Satadushani – Introduction – Part-3


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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:



V Satadusani and Sri-Bhasya

In refuting the Advaita doctrines, Vedanta Desika closely follows the arguments set forth by Ramanuja in the first section of the Sri-Bhasya known as Jijnasadhikarana, wherein the general position of the Advaitins is stated briefly and criticized. The arguments advanced in the Sri-Bhasya are developed by Desika into full-fledged Vaadas or independent controversial topics discussing the issues in greater detail. Thus, at the close of several Vadas, Vedanta Desika quotes from Sri-bhasya with the following words: “Having all this in mind, the author of the Bhasya says”.  In some of the Vadas he elaborates the ideas pregnant in the statement of the Bhasyakara with a particular view towards the possible criticisms of the opponents. From this, it would appear that the Satadusani has been written to elaborate the criticisms urged against the Advaita School of
thought by Ramanuja. But its scope is wider than that. Though the work follows the line of arguments presented in the Sri-Bhasya, it exhibits abundant evidence of the author’s originality in developing the arguments of the opponents further and exposing their hollowness.

The Purva-Paksa which is stated very briefly in Sri-Bhasya is formulated in far greater detail in the satadusani taking into consideration the development of the Advaitic theories since the time of Ramanuja. In the critical examination of the views of the opponents, Desika resolves them into numerous alternatives covering all the possible views on the issue. The criticisms are also many-sided and are urged from different standpoints. The untenability of the arguments is shown not only from the standpoint of the siddhanta of the critic, but also from the point of view of the opponent himself by exposing the contradiction involved in his argument. Desika’s many-sided scholarship and his mastery over the art of dlialectics enabled him to formulate even better than his predecessors had done the objections against the Advaita Philosophy taking into consideration the defence that was put forth by its exponents since the time of Ramanuja. and also what could possibly be urged at a later time. Probably it was with this idea in view that Desika states at the outset of the work that it would be possible to win over the Advaitins by merely repeating the arguments contained in the Satadusani like a parrot. Whatever might be the correctness of this claim, there is no doubt that Vedanta Desika strengthened the Visistadvaita system on its critical side by his Satadusani.

VI .Satadusani and Advaita Works
The work is not directed against any particular Advaita classic. It covers in general all the important Advaita doctrines as expounded by the different Advaitins who had preceded Vedanta Desika. In stating the Purva-paksa at the commencement of each Vada, the author does not quote verbatim from any of the Advaita works except in one place where a passage from Sri Harsa’s Khandana-Khanada Khadya has been adopted with slight alterations. The other works that are directly referred to are Samkara’s Sutra-bhasya, Vacaspati’s Bhamati, and Vimuktataman’s Ista-Siddhi. Though there are no other direct references to the Advaita works, we can trace the substance of the arguments stated as Purva-paksha in the Satadusani in such classics as Mandana’s Brahma-siddhi, Suresvara’s Naiskarmya-Siddhi and Varkitka, Padmapada’s Panca-padika, Prakastman’s Vivarana, Vimuktatman’s Ista-Siddhi, Vacaspati’s Bhamati, Sarvajnatma-muni’s Samkespa-Sariraka, Jnanaghanapaada’s Tattvasuddhi, Ananadabodhacarya’s Nyaya-Makaranda and Citaukha’s Tattva-pradipika. All these are important works of Advaita Vedanta belonging to the pre-Desika period. Our author must have had in mind the doctrines set forth in these and many other works, some of which are not available to us.

There are also many other topics discussed and criticized in the Satadusani, which are not readily traceable in the Advaita classics of the pre-Desika period that are now extant. These might have been in vogue at the time of Desika and having been acquainted with them in the course of the debate, he must have stated them in the Satadusani. We learn from the biographical accounts of Desika that the Satadusani was composed after debates that Desika had with the Advaitins and the arguments advanced in the discussions were summed up in the several Vadas of the Satadusani. It is, therefore, possible that some of the arguments which are not traceable in the Advaita works now extant must have been urged in the course of the debates by the Purvapaksins in defence of their own system as the possible views of their system. Or it may be that in the course of examining the position of the Purvapaksin all the possible views on a particular subject, whether or not they are embodied in works by the Purvapaksin, might have been stated. Such a thing is not uncommon in a polemical work. In Khandana-Khanda Khadya, for instance, Sri Harsa formulates sometimes more than fifteen  alternatives against the view of the opponent and examines them critically one by one. It is not necessary that all the alternatives raised should have been textually embodied by the opponent. Vedanta Desika who seems to have in mind Sri Harsha’s work follows more or less the same style and manner in his refutation of Advaita doctrines. Desika himself points out in one place that several alternatives are raised in order to clear the doubts in the minds of the laymen who are unacquainted with the philosophical truths (mandamati sammohafamaniiya uparyasya nirastah)

VII Sequence of Topics in the Satadusani

The work, as its title suggests, should have consisted of one hundred Vaadas. But the text as available at present contains only sixty-six Vadas. The remaining Vaadas must have been lost as in the case of some of the other works of Vedanta Desika such as Tattvatika and Nyaya-Siddhanjana. There is, however, a view that the last thirty-four Vadas were directed against the Madhva school of thought and they were not given wide publicity as the Madhvaites are also Vaisnavites and are not fundamentally opposed to the Visistadvaitins. There is no proof in support of this view. Nor is it convincing as it directly conflicts with the main thesis of’ the text viz., the refutation of the Advaitins. Hence there is no room for the criticism of Dvaita doctrines in the Satadusani. There is also a view which maintains that the text is complete with the sixty-six Vadas only. On that view the term Sata is to be understood in the sense of many The argument that may be adduced in favour of this view is that the work has a completeness in itself as far as the criticism of Advaita doctrines is concerned. Nevertheless, it is not plausible as there is no concluding verse (Upasamhara-sloka) which is a characteristic feature of all ancient classics in general and in particular of the works of Vedanta Desika. Secondly, wherever Desika employs such numerical terms as Sata, Sahasra or Pancasat along with the titles of the works, he means them in the literal sense and in no other case has the total number required fallen short of the number indicated by the title. The original text of the Satadusani should, therefore, have consisted of one hundred Vadas and the remaining thirty-four Vadas must have been lost. It is diflicult to say anything definite about the contents of these thirty-four Vadas.

The sixty-six Vadas raise numerous issues–epistemological, metaphysical, cosmological, religious and ethical. Each Vada is devoted to a discussion of an independent controversial topic of Advaita. The Vadas as such, do not appear in a logical order. The only order in which the Vadas are presented is that found in the Laghu-siddhanta and Maha-Siddhanta of the Sri-Bhasya. But even that order is not strictly adhered to by Vedanta Desika. Thus, the first eight Vadas which deal with the discussion of the issues arising out of the interpretation of the first aphorism of the Vedanta-sutras-the import of the term, ‘ Brahman ’, the enquiry into the nature of Brahman, the preliminaries required for the purpose, the place of karma in the philosophic discipline and its relation to jnana and other allied doctrines-closely follow the arguments contained in the Laghu-Purvapaksa and Laghu-siddhanta of the Sri-bhasya. Vada 9, which is concerned with demonstrating the ineligibility of the Advaitin to be a party to philosophical debate is based on the opening
sentence of the Maha-siddhanta of the Sri-bhasya. Vadas to to 30 which are devoted to the discussion of the nature of the perception and difference, the Advaitin’s theory of the illusoriness of the universe, the nature of consciousness (anubuti), the relative validity of scripture and perception and other allied doctrines closely follow, with the exception of two Vadas (18 and 19), the order of the arguments found in the Sri-Bhasya commencing from the Maha-Siddhanta upto the topic known as the Sruti-ghatta. The 31st vada which relates to the discussion of the doctrine of JivaMukti marks the divergence from the order of the Sri-bhasya. According to the order of the Sri-bhasya the interpretation of the Sruti texts should have been taken up for discussion after the 30th Vada; instead of this the doctrine of Jivanmuthi follows, while this doctrine is discussed in the Sri-Bhasya in the Samanvyaadhikarana. Vedanta Desika himself seems to be aware of this fact as he attempts to give an explanation at the outset of the 31st Vada for changing the order of the topics. The Vadas that follow subsequently do not strictly adhere to the same order as that of the Sri-Bhasya though most of the Vadas are based upon the arguments presented briefly in the Sri-Bhasya. Thus, for instance, in the Sri-Bhasya, in connection with the discussion of the interpretation of the scriptural texts in support of the nirguna Brahman which follows immediately after the sphota-vada, the relative validity of the saguna and nirguna texts is taken up, while this topic is dealt with in Vada 52 of the Satadusani.

Again, in the Sri-Bhasya the issues regarding the doctrine of Avidya appear in one place in a logical order, while these are scattered in different places and found in a different order in the Satadusani. The theory that Brahman is not the locus of’ nescience is discussed in Vada 19, while the theory that jiva is its locus is dealt with in Vada 40. The discussion of the issue whether consciousness is indeterminate in the stale of’ release would have been more appropriate if it had been taken along with other topics relating to the nature of consciousness (Vada 20 to 28); instead of that, it is taken up after the consideration of the issue whether an Advaitin is eligible For the study of the sacred texts (Vada 50), with which it has apparently no connection.

One possible explanation for the lack of sequence in the arrangement of topics is that the work must have been composed on the basis of the debates Vedanta Desika had with the Advaitins. It is possible that the debates might have been focused mainly on the Laghu-siddhanta and the Maha-siddhanta of the .Sri-Bhasys which contain the criticism against the Advaitins and in defence of which the arguments must have been developed further to render the refutation of Advaita complete. Some of the topics that do not find a place in the Sri-Bhasya must have sprung up as side issues for discussion during the course of the debate. The Guru-paramparai, which gives a biographical account of the Acaryas of the Vaishnava school including Vedanta Desika, tells us that a debate went on For seven days at Srirangarn between Vedanta Desika and the pandits belonging to the Advaita school. The arguments were daily recorded by Perarulala jiyar, a direct disciple of Desika. On the eighth day when the opponents were defeated, Perarulala Jiyar handed over the whole matter to Vedanta Desika who revised it, arranged the arguments in a proper order, and passed it on under the title of Satadusani.  According to another biographical account given in the Vaibhava-Prakasika to which a reference has been made earlier, Vedanta Desika himself is believed to have composed the work after the debate was over summarising the arguments advanced in the debate. Whatever it might have been, it appears from the order in which the Vadas are presented that the work must have been based mainly on the arguments advanced in the debate. Otherwise the work would have been more coherent, the Vadas being interrelated and gripped with a central idea. This remark in no way affects the value of the work as a Vada-grantha. Though there is no logical sequence in the arrangement of the topics, the work is complete and comprehensive so far as the criticism of Advaita doctrines is concerned. It exhibits fully the author’s mastery of the art of disputation as may be seen from the exposition of the arguments given in the subsequent posts.

to be continued….

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