Vedanta Philosophy is one of the Indian Orthodox Schools of Philosophy that is primarily based on Upanishads, Bhagavadgita and Brahmasutras (Prasthanatraya). The Vedanta system, with the course of time has branched off into 3 categories: Advaita, Visistadvaita and Dvaita. The Visistadvaita which is mainly taught to have been originated from Ramanuja, is in reality much older than him. Ramanuja has taken the ancient teachings of the Prasthanatraya and has given it a definite shape like others. However, since Ramanujan was the best exponent due to his excellent work, Visistadvaita rightly gets its second name from him; Ramanuja Darsana. After the death of Ramanujan, his followers were divided into Vaḍagalais and Teṅgalais which literally translates to followers of the northern schools and followers of the southern schools respectively.
Visistadvaita is essentially a philosophy of religion. In it, reason and faith combine together to become ‘reasoned faith’. Epistemology: Visistadvaita accepts mainly 3 sources of knowledge, Pratyaksha, Anumana and Testimony of scriptures (Agama or Sabda). The three main principles of Visistadvaita are as followed:
1. Dharmabhūtajñāna – refers to the consciousness of the individual as its attribute. It is through this consciousness that one comes to know the nature of the external world, self and Brahman. This consciousness is all-pervading, however since it is bounded by Karma, it fails to recognize this.
2. Logical rule of aprthak-siddha-visesana – states that a quality resides in its qualified substance and is inseparable from it. They are separate but inseparable. E.g., Rationality is inseparable from man but rationality is not man.
3. Grammatical rule of sāmānādhikaraṇya – It means the application of two terms to a single entity through connotation of its 2 modes. (implicitly)
Visistadvaita accepts the satkaryavada (effect pre-existing in the cause) theory of Samkhya Philosophy. Visistadvaita believes that the world is a transformation of the Brahman and thus is real and not illusory. (Advaita)
Visistadvaita accepts three entities: Brahman, Jiva and Prakriti as the ultimate realities. They are aka ‘tattvatraya’. However, only Brahman is an independent reality and the other two are dependent realities. Therefore Visist (specific) Advaita (non-dualism) is a philosophy that accepts only one Reality, but with attributes or modes.
1. Brahman (Ishavara) Brahman of Visistadvaita is the absolute of philosophy as well as the God of religion. Truth, knowledge, infinity and bliss are its attributes. He is the whole and Jiva and Prakriti are its parts. (saguna brahman?) He is also free from imperfections and any defects. According to Visitadvaita, Brahman enjoys the play of creation. It creates the universe from its cit and acit portions and remains unaffected by it. Since Brahman creates in accordance to the past deeds (Karma) hence he is impartial and good-hearted.
2. Jiva (Cit) The Jivas are countless but they are identical in form and nature. Each Jiva is separate from its constituent attributes such as buddhi, body, mind etc. Jiva is a part of Brahman and is controlled by it. Jiva is the knower of knowledge, doer of actions, and experiencer of their results. The jivas are further divided into 3 groupss.
(i) Bound – the jiva that has not attained moksha and is still bound to Prakriti.
(ii) liberated – the jiva which was previously bound but attained moksha
(iii) eternally free- the Jivas that are always free from samsara and any attachments.
3. Prakriti The Prakriti id insentient (devoid of feeling and consciousness) and through it is the material universe formed. Prakriti is ever-changing hence it can never be the substratum for knowledge. Just as skin, flesh, seed, colour, taste and smell can all exist in the same mango simultaneously, so also cit (jiva) and acit (prakriti) can exist in Brahman.
Means of Liberation:
The means of liberation, is five-fold: karma(deeds), jñāna(knowledge), bhakti (devotion), prapatti (self-surrender), and ācāryābhimāna (strong faith in guru and his affectionate attachment to disciple. Prapatii is self-surrender and is for those who can’t follow the path of Karma, Jnana or bhakti. Its main characteristics are: to conceive what is in conformity with the will of God; to reject what is disagreeable to him; to seek him alone as the protector; and to surrender one’s self to him in all meekness.
State of Liberation:
The liberated soul has a direct vision of Brahman and is absorbed in the eternal bliss of union with him. To him, the pluralistic world remains however his pluralistic views abolishes. The distinction between him and Brahman still remains and the personality still remains. But the liberated soul forever enjoys the state of bliss by serving Brahman.