Bhakti Schools of Vedanta (Lives and Philosophies of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, Vallabha and Caitanya (Chaitanya)

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  • Book Name Bhakti Schools of Vedanta (Lives and Philosophies of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, Vallabha and Caitanya (Chaitanya)
  • Author Svami Tapasyananda
  • Language, Pages Engish, 387 Pgs. (PB)
  • Last Updated 2024 / 04 / 25
  • ISBN 9788178230382, 8178230380

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Bhakti Schools of Vedanta (Lives and Philosophies of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, Vallabha and Caitanya (Chaitanya)
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Vedanta is generally identified with the system of Advaita associated with Sri Sankaracarya. To remove this wrong notion by providing information to the general reader about the lives and doctrines of the other Acaryas, who have an equal status as Teachers of Vedanta, is the object.

The personages treated in this book are Sri Ramanuja, Sri Nimbarka, Sri Vallabha, Sri Madhva and Sri Caitanya. While their theo-philosophies will be of special interest to philosophically minded readers, it should not be forgotten that their lives are of equal importance. For it is the support of their lives that gives more authority to their teachings than the philosophical writings of mere arm-chair philosophers. The frame-work of their lives are mainly historical, but most of the miraculous and extraordinary incidents included in them may largely be the projections of the pious imaginations of their followers. These too are to be respectfully received and not pooh-poohed as mere cock and bull stories. It is the way of the Indian mind to convey the idea that these Acaryas were endowed with power in them, their teachings could not have survived through so many centuries influencing the lives of innumerable generations of men.

The contents of this book are not the result of the study of, and researches into, the original literature of these schools in Sanskrit. It is based on authoritative books on them in English. Ramanuja's life is based entirely on the English translation of the Bengali work of Svami Ramakrsnananda, which is the only comprehensive work on the great Acarya's life available at present. The doctrinal portions are based on the writings of Prof. P. N. Srinivasacarya, especially his books entitled 'The Philosophy of Visistadvaita' and 'The Ethical Philosophy of the Gita'; the profound exposition of the subject by Dr. J. B. Carman in his book on 'The Theology of Ramanuja'; and the lucid explanation of the doctrine as restated by Vedanta Desika by Dr. S. M. Srinivasacarya in his book entitled 'The Fundamentals of Visistadvaita.'

The section of Nimbarka is based mainly on the thesis of Dr. J. N. Sinha entitled 'Philosophy of Nimbarka'.

For the account of Sri Vallabhacarya's life and teachings, the author is indebted to Bhai Manilal Parekh's comprehensive work 'Sri Vallabhacarya – Life, Teachings and Movement', as also to Dr. (Mrs.) Mrdula J. Marfatia's research thesis 'Philosophy of Vallabhacarya'.

There was a great dearth of well-written English books on the realistic dualism of Sri Madhvacarya till recent times. This has been largely remedied by the learned writings of Dr. B. N. K. Sarma. The philosophical section in this book on that school is mostly based on the following books of Dr. B.N.K. Sarma: 'Philosophy of Sri Madhvacarya' Madhva's Teachings in his own Words', and his monumental in-depth and comparative study of the commentaries of the three great Acaryas – Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. Besides, B. A. Krishnaswamy Rao's 'Outlines of the Philosophy of Sri Madhva, and Prof. K. T. Pandurangi's writings on the theme have been very helpful in the production of this book. The life of Sri Madhva is entirely based on an English translation of Narayana Pandita's 'Madhva-vijaya' in Sanskrit.

Regarding Sri Caitanya, his life is written on the basis of the information got from Jadunath Sirkar's translation of the classical Bengali work of Krisna Das Kaviraj, 'Caitanya-caritamrta'. The incidents of the early life of Caitanya at Navadvip have been largely gathered from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's abridged edition of Sisir Kumar Ghos's Bengali work 'Lord Gauranga'. The sad incidents connected with the disappearance of Sri Caitanya are taken from the brochure of Prof. Asok Chaterjee Sastri based on his researches. The section on the Acinty a Bheda-bheda Philosophy of this school is based mainly on the learned articles on the subject in the volumes of the 'Cultural Heritage of India' published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, as also on the expositions in the above mentioned books on Caitanya.

By the very nature of the book, which conveys only secondhand information on the themes, it is likely to have many errors from the points of view of specialists. It may also have several repetitions, as the back-ground philosophy, which necessitated the rise of these schools, is the same. The author craves the indulgence of the readers for these failings.

About the Book:

Generally Vedants is identified with the exposition of the system by Sri Sankaracarya and the followers of his tradition. An attempt is made in this book to treat in a brief compass the life and teachings of five other Acaryas who differ from Sankara and interpret Vedanta as essentially a system concerned with a God having infinite auspicious attributes, whose grace alone can give salvation to the Jivas involved in the cycle of births and deaths (Samsara). They are in no way less deserving recognition than Sri Sankara as Acaryas of Vedanta, as they all base their teachings on the three foundational texts of the system - the Upanisads, the Vedantasutras and the Bhagavad Gita.

The teaching of these five schools have mutual differences, just as they have common differences from that of Sri Sankara. The Vedanta may as a consequence appear as a plethora of contradictions. The drift of this book in its introduction is to show that it is not so in the light of the experiences of Ramakrishna Vivekananda.

About the Author:

Swami Tapasyananda (1904-1991) was a disciple at Swami Shivanandaji, Maharaj. One of the eminent disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. The Swami was a vice-president of the Ramakrishna Order from 1985 - 1991. He was an erudite scholar in Indian and Western Philosophy. He has to his credit many books in English, including the translations of many scriptures. His translation of Srimad Bhagavatam in four volumes has been highly acclaimed in intellectual and devotional circles.



The scope of this work

The teachings of the Bhakti schools of Vedanta and the lives of the Acaryas who expounded them systematically, are given in some detail in the different chapters of this work. The object of doing so is this: There is a popular tendency to identify Vedanta with the writing of Sri Sankara exclusively. This tendency is not quite justifiable. All Acaryas who have writing commentaries on the Upanisads, Vedanta Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita are Acaryas of the Vedanta. There are several such others, besides Sankara, and their most distinguishing feature is their insistence on devotion to a Personal Deity with auspicious attributes as the means of salvation and the Jiva’s distinction from that Deity in bondage as well as in salvation. There are several other subsidiary differences arising from this. They are not, however, mentioned here for fear of repetition.

The question, however, will arise whether Sankara’s interpretation of the Vedanta alone is not sufficient even for those who cherish devotion to a Personal Deity with auspicious attributes. Maya find it is sufficient, but several others may not. It is for this reason that within three centuries after Sri Sankara, the voice of dissent was heard from Bhaskara and afterwards by a succession of Vaisnava teachers headed by Sri Ramanuja. It is the lives and teachings of these dissenting Acaryas that are embodied in this volume entitled ‘Bhakti Schools of Vedanta’. The accounts gives are from the phenomenalistic way of studying religions – that is, from the point of view of their followers and not of critics. Hence no attempt is made here to given any ontological or value judgements on these systems of thought.

Naturally these teachings will contain radical criticisms of Sankara’s philosophy, not become outdated and irrelevant, but because criticism is the essence of philosophical development, as each successive school is either a rejection or an elaboration of the doctrines propounded earlier. All these systems are addressed to those who do not find a congenial intellectual climate in Sankara’s teachings.

The credit and debit sides of Advaita Vedanta

It has to be explained why Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta satisfied some while if fails to satisfy the advocates of these Bhakti Vedanta Philosophers. In this connection, it must be noted that Sankara’s system can stand on its own feel as pure metaphysics without the help of any theology, unlike these later systems. So those who prefer a philosophy to a theology will have a nature leaning towards Sankara. But at the same time the rarefied atmosphere of Sankara’s metaphysics is too much for their human heart and lung to stand. For such person Sankara’s system also provides theologies as a provisional stand-point – just a base camp for those attempting to climb the Mount Everest of Advaita. And the beauty is that not one particular theology, but any number of them can be fitted into the frame work of Sankara’s metaphysics provisionally. This wonderfully accommodating power of this doctrine is perhaps the most attractive feature of his philosophy to many of its followers.

An elucidation of the way in which it is done as also of the shortcoming of that method, is also necessary. Sankara’s philosophy has two tiers – that of the metaphysical (Paramartha) level, and that of the prima facie and pragmatic (Vyavahara) level. To some extent they correspond respectively to the Mount Everest and the base camp we have alluded to earlier. All theologies accommodated in Sankara’s Advaita system have only this provisional status. They are relevant so long as man experiences this world of multiplicity revealing in its structure wonderful intelligence and design, and seeks for a First Cause in explanation of it. This First Cause is the God of theologies. He is Apara Brahman – a lower version of the Supreme Being identifiable with any of the Deities of the Indian pantheon such as Siva, Visnu, Devi etc. The God of foreign religions like Islam and Christianity can also be accommodated in Sankara’s system in the same way at the level of provisional reality. He may be conceived as with an Archetypal from or without any form. In Indian religious sects He is always with form, as form is needed to complete this personalistic conception. One who has all the blessed attributes and an identity must have an Archetypal form also. For, attributes without a form to inhere in, cannot be conceived.

But it must be remembered that this accommodation is provisional like the base camp, and to be a turn follower of Sankara, one has to leaves it one and ascend to the metaphysical level at the earliest. If one remains satisfied with the provisional position, he will be like one remaining eternally at the base camp, far away from the peak of Truth, the metaphysical level. In some places in the commentaries and expresses his excludes them from the community of true Advaitins.

As most of his writings are in the shape of commentaries on scriptural passages, it is very difficult to pinpoint what his true stance is. He comments on both devotional passages as also on purely Advaitic passages without clarifying which is of pure metaphysical (Paramarthika) import and which of provisional (Vyavaharika) import.

Panditapasadas and Murkhas

In his commentary on V.2 of Ch. XIII of the Bhagavad Gita, he makes a clear statement advocating the necessity of moving to the metaphysical level and expressing his contempt for those who rest at the provisional level, believing that it is sufficient for salvation to worship and meditate on God. A partial abridgement of that part of the Bhasya interspersed with relevant quotations will make the matter clear.

In interpreting the above mentioned Gita passage “known me to be the Field-knower (Ksetrajna) also, present in all Fields (Ksetras),” he points out that Kasetrajna generally understood as the Jivatman (the soul intuited in all body-minds as the ‘I’) is in truth indentical with Isvara, the Supreme Being. Then follows an elaborate dialectical dissertation in which he establishes his thesis of the identity of the Jive with Isvara and the need of absolute abstinence from action and attachments in the case of one who wants to realise this identity.

Next he makes an enquirer put a question, referring to persons who accept this position but behave contrarily: “How is it that the learned (Panditas) also feel that ‘I am so and so’, ‘This is mine’ etc. like all Samsaris?” He replies slighting such learning, “Listen! This indeed is their learning (Panditya)! It consists in seeing the Self exclusively in the Field (body). Had they really perceived the immaculate Field-knower, they would not have hankered after worldly experiences and actions in pursuit of them……..”.

Next with an expression of absolute contempt for those who accept his Paramartha level but yet depend on worship and adoration of God for the attainment of salvation, he remarks as follows:

“There is yet another type of learning (Panditya). These so-called learned men affirm: ‘The Field-knower (Ksetrajna) is God alone. The Field is entirely different from Him forming the object of His perception. Btu as for me, I am a transmigrator (Samsari), happy or unhappy. My objective is to attain freedom from transmigration by the knowledge of the Field and the Field-Knower by realising the Field-Knower by meditation and dwelling in the true nature of the Lord’. He who thinks thus is the meanest type of scholar (Panditapasada) who egotistically assigns a novel sense to the state of bondage and liberation and to the scripture. He is a self-destroyer (Atmaha). Himself deluded, he deludes others: for he has not had the discipline of the right tradition of scriptural knowledge (Asamopradaya-vid). He is guilty of rejecting what is taught and dogmatically constructing something novel. Hence, one who is thus ignorant of right traditions, even though he is versed in all scriptures, deserves to be rejected as an ignoramus (Murkhavad).”

This characterization well truly be appropriate in regard to all who vehemently profess themselves to be Advaitins, but continue to be satisfied with ritualism, meditation, worship and prayers as the means for salvation. For, to assert the unreality of ignorance can alone give enlightenment according to Advaita. On the contrary such Advaitins as are referred to in the above criticism, are asserting the positive nature of ignorance through their action. Hence the virulent attack of the Acarya on them. Such must be the significance of this passage. They alone are Asampradaya-vids and Murkhas and not the followers of other systems of Vedanat. For the former, in place of lighting the match stick to remove darkness, are only wallowing in darkness. Jnana-vicara or the discriminative process of denying the difference between the Jiva and Isvara by ridding them both of their Upadhis or adjuncts is the spiritual practice for them. They alone are the true Sampradayavids or knowers of the right Advaitic tradition.

Patronising attitude of Advaita Vedanat

From this is it plain that in the scheme of Sankara’s Advaita there is no honourable place for those who hold to the view that ignorance causing Samsara and freedom from it are real and that adoration of God and seeking His grace from the one effective means for salvation. A seeker strenuously struggling in the practice spiritual Sadhana is told that in truth he is engaged only in a mock battle in the light of the two tier theory of reality, that he has to abandon his way of Sadhana in favour of the Paramarthika type, or for the sake of integrity and harmony between the intellect and the heart, seek a different world view which will provide a theo-philosophical scaffolding suited to erect his spiritual edifice – one which saves him from the ludicrousness of engaging himself in a mock battle.

The Bhakti-Vedanta systems of thought expounded in these pages along with the lives of their illustrious promulgators can provide such an alternative mould for spiritual aspirants who feel that Samsara is real, liberation must be real, and worship and meditation are not mock battles, and who therefore accept a God, not as a provisional, but as the Ultimate Reality – merciful and gracious, the seat of all auspicious attributes – by whose grace alone one can be freed from the bondage of Samsara.

The philosophy of Advaita is however very accommodating and gives a place for every kind of aspirants. Even the followers of these Panditapasadas (Pseudo-scholars) are accommodated in spite of the contempt shown towards them. They are called Mandadhikaris or dull-witted aspirants of inferior competency. They are patronisingly permitted to dwell in the cosy base camp of the Vyavaharika status and told that their Sadhanas are not mere mock-battles if they are done with the idea of gaining Citta-suddhi or purification of mind, which is needed to enter into the Paramarthika or metaphysical level of Reality. They are mock-battles only if they are considered sufficient to take them to the spiritual summum bonum. When purification of the mind is obtained, they have to practice abiding in the state of Jnana or unitary consciousness in which there is no place for a God of adoration. In place of adoration he has to dwell on the oneness of the Self with Brahman, denying the positive nature or actuality of ignorance and all the experience of multiplicity arising from it. This means acceptance of the doctrine of the non-existence of God, bondage and the world of multiplicity even when they are being experienced. This is what the doctrine of sublation (Badha), so important in Advaita Vedanta, means. No Bhakti Vedantin will be ready to accept such a position.


Preface iii
Key to Transliteration vi

The Glory of Bhakti

Introduction ix
1. Sri Ramanuja: Life 1
2. Sri Ramanuja: Philosophy 31
3. Sri Nimbarka 85
4. Sri Madhvacarya: Life 107
5. Sri Madhvacarya: Philosophy 127
6. Sri Vallabhacarya: Life 201
7. Sri Vallabhacarya: Philosophy 215
8. Sri Krsna Caitanya: Life 239
9. Sri Krsna Caitanya: Philosophy 309
Appendix I: Ramakrsna and Relativity 342
Appendix II: Bhava-mukha 359

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