Sri Ramanuja 999 History & Culture

His philosophy was based on Vedic texts

One fine morning, Adi Sankaracharya was returning after a morning bath in sacred Ganga in Varanasi, accompanied by his orthodox disciples. Suddenly, he found a chandala (the term was in vogue in those days) with four dogs and ugly tatters coming in front of him. The orthodox Acharya and his disciples asked him to move away to make way for Sankara. The chandala gave a stern look and asked the Acharya,

“Annamaayaad Annamayam Athavaa Chaitanyam Yaeva Chaitanyaat

Yativara Dooree Kartum Vaanchasi Kim Broohi Gachcha Gachchaeti?”

“Pratyagvastuni Nistaranga Sahajaananda Avabodha Ambudhou Vipro

Ayam Swapacho Ayamity Api Mahaan Ko Ayam Vibhaeda Bhramah?

“Oh great sage ! Whom are you commanding to go away? Is it the physical body made up of food as yours or the immutable intelligence, the ‘atman’ embodied within, which is also within you and pervasive? The ‘atman’ is the dearest and remains the serene ocean of bliss. How can such scornful discrimination be possible to treat one as a Holy Brahmin and the other a lowly dog eater, when all is the undifferentiated Brahmam.”

Adi Sankara was bewildered by the question. He realised that all his learnings and preachings were nothing before these weird looking chandala and his questions. It occurred to him that the chandala was none other than Lord Parameswara, who had come to test Sankara’s understanding of the ancient philosophy of Advaita. Sankara prostrated before Him and started answering the questions. Thus was born the glorious Manisha Panchakam of five slokas explaining the quintessential Advaita philosophy. These verses explain and analyse Brahmam, Paramatman and Jivatman and the methods for acquiring wisdom.

The Advaita Philosophy is stated in Sankara’s Bhashya interpreting the Veda Vyakyas ‘Aham Brahmasmi,’ ‘Tatvam Asi,’ ‘Brahmam Satyam Jagat Mrithyai’ and ‘Satyam Gnanam Anantham Brahma’ and ‘Ekameva Advaiteeyam.’ These are known as the Mahavakyas from the Srutis and the Smritis and lay the foundation for the construction of ancient Hindu philosophy as laid down by the Vedas.

Ramanuja was an intense admirer of Adi Sankaracharya. Both the Acharyas laid down that there truly existed only one universal being called Brahman or Paramatman, the Highest Self. It is pure, being chaitanya gnana. But according to Sankara, this Brahman is destitute of qualities. God alone exists and all else is manifestation. According to the Ramanuja’s philosophy, the One Brahman is not destitute of attributes. It is endowed with all auspicious qualities - intelligence, ‘Gnana’ being its chief attribute. The Lord is all pervading, all powerful, all knowing and all merciful. It comprises within itself, distinct elements of plurality. Matter and Soul, Achith and chith, constitute the body of the Lord. The Lord pervades all the things which exist as Antaryami.

Ramanuja quotes the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad, Chapter 3, verse 7 for the view that within all elements and all individual souls, there abides an inward ruler whose body, elements, sense organs and individual souls constitute, matter and souls as forming part of the body of the Lord. While both the Acharyas agree on the non-duality of the concept of Brahmam, Ramanuja’s doctrine can be designated as qualified non-duality, non-duality with a difference. The world with its variety of material forms of existence and individual souls is a real part of Brahman’s nature.

Ramanuja never conceded the Doctrine of Maya. Brahman is ‘Sath’ and the rest is ‘Asath.’ The Vedic and the Upanishadic texts contain both Beda and Abeda vaakyas. Sankara emphasised the latter. The Maya doctrine never appealed to any intellectual aspirant.

Poet Bharati expressed his scepticism through the verses: “Nirpadhuve, Nadappadhuve, Parappadhuve, Neengalellam Sorpananthaano? Palathotra mayakangalo? Karpadhuve, Ketpadhuve, Karudhuvadhe Neengalellam Arpa Maayaaigalo? Ummull Azhundha Porull Illaiyo?

Sankara’s time marked the ascendancy of the Buddhists and the Kaabalikas. (Refer Sankara’s Lakshmi Narasimha Karavalamba Stotram). Even Nammazhwar refers to the avatara of Buddha as a mask put on by Vishnu in order to sow the seeds of doubt, dissension and herecy amongst non-believers as a chastisement for their folly and subsequent redemption. (Kalla Vedam Pugundhu, Chapter 5 10-4- Thiruvaimozhi).

In the Ramanuja philosophy, moksha does not mean absolute identification with the Brahman. There is no merger. The essential quality of the individual soul is seshatva, servitude to the Lord.

The above propositions required validation with reference to ancient texts. Ramanuja goes to Kashmir in search of the Bodhayana vritti. The Kashmir Prince was kind enough to allow him to go through the manuscript. Ramanuja was mightily pleased to find that his interpretation of the Sutras coincided with the explanations found in the Vritti. He engages in a debate with the Mayavadis. Finding that they were losing the battle, they snatched the Grantha from Ramanuja who had to leave in a hurry. The Grantha was with him for one night. His trusted disciple Koorathazhwan was an Ekachandagrahi. He had gone through the Grantha and got it by heart. Despite the Grantha being snatched away, Ramanuja with the help of Koorathazhwan wrote his monumental commentary and took it back to Kashmir. Ramanuja was aided by Nammazhwar’s Thiruvaimozhi paasurams in the commentary.

The North Indian scholars will not accept the Tamil Prabandhas as authority. Ramanuja found the authority in the Bodhayana Vritti itself. The Prince placed it before Goddess Saraswathi. Ramanuja wanted pratyaksha pramanam for his commentary. He prayed for the approval of Goddess Saraswathi.

The next morning, Ramaunja’s manuscript was adorning the crown of Goddess Saraswathi in Kashmir. The Goddess blessed him with the appellation ‘Sri Bashyakaara’ and gifted him the famous image of Lord Hayagriva. Even now this can be worshipped in the Parakala Mutt at Mysore. Thus Ramanuja became Sri Baashyakaara.

The philosophy propounded by Sri Ramanuja was pre-existing and is based on Vedic texts. His interpretation came to be known as Visishta- advaita (qualified non-dualism). This is the term given by Sudharshana Suri and his chief disciple Vedanta Desika.

(The supplement will carry articles by various authors on Sri Ramanuja up to his millennium birth anniversary.)

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