Bhagavadgita Pages, Chapters 1 to 18





















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Reference: Ramanuja's Teachings in His Own Words.

Author: Ramanuja (1017–1137 CE)

Translation by:  M. Yamunacharya

CHAPTER IV  page 99 



The Jīva is the finite self of the individual soul. It is distinct from the body (deha, the sense organs (indriya),  mind (manas) and vital breath (prāna). The Jīva is as eternal (nitya) as Brahman. When we speak of Brahman creating the Jīvas what is meant is that they are projected into manifestation. The Jīva, prior to this manifestation, lies inactive like a bird whose wings have not yet grown. God awakens it from its torpidity and sets it on a career of creative activity. While commenting on the verse in the Bhagavadgīta III. 10. Ramanuja writes:


"In the past, this Prajāpati, the Bhagavān intently reflected at the time of creation on the entities (cit), entangled in matter (acit) from an immemorial past, They were destitute of a name, of a form and of a distinction, and embosomed in Him. They were fit for fulfilling great aims but were lying latent like inert or unintelligent substances. Prajāpati, out of infinite mercy looked on them and wishing to work out their deliverance, created them or projected them into manifestation."


Ramanuja asserts the reality of individual souls and their distinctness from Brahman. In commenting on the 12th verse in the second chapter of the Gita he makes Krishna mean "As for me, the universal Lord (Sarvesvara), there is never 'nay' to my having been in all the eternity anterior to the present. I always was. So is thyself and all these in thy front :- All souls are under my control (iśitavya) and informers of bodies (kshetragńas). Nor are all of us--myself thyself and all--not going to be in the future…. As indubitably ever-existent am I.-the Universal Lord, the supreme spirit (Paramātmā) so also should you all, the matter-informing souls, be understood



as ever existent." On the basis of this scriptural authority Ramanuja says "It is thus evident that (1) the fact of the soul being distinct from Bhagavān (Sarveśvara or God), and (2) the fact of the multiplicity of souls, have been declared by Bhagavān Himself. For this is an occasion when eternal truths are imparted to one with the object of removing the cover of all his ignorance. And on such an occasion, the distinctions of I, thou, we, etc, are made (thus showing that souls are many and they are different from God)." (Gitā Bhaya).


Ramanuja describes the differentiation of the individual souls from Brahman somewhat in the following manner: "That which is denoted as 'Being', ie, the highest Brahman which is the cause of all, free from all shadow of imperfection, etc., resolved to be many. It thereupon sent forth the entire world, introduced in this world so sent forth the whole mass of individual souls into different bodies, divine, human, etc., corresponding to the desert of each soul--the soul thus constituting the self of the bodies: and finally, itself entering according to its wish into those souls-so as to constitute their inner self (Jīvena ātmanā) means 'with this living me' and this shows the living self, i.e, the individual soul to have Brahman for its self. And that this having Brahman for its Self means Brahman's being the inner-self of the soul (i.e, the Self inside the soul but not identical with it), scripture declares by saying-that Brahman entered into it. This is clearly stated in the passage of Taitt. Up. II. 6:


"He sent forth all this whatever there is. Having sent forth he entered into it. Having entered into it He became Sat and Tyat. For here 'all this' comprises being intelligent as well as non-intelligent, which afterward are distinguished as Sat and Tyat, as knowledge (vijnāna) and non-knowledge. Brahman is thus said to enter into intelligent beings also."



The reality of the finite self is proved according to Ramanuja by the fact of consciousness, for consciousness, which is in a state of constant flux requires a substance. Memory and recognition testify to its existence, "for recognition implies a conscious subject persisting from the earlier to the later moment." As otherwise, it would be impossible for us to recognize the thing seen today as the one we saw yesterday, for what has been perceived by one cannot be recognised by another. Inference implies its reality, for inference presupposes the ascertainment and remembrance of general propositions. In the absence of a permanent seIf, inference and reasoning would be impossible, for the speaker perishes in the very moment when he states the proposition to be proved, and another person is unable to complete what has been begun by another and about which he himself does not know anything (S.Bh.lI. 2.24). The very fact that one is able to remember what has happened before he went to sleep is also a proof that the self persisted through sleep although consciousness had come to an end."


To Rumanuja, the soul is a knowing subject and unique centre of experience. He discusses this in his commentary on the Vedānta Sūtra II. 3.19. Jnata eva. He raises the question of the soul's essential nature. He repudiates the view of Sāṅkhya that its essential nature is constituted by mere intelligence and also the Vaiśeika view that it is essentially non-intelligent and that intelligence is merely an adventitious quality. He finally establishes the view that the self is essentially a knower or knowing subject, supporting the view by reference to scriptural texts. Knowledge or Jnāna is the peculiar attribute of the Jīva, This Jńāna is what is called Dharmabhūta Jńāna or attributive consciousness. Attributive consciousness consists in the Jīva being the subject and a self-luminous substance. It is of the nature of substance-attribute. It is that which




transcends objects. In the case of Īṣvara attributive consciousness is eternal and all-pervasive (nitya and vibhu) whereas it is obscured in the case of the individual selves (tirohitam).


The scriptural statements to which Ramanuja refers in support are "He, who perceives "I smell this' is the atma: the nose is for smelling" (Chandogya VIII. 12.4) "He sees with the mind [the-attribute jńāna) these noble qualities that are in Brahma-world and rejoices" (Ibid verse 5). "He is the atma. The Purusa, who is a knower, shining, and who abides within the heart in the midst of the senses, is the ātmā" (Brihad VI .. 3.7). "This Purusa ever knows. He is indeed a seer, hearer, smeller, taster, thinker, knower, doer, a shining ātmā, a purusa" (Prasna IV-9).


The soul is also an agent (Kartā). This is indicated by his volitional experience (Karttvam sankalpa jnnānāsrayatvam) Ramanuja makes the idea of volitional responsibility of the Jīva clear. Out of this emanates the Jīva's moral and social responsibility. In his commentary on the Sūtra Kartā Sāstrāṛthavatvat which means "(The soul is) an agent, on account of scripture (thus) having a purport'. Ramanuja writes: "The self only is an agent, not the guas, because thus only scripture has a meaning. For the spiritual injunctions, such as "he who desires the heavenly world is to sacrifice, he who desires release is to meditate on Brahman: and similar ones enjoin action on him only who will enjoy the fruit of the action-whether the heavenly world or release, or anything else. If a non-sentient thing were the agent, the injunction would not be addressed to another being (viz., to an intelligent being-to whom it actually is addressed). The term 'śāstra', scriptural injunction and commanding, means impelling to action. But spiritual injunctions impel to action through giving' rise to a certain conception (in the mind of the being addressed), and the non-sentient pradhāna cannot be made to




conceive anything. Scripture therefore has sense only if we admit that none but the intelligent enjoyer of the fruit of the action is at the same time the agent" (S. Bh.11. 3.33»

Important passage:

Summing up then, we may say that from the standpoint of Ramanuja the Jiva is self-luminuous (svasmai bhāsamānatva) sentient (cetanatva), subject of experience (Jńanāsrayatva), agent (kartrtva). Its special characteristics in relation to Isvara are, dependence, (śeatva) or subservience (paratantratva) and the quality of being supported (vidheyatva) and controlled (adheyatva). At the same time Ramanuja points out that 'the activity of the self (kartrtva) is due not to its own nature but to its contact with the different gunas, "Its original nature however is one of purity (amalatva) and bliss (ananda).* It is open to the self to be inactive if it so chooses." Says Ramanuja the self, although always provided with the instruments of action, such as the organ of speech and so on, acts when it wishes to do so.' Just as a carpenter although having his axe and other implements ready at hand, works or does not work as he pleases" (S.Bh.lI. 3.39). This raises the question of the freedom of the will of the individual self. Freedom of'the will is looked upon by Ramanuja as a postulate of moral responsibility. The individual soul is free within certain limits and has the power of choice. Ramanuja steers clear of the extremes of Determinism and Libertarianism and accepts the principle of self-determination. His view is summed up in two concepts of his, viz, anumati dāna or the grant of approval datta svātantrya or ‘dowered freedom'. Ramanuja is


Footnote: *The Yatindramata Dīpikā  Viśiṣtāṭadvaita manual describes succinctly and very lucidly how the Jīva comes to lose its original condition. • In Itself blissful, it becomes entangled in the world process due to certain limitations. It becomes the actor, the enjoyer, the embodied one and the body itself. From the point of view of nature it becomes the embodied self and from the point of view of God it becomes the body itself "- (Svata sukhim upādhivasāt samsārāt, ayamca kārta bhoktā sariri sariram ca bhavati. Prakrityapekaya Sariri, Īsvarāpekayā sariram).




at pains to maintain the freedom of the individual without compromising supremacy and perfection of Brahman. He writes: "The divine supreme person, all whose wishes are eternally fulfilled, who is all-knowing and the ruler of all, whose every purpose is of a two fold nature, such and such works being good and such and such being evil, and having bestowed on all individual souls bodies and sense organs capable of capacitating them for entering on such work and the power of ruling those bodies and organs: and having himself entered into those souls as their inner Self abides within them, controlling them as an animating and cheering principle. The souls, on their side, endowed with all the powers imparted to them by the Lord and with bodies and organs bestowed by him and forming abodes in which he dwells apply themselves on their own part, and in accordance with their own wishes, to works either good or evil. The Lord, then recognizing him who performs good actions as one who obeys His commands, blesses him with piety, riches, worldly pleasures and final release: While him who transgresses His commands He causes to experience the opposite of all these ".


The limited freedom of the individual is adumbrated in the following passage which explains the concept of  "anumati dāna ' or 'lending approval'. (See commentary on Sūtra 11.3.41).


" The inwardly ruling highest Self promotes action in so far as it regards in the case of any action the volitional effect made by the individual soul, and then aids that effort by granting its favour or permission (anumati). Action is not possible without permission on the part of the highest Self .


" The case is analogous to that of property of which two men are joint owners. If one of these wishes to transfer that property to a third person he cannot do so without the permission of his partner, but that permission is given




is after all his own doing, and hence the fruit of the action (reward or anything) properly belongs to him only" (S. Bh. II. 3:41)


The sufferings of the individual soul cannot be ascribed to Brahman in which case Brahman would be reduced to a position of a pitiless monster. In his commentary on the Sutras II. 2. 3. and 11,1. 34, Ramanuja writes: "By pity we understand the inability on somebody's part to bear the pain of others, coupled with a disregard of his own advantage. When pity bas the effect of bringing about the transgression of law on the part of the pitying person, it is in no way to his credit: it rather implies the charge of unmanliness (weakness)." Further he says ··Allowance of the action on the part of one able 'to stop it does not necessarily prove hard heartedness."


Pillai Lokāchryā, a follower of Ramanuja in the thirteenth century comments beautifully on this in the following words: "Even the all-Ioving father the Great Īṣvara does not force His presence on the soul, not yet ripe to receive Him. With infinite patience Ho waits and watches the struggle of the soul in Samsāra since the struggle is necessary for the unfoldment (vikāsa) of the faculties of the soul,"


Karma and kpā


The foregoing will not be complete without a discussion of the relation of Karma and Kpā or individual soul's action and the role of dvine grace in the working out of the salvation of man. Ramanuja bases his idea of divine grace on the text in kahopaniad (II. 23) which says, "that Self cannot be gained by the study of the Veda (reflection) not by thought (meditation nor by hearing. Whom the self chooses, by him it may be gained: to him the self reveals its being" (S. Bh I.I.I).  ‘By him it may be gained' has led to a dual_interpretation of divine grace idea with the consequence that it later led to a


106 RAMANUJA'S TEACHINGS IN HIS OWN WORDS  (Vadakalai and Tenkalai)


Doctrinal split of the Tengalai (southern) School and the Vadagalai (Northern) School. The two views have come to be known as the 'monkey and young one argument' (markaa kiśora nyāya), and the 'Cat and kitten Argument' (Mārjāla Kiśora Nyāya). The former view maintains that some effort is necessary on the part of the individual soul to evoke divine grace and the latter view holds that the entire initiative lies with God and the individual effort counts for very little: The latter view is also called nirhetuka kpā or spontaneous grace of God. So far as the Sribhāṣya is concerned, Ramanuja seems to favour the former view though in his commentary on the Gitā and Gadya Traya wherever the idea of prapatti or absolute unqualified self-surrender to God is stressed, he seems to be inclined to the latter view. To Ramanuja the Law of karma and the operation of divine grace are not inconsistent. He refers to the 'tender regard to man's welfare,' of the scripture which enjoins on the individual soul the discipline of righteous conduct which tends to "produce and help to perfect the knowledge of Brahman." This itself is an evidence of divine grace. He writes: "When a man reaches knowledge, the nonclinging and destruction of all sins may be through the power of knowledge." Further "Texts such as 'he who has not turned away from evil conduct' (Ka; Up. l. 2. 29) teach that meditation, becoming more perfect day after day cannot be accomplished without the devotee having previously broken himself off from evil conduct" (IV. I. 13) He renders the verse in the Gita (IV. 13) thus: "It is only to one who is entirely cleansed of all his sins that it becomes the object of love. It is only such a person who would converge all the strength of his intellect (buddhi) to Me as his sole aim" (XlI. 11.).


Again, commenting on the Gita verse (IX. 29) Ramanuja seems to refer to the operation of spontaneous and




irresistible grace of God which demands nothing else from the individual than the act of complete surrender (prapatti) and laying the entire burden of its salvation on God himself (bhara nyāsa).


His comment on the verse referred to reads as follows:


"Be it the divine, the human, the animal, of the stationary kingdoms, be they high or low, in point of kind or caste, in point of look (colour etc.) in point of nature (character etc.) or in point of enlightenment, as refuge to all, independent of such distinctions, I am equal. Inferiority as regards kind (caste) look, nature or understanding in any person does not, because of it, warrant that he is not dear to me or fit to be rejected as unworthy-to come to Me as refuge. No one on the other hand claiming superiority of caste etc, is because of it specially entitled to claim Me as his refuge or has warrant to be particularly dear to me. Save the ground that he elects me as his refuge, not any qualifications (as caste, colour etc.) will constitute a claim for my acceptance of him (IX. 29). Further commenting on the next verse, (IX. 30), Ramanuja writes: "People are born of several castes, each caste having its own rules of conduct..... Even if they should transgress those law, they are deserving of being accounted as righteous if in the manner aforesaid they do but worship me with a worship exclusively devoted to me.  God's grace manifests itself in this manner that silently and unobtrusively the Lord supplements the self-effort of the individual soul which consists in his turning Godward and filling his heart and soul with intense love and devotion to God. His own feeble efforts are now supplemented by God taking upon himself the burden of prospering the devotee’s onward march towards him. Ramanuja explains the meaning of the Gita verse (VIII.14) thus: He refers to the Lord as saying “I am again happily



accessible to him (i.e. the yogi) this wise-I, on my part would not be able to bear separation of them (my lovers) from me: and therefore I myself elect him; I carry to fruition the meditation he adopts for reaching me; I ward off from him the obstacles which may hamper him in his progress in meditation; I generate in him the intense love and affection for me". The meaning of Gita is explained thus: "Let Him, the prime Purusa alone be sought as the refuge-He from whom the old will is derived". This is interpreted to mean, "By the mere step taken viz., of having taken Him as refuge, all those instincts of old will awaken in him. Instincts or impulses which are means to dispel all ignorance, etc. They are called old because they are the instincts of the ancient Moka seekers (Mumukus), for they of old sought Me alone as their asylum and became released from bondage". The next stanza, (XV. 5) is said to mean "To those who claim Me as their saviour (or protector) all the several stages of the aforesaid character-forming are effected through My sole agency, These states are so easily traversed till perfection is reached". This idea of God's irresistible spontaneous grace (nirhetuka kpā) is accentuated in Ramanuja's śaraṇāgati Gadya "here the Lord is made to say ‘having through My mere grace alone fully overcome, with its cause, the obstacles to the attainment of high devotion thou shalt become my eternal servant."


The individual soul is thus characterised by the power of knowing, feeling, and willing. It is, in addition to being a knower (jńātā) an agent (kartā) and an enjoyer of experiences (bhoktā). The one attribute however which constitutes the unique attribute of the individual soul is the dependence on God (Śeatva) without which it ceases to be itself. The attainment of its own intrinsic glory consists in realising its dependence (pāratantrya) on God who lone is independent (Swatantra). The indepen-




ence that is enjoyed by the soul and conceded to it by the Paramātman is only relative independence.


In its intrinsic nature the soul is described as free from evil, different from the body and characterized by knowledge and bliss. In meditation, says Ramanuja "The individual self is to be conceived not as the ordinary self but under that form which it has to attain, that is the pure from which belongs to it in the state of Release. 'As in the case of intuition' i.e., as in the case of intuition of Brahman. As the intuition of Brahman has for its object the essential nature of Brahman so the intuition of the individual soul also has for its object, its permanent nature (III. 3.52).