”. Just as the body, by reason of its having primarily the character of an attribute of the Field-knower, cannot exist independently of it, and hence can be denoted only through co-ordinate predication (sāmānādhikaraṇya) with it; know that likewise both field and field-knower, by reason of their having primarily the character of My attributes, cannot exist independently of Me and therefore, can be denoted only by means of co-ordinate predication (sāmānādhikaraṇya) with Me.”[31]

It appears there is no warrant from the language of the Bhagavad-gītā to gloss “māṃ viddhi” as “madātmakaṃ viddhi” the threefold distinction: Field, Field-Knower, and the Supreme Self. Furthermore, there appears to be no warrant in the language to make body as the attribute of the Fieldknower or to make these two as the attributes of the Supreme-Self. Because ‘ca’ in the verse should be read in between the verses 1 and 2 of the Chapter XIII. The meaning of the ‘ca’ is ‘and’ and it makes a link between the two verses.

The Bhagavad-gītā in Chapter XIII.12 onwards discusses metaphysical issues, but on examination it appears that Rāmānuja due to his earlier misunderstanding of Field, Field-Knower has deviated from the actual meaning of these verses in his commentary.

Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.12 says:

jñeyaṃ yat tat pravakṣyāmi yaj jñātvāmṛtam aśnute/
anādimat paraṃ brahma na
sat tan nāsad ucyate//

“That which has to be known I shall describe; knowing which one attains deathless (life). Beginningless is the Supreme Brahman. It is not said to be ‘sat’ or ‘asat’.”

Rāmānuja commenting on this verse writes:

“I shall speak of the essential nature of the individual self which is to be known, that is attained through freedom from arrogance and such other means, and by knowing which one realises the self as immortal, as free from birth, old age, death and such other material attributes. ‘Anādi’ is that which has no beginning. Now, for this individual self, indeed, there is no origination. And for this reason, indeed, there is no end.”[32]

It appears that Rāmānuja has not taken into consideration that it is Brahman which is declared to be ‘anādi’ and the second line elaborates the jñeya ‘that which is to be known’, which here is Brahman and not the individual self. Śaṃkara and Mādhva rightly take the jñeya ‘that which is to be known’ to be the Supreme Self.

Rāmānuja while commenting on this verse explains Brahman[33] in the words: “The brahman is that which is associated with the quality of (infinite) extensiveness: That is, it is a thing different from of things as the body, and free by itself of being conditioned by the body and such other things: thus, it means the principle (of the individual self) which cognizes the kṣetra… its being conditioned by the body is brought about by its karma. This infinity is only in regard to one emancipated from the bonds of karma. The word ‘brahman’ is applied to the (pure) individual self also… This (brahman) is said to be neither existent nor non-existent. By the words, ‘existent’ and ‘non-existent’, the essential nature of the self cannot be denoted, because of its being without the two states comprising effect and cause. However, it is said to be existent, while in the state of effect, because of its possessing names and forms like those of the gods etc. Being incapable of (having) these (names and forms) while in the condition of cause, it is stated to be non-existent…The association of the self with the two states of effect and cause, however, is brought about by its being wrapped around by the ignorance consisting of karma; it is not brought about by its essential nature. Because of this, the essential nature of the self is not described by the words, ‘existent’ and ‘non-existent’. If it is said that, in the text, “Non-existent, indeed” there are many problems in this interpretation of brahman in Chapter XIII.12 by Rāmānuja. Firstly, he is reducing brahman to individual self, rather than lifting the individual self to the level of brahman. The implication is that there are as many brahmans as there are the individual selves. If there is real difference between many brahmans identified with respective individual selves, then there is issue of infinite extent of brahman as brahmans can limit each other. Secondly, Rāmānuja changes the meaning of sat and asat as used here from their earlier uses. In his commentary on Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.16 he writes: “asattvam is due to perishable own being and sattvam is due to imperishable own being.”[34]

So, in his view both asat has bhāva, and also sat has bhāva. But it is clearly against the metaphysical principle that asat has no bhāva. When confronted with the claim of Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter IX.19: ‘I am sat and asat[35] Rāmānujācārya changes the meaning of sat and asat.

He writes in his Bhāṣya:

Sat is that which is in the present time. Asat is that which was in the past and that which (may be in the future, but) has not come into the present time.”[36]

This explanation of sat and asat is different from how it was explained before. Rāmānujācārya has further shifted the meaning of sat and asat while explaining the claim in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.12 regarding Brahman.

The equation of brahman with individual self in Chapter XIII.12 leads to further problematic metaphysics of individual self in interpretation of Chapter XIII.13-14.

Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.12 says regarding brahman:

sarvataḥpāṇipādaṃ tat sarvatokṣiśiromukham /
sarvataḥśrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati//

“With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes and heads and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere, That exists enveloping all.”

Commenting on this verse Rāmānuja writes:

“This (brahman) is possessed everywhere of hands and feet; that is, it is the essential nature of the self in its purity to be capable of performing everywhere the work of hands and feet. Thus, it too, it has everywhere eyes, heads and mouths and is everywhere possessed of ears: that is, it performs everywhere the works of eyes and such other organs… It stands enveloping everything in this world: that is, whatever totality of things may be in the world, it (i.e., the self) remains pervading all this. The meaning is that its essential nature in its purity, being free of the limitation of space and such limitations, reaches everywhere.”[37]

If this were to be stated regarding the Supreme Self it can be accepted, but if it is said regarding the individual selves, as Rāmānuja is saying, then it is a problematic statement. Multiple individual selves functioning everywhere without limitations of space and time will interfere with each other. Therefore, Rāmānuja’s interpretation appears to be erroneous. The statement in Chapter XIII.13 by Kṛṣṇa is not regarding multiple brahmans identified with respective individual selves, rather it is regarding the paraṃ brahma ‘Supreme Brahma’ identified with the collective self, which is the Supreme Self.

What Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.14 regarding Brahman further shows that Rāmānuja is possibly misinterpreting the verses:

sarvendriyaguṇābhāsaṃ sarvendriyavivarjitam/
asaktaṃ sarvabhṛc caiva nirguṇaṃ guṇabhoktṛ ca//

“Shining by the guṇas (strands of prakṛti) of all the senses, (yet) without the senses; unattached, yet supporting all;devoid of guṇas but enjoyer of guṇas.”

Rāmānuja comments:

“Shining with the functions of all senses: that is, that of which the shining is through the functions of all the senses is that which is shining with the functions of all the senses. The guṇas of the senses are the functions of the senses. The meaning is that it (i.e., the self) is capable of cognising objects even through the functions of senses. Yet it is by nature devoid of all the senses. The meaning is that, without the functions of senses at all, it, of its own accord, cognizes everything. It is unattached, that is, by nature free from attachment to the bodies of gods and others (with which it may get associated): yet supporting all, that is, capable of maintaining all bodies, such as those of gods… It is devoid of guṇas, that is, by nature free from sattva and other guṇas; and yet (it is) the enjoyer of the guṇas; that is, it has the potential capacity to enjoy sattva and other guṇas.”[38]

Here persuasive force of Rāmānuja’s comments arises from making statement regarding brahman identified with individual self in singular. When the statement is regarding self in singular it gives impression that it is the Supreme Self that is being described. But the moment one realizes that Rāmānuja is speaking of multiple Brahmans identified with respective individual selves, then the persuasive force vanishes.

In that case he is turning Kṛṣṇa’s statement in Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.14 as a mystic statement regarding individual selves:

vinaivendriyavṛttibhiḥ svata eva sarvaṃ jānātītyarthaḥ

“The meaning is that, without the functions of senses at all, it, of its own accord, cognizes everything.”

Actually according to Chapter XIII.14 of Bhagavad-gītā the collective self or Supreme Self manifests with functions of senses without having corporeal senses. Here one has to keep in mind that the topic discussed in these verses is the paraṃ brahma ‘Supreme Brahma’ identified with the collective self, which is the Supreme Self as already declared in Chapter XIII.12.

Chapter XIV of the Bhagavad-gītā deals with characterisation and functioning of the guṇas and how the relationship of puruṣa and prakṛti causes the origin of the bhūtas, but the relationship and distinction between puruṣa and prakṛti is introduced in Chapter XIII.19 onwards. Commenting on Chapter XIII.19 of the Bhagavadgītā Rāmānuja says that prakṛti and puruṣa, and the puruṣa, and the conjunction of the two, have no beginning. The transformations of prakṛti, desire, hatred etc., which cause a self to be tied to saṃsāra, and the qualities of humility etc., which cause him to be liberated, originate from prakṛti. So the beginningless prakṛti conjoined with the ātman and developed into kṣetra is, through its own transformations and its own qualities, the cause alike of a person’s bondage and his liberation. This comment on Chapter XIII.19 goes beyond the words of the verse to read the begininglessness of the conjunction of the prakṛti and puruṣa, which is not stated in the verse. The implication of the begininglessness of the conjunction of the prakṛti and puruṣa as per Bhagavad-gītā Chapter II.27 is that this conjunction is endless too as explained above. But this implication will create problem for Rāmānuja’s interpretation of liberation of person.

Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.20 says:

kāryakāraṇakartṛtve hetuḥ prakṛtir ucyate /
puruṣaḥ sukhaduḥkhānāṃ bhoktṛtve hetur ucyate//

“In doing of effect and cause Prakṛti is said to be responsible; in enjoyment of pleasure and pain Puruṣa is said to be the responsible.”

Rāmānuja commenting on Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.20 writes:

“The effect is the body. The causes are the sense organs of perception and action, along with the internal organ of perception. In their being performers of work, the prakṛti, ruled over by the self, is alone responsible. The meaning is that (their) activities, which are means of experience, have their basis in the prakṛti, which has evolved into the form of the body ruled over by the self. In regard to the self, there is only the state of being the ruler…The agency of the self is really its being responsible for the activity of the will in ruling over the body. The self, while in association with the prakṛti, is responsible for the experience of pleasure and pain. The meaning is that it is the seat of the experience of pleasure and pain.”[39]

In this interpretation, Rāmānuja is turning the general statement of the first line of Chapter XIII.20 into a limited statement regarding the body and senses as he declares that the body is the effect and senses are causes. He further restricts ‘doings’ of ‘effect and cause’ to mere activities of experiencing. Generally, the organs of sense and action are taken as kāraṇa ‘instrument’. But Rāmānuja has interpreted kāraṇa ‘cause’ as organ, which appears to be erroneous. Although Rāmānuja is correct in pointing out that puruṣa is the cause and initiator of all activities to which the subservient prakṛti is instrumental. So, all experience of happiness and unhappiness depends on puruṣa conjoined with prakṛti.

Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.21 says:

puruṣaḥ prakṛtistho hi bhuṅkte prakṛtijān guṇān /
kāraṇaṃ guṇasaṅgo 'sya sadasadyonijanmasu//

Puruṣa, when seated in Prakṛti, enjoys the guṇas (qualities) born of Prakṛti. His attachment to the guṇas is the cause of birth from good and evil wombs.”

Commenting on the first line of this verse Rāmānuja writes:

“The word ‘guṇa’ (quality), stands figuratively for its effects. The self, whose experience of itself, by itself, consists solely of happiness, enjoys, that is, experiences, when seated in the prakṛti, that is, when in association with prakṛti, that is, the pleasure and pain and other things, which are the effects of sattva and other guṇas and which have for their special cause association with the prakṛti.”[40]

Commenting on the second line of the verse Rāmānuja explains the cause of (the self’s) association with the prakṛti:

“This self, placed successively in the bodies of different beings like the gods, men etc., which are in the form of modifications of the prakṛti, becomes attached to such things as pleasure and pains, arising from the sattva and other qualities associated with each one of these bodies, and hence engages itself in works of virtue (puṇya) and sin (papa) which constitute the means for these (pleasures etc.). Then, for the purpose of experiencing the results of virtue and sin arising from these (acts), it is born again in good (sat) or evil (asat) bodies. Then it begins activities and thereby is born again. As long as it does not develop freedom from arrogance and such other qualities, which are the means of realizing the self, so long it remains in saṃsāra. Therefore, this has been said that its attachment to the guṇas (of the prakṛti) is the cause of its birth in good and evil bodies.”[41]

Here we have to keep in mind that Rāmānuja is interpreting the verse as statement about the individual persons and their birth following the law of karma. But it appears that the verse contrary to Rāmānuja’s thought, is speaking of the Supreme Person as claimed before and it is actually a further elaboration of the process of the embodiment of the supreme person. The erroneous nature of the interpretation of Rāmānuja becomes apparent in the comments he makes on the next verse.

Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XIII.22 says:

upadraṣṭānumantā ca bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ/
paramātmeti cāpy ukto dehe’smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ//

“The Puruṣa Supreme is Spectator and Permitter (Assenter), Supporter, Enjoyer, the Great Sovereign Lord, and also spoken of as the Supreme Self in this body.”

Rāmānuja’s comments on Chapter XIII.22 can be summarized as follows:

“The individual puruṣa, when existing in a body and conniving at its activities, looks on and consents, therefore, it is the lord of the body. In the same way it experiences the happiness and unhappiness resulting from the body’s activities. So, because it rules, supports and exceeds the body, it is a sovereign lord as compared to the body, senses and mind.

Likewise it is called the body’s sovereign ātman,–sovereign as compared to the body–, and a most sublime puruṣa, i.e. a puruṣa whose knowledge and power are not to be circumscribed by the body. Nevertheless, so long as it is attached to guṇas, the puruṣa is sovereign only as compared with the servile body.’[42] It is clear that Rāmānuja has made the universal statement regarding the Supreme Puruṣa or the Supreme Self to be only a limited generalisation limited by its applicability to bodies only. This restricted reading of maheśvara ‘the great sovereign lord’ is not supported by the text of the Bhagavad-gītā. In Bhagavad-gītā Chapter X.3 Kṛṣṇa himself declares that He is maheśvara of the world (lokamaheśvara) and in Chapter IV.6 and Chapter XVI.14 that He is īśvara. So, to understand maheśvara as the individual self as sovereign lord only with respect to a body appears to be erroneous. The way Chapter XIII.22 is formulated it is clear that it is the Supreme Puruṣa, who is spoken of and he is the Supreme Self and is also Spectator and Permitter (Assenter), Supporter and Enjoyer in the body and the verse does not speak of the supremacy of individual self with respect to its body.

That Rāmānuja is not interpreting the group of Chapter XIII.19-23 comes out clearly in the last verse:

ya evaṃ vetti puruṣaṃ prakṛtiṃ ca guṇaiḥ saha/
sarvathā vartamāno’pi na sa bhūyo’bhijāyate//

“He, who thus knows Puruṣa and Prakṛti together with the guṇas, is never born again, however he is placed.”

Rāmānuja commenting on the verse writes:

“He who knows, that is, knows truly and with discrimination, the self to be thus as having the character described above, and likewise the prakṛti to be the character described above, together with the guṇas like sattva whose character will be later dealt with, is never born again, does not become fit for association with the prakṛti again, however he may be placed, that is, in whatever extremely painful manner he lives in the bodies of gods, men, etc. The meaning is that at the time of dissolution of the body (in which he is now living), he attains self having unlimited knowledge as its distinguishing characteristic and devoid of sins.”[43]

Here the most important but erroneous presupposition lies behind the claim regarding the puruṣa that “He … does not become fit for association with the prakṛti again”. The presupposition is that there is a state of puruṣa dissociated from the prakṛti, once that is attained by knowledge and death then there is no further association. Rāmānuja while commenting on Chapter XIII.19 had accepted that puruṣa, prakṛti and their association is beginningless (anādi). Now according to the metaphysical principle accepted in Chapter II.27 whatever is beginningless is also endless and hence there can be nothing that is beginningless but ends nonetheless, as explained earlier. Hence, the association of puruṣa and prakṛti being beginningless cannot come to an end and hence there is no possibility of any state of puruṣa where he is dissociated from prakṛti. The conclusion is that Rāmānuja’s claim regarding the puruṣa that “He … does not become fit for association with the prakṛti again” is based on erroneous presupposition.

Chapter XIV of the Bhagavad-gītā deals with the guṇas to explain the roles they play in the bondage of puruṣas. But before that it is explained how God or the Supreme Self creates the existent beings in the world? Commenting on Chapter XIV.3-4 Rāmānuja says that conjunction of puruṣa and prakṛti is brought about by God or the Supreme Self itself. God causes the puruṣa and prakṛti of all existents to be conjoined as He plants the mass of spiritual beings as an embryo in the Mahad Brahma, which is the womb of the non-spiritual matter; in other words, God conjoins his spiritual prakṛti, constituted by experiencing puruṣas which are kṣetrajñas, with his nonspiritual prakṛti, constituted by the kṣetra of experience. From this conjunction all beings arise: the Mahad Brahma–the non-spiritual prakṛti–is the cause of all these beings. God is the seed showing father in His womb which is Mahad Brahma: He conjoins the spiritual beings with certain modes of existence in keeping with their karman.

In the above explanation the problem with Rāmānuja is that he interprets ‘mahadbrahma’ as prakṛti and that too non-spiritual prakṛti. He had already prepared ground for this equation of mahad brahma with non-spiritual prakṛti while commenting on the line–karma brahmodbhavaṃ viddhi ‘know that action comes from Brahman’ –of Chapter III.15.

Commenting on the verse Rāmānuja writes:

“Here what is indicated by the word, ‘brahman’, is the physical body which is made up of modifications of prakṛti... the prakṛti is indicated by the word ‘brahman’ … Hence, by the teaching that ‘that action comes from Brahman,’ it is taught that action is the product of the physical body, which is of the nature of modification of prakṛti.”[44]

But equation of Brahman with prakṛti or body as modification of prakṛti is problematic. It is in mahat aspect that Mahad Brahman is prakṛti, but in Brahma aspect it is the Supreme Self itself. But according to Rāmānuja, the ‘aparāprakṛti’ is the ‘mahatbrahma’ or ‘great brahma.’ Though he is taking higher prakṛti to be the seed (garbha) of the bhūtas which in association with the lower prakṛti, which originates bhūtas, the question arises what about the non–intelligent matter as not everything in the universe is intelligent. And because of this triadic division of prakṛti, selves and the Lord he is facing difficulties.

The reference to karman in Rāmānuja’s comments on Chapter XIV.4 indicates that in subsequent verses he will see guṇas as the cause of our repeated births–as a god, a man etc.–in conjunction with acit and in harmony with our previous karman since the beginning of creation. That is, guṇas are the cause of our being bound with saṃsāra. The three guṇas, which are inherent in prakṛti conjoined existent and particularize its nature, and which can only be known through their effects–brightness etc.–, which are not apparent in pure prakṛti but are apparent in its transformations, from Mahat to elements. The guṇas bind the puruṣa, who is conjoined with a body in all its evolution from the primordial prakṛti but who in itself is not subject to guṇas they bind the puruṣa within the restrictions of his corporeal existence. Sattva, because of freedom from impurity, is illuminating. Freedom from impurity is the state of being free from qualities which stand in the way of illumination and happiness. Therefore, the meaning is that it forms the cause of illumination and happiness.

Illumination is knowledge of truth about things. Not being unwholesome: where the effect known as disease is not present. Sattva is the cause of the state of being free from disease and hence it is cause of happiness. Sattva guṇa binds the self through attachment to happiness and knowledge. And when attachment to knowledge and happiness arises, one engages oneself in secular and scriptural expedients therefore. As a result of this, one is born in such bodies as form the means for experiencing their fruits. In this way, the sattva binds the self by means of attachment to happiness and knowledge. According to Rāmānuja what is said amounts to this: that the sattva is that by which there is the production of knowledge and happiness as well as the production again of attachment thereto. The Rajas guṇa causes sexual desire, general ambitiousness and affection for one’s nearest. So, by exciting this desire it binds dehin to acts. These acts may be good or evil and cause him to be born in a nature in which he will experience the good and evil results. The tamas guṇa springs from false knowledge, it binds dehin through negligence, laziness and sleep.

In summation it can be said that sattva mainly causes an attachment to happiness, rajas to activity, and tamas to undutifulness by causing false knowledge. It is said that all the three guṇas originate from the prakṛti and they bind the self in the body. Rāmānuja takes ‘nibadhnanti’ in the traditional sense of ‘karmavandhana,’ which leads to being born again and again in new body to reap the results of acts of previous life. But the way Chapter XIV.5-8 are formulated and in light of rejection of traditional karmavāda in Chapter V.14 as explained earlier, it appears that these verses do not use the term ‘nibadhnanti’ in the traditional sense of karmavandhana, as it is merely explaining the relationship of the collective self with the collective body. The verses are not about relationship of individual soul with its body. Rāmānuja’s interpretation, it seems, is reading ideas of the Viśiṣṭādvaitic philosophy in the verses instead of commenting what exactly are said in the verses.

As explained above Rāmānuja claims that guṇas are the cause of our being bound with saṃsāra. This requires explanation of the nature of saṃsāra and what is to be done with it. Chapter XV of the Bhagavad-gītā opens with the first four verses describing the nature of saṃsāra and how to deal with it according to Rāmānuja.

In Chapter XV.1 of the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says:

ūrdhvamūlam adhaḥśākham aśvatthaṃ prāhur avyayam /
chandāṃsi yasya parṇāni yas taṃ veda sa vedavit//

“With roots above and branches below, the Aśvattha, they say, is indestructible, their leaves are the Vedic hymns; he, who knows it, is the knower of the Vedas.”

According to Rāmānuja’s commentary on this verse the roots of the aśvattha tree, which is eternal, are planted above and its branches reach downward. This aśvattha tree is saṃsāra, beginning with Brahmā who resides above the Universe, and ending below in men, cattle etc. living on the earth. It is eternal because its continuous flow cannot be stopped before a perfect knowledge is effected. Again, the leaves of this tree are said to be the Hymns, for the saṃsāra is made to increase by the desiderative acts which are explained by the śrutis. He who knows the saṃsāra to be thus knows the Veda, for the Veda sets forth means by which the saṃsāra may be stopped. So one’s knowledge of the saṃsāra helps the knowledge of the means by which one may overcome the saṃsāra.

This comment on the verse is problematic. The verse takes the aśvattha tree to be eternal unconditionally, as no condition is laid in the verse for its eternality, because that which is eternal has neither beginning nor end in time. But according to Rāmānuja the aśvattha tree being the saṃsāra is eternal because its continuous flow cannot be stopped before a perfect knowledge is effected. This is contradictory. If the saṃsāra is eternal it cannot be stopped and if it can be stopped it cannot be eternal. To say that the saṃsāra is eternal till the perfect knowledge is achieved is to make the eternality of the the saṃsāra conditional, which does not appear to be intended in the verse by Kṛṣṇa.

Aśvattha tree in the verse does not appear to be saṃsāra tree as Rāmānuja has commented. It appears to be the karmavṛkṣa. It is karmavṛkṣa because its root is upward, and its root is upward because Supreme Brahman is there and action is emerged from it only. The meaning is that, all actions are emerged from upward roots i.e. urdhamulaṃ (Brahman). This has been supported by Chapter III.15[45] of the Bhagavadgītā. In this verse, it is said ‘all actions emerged from Brahman.’ Therefore, Aśvattha tree does not seem to be saṃsāravṛkṣa, rather it appears to be karmavṛkṣa.

In Chapter XV.2 of the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says:

adhaś cordhvaṃ prasṛtās tasya śākhā; guṇapravṛddhā viṣayapravālāḥ/
adhaś ca mūlāny anusaṃtatāni
; karmānubandhīni manuṣyaloke//

“Up and down its branches spread, thriving on the guṇas with sense-objects as its shoots; below in the world of man stretch forth the (adventitious) roots, (which are) action-binding.”

Commenting on this verse Rāmānuja says that the downward branches–men etc.–which spring from the previous karman of these men etc., sprout downward again into men etc. and upward into gandharvas, yakṣas, gods etc., all these beings flourish through the guṇa and their shoots are the objects. The roots of the tree in the world of Brahmā ramify in the world of men, according to karman.

The verse in the second line speaks of some downward extending roots (adhaś ca mūlāny anusaṃtatāni) and describes these downward growing roots as actionbinding in the world of men (karmānubandhīni manuṣyaloke), but Rāmānuja turns this second line of the verse into a full-fledged law of karman as understood traditionally and claims that the roots of the tree in the world of Brahmā ramify in the world of men, according to karman, which appears to be erroneous reading. The expression karmānubandhīni in the verse is neuter nominative plural of Tatpuruṣa compound meaning ‘binding by action binding, fastening to action, attaching to action etc.’ What the second line of the verse seems to be saying is that the downward growing roots in the world of men are such that they attach men to action or bind action to men etc. in the sense that the action is owned by men or men are held accountable for action etc. The erroneous nature of Rāmānuja’s interpretation becomes apparent in his comments on the next two verses.

In Bhagavad-gītā Chapter XV.3-4 Kṛṣṇa says regarding the aśvattha tree:

na rūpam asyeha tathopalabhyate; nānto na cādir na ca saṃpratiṣṭhā/
aśvattham enaṃ suvirūḍhamūlam; asaṅgaśastreṇa dṛḍhena chittvā//
tataḥ padaṃ tatparimārgitavyaṃ; yasmin gatā na nivartanti bhūyaḥ/
tam eva cādyaṃ puruṣaṃ prapadye; yataḥ pravṛttiḥ prasṛtā purāṇī//

“Its form is not perceived as such here, neither its end nor its origin nor its foundation. Cutting as under this (adventitious) intertwined Aśvattha root by the strong weapon of non-attachment, afterwards properly proceeded on path by that step, having gone into which none return again. One should step into that Primeval Puruṣa whence streamed forth the Ancient activity.”

Rāmānuja in his commentary on Bhagavadgītā Chapter XV.3-4 has divided the verses into two sections. While interpreting Chapter XV.3, he reads the first half independently and the second half with the first half of Chapter XV. 4. And the second half of Chapter XV.4 is read independently.

According to Rāmānuja’s comments on these two verses the people in the saṃsāra are unable to see this tree so as it has been described. A man can only perceive this much that he is a man, son of so-and-so, father of so-and-so, living in circumstances corresponding to his condition. He does not see that the end of the tree is brought about by detachment from enjoyments which consists of guṇas, nor that the tree springs from attachment to guṇas, nor that the tree is founded on ignorance which is the misconception that ātman is non- ātman. One should cut this deep-rooted aśvattha down with the sword of detachment forged from perfect knowledge, and then one should find that place from which one will never return. To sublate ignorance, one should take refuge in the primordial puruṣa, for He is the creator of everything and the active attachment to experiences which consist of guṇas has originally arisen from him. This attachment is indeed an ancient one, for the ancient aspirants knew it. They took refuse in God and were consequently released from their bonds.

Rāmānuja appears to have commited a mistake while commenting on the two verses and seems to have twisted the meaning in the second half of Chapter XV.3. In the verse, Rāmānuja has not distinguished the suvirūḍmulam[46] from Aśvattha. For him, suvirūḍmulam and Aśvattha are one and the same, and has to be cut off. Rāmānuja writes, “the Aśvattha tree which has well grown roots of various kinds should be cut off by means of non–attachment.” Since, suvirūḍmulam and Aśvattha are two different grammatical objects and in the verse the verb used is chhitvā, which means ‘to be cut off’, so the meaning of the verse should be that the ‘suvirūḍmulam’ of the Aśvattha tree has to be cut off, which has grown in various forms by the strong weapon of the non–attachment. As it is not possible to cut off the Aśvattha tree, the verse is not saying that the Aśvattha tree has to be cut off. According to the Saṃskṛt grammar, the grammatical object, which is near to the verb, is the real object related to the verb. And another object further away from the verb is the qualifier of the real object as the former is not the real object related to the verb. So, in this verse between the two grammatical objects ‘aśvattham and suvirūḍhamūlam, the word ‘suvirūḍhamūlam’ is the grammatical object near to the verb ‘chhitvā.’ Therefore, according to the grammatical principle, the object ‘suvirūḍhamūlam’ which is near to the verb chhitvā, has to be cut off, but not the qualifying object ‘Aśvattha.’ Aśvattha is not the object to be cut off, rather it is the ‘suvirūḍmulam’ which is well grown roots of Aśvattha, which is downward, but is not upwards, which has to be cut off. So, Rāmānuja in his comments on Chapter XV.3 appears to have commited grammatical error in interpreting the verse.

Kṛṣṇa explains the distinction between three puruṣas in Chapter XV.16-17:

dvāvimopuruṣau loke kṣaracākṣara eva ca/
kṣaraḥ sarvāṇi bhūtāṇi kūtaṣthaḥ akṣara uchyate//
uttamaḥ puruṣas tv anyaḥ paramātmety udāhṛtaḥ /
yo lokatrayam āviśya bibharty avyaya īśvaraḥ//

“There are these two persons in the world, the perishable and the imperishable; the perishable comprises all existents, the immutable is called the imperishable. But distinct is the best person spoken of as the Supreme Self, who entering the three worlds, fills the indestructible Sovereign Lord.”

Clearly the verse is making distinction between three puruṣas–kṣara, akṣara and uttama puruṣa–in these two verses, and not making a distinction between three classes of puruṣas. But according to Rāmānuja’s interpretation the two verses make distinction between three classes of puruṣas. In Chapter XV.16 according to Rāmānuja two classes of puruṣas–destructible and indestructible–are spoken up. The class of souls indicated by the word ‘destructible’, consists of all existents associated with the non-intelligent prakṛti of a changeable nature, which can be denoted by the expression jīva ‘individual self’. Ramānuja realising that he is deviating from the text, gives an explanation that here the word puruṣa is used in singular by reason of the single adventitious condition of association with non-intelligent matter. That is to say for him the word puruṣa is used in singular to indicate a class of bound selves. The expression ‘indestructible’ for him refers to that which is uniform and homogeneous. This is the class of freed souls, i.e. free from association with non-intelligent matter which remain in their own nature. Once again he explains that the description in the singular is determined by the single adventitious condition of dissociation from non-intelligent matter. That is to say for Rāmānuja ‘the indestructible’ refers to the class of freed souls. But this kind of interpretation appears to be erroneous. Apart from the issue of multiplicity of puruṣas in each class, which was discussed earlier, there is the problem related to association and dissociation of puruṣa and prakṛti. The association of the two is beginingless (anādi) and hence has to be endless (ananta) due to the metaphysical principle announced in Chapter II.27 which was discussed above. So, Rāmānuja’s interpretation of Chapter XV.16 appears to be erroneous.

Rāmānuja while interpreting Chapter XV.17 claims that there are three separate entities such as kṣara, akṣara and Purūṣottama (the Highest Person). He writes, “the highest person is other than the bound and the freed selves constitute an entirely different entity.” But it appears that they are not separate entities. All these are one puruṣa. It is like trinity or trividhā. These are three, we make distinctions but they are not three separate or different entities. But Rāmānuja is interpreting in this way, since his philosophy is Viśiṣtādvaitic he has to make the three distinct entities in the text of the Bhagavad-gītā to read his philosophy in it.

Footnotes and references:


Such as Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Boundless mercifulness as in ‘Ocean of Mercy’, Valour, Love, Infinity, Compassion, Eternality, Lordship, Potency, Energy, Limitless Perfection, Beauty, Fragrance, All–Pervadingness, Unlimitedness, Countlessness, Flawlessness Knowledge and Bliss and so on and so on. It stands antagonistic to all that is Evil.


Sampatkumaran, M. R: ‘The Gita Bhasya of Ramanuja’, page-353.






Ibid, page- 396.


Ibid, page- 417.


Datta & Chatterjee (1984): An Introduction to Indian Philosophy, Culcutta University Press, 48, Hazra Road, Culcutta-19, page-417.


Vyas, R (1977): The Bhagavata Bhakti Cult and Three Advaita Acharyas: Sankara, Ramanuja and Vallabha, Nag Publishers, 8A/U.A 3, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi-10077, page-116.




na tevāhaṃ jātu nāsam na tvaṃ neme janādhipāḥ/
na caiva na bhavisyamaḥ sarva vayamataḥ param


asya devatiryaṅmanuṣyasthāvarātmanā prakṛtisaṃsargeṇa vartamānasya lokasya devādyasādhāraṇaṃ kartṛtvaṃ tattadasādhāraṇāni karmāṇi tattatkarmajanyadevādiphalasaṃyogaṃ ca, ayaṃ prabhuḥ akarmavaśyaḥ svābhāvikasvarūpeṇāvasthita ātmā na sṛjati notpādayati / kas tarhi? svabhāvas tu pravartate/ svabhāvaḥ prakṛtivāsanā/ anādikālapravṛttapūrvapūrvakarmajanitadevādyākāraprakṛtisaṃsargakṛtatattadātmābhimānajanitavāsanākṛtam īdṛśaṃ kartṛtvādikaṃ sarvam; na svarūpaprayuktam ityarthaḥ//


dharmayuddhe śarīraṃ tyajatāṃ tyaktaśarīrād adhikatarakalyāṇaśarīragrahaṇaṃ śāstrād avagamyata iti jīrṇāni vāsāṃsi vihāya navāni kalyāṇāni vāsāṃsi gṛhṇatām iva harṣanimittam evātropalabhyate//


avināśi tu tadviddhi yena sarvamidam tatam/
vināśam avyayasya asya na kaśchit kartum arhati//


asataḥ dehasya sadbhāvo na vidyate/ sataś cātmano nāsadbhāvaḥ/ ubhayoḥ dehātmanor upalabhyamānayor yathopalabdhi tattvadarśibhir anto dṛṣṭaḥ nirṇayāntatvān nirūpaṇasya nirṇaya iha antaśabdenocyate//


vināśasvabhāve hi asattvam, avināśasvabhāvaśca sattvam /


sad asac cāham


sad yad vartate, asad yad atītam anāgataṃ ca…


na sat nāsad ucyate


kāryakāraṇarūpāvasthādvayarahitatayā sadasacchabdābhyām ātmasvarūpaṃ na ucyate/


kāryāvasthāyāṃ hi devādināmarūpabhāktvena sad iti ucyate, tadanarhatayā kāraṇāvasthāyām asad iti ucyate/
tathā ca śrutiḥ—-‘asadvā idamagra āsīt /
tato vai sadjāyata/’ (Tai. U. 2.7.1), ‘taddhedaṃ tarhyavyākṛtamāsīt tannāmarūpābhyāmeva vyākriyate’ (Bṛ. U. 1.4.7) ityādikā /


kāyakāraṇāvasthādvayānvayaḥ tu ātmanaḥ karmarūpāvidyāveṣṭanakṛtaḥ, na svarūpataḥ, iti sadasacchbdābhyām ātmarūpaṃ na ucyate/


utpannasya vināśo dhruvaḥ avarjanīya upalabhyate /
tathā vinaṣṭasya api janma avarjanīyam /


katham idam upalabhyate vinaṣṭasya utpattiḥ iti /


utpattivināśādayaḥ sato dravyasya avasthāviśeṣāḥ…utpattyākhyām avasthām upayātasya dravyasya tadvirodhyavasthāntaraprāptiḥ vināśa iti ucyate … pariṇāmidravyasya pariṇāmaparamparā avarjanīyā / tatra pūrvāvasthasya dravyasya uttarāvasthāprāptiḥ vināśaḥ; sā eva tadavasthasya utpattiḥ /


manuṣyādīni bhūtāni santy eva dravyāṇi anupalabdhapūrvāvasthāni upalabdhamanuṣyatvādimadhyamāvasthāni anupalabdhottarāvasthāni sveṣu svabhāveṣu vartanta iti na tatra paridevanānimittam asti //


āścaryavat paśyati kaścidenam āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ/
āścaryavat caiman anyaḥ śr̥noti śrūtvāpyenam veda na caiva kaścit//


bhūmi āpaḥ analaḥ vāyuḥ kham manaḥ buddhiḥ eva ca/
ahaṃkāraḥ iti īyam me bhinna prakṛtiḥ aṣtadhā//
aparā īyam ītaḥ tu anyām prakṛtim viddhi me parām/
jīvabhūtām mahābāho yayā īdam dhāyate jagat//


mataḥ parataram na anyata kinchit asti dhananjaya/
mayi sarvamidam protram sutre maṇigaṇāḥ eva//


ataḥsarvasya paramapuruṣaśarīratvena ātmabhūtaparamapuruṣaprakārarvāt sarvaprakāraḥ paramapuruṣa eva avasthita iti sarvaiś śabdais tasya eva abhidhānam iti tat tat sāmānādhikaraṇyena āharaso 'ham iti caturbhī


ete sarve vilakṣaṇā bhāvā matta evotpannāḥ, maccheṣabhūtāḥ maccharīratayā mayy evāvasthitāḥ; atas tattatprakāro 'ham evāvasthitaḥ//


devamanuṣyādisarvakṣetreṣu veditṛtvākāraṃ kṣetrajñaṃ ca māṃ viddhimadātmakaṃ viddhi/ kṣetrajñaṃ cāpīti apiśabdāt kṣetram api māṃ viddhīty uktam iti gamyate/ yathākṣetraṃ kṣetrajñaviśeṣaṇataikasvabhāvatayātadapṛthaksiddheḥ tatsāmānādhikaraṇyenaiva nirdeśyam, tathākṣetraṃ kṣetrajñaṃ ca madviśeṣaṇataikasvabhāvatayāmadapṛthaksiddheḥ matsāmānādhikaraṇyenaiva nirdeśyau viddhi//


amānitvādibhiḥ sādhanaiḥ jñeyaṃ prāpyaṃ yat pratyagātmasvarūpaṃ tat pravakṣyāmi, yaj jñātvā janmajarāmaraṇādiprākṛtadharmarahitam amṛtam ātmānaṃ prāpnoti; ādir yasya na vidyate, tad anādi; asya hi pratyagātmana utpattir na vidyate; tata evānto na vidyate/


brahma bṛhattvaguṇayogi, śarīrāder arthāntarabhūtam, svataḥśarīrādibhiḥ paricchedarahitaṃ kṣetrajñatattvam ityarthaḥ …śarīraparicchinnatvam aṇutvaṃ cāsya karmakṛtam / karmabandhān muktasyānantyam / ātmany api brahmaśabdaḥ prayujyate /…na sat tan nāsad ucyate kāryakāraṇarūpāvasthādvayarahitatayā sadasacchabdābhyām ātmasavarūpaṃ nocyate / kāryāvasthāyāṃ hi devādināmarūpabhāktvena sad ity ucyate, tadanarhatā kāraṇāvasthāyām asad ity ucyate /… kāryakāraṇāvasthādvayānvayas tv ātmanaḥ karmarūpāvidyāveṣṭanakṛtaḥ, na svarūpakṛta iti sadasacchabdābhyām ātmasvarūpaṃ nocyate /


vināśasvabhāve hi asattvam, avināśasvabhāvaśca sattvam/


sad asac cāham


sad yad vartate, asad yad atītam anāgataṃ ca…


sarvataḥ pāṇipādaṃ tat pariśuddhātmasvarūpaṃ sarvataḥ pāṇipādakāryaśaktam, tathā sarvato’ kṣiśiromukhaṃ sarvataś śrutimat sarvataś cakṣurādikāryakṛt … loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati loke yad vastujātaṃ tat sarvaṃ vyāpya tiṣṭhati, pariśuddhasvarūpaṃ deśādiparicchedarahitatayā sarvagatam ityarthaḥ //


sarvendriyaguṇābhāsam sarvendriyaguṇair ābhāso yasya tat sarvendriyābhāsam / indriyaguṇā indriyavṛttayaḥ / indriyavṛttibhir api viṣayān jñatuṃ samartham ityarthaḥ / svabhāvatas sarvendriyavivarjitam vinaivendriyavṛttibhiḥ svata eva sarvaṃ jānātītyarthaḥ / asaktam svabhāvato devādidehasaṅgarahitam, sarvabhṛc caiva devādisarvadehabharaṇasamarthaṃ ca; … nirguṇam tathā svabhāvatas sattvādiguṇarahitam / guṇabhoktṛ ca sattvādīnāṃ guṇānāṃ bhogasamarthaṃ ca //


kāryaṃ śarīram; kāraṇāni jñānakarmātmakāni samanaskānīndriyāṇi/ teṣāṃ kriyākāritve puruṣādhiṣṭhitā prakṛtir eva hetuḥ;puruṣādhiṣṭhitakṣetrākārapariṇataprakṛtyāśrayāḥ bhogasādhanabhūtāḥ kriyā ityarthaḥ/ puruṣasyādhiṣṭhātṛtvam eva; …śarīrādhiṣṭhānaprayatnahetutvam eva hi puruṣasya kartṛtvam/ prakṛtisaṃsṛṣṭaḥ puruṣaḥ sukhaduḥkhānāṃ bhoktṛtve hetuḥ, sukhaduḥkhānubhavāśraya ityarthaḥ//


guṇaśabdaḥsvakāryeṣv aupacārikaḥ /
svatas svānubhavaikasukhaḥ puruṣaḥ prakṛtisthaḥ prakṛtisaṃsṛṣṭaḥ, prakṛtijān guṇān prakṛtisaṃsargopādhikān sattvādiguṇakāryabhūtān sukhaduḥkhādīn, bhuṅkte anubhavati /


pūrvapūrvaprakṛtipariṇāmarūpadevamanuṣyādiyoniviśeṣeṣu sthito’yaṃ puruṣas tattadyoniprayuktasattvādiguṇamayeṣu sukhaduḥkhādiṣu saktaḥ tatsādhanabhūteṣu puṇyapāpakarmasu pravartate; tatas tatpuṇyapāpaphalānubhavāya sadasadyoniṣu sādhvasādhuṣu yoniṣu jāyate; tataś ca karmārabhate; tato jāyate; yāvad amānitvādikān ātmaprāptisādhanabhūtān guṇān sevate, tāvad eva saṃsarati / tad idam uktaṃ kāraṇaṃ guṇasaṅgo 'sya sadasadyonijanmasu iti //


asmin dehe 'vasthito 'yaṃ puruṣo dehapravṛttyanuguṇasaṅkalpādirūpeṇa dehasyopadraṣṭā anumantā ca bhavati / tathā dehasya bhartā ca bhavati; tathā dehapravṛttijanitasukhaduḥkhayor bhoktā ca bhavati / evaṃ dehaniyamanena, dehabharaṇena, dehaśeṣitvena ca dehendriyamanāṃsi prati maheśvaro bhavati / tathā ca vakṣyate, "śarīraṃ yad avāpnoti yac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥ / gṛhītvaitāni saṃyāti vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt // " iti / asmin dehe dehendriyamanāṃsi prati paramātmeti cāpy uktaḥ / dehe manasi ca ātmaśabdo 'nantaram eva prayujyate, "dhyānenātmani paśyanti kecid ātmānam ātmanā" iti; apiśabdān maheśvara ity apy ukta iti gamyate; puruṣaḥ paraḥ "anādi matparam" ityādinokto 'paricchinnajñānaśaktir ayaṃ puruṣo 'nādiprakṛtisaṃbandhakṛtaguṇasaṅgād etad dehamātramaheśvaro dehamātraparamātmā ca bhavati /


enam uktasvabhāvaṃ puruṣam, uktasvabhāvāṃ ca prakṛtiṃ vakṣyamāṇasvabhāvayuktaiḥ sattvādibhir guṇaiḥ saha, yo vetti yathāvad vivekena jānāti, sa sarvathā devamanuṣyādideheṣv atimātrakliṣṭaprakāreṇa vartamāno 'pi, na bhūyo 'bhijāyate na bhūyaḥ prakṛtyā saṃsargam arhati, aparicchinnajñānalakaṣaṇam apahatapāpmānam ātmānaṃ taddehāvasānasamaye prāpnotītyarthaḥ //


atra ca brahmaśabdanirdiṣṭaṃ prakṛtipariṇāmarūpaṃ śarīram / …brahmaśabdena prakṛtinirdiṣṭā / … ataḥ karma brahmodbhavam iti prakṛtipariṇāmarūpaśarīrodbhavaṃ karmetyuktaṃ bhavati/


karmabrahmodbhavam viddhi/


Suvirūḍmulam means intertwined roots which are downward roots of the Asvattha. Since Asvattha is karmavṛkṣa, its upward root is Brahman and it is not possible to cut off, but only the downward root i.e. suvirūḍmulam is to be cut off from the saṃsāravṛkṣa.

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