Visishtadvaita conception of object and property

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    Rishabh Verma

    I had a question from your book ‘Conceiving the inconceivable: A scientific commentary on the Vedanta Sutra’. On page 55 of the kindle version, I came across this statement:

    There is, however, one serious problem in Viśiṣṭādvaita. The problem is that when the soul enters the material world, he acts like an object rather than a property.

    How is this concept explained in Vaisnava nomenclature? Did any of our acaryas write on this?

    Ashish Dalela

    There are many schools of Vaishnavism, and Vishishtadvaita is one of them. This school is also called Sri Ramanuja Sampradaya or just Sri Sampradaya.

    To understand Vishitadvaita you have to go back to Advaita where there is dravya and vishista. Brahman is dravya and prakriti is vishista. And these two things are said to be separate. Sri Ramanujacharya gave an interpretation of Vedanta in which the dravya is Brahman, but Brahman refers to Lord Vishnu. And prakriti and jiva are the vishista of Lord Vishnu. Just like an object and property. There is one object and many properties. Jiva is called chit or conscious property, and prakriti is called achit or non-conscious property.

    This distinction between chit and achit is not accepted in the other schools of Vedanta. Even the apara prakriti is called daivi (daivi hi esa guna-mayi) according to Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita. Even in other systems, the material energy is a conscious person called Durga or Sakti. And the soul is not just a property but also a part of the Dravya. But if the part is removed, then the whole is not diminished. Purnasya purnam adaya purnam eva vashishyate. Upon removing the complete, the balance is still complete.

    Conceiving the Inconceivable explains how to understand these things. These are difficult topics and they are not understood or even discussed by most people today. It is not necessary to understand these things in order to practice bhakti. But if you want to do philosophy and science then these things are necessary. Lots of things have been said in different schools of Vedanta, and they are all accepted as true. But that doesn’t mean that they are understood–i.e., how they can be true.

    For example, soul and matter are the body of God in Vishistadvaita. But how can God’s body be achit? God eats with His tongue, and that tongue is chit. And that tongue is not the chit called the soul. Similarly, God’s deity is made up of metal or stone, which would be called achit in Vishishtadvaita. But the Lord’s deity is factually not achit. The deity eats, sleeps, and talks. How is that possible? So, there are lots of difficulties in understanding these things, which is why we need a scientific understanding of these things.

    Rishabh Verma

    I understand that prakriti and the jiva should be chit however, doesn’t the issue of fall down occur when the jiva falsely thinks of himself as an object when he is actually the property of the supreme object, Krsna? In that sense, the visishtadvaita philosophy seems correct because it explains that the svadharma of the jiva is to remain a property of Brahman and not become an object himself.

    If we postulate that the jiva can also become an object, wouldn’t there be redundancy to soteriology?

    Ashish Dalela

    Not necessarily. Jiva being an object doesn’t mean it’s an independent object.

    So, we have to understand the difference between independent and dependent objects.

    dependent object is a part of the whole, and an independent object is not part of the whole. There is nothing wrong with being an object. The problem is the supposed independence of objects.

    Saying that I’m not an object is one way to destroy independence. But there is another way in which there is objectivity and yet not independence. Objectivity exists without independence.

    The difference is simple. If you are only a property, then you do as God says. But He must say; He must tell you what to do and you do it. Like a servant who waits for a command. But if there is an object, although not independent, then that object will do things even without being told to do so.

    Just like a mother will feed the child even if the child is not asking for food. In fact, sometimes the child will say–“I don’t want to eat anything”–and the mother will say–“If you don’t eat you will die”. The mother is serving the child without being asked, even against what the child is asking.

    This is a difference in mood. In Vishishtadvaita, God is the master, and we are the servants. We do what God asks for. But upon more advancement, God is the child and the devotee is the mother. The mother serves the child but doesn’t necessarily obey the child. Or, the mother doesn’t wait for God to ask for something. Sometimes, the mother will scold the child, punish the child. So, initially, service means obedience. And upon more advancement, service means mastery. Then God becomes subordinate. He has to obey, and sometimes even He becomes the devotee’s servant.

    In this way, there is progressive realization. Initially, we are just the property of God, just like a car. The car will not run automatically. But it will run upon the master asking for it. The devotee is also like a self-driven car; he waits for the command and then fulfills it. But upon more advancement, the car will decide where it has to go–as the car knows what the passenger will enjoy. And God will become helpless: “I don’t know what to do; I’m totally dependent on you; take Me somewhere”.

    This type of advancement is presented in Gaudiya Vaishnavism where God is not just our master. Rather, He is also the servant of His father, obedient to His mother, defeated by His friends, and chastized by His girlfriends. And He is also rebellious. So, He sometimes accepts defeat, and then He tries to win. This is not a contradiction of Vishishtadvaita. But it is more advanced. Therefore, we can never say that Sri Ramanujacharya’s philosophy is wrong. His philosophy is perfect. But there is more perfect, most perfect also. In this way, philosophy is evolved for more perfection.

    God controls the devotee in Vishishtadvaita, and the devotee controls God in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Therefore, a devotee is a property of God in Vishishtadvaita, and God is a property of the devotee in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This can be understood only when we reach that level.

    Philosophically, it can be said that Jiva is also an object. That doesn’t mean he is not a property. In the preliminary stage, the Jiva is a property, and in the advanced stage, the Jiva is also an object. Since the Jiva can be both property and object, therefore, both potentialities exist in the Jiva.

    Rishabh Verma

    That explains it very well. Thank you so much.

    Reading further in your book also helped.

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