A basic introduction to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta

(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.

Why studying Mīmāṃsā within Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta: An easy introduction for lay readers

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.

What happened at the beginnings of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta?—Part 1

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.

The British Library looks for a Curator of its South Indian Collections

Curator, South Indian Collections
Salary range is £31,858 – £36,087 per annum
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Start date on or after 14th September 2015

The British Library’s collections from and relating to South Asia are the most extensive in the world outside the region, and they are among the British Library’s most important resources. This role will focus on the collections from southern India, and will combine elements of collection development, research, cultural engagement, digital and digitisation projects, and international partnerships, all working towards ensuring that the broadest possible audiences can access the South Indian collections held at the British Library.

The major languages represented in these collections are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, and the ideal candidate will have a good knowledge of one or more of these. They will also have a degree-level qualification in a relevant discipline, and a deep interest in the history and cultures of South Asia, and particularly of South India. These will be underpinned by research or employment experience in a research library, museum, academic or other appropriate environment, and by academic study or research. Although not essential, experience of or interest in international partnerships or project management would be an advantage.

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Loving God for no reason

Why does a devotee love God? Because He is good, merciful, omniscient…? Or just out of love?

This seems to be one of the moot issues between the two currents within the form of Vaiṣṇavism later to be known as Śrīvaiṣṇavism, since Piḷḷai Lokācārya (13th c.) stresses that loving without reason is superior to loving with a reason, just like Sītā’s ungrounded love for Rāma is superior to that of Lakṣmaṇa, who loves Rāma for his good qualities (see Mumme 1988, p. 150).

Buddhism in Tamil Nadu until the end of the first millennium AD

Was Buddhism ever predominant in Tamil Nadu? Which Buddhism? And when?

After my last post on the disappearance of Buddhism from South India, I received two emails of readers pointing to the fact that Buddhism must have been prosperous in Tamil Nadu, given that Dharmakīrti himself was born in Tamil Nadu and that the Maṇimēkalai (a Buddhist literary text in Tamil, datable perhaps to the 5th–7th c.) presupposes a Buddhist community and reuses materials from Śaṅkarasvāmin’s Nyāyapraveśa.

Will the journey ever come to its goal? On Clooney 2013

Several years ago I had some pain in convincing a friend working on Husserl that the “phenomenologist” J. Mohanty which he knew too well was the same as the scholar of Sanskrit Philosophy J.N. Mohanty (I had similar problems in convincing the same person that avatar is a Sanskrit word). Just like there are two Mohantys, with two different target audiences, so there are two F.X. Clooneys.

Veṅkaṭanātha’s contribution to Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta

Veṅkaṭanātha (traditional dates 1269–1370 (see Neevel 1977 for a convincing explanation of these too long life spans) is a complex figure who can be interpreted in different ways according to the facet one is focusing on. What is sure is that what we refer to as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta has been largely influenced by the shape he gave to it. For instance, the traditional lineage of teachers of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta groups together teachers who bear some vague family resemblance among each other, but who are all directly linkable to Veṅkaṭanātha’s view of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta.
The main philosophical outlines of Veṅkaṭanātha’s Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta are:

  1. the Vedāntic viewpoint
  2. the emphasis on Pūrva Mīmāṃsā
  3. the incorporation of Pāñcarātra
  4. the incorporation of the Āḻvārs’ theology

The development of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta as a vedāntic school is clear as one looks back at Veṅkaṭanātha’s predecessors, but it is important to notice that what seems a posteriori like a clear Vedāntic school would not probably have appeared as such to its contemporaries. In fact, Yāmuna’s relation to Vedānta is complex. He quotes from the Upaniṣads in the Ātmasiddhi, and he starts it listing the Vedānta teachers he wants to refute (including Bhartṛhari and Śaṅkara), so that one might think that he is keener to “purify” Vedānta than he cares about “purifying” Nyāya. At the same time, at least in the Ātmasiddhi (see Mesquita 1971, pp. 4–13) Yāmuna accepts an anti-Vedāntic proof for the existence of God, namely the inference (whereas Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāṃsā agree that God can only be known through the Sacred Texts) and the Āgamaprāmāṇya seems to have a completely different focus. Rāmānuja is more straightforwardly part of a Vedāntic approach (this is, in my opinion, also the reason why he has been often considered the “founder” of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta —a term which he and Yāmuna still ignore). As for Nāthamuni, his relation to Vedānta can only be presupposed out of what we know of him through his successors, given that his works have been lost. Their titles focus, however, on Nyāya and Yoga (and not on Vedānta).

As for No. 2, we know nothing about Nāthamuni’s relation to Mīmāṃsā, but we know that at least one trend within Vedānta (as testified by Śaṅkara’s commentary on the Brahmasūtra) claimed that the study of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā was not necessary. Yāmuna’s relation to Pūrva Mīmāṃsā is double-faced, but Pūrva Mīmāṃsā authors seem to be his targeted objectors in the sense that he wants to convince them of the legitimacy of the Pāñcarātra transmission (although often recurring to their same arguments) and he by and large adopts Nyāya strategies (such as the reference to God as the authoritative source of the epistemologic validity of the Pāñcarātra, or the use of inference to establish God’s existence). The situation changes, perhaps during Yāmuna’s own life, certainly with Rāmānuja, who steers in direction Vedānta and, thus, comes closer to the Pūrva Mīmāṃsā. So close that he programmatically states at the beginning of his commentary on the Brahmasūtra that not only the Brāhmaṇa part of the Veda needs to be studied, but that its study is part of the same teaching with the Vedānta. Veṅkaṭanātha takes advantage of this (perhaps causal) remark and understands its deep implications: he can thus state that the whole of Pūrva Mīmāṃsā and the whole of Uttara Mīmāṃsā constitute a single teaching (ekaśāstra).

No. 3 and 4: Furthermore, Veṅkaṭanātha used the same model, I think, to incorporate into the system further elements. He reaches back to the Pāñcarātra, which had been defended by Yāmuna but rather neglected by Rāmānuja and, more strikingly, to the hymns of the Āḻvārs. It is in this sense more than telling that Veṅkaṭanātha (as first among the first teachers of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta) decided to write also in Tamil and to write theology also in poetical form, as the Āḻvārs had done.

Did you ever try to reconstruct what had happened in a single school within some generations of teachers and pupils? What did you find out?

On Yāmuna’s role in what came to be known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, check this post, on Pāñcarātra and Vedānta, see this post. For more on Veṅkaṭanātha, check this tag.