Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta authors claim that the whole world is made of the brahman and that everything else is nothing but a qualification of it/Him.
This philosophical-theological concept, it will be immediately evident, crashes against the (Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika) idea of a rigidly divided ontology, with substances being altogether different from qualities. In other words, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika world if seen from outside is similar to the world of today’s folk ontology, the one influenced by scientism, while its structure resembles the one of Aristotle’s ontology.
Commentaries can be manifold in ancient India. They have different purposes and form, but they all share some characters:
- they have a given text as their main interlocutor/they are mainly about a given text
- like with Origene’s commentaries, they are a genre in its own right, not a minor specialisation for authors at their beginnings (Sakai 2015, section 4, suggests that authors in fact needed to have already become acknowledged authorities before being entrusted with the honour of composing a commentary on an influential text.)
- they are characterised by a varied but strong degree of textual reuse
- they allow for significant degrees of innovation (This is evident in the case of the Navya Nyāya commentaries on the NS. Outside the precinct of philosophy, juridical commentaries often reflect the recent juridical developments much more than the original text they are commenting upon.)
What makes a text a “commentary”? The question is naif enough to allow for a complicated answer. First of all, let me note the obvious: There is not a single word for “commentary” in Sanskrit, where one needs to distinguish between bhāṣyas, vārttikas, ṭippanīs, etc., often bearing poetical names, evoking Moons, mirrors and the like.
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:
“[Obj.:] Then, let it be that there is a beginning in the liberated beings (i.e., that there is a point in time in which conscious beings started achieving liberation). Before that, there would be no liberated one.
[R:] There is no contradiction in the idea of a continuous and beginningless succession of liberated [beings]. For, it is not the case that someone who was ab initio liberated is then bound. In this case the liberation (and not the bondage) would be something to be realised, which is contradictory. Rather, all beings, bound ab initio liberate themselves, the one after the other, when they get the way”.
(atha mukteṣv ādiḥ, sa kathaṃ tvayā viditaḥ? tataḥ pūrvaṃ muktābhāvād iti cet, tam api kathaṃ vettha? anādimuktau vyāghātād iti cen na; muktapravāhe vyāghātābhāvāt | na hy anādimuktaḥ kaścid badhyate, sādhyamokṣo vā bhavet, yena vyāghātas syāt; kiṃ tu, anādibaddhās sarve ´pi labdhopāyāḥ krameṇa mucyante |, autocommentary on TMK 2.25)
The permanence of time and the radical alterity of mokṣa seem to create a tension here.
Does it entail that each one of today’s beings will be liberated, sooner or later? In other words, do all possiblities need to actualise themselves sooner or later in an endless time?
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.
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).
Veṅkaṭanātha is an important milestone for the reconstruction of the history of Indian philosophy. In fact, he is a historical figure and the reconstruction of his thought is also facilitated by the contextual knowledge already available about the times, the cultural and geographical milieu, and the religious tradition related to him.