Bhagavad-Gita:Chapters in Sanskrit


(All 18 chapters in Sanskrit, Transliteration, and Translation.)










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Bhagavadgita in English





















Professor Patricia Yvonne Mumme, Ph.D


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The book it is from, "The Srivaisnava Theological Dispute: Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Deskia" is being reprinted and is forthcoming in 2008 from Navabharat Enterprises in Bangalore, India. The  book is authored by: Professor Patricia Yvonne Mumme, Ph.D, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio 44691 USA.


In Chapter One I proposed that the different specializations of the Srivaisnava acaryas in Kanchi and Srirangam beginning in the 13th century provided the historical basis for the development of doctrinal differences between these two schools. The Srirangam acaryas were involved with giving oral discourses and writing commentaries on the Nalayira Divya Prabandha, to inspire the piety and devotion of the Srivaisnava community as a whole. Meanwhile, the Kanchi acaryas specialized in the interpretation of Visistadvaita Vedanta and sastra in order to defend Srivaisnava doctrine and practice in philosophical debates with rival schools. The different purposes and audiences of these two enter­prises made for distinct tendencies in doctrinal emphasis, use of sources, and method of exposition. Manavalamamuni, trained primarily in the interpretation of the Alvars’ hymns and rahasyas, inherited the Srirangam acaryas’ literary and devotional methods and concerns. Vedanta Desika, trained in Visistadvaita polemics, inherited the philosophical and legalistic concerns of the Kanchi acaryas.  

In the introduction to each chapter, I have pointed out some of the ways in which the unique concerns and methods of the Srirangam and Kanchi acaryas  have influenced the thought and exposition of Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika on each particular topic in the soteriological dispute. Here I would like to look back on these chapters and summarize the recurring themes which emerge from this investigation. We can point to fundamental and recurring differences between the theologies of Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika in four main areas--doctrine, practice, substantiation and exposition. In each area, the differences between Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika are clearly related to their respective identification with the particular values and methods of the Srirangam and Kanchi traditions.



Major Themes in the Theological Differences between Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika


Vedanta Desika



Doctrine: Devotionalism Versus Vedanta and Sastra

Manavalamamuni and the Srirangam acaryas above all seek to inspire and defend the soul’s absolute subservience, submission, and surrender to the Lord.

Desika, on the other hand, demonstrates clearly that his primary concern is to defend the doctrines of Visistadvaita Vedanta and the overall meaningfulness and value of the sastras for all men. Devotion to the Lord must be interpreted within these limits.

Dependence and subservience  to the Lord is more intimate to the soul’s nature

Desika gives primacy to the soul’s status as JnAtA (Knower), KartA (Doer), and BhoktA (Enjoyer), which the Brahma Sutras defend in order to give meaningfulness to SAstric injunctions.

Manavalamamuni and the Srirangam acaryas affirm that dependence and subservience to the Lord is more intimate to the soul's nature than the jnatrtva, kartrtva and bhoktrtva of Vedanta. They see all forms of self-effort and self-purpose as contrary to this essential nature.

Jnatrtva = capacity for being a knower. Sentience

kartrtva =  Agency.  Bhoktrtva = Enjoyment

Desika, on the other hand, gives primacy to the soul's status as a jnata, karta, and bhokta which the Brahma Sutras defend in order to give meaningfulness to sastric injunctions. He emphasizes that interpretation of the soul's subservience and dependence must be limited by this measure of autonomy which the Lord has given each soul to enable him to carry out purposeful activity as enjoined in the sastras.

The priority of devotionalism over the sastras leads the Srirangam acaryas to declare that bhaktiyoga and all the sastric sadhanas involving self-effort and self-purpose are ultimately contrary to the soul's essential dependence and must be relinquished in favor of absolute surrender to the Lord as one's proper Savior. They draw a sharp line between bhaktiyoga which depends on deliberate effort and prapatti which is passive surrender.

Desika affirms the validity of bhaktiyoga and the other sadhanas as enjoined in sastras and defended by Ramanuja. He argues that prapatti, like the Sastric sadhanas, is a purposeful act by the soul as agent, which also involves effort and entails auxiliaries.


In emphasizing the soul's absolute submission to the autonomous Lord, the Srirangam acaryas compromise the Vedantic conception of the Lord's impartiality and the validity of sastric injunctions of upasanas. They give the Lord all agency and responsibility in bringing about salvation, asserting that the soul has or does nothing which prompts, aids or cooperates in salvation. Thus the soul is totally at the mercy of the Lord who is the sole agent, instrument, and beneficiary of salvation. They defend the Lord's right to choose to save any soul He chooses for no reason outside His own uncontrollable, autonomous will which is not bound by the soul's past karma or present desire or the injunctions that the Lord himself has commanded in sastra. In this way, just as they overrule the soul's kartrtva and bhoktrtva in emphasizing his dependence, they compromise the Lord's impartiality and egalitarianism in emphasizing His autonomy.


Desika, on the other hand, affirms that the Divine autonomy and the soul's dependence are not to be interpreted in such a way as to pose a threat to the Lord's egalitarianism and impartiality. These traits are essential to the Lord's perfection and the meaningfulness of sastra. Thus he is compelled to show that the soul's past karma and his performance of upayas like bhaktiyoga and prapatti are necessary and instrumental factors in bringing about the soul's salvation, even though the Lord's agency and instrumentality are primary. The impartial Lord respects the autonomy He has given to souls, and waits for the performance of the sadhyo­paya as a pretext to save Him. Desika makes it clear that in affirming this doctrine he is protecting the meaningfulness and relevance of sastras that enjoin upayas and defending the Lord's egalitarianism as affirmed in Vedanta.



Practice: Literary Examples Versus Sastric Injunctions

On points of dispute dealing with practice, we find that the Srirangam acaryas appeal primarily to examples from the Alvars' hymns, the epics and puranas

Vedanta Desika invokes specific injunctions in dharmasastra as the highest authority. This difference, of course, is a corollary of the difference in the relative importance they give to devotional- ism as opposed to the sastras.

The Srirangam acaryas' model for prapatti is the informal and spontaneous devotion and self-surrender seen in the hymns of the Alvars and incidents in Itihasapurana.

Desika, however, considers the specific injunctions of prapatti in Pancaratra to have priority over these sources. There prapatti is clearly described as an upaya which is to be performed with angas.


This difference is even more obvious in their views concerning the prapanna's life of service. The Srirangam Acaryas affirm that temple services performed out of love, such as the mangalasasana practiced by the Alvars, have priority over the nityanaimittika karmas performed because of sastric injunction.

Desika explicitly affirms that the nityanaimittika karmas authorized in the sastras are obligatory forms of service for the prapanna, but that temple services are optional and secondary. In accord with specific injunctions of prayascitta in sastras, Desika affirms that in order to avoid punishment the prapanna has to atone for offenses in varnasradharma and omissions of nityanaimittika karmas by another prapatti.

Noting the Lord's extreme fondness for his devotees as seen in many incidents in Itihasapurana, the Srirangam acaryas do not think this is necessary to avoid punishment. The A1vars’ hymns and many epic and puranic incidents show that serving and honoring BhAgavatas is most pleasing to the Lord. The Srirangam acaryas consider this form of service to be above considerations of proper caste behavior as prescribed in the sastras.


For Desika, however, the Alvars' practices and epic incidents are not to be taken as normative when they directly conflict with sastric injunctions of varnasramadharma. Therefore, service to BhAgavatas is to be done within the limits imposed by the rules of varna, jati, etc.


The view of the acaryas role in salvation seen in Manavalamamuni's works is heavily influenced by the example of Maturakavi Alvar's singular devotion to Nammalvar as the means and end for his salvation.

Desika's view of the acarya derives largely from sastric passages giving the duties and obligations of the guru-sisya relationship.


Substantiation: Analogy versus Logic

The Srirangam acaryas’ roots in oral interpretation of popular devotional literature shows up in the way they use analogies from everyday life and from epic and puranic incidents to substantiate their views as well as to explain them.

Desika's training in logic and polemics is obvious from the way he systematically invokes the three pramanas-­evidence, reasoning, and authoritative scripture--to support his own views and refute opposing views. His works use the purvapaksa-siddhanta style of argumentation much more than Manavalamamuni’s works. To support his own position he raises objections and counter-objections and answers them with scripture and reasoning. He refutes rival views by finding prasangas and contradictions. In several places he criticizes the Srirangam acaryas for using worldly analogies to support views contrary to reason and scripture.

To support their doctrine that sastric sadhanas involving effort are ultimately contrary to the soul's nature and destiny, the Srirangam acaryas appeal primarily to several vivid analogies. In acarya Hrdaya, sastra followers are compared to those who seek to cross a river by swimming and holding on to a raft, while followers of the Tirumantra are said to cross over by sitting effortlessly in a boat. Pillai Lokacarya cites Pillan's statement that bhaktiyoga is contaminated with egoism like a gold pot of holy water contaminated with a drop of liquor. When Ravana clung to his bow and Dasaratha clung to his vow, this kept them from achieving their purposes. In the same way, Lokacarya says, clinging to false sastric upayas interferes with attaining the Lord as the true means and end of salvation. Like mixing medicine with milk or tying a log to a neck to a naughty cow, bhaktiyoga and the sastric sadhanas are only useful in gradually curing those who are too willful and addicted to self-effort to surrender to the Lord. Throughout Manavalamamuni’s works, such analogies are used to carry the force of the argument, with relatively little appeal to scripture and without raising and countering possible rebuttals.


Desika argues that there is no scriptural authority to support the idea that bhaktiyoga and sastric sadhanas are contrary to the soul's nature, obstacles to salvation, or valid only as a provisional means for the ignorant. He argues that to maintain such a position in spite of explicit scriptural statements supporting the validity of these sadhanas seriously threatens the general validity of sastra as the ultimate authority in spiritual matters. He points out numerous logical flaws in their position. The soul's nature is eternal, he says, so engaging in these sadhanas can't destroy it. If they are contrary to the svarupa because they depend on the form of the body, then even eating and drinking would be contrary to the svarupa. If bhaktiyoga and sastric sadhanas are only for the ignorant, then authorities like Vyasa who practiced them were either ignorant or impostors.


In Manavalamamuni's works, incidents from everyday life and from the epics and lives of the Alvars are used as analogies to support their views of the Lord's role in salvation. Just as Guha, Hanuman, and Nammalvar were chosen by the Lord without their desire and in spite of their sins, they claim that the Lord may choose to save any soul simply out of His will, regardless of any kind of performance, prior merits or acceptance on the soul's part. Just as Bharata's prapatti proved ineffective because it was against the Lord's will, they claim that when one surrenders to the Lord of his own initiative, this may not be effective.

These examples show that it is the Lord's acceptance of the soul which is the instrument for salvation, not the soul's acceptance of the Lord. The analogy of the royal elephant choosing the heir to the throne and the king choosing a queen are also used to defend the Lord's right to bestow His causeless grace on whomever He chooses. The agricultural analogy shows that even the pretext of accidental good deeds which the Lord may use as a pretext for His choice are His own doing. With the analogy of the child falling in the street and blaming his mother and the analogy of the man falling in a well and blaming a bystander, they illustrate the folly and futility of accusing the Lord of cruelty and partiality in exercising His autonomy in this way.



In numerous places in Rahasyatrayasarm, Desika brings up and refutes all out the prasangas of sarvasakti and vaisamyanairghrnya.  If the merciful Lord can save whomever He wants without any cause, then everyone should already be saved. Since this is not true, the Lord can be charged with cruelty to those He keeps in samsara and partiality to those He saves. The only way to avoid this prasanga is to affirm that the Lord waits for a pretext in the form of the soul’s initiative in performing the sadhyopaya.



The Srirangam acaryas appeal primarily to the  cow/calf and lover/beloved analogies to support their view that the Lord’s loving forgiveness extends to the point of enjoying the sins of His devotees.


Desika offers several rebuttals against the dosabhogya doctrine. He cites authoritative scriptural injunctions of prayascitta in the specific case of sin committed by His devotees. To say that the Lord delights in sins as if they were good deeds opens the door to antinomianism. If the Lord does not reward merits and punish sins according to the sastras which he has commanded, this threatens His quality being true-willed. 


The Srirangam acaryas' understanding of Sri as mediator and object of service is based largely on the analogy of wife and mother and the example of Sita in the Ramayana.


Desika’ view of Sri as both upaya and upeya is logically deduced from the doctrine that she is an inseparable attribute qualifying the Lord's svarupa. He argues that it violates the Visistadvaita principle of the inseparability of the quality and the qualified to deny that she participates in the Upaya. For then, by the same logic, all the Lord's attributes would have to be divorced from the upaya to maintain the unity and self-sufficiency of the Siddhopaya.


Exposition: Variety and Hyperbole versus Consistency and Precision

Manavalamamuni's works display a delight in exaggeration and hyperbole when bringing out a devotional message, and a similar tolerance for variety (and even inconsistency) in doctrinal interpretation. This tendency is in keeping with the Srirangam acaryas' involvement with oral discourse which sought primarily to inspire the devotion of a sympathetic audience. In keeping with his training in polemics

Desika's works demonstrate that doctrinal consistency and circumspect interpretation of potentially misleading statements are his major aims. Indeed, his Rahasyatrayasara seems to have been written mainly in order to limit excessive or exaggerated statements concerning Srivaisnava doctrine made by other acaryas, and to reconcile all apparent contradictions in doctrine and practice among authorities within the tradition


Manavalamamuni makes only a weak attempt to integrate Acarya Hrdaya's doctrine of the two levels of svarupajnana sesatva and paratantriya with that seen in Pillai Lokacharya’s works (Jnatratva and Sesatva). Following the text at hand, he gives various explanations as to which qualities of the soul's nature result in relinquishing self-effort and self-purpose. Some of the analogies used to explain the difference between bhaktiyoga and prapatti suggest that bhaktiyoga is always an obstruction to salvation (e.g., the examples of Ravana and Dasaratha); others suggest it can be an effective--though slower--means to salvation by virtue of  the prapatti it contains (e.g., the milk and medicine ana­logy). Manavalamamuni's commentaries show little concern to integrate and put in proper perspective all the various definitions of prapatti which Pillai Lokacarya and his brother suggest: cessation of effort, knowledge of the svarupa, faith, acceptance of the Lord's protection, choosing or requesting that the Lord be the Upaya, or some combination of these descriptions.


Desika is concerned to delineate the limits of the soul's autonomy and dependence so that neither sesatva nor kartrtva are invalidated. He brings up many exaggerated statements made in scripture or by other acaryas and tries to interpret these in accord with the Visistadvaita view of the soul's nature. He defines the precise relationship between bhakti and prapatti, describes what each upaya entails and specifies who is qualified for them. Desika is compelled to affirm that bhakti and prapatti are equally valid upayas which the sastras enjoined on two mutually exclusive groups of individuals having distinct qualifications. He sees this as the only doctrine which can 1) reconcile authoritative scriptures which enjoin each as sadhanas to moksa, and 2) justify the practices of the rsis and acaryas. In order to integrate all the various definitions of prapatti found in other sources with the complete authoritative description of prapatti with its angas in Pancaratra, he explains that prapatti has been described in terms of only one of its angas in certain contexts to emphasize the importance of that one aspect. He also points out and reconciles an apparent contradiction between two Pancaratra sources over the number of angas.


In emphasizing that the Lord is the sole Upaya and His acceptance is what saves, the Srirangam acaryas are somewhat ambivalent as to whether prapatti deliberately performed for one's own salvation is ever effective. On the one hand they claim that svagatasvikara is not an upaya, is shameful, destroys the svarupa, and is ineffective unless preceded by the Lord's intention to save. But they admit that it may be effective when in accord with the Lord's will, when the Lord decides to take pity on the soul out of His mercy, or when there is an effective mediator. They give a confusing variety of explanations for why a certain soul is saved at a certain time. Different passages suggest that salvation is occasioned by 1) the soul's realization of his svarupayathatmya, 2) his cessation of efforts at self­protection, 3) requesting protection, 4) his very lowliness and lack of good karma, 5) some accidental good deeds the Lord uses as a pretext, or 6) the mediation of Sri or the acarya. Some passages seem to allow that deliberate good deeds may even be taken by the Lord as a pretext--other passages flatly deny that the soul's merits have any bearing on the Lord's acceptance at all.


Desika, on the other hand, is concerned to show exactly when and under what circumstances prapatti is effective. Prapatti performed once according to the method the Lord has specified in sastra is always an effective propitiation which results in salvation at the end of this life. He demonstrates how this doctrine is consistent with the Lord's true-willed mercy and the validity of the sastras. He takes pains to explain how the performance of the sadhyopaya occurs as the culmination of a long chain of karma--including deliberate, unknown and accidental good deeds.

Though they make it clear that love is more important in guiding the prapanna's service than sastra, the Srirangam acaryas show some ambivalence as to just what role the sastra is to play in the life of the prapanna. Acarya Hrdaya suggests that the prapanna should drop sastric varnasramadharmas completely in favor of service to the temple idol. Pillai Lokacarya says that the prapanna would be even afraid to do a good deed or engage in a permitted pleasure which would be contrary to his status--much less would he deliberately displease the Lord by violating His commands in the sastras. Manavalamauni’s weak attempts to reconcile these two positions result in contradicting himself on the question of whether performing varnasramadharmas out of lokasamgraha is a form of service or sin.

Desika’s Rahasyatrayasara devotes a lot of attention to specifying the relative priority of various forms of service, and reconciling apparent contradictions in sastric sources. He concludes that varnasramadharmas are obligatory and must be performed to avoid punishment; temple services are optional and may be performed as desired for their own sake and to enhance the joy of the Lord. He also spells out the precise conditions under which repeated prapatti and kamya karmas may be done by a prapanna.


In praising the virtues of BhAgavatas and the benefits of serving them, Manavalamamuni’s works cite many hyperbolic statements gleaned from Itihasapurana and Pancaratra or made by other acaryas. The words of BhAgavatas are said to be like the Veda. Their behavior is a model of dharmasastra. The touch, tirtha, and leftovers of low-caste BhAgavatas are the best purifiers. A low birth conducive to serving other BhAgavatas is better than a high birth. All BhAgavatas are to be known as brahmins and all non-BhAgavatas are sudras.


Desika gives a detailed discussion of how such exaggerated statements are to be interpreted in accord with sastric injunctions of varnasramadharma and accepted practice. To reconcile these statements with the sastras he distinguishes between the "mental brahminhood" coming from one’s status as a BhAgavata which demands honor and respect, and one’s bodily varna and jati which are the basis for social behavior as dictated by the sastras. He also specifies the ritual and ceremonial contexts under which the sastras authorize using the touch, tirtha, and prasada of BhAgavatas for purification.

The most obvious example of the Srirangam acaryas’ penchant for hyperbole and tolerance of inconsistency is their exposition of the Lord's slavish affection for His devotees and His unpredictable autonomy. Rather than reconciling this duality in the Lord’s nature, they exaggerate both aspects, delighting in this mysterious paradox in the Divine nature. The Lord has so much affection for His devotees that He delights in their sins and makes Himself subservient to them when He communes with them. They portray Him as searching desperately for some opportunity to save those who are averse to Him. On the other hand, because of the Lord’s unpredictable autonomy, they declare that the Lord may reject a sinful soul who comes seeking refuge. They even imply that He may suddenly change His mind and decide to punish one He has already accepted.


Desika tolerates no unpredictability or inconsistency in the Divine nature; he seeks to expound a doctrine that harmonizes the Lord’s autonomy and mercy. He draws on scripture to determine the specific conditions under which the Lord will save souls and forgive their offenses. He clarifies how the Lord manifests both His mercy as the savior and His autonomy as the judge of karma without compromising the soul’s autonomy or His own egalitarianism.


While affirming that Sri is an inseparable attribute of the Lord’s svarupa, Manavalamamuni's works do not take a definite stand on whether Sri is to be considered a finite soul or a part of the Godhead. The Srirangam acaryas show some inconsistency in affirming her inseparability from the Lord. They accept that she is part of the goal of salvation, but deny that she participates in the upaya. They claim that she never leaves the Lord, but in arguing for the necessity of her mediation they note that it was because of her absence that Ravana was destroyed.


Desika addresses this problem and decides firmly on the basis of the Vedantic conception of the unity of substance and attribute that Sri is part of the Godhead and cannot reasonably be declared to participate in the upeya without also allowing her to be part of the upaya.


Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika: The men and their followers.

Through this comparison of the doctrines and methods of Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika, we can glimpse something of the unique character of each man.

In his zeal to inspire the devotional piety of the Alvars and carry on the tradition of the Srirangam acaryas, Mavalamamuni expounded their teachings with eloquence and diligence. Addressing himself to the hearts and religious sensibilities of the Srivaisnava community at large, he used the techniques that the Srirangam acaryas had found effective in promoting this devotion. Thus he appealed to popular legends and everyday analogies to illustrate his themes, inviting a wide range of doctrinal interpretations and delighting in forceful hyperbole to get his message across to his audience.

Vedanta Desika, with his sensitivity to the attacks of rival schools, sought primarily to articulate Srivaisnava doctrine as a coherent system whose authority could be defended in debate by appealing to accepted Sanskrit texts and correct reasoning. By ferreting out and correcting the doctrinal inconsistencies within the tradition, he tried to steer straight the course of Ramanuja's sampradaya.


In their own ways, both men were above all seeking to promote the integrity of the Srivaisnava faith and the closeness of the community of those following tradition of Ramanuja's Ubhaya Vedanta. Unfortunately, history shows that the extreme loyalty and dedication that each man inspired in his followers worked against that aim. In their faithfulness to each man and his doctrines, these two groups of followers lost sight of the primary value that both Manavalamamuni and Vedanta Desika gave to the unity and harmony of the Srivaisnava community. The bitter struggle between the Tenkalai and Vadakalai sects that broke out in the 18th century would have certainly dismayed both the men in whose names it was carried out.