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Ramanuja – Hindu sage likened to St. Thomas Aquinas

English: sage Ramanujacharya's statue

Ramanujacharya’s statue – Wikipedia

Ramanuja (1017-1137 CE) was a leading Hindu philosopher born in the Brahmin caste. Legend has it that he learned the Vedas when he was a baby, only eight days old.¹

Ramanuja was influential to the Bhakti movement, which favors devotion over dry, conceptual philosophy.

Apparently Ramanuja hoped to visit another prominent Hindu philosopher, Yamunacharya, but the latter died before they could compare notes.²

Ramanuja sees the Vedas as authoritative. If you believe in one part, you have to believe in all of the Veda. In other words, he is a religious fundamentalist who accepts the social stratification and misogyny spelled out and reinforced by the Veda.³

Believing that Vishnu is supreme, as a Vaishnavite (follower of Vishnu)  Ramanuja challenges the views of Sankara and the Saivites (followers of Siva). Wikipedia suggests that their respective positions on the soul in relation to ultimate reality are the same.

Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita school and Shankara’s Advaita school are both nondualism Vedanta schools,[19][46] both are premised on the assumption that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation; in contrast, Madhvacharya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned.4

Contrary to what Wikipedia says, Ramanuja develops a form of monism that differs from Shankara’s. Ramanuja’s system of Visistadvaita is widely recognized as qualified monism. Specifically, Ramanuja challenges Sankara’s claim that only the Brahman is real and individuality is illusory (maya). For Ramanuja, the Brahman is real and beyond pain and suffering. However, individual souls (jivas) emerging from and ultimately resting within the Brahman are also real.

English: Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi...

Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi Mandir in Kedarnath, India. Photo taken by Priyanath – Wikipedia

For Ramanuja the Brahman is beyond the law of karma but the individual soul (jiva) is not and must answer to the wheel of rebirth. Accordingly, the jiva experiences the pleasure and pain of earthly life. And liberation from samsara, the round of rebirth due to karma, is gained through individual effort as well as from the grace of Vishnu.

Ultimately, the individual soul rests within but does not become absorbed by the Brahman or, for that matter, simply disappear.

As a consequence of his religious and philosophical innovations, Ramanuja was persecuted by a rival Hindu who happened to be a Saivite ruler.

The prominent Indologist Wendy Doniger calls Ramanuja “probably the single most influential thinker of devotional Hinduism.”5

Others have likened Ramanuja to the 13th-century Christian thinker, St. Thomas Aquinas. These two thinkers may appear similar on an abstract, intellectual level but any similarity after that becomes problematic. First of all, the alleged truths of Christ and the Veda at many points are incompatible.

Second, from my perspective the religious experiences respectively offered by Hinduism and Christianity (Catholicism specifically) differ.6

Instead of yielding to the pressure of political correctness and glossing over perceived differences, it is far more fruitful to talk about religion and religious experience as we really see and feel it.

Otherwise, sugar-coated religious dialog and ostentatious conferences are a huge waste of time and money. They may help to connect a circle of established or trending pundits. But backslapping, mutual admiration, fancy hotels and superficial proclamations will never replace any kind of true understanding.

STATIONTOSTATION lp album cover by David Bowie – Wikipedia

¹ This seems pretty far fetched. It reminds me of stories about Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, emerging from the womb playing air piano with his baby fingers.

² If both were so spiritually achieved, you’d think that earthly death wouldn’t matter and they could communicate directly, soul to soul.

³ For those claiming that the Vedas do not advocate caste, I urge you to look at the Vedic creation myth.

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramanuja

5 Ibid.

6 Perhaps only those who cannot discern a difference in numinosity between these two paths would believe they are phenomenologically equivalent. Some may see this as a biased or backward statement but if a person, like myself, experiences real differences among different religious paths, another’s inexperience, insensitivity or preference for political correctness will not change that fact. This issue has recently appeared in relation to some Catholics’ view of yoga.

 Indian wildlife protection act (enagar.com)

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Sankara – A Hindu who was no big fan of the Buddha

English: Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi...

Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi Mandir in Kedarnath, India. Photo taken by Priyanath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sankara, Shankara or Adi Shankara (c. 700 – 750 CE) was a Hindu philosopher, mystic and theologian born in Kerala, India.

A towering figure in Indian philosophical history, Sankara advocated Advaita Vedanta. His commentaries on scripture like the Bhagavad-Gita and Brahma-sutras outline the Advaita philosophy, which teaches the non-duality and absolute identidy of atman and brahman

Sankara was highly critical of the Buddha and is often held responsible for driving Buddhism out of India. In his commentary on the Brahma-sutra, he writes

The Buddha exposed for the sake of instruction, three mutually contradictory doctrines, either having manifested thus his own incoherent garrulity or his enmity towards all living beings, having erroneously assumed that they would be confused.²

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, Sankara and his followers regarded the Buddha as an evil avatar. Why evil? Because the Buddha, from Sankara’s perspective, tried to sway the masses away from the sacred Veda.

But some Hindu philosophers take a big picture approach and interpret the Buddha’s critique of Hinduism in an overall positive light. For them, the Buddha’s apparent deception restored balance to a Hindu priesthood that had become hypocritical and elitist.

Some see this as a strength of Hinduism. It can take almost anything and conceptually absorb it into its overall philosophy. However, others see this as problematic because, for them, Hinduism fails to appreciate different religions for what they really are, on their own terms.³

Related » Moksha, Ramanuja, Scholarship, Self, Visistadvaita

¹ The following reveals considerable ambiguity with regard to authorship: https://www.highly.co/hl/57fd669e9fc2077c0800002f

² http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/lofiversion/index.php/ (Now a dead link; was active in 2009/05/12)

³ While a student in India doing my Masters, a professor whom I admired very much once said “Jesus was a messenger” and “all religions are the same.” As I grew into my – admittedly innovative – Catholic path, I really have questioned these assertions. For me, the Eucharistic love and warmth simply could not be found in my experience of Hinduism. The Eucharist helps me to experience a whole new vista that I didn’t even know existed prior to my reception of it.  So I would not agree that all religions are the same. As to the status of Jesus, this is something I think about a lot. But I would not be happy relegating him to the status of “messenger,” just like any other religious figure. Simply put, no other figure makes me feel the same way. Having said that, I also believe that all religions may work together. But imo that does not mean that they are all the same.


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Visistadvaita

English: sage Ramanujacharya's statue

Ramanujacharya’s statue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monotheists, especially fundamentalist Christians, sometimes criticize Hinduism by saying it’s polytheistic. This kind of critique, however, doesn’t necessarily hold up. The actual picture in Indian philosophy is far more complicated than the one painted by some Christian fundamentalists.¹ So a critique of Hinduism based on the idea of monotheism can – and should be – further examined.²

A good example of the complexity of Hinduism can be found in the difference between two leading Indian sages and philosophers, Sankara (788-820) and Ramanuja (1017–1137).

Ramanuja founded the Visistadvaita school of philosophy. Ramanuja’s school challenged Sankara’s belief that only the Brahman is real and individuality is illusory (maya).

For Ramanuja, the Brahman is real and beyond pain and suffering. But individual souls (jivas) emerging from and ultimately resting within the Brahman are also real. While the Brahman is beyond the law of karma, the individual soul (jiva) is not. As a result, the jiva experiences the pleasure and pain of earthly life.

Liberation from samsara, the round of rebirth due to karma, is gained through individual effort as well as the grace of God (Vishnu).

Related Posts » Self

Further reading:

  • P. D. Devanandan, The Concept of Maya, London: Lutterworth Press, 1950.

On the Web:

¹ This is not to say that Christianity and Hinduism are necessarily the same. I don’t believe they are. But my reasons for saying this are mostly phenomenological. Unfortunately, I can’t share my personal experience with others, so I usually don’t say too much about this. I don’t want any “all religions are the same” people getting upset and judgmental over my simply stating what I’ve experienced. If they can’t see a difference, it’s usually not worth the hassle.

² Similarly, one can critique an argument about the existence of God while still believing in God.

³ JSTOR may be accessed from university and many public libraries. It’s also an app at Facebook.