What happened at the beginnings of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta?—Part 1

The starting point of the present investigation is the fact that between Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha a significant change appears to have occurred in the scenario of what was later known as Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta (the term is only found after Sudarśana Sūri). The Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta as we know it was more or less there by the time of Veṅkaṭanātha, whereas in order to detect it in the oeuvre of Rāmānuja one needs to retrospectively interpret it in the light of its successive developments. This holds true even more, although in a different way, for Rāmānuja’s predecessors, such as Yāmuna, Nāthamuni and the semi-mythical Dramiḍācārya etc.

How did this change occur? Is it due to external stimuli (e.g., to the need to answer objections), so that everything was already there with Rāmānuja and only needed to be spelt out? Was it due to an inner and ”natural” development? Was it due to a precise strategy? The scarcity of data about Viśiṣṭādvaita between Rāmānuja and Veṅkaṭanātha allows for multiple interpretations.

More specifically, several distinct component are constitutive of what we now know to be Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and are not present at the time of Rāmānuja:

  1. 1. The inclusion of the Āḻvār’s theology in Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
  2. 2. The Pāñcarātra orientation of both subschools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
  3. 3. The two sub-schools
  4. 4. The Vedāntisation of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
  5. 5. The impact of other schools


The inclusion of the Āḻvārs’ theology

The first point to take into account is the fact that also the Āḻvārs do not represent a uniform theological perspective and that they differ also as far as the presence of Sanskrit terminology (e.g., in Nammāḻvār) is concerned.
Having granted this, some authors of the so-called Śrīraṅgam school such as Tirukkurukai Pirāṉ Piḷḷan (1060–1161) and Nañjīyar (1113–1208) wrote commentaries on Nammāḻvār in a style influenced by Rāmānuja’s choices. Does it mean that Rāmānuja (who was according to the tradition Pirāṉ Piḷḷai’s teacher) favoured this development? Or rather that the Śrīraṅgam community was —independently of its Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta faith— close to the Āḻvārs’ heritage?

The Pāñcarātra orientation of both subschools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta
Why did the two trends, later to be identified as two subschools of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta both agree on adopting the Pāñcarātra Sacred Texts? One might suggest that there is no (unitary) Pāñcarātra theology and that consequently the adoption of Pāñcarātra Sacred Texts only amounts to the adoption of their rituals. But, nonetheless: Why adopting them? The question is even more urgent if one reflects on the early history of the two subschools, which appears to be quite divergent, and on the probably Kaśmīrī origin of the rituals prescribed in the Pāñcarātra texts. Mumme suggests that the adoption of Pāñcarātra was due to the “more liberal Pāñcarātra method of worship” (Mumme 1988, p. 8) but does not elaborate on it. Could we imagine that the Śrīraṅgam school first adopted an Ekāyana-Veda orientation, thus somehow forcing other Vaiṣṇavas (the ones of the so-called Kañcī school) to try to steer Vaiṣṇavas towards a more pro-Vedic attitude by adopting themselves Pāñcarātra texts, but of a different orientation?

This post is a revised summary of the introduction I held at my panel at the World Sanskrit Conference. For a pdf of my presentation, see here. For a summary of the panel in general, see here.

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.

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