Till the emergence of this school, all ethical schools of philosophy, both orthodox and heterodox, taught the way of jnaana (intuitive knowledge of reality) as the means to liberation. Visishtadvaita also known as the Shree Sampradhaaya of Vaishnavism, represents the first serious attempt in systematic philosophy to treat bhakti or devotion as the means to liberation. Yes, intuitive knowledge of the true nature of one's own self is the way to liberation. But this dawning of true knowledge is only through God's grace and individual effort is not so vital. Actually Shankara himself though stressing the importance of self effort through aatma vichaaram or probing and analyzing one's own self as the means to liberation, still asserts that ultimately it is due to the grace of God that the saving knowledge dawns. Raamanuja shifts the emphasis from individual effort to God's grace. But still he doesn't ignore the former - self-effort in purifying one's own self and contemplation on Vedaanta are necessary. But ultimately it is devotion (bhakti) to the Lord which will result in His grace, give rise to saving knowledge and effect liberation. Later bhakti Vedaantists are indifferent to self effort and tilt the scales more in favor of bhakti as the true means to receive God's grace and effect liberation.
The Visishtadvaitins are Vaishnavas or the devotees of Lord Vishnu. The Purusha Shukta of the Rig Veda and the Shatapatha Brahmana where Lord Narayana performs the Pancharaatra sacrifice to become the Great Being, seem to be the foundation of the Vaishnava philosophy. The Vaishnavas are deeply influenced by the Bhagavatha cult whose origins lie buried in hoary antiquity. The Pancharaatra Samhita, certain doctrines of which Shankaracharya condemns as non-Vedic, is revered as sacred literature or Agama by the Vaishnavas and treated on par with the Vedas. The Pancharaatra is so called either because it deals with five philosophical topics or because it incorporates the essence of the four Vedas with Samkhya/Yoga or because Lord Narayana taught it to his five disciples during five nights.
The Visishtadvaitins were directly inspired by the Azhlvaar saints of the Tamil country, who with their soul stirring hymns in Tamil sang with intense devotional love, the mystic glory of the Lord. Azhlvaar means one who has a mystic intuitive knowledge of God and has sunk himself into deep contemplation of the Divine. The Azhlvaar saints who flourished between the seventh and the ninth century were from all sections of the society - Brahmins, shudras, even a prince and a woman. Twelve among them have canonical status - Bhutattaazhlvar, Poygaiyaazhlvar, Peyaazhlvar, Tirumarisaiaazhlvar, Nammaazhlvar, Madhurakaviaazhlvar, Perumaalazhlvar, Periyaazhlvar, Andaal, Tondar-adi-podiaazhlvar, Tirupaanazhlvar and Tirumangaiaazhlvar. The aazhlvars completely renounced everything and dedicated themselves to the Lord and treated themselves as entirely dependent on their Lord. They conceive the entire world as the body of the Lord and taught that real pleasure lies in dedicating oneself to the service of the Lord. The devotee forgets everything else except the Lord and his love for his Lord is beyond space and time. He regards himself as a maid and through the pangs of separation loses himself in the Lord. The collection of the Tamil hymns of the Azhlvars consisting of four thousand verses is called the Naalaayira Divya Prabhandham (naalaayira - four thousand). In the Visishtadvaita tradition the Divya Prabandham is considered on par with the Vedas and is also referred to as the Tamil Veda. The Azhlvaars were succeeded by the theologician-philosophers called Alagiyas or the Achaaryas who provided a philosophical basis for the personal theism of the Azhlvaars and tried to reconcile bhakti with the Vedanta.
TEACHERS AND LITERATURE
Naathamuni (10th century CE) is considered the first acharya of the Visishtadvaita tradition. He was the disciple of Madhurakavi aazhlvaar who was himself the disciple of Nammaazhlvaar or Sadagopan. Naathamuni arranged the hymns of the Azhlvaars, restored the Divya Prabandham and set the hymns to music in the Vedic manner, which are sung in the temples to this day. Nyayatattva, the first work of Visishtadvaita is attributed to him.
Yaamunaacharya or Aazhlavandaar (one who has come to rule), who was the grandson of Naathamuni, is the second acharya of the tradition. In his Agama-praamaanya he defends the Agamas which he places side by side with the Vedas. We find the first formal exposition of Visishtadvaita in his Siddhitraya. His Stotra-ratna expresses the doctrine of prapatti in inspiring devotional verses and Ramanuja is said to have become deeply attracted towards Yaamuna afer hearing these hymns.
Ramanuja was born in the year 1017 CE in the Vadama sect of Tamil Brahmins in Sriperambattur and lived for a hundred and twenty years! He first studied the Vedanta under Yadhava Prakasha in Kanchipuram but was driven out by Yadhava when he quarreled with him regarding the interpretation of certain Upanishadic passages. Under the influence of his maternal uncle Periyanambi (Mahaapurna), Ramanuja became deeply attracted towards Yaamuna, who himself wanted to install Ramanuja in the apostolic seat in Srirangam. But tragically, before Ramanuja could reach Srirangam Yaamuna died and legend has it that when Ramanuja reached the spot he found three of the five fingers of Yaamuna's right hand folded, which signified three unfulfilled desires of Yaamuna - one of which was to write a commentary on the Brahma Sutras from the Visishtadvaita standpoint - which Ramanuja fulfilled by writing the Shri Baashyam. Ramanuja's other works include the Gita Baashyam, Vedaantasara, Vedaantadeepa, Gadyatraya and Vedarthasamgraha.
Historically the bulk of Ramanuja's followers (the modern day Iyengars in Tamil Nadu) were drawn from two sects of Brahmins in the Tamil country : the Vadamas and the Chozhiyaas. There is a popular saying in Sri Vaishnava Vadama circles that the Vadamas of the smartha following i.e, those who follow Shankaraachaarya, when they "mature", will embrace the Sri Vaishnavism of Ramanuja.
Sudarshana Suri's Shrutaprakaashika is a commentary on the Shri Baashyam.
Two centuries after Ramanuja, there was a schism amongst his followers which resulted in the tradition being divided into two camps - the Vadakalai (vada - Northern; kalai - art i.e, Sanskrit) and the Thenkalai (Southern art i.e, Tamil). Visishtadvaita is also called Ubhaya Vedanta since it equally values both the Sanskrit and the Tamil traditions. While the Vadakalai follows this tradition, the Thenkalai is indifferent to the Sanskrit tradition. One fundamental difference between the schools lies with regards to individual effort : the Vadakalai is of the view that just like a little monkey which clings to its mother, so should one take the effort of purifying oneself, renounce the world and cling to the Lord to receive divine grace. The Thenkalai on the other hand considers individual effort unnecessary - just like the cat which lifts its kitten by the mouth and carries it to safety, likewise the Lord bestows divine grace on the sinner and lifts him above.
Venkatanatha or Vedanta Desika, the greatest scholar of the Ramanuja school is the founder of the Vadakalai sect. Among works attributed to him are Nyayasiddhanjana, Tattvatika - a commentary on the Shri Baashyam, Shatadushani or a hundred abuses - a vitriolic attack on Advaita Vedanta - and Suryodayasamkalpa - a Visishtadvaitic counterblast to the Advaitic drama Prabodha Chandrodaya by Krishna Mishra.
Pillai Lokacharya is considered as the founder of the Thenkalai sect. Tattvatraya is an important work attributed to him.
Other works of considerable importance in the Visishtadvaita tradition are : Nayadyumani by Meghanaadaari, Yatindramatadeepika by Shrinivasa.
Ramanuja was greatly inspired by the devotion of the Azhlwars and in his Sri Baashyam he states that he is only carrying on the Vedantic tradition of ancient Vedic teachers like Bodhaayana, Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Kapardi and Bhaaruchi. But the greatest influences on him were undoubtedly Yaamunacharya, Bhaskara - the Vedantin of the bhedaabheda school - and Yadhavaprakaasha.
According to Bhaskara (10th century CE) both identity and difference are equally real. Brahman really modifies (parinaama) itself into the world. So as the cause it is unity - non-dual formless intelligence, but as the manifested effects, it is the world of plurality. Matter and its limitations are real and not products of ignorance as the Advaitins believe. Limited by matter Brahman becomes the individual soul, which is atomic in nature and thus suffers the miseries of the world. Liberation is obtained by a combination of action and knowledge.
Like Bhaskara, Yadhavaprakasha too believes identity and difference to be separately real and that Brahman really modifies itself into the world. And he too advocates the path of jnana-karma-samuccayavaada or the way of knowledge cum action as the means to liberation. But unlike Bhaskara who thinks Brahman really suffers bondage and enjoys liberation, Yadhava holds that Brahman always remains in its pristine purity. Matter, souls and God are not different and independent substances but modes of the same substance - Brahman. So they are in one sense identical to Brahman and in another sense different. Our ignorance which considers them as separately real is the cause of bondage and the removal of ignorance by knowledge and action is liberation.
Ramanuja criticizes the commonalities in the bhedaabheda of Bhaskara and Yadhava : both identity and difference cannot be considered as separately real nor affirmed of the same thing. Brahman cannot have two independent real modes as both identity and difference. Pure identity as well as pure difference are but abstractions of the intellect and are both unreal.
Ramanuja disputes the views of Bhaskara that Brahman is formless and differenceless or that Brahman suffers bondage and enjoys liberation. He also condemns Yadhava's distinction between Brahman and Ishvara as unauthorized.
The truth is "identity in and through difference". Yaamuna in his Siddhitraya identifies the three real categories - the omniscient and omnipotent Ishvara, matter and souls. Ramanuja improves upon Yaamuna by making matter and souls the body of Brahman. Brahman is the soul of the world and the world made up of matter and souls, is his body. It is only the body which undergoes change and Brahman as the essence of the world always remains unchanged in his pristine purity. The individual souls are identical to Brahman and their finititude and imperfections are due to ignorance. This ignorance is overcome when the souls realize themselves as forming the body of Brahman. Brahman and Ishvara are one and neither is formless or differenceless. Ishvara cannot be proved through inference as there are arguments of equal strength to prove otherwise. Faith and the scriptures are the basis for our belief in God.
Ramanuja recognizes perception, inference and verbal testimony as the three sources of knowledge.
As Ramanuja doesn't believe in a formless reality, he naturally disagrees with the Nyaya definition of indeterminate knowledge. Bare apprehension is a psychological myth and all that is known involves some level of differentiation and discrimination. Whatever is known is always characterized and qualified in some way. So the difference between indeterminate and determinate perception is that while in the latter the class character of the object apprehended is recognized as common to the whole class, in the former it is not - like when we view an object for the first time. But apprehension of the object again revives the former impression and thus results in determinate perception where we recognize the class character of the object as common to the whole class.
But determinate perception is not the same as recognition. Though both involve the revival of past impressions the difference between recognition and determinate perception is that in the former it is the recognition of the same object with reference to the time and place where the object was previously cognized, while no such limits apply to the latter.
Ramanuja for most part agrees with the Nyaya definition of inference.
Regarding verbal testimony Ramanuja places the Pancharaatra Agama on the same pedestal with the Vedas as he considers both as derived from the same divine source. Unlike Advaita which differentiates between the karma and jnana kanda of the Vedas, Ramanuja as he is an advocate of jnaana-karma-samuccaya holds that both the karma and jnana portions of the Vedas complement each other and form a single teaching. While karma teaches the modes of worship, jnana teaches the nature of God. Nor is the Mimaamsaka right in his views that the injunctive portions of the Vedas are more important than the assertive portions. All karmas are equally important and are to be performed to secure the grace of God.
KNOWLEDGE AND ERROR
As noted previously for Ramanuja all knowledge involves some degree of discrimination. Knowledge is always in and through difference. Knowledge necessarily points to an object existing external to it.
A substance is that which is the substratum of a thing. A thing may be a substance as well as an attribute. Light is an attribute in relation to a lamp, but it is a substance in relation to its rays. Like though the whole world is an attribute of God, still it contains substances like souls and material objects.
Knowledge too is a substance as well as an attribute. It is a substance since it possesses the qualities of contraction and expansion. It is an attribute because it belongs to a self or to God. Substances are generally spiritual (chetana) or material (jada). But knowledge is neither - it is ajada or non-material since unlike unconscious material substances it can without any aid manifest itself as well as other objects. But it is unlike souls as it is not self-conscious and thus cannot know itself. Knowledge is never for itself - it exists for the self. It can reveal itself and the object but cannot know itself or the object. The self is also self luminous and can reveal itself - but it cannot reveal the object without the help of knowledge. Knowledge is self-luminous but not self-conscious. The self is both self-luminous and self-conscious.
The self is a self-conscious subject and its essence is knowledge. But it is not pure-consciousness as the Advaitins believe. There's nothing like pure-consciousness, as knowledge is always qualified - it belongs to the self and points to an object. Nobody says, "I'm consciousness"; everybody says, "I'm conscious". Unlike the self which is atomic, changeless and self-conscious, knowledge is an all pervading attribute of the self which contracts and expands, but cannot know itself or the object it reveals. Knowledge is dharma-bhuta-jnana or attributive knowledge since it always belongs to and exists for the self. It is co-eternal with the self.
In deep sleep the self remains self conscious together with the dharma-bhuta-jnana since there are no objects then to be revealed by knowledge. In dream there's knowledge as objects are created by God in order to make the souls reap the fruits of its karma. On liberation all karmas cease and knowledge becomes all pervasive and the liberated soul acquires omniscience like God.
Error is of omission and not of commission. All knowledge is intrinsically valid and can never err. Its content always corresponds to an existent real object (Satkhyaati). A jaundiced person sees a white conch as yellow, because the yellowness of the bile is actually transmitted to the conch through the rays of the eyes. The objects in a dream are actually created by God to make the dreamer reap the fruits of karma. So there's no subjective element in error. Error is only partial knowledge. Actually no logical distinction can be made between error and knowledge and any such distinction is only for practical interests.
Ramanuja affirms a realistic view of the world. Matter, souls, knowledge are all independently real and they form the body of God. Identity is always qualified by difference and unity is in and through and because of diversity. Brahman is determinate and qualified (savisesha). When the Upanishads speak of Brahman as devoid of qualities, they only mean that Brahman has no bad qualities. Brahman is the abode of all good qualities and the incarnation of all perfection. So the distinction between Brahman and Ishvara as higher and lower forms of Brahman is unauthorized. Brahman is an individual - a person - who is always qualified by matter and souls which make up his body.
Achit or matter is of three kinds : 1. prakriti, 2. nityavibhuti and 3. kaala.
Prakriti is the ordinary matter which has sattva, rajas and tamas as its qualities. It is an object of enjoyment and suffers change. Unlike the individual selves which have freedom of will, prakriti which forms the body of God, is entirely dependent on him.
Nityavibhooti is made up of pure sattva and is ajada or immaterial like dharmabhutajnaana. Vaikunta, the bodies of God and the liberated souls and also the holy idols in sacred places like Srirangam are made of nityavibhooti. It is matter without mutability and is the fit means for the fulfillment of divine experience.
Kaala or time is another unconscious substance. Space is identified with aakaasha which is an evolute of prakriti.
As noted before the self is distinct from knowledge and objects. It is an eternal atomic self-luminous and self-conscious subject possessing dharma-bhuta-jnana as its eternal attribute. It is the eternal substratum of consciousness, but it is not pure consciousness. All individual souls are pervaded by God and form his body. On liberation when they realize themselves as the body of God, they only become similar to God but do not merge into him as the Advaitins believe.
Knowledge belongs to the subject and points to an object external to it. All objects are real and even in a dream or an illusion it is always the real which is presented to consciousness. It is also wrong to hold that the pure subject or the pure object can never be an object of consciousness. God, souls and knowledge can all be apprehended as objects. All objects spiritual as well as material are absolutely real. Mayavaada and the distinction between higher and lower standpoints are sheer nonsense!
Ramanuja considers creation to be absolutely real and advocates saatkaaryavaada i.e, the effect already exists in the cause. Creation is therefore only the explicit manifestation of that which is implicitly present in its material cause and destruction is nothing but the return of the effect into its material cause. Ramanuja believes in the parinaamavaada form of satkaaryavaada - the material cause i.e, Brahman really changes into the effect i.e, the world. Even as curd is a real transformation of milk, so is the world a real transformation of God. Brahmaparinaamavaada means that the entire universe including matter and individual souls are a real modification of Brahman. The individual souls and matter though substances in themselves and as real as God, are entirely dependent on God and are controlled by God from within just as a body is controlled from within by the soul. Creation means that the subtle praakriti evolves into gross elements and the souls become embodied due to their past karma. Creation is also thus a process by which the souls reap the fruits of their past deeds. Ramanuja considers the creation and dissolution of the world as the sport (leela) of God.
VISISHTADVAITA OR IDENTITY IN DIFFERENCE
Visishtadvaita is non-dualism qualified by difference. Brahman is an organic unity, an identity which is qualified by diversity. It is a concrete whole (visishta) which consists of inter-related and inter-dependent subordinate elements (vishesanas) and the immanent and controlling spirit (vishesya). Unity means realization of being a vital member of this organic whole, which is Brahman. God is the immanent inner controller, the supreme Real who holds together in unity the dependent matter and individual souls as his body. Matter and souls are real, but they are still absolutely dependent on God. Though they are substances in themselves, yet in relation to God they are his attributes. They are the body of God who is their soul. Souls are souls only in relation to bodies and God is the soul of the souls. Ramanuja rejects the Nyaya concept of inherence (samavaya), which is an external relation, as it involves infinite regress. The relation between the body and the souls is inner inseparability (aprthaksiddhi) - it is also the relation between substance and attribute, part and whole and may also be between two substances. It is an inner, inseparable, vital and organic relation.
Though matter and souls are co-eternal with God, still they are not external to him. God is free from all external differences, since there's nothing else external to him. God is both the material and instrumental cause of the world. He is the immanent as well as the transcendent ground of the world. He is the inner controller of all, yet he transcends the world. He is perfect and full of all good qualities - existence, knowledge and bliss - truth, goodness and beauty - luster, love and power.
God is Brahman - the absolute. He is a qualified unity - matter and souls being his body, and he being their soul. God may be viewed in two stages - as cause and effect. In the state of dissolution (pralaya) God remains as the cause with the subtle matter and the unembodied souls forming his body. In the causal state (karanavasta) the whole universe lies latent in him. In creation (srshti) the subtle matter becomes gross and the souls become embodied according to their karmas. In the effect state (karyavasta) the whole universe becomes manifest.
God is the immanent inner controller (antaryaami), the qualified substance (prakaari) who is himself changeless and is the unmoved mover of this world process. As in the case of a normal individual where only the body undergoes change and the soul is changeless, so does only the body of God undergo change, while he himself as their essence remains changeless. His attributes are inseparable from him and are absolutely dependent on him.
God is the transcendent and perfect personality. He has a divine body (apraakrtadehavishista). It is karma and not embodiment which is the cause of bondage. God, though embodied is not bound as he is the Lord of karma. He is devoid of all demerit and possesses all merits. He has infinite knowledge and bliss. He has a divine body and is the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.
God is Narayana and his consort is Lakshmi, the symbol of power and mercy. He lives in Vaikunta which is made of pure sattva or nityavibhuti. God's qualities like knowledge, power and mercy are eternal, infinite, numberless, unlimited, undefiled and matchless. He is knowledge to the ignorant, power to the powerless, mercy to the guilty, grace to the afflicted, parental affection to the impure, perennial attachment to those who fear seperation, nearness to those who pine for him and kindness to all.
Though one in himself, he manifests in five forms to help his devotees : 1. as the inner controller (antrayaamin), 2. as the transcendent personal Lord (Para), 3. as the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe he reveals himself through the four-fold Vyuha form, 4. when he descends down on this earth in human or animal form to protect the good and punish the wicked and preserve the dharma, he is Vibhava or Avataara and 5. when he takes the form of hold idols (archaavataara) enshrined in the recognized temples like Shrirangam so that his devotees might get the opportunities to serve him physically.
Though the individual self is an attribute of God and forms part of his body, still it is also a spiritual substance in itself - beyond creation and destruction - and is absolutely real. In the state of creation it is embodied due to its karma, while in dissolution and liberation it rests in itself. But in the state of dissolution, as long as it is tinged with karma it has to descend to the mundane life and become embodied to reap the fruits of its karma. The relation between the self and karma is beginningless. On liberation untouched by karma the Self shines in its pristine purity and can therefore never descend to mundane existence anymore.
Though the self is uncreated, imperishable, eternal and real, still it is only finite and individual as it is only a part of God. Hence it is considered as atomic in size. Though the self suffers the miseries of samsara, yet it remains unaffected in its essence where it is changeless and perfect. Through all the births and deaths, which do not affect its essence, it retains its identity and essential nature. The self is different from the body, mind, senses, the vital breath and cognition. In samsara it wrongly identifies with these due to karma and ignorance.
There are infinite individual souls which are all essentially alike. The self is the knower, agent and enjoyer. Action and enjoyment are but different states of knowledge, which forms the essence of the soul. The self is a self-luminous substance which can manifest itself without knowledge and it is also a self conscious subject. It is the substance of its dharma-bhuta-jnana which undergoes contraction and expansion. The self knows objects through its knowledge which reveals both the objects and itself. Knowledge can only reveal itself and objects, but cannot know them. The self can know itself and also know objects - but for the latter it needs knowledge.
Knowledge is the essence of the self. The self is the substance of knowledge which is its essential and inseparable attribute. Knowledge always belongs to the self, even in deep sleep (though it remains unmanifested as there are no objects to reveal) and liberation. Knowledge is essentially infinite and all pervasive. In samsara the self's knowledge is obscured by karma and therefore functions in a restricted manner. In moksha when all karma is destroyed, knowledge is freed from its impediments and becomes all comprehensive. Its dharma-bhuta-jnana restored to its original status the self becomes omniscient. Thus the soul though atomic, is infinite in knowledge. In its essence the self is also bliss - anandarupa. So in moksha, the self enjoys infinite knowledge and everlasting bliss.
The self is the pure ego and the self-conscious "I". But it is not the phenomenal ego or ahamkara which is the result of the self's false identification with the non-self : body, mind and senses.
Though the self is absolutely real, still it is utterly dependent on God who is its substance. The self is a part or mode of God. God is its soul who supports and controls it. The self is the means (sesha) and God is its end (seshi), the self is the mode (prakaara) while God is its substance (prakaari), the self is the part (amsha) while God is the whole (amshi). It is the body (shariira) and God is its soul (shariiri). Yet, God is not affected by all the miseries that the self experiences in samsara. God is the lord of karma and the inner controller of the self, yet the self has freedom of will and God doesn't interfere with it.
There are three kinds of souls - 1. the ever free (nitya mukta) which are never bound and live in Vaikunta in constant service of the Lord, 2. the liberated souls who though once bound obtained liberation due to their action, knowledge and devotion and 3. the bound (baddha) souls which wander in samsara due to ignorance and karma.
SELF AND GOD
Ramanuja uses many similies to explain the relation between the self and God : sometimes he calls the self as a part of God, sometimes as a mode of God, sometimes as the body of God, sometimes as an attribute or qualification of God, sometimes as absolutely dependent on and controlled, supported and used by God. According to Madhavacharya, Ramanuja in a sense advocates all three views : 1. identity, 2. difference and 3. identity and difference. The self in its essence is identical to God. But as it is an atomic mode of God it is also different from him. Because it is identical to God in one way and different in another, identity and difference (bhedaabheda) is also true. But again Ramanuja vehemently criticizes both pure identity and pure difference as abstractions of the intellect and identity and difference as contradictory. So this has led some to believe that Ramanuja advocates a fourth kind of relation - aprthaksiddhi or inseperable dependence.
The real difference between the bhedaabheda of other Vedantins like Bhaskara and Yadhava and the Visishtadvaita of Ramanuja lies in the latter's visualization of God as a person. For Bhaskara and Yadhava, Brahman modifies itself into the world. So as the world of diversity it is different, but as its essence it is identical. Ramanuja on the other hand, visualizes Brahman as a person. Brahman's body is made up of individual selves and matter. As a normal soul is the inner controller of a person, so is Brahman the inner controller of its body. Brahman is thus the soul of souls and the soul of matter. So Visishtadvaita thus becomes identity "in and through" difference.
The individual souls are organically related to God. They form the body of God and have no existence apart from him. Yet they have their own individuality and merely qualify God. In their essence they are one with him, but as modes they are different.
In statements like Tat tvam asi or "that thou art", "that" refers to God as the cause of the universe and "thou" refers to God as the soul of the individual self. So though both refers to the same substance, it refers to two modes of it. Identity is thus asserted between two forms of the same substance. But it doesn't mean absolute identity, but only qualified identity where God as the soul of the individual self and God as the cause of the universe are one and the same.
BONDAGE AND LIBERATION
Ignorance and karma are the reasons for bondage. But how did a pure soul ever get tinged with karma? Like the Jainaas, Ramanuja explains this away by saying that the relation between the self and karma is beginningless. It is an eternal cosmic process which knows no beginning. Due to ignorance and karma the self falsely identifies itself with the body, mind and senses and gets bound in samsara. Through a harmonious combination of action and knowledge (jnanakarmasamucchaya) the self frees itself of its karma.
Purva and Uttara Mimaamsaa are one science and the study of purva mimaamsaa is a necessary pre-requisite for the study of Vedanta. The karmas enjoined by the karma kanda are to be done without expectation of any return, in a disinterested manner to simply please God. When karma is performed in this manner, the self will realize the necessity to learn the jnana kanda which teaches the true nature of God, soul and matter. The self will then realize that matter and souls qualify God who is their inner controller and that matter and souls are the body of God who is their soul.
Knowledge is the immediate cause of liberation. But this knowledge is not mere verbal knowledge, else everybody who studies the Vedanta will be liberated. True knowledge is the highest bhakti or devotion which is obtained by prapatti or self-surrender and by constant remembrance of God as the only object of devotion. This bhakti is also called pure meditation (upaasana) or dhyaana or nididhyaasana (concentrated contemplation). Meditation, performing the karmas as prescribed by the scriptures and Prapatti, which means submitting oneself to the absolute mercy of the Lord are the means to achieve the highest bhakti. Prapatti which is open to all without any distinction of caste or creed, is prescribed by the Azhlvaars and the achaaryas as the easiest means to liberation. God is pleased by the utter self-surrender of the devotee and takes care of him.
Prapatti, also called as sharanaagathi or flinging oneself to the mercy of God, consists of six steps : 1. to think, will and act as would please God, 2. to not think, will or act as would displease God, 3. absolute faith in God as the protector, 4. appeal to God for protection, 5. absolute self-surrender to God and 6. feeling of absolute dependence on God. According to the Azhlvaars prapatti itself, as an extreme and supernormal love for the Lord, is the real bhakti. But Ramanuja distinguishes between bhakti and prapatti. The highest bhakti is the immediate intuitive knowledge of God and the ordinary bhakti is constant contemplation of God. Both prapatti and ordinary bhakti are means to realize the highest bhakti. Since contemplation is only possible with the aid of the Mimaamsaas which are open only to the dvijas, it is only for them. But prapatti is open to all.
Liberation is the direct intuitive realization by the individual self of its own essential nature as a mode of God. Liberation is obtained by the complete destruction of the karmas, which sully the purity of the self and the dawning of divine grace which transforms constant contemplation into immediate intuition of God. Without divine grace this transformation is not possible. The destruction of karma and the dawning of intuitive knowledge are simultaneous and the individual soul becomes similar to Brahman (Brahmaprakaara). Ever retaining its individuality, the self realizes itself as the body of God, ever dwells in direct communion with him, enjoying infinite consciousness and bliss like him. Without individuality the self cannot be in bliss of communion with God. So egoity and not individuality is the cause of bondage. The individual self differs with God in two vital respects : 1. it is atomic while God is infinite and 2. God alone is the immanent controlling power - he alone is the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.