Visistadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya

Q&A with Swami B.V. Tripurari

Q. Is the visistadvaita (qualified oneness) philosophy of Ramanujacharya the same as the acintya-bhedabheda (inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference) philosophy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu? If the two philosophies are the same in tattva then where is the acintya (inconceivability) to be found in Sri Ramanuja’s philosophy? That philosophy clearly explains the relationship between the object and quality as the dehi and deha, but Gaudiyas seem to say there must be some inconceivability in this. Where is this inconceivability?

A. The philosophy of the Gaudiya sampradaya and that of the Ramanuja sampradaya are not the same. Ramanuja, for example, attributes internal distinction (svagatabheda) to Brahman, whereas the Gaudiyas do not. For Ramanuja, Brahman’s qualities (as he views them)—the jivas, and the world—are not the same as that which they qualify (Brahman). However, neither can these qualities exist outside of that which they qualify. Thus the two are not different from one another either. In Ramanuja’s view, a special relationship exists between Brahman, the jivas, and the world. He calls this relationship aprthak-siddhi, or inseparability. With this term Ramanuja seeks to logically explain the identity and difference of Brahman.

It appears that in reality Ramanuja finds it difficult to describe the relationship of identity and difference but accepts both of them. Indeed, according to Ramanuja himself (Sribhasya 2.2.12), aprthak-siddhi is not strictly a relation, although his followers such as Vedanta Desika sometimes speak of it as such. Thus through careful examination both scholars and acaryas of other sampradayas came to conclude that acceptance of Ramanuja’s term aprthak-siddhi really involves forgoing logic. In this regard, the Gaudiya acaryas have determined that this logical shortcoming of Sri Ramanuja’s metaphysic is resolved with the concept of acintya, or inconceivability with regard to the nature of ultimate reality and its being simultaneously one and different.

Thus the Gaudiyas feel that the metaphysic of acintya-bhedabheda tattva better explains the nature of ultimate reality, and that this explanation is an improvement on the efforts of Ramanuja and others. Ramanuja and others have struggled to come to grips with the fact that the concepts of either oneness or difference are inadequate to comprehensively explain the nature of the Absolute.

The Gaudiyas have concluded that Brahman is both one and different simultaneously, and that this is possible because the Absolute possesses inconceivable power (acintya-sakti). Others have developed terms such as anirvacaniya (Sankara), aprthak-siddhi (Ramanuja), svabhavika (Nimbarka), visesa (Madhva), and samavaya (Vallabha) to bring logic to bear on the oneness and difference of Brahman, when in reality the simultaneous oneness and difference of the absolute is acintya (inconceivable). Indeed, careful study of these other doctrines of Vedanta reveals that they implicitly acknowledge the acintya-sakti of the Absolute but are unable to identify it as such.

Therefore, the Gaudiyas lay claim to accepting the nature of the Absolute (and scripture) “as it is” with regard to its oneness and difference. In this way they have sought not to inordinately impose the limits of logic on the nature of being, but rather accept it for what it is and attribute its nature to the acintya-sakti, or the inconceivability of God.


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6 Responses to Visistadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya

  1. Sastra-Vani Dasa

    This sentence in the article:
    Thus through careful examination both scholars and acaryas of other sampradayas came to conclude that acceptance of Ramanuja’s term aprthak-siddhi really involves forgoing logic.

    If foregoing logic is the reason to reject a theory, then the Gaudiya position of acintya-tva (inconceivability) seems to be the best contender for such rejection.

    • You seem to miss the point. “In this regard, the Gaudiya acaryas have determined that this logical shortcoming of Sri Ramanuja’s metaphysic is resolved with the concept of acintya, or inconceivability with regard to the nature of ultimate reality and its being simultaneously one and different.”

      Yes, the nature of the Godhead is in some respects inconceivable and thus not possible to capture in its entirety by logic. Ramanuja should have said as much. We do not reject Ramaunja’s argument because it foregoes logic but rather because it does not admit that his idea of aprthak-siddhi would have been better termed acintya. Whereas others may have rejected his theory because it foregoes logic, while still thinking the nature of the Absolute can be fully described through logic.

    • That said, it is not illogical to say God is acintya.

      • Sastra-Vani Dasa

        Dear Guru-Maharaja,

        Thank you for your reply.

        I think of inconceivability as “being beyond logic.” For eg.: The principle of karmic retribution is inconceivable as it cannot be understood through direct sensory experience or through inference. Similarly, the nature of the Absolute Truth cannot be ascertained by these faculties. Therefore, such knowledge is inconceivable. It can only be understood through shastra-pramana.

        But, here is the problem. If the shastra says one thing at one place and the opposite thing at another place, which one should we accept? Both cannot be absolutely true at the same time.
        I will try to explain how such things are resolved with an example: In the Gita 9.4 and 9.5, Krishna says that he pervades everything by his unmanifest form and that everything is situated in him, and also that everything is not situated in him.
        Here, both things cannot be absolutely true at the same time. This is logically incorrect. If one says that it beyond our logic to grasp such things, then it only shows that one has blind faith in the scripture. Therefore, the acharyas have explained that everything is definitely situated in Krishna. But He is not “attached” or connected to anything. The next verse 9.6 clarifies this with the help of an analogy. Just as air is situated in space but not “connected” to space or “touching” space, similarly everything is in Krishna. Verse 9.4 explains the existential situation of all things within Krishna, and verse 9.5 explains Krishna’s functional disconnection from all things; he is not concerned with the things of this world.
        Thus, things are resolved.

        However, in the case of bhedabheda, if it is said that Krishna is one in identity with the jivas and also different in identity from the jivas at the same time, there is problem and it needs to be resolved. To say that it is because of the inconceivable potency of Krishna probably betrays the inability to resolve it. There should be some logical explanation given in order to understand this.

        I forward to your reply.
        Pranaams.

        • Gaudiya Vedanta says that the two, sakti and saktiman, are one and different at the same time, and that this reality is possible because God has inconceivable sakti by which things that seem impossible to the materially conditioned mind and as such defy logic are nonetheless the nature of ultimate reality. I do not think this betrays an inability to resolve the issue. It is quite reasonable and there is evidence from Krsna lila to support it. How can Yasoda be inside of Krsna and he be outside of her at the same time? She is his sakti, and as such she is within him, but at the same time she is different from him and outside of him. Such is his play.

          All of the schools of Vedanta try to explain the oneness and difference/immanence and transcendence, etc. of Reality mentioned in sastra. Sankara says it is ultimately one. Madhva says it is ultimately different. Nimbarka says it is sometimes one and at other times different. Ramanuja says it is a qualified oneness. Jiva Goswami says it is one and different at the same time by its inconceivable power. Pick one or make up your own. And good luck with the latter alternative.

        • Some Western theologians employ the term “panentheism” to describe the relationship between God and the world, or in Gaudiya terminology, between God and his maya sakti. Pan=the whole world, and en=in—”the whole world in God” or “everything in God.” The implication of this notion is that while the world is in him, he at the same time is more than the world. It is within God, but unlike pantheism, it is not all there is to God. God is greater than the universe and at the same time his existence includes and interpenetrates it. There are different interpretations of the implications of panentheism, but broadly speaking the Gaudiya acintya bhedabheda is one of them.

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