In this article we will discuss about the contributions of various writers towards philosophy.
The most important contribution to this philosophy was made by Sankara (788-820 A.D.), a great spiritual leader. His important works include Commentaries on the Brahma sutra, the Bhagavad-Gita and the principal Upanishads. In addition he also wrote works like Viveka Chaudamani, Atma Bodha, Soundarya Lahari, Ananda Lahari and certain stotras. These works also contain valuable ideas about the philosophy and religion.
The Philosophy of Sankara is known as advaita (monoism) or Kevaladvaita (absolute monism). According to Sankara Brahma or the Supreme Spirit is alone real” and the individual self is only the Supreme Self and no other. The empirical world is unreal, an illusion born of ignorance.
The jiva continues in Samsara (world) only so long as it retains attachment due to Maya or ignorance. If the individual casts off the veil of Maya through knowledge, it will realise its identity with the Brahma and ‘ get merged into it. This attempt to reconcile the plurality of the empirical world with the Brahma is the greatest contribution of Sankara.
As one scholar has put it “if the essence’ of philosophical thought consists in proceeding from plurality to unity, in finding the one which underlies the many that we see in us and around us, no human conception can go further”.
According to Prof. Basham “Sankara’s greatness lies in his brilliant dialectic. By able use of logical argument, and we must admit, by interpreting some phrases very figuratively, he reduced all the apparently self-contradictory passages of the Upanishads to a consistent system which, though not unchallenged, has remained the standard philosophy of intellectual Hinduism to this day. The comparison of Sankara in Hinduism with St. Thomas Aquinas in the Roman Catholic Church is a very fair one”.
It may be noted that Sankara was not merely a great idealist, he was a great practical teacher. He realised that his philosophy was beyond the comprehension of ordinary people and therefore insisted that a true religion should be an avenue to vital religious experience.
He felt that Reality could be comprehended in different ways of worships and therefore approved of the prevailing forms of worship so long they kindled a spiritual urge and passion for service. But at the same time the condemned a number of irreligious practices, dogmas and superstitions.
He asserted that unless one realised identity between Brahma and the individual self, one could not get out of samsara. In short he tried to relate the various systems to one central idea.
According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan:
“By the inculcation of his Advaita doctrine, he helped man to interpret God in terms of spiritual value Sankara aims at interpreting Hinduism to the new age in such a manner as to conserve and even assert more clearly than hitherto its distinctive message. Within this large intention we may possibly discern the idea of unifying the people of the country. By laying stress on the personal character of religious experience, he broadened and spiritualized Hinduism”.
He further points out, “The greatness of Sankara’s achievement rests on the peculiar intensity and splendour of thought with which the search for reality is conducted on the high idealism of spirit grappling with the difficult problems of life, regardless of theological consequences, and on the vision of a consummation which places a divine glory on human life. Sankara taught us to love truth, respect reason and realise the purpose of life. He put into general circulation a vast body of important knowledge and formative ideas which, though contained in the Upanishads, were forgotten by the people, and thus recreated for us the distant past. He was not a dreaming idealist, but a practical visionary, a philosopher, and at the same time a man of action, what we may call a social idealist on a grand scale.”
2. Ramanuja (1027—1137):
Ramanuja was opposed to the barren intellectualism of Sankara and tried to harmonies the extremes of monoism and pluralism and of non-dualism and theism. Ramanuja is also considered a great exponent of the Vedanta. He starts with the same assumption and texts as that of Sankara but reached entirely different conclusions. While Sankara was intellectual, Ramanuja was devotional.
Therefore, Ramanuja laid great emphasis on Bhakti Marga. He admitted the usefulness of the observance of rituals but only in qualified measure. According to him the best means of salvation was devotion, and the best yoga was bhakti-yoga.
He held that through an intense devotion to Vishnu the worshipper realized that he was only a fragment of God, and wholly dependent on him. Another way of attaining salvation according to Ramanuja was prapatti, the abandonment of self and putting one’s soul completely in the hands of God, trusting in his will and waiting confidently for his grace.
The teachings of Ramanuja were based on Vaishnava mystical Tamil poems, the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and Puranas. He regarded Brahma as the Supreme Reality which was free from imperfections and possessed numerous qualities of unparalleled excellence.
He is the highest person or Purushottama who possesses unconditional and unlimited capacity to realise His ideas and purposes. He is the creator, preserver and destroyer. Both matter and souls appeared from Him, and are subservient to Him. The soul is conscious self-illuminated, eternal and unchangeable.
It can attain God by bhakti and by purifying itself by sacrifice, worship, meditation and performance of duties. After attaining moksha or final release the soul resides in Heaven and enjoyed eternal blessing in the presence of God. It is thus evident that like Sankara, Ramanuja also believed in Brahma or Highest Reality and held that the second independent element could not exist.
However, his monoism was a qualified monoism in which certain distinct elements of plurality are also found.
He held “that individual souls and the world were also real and not figments or illusion. Even the attainment of moksha did not lead to absorption into the Brahma. Unlike the impersonal World Soul of Sankara, which made the illusory universe in a sort of sport, Ramanuja’s God needed man as man needed God. By forcing the sense Ramanuja interpreted the words of Krishna, “the wise man I deem my very self” to imply that just as man could not live without God, so God could not live without man. The individual soul, made by God out of his essence returned to its maker and lived for ever in full communion with him, but was always distinct. It shared the divine nature of omniscience and bliss, and evil could not touch it, but it was always conscious of itself as an I, for it was eternal by virtue of its being a part of godhead, and if h lost self-consciousness it would cease to exist. It was one with God but yet separate, and for this reason, the system of Jtamanuja was called visistadvaita or qualified monoism”.
One of the greatest contributions of Ramanuja was that he was interested in showing the path of salvation even to the out- castes and imparted spiritual knowledge to them. He permitted them to attend some temples on certain fixed days in a year.
Ramanuja’s Visistadvaita is an ethical and emotional theism and constitutes a glorious contribution to the Hindu religious and philosophical systems. His greatness lay in presenting a monotheism which could appeal to even an ordinary person and in attempting “to reconcile the demands of religious feeling with the claim of logical thinking.”
3. Madhvacharya (1238—1317 A.D.):
Madhvacharya developed the philosophy and doctrines of Ramanuja and expounded the philosophy of Dvaita or dualism. He completely broke away with the lipanishadic doctrine of the unity of God and human soul and held that Vishnu, individual souls and matters were eternally and completely distinct.
The most important works of Madhvacharya include commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagvata Purana. He also wrote an abridged version of Mahabharata. His Vedanta philosophy was based on the principle of Panchabheda or five great distinctions viz. Brahma and jiva; Brahma and matter ; jiva and matter ; one Jiva and another ; and one part of matter and another.
He designated the Supreme Being as Narayana, which governed the world. He is omnipresent, free from blemishes and beyond time and space. He is the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. Another reality which exists apart from Brahma is the jivas.
There are many grades and kinds of jivas and no two jivas are alike. Though the jivas are dependent upon Brahman they are fundamentally different from Him. Even after final emancipation or moksha, the jiva only enjoys fellowship with God and does not get merge with Him.
According to Madhvacharya, Narayana can be known through three Pramanas or ways of knowledge—perception, inference and study of scriptures. The consciousness of the fact of the supremacy of God in the universe leads to a true knowledge of the greatness of Isvara.
This gives rise to devotion to him and the feeling of dependence on Him. A person acquires this insight only by leading a virtuous and moral life based on Brahmacharya meditation and surrender to God.