According to Advaita, Para Brahman (परब्रह्म) is Nirguna Brahman (निर्गुण ब्रह्म)[1] [2] but I've found that Vishishtadvaitis don't believe in Nirguna Brahman. So, let me ask:

  • What are the views of Vishishtadvaita on Nirguna Brahman?
  • If Vishsitadvaita do not believe in Nirguna Brahman, then What is the explanation/arguments of Vishishtadvaita for demonstrating/claiming it?
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    My understanding is , Nirguna in Visistadvaita doesn't mean total absence of all qualities. It means that all "heya" gunas i.e all inauspicious qualities are completely absent in Brahman. So, it reconciles all parts of Vedas , Upanishads, which says Brahman is saguna and nirguna i.e all parts of Upanishads and Vedas are fully valid. Unlike in advaita where they consider the verses which talk of Nirgunatva sublates the sagunatva. – user808 Sep 1 '16 at 14:23
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    If you apply the meaning of absence of all qualities to word nirguna, as per advaita then one shouldn't/can't use the word Brahman, too, because the moment one says Brahman, it is saguna. Brahman is derived from root word "brh" which implies to grow (brhati) and causes to grow (brhmayati). Thus as Atharvasiras upanishad states " That is called Brahman because it grows and causes to grow" . Yaska says that Brahman means Brahma paribrdam, i.e. infinitely great. Thus This Brahman means that ontological entity which is infinitely great in both nature and attributes. – user808 Sep 1 '16 at 14:32
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    @Krishna Yes, the highest thing in Advaita cannot be called Nirguna Brahman, it is indescribable. It neither has auspicious qualities or inauspicious qualities. – Chinmay Sarupria Sep 2 '16 at 10:23
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    @Chinmay Sarupria - If you read properly, shAnkara's Advaita bhasya, he clearly upholds Nirvesa brahman and Nirguna brahman and calls it specifically as Nirvisesa and Nirguna brahman. first please read it properly..I know, you can never agree. Anyway, neither am I interested in a useless debate with you. I just put forward my views as per Visiatadvaitins as required by the question. BTW, Maya as per advaita is indescribable. It is neither real nor illusion...But, unfortunately Maya is described as illusion which is wrong even as per Shankara – user808 Sep 2 '16 at 12:07
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    @Chimay Sarupria - Also, Badarayana doesn't refer to doctrine of Maya as conceived by ShAnkara. Only in one sutra related to nature of objects seen in the state of dream the term Maya is used but it doesn't bear the same meaning as understood by adavaitins. – user808 Sep 2 '16 at 18:21

Brahman is Nirguna is a statement of Brahma Sutra. As long as I know all the Vaishnav Acharyas agree on this. However as I discuss in this question of mine; the interpretation of Nirguna is different as per different Acharyas and their proposed philosophies.

here is what Shripad Ramanuja interprets Nirguna as:

Ramanujacharya's Sri Bhashya interprets Nirguna as "no negative qualities". According to Ramanujacharya Brahman is characterized by the Kalyana Gunas ascribed to him by the Pancharatra texts - Jnana, Bala, Aishvarya, Virya, Shakti, and Tejas

The six Kalyan Gunas are described in Vishnu Purana( 6.5.74) By Sage Parashar

ऐश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य धर्मस्य यशसरिश्रयः। ज्ञानवैराग्ययोश्चैव षण्णां भग इतीरणा

meaning:Complete splendor, virtue, glory, opulence, knowledge, dispassion - these six are known as bhaga.

RamanujaCharya's argument to refute Adi Shankara's concept of Nirguna Brahman is roughly like this:

If we see a rope and think it is a snake, that mistaken idea is due to the fact that there is something snake-like in the rope, namely the shape of the rope. Similarly, if we are really perceiving Brahman but we think we are seeing the world, then the attributes we are seeing in the world must be derived from the qualities we are seeing in Brahman So for instance, if we see a chair there must be something chair-like in Brahman, otherwise we wouldn't mistake it for a chair. And if we see an apple then Brahman must have some apple-like attribute, etc. But that cannot be if Brahman is attributeless.

  • @@Vishal prabhu lawande - Brahma sutras of Badarayana , Brahman is described as saguna and Nirguna. ShAnkara accepts both but ultimately says Nirguna bRahman is the reality based on various arguments. Ramanuja and Madhva say it is saguna but, the definition of Nirguna or Nirvisesa is different. So, you calling that Brahma sutras says " Brahman is Nirguna", only , reveals only half truth. – user808 Sep 2 '16 at 12:36
  • @Krishna ya you are right. To answer the question Ive mentioned only the Nirguna part. Vedanta does mention Saguna aspect as well;But I felt that would be beyond the scope of this question :) – Vishal prabhu lawande Sep 2 '16 at 12:46

There are two adhikaranas included in the third adhyaya of Brahma sutras by Badarayana related to the discussion of the nature of Brahman. ( There are adhikaranas in the first adhyaya which describe Brahman as Savisesa- full of attributes)

These are titled as Ubhayalingadhikarana and Prakrtaitavattva adhikatanas as per Shankara bhasya to favour the theory of nirvisesa Brahman ( Brahman without attributes)

In Ramanuja bhasya ( Sribhasya) they are named as Ubhayalingadhikarana and Ahikundaladhikarana.

The main sutra of the Ubhayalingadhikarana is as follows:

"na sthAnato'pi parasya ubhayalingam sarvatra hi" ( Vedanta Sutras 3.2.11)

This sutra no doubt refers to the nature of Brahman as is evident from the word 'para', a term that distinguishes it from the individual self which is discussed in earlier sections.

The word "sthanataha" means , on account of its immanence in the souls and the other things in the universe.

The ubhayalinga as commonly understood means two fold nature.

Now, according to Shankara it refers to two modes of description or two forms of Brahman, viz. Brahman devoid of all characteristics ( Nirvisesa Linga) and Brahman as qualified with characteristics ( Savisesa Linga)

Finally, after some explanations and discussion, Shankara concludes Brahman as only nirvikalpa or completely devoid of all characteristics

"samasrayanam visesha rahitam nirvikalapakameva Brahma pratipattavyam" ( Shankara bhasya 3.2.11)

Ramanuja means by Ubhayalingadhikarana Linga the two fold characteristics of Brahman,

1) Brahman as totally free from all defilements ( nirdosatva)

2) Brahman as endowed with numerous auspicious qualities ( Kalyanaikatani - gunatmakatva)

Ramanuja interpretation the Brahma sutra, by taking into consideration the context in which it appears. Regarding the context, it is said that the adhikaranas of the preceding pada present condition of Jivatma in the states of dream, deep sleep, and seeking for the purpose of developing non attachment ( vairagya) by the seeker of moksha.

Badarayana Introduces this strain in order to propmote an ardent craving for the attainment of Brahman by emphasizing the fact that Brahman, unlike jiva, is free from all imperfections and also endowed with auspicious attributes so that it is worthy of aspiring the supreme goal of human endeavour.

According to prima facie, Brahman which abides in the jiva as antaryamin would also be affected with the defects found in the bodies of jiva.

Badarayana as interpreted by Ramanuja, rejects this prima facie view. Ramanuja points out that Brahman inspite of abiding in jiva and other physical entities, is untouched by any defects

"na prthivyadisthanato'pi parasya Brahman aha apurushartha gandhaha sambhavati" ( Ramanuja Bhasya (3.2.11))

This is the implication of the word "na sthAnato'pi" in the sutra.

Why Brahman is not touched by defects?

The answer is given in next Brahma sutra, viz, ubhalingam sarvatra hi, which means that in all Sruti and smriti texts, Brahman is described as possessing two fold characteristics

(1) Free from all defilements ( nirasta - nikhila dosatva) and

(2) Endowed with auspicious attributes ( Kalyana guna - atmakatva)

Thus Chandogya Upanishad 8.1.5 says :

Brahman is free from evil (apahatapapma), free from old age ( vijara) , free from death (vimrtyuh), free from grief (visoka), ...whose needs are self fulfilled ( satyakamaha) and whose desires are not obstructed ( satyasankalpa)

In the above text the two fold characteristics of Brahman is explicitly mentioned. There are many other Upanishad texts referring to either of these aspects of Brahman and these are quoted by Ramanuja in his comment in support of his explanation.

The other important adhikarana Prakrtaitavattvadhikarana.

The main sutra reads as follows:

"Prakrttaitavattvam hi pratisedhati tato bravitica bhuyah" ( Vedanta sutras of Badarayana 3.2.22)

The general meaning is according to shAnkara, that the Upanishadic text " neti neti" negates in respect of Brahman the prediction of the two forms mentioned in the earlier part of the passage and this supported by what is said later on about Brahman.

According to Ramanuja, the sutra means that the text denies only the limited aspects of Brahman describes in the passage because the text further declares the abundance of glory of Brahman.

Further Ramanuja raises the question, as prima facie view which reflects shAnkara's interpretation, whether it would be possible to maintain the ubhayalingatva of Brahman considering the fact that the words " not this, not this" of Upanishadic passage denies Brahman all the previously stated modes viz, murta and amurta (Br.Up 2.3.1) , so that it can only be regarded as sanmatra or pure consciousness only as stated in earlier sutra (3.2.16). The Reply given in the sutra in terms of negation as "not this, not this" does not deny in respect of Brahman the distinctive characteristics or the two modes declared previously. On the contrary it Only denies the Prakrtaitavattva or limited nature of Brahman as previously stated.

In other words , it denies that Brahman possess only this much qualifications as described previously ( Br. Up. 2.3.2 to 5 ). The word 'iti' means limited nature and ' na iti' ( not so) therefore means that Brahman is not distinguished by previous stated modes.

Ramanuja further points out that subsequent to the neti neti significant positive statements are made about Brahman .

Thus states the Upanishad:

"na hy-etaamas iti', nety-anyat param- asti; athanadheyam, satyasya satyam" ( Br.Up.2.3.6)

It means according to Ramanuja there ia nothing higher or greater than Brahman referred to earlier as implied by the two words anyat and para in the text. In other words , no other being which is more glorious both in respect of svarupa and guna ever exists.

This is indicated by the designation ( namadheya) of Brahman as satyasya satyam, which means reality of reals.

Jiva is regarded real ( Satya) because it's svarupa is unchanging, unlike the material objects which undergo total transformation.

Brahman is more real than jivas since the former is never subject to any change unlike the Jnana of Jiva, which during the state of bondage becomes subject to contraction and expansion according to its karma.

Brahman ever remains unchanged both in respect of svarupa and Jnana, as it is free from karma (apahatapapma ). It is there fore the highest reality.

The positive statements made in this upanishad subsequent to negation as 'neti neti' emphasizes this glory of Brahman.

This is the Implication of the words 'bhuyah tato braviti' in the sutra means that the text further says more about brahman.

Thus it follows that the sutra does not prove that Brahman is nirvisesa, but on the contrary it affirms that it Savisesa or endowed with ubhayalinga ( two fold characteristics) as stated by Badarayana i.e.

1. Brahman is free from all defilements

2. Brahman is endowed with Infinote auspicious qualities.

( The details are provided from the book called ' The philosophy of Vedanta sutra" by S.M.Srinivasachari)


In his translation of Sankara's commentary on the Brahma Sutras, in his Introduction (available here - http://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62756.html), Swami Vireswarananda says the following on why there are differences in the commentaries, what the commentators agree, and what the differences are between Sankara's and Ramanuja's views on Brahman, the soul, and the world:

A question may be raised how the same work could have given rise to so many conflicting schools of thought. The reasons are many. In the first place the brevity of the Sutras leaves much to be supplied by the commentators, and in the absence of an universally accepted unbroken tradition each is free to do this according to his own preconceived ideas. Sometimes even without supplying anything the same Sutra is capable of being interpreted differently and even conveying quite the opposite meaning (e.g. Sankara and Ramânuja on 3.2.11) by the mere shifting of the stops. Again, while there is a tradition which is accepted more or less by all as regards the arrangement into chapters and sections, there is no such accepted tradition as regards the division into Adhikaranas (topics), nor is there anything authoritative to guide us as to which Sutras form the Purvapaksha or the prima facie view and which give the Siddhânta or the author’s view. So every one is free to divide the Sutras into topics according to his own choice and regard any Sutras as giving the author’s view. Then again, the Sutras do not give any reference as to which texts of the scriptures are being discussed and as a result the commentator is free to select any texts from that vast repertory, so much so that it often happens that different commentators see different topics discussed in the same set of Sutras. Added to all this is the difficulty that Bâdarâyana is often silent as regards his own decision and that on fundamental questions. He merely gives the views of different Vedântins and ends the topic (vide 1.4.20-22).

The five great commentators more or less agree on certain points, especially where the author attacks the principles of the non-Vedântic schools. All of them agree that Brahman is the cause of this world and that knowledge of It leads to final emancipation which is the goal to be attained; also that Brahman can be known only through the scriptures and not through mere reasoning. But they differ amongst themselves as to the nature of this Brahman, Its causality with respect to this world, the relation of the individual soul to It and the condition of the soul in the state of release.

Brahman according to Sankara is attributeless, immutable, Pure Intelligence. Iswara according to him is a product of Mâyâ—the highest reading of the Nirguna Brahman by the individualized soul. The world is a Vivarta or apparent transformation through Mâyâ of the Nirguna Brahman but not in reality. The Jiva in reality is all-pervading and identical with Brahman, though as individualized by its Upâdhi (adjunct), the internal organ, it regards itself as atomic, as an agent, and as a part of the Lord. The knowers of the Nirguna Brahman attain It directly and have not to go by “the path of the gods”. It is the knowers of the Saguna Brahman that go by that path to Brahmaloka from where they do not return but attain Brahman at the end of the cycle. Knowledge is the only means to Liberation.

To Râmânuja and the other commentators Brahman is not attributeless but an essentially Personal God possessing infinite benign attributes. They hold that though personality as we experience it in man is limited, it need not be invariably connected with personality as Sankara thinks, so as to contradict infinity. They do not accept the Mâyâ doctrine, for to them the world is real, and so they accept that the world is produced from Brahman. Madhwa, however, accepts It only as the efficient cause and not as the material cause also. The Jiva according to them is really atomic, an agent, and a part of the Lord. The knower of Brahman goes by the path of the gods to Brahmaloka where he attains Brahman and does not return to this mortal world. They do not make any distinction of higher and lower knowledge like Sankara. According to them Bhakti is the chief means to Liberation, and not Jnâna.

Thus to all of them Brahman, the world, and the souls are all realities. Râmânuja integrates the three into one organic whole and says that Brahman has for Its body the other two. Nimbârka integrates the three by his Bhedâbhedavâda, i.e. the relation of the sentient and insentient world with Brahman is one of difference and non-difference. Madhwa, a thoroughgoing dualist, regards these three as quite independent, eternal entities, though Brahman is the ruler of the other two. To Vallabha the world and the souls are Brahman Itself. They are real and their relation to Brahman is one of identity, as that of parts to a whole.(for details on this see the various Bhasyas on Sutras 1.1.2, 1.4.23-26, 2.1.26-28, 2.3.18-53, 3.2.11-30, 4.2.12-14, and 4.4.1-7)

  • @@swami vishwananda - The mAya as defined by advaitins as illusion is not accepted by Ramanuja and Madhva. BTW, In Br.Up. 2.5, while extolling the doctrine of Madhu - Vidya, in verse "...indromayabhih pururupa igate....", regarding Paramatma taking g on many formsby his mAya, ShAnkara defines mAya as Prajnana ( wisdom or knowledge). So, making a sweeping statement that "mAya only means illusion" is completely uncalled for. mAya in this verse is defined as sankalparupa Jnana ( God's own will) by Ramanuja and as God's capacity ( Sva - sAmarthya) by Madhva. So, the definition is different. – user808 Sep 3 '16 at 9:45
  • @krishna that's what the quote above says. so what's your point? – Swami Vishwananda Sep 4 '16 at 5:30
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    @@Swami Vishwananda - I just wanted to say that the word mAya doesn't mean only illusion as advaitins keep saying. As shAkara himself also has defined mAya as prajnana or wisdom or knowledge (not illusion), as per the br.up.vrse provided above, the other commentators are absolutely correct in describing the word mAya differently and not as illusion. That is all. – user808 Sep 4 '16 at 8:45

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