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Archive for 20/05/11

Visista Advaita — Qualified Non-Dualism

By Br. John Martin Sahajananda

The second Hindu system we’re considering is called Visista Advaita, a system of qualified non-dualism, proposed by one, Ramanuja, in the 11th century after Jesus. He disagreed with Shankara’s position regarding the nature of God, the universe and humankind. For Ramanuja, as with Shankara, God (Brahman) alone is eternal (sathyam). But according to him, God is not nirguna, without qualities, but saguna, with qualities.

Ramanuja taught that God is personal. The universe and our world (jagat) is the manifestation of Brahman (not a mere appearance, mithya, as with Shankara). The universe isn’t created by God, but rather is seen as an emanation from God. God is the instrumental and the material cause of creation. We are part of God but not identical with God. There’s a subtle essential difference between God and us.

Ramanuja saw the universe and humankind as the ‘body’ of God. The relationship between God and the universe, he taught, is like soul and body, or the body and the hair that grows on and from the body. God and the universe are inseparable. The material world isn’t an illusion, mithya or maya. Maya, he teaches, is the creative power of God through which he manifests the world and everything in it.

If we go back to the analogy of water and ice, Brahman, according to this system, is water; ice is the universe. The universe isn’t an illusion. It’s the manifestation of Brahman. It’s the body of Brahman. But there’s a subtle difference between God and the universe, which includes humankind — it isn’t identical with Brahman.

Ramanuja also proposed the way of devotion, bhakthi marga. One has to surrender to God, he taught, through devotion or faith — to God’s will — and one finds peace and joy in this surrender. There’s no human soul identifying with God. No one can say, ‘God and I are one.’

For him, a personal relationship with God is very important. If a human soul was one with God, then no personal relationship is possible — it takes two to tango! He taught that we can have a personal relationship with God in one or more modes such as: father and child, lover and beloved, protector and protected, physician and patient, owner and the owned, sustainer and sustained, supporter and dependent, sun and lotus etc.

Ultimate liberation, Ramanuja taught, happens only after the death of the physical body. In general he is considered to be a pantheist. But this may not be correct since he holds that there’s a subtle essential difference between God and the universe in general or humankind in particular. From the Sun come many rays, but one cannot say that every ray is a Sun. There is only one Sun and the universe is its manifestation.

Br. John Martin Sahajananda

 

Continued next week

 

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