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Re: The "real" Ramanuja (excerpts from Sri Bhasya)

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani)
Date: Tue Mar 12 1996 - 12:05:55 PST

Sumanth Kaushik presented excerpts from Ramanuja's
Sri Bhashya showing his opinions on caste, namely,
the denial of the right to bhakti-yoga for Sudras.

What exactly is the point? Certainly, Ramanuja
presented a staunchly orthodox face to the rest of
the world, but privately nurtured a very open and catholic
Sri Vaishnava community.  Recall that his own brahmin
students protested when he leaned on Urangavilli
Daasar's shoulder after bathing and sandhyA.
Ramanuja demonstrated how caste status had nothing
to do with bhakti and one's relationship in the
community of Vaishnavas. Also recall that he wished
to partake of the leftovers of Thirukkacchi NambigaL.
All of these actions were and are great apachArams in
orthodox brahminical eyes.

[A further example -- Periya Nambi, Ramanuja's acharya,
 performed the brahma-medha funeral rites for Maaran Eri
 Nambi, even thought the latter was an ``untouchable''!
 The brahma-medha is traditionally reserved only for
 brahmins.]

While Ramanuja definitely did uphold the traditional
restrictions concerning access to the Veda in his
Sri Bhashya, it is worth noting that S.S. Raghavachar,
the noted Ramanuja scholar of modern times, considered
Ramanuja's comments on Bhagavad-Gita 9.29 to be an
absolute *repudiation* of the apaSudrAdhikaraNa, the same
section in which the previous comments occur.

The Gita was written very late in Ramanuja's life,
and shows the acharya in his most devotional and mature
mood, writing primarily to his Sri Vaishnava community.
While he may have held a public posture about
the role of Sudras and their right to brahma-vidya, it
is my confirmed belief based on his life story and his
commentary on the Gita that he was far more accepting
of people of all castes than is apparent from the Sri Bhashya.

Consider this in the same vein as his absolute silence
on SaraNAgati in the Sri Bhashya, even though we all agree
that he was a firm believer in it.

Interestingly, SaraNAgati is also a Vedic brahma-vidya.
If we wanted to put Ramanuja in the straightjacket of
absolute consistency, Sudras would have no right to
SaraNAgati as well.

Regarding hell: I have rethought my position and I agree
that the hell as conceived of by the PurANas and Brahma-sutras
makes logical sense and is fully acceptable.  There is no
logical reason to deny it, though I still maintain that
a bhakta would be happy in hell as well, since she sees
God everywhere.

Mani