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Ramanuja ( Devanagari : रामानुज, Rāmānuja; * probably around 1050 in Sriperumbudur in today's state of Tamil Nadu ; † probably in 1137 in Srirangam ) was an Indian philosopher and religious teacher of Hinduism . He was the founder of the Vishishtadvaita teaching, a "modified" (restricted) monism , and is considered to be the central teacher of the Sri Vaishnava tradition. He opposed this view to the radical monism of Advaita Vedanta (Vedanta of non- dualism ). In doing so, he created the theoretical basis for a theistic worldview that escapes the consequences of radical monism without giving up monism in favor of a dualistic worldview.


Of the numerous life descriptions of Ramanuja that were written after his death, two allegedly come from contemporaries. However, the oldest surviving biography that can be reliably dated was written more than a century after his death. The biographers sought to demonstrate Ramanuja's holiness. A separation of the legendary hagiographic material from historical facts is difficult under these circumstances.


Ramanuja came from a Brahmin family , so belonged to the highest caste . According to traditional information, he was born in 1017 and died in 1137. This chronology, according to which he would have reached the age of around 120 years, makes a legendary impression. Research suggests that he was born several decades later. The recorded year of death has also been questioned.

Ramanuja received his first training from the Vedanta teacher Yadavaprakasha. However, after disagreements over the interpretation of the Vedanta, he separated from it. He belonged to the community of the Vaishnavas, the worshipers of the god Vishnu , who regard this god not as one among others, but as the highest being ( Vishnuism ). The Vaishnavas traditionally place great emphasis on their claim that there is an unbroken chain of masters, each of whom imparted the teaching received from their own master to their disciples. Ramanuja is considered the last of three particularly prominent and revered Acharyas (religious teachers, masters). The first was Nathamuni (10th century), the second was his grandson Yamuna (10th / 11th century). Ramanuja is said not to have met Yamuna, but received instruction from five disciples of Yamuna. Each of the five introduced him to a particular aspect of Yamuna's teaching. According to tradition, Ramanuja was initiated into a religious secret by one of his five teachers after he swore not to reveal it. The following day, however, he climbed a temple tower (according to another version he went to a balcony of the temple) and revealed the secret to the assembled believers in a loud voice. When confronted by Master, he confessed that he had disobeyed him. He said that he knew that because of this he was threatened with hell, but that the believers would be connected (through their participation in the mystery) with the Teacher and thus be redeemed, and for this he made the sacrifice. Ramanuja's teacher was so impressed by this that he recognized him as a real master to whom he, the teacher, was inferior. This is how Ramanuja gained the prestige that gave him the leadership of the Vaishnava community.

This story reflects the transition from an exclusive, secrecy-minded spiritual school, whose teaching content was only passed on to individual students after thorough preparation, to an open religious community whose teachings were universally proclaimed and whose practice was the popular Vishnu cult. In addition to this opening to the public, Ramanuja also strictly adhered to the principle of a personal master-student relationship. He legitimized himself as a teacher through an initiation which his master Tirukottiyur Nampi had given him, and in turn initiated students, whom he authorized to pass the initiation on to others.

The renunciation of the traditional exclusivity cultivated by the Brahmins, which is characteristic of Ramanuja, brought him into conflict with the conventional, strict caste thinking. While the Brahmins consistently maintained the prerogatives of their rank as members of the highest caste (priest), Ramanuja, although he was a Brahmin, became a disciple of a master who belonged to a lower caste. In doing so, he recognized the priority of individual spiritual qualifications over caste status. Ramanuja's wife is said to have disapproved of what he left her and became a monk. Such a renunciation of family life was common among religious teachers; in Ramanuja's case, however, it was not a question of a fundamental devaluation or rejection of the marriage, but rather a fundamental difference of opinion because of which his marriage failed.

Ramanuja turned out to be a capable innovator and organizer of the Vishnu cult. He made the main temple of the Vaishnavas in Shrirangam the center of his growing student community. On long journeys he went to pilgrimage centers in order to reform the temple cult there in his favor. This led to a greater participation of non-Brahmin groups in the temple cult. In search of comments on the scriptures revered as sacred, he reached Kashmir .

In the southern Indian Chola kingdom, where he lived, a ruler ruled who was an avid follower of Shaivism . Hence there was persecution of Vaishnavas there; Ramanuja had to flee north to the Hoysala Empire, where he spent part of his later life. There he won the favor of the king and pushed back Jainism . A sculpture with an inscription showing him with the Hoysala King is the oldest evidence of its historical existence. Later he was able to return to Shrirangam.


Traditionally, nine works are attributed to Ramanuja. Probably the first of them was the treatise Vedarthasamgraha ("Summary of the meaning of the Veda "). There he summarizes his philosophical position with reference to the Upanishads . He later wrote his major work Shribhashya ("The Venerable Commentary"), on which his fame is mainly based. It is an interpretation of the Brahmasutras that includes a dialogue with a philosophical opponent. In it he developed his theistic, moderately monistic doctrine in dealing with radical monism, of which the famous philosopher Shankara was the main exponent . Some of his particularly detailed commentary on the first Brahma Sutra was called Mahasiddhanta in Ramanuja's school . Two other, shorter commentaries on the Brahmasutras are titled Vedantadipa (“Vedanta lamp”) and Vedantasara (“The essence of Vedanta”). The Vedantadipa was certainly written after the Shribhashya , the Vedantasara probably ; the Vedantasara is possibly a work authorized by Ramanuja by one of his disciples. Ramanuja also wrote a commentary on the Bhagavadgita , the Bhagavadgitabhashya , probably a late work. There he turns against radically monistic, God as ultimately impersonal interpretations of this religious poem.

Four other works by Ramanuja are not philosophical but intended for the practice of piety. The Nityagrantha is a manual of daily devotional worship. The Sharanagatigadyam is a literarily stylized personal conversation between God and the one who takes refuge with him; Refuge is sought and granted. The Shrirangagadyam and the Vaikunthagadyam are hymn-like prayers in prose. This literature differs greatly from the five philosophical works in terms of its literary form. Its authenticity has been questioned in the 20th century. The basic attitude that is expressed in these four works, however, shows no essential differences to the well-known philosophical attitude of Ramanuja. Hence, from a content point of view, there is no need to reject the traditional view that the manual and the prayers are from him.


Like his philosophical opponent Shankara, Ramanuja unconditionally accepts the authority of the Upanishads , Mahabharata , Ramayana and Vishnu Purana . He cites those passages in this literature that are suitable to support his position, just as Shankara concentrates on the interpretation of other passages that speak for his view.


In ontology , Ramanuja takes a moderate position with regard to the reality of individual things. In contrast to Shankara, he does not teach that God is the only, absolutely uniform and all-encompassing reality and that the multiplicity in the world is a mere illusion ( maya ) . He considers the individual living beings and the inanimate things to be forms of God. For him, these forms are not mere appearance, but rather allow them their own real existence. However, this being is inseparable from the being of God. Ramanuja thus accepts real differences (vishesha) between real existing entities, but without assigning them a separate existence in the way it happens in dualism. Therefore he can teach an individual immortality of the individual souls and at the same time hold on to the monistic idea that their essence corresponds to that of God and that they are "parts" of him ( tat tvam asi ) . With this differentiated position he justifies his theism, according to which the individual beings cannot be identified absolutely with God, but are eternal partners of the deity understood as a person. If they were absolutely identical with God as the only reality in the sense of Advaita, then all love of God would be pure self-love, which is not acceptable for Ramanuja.

This teaching later came to be known as the Vishishtadvaita, which Ramanuja himself had not yet used. This term means "modified (or restricted) non-dualism".

Ramanuja argues against the idea of ​​the radical monists that the whole perceptible world with its diversity is only an illusion created by ignorance and that there is in reality only the unqualified Brahman, argues Ramanuja, by asking about the originator of ignorance. It could not be the Brahman, since it would thereby contradict its nature, whereby it would cancel itself. So only the individual souls would be considered as originators. For them the question arises whether their ignorance is real or unreal. If it is unreal, then it is not a real defect, and the attempt to trace it back to one leads to an infinite regress . If ignorance is real, the world contains something real.

Ramanuja also argues against the Buddhist view that there is nothing permanent, but only transient and thus no metaphysical eternity, i.e. neither a deity nor an eternal existence of souls.


Ramanuja's theory of knowledge is realistic because it assumes a correctly discernible objective reality of the outside world. It assumes that knowledge is gained from perception and inference and that these two sources of knowledge are fundamentally trustworthy. Dreams are real too; its processes are no less real than processes in the outside world; they take place in a special materiality created especially for this purpose. Errors arise due to disturbances in the perception processes or due to incorrect inferences. A third source of knowledge is the sacred religious scriptures; they inform about metaphysical facts that elude normal sensory perception, especially about the nature of the deity. When interpreting these scriptures, Ramanuja, unlike Shankara, does not start from two different levels of truth of different ranks, but considers all texts on the same level. He believes that apparent inconsistencies and contradictions between various statements in the scriptures cannot be resolved by assigning one to a higher level than the other. Rather, the dissolution of the contradictions results from a synthesis encompassing the opposites. For example, for Ramanuja, God is both impersonal and personal. Accordingly, the teaching of Advaita followers, who view God as impersonal, is not inherently wrong, but only incomplete and therefore misleading.

Cosmology and theory of the soul

For Ramanuja, the total reality consists of inanimate matter (achit) , the sensitive, limited individual beings as carriers of consciousness (chit) and the deity as the highest self (paramatma) . The physical, sensually perceptible universe consists of material objects, including animate bodies, which to a certain extent are subject to the control of the souls that enliven them. It is true that bodies exist only temporarily, but the material of which they are made, like the souls of which they are inhabited, has no beginning in time.

Ramanuja also uses the term Brahman for the deity . Brahman has both a personal and an impersonal aspect, the personal being the essential one. Insofar as Brahman is a person, the term Vishnu is also used for it (among other things). Ramanuja emphatically opposes the claim of the radical monists that Brahman has no attributes. He only wants to exclude bad qualities and ascribes an abundance of good qualities to the deity.

Ramanuja differentiates in the individual between a limited self (atma) and an inner or highest self (paramatma) of divine quality. In the individual souls, the highest self, the deity, is present as an antaryamin (inner guide). The limited self is related to the inner or highest self as the material body is related to the limited self, in that it has the function of an instrument. The relationship of the world to God, whose “body” it is in this respect, is analogous. Since the world is subject to constant change, God is involved in the change through his body, although he is completely unchangeable in himself. Ramanuja also compares this relationship with that between the subject and the predicative adjective in grammar. The limited self is similar to the highest self in that it is naturally endowed with the essentials of awareness and bliss like the latter. However, like this it is not all powerful and all pervasive. Moreover, as a result of its ignorance, it is tied to a defective existence in the material world.

Ramanuja compares the relationship between the (limited) self and its consciousness to that between a lamp (i.e. its flame) and the light emanating from it. Flame and light are made of the same substance. Likewise, awareness is the "matter" that defines the essence of the self as well as the essence of its conscious acts. The self is the permanent basis of the acts of consciousness emanating from it and is at the same time numerically different from them, and the acts are also numerically different from one another. The self as a conscious subject and its consciousness are not - as the radical monists believe - basically identical. Ramanuja fights the assertion of the radical monists that the knower, the act of cognition and the object of cognition ultimately collapse into one and turn out to be an undifferentiated reality “knowledge”. According to his teaching, the subject of everyday conscious experiences is not a higher, universal, supra-individual consciousness, but the individual as such. In this context, he deals with the counter-argument that the self, as an experiencing subject, is then subject to change and is therefore not eternal, but a component of the transitory world. He differentiates between an external change due to the changing influences of the objects of knowledge on the knower and an internal immutability of the knower, which is based on the immutability of his being.

Ramanuja regards the individual individuals in the state of redemption (i.e. freed from their changeable, contingent properties that they assume during their stay in the material world) as qualitatively identical and only numerically different.

Ramanuja believes that a soul always needs a body. Therefore, even after its liberation ( moksha ) from the material world, when it assumes a god-like quality, it has a (subtle) body. The soul can be localized; it does not have the dimensions of its respective body, but is tiny.

Salvation Doctrine

Vedanta literature provides correct knowledge of reality to living beings misled by their ignorance . This is to enable them to be freed from the slavery of existence in the material world. This includes the knowledge of the correct fulfillment of the social and ritual duties that are established by religious tradition. A religious-philosophical insight into the world and its laws is also required. But more important than these two means of salvation is the loving devotion ( bhakti ) to God.

The alignment of consciousness with God happens when the bhakta (bhakti practitioner) continually recalls God's properties until they are permanently present to him and appear as real as the objects of his sensory perception. This creates a very intense emotional relationship between the bhakta and God, so that the bhakta thinks that he cannot live without the constantly experienced presence of God. Ramanuja characterizes bhakti as "reverent rethinking" which is "constant, steadfast remembering." Insofar as this remembering “possesses a maximum of what is present”, it takes on “the form of a vision”, which means “entering the state of perception”. So it is with the "constant firm remembering" not simply a matter of calling something into memory, but rather a meditation which, through the intensity of being present, takes on the character of a view of God. In the meditative act, the meditator willingly exposes himself to being hit by what he “remembers”. As such, the meditator is “particularly dear to God” and is therefore “chosen” by him, that is, God shows himself to him as he really is. Only he is suitable to achieve the knowledge of God, to whom the object of remembering as well as the act of remembering is “dear to all”. The highest degree of visualization in meditation understood as bhakti corresponds to the highest degree of loving relationship with the divine being.

The school of Ramanuja emphasizes the presence of God in his images. This assumption formed the basis of the ritual worship of the images in the temple.

Ramanuja's emphasis on the personal relationship between God and the person who loves him leads him to far-reaching consequences. He breaks with the philosophical notion that God's perfection means that there is nothing he needs. God turns to living beings with the intention of saving them from the consequences of their ignorance. To this end he takes the initiative, otherwise redemption would be impossible. He not only devotes his love to the bhaktas , but also in turn needs hers, which he ignites through his presence. Thus, not only is loving devotion to him a means of reaching him, but at the same time, through his presence that is perceptible to the bhakta , he is also a means by which the state of unshakable devotion can be achieved. Ramanuja thus unites the traditional concept, according to which humans obtain grace through active devotion, with a doctrine of grace, according to which grace is received passively as a pure gift and thus surrender becomes possible. Here, too, Ramanuja arrives at a synthesis of seemingly opposing perspectives.

Ramanuja does not dispute the essential unity of the individual souls with Brahman (as an impersonal aspect of the deity) assumed by Advaita followers. He believes that souls can attain salvation not only in a personal relationship with God, but also in union with the impersonal Brahman. When they realize this unity, they are free of suffering, but then they lack communion with the person of God. This is the goal of the Advaita followers - in Ramanuja's view quite achievable, but not desirable.

Ramanuja's belief is that those seeking salvation do not need to live as a hermit or a wandering monk. Rather, the path is also open to those who are married and run a household. However, instruction from a master is essential.

Ramanuja teaches that salvation is not only achieved through a final departure from the material universe with its afflicted ways of being:

“To embodied individuals who are subject to the power of karma , the world in its entirety, in so far as it is experienced as something different from Brahman, appears as troubled or, to a limited extent, enjoyable, depending on the person's individual karma. But it is precisely the experience of the world as something [completely] different from Brahman that makes the experience in the world worrisome or only partially enjoyable. It is the experience of [apparent] difference that leads to it, and the cause of this experience is karma. Therefore, when one is freed from karma in its form of ignorance, that same world becomes ... something that only brings joy. "

Philosophy of language

Ramanuja is of the opinion that the main task of language is to make statements about objective facts. He refers to Sanskrit as a holy language and primarily means the Vedic texts, but also the everyday non-religious use of language. He considers the relationship between a Sanskrit term and what it signifies to be an objective, immutable, natural law fact. The language of the Vedas is also "impersonal", since the order of the words, of which the Vedic texts consist, does not depend on the personal will of the author, but follows a natural necessity. With this view, Ramanuja turns against the language philosophy of the Prabhakara school. This school teaches that the task of language is not to make statements about objective facts such as Brahman, but is limited to telling the addressee what to do. The aim of the verbal communication is not knowledge, but the execution of an ordered action. It is true that everyday language can also be used to make claims, but in these cases too the goal of communication is ultimately an act or omission of the person addressed.

The philosophy of language also plays a role in Ramanuja's confrontation with his philosophical-theological opponents, the adherents of radical monism. He argues that language is by its nature unsuitable for making statements about a nondifferentiated reality such as a radically monistic Brahman.


Cult statue of Ramanuja

Ramanuja enjoyed great esteem among the Vaishnavas during his lifetime and in all subsequent generations. To him they owe the permanent connection of a philosophical teaching formulated in Sanskrit with the Vishnu-oriented Tamil popular piety of South India, which is known as the Sri Vaishnava tradition. Therefore, after his death, numerous life descriptions of Ramanuja were written in the hagiographic style, both in Sanskrit and in the Tamil language . Almost half of the literature of the Vishishtadvaita consists of writings that comment on or refer to his works.

Later, when the Vaishnavas split into different branches, they continued to invoke the authority of Ramanuja. In the doctrine of grace, his followers emphasized the passive reception of grace.

Text editions and translations


  • Vasudev Shastri Abhyankar (Ed.): Śrî-Bhâshya of Râmânujâchârya . 2 volumes (Volume 1: Text , Volume 2: Introduction and notes ), Government Central Press, Bombay 1914–1916 (only Sanskrit text)
  • M. Rangacharya, MB Varadaraja Aiyangar (ed.): The Vedāntasūtras with the Śrībhāṣya of Rāmānujācārya . 3 volumes, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi 1988–1991, ISBN 81-215-0090-7 (English translation)
  • Rudolf Otto (Ed.): Siddhānta des Rāmānuja. A text on the Indian mysticism of God . 2nd edition, Mohr, Tübingen 1923 (translation of the first section of the Shribhashya )

Other works

  • Johannes AB van Buitenen (Ed.): Rāmānuja's Vedārthasaṃgraha . Deccan College, Poona 1956 (critical edition and English translation)
  • Adam Hohenberger (Ed.): Rāmānuja's Vedāntadīpa. His short exposition of the Brahmasūtrs of Bādarāyaṇa . Oriental seminar at the University of Bonn, Bonn 1964 (translation only)
  • V. Krishnamacharya, MB Narasimha Ayyangar (Ed.): Vedāntasāra of Bhagavad Rāmānuja . Adyar 1953 (Sanskrit text with English translation)
  • Isvaradatta: Rāmānuja's Commentary on the Bhagavadgītā . Muzaffarpur 1930 (translation only)
  • Gerhard Oberhammer (Ed.): Śaraṇāgatigadyam . In: Gerhard Oberhammer: On the spiritual practice of taking refuge with God (Śaraṇāgatiḥ) before Veṅkaṭanātha . Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2004, pp. 142–152 (Sanskrit text and German translation)


  • John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja . Yale University Press, New Haven 1974, ISBN 0-300-01521-6
  • Adam Hohenberger: Rāmānuja. A philosopher of Indian mysticism of God , Oriental Seminar of the University of Bonn, Bonn 1960
  • Robert C. Lester: Rāmānuja on the Yoga . Adyar Library and Research Center, Adyar 1976, ISBN 0-8356-7509-2
  • Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth. A Study of Meaning and Metaphysics in the Vedāntic Theology of Rāmānuja . Macmillan, Houndsmills 1986, ISBN 0-333-38959-X
  • Gerhard Oberhammer : The Ātmā as a subject in the theology of Rāmānuja . Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-7001-6500-2


  1. For the chronology see Eric J. Lott: God and the Universe in the Vedāntic Theology of Rāmānuja , Madras 1976, pp. 12, 171; John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, p. 27.
  2. See Gerhard Oberhammer: Yādavaprakāśa, the forgotten teacher Rāmānujas , Vienna 1997, pp. 9 f., 100 f .; John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 28 f.
  3. John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 39-41.
  4. The description of this process in the legend is given by Arvind Sharma: Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. A Study , New Delhi 1978, p. 10 f. See John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 31 f.
  5. BR Gopal: Sri Ramanuja in Karnataka , Delhi 1983, pp. 5 ff. And John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 44-46 discuss details of the exile period and the chronology .
  6. For the chronology see Johannes AB van Buitenen (ed.): Rāmānuja's Vedārthasaṃgraha , Poona 1956, pp. 30–32; disagreed with John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 57-60.
  7. On the authenticity of the Sharanagatigadyam see Gerhard Oberhammer: On the spiritual practice of taking refuge with God (Śaraṇāgatiḥ) before Veṅkaṭanātha , Vienna 2004, pp. 140 f., 160. Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, pp. 116-118. John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 19–22, 62–64, 230–236 assumes that all nine works traditionally ascribed to Ramanuja are authentic.
  8. ^ Adam Hohenberger: Rāmānuja. A philosopher Indian mysticism of God , Bonn 1960, p. 40; Hohenberger explains further arguments by Ramanuja on pp. 41–46.
  9. On Ramanuja's argument against the Buddhists see Adam Hohenberger: Rāmānuja. A philosopher Indian mysticism of God , Bonn 1960, pp. 57–64.
  10. ^ Adam Hohenberger: Rāmānuja. A philosopher Indian mysticism of God , Bonn 1960, pp. 28–31, 38 f.
  11. For the meaning of this term in Ramanuja see Gerhard Oberhammer: Der "Innere Lenker" (Antaryāmī). History of a Theologem, Vienna 1998, pp. 47–70.
  12. On this thought, see Gerhard Oberhammer: The Ātmā as a subject in the theology of Rāmānujas , Vienna 2008, pp. 12–16; Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, pp. 120-139.
  13. Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, pp. 49-57, 67 f.
  14. Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, pp. 74-79; Robert C. Lester: Rāmānuja on the Yoga , Adyar 1976, p. 112 f.
  15. ^ Adam Hohenberger: Rāmānuja. A philosopher of Indian mysticism of God , Bonn 1960, p. 67 f.
  16. Gerhard Oberhammer: On the eschatology of the Rāmānuja school before Veṅkaṭanātha , Vienna 2006, p. 18 f.
  17. Gerhard Oberhammer: On the spiritual practice of taking refuge with God (Śaraṇāgatiḥ) before Veṅkaṭanātha , Vienna 2004, pp. 23–38.
  18. References in John Braisted Carman: The Theology of Rāmānuja , New Haven 1974, pp. 191–193.
  19. Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndmills 1986, p 113; Robert C. Lester: Rāmānuja on the Yoga , Adyar 1976, pp. 97-99.
  20. Ramanuja: Shribhashya 1.3.7; the German translation follows the English translation by Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, p. 119.
  21. Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, pp. 7-24.
  22. Julius J. Lipner: The Face of Truth , Houndsmills 1986, pp. 25 ff.