Bhagavadgita Pages, Chapters 1 to 18





















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Reference: Ramanuja's Teachings in His Own Words.

Author: Ramanuja (1017ľ1137 CE)

Translation by:  M. Yamunacharya



 So far we have dealt with tattva or the ultimate truth. This describes the knowledge of the three entities, their nature and attributes. The three entities or realities of which a knowledge is absolutely necessary to the aspirant are Cdit, Acit and Īṣvara. Cit is the individual soul, Acit is inanimate matter and Īṣvara is God to whom the former two are more or less adjectival. The entire philosophy of life may be said to comprise, according to Ramanuja of Tatva, Hita and Puruṣārtha, the Truth, the Way and the Goal. We shall now deal with the Way or the means (Hita) by which the individual soul reaches its ultimate destiny.


Four ways are recognized to lead one to the goal. They are J˝āna, or the way of knowledge, Karma or the way of action, Bhakti or the way of devotion and Prapatti or the way of self-surrender. These are not exclusive of one another. One has to lead on to another. J˝āna must lead to Bhakti. Bhakti must lead to Karma. To use the language of Ramanuja, J˝āna, must assume the form of Bhakti (Bhaktirūpāpanna J˝āna) and the fusion of these two must finally result in Kainkarya or consecrated Karma. The relation between these however is not one of succession but of simultaneity. The whole process is consummated quickly by the way known as prapatti which is the way of absolute unqualified self-surrender to God.


The ingredients of J˝āna or "knowing the ātmā to be that which is distinct from body, uncontaminated with qualities pertaining to bodies, and to be that which is eternal: keeping the mind imperturbable under the varying conditions of pleasure and pain, gain and loss and destitute of any Wish for reward. (Gita Bh. 11.Ě38)



Ramanuja identifies J˝āna with Dhyāna or Upāsana. He says "The individual self is, in such meditation, to be conceived (not as the ordinary self) but under that form which it has to attain (i.e. the pure form which belongs to it the state of release), the character of such meditation, therefore, is that it is a meditation on the highest" self as having for its body the individual self distinguished by freedom from evil" (S. Bh. Ill. 3.52) He further writes: "the knowledge which the Vedānta texts aim at inculcating is a knowledge other than the mere knowledge of the sense of sentences and denoted by Dhyāna, Upāsana (i.e, meditation and similar terms. With this agree scriptural texts such as 'Having known it, let him practise meditation' (Br. Up. IV. 421). All these texts must be viewed as agreeing in meaning with the injunction of meditation contained in the passage quoted from the Br. Upanisad and what they enjoin is therefore meditation. (S. Bh.)


"Meditation means steady remembrance, i.e, a continuity of steady remembrance, uninterrupted like the flow of oil: in agreement with the scriptural passage which declares that by steady remembrance all the ties are loosened. '(Chand. Up. VII. 26.2) Such remembrance is of the same characterĚ (form) as seeing (intuition): for the passage quoted has the same purport as the following one, 'The fetter of the heart is broken, all doubts are solved, and all the works of man perish when He has been seen who is high and low' (Mund. Up. II. 2.8). And this being so, we conclude that the passage 'the self is to be seen' teaches that 'meditation' has the character of 'seeing' or 'intuition'. "With reference to remembrance which thus acquires the character of immediate presentation (pratyakatā) and is the means of final release, scripture makes a further determination, viz., in the passage (Ka. Up. II. 23) That self cannot be gained by him by the study of the Veda ('reflection') nor by much hearing.




Whom the self chooses, by him it may be gained, to him the self reveals its being'. This text says at first the mere hearing, reflection and meditation do not suffice to gain the self, and then declares 'whom the self chooses, by him it may be gained. ' Now a 'chosen' one means a most beloved person: the relation being that he by whom that self is held most dear to the self. That the Lord (Bhagavān) Himself endeavours that this most beloved person should gain the self. He himself declares in the following words: to those who are constantly devoted and worship with Iove I give that knowledge by which they reach me' (Bh. X. 10), arid 'To him who has knowledge I am dear above all things, and he is dear to me' (VII. 17). Hence he who possesses remembrance, marked by the character of immediate presentation (Sākṣākāra) and which itself is dear above all things since the object remembered is such; he, we say, is chosen by the highest self, and by him the highest self is gained. Steady remembrance of this kind is designated by the word devotion (Bhakti): for this term has the same meaning as Upāsana (meditation). (S. Bh.)


Karma or ritualistic duties are according to Ramanuja but means to the end which is the obtaining of the blissful vision of the Deity. He writes with reference to Vedānta Sūtra (III.4.256) of such steady remembrance sacrifice and so on are means' and sacrifices and similar works being performed day after day have the effect of purifying the mind, and owing to this knowledge arises in the mind with ever increasing brightness (III. 4.35.) Hence in order that knowledge may arise, evil works have to be got rid of and this is effected by the performance of acts of religious duty not aiming at some immediate result (such as the heavenly world and the like) according to the text "by works of religious duty he discards all evil". Knowledge which is the means of reaching Brahman thus requires the works prescribed for the different āsramas.




The Vākyakāra also declares that steady remembrance results only from abstention, and so on: his words being "This (Viz. steady remembrance = meditation) is obtained through abstention (Viveka) freeness of mind (Vimoka), repetition (Abhyāsa)' works (Kriyā), virtuous conduct (Kalyāna), freedom from dejection (Anavasāda), absence of exultation (Anuddhara) : according to feasibility and scripture statement."


The definitions given by the Vākyakāra of these are as follows :-Abstention (Viveka) means keeping the body clean from all impure food. Freeness of mind (Vimoka) means absence of attachment to desires. Repetition (Abhyāsa) means continued practice. Works (Kriyā) means the performance, according to one's ability of the five great sacrifices (Pancamahāyajnas). By virtuous conduct (Kalyāna) are meant truthfulness, honesty, kindness, liberality, gentleness, absence of covetousness. Freedom from dejection (Anavasāda) means free from dejection about the results from unfavorable conditions of place and time and the remembrance of causes of sorrows. Freedom from exultation (Anuddhara) means the satisfaction that arises from circumstances opposite to these just mentioned. "What the Vākyakāra means to say is therefore that knowledge is 'realised only through the performance of the duly prescribed works on the part of a person fulfilling all the enumerated conditions." (I. 1.1) Karma done in the spirit of consecrated service to God has come to be known in the school of Ramanuja as Kainkarya. There is no happiness superior to the happiness of service to God (Kainkarya rati),


The Jnāna mārgā or the way of knowledge becomes redeeming only when it is coupled with moral endeavour which consists in self control or the restraints of sensuous life. The Gita says (IV. 38-39) "There is naught that purifies like knowledge, he that is perfected in control




himself In due time finds that in his self. Single-hearted man of faith, with sense in check, gains knowledge." Ramanuja considers that true knowledge is impossible without morality, without sacrifice and worship.


In his commentary on the related Gita verses in 8.7, 9.27, 9.34, 9.14 Ramanuja writes respectively as follows: "Do the work that is before thee, and all other sruti and Smriti-enjoined works, such as the daily (nitya) and occasional (naimittika) duties apportioned to the several castes (varnas), and orders (āsramas) that while discharging them I may be in thy memory daily. This is the most expedient method by which thou canst succeed in keeping thy manas and buddhi set on me, and thus remembering me at the last moment."


Steady remembrance of God is called devotion or Bhakti by Ramanuja. He says: "steady remembrance of this kind is designated by the word 'devotion' (bhakti): for this term has the same meaning as Upāsana(meditation). For this reason scripture and smriti agree in making the following declarations: 'A man knowing him passes death' (Svet. Up. Ill. 8): 'knowing thus he here becomes immortal' (Tait. Up. 111.12.7). 'Neither by the Vedas nor by gifts. nor by austerities, by sacrifice can I be so seen as thou hast seen me. But by devotion exclusive I may in this form be known and seen in truth, O Arjuna, and also be entered into. (Bh. Gi, XI. 53. 54): That highest person, O Partha, may be obtained by exclusive devotion' (VIII.22)" (S. Bh. I. 1.1.)


While discussing the two kinds of knowledge adverted to before, namely, one which springs from the study of the sastras and another which springs from concentrated meditation; Ramanuja says that the higher kind of knowledge, which is called 'Upāsana' has the character of devout meditation (bhakti) and consists in direct intuition of Brahman (5. Bh. I. 2. 23).



Ramanuja explains that 'works performed by a man possessing the knowledge result in the attainment of Braman' and takes the Upaniad teaching to enjoining knowledge, strengthened by due works', ' which itself is of the nature of supreme bliss, is to be meditated upon as within the hollow of the heart and this meditation has the character of devout faith (bhakti)' (S. Bh. I. 2.23) .. In the light of these statements, one understands that according to Ramanuja works performed for gaining worldly results are fruitless from the point of view of the goal of human life. About such works one can only say 'But frail in truth are those boats " in meditation 'the object of devout meditation and the devotee abide together and this meditation through which Brahman is attained is of the nature of devotion (bhakti)' (S. Bh. I. 4.8) and  this,' he says, 'is something different from the mere cognition of true nature of Brahman (S. Bh. 21. 4. 22)


Ramanuja thus synthesizes J˝āna, Karma and Bhakti and their relative value in spiritual endeavour with the help of his concept of Meditation or Upāsana which according to him is the same as devout meditation (bhakti], Ramanuja says the term Bhakti has the same meaning as Upāsana (meditation) (S. Bh. I. 1. I)


The J˝āna here spoken of is the J˝āna which has been transformed into Bhakti or love (Bhakti rūpapanna J˝āna). J˝ānān Mokah in this context would mean Bhakti rūpapanna J˝āna J˝ānān Mokah. That is, when we speak of release as due to knowledge we mean release due to knowledge ripened into love.


In the philosophy of Ramanuja karma is the sum-total of all duties. It becomes Karma Yoga when these duties are performed as acts of worship of God. This way of doing Karma is the easiest. As worshipful service to God, it is easy for people. Ramanuja asks in the Gita. Bhaya who would not do such service when it is one to be




rendered to a Universal Friendĺ? To Ramanuja Bhakti or God-Love is intense and one-pointed and is preceded by a true knowledge of the Blessed Lord, and His glory. The Lord is the aspirant's summun bonum. The supreme object of Bhakti is 'to know, and see and gain the Lord in His real nature," The one-pointed and profound Bhakti is the means by which we can know and see and gain the Lord in His real nature. The superiority of the mode of Bhakti, according to Ramanuja, consists in the superiority of the object of that love Viz., God Himself. Devoid of love to God, alms giving, rigid austerities are of no avail to disclose God to one as his true self. By love alone He is easy to be known in the manner that Sāstras speak of Him. Divine communion which is the actual blessed experience of the soul in God fellowship is easily attained by Bhakti. In the Bhagavadgita the Lord says Doing work for Me, having Me as his aim, being My votary, weaned from attachments, and free from hatred to anyone, he cometh unto Me '.Commenting on this verse Riimiinuja enumerates the following characteristics of the Bhakta, the lover of God .


ôFirstly, the Bhakta's only happiness consists in being with God, and his misery in being without God; secondly ~ the Bhakta attributes all his afflictions to his own guilt; thirdly, the Bhakta has implicit belief that all beings are subject to God's sovereign rule. Hence the Bhakta is free from all enmity. He who possesses these qualifications come unto Me. Coming unto me means realizing Me as I am in reality i.e., resting in blessed enjoyment of the Divine that is devoid of the faintest trace of anything like the defects of nescience (avidyā)".


Even though Ramanuja recognizes that Karma-Yoga and Jnana-Yoga are each capable of conducting one to self-realization so long as one firmly adopts anyone of


THE NATURE OF HITA    page 117


them, he points out that he who has chosen the path of  J˝āna Yoga has to walk that path with extreme difficulty whilst Karma-Yoga pursued as a path of action consecrated to God would be easier. Easier still is the path of Bhakti which is the path of affection (sneha) transmuted into love (prema) of God.


Duty and devotion come to be fused with intellect in spiritual endeavour. In commenting on the verse of the Bhagavadgita (IX. 34.) Ramanuja writes: "Thus, then in conclusion thou shalt carry on all thy worldly duties requried for thy bodily subsistence and scriptural duties, viz., daily, casual, etc. rites in order to please Me, as done by one who is essentially my liege, and actuated to do so, by Myself. Thou shalt ever in love be engaged in lovingly singing My praises, in My service, in bowings, etc. Thou shalt contemplate that the universe is under My rule and guidance, and subsists as essentially My appendage. Thou shalt ponder and reflect over the multitude of My lovable attributes. Occupying thyself daily, thus, in devotion of the aforesaid description thou shalt reach Myself." Further in interpreting the Bhagavadgita verse (XlI, 11.) he writes"  It is only to one who is entirely cleansed of all his sins that I become 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."


Over and above the ways of J˝āna, Karma and Bhakti, Ramanuja envisages a very simple way of reaching the Lord, the way of unqualified and absolute self-surrender known as prapatti, It is also called Saranagati. This seems to have been the final mood into which Ramanuja falls as is evidenced by his most beautiful prose-poem known as saraṇāgati Gadya in which he pours out his heart in an act of absolute self-surrender to God. Arjuna did the same thing when he, after listening to the discourse of Krishna carefully, fell at the feet of the Lord and prayed




that he had become a prapanna and it was up to the Lord to bid him do what he wished him to do. This act of self-surrender solved at once the conflicts that were raging in Arjuna's breast and filled his heart with a serenity and peace that passeth understanding.


Ramanuja: speaks of this mood of the individual human soul which is based on the great trust Mahavisvasa in the Lord that he will absolve us of all our sins to struggle out of which we had been endeavouring somewhat unsuccessfully so far. The struggle is now at an end. A sense of assurance of help from above fills the individual and


Ramanuja looks upon the verse in the eighteenth chapter of the Gita 'Sarvadharmān parityajya' as the final reassuring message of the Lord to man (carama sloka), In that sloka we find the word saraa occurring. It also points to us the way of self-surrender (Śaraṇāgati) which supersedes all other devious and difficult ways to God (sarva dharmān parityajya) by which the individual undergoes struggle and tries to save himself whereas here the responsibility of saving is "transferred to the Saviour himself. He resigns himself to the Lord and is content to wear himself out in loving service to Him and to all that belongs to Him. The eighteenth chapter of the Gita has been called by Ramanuja as the Mokopadeśa Yoga.  The words 'Sannyāsa' and 'Tyāga' in this chapter are taken to mean Saranāgati or prapatti. 'Tameva śaraam gaccha' with all thy soul, seek Him as thy refuge, says one of the verses in this chapter = 'sarabhāvena Bhārata'. This strikes the keynote of Saranāgati. The next verse says that this is the highest wisdom taught and is the mystery of mysteries. Arjuna, and through him, all men are asked to reflect on it all and act as they choose

The Yatiīndramata Dīpikā, a manual of Ramanuja's philosophy, sums up the characteristics of a prapanna in the following words: "The prapanna is one who has




resorted to God and God alone, being helpless and devoid of any other refuge. He is also of two kinds, one who seeks the three ends of life (Dharma, Artha and Kāma) and the other who seeks- final liberation (Moksa). The one who seeks final liberation learns from the company of good souls to distinguish between what is eternal and what non-eternal. This engenders in him a spirit of detachment from things worldly which will lead to the desire for liberation. He then resorts to a teacher who possesses the excellences of a good preceptor, who leads him to Sri, the Lady of Mercy who acts as the mediator between him and the Lord. His only means for liberation now becomes the holy feet of Narayana. This way to the Lord is open to all in the world despite caste or creed."


The ārta prapanna is one who longs for immediate liberation and he also is not free from discharging his social and moral obligations. This idea is brought out clearly in the following passage of Yatindramata Dīpikā:


"The arta prapanna is one who after accepting prapatti as the means continues to perform all nitya and naimittika duties as ends in themselves on account of their being consecrated to the Lord. He avoids doing anything which would offend the Lord and His devotees."