Shad Darshan – Vedanta philosophies (contd.):
Vishishtadvaita philosophy and almost all of the “Vaishnav” philosophies of Hinduism are based on Panchratra scriptures – one of the four kinds of Vaishnav Agams (Vaishnava Agamas). Agamas are a separate class of authoritative Hindu scriptures than Nigams (Nigamas) or Vedas. Panchratra scriptures are divided into seven groups, namely, Brahma, Shaiva, Kaumara, Vashishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya, and Naradiya. The Naradiya Panchratra is in the Shanti Parva section of the Mahabharat and is considered as the earliest source of Panchratra philosophy. The followers of the Vaishnav tradition regard Panchratra scriptures, especially of Naradiya origin, as the most authoritative, in which Vishnu is mentioned as the Supreme Lord.
As against Vedanta understanding of Brahm, there is a major philosophy of Parabrahm Narayan (God) described in the “Panchrātra” shastras (scriptures). Vaishnav Panchratra shastras glorify God as Vishnu. According to Panchratra Shastras, there is one Supreme God (suggesting the monotheistic nature of Hinduism) known as Purushottam Narayan who assumes or reveals Himself in five different ways: 1. Para – the original form in His abode, 2. Vyuh – Chatur Vyuh (four nirgun forms) in brahmand for the worship, 3. Vibhuti Avatar – an incarnation on the earth, 4. Antaryāmi – inner controller or indweller, and 5. Archā (murti or pratimā) – an image or object for the worship. He manifests or emanates in brahmand as four forms (chatur vyuh) of Vāsudev, Sankarshan, Aniruddha, and Pradyumna. Sankarshan, Aniruddha, and Pradyumna forms of Vāsudev are the major controlling forms during the destructive, sustaining, and the creative phases of brahmand (universe), respectively. It is he who assumes, manifests, or reveals himself as an avatar on this earth. Murtis are described of eight kinds. The ninth kind is chal murti generally known a Brahmanized or God-realized Sant in whom God resides fully. According to Panchratra, one, who offers nine kinds of devotion (bhakti) to him, attains the liberation (mukti or moksha).
Vishishta Advait philosophy of Ramanujacharya:
As against Shankaracharya’s Advait philosophy or non-dualism of Nature (Prakruti) and Brahm or the soul and the Brahm, there is also another major philosophy called Vishishta Advait or qualified non-dualism of Ramanujacharya (c. 1017-1137). It is based on the spiritual and physical experience and realization of God by offering utmost devotion (bhakti) to God, instead of just knowing the nature of self and God (brahmgnan). The same illusory world of Maya of Advait philosophy of Shankaracharya is used for offering the devotion or bhakti towards personified (sakar) God. According to this philosophy, the soul and God are both qualitatively or characteristically similar but ontologically quite distinct entities and not the one and same or part and parcel. This dual or paradoxical understanding of both the realities makes it special or “Vishishta” and separates it from the Shankaracharya’s Advait philosophy. Secondly, it clarifies the distinction between the Creation (Prakruti or Nature) and the Creator (Ishwar or God). Ishwar is transcendental to both jiv (soul) and jagat (Nature). The philosophy still falls short of clarifying the ontological distinction between the jiv (soul) and jagat (Nature) even though characteristically both are opposite of each other. One is chit, chaitanya, essence, sentient, indestructible, indivisible, unchangeable, and non-decayable while the other is achit, achetan, jad, insentient, destructible, divisible, changeable, and decayable. It considers jiv (soul) and jagat (nature) are two modes of one reality called Brahm. According to this philosophy, the soul is “Chit-Brahm” meaning chaitanya or sentient being and the jagat (Prakruti or Nature) is “Achit-Brahm” meaning achetan, jad or insentient being. According to this philosophy, soul and nature, both as Brahm, are the body (sharir) of God (Parabrahm). In this way Brahm (sharir) and Parabrahm (shariri) make the two, respectively, penultimate and the ultimate, dependent and independent, transcendental eternal realities. Thus, according to this philosophy, there are mainly three fundamental realities, called “Tattva”, namely, Chit or Jiv (soul), Achit or Jagat (universe), and Ishwar (God). The triad of jiv, jagat, and jagadishwar (jagat + ishwar = jagadishwar, meaning, ishwar or lord of the jagat) is generally known as Brahm – the one and only. Thus, it does not differ much from the Advait philosophy of Shankaracharya. The apparently minute or subtle (sukshma) but the philosophically major difference between the two philosophies is that, Ishwar is considered different than Brahm in the Vishishtadvaita philosophy, whereas, there is no difference between Ishwar (God) and Brahm in Advait philosophy. Vishishtadvaita philosophy considers Ishwar as an essence or substantive part of Brahm, whereas, jiv and jagat are considered the two modes of Brahm. Ishwar is transcendental to both jiv and jagat. Ishwar (God) has dual characteristics: he resides or is present as a principle, universal spirit, and as an inner controller inside all beings, at the same time, all beings reside within him. Vishishtadvaita philosophy is generally known as the Path of devotion or bhakti (Bhakti Mārg) because it stresses more on devotion to God rather than to Brahmgnan or mere knowledge of Brahm. The devotion to God exceeds simple union of the individual soul with Brahm without any devotion to God. Shankaracharya’s “Gnan Marg” does not involve much of the devotion or worship of God instead it stresses more on the knowledge and the union of the soul with the Brahm – the Supreme authority. Just as the Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya has become synonymous with Vedanta, the Vishishtadvaita philosophy of Ramanujacharya has become synonymous with Vaishnavism (Vaishnav theology). The word “Vaishnav” has come from worshiping Vishnu as God or the Supreme Being.
If one tries to understand God only by studying Panchratra shastras (scriptures), God is realized as purely human being like us, simply because common people or non-devotees cannot see or find any divinity in His worldly routine activities. Secondly the personal form of God gets all the limitations and becomes localized in one place at one time and not as the forever universal inner controller (sarva-antaryami) form and all-perfect (paripurna) form.