The Satadhusani is a work by the Sri Vaishnava Acharya Vedanta Desikan consisting of 100 refutations of Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita. One chapter of the work is devoted to refuting the Advaita view that those who have attained Brahmajnana do not have to follow the rules of Varnashrama Dharma. One of the Advaita arguments Vedanta Desikan refutes is the argument that there are scriptural examples of people who didn’t follow Varnashrama Dharma because they had Brahmajnana, like Brihaspati’s brother Samvarta who used to wander around naked. Here is how Vedanta Desikan responds to that.

[Opponent:] "Since the authoritative texts disclose that Ribhu, Shuka, Samvarta and the like practised nudity and other similar vows, we believe that they were outside all the ashramas." [Response:] That is not true, because even nudity is a special kind of vow that aims at enduring rain, wind, heat, and the like; a vow that is associated with the special practice of eating each mouthful completely (as soon as it is received). It is a vow that only certain unique men of ancient times were qualified to perform. If he were outside the ashramas, how could the king have chosen Samvarta, who was subsisting on air alone, as the priest for his sacrifice? Nudity, therefore, is just a special vow common to all varnas and ashramas, for only householders can perform priestly functions and the like. In the olden days even a widower, after fulfilling certain conditions such as taking a (new) wife, was considered fit to function as a priest.

I discuss the case of Shuka in my answer here. But I’m interested in the parts in bold. Vedanta Desikan is saying that Samvarta is not an Anashrami, one who belongs to no Ashrama, rather he was a Grihasti who just happened to perform a scripturally sanctioned vow of nudity. But this section of Ramanujacharya’s Sri Bhashya seems to say something different:

Those also who do not stand within any Ashrama are qualified for knowledge, 'because that is seen,' i.e. because the texts declare that men such as Raikva, Bhîshma, Samvarta and others who did not belong to Ashrama were well grounded in the knowledge of Brahman.

Note that the actual issues that Ramanujacharya and Vedanta Desikan are discussing are different; Ramanujacharya is talking about the fact that Anashramis are eligible to pursue Brahmajnana, because meditation on the Brahmavidyas has only Varna restrictions and not Ashrama restrictions, whereas Vedanta Desikan is talking about the fact that Brahmajnanis cannot abandon their Ashrama. But my question is, how does Vedanta Desikan interpret Ramanujacharya’s statement that Samvarta “did not belong to Ashrama”?

Vedanta Desikan wrote a commentary on the Sri Bhashya, the Tattva Tika, but only a small part of it survives. But he also wrote a work called the Adhikarana Saravalli summarizing each Adhikarana of the Sri Bhashya, so does that shed any light on this?

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