Bhagavadgita Pages, Chapters 1 to 18





















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Reference: Ramanuja's Teachings in His Own Words.

Author: Ramanuja (10171137 CE)

Translation by:  M. Yamunacharya




Puruṣārtha is a term that refers to the objectives of human life. While' Tattva enunciates the truth of things and Hita propounds the paths to God who is the Ultimate Reality, Puruṣārtha envisages the goal of man's endeavour. These goals are said to be four in character (chaturvidha Puruṣārtha). This is an integral part of the teaching of Hinduism. According to this teaching, man strives after four goals which are Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa, In this conception of Purusartha, the Hindu Philosophy of value is summed up. Dharma is the ethical value, Artha is the politico-economic value, Kāma is desire for sensuous pleasure and Moka is liberation, emancipation or final release. Dharma, Artha and Kama are values which are only means to an end. They are not ends in themselves. In other words, they are instrumental values and not intrinsic which, however, are ends in themselves. According to the Puruṣārtha view of the ends of life, Moka is an intrinsic value or is an end in itself. It is the very star to which the wagon of human life has to be hitched, The three other values must be pursued in such a way that they would subserve the final end in view, viz, Moka. The Bhagavadgītā, for instance, points out that Kāma or sensuous desires should be pursued only in such a way that they do not transgress dharma or motaiity or ethics. The Lord in the verse Dharmāviruddho bhūtesu Krmosmi Bharatarabha' associates Himself with that desire in man for the enjoyment of the good things of life which do not transgress the limits of Dharma. Take for example sex-life. It means in this context that it could be enjoyed only within the limits of legitimate husband-




wife relationship' in marriage for which there is sanction in the Sastras. Thus the first three values must be pursued in such a way that they subserve the purpose of leading us to Moksa which is regarded as the ultimate or Supreme value (Parama-puruṣārtha). Speaking about the relation of the 'instrumental values of artha, kāma and dharma to moka, Professor Hiriyanna says in consonance with the teaching of ancient Indian thinkers: 'What is discountenanced by them is only their pursuit for their own sake and not as means to a higher value. When they are made to subserve the latter, they become totally transformed. There is a world of difference, for example, between wealth sought as a means to self-indulgence and as a means to some beneficent purpose. (Popular Essays in Indian Philosophy, P. 67.) Almost all the teachers of Vedanta including Ramanuja accept this interpretation of the Puruṣārthas. But with regard to the connotation of Moka the teachers differ. Our purpose here is to see what exactly is meant by Moka in the philosophy of Ramanuja. The mode and the nature of final release (Moksa) are explained by Ramanuja in the manner indicated below.


The desire for Release is implanted in the mind of man. It is this that impels him to initiate an inquiry into ultimate truth. He aspires to know the final goal of life. When he finds that the fruits of the mere acts of ritual are limited and transient the desire for final release surges up within him. He becomes Mumuksu or an aspirant for Moka.  If the final release for Moksa is stated to consist in 'the annihilation of the I 'as some do', Ramanuja would say: 'Were it a settled matter that release consists in the annihilation of the I, man would move away as soon as release is even hinted at. He would ask as to what value such a release would have for him when he himself had perished. No sensible person exerts



himself under the influence of the idea that after he himself has perished there will remain some entity termed pure light.' (S. Bh.),


Release is said to consist in attaining to a nature like that of the supreme person in contrast with which it was hitherto in a condition of imperfection. Ramanuja writes: 'the soul in all its status is imperfect, while the supreme person to be reached by it is far from imperfections, the owner of blessed qualities and higher than everything else'. Release consists in attaining to the Highest Person, from that Highest Person only. It is the only, the all-knowing, all-powerful, supremely generous One, who being pleased by sacrifices, gifts, offerings and the like, as well as by copious meditation, is in a position to bestow the different forms of enjoyment in this and the heavenly world, and release which consists in attaining to a nature like his own'. The summum bonum of human existence is thus to reach 'the highest person who is free from all shadow even of imperfection, and a treasure trove as it were of all exalted qualities in their highest state of perfection'. (S. Bh. III. 2).


Thus to Ramanuja, final Release is not the annihilation of the self and its sense of individuality, the 'I'. He tries to distinguish this sense of individuality from egotism which should not be confused with it. He himself asks the question: If the 'I' (aham) constitutes the essential nature of the self, how is it that the Holy one teaches the principle of egoism (ahamkāra) to belong to the sphere of objects, the great elements, the ahamkara, the understanding (buddhi), and the unevolved." In the following answer to the question, Ramanuja asks us to be clear about the two senses- of individuality, one right and the other wrong. He writes: "As in all passages 'we reply, which give information about the true nature of the self it is spoken of as the 'I', we conclude that the 'I" constitutes




the essential nature of the inward self. Where, on the other hand, the Holy one declares the ahamkara a special effect of the unevolved---to be comprised within the sphere of the objective, he means that principle which is called ahamkara because it causes the assumptioa of egoity on the part of the body which belongs to the Not-self. Such egoity constitutes the ahamkara also designated as pride or arrogance which causes men to slight persons superior to themselves, and is referred to by scripture in many places as something evil" (S. Bh. I. 1.1)   


The fourth Adhyāya, Fourth Pāda of Śri Bhāṣya is devoted to the description of the state of Mukti or Final Release. The Kathoniad text 'There does that serene being, having risen from the body and having approached the highest light, manifest itself in its own form-Svēna rupea abhintpadyate' is here pressed into service. Here Mukti comes to be understood as the self manifesting itself in its own form, true and full. It is its fullest blossoming or unfoldment (purna vikssa). Commenting on this, Ramanuja says that 'by the self manifesting itself in its own form there, is meant the self as possessing the attributes of freedom from all evil and sin and so on. The manifestation of the true nature of the soul when reaching the highest light therefore means the manifestation of that self which has freedom from sin and so on for its essential attributes--that nature being in the samsāra state obscured through nescience . When therefore at the momont of release those essential qualities assert themselves, the case is one of manifestation of what already exists not one of origination.' Thus the revered saunaka says, As the lustre of the gem is not created by the act of polishing, so the essential intelligence of the self is not created by the putting off of imperfection. As the well is not the cause of the production of rain water but only serves to manifest water which already exists--for whence should that originate which is




not? Thus knowledge and the other attributes of the self are only manifested through the putting off of evil qualities: they are not produced, for they are eternal', Intelligence, therefore,bliss, and the other essential qualities of the soul which were obscured and contracted by the Karma, expand and thus manifest themselves when the bondage due to Karma passes away and the soul approaches the highest light: (S. Bh. IV. 4. 3)


The further question that is asked is 'Is the soul, when it has reached the highest light and freed itself from all bondage, conscious of itself as separate from the highest self or nonseparate, in so far as being a mere mode (prakara) of that self?' Ramanuja takes the former view as the right one on the ground that 'Scriptural and Smriti texts alike declare that the released soul stands to the highest self in the relation of fellow-equality of attributes and all this implies consciousness of separation.' The released soul is conscious of itself as separate but yet united with the highest Brahman. The soul having reached Brahman and freed itself from the investment of nescience sees itself in its true nature. 'And this true nature consists herein that the souls have for their inner self the highest self while they constitute the body of that self and hence are modes (Prakara) of it '. (S. Bh. IV. 4.5)


The released soul reaches its autonomy in the state of release as is indicated by KathopanŚad passage VII, 25, which says, 'he is a self-ruler' but this autonomy does not militate against the sovereignty and supremacy of the Supreme person. This autonomy does not encroach upon the power of the Supreme person with regard to the creation, sustentation, and government of the world. Ramanuja concludes: "The released soul, freed from all that hides its true nature, possesses the power of intuitively beholding the pure Brahman, but does not possess the power of ruling and guiding the different forms of motion




and rest belonging to animate and inanimate nature" (S. Bh. IV. 171). The fact of dependence of an individual Self on the Supreme person is not annulled in the state of Moksa, 'The exalted qualities of the soul, freedom from evil and sin and so on which manifest themselves in the state of Release no doubt belong to the soul's essential nature; but that the soul is of such a nature fundamentally depends on the Supreme person and on Him also depends the permanency of these qualities; they are dependent is permanent.. .... It thus appears that the equality to the Lord which the released soul may claim does not extend to the world-ruling energies.' (S.Bh.IV. 4.20) The Yatindramata Dīpikā says v Muktasya brahma sāmyptthi ,śrutistu bhoga samyamah Jagadvyāpāravarjanasya pratipādanāt, tasya nānātvam sarva loka sahcaraam sambhavati .ato mukto bhagavatsamkalpāyatta svecchayā sarvatra samcarati," 'The equality of the liberated with Brahman simply means equality in the enjoyment of bliss. It is not equality of cosmic functions. The Jīva however can assume any form at will and wander all over the world in unison with the will of the Lord."


'The conclusion thus is that we have to shape our ideas as to the powers of the released soul in accordance with what the texts say as to the Lord only possessing the power of ruling and controlling the entire world, and that latter power cannot be attributed to the soul"  (S. Bh. IV. 4.21)


Commenting on the last Sutra of 4th Adhyaya, Pāda, 4, Sūtra 22 which reads, amāvttiśśabdāt anāvrttiśśabdāt. Rāmānuja concludes his doctrine of Mukti thus:


"We 'know from scripture that there is a Supreme person whose nature is absolute bliss and goodness: who is fundamentally antagonistic to all evil: who is the cause of the origination, sustentation and dissolution of the world: who differs in nature from all other beings




who is all-knowing, who by his mere thought and will accomplishes all his purposes: who is an ocean of kindness as it were for all who depend on him who is all-merciful: who is immeasurably raised above all possibility of anyone being equal or superior to him: whose name is the highest Brahman. And with equal certainty we knew from scripture that this Supreme Lord, when pleased by the faithful worship of his devotees-which worship consists in daily repeated meditation on Him, assisted by the performance of all the practices prescribed for each caste and asrama--frees them from the influence of nescience which consists of karma accumulated in the infinite progress of time and hence hard to overcome: allows them to attain to that supreme bliss which consists in the direct intuition of his own true nature: and after that does not turn them back into the miseries of Samsara. The text distinctly teaching this is: 'He who behaves thus all through his life reaches the world of Brahman and does not return' (Chandogya Up. VIlI. 15). And the Lord Himself declares 'Having obtained me great-souled men do not come into rebirth, the fleeting abode of misery: for they have reached the highest perfection: From the world of Brahma I own, all the worlds are subject to return. O Arjuna but having attained Me, O son of Kunti, there is no rebirth (Bhag. Gi, VIII. 15-16)


As moreover the released soul has freed itself from the bondage of Karma has its powers of knowledge fully developed and has all its being in the supermely blissful intuition of the highest Brahman; it evidently cannot desire anything else nor enter on any other form of activity and the idea of its returning into the Samsāra therefore is altogether excluded. Nor indeed need we fear that the Supreme Lord when once having taken to himself the devotee whom He greatly loves, will turn him




back into the Samsara. For He himself has said, 'To the wise man I am very dear and dear he is to me. Noble indeed are all these, but the wise man I regard as my very self. For he, with soul devoted, seek Me only as his highest goal. At the end of many births the wise man goes to me, thinking all is Vasudeva. Such great-souled men are rarely met with. (Bh. Gi. VII. 17-19) (S. Bh. lV.4.22).


At the end of it all, Ramanuja is convinced that thus everything is settled to satisfaction" iti sārvam samanjasam, Born out of this deep conviction of the truth (Tattva), and of the way leading to it (Hita) and of the goal (Puruṣārtha) to be reached, Ramanuja enters on a phase of mystic experience (niratiśaya akhandānubhava) in which he finds himself face to face with God and enters into a dialogue [Samvāda] with him.


This is the theme of Śaraṇāgati Gadya, one of his three prose-poems known as Gadyatraya, It is of significance to us here in this chapter on Moka or Parama PuruŚartha in so far as Ramanuja expands here the connotation of Moksa to include within it, as constituting its quintessence, the eternal service of God, nitya kaikarya prāpti (= attainment), In this Gadya, Ramanuja aspires only for this kind of Moksa and the Lord assures His devotee the attainment of this Moka, which is no other than Kainkarya or Service.