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.
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.
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:
The Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta is a philosophical and theological school active chiefly in South India, from the last centuries of the first millennium until today and holding that the Ultimate is a personal God who is the only existing entity and of whom everything else (from matter to human and other living beings) is a characteristic.
Several distinct component are constitutive of what we now know to be Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and are not present at the time of Rāmānuja:
- 1. The inclusion of the Āḻvār’s theology in Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
- 2. The Pāñcarātra orientation of both subschools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
- 3. The two sub-schools
- 4. The Vedāntisation of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
- 5. The impact of other schools
The starting point of the present investigation is the fact that between Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha a significant change appears to have occurred in the scenario of what was later known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (the term is only found after Sudarśana Sūri). The Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta as we know it was more or less there by the time of Veṅkaṭanātha, whereas in order to detect it in the oeuvre of Rāmānuja one needs to retrospectively interpret it in the light of its successive developments. This holds true even more, although in a different way, for Rāmānuja’s predecessors, such as Yāmuna, Nāthamuni and the semi-mythical Dramiḍācārya etc.
Was Rāmānuja the first author of the Vedāntisation of the current(s) which later became well-known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta? Possibly yes. But, one might suggest that there are many Upaniṣadic quotations also in Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi and that Rāmānuja’s Śrībhāṣya seems to speak to an already well-established audience, and I wonder how could this have been the case if he were the first one attempting the Vedāntisation…
Is the world existent at every time?
It is difficult to disentangle the different roots of what is now known as Śrīvaiṣṇavism, since this term is usually the label attributed to the religious counterpart of the philosophical-theological school of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. However, Vaiṣṇavism was apparently an important presence in South India well before the beginning of the philosophical enterprise
As frequently observed, free will was not a main topic in Indian philosophy, and discussions about it need rather to be looked for either at partly unexpected places (e.g., within logical discussions about agency) or in texts which are not primarily philosophical and in their commentaries, most notably the Mahābhārata and especially the Bhagavadgītā. Nonetheless, a precious exception is offered by a passage in a 11th c. theologian and philosopher, namely in Rāmānuja’s Vedārthasaṅgraha, which focuses on a constellation of topics quite similar to the one Western readers are accustomed to.