Veṅkaṭanātha on the pedagogy of emotions

Veṅkaṭanātha recognises two soteriological paths, namely bhakti (restricted to only few eligible people) and prapatti (being the only one accessible to normal people). In both cases, how can one get there?

Prapatti, to begin with, cannot be sought for independently, because one only becomes eligible for prapatti only after having become aware of one’s desperation because one cannot ever be eligible for bhakti (not to speak of karma- and jñānamārga). Thus, one’s only way to reach prapatti is by means of trying to achieve bhakti and becoming aware of one’s inability to do so and therefore deciding to just surrender to God or His spouse.

Bhakti, in turn, has an intellectual aspect and an emotional one. On the one hand, it is defined by Rāmānuja as a continuous meditation on the real nature of God, and therefore needs a preliminary ascertainment of what this nature could be. On the other, it is based on a surplus of loving affection, one that will never be satiated, not even in Vaikuṇṭha. Therefore, since the time of Rāmānuja’s Śaraṇāgatigadya, Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta authors have engaged in a pedagogy of emotions, one enhancing one’s raw emotions and transforming them into soteriologically-relevant ones. The former are temporary and might be about the wrong topic, the latter focus on God, and are able to last forever and become more intense with time. Veṅkaṭanātha tries to reach this level through his learned religious poetry, which is made to be listened/read, re-listened/re-read and pondered upon for a long time, since its many layers of theological meanings can only reveal themselves through a long perusal.

For instance, the detailed descriptions from head to toe (anubhava) of God’s body in various poems by Veṅkaṭanātha are meant to show how one can train one’s sense faculties to relish always more in their object, rather than being satiated by it. The same poems also underline the poet’s unworthiness, possibly so that the listener/reader can get a chance to contemplate their own unworthiness (for some beautifully translated poems by Veṅkaṭanātha, see Hopkins 2007).

Do you agree that emotions come at the end of one’s soteriological journey for Veṅkaṭanātha?

About elisa freschi

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

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