Ramanuja vs Shankara

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former, destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail the destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses, and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, ‘consciousness’ is another name for reality/being/existence: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever is really perceiving these words at this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.

4 thoughts on “Ramanuja vs Shankara

  1. Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

    That’s a tough call. And as in all such matters, the outcome depends on who’s doing the judging. There are no odds posted in Vegas and both were fierce disputants secure in their place atop the heavyweight division. RC Dutt sees the match ending in a split decision, with perhaps the slight edge going to Ramanuja, the popular favorite. According to Dutt, “Ramanuja’s system is full of compassion and love… This is the special and humane feature of Ramanuja’s idea of God, as compared with the icy coldness of Shankara’s idea. Shankara has found favour with the philosophers and learned disputants, while Ramanuja has found favour with the millions, and has inspired a long line of reformers like Ramananda and Kabir, Nanak and Chaitanya, Dadu and Ram Mohan Roy.”

  2. I suspect that few would be qualified to pass judgement. Life is too short (and enthusiasm too fickle) to read all of the relevant material. I have a copy of Ramanuja’s ShrIbhAShya for example (in 3 volumes) but haven’t read it. I have, however, spent the past 6 (?) months reading and writing about ‘Ignorance’, and this includes a long section on Ramanuja’s ‘Seven Untenables’. And it did seem that these objections could all be countered. (Although the entire topic, once considered deeply, is so complex, I wouldn’t want to stake my life on it!)

    Regarding what you say, Rick, I think I would have to claim that reason will always overcome emotion if considered from a dispassionate standpoint but that, unfortunately, most people do not ever do that!

  3. “I think I would have to claim that reason will always overcome emotion if considered from a dispassionate standpoint…”

    Dennis, surely they ought to work in tandem without either one needing to ‘overcome’ the other. Even science, as Stephen Hawking wisely pointed out, is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion. How much more so religion and philosophy! And I suspect we all are subject to what Peter Wason called ‘confirmation bias’, the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. It was recognized as far back as Thucydides: “for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy”. To which Francis Bacon added: “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects[.]”

  4. Hi Rick,

    My comments were simply based on observation – e.g. response of governments to climate problems, response of individuals to Covid restrictions etc. – rather than a consideration of philosophical thinking. I don’t have any confidence at all in the ability of mankind to allow reason to ‘overcome’ desire!

    Best wishes,

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