Life and Works of Vedanta Desika Vedanta Desika, the author of the satadushani, was one of the most eminent thinkers of the Visistadvaita Vedanta. He was born at Himavanam, a place near Conjeevaram(Kanchi) in 1268 A.D. in a pious Vaisnavite family reputed for scholarship. Even as a boy he showed such extraordinary genius that it was predicted by Vatsya Varadacarya, a spiritual descendant of Ramanuja, that he would establish the Visistadvaita Vedanta and refute all rival schools of thought. He studied under his maternal uncle, Atreya Ramanuja, who was a distinguished disciple of Vatsya Varadacarya, and acquired even by the early age of twenty, a perfect knowledge in all the different branches of traditional learning, a mastery in recognition of which the titles of Vedantacharya and Sarva Tantra Svatantra were later bestowed on him at Srirangarn as is evident from his own account given in the Sankalpa Suryodaya.
He led a strictly religious and saintly life and spent his time in preaching the Visistadvaita Philosophy and writing philosophical and religious works. Though he was a man of saintly character, those who were jealous of his glory harassed him in many ways. But Desika bore these trials and tribulations patiently. He also had to fight against the followers of the rival schools of thought. More than once he was called upon to debate with his opponents, whom he vanquished with his metaphysical profundity and unrivalled debating skill and converted to his own faith! The Paramata-bhanga and the Satadushani are held to represent the arguments advanced by Desika in these debates. Owing to his rare mastery of poetics and dialectics and the art of disputation he won the title of Kavitarkika Simha-“ the lion of poets and logicians ”.
His life is as inspiring as his scholarship. He was profoundly austere and humble in his way of living. He lived by receiving alms in the streets (unchavritti). He showed utter contempt for wealth and worldly position. It is said of him that he threw away the gold coins which were mixed up in the rice offered as alms by a well-intentioned person during one of his daily rounds for alms-taking. His vairagya is the most striking feature of his personality. This is borne out by his Vairagya-Panchaka, a hymn of five stanzas, written as a reply to the invitation extended by Vidyaranya, the Minister to the King of Vijayanagara, to come to the court to receive royal honors.
He considered the deity at the temple of Hastigiri (Kanchi) as his true wealth and despised all earthly treasures. His devotion to God and respect for tradition, particularly for the teachings of Sri Ramanuja, were profound. The long life he led was spent entirely in devotional service to God and godly men and in the propagation of the teachings of Visistadvaita Philosophy as expounded by Sri Ramanuja.
The contribution of Vedanta Desika to the Visistadvaita Vedanta is unique and unparalleled in the history of Indian Philosophy. He has written numerous works covering various subjects. In the field of philosophy his chief works are Tattva Muktakalapa, Sarvartha-Siddhi, Adhikarana-Saravali, Nyaya-Parisuddhi, Nyaya-Siddhanjana, Sesvara-Mimamsa, Mimamsa-Paduka and Satadushani. In each of these works Vedanta Desika has made some specific contribution to the Visistadvaita Vedanta. Tattva-Muktakalapa which is written in the form of verse gives an exposition of the nature of jada, jiva, Isvara, Buddhi, and Adravya, according to the Visistadvaita school of thought.
Sarvartha-Siddhi is his own commentary on it giving a more detailed exposition of the same doctrines. Adhikarana-Saravali which is also composed in the form of verse gives a summary of the various topics or Adhikaranas contained in the Sri-bhasya. Nyaya-Parisuddhi is an epistemological work of the Visistadvaita school which discusses in detail the nature of the three pramanas. It reconstructs the Nyaya Vaisesika system in the light of Visistadvaita teachings by simplifying the categories and including among the pramanas the Pancaratra texts which are regarded as divine in character. Nyaya-Siddhanjana sets forth in detail the metaphysics of’ the Visistadvaita system which has been briefly mentioned in the Nyaya-Parisuddhi. Sesvara-Mimamsa and Mimamsa-Paduka are works on Mimamsa. In the former work, Vedanta Desika interprets the Mimamsa-Sutras of Jaimini in such a way as to prove that the teachings of Jaimini are in consonance with the teachings of Badarayana and that the two Mimamsas-Purva and Uttara-form an integral whole. The Satadusani is a polemical work in which the doctrines of’ Advaita Vedanta are criticized elaborately.
To be continued in next post…
Source text written by: Sri SMS Chari