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Philosophy, Vishishtadvaita Vedanta

The concept of God according to Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Sri Ramanuja

According to Vishishtadvaita, Brahman is equated to Sri Visnu, ‘the all-pervading Supreme Being, who is the overlord of all sentient and non-sentient entities, who reposes on the primordial Shesh [the serpent of Sri Visnu], who is pure and infinite and in whom abound blissful perfections’.[1]

In contrast to Shankara who claims Brahman to be impersonal, Ramanuja asserts that Brahman is a personal being, possessing infinite amount of auspicious qualities including the quality of impersonalism. Moreover Ramanuja states that all variations of terminology presented by Vedanta and all other Vedic scriptures refer only to Sri Visnu as the highest spirit.

In reaction and to solidify the movement away from the impersonalist philosophy, Ramanuja gains much inspiration from later smriti texts[2] to formalise the idea and concept of a personal being. He introduces five separate facets of the divine to propound his theory.

The first is named para-vasudeva, this transcendental form whilst residing in vaikuntha is absolute, unconditioned, unlimited, self-existent, inconceivable by humans and semi-divine personalities alike and distinguished by six characteristics[3].

The second is vyuha, functional manifestations, each emanating from the last. Vyuha refers to the splitting of the six characteristics mentioned earlier into three pairs, one characteristic for cosmic creativity and the other for functional morality.

1. Sankarsana – By the means of power Sankarasana is concerned with developing future material cosmoses whilst they are in a state of compressed potential comprised of spirit and matter without distinction. Sankarsana’s moral duty of knowledge is to superintend the progress and development of souls and bring about the revelation of Brahman.
2. Pradyumna – By the means of sovereignty Pradyumna separates the spirit and matter when it eventually bursts forth and creates three effects, the group of spirit souls, primordial matter and subtle time. Pradyumna’s moral duty of creative potency is to drive the individual to practice Dharma and pursuit of spiritual life.
3. Anniruddha – By the means of energy, Anniruddha causes evolution of the gross atoms from matter and development of gross time from subtle. Under the influence of gross time, the mixed creation is produced during which the group of spirit souls become differentiated whilst emanating semi-divine souls like Brahma and Siva. Anniruddha’s moral duty of splendour is to superintend ego-sense in beings and cause the fruits of spiritual practise.

The third is the idea of avatara, incarnation of the Supreme Being on earth. Like the above, Ramanuja draws much encouragement from puranic literature and stresses the idea of the role of God as ‘whenever there is a decline in righteousness and rise of unrighteousness, for the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteousness in every age’[4] he manifests himself.

Ramanuja futher goes onto saying that there are three types of incarnations. Primary incarnations that are wholly divine manifesting in a non-material body e.g. Sri Krsna. The second are extraordinary spirit souls who are chosen to act as a medium to fulfil a certain mission e.g. Veda Vyasa. Thirdly, semi divine beings who are created by the Divine being for cosmic and administering functions e.g. Agni, Vayu etc.

The fourth is in the iconic image of the divine. Ramanuja emphasises that although Sri Visnu is omni-present, he is prompted by his boundless compassion in manifesting himself in an icon, providing the relevant construction and rituals have been performed. Although the worship of idols had been prominent before the time of Ramanuja, he introduced the worship of images using the methods laid down in the pancharatic texts.

According to Ramanuja the fifth facet is that of an antaryami, indweller, he suggests that within all sentient beings the Supreme Being resides with the individual soul as a witness to all actions the individual takes. Although the antaryami remains action less he governs the individuals results based upon the individuals previous karmic actions.

[1] Vedartha Samgraha – the collective meaning of the Vedanta verse 1
[2] Puranas, Itihaasa, Pancratra
[3] Jnanam – knowledge, aisvarayam – sovereignty, shakti – energy, bala – power, virya – creative potency, tejas – splendour
[4] Bhagavad Gita 4.6-7

The copyright of the article The concept of God according to Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Sri Ramanuja is owned by the Jigyasa Team. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

About Makwana

A student of Sanatan Vedic Dharma


2 thoughts on “The concept of God according to Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Sri Ramanuja

  1. Hi!
    I would be very grateful to you if you could help me some more about Ramanuja understanding of God.

    Thank U!

    Posted by Veejaye Luxmee | August 13, 2013, 6:14 am
  2. How do you prove that krishna is paripurna in vishistaadvaita?…..
    because krishna only said that he is paripurna in bhagavath geetha…

    but ,according to vishistaadvaita…we are brahman,at the same time ,we are not paripurna…similar case applies to krishna…so,how is krishna paripurna in vishistaadvaita?

    Posted by srivathsa | December 1, 2014, 10:32 am

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