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The members of the Sri Vaishnava sect of Hinduism, especially the Iyengars (Sri Vaishnavas who are Brahmanas), are divided into two sub-sects, Thenkalais and Vadakalais. These sub-sects both agree on the Visishtadvaita philosophy of Ramanujacharya that characterizes the Sri Vaishnava belief system, but they have several fine-grained but important doctrinal differences; my answer here lays out the main points of dispute. One such difference is described in this quote from a journal paper:

  1. The power of Free (Nitya) and Freed (Mukta) Souls.

    [Vadakalais] say that the Free and the Freed Souls have no power to create, or, for example, make a kosmos.

    [Thenkalais] say that there are no such restrictions. Any Nitya or any Mukta is capable of doing anything by virtue of God’s commands.

My question is, is this journal paper right that Thenkalais believe that liberated souls have no limitations on their power and that they have powers of creation of the Universe and the like? The reason I'm skeptical is that Thenkalais, like all Sri Vaishnavas subscribe to the philosophy of Visistadvata Vedanta, which is part of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. And the defining text of the Vedanta school is Vyasa's Brahma Sutras, which specifically say this near the end:

Topic-7: Acquisition of Divine Powers

  1. The released soul gets all the divine powers except that of running the universe (with its creation, continuance and dissolution), as is known from the context (which deals with God) and from the non-proximity (of the individual soul).

  2. If it be held (that the powers of the liberated soul are unlimited) owing to direct scriptural declaration, then it is not so, since it is (the attainment) of Him (ie., God) who appoints others as lords of the spheres and resides in those spheres that is spoken of (in the Upanishad)....

  3. Also from the indicatory mark in the Upanishads about the equality of experience alone (it is known that the liberated souls do not get unfettered powers).

That seems to state that liberated souls do not get unlimited powers, and that they can't do things like creation of the Universe. And Ramanujacharya's commentary on the Brahmasutra, the Sri Bhashya, confirms this; here it what he says about Sutra 17 above:

The released soul, freed from all that hides its true nature, possesses the power of intuitively beholding the pure Brahman, but does not possess the power of ruling and guiding the different forms of motion and rest belonging to animate and inanimate nature.

And here is what he says about Sutra 19:

The meaning of the text stating that the Released freely move in all worlds, and similar texts, therefore is only that the released soul while conscious of Brahman with its manifestations experiences also the enjoyments, lying within the sphere of change, which abide in the world of Hiranyagarbha and similar beings; not that it possesses the world-energies--creative, ruling, and so on--which are the distinctive attribute of the highest Lord.

So how do Thenkalai thinkers square their beliefs with the clear words of the Brahmasutras and Ramanujacharya, the most important Acharya of Sri Vaishnavism? Or is the journal paper mischaracterizing their views?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I'm an Iyengar (Sri Vaishnava Brahmana), my Dad is a Thenkalai and my Mom is Vadakalai.
So technically I'm a Thenkalai, and thus it might seem like I'm asking what I myself believe. But that's not the case, because my personal beliefs tend to lean more toward the Vadakalai side.

EDIT: To be clear, Muktas can do things like make planets in Vishnu's highest abode of Paramapadam, but what the Brahma Sutras and Sri Bhashya say is that Muktas do not have control of the world-energies, i.e. Vishnu's core function of creation, preservation, and destruction of the Universe inhabitated by Jivas. Whereas Thenkalais say that Muktas have no restrictions on their powers, and can do everything Vishnu can do. That's what I want to see reconciled.

  • Good question as always, perhaps they believe that if Sri Vishnu who is above and beyond everything and thus has the power of creation, preservation and destruction, also has the power to take the Jiva to a most exalted state whereby He gets such power (perhaps just Creation, just Destruction or just Preservation). Perhaps that belief was then understood in this way according to newspaper article. I'm just speculating though :). Let me know ur thoughts. – Sai Dec 8 '14 at 18:10
  • @Sai Thanks for the compliment! If Thenkalais believed Vishnu grants released souls that power, that seems like it's in direct contradiction with Ramanujacharya; he says the released soul "does not possess the power of ruling and guiding the different forms of motion and rest belonging to animate and inanimate nature" and he says "not that it possesses the world-energies--creative, ruling, and so on--which are the distinctive attribute of the highest Lord." So Ramanujacharya seems to clearly say that Vishnu gives released souls lots of powers, but he doesn't give them these. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 8 '14 at 18:24
  • think of this analogy, our parents have a car. they give it to us to experience the thrill of driving it, when they want. but still the car does not become our 'possession'. It is still theirs, but by virtue of the relationship we are able to experience the enjoyment of driving. Similarly these world energies are all 'possessions' of Brahman. However Sri Vishnu when He wills is able to give these as and when needed to the liberated Jiva. This seems like a play of words. But the thing is great saints often talk in precise terms, which are often changed in translation as per their followers view – Sai Dec 8 '14 at 20:54
  • This may not be related, but in Pranavopadesha episode, when Lord Muruga arrests Brahma, he calls one of his Nava Viras and gives him the power to create. And since Nava Viras are companions of Muruga, they may be considered as a Mukta Atma in the service of Muruga. Even if you argue that Lord Muruga is in turn subservient to Vishnu, we can draw the corollary - if Lord Muruga can empower his companions, then surely Vishnu can do the same. – Surya Mar 28 '16 at 7:06
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Before I set out to elaborate my explanations to your questions to my limited capacity, there are a few things I would like to state outright:

(1) The Srivaishanavite scholars claim a perfect concordance between the conclusions f the Srutis and Dhivya Prabandhas. This is just an embellished claim, and while there are considerable similarities, there are significant departures as well.

(2) The departures arise neither because of Azhvar's word being less reliable than the Vedic seers or otherwise. The Ubhaya Vedanta path, that subsumes the Vedic and Agamic path, represent two different approaches. The Sri Bhashya is a commentary on the Brahma sutras that formalize the conflicting ideas of the Upanisads. The approach taken there is totally rational/logical, and the epistemological tools applied to derive conclusions there have to stand the test of reason. On the other hand, such strictures become less relevant as we transcend into the mystic world of the Azhvars. The divine love, the consummation, and the subsequent pangs of separation, do not follow any strict logic. The divine outpourings represent a emotional journey of ups and downs, alternating between conflicting states of mind. While the conclusions of reality does not change in such a state, the interaction between the soul and the Divine, and the resulting experience takes on a myriad of hues. The fact that Srivaishnavite preceptors have tried to philosophize this experience is their significant and unparalled contribution to theology. I need to write a book if I have to elaborate this aspect in detail :-) .

(3) The audience for Sri Bhashya and Bhagavad vishaya/Rahasyas are very different. A work like Sri Bhashya is aimed at an academic audience, is limited by the sources it can draw upon for reference. The Prapatti marga, which the Srivaishnavites proudly espouse, has no basis in the Vedanta (but for the sole instance of 'Nyasa Vidya' in one of the upanisads). While offering his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Ramanuja talks about Prapatti as a limb of Bhakti, and his whole commentary revolves around bhakti and not prapatti. It should be clear that prapatti or acharya abhimana are not for the academic audience but for the followers of the Srivaishnavite tradition.

(4) The links to Thiruvaimozhi and Periya Thirumozhi you have provided there are from amateur literal translations. They are not worth wasting one's time upon. The real meaning of Azhvar pasurams come from perusing the original commentaries of Nampillai (for Thiruvaimozhi) and Periya Vachan Pillai (for the remaining Dhivya prabandhas).

  • @Mukund-Srivaishnva Ubhaya vedanta is not because of vedic and agamic paths but sankrit Vedas and Tamil veda AKA divya prabhandham. You say Ramanuja doesnt refer to prapatti but emphasizes on bhakti. This is because Sribhasya is more inclined towards academic sanskrit class/scholars. Just because prapatti is reffered less frequently it doesnt mean that it is less than bhakti. Democracy need not always be right. – user808 Jun 22 '15 at 17:45
  • @Mukund- Also, the real meaning of Azhvars pasurams stems from the Tirukurukkai piraan pillaans 6000 arayirapadi, who is considered manasa puthran of Ramanujar. His work is infact is the basis for other commentaries by Nampillai and Peria vachan pillai – user808 Jun 22 '15 at 17:53
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The released souls do have the power of creation, according to Ramanujacharya in his Sri Bhashya.

Here is what Ramanujacharya says in his Sri Bhashya in sutra 4.4.14:

In the same way as the highest Person creates out of himself, for his own delight, the world of the Fathers and so on; so he sometimes creates such worlds for the enjoyment of the released souls. But sometimes, again, the souls using their own creative will-power themselves create their own worlds, which however are included within the sphere of sport of the highest Person.

But there is one caveat to this, and that is explained in sutra 4.4.17:

The released soul gets all the divine powers except that of running the universe (with its creation, continuance and dissolution), as is known from the context (which deals with God) and from the non-proximity (of the individual soul).

Which means that the liberated souls cannot interfere in the creation, sustenance, and destruction of the universe that is common to the Jivas bound in samsara, but they can create, sustain, and destroy their own worlds that are separate from the universe of the Jivas bound in samsara.

And to answer your question:

The journal paper says:

[Thenkalais] say that there are no such restrictions. Any Nitya or any Mukta is capable of doing anything by virtue of God’s commands.

The clause "by virtue of God's command" is the conditional, limiting factor, which implies that the Jiva has certain powers of its own and can't do anything extraordinary unless God commands it. So if God doesn't allow and give Jivas the ability to create baddhatma universes, then the Jivas aren't able to.

So normally, the liberated Jivas don't have the power of interfering in the common-world process, but if God gives them the power to do so, they can. So with this explanation, there is no conflict with what is stated in the Upanishads, because those powers are exclusive to the Lord, and it is the Lord who is temporarily enabling the Jiva with those powers. So if the Lord says "create", then the Jiva can create.

According to the Journal paper, the Vadakalais say:

that the Free and the Freed Souls have no power to create, or, for example, make a kosmos.

So it appears that the Vadakalais don't think that the liberated souls have any powers of creation at all, and the journal paper doesn't specify what kind of cosmos the liberated souls can and can't create. So, the Thenkalai position in this case is the correct one.

  • What Ramanujacharya is saying is quite literally the Vadakalai view, not the Thenkalai view. Vadakalais think Muktas have exactly the restrictions on their powers that the Brahma Sutras and the Sri Bhashya discuss, whereas Thenkalais think Muktas have no restrictions on their powers at all. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 12 '18 at 0:58
  • @KeshavSrinivasan I was responding to this point: "[Vadakalais] say that the Free and the Freed Souls have no power to create, or, for example, make a kosmos." Vadakalais seem to think that the liberated souls don't have any powers of creation at all, and the journal paper doesn't seem to specify what kind of cosmos the liberated souls can and can't create, so what Ramanujacharya is saying is actually not the Vadakalai view, but the Thenkalai view. – Ikshvaku Oct 12 '18 at 13:04
  • The Thenkalai view is that the Jiva is completely equal in its powers to Vishnu, so the Brahma Sutras and the Sri Bhashya are not stating the Thenkalai view at all. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 12 '18 at 13:06
  • @KeshavSrinivasan The clause "by virtue of God's command" is the limiting factor, which implies that the Jiva has certain powers and can't do anything unless God commands it. So if God doesn't allow the Jivas to create baddhatma universes, then they can't. – Ikshvaku Oct 12 '18 at 13:07
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Like I mentioned before, the parayathadhikarana (2-3-41) in Brahma Sutras discusses the issue of agency in great detail. The central question of this topic is whether the jiva possesses free will. The conclusions drawn there suggest that even though the agency of an action is with the jiva, it is the Lord who directs him as the antaryamin. Similarly, if we have to assume the hypothetical case of jiva being vested with the powers of creation, such devolution of powers have to come from the Lord Himself. So, devolving powers of creation to a jiva does not undermine the supremacy of the Lord.

The Periya Thirumozhi (11-3-5) translation you provided there falls into the typical trap of every translator. The word 'okka' does not mean the 'literal' equal. Periyavachan Pillai commentary states "bhavanatraya rahidyam svata eva (i.e. ownership of the world triad of heaven, atmosphere and earth) tammaip polE aam padi kRpai pannuvAr." This does not rule out the powers of creation.

The 'anukaraNas' that I mentioned in the previous reply related to 'Kadal Jnalam' thiruvaimozhi is essentially this role playing. Azhvar assumes Himself to be the creator, vested with the powers to create, dissolve and recreate the universe. I need to refer to the book to draw the exact quotations that justify it. Will share it with you in due course.

  • You shouldn't write multiple answers. You should combine them into one answer. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 21 '14 at 22:10
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You must understand that the author of the journal article is Alkondavilli Govindacharya, a descendant of Alkondavilli Jiyar, one of the 74 disciples enjoined by Ramanuja himself. The answer to this question is in the Pancaratra Agama and Tiruvaimozhi and not in Brahmasutras. I may direct you to read about the "anukaraNas" used in the 'Kadal Jnalam' thiruvaimozhi and refer to the commentary where Thirumangai Azhvar says 'thammaiyE okka aruL seyvAr' in the Periya Thirumozhi. These finer aspects are too nuanced for me to elaborate here. The final point is that you cannot bring your reason/logic approach of vedanta and try and understand the Thiruvaimozhi or the finer Srivaishnava sampradhaya tenets. So, I would request you peruse one of its vyakhyanams, preferably the Eedu, for the decad mentioned above without the rationalist hat. That way, you'll be able to understand why Alkondavilli Govindacharya says jivas too possess powers of creation. By the way, Sri herself is a Jivatma, according to the Thenkalai school.


What Sai talks above regarding the devolution of the powers is explained in Parayathadhikarana (2-3-41) in Sri Bhashya. But the devolution of powers does not cover jagat srishti.

  • "The answer to this question is in the Pancaratra Agama and Tiruvaimozhi and not in Brahmasutras." But don't Thenkalais believe that the words of the Brahmasutras and the Sri Bhashya are correct? So how do they explain the words of Ramanjuacharya who clearly said that the Jiva does not get powers of creation? "I may direct you to read about the "anukaraNas" used in the 'Kadal Jnalam' thiruvaimozhi" Is this the decad you're referring to? ibiblio.org/sripedia/ebooks/tvm/tvm5-6.html I don't quite understand the context: who is Nammalwar pretending to be and who is the "daughter"? – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 21 '14 at 4:06
  • "refer to the commentary where Thirumangai Azhvar says 'thammaiyE okka aruL seyvAr' in the Periya Thirumozhi." Are you referring to verse 5 here? periyathirumozhi11thdecad.blogspot.ae/p/mannilangu.html Thirumangai Alwar says "to such people He gives paramapada and equal status". But equal status need not mean equal powers, does it? "These finer aspects are too nuanced for me to elaborate here." Could you please try to elaborate as much as you can? You clearly know a lot about Sri Vaishnavism, so it would help me greatly if you provided more details. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 21 '14 at 4:13
  • "So, I would request you peruse one of its vyakhyanams, preferably the Eedu, for the decad mentioned above without the rationalist hat." Unfortunately, although I'm Tamil, my knowledge of Tamil isn't enough to understand the Eedu (or even the Alwars' words), so could you please give me a source that's in English? For instance, could you translate the relevant lines of the Eedu (I don't think there's an English translation of it), or could you just give an explanation in your own words? – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 21 '14 at 4:20
  • By the way, even if you were able to show me that the Alwars' pasurams indicate that a released soul gets powers of creation, that would still leave me with my fundamental question: how do Thenkalais reconcile their beliefs with the clear statements of Ramanujacharya's Sri Bhashya? By the way, I highly recommend that you create an account on the site, because I think you would make a good user on Hinduism.Stackexchange. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 21 '14 at 4:21
  • @Mukund- What do you intend when you say "Sri is considered jivathma"? – user808 Jun 22 '15 at 17:58
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The real point is how much value we attach to "creation". When viewed in the background of the swaroopam of brahman (to the extent we can comprehend with our limited faculties), everything other than brahman is equally inconsequential.

This is the innermost message of upanishads. We samsaris intuitively attach great value to jnana,karma,and bhoga. For Srimannarayana these are triviyal sports. A father will watch his children sporting. No apacharam saying "I create.." as Nammazhwar says in Thiruvaimozhi 5-6-1.

The swaroopa lakshanam of parathanthryam is put to ultimate test by Thiruvenkadamudayan. In Perumal Thirumozhi 4-10 Perumal suggested to Kulasekara azhwar "let us exchange places!"

Advaithis go to the extent of saying I (brahman)am ajnatha, akartha, abhoktha.

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Another point connected but not directly in the thread is "how to study Sribhashya"

A quick survey will confirm that the predominant version of sanatana dharma is the smartha-vaishnava dharma adhering to the prescriptions of Vedas,sastras and itihasas and uncompromising on varna ashrama dharma. Srivaishnava or Ramanuja darsanam is a school fashioned on vaishnava traditions like puranas and azhwar arulicheyal. Ramanuja's achievement can be seen in the way he established that Srivaishnava siddhantha is the zenith that earlier notions had failed to comprehend.

The end product like Srimannarayana as the parabrahman, His manifestation as tatvatraya, His paratvadi panchaka roopam, His guna lila rasam,the numerous individual jivas and the eternal relationship with Him, the bliss of eternal and loving service to Him are nowhere to be seen in the raw materials namely Vedas sastras etc.

Such a work should be read in its entirety.Sribhashyam is mainly for vedic scholars. They were numerous in Ramanuja's times and Ramanujas command to study Sribhashya is to them, in order to endow them with the Srivaishnava grace. Another group that could benefit is the intellectual class unable to accept an intelligent supreme person. Yet another is the curious Srivaishnava eager to know the roots of his faith. For philosophers it is an intellectual feast.

Difficulties in reading individual passages are common. It may be mentioned that even the ultimate message of Gitabhashya is a matter of debate between the two sects whether it is prapatti or bhakthi. Such discussions amongst vidwans are good kalakshepa, nothing more.

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