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Re: Vibhava lokas

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Wed Sep 01 1999 - 12:53:04 PDT

Dear Srinivasan,

You wrote:
> In the Gaudiya vaishnava sampradaya, they talk of a Goloka (or
> Krsnaloka) as the supreme abode. I had never heard of that in
> Srivaishnavism and presumed that Srivaishnavism did not
> entertain such a notion.

The Gaudiya Vaishnava theology is very different from the Vedanta
of Ramanuja.  The Gaudiyas, to which sampradAya the Hare Krishnas also
belong, make distinctions between Krishna and Narayana, making the
former somehow superior to the latter, posit a Radha as being higher
than Lakshmi, believe that there was a "fall" from grace, etc. They
also have a very complex eschatology that posits many levels of 
liberation, with different worlds, or "planets" as they like to 
call them.

Most of these theological ideas have little basis in traditional
scripture, often facially do not make sense (to me, at least), and are 
therefore not present in our sampradAya. The Gaudiyas have 
interpretations which back them up, but they are usually based on
non-canonical texts which are not accepted by other traditions of
Vedanta. (The Goloka theology is primarily based on the Narada
Samhita, to my understanding).

> Regarding this I have some doubts. I humbly request our members
> to clarify these doubts.
> 
> 1) Are vibhava lokas recognised in Srivaishnavism? 

There is no such thing as a "vibhava loka" in Sri Vaishnavism.
The only terminology that is close is the notion of a "vibhava
avatAra", which means a bodily descent taken by Emberumaan at 
one point in time, for the benefit of his devotees.  Rama,
Krishna, Narasimha, etc., are examples of vibhava avatAras.
But this does not imply anything about a particular "planet"
on which these forms reside.

The positing of various "lokas" stems from thinking of Vaikuntha
primarily as a physical place.  I suggest that Vaikuntha should be thought 
of more as a *state* of consciousness where one has attained God,
rather than a particular physical place.  Beyond all materiality, 
Vaikuntha or parama-padam represents the state of moksha, where the 
jIva stands unfettered by karma due to the grace of God.  In this state, 
how and why should God be limited to one particular form? All forms 
simultaneously exist in this state, since consciousness itself is 
unlimited. Or, in other words, for the delight of the individual jIva, 
any form is present and brought to the attention of the jIva at any 
time.  So, the anubhavam of Krishna in Brindavana would be included in
the anubhavam of the jIva in parama-padam.

Ramanuja beautifully explains the multiple notions implied
by the term parama-padam. He writes in the Vedarthasangraha:
   
   In some texts, the term "parama-pada" is used to mean the
   highest state.  In others, it means the true nature of the
   individual self, freed from contact with matter, and in
   still some other texts, it refers to the true nature of
   Bhagavan. ... Now, all these three -- the highest state,
   the pure state of the self, and God -- are the ultimate
   goals to be attained. Hence they are described as parama-pada.

   "How can all three be the ultimate goal?", one may ask.  
   The answer is this. The Lord is primarily the supreme goal
   to be attained , so therefore he is "parama-pada".  The other
   two are included as constituent factors in the attainment of
   Bhagavan, so they are also designated "parama-pada". [*]

In his entire discussion, Ramanuja never discusses multiple levels
of liberation (it is anathema to him), nor does he discuss multiple
worlds. After all, only one state (paramam-padam) is mentioned in
the Vedas, and that state constitues God-attainment -- why posit
anything else? Above all, why posit something so complex?

In general, my experience has been that the theology of Ramanuja tends 
to be very straightforward. Almost always, what Ramanuja writes makes 
sense immediately, without being contrived, and without violating some 
basic common sense. I say this without being sycophantic or sentimental,
and I am sure that after a reading of his Gitabhashya or Vedarthasangraha
nearly anyone would immediately agree, even if in the end they disagree
with his conclusions. 

So, my general rule of thumb is this. If something is unreasonably
complex, unnecessarily contrived, or just plain doesn't sit right
in my mind, chances are that it is in some way opposed to Ramanuja's
exposition of Vedanta.
 
emberumaanaar tiruvaDigaLE SaraNam,
Mani

P.S. I don't wish to get into a public argument with Hare Krishna
     devotees on this subject. I am merely trying to present the
     view of Ramanuja on this subject.

[*] Original text:

    kvacit parasthAnam ca paramapada-Sabdena pratipAdyate;
    kvacit prakRti-viyukta-AtmasvarUpam; kvacit bhagavat-svarUpam.
    ... trINyapy etAni paramaprAptyatvena paramapada-Sabdena
    pratipAdyate.

    katham trayANAm parama-prApyatvam iti cet, bhagavat-svarUpam
    paramaprApyatvAd eva paramam padam; itaryor api bhagavat-
    prAptigarbhatvAd eva parama-padatvam.