The Philosophical Theology of Sankara and Ramanuja
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
You have to kind of come down on some basic interpretation of it, so we have chosen, this class, to do kind of the standard interpretation of the Upanishads and that is that of Sankara. We closed the last period by highlighting some of the great statements made about Sankara. He's been called one of the great magnitudes of philosophical and theological history. He's been called one of the great metaphysical tendencies in the history of human thought – not just Indian thought, but the history of human thought. He's been called India's greatest philosopher and the pinnacle of India's philosophical contribution to the world Ramanuja will call him one steeped in darkness who doesn't know how to utter a true statement. But Sankara is widely regarded as a great philosopher and I think represents what I call the Platonic tendency in Eastern thought. Ramanuja will definitely be the Aristotelian emphasis on particulars.
Just to refresh our memory on some of the main points. And I have lecture 14, which in the past we have kind of ploughed through in a lot of detail, but most of it we've already discussed. So I'm going to just kind of go through it briefly to remind you of Sankara's interpretation of monism grows out of his understanding of tat twam asi which essentially identifies the essence of humanity with the essence of the universe. So the distinction between enjoyers and objects of enjoyment does not exist. So he wants to erase subject/object dichotomy and instead identify that everything is Brahman. We're going to see how Ramanuja basically accepts this but with a lot of qualifications of what this means in the second sentence. But all must either be identified with Brahman or dismissed as ultimately unreal. So he wants to create a situation where the entire world is an illusory Maya state and the only thing that is identical with Brahman is atman.
He deals with the whole quality of Brahman issue by focusing on the nirguna/saguna distinction which is absolutely critical to the whole Advaitic position. Everything in the Upanishads that talks about Brahman with qualities or attributes he use as his hermeneutical technique that must be referring to Isvara. This is saguna Brahman. Sankara follows a very rigorous monism – or rigorous non-dualism – in the sense that he's not going to accept any statements that show qualities or attributes of Brahman. If whenever Brahman is worshipped with forms and qualities or, I'm quoting him now, it's spoken of as if it were embodied. This is only because of ignorance. So therefore, in light of all of our discussion of popular Hinduism, and all of the avatars of Vishnu and so forth, all of that discussion of god being embodied has to be at the level of saguna which must be relegated ultimately to illusory – less than real capital "R". And therefore it ultimately will fail you. It ultimately has no ability to help you achieve a moksa. The only hope is proper knowledge. So, he definitely responds to all the conflicting texts in the Upanishads by creating these two levels of Brahman.
He uses his text, one of the texts that we quoted in Svetasvatara Upanishad in our great Mahavakya passages. There are two forms of Brahman. The form and the formless, the mortal and the immortal, the unmoving, the moving, the actual and the true being which he interprets as being nirguna/saguna. Ramanuja, we'll see later, interprets this as manifested/unmanifested. He interprets it a bit differently than Sankara does.
Then I thought I would just expose you ... you do not need to know these quotes, but I thought it would be helpful just to expose you to a little bit of some of Sankara's actual writing – to give you a little feel for kind of his argumentation. He's such a classic Middle Ages thinker. Ramanuja as well. They both think very much like the great philosophers of this time period of thought and they argue along these terms. And this is typical of what Sankara might say in his ... in this case this comes from his Brahmasutra Bhashya – his commentary on the Brahmasutras. When a man is asked: "Where do you have pain?" he points to the locus where the body is burned or cut and not to the perceiver, saying: "I have pain in the head or in the chest or in the stomach." If pain or the cause of pain, such as burning and cutting were located in the perceiver, he would point to the perceiver as the locus of pain.
OK, this is Sankara trying desperately to distinguish between the experience of the world and the atman, the "I". So when someone says: "I am in pain. My head hurts." – they don't point to their atman. So the word "I" is being used in some secondary sense. "I have pain" is actually saying my head is hurting, my stomach is hurting, or whatever. It's very interesting how Sankara and Ramanuja will reinterpret how we use the word "I". It's very, very important in not only Hindu philosophy, but Buddhist philosophy. And I'm convinced very strongly that both Sankara and Ramanuja are largely preoccupied with debates about the "I" because of Buddhism. Buddhism is a really remarkable movement. We haven't obviously developed in this class, but Buddhism is probably sustained the most powerful blow to Hinduism that Hinduism has yet to absorb. Christianity will ultimately be the final shattering blow to Hinduism. But we've been unable to actually get our fist in the proper position to drop the blow and so it hasn't yet happened. But, Buddhism was able to formulate a very powerful critique of Hinduism that really Hinduism is still reeling from.
And so Sankara is extremely preoccupied in his writings with the fact that he's not a ... proving that he's not a Buddhist. He's very, very upset people might call him a Buddhist. If you want to get an Advaitic person upset, say to him: "You're a Buddhist. I know you are. You really believe in the annihilation of the self." Ooh. This really gets them in a raw.
So Sankara is trying to deal a lot with this how we use the word "I". Listen to this quote of his. A man possessed by nescience – this means ignorance – avija – being differentiated by body, etc, think that his atman is connected with things desirable and undesirable. This is the basic problem that we've already looked at of the Upanishadic vision – before you get to the point of tat twam asi, aham Brahman and all that, is that you are connecting your "I", your self, with various associations with your body and your experience. But the scripture gradually removes his ignorance concerning this matter and uproots nescience which is the view that atman is different from Brahman. Because this is just standard stuff we've already looked at – that the root of ignorance is saying that you're at... I have an "I" which is other than Brahman. He says this typically – and this is typical ??? of all of Sankara. He says this by way of negation, but essentially anescience is the view that atman is separate from Brahman and therefore true knowledge is the association of atman with Brahman which is tat twam asi. So all of this is kind of standardised by Sankara.
And I don't really believe that the Hinduism, Hindu philosophy, as we know it today, was really properly articulated in the way that it's today done until the 8th century AD. So it's a long time before we get this kind of crystal clear nirguna/saguna and all of that tat twam asi interpretation along these lines. It doesn't actually occur until Sankara. It actually burns more dramatic after Sankara because I think his followers tended to take it even farther and even more emphasise the unreality of the world.
I had this problem with my dissertation. I had this problem with my book. Some of those who were critical of my dissertation book were critical because they felt like I was too easy on Sankara – and I did not emphasise as much as I should have the fact that the Advaitans teach the world's unreal. And what everybody who knows will tell you that in fact it is not Sankara who does this. It is Sankarites. It's just like, in my opinion, what happened with Calvin. I mean, you say Calvinism, you haven't always said Calvin. I mean, you say Calvin and you talk about the Synod of Dort, there's a migration that goes on. And maybe it's true to the spirit of Calvin, but maybe it's not. But these are two different realities. And so you have to be very, very careful about how we define what is being said by Calvin and what's being said by the followers of Calvin; what's said by Sankara, what's said by the followers of Sankara. So, these are some of the issues that you have to dealt with.
The only thing I ... on the handout which I haven't mentioned at this point is neti-neti. Did we discuss this in the original lecture on the Upanishadic vision – neti-neti? This is a very classic statement. It means just what I have here as a translation. This is a Sanskrit expression which means not this – neti-neti – not this, not this. It comes from the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, section 2, chapter 3, verse 6. And essentially, what happens in that passage is the inquiring student presses the teacher about Brahman's attributes. And the teacher says to him: "Neti-neit." OK, this is really important. This comes up a lot in the literature because it is a nice little summary statement. In many ways it's like a Mahavakya. It's a great utterance – neti-neti – because it summarises the overall position of the Advaitans – that you cannot say anything about Brahman with certainty. And so, if you say: "God is love." Well, neti-neti – not this, not this – you can't make those ??? "God is just." Neti-neti. They always respond with neti-neti. And so, when you're discussing with Adviatans or they're in their discourses they'll often will use the expression neti-neti. Yes.
Question: Unless you say god is truth, consciousness, bliss?
If you Brahman is sat cit ananda, that's fine as long as those are indicators of Brahman. They're viewed as indicators, not necessarily as attributes or qualities of Brahman. I mean, it may be a fine distinction but ... I mean, one of the problems is that if you say neti-neti to everything, the philosophical weakness of it is that you could be interpreted to say that this is just nothing more than a great void. I mean, if you can't say anything about something, then it can be nothing – which the Buddhists say it is. See Buddhists say: "It's nirvana – nothingness." It's shunyata they call it. So shunyata is nothingness. The last thing that Sankara will accept is that Brahman is nothingness. And so the sat cit ananda stuff kind of helps create some way of contrasting their position with the Buddhist. It's very, very difficult.
Actually quoting the phrase – the absolute is reality, knowledge, infinity. This is a slight variation of sat cit ananda. I mean, this would go into another whole thing, but actually, when Sankara was writing, that particular Upanishad was not well known. We're not absolutely sure that Sankara was aware of that particular Upanishad where it says sat cit ananda. That's a little side thing. If that troubles you, then forget it. But it was in the literature, the discussion that Brahman is sat cit anantwi – it means infinity. This later migrates to this other thing of bliss. That's a long kind of discourse. Anyway, in one of his writings, the Brahmasutra Bhashya, he says: "The absolute is reality, knowledge, infinity." This is referring to that earlier kind of phrase. "It is the absolute that has been defined because the absolute is being presented as the primary thing that one has to know. Therefore the reason why the words reality, knowledge and infinity – we say sat cit ananda – are set in the same grammatical case as the word for the absolute and in apposition with it is that they represent the characteristics by which it is to be defined. Now that is the most strongest statement he makes that seems to indicate the closest thing to some kind of definition of Brahman. But he doesn't say definition. He says this is a characterisation. This is indication. He uses kind of that whole thing.
He makes the example of if you want to distinguish for example, a blue lotus from a red lotus, then you use expressions like blue lotus to distinction from a red lotus. So these are things that distinguish in by way of negation that everything that is not this is denied. So it's that kind of apathetic boundaries essentially is how he deals with this.
OK. Let's move on to the Maya which we've also discussed quite a bit. If Brahman is the only reality there is, then how do we account for the seemingly obvious plurality of the universe. That, of course, is the key problem. I want you to think about this question, because this is actually a question that you should be able to answer. How does Sankara respond to this question? How does Ramanuja respond to this question – because essentially both Sankara and Ramanuja are seeking to answer this question.
Sankara answers it with the doctrine of Maya. We've examined that already. So Brahman is the only reality. Atman is identified with Brahman. And everything else is Maya. Everything else is this lower level of ??? – neither real nor unreal, in this less than real state. Maya has been called the key concept around which his, that is, Sankara's, entire system revolves. And that is an understatement. It's very, very important to Sankara – his understanding of Maya. So, Maya for Sankara is a way to deal with all of the potential problems of differentiation, of particularity, all the things that we see – we come to Maya.
We've already discussed Sankara's famous categories of metaphors. I'll just remind you of that whole discussion. That's exactly a discussion that flows out ... I mean, he doesn't actually this line of argumentation in his writings, but that he definitely draws upon metaphors from all three of these categories. This has been a later analysis of Sankara and I used it to demonstrate the hermeneutical technique of Indian. But you remember how I told you, rather than speaking about something directly, they speak indirectly by looking at stars around the mystery and they point to it. This is the arundhati hermeneutic. You remember that? We discussed that? OK. So in the same way, whenever he's discussing Maya, this is where the Sankarites took off and they took one of these metaphors and they began to propagate it in the West. So most Western textbooks make the mistake of taking the subjective delusion metaphors and assuming that that's Maya. And there's plenty of Sankarite quotes to back it up. But see, Maya is here. Maya is not here. And so you have to actually take into account all of his metaphors to grasp the mystery of Maya. And we spent a good bit of time exploring that when we looked at the concept of Maya, and I pretty much kind of toed the Sankarite line at that point because that's the starting point for any discussion of Hindu philosophy. OK, so there's point in re... going through that.
Moksa therefore is the breaking of ignorance. It is the liberation from the effects of karma. So, Sankara is very much focused on the whole jnana – the priority of knowledge. And moksa is breaking the ignorance – so that thinks that we're attached to the world in some way. And Maya is the liberation from the effects of karma. And he this famous saying of Sankara even included here in transliteration from the Sanskrit – Brahma satyam jagan mithya jeevo Brahmaiva na aparah. Brahman is real. You can see the satyam – Brahman is reality. The world is unreality – jeevo's the person, the individual, is not different from Brahman. And that really summarises in that little phrase – that's again a kind of a little Mahavakya in a way. But this is a summary of Sankara. If properly understood: Brahman is real, the world is unreal, the individual is not different from Brahman. To be technically accurate, you should read this as: Brahman is real (capital "R"), the world is not real (capital "R") – to keep you from reading this as total allusion. But essentially, this is the way it's often translated and this leads to some of the misunderstandings of it. But essentially Sankara, this is his phrase. Brahman is real (capital "R"), the world is not real, the individual is non-different from Brahman, referring to the atman, the locus of the "I".
So for Sankara, going back to our three points of tension that we looked at throughout the course in our three margas on the chart, if you remember the famous chart that we keep coming back to which gives us our overall structure, this is the way Sankara's going to view it. Works and devotion are only valuable if they lead to true knowledge. And I'll even add that once you come to true knowledge, this does not serve as a foundation point. It's not like a foundation you build on to get to this. Once you achieve true knowledge with Sankara, this passes away. This drops off. And so he doesn't actually value this as an ongoing reality, but as something that will simply help you in your rebirth to be born as a Brahmin.
That was a very brief, but hopefully we ... because of time, I don't want to spend a lot of time rehashing through Sankara, and that's been kind of our default throughout the course. So, what I really want to do is focus on how Ramanuja is different from Sankara. But any questions to clarify Sankara or any of the basic Upanishadic vision. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to clarify if that needs to be done. Yes.
Question: I'm just curious that you said that Christianity could ??? you know ??? blow to Hinduism but we had to take advantage and find the right spot.
Well, I'm actually speaking more historically than I am methodologically. I mean, I think that obviously that in the cross and the resurrection of Christ the decisive blow has been delivered. So, I don't really see that we have anything that we can do. I mean, what needs to be done's already been done. The question is: How is the reality ... the inbreaking of the kingdom, how can that be known in a way that the Hindus recognise that their system is simply a house of cards built upon itself with no foundation? And I think that has not been well communicated. And a lot of it's because Hindus, as a rule, have so many associations with Western culture and various things with Christianity, they haven't actually been able to hear the gospel properly and we haven't done a very good job of actually creating the proper discourse in their languages so there's been communicated in their own language.
So there's a lot of layers of problems that we're trying to address, but the most important being that we're training north Indians to plant church among north Indians. That's the best way. Because, as Andrew Walls beautifully says in his book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, his second collection of his writings, he says: The sign of the church is not a converted individual but a worshipping community. I really think that the church in India has never actually realised that point. We have been spending 2000 years trying to save individuals in India out of Hinduism. But we've never really seen the importance of creating believing communities that can transform the society and live out what does it mean to be a member of the body of Christ in a Hindu, predominantly Hindu, society. And that's what we're starting to see happen, little by little. Yes.
Question: You're statement about Hinduism being a house of cards raises in my mind the question of why someone like CS Lewis would hold it in such high regard.
Well, let me just clarify what CS Lewis says, and I don't mean ... maybe the house of cards analogy shouldn't be taken as a wipe-out of my entire course. I hope that I have demonstrated over the whole course of this, hours and hours of lectures on this, that I take this very seriously – and that I respect that the Hindu worldview is internally consistent within itself. My real point was saying: It just has no proper ontological foundation in my view. Therefore, what CS Lewis said about his comment about Hindu... if he wasn't a Christian, he'd be a Hindu was simply to affirm the fact that he acknowledged that Hinduism had a coherent structure once you accept their presuppositions. If you ??? the presuppositions then OK you can build from there. But their presuppositions are in error. Of course, if CS Lewis was not totally convinced of the Christian faith, he would abandon it. And so he was a committed Christian, not Hindu. But he was simply acknowledging the fact that this is a well-thought out system. It's not just something you can dismiss. I think that's basically all he's saying. Did you have a question? I'm sorry, I forgot to ...
Question: What is ashram?
Ahh. Ashram. I'm sorry. We did not mention that, did we? Or mutha. Yeah, it's pronounced like mut, like a dog that's ahh that's like mut. Ashram refers to the ... what happened was ... when the Hindu philosophers, they didn't just teach in like seminaries. This is a big ... from the second notion. We think about Western philosophers who are writing in some university in an endowed chair writing books. But these are actually men that start communities of followers that live together which is called an ashram. Ashram is a community of devotees and saints that live together. Gandhi started an ashram. There are many, many Hindus over the centuries that started ashrams. So the ashram represents more of kind of like the disciple/guru community where they just live together.
A matha is much more than that. A matha is a bit closer to what we would call a seminary. A matha ??? be a place where you actually train people in your philosophical thought. It's much more of a formalised ... even though they all live there. I mean, it's a community too. A matha is simply an advanced ashram. It's not that you take away the ashram aspect, but it's a much more advanced place where you actually promulgate the philosophy and you focus on explicit teaching, formalised teaching on, much like we're doing here. Sankara and Ramanuja both established at least four mathas, where they would establish these to promulgate their teaching. And this is partly how their teaching became so widely known and embraced around the world – or at least around India. Yes.
How do you spell it?
I'm sorry. It's on the handout. It's m-a-t-h is the singular. The plural's m-a-t-h-a. It's just pronounced a – mut. It's like ... everybody says bhukti but it's actually bhakti. People say Bhukti Hinduism – it's actually ... it's a ah. Interesting thing about Sanskrit – it is not an alphabet. Have they taught you that yet in your ... are you still doing Sanskrit class? I mean, are you taking Hindi class? Have they told you it's not an alphabet yet?
Response: I figured that out.
You figured it out the first day, OK. It isn't the same as just learning letters in alphabet, because you actually have what's called a syllabury – which means you actually have ... and this is so insightful in Hinduism ... every letter is a vocalised letter. So rather than a, b, c, d – ah, bah, cah. It's like that. But in Hinduism every consonant has a default ah sound attached to it. So you cannot have – OK Jeff I'll give you a test here. What letter is this?
Response: it's the lah sound.
Ah. You see, he didn't say l, he went lah. If you don't do anything that's lah. If you want a long a you do that. It's laah. If you want to say lee, you put that. That's lee. If you want to say lah, you put that – lah. There's all kinds of ways you can put vowels on it, but that consonant is not just a ... like our letter l. It's always a lah. And so it effects the way everything ... That's why when you're listening to Sanskrit it sounds so musical because ah ah ah ah ah is constantly in there. It creates like a .... You passed. I'm sure you learned that the first day, so I'm sure you're much more advanced than that. Anyway.
Question: Are you going to comment on the sacred thread?
I mentioned that last time. The sacred thread is part of the investiture of the ... I forgot again to bring it into the class. I apologise. I have one in my office. You'll probably be disappointed if I bring it in. It's just a dirty ... string. But anyway it's ... when you become a certain age, you take on the ... it's like a Bar Mitzvah for a Jew ... you take on the associations and the responsibilities of being a Brahmin male and they invest you with the sacred cord. And so it's just a sign of a Brahmin. In some parts of India it can be worn by all high caste – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya – but that's actually not proper. I mean, technically it's only the Brahmin males that wear it.
And you also have certain reform movements that refuse to wear it. In fact, one of the big dividing points in the Brahmo Samaj, which is a 19th century reform movement, was debate about whether you should cast off the sacred thread or not. So, if you're a Brahmin that believes in the reform of the caste that we want to ... you know, we don't like being known as dominant and crushing people and we want to care for the Dalits and all that. The way you show that is to publicly cast off your cord to show, you know, I'm just one of you, kind of thing. So there's many dramatic examples in history of people ... they'll say cast off the sacred thread. It's a symbolic way of saying, you know, I'm just one of you and all that. It happens at various points in history. So the term sacred thread is a term you should know.
OK, moving on to Ramanuja. Ramanuja occurs much later than Sankara. So the time Ramanuja comes around, we have very developed Sankarite thought which is known as Advaitism. And Ramanuja writes a number of famous commentaries – his Sri Bhashya, his Brahmasutra Bhashya. The word Bhashya – this is their word for commentary. The Brahmasutra you already know about from our early part of the class. This is the writings of the philosophers – early Brahmins about the Brahmananas. Sri Bhashya – this is the lord's commentary, the master's commentary – things like that. These are two of his. You don't need to know these commentaries, but they're two of his more famous ones.
And it's from these writings primarily, though I quote a few others, that I get Ramanuja's thinking. His system is not known as Advaita. We've talked a lot about Vedanta. Vedanta is actually divided into three major schools of thought. Vedanta, of course, is that part of the philosophy, the six schools on your chart. You'll see that the sixth school of philosophy is Vedanta. What does the word Vedanta mean?
Response: End of the Vedas.
End of the Vedas. And what is the end of the Vedas?
Response: The Upanishads.
The Upanishads. So these philosophical schools that focus on the Upanishads are known as Vedanta. People often, incorrectly, when they say Vedanta, begin to blab on about Advaita. And you'll often find, even textbooks will equate Advaita with Vedanta. But actually Advaita's one school of Vedanta. Vedanta is the main category and then you have three major schools underneath it. You have the Advaita which is this one. This is Sankara – what we've been looking at so far. It's ??? by Sankara. And then you have the Visistadvaita which is the Ramanuja, which we'll look at. And then you have a form of dualism which is by a guy named Madhva – which we have not discussed and will not discuss in this class. He is not one of the things that we will have time to deal with. He's a third school and it's a school that rejects the whole conception of monism. But it is a later development. It has influences outside of India. And I don't think it's actually true to the Upanishadic vision. So, we haven't really discussed this dualistic school of Madhva. We have discussed this quite a bit. And now we're to briefly begin to develop the Ramanuja school. So, Vedanta, the main thing to know is Vedanta is the umbrella. And you have various sub-schools within it.
We've looked at Sankara and he is the Plato. Ramanuja is the Aristotle. His view is called Visistadvaita. This is the word for two – dwa. So it has the privative a in front of it, just the way we use like words like atheism. This means not. Not two – non-dualism. OK, you have the same thing here with Ramanuja. You have ... he continues to word Advaita, but he adds the prefix to it Visista – which means modified. Modified non-dualism. So essentially, Ramanuja is going to accept the basic Advaitic principle of Sankara, but he's going to modify it. And that modification is extremely important for our study in this class. Non-dualism is still the determining factor for Ramanuja. He is going to fully accept monism. However, he is going to modify it by embracing differentiation and particularity. This is the why I call it Aristotelian thrust. He's going to find a way to reconcile plurality in his monism. Particularity, differentiation – that's very, very important to Ramanuja as we will see.
I want to quote from Ramanuja here. I didn't put this on the overhead, but it's ... I just ... I love Raman... the way they write because they write with such force. Today, we don't write that way. We're always so careful. You know, we're always qualifying everything. We haven't really learned to write the way they wrote. Or they hadn't learned to write the way we write. I don't know how you look at it. But they attacked their opponents with just ... I mean, absolutely all guns blazing. I mention some of the things he said. This is one of he talks about Sankara's inability to embrace differentiation, particularity. He describes Sankara's philosophy as quote – this is actual Ramanuja quote: A fictitious foundation of altogether hollow and vicious arguments from one whose intellect is darkened and has no insight into the meaning of words and sentences. Can you imagine saying that about somebody? I mean, this is not like your typical ETS where, you know, with the greatest respect, you know, my dear colleague, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, this guy .. can you imagine saying, you know: Your intellect is darkened. You don't even know the meaning of words and sentences. I mean, this is not something that ... no one's ever called my arguments hollow and vicious. It's another world.
But the real question that we have to ask, obviously, is how do you reconcile monism, or non-dualism the way they would say it, but I'm using the Western terminology. How do you reconcile monism or non-dualism with Ramanuja's enthusiastic embrace of particulars. That is the real big question. If you can answer that question, then you'll be in great shape.
The way he answers it is to recast what it means to talk about Brahman. What he does is, he argues that Brahman is a personality which comprehends within himself all plurality. This is what he calls monism of the differenced. This is a one essence with internal differentiation. So, if you could look at my body as representing Brahman in his philosophy, he'll take the entire world, he'll take you and the worshippers and idols and everything else and he'll place it inside the body of Brahman. So you have all the particularities of the world are now placed inside of Brahman. So we have only one essence and only one Brahman. Brahman's all there is. But inside Brahman there is the world of particularity. Brahman is the only reality, but the absolute is inclusive of particulars in all their infinite variety. So he affirms that Brahman is the only reality. But he also affirms that the absolute is inclusive, not exclusive.
See Sankara says it's exclusive. The particularities are ultimately relegated to saguna which is illusory. It's Maya. But he's affirming the particulars in all their infinite variety. This is a much warmer, warmer kind of philosophy than we find in Sankara.
Therefore, Ramanuja rejects the nirguna/saguna distinction. Absolutely rejects nirguna/saguna distinction. He says that this is a false dichotomy which is so central to Advaitism. But he sees that the manifold qualities of Brahman are merrily inside of Brahman. All the attributes are united into one absolute.
In this phrase from the Upanishads: In the beginning there was one without a second. I mean, we looked at this particular phrase in the Upanishads as one of our Mahavakyas. OK, Sankara interprets this as a reference to nirguna. In the beginning there was one – Brahman. Without a second – the second would be all the lower saguna realities that are there. So there's only one reality – Brahman. Everything's either identified with Brahman or called illusory or called Maya. OK, he takes the same phrase and interprets it very differently. For Ramanuja, he says: Yeah, this text is true. But rather than dismissing the particulars, all the attributes are united in one absolute. And so they are either in a unmanifested state or manifested state, but all this is occurring inside the body of Brahman.
So, Brahman is going to be identified with Isvara, not separated. Absolute Brahman is Isvara. Whereas Sankara would say that absolute Brahman is not Isvara. That's saguna. Absolute Brahman is only nirguna. You cannot speak of Brahman. Though it's not consistently held in Ramanuja writings, but Sankara never refers to Brahman, to my knowledge offhand, as "he". Only as "it". Or as the absolute or the asanga. He has different terms, but always impersonal terms. Ramanuja will refer to Brahman as "he". And that's a very important difference – whether god is "it" or a "he". Ramanuja's much more infusing personality into the ultimate supreme being in a way that isn't thinkable in the Sankara system.
So, once you abolish the nirguna/saguna distinction and then, of course, you have to ask: Well, what can we know about Brahman? What can we say about Brahman? He's going to open the door for a lot more insight because he equates Isvara with Brahman. He argues that, rather than trying to put a tension between knowledge of god, no other knowledge or statements, as come kind of advedja, some kind of ignorance. Instead, it can actually be true knowledge because there is a subject and there is an object. For Sankara, there is only subject; there is no object. And that is another nice way of summarising Sankara/Ramanuja. For Sankara, he's only concerned with Brahman as subject. Ramanuja's concerned with subject and object. What is the relationship between the ultimate to the worshipper? What is the relationship between the eternal reality with the world? That's very, very important to Ramanuja.
For example, he says: A sentence in the Upanishads, for example, is a combination of words which denote something. Therefore words have meaning. If a child sees a cow, and a child says: There is a cow, it must be identified with some reality, some association, which is manifested as cow or dog or cat or whatever. What he would say is: There's a cow. This cow reflects some kind of qualities – cow-ness, we might call it, I don't know, it's kind of a Platonic way of looking at it. But essentially he's asking: What is the relationship between this idea of cow that Sankara says is all there is, Brahman, this kind of concept and basically Sankara wants to sever the tether between a cow and this idea of cow. I mean, you could say Brahman or the idea of god. But I'm just trying to use a more practical example of this. He's saying: How do you know what cow-ness is like except by looking at a cow? So he's trying to redirect the discussion to say that Sankara's wrong by severing these two. We have to reunite the particulars with the universals, because the only way to understand the universal is to examine the particulars. And so the only way to know what god is like is by understanding the particulars of how god has manifested himself.
Where Sankara's going to say all that's illusory. All that is not going to give us any knowledge about god. I mean, Sankara's only concerned with subject. Ramanuja's concerned with subject and object – how are people who worship god, what can we learn about god from people who worship god. What's the relationship between non-dualism and differentiation? This is the kind of dilemma that Ramanuja's trying to explore. Yes.
Question: Does Ramanuja then do more with the ideas of cosmical homologies?
He's much more positive with that because to me ... that's right, cosmical homology is showing the relationship between the particular and the universal. And that's classic ... I mean, I think we see it consistent with Upanishadic thought. So, yes, he will make a big deal of that.
In fact, part of what people who study both of these writers have argued is that Sankara tends to, when he interprets texts, he looks very narrowly at particular word and he interprets it according to kind of his theological grid. Ramanuja is much more looking at the overall context of the passage. And so he's actually looking at a little broader scope about the Upanishads and what the Upanishad as a whole teaches in certain whole books. So he's much more contextual thinker. And so he's bringing in a lot more of the particulars than Sankara's little more narrow approach.
What Ramanuja essentially comes to is that there are five qualities or attributes which define Brahman. The five defining attributes of Ramanuja's writings are here before you. This is what he calls the divine what-ness, that is, the nature of god is known by this kind of what this ... this is what we call aseity. This is what we know about god in himself – the aseity of Brahman.
Just briefly, he accepts the conception of satya – or the fact that Brahman possesses unconditional being. That distinguishes him from all non-intelligent matter, which is subject to change and alteration.
He also affirms that Brahman is knowledge. This can be cit – he typically will actually focus more on the term jnana which is the term we've already used for knowledge in our own knowledge or even consciousness. Enlightened souls are released from bondage of karma and rebirth can never know true knowledge because we have ... we're bound up by our karma. True karma recognises the reality of god and we reckon our place in it.
He says that god can be known as infinite – ananta. That god is free from all limitations of place, time and so for particular substantial natures and so forth. He distinguishes between the "I" of the worshipper and the "thou" of the absolute. And so, even when he talks about tat twam asi, he says thou art that does not mean thou equals that. And he talks a lot about the relationship of what does it mean to talk about thou art that. In what way do we identify with Brahman. As we'll see later, he argues that this identification is a relation identification, not an identification where we are lost in the absolute. Neti-neti for Ramanuja means there's nothing more exalted than Brahma in nature or in attributes. So you cannot compare god's attributes to human attributes but it does not mean that god is without attributes. He has defined attributes.
He accepts the conception of ananda – bliss. This text in Brahmasutra where he says: Brahman is a being full of bliss. He accepts that in all of his writings.
He talks about Brahman as amalatva – purity. Also can mean stainlessness – without stain.
The main point of this is ... all of this involves serious, lengthy discussions in Ramanuja. But it basically, the idea is that we now have clearly defined attributes which he relates everything to in his writings. So this is a break-through from what we've seen in Sankara. These are defining qualities, defining attributes. Sankara insists that the highest Brahman is nirguna – without qualities. Ramanuja says: No, we can identify defining qualities of Brahman.
Let me just actually give you some texts from Ramanuja to give you a feel for it. He says: Texts which speak of Brahman's quote qualities do not point to a lower level, saguna. They point upward to Brahman's defining qualities. So everything is related to these five qualities, but they're not reduced to saguna.
Now this is really important point here. Brahman can have contact with the world, and even become embodied, without compromising any of his defining attributes. He's going to say: "This is like clay being made into different kinds of pots and vessels and plates and everything else. The clay remains unchanged even though it takes on different shapes and forms." So, he is going to open up the door for popular Bhaktism – popular Hindu worship and so forth.
Let me give you another quote of his. Again, you get a little feel for how Ramanuja writes. Again, you don't need to know this quote. This is from his Sri Bhashya, his commentary I mentioned earlier. "Although ether [this is a term they use for what we'd say air, the outside air]. Although air is separately contained in each one of a number of objects, such as jars and pots, they undergo increase and decrease [because in those days they had clay pots and they got broken all the time or, you know, you could melt them down, heat them up, reshape them, whatever]. It is not in itself touched by their imperfections." He's trying to really fend off Sankara here who says the minute you identify Brahman with particularities, then you have to associate Brahman with karmic imperfections – people's sinfulness, people's karmic indebtedness. So he's saying: No, that's not true.
"Just as the sun, although is seen reflecting a number of bodies of water ??? equal size, is not touched by their increase and decrease." You could have a great ocean of water or you could have a little puddle of water that reflects the sun, but that little puddle could completely evaporate. It wouldn't change the sun. The sun is merely being reflected in this. But we can learn about the sun by looking at this reflection in the water. Likewise, the supreme self, this is in reference to Brahman, though dwelling within various-shaped beings, some material like the earth and others intelligent like ourselves, remains untouched by their imperfections. So, he's trying to demonstrate how Brahman is untouched by karma and yet still allowing for a dynamic relationship between the worshipper and Brahman. And that's obviously very important.
Even in Sankara, I don't think Sankara is free from this potential problem because he still has in the lesser ... When you have the world's collapse and you have the world absorbed back into Brahman, if it isn't one of the great dissolutions, the karmic debtedness is still present latently in Brahman before it's spewed out again. So even Sankara has to wrestle a little bit with this. But Ramanuja, even more so, trying to find ways to bring the presence of god into people's lives. The minute you have god contacting the world, people get worried about well what ... in what way does this ... could this stain god.
This is the whole gnostic problem in the New Testament. If you really accept the incarnation, then you're going to ... in actual embodiment of the eternal God, then that God is going to be stained by His contact with our human sinfulness. This is why you have all these Christological heresies like any Docetic kind of Christology like Monophysitism, which wants to abolish the humanity of Christ. Monophysite – one nature – only divine nature. They're trying to wrestle with this basic problem. Can God have true interaction with the world and remain untouched? That's exactly what Ramanuja is dealing with in these passages in the Sri Bhashya.
He's so ... in terms of Brahman, he argues that Brahman is the efficient and material cause of the universe. Now, this is a little bit tricky because Sankara will say the same thing. But Sankara says: "Yeah, he's the efficient and material, but the material is saguna." But he's actually saying: Brahman is the efficient and material cause of the universe – not with any qualifications. He uses the example of the egg metaphor: that inside an egg you have a ... and what they would say is a snake. It's all curled up, you know, in very small form. The egg breaks open and the snake rolls out of the egg shell. In the same way, the world is unmanifested. It is all wrapped up tightly inside of Brahman. But eventually it breaks out and is manifested. But there's no differentiation between the world's material essence and the essence of Brahman. That's a continuity that Sankara would not accept. So he actually, rather than going for two levels of Brahman – nirguna/saguna – Ramanuja accepts two modes of Brahman – karana Brahma karya Brahma is the way he uses it in the Sanskrit. It simply means the unmanifested Brahman, the manifested Brahman; Brahman hidden, Brahman revealed.
He uses ??? lump of a clay. The lump of clay can take on many forms. Take one lump of clay – we saw this in the Mahavakyas – you can shape it into vessels, cups, pots, whatever, but it doesn't change the clayn-ness. The essence of the clay remains unchanged whether you make it into a pot or to a bowl or to a ball. It doesn't reflect the ... it doesn't change the essence of it. So Brahman is untouched though he has been manifested in various forms and shapes.
Questions or comments about his view of Brahman – some of the differences? Yes.
Question: ??? argument that material cause ???
We can never forget that despite all of Ramanuja's kind of relational development of theism, he is accepting the premise of Adviatism – and that is that there is only one essence in the universe. He's simply saying that the clay pot is made of clay. So he's acknowledging that karmic encrustations, lack of knowledge, lack of works and devotion are all part of this karmic encrustations that need be removed. But see, you have the same problem with Sankara as well because, in Sankara, he can say he's monistic all he wants, but he still has to posit two realities. He has Brahman, you have Maya. So in a sense you have him set up two potential ... he wouldn't say two absolutes, but he has these two realities he has to deal with. It's the same thing with Ramanuja. Even though Ramanuja is trying to break down this, you still have to wrestle with questions about the origin of karma, because they keep claiming the karma comes from the last manifestation. But at some point you have to have an initial manifestation. So, what is the origin of evil? What is the origin of karmic encrustations in the world?
So, yeah, these are potential problems for Ramanuja. But he simply claims that his affirmation of the material consistency between Brahman and the world is not the same as equating Brahman with the karma that's been encrusted in the world. So therefore you could say that Sankara has a problem with ... say, he has Brahma and Maya and Ramanuja still has Brahman and karma. You could say that. That would be a potential ... I mean Madhva eventually exploits all this. If we had time, we could develop Madhva.
Let's see now if we can give you a little more of some of his own sayings on this Maya. Ramanuja rejects the notion that the world is an illusory perception. I don't even think that Sankara fully supports that but certainly Sankara's followers, some of them, did. And Ramanuja definitely rejects the notion that the world is illusory perception. All knowledge is genuine knowledge, even though mistakes occur in the act of cognisance. So he's trying to reassert the power of knowledge. Both mistaken identity and empirically valid perception are related to the objectively real and as such could be called valid perceptions. This is going to really develop a lot the idea of the snake/rope. Now you remember the snake/rope analogy. What ... how did Sankara use snake/rope? What was his application of that in general?
Response: ??? reality ??? perceived may not necessarily be valid.
OK, right. So he's trying to create a tension point between the reality that's perceived and the actual reality that's there. And so it's an analogy to say the world has appearance which is different from what you may perceive. Ramanuja is not going to accept this interpretation of rope/snake because he says: "Wait a minute. How does the person think that it's a snake? On what basis does a person believe that a coil of rope in a darkened tent is a snake? How does he know it looks like a snake?"
He's seen snakes before?
And it has the qualities and attributes of a snake. So there must be some relational ... some connection between the attributes of a rope and the attributes of a snake. OK, he was wrong when he thought it was a snake, but does that mean that the snakes do not exist because there happens to be a rope sitting there? Gee, it could have been a rope. I mean, it could have been a snake. So he begins to raise questions about this. And he says the fact that it is only a rope – this is a definite challenge to Sankara here – the fact that it's only a rope does not invalidate the reality of the snake. So you find Ramanuja is just challenging the whole Sankarite world, saying that you cannot dismiss human knowledge and the reliability of human knowledge.
I developed this point a lot in my book on this whole conception of propositional truth statements. Because once you cannot accept propositional truth statements, then the whole argumentation foundation breaks down. How can Sankara make his arguments? How are we sure that his arguments are not illusory? OK, so he makes the same point. This is Ramanuja. If Sankara is correct, then all perceptions are unreliable, both snake and rope. That's my edition. And there can be no basis for the claim that scriptural statements are authoritative either. That's Ramanuja.
So what he is saying is that, if Sankara is true, then we can't trust ... You walk into this tent at night. You look down and you see a snake. And you don't even realise it's a rope. Well how do you know it's not a rope? How do you know it's not just a curl of electrical wire? How do you know it's even a rope? Maybe you're still being deceived. You thought it was a snake, but it's a rope. But it's actually not a rope, it's an electrical wire. It's not an electrical wire, it's actually some sticks, twined up sticks, or whatever. I mean, there's no end to it. "How can you trust anything?" Ramanuja says. He says: "Sankara is putting a doubt at the very root of our ability to have discourse. And therefore, how can you speak authoritatively about scriptural statements? How can we be accurate about his knowledge of the Upanishads? Maybe the Upanishads are illusory." I mean, he's really banging away here at Sankara's worldview. Yes.
Question: How in the end would ??? Ramanuja define Maya?
He doesn't accept Maya as illusory. He accepts Maya as simply the inability to recognise our dependence on Brahman. That's how he defined Maya. Maya is our inability to see our connection to Brahman, but is not the realisation that we have no reality other than our Atman. He does not accept that.
Question: Does anybody talk about a postmodern thought tied into Sankara – like, hey, there's nothing real; it's only your perceptions?
I mean, I can see Buddhism ??? Sankara would be very upset if he heard you say that, because he would say that you're trying to make him into a Buddhist. He's not trying to say all of this, all that matters is my perception. He is trying to desperately argue for the reality of Brahman as the only reality – a great subject out there. So he has a reference point – and this is CS Lewis' point – he has a reference point to a reality that is not like the Buddhist. You ??? right Joy, that some of the language can sound like he doesn't take seriously the world. And therefore you could not take seriously propositional truths and therefore you're next you've slipped into postmodernism. But I think the foundation is profoundly different. You'll find much more support in the Buddhist camp than the Hindu camp, in my view, for postmodernism.
I can't wait. I wish I had ... we had time to show you some of the statements from Sankara but, I mean, in the Buddhism class we'll definitely look at this, but he really attacks the Buddhist. If you want to get a Sankarite mad, call him a Buddhist.
OK, ignorance for Ramauja ... this is ... this will be the same for his view of Maya. So this will help you Geoffrey. For Maya is our inability to perceive that all of the manifold forms of existence are utterly dependent upon Brahman. So he is actually going to create a possibility for devotion.
Now, let me just give you a little story about Ramanuja. Ramanuja goes through the whole ashram system as a young man. I didn't give you the story of his life, but he has, both these men, have dramatic ... ??? there's a lot of cultural tensions here. Sankara's from Kerala. He's from south-west India. Ramanuja is from Madras – the other side of south India. To this day, there's a tremendous tension between the Tamils and the Malayalis. They all think they have the true India. There's a lot of ... within India a lot of tension between Tamils and Malayalis. So the fact that Sankara's a Malayali and Ramanuja's a Tamil reveals a lot of just the whole insight into the way Indian culture has developed. So you have, you know, Plato on one side of India, Aristotle on the other. And there always in tension with each other.
So one of the things that Ramanuja does is that he, like Sankara, goes through the whole standard system. Everybody has to go through the standard system of becoming a ... recognised as a philosopher. They all write commentaries on the Upanishads. They don't just write their own works. So they go through that very, very carefully. So they're going through the guru system. So they're being taught by gurus that teach them the mantras, the secret mantras. So, once you get into that system, as you get closer and closer to the teacher, you begin to be given more and more secret mantras that only people can know at certain levels of knowledge.
So Ramanuja goes through the same system. Well, finally, after years of study and years of memorising the Upanishads and all this, all the mantras, well he finally gets to the point where he is going to be brought into the presence of his main discipler – who is going whisper in his ear in a closed chamber the most sacred mantra of the whole ... that part of south India. Only probably three people, two or three people, in the entire world know this mantra. And Ramanuja is going to hear it. This is like big day. This is like you're come to your graduation service – like giving you a diploma. They whisper you this mantra. So he goes into the chamber and they whisper this mantra to Ramanuja. OK, he now knows the mantra – the sacred mantra.
He goes out onto the balcony – all these crowds there to celebrate his being invested with this new, you know ... And what does he do? He shouts the mantra down to the whole crowd. OK, this is not making the people happy. This is a very radical thing to do. There are lot of disputes about whether this happened or not, historically. But the followers of Ramanuja say that it happened. And it very well indeed could have happened. Ramanuja was demonstrating, at least symbolically here, that I believe philosophy should be for the people, not for a select group of Brahmans. So his philosophical thrust is finding ways to empower the masses of India with true religious experience. Sankara is about denying everybody's experience. Ramanuja's about empowering everyone's experience.
So the result is Ramanuja develops what's called the body/soul analogy. Now, he's trying to create a metaphor for how Brahman relates to the average worshipper or to the world of worshippers. And he uses the body/soul analogy: we are the body, Brahman is the soul. He is that what animates, invigorates, the entire body just as ... This is a Middle Ages kind of analogy. Brahman ensouls the world by constituting the soul of the world. And all entities constitute the body of Brahman. He is not really using the word body here in the way that we would use the world body. This is the kind of classical use of the word body. You know, an apple has a body. Everything has a body. That which is ensouled is a body in Ramanuja's thinking.
So, what he does is that he develops a whole series of what he calls the defining relationships. And I'll just briefly mention these. You do not need to know these terms, but if you're going to do any further study of Ramanuja, this is absolutely ... We're now getting to the heart of Ramanuja's whole thought. Everything he teaches about god in the world revolves around this so-called body/soul analogy. The whole idea behind this is to demonstrate that the world is in all of us, are in an inextricable union, dependent relationship, with Brahman.
And so he develops three defining relationships. The first is what he calls adhara/adheya which is support and the thing supported. Brahman is the support. We are the things supported. He uses several analogies to make this clear. Let me give you some of these analogies. That would be helpful. He gives the example of, for example, a ring in a person's ear. The person who bears the ring is the ring-bearer. The ring is there by virtue of the ring-bearer. The ring has no meaning apart from the ring-bearer. And therefore the ring is dependent upon the ring-bearer for its existence. It cannot exist apart from. It is not intelligible apart from. The word cow has no meaning unless there is some reality to which that sound is related. He talks about the staff-bearer and a staff – the person who carries the staff. What is the meaning of a staff unless it is there for the staff-bearer. So this whole thing of support and things supported is developed extensively in Ramanuja. This is, by the way, all these three relationships are there in your handouts.
The second is the niyantr/niyamya – the controller and thing controlled. Brahman controls the world. We are that which is controlled. Everything in the world is controlled by something. He uses the example of the charioteer driving the chariot. God is the charioteer. He drives the chariot. We are the chariot. But there's this relationship. That's what's so powerful here. He's trying to say: "OK. The chariot is not capable of being understood apart from the charioteer that drives it. And yet, they're related to each other. There's dependency upon the chariot to the charioteer." He quotes from the Brihad-Aranyaka: He who dwells in all beings, yet is within all beings, whom no beings know, whose body is all beings, who controls all beings from within. He is your self, the inner controller, antaryamin. Remember that word antaryamin we looked at? The immortal. This is him saying that, at the microcosmic level, the inner life of the individual is animated by Brahman and has no existence apart from Brahman. He is the inner controller. So that draws on all of those Upanishadic texts related to antaryamin.
And finally, sesin/sesa – principal entities, subordinate entity. There is that which is the principal and that which is the subordinate entity. On the microcosmic level, the material body is in subordinate to the inner life of the spiritual body. Your spirit is the principal. The Atman is principal. The material body is subordinate. But the relationship is linked. The purpose of the physical body is to give honour to the spiritual entity. Likewise the entire material world exists to give honour to the principal entity of the universe which is Brahman. This is obviously standard cosmical homology. He's simply saying that the relationship is there. The link is there. It's very, very important.
What you should know about this is that essentially Ramanuja develops a series of relational terms to bring out the essential nature that the worshipper is in relationship with god. And it's a dependent relationship. As we'll see later, it is a bhakti – it is a relationship of devotional dependence upon god. That is the nature of true knowledge for Ramanuja. To use his own expression here about salvation: The soul or self – and in this case he's using the soul here in a different way than we saw earlier; this is the self of the Atman – it is a mode of god distinct, but always in an inalienable relationship like the body is to the soul. One's individual reality is not swallowed up by and in that of Brahman.
So he's not going to accept the destruction of the self (nor would Sankara) – the destruction of your consciousness being lost in Brahman. There is a relationship – an I/thou relationship – between Brahman and the worshipper. It is simply the I/thou is not other than Brahman. It's a relationship within the body of Brahman. So he has relationships within Brahman that will be eternal. And this flows right out of another school of thought. We haven't had a chance to develop this, but in the Samkhya philosophy, number 1 on this list, they also believe in these two eternal things: purusha, prakriti. And Ramanuja is accepting a lot of the thinking behind that – that we have eternal relationships. We're not lost in Brahman.
So, to give a ... again some quote from Ramanuja here. And this again, get the gist of this – what he's saying here. To maintain that the consciousness of the "I" – they're always preoccupied with this "I" thing – does not persist in the state of final release is again altogether inappropriate. See, Sankara's going to say, by "I" here he's referring to what Sankara would call the Jivatman – the individual Atman. That is lost in Brahman according to Sankara. OK, he says this is inappropriate. It in fact amounts to the doctrine only expressed in someone different words, Buddhism, that final release is the annihilation of the self. So this is Ramanuja's way of politely saying – he's very rarely polite – but here he's being a little polite because he knows how sensitive this is. Sankara is nothing but a closet Buddhist.
OK, the "I" is not a mere attribute of the self, so that even after its destruction the essential nature of the self it might persist. It constitutes the very nature of the self. So he's saying the "I", when you say "I "in worshipping god, that "I" is not something that you, you know, some perceiver that's buried down there and will be lost someday. That is part of the nature of the self that will persist. Even in moksa, you can say: "I worship Brahman." Sankara would never say that. There's no worshipping Brahman once you ... You are simply Brahman. You're lost in Brahman. Here you have I/thou worshipping context even in the state of moksa. It's the very nature of the self. So he is basically saying if you don't have this, then all you have is Buddhism.
For Sankara, jnana, knowledge, is the apex to which karma and bhakti can only point. That's a quote from Arahdlot For Ramanuja, bhakti is the apex to which jnana and karma can only lead. If you go back to this whole thing here, this is Sankara's Adviatism. We have seen this throughout the course. Devotion and works are in a subsidiary role – merely helpful only if they lead to true knowledge. And then once you climb that ladder, the ladder kicked away, because you've made it to the higher knowledge. And that is Sankara's Advaitism.
Ramanuja will not accept this. Now, are you ready for my graphic here? I hope this works. I am going to show you before your very eyes what Ramanuja does to this little scheme here. Are you ready? There we go. Now, we have Ramanuja's modified non-dualism looks like this. He is going to argue that all of your knowledge and works must lead to devotion. This is why he's the popular philosopher of India. We're now seeing that this big wall here is not as firm as we thought – because he's going to provide the philosophical support for all this. Because he's saying: "OK, all the Bhaktism is creating this sense of dependency upon god. That's a good thing. That's a great thing.
We'll have to examine more, as we're almost through this. We have a little more to go. But I want to stop there – or take a little pause – and see if we are clear on the role of bhakti in Ramanuja. We've got like five minutes to go. Yeah.
Question: It seems like Ramanuja, if he didn't have the presupposition of non-dualism, he would have been a Christian in the way that he's thinking of god as eternal and we are absolutely dependent on Him. If he didn't have the similar ontology of our being the same essence, I think that he would come to the fact that we need some sort ... that where does the essence of the clay touch the part, touch the karma, and not be tainted by it. I mean, that's the only missing link it seems to me. Where am I missing ...?
No. There's no question this is a warm ??? I want to show you a quote here. If we have time, we'll come back to this little thing here. But this is Max Müller, quoting very similar to what you just said. Max Müller's a very famous scholar who studied Hinduism his whole life and taught at Oxford and other places. But he makes this great quote here: "It must be admitted that in India, instead of one Vedanta philosophy, we have two, springing from the same root, but extending its branches in two very different directions, that of Sankara being kept for the unflinching reasoners who, supported by an unwavering faith in monism, do not shrink back from any of its consequences but then – look what he goes on to say, which is the point you just made – another, that of Ramanuja, trying hard to reconcile their monism with the demands of the human heart that required and always will require a personal god as the last cause of all that is and an eternal soul that yearns for an approach to or a reunion with that being. None other than Max Müller made that point. I think it summarises what you just said.
There's no question Ramanuja is opening the door for a much more powerful potential discourse about god in the Indian context without being relegated everything to saguna. So it's good. But, you know, like so many things, some of the worst challenges to Christianity are heresies of Christianity. You know, Islam is a big challenge to Christianity, not because it's so bizarre, but because it's so close. You have Christianity, you have so much of our doctrines, but you take Christ out and so you end up with nothing. So, in the same way, Ramanuja is not prepared to accept the ontological distinction between creation and Creator. It's simply not present. He's a monist. After all is said and done, he's saying: "I don't distinguish between myself ultimately and god." Be careful not to hear this as too Christian. But you're right. It's wrong at the ontological level. The linguistic level, it sounds very positive.
OK any other comments or questions about this? Yes.
Question: He's a monist, but he says ... Would he agree with what Max Müller says about him that in the ultimate end it's the human being longing for being united with this god but the "I" is still separate?
Yes, he would agree with that statement. Not the "I" is separate. The "I" is in a devotional separation, but not an ontological separation. But yeah, he would agree with that.
[break in tape?]
That is part of the terms you are to know. So make sure that we are well aware of this. And this has actually been something that's divided Bhakti followers of Vishnu in south India. I may have told you about the Taragali and Varagali, the people who are known only by a half a inch of paint. Did I mention that to you? Well, this is that. We're finally there. Because the only way to tell the difference between the ... those who follow parabhakti and prapatti is how long the line coming down their forehead goes. This actually refers to a dispute that broke out among followers of Ramanuja about how much did he tie in to the Brahminical tradition. And, as we saw last time, one of the features of Ramanuja is the popularisation of the way of knowledge in the sense that it invades the Bhakti movement and begins to find philosophical foundation in the Bhakti system.
The question arose whether Ramanuja was seeking to expand Bhakti to include all the followers, but yet still provide special favour for those that were in the way of knowledge. So, the way this eventually developed was a schism within Ramanujan thought about whether he taught parabhakti or prapatti and for whom. The basic distinction which we've already discussed with the monkey/kitten analogy is whether or not ... What is your role in being saved? Essentially this is a discussion about faith versus works. The act of devotion, which is the monkey analogy, would recall that the baby monkey has to cling to the mother by his or her own power and strength, even though the mother monkey carries her around. Whereas a kitten, as you know, is carried by the scruff of the neck by the mother with complete passivity by the kitten. In the same way, they argue that the parabhakti is for those who have true knowledge about the way of bhakti in ways they can actively pursue their moksa which would include everything from study of the Vedas to following a guru, all across the whole chart that we've been looking at. So it would be forms of active devotion work for gurus would teach: "If you follow this particular path, then you will achieve moksa." That's parabhakti. Whereas the prapatti is a movement which says that even the lowest devotee, who may not realise their role, or their need for their role, if by simply trusting in, for example, Krishna, they will be saved without any works involved at all. So this would be the triumph of devotionalism over works.
If you go back to our chart which we looked at last time, this incredible tension that goes throughout Hindu philosophy about the place of devotion, works and knowledge. This would be a view that devotion does actually finally triumph – that it really doesn't matter how much somebody knows what they're doing or precise works. If their heart is devoted to god, then they will be saved. So that distinction we had not had time to actually discuss.
So, typically, as a rule, the Tengali tradition, the southern tradition, or the tradition that the follows Tengali, which would emphasise the grace of god would be more likely found in south India; the Veragali in north India. All this discussion is about based on his interpretation of the Bhagavad-Gita, the text that we looked at in one of our Mahavakyas: "Abandon all duties, all dharmas and just surrender to me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction." That's Gita 18.66. That particular passage is the passage by which all of this discussion is mostly centred around.
Question: It seems that he focuses on one of these or is it both of them or ...?
That's what the dispute is over. Ramanuja's writings are actually ambiguous at this point. The followers are divided over this point and so some are saying that the kind of bhakti that Ramanuja was actually promoting was parabhakti which would involve a particular path or multiple pathways to god. Whereas the prapatti would simply say: "As long as you're devoted to Krishna or some other particular deity, then the actual instrumentality of that by god is not part of your business essentially." He's simply ... your job is to trust. In fact, abandon all works. They would interpret this dharma as abandoning works and simply trusting.
It's essentially a bit of the argument that we have in our own tradition regarding the role of faith versus works. To rely upon works is, in a sense, they would argue a form of abandoning bhakti. Because true Bhaktism would involve total surrender. Whereas if somebody's following a particular works path, it might imply that they are trying to earn their salvation. So this is essentially ... I mean, the argumentation you would find very familiar in terms of some of the discussion that's gone on between Arminianism and Reformed versions of soteriology in the Christian tradition.