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The Concept of God in Vedanta

Class: Introduction to Hinduism


Student: Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Tutor: Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms Bhaktivedanta College (2010-11) 20/02/2011

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 2

Body Text................................................................................................................................... 2

Conclusion ................................................................................................................................. 6

Bibliography .............................................................................................................................. 7

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

Introduction
In the broad concept of Hinduism we find many intriguing concepts and cultures. The concept of God is a striking subject and is many branched in the Hindu paradigm. Because there are so many unique ways at looking at God in Hindu thought I have selected a few philosophies based on the Vedanta Sutra. Vedanta philosophy deals with God in the concept of Brahman but there are many views on this concept. This essay aims to look at three of the major schools on the subject of Vedanta; namely, Madhvacarya (1238-1317), Ramanuja Acarya (1017-1137), and Sankaracarya (700-750). (S.J., 1993) These three each hold unique and intriguing theologies which differ in many ways. Their schools of thought are known as Dvaita (Madhvas), Visistadvaita (Ramanujas) and Advaita (Sankaras). This essay hopes to look at each of these schools individually, touching on some major points of the theology. The main focus would be to look at the relationship with individuals (Jivas) with God (Brahman), noting what essentially the reality of Jivas is and what the essential reality of Brahman is. Culminating the essay will be a comparison of the various views to summarize how each philosophy may interact or contradict the others, hopefully finding some nice similarities and some obvious disagreements.

Body Text
Madhva is the last of the three selected philosophers in the historical context. His philosophy is very distinct. He chooses to remain opposed to Sankaras Advaita view and wields a Dvaitic, dualistic approach and disagrees with essential points of Ramanuja. (Sharma, 1991, p. 306) He examines the relationship between Brahman and the Jiva as an eternal coexistence. (Sharma, 1991, p. 306) In this interpretation he draws conclusive support from one of Krsnas first statements in the Bhagavad-Gita (2.12). The Jiva and Brahman coexist, separately but in some way they are connected. (Sharma, 1991, p. 307) Madhva explains this connection like a person and their shadow (Brahman being the person and the Jiva being the shadow). (Sharma, 1991, p. 308) It is stressed in this way to show the relationship but the analogy sheds no more depth than how Madhva chooses to use it in the context. (Sharma, 1991, pp. 308-9) He explains that a shadow is like its source but at the same time it is not the same as the source, because the shadow lacks the necessary details. This again is not to say that the Jiva is featureless but is simply an analogy to show that the Jivas image is the same as Brahman but there is some lacking and therefore the Jiva cannot 2

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

be as good as Brahman. (Sharma, 1991, p. 309) Also the analogy is important because it stresses the fact that the shadow is dependent on the source. No shadow exists without the former subject. Although the Jiva is dependent on Brahman, the original is not dependent on its shadow, and therefore Brahman is not dependent on Jiva for its maintenance. (Sharma, 1991, p. 312) In this doctrine we find that the Jiva is in essence real and eternal. (Sharma, 1991, p. 310) Jiva is not an illusory emanation of Brahman, like in Advaitic thought, but is different to Brahman. The relationship of Brahman and Jiva is not dependent on any external source. It merely requires the presence of Jiva and Brahman, and is therefore just like the relationship between a man and his shadow. The analogy is given that a reflection can be removed by the removal of a mirror (an external factor) but a man is always attached to his shadow. (Sharma, 1991, p. 312) Madhva also explains the Jivas to be like raindrops and Brahman to be like the sun. Through the raindrops the white light of Brahman is revealed in a rainbow, showing us that we can see the inconceivable, divine characteristics of Brahman through his empowered Jivas, or godly souls. This analogy is to say that the rain drops are active and share some relationship with Brahman and its energies. (Sharma, 1991, p. 313)

Ramanujas Visistadvaita seems to be the philosophy somewhat in the middle; Madhvas being dualistic and Sankaras being Monistic. Ramanuja hopes to justify sections of Upanisads that make claims in favour of both oneness and difference. On one hand, if you were to put faith in the doctrine of oneness then the aspect of difference would be neglected, and vice versa. (Chari, 2004, p. 213) Ultimate reality is one as a unity. (Chari, 2004, p. 1) The philosophy takes Jiva and Brahman to be interrelated, neither separate, nor totally inconceivably the same. (Chari, 2004, p. 2) They believe in three aspects: matter, soul (Jiva) and God (Brahman/Isvara). (Chari, 2004, p. 1) God acts as the maintainer of the souls and the universe. (Chari, 2004, pp. 1-2) Jiva and Brahman are both considered spiritual substance. (Chari, 2004, p. 212) It is explained that the Jiva is a part (amsa) of Brahman. (Chari, 2004, p. 213) The analogy is given between the relationship of the body and the soul (Jivas being the bodily parts and Brahman being the soul). (Chari, 2004, p. 215) In this sense the souls are one with God but at the same time they are distinct. (Chari, 2004, p. 212) The concept is also shared that Brahman is like a flame and the Jivas are like the illumination of that flame. (Chari, 2004, p. 3

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

214) It is constantly emphasized that the soul is dependent on Brahman (Chari, 2004, p. 215) but does not fully merge into Brahman as an unidentifiable aspect, therefore disagreeing with Sankaras view (Chari, 2004, p. 204), and at the same time, because the soul is a part of God (Chari, 2004, p. 205), it is not different from God in the sense of Madhvas view. Brahman is eternal in the philosophy of Ramanuja, and the souls, being like Brahman, are also eternal. (Chari, 2004, p. 191) They are not to be conceived of as having a start or an end. It explains that if there is ever any reference of the souls coming into being, it is simply in relation to the temporary, material body that the soul associates with but not the soul proper. With these different theories they attempt to confirm that there are no real contradictory opinions in the scripture (Srutis) but simply bad interpretations of seemingly contradictory notions. (Chari, 2004, p. 196) In Ramanujas concept of Jiva, we find that there are unlimited Jivas and they are all somewhat unique. (Chari, 2004, p. 203) This unlimited variety seems to contradict the Advaitic concept yet again. (Chari, 2004, pp. 203-4)

Sankaras philosophy differs very much from the other selected Vaisnava philosophers. It is difficult to attribute the concept of theism to the doctrine because the validity of God, in the traditional sense, is quickly diminished. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 1) God is considered an eternal, non-qualitative substance. The concept of the God in an Abrahamic tradition, as a creator, is looked at in a different light. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 2) God taking on qualities, in concern of relating to the world, is temporary. Indeed the world and the souls (Jivas) that live in the world are also temporary. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 3) Creation is looked on like the act of a magician (Brahman being the magician) it appears from nowhere and it deceives the created but not the creator (God). (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 4) Brahman (God) is ultimately one in the concept of Advaita philosophy. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 6) Variety and plurality do not take away from the oneness of Brahman and are thus temporary, illusory concepts which arise simply in a place and time. In reality God does not act. Brahman is the home of all finite actions and creations but there is no quality or action ascribed to it. It maintains itself from itself. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 3) Everything is, in essence, Brahman. Any type of identity or quality otherwise is considered to be some temporary illusion. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 6)

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

Because everything is Brahman, then Jivas (souls) once released from their illusion state become Brahman, indistinct from the latter. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 6) Although there are personal sentiments sometimes found in Sankara and his followers (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 9), it seems these are in relation to the phenomenal, temporary concept of God as Isvara, in the light of our temporary position as Jivas, whereas Brahman cannot be limited by such material, human designations. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 8) The higher concept or the confidential aspect is the featureless Brahman concept, which in one sense seems to be covered by the qualitative Isvara aspect. (Gupta, 2006, p. 35) This Isvara aspect is simply a means by which Brahman communicates with the external world and the Jivas under illusion, for otherwise and ultimately, Brahman has no qualities and no qualitative interactions. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 7)

In culmination of all these points discussed so far in this essay, we must look at the comparisons of the many aspects of each of these philosophies. They all base their theories on their own interpretations of Vedanta, Sruti and other Hindu texts. The relation of the Jiva to Brahman is a major concept of interest in all their traditions. Both Madhva and Ramanuja consider the Jiva to be eternal whereas the concept of Jiva is temporary in the Sankara belief. In all cases Jiva is dependent on Brahman. In the case of Ramanuja and Sankara, Jiva is one with Brahman. The concept of the individual Jiva is illusion in essence of Sankara, in this case, and it is more true to state that everything is Brahman, thus the Jiva concept would then cease to exist. Although Ramanuja leads us to believe that the Jiva is one with Brahman, this is qualified in the concept that it still remains individual in its characteristics and acts as a part (amsa) of Brahman. Jiva and Brahman are totally separate entities for Madhva and only unify in terms of relationship. The main relationship of the Jiva with Brahman is epitomized by the concept of dependence and service in the theology of Madhva and Ramanuja. Sankara has some concept of service to Brahman but the ultimate reality is not one of served and servitor. In Sankaras concept, Isvara is a secondary or phenomenal aspect of Brahman but in the other philosophies Isvara and Brahman is one (there being no means to suggest that one is a higher concept than the other). The relationship with the Jivas and the Isvara is really the prime essence of their relation to Brahman. This whole relationship is secondary in Sankaras view, although has some place in preliminary stages.

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

In Sankaras view, due to all souls being Brahman, then there is the concept that escape from this state of illusion would culminate in one becoming Brahman, or simply returning to the state of Brahman. (Sharma A. , 1997, p. 6) This finds difficulty in the Vaisnava theologies. Although Ramanuja accepts some kind of oneness, it is not that the Jiva becomes total, inconceivably one with Brahman but retains its identity as a limb (amsa) of Brahman (or Isvara) in the final stage of release. (Chari, 2004, p. 213) Madhva sticks strong to his dualistic approach but suggests that the ultimate release for the soul is a relationship with Brahman (or Isvara) free of any other opposing aspects. In essence, this means that release for Madhva is a pure, undiverted relationship with the Jiva and Brahman. (Sharma B. , 1991, p. 315)

Conclusion
Thus in the ultimate sense we see that each of the philosophers has a very different approach to Brahman and the relation Brahman has with Jiva. In the ultimate sense, for Sankara, the concept of Brahman is the ultimate and last factor for everything. It is featureless in the true sense and inactive in the sense of activity. In essence Jiva and Brahman are one or more so Jiva is temporary and Brahman is the only eternal reality. Sankara has a similar doctrine to this on Isvara, or qualitative Brahman, as he does for the Jiva. Ramanuja believes the eternal relation of the Jiva and Brahman (as the Isvara) being that of parts and the whole. The Jivas are in essence part of Brahman but they act separately from Brahman. They are utterly dependent on Brahman and their ultimate goal is to have a pure, eternal relationship with Brahman. Madhva has distinguished the Jivas from Brahman, although they are very much like Brahman. They are separate but their ultimate goal is for the Jiva to have a relationship with Brahman (as the Isvara). This relationship is free from any external factors, thus being a pure reciprocation. Thus Madhva mostly differs in his sense that he separates the Jivas from Brahman, Sankara differs from the others in the sense that he sees Brahman as an impersonal conception, and Ramanuja holds a middle ground by qualifying the oneness in a personalized aspect.

Maddy Jean-Claude Durr

Introduction to Hinduism

God in Vedanta

Bibliography
Chari, S. S. (2004). Fundamentals of Visistadvaita Vedanta: A Study based on Vedanta Desika's Tattva-Mukta-Kalapa (Corrected ed.). Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. Gupta, S. (2006). Advaita Vedanta and Vaisnavism: The philosophy of Madhusudana Sarasvati. New York: Routledge. S.J., C. V. (1993). The Mysticism of Ramanuja. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. Sharma, A. (1997). The Philosophy of Religion and Advaita Vedanta: A Comparative Study in Religion and Reason. Delhi, India: Sr Satguru Publications. Sharma, B. (1991). Philosophy of Sri Madhvacarya (Revised ed.). Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.