Visistadvaita

Principal school of Vedanta.

Its seminal figure was Ramanuja, the first Vedanta thinker to establish as the cornerstone of his system the identification of a personal God with the Brahman of the Upanishads. For him, soul and matter depended on God for their existence. Exclusive devotion to God can elicit his grace, assisting the devotee in gaining release from the cycle of rebirth. After Ramanuja, a schism developed over the role of grace, giving rise to different schools. The spread of Visistadvaita was important in the devotional renaissance of Vaishnavism. In southern India the philosophy remains a major intellectual influence.

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▪ Hindu philosophy
Sanskrit“Nonduality of the Qualified”

      one of the principal schools of Vedānta, an orthodox philosophy of India. This school grew out of the Vaiṣṇava (worship of the god Vishnu [Viṣṇu]) devotional movement prominent in South India from the 7th century on. One of the early Brahmans (class of priests) who began to guide the movement was Nāthamuni (10th century), head priest of the temple at Śrīraṅgam (in modern Tamil Nadu state). He was succeeded by Yāmuna (11th century), who wrote some philosophic treatises but no commentaries.

      The most towering figure is his successor, Rāmānuja, or Rāmānujācārya (master Rāmānuja, c. 1050–1137), who wrote commentaries on the Brahma-sūtras (the Śrībhāṣya, “Beautiful Commentary”) and on the Bhagavadgītā and a treatise on the Upaniṣads, the Vedārthasaṃgraha (“Summary of the Meaning of the Veda”). Rāmānuja was the first of the Vedānta thinkers who made the identification of a personal God with the Brahman (brahma) of the Upaniṣads and the Vedānta-sūtras the cornerstone of his system. As a personal God, Brahman possesses all the good qualities in a perfect degree, and Rāmānuja does not tire of mentioning them. He interprets the relationship between the unitary and infinite Brahman and the plural and finite world in a novel way, which, however, has some support in the Upaniṣads. For him the relation between the infinite and the finite is like that between the soul and the body. Hence nonduality is maintained, while differences can still be stated. Soul and matter are totally dependent on God for their existence, as is the body on the soul.

      God has two modes of being, as cause and as product. As cause, he is in his essence qualified only by his perfections; as product, he has as his body the souls and the phenomenal world. There is a pulsating rhythm in these periods of creation and absorption. For Rāmānuja, release is not a negative separation from transmigration, or series of rebirths, but, rather, the joy of the contemplation of God. This joy is attained by a life of exclusive devotion (bhakti) to God, singing his praise, performing adulatory acts in temple and private worship, and constantly dwelling on his perfections. God will return his grace, which will assist the devotee in gaining release.

      Viśiṣṭādvaita flourished after Rāmānuja, but a schism developed over the importance of God's grace. For the northern, Sanskrit-using school, the Vaḍakalai, God's grace in gaining release is important, but man himself should make his best efforts. This school is represented by the thinker Veṅkaṭanātha, who was known by the honorific name of Vedāntadeśika (Teacher of Vedānta). The southern, Tamil-using school, the Teṉkalai, holds that God's grace alone is necessary.

      The influence of Viśiṣṭādvaita spread far to the north, where it played a role in the devotional renaissance of Vaiṣṇavism, particularly under the Bengal devotee Caitanya (1485–1533). In southern India the philosophy itself is still an important intellectual influence.

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Universalium. 2010.

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