While writing about RAmAnujA in AachArya Vaibhavam, I could not but stop to think to fill the gaps regarding topics I did not understand:
I always knew that as ShrI Vaishnavaite, we follow the principle of VishishtAdvaitA, but have never tried to find out what it really means until now. Compiling a gist of what I have heard about it, thanks in part to the discourses of Velukkudi SwAmi. As he rightly says, the concept is very simple and easy to understand when it is being explained; but also equally easy to forget when you walk out of the room. So I think putting it down in written form thus will enable me to refer to it whenever I seem to forget what it entails.
3 AachAryas have written commentaries on VEda VyAsA's Brahmma SUtram. RAmanujA's is called ShrI BhAshyam. ShankarAchAryA founded the advaitA philosophy, RAmAnujA VishishtAdvaitA and MAdhvA propounded the DvaitA philosophy.
First and foremost: We have to differentiate between philosophy and faith. When we talk about someone's faith, we say that (s)he is a Vaishnavaite, a Shaivaite and so forth. When we talk about philosophies, we talk about VishishtAdvaitam, Advaitam and Dvaitam among others. So faith is also the God who I believe and hence, religion.
Today, the concept of of philosophy vs. religion has gotten distorted a bit. We think that ShankarAchAryA being an advaitin is not a Vaishnavaite. In fact all the above 3 AachAryAs as 100% evident from their work, claim Vishnu to be their Lord. Since one who accepts Lord Vishnu as the supreme is a VaishnavA, MadhvA and Adi ShankarAcharyA are definitely in that category.
All 3 Gurus differ when it comes to the ways and means available to reach this supreme being (para bhrahmam). Again, all 3 philosophies agree to the basic concept that the JIvAtmA reaches the ParamAtmA and that the ParamAtmA is NArAyaNA. There is no difference between the schools of thought on this concept. Where is the difference then? Some of them lie in: What is the way available for salvation? Where do I reach? What do I do after reaching there?
All 3 philosophies are based on the VEdAs only. The VEdAs (Rig, SAma, Yajur and AtharvaNa) are age old. They are defined as anAdhi and apourushEya. AnAdhi means it does not have a beginning, it was not born on any particular day. It is eternal. ApourushEya means that it is not propounded by any human and is the word/ruling of the BhagavAn himself. No hand of any human is laid on the ShAstrAs. All philosophies culminate from this ShAstrA and all 3 philosophers based their arguments on the VEdAs and the Upanishads.
VEdAs are regarded as the PUrva BhAga and the Upanishads as the Uttara BhAga. The PUrva BhAgA talks about the karmA or rituals to be performed. But the rituals awe not an end in themselves - they need to take us somewhere; and this is dealt with in Uttara BhAgA.
When people started interpreting the Upanishads, they started doing so in a way they saw fit to them. NammAzhvAr in his TiruvAimozhi says:
Avaravar thamathamadhu aRivu aRi vagai vagai
Avaravar iRaiyavar ena adi adaivargaL
Avaravar iRaiyavar kuRaivu ilar iRaiyavar
Avaravar vidhivazhi adaiya ninRanarE
Every individual is intelligent and has a different way of interpreting things. Each one's will will reach his own (perception of) God. Each one's God is full in every way. Each one will reach a destiny as per fate.
The more the scholars learnt, the more they started quarreling amongst themselves. They started interpreting the sacred texts in their own way. Hence we have many interpretations, but 3 of them are the most recognized.
Given that the basis for all these interpretations were the VEdAs and the Upanishads, how could we have 3 explanations stemming from one source? Shouldn't it all culminate in 1 philosophy? There is an answer to this basic question: The shAstrAs encompass 3 categories of text: BhEda shruti, AbhEda shruti and Ghataka shruti. BhEdA advocates absolute dualism. Everyone is different; ParamAtmA is different from JIvAtmA and very separable. There is no connectivity between the two. All the textual parts in the VEdAs advocating said dualism is BhEda shruti. If the VEdAs had stopped here, we would only have had Dvaitam. But the VEdAs also had AbhEda shruti: Absolute non-dualism which states that the ParamAtmA and JIvAtmA are the same. Even between JIvAtmAs, there is no distinction: an animal JIvAtmA is same as a human JIvAtmA. Anyone who looks at JIvAtmAs differently will never get mOksham but will only be going round and round in circles in samsArA. From these parts, stems Advaitam. Why would the VEdAs contradict themselves this way by stating something in one shruti and the opposite in another? They do not. Incorrect interpretations will cause us to think that way or devise philosophies based only on one particular shruti. The right shruti to be considered is the Ghataka shruti which reconciles both BhEdA and AbhEdA. It lays a bridge between the two and explains why what is said in both lights are true and why we cant just choose one over another. It is on this Ghataka shruti that RAmAnujA based his VishishtAvaitA philosophy. Thus, the VEdAs are not fools to ask us to practice a different view at different times. It is just our foolishness in interpretation that leads us to believe so. The difference between the 2 shrutis is clearly ironed out in Ghataka shruti. SankarA focused on AbhEdA, MadhvA on BhEdA and RAmAnujA on Ghataka. This is how 3 philosophies took birth from the same text.
Thus, the same VEdAs gave birth to 3 principles. Each principle was dictated by which shruti it was taken from. RAmAnujA alone focussed on all 3 truths and especially on Ghataka Shruti to formulate VishishtAdvaitam. He recognized that GhatakA was especially important as a bridge. BhEdA or AbhEdA alone won't flourish without it. VishishtAdvaitam is an offshoot of all these GhatakA truths in the VEdAs.
Here is an illustration of the 3 shrutis:
Absolute non-dualism - Section 14 of Chapter 3 of the Upanishads: "Sarvam khalvidam BhahmmA tajjalAn". Whatever you see in the universe is bhrahmmam. Do not look at differences.
BhEdA: Section 12 of Chapter 1 "BhOktA BhOgyam PrEritAramchya matvA". BhOktA is the JIvAtmA that enjoys something. BhOgyam is the knowledge-less thing that is enjoyed. In fact there is a third force that directs the BhOktA to enjoy the BhOgyam at a specific place and time and this is the IsvarA, without which the BhOktA cannot enjoy the BhOgyam.
Both the above principles are different - how are they reconciled in the VEdAs? "Tattvatraya". Vaishnava sanyAsIs have 3 sticks tied to a knot; represent chit, chit and IsvarA. Other sanyasIs have only 1 stick in their staff. Achit is that which is enjoyed and doesn't have any inherent knowledge. The JIvAtmA is the chit. It possesses knowledge and enjoys the chit. IsvarA is the director. AbhEdamE siddhAntam s Advaitam (one atom, none second to it) but "Yam AtmAnavEda Yasya AtmA sarIram" is VishishtAdvaita. It is the most important verse in the upanishads. The JIvAtmA is the body of the ParamAtmA; but it never recognizes it as its' master. Everything is the body of the ParamAtmA, which is the soul. The body does not recognize the ParamAtmA as its' soul.
Hence we have a case of 3 real entities with 2 distinct identities (chit, chit and IsvarA are the entities; the identities are body and soul). We need to connect 2 to 1. Chit and Acit need to be connected to IsvarA? How? As SarIrA and AtmA. This sarIrAtma BhAvA, the body-soul relationship is the crux of VishishtAdvaitA.
To be continued ...