Essay on the Contribution of Different Brahmin Scholars in Hinduism

Hinduism. It has influenced modern scholarship, and many students of (he Upanishads have been inclined to ignore the wide range of speculation in these texts and have followed Ankara’s lead, reading almost everywhere the identity of the soul (atma) and the Absolute (Brahman)

Ramanuja, a Tamil Brahman who flourished about A.D. 1100, gave the rising piety of the times a firm philosophical basis, with a philosophy of ‘The Way of Devotion’ (bhakti-marga). He interpreted the same texts as Sankara had commented on in a different light, to produce the system known as Visishtadvaita (‘ Qualified Monism’).

Ramanuja rejected Sankara’s impersonal Brahman, which he interpreted as an inadequate and partial realization of ‘The Supreme Person’ (Purushottama), the god Vishnu, who was ultimate, eternal, and absolute. Vishnu, inspired by a sort of cosmic loneliness, had diversified himself at the beginning of time, and hence had produced the cosmos, which, being the work of the wholly real creator, could not be ultim­ately unreal, but shared in God’s reality. In the same way the individual soul, created by God who was also an individual, could never wholly lose its indivi­duality and even in the highest state of bliss was always conscious of itself as being part of God and the recipient of God’s grace and love.

Ramanuja may not have been as brilliant a dialectician as Sankara, but his theology has probably as much justification in the Upanishads as that of Sankara. It provided a philosophy for the bhakti movements of the medieval period, and thus ramified into many sub-schools, whose doctors debated learnedly and earnestly on problems of faith and grace.

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The most remarkable of these later schools was that of Madhva, a Canaries theologian of the thirteenth century. Madhya’s doctrine, also theoretically based on the Brahma Siiiras and the Upanishads, was one of unqualified dualism (Dvaita). Accord­ing to his system the individual soul was created by God, but never was and never would become one with him or part of him.

In the state of highest bliss the individual soul drew infinitely close to transcendent godhead, and re­mained thus forever, but it was always aware of its difference from God. Several features of Madhva’s system, as well as this one, suggest Christian in­fluence, and he may have gathered some of his ideas from the Syrian Christians of Kerala.

There was a heretical school of thought which was associated with the name of Charvaka, supposed to be its founder. It was also known by the name Lokdyata (‘popular’). The literature of the system is now practically lost, and we have to depend on the accounts of others to learn its main contents. The system had many schools, but the fundamental tenets seem to be the same.


This school denied the existence of any soul or pure consciousness, which is admitted by all schools of Hindu thought. It also denied the possibility of liberation in any form, the infallible nature of the Vedas, and the doctrine of karma and rebirth. All Hindu schools of thought assume as their fundamental postulates the above doctrines, and it is on account of their denial that this system was regarded as heretical (nastika).

It held that consciousness was an emergent function of matter complexes, just as the mixture of white and yellow may produce red, or fermented starch becomes an intoxicant. Con­sciousness being thus an epiphenomenon, nothing remained of the man after death.

According to the Dhurta Charvaka’s, in the state of life some sort of a soul was developed which was destroyed at death; but, according to the other adherents of the Charvaka School, no such soul was formed and the be­haviour of a man was guided in responses by physico-phvsiological stimuli.

Thus Charvakas did not believe in the law of karma or of rebirth and they also had no faith in any religious creed or ritual of any sort. In the field of logic they thought that since there is no way of proving the unconditional validity of inductive propositions all inferences have only a probable value: percep­tions are all that we can depend upon.


Side by side with the doctrine of the Charvaka materialists we are reminded of the Ajlvaka School of Makkhali Qosala, and of the sophistical school of Ajita Kesakamball, and we read also of the doctrines of Panchasikha, Sulabha, and others, which were also intensely heretical.

Thus Gosala be­lieved in a thoroughgoing determinism and denied the free will and moral responsibility of man. According to him, everything was determined by con­ditions and environments. Kesakamball also denied the law of karma and insisted on the futility of all moral efforts. In the specific details, there is a great divergence of views in the different systems of Indian philosophy regard­ing the concept of the law of karma. Stated in a general manner, the theory supposes that the unseen potency of action generally requires some time be­fore it becomes effective and bestows on the agent merited enjoyment or punishment.

Through the beginning less series of past lives, through which everyone passes, the mysterious potency of the action accumulates and only becomes partially mature from time to time. The period of life, the nature of enjoyment and suffering in a particular life, and the environments are deter­mined by the nature of the karma which has ripened for giving fruit.

The un­ripe store of accumulated karma may be annulled by the destruction of ignor­ance, the rise of true wisdom, devotion, or the grace of God. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether the inevitable fruits of the ripened actions can be annulled. The theory of karma is the foundation-stone of all Indian systems of thought, except the aforesaid heresies.

The system of thought that began with the Buddha and was developed by his followers was also regarded by the Hindus as heretical, as it did not accept the infallibility of the Vedas and the existence of an eternal and immortal soul this, and the system known as Jainism, are both very important products of the Indian philosophical genius, but as they are treated in other chapters of this volume they are not considered here.

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