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



Cosmology is the Theory of the Universe or Cosmos, It is one of the Tattvas to be carefully understood. The world, its nature and its relationship to individual souls and God forms the subject-matter of this Chapter. The cosmology of Ramanuja centers on his conception of tatva traya or triad consisting of cit, acit and Īśvara. i. e. the material world, the individual soul and God, each distinct from the other and the relation that subsists between them. Īśvara is described as Cidacidviśiṣṭa i. e. as containing Nature and spirit within Himself. He being the inner ruler (antaryāmin) in them. Ramanuja receives great support for his view in the Svetāśvatara Upanisad.


He writes:-


"The whole matter may be summarily stated as follows :- Some texts declare a distinction of Nature between non-intelligent matter, intelligent beings and Brahman, in so far as matter is the object of enjoyment, the souls the enjoying subjects, and Brahman the ruling principle."


Smiti expresses itself similarly, says he, and quotes the following passages from the Gita with his explanation."With me as supervisor, Nature brings forth the movable and the immovable" (Bh. Gi. IX. 10) "The great Brahman is my womb, in which I place the embryo, and thence there is the origin of all beings (XIV. 3)" This last passage means-the womb of the world is the great Brahman, i. e. non-intelligent matter in its subtle state, commonly called Prakrti : with this I connect the Embryo i. e. the intelligent principle. From this contact of the non-intelligent and the intelligent, due to my will, there ensues the origination of all beings from Gods to lifeless things. In his examination of Sāṅkhya philosophy



Ramanuja arrives at the conclusion that "matter produces effects only when guided by an intelligent principle," (S.Bh.ll.2.1)


The process or creation is described thus :


"When the period of great pralaya draws towards its close, the divine supreme Person, remembering the constitution of the world previous to the pralaya, and forming the volition, 'May I become manifold', separates into its constituent elements the whole mass of enjoying souls and objects of enjoyments. (P.133 & 134).


"During pralaya, acit (prākti) unites itself with Brahman and abides in its subtle state, without any distinction of names and forms: it then is called the unevolved: and by other similar names. At the time of creation, on the other hand, there reveal themselves in prakṛti goodness and the other gunas, it divides itself according to names, and forms, and then is called the 'evolved' and so on." (R. 368)


Ramanuja accepts the description of the evolution of Nature as described in Sāṅkhya Philosophy only adding that the entire process of evolution must be taken as being controlled by Brahman. His points of agreement with Sāṅkhya and the points of disagreement are as follows:


"From Prakrti with its three gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas there follow the "seven principles which are the effects of Prakrti and the causal substances of everything else. These seven are the mahat, the ahankārā, the subtle matter (tanmātra) of sound, the subtle matter of touch, the subtle matter of colour, the subtle matter of taste and the subtle matter of smell. The ahankārā is three-fold, being either modified (vaikārika) or active (taijaśa) or the originator of the elements (bhūtādi). The vaikārika is of sattva nature and the originator of the sense-organs, the bhūtādi is of  tamas nature, and the cause of those subtle




matters (tanmātra) which in their turn are the cause of the gross elements. The Rajasa is of the nature of rajas, and assists the other two. The five gross elements are the ether and so on, the five intellectual senses of hearing and so on, the five organs of action, speech and so on. With the addition of the internal organ (manas) these are the sixteen entities which are mere effects." (S. Bh, II. 2.1.)


Further he adds :-"The Śārīraka Sastra (i.e, the Vedanta) does not disprove the principles assumed by the Sankyas; but merely the view of their not having Brahman for their Self."


"We by no means wish to deny unevolved matter and all its effects in themselves, but in so far only as they are maintained not to have their Self in the supreme person. For the fact is that they constitute His body and He thus constitutes their Self; and it is only through this their relation to Him that the Pradhāna, and so on, are capable of accomplishing their several ends. Otherwise, the different essential natures of them all could never exist-nor persist, nor act. It is just on the ground of this dependence on the Lord not being acknowledged by the Sāmkhyas that their system is disapproved by us." (S. Bh. I; 4.4.)


The Upaniads describe the Universe as having emanated from Brahman himself. God does not create the world as a potter creates a pot, that is, out of material existing externally to himself or independently of himself. He evolves the Universe out of Himself in the manner that threads are emptied by a spider. God, to Ramanuja, is the Nimitta or efficient and material cause (upādāna kāraa) of the Universe.


Ramanuja explains--


"Scripture directly states that Brahman alone is the material as well as the operative cause of world. What was the wood, what the tree from which they shaped heaven and earth? Brahman was the wood, Brahman




the tree from which they shaped heaven and earth.


Here a question is asked, suggested by the ordinary worldly view as to what was the material and the instrument used by Brahman when creating-and the answer declares that Brahman itself is the material and the instruments." (S. Bh. I. 4.25.)


As for the relation of the World of non-sentient matter (acit) to Brahman, Ramanuja puts forth his view thus :-


"We therefore hold that non-sentient matter stands to Brahman in the same relation as the one previously proved for the individual soul in Sūtra II.3.43-46. viz., that is an attribute incapable of being realised apart from Brahman and hence is a part (amsa) of the latter. The texts referring to the two as non-different may thus be taken in their primary sense: for the part is only a limited place of that of which it is a part. And the texts referring to the two as different may also be taken in their primary sense for the distinguishing attribute and that to which the attribute belongs are essentially different. Thus Brahman's freedom from all imperfection is "Lustre preserved is an attribute not to be realised apart from the gem and therefore is a part of the gem: the same relation holds good between generic character, and individuals having that character, between qualities and things having qualities between bodies and soul. In the same way as non-sentient matter stand to Brahman in the relation of parts" (Ill. S. Ch. Ill. 2.28)


What is the purpose of all this creation? Has it any purpose at all? In answering this questiou Ramanuja


writes: "In the case of all those who enter on some activity alter having formed an idea of the effect to be accomplished, there exists a motive in the form of something beneficial either to themselves or to others. Now, Brahman, to whose essential nature it belongs that all his




wishes are eternally fulfilled, does not attain through the creation of the world any object not obtained before. Nor again is the second alternative possible. For a being, all whose wishes are fulfilled, could concern itself about others only with a view to benefiting, them. No merciful divinity would create a world so full, as ours is, of evils of all kind--birth, old age, death, hell and so on: if it created at all, pity would move it to create a world altogether happy." (S. Bh. II. 1 ;32)


The commentary on the Vedanta Sūtra (S. Bh. II.1.33) Lokavattu lilā kaivalyam ('mere sport, as  in ordinary life') gives Ramanuja's solution to the problem :


"The motive which prompts Brahman -- whose wishes are fulfilled and who is perfect in Himself--to the creation of a world comprising all kinds of sentient and non- sentient beings dependent on His volition is nothing else but sport. (play). We see in ordinary life how some great king, ruling this earth with its seven dvipas, and possessing perfect strength; valour, and so on has game at balls, or the like from no other motive than to amuse himself. 'Hence there is no objection to the view that sport only is the motive prompting Brahman to the creation, sustentation and destruction of this world which is easily fashioned by His mere will" (S. Bh. II. 1.33). This does not however prevent Ramanuja from asking in another context "what need is there of sport of a being of infinite bliss ?"


"Sport or play (Leela) here must be taken to mean spontaneous joyous creative activity on the part of Brahman.


 Foot note: "He says: "I have used the term 'Play' and the word seems indeed strangely apposite. The, world is a game which imagination plays with itself. The idea is no solemn 'thinking of thought", prototype of a grim dull professor who, dried up out of all semblance to manhood; mumbles logical love; no ascetic power looking askance on joys which it has itself created. The idea is artist whose poem in so far as he is not enjoying accomplished beauty but creates-is evolution. He creates, too, as one who must leave no source of inspiration untapped.  We again, like the supreme artist ought to quit ourselves in an adventure in the spirit of sport" (P. 230. The World as imagination). He further says "Imagination creates, scattering at once roses and thorns" but "there can be no evil in the cosmic Imagination considered apart from creative episodes. This ocean of the infinite the activity of rest, the static conservative background of the 'world process, is devoid of conflict" is, consequently what in Indian phraseology, we might call knowledge (imaginal) and bliss, the joy eternal whose delight is as perfect as its perfect imaginal life. (P. '48. ibid)  




A modern writer Douglas Fawcett elaborates a view such as this in his book The World as Imagination


What from the point of view of Brahman is looked upon as Līlā comes to be looked upon from the point of view of the individual soul, as having a purpose.  Nature (prakti) becomes in this context a necessary milieu for effecting the final release of individual souls. The world is not merely a vale of tears but it is the vale of soul-making  according to Ramanuja.


He says "Prakrti is a non-intelligent principle, the causal substance of the entire material universe, and constituting the means for the experience of pleasure and pain, and for the final release of all intelligent souls which are connected with it from all eternity." (S. Bh. 1.4.10)