About the Book
Sri Ramanuja wrote nine works in Sanskrit on the philosophy of Visistadvaita. Of these, the Vedartha-Sangraha occupies a unique place inasmuch as the work takes the place of a commentary on the Upanisads. The work mirrors a total vision of the Upanisads, discussing all the controversial texts in a relevant, coherent manner. It is in fact an independent exposition of the philosophy of the Upanisads. Prof. M. Hiriyanna describes it as 'an independent treatise explaining in a masterly way his philosophic position, and pointing out the basis for it in the Upanisads'.
It is well known that Swami Vivekananda propagated the Advaita Aspect of Vedanta" and its practical application which he called "Practical Advaitism" for elevating the lives of individuals all over the world. He held, nevertheless, that the "highest Advaitism cannot be brought down to practical life. Advaitism made practical works from the plane of Vishishtadvaitism" (C.W., VI-122). He wrote to Alasinga Perumal in a letter dated 6 May 1895: "All of religion is contained in the Vedanta, that is, in the three stages of the Vedanta philosophy, the Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita and Advaita; one comes after the other. These are the three stages of spiritual growth in man. Each one is necessary…. Now, in your journal write article after article on these three systems, showing their harmony as one following after the other,…." (C. W., V – 81-82).
Keeping these and similar ideas of Swami Vivekananda in view we have undertaken to re-published one of the most important treatises on Vishishtadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya, entitled Vedartha Sangraha translated into English by Prof. S. S. Raghavachar. First published in 1968 the book was out of print for quite a few years. We are indebted to Shri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore, the first publisher of the book, for granting us permission to reprint it for the benefit of the interested earnest readers.
Sri Ramanuja wrote nine works in Sanskrit on the philosophy of Visistadvaita. Of these, the Vedartha-sangraha occupies a unique place inasmuch as this work takes the place of a commentary on the Upanisads, though not in a conventional sense or form. The work mirrors a total vision of the Upanisads, discussing all the controversial texts in a relevant, coherent manner. It is in fact an independent exposition of the philosophy of the Upanishads. Prof. M. Hiriyanna describes it as 'an independent treatise explaining in a masterly way his philosophic position, and pointing out the basis for it in the Upanisads'. Sudarsana-suri, the celebrated commentator on the Sri-bhasya and the Vedartha-sangraha, says that the work was expounded in the form of a lecture before Lord Srinivasa at Tirumalai. Thus it is his testament at the feet of the Lord whom he served throughout his life. Sri Ramanuja refers to this work more than once in his Sri-bhasya.
The Vedartha-sangraha is written in a lucid, vigorous prose without the usual divisions of chapters, but the structure of the thesis is developed in a scientific manner. Sri Ramanuja refers in this work to ancient teachers of theistic tradition, Bodhayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardin and Bharuci, besides his own teacher, Sri Yamunacarya. Tanka and Dramida are quoted profusely to support his interpretation. He takes abundant help from the Brahmasutras, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Visnu-purana. The Manusmrti and other genuine smrtis in the exposition of his philosophy.
At the outset Sri Ramanuja states that the Upanisads, which lay down the welfare of the whole world, move around three fundamental notions: (1) A seeker must acquire a true knowledge of the individual self and the Supreme; (2) he must devote himself to meditation, worship and the adoration of the Supreme; (3) this knowledge with discipline leads him to the realization of the Supreme. To put it briefly, the first affirms the tattva or the nature of the Reality, the second declares the hita or the means, and the third-states the purusartha or the ideal of human endeavour.
A chief difficulty in understanding the meaning of the Upanisads arises in determining the relation of Brahman to the individual self on the one hand, and to the non-sentient world on the other. There are some texts which declare that the world is only an appearance in the ultimate analysis. There are other texts which affirm that the world is not an appearance, but real and distinct.
Bhartrprapanca, who was anterior to Sri Sankara, held that the self and the universe are identical with and different from Brahman, the triad constituting a unity in variety. That is to say, that the reality is at once one as Brahman and many as the self and the world. For example, an ocean consists of water, foam, waves, etc. as the water is real, so also are the foam, waves, etc. as the water is real, so also are the foam, waves etc. The world, which is a part and parcel of Brahman, is necessarily real. The import of all this is that according to this view the Upanisads teach the eternal difference and identity between Brahman on the one hand, and the self and the world on the other.
Sri Sankara rejects the view of Bhatrprapanca, because mutually contradictory attributes cannot be predicated of one and the same thing. According to Sri Sankara the passages which affirm manifoldness and reality of the world do not embody the essential teaching of the Upanisads. It is a concession made to the empirical view that demands a real world having causal connection with time-space. Since variety is but an appearance having no foundation in the ultimate reality, the true essential doctrine of the Upanisads, according to him, is only pure unity. The individual self is nothing but Brahman itself appearing as finite due to limiting adjuncts which are superimposed on it.
Sri Ramanuja also attempts to systematize the philosophy of the Upanisads, taking the cue from the ancient theistic philosophers. He recognizes three lines of thought in the Upanisads concerning the relation between Brahman, the self and the world: (1) Passages which declare difference of nature between the world, the self and Brahman. Here the world is the non-sentient matter (acit) which is the object of experience, the self is the experiencing conscious subject (cit), and Brahman, the absolute ruling principle. These may be named analytical texts. (2) Passages which teach that Brahmanis the inner self of all entities which constitute his body. For instance, 'He who dwells in the earth and within the earth, whom the earth does not know, whose body the earth is, and who rules the earth within, he is thy Self, the ruler within, the immortal' etc. (Br. III, vii, 3-23). These are called ghataka-srutis or mediating texts. (3) Passages which proclaim the unity of Brahman with the world in its causal as well as effected aspect. The famous text, 'That thou art, O Svetaketu' (Cha. VI 2-8) comes under this category. These may be termed as synthetic passages. Sri Ramanuja lays down that the interpretation of the various passages must be such that they are not made to contradict each other, and not a single passage should be so interpreted as to be divested of its primary significance.
The first group of texts distinguishes Brahman from the world and the individual selves. In a way it emphasizes the transcendent character of Brahman. The second group of texts declares Brahman to be the inner self of all entities. Neither the individual self nor the world can exist by itself. They are inseparably connected with Brahman as his body, and thus are controlled by him. These texts teach duality in so far as distinction is made between body and self, and unity in so far as the self, the substantive element, predominates over and controls the body, its attribute. The last group of texts aim at proclaiming the non-dual character of Brahman who a