- The term Vishishtadvaita is very commonly misin-terpreted as “qualified” (or “modified”) (vishishta) non-dualism (ADVAITA). A more accurate (though still imprecise) translation is “non-duality with differentiation.” This reflects Vishishtadvaita’s understanding of the three reals: Ishvara (God), cit (consciousness) and acit (unconsciousness). The conscious and unconscious existence are real aspects or attributes of God, non-dual or non-dif-ferent from God from the point of view of God, but they are also eternally distinct (differentiated), in that they are attributes only.God or BRAHMAN and the world are seen to have the relation of soul and body. The manifest universe is the body of God, but in his plentitude he is also an unchangeable infinity beyond the world, untouched in any way by the negatives or impurities of the world of manifestation.Vishishhadvaita tradition begins with the 12 ALVARS, the mystic poet-singers of Tamil Nadu who date from the eighth to the 10th centuries. The songs of these Alvars inspired and shape the tradition of Vishishtadvaita. The philosophy expressed in these songs was first systematically explored by the teacher Nathamuni, probably in the ninth century C.E. Nathamuni is said to have received the verses of NAMMALVAR, which he put to music in Vedic style. These verses are still sung in the temples of Tamil Nadu, in addition to verses in SANSKRIT, and are part of the Vaishnavite VEDA in Tamil.Nathamuni is credited with composing three Sanskrit texts that still inform the tradition. He had 11 disciples, the most important of whom were Pundarikaksha, Karukanatha, and Shrikrishna Lak-shminatha. Pundarikaksha’s student Rama Mishra became the guru of the famed Yamunacharya, who was also the grandson of Nathamuni. Yamunacha-rya was probably born in the early 10th century. He was a king who renounced everything to go to SRIRANGAM, one of the most important shrines for the Sri Vaishnavite tradition, which supports the philosophy of Vishishtadvaita.Yamunacharya had many disciples, of whom 21 became prominent. RAMANUJA (born at the end of the 11th century), the greatest ACHARYA of the lineage, was born to the elder sister of one of Yamunacharya’s disciples, Mahapurna. Yamu-nacharya composed six important Sanskrit works developing the philosophy of Vishishtadvaita. As with other great acharyas of the Vishishtadvaita tradition he was a great devotee, as well as a great scholar; one of the six works he composed was a praise poem to Lord KRISHNA.Yamunacharya apparently lived to a ripe age but died before he could meet Ramanuja. Ramanuja’s own guru understood that his stu-dent would one day outshine him and tried to have him killed, but Ramanuja was miraculously saved from this attempt. Eventually, Ramanuja took Mahapurna, his uncle, to be his guru and followed him to Srirangam. He arrived just after Yamunacharya died.From seeing three of Yamuna’s fingers twisted, after death, he learned that he should do three things: (1) convert the people to the Vaishnavite doctrine of surrender, (2) write a commentary to the VEDANTA SUTRA, and (3) write extensively on Sri Vaishnavism. All these things he did. Not long afterward, he renounced the householder life and went to Srirangam to head the order and devote himself to the divinity of that shrine. Ramanuja is famed for his Sri Bhashya, his commentary on the Vedanta Sutra, but he also wrote a commentary on the BHAGAVAD GITA and several other major Vedantic works.All Ramanuja’s works were written in Sanskrit. Two important philosophers followed Ramanuja, Parashara Bhattar, who wrote a Sanskrit com-mentary on the Sanskrit Thousand Divine Names of Vishnu, and Pillan or Kurukesha, who wrote a K 490 VishishtadvaitaTamil commentary on the hymns of the Alvars, which became a philosophical backbone for later Vishishtadvaita thought. The most prolific later teacher among many later philosophers in this lineage was Venkatanatha of the 15th century, who wrote numerous works in Sanskrit and Tamil.Most significant in the philosophy of Sri Vaishnavism is a vision of a personal divinity that is worshipped with great passion and devotion. At the same time that divinity, Vishnu, is understood to be the transcendent brahman of the UPANISHADS. The Alvar’s faith was passionate and mystical. Ramanuja’s commentaries were subtle philosophy that sought to legitimate their path in terms of Vedanta. The two paths together constitute what Sri Vaisnavas call the “Double Vedanta” (Ubayave-danta), which relies on both Sanskrit and Tamil textual bases.Further reading: John Braisted Carmen, The Theology of Ramanuja (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974); S. N. Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, vol. 3 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975); A. K. Ramanu-jan, Hymns for the Drowning (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Arvind Sharma, Visistadvaita Vedanta: A Study (New Delhi: Heritage, 1978).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.