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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Three paths but one goal

This article is triggered by the recent comments of HH Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swamiji during the celebrations of the Statue of Equality at Hyderabad, who said Ramanujacharya is the only Jagadguru whereas others are just Gurus.

Adi Shankara lived for 32 years (788 AD – 820 AD). According to him Realisation of the self as non- different from Brahman is Supreme Bliss. Sri Shankara says in the Sivanandalahari Stotra:

Narathwam devasthvam naga vana mrugathwam masakhatha,
Pasuthwam keetathwam bhavathu vihagathwadi janananam
Sada twadpadabja smarana paramananda lahari.
Vihaarasaktham che dhugdhaya miha kim thena vapusha.


Be it in a human form,

Be it in the form of Gods,

Be it in the form of animal,

That wanders the forests and hills,

Be it in the form of mosquito,

Be it in the form of a domestic animal,

Be it in the form of a worm,

Be it in the form of flying birds,

Or be it in any form whatsoever,

If always the mind is engaged in play,

Of meditation in your lotus feet,

Which are the waves of supreme bliss,

Then what does it matter,

Whatever body we have.

This a very exalted thought wherein it says taking birth in whichever form or body does not matter as long as the mind meditates on the Supreme Power, Brahman. 

Adi Shankara travelled all the length and breadth of our country and established the Advaita Tatva as the ultimate truth of Vedanta. Prior to him, the Saankhyas propounded the theory of plurality of Atmas and denied a Paramatman. The Meemaamsakas, on the other hand, affirmed the superiority of observing Vedic rituals (vedokta karmaanushtaana) over jnana as the means to moksha.

Buddhism, Jainism, the Saankhya, and the Meemaamsa systems of thought were prevalent and popular at that time but they lost their prominence after Adi Shankara propagated the Advaita Vedanta, taught in the mahaavaakyaas of the Upanishads, and made Advaita Siddhantha to (re)gain universal acceptance.

Sri Shankara Bhagavatpada taught that all the deities people worship are but the manifestations of the One supreme Paramaatma. He introduced the Smarta tradition that worships the six main deities viz., Siva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya, Ganesha and Subrahmanya as the manifestations of the Supreme Power, but they are not different from that Supreme Power.

This is in line with the practical interpretation of the following verse in Bhavavad Gita

Yo yo yam yam tanum bhaktah sraddhaya-architum icchati |

Tasya tasyaachalaam sraddhaam taam eva vidadhaamy-aham || 7-21 || Bhagavad Gita

Whoever desires to worship whatever deity using any name, form, and method with faith, I surely sustain firmly that faith in him.

Adi Shankara reoriented philosophic thought to its Upanishadic traditions. According to Adi Shankara, without knowledge (direct experience of Self), liberation is not possible.

In his work, Prabodha Sudhakara, Adi Shankara goes on to praise bhakti towards Krishna as the ultimate goal of life. While describing how to meditate on various forms of Bhagavan Krishna, Adi Shankara becomes ecstatic and says that for the one who is socked in pure bhakti, there is no need for liberation. (pra. su 240, 250).

Adi Shankara assimilated Yoga, Tantra (Sakta), Karma Kanda, Upasana Kanda, Gyana Kanda, Agama Sastra, all into one harmonious system and established Advaita as the final goal by reconciling contradictions and difference among various religious and philosophical systems.

Ramanujacharya (1017 AD –1137 AD ) was a philosopher, theologian and a social reformer. He is one of the most important exponents of the Sri Vaishnavism tradition within Hindu Dharma. His philosophical foundations for devotionalism were influential to the Bhakti movement.

Ramanuja is famous as the chief proponent of Vishishtadvaita  sub school of Vedānta. Ramanuja wrote influential texts, such as bhāsya on the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, all in Sanskrit.

His theories assert that there exists a plurality and distinction between Ātman (soul) and Brahman (metaphysical, ultimate reality), while he also affirmed that there is unity of all souls and that the individual soul has the potential to realize identity with the Brahman. Ramanuja became a priest at the Varadharāja Perumal temple (Vishnu) at Kānchipuram, where he began to teach that moksha (liberation and release from samsara) is to be achieved not with metaphysical, nirguna Brahman but with the help of personal god and saguna Vishnu.

Even before Ramanuja, the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya was already an established organization under Yamunāchārya, and bhakti and devotional ideas were a part of Tamil culture because of the twelve Alvārs (i.e., twelve saints who dedicated their lives towards Sri Vaishnavism). 

Ramanuja was considered the first thinker in centuries who disagreed with Adi Shankara’s Advaita, and offered an alternative interpretation of Upanishadic scriptures. The Sri Vaishnavite order prior to Ramanuja was not averse to people from other castes as both Kanchipurna (also known by the name Thiru Kachchi Nambigal, twelfth century Vaishnavite acharya and one of the early teachers of Ramanuja) and Mahapurna (disciple of Yamunacharya and was responsible for initiating Ramanuja into Sri Vaishnavism) were non-Brahmins. 

So, when Ramanuja revolted against the discrimination that had crept within the caste system, he was reinforcing the same as propagated by the Alwars in Nalayira Divya Prabandham and helped the people who were considered to be untouchables, to mingle with the Sri Vaishnava Bhakthi Movement, encouraging them to attain Spiritual enlightenment.

After the period of Ramanuja, the Sri Vaishnava community split and formed the Vadakalai (who gave greater emphasis to Vedas) and Thenkalai (who gave greater emphasis to Nalayira Divya Prabandham, which is a collection of 4000 hymns sung by Alwars who lived in South India before 8th Century AD) sects.

Ramanuja’s philosophical foundation was qualified monism, and is called Vishishtadvaita in the Hindu tradition. His ideas are one of three sub schools in Vedānta, the other two being Ādi Shankara’s Advaita (absolute monism) and Madhvāchārya’s Dvaita (dualism).

Qualified monism says there is one big unified whole called Paramatma, but within that there are still distinct parts like Jivatmas. Absolute monism believes that the soul of man is identical with the God of the Universe, the Supreme Power, Paramatman. The soul of man, one with the Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Anandam) of God, realizes itself as Absolute, One.

Ramanujacharya says that when bhakti takes deep roots in an individual, it turns into parabhakti, which is the highest form of bhakti and that is the direct awareness of Brahman’s nature and thus is a kind of knowledge.

For Ramanuja, liberation (moksha) is not a separation from a series of rebirths, but rather the joy of the contemplating the divine perfection. This joy is attained by a life of exclusive devotion (bhakti) to Brahman, singing his praise, doing temple worship and private worship and constant devotion to Brahman. His doctrine of Panchabeda emphasized absolute distinctions between God, the soul, and matter. 

While Adi Shankara says the Principal Upanishads primarily teach monism with teachings such as Tat tvam asi, Ramanujacharya says qualified monism is at the foundation of Hindu spirituality.

Madhavāchārya (1238 AD-1317 AD) asserted both qualitative and quantitative pluralism of souls”, whereas Ramanujacharya asserted “qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism of souls.

Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita school and Shankara’s Advaita school are both nondualistic Vedānta schools as both rely on the assumption that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation.

Madhvacharya’s works include commentaries on Brahmasutras, bhagavadgita, Upanishads, Rigveda and Bhagavata Mahapurana. His works are collectively known as ‘Sarvamulagrandhas”.

Adi Shankara’s Advaita (non-dualism) philosophy along with Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita  (qualified non-dualism) philosophy the Dvaita (theistic dualism) philosophy of Madhvāchārya, became the three most influential Vedantic philosophies of the 2nd millennium.

All the three acharyas were highly enlightened souls and they have propounded their respective doctrines in order to suit the different kinds of people depending on their level of progress in search of the Supreme power, Brahman. One can say that Dvaita, Vishistadvaita and Advaita are like three different stages in our search to perceive the Supreme Power, Brahman. One has to choose from these three paths that is easily accessible to him and the truth is that all these three paths lead to the same goal.

aya nija paro veti gaanā laghucetasām
udāracaritānā tu vasudhaiva kuumbakam
(Maha Upanishad 6.71–75).

This is mine, that is his, say the small minded,
The wise believe that the entire world is a family.

Hindu Dharma teaches the importance of coexistence and living in harmony by all the living beings in the universe while one follows his own dharma and pursues his endeavor to attain salvation.  

Therefore, those who claim to be religious or spiritual gurus or followers of the three Acharyas have to exhibit maturity of thought, be measured in their words, avoid confrontation and controversy and should embrace the entire world as a family, which is the essence of Sanatana Dharma.

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Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 16 years of teaching, research and consulting. 200 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 38 short stories 50 articles and 2 novels published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]


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