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Indian Thought and Western Theism

The encounter between the West and India in the modern period has also been
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an encounter between Western modernity and the traditions of classical Indian


thought. This book is the study of one aspect of this encounter, that between West-
ern scholasticism and one classical Indian tradition of religious thought and prac-
tice: the Vednta.
In the modern period there have been many attempts to relate Western theistic
traditions to classical Indian accounts of ultimate reality and the world. Parallels
have usually been drawn with modern forms of Western philosophy or modern
trends in theism. Modern Indological studies have continued to make substan-
tial use of Western terms and concepts to describe and analyse Indian thought. A
much-neglected area of study has been the relationship between Western scho-
lastic theology and classical Indian thought. This book challenges existing paral-
lels with modern philosophy of religion and forms of theism. It argues instead
that there is an affinity between scholasticism and classical Indian traditions. It
considers the thought of Rmnuja (traditional dates 10171137 ce), who devel-
oped an influential theist and realist form of Vednta, and considers how this
relates to that of the most influential of Western scholastics, Thomas Aquinas
(1224/51274 ce). Within what remain very different traditions we can see similar
methods of enquiry, as well as common questions and concerns in their accounts
of ultimate reality and of the world.
Arguing that there is indeed an affinity between the Western scholastic tradition
and that of classical Indian thought, and suggesting a reversal of the tendencies
of earlier interpretations, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of
Asian religion, Hinduism and Indian philosophy.

Martin Ganeri is Vice Regent of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, UK.


His recent publications include Selfhood, Agency and Freewill in Rmnuja in
E.F. Bryant (ed.), Free Will, Agency, and Selfhood in Indian Philosophy (2014),
and Natural Law and Hinduism in the Journal of Comparative Law (2014).
Routledge Hindu Studies Series
Series Editor: Gavin Flood
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

The Routledge Hindu Studies Series, in association with the Oxford Centre for
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Hindu Studies, intends the publication of constructive Hindu theological, philo-


sophical and ethical projects aimed at bringing Hindu traditions into dialogue with
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also be considered.

Epistemologies and the Limitations of Philosophical Inquiry


Doctrine in Madhva Vedanta
DeepakSarma

A Hindu Critique of Buddhist Epistemology


Kumarila on perception
The Determination of Perception chapter of Kumarilabhattas
Slokarvarttika translation and commentary
JohnTaber

Samkaras Advaita Vedanta


A way of teaching
JacquelineHirst

Attending KrishnasImage
Chaitanya Vaishnava Murti-seva as devotionaltruth
Kenneth Russell Valpey

Advaita Vedanta and Vaisnavism


The philosophy of Madhusudana Sarasvati
SanjuktaGupta
Classical Samkhya andYoga
An Indian metaphysics of experience
Mikel Burley

Self-Surrender (Prapatti) to God in Shrivaishnavism


Tamil cats and Sanskrit monkeys
SrilataRaman

The Chaitanya Vaishnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami


When knowledge meets devotion
Ravi M.Gupta

Gender and Narrative in the Mahabharata


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Edited by Simon Brodbeck and BrianBlack

Yoga in the ModernWorld


Contemporary perspectives
Edited by Mark Singleton and JeanByrne

Consciousness in Indian Philosophy


The Advaita doctrine of awarenessonly
Sthaneshwar Timalsina

Desire and Motivation in Indian Philosophy


Christopher G. Framarin

Women in the Hindu Tradition


Rules, roles and exceptions
MandakrantaBose

Religion, Narrative and Public Imagination in SouthAsia


Past and place in the Sanskrit Mahabharata
James Hegarty

Interpreting Devotion
The poetry and legacy of a female Bhakti saint ofIndia
Karen Pechilis

Hindu Perspectives on Evolution


Darwin, dharma, and design
C. MackenzieBrown

Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition


Salvificspace
Knut A. Jacobsen
A Womans Ramayana
Candravatis Bengaliepic
Mandakranta Bose and Sarika PriyadarshiniBose

Classical Vaisesika in Indian Philosophy


On knowing and what is to beknown
ShashiprabhaKumar

Re-figuring the Ramayana as Theology


A history of reception in premodernIndia
Ajay R.Rao

Hinduism and Environmental Ethics


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Law, literature and philosophy


Christopher G. Framarin

Hindu Pilgrimage
Shifting patterns of worldview of Srisailam in SouthIndia
Prabhavati C.Reddy

The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi


Makarand R. Paranjape

Bhakti and Embodiment


Fashioning divine bodies and devotional bodies in Krsna Bhakti
Barbara A. Holdrege

Textual Authority in Classical Hindu Thought


Ramanuja and the Vishnu Purana
Sucharita Adluri

Indian Thought and Western Theism


The Vednta of Rmnuja
Martin Ganeri
Indian Thought and
Western Theism
The Vednta of Rmnuja

Martin Ganeri
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First published2015
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and by Routledge
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Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
2015 Martin Ganeri
The right of Martin Ganeri to be identified as author of this work has been
asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
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from the publishers.


Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or
registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation
without intent to infringe.
British Library Cataloguing-in-PublicationData
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-PublicationData
Ganeri, Martin, author.
Indian thought and western Theism: the Vedanta of Ramanuja /
Martin Ganeri.
pages cm. (Routledge Hindu Studies Series)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Ramanuja, 10171137. 2. Vedanta. 3. Theism. I. Title.
B133.R3664G36 2015
181'.483dc23
2014030470
ISBN: 978-0-415-55262-2 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-315-73133-9 (ebk)

Typeset in Times New Roman


by Apex CoVantage, LLC
Contents

Abbreviations used and word listix


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Introduction 1
Notes 3

1 Vednta and Thomism 4


Introduction4
Rmnuja and Aquinas in the context of their traditions 4
Vednta and scholasticism: a critical history of the encounter 14
Conclusion35
Notes35

2 Methodology 37
Introduction37
Scholasticism as an analytical category for cross-cultural study 38
Rmnuja: the sources and methods of Vedntic enquiry 41
Aquinas: sacra doctrina and the sources and methods of
scholastic enquiry 57
Conclusion70
Notes 71

3 The ultimate reality 73


Introduction73
Rmnuja and the nature of Brahman 74
Aquinas and the nature of God 87
Conclusion 102
Notes 103
viiiContents
4 The world 105
Introduction 105
Rmnuja: the world as the body of Brahman 106
Aquinas on creation 132
Conclusion: embodiment and creation 148
Notes 149

5 Rmnuja and modern Western theism 151


Introduction 151
Process thought 151
Personalist thought 160
Conclusion 163
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In conclusion 164
Note 165

Bibliography 167
Index 173
Abbreviations used and wordlist

The following abbreviations have beenused:


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BDT Boethius de Trinitate


BG BhagavadGt
GBh Gt Bhsya
Bh r Bhsya
SCG Summa Contra Gentiles
ST Summa Theologiae
VP Visnu Purna
VS Vedrthasam graha

The following Sanskrit words are commonly used in thetext:


dhra the support (the embodiedself)
adhikarana the basic unit of discussion, the third division of the Brahma
Stratext
adhyya the first or major division of the Stratext
tman the consciousself
Brahman the ultimate reality in Vednta, Supreme Self, theLord
vara the Lord, the Supreme Self, Brahman
karma action, past deeds and their results in the form of merit and
demerit
laksan indirect or nonliteral predication
niyantr the controller (the embodiedself)
pda the second division of the Stratext
pradhna primordial matter, prakrti
prakrti primordial matter
pralaya the dissolved and subtle state of the universe
prvapaksa the prima facie view in an adhikarana
prvapaksin the upholder of the prvapaksa
sam sra the cycle of rebirth, this world brought about to meet the karma of
finite selves
arra the body (within the embodiment doctrine)
esa the accessory (the body of aself)
x Abbreviations used and wordlist
esin the principal (the embodiedself)
siddhnta the final view within an adhikarana
siddhntin the upholder of the siddhnta
srst i the evolved and gross state of the universe
ruti the revealed texts, including the Upanisads
stra(s) aphorism on which the commentary is written
Vedntin the holder of a Vedntic position
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Introduction

The encounter between the West and India in the modern period has also been
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an encounter between Western modernity and the traditions of classical Indian


thought. Western modernity means those political, economic and intellectual
aspects of Western culture that developed during the modern period. In terms of
the intellectual dimension of modernity, this period witnessed the rise of modern
Western philosophy and its subset, modern philosophy of religion, that is mod-
ern philosophy insofar as it deals with the nature of religion and with religious
themes, such as the existence and nature of ultimate reality and of its relationship
to the world. Western thinkers in the modern period appraised the traditions of
classical Indian thought in the light of modern philosophy, sometimes welcom-
ing it, sometimes excluding it, routinely by reconstructing it. They also presented
both modern philosophy and their own appraisal of Indian thought to Indians
themselves, who responded by adopting and challenging it in different ways. The
modern period also witnessed the evolution of newer forms of Western theism,
such as Deism and process thought. These forms of modern Western theism are
closely related to modern philosophy of religion, sharing its methods of enquiry
or sharing its rejection of the methods and contents of earlier traditions of Chris-
tian theology. These forms of modern Western theism have themselves been very
much present in the encounter between the West and Indian thought in the modern
period.1
In the same modern period, however, there has also been present another type of
intellectual enquiry: that of the earlier tradition of Christian theology as found in
Western scholasticism, especially that of Thomas Aquinas (1224/51274 ce) and
the Thomist tradition, which developed in the medieval period and has continued
to be a major type of theological enquiry in the West to the present. Scholasticism
is the intellectual approach fostered especially in the Catholic tradition of Christi-
anity and it was therefore the one that Catholic missionaries and Indologists took
with them in their own encounter with classical Indian thought. This encounter is
less well known in secondary studies, but represents a very important alternative
to that of modern Western philosophy and modern forms of Western theism. This
book is concerned with drawing attention to and exploring this other encounter.
Indeed, a central theme running through this book is that there is a natural affin-
ity between the Western scholastic and the classical Indian traditions in terms of
2Introduction
their methods of enquiry, concerns and resultant accounts, which is not present
between modern Western philosophy, as well as modern forms of Western theism,
and classical Indian thought.
This book is the study of one aspect of this encounter, that between Western
scholasticism and one classical Indian tradition of religious thought and practice:
the Vednta. In both modern Western engagement with classical Indian thought
and in modern Indian responses, Vednta came to have a particular prominence
and prestige.2 More specifically, this book considers the encounter between the
thought of Thomas Aquinas and that of the theist Vedntin, Rmnuja (traditional
dates 10171137 ce), a major figure in the development of a realist and theist form
of Vednta. Modern studies of Rmnuja represent a fascinating example of the
different Western encounters with Indian thought, as well as Indian responses.
On the one hand, earlier Thomist Indologists, while acknowledging a great deal
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of common ground between Thomism and Vednta in general, considered the


account given by Rmnuja itself to be fundamentally incompatible with that of
Aquinas. On the other hand, many positive parallels have been drawn between
Rmnujas thought and that of modern forms of Western theism by both Western
and Indian thinkers. While endorsing and further exploring the positive affinity
between Thomism and the Vednta, which these earlier Thomists discovered, this
book challenges their particular accounts of Rmnuja in terms of the accuracy of
their assessment. Moreover, it calls into question the positive parallels made with
modern forms of Western theism.
In the course of the chapters to come, this book will both look back at the his-
tory of this encounter between the thought of Aquinas and Rmnuja and also
undertake a more constructive comparative study of the methods and concepts
found in the major works of these two thinkers. Contemporary Indological stud-
ies of classical Indian thought written in European languages, especially English,
by both Western and Indian scholars continue routinely to use the resources of
Western intellectual traditions to express and engage with Indian thought. The
more constructive chapters within this book are thus intended to show the specific
value and promise of scholastic language and concepts for the ongoing work of
modern Indology.
This book is also an addition to the kind of cross-cultural study found in com-
parative theology and philosophy, concerned both with the relationship between
diverse traditions and with the creative advance of theology and philosophy on
issues, such as the existence and nature of an ultimate reality and the relationship
of the world to it, where different traditions seem to have things of value to say
to each other in finding ways to express more adequately what they want to say
about these issues. All such comparative work has to be aware of the possibilities
of incommensurability between cultures and hence the potential for misunder-
standing or the transformation of elements of a tradition when related to those
of another. This book shares the basic confidence of the Western scholastic and
Vedntic traditions themselves in the ability of human reason to allow commu-
nication between different traditions of thought. The fact that members of these
and other such traditions have felt able to hold intellectual conversations with
Introduction 3
each down the centuries suggests the validity of a contemporary continuation and
extension of it.3
A further challenge to comparative studies is the question of relevance. It is,
of course, possible to compare anything with anything else, but not all such com-
parisons are of equal or great importance. This book hopes to be counted relevant
in that it deals with an existing and important history of comparison, and as it
challenges the conclusions reached within that history, many of which still remain
commonly accepted. Moreover, it deals with the important question of how best
to express the thought of one tradition in the concepts of another, for those who
choose and find it useful and valid to do so. Finally, it presents itself as relevant to
those who are interested in the contemporary disciplines of comparative theology
and philosophy as constructive and fruitful endeavours, whether in the contexts of
their religious traditions or in the creative work of the academy.
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Chapter 1 locates Rmnuja and Aquinas in their respective traditions, before


outlining and appraising the history of the encounter between Thomism and the
Vednta from early examples to the sustained engagements of the twentieth and
early twenty-first centuries, as the interest in that encounter has evolved from mis-
sionary concerns to creative comparative study. Chapter 2 moves on to consider
the methods of enquiry found in the major works of Rmnuja and Aquinas. It is
suggested that we might usefully adopt scholasticism itself as a comparative cat-
egory to classify the work of both Aquinas and Rmnuja, as an alternative to use
of the terms philosophy or even theology. Chapters 3 and 4 then examine what
the two thinkers have to say about the nature of ultimate reality and of the relation
of the world to it. In these chapters a particular focus is on how their methodology
affects their accounts, as they commonly seek to hold together authoritative texts
and teaching with the demands of reason. Common aspects in their concepts of
ultimate reality and the world are also identified, as well as common questions and
issues, which suggest that they have a greater affinity with each other than with
modern Western accounts. These chapters also look back to earlier Thomist schol-
arship and indicate both its value for the present encounter between Rmnuja and
Aquinas, as well as its shortcomings. Chapter 5 returns to consider in more detail
parallels made between Rmnuja and two modern forms of Western theism, pro-
cess and personalist thought. Despite the continuing popularity of such parallels a
comparison indicates the lack of any real affinity between them and confirms the
affinity between Rmnuja and Aquinas.

Notes
1 For surveys and discussions of this encounter, see Halbfass (1988) and King (1990,
1999).
2 On modern Indian responses, see Hacker (1995) and King (1999).
3 For a fuller discussion of modern challenges to cross-cultural study, especially those of
MacIntyre, and of the counter responses to them by advocates of comparative theology
and philosophy, see Ganeri (2012); also Scharfstein (1989), Clarke (1997), Yandall
(1999) and Clooney (2001).
1 Vednta and Thomism

Introduction
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Rmnuja and Aquinas are important figures within their respective traditions,
both drawing on and faithful to the authoritative texts and earlier teaching found
within them, as well as meeting new challenges and developing new accounts
that were then to be very influential on the later development of those traditions.
Having located them within these and having identified certain key themes within
their thought, we shall turn to the history of the encounter between Western scho-
lasticism and the Vednta. This goes back to the origin of Western scholasticism
itself and has continued to the present. At the same time, the concerns of Catholic
scholastics have changed considerably in the course of time, from a primary inter-
est in finding the resources in Vednta for simply expressing an existent Thomist
account and with the overt missionary aim to convert Hindus to Christianity, to a
primary interest in ways in which the Thomist account and Thomists themselves
might learn theologically from such engagement for a better Christian under-
standing of the nature of ultimate reality and of its relation to the world.

Rmnuja and Aquinas in the context of their traditions

Rmnuja and the development of theist Vednta


Vednta is a tradition of textual exegesis and commentary, as well as philosophical
reflection, which has been of immense importance in Brahmanical Hindu religious
thought and practice, becoming the central ideology of the Hindu Renaissance
in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The term Vednta itself means
the end of the Veda, referring both to the final portion of the Vedic revelation,
the sacred texts called the Upanis.ads, and to the intellectual and soteriological
tradition for which the Upanis.ads, along with the Brahma Stras of Bdaryan. a
(c. second century ce) and the Bhagavad Gt, were the foundational texts.
Over the course of time different schools of Vednta developed, developing
distinctive accounts of what the foundational texts teach, such as Bhedbheda
(differencenon-difference), Advaita (non-duality) and the many theistic or
bhakti Vednta schools. These theistic schools promoted their own doctrines and
Vednta and Thomism 5
practices as authentic expressions of Vednta and thereby asserted the Brahmani-
cal orthodoxy of their traditions. Such a process has come to be known in cultural
anthropology and Indology as Sanskritization, whereby local or regional forms
of religion and culture become identified with the Sanskritic religion and culture
of Brahmanical Hinduism, which accepted the Veda as revelation and the Vedic
ritual and caste system as markers of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.1 More narrowly,
as specifically an engagement with Vednta, this process has been described as
Vednticization.2 In terms of Vednticization, it was the south Indian Vais.nava
teacher, Rmnuja (traditional dates 10171137 ce), who was the first to effect
such a process in the case of Vais.nava theism and develop a systematic theis-
tic Vedntic account. His work provided a reference point and model for later
Vais.nava schools, even if they rejected many points of his specific teaching.
Rmnuja belonged to the r Vais.nava tradition, an important living South
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Indian tradition of devotional monotheism, centred on Vis.nu as Nryana,


together with his consort r. This tradition holds authoritative both Sanskrit
and Tamil texts. In terms of the Sanskritic tradition, in addition to the Vedas and
other generally accepted texts, such as the epics and purnas, r Vais.navism also
affirms the more sectarian ritual and speculative texts of Pcartra. However, the
Tamil tradition of the devotional songs of the South Indian Tamil poet mystics,
the lvrs, is also of central importance and the works of the lvrs are regarded
as revelation equal to the Vedas. As a result the r Vais.nava tradition is known by
its members as the ubhayavednta, the twofold Vednta, being found in both the
Sanskrit Vedas and the Tamil hymns. Rmnuja is revered as the most important
religious leader and teacher (crya), as the one who for the needs of his tradition
developed a systematic Vedntic thought, which came to be known by his follow-
ers as Viis.tdvaita (non-dualism of the differentiated) Vednta.3
Rmnuja is regarded as the third of a line of three early cryas (teachers) of
the tradition, all of whom developed the theological and philosophical relation
between r Vais.nava and the Sanskritic Vedic traditions. The cryas were them-
selves Brahmins, the traditional guardians of Sanskritic orthodoxy and ortho
praxy. As van Buitenen putsit:

In spite of the long pre-history of bhakti [...], the southern bhakti movement
was something new not perhaps per se but for the first time a consistent
effort was made to place it in the Brahmanistic tradition. In the labors of a
Nthamuni, a Ymuna, a Rmnuja, we observe a consistent effort to promote
a Sanskritization of the bhakti religion. The God of the bhakta is equated with
the supreme principle of the Upanis.ads; the adoring contemplation of God in
his heaven by the worshipper is equivalent to moks. a; the acts of worship and
veneration are on a par with the rites prescribed by scripture and tradition.
(Van Buitenen 1988:233)

The first crya, Nthamuni (tenth century ce), whose works no longer survive,
went some way to express Vais.nava philosophy and theology in terms of the San-
skritic tradition of Nyya.4 His major contribution to the development of the r
6 Vednta and Thomism
Vais.nava tradition, however, was to gather the songs of the Tamil saints together
.
and include them in the temple worship at r Rangam, thus giving them a status
similar to that of Vedic ritual. Ymuna (c. 9661038 ce), for his part, argued for
the Vedic validity of the Pcartra, again giving it also a legitimacy by mak-
.
ing it the source for temple ritual at r Rangam. Ymuna also developed in an
unsystematic form the fundamental doctrines that were to be central to the thought
of Viis.tdvaita: the irreducibly personal nature of ultimate reality, of whom a
number of distinct attributes could be predicated positively; a realist monotheism
asserting the reality and distinction of God, the conscious selves and noncon-
scious matter; and the affirmation of the supremacy of Vis.nu as God along with
the path of bhakti as being the chief teaching of the Bhagavad Gt.5
Rmnujas own major achievement was to develop a properly systematic jus-
tification for a theistic interpretation of the Vednta. Rmnuja clearly used the
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doctrines of Ymuna, developing them more systematically as a Vedntic account


so that they are presented as the authentic teaching of the three foundations
(prasthnatraya) of the Vednta: the Upanis.ads, Brahma Stras and Bhagavad
Gt. As van Buitenen puts the relationship between the two teachers:

The relationship between the Personal God and the universe is stated in
various and mutually complementary ways: as that of ama and amin so
also sparks of fire of es. a and es. in, of body and soul: the Universe is
Gods manifestation, governed, supported and ensouled by Him. These terms
immediately recall those in which Rmnuja couches his central ideas: so
much so that we are justified in saying that Rmnuja, developed and elabo-
rated systematically what Ymuna had already discovered.
(Van Buitenen 1956:48)

The doctrine that the world is the body of God above all plays a central role
in Rmnujas interpretation of Vednta. Traditional accounts of Rmnujas life
recount that when Rmnuja visited the deathbed of Ymuna, three of his fingers
were closed, which were interpreted as three things he wished to be done and
which Rmnuja undertook to do. One was to compose a commentary on the
Brahma Stras (the indispensable basis for any claim to be a legitimate Vedntic
system) according to the doctrines of his tradition (Carman 1974: 30). Unlike his
predecessors, however, Rmnujas commentary is marked by the almost complete
absence of contentious sectarian texts and traditions, not using the Pcartra or
the songs of the Tamil saints as authoritative texts to advance his arguments. Even
the Bhgavata Purna is left unmentioned, though Rmnuja does make consid-
erable use of the Vis. nu Purna. This clearly suggests Rmnujas intention was
to establish his work as giving an authentic interpretation of the Brahma Stras
according to the generally accepted norms of the Vedntic tradition. He argues
for his central doctrines on the basis that they are supported by these foundational
texts, subject to the proper principles of exegesis, commentary and reasoning.
Rmnuja is credited by his tradition with producing nine works: the com-
mentary on the Brahma Stras, known as the r Bhs. ya; a short exposition of his
Vednta and Thomism 7
teaching, the Vedrthasamgraha; a commentary on the Bhagavad Gt (the Gt
Bhs. ya); two shorter commentaries on the Brahma Stras (the Vedntadpa and
the Vedntasra); three short devotional hymns (the Gadyatraya); and a manual
of temple worship (the Nityagrantha). The authenticity of the Gadyatraya and
the Nityagrantha has been disputed in modern Western Indology, because of
some of the terms used and because they are seen to teach the soteriological path
of prapatti (unconditional self-surrender to God) rather than the more Vedntic
path of bhakti (devotional meditation on God using the sacred texts and follow-
ing prescribed duties within the Brahmanical ritual and social system).6 How-
ever, while this is matter of considerable debate among Western scholars, the r
Vais.nava tradition itself has always attributed them to Rmnuja. Whether authen-
tic or not their attribution to Rmnuja makes clear his importance as the point of
reference for what was religiously and philosophically central to the tradition with
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all its sources and concerns. Like his predecessors he was active as priest at r
.
Rangam, as well as a notable social reformer within the tradition.
In his works Rmnuja is concerned to offer the first major realist and theistic
alternative to the teaching of Advaita Vednta, which by his time had come to be
the dominant interpretation of Vednta. As van Buitenen points out, Rmnuja
is evidently familiar with the works of the great Advaitic teacher, amkara
(c. 788820 ce), since many of the opponents (prvapaks. in) positions in his
commentary correspond to the conclusions (siddhntas) of amkaras own com-
mentary on the Brahma Stras (Van Buitenen 1956: 401). However, Rmnujas
general account of Advaita, which is summarised at the beginning of his com-
mentary, more precisely reflects the later form of Advaita that developed after
amkara and which differs from his teaching in certain important respects. This
later version of Advaita is found in the works of Praktman (c. 9501000 ce),
Vimukttman (c. 9501000 ce) and Sarvajtman (c. 10001050 ce) and, was,
we should suppose, that of the contemporary Advaitins Rmnuja otherwise
encountered.7
As Rmnuja depicts it, Advaita teaches: that ultimate reality, known in
Vednta as Brahman, is pure consciousness, without really distinct attributes
(nirguna or nirvies. a), immutable and not a real agent; that the finite conscious
self (tman) within each human being is strictly identical with Brahman; and that
the soteriological goal is to realise this identity as the knowledge that meditation
on the Upanis.adic texts produces. Such realised knowledge liberates the self from
the cycle of actions and material rebirth (samsra). This form of Advaita also
maintains that the world, which appears to be comprised of a real multitude of
finite and distinct conscious selves, who are agents of knowledge and action, and
nonconscious material entities, is the product of ignorance and cognitional error
(avidy), an illusory manifestation (vivarta) of Brahman, and indeterminable in
itself as either real or unreal. From the perspective of the liberated self, however,
the only thing that is properly real is Brahman itself. As we shall see in later
chapters, Rmnuja argues instead that the Upanis.ads teach that Brahman is the
personal God or Lord of theistic religion (vara), of whom a number of distinct
attributes can be predicated positively (saguna or savies. a). The world made up
8 Vednta and Thomism
of finite conscious and nonconscious entities is real and forms the body of Brah-
man, though these entities are wholly dependent on Brahman for their existence
and activities at all times. The soteriological goal is the realisation of the finite
selfs proper relationship with Brahman as a dependent entity independent of any
connection with a material body and of the blissful experience of an eternal com-
munion of knowledge and love with Brahman.
To a lesser but still important extent, Rmnuja also critically engages with
the teaching of other Vedntic and non-Vedntic Brahmanical traditions, endors-
ing some aspects of their teaching while rejecting others. He thus distinguishes
his own realist form of Vednta from that of the Bhedbheda (differencenon-
difference) school. Rmnuja takes Bhedbheda to teach that Brahman and the
world form a substantial unity, a position that cannot but undermine the trans-
cendent immutable perfection of Brahman. At the same time, he also goes to great
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lengths to refute the cosmological dualism of Smkhya, a tradition that Vednta


identifies as a major concern in the Brahma Stras. Like all other Vedntins (with
the exception of the Dvaita (Dualism) school), he affirms instead that Brahman
is both efficient and the material cause of all that is. At the same time, Rmnuja
accepts and modifies the Smkhya account of causality, in which an effect is
said to be latent in the causal substance. Rmnuja, like other Vedntins, also
accepts the exegetical methodology and principles of the Prva Mmms (Ear-
lier Enquiry or Exegesis) tradition, but rejects the understanding of the function
of Vedic language found in this school, whereby language is held to be primarily
performative, or commanding ritual actions, rather than fact assertive and disclos-
ing the nature of reality. Moreover, like other Vedntic schools he argues against
the attempts by the Nyya-Vaies.ika tradition to establish rational proofs for the
existence and nature of God, arguing that authoritative texts alone give certain
knowledge ofthis.

Viis tdvaita after Rmnuja


Rmnujas thought provided the basis and reference point for the subse-
quent evolution of thought of r Vais.nava tradition and its Vedntic system of
Viis.tdvaita. Later works include many commentaries and subcommentaries on
Rmnujas works, as well as many independent treatises setting out and further
articulating r Vais.nava doctrine and Viis.tdvaitic thought. A very important
early commentary on Rmnujas r Bhs. ya is that of Sudarana Sri (twelfth
century ce), the rutaprakik, commonly accepted by all members of the
tradition.
The r Vais.nava tradition itself eventually split into two subtraditions: the
.
Vatakalai or northern tradition and the Tenkalai or southern tradition. The most
influential later cryas were Vednta Deika (12681369 ce) (Venkatantha),
the principal architect of the Vatakalai position, and Pillai Lokcrya (12641369
ce), who along with his disciple Manavlammuni is regarded as the principal
.
definer of Ten kalai doctrine. While these two subtraditions differ on a number of
doctrinal matters, they commonly revere and claim to be following Rmnujas
Vednta and Thomism 9
teaching. In terms of his articulation and defence of Viis.tdvaita as a Vedntic
system, Vednta Deika, moreover, occupies a particular prestige as an crya
within both subtraditions and it is to some of his work in particular that we shall
refer in the course of this book, as we seek to consider how the teaching found
in Rmnuja is represented in modern Viis.tdvaitic accounts. In Rmnujas
own works, the articulation of many doctrines is often limited, determined by
the particular needs of polemic and commentary. Many important issues, such
as the relationship between the universal divine agency and human agency, are
left unresolved. In the course of later chapters we shall consider more fully how
the resultant complexities of discourse feature in his account. For their part, later
Viis.tdvaita thinkers sought to further systematise and schematise Rmnujas
thought without, however, resolving these complexities of discourse altogether.
It was in these works, moreover, that certain key terms and concepts began to be
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used, not least Viis.tdvaita itself.

Modern Rmnuja and Viis tdvaita studies


As with the thought of other schools of Vednta, in the modern period the
thought of Rmnuja and of the later Viis.tdvaitic tradition has been set out
in modern studies composed in modern European languages, especially En-
glish. In the case of the r Vais.nava tradition we find a wide range of general
accounts of r Vais.nava religion and of Viis.tdvaita philosophy, as well as
more detailed editions, translations and studies of the works of Rmnuja and
other cryas. Mention is made here of some of the studies that will feature in
subsequent chapters. Thus, for instance, the Viis.tdvaitic scholar Chari has
recently produced a number of accounts of Viis.tdvaitic (1988) and Vais.nava
teaching and practice (1994) in English, drawing on the Vatakalai tradition,
especially the work of Vednta Deika. In terms of Western studies in English,
van Buitenen outlines Rmnujas method and doctrine in his introduction to his
critical edition of the Vedrthasamgraha (Van Buitenen 1956). Carman (1974)
has made a detailed study of Rmnujas doctrine of God, while Lott (1976)
has studied Rmnujas embodiment cosmology. Lipner (1986) has under-
taken a more comprehensive account of the epistemology and metaphysics of
Rmnuja, while Bartley (2002) has also produced a study of central features of
Rmnujas theology.
These works draw on the literary genres of Western academic writing and use
Western concepts to express Indian thought. Both Indian and Western studies have
also made sustained comparisons with different Western theistic systems. For its
part, Rmnujas thought is often linked by Western and Viis.tdvaitic thinkers
to the modern forms of Western theism, especially process thought, which shows
much kinship with modern philosophy of religion.
Thus, Lotts (1976) account of Rmnujas thought and embodiment cosmol-
ogy draws a number of parallels with modern Western process thought. Lott draws
positive parallels between Rmnujas depiction of the world as the body of God
and the adoption of talk of the world as an organic unity by those advocating
10 Vednta and Thomism
process thought, including advocates of the use of the embodiment model, such
as Charles Hartshorne (18972000 ce):

It is, however, significant that Western theological thinking is being increas-


ingly attracted by the idea that the universal process, including Deity in his
relational aspect, is an Organism. This Process philosophy also has used the
body analogy to describe the organismic relation between the universe and
God. A significant number of Western theologians seem dissatisfied with the
traditional doctrine of God as immutably transcendent.
(Lott 1976:4)

Lott rightly points out that Viis.tdvaitic thinkers themselves have also freely
adopted the terms and concepts of Western trends of thought to describe
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Rmnujas thought (1976: 45). For one thing, it is almost universal among
Viis.tdvaitic thinkers to use such terms as organic unity to describe Rmnujas
embodiment doctrine (arra-arri-bhva) (e.g. Viistdvaita 1974). Moreover,
we shall see that some Viis.tdvaitic writers use the terminology of process
thought and draw explicit and positive parallels between Rmnujas account and
the accounts of process thinkers (e.g. Narayanachar 1991).
Process thought, developed by Alfred Whitehead (18611947 ce), whose work
Hartshorne further articulated, is a distinct trend within modern theism, which
rejects the classical theism represented by Western scholasticism and Thomas
Aquinas. Hartshorne thus calls his position neo-classical theism. He depicts it as
having a different metaphysics than classical theism:

Classical metaphysics is a metaphysics of being, substance, absoluteness and


necessity as primary conceptions; neo-classical metaphysics treats these as
secondary abstractions, the primary ones being those of creative becoming,
event, relativity and possibility.
(Hartshorne 1964b:xiii)

Reality is, within this scheme, made up of events or actual occasions which are
in a process of becoming and which interact with each other.
Hartshorne (e.g. 1984) develops this neo-classical theism as an alternative to
the classical doctrine of the immutable perfection, omnipotence and omnisci-
ence of God. Perfection for Hartshorne is redefined in terms of having capacities.
Hartshorne understands God to be dipolar, with an abstract and concrete nature,
the concrete nature being realised though experiencing the events making up the
world. God is thus mutable and temporal, necessarily passive to experiencing all
other things. God always exists with the world and is perfected through the evolu-
tion of the world. Thus God does not create the world from nothing. Moreover, the
events making up the world have a distinct freedom from divine control and God
is not the cause of their actions, thereby providing a solution to the problem ofevil.
Hartshorne has argued that an analogy with the relationship between mind and
body is the best way of conceiving the relationship between God and the world.
Vednta and Thomism 11
God is depicted as an all-inclusive reality and Hartshorne has advocated the term
panentheism as best suited to describe his account, in distinction from pantheism
(Hartshorne 1964a: 34752). Panentheism has, in fact, become a standard term to
describe Rmnujas position in Western accounts, often in close association with
Hartshornes account (e.g. Lott 1976: 85, 145; Bartley 2002: 69ff). Thus, the entry
in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy on panentheism reads:

Panentheism can be traced back at least to the Hindu thinker, Rmnuja; its
chief twentieth century friends have been process thinkers. Panentheists
seeks a middle ground between classical theism and pantheism, preserving
the formers claim that God has intellect and will and the latters sense of
intimate connection between God and the universe. In panentheism, God is
a person who includes the universe, or a soul whose body is the universe
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[...]. Panentheists deny that God is immaterial [...]. The panentheists God
includes other things and so depends on them. Such a God is thus not a se in
the classical sense.
(Leftow2000)

This entry thus suggests that Rmnujas account and process thought, including
that of Hartshorne, have a common position.
However, we shall argue, such parallels with process thought are of question-
able value either in terms of appreciating Rmnujas thought in itself or in terms
of understanding its relation to Western theism. The particular terms and con-
cepts adopted have tended to obscure rather than elucidate Rmnujas teaching
in English and the supposition of common ground with process thought is not
borne out by close study of the accounts themselves. Rather, as this book will aim
to show, the encounter with Western scholastic tradition represented by Aquinas
is far more helpful because, within what remain very different traditions, there is
nonetheless much common ground in both methodology and contents.

Aquinas and the Western scholastic tradition of theology


The Western scholastic tradition is one of the most important traditions of theol-
ogy within Catholic Christianity.8 The term scholastic refers first to that form
of learning that developed in the schools (schola), which emerged in Western
Europe from the twelfth century ce. Some of these schools eventually became
the great universities of the medieval West, such as Paris and Oxford. This period
also witnessed the emergence of newer forms of Christian religious orders, such
as the Dominicans and the Franciscans, who played a major role in the promo-
tion of the scholastic tradition. For his part, Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican
friar, who became the most influential scholastic thinker and whose work played
a major role in the formation of Catholic theologians and the expression of Chris-
tian teaching in subsequent centuries to the present.
Scholastic thought built upon an earlier tradition of Christian theology with its
biblical and patristic foundations, especially that of Augustine (c. 354430 ce).
12 Vednta and Thomism
This earlier tradition was profoundly shaped by Greek concepts, especially the
neo-Platonic tradition. During this period the most important genre of theology
was that of exegesis of or commentary on biblical books (lectio). In the twelfth
century, however, the rediscovery of many of the works of Aristotle, along with
Islamic and Jewish commentaries on Aristotle and other independent Islamic and
Jewish works, created a period of considerable challenge to Christian theology,
centred on the question of whether the new learning was to be regarded as contrary
to and a threat to Christian theology, or a resource that could be integrated into it
and further the understanding and expression of Christian faith. This encounter
caused a number of important shifts in the expression of Christian theology, which
along with newer methods of learning in the schools and universities centred on
oral debates on important topics (disputatio), helped shape the distinctive char-
acter of scholastic theology and the literary genres it developed, above all the
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systematic exposition of theology conceived of as a science (scientia) found in the


genre of the summa (the comprehensive summary or treatise).
While the earlier thinkers Anselm (10331109 ce) and Abelard (10791142 ce)
laid the foundations of the scholastic approach, it flowered in the work of Peter
Lombard (1095/110060), whose Four Books of Sentences (Sententiae in IV libris
distinctae) became the theological textbook of the medieval schools from the thir-
teenth to the sixteenth century. The thirteenth century, in particular, was the period
of some of the greatest figures of scholasticism: the Dominicans, Albert the Great
(120080) and Thomas Aquinas; and the Franciscan, Bonaventure (c. 121774).
There was a period in recent Western scholarship when it became common-
place to set the Augustinian and Aristotelian traditions in opposition to each other
and to depict scholastic theologians as belonging to one camp or the other. Thus,
Bonaventure was depicted as a prime example of the Augustinian approach and
Aquinas as a prime example of the Aristotelian approach. In reality, however, all
the scholastics upheld the tradition of Augustine as the principal patristic author-
ity for Western Christianity and all took up the new methods and concepts found
in Aristotle.9 What is distinctive about Aquinas is more accurately the greater
degree to which his account of theology is shaped using concepts taken from Aris-
totle and the Islamic commentaries on his works, as well as by the new methods
employed in the universities and Dominican houses of study (studium).

The theology of Aquinas and later scholasticism


Before entering the Dominican order Aquinas had studied in the university at
Naples, recently established by Emperor Frederick as the context in which open
engagement with the new learning was encouraged. Moreover, after joining the
order, Aquinas studied in Cologne under Albert the Great himself a leading
figure at the time in promoting positive engagement with the new Aristotelian
thought and Muslim and Jewish works, along with the neo-Platonic thought found
in the earlier Christian thinker Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (fifth/sixth cen-
tury ce). For his part, Albert exhibited a strongly scientific approach to learning,
both as systematic and as observational in character. Following the lead of Albert,
Vednta and Thomism 13
Aquinas likewise undertook to synthesise the new learning and the new modes of
learning with the earlier traditions of Christian theology. Aquinas built upon and
modified the Augustinian and neo-Platonic traditions, recasting them according
to his own critical transformation of the other Aristotelian, Jewish and Islamic
thought newly becoming available at thetime.
Thus, in part, Aquinas further developed and refined what Albert had done. At
the same time, methodologically Aquinas emphasised more clearly the particu-
lar Aristotelian approach to learning, that of the scientia (science). Moreover, as
the British Dominican scholar Simon Tugwell has commented, a fundamental
thematic difference between Albert and Aquinas is that, whereas Albert was con-
cerned with what things are and how we find traces of God in them, Aquinas was
primarily interested in the fact of things existing at all and how this leads us to
the reality of God (Tugwell 1988: 212). Aquinass approach is thus more funda-
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mentally metaphysical in character, primarily concerned with being qua being or


general features of being, rather than individual entities.
A central theme in Aquinass resultant account is the difference, as well as the
relation, between the uncreated existence of God and the created existence of
rational and nonrational entities making up the world. Aquinas emphasises the
simplicity of God as noncomposite, purely actual (actual in the sense of actually
existent), immutable and self-subsistent existence, in contrast to which created
entities are composite, actualised into existence, mutable and dependent for their
existence. God is the first and universal cause of the existence of all other enti-
ties, the creator of all things in their entirely, or ex nihilo. An important part of the
Thomist expression of the creational relation between God and the world is the
scheme of mixed relations, in which the world is said to be really related to God
by virtue of being created, but in which God is said to be only notionally related
to the world, in that he undergoes no change like that undergone by the entities
he creates.
In the course of his life as a Dominican, Aquinas was periodically master
of theology at Paris and founder lector of new Dominican houses of studies
at Rome and Naples. His output of works was very considerable, comprising
commentaries on books of the Bible; commentaries on works of Aristotle and
on Arab works such as the Liber de Causis; commentaries on earlier Chris-
tian works, such as those of Boethius (c. 480524 ce) and Dionysius; theo-
logical commentaries on the Sentences as well as his two great compendia of
theology, the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologiae; as well as
a large number of separate works on particular questions in theology or other
issues. In Aquinass most influential work, the Summa Theologiae, we find his
mature exposition of theology using both the new learning and the new modes
of learning.
The achievements of the thirteenth-century scholastics, such as Aquinas and
Bonaventure, were further refined and challenged in the work of later scholas-
tic theologians, outstanding among whom were the Franciscans Duns Scotus
(c. 12651308) and William of Ockham (d. 1347/48). In addition, forms of what
came to be known as neo-scholasticism developed from the sixteenth century
14 Vednta and Thomism
based on the work of the earlier scholastics. This neo-scholasticism started to
emerge with the tradition of commentaries on the work on the earlier scholas-
tics, developing different schools within different religious orders and institu-
tions. Gradually, however, it was Thomism that became the dominant school,
the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas having replaced the Sentences as
the textbook of scholastic theology in the sixteenth century. The high point of
neo-scholastic Thomism came in the second half of the nineteenth century, when
the Catholic Church, with the promulgation of the papal encyclical of Leo XIII,
Aeterni Patris (1879), officially established Thomas as the Angelic Doctor and
first of all theologians (princeps omnium theologorum). From then on up to the
second half of the twentieth century this version of Thomism was the standard
theology in the whole of the Catholic Church, the basic theological training of
all Catholic theologians. Thus, when Catholic missionary theologians in India
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began to engage with the Vednta it was scholasticism (and especially that of
Aquinas) that formed both their own understanding of Christian theism and
their approach to the encounter with Indian thought, including the Vednta and
Rmnuja.

Vednta and scholasticism: a critical history of the encounter


The encounter between scholasticism and Indian thought stretches back
almost to the beginning of the Western scholastic tradition itself. Franciscan
and Dominican friars were present in India from the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, although little survives by way of any record except a very gen-
eral description of forms of Indian culture and religion (Frykenberg 2008:
11719).10 A more sustained encounter and better record began with the arrival
of the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century and the subsequent work of
Jesuit missionaries such as Roberto de Nobili (15771656 ce). In the twentieth
century this encounter flourished with the emergence of a number of Catholic
Indologists, such Pierre Johanns (18851955 ce), Richard de Smet (191698
ce) and Sara Grant (19222000 ce), who undertook detailed study of Indian
traditions, especially that of Vednta and of its relation with Thomist scholastic
thought.11
At the end of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, a further phase of
this encounter has developed, as the Western academy has also become the con-
text for the emergent disciplines of comparative philosophy and comparative the-
ology, which explore a constructive philosophical and theological conversation
between Western and Indian thought, as found for example in the work of Francis
Clooney (b. 1950 ce). The value of this comparative work has gained recogni-
tion in wider contemporary Indological and cross-cultural study, whether or not
the particular confessional and theological concerns of scholars like Clooney are
shared by other Indologists (e.g. Hirst 2005: 5). Such an approach also coincides
with a new emphasis among Thomists generally on exploring Aquinass engage-
ment with non-Christian thought and its significance for contemporary interreli-
gious engagement.
Vednta and Thomism 15
Early encounter
In his pioneering work, Roberto de Nobili endeavoured to engage with Indian
thought, relating it to the scholasticism in which Jesuits were then being trained.
De Nobili argued that Indian thought could be viewed as occupying a similar posi-
tion to that given to Greek philosophy within scholastic thought, as containing cer-
tain truths about God and the world obtained through the exercise of natural human
reason. Christian missionaries seeking to enter into discussion with Hindus could
thus have a reasoned discussion about such topics as the existence of God and the
created nature of the world, with the confidence that reason cut across religious
boundaries. Christian teaching could also be expressed using the terms of Indian
thought, just as the scholastics had previously used Greek philosophy (Halbfass
1988: 3643; Clooney 2001: 37). In his Informatio de quibus moribus nationis
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indicae, de Nobili outlined the different schools of Indian thought as he understood


them and, as Halbfass points out, we find here what is probably the oldest refer-
ence in European literature to the three greatest teachers of the Vednta: amkara,
Rmnuja and Madhva. For de Nobili, the Upanis.adic concept of ultimate reality,
Brahman, was a general concept of God obtained by reason and one Christians
could relate to the concept of God found in scholastic thought (Halbfass 1988:40).
A further early encounter is found in the work of the Bengali Brahmin convert
to Catholic Christianity, Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (18611907 ce). By this stage
neo-scholastic Thomism was established as the norm for all Catholic theology
and this formed the framework for Upadhyays own engagement as a Christian
with Indian thought. Moreover, at this time Vednta, especially Advaita Vednta,
was being promoted both by Western Indologists and by the leading figures of
the Hindu Renaissance, such as Swami Vivekananda (18631902 ce), as the
high point of Hindu philosophy and religion, something that continued to be the
case well into the second half of the twentieth century. The leaders of the Hindu
Renaissance, however, developed and promoted their own forms of neo-Vednta.
Thus, Vivekananda promoted his own neo-Advaita as a world-affirming and ethi-
cal spirituality, a practical Vednta for social service and reform, as well as the
basis for his religious nationalism, intended to be something that would unite the
Hindu population in India (Hacker 1995: 31936). Because of the work of Vive-
kananda and other reformist Hindus, Advaita Vednta thus came to have a con-
siderable prestige at the end of the nineteenth century and then into the twentieth
century, and so Christian theologians of the period naturally tended to engage with
it rather than with other forms of Vednta, or indeed with other Indian traditions.
Initially, Upadhyay insisted on the incompatibility of traditional forms of
Advaita Vednta with scholastic thought, especially when it came to the doctrines
of ultimate reality and its relation to finite being. Upadhyays appraisal of the
Advaita at this time was influenced by the standard contemporary Western depic-
tion of Advaita as acosmic and pantheistic (Lipner 1999: 13144). But at the end of
the nineteenth century, however, he changed his view and argued instead that the
Advaitic concept of Brahman as saccidananda (truth, consciousness, bliss) corre-
sponded to the Thomist doctrine of God as immutable, simple and subsistent being,
16 Vednta and Thomism
while its three constituent concepts corresponded more specially to the three per-
sons of the Trinity. The Advaitic concept of my (creative power, standardly taken
in the case of Advaita to mean the power that produces the illusion that there is a
world), moreover, far from being acosmic, corresponded to the Thomist doctrine of
creation as expressing the utter dependence of finite being on God, created and sus-
tained in being without any change on Gods part or any compromise of the divine
transcendence. Advaita was thus no longer tainted either with acosmism or panthe-
ism, but rather fully compatible with the Thomist account (Lipner 1999: 18399).
Lipners appraisal of Upadhyay points to the limitations in this later account of
convergence. Upadhyay is neither open to the differences between Advaita and
scholasticism nor does he actually demonstrate that there is the common ground
he asserts. Instead, he simply reinterprets Advaitic concepts as being the same as
Thomist ones, as Lipner puts it, by constructing more or less exact correspond-
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ences between Vedntic ideas and Thomistic ones so that Vednta in some respects
may be seen as a form of crypto-(neo)-Thomism and Shankara as St Thomas in
disguise (Lipner 1999: 188). Lipner argues that the motivation for this abrupt
shift in Upadhyays approach was a concern to respond to and counter the work
of Vivekananda. In his later work, Upadhyay, in fact, shifts the condemnation of
Vednta as pantheist onto the work of Vivekananda itself (Lipner 1999: 1889).

The emergence of Catholic Indology in the twentieth century


A few years later Upadhyays effort were taken up by a generation of mainly Bel-
gian Jesuits belonging to the vicariate of the Belgian province centred in Calcutta.
As a group they came to be known as the Calcutta School of Indology. This
group included Pierre Johanns (18851955), Georges Dandoy (18821962), Rob-
ert Antoine (191481), Pierre Fallon (191285) and Richard de Smet (191698).
The work of these Jesuits is marked by a serious scholarly engagement with Indian
thought, both classical Sanskrit texts and traditions and modern Indian languages
and religious movements.12
Of this group the most sustained studies of the relation between Thomist scho-
lasticism and the Vednta are to be found in the work of Johanns and de Smet. Both
examine the different schools of Vednta and are familiar with the theistic forms
of Vednta as well as Advaita. Both, however, argue that the realist and theistic
account found in Rmnuja is incompatible with the Thomist account because,
they argue, it espouses a pantheistic cosmology and concept of God, while they
argue that the great Advaitin amkara avoids pantheism and adequately expresses
the transcendence of God. The work of both Jesuit scholars proved very influ-
ential in shaping perspectives on the relationship between scholastic and Indian
theism in the twentieth century.

Pierre Johanns: a Thomist synthesis of Vednta


The work of Johanns was a pioneering attempt at a more systematic study of
Vednta and Thomism. In the series of articles published in the monthly journal,
Vednta and Thomism 17
The Light of the East between 192234, and subsequently gathered together in
To Christ through the Vednta (1996), Johanns explores the relationship between
the Thomist account and the different Vedntic ones. His approach is not simply
to note similarities and differences between the Vednta and Thomism, but to
consider how Vednta can be made to conform to the type of account found in
Thomism. For Johanns the truths of the Thomist account are to be found in the
Vednta, but are only partially expressed by any one school:

We have said that in the Catholic philosophy of Saint Thomas we find all the
important doctrines met with in the Vednta. But in the Thomistic system
we have an organic whole. It is one harmony in which the different Vedntic
systems find their proper setting. Their discordance disappears. Their loose
members combine into one organism, one harmonious body of truth ...
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If the Vedntic philosophers will only bring their several positive state-
ments into harmony, if they will only adjust and thus partially limit their
assertions, they will turn disconnected doctrines into a system, and that sys-
tem will be Thomism, or something akin to Thomism.
(1996: 56)

He thus proposes that a synthesis of the thought of the schools is necessary in


order to gather together the positive doctrines of each (those compatible with
Thomism) and shift out the negative ones (those not compatible with Thomism)
(1996: 88206).
For Johanns, central to an adequate doctrine of God is the affirmation of the
absolute independence of God (1996: 79). This affirmation of the independence
of God he finds in amkaras account. In support of this he refers to amkaras
rejection of the self-evolution or real transformation (parinma) of Brahman
into the evolved world, as something that is parallel to Aquinass understand-
ing of the immutability of God, not changed by any real relation to the world in
the act of creation. Johanns thus sees amkara avoiding the pantheistic entail-
ment of the Vedntic doctrine that Brahman is the material cause of the world
when understood within the satkryavda theory of causality, a theory that
understands any effects to be simply the actualisation of potentialities within, or
the modification of, its causal substance. Johanns sees this kind of thinking as
resulting in the pantheistic doctrine of immanent creationism widespread in the
Hindu traditions:

If God has passed entirely into the world, then God no longer subsists in
Himself: He is a potential God whom the world actualises, a golden germ
from which the greater reality is born. If, on the other hand, God has only
partially passed into the world, if according to the Vedic saying, only one
foot of Him has become the universe, while the other three feet remained
unaffected, then there has been a split in the divine nature: God is not simple.
He is composite and therefore not independent. The independence of God
amkara would not sacrifice. God therefore has not passed either completely
18 Vednta and Thomism
(pantheism) or incompletely (theistic pantheism) into the world. God remains
in Himself, is but Himself and nothingmore.
(1996:8)

If this is the positive doctrine of amkara, the negative side of his account is his
rejection of the reality of the world in favour of an understanding that the world is
an illusory manifestation of Brahman (vivartavda) (1996: 1011, 1718). Here
Johanns accepts this later Advaitic understanding of amkaras own position,
something that de Smet would later want to qualify. For his part, Johanns is sym-
pathetic to this Advaitic position as one felt necessary to reconcile the indepen
dence of Brahman with the Vedntic doctrine that Brahman is the material cause.
However, it is clearly incompatible with the Thomist doctrine of a real creation.
Both the strengths and weaknesses of Rmnuja, on the other hand, are the
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reverse of those of amkara:

The great positive doctrine of Rmnuja is that God is indeed real and inde-
pendent, but that souls, distinct from God, and the world are real also, although
their reality is utterly dependent on that of God. This great positive doctrine
will, however, assume certain negative aspects. Rmnuja has not realised the
absolute independence of God which amkara had so vigorously maintained.
(1996: 312)

Johanns would like to endorse Rmnujas account on its own, but feels unable
to do so because of what he identifies as both the pantheism and atheism of
Rmnuja:

Our conclusion will be that, provided the atheistic and pantheistic side-glances
cease, the Viist dvaita of Rmnuja combined with the Advaita of amkara
gives us an almost perfect theism. If Rmnuja the theologian will only keep
silence and allow Rmnuja the philosopher to unfold his doctrine, we shall
obtain almost the same result. For it must be remembered that what prevents him
from being a theist is the atheism as well as the pantheism in much of the Vednta
tradition. The atheism is involved in the doctrine of the independence of the souls
regarding the results of their deeds which we call the karma doctrine. We have
only to mention the name of the Karma-Mmms, of the Nirvara-Smkhya
and of Buddhism to show that atheism was latent somewhere. As to the panthe-
ism it was implied in the dogma of immanent creation, which comes down from
the Rig-Veda and swells up in the Brhmanas and the Upanishads. Rmnuja
does his best to do away with the atheism, but the dark tinge of it remains. The
pantheism, in spite of the proclamations of the utter dependence of the world on
God, and of its total distinctness from him (which European writers have hastily
welcomed) remains almost complete, for Rmnuja still believes in the inher-
ence of soul and matter in God, the view that amkara saw to be so absurd that,
rather than accept it, he denied the reality of the world.
(1996: 323)
Vednta and Thomism 19
In Johannss view Rmnuja does want and intend to get free of such pantheistic
and atheistic implications, but is just unsuccessful in his attempt:

When explaining the nature of the relation of the world to God, Rmnuja
will be fundamentally right, and will constantly win our attention by his
promise to give us a God Who is at once immanent and transcendent. But the
old errors of karma and immanent evolution, which amkara brushed aside
as avidy will baffle his attempts at keeping his promise [...]. The philoso-
pher, in his distress, will have recourse to constant unsatisfactory ivas or in
some ways and resort to all possible analogies, with the result that his suc-
cess will often be more verbal thanreal.
(1996:32)
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For Johanns the charge of pantheism is based on his understanding that the fun-
damental paradigm for reality in Rmnuja is the relationship of a subject and
its attributes (viesa), which together form a substantial unity. He takes it that
Rmnuja here understands all reality to reflect the structure of human judgment,
in the form of the co-ordinating sentence construction (smndhikaranya) found
in many central Vedntic texts, and that these texts are taken by Rmnuja always
to indicate a subjectattribute relationship. This relationship is taken to encompass
both the relationship between Brahman and Brahmans essential properties and
that between Brahman and the world of conscious and nonconscious entities. The
entities making up the world thus inhere in the substance of Brahman as its attri
butes or modes (1996: 346, 379):

The absolute is a unity, an advaitam, but one in which all is contained, as a


viesa, a quality, an attribute, a difference, is contained in its subject or sub-
stance [...]. In the Absolute, the differences that we see merge into unity as
the different attributes of a man, his wisdom, his virtuousness etc., different
in themselves merge into the unity of his substance.
(1996:35)

Johanns is willing to allow that Rmnuja does not intend to affirm the types of
pantheism rejected by amkara, those involving the evolution of the whole sub-
stance of Brahman or a quantitative part of Brahman, and that Rmnuja insists
that only these attributes or modes of God change, while his essential nature
remains unchanged (1996: 379). Nonetheless, Rmnuja would seem to Johanns
to be committed to the immanent evolution of Brahman in that it is the attributes
or modes of a substantial unity that undergo real transformation (parinma):

God is the universal cause. Since that cause really transforms itself into
effects different from it, there is the possibility of the existence of the many
[...] on the other hand, each one of these transformations is not something
really separate from the first cause: it is a mode of it, an accident of it, a qual-
ity of it, so that the whole, cause and effect, Brahman and world, is not an
20 Vednta and Thomism
addition of two substances, but one reality (advaitam) modified (viistam) in
differentways.
(1996:38)

Johanns acknowledges that Rmnuja conceives of the relationship of Brahman


and the world in terms of embodiment and that this allows Rmnuja to affirm
that matter and selves are not just attributes, but have a substantial reality of their
own, such that Rmnuja may affirm the freedom of the self from the changes
affecting thebody:

The body is a substance (dravyam), since you qualify it as stout, as big, as


small. And yet it qualifies the soul, since the soul is the self of which you
predicate it [. . .]. The world can be a qualification of Brahman and yet a
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substance qualified by its own attributes: limited consciousness, absence of


consciousness, virtue or vice etc. It stands to Brahman in precisely the same
relation as body tosoul.
(1996: 356)

Johanns, however, clearly understands the embodiment relation still to be a sub-


stantial unity, like that of subject and attribute, and for this reason judges it to be
pantheistic:

Rmnuja admits that God really transforms Himself into the world. But the
divine element that undergoes transformation is placed by him outside the
divine spirituality, in the divine body [. . .]. But Rmnujas fundamental
view that everything is reducible to the form of judgment induces him to refer
this body to God as a predicate to its subject, so that his explanations remain
tinged with pantheism.
(1996:118)

Johanns thus finds it impossible to see how this relationship can secure the
self-sufficiency and immutability of God. He contrasts Rmnujas position with
the Thomist account of mixed relations, which he expresses in Vedntic terms,
with Gods notional relation to the world equated with vivarta and the real pro-
duction of the world equated with parinma:

According to us the causality of God is a vivarta, but received in the world as a


parinma. According to Rmnuja, creation is a parinma of the body of God.
This conception destroys again the absolute character of God. True, Rmnuja
tries to preserve it by saying that, although the body of God changes, his spirit
remains unaffected. But this renders God unintelligible. For amkara is right:
either God is perfection and then he can neither decrease nor increase inwardly
or outwardly, or he is not perfection and then he is not God. So Rmnujas
conception of the world as a body of God must be dropped.
(1996: 2023)
Vednta and Thomism 21
This argument relies on taking the Supreme Self and the world as a substantial
unity, of which the spirit, which is the Supreme Self, and the body, which is the
world, are integral parts making up the united substance that is Brahman.
Johannss charge of atheism, on the other hand, is based on what he discerns
as limitations within Rmnujas account on the universality and sovereignty of
Brahmans action (1996: 6380). In the first place, Brahman is said not to create
the world ex nihilo, because both matter and selves are preexistent to any evolu-
tion of the world and their existence as such is deemed independent of the divine
will (1996: 76, 80). Moreover, karma seems to operate independently of Brah-
mans control as the meritorious cause of each samsric cycle:

God is the principal cause of the origination of the world. But we have to
notice that the divine causality is conditioned. Although souls and nature
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are created they are not created out of nothing. Causation, according to
our author, means the activity by which a substance is led from one state to
another [...]. This pre-existence is the first condition for the possibility of
Gods creative causality. If God allows the downfall of the soul, it is again
because His creative activity is not entirely independent but conditioned.
Gods hand is forced. The soul has deserved to be immersed in matter through
its deeds, its karma. The karma of souls is the second condition of creation:
creation is the sanction of God for the merits and demerits of souls.
(1996:67)

Johannss difficulties with Rmnuja might be reduced to a number of negative


comparisons with the Thomist paradigm. In contrast to the Thomist doctrine of
the simplicity of God, Rmnujas God is composite both as the possessor of
many distinct essential attributes (1996: 402, 8891) and as composite, with the
world as subject and attribute, or self and body. In contrast to Aquinass account
of the immutable perfection of God, the subjectattribute relation, or even the
self-body relation, means pantheistically that Brahman is changed and perfected
in the evolution of the body. In contrast to the Thomist doctrine of the universality
of divine creative will, Rmnujas atheism lies in the affirmation of the eternal
existence of the world and the role of karma.
Johanns concludes that amkara and Rmnuja have thus to be combined to
provide the equivalent in Vedntic terms of the Thomist account (1996: 88202).
In the course of the articles Johanns sees this as very much a two-way process,
sometimes Rmnuja correcting amkara, sometimes the other way round, with
the synthesis achieved by reading both accounts through a Thomist perspective.
Rmnuja in favour of amkara has to give up the idea that God has attributes and
the idea of the immanent evolution of God into the world. Thus, Rmnujas doc-
trine of the world as attribute or body has to be dropped. Likewise, both Vedntins
have to give up the doctrine of karma (1996: 32, 88ff). amkara is to be reread
as affirming that creation is a vivarta or notional relation on the part of God,
but a parinma or real and transcendental relation on the part of creation (1996:
2023). In terms of the affirmation of the personal nature of God, amkara is good
22 Vednta and Thomism
in that he maintains pure consciousness, but defective in giving no place to will,
while Rmnuja is good in affirming consciousness and will, but defective in not
describing God as pure consciousness and will (1996: 10913).
Johannss account is an impressive attempt to consider in detail the relationship
between Vednta and the Western Thomist tradition. In the first half of the twen-
tieth century the influence of Johannss account on Catholic perspectives about
Indian thought was considerable and his pioneering work has continued to receive
attention. Thus, a detailed recent study of Johanns by Sean Doyle (2006) draws
out both the background to his encounter with Indian thought and the way he syn-
thesises the Vednta in order to create an account that corresponds to the Thomist
account. Doyle points to Johannss stress on the Thomist doctrine of creatio ex
nihilo as a guide in appraising and correcting the Vedntic accounts. For his
part, Doyle does not enter into any appraisal of whether Johanns is correct in what
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he says about Vednta and its relationship to Thomism. Rather he accepts with
Johanns that Rmnujas cosmology is incompatible with the Thomist doctrine of
creation and that Rmnuja teaches that there is an internal (pantheistic), rather
than external (creational) relationship, between Brahman and the world.
However, as we shall see more in the chapters of this book, Johannss account
is open to considerable challenge both in its estimation of the content and coher-
ence of Rmnujas account and of its relationship with the Thomist account.
Rmnujas primary and controlling paradigm for the relationship between God
and the world is that of embodiment rather than subject and attribute. Moreover,
this embodiment cosmological concept is better described as a relation between
two substances, rather than a substantial unity, and is far more convergent with
Aquinass account of the creational dependence of all things on God than Johanns
allows. Rmnujas account is, thus, not pantheistic. Likewise, while the pre-
existence of matter and selves and the doctrine of karma are part of Rmnujas
distinctively Indian and Vedntic account, neither feature need be taken to be
irreconcilable with the affirmation of the universal and sovereign action of God
found in Aquinas. Rmnujas account is, thus, not atheistic as Johanns suggests.
Rmnuja does affirm that we can predicate a number of attributes positively of
Brahman, but it is far from obvious that the actual account given of Brahman is
incompatible with Aquinass doctrine of creation, nor even with Aquinass own
doctrine of the incomposite simplicity ofGod.

Richard de Smet: a realist reading of Advaita


A little later than Johanns, Richard de Smets work challenged widely accepted
views about the method and teaching of Vednta, especially that of Advaita. De
Smet argues that amkaras thought is different from that of later Advaita and
that the authentic teaching of amkara affirms a realist cosmology rather than
acosmism. On this basis de Smet argues for a more complete and self-sufficient
compatibility between amkara and Aquinas, when it comes to their accounts
of the nature of the ultimate reality, Brahman, and its relationship to the world,
without any need for a synthesis of Vedntic positions. De Smet is thus in many
Vednta and Thomism 23
ways the more immediate successor of Upadhyay. Like Upadhyay, de Smet is also
critical of modern neo-Advaita, in de Smets case as found in the influential form
put forward by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (18881975) (De Smet 1989).13 On the
other hand, de Smet is more negative in his appraisal of Rmnujas account than
Johanns.
Based on his rereading of what amkara teaches, de Smet maintains that the
authentic views of amkara on the nature of Brahman and on the world converge
with those of Aquinas. In de Smets opinion, amkaras own negative language
about the reality of the world should only be seen as a way of denying that it has
any reality except in complete dependence on Brahman, rather than denying its
reality or distinction from Brahman assuch:

The truth [Advaita] distils from the Upanis.ads is that Brahman is the high-
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est Lord and highest tman of all the beings of the universe because it is
their total Cause. In the richness of its unspeakable Fullness it [Brahman]
exceeds all that we are or can wish to attain because it is Reality-Knowledge-
Infinite and therefore Bliss. Its effects can add nothing to its infinity, they
exist through its causal presence within them, they are inseparable from it
and cannot be counted apart from it. As to their reality it is neither Being nor
Non-Being in the supreme sense of those terms (Sad-asad-vilaksana); it is
the reality of a totally dependent effect (sat-krya). Hence, their connection
with Brahman is not duality but non-duality (advaita) which is not the same
as monism (ekatva). They are similar to it, its reflections, but cannot be reck-
oned with it under one common genus, for Brahman transcends any genus
and is therefore One without a second.
(De Smet 1996: 945)

Thus, amkara does not affirm the total identity of the finite self with Brah-
man, but only that it is completely dependent on Brahman. Statements in the
Upanis.ads that seem to identify Brahman and the world are to be read not in the
sense of strict identity, but as affirming that the world, especially the finite self,
has Brahman as its inner self and cause, on which the finite self is totally depen
dent (1996: 8993).
De Smet argues in some detail that amkara should be affirmed to have a crea-
tional account compatible with that of Aquinas, despite their different terminol-
ogy (e.g. De Smet 1970). In keeping with this, de Smet is keen to show that there
is an agreement between amkaras understanding of the relation between Brah-
man and the world in its production and the Thomist scheme of mixed relations
(1970; 1996: 88ff). De Smet argues that, for amkara, terms which depict Brah-
man as creator are extrinsic attributes (updhi) as opposed to intrinsic attributes
(viesa), and thus parallel the distinction between notional and real relations in
Aquinas (1996: 86,90).
Likewise, de Smet aims to depict amkaras doctrine of Brahman as compat-
ible with Aquinass doctrine of God. He challenges the common translation of
nirguna as impersonal and of saguna as personal. De Smet acknowledges that
24 Vednta and Thomism
the Vedntic tradition has no developed concept of person parallel to that of West-
ern discourse, yet argues that nirguna Brahman should be said to be personal
within the terms of a traditional Christian account of personhood and is compat-
ible with the simplicity of God found in the Thomist account (De Smet 1972).
De Smet argues that the later tendency to separate nirguna Brahman as Supreme
Brahman from saguna Brahman as the creator and Lord (vara) is too rigid,
because amkara himself is happy to identify vara as the Supreme Brahman.
When amkara denies that saguna Brahman, or vara, is Supreme Brahman, this
is meant, de Smet argues, to deny real complexity in Brahman and to deny that
Brahman as creator has a real relation with the world, rather than deny the reality
of Supreme Brahman as creator as such (1996: 889). The nirguna and saguna
distinction is thus meant to affirm the simplicity of Brahmans being in contrast
to the composite nature of finite being. Brahman is identical with its properties.
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amkara thus just denies the validity of the mundane application of the properties
ascribed to Brahman (1996: 88ff; 1972).
Accordingly, de Smet understands amkaras position on religious language
to be similar to that of Aquinas, especially his doctrine of analogy. amkara, like
Aquinas, wants to affirm the ineffability and categorical otherness of Brahman.
The purpose of apophatic language in amkara is not to deny the reality of the
world, but to deny that any term whose application is primarily for things in the
world can express the nature of Brahman. Thus even texts acknowledged as defi-
nitional, such as the central text, Truth, knowledge, infinite is Brahman (satyam,
jnam, anantam brahma) (Taittirya Upanisad 2.1.1) fail to express the nature of
Brahman, but only indirectly point to what it is like (1996: 85,93).
Thus, for de Smet amkaras account is compatible with the transcendence,
simplicity and categorical otherness of God and with the difference and depen
dence of creation as expressed by the Thomist account. The difference between
amkara and Aquinas about the status of the world, de Smet argues, is not one of
content but of expression: Aquinas uses more positive language, while amkara
uses more negative language, to express the same doctrine. As Malkovsky puts it
in a summary of de Smetswork:

According to de Smet, when amkara uses negations in describing the world


such usage must not be understood in an absolute sense, as if amkara were
simply denying the existence of the universe. Rather amkara should be
regarded as a radical valuationist who measures everything to the absolute
Value, the Brahman, and declares its inequality to it rather than the degree of
its participation in it. This manner of thinking and speaking is legitimate, but
it has misled many into acosmic interpretations of his doctrine. By contrast,
De Smet goes on to say, St Thomas generally prefers the language of par-
ticipation ... That is to say, both Aquinas and amkara attribute the same
ontological status to the world; for both the world enjoys a relative reality.
That their description in either more negative or positive terms is due to their
centre of reference and chosen emphasis.
(Malkovsky 2000: 1516)
Vednta and Thomism 25
For de Smet, moreover, study of amkara is not merely useful in establishing
compatibility with Thomist Christianity, but has value for Christian reflection in
India and more widely. De Smet calls for Christians in India to be willing to rec-
ognise and make use of amkara in expressing Christian doctrine (1996: 945).
He also remarks that amkaras account has taught him personally to be aware
of Gods non-dual presence within himself (Malkovsky 2000: 1112). Thus, de
Smet seems open to a complementarity between the accounts and to the possibil-
ity that Christian experience of creation might be enriched through interaction
with Vednta.
In contrast with his admiration for amkara, de Smet is, however, very critical of
Rmnuja. In the first edition of a compilation of essays on Hinduism by de Smet
and other Catholic Indologists, Religious Hinduism (1968), de Smet dismisses
Rmnujas thought as pantheistic and incompatible with Thomist Christianity:
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Yet it cannot fully satisfy the religious heart which craves for a God alto-
gether transcendent and absolute even in his most intimate immanence in his
creatures, the God, indeed, of amkara and Christianity. Rmnujas person-
alism falls short in its application both to the knowing subjects of this world
and to God. Indeed to be truly a person, a being must not only be endowed
with intellectual consciousness and free will, but should also exist in itself,
in its own wholeness. That which is a mere part in a whole is never a person.
But, on the one hand, in Rmnujas opinion, finite subjects should consider
the whole aggregate of their body and senses as entirely extrinsic and foreign
to themselves, and their very selves as mere parts (ama) of the Lord. On
the other hand, the Lord is not supposed to be complete without his modes,
whether qualities or bodies, and thus falls short of that radical transcendence
which is the mark of divine personality. What, therefore, vitiates the whole
doctrine of Rmnuja is its definite pantheism.
(De Smet 1968:69)

In other words, those features of the absoluteness, transcendence and genuine


personhood of God that de Smet finds in amkaras account are the very things
he finds lacking in Rmnuja. At the heart of Rmnujas pantheism is the incom-
pleteness of Brahman in itself, in that Brahman and the world seem to form a
differentiated unity of a pantheisticsort.
De Smet was criticised for his use of the term pantheism and subsequently
discussed at length his reasons for using it (De Smet 1978: 56171). In the
latest edition of Religious Hinduism (1996), he drops the label of pantheism
while keeping the critical appraisal that supports its use earlier on. De Smets
(1978) response to criticisms of his own use of the term pantheism is partly
to clarify the way in which the term pantheism has been used historically. De
Smet points to a diversity within pantheist positions, but identifies a general
characteristic that God and the world form a differentiated unity, in which God
is only to some extent, but not entirely, distinguished from and transcendent
over the world:
26 Vednta and Thomism
The pantheistic God by being self-differentiated into infinite attributes, by
having or projecting cosmic modes or by dialectically realising himself
through an inner process of self-reflection and self-expression, includes or
reflects in his very essence the diversity and mutability which ought to remain
characteristic of imperfect reality. He is no longer simple fullness of perfec-
tion, ineffable and indescribable.
(1978:563)

He thus distinguishes his use of pantheism from a simple identification of God


and the world and hence defends himself against the charge that he is attributing
Rmnuja with such a position (1978:562).
De Smet accepts that Rmnujas methodology has common features with that
of amkara, but is dismissive of Rmnujas particular principles, in particular
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Rmnujas refusal to indirect or nonliteral meaning (laksan) in the interpreta-


tion of the central scriptural texts:

Rmnuja denies the very possibility of interpreting them through laksan. In


this denial, his merciless criticism of amkaras bhsya on Taittirya-upanisad
2.1 betrays a certain lack of metaphysical acumen, while at the same time
marking him as more conservative than amkara in his fidelity to the precepts
of Prva Mmms. Modelling reality too closely upon the pattern of human
language and thought, he maintains that all judgments and propositions are
irreducibly relational and that this is a sign that no reality can be perfectly
simple. The relational unity, called smndhikaranya, which binds predi-
cate and subject in every judgment, can never be overcome by pure unity, as
amkara maintained. Pure unity is simply unthinkable.
(1996:99)

Like Johanns, then, de Smet depicts Rmnuja as maintaining that the gram-
matical paradigm of co-ordinating sentences (smndhikaranya) corresponds
with reality and that this means the structure of the relation between subject
and its inherent attributes (1978: 5657). De Smet takes the expression of
this in the modemodepossessor relationship (prakraprakribhva),
especially, as the key concept determining the development of Rmnujas
doctrine (1996: 99). He understands Rmnuja to take this relationship as one
of inherence of the same sort as that of subject and attribute, quoting Rmnuja
in support ofthis:

What determines statements of coordination is only the relation of mode


(prakra) in which one thing [denoted by a viesana, be it a genus, a quality,
or even a substance] stands to another [the viesya vastu or prakrin](SBh
1.1.1.). This relationship is a relationship of inherence and subservience:
class characteristics and qualities inhere in the substance as in their substrate
and their final cause (prayojana), and they are its modes (ibid).
(1978:566)
Vednta and Thomism 27
Accordingly, Rmnuja holds that God too is complex and thus not different from
entities in the world. For de Smet such a position is a characteristic and defective
mark of both pantheistic and panentheistic epistemologies (1978: 564). Such a
position contrasts with the categorical otherness of God affirmed by the Thomist
and Advaitic doctrine of the ultimate reality.
De Smet is willing to acknowledge that Rmnuja aims to secure the transcen
dence and independence of Brahman and to this end depicts the relation of Brah-
man to the world as being that of self to body. This both excludes change from
the Supreme Self itself and locates it in the body, as well as affirming the total
dependence of the world on Brahman (1978: 5679). Nonetheless, de Smet argues
that this relationship is still pantheistic:

To say then that God and subordinate beings stand in the relation of tman and
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body seems to be unobjectionable at least insofar as it expresses the instru-


mentality of those beings in regard to Gods omnipotence. But we should
not forget that these are parinmic products of his prakrti invested by eternal
tmans whose karman is to be enjoyed in them. And prakrti and tmans are
two eternal bodies ofGod.
(1978:569)

De Smet thus also seems to suggest that the embodiment relation is intended by
Rmnuja to be the same as that of subject and attribute. In outlining Rmnujas
embodiment account, de Smet quotes at length one of the passages in the r
Bhsya where Rmnuja does set out a number of different relationships, includ-
ing that of subject and attribute, as having common ground with that of the embodi-
ment relation (Bh 1.1.1) (De Smet 1978: 567). The embodiment doctrine is again
deemed pantheistic because, if the body stands to the self in the same relationship
as an attribute to its subject, then there is a substantial unity betweenthem.
Thus, de Smet, like Johanns, feels that Rmnuja fails to achieve a doctrine of
God and of creation compatible with Aquinas. Rmnujas pantheism lies in main-
taining the complexity of God both in himself and as extended in the substantial,
if differentiated, unity between God and the world. This is taken to stem from
Rmnuja taking the grammatical relationship between subject and attribute as
the fundamental paradigm for the nature of reality, both that of God and that of the
relationship of God and the world. However, while it is true that Rmnuja calls
the finite selves and material entities attributes of Brahman, he does not maintain
that this is the inherence relationship of attributes in their subject. Like Johanns,
de Smet overemphasises the importance of the qualitative relationship as having a
primary interpretative status over, and hence as being determinative of, the embod-
iment doctrine in Rmnuja. Instead, it is the embodiment doctrine that is determi-
native of what Rmnuja means in affirming the predicative relationship. When the
relationship between Brahman and the world is understood within the embodiment
relation, in the sophisticated and nuanced way in which Rmnuja defines it, it
should be acknowledged that he has a doctrine of creation and divine personhood
which is compatible with, even if not the same in all respects as, that of Aquinas.
28 Vednta and Thomism
De Smet also links Rmnujas account with that of process thought. He
notes the association of the term panentheism with process thought and suggests
that this is an appropriate way to describe Rmnujas thought and so distance
it from that of Aquinas. The term is discussed by de Smet in the same article in
which he explores the use of the term pantheism. Panentheism, as understood
by de Smet, denotes a position that sets up polarities of actual and potential in
God and in which the world actualises these potentialities in God. Panentheism
not only establishes a real relation of the world to God, but of God to the world,
thus establishing a polarity of reciprocal causality between cause and effect
(1978: 5634). De Smet points out that this distances such a position from the
Thomist understanding of God as pure actuality.
De Smet concludes his discussion of these two terms and of whether they
should used of Rmnuja by allowing that panentheism may well be a better term,
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but that this still does not alter the substance of his evaluation of Rmnuja:

Labels do not matter much. It is enough to repeat that Rmnuja teaches


Viis.tdvaita which does not means differentiated non-dualism but non-
dualism of the differentiated Brahman. But it is important to understand what
this really means and how closely it measures up to the standard of perfect
transcendence. Instead of speaking of an implication of pantheism, I am ready
to speak, probably with more correctness, of an affinity of Rmnujas theol-
ogy with panentheism. At least for Hartshornes panentheism, God must be
logically independent (and at the same time) cannot in his full actuality be
less or other than literally all-inclusive. Hartshornes method, and roughly
Rmnujas method too, is to follow a via eminentiae, attributing to God in
a categorically superior form the qualities and values found in our analy-
sis of human experience. The question is whether this form is categorically
uppermost.
(1978:571)

Sara Grant RSCJ: a non-dualist reading of Thomism


De Smets immediate successor was Sr Sara Grant RSCJ (19222000 ce). Like de
Smet, she argues for a realist reading of those works of amkara that she accepts
as original. With de Smet as her doctoral supervisor she produced a detailed and
exacting study of amkaras understanding of relations, in which she discusses
amkaras understanding of the relation of Brahman to the world in the light of
Aquinass doctrine of mixed relations, finding Aquinass account useful in illumi-
nating what amkara teaches, as well as affirming their common ground (Grant
1999).14 In this way Grant was able to further articulate the approach taken by
de Smet. At the same time, she felt able to move away from de Smets negative
appraisal of Rmnuja.
A central feature of her resultant account is to argue for a realist interpretation
of the key terms in amkaras account used to describe the relationship between
Brahman and the world. Later (and now standard) Advaita maintains that these
Vednta and Thomism 29
terms, tdtmya (having its self in that) and ananyatva (not being other than) are
meant to denote strict identity. The only way such identity can be true is if the
world is finally unreal, thereby revealing the pure identity of Brahman, the only
reality. Grant, however, argues that in amkara these terms mean that there is a
unity-in-dependence between the world and Brahman. The world has its self,
its causal basis, in Brahman and is not other than Brahman, in the sense that it
depends on Brahman for its existence at all times. For Grant, any talk in amkara
of the nonreality of the world has to be understood in the light of this teaching.
Thus, when amkara says that the knowledge of Brahman brings about the anni-
hilation of the world, this means the destruction of our ordinary perception of the
world as existing independently, rather than the realization of the unreality of the
world assuch:
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The annihilation of the phenomenal world is epistemological not metaphysi-


cal. It involves not the physical destruction of the world, but the destruction of
the illusion that the world of namarupa is real in the sense of ultimately real.
(Grant 1999:71)

Moreover, when amkara says that the finite self comes to know itself as noth-
ing other than the Supreme Reality, Brahman, this expresses the overwhelming
experience of its dependence and relative nonbeing, not necessarily the loss of its
individuality. She describes thisas:

the finite self-awareness exploding so to speak into awareness of [Brahman]


the Supreme Self, as ultimately the only Existent the direct metaphysical
experience of contingency qua contingency and in and through that experi-
ence the equally immediate [...] experience of absolute Existence.
(1999:71)

If we read amkara in this way, he and Aquinas are fundamentally in agreement.


They both reject the idea that the world has any independence of being or, in more
Advaitic terms, would state the nonbeing of anything that does not depend on
God. As Grant puts it, both could endorse the sentiment of the fourteenth-century
Western mystic, He is thy being, but thou art not his being (Grant 2002:42).
Grant takes a more positive approach to Rmnuja than de Smet. She sees
Rmnujas account as reacting to the later Advaitic doctrine of the illusory nature
of the world rather than to the account of amkara itself. If amkaras ontologi-
cal realism is accepted, she thinks that the two thinkers are complementary rather
than contradictory (1999: 18991). The implication of this is that the wider dis-
cussion of the relationship between Aquinas and Vednta undertaken by de Smet
and Grant might appropriately be extended to Rmnuja aswell.
The analysis by de Smet and Grant of the works of amkara would seem to
be one possible way of reading the terminology amkara employs to describe
the relationship of the world to Brahman. It remains what Malkovsky (2001)
has described as a minority reading, one that stands in marked contrast to later
30 Vednta and Thomism
standard Advaitic self-understanding of the nature of Brahman and of the world,
where all the works attributed to amkara are taken to be genuine and read in
accordance with later developments in the tradition. Malkovsky notes the general
reluctance of contemporary Advaitins to accept the position put forward by de
Smet and Grant, although with some degree of acceptance that the commonplace
use of the term impersonal for Supreme Brahman is not that helpful (Malkovsky
1997: 562; 2000: 13). If, however, we accept this realist reading of amkara, what
we end up with is fundamentally a reading of Advaita cosmology that makes it
convergent with that of realist theistic Vednta of the sort found in Rmnuja. As
Grant suggests, this means that approaches found within Thomist engagement
with Advaita can be used and further applied in the case of Rmnuja.
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Contemporary Thomist studies and comparative theology


There has, then, already been a history of interaction between Western scholasti-
cism and Indian Vednta. For the most part this has been with Advaita Vednta to
the relative neglect and misunderstanding of theistic forms of Vednta. As the his-
tory of this engagement has developed, the focus on identifying points of conver-
gence has also opened out into consideration of the ways such an encounter leads
to a more constructive interaction between the two traditions, in which common
questions about ultimate reality and the world are explored and in which the com-
plementary insights of each tradition are of interest to members of these traditions
(and indeed anyone engaging with these same topics). We see this manifested in
the contemporary disciplines of cross-cultural study, such as comparative theol-
ogy and philosophy.

Sara Grant: theologizing from an alternative perspective15


As we noted, for his part, de Smet points to Advaita as having taught him to be
aware of Gods non-dual presence within (Malkovsky 2000: 1112). Likewise,
Grants interest in Vednta is not simply in the extent to which we can identify
convergence with Thomism. Instead, she argues that the encounter is also impor-
tant for contemporary Christian theology. Grant concludes that Advaita Vednta
(read as a realist and theist account) is the best conceptual resource Christian
theologians can have to express the unique creational relationship of insepara-
ble dependence. In her opinion, amkara is even more successful than Aquinas
in expressing what is fundamental and unique in the relation between the world
andGod:
.
The radical non-dualism of ankarcarya, understood as I have interpreted
it, could be of greatest assistance here, for of all the metaphysical ventures
of man, it alone, it seems to me, does full justice to both the immanence of
the creator and his absolute transcendence, to the creatures utter contingency
and its paradoxical autonomy.
(Grant 1999:192)
Vednta and Thomism 31
For Grant this overcomes a tendency towards a dualism she finds in other concep-
tions of the creational relation, where God and the world are depicted as separate
and remote from each other.
Grants encounter with Vednta and the suggestions she makes about how it
might contribute positively to the doing of Christian theology has been taken up
by the contemporary Thomist David Burrell CSC. He, likewise, finds in her expla-
nation of amkaras non-dualism in the light of Aquinass account of relations a
way of overcoming a tendency in Western scholasticism to separate God from the
world in order to avoid pantheism:

[it] will not work simply to contrast creation to emanation, or to picture the
creator distinct (in the ordinary sense) from creation by contrast with a more
pantheistic image. Indeed it is to avoid such infelicities of imagination that
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Sara Grant has recourse to Sankaras sophisticated notion of non-duality: to


call our attention in an arresting way to the utter uniqueness of the distinc-
tion which must indeed hold between creator and creation, but cannot be
pictured in any contrastive manner.
(Burrell 2004:40)

The sentiments found in Grant and Burrell are also echoed in the work of the con-
temporary Catholic Indologist, Julius Lipner, extended to the study of Rmnuja.
Thus, Lipner (1978) compares the traditional Christian account of creatio ex nihilo,
with particular reference to Aquinas, with the Vedntic accounts of amkara and
Rmnuja. He considers how both traditions deal with a common theological
issue of balancing divine transcendence and immanence in the causal relation
between God and the world. Likewise, in a later study of Rmnujas embodiment
cosmology, The World as Gods Body: In Pursuit of Dialogue with Rmnuja,
(1984), Lipner suggests ways in which the embodiment cosmology and theologi-
cal method of Rmnuja can challenge and enrich Christian theological reflection.

Francis Clooney: comparative theology


The kind of approach found in Grant, Burrell and Lipner might be included as
examples of the contemporary discipline of comparative theology. A Christian
theologian who has been foremost in developing comparative theology in the con-
text of engagement between Christian and Hindu traditions is the American Jesuit
and Indologist Francis Clooney. Clooney defines the disciplineas:

Comparative theology comparative and theological beginning to end


marks acts of faith seeing understanding which are rooted in a particular faith
but which, from that foundation, venture into learning from one or more faith
traditions. This learning is sought for the sake of fresh theological insights
that are indebted to the newly encountered tradition/s as well as the home
tradition.
(Clooney 2010:10)
32 Vednta and Thomism
As Clooney goes on to say, comparative theology isa

[r]eflective and contemplative endeavour by which we see the other in the


light of our own and our own in the light of the other. It ordinarily starts
with the intuition of an intriguing resemblance that prompts us to place two
realities texts, images, practices, doctrines, persons near one another, so
that they may be seen over and over again, side by side. In this necessarily
arbitrary and intuitive practice we understand each other differently because
the other is near, and by cumulative insight also begin to comprehend related
matters differently. Finally, we see ourselves differently, intuitively uncover-
ing dimensions of ourselves that would not otherwise, by a non-comparative
logic, come to thefore.
(2010:11)
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Clooneys own work has focused on the detailed study of classical Hindu tradi-
tions, including r Vais.navism (e.g. Clooney 1993, 1996, 2001, 2008).
In Theology after Vedanta (1993) Clooney makes an important contribution
within this understanding of comparative theology to the engagement between
Vednta and Thomism. We shall return to this study in later chapters as a useful
model for the engagement between Rmnuja and Aquinas. Here he compares
texts from Advaita Vednta with Aquinass Summa Theologiae and its commen-
taries. He characterises his own work as Indological, comparative and theological
(Clooney 1993: 114). As Indological, such engagement with Hindu texts has
to meet the standards of good scholarship and give an accurate account of that
Hindu text. As comparative, it is concerned to consider carefully the relation
between the accounts, being open to dissimilarities as well as similarities. As
theological, such work is properly faith seeking understanding, in which the
theologian is concerned about the truth of what is being studied, about what is
being learned about God and the human relationship with God, and about the
identity of the faith of the theologian and his and her community after the encoun-
ter (1993: 46).
Accordingly, Clooney first undertakes a detailed study of the sacred texts and
commentarial traditions of Advaita Vednta. He identifies the textual character
of the Advaitic tradition and its theology, in which the theological account is
built up as a rich text woven from layers of sacred scripture and commentar-
ies and in which religious truth is realised through transformative reading,
through study and meditation on the scriptural texts, as interpreted by the com-
mentaries. Advaita is centred on forms of textual reasoning, since it is driven
on by exegetical and textual strategies for understanding and connecting the
sacred texts and sections of the commentaries together (1993: 37152). Sec-
ond, and in light of this, Clooney considers how Aquinas himself constructs the
Summa Theologiae and how authoritative texts are important to his theological
method, as well as the pedagogical character of the construction of the Summa
as a whole. He also considers the importance of a commentarial tradition on
the Summa in Catholic Thomist theology. In this comparative section Clooney
Vednta and Thomism 33
draws on modern Western discussions of hermeneutics and reading theory in
order to explore what it means to read the textual traditions of Advaita and
Thomism together (1993: 15386). Third, Clooney considers what implica-
tions this has for the faith and identity of the theologian and for his relation
to his religious community. The theology that emerges after Vednta is for
the most part simply a greater understanding of the textual character of both
theological traditions. For a Christian Thomist theologian this may well mark
a retrieval of an aspect of the Thomist tradition that has tended to be obscured
by an emphasis on the Summa as simply a mine for doctrines and reasoned
arguments rather than as a text to be read in its entirety. The Christian theolo-
gian engaging with Advaita Vednta has, meanwhile, a role as the mediator for
such comparative engagement for the service of the whole community (1993:
187206).
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In Hindu God, Christian God (2001), which again will serve as a model for
later chapters in this book, especially chapters 3 and 4, Clooney explores the work
of reasoning about major themes across these two religious traditions. In the open-
ing chapter, Clooney looks back to the pioneering work of de Nobili as a model
for a contemporary confidence in the possibility of reasoning allowing genuine
and fruitful interreligious theological conversations to take place, even if a con-
temporary theologian might not share the polemical or missionary concerns of de
Nobili (2001: 37). Clooney then moves on to consider what a number of Hindu
and Christian theologians have had to say about four central theological themes:
rational proofs for the existence of God, the nature of God, the possibility of
divine embodiment and the relation of revelation to reason. Thus, for instance,
he considers and compares the way in which theologians in both Christian and
Hindu traditions have developed forms of the cosmological proof for the exis
tence of God, as well as accounts that reject this proof (2001: 2961). All these
arguments are of interest and importance to any theologian who seeks to resolve
this particular issue:

Since the arguments cross cultural and religious boundaries, theologians of all
traditions regardless of their faith positions must decide where they stand on
issues related to reasoning about Gods existence. They must discern which
theologians from which religious traditions are their real allies and then pose
their arguments in forms that are comparatively and dialogically intelligible
and credible. Nor do the sides, once recognized, remain entirely stable. Argu-
ments may actually lead somewhere; persuasion may work; theologians may
change their minds; intellectual and religious conversion becomes possible.
(2001:60)

What emerges for Clooney is both that there is reasoning within these traditions
about these themes and that a rational conversation can take place across the tra-
ditions. The positions theologians develop and the reasons they give for them are
open to scrutiny by others. They are accountable to others and are likely to be
better reasoned accounts if they take into account what otherssay.
34 Vednta and Thomism
Contemporary Thomism
Although neo-scholasticism no longer holds the dominant place it once did in the
Catholic Church, the Thomist paradigm for theology has continued to be affirmed
in official Catholic teaching and remains one of the most important traditions of
Western theism. The decline of the neo-scholastic approach has allowed, in fact, a
retrieval of the more theological and exegetical aspects of Aquinass work, along
with the exploration of other ways in which Aquinass approach and work might
engage with contemporary intellectual and theological concerns (e.g. OMeara
1997; Kerr 2002). One significant aspect of this has been a renewed awareness
and emphasis in general on Aquinass engagement with non-Christian thought,
both in itself and as a model for contemporary further engagements within the
contemporary discipline of comparative theology.
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As an example of the kind interest of contemporary Thomists in this we can


again refer to the work of David Burrell CSC, who in his studies of medieval
theology has explored and emphasised how important Jewish and Islamic think-
ers are for the shaping of Aquinass own theology, taken as fellow enquirers into
issues of God, creation and human life common to all three religions (e.g. Burrell
1986, 1993a, 1993b, 2004). While Burrell accepts that Aquinas is not interested
in other religious traditions as such in the manner of contemporary interreligious
dialogue and theology, nonetheless Aquinass serious engagement with Jewish
and Muslim thinkers can rightly be labelled an interreligious and intercultural
achievement. For Burrell, Aquinas can also function as an important model for
contemporary engagement. As he putsit:

Ours is a very different world from Aquinas, yet his ability to see the pres-
ence of interlocutors from other faiths as a spur to understanding of his own
tradition offers us a model which deftly eschews intellectual colonizing and
displays the way in which every living tradition grows by carefully respond-
ing to challenges from without.
(Burrell 2004: 867)

More recently, Burrell has started to use the resources of this medieval scholastic
encounter to carry out his own exercise in contemporary comparative theology,
one that reflects wider developments in Catholic approaches to interreligious rela-
tions. In Towards a JewishChristianMuslim Theology (2011), he considers how
contemporary members of these traditions can advance in their theological under-
standing of a range of topics such as creation, providence, grace and eschatology
through an ongoing theological conversation with thinkers from all the three tra-
ditions. As Burrell himself states, this is a comparative theology, which takes the
form of creative hermeneutics:

I have suggested calling this inquiry an exercise in creative hermeneutics,


whereby conceptual patterns, often developed separately, can illuminate one
another once we see them as executing cognate explorations. This approach
Vednta and Thomism 35
reflects the fresh face of interfaith inquiry often associated with the liberating
document of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, yet more pertinently part of the air we
have come to breathe.
(Burrell 2011:xii)

There is, then, an interest in such Thomist studies in both the historical fact of
Aquinass engagement with non-Christian thought and with its contemporary
application in comparative theology.

Conclusion
In the later chapters of this book we shall seek to further and to challenge this tra-
dition of Thomist encounter with the Vednta within the comparative theological
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approach promoted by Grant, Clooney and others, as we consider how Aquinas


and Rmnuja present their methods of enquiry, their accounts of ultimate real-
ity and of the world and its relationship to that reality. In part, we consider how
this impacts on earlier comparisons, both the positive parallels drawn with process
thought and other forms of modern Western theism, as well as the negative com-
parisons with the scholastic account of Aquinas. In the course of this we will have
further reason to conclude that Rmnuja has much less in common with modern
philosophy of religion in general and with modern Western forms of theism that
manifest many of its distinctive features and more in common with Aquinas than
has previously been affirmed, so that if any Western term is to be used to classify
the Vednta that Rmnuja teaches, it should be that of scholastic. We might even
prefer to classify them representing two forms of a scholastic approach conceived
more widely as a cross-cultural category. At the same time, it will be just as an
important part of our study simply to identify more clearly what concerns the two
thinkers have and what criteria they use when it comes to knowing and talking
about the nature of ultimate reality and of the worlds relationship to it. Here there
are common elements, striking within traditions that have such distinct histories,
as well as different emphases, which reflect these distinct histories.

Notes
1 This was coined by Indian anthropologist Srinivasa to describe the general phenom-
enon of identification with Brahmanical Sanskritic culture (Srinivasa 1952). Van
Buitenen (1988: 234) calls this a process in the Indian civilisation in which a person
or a group consciously relates himself or itself to an accepted notion of true and ancient
ideology and conduct.
2 Bartley (2002: 2): By Vednticisiation is meant the articulation of the theory and
practice of sectarian traditions in terms of a widely recognised notion of ideology and
conduct as preserved in the mainstream Vedntic tradition.
3 The term viistdvaita has been translated in various ways into English as qualified
monism or qualified non-dualism, pan-organismal monism (Srinivasachari 1943:
616) or difference-in-identity (Lipner 1986: 37) or oneness of organic unity (Chari
1988: 2). The translation given above makes clear the sense of the compound is that
Rmnujas system is one that with Advaita denies the dualism of Smkhya, while also
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