The following passage is from Yāmuna’s Ātmasiddhi and it is a description of the Advaita position about the brahman as being tantamount to consciousness:
ato ‘syā na meyaḥ kaścid api dharmo ‘sti. ato nirdhūtanikhilabhedavikalpanirdharmaprakāśamātraikarasā kūṭasthanityā saṃvid evātmā paramātmā ca. yathāha yānubhūtir ajāmeyānantātmā iti. saiva ca vedāntavākyatātparyabhūmir iti (ĀS, pp. 29–30 of the 1942 edition)
Therefore this (consciousness) has no characteristic as its knowable content. Therefore, this very consciousness is eternal, uniform and it consists of light-only, without characteristics, in which all conceptualisations of difference have been dissolved. This consciousness alone is the self (ultimately identical with the single brahman, but illusory identified as one’s own self) and the supreme self (i.e., the brahman). As it has been said: ”That experience (i.e., consciousness) is unborn, cannot become a knowledge content, it is endless, it is the self”*. And this alone is the ultimate meaning (tātparya) of the Upaniṣads’ sentences.
The quote within the passage (yānubhūtir ajāmeyānantātmā) could be from Vimuktātman’s Iṣṭasiddhi (1.1: yānubhūtir ajāmeyānantānandātmavigrahā |
mahadādijaganmāyācitrabhittiṃ namāmi tām ||).*
Yāmuna’s description seems fair to me. Do readers more expert in Advaita agree?
*I am grateful to Anand Venkatkrishnan for his help in identifying this quote.
Yāmuna is not strictly speaking a Vedāntin, at least not in all his works. Nonetheless, the extant portion of his Saṃvitsiddhi (henceforth SSi) starts with a typically Vedānta concern, namely the exegesis of some Upaniṣadic statements, and especially of the word advaita within them.
The presence of an Upaniṣadic, and, therefore authoritative, starting point does not mean that there is no space for argumentation. By contrast, Yāmuna discusses at length various possible interpretations, so that the quotes open rather than closing the discussion. In this sense, the Upaniṣadic quotes have the same role of controversial sacrificial issues in Pūrva Mīmāṃsā: the discussion is prompted by the problem they raise. The structure of the first pages of the SSi is the same found at times in Veṅkaṭanātha’s philosophical works such as the Seśvaramīmāṃsā insofar as the opinions of several different schools are briefly examined and refuted. However, in these pages of the SSi the opponents have only one chance to speak out their opinion, the discussion does not involve a single speaker at length, and after one has been defeated, Yāmuna moves swiftly to the next one. The situation changes, even within the same SSi, once Yāmuna moves to a topic which has metaphysical and not only hermeneutical relevance, namely whether there is only one saṃvit ‘cognition’, or whether this is differentiated according to its various intentional contents. Here, the discussion turns into an engaging succession of objections and replies.
Yāmuna at times lets some space for sarcasm. An interesting case contrasts Yāmuna’s point of view to that of “believer” Vedāntins (the opponents are identified immediately before as brahmavidaḥ ‘knowers of brahman’. The context is that of the denial of any difference, so that one can postulate that these are Advaita Vedāntins):
Enough! This teaching about brahman suits [only] believers. We are not believers and resort to reason.
hanta! brahmopadeśo ’yaṃ śraddadhāneṣu śobhate. vayam aśraddadhānās ’smo ye yuktiṃ prārthayāmahe. (SSi 1942 p. 131).
(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.
(The following is my attempt to make sense of Rāmānuja’s conceptions of bhakti. Comments and criticisms are welcome!)
To Rāmānuja (traditional dates 1017–1137) are attributed, with more or less certainty, a series of Vedāntic works, namely the Śrī Bhāṣya (henceforth ŚrīBh) commentary on the Brahma Sūtra (henceforth UMS), which is his philosophical opus magnum, both in length and philosophical depth, the Gītabhāṣya on the Bhagavadgītā (henceforth BhG), a compendium of his philosophy, the Vedārthasaṅgraha, and two shorter commentaries on the UMS, namely the Vedāntadīpa and the Vedāntasāra.
Beside these works, the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta school, at least since the time of Sudarśana Sūri and Veṅkaṭanātha (also called Vedānta Deśika, traditional dates 1269–1370), recognised Rāmānuja as the author of also three extremely short works (about 3–4 pages each), namely the Śaraṇāgatigadya, the Śrīraṅgagadya and the Vaikuṇṭhagadya, and of a manual of daily worship called Nityagrantha.
The terms bhakti `devotional love’ and bhakta `devotee’ are not very frequent in the ŚrīBh, where they are mentioned slightly more than ten times, a portion of which in quotes (some of which from the BhG). By contrast, the Śaraṇāgatigadya mentions bhakti 19 times in its only 23 sentences, and adds further elements to it (such as Nārāyaṇa instead of Kṛṣṇa as the object of devotion, and the role of prapatti ‘self-surrender’, see immediately below). Does this mean that the Śaraṇāgatigadya is not by Rāmānuja and represents a further stage in the theological thought of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta? Alternatively, one might suggest that Rāmānuja addressed different audiences in his philosophical and in his religious works. In other words, the difference between the position of the ŚrīBh and that of the Śaraṇāgatigadya could be only due to the fact that the first develops a philosophical discourse about God, whereas the latter enacts the author’s relationship with Him.
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.
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…
Does sense-perception have natural limitations? Or can it be improved through practice and still be perceptual?
Basically, we can either claim that God can be known through reason alone (Samuel Clarke, Anthony Collins, Voltaire, Kant, Nyāya, Śaivasiddhānta…) or that S/He can be known through personal insight and/or Sacred Texts (Śrī Vaiṣṇavas after Yāmuna, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas…).
Arne Niklas Jansson