The Development of Hindu Theism in the
Medieval Period
Vishishtadvaita Vedanta
Ramanuja (12th Century)
Ramanuja’s Critique of Sankara
Where is avidya (ignorance) located?
in Brahman?
Brahman is
in the Jiva
(individual soul)?
in some other
Brahman is evil.
(Jiva in its real
nature is one with
Ramanuja concluded that, on Sankara’s view, either Brahman is
evil or Sankara’s non-dualism is false. Hence, Sankara’s system is
self refuting.
Ramanuja’s Critique of Sankara
Related Argument
(1) Either the distinction between Brahman and avidya
is real or it is not.
(1) If the distinction between Brahman and avidya is
real, then non-dualism is false.
(1) If the distinction between Brahman and avidya is
not real, then Brahman and avidya are identical.
(4) Either non-dualism is false or Brahman and avidya
are identical.
Ramanuja adopted a
qualified non-dualism
Brahman is real and
ultimately personal
Jivas are real individual
Brahman and Jivas are
really distinct.
Jivas are parts of
The Personal Nature of Brahman
Like all Bhakti Vedantins, Ramanuja held that
Brahman is an Absolute or Supreme personal
being endowed with auspicious attributes.
“Brahman denotes the highest Person [Purusha] .
. . free from all imperfections and possessing
numberless classes of auspicious qualities of
unsurpassable excellence.”
~ Ramanuja (Vedanta Sutras, p. 4)
The Names of God
Ramanuja refers to the Supreme Being by various
names, including Brahman, Narayana, Vishnu, Ishvara,
Bhagavan, and Purushottama. Krishna is the incarnation
of Vishnu.
Attributes of God
Svarupa (inherent nature): Truth, Knowledge, Infinity,
Immeasurable Bliss, Incorruptible Purity.
Svabhava (auspicious quality): omniscience,
omnipotence, lordship, creative power, immutability,
splendor, generosity, compassion.
“We know from Scripture that there is a Supreme Person
whose nature is absolute bliss and goodness; who is
fundamentally antagonistic to all evil; who is the cause
of the origination,
sustenance, and
dissolution of the
who differs in nature from all
other beings; who is all-knowing; who
by his mere thought and will
accomplishes all his purposes; who is
an ocean of kindness as it were for all who depend on him;
who is all-merciful; who is immeasurably raised above all
possibility of anyone being equal or superior to him;
whose name is the Highest Brahman.”
~ Ramanuja (Vedanta Sutras, p. 770)
For Ramanuja, Brahman is a
maximally perfect personal being.
Brahman and the Universe
Brahman is the efficient and material cause of
the universe.
Brahman not only creates the universe as an
agent, but he is that out of which the universe
of sentient and non-sentient forms is made,
though he remains distinct from creation.
“The entire world is a
body the Self of
which is constituted
by knowledge abiding
apart from its worldbody.” ~ Ramanuja
The soul controls and guides a person’s body,
but the soul is unaffected by the body.
Similarly, Brahman directly sustains, controls,
and guides the universe, and Brahman is also
unaffected by the universe.
Brahman and Jiva Souls
Ramanuja affirms the reality of a plurality of
individual, finite, eternally existing jivas
(souls), distinct from each other and Brahman.
Jivas are immaterial, self-conscious, agents,
endowed with a blissful nature.
Jivas are not independently existing entities
but actually parts of Brahman and thus
inseparable from Brahman. Metaphysically,
jivas are attributes of a divine substance.
Tat tvam asi: “That Thou Art”
Tat: Ishvara as the indweller of the
cosmic body
Tvam: Ishvara as indweller of the jiva
“You (jiva) are the body/part of
The Way of Union with Brahman
Union with Brahman involves union with God who is a
personal being and the Lord of Love.
Union is achieved through bhakti (love), which
involves dhyana (meditation) and upasana
(continuous thought) directed towards God, which in
turn may require as a preliminary stage:
Karma Yoga: Acting without attachment to the fruit
of one’s action. Detachment.
Jnana Yoga: Overcoming the false identification of
self with one’s body. Knowledge.
Disciplines that Cultivate Loving Devotion
1.) Viveka: Discrimination in food.
2.) Vimoka: Resist the impulses of passions like anger,
sexuality, and jealousy.
3.)Abhyasa: worship activities like japa (chanting),
collective singing of God’s name, and visiting holy
places that will remind one of God’s presence in the
self and world
4.)Kriya: Performance of vedic duties, e.g., sacrifices,
social and professional duties.
5.) Kalyana: virtues such as truth, kindness,
benevolence, and love of all beings.
6.) Anavasada: Cheerful attitude of mind.
7.) Anuddharsa: even temperament.
In the state of liberation (moksha), jivas retain
their individuality. They are not merged into
formless Brahman, as in Advaita Vedanta.
In their liberated state Jivas attain the abode of
Vaikuntha, the abode of Narayana and his form
(a heavenly realm outside maya), where
Narayana’s auspicious attributes are visible.
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