Philosophy of Ramanujacharya, Adi Shankara and Madhvacharya | The Three Veda Shruti Acharyas

Who wrote the Rig Veda?

The Three principle Commentators on the Vedanta Sutras.

The three Matacharyas (मताचार्य Interpreters of the Vedas) have offered their commentaries on the Brahma Sutras of Badrayana Vyasa. The three Matacharyas are Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Adi Shankaracharya and Sri Madhwacharya respectively. Sri Shankara’s commentary is called Shariraka Sutra and Sri Madhwa had 4 commentaries written on the Vedanta Sutras known as Brahma Sutra Bhashyam. Sri Ramanujacharya’s commentary is known as Sri Bhashyam. The Sri Bhashyam formed the basis of the philosophy known as Vishishta Advaita. It is important to first recognize the difference between philosophy and faith, before delving deeper into the Vishishta Advaita philosophy.

Difference between philosophy and faith.

Faith, in the context of Sanatana Dharma is Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and the like. Philosophies are Vishishta Advaita, Advaita or Dwaita. Principles governing the faith is called a philosophy. It is the mechanism to which faith is bound. The Form of God to whom I surrender is called my faith. Two people may have the same faith and yet they may be subscribing to two entirely different philosophies. The three Matacharyas were given to very distinct philosophies whereas their faith was Vaishnavism.  Sri Shankara, Sri Madhwa and Sri Ramanuja were given to the faith that the ultimate Personality of God is Sri Maha Vishnu alone. There was not the slightest disagreement amongst them. We may be given to believe that since Sri Shankara was the follower of Advaita, he may not be a Vaishnava. This is a misconception. The three philosophies of the three Matacharyas are three distinct interpretations of the Vedas. Now one may wonder as to how the Vedas can have three different, distinct interpretations if the Vedas represent one knowledge body? If there is one Text body, it ought to have only one meaning. This is the common understanding. It is to be understood that Veda Shastra comprises of three different categories of text. One is called Bheda Shruti (भेद श्रुति). The second body of Text is called Abheda Shruti (अभेद श्रुति). The Third body of text is called Ghataka Shruti (घटक श्रुति). Bheda Shruti talks about Absolute Dualism. It refers to the concept that Jiva, Paramatma and Maya as completely different entities without a meeting point.  All the three aspects of living entity, God and Nature have nothing in common and cannot be bridged. The Vedas have Abheda Shruti where the finality of Jiva, Paramatma and Maya is the Absolute one, Brahman. There is absolutely no difference and in the final understanding there is non-difference amongst these three components of Existence. This is perfect non-dualism. In non-dualism even if there is an iota of differentiation in the field of experience, shall not lead the seeker to liberation. The reconciliation between Bheda Shruti and Abheda Shruti happens in Ghataka Shruti. This is qualified non-dualism. Here, a commonality is established with respect to all three components of God, Jiva and Maya. However the three are still recognized as real and different. Sri Adi Shankara focused on Abheda Shruti. Sri Madhwa focused on Bheda Shruti while Sri Ramanuja focused on Ghataka Shruti. Thus there arose three fundamental philosophies that explain the same Vedic structure from three perspectives.

Why does Lord take so many incarnations?

Just as there are a million preparations with clarified butter, sugar, milk, coconut, the ingredients remaining more or less the same, but differing in proportions, to suit the taste buds of the wide variety of population, the Lord takes on so many incarnations with different moods to attract souls of various temperaments. The Lord is same in all incarnations with respect to principle and power and yet the mellow of each form of Godhead may vary from incarnation to incarnation, to attract suitable souls.

Bheda and Abheda Shruti

The Vedas proclaim that there exists nothing else other than Brahman. There is nothing other than Brahman. This is an example of the Vedic dictum in the Abheda Shruti. Then there is a concept of Bhogta (भोक्ता the one who enjoys) and Bhogyam (भोग्यं the one that is enjoyed). A man is eating the fruit. The fruit is the enjoyed and the man is the enjoyer. Thus there is a definite distinction between the enjoyer and enjoyed. There is a process called Prerita (प्रेरिता that which directs Bhogta to Bhogyam). Just with Bhogta and Bhogyam there cannot be a relationship. Something has to direct the Bhogta to the Bhogyam. This is the third component that makes the union between the Bhogta and Bhogyam, deciding the time, place and experience of the happening. This component is Ishwara (इश्वर God). Thus The Bhogta, Bhogyam, Prerita and Ishwara are all distinct components. This concept exists in the Bheda Shruti. Why does the Veda have two conflicting theories? How is this to be reconciled?

Reconciliation of Bheda and Abheda Shruti- Ghataka Shruti

Vishishta Advaita philosophy is the fundamental philosophy that Ghataka Shruti propounds.  It talks about Chit (चित sentient), Achit (अचित non sentient) and Ishwara (ईश्वर controlling agent). This in Vishishta Advaita is known as Tattatraya Vada (तत्तत्रयवादा), the three primary entities of Creation. Thus the Vishishta Advaita saints carry a bunch of three long sticks bundled with a string, in their hand. They are said to be belonging to the Tridandi Sampradaya (त्रिदंडी संप्रदाय), the three-pronged philosophy system. The Shankara sect is Ekadandi Sampradaya (एकदंडी संप्रदाय), the one staffed philosophy system. The Vishishta Advaita System has been established from those parts of the Shrutis where it is mentioned that both the chit and Achit aspects are the body of the Supreme Being. Hence there is a unity of the Chit and Achit aspects with Ishwara. The body of the Ishwara is non-different from the being of Ishwara. Just like a man called Pandita is walking down the street and someone calls him by his name. Pandita turns back to see who is calling him. Now who turned to see? Was it the body of Pandita or the soul of Pandita, the knowledge component of the being identified by the name Pandita. One can understand that the recognition of the call was by the knowledge component, the soul of the man called Pandita. But the soul cannot turn and respond. But instead, the body immediately responds and turns back to respond. So in a sense the name Pandita is equally true for the soul and the body, because of which the entity called Pandita could respond. But at a granular level the soul of Pandita is not the same as the body of Pandita. When the soul leaves the body, it is natural that the soul cannot be called Pandita nor the body can be called Pandita. Thus there is oneness and distinction in soul and body of the entity called Pandita. Thus the non-sentient and the sentient beings are non-different from the Lord, because we are the very parts of the Lord’s infinite body and yet the Supreme Being is completely distinct from us, given His authority and capability as the sole controller of this Universe.

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