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As I discuss in the this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school, which bases its tenets on the doctrines laid out in the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa which summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. You can read the Brahma Sutras here. In any case, in Adhyaya 4 Pada 3 of the Brahma Sutras, one of the topics discussed is the journey of souls described in this passage from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

Those who thus know this, and those who in the forest worship faith and the True, go to light (arkis), from light to day, from day to the increasing half, from the increasing half to the six months when the sun goes to the north, from those six months to the world of the Devas (Devaloka), from the world of the Devas to the sun, from the sun to the place of lightning. When they have thus reached the place of lightning a spirit comes near them, and leads them to the worlds of ... Brahman. In these worlds of Brahman they dwell exalted for ages. There is no returning for them.

The ancient thinker Badari believed that the passage is about souls who meditate upon the god Hiranyagarbha, i.e. Brahma, and thereby go to Brahma's world, known as Satyaloka or Brahmaloka. The ancient thinker Jaimini, on the other hand, believed that the passage is about souls who meditate upon the supreme Brahman and thereby attain the supreme Brahman, i.e. attain Moksha. In Ramanujacharya's commentary on the Brahma Sutras, he argues that Vyasa favors a middle view, where both those who meditate on the supreme Brahman and those who meditate upon their own soul as having Brahman as its inner Self (in the Visihtadvaita view) will attain Moksha using the path described in the text.

But before Ramanujacharya discusses his own view, he first spends time presenting the views of Badari. Badari argued that the reason the passage says "There is no returning for them." is that the inhabitants of Brahmaloka attain Moksha when he dies. In support of Badari's view, Ramanujacharya cites a passage from the Mundaka Upanishad:

This is known from the texts declaring that he who proceeds on the path of light reaches immortality and does not return; and is further confirmed by the text, 'They all, reaching the highest immortality, become free in the world of Brahman (Brahmâ) at the time of the great end ' (Mu. Up. III, 2, 6).

And he cites some Smriti text:

This follows from Smriti also, which declares 'when the pralaya has come and the end of the Highest, they all together with Brahman enter the highest place.'--For all these reasons Bâdari holds that the troop of the conducting deities, beginning with Light, leads the souls of those only who meditate on the effected Brahman, i e. Hiranyagarbha.

But my question is, does Ramanujacharya agree with Badari's view that inhabitants of Brahmaloka attain Moksha when they die? The reason I ask is because Ramanujacharya says this:

But, if the soul advancing on the path of the Gods reaches Hiranyagarbha only, texts such as 'This is the path of the Gods, the path of Brahman; those who proceed on that path do not return to the life of man' (Kh. Up. IV, 15, 6), and 'moving upwards by that a man reaches immortality' (VIII, 6, 6), are wrong in asserting that that soul attains to immortality and does not return; for the holy books teach that Hiranyagarbha, as a created being, passes away at the end of a dviparârdha-period; and the text 'Up to the world of Brahman the worlds return again' (Bha. Gî. VIII, 16) shows that those who have gone to Hiranyagarbha necessarily return also.

In this passage, is Ramanujacharya presenting his own view, or someone else's? If he's advancing his own view, then it seems he believes that the inhabitants of Brahmaloka are reborn rather than attain Moksha. If so, how does he reconcile his view with the scriptural quotes he cited earlier?

And these aren't the only such scriptural quotes; Srimad Bhagavatam seems to also say that inhabitants of Brahmaloka attain Moksha, as I discuss in this answer. So what's going on here?

Do any later Sri Vaishnava Acharyas shed light on this?

  • Bramhaloka is where Bramha Resides, and there above the bramhaloka is gnaya loka or something with similar name where Sanath kumars live and above them is abode of shiva and then comes the goloka of krishna and radha then comes the vaikuntha?? – Yogi Sep 20 '15 at 6:06
  • @Yogi The order of the material Lokas is Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarga/Devaloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka, and Satyaloka/Brahmaloka, as I discuss here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/7262/36 (This should remind you of the Pranayamam mantra). Tapoloka is where the Sanatkumaras live. But Brahmaloka is the highest material Loka. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 20 '15 at 12:23
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    @Yogis Beyond the material lokas is the loka or lokas where souls who have attained some form of liberation or Moksha go. What those Lokas are is something the different sects of Hinduism have different beliefs about it. Shaivites believe Shivaloka is the supreme destination, Gaudiya Vaishnavas (e.g. ISKCON members) think Goloka is the supreme destination, and Sri Vaishnavas think the supreme destination is Vishnu's abode of Paramapadam, aka Vaikunta. (This is different from Vishnu's ocean of milk, which is located in Shwetadwipa in Bhuloka. See here: trsiyengar.com/id268.shtml) – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 20 '15 at 12:30
  • @Keshav - Not just Srivaishnavas all vaishnavas belonging to madhva, Vallabha, nimbaraka, Swami Narayana etc believe in Paramapada called Vaikuntha. ISKCON and Gaudiyas consider Vaikuntha to be outer precints of Goloka....But, even they fully accept the eternity of Vaikuntha... – user808 Sep 20 '15 at 13:43
  • @Krishna Yeah, I think Gaudiya Vaishnavas say "Goloka is the highest of the Vaikunta planets". – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 20 '15 at 13:49
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Ramanujacharya is not stating his own view. Rather, he is stating a Purvapaksha argument which Badari refutes in the next Sutra (Sutra 9). Here is how this PDF presents Ramanujacharya's commentary on Sutra 9.

With the dissolution of the of the world of HiraNyagarbha along with him the soul of the one who has reached there goes beyond . So it is stated.

There is a further objection that if the individual soul goes to the world of HiraNyagarbha the texts that state the attainment of immortality such as 'thayOrDhvamAyAn amrthathvamEthi, (Chan.4-15-6) will have no meaning as according to the statement of the Lord in the Gita 'AbrhambuvanAllOkAh punarAvrtthinO arjuna, the worlds upto that of Brahma are subject to return.' Also because the scriptures state the dissolutin of HiraNyagarbha at the end of the period known as dviparArDHa.

To this BAdhari replies...

The portion in bold is what Ramanujacharya says at the end of his commentary on Sutra 8. And Badari's refutation of it is that although the inhabitants of Brahmaloka may be subject to rebirth, they do not actually get reborn because they will acquire knowledge of Brahman and thus attain Moksha at the end of the Mahakalpa.

For further confirmation, we can examine Adi Shankaracharya's commentaries on these same Sutras, and see that they have the exact same structure. Here is Adi Shankaracharya's commentary on the equivalent Sutra 8 (his numbering is different:

The word 'but' indicates the setting aside of the doubt.--As the lower Brahman is in proximity to the higher one, there is nothing unreasonable in the word 'Brahman' being applied to the former also. For when the higher Brahman is, for the purposes of pious meditation, described as possessing certain effected qualities--such as consisting of mind and the rest--which qualities depend on its connexion with certain pure limiting adjuncts; then it is what we call the lower Brahman.--But with the assumption of the lower Brahman there does not agree what scripture says about the souls not returning; for there is no permanence anywhere apart from the highest Brahman. And scripture declares that those who have set out on the road of the gods do not return, 'They who proceed on that path do not return to the life of man' (Kh. Up. IV, 15, 6); 'For them there is no return here' (Bri. Up. VI, 2, 15); 'Moving upwards by that a man reaches immortality' (Kh. Up. VIII, 6, 5).

To this objection we make the following reply.

And then he makes the same refutation in his commentary on the following Sutra:

When the reabsorption of the effected Brahman world draws near, the souls in which meanwhile perfect knowledge has sprung up proceed, together with Hiranyagarbha the ruler of that world, to 'what is higher than that i.e. to the pure highest place of Vishnu. This is the release by successive steps which we have to accept on the basis of the scriptural declarations about the non-return of the souls. For we have shown that the Highest cannot be directly reached by the act of going.

I discuss about the use of the term "place of Vishnu" in my question here, by the way.

In any case, now that we know that Ramanujacharya is not actually stating his own view in the passage I quoted, it follows that the only positions of Badari's and Jaimini that Ramanujacharya disputes are the ones he discusses in his commentaries in Sutra 14 and Sutra 15, where he discusses Badarayana's views.

So here is what Ramanujacharya actually believes:

  1. If someone meditates on Hiranyagarbha (Brahma), then when they die, they don't go along the path of the gods outlined in the Panchagni Vidya. Rather, they just go to Brahmaloka. Then they attain knowledge of Brahman, and at the end of the Mahakalpa they attain Moksha along with Brahma.

  2. If someone meditates on the supreme Brahman, then when they die, they immediately attain Moksha, by ascending along the path of the gods outlined in the Panchagni Vidya.

So everything makes sense after all! It's similar to how I thought I found an inconsistency in the work of Adi Shankaracharya here, and there turned out to be an explanation. It is a testament to these great thinkers that the coherence of their work stands up to such scrutiny.

  • You mean to say that only those who acquire the knowledge of brahman in brahmaloka attain supreme brahman after Mahakalpa. Is there any possibility of not acquiring the knowledge of brahman in brahma loka? If, yes, then they be subjected to rebirth. If, no, then why panchagni vidya, worship supreme brahman etc just worship chaturmuka brahma and salvation is guaranteed though after a long period, but without rebirth i.e after Mahakalpa. – user808 Sep 26 '15 at 8:23
  • Yeah, the Srimad Bhagavatam makes clear that all the inhabitants of Brahmaloka attain knowledge of Brahman, and they merge with Brahma's body and attain Moksha along with him. The reason why you wouldn't want to do this, though, is that you have to wait an entire Mahakalpa to attain Moksha, rather than just getting Moksha immediately. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 26 '15 at 14:34
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    Does Ramanuja explicitly say so?...Because there instances in BG and other scriptures etc where Brahma to blade are subjected to dissolution and those go to other gods, return back...? How is this dichotomy resolved? – user808 Sep 26 '15 at 15:15
  • @Krishna I think it means that they are subject to rebirth, in the sense that if they didn't attain knowledge of Brahman then they would be reborn, but that possibility never comes to fruition because they all attain knowledge of Brahman. In any case, I think Ramanujacharya thinks that both Badari and Jaimini are right about everything they're saying except for the parts that are contradicted by Badarayana in Sutras 14 and 15. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 26 '15 at 15:22
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    @Ikshvaku No, the guy's name is V.K. Ramanujachari. Diwan Bahadur is a title: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewan_Bahadur – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 8 '17 at 4:36
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But, if the soul advancing on the path of the Gods reaches Hiranyagarbha only, texts such as 'This is the path of the Gods, the path of Brahman; those who proceed on that path do not return to the life of man' (Kh. Up. IV, 15, 6), and 'moving upwards by that a man reaches immortality' (VIII, 6, 6), are wrong in asserting that that soul attains to immortality and does not return; for the holy books teach that Hiranyagarbha, as a created being, passes away at the end of a dviparârdha-period; and the text 'Up to the world of Brahman the worlds return again' (Bha. Gî. VIII, 16) shows that those who have gone to Hiranyagarbha necessarily return also.

I think you should read more carefully the passage that you have quoted from the Ramanuja's commentary on Vedanta Sutra:

... if the soul advancing ... reaches Hiranyagarbha only, texts such as ... ... are wrong in asserting that ... ... for the holy books teach that ...

In the above passage of text a simple concept of statement is applied under the scheme:

if X ... then it is Y ... for the holy books teach that Z ...

Here Z is the Bhagavad gita 8.16 verse that those who have gone to Hiranyagarbha necessarily return also.
Y is "texts such as Chandogya Upanishad ... are wrong in asserting that ... "
X is "the soul advancing ... reaches Hiranyagarbha only"

So Ramanuja simply says that if X is true, then Chandogya Upanishad would be wrong (see above Y) because Z teaches ...

Of course Ramanuja does not think X is true, he actually thinks X is false! And then he thinks Chandogya Upanishad is not wrong but is correct, and he thinks Bhagavad gita 8.16 is also correct.

Now, although Ramanuja thinks Bhagavad gita 8.16 is correct, yet he thinks X is false! He thinks that souls advancing on the path of the Gods do not reach Hiranyagarbha (Lord Brahma) only, but they reach something higher than that, ie they reach immortality and the Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha eventually!
This is the meaning.

  • First of all, the word "only" doesn't necessarily have the meaning you think it does; the sentence "My cousin got a chocolate bar, but I only got a lollipop." doesn't imply that my cousin also got a lollipop, it just implies tha a chocolate bar is better than a lollipop. Similarly, saying "Attaining Moksha would be fitting for someone who meditated on the supreme Brahman, but only going to the world of Hiranyagarbha would not be fitting." doesn't imply that meditators on the supreme Brahman go to the world of Hiranyagarbha, just that Moksha is superior to the world of Hiranyagarabha. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 22 '15 at 16:25
  • Second of all, Ramanujacharya definitely doesn't think that souls on the path of the gods go to Brahmaloka; Ramanujacharya makes clear exactly how the soul proceeds in his commentaries on Sutras 1-5 of this same Pada. Also, in his commentary on a subsequent Sutra he says this: sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe48/sbe48547.htm "The argument that the specification implied in the text which mentions Brahman-worlds clearly points to the effected Brahman, i.e. Hiranyagarbha, is equally invalid. For the compound 'the Brahman-world' is to be explained as 'the world which is Brahman'" – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 22 '15 at 16:33
  • In any case, regardless of whether meditators on the supreme Brahman pass through Brahmaloka or not, my question isn't about meditators on the supreme Brahman, it's about people who have meditated on Brahma (Hiranyagarbha) and have thus become inhabitants of Brahmaloka. When Ramanujacharya says "those who have gone to Hiranyagarbha necessarily return also", he's clearly not talking about people who have meditated on the supreme Brahman, because there is no return for them. He's talking about people who have meditated on Brahma. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 22 '15 at 16:40
  • The purpose of my question is to understand Ramanujacharya's statement "those who have gone to Hiranyagarbha necessarily return also". I want to know if he is expressing his own view here, or someone else's view. And if he is expressing his own view, I want to know how he reconciles his view with the Mundaka Upanishad quote and the quote from the "Smriti" (which I found out is from the Kurma Purana). – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 22 '15 at 16:43
  • @KeshavSrinivasan You're just trying to complicate things where there's no need to complicate things, where things are simple and clear. At least to me it is simple and clear. I updated my post, see above. – brahma jijnasa Sep 24 '15 at 4:21
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First, I think the interpretation of Gita 8.16 is not the best. The verse refers first to lokah, 'worlds', and then to abrahma-bhuvanat, 'together with the world of Brahma' (the root bhuva refers to the place where creatures are born, i.e. earth); not the world of Brahman.

In his intro to his translation of the Sri-Bhasya, Swami Vireswarananda says:

‘With whatever thought he passes away from this world’, etc. says Satapatha Brahmana (X. 6.3.1). Such a thought, which fixes the course of life hereafter cannot be had at the moment of death without lifelong practice. Hence such meditations should be practiced till death. But Bhaskara, Ramanuja and Nimbarka connect the Sutra with the meditation on Brahman; for according to them even after the rise of knowledge one has to go after death by the path of the gods, at the end of which path one gets disembodied completely and attains Brahman, while Sankara holds that on death he becomes one with Brahman.

So Ramanuja does assert that the soul goes to Brahmaloka. Vireswarananda says further:

The soul of a knower of saguna Brahman goes by the path of the gods to Brahmaloka (the region of Brahma), i.e. it attains the conditioned Brahman—which is the view of Badari and is also endorsed by Badarayana. On the dissolution of Brahmaloka the soul along with the ruler of that world attains the supreme Brahman (Sri-Bhasya IV. iii. 7-11).

Vireswarananda states further Ramanuja's view of Moksha:

Souls are really effects of Brahman and form Its body, but they are said to be not created because at creation there is no essential change in them as in the elements. The soul is a knower, atomic, an agent and a part of Brahman in the sense that the body is a part of an embodied being, or a quality a part of the substance qualified. As qualities are not different from the substance, so also souls are not different from Brahman. The soul on release manifests its’ true nature, which consists in freedom from sin etc. which was obscured in the state of bondage by ignorance and Karma. It attains all the auspicious qualities of Brahman, but not identity with It, for It continues to have a separate existence. In the released state it experiences itself as non-different from Brahman, being but Its mode—that Brahman is its self, and that it is the body of Brahman.

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    Ramanuja doesnt accept the Badari's view of Kraya brshman etc. On the contrarary, Jaimini says contradicts badari and says that those who meditate on brahman they reach para brahman through archis. Badarayana clearly disagrees with Badari's view. Jaimini also he agrees to some extent, but gives his own view saying that both Badari's and Jamini's views have defects. – user808 Sep 21 '15 at 6:56
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    Apratikalamban nayati badarayana ubhayayatha ca dosat tatkratusca" this sutra introduced by badarayana for the purpose of offering his own view on subject of what kind of meditation leads to brahman against the defective and partial views of badari and Jaimini. – user808 Sep 21 '15 at 6:57
  • As @Krishna said, Ramanujacharya definitely does not agree with Vireswarananda's statement that "it attains the conditioned Brahman—which is the view of Badari and is also endorsed by Badarayana". Ramanujacharya does not think that Badarayana agrees with Badari here. Vireswarananda refers to Sri-Bhasya IV. iii. 7-11, but that's just Ramanujacharya's summary of what Badari says; he's not endorsing Badari's view. It is in his commentary on Sutras 14 and 15 that Ramanujacharya states Badarayana's viewpoint; Ramanujacharya believes that Badarayana disagrees with both Badari and Jaimini. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 22 '15 at 15:33
  • In any case, your answer doesn't address the purpose of my question, which is to understand Ramanujacharya's statement that "those who have gone to Hiranyagarbha necessarily return also." I want to know whether Ramanujacharya is stating his own view when he makes that statement, and if so how he would reconcile that view with the quotes he provides in support of Badari's view (that inhabitants of Brahmaloka attain Moksha at the end of Brahma's life). – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 22 '15 at 15:36
  • By the way, can you take a look at my question here about Adhyaya 1 Pada 3 of the Brahma Sutras: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/8682/36 – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 23 '15 at 4:27

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