Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta Darśana

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Among the well-known philosophical systems, the Vedānta system which is also called as the ‘Vedānta Darśana’ has carved out an eminent place for itself. It is based mainly on the prasthānatraya

  1. The Upaniṣads
  2. The Brahmasutras
  3. The Bhagavadgitā

In course of time, this system has branched off into three main streams:

  1. Advaita
  2. Viśiṣṭādvaita
  3. Dvaita

The Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta Darśana, is not the creation of Rāmānuja[1] as many believe, but actually it is a much older scripture than him. The twelve Ālvārs like Nammālvār, Kulaśekhara, Āṇḍāl[2] and the Ācāryas like Nāthamuni,[3] Yāmuna[4] and Rāmānuja evolved the system out of the more ancient teachings contained in the prasthānatraya and gave it a definite shape. However, Rāmānuja was its best exponent. The pioneering and stupendous work he has turned out in the cause of this system justifies in its being sometimes called as ‘Rāmānuja Darśana’.

The demise of Rāmānuja was followed by a period of sectarian split among his followers generally called as ‘Srīvaiṣṇavas’ which ultimately ended in a permanent division of their ranks into two sects of:

  1. Vaḍagalais - They are the followers of Northern school.
  2. Teṅgalais - They are the followers of Southern school.

The two sects developed separate sets of works, separate lineage of gurus or teachers and separate traditions in many matters of practical importance. The apostolic successors of Rāmānuja who were responsible for establishing the system on a firm foundation, were as follows:

  1. Vedānta Deśika[5]
  2. Pillai Lokācārya[6]
  3. Māṇavāla Māmuni[7]


The canonical works of this system are:

  1. Gitārthasañgraha of Yāmuna
  2. Vedārtha-sañgraha
  3. Śrībhāsya and Gītabhāsya of Rāmānuja
  4. Tātparyacandrikā
  5. Iśāvāsyabhāsya
  6. Rahasyatrayasāra of Vedānta Deśika
  7. Srutaprakāśikā of Sudarśana Suri[8]

The Tamil compositions of the Ālvārs[9] and quite a few compositions of other teachers like Raṅga-rāmānuja[10] are also considered very authoritative. Viśiṣṭādvaita is essentially a philosophy of religion. In it, reason and faith coalesce to become ‘reasoned faith’. It is often identified with the older ‘Seśvara Mīmānsā’. It is also called as ‘Ubhaya Vedānta[11] since it accepts both the Sanskrit prasthānatraya and the Tamil prabandhams as equally authoritative. Pāñcarātra treatises are also put on a par with the Vedas.


Meanings of Knowledge[edit]

Rāmānuja accepts knowledge in all its levels of sense as valid and also affirms it's reality. They are:

  1. Perception - pratyakṣa
  2. Inference - anumāna
  3. Scriptural testimony - āgama or śabda

Theory of Knowledge[edit]

The special features of the theory of his knowledge is as follows:

  1. The principle of dharmabhutajñāna
  2. The logical rule of apṛthak-siddha-viśeṣaṇa
  3. The grammatical rule of sāmānādhikaraṇya
  4. The realistic view of satkāryavāda


Dharmabhutajñāna is the consciousness of the individual soul as its attribute through which it comes to know the nature of the external world, Self and īśvara or Brahman. It is eternal and all-pervasive in respect of īśvara and the jīvas. However, owing to the limitation imposed by karma, it has become contracted in the latter. When it is purified, it expands into infinity and brings about an immediate intuition of God.


The logical rule of apṛthak-siddha-viśeṣaṇa states that a viśeṣaṇa[12] subsists in the viśeṣya[13] and is apṛthak-siddha or has an inseparable existence. Of course, it is not absolutely identical with it. It is separate and yet inseparable. For instance, when we say that ‘man is rational,’ the quality of rationality is inseparable from man, though it is not man himself. In the view of Rāmānuja, dharmabhutajñāna is an apṛthak-siddha-viśeṣaṇa of the jīva; the jīvas and prakṛti are apṛthak-siddha-viśeṣaṇa of Brahman or īśvara.


This very truth is brought out by the grammatical rule of sāmānādhikaraṇya or co-ordinate predication, which means the application of two terms to a single entity through connotation of its two modes. For example, in the sentence ‘This is a cow,’ different words connoting genus and quality[14] also connote individual[15] and substance[16] respectively.

Same is the case with the Upaniṣadic text ‘Tat tvam asi’.[17] A substance may become the body or quality of another substance, and a word connoting the body[18] may connote the Self, its possessor[19] also. Therefore, in the above example, the term ‘tvam,’ which connotes the jīva as the śarīra, connotes also Brahman, the śarīrin. Thus, in the highest Vedāntic sense, all terms connoting a thing or a person or a god connote also Brahman as the source, support, and the ultimate Self of all.


The Sāṅkhya theory of satkāryavāda, the theory of pre-existent effect, is accepted by Rāmānuja. Consequently, the world which is a transformation (pariṇāma) of Brahman, is real and not illusory as asserted by the Advaitins.


Viśiṣṭādvaita accepts the three universal entities as the ultimate realities. They are:

  1. Brahman or īśvara
  2. Jīva or cit
  3. Prakṛti or acit

Hence, these three together are called ‘tattvatraya.’ Of these, however, Brahman is the absolute, independent Reality, whereas the other two are dependent realities. Due to this reason, this philosophy is known as ‘Viśiṣṭā-dvaita’, a philosophy which accepts only one Reality, but with attributes or modes. Brahman of Viśiṣṭādvaita is both the Absolute of philosophy and the God of religion at the same time. His attributes are:

  1. Truth - satya
  2. Knowledge - jñāna
  3. Infinity - anantatva
  4. Bliss - ānandatva

Attributes of God as per Viśiṣṭādvaita[edit]

  • He is the repository of all the virtues and perfection.
  • He is the progenitor, protector, and destroyer of this universe.
  • He is also the indweler and controller of everything that exists in this universe.
  • He is the śeṣin[20] of whom all the jīvas and the prakṛti are śeṣa.[21]
  • He is the granter of all boons like:
  1. Righteousness - dharma
  2. Worldly gain - artha
  3. Enjoyment of pleasures - kāma
  4. Attainment of freedom from births and deaths - mokṣa
  • His form is most wonderfully beautiful, absolutely free from all imperfections and defects.
  • Out of his infinite mercy, he incarnates himself in moments of cosmic crisis, into humanity, in order that he may recover the lost jīva.
  • He is the master of Srī or Lakṣmī, Bhu, and Nīlā.
  • Śrī is of the nature of mercy.
  • He enjoys the cosmic līla or play of creation.
  • He creates this universe out of the cit and the acit portions of himself and yet remains unaffected in his essential nature.
  • Since he creates in accordance with the past karma of the individual souls, he can never be accused of partiality or hardheartedness.
  • He has a five-fold form like:
  1. Para - It is his form in Vaikuṇṭha, along with Sri, Bhu, Nīlā, Ananta, Garuḍa, Visvaksena and others.
  2. Vyuha - The avatāras of Sañkarsaṇa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, who are his partial manifestations and who are the objects of contemplation by the devotees, go by the name ‘vyuha.’
  3. Vibhava - The incarnations of Rāma, Rṛṣṇa, Kurma, etc., are called ‘vibhava’.
  4. Antaryāmin - As the indwelling spirit of each and every object (animate or inanimate), he is called the ‘antaryāmin’.
  5. Area - The descent into the forms, symbols or idols worshiped by his devotees, in order to bless them, is known as ‘arcāvatāra’.

Forms & Characteristics of Jīva[edit]

The next tattva is cit or the jīva. The jīvas are innumerable but of identical form and nature. The vital characteristics of each jīva is as follows:

  • Each jīva is essentially different from the body, mind, prāṇa, buddhi and dharmabhutajñāna.
  • He is:
  1. Blissful - ānanda-svarupa
  2. Atomic - aṇu
  3. Unmanifested - avyakta
  4. Unthinkable - acintya
  5. Homogeneous - niravayava
  6. Immutable - nirvikāra
  7. Substratum of consciousness and knowledge - jñānāśraya
  • He is the niyamya controlled by īśvara and is a part of him.[22]
  • He is the knower of knowledge, doer of actions, and one who experiences their results.[23]

Classification of Jīvas[edit]

The jīvas can be divided into three groups:

  1. The bound - baddha
  2. The liberated - mukta
  3. The eternally free - nitya

The bound souls are those who are constantly going through this trans-migratory existence being attracted by and attached to the prakṛti in all its forms. Those of the bound souls who awaken to the evils of sansāra owing to their previous good karma and get liberated by doing spiritual practices and by the grace of God belong to the second category. Those like Ananta or Garuḍa who are never bound by the shackles of sansāra form the third category.

The jīva, though essentially free, becomes bound in sansāra by the proximity of prakṛti, avidyā, karma, vāsanā and ruci. Avidyā is ignorance which manifests itself in various forms like anyathā-jñāna,[24] viparīta-jñāna[25] etc. Karma is what is performed by the body, the senses or the mind, whether good or bad. Doing anything unintentionally is vāsanā. Ruci is the inordinate desire created by vāsanā. Through bhakti and prapatti and the consequent grace of God, these bondages are destroyed.

The last tattva is acit or prakṛti. It is the insentient substance out of which this material universe is evolved. It is ever changing and can never be the substratum of knowledge. It is of two kinds:

  1. Śuddhasattva - It is the material which is absolutely free from rajas and tamas. It is eternal and is not subject to karma but only to the will of God. It is the substance out of which all things in Vaikuṇṭha[26] called ‘lila vibhuti’ are made.
  2. Miśrasattva - It comprises the three guṇas - sattva, rajas and tamas. This has evolved as this universe.

Out of these, Brahman or īśvara is the independent reality and the other two are dependent realities which inhere in him by the principle of sāmānādhikaraṇya. Just as skin, flesh, seed, color, taste and smell can all exist in the same mango simultaneously cit and acit exist in Brahman.

Means of Liberation[edit]

Knowledge of Mumukṣus[edit]

The mumukṣus or those desirous of liberation have to know three things:

  1. Tattva or Reality
  2. Hita or the means of attaining that Reality
  3. Puruṣārtha or the nature of attainment

Means of Liberation as per Scriptures[edit]

As regards to hita, the scriptures have described it in various ways. These things can be grouped under five headings. Hence it is also consequently known as ‘arthapañcaka’. They are:

  1. Sva-svarupa - one’s own nature
  2. Para-svarupa - nature of God
  3. Purusārtha-svarupa - nature of the four ends in life
  4. Upāya-svarupa - nature of the means to liberation
  5. Virodhi-svarupa - nature of the obstacles in spiritual path

Puruṣārthas or the things desired by men are:

  1. Dharma - practice of righteousness
  2. Artha - economic gain
  3. Kāma - enjoyments of the pleasures of life
  4. Mokṣa - freedom from sansāra

Of these, the mumukṣu should know that the real puruṣārtha is mokṣa.

Upāya of Liberation[edit]

Upāya or the means of liberation is five-fold:

  1. Karma
  2. Jñāna
  3. Bhakti
  4. Prapatti
  5. Ācāryābhimāna

Role of Karma in Liberation[edit]

Karma includes all such acts like yajña, dāna, sandhyā, pañcayajñas, dhyāna, tirthayātrā, etc. Jñāna or Jñānayoga consists of self-renouncement[27] and ceaseless practice of contemplation on Lord Nārāyaṇa. This leads to the realization of the Self but not of the Lord.

Role of Bhakti in Liberation[edit]

The next step is bhakti. Bhakti or Bhaktiyoga marks the consummation of moral and spiritual endeavor as attained in the other two yogas. The Viśistadvaita constructs a ladder, as it were, from ethics to religion and from religion to mystic union. The seven aids to bhakti are:

  1. Viveka - purification of the body as the living temple of God
  2. Vimoka - inner detachment
  3. Abhyāsa - ceaseless practice of the self-presence of God as the inner Self
  4. Kriyā - service to all beings
  5. Kalyāṇa - practice of virtues
  6. Anavasāda - freedom from despair
  7. Anuddharṣa - absence of exultation

Role of Prapatti in Liberation[edit]

Prapatti is complete self-surrender and is meant for those who are unable to follow either:

  1. Karmayoga
  2. Jñānayoga
  3. Bhaktiyoga

Its main characteristics are:

  • To conceive what is in conformity with the will of God
  • To reject what is disagreeable to him
  • To seek him alone as the protector
  • To surrender one’s self to him in all meekness

Ācāryābhimāna is strong faith in the guru and his affectionate attachment to the disciple.

Role of Spiritual Path in Liberation[edit]

The obstacles to the spiritual path[28] which are the last of the arthapañcaka, are again five-fold:

  1. Obstacle to the realization of the Self
  2. To the realization of God
  3. To mokṣa
  4. To the means of realization
  5. To the attainment of the goal

State of Liberation[edit]

The liberated soul has a direct vision of Brahman in Vaikuṇṭha and is absorbed in the eternal bliss of union with him.[29] To him the pluralistic world remains, but the pluralistic view is abolished. The distinction between him and Brahman still remains and there is no loss of personality. He will continue forever to enjoy this state of bliss by serving Brahman.


Viśiṣṭādvaita is thus not a dry metaphysics but a philosophy of religion. It has reason and faith which have been nicely synthesized. It guarantees the vision of God and salvation to all the finite beings - human, subhuman or celestial. The view that God is immanent in all for the purpose of cosmic redemption inspires the feeling that the God of all the religions is ultimately the one, though the various seers and sects may give different accounts of him.


  1. He lived in A.D. 1017-1137.
  2. He lived in A.D. 600-900.
  3. He lived in A. D. 824-924.
  4. He lived in A.D. 918- 1038.
  5. He lived in A. D. 1268-1370.
  6. He lived in A. D. 1264-1327.
  7. He lived in A. D. 1370-1443.
  8. Sudarśana Suri lived in A.D. 1200-1275.
  9. Ālvārs are also called as Nālāyira-prabandham.
  10. He lived in A. D. 1600.
  11. Ubhaya means both.
  12. Viśeṣaṇa means quality.
  13. Viśeṣya means the qualified substance.
  14. It refers to jāti and guṇa.
  15. Individual means vyakti.
  16. Here substance refers to as guṇin.
  17. It means ‘That thou art’.
  18. Body refers to as śarīra.
  19. Here possessor means śarīrin.
  20. Śeṣin means the whole.
  21. Śeṣa means parts.
  22. A part is called as śeṣa.
  23. It indicates jñātṛ, kartṛ and bhoktṛ respectively.
  24. Anyathā-jñāna means knowing a thing in a way that is different from what it really is.
  25. Viparīta-jñāna means knowing a thing as the opposite of what it really is.
  26. Vaikuṇṭha means which is called ‘nityavibhuti,’ as opposed to this temporal world.
  27. Self renouncement means vairāgya.
  28. It is virodhi.
  29. This phenomenon is called sāyujya.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

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