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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Viśiṣṭādvaita

One of the three main Vedanta systems of Indian Philosophy, literally translated “qualified non-dualism.” It was started by Ramanuja (also called Ramanujacharya) who lived in South India during the resurgence of the great Chola Empire and at a time when the South Indian devotional poets, the Alvars (devotees of Siva) and Nayanars (devotees of Visnu), were spreading their doctrine of the love of God. His main contribution was to furnish a philosophic rationale for BHAKTI YOGA. His traditional dates are 1017-1127. Ramanuja’s concept of God, whom he identified as Visnu, was of a Being with attributes, not devoid of qualities as in Advaita — more like what Christians would call a personal God. And, although the divine spark or atman in man was God-like, it was not identical with God; that difference is indicated by the name of the system: “qualified non-dualism.” Thus, when one attains release from the cycle of rebirth (samsara), one will not become God, but rather be in constant adoration of Him. In his writings (especially his monumental commentary on the Vedanta Sutras called Sri Bhasya), he argues at length against Advaita’s doctrine of maya, claiming that the world is real, not an illusion. His ultra-realistic attitude even appears in his theory of error, which is quite unique in Indian philosophy. He claims that when we mistake a shiny shell for a piece of silver, it is because the shell really contains a minute quantity of silver, which we perceive, while at the same time overlooking the shell’s dominant calcareous quality. This rather unscientific theory makes no sense, however, when applied to other perceptual illusions or delusions (e.g., does a rope contain a small bit of snake or a distant post a small bit of a human being?), but it is consistent with the rest of his philosophy. Its main point is that there is a portion of God in everything. Something of this idea may be seen symbolized in a South Indian temple dedicated to Ramanuja in which the central image of Visnu is reflected in numerous mirrors placed on the surrounding walls. This is an idea with which many theosophists would agree, but generally Visistadvaita Vedanta philosophy has been neglected by them as not quite consonant with the occult doctrine.

R.W.B.

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