Monism or Monotheism?

Does Hinduism teach Monism or Monotheism or Polytheism? Vedanta (the ends of the Veda, eternal knowledge, that discourses on spiritual knowledge) is the foundation of Hindu religious/spiritual thought. Advaita (Absolute Monism) is an interpretation of Vedanta. The most recent exponent of Advaita (Absolute Monism) was Sri Adi Sankara of the 8th century. However Vedanta actually teaches Monotheism or specifically a kind of Panentheism (not to be confused with Pantheism) as shown in the below. This true purport of Vedanta was most recently systematized (in the context of various misinterpretations then prevalent, especially Advaita) and propagated by Sri Ramanujacharya of the 11th century.

NOTE: This article is a work in progress, so frequent updates will be made.

A Brief Analysis of certain verses of Vedanta

Credit: This section is a largely verbatim copy of a tutorial prepared by Sri M.S.HARI Raamaanuja Daasan, with minor changes.

Vedanta is composed of declarative statements, which impart knowledge regarding Brahman (God; not to be confused with the Brahmin caste nor the 4-faced Brahma). The knowledge imparted is about Brahman’s Swaroopa (reality-nature), Roopa (Form), Guṇa (Attributes/Characteristics), Vibhuthi (Property) and Iswaryam (Lordship). Let us do a brief analysis of certain verses of Vedanta. The Upanishad (Vedanta-Sruthi) verses are of three types.

  • Abheda Sruthi
  • Bheda Sruthi
  • Ghataka Sruthi

The Abheda Sruthi verses appear to state that the universe (all chit and achit entities) and the Brahman are one and the same. They appear to convey the identity of the universe and the Brahman.

The Bhedha Sruthi verses appear to categorically declare the difference between the Brahman and the universe.

The Ghataka Sruthi  verses reconcile the above two types of Sruthi and resolve the apparent contradiction in the above mentioned two types of Sruthi. The explanation follows. The following paragraphs are written as simple as possible but still require a lot of concentration to comprehend the meaning of the same. It is requested that the reader should carefully and fully read these paragraphs and then comprehend the same.

Abheda Sruthi

“Tat Tvam Asi”, “Sarvam Kalu Idam Brahma”, “Aham Brahmaasmi” are a few verses among the Abheda Sruthis.

“Tat Tvam Asi” (“That you are”) seems to tell that the Jeevaatman (Chit) and Brahman (Iswara) are one and the same.

“Sarvam Kalu Idam Brahma” seems to tell that the universe and Brahman are one and the same.

“Aham Brahmaasmi” seems to tell that “I (Jeevaatman) am Brahman”.

[These verses, taken by themselves (i.e., in isolation), seem to declare that the universe and Brahman are one and the same.]

Bheda Sruthi

On the other hand, the Bheda Sruthis

“Prutak Aatmaanam Preritaaram cha mathva jushtasthathastenaamrutavamethi”,

“Bhoktha Bhogyam Prerithaaram cha mathva sarvam proktham trividham brahma ethat”,

“Nithyo Nithyaanaam chethanas chethanaanaam Eko bhayuuaam yo vidadhaathi kaamaan”,

“Pradhaana Kshetragjnyapathirgunesha:”,

“iGnyaagnyow iDvaavajaaveesaaneesow”

refer to the Chit (Sentient living entities), Achit (non-sentient matter) and Īśwara (God) and declare that they are different from one another and are well distinguished entities.

These Sruthi verses will be briefly explained in the below.

“Prutak Aatmaanam Preritaaram cha mathva jushtasthathastenaamrutavamethi” means that the Jeevaatman (spirit soul) who comprehends and does Bhakthi that he is different from Brahman, who rules him, becomes blessed by Brahman’s grace and by this knowledge of Bhedam (difference between Jeevaatman and Brahman), attains liberation (Moksha). This sruthi not only confirms the difference between the Jeevaatman and the Paramaatman (Brahman) but also stresses that the “Tatva-iGnyaana” (Knowledge about the reality of chit, achit and Iswara that are different from one another) is a means for attaining liberation.

“Bhoktha Bhogyam Prerithaaram cha mathva sarvam proktham trividham brahma ethat” means: “Bhoktha” is Jeevaatman (Chit) who enjoys the results of his own karma. Bhogyam is Achit (non-sentient matter) that is enjoyed by the Jeevaatman according to his own karma. Preritha denotes Iswara who controls all the Chit and Achit entities. Further “cha mathva sarvam proktham trividham brahma ethat” in this verse confirms that Brahman has the Chit and Achit as his modes/forms and he is with his own unique reality. Therefore the Veda has clearly ascertained the reality of three different entities namely chit, achit and Iswara.

“Nithyo Nithyaanaam chethanas chethanaanaam Eko bhahuunaam yo vidadhaathi kaamaan” clearly states that among the innumerable eternally existing Aatmans, an Aatman is eternally existing who is distinguished from all the Aatmans as He grants and fulfills the wishes of all the other Aatmans. Among the inumerable Aatmans who have knowledge, there exists an Aatman who is having knowledge, who is distinguished from all the Aatmans as He grants and fulfills the wishes of all the other Aatmans. Here the Veda has clearly declared that the Iswara is different from the Jeevaatmans as it says “That One Aatman who is different from all other Aatmans because of His unparalleled and unsurpassed supreme qualities that are unique to him”

“Pradhaana Kshetragjnya pathir guNesha:” means that Iswara is the Lord of Achit and Chit and Iswara is with divine qualities namely Power, Strength, Lordship, Firmness, Knowledge and Glory which are beyond the reach of all words and sense organs.

“iGnyaagnyow iDvaavajaaveesaaneesow” means that there are two entities which are eternal of which one is the Iswara and the other is Jeevaatman which is different from Iswara. Iswara is omniscient. Jeevaatman is ignorant. Therefore this verse also ascertains the difference between chit, achit and Iswara.

From the above discussion and literal meaning of the verses, the Veda appears to have mutually contradicting statements. Which type of Sruthi is to be accepted and which is to be rejected? Both (Abheda and Bheda) sruthies are in the same Veda and therefore both need to be accepted as authority. How is it possible since they appear to contradict each other? Well, when one studies the Veda very carefully, one finds another type of Sruthi verses called Ghataka Sruthi which reconcile these two (Abheda and Bheda) and do a synthesis and establish that both these (Abheda and Bheda) Sruthies convey the same meaning but in different angles without any contradiction.

What does “Ghataka Sruthi” convey?

The Ghataka Sruthi declares that the Brahman is the inner controller (Antaryaamin – Aatma) Soul present inside all chit and achit entities and all chit and achit entities are the body (Sareeram) of Brahman. This Sareera-atma Bhaavam (body-soul) relationship between the universe and the Brahman is conveyed by the “Ghataka Sruthi”. [EXPLAIN]This makes it clear that both the Abheda and Bheda sruthis convey the same meaning without any contradiction. The Veda is therefore consistent in imparting knowledge regarding Brahman. It is explained in detail as follows:

Ghataka Sruthi

The Ghataka Sruthies are

“Ya: Pruthviyaam tishtan prutviyaa antharo yam pruthvii na veda yasya pruthvii sareeram”,

“Ya: Aatmani tishtan aatmano antharo yam aatmaa na veda yasya aatmaa sareeram”,

“ya: pruthviimaantharo sancharan yasya prthvii sareeram yam pruthvii na veda, yo aksharamanthare sancharan yasyaaksharam sareeram yamaksharam na veda yo mruthumanthare sancharan yasya mruthussareeram yam mruthyurna veda esha sarvabhootaantaraatmaa apahatha paapmaa divyo deva: eko NaaraayaNa:”,

“iDvaa suparNaa sayujaa sakhaayaa samaanam vruksham pareshasvajaathe – tayoranya: pipalam swaadvathyanasnan anyoo abhichaakaseethi”,

“Antha: pravishta saastha janaanaam sarvaatma”,

“Tath Srushtvaa thadevaanupraavisath tadanupravishya sachcha ityaachchaabhavath”,

“Satyam chaanrutham cha satyamabhavath”,

“Anena jeevenaatmanaa”.

[The explanation of Ghataka Sruthis with its usage in the synthesis of Bheda-Abheda Sruthis will follow. Also why the Veda talks uses Bheda and Abheda sruthis in this manner will also be elaborately explained. The personal interpretations of these Sruthi Vaakyaas given by many people like “Adi Sankara”, “Madhwaa” will also be discussed for better understanding of Visistaadvaita and to understand that Visistaadvaita is the only purport of Prasthaana Traya, logical, practical and the ultimate philosophy. The readers are requested to devote time more and concentrate more on these lessons as the concepts are going to be explained in detail with intricacies.]

“Ya: Pruthviyaam tishtan prutviyaa antharo yam pruthvii na veda yasya pruthvii sareeram” is in the Kaanva Shaaka of Bruhadaaranyaka Upanishad in Veda. It declares that the “Brahman is in the earth, entered inside it, who is not known by the earth and has the earth as his body/mode and controls the earth as Antaryaami”. The Brahman is untouched by the impurities of the earth as He is the soul of it.

“Ya: Aatmani tishtan aatmano antharo yam aatmaa na veda yasya aatmaa sareeram” is in the Maadyanthina Shaaka of the same Upanishad in Veda. It declares that the “Brahman is in the Jeevaatman, entered inside it, who is not known by the Jeevaatman and has the Jeevaatman as his body/mode and controls the Jeevaatman as Antaryaami”. The Brahman is untouched by the impurities of the Jeevaatman as he is the soul of it.

The above two quotes from Veda are given to explain that the Brahman is the soul of all Achit and Chit entities and all the Achit and Chit entities are the body of the Brahman.

“ya: pruthviimaantharo sancharan yasya prthvii sareeram yam pruthvii na veda, yo aksharamanthare sancharan yasyaaksharam sareeram yamaksharam na veda yo mruthumanthare sancharan yasya mruthussareeram yam mruthyurna veda esha sarvabhootaantaraatmaa apahatha paapmaa divyo deva: eko NaaraayaNa:”

is in the Subaalopanishad of Veda. In the same way as told above it declares that the Brahman is the soul of Prutvi (earth), Jeevaatman, Mrutyu (representative god of death) etc., and all these are the body (sareeram) of Brahman. The Brahman is untouched by the impurities of all chit and achit entities and the Brahman is with divine auspicious qualities. Shreeman Narayanan is the only God (Brahman) and He is the Antaryaami-Antaraatma of all the entities”.

“iDvaa suparNaa sayujaa sakhaayaa samaanam vruksham pareshasvajaathe – tayoranya: pipalam swaadvathyanasnan anyoo abhichaakaseethi”

This is in MuNdakopanishad of Veda. It says that “Two birds having some attributes similar to each other are friends and are seated in a branch of one tree. Of these two birds, one bird eats the fruits of the tree, which are ripe. On the other hand the other bird does not eat the fruits and as such shines extraordinarily”. From this verse, it is made clear by the Veda that both the Jeevaatman and the Paramaatman (Brahman-Vishnu) are present in the same body. The Jeevaatman enjoys and experiences the results of his karma (actions). On the other hand the Brahman just witnesses it and being untouched by such impurities shines with his natural greatness which is immeasurable. The Veda has ascertained that the Jeevaatman and the Paramaatman are always present together inseparably and also categorically ascertains the differences between the Jeevaatman and the Paramaatman.

“Antha: pravishta saastha janaanaam sarvaatma” states that the Paramaatman (Brahman) has entered into all the souls-jeevaatmans. The Brahman having entered into all the jeevaatmans rules them as Antaryaami and is the soul of all souls-jeevaatmans. Therefore the difference between the Brahman and the Jeevaatman is clear. Also, the inseparable relationship between Brahman and the Jeevaatman is also clear and this is what is declared as “the Brahman is everything” meaning, – “the Brahman is the Sarvaatma-the soul of everything – soul of all jeevaatmans and achit tatvas”.

“Tath Srushtvaa thadevaanupraavisath tadanupravishya sachcha ityaachchaabhavath”,
“Satyam chaanrutham cha satyamabhavath”

This verse is in the Taitreeya Upanishad of Veda. It says “The Brahman created all the entities (by expanding them (making them as StUla with name, form etc) which were in subtle (Suksha without name, form etc) form. After creating them, the Brahman entered into all the created entities as “Antaryaami – Antaraatma”. After being entered as such, he took the unchanging Jeevaatman and the changing Achit as his form (sareeram). This has very clearly been told by the Veda that the Brahman Himself is not Chit and Achit but the Brahman is the soul of Chit and Achit entities and therefore calls everything as Brahman. The differences between the Brahman’s Swaroopa (nature-reality) and the chit and achit entities are very clear.

“Anena jeevenaatmanaa” is in the Chaandokya Upanishad. The “Sat Vidya” portion of it where this occurs is outlined as follows: The Chandokya Upanishad says – Aruna’s son is Uddalaka. Uddalaka’s son is Swethaketu. Uddalaka addressed his son

“Swetaketo! Do the prescribed study of Veda under the guidance of qualified preceptor!”

Swetaketu obeyed his father’s order and completed the prescribed study of Veda and returned back to his house after years. Swethaketu thought that he has mastered everything. On seeing his son, Uddalaka understood that his son is yet to know the Brahman. Uddalaka therefore wanted him to get knowledge about the Brahman. In order to invoke his interest regarding the Brahman, Uddalaka questioned Swetaketu as follows:

“Utha tamaadesam apraakshya: yenaasrutam srutham bhavathi amatham matham avignyaatham vignyaatham” – “O son! Do you know that “Aadesa”, by knowing which all things which were not heard become heard (known), all that which were not contemplated become contemplated and all unknown becomes known?”

Swethaketu should have got shocked on being questioned like this and doubted the question’s logic itself. He did not know the answer any way. He asked his father

“Katham Tu Bhagava: Sa: – How is that revered Sir?”

His father first made it clear to his son that the question is logical and then answered it in detail. He quoted examples –

“Yatha Somya ekena mruth pindena sarvam mrunmayam vignyaatham isyaath” – By knowing the material cause “Clay”, things (like pot which are effects) made of clay become known”.

He actually pointed out the oneness of cause (material cause – Upaadaana Kaaranam) and the effect (Kaaryam). To make him understand that Pot and Clay are same (but only different forms), he said

“Vaacha-Aarambhanam Vikaaro Namadheyam mruthikethyeva satyam”. Though we think the pot is different from clay, it is in fact the clay itself in a changed mode, which has got a shape which is called as pot”.

His father quoted a few more examples in this regard. Swethakethu requested his father to kindly teach him that “Aadesa”, knowing which everything becomes known! “Aadesa” means Brahman who controls everything by ruling everything. It is derived in Sanskrit as “Aadichyate Anena Ithi Aadesa:”.

The upadesam (teaching) was started by his father – “Sat Eva Somya edmagre aaseeth ekameya adveteeyam”. “O Somya (who is fit to drink the Soma juice (prepared in Soma yagnya)) the universe which you see now with manifold forms and names was not like this before its creation but was present subtle (difficult to distinguish) form of “Sat”. Nothing is its support other than Sat.

The “Sat” wished “Tat Ikshatha Bahusyaam Prayaayethi”. That is, the “Sat” wished that “I become the multitudinous (expanded-StUla) chit and achit tatvas ie., the universe”. The “Sat” became many, as it wished. This is “Sat’s” first Sankalpam (Wish).

The “Sat” wished again – “SOyam Devataykshatha Hanthaaham Imaa: Tisra: Devataa: Anena JevEna Aatmanaa Anupravisya Nama Roope iVyaakaravaaNi” that is the Sat wished “by having the representative divinities of Tejas (fire/light), Ap (Water) and Annam (Prutvi-matter) as Sareeram (body/mode), I enter into them as soul and give manifold names and forms to them”. It became as it wished.

The Brahman (Sat) is therefore declared as the “Cause” (Kaaranam) of the universe. By the first sankalpam, the Brahman did the “Samashti Srushti” and by the second sankalpam he did the “Vyashti Srushti”. “Samashti Srushti” means creating the universe in its amass form and “Vyashti Srushti” means creating the universe in its clearly diversified form. Further the Sat Vidyaa continues as follows “Sath Moolaa: Somya Imaa: Prajaa:” meaning the Brahman is the cause for all these chit tatvas (not only achit tatvas) also.

All the chit and achit tatvaas were in the subtle form (sUkshma – without form, name and identifications) as body/mode of Brahman before creation as “Sat” in such a way that it was hard to differentiate them with individual name, form and species identification. All these things (all the chit and achit entities) have no independent nature, existence and its continuance and actions without the support, control and lordship of Brahman. The Brahman controls all these chit and achit entities and their creation is purely dependent on Brahman. They all have the Brahman as “soul” and they all form the body of Brahman. Their continuance and destruction are also dependent on Brahman.

After these teachings, Uddaalaka concluded his sermon “Ithadaatmiyam Idam Sarvam Tat Satyam Sa Aatmaa Tat Tvam Asi Swethaketho” meaning, “The universe composed of innumerable chit and achit entities are pervaded by the “Sat” (Brahman) and has the Brahman as its Aatmaa (soul). The Sat is the universe therefore because of this inseparable body-soul relationship. (Similarly) You (Swethaketu) are also the same Brahman (as you (a Jeevaatman) are also pervaded by the same Brahman and you are having the Brahman as your Soul (aatma) and you are the body/mode of the same Brahman). The verse “Tat Tvam Asi” leads to a debate as the Advaitins tell their own personal idea as its meaning, which is different from the “Sareera-Aatma” (body/soul) bhaavam as discussed above.

The Brahman is the UpAdAna kAraNam and the Nimitha kAraNam for all chit and achit entities. This does NOT mean that his “Swaroopam” gets changed to Chit and Achit. But only his “Roopam” (Sareeram) which was subtle (sUkshma) chit, achits becomes expanded (stUla) chit, achits ie., the chit achits gets form, name etc. Therefore, the Brahman is “Satyam-Ignyaanam-Anantam” only, even though the Brahman is the UpAdAna kAraNam. The example for “clay” in this context is for understanding the concept. The changes in his “Roopam” does not in any way contradict “Satyam-Ignyaanam-Anantam”. The same is the case with his divine “Roopam” (divya mangala vigraham) also which changes as per his wish in various avataaras (descents). The Brahman who had subtle chit and achit as his “Roopam/Sareeram” is the same Brahman who is having expanded chit and achit as his “Roopam/Sareeram”. Therefore the Brahman is UpAdAna kAraNam (Visistayoho Advaitam Visistadvaitam). As the Brahman wished and created the universe, the same Brahman is the “Nimitha kAraNam”.

The Brahman with all the chit and achit tatvas as his body and who is with infinite divine attributes and untouched by all impurities is unparalleled and unsurpassed (Visistasya Advaitam Visistadvaitam). “Satyam-Ignyaanam-Anantam” states the nature (swaroopa) of Brahman as unchanging, sentient infinite is the nature of Brahman. The “Satyam” term makes it clear that the Brahman is different from Achit. The “Ignyaanam” term makes it clear that the Brahman is different from Baddha Jeevaatmans. The “Ananta” term makes it clear that the Brahman is different from the Muktha (liberated) and Nitya (ever-free) Jeevaatmans. Therefore the Brahman is “Purushothama:” Shreeman Narayananan. The sruthi “Anena Jeeveenaatmana Anupravisya Naama RUpe Vaakaravaani” confirms the Sareera-Aatma Bhaavam between the universe and the Brahman.

Up to this, the Upanishad has stated the following:

  • Knowing one entity, everything becomes known (is the Prathignya (oath)), which is the Brahman who is the material cause (Upaadaana Kaaranam)
  • The instrumental (efficient) cause of the universe is also the Brahman as he “Wished” and creates the universe.
  • The body-soul relationship (Sareera-Aatma-Bhaavam) between the universe and the Brahman.
  • As the Brahman is the soul of the entire universe, the Brahman himself is denoted as the universe. In the very same meaning, the Veda denotes a Jeevaatman (here Swetaketu – “Tvam”) as Brahman “Tat” in its verse “Tat Tvam Asi”. This is because the Jeevaatman is also the form (sareeram) of Brahman and having the Brahman as his soul. The Brahman is Shreeman Narayana: – Purushoththama: known as Vishnu: Vaasudeva:

Thus the Ghataka Sruthi does the synthesis of all the Bheda and Abheda sruthies and establishes that the Brahman is the soul of all chit and achit entities and the entire chit and achit entities are the body of Brahman. In the context of Gataka Sruthi, the Abheda sruthi verses  mean to tell that nothing other than the Brahman qualified by the universe as his body exists. In the same way in the context of the Ghataka sruthi verses, the bheda sruthi verses mean to tell that the Brahman, who is the soul of the universe, is different from the universe, which is His body. Body and soul are different entities but they are inseparably related. The body is therefore called “Aprutak Siddha Visheshanam” meaning the body is the inseparable attribute of the Soul. The term “Aprutak Siddha” rules out independent existence of the body. Without the soul, the body cannot have swaroopam, stiti and pravrutti. Also, the soul has no mode without the body and therefore the body is called the mode (Prakaram) of the soul. Thus the Veda is consistently explaining only Visistadvaita Shree Vaishnavam without any contradiction.

Saamaanaadhikaranyam and “Tat Tvam Asi”

A Concept called “Saamaanaadhikaranyam” which is a technical grammatical concept, is used to explain the verse “Tat Tvam Asi” clearly.

“Saamaanaadhikaranayam” means “co-ordinate predication”. It means that co-ordinate predicate terms are used to identify the substantive.

The great grammarian of Sanskrit named Patanjali has defined this concept “Saamaanaadhikaranyam” as follows:

“Bhinna Pravruththi Nimiththaanaam Saabdaanaam Ekasmin Arthe Vruththihi – Saamaanaadhikaranyam”.

The meaning of this is as follows: An identity of a single entity is signified/denoted by several terms, each term denoting that entity based on each of its various inseparable attributes. That is different words possessing different grounds of meanings denoting a single entity is what is called “Saamaanaadhikaranyam”.

The reader may find this a bit confusing.

Let me [Sri M.S.HARI Raamaanuja Daasan] explain it using an example. Please consider in Sanskrit the terms “Neela: Ghata:” meaning “Dark Pot”. Here the term “Neela:” is denoting the entity by that entity’s inseparable attribute “Darkness/Blackness”. The Term “Ghata:” again denotes the same entity by its nature of having narrow neck and broad spherical body. Therefore the “Neela:” term denotes the entity on the ground of meaning “Darkness” “Neela Roopam” which is an attribute/mode of the entity. Similarly the “Ghata:” term denotes the same entity (Pot) on the ground of the entity’s mode of being narrow-necked with broad spherical body.

The verse of the Veda “Tat Tvam Asi” is understood clearly using the concept of “Saamaanaadhikaranyam” as follows: The term “Tat” (that) denotes the Brahman on the grounds of its attributes/modes namely “being the only cause of the universe”, “having infinite divine characteristics”, “untouched by all impurities”. The term “Tvam” (you) denotes the same Brahman on the grounds of it having the Jeevaatman (Chit, you) as his attribute/mode. Therefore the Sareera-Aatma Bhaavam (Body-Soul relationship) between the Universe and the Brahman is clearly told by the verse “Tat Tvam Asi”.

The Meaning of the term “Visistadvaita”

Let us examine the meaning of the term “Visistadvaita”. It is derived by two ways – “Visistasya Advaitam – Visistadvaitam” and “Visistayoho Advaitam – Visistadvaitam”.

“Visistasya Advaitam” means – The Brahman qualified by all chit and achit entities as his Saareeram/Prakaaram/Viseshanam (body/mode/attribute) is without a second entity meaning unparalleled and unsurpassed. This brings out the ultimate supremacy of Shreeman Narayana Para Brahman who is Akila Heya Pratyaneeka: and Ananta Kalyaana Gunaakara:

“Visistayoho Advaitam” means – The Brahman having the subtle (sukshma) chit and achit entities as his Saareeram/Prakaaram/Viseshanam (body/mode/attribute) before creation is the same Brahman having the expanded (stUla) chit and achit entities as his Saareeram/Prakaaram/Viseshanam (body/mode/attribute) after creation. This brings out the fact that Shreeman Narayana Para Brahman is the only material cause and efficient cause of the universe.

Shreeman Nigamaantha Maha Desika defines the same as “Asesha Chit-Achit Prakaaram Brahmaikameva Tatvam”. This is the most precise definition of our Siddhaantham.

Souls are Amśa of Brahman

Brahma Sutra: II-3-42: ‘Amśo nānā-vyapadeśatvāt’ specifies that jīvas (souls) are amśas (i.e., a part) of Brahman. There’s an exhaustive explanation of amśa in Sri Ramanujacharya’s commentary on this sutra and the subsequent sutras.

The next sutra, Brahma Sutra: II-3-43: ‘Mantravarṇāt’ refers to a Vedic mantra that says the same thing.

The next sutra Brahma Sutra: II-3-44: ‘Api smaryate’, refers to Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 15.7 where Lord Krishna explains that Jivas (athmas, souls) are His amśa, in the context of the preceding Bhagavad Gita verses.

Some people misunderstand “amśa” of God to mean an incarnation of God Himself. But amśa actually means “part”as mentioned above. Does that mean God can be subdivided into Jivas and the collection of all Jivas equals God?

Sri Ramanujacharya explains in the above cited commentary on Brahma Sutra: II-3-42:

To hold that the individual soul is a part of Brahman does not explain matters; for by a ‘part’ we understand that which constitutes part of the extension of something. If, then, the soul occupied part of the extension of Brahman, all its imperfections would belong to Brahman. Nor can the soul be a part of Brahman if we take ‘part’ to mean a piece (khanda); for Brahman does not admit of being divided into pieces, and moreover, the difficulties connected with the former interpretation would present themselves here also. That something absolutely different from something else should yet be a part of the latter cannot in fact be proved.

So what does “part” mean then?

The next sutra, Brahma Sutra: II-3-45: ‘Prakaśādivattu naivam Paraḥ’, explains it. Brief sutra translation from Sri Bhashya translation by Sri M. Rangacharya and Sri M.B. Varadaraja Aiyangar:

(It, i.e., the individual self is, however, a part of the Brahman) like light (being a part of the source of light) and so on. (As is the individual self) the Supreme Being is not so.

Translation of the same sutra by Sri George Thibaut:

But if the soul is a part of Brahman, all the imperfections of the soul are Brahman’s also! To this objection the next Sûtra replies.

“But as in the case of light and so on. Not so is the highest.”

The ‘but’ discards the objection. ‘Like light and so on.’ The individual soul is a part of the highest Self; as the light issuing from a luminous thing such as fire or the sun is a part of that body; or as the generic characteristics of a cow or horse, and the white or black colour of things so coloured, are attributes and hence parts of the things in which those attributes inhere; or as the body is a part of an embodied being. For by a part we understand that which constitutes one place (desa) of some thing, and hence a distinguishing attribute (viseshna) is a part of the thing distinguished by that attribute. Hence those analysing a thing of that kind discriminate between the distinguishing element or part of it, and the distinguished element or part. Now although the distinguishing attribute and the thing distinguished thereby stand to each other in the relation of part and whole, yet we observe them to differ in essential character. Hence there is no contradiction between the individual and the highest Self–the former of which is a viseshana of the latter–standing to each other in the relation of part and whole, and their being at the same time of essentially different nature. This the Sûtra declares ‘not so is the highest,’ i.e. the highest Self is not of the same nature as the individual soul. For as the luminous body is of a nature different from that of its light, thus the highest Self differs from the individual soul which is a part of it. It is this difference of character–due to the individual soul being the distinguishing element and the highest Self being the substance distinguished thereby–to which all those texts refer which declare difference. Those texts, on the other hand, which declare non-difference are based on the circumstance that attributes which are incapable of separate existence are ultimately bound to the substance which they distinguish, and hence are fundamentally valid. That in declarations such as ‘Thou art that’ and ‘this Self is Brahman,’ the words thou and Self, no less than the words that and Brahman, denote Brahman in so far as having the individual souls for its body, and that thus the two sets of words denote fundamentally one and the same thing, has been explained previously.

The next sutra, Brahma Sutra: II-3-46: ‘Smaranti cha’, continues the explanation with more references to authors of Smṛitis.

In a similar vein, Lord Krishna also mentions the Kosmos as but in a corner of His “body” in Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 11.7.

Is this World an illusion?

Many misunderstand “Maya” to mean an illusion. Sri Ramanujacharya explains that this is not what the term means, among many places including in the commentary for Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 7.13.5. [PROVIDE OTHER REFERENCES.]

Nirguna Brahman or Saguna Brahman?

Veda also explains that Brahman has innumerable auspicious spiritual Guṇas (attributes). When nirguṇa is used, it’s meant to say that Brahman doesn’t have material attributes, not that Brahman doesn’t have auspicious spiritual Guṇas (attributes). [ELABORATE WITH REFERENCES].

Who/What is Brahman?

Nārāyaṇā (meaning: the Eternal Lord of Bliss, —in Whom all the nārāḥ or eternal hosts of psychical and material entities ever live, move and have their being, and who, consequently, is designated their Ayana or Sustainer, Mover and Final Goal (according to the threefold etymology of the word Ayana).'[8])

Sat, Brahman, Ātman and other such words descriptive of the cause of the world are general terms of varying degrees of denotation or extension. They are all, however, intended only to signify what is connoted by Nārāyaṇa, a particular term. The Vedānta Sūtra I.1.2 indicates this, and Rāmānuja’s commentary thereon points out that the definition of the Brahman in Taittiriya Upanishad (III.1.1), which is referred to in the Sūtra, identifies Him with the Ātman who is Nārāyaṇa. [7]

NOTE: For a more detailed summary, please see the section on God in Yatindra-mata-dipikā; or The light of the school of Srī Rāmānuja (1912) and also The Vade Mecum of Vedanta or a Compendium of Vedic Philosophy (1909). Please see “Narayanastra – Defending Vaishnavism as the supreme Vedic position” and other pages on that site for detailed and comprehensive information on this topic. Also please see their note to the reader.

Sri Rāmānujācharya points out this fact through a comprehensive review of Upanishad and other texts in His work, Vedārtha Sangraha. Serious students will immensely benefit by studying this.

Sri  Śaṇkarā mentions in his commentary for Vedanta Sutra 2.2.46: “we do not intend to controvert the doctrine that Nârâyana, who is higher than the Undeveloped, who is the highest Self, and the Self of all, reveals himself by dividing himself in multiple ways”.

Subāla Upanishad VII.I: “He who is moving within the earth, whose body is the earth, whom the earth does not know” -and (ending with)- “He who is moving within akshara, whose body is the akshara, whom the akshara does not know; He who is moving within the mṛityu (or prakriti) whose body is mṛityu, whom mṛityu does not know; – He is the internal Self of all beings, He is devoid of sins, He is the Divine Lord, He is the One Nārāyaṇa.”

Taittirīya Mahānārāyaṇa Upanishad XI.3.: “He is the Lord of the world, the Lord of the individual souls. The Highest Self is Nārāyaṇa.”

Mahā Upanishad I.: “Indeed, Nārāyaṇa alone then was, and not the (four-faced) Brahma nor Īśana”.

Also, per Sri Bhagavad Gita verses 4.4, 6.30 thru 6.31, 7.4 thru 7.6, 7.6.5, 7.7, 9.7, 9.10, 9.13, 10.8 thru 10.42, 11.7, 11.36.5 thru 11.38, 14.3, 14.4, 18.46, and others.

Please see “Narayanastra – Defending Vaishnavism as the supreme Vedic position” and other pages on that site for detailed and comprehensive information on this topic.

What about Brahma and Śiva?

Lord Krishna mentions in Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 8.16:

ā-brahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ
punar āvartino ’rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate

‘All regions, Arjuna! from Brahmā’s home downward, are of the nature, from which there is return. Whereas attaining Me, Kaunteya! precludes re-birth evermore.’

All worlds poised in the bosom of the Brahmāṇda, (or the Great Sphere under Brahma’s control, —the Mundane Egg— up to the world of Brahmā (Demiurge) himself, are appointed mansions for the tasting of material happiness, wealth, power etc. But these material regions are perishable and impermanent.

Inasmuch therefore as the very seats of enjoyment are unstable, subject to decay, the joys themselves that are experienced there must terminate. This is inevitable.

On the other hand, in the case of those that attain to Me, —Me, the Omniscient, —Me, the True-resolved, or True-willed, —Me, to Whom, Kosmic manifestations, progressions and dissolutions are mere sport,1 —Me, the Most Merciful, —Me, the Enduring (or Unchanging),— there can be no talk of destruction; and hence they have no re-incarnation.

Further, in Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 11.15, Arjuna mentions the below regarding Vishvaroopa:

‘I see, Lord! all the Gods in Thy Frame, and likewise all the diverse hosts of beings; Brahmā, and Īśa [Śiva] who is seated in Brahmā; all the Rishis and all the shining races of serpents.’

O Deva! In Thy Body, I do see all the gods; and similarly the several classes of creatures; similarly Brahmā, the four-faced ruler of the mundane egg (Brahmāṇḍa) similarly Īśa or Śiva who is seated in Kamalāsana1, (lotus-seated) or Brahmā, meaning that Śiva is under the control of (his father) Brahmā; similarly all the Devarshis and other Rishis, and all the shining races of serpents, Vāsuki, Takshaka etc.

Since there’s return to samsāra from even Brahmā’s world, it goes without saying that there is return to samsāra from Śiva’s world as well.

Also, the statement “Of Rudras I am Śankara” in Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 10.23 is in the context of the verse 10.19 which simply points out “the prominent expression of Sri Krishna’s glory among various classes” with all entities standing in the relation of body to Him (the Soul); NOT that He is a direct incarnation in the prominent entities mentioned in various classes mentioned in the verses following verse 10.19.

Paśupati (Śiva) as Brahman: The Saiva system is discarded by reason of its averring Paśupati as the Goal, and the smearing of ashes etc, — contrary to the spirit of the Vedas,— as the Means. This System is refuted by all the Three Acaryas, Śaṇkarā (here), Rāmānuja (here) and Madhva, in the Vedanta-Sutras: Patyur asāmañjas syāt [II. 2. 35] and elsewhere. [4]

Sri Rāmānujācharya explains what Shiva means when specified in certain upanishad texts, in His work, Vedārtha Sangraha in paragraphs 133 to 139.

Polytheism

Lord Krishna explains Polytheism in Sri Bhagavad Gita verses 7.20 thru 7.23 while explaining about the rare Jñāni that’s exclusively devoted to Him in the immediately preceding verse 7.19. The 33 million so-called Gods are actually lower divinities, i.e., spirit souls empowered by Sriman Narayana to execute several functions in the material universe.

Single Soul or Multiple Souls?

Souls (Jivas, aka Jīva-athmas) are NOT one but many, as is evident from the above cited Veda texts. The same is explicitly taught by Lord Sri Krishna in Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 2.12 and verse 5.16.

Does Mukti (liberation) mean merging into Brahman?

There’s a misconception that Sayujya Mukti means merging of a liberated Jiva-atma into Brahman (Param-atma). But Sri Krishna in Sri Bhagavad Gita verse 2.12 and verse 5.16 teaches that souls exist eternally. Sayujya mukti simply means the intimate union (i.e., coming together in a loving bond, but not merging) of Jiva-atma (liberated soul) with Param-atma (Brahman, Sriman Narayana). [ELABORATE WITH REFERENCES].

Avidya

[ANSWER]. Tackle Wave/Ocean.

Am I a Bhagavad Svaroopa?

[ANSWER].

References

  1. http://sriramanujar.tripod.com/tutorial/9.html
  2. http://sriramanujar.tripod.com/tutorial/10.html
  3. http://sriramanujar.tripod.com/tutorial/visistadvaitha-tutorial.html

Further Study

  1. MUST SEE: Vishistadvaita: Discourse by Sri Velukkudi Krishnan Swamin
  2. Chapter XXI: The Viśishtadvaita Philosophy (pdf page 295) in The Life and Teachings of Sri Ramanujacharya (1908) by Sri C.R. Srinivasa Aiyengar, B.A.
  3. The Vade Mecum of Vedanta or a Compendium of Vedic Philosophy (1909)
  4. Yatindra-mata-dipikā; or The light of the school of Srī Rāmānuja (1912)
  5. The Vedanta Sutras with the Sri Bhashya of Sri Ramanujacharya Vol-1 (1899) translated into English by Sri M. Rangacharya and Sri M.B.Varadaraja Aiyangar.
  6. The Vedanta Sutras with the Commentary of Ramanuja (1904) by Sri George Thibaut. Also available in web-format here.
  7. Note 958 in Vol III of Sri Bhashya translation by Sri M. Rangacharya and Sri M.B.Varadaraja Aiyangar.
  8. Page 87 in Tattva Traya or Aphorisms on The Three Verities, Soul, Matter and God, by Sri Pillai Lokacharya, translated by Śrī Pārthasārathy Aiyangār (1900).
  9. Narayanastra – Defending Vaishnavism as the supreme Vedic position.

Other content on this site