Satadushani – Introduction – Part-2


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The SatadUshaNi is an important classic of Visishtadvaita Vedantha composed by Swami Desikan, in which as the title suggests, one hundred philosophical issues have been chosen for systematic criticism directed against the school of Advaita.

This is a continuation from Part-1 which could be read using the link:


Some of the other philosophical works of Desika are in the form of commentaries. These are Tattvatika (a commentary on Sri-bhasya), Tatparya-candrika (a gloss on Ramanuja’s Gita’-bhasya) Isavasyopanisad-bhasya (a commentary on the Isavasyopanisad), Rahasya-raksha (a commentary on Yamuna’s Stotra-ratna and Catuhsloki and Ramanuja’s Gadya-traya) and Gitartha-samgraha-raksa (a commentary on Yamuna’s Gitartha-samgraha).

A commentary on Ramanuja’s Vedartha-Samgraha (Vedartha-Samgraha-vyakhya) and another on the works of the Alvars (Nigama-Parimala) are believed to have been written but these are not available now.

In addition to the above philosophical works, all in Sanskrit, Vedanta Desika has composed thirty-two works in the Mani-pravala style, which is a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil.  In these works, he gives an exposition of the Visistadvaita metaphysics in a popular way, easily intelligible to lay men. The Rahasyatraya-Sara, which is a masterpiece of Desika, is one of these works. Here the principles of Visistadvaita philosophy are expounded in clear and simple language. The Paramata-bhanga is another important work included in this group of 32 works. In this Vedanta Desika has advanced criticisms against seventeen schools of thought including Advaita.

The other works of Vedanta Desika relate to Poetry, Drama and Religion. In the field of Poetry, his most important works are Yadavabhyudya on the life of Lord Krishna, Hamsa-sandesa written on the model of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, and Subhasitanivi, a work on morals, and Paduka-sahasra containing one thousand verses on the Holy Sandals of the deity of Srirangam.  Sankalpa-sryodaya is an allegorical drama in ten acts. In this work Vedanta Desika presents the struggle of the Jiva in its onward march to spiritual realization. In addition to these, he has also written twenty-nine adoration-hymns known as Stotras. Among religious works the Pancaratra-raksa, the Niksepa-raksa and Saccaritra-raksa are very important.

II Nature and Scope of the Satadusani

The Satadusani is an important polemical work of the Visistadvaita Vedanta in which, as the title of the Work suggests, one hundred philosophical issues have been chosen for systematic criticism. The criticism is mainly directed against the doctrines of Advaita Vedanta. The aim of the work, as is evident from the opening verse of the Satadusani as well as the statement made in the Tattvatika, is to refute Samkara and his ‘followers’  The method of criticism adopted here is purely dialectical in nature which is a characteristic feature of all such polemical works. The position of the opponent which is called the Purvapaksa is first stated briefly. The arguments of the Purvapaksa  are then subjected to critical examination and refuted on grounds of inherent contradictions and other logical defects.

This method of criticism has a definite purpose in view. Its main object is the ascertainment of truth by eliminating all erroneous theories and partial truths. The refutation of the theories held by the opponents helps to strengthen one’s own position. Thus, dialectic has a two-fold function-the destructive and the constructive-the refutation of the position held by the opponents and a constructive statement of one’s own position (paramata nirakarana and svamata stapana). Such a philosophical discussion which aims at the determination of the truth is called a Véda as distinguished from jalpa and Vitanda. Jalpa is a discussion undertaken for the sake of dialectical victory and renown as a debater. Vitanda stands for a discussion the aim of which is the silencing of a clamorous opponent. It is a destructive criticism of the views of the opponent without any constructive statement of one’s own position. Vada, on the contrary, is a philosophical discussion which mainly aims at the ascertainment of truth. In polemical treatises both the Veda and the Vitanda type of arguments are freely used while in others which are constructive in characte r the Vada type of arguments is predominantly used. Sri Harsa’s Khandana khanda Khadya may be mentioned as an example of the Vitanda type since the author here is more preoccupied with demolishing the Nyaya doctrines than establishing his own system. Citsukha’s Tattvapradipika which is more constructive than destructive adopts mostly the Vada type of arguments. Vedanta Desika’s Sadadusani is both destructive and constructive and adopts only the Vada  type of arguments.  It is, therefore, designated as a Vada Grantha the aim of which is to refute the doctrines of Advaita Vedanta with a view to establishing the Visistadvaita Vedanta on a sound logical basis. In view of this it is compared to a sword (sastra) used to destroy the opponents, in contrast to the purely constructive work, Sarvartha-siddhi, which is compared to the shield (kheta) that is used to defend oneself.

III Criticism. of Advaita by Other Thinkers

The criticism of Advaita in the Satadusani is not the first attempt of its kind. Sri Yamuna (916-1036 A.D.) was the first thinker of the Visistadvaita school of thought who sought to controvert the views of the Advaitins by dialectical method. Inhis Atma-.siddhi, which is devoted to a discussion of the nature of the individual self and the Absolute from different standpoints, Sri Yamuna subjects to a critical examination the Advaitins theory of the self as pure consciousness which is neither produced nor destroyed but is self-luminous – a theory which has been clearly set forth in the Ista-siddhi of Vimuktatman. In his Samvit-siddhi, he criticises the other important doctrines of Advaita Vedanta such as the unity of the self the illusoriness
of the universe and the concept of avidya. After, Yamuna, Sri Ramanuja carried forward this task with greater fervor as the Maya-Vada had become pronounced in his time. In the portion of his Sri-bhasya called the jijnasadhikarana he states briefly the essential teachings of the Advaita Vedanta and subjects them to a critical examination. The arguments given in the Sri-bhasya were further elaborated by Vedanta Desika who wrote an independent work setting forth in detail and in a systematic way the criticisms against the Advaitins.

Earlier to Sri Yamuna, Bhaskara who is believed to have flourished in the early part of the 9th Century, had attacked vigorously the Maya-vada of Advaita Vedanta which he regarded as a version of the nihilism of Mahayanika Buddhism. After Ramanuja, Sri Madhva figured as an uncompromising critic of Advaita Vedanta. The Upadhikhandana, Mayavadakhandana, Prapanca-mithyatvanumana-khandana and Tattvadyota are independent treatises which are mainly devoted to the criticism of Advaita. Based on these works, Jayatirtha, the greatest among the disciples of Madhya, wrote a small independent work called Vadivali, wherein he criticised the Advaitin’s doctrine of the illusoriness of the universe and the theory of maya. Based on the Vadivali, Vyasaraya wrote his famous polemic work, Nyayamratam, which was later criticised by Madhusudana Saraswati in his dialectical work Advaita-siddhi, which has become a well-known classic of Advaita Vedanta.  The latter work has been criticised by Ramacarya in his Tarangini, which again has been attacked in defence of Advaita-siddhi by Brahmananda in his Gauda-brahmanandiyam, also known as Laghu-candrika. There are many other dialectical works belonging to these three schools of Vedanta either in defence of their own systems of Vedanta or in criticism of the works of the rival schools of thought.

IV Conflict Between Advaita and Visistadvaita

Both Ramanuja and Madhva as well as all their followers have taken a leading role as critics of the Advaita system of Vedanta. It is not difficult to find an explanation for this. The criticism of the rival schools of thought, in so far as it leads to the perfection of one’s own teachings, is a common feature of all schools of thought. The second chapter of the Vedanta-Sutras known as the Avirodhadhyaya wherein the author of the Sutras proceeds to meet the objections brought against the views set forth in the first chapter and criticizes them, shows that the criticism of the rival schools of thought is essential for building one’s own system of philosophy. Ramanuja and Madhva devoted greater attention to the criticism of Advaita than to that of any other school of thought, because of the fact that the philosophy of Advaita which was opposed to their own teachings was holding an unquestioned sway in their time.

A historical study of the development of the Vedantic Monism as propounded by Samkara and his followers will prove this fact. Vedantic Monism, germs of which are discernible in the early Upanisads containing the idealistic thoughts, reached its culmination at the time of Gaudapada. Samkara who followed Gaudapada gave perfection to it by his learned commentaries on the Vedanta-Sutras, the ten Upanisads and the Bhagavadgita-the three Prasthanas that constitute the foundation and supreme authority of the philosophy of Vedanta. Soon after Samkara, other followers appeared in the field of Advaita Vedanta who wrote independent works and thereby strengthened the teachings of their master.  Sureswara’s Vartika and Naiskarmya-Siddhi, Padmapada’s Parica-ptidikti, Prakasatman’s Vivarana, Virnuktatmans Istasiddhi, and Sarvajnatmamuni’s Samksepa-sariraka, and Vacaspati’s Bhamati are some of the important Advaita classics that sprang up in the early part of the post-Samkara period. By the 11th century, to which period Ramanuja belongs, Advaita Vedanta had achieved full growth and prominence. Naturally a rival system of Vedanta which received great impetus at that time had to fight against the existing system in so far as the philosophical doctrines of the latter were opposed to the former. This was the position at the time of Yamuna and Rarnanuja, as is evident from the opening verse of Vedartha-Samgraha. This accounts for the elaborate criticism of Advaita Philosophy in the Sri-bhasya.

Even in the post-Ramanuja. period, the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta was predominant despite the refutation of it by Rarnanuja. Sri Harsa, Anandabodha and Citsukha are some of the leading Advaitic thinkers who flourished in the early part of the post-Ramanuja period prior to Desika and who strengthened the teachings of Advaita Vedanta. Thus, during the time that lapsed between Ramanuja and Madhva
as well as Desika, there appears to have been a further development of the Advaita system, which needed elaborate criticism by others in defense of the Visistadvaita. Desika, whose life’s mission was to establish the Visistadvaita System as propounded by Sri Ramanuja by refuting the rival schools of thought, undertook this task in his masterly work entitled Satadusani.

To be continued in next post…

Source text written by: Sri SMS Chari

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