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re: Intra religious distinctions series

From: John Grimes (
Date: Wed Apr 03 1996 - 23:30:21 PST

In furtherance of Mani's comments:

The polemics between the Advaitins and the Visistadvaitins seems unending.
It has continued for over 700 years and shows no signs of abating. Though
both sides are but a systematic exposition of an accepted canonical
literature, they disagree over virtually everything - raning from a theory
of knowledge all the way to eschatological, cosmological, and ontological

After the initial formulation of the Advaita philosophy by Sankara, both
schools have grown out of critical reflections on and from previous
philosophical positions. They both have roots which go back into the mists
of history and each exegesis claims to be a faithful explication of the
"true" meaning of the sruti. For, after all, both philosophical sysems are
but deductive interpretations. They both assumed the validity of
Badarayana's sutras and then unfolded its meaning as implied by the
relevant Upanisadic statements.

Both systems assert that the Vedas are apauruseya and hence,
unquestionable. However, they also assert that the principal primary means
of liberation is jnana according to Advaita and bhakti according to
Visistadvaita. In order to make these positions intelligible, they have to
emphasise certain scriptural passages instead of others, and interpret them
to suit their own standpoint.
It is this fact, that the Upanisadic statements can be interpreted
differently which accounts for the differences among the Vedantic systems.

The value of polemic works is that they invariably end in construction. The
Indian philosophical systems have employed polemics both as a necessary and
desirable part of their history. Their main function was not so much to
refute a particular system, though that certainly played a part, as to
define and distinguish their own position vis-a-vis that of the other
systems. The main purpose of such works is to become clearer on the
doctrine itself, as well as to clarify one's position for others. The goal
is clarity rather than demolition. What is implicit becomes explicit
through such an endeavor. This is the great value of a polemic work.

There seems to be an historic need for each school of thought. With the
great diversity of human predilections, everything seems to have its reason
to be. The conflicts which exist between the systems do not seem to affect
their value as a particular system of thought. One may even go so far as to
claim that the various systems enrich and inspire each other with their
mutual fecundity.


John Grimes, Dept of Philosophy, NUS