(I have been asked to write a short introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and would like to test it on you, dear readers. Any comment or criticism would be more than welcome!)
In its full-fledged form, the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (henceforth VV) is a Vedāntic school, thus one which accepts the authority of the Upaniṣads, the Brahmasūtra and the Bhagavadgītā and which recognises a form of God as brahman (on the various ways of understanding God in India, see here). The full-fledged VV accepts also further groups of texts, namely on the one hand the Pañcarātra (a group of Vaiṣṇava texts prescribing personal and temple rituals, see Leach 2012, and, here) and on the other the Tamil devotional poems collected in the Divyaprabandham.
Opponents coming from the Advaita field figure often in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi, which shows that even before Rāmānuja Vaiṣṇava authors were taking seriously the challenge of Advaita. Even more interesting is the way Yāmuna answers to them. Let us see some examples concerning the concept of self (ātman):
[Obj.:] But the fact of being a cogniser is the fact of performing the action of cognising and this implies modifications and is (typical of) insentient things and belongs to the sense of Ego.
Veṅkaṭanātha/Vedānta Deśika claims that the well-known inference found in SK 17 about the separation from self and nature (prakṛti) does not work. First the inference:
saṃhataparārthatvāt triguṇādiviparyayād adhiṣṭhānāt |
puruṣo ‘sti bhoktṛbhāvāt kaivalyārthapravṛtteś ca ||
Since the assemblage of sensible objects is for another’s use; since the converse of that which has the three qualities with other properties (before mentioned) must exist; since there must be superintendencel since there must be one to enjoy, since there is a tendency to abstraction; therefore soul is. (Colebrook’s edition and translation)
In his Seśvaramīmāṃsā, Veṅkaṭanātha/Vedānta Deśika discusses the self (ātman) and claims it is different from the body, sense-organs, intellect, mind, etc. However, he also claims that the self is what we know when we grasp ourselves as an “I”. Thus, an easy objection is that we sometimes refer to our body with the word “I” (e.g., in “I am a woman”). Veṅkaṭanātha’s answer is that this is only due to superimposition (āropa) and that one does not seize the difference only because of karman:
Rāmānuja’s theory of the self seems to have been greatly influenced by the need to reply to the Advaita Vedāntin claim that the self is nothing but sheer consciousness. Thus, Rāmānuja (like Yāmuna before him) stresses the fact that consciousness needs to inhere in someone and that therefore the self is a cogniser (jñātṛ) rather than sheer cognition (jñāna).
This being said, some statements of him in different contexts may appear puzzling. His summary on the self in the Vedārthasaṅgraha, for instance, goes as follows:
Is the self the same as the bodily parts? Most probably, most readers will be inclined to answer that this is not the case. But the question becomes trickier if we ask whether the self is the same as the intellect.
Amod Lele recently asked whether there is an emic Buddhist morality or whether this is only a Yavanayāna invention
(i.e., an invention of contemporary Western-trained Buddhists). The question is in itself interesting, but the discussion it triggered is even more, since Jayarava (who blogs here) added the problem of the possible inconsistency of the doctrine of karman if one denies the continuity of the self. That there is a problem cannot be denied: Why should we care about the karman our actions accumulate, if it is not going to affect “us”?
You might want to come and raise some interesting objection at one of the two lectures below:
—Body and self in Śrīvaiṣṇavism. A “hands-on” discussion of Veṅkaṭanātha’s Seśvaramīmāṃsā (ad 1.1.5) (Wed, 11 am)
—Knowing the unknowable: Vedānta Deśika on supersensory perception (at the Pedagogical University of Cracow, Wednesday, 4 pm).
The trigger for a discussion about the distinction of body and self in Mīmāṃsā is not or not primarily the polemic with the Buddhists, but rather the need to justify the validity of ritual prescriptions. In particular, a sentence, the yajñāyudhivākya `sentence about the one who bears the weapons of sacrifice’ identifies the entity being endowed with the weapons which consist in the sacrifice itself with the one which will reach heaven.
The problem is that the entity which carries these weapons is the body — and the body will clearly not reach heaven, since it will be burnt.
Interestingly, bodily resurrection seems not to have ever been taken into account as an option, so that the resulting dualism is much more radical than in a Christian milieu: Mīmāṃsā authors plainly agree that the body will not go to heaven and that the sentence should rather be read as addressing in fact the real agent of the sacrifice, which is not the body, but the self.
This, however, has an important consequence, namely that the self is identified with the real agent beyond the body’s acts. This makes Mīmāṃsā authors start far away from the Upaniṣadic, Sāṅkhya and Vedāntic ideas of an underlying self which is untouched by change and action.
Thus, Sacred Texts like the above sentence suggest that there is a self. Mīmāṃsā authors point also to further evidences, first and foremost our I-cognitions, that is, the cognition we have of an “I” whenever we refer to ourselves. Objectors can easily contend that “I” is used in sentences which in fact refer to the body, such as “I am tall”, thus concluding that this evidence is valueless. Mīmāṃsā authors answer that metaphorical usages of “I” as referring to the body do not rule out that it usually refers to the subject. Again, this claim bases on the idea that the Mīmāṃsā subject is not a changeless and super-individual entity, but that it is a changing and dynamic person, which can be rightly described in I-sentences such as “I am bright” or perhaps even “I am a scholar of Greek philosophy”.
This post is part of a series dedicated to a discussion of the reviews of my book Duty, language and exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā. For more details on the series, see here. For the first post (on Andrew Ollett’s review) of the series, see here. For the second post (dedicated to Taisei Shida’s review), see here. As already hinted at, I welcome comments and criticism.
Hugo David’s review is (to my knowledge) the only one in French. It is encouraging that great work is still done in languages other than English, but I will allow myself some longer summaries of it, for the sake of readers who may not know French. (I beg the reader’s pardon for my translations, which do not convey the elegance of David’s original French).