Was Yāmuna the real founder of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta? (On Mesquita 1971 and 1973)

Yāmuna (967–1038 according to Mesquita 1973) is one of the chief figures of the philosophy later known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. In fact, to me one of the most intriguing questions regards his role in the formation of this school. It is only with Rāmānuja (who lived two generations after Yāmuna) that the school becomes clearly Vedāntic and it is not by chance that it is only Rāmānuja who decided to write a commentary on the Brahmasūtra. Moreover, not all of Yāmuna’s works are completely preserved (and their loss is not at all recent: as proved by Roque Mesquita (1973, 189–190) they were unaccessible already by the time of Veṅkaṭanātha, 1269–1370). Nonetheless, Yāmuna was a gifted philosopher and whenever one digs in his works looking for the background of one or the other tenet of Rāmānuja or Veṅkaṭanātha, one usually succesfully identifies a passage in Yāmuna which inspired Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha.

Still, Yāmuna, especially in his juvenile works, is still under the influence of a non-Vedāntic (and perhaps Naiyāyika) approach to Pāñcarātra (which might be due to the influence of his grandfather Nāthamuni, who wrote a lost Nyāya work). For instance, as convinvingly explained in Mesquita 1971, Yāmuna starts with the idea that God’s existence can be proven through inference (as with the Naiyāyikas) and only later moves on to the thesis that it can be proven only through the Sacred Texts (as with Mīmāṃsakas and Vedāntins). Thus, it seems that at least in part the history of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta has been conditioned by a choice occurring during Yāmuna’s lifespan.

Mesquita’s analysis presupposes his accurate reconstruction of the internal sequence of Yāmuna’s works, mainly based on internal references:

  1. saṃvitsiddhi
  2. ātmasiddhi
  3. īśvarasiddhi
  4. puruṣanirṇaya
  5. āgamaprāmāṇya

The three siddhis are incomplete, whereas the Puruṣanirṇaya is lost. What could it have contained, given that there was already a text bearing almost the same title (puruṣa-nirṇaya seems a synonym of īśvara-siddhi)? Mesquita reconstructs part of its contents through quotations and references to it in Rāmānuja and especially Veṅkaṭanātha. It appears that the Puruṣanirṇaya might be the result of Yāmuna’s dynamic re-shaping of his initial project when he started his Ātmasiddhi. In fact, in the opening of the latter, he said he would have dealt also with God’s existence, a subject which must have been —within the Ātmasiddhi— abandoned, given that he then wrote a further work on this topic, the Īśvarasiddhi. The Puruṣanirṇaya might have, similarly, dealt with topics announced in the Ātmasiddhi. More interestingly, it might have contained the shift from the inference to God’s existence to the evidence out of the Sacred Texts alone (Mesquita 1973, p. 192). On top of that, it might have contained the argument about the identification of the Sacred Texts’ “God” with Viṣṇu.

Was Yāmuna for Rāmānuja like Utpaladeva for Abhinavagupta? And who is before your favourite Indian philosopher?


On Yāmuna’s, Rāmānuja’s and Veṅkaṭanātha’s distinct contribution to “Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta” see this post.

(Friday is my day for broad readings. You can find my weekly and monthly blogging plan here).
(cross-posted on my personal blog)

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

4 thoughts on “Was Yāmuna the real founder of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta? (On Mesquita 1971 and 1973)

  1. Thanks for this, Elisa.

    May I simply add that a very helpful work in this regard is *Contribution of Yamunacarya to Visistadvaita* by M. Narasimhachary.

    Thinking back to when I read this work, If I recall correctly, part of the problem with taking the Ishvarasiddhi to represent Yamunacharya’s view is that given its incompleteness, we aren’t entirely sure whether the Naiyayikas there represent his view or his purvapakshins. I wish we could figure this out because it would represent a very interesting influence on (or point of departure for) Ramanuja, who at least in his Shri Bhashya, rejects the project of arguing for God in the absence of scripture.

    • Matthew, thanks for this. I will need more time to assess the value of the book (and will possibly write about it) —which, mea culpa, I did not know. By and large, however, it can be said that the book has a clear thesis (the continuity of the lineage from the Āḻvārs through Yāmuna to Rāmānuja) and that it develops it in an interesting way. Nothing can be said against the solid preparation of its author, although he might be slightly inclined to read the history of Viśiṣṭādvaita ante litteram through the lenses of what came out of it (e.g., by detecting in causal remarks in Yāmuna the seed of later developments). I am, for instance, not in the position to assess the authenticity of the Tamil’s comments embedded in the Divya Prabandham and attributed to Yāmuna, but it strikes me that Narasimhachary does not even address the issue. What do you think?

  2. And I don’t think I have a favorite philosopher, but since Ramanuja is one of my favorites, fairly broadly construed, I guess one of the predecessors would be Yamunacharya!

  3. Pingback: Veṅkaṭanātha’s contribution to Viśiṣṭādvaita VedāntaThe Indian Philosophy Blog | The Indian Philosophy Blog

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