Indian philosophy encompasses diverse and divergent systems. In the past, a complete understanding of all these used to be a way of life for scholars who had plenty of time for intellectual pursuit. Not all the systems are in vogue now. Outlines of Indian Philosophy, a masterpiece authored by M. Hiriyanna, was very popular in the 1940s. It dealt with three pairs, ‘Nyaya-Vaiseshika,' ‘Sankhya-Yoga,' and ‘Poorva Mimamsa-Uttara Mimamsa,' — the third is really ‘Vedanta', the philosophy embedded in Vyasa's aphorisms, Brahma Sutras.
‘Vedanta' has, as its root, the concept of three basic entities or realities — chit (sentient), achit (non-sentient), and Brahman. The nature of the inter-relationship between these three entities determines the terminology of a particular system.
For example, Visishtadvaita, sometimes designated as ‘qualified monism', proposes that the sentient and the non-sentient stand in the relationship of ‘body' (sareera) to the Brahman, which is the ‘soul'. While Advaita treats all beings and things as Brahman, Dvaita accepts two realities, namely Brahman and the individual souls.
Among the numerous treatises written by Vedanta Desika, a renowned exponent of Visishtadvaita, Paramapatabhangam is unique in its own way. In an exercise that is pure intellectual delectation, free from illwill and rancour, Desika refutes the other systems of philosophy and upholds Visishtadvaita.
Written in manipravala, a combination of Tamil and Sanskrit, the work is very terse and one needs explanatory notes and/or a commentary to understand the text.
Only a couple of competent pundits have ventured to produce commentaries. The latter pundit, who was living in the North during the period of his toil, had great difficulty tracing the original sources of the pramanas Desika had cited in his work 700 years ago.
The author of the book under review, a scholar of exceptional attainments, has come up with this little volume covering all the 24 chapters of the original and, what is more, in English.
‘Charvaka' (which can be regarded as the ancient version of atheism and materialism), Jainism, Buddhism — all the four branches included — the ‘Vaiseshika' and ‘Nyaya' schools, the ‘Nireeswara Mimamsa' (which emphasises the Vedic acts of yagna, but without conceding the existence of God), Sankhya and Yoga schools, and the different versions of ‘Vedanta' are analysed critically and, in the process, Visishtadvaita is defended.
Dvaita and Advaita occupy two chapters. The Vaiyakarana's theory of ‘Sphota' that speaks of a splash on the utterance of a word, with the ‘sound' itself being Brahman, is explained. Herein is the origin of the concept of ‘Sabda Brahman'. Apart from the different schools of ‘Bhedabheda', the post-Desika streams of Vaishnavism are analysed.
The chapter on ‘Upaaya' would prove to be a great educator to a lay reader on how the yearning soul can strive to reach God. While the one on ‘Purusharta' describes the bliss that awaits the soul on attaining ‘Moksha' (liberation), the concluding chapter offers an excellent summary.
A book such as this, rich in content and comprehensive in coverage, ought to be free from typographical errors. Unfortunately, such errors abound.
The book is indeed a second edition, so to say, of Vedanta Desika's work, taking into account the needs of the times and the new systems that have become relevant in the changed context.