Visistaadvaita Shree Vaishnava Philosophy and PracticeLessons prepared by M.S.HARI Raamaanuja Daasan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From the time immemorial, mans curiosity to find out the cause of the universe seems to be an ever-burning torch of knowledge. Various part of the world has come out with various schools of thoughts of philosophy and practice. Few claim that their philosophy is pure philosophy staying away from any religion/theology while few claim that their philosophy is philosophy of a religion/theology. Beliefs and prejudices have had a hand on many such out comes. History attempts to trace the political and social circumstances for these while science tries to rationalize them. India is also not an exemption from the list of countries that have given to the world their schools of thoughts. In fact India is recognized to have produced certain philosophies for which the date of origin is not traceable. Indias culture and heritage are still regarded very ancient. The Veda of India has been a strong base for numerous schools of philosophical thoughts.
A popular saying is A research begins as science, develops and ends as philosophy. This does not imply that philosophy is a subject that is having no culminating point of rational comprehension but only implies that philosophy covers certain concepts that cannot be analyzed and explained by science. Science does analyze physical cosmos but philosophy does extend it to metaphysical and transcendental concepts. Science is an analytical research whereas philosophy has synthesis in its approach. To explain this, a concept is examined by science by analytically breaking it into sub-concepts and like this it hierarchically proceeds to micro-levels. On the other hand, philosophy examines a concept by synthesis it groups or sums up and examines. It does not break the concept into hierarchical levels but builds after classification. Any concept can be thought to be composed of four components. Pramanam is Authority premises domain using which one gets knowledge. Premeyam is that which is the object of knowledge, that which is known. Pramatha is he who uses Pramanam and gets knowledge thus know the Premeyam and Prama is the valid knowledge got by Pramatha regarding Premeyam by the use of Pramanam. Many schools of philosophical thoughts have flooded this world trying to enlighten mankind from time immemorial. A Philosophy when proved to be rational and in strict accordance to a flawless domain, answers all questions which are not answered by science. Amongst manifold philosophies, the philosophy of the Veda prevailing in India from very ancient time, restructured by Bhagavat Ramanuja Yatiraja, named Visistaadvaita Shree Vaishnavam claims to be such a proven philosophy. Let us start learning it step by step from basics.
Authority is known as Pramaanam in Sanskrit. There are three authorities accepted. They are three.. .
Sabdam (The Vedas - Sruti)
Pratyaksham (That which is observed & understood through our sense organs)
Anumaanam (Inference based on observation)
Anumaanam is given least importance because it is susceptible to error. It is inference based on observation(s). For example, If I observe smoke coming from behind a mountain, I infer based on this observation that there is fire behind the mountain. I may be right or wrong. It can be even a mist or cloud passing behind the mountain. So anumaanam is not fool-proof but is accepted if it is substantiated with proper valid logic.
Pratyaksham is of certain importance but still it is also susceptible to error. This is what is perceived through our sense organs like eyes, ears etc., and understood by us. It is considerable and not to be rejected or accepted without proper & foolproof inquiry.
Sabdam is Vedas or Sruti. You know, Vedas are Appourusheya ie., not authored by any one including the God Almighty. It is of infinite volume. Baadaraayana (Veda Vyasa) only bifurcated the Veda into four (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atarvanam) and compiled them that is why he is called Vyasa (In Sanskrit, Vyasa means compiler). No one thus composed vedas. In fact it is the expansion of the sacred Pranavam OM as the divine breath of Lord Vishnu. It is natural, pure, the only authority by itself, accepted and free from all errors as it has got no author. It condenses in Pranavam. It is remembered by Vishnu and revealed/taught to Brahmaa-Chatur Muka during the beginning of every creation. Vishnu himself protects the vedas as Hayagreeva & Madhusudana. From him it is preached to other Praja Patis who are Gotra Pravartakas (ancient ancestors) who in turn preach it to men. Veda has got six accessories (Angas) guarding it. They are
1.Sisksha (The sounds, pronunciations, swaram-pitch/frequency)
2.Chandas (The meter of Veda verses like anushtub chandas, gaayatri chandas etc.,)
3.Vyakaranam (The grammatical part of Veda verses)
4.Niruktam (The methods adopted to derive the meaning)
5.Jyothisham (Rules regarding finding out the proper time to do the duties prescribed in Veda based on planetary movements)
6.Kalpam (Rules regarding the performance of rituals and duties prescribed in vedas).
The vedas are also called nigama, aapta sruti, sruti, aamnaayam and parama saastram. The term Veda means knowledge & wisdom. It is called sruti because it is taught by the Guru vocally and heard by the student, repeated and memorised to remember. It is the storehouse of all knowledge nigamam. It is called aapta sruti because it is always the only reliable source & authority of knowledge that can be depended upon. Thus it is the only supreme knowledge base which enlightens - parama saastram. It is called aamnaayam when collectively its portions like mantram, aaranyakam etc., are taken. Sage Saayana has given a commentary for the full of vedas and it is called veda bhasyam. The vedas has two parts. They are
Brahma Kaandam (otherwise called as Igyaana Kaandam)
The Karma kaandam deals with the rituals like Yagyaas, Homam, Yaagas and such sacrifices and ceremonies that are part of all walks of life like birth, upanayanam, marriage, death etc.,. It is the elaborate treatment of all materialistic knowledges. It is also called Poorva Mimaamsa. Shree Jaimini Maha Muni (A sage who knows Veda Vyasa and lived in his period as Vyasas disciple) has written sutras (aphoristic formulas) regarding this called Dharma (Karma) Sutras. It has 12 chapters divided into two sections. Sage Kasakrutsna appended another four chapters named Devata Kaandam to it.
The Brahma kaandam (Igyaana kaandam) Vedaantam (Meaning Conclusion/end of Vedas) deals with the knowledge regarding the absolute root cause of the universe, the ultimate truth of Brahman-Shreeman Naaraayana Paramatman. It is also called Upanishad (Upanishad is the one which is close to Brahman and talks about the reality of Brahman) It is very vast, deep and requires highest intelligence, Bhagavat Krupaa & Aacharya Kataksham to comprehend and realize the concepts as explained in it. It is called Uttara Mimaamsam. Baadaraayana Shree Veda Vyasa himself has written sutras (aphoristic formulas) regarding this called Brahma Sutras. It is also called Saareeraka Saastram. The brahma sutra has four chapters. Each chapter has sections called paadas and each paada has sub-sections called the aadhikaranas. Each aadhikarana has one to many sutras. The first chapter is samanvaya that deals with establishing Shreeman Narayana as Brahman who is the only cause of universe (all living and non-living things), having the universe as his body and he being the soul of the universe. The second chapter is avirodha, which establishes that the Brahman thus established in the first chapter, cannot be refuted, or rejected by any system. The third chapter is saadana, which deals with the means to attain the brahmans lotus feet. The fourth chapter is phala, which deals with the goal, which is eternal bliss and service to the lotus feet of Lord Shreeman Narayana who is the Brahman in the Paramapada Vaikunta, which is the transcendental eternal & ultimate place.
Apart from the sruti as briefly explained above, Few Smruties like Manu Smruti are accepted as authorities. Smruti as the name indicates are different from Sruti. Smruti means memory - remembrance. Sages like Manu Maharishi learnt vedas (sruti) and practiced it for several years and out of their knowledge and experience, they remembered the sruti and explained it through their works called smruti. Thus Smruti has author but Sruti has no author.
Puraanas like Vishnu Purana composed by Shree Paraasara (Father of Veda Vyasa), Bhaagavata Maha Purana are also accepted. All 18 puraanas of Vyasa are not accepted. Only 6 of them called Saatvika Puraanas are accepted. The other 12 puraanas (Raajasa & Taamasa) are rejected as Brahmaa (Chatur Muka) who actually revealed all puranaas to rishis like Vyasa himself is only a Jeeva Aatman bound to all three characteristics (Satva, Rajas & Tamas) of samsaara. His (Chatur Mukas) words are reliable only during his saatvika period and not during his rajas or tamas periods.
Itihaasas Shree Raamaayana of Shreemat Valmiki & Shree Maha Bharata of Veda Vyasa are also accepted in their original form as composed. As far as Maha Bharata is considered, it is like an ocean of knowledge with Vishnu Sahasranama and Bhagavat Gita as to divine precious gems.
Aagamas: Aagamas are authored scriptures considered as authority only when they do not contradict vedas. The aagamas are found to deal with temple worship, consecration of idols in temples, temple festivals, knowledge regarding tatvas, karma and dharma. Paancharaatra and Vaikanasa are two Vaishnava Aagamas.
The aagamas are authored works. They have divisions called samhitas. There are number of such aagamas found to be existent based on which religions have evolved. All such aagamas are not to be accepted as authoritative because it has to be analytically studied whether the aagama supports the Veda or not. In case of an aagama contradicting the veda, it has to be appropriately synchronized in accordance with veda or if such aagama if found to deviate from veda, it has to be rejected. Veda Vyasa who composed the brahma sutra has dealt with regarding accepting or rejecting all schools of thoughts that were prevalent. Brahma Sutras second chapters first and second pada are important in the context of Pancharaatra Aagama. Here in these Padas, Veda Vyasa deals with almost all schools of though & philosophy and rejects all of them except the Pancharaatra aagama based system. It is to be noted that many philosophers including Shree Sankara Bhagavat Pada have commented on Brahma sutra and has accepted pancharaatra alone to be authoritative - of course there is deviation of thoughts among them but still the truth is accepted.
Pancharaatra aagama has numerous samhitas of which saatvata, jayaakya and pouskara samhitas are considered as gems. Shreeaman Narayanan himself authors Pancharaatra aagama. Maha Bharata says that the author of Pancharaatra is Shreeman Narayanan himself. Paancharaatra aagama deals with the tatva (reality), hita (means) and the purushaartha (goal). It also talks about temple constructions, worshiping of the Lord in temples, the temple festivals and consecration of aarcha form of Vishnu. It also talks about yoga, mantra, yantra, dharma and code of conduct for people. It is in strict agreement with the Veda. Paancharaatra specifically deals with a class of forms of Vishnu called the Vyuhaa Roopas. I also talks about the mighty discus (Sudarsana Chakra) of Shreeman Naaraayana. The eternal abode of the Lord namely Shree Vaikunta Paramapada is also described by it. In short Paancharaatra covers every aspect of the Vedic philosophy and practice which is Visistaadvaita Shree Vaishnavam. Its origin can be traced to a Vedic branch called Ekaayana Veda.
Sage Vikanasa authors this aagama. Other sages like Atri, Marichi, Brugu have contributed to this aagama.
Any authority can be accepted as authority only if it supports Vedas. If it contradicts Vedas, it has to be appropriately understood such that there is no contradiction to the Vedic authority or it should be rejected. One has to necessarily understand that Vedas (Sruti) alone is the base authority or the only final authority.
In philosophy, Logic is an important tool. Nyaya, Tarka etc, are such concepts. Unless and until a concept is established in philosophy in a rational manner and within the limits of the premises (domain of philosophy), it cannot be accepted. Science also does the same way. Science stops with material world but philosophy extends it to transcendental also.
The Prastaana Trayam & Its Significance In Our Visistaadvaita Shree Vaishnava Sidhdantam.. .
The three authoritative scriptures as proof taken collectively is popularly referred to as Prastaana Trayam. They are
I have explained the nature of vedas earlier. Paarthasaarati Kannan has preached Himself the Bhagavat Geeta Himself to Arjuna in the battlefield of Maha Bharata. It is the essence of all Vedas and it is of greatest significance as it is a saastra that came as the divine message & order of the Lord Kannan Himself. It has 18 chapters. The brahma sutras are aphorisms (nearly 550 formula like short - precise - clear - error free - small verses) composed by Veda Vyasa Bhagavan to explain the Saareeraka Saastra Of Upanishads. Our Visistaadvaita Shree Vaishnava Sidhdantam is based on this prastaana trayam. It is the premises domain.
The Brahma Sutra in its second chapter categorically rejects and refutes the number of works authored such as authored works by the Saankyaas, Yoga, Chaaruvaakas, Vaiseshikas, the four kinds of Buddhist schools of thoughts (namely Maadyantika, Vaibhashika, Sowntrantika and Yogaachara), the Jainas and the Paasupata-Saiva. The only authored work accepted by the Brahma Sutra as authoritative as Vedas is the Paancharaatra Aagama. I have heard few saying that the Brahma Sutra has not mentioned directly the name of Shreeman Naaraayana as the Para Brahman. This is absurd to say so because the Brahma Sutra has clearly established that Paancharaatra Aagama as authoritative as the Vedas and there is no room for any doubt regarding Shreeman Naaraayanan is the Para Brahman. The qualities declared for Para Brahman in the Brahma sutra only identifies with Shereeman Naaraayanan who is declared as the Para Brahman in the Vedas Naaraayana param brahma Tatvam Naaraayana Paraha: Naaraayana Paro Jyothihe Aatmaa Naaraayana paraha.
The Divya Prabandam are 24 sections of Tamil poems composed by Saints called Alwars. They are outpouring of their experiences that they had with Lord. It is the form of Veda in Tamil applicable for all people in simple form. Divya Prabandam is a best source of knowledge and has helped us to comprehend the Veda clearly. Our sampradayam is also called as Ubhaya Vedanatam. The Sanskrit term Ubhaya means, Twin. The Sanskrit Vedanta (Upanishads) and the Tamil Vedanta (Divya Prabandam) are together referred to as Ubhaya Vedantam.
The further details of the above paragraphs will be dealt with in next lesson.