Brief notes on the Ramanuja’s Conception of the World


Ramanujan takes the Upanisadic accounts of creation, stated previously, in a literal sense. He holds that God, who is omnipotent, creates the manifold world out of Himself by a gracious act of will.

Within the All-inclusive God (Brahman) there are both unconscious matter (acit) and the finite spirits (cit). The first is the source of the material objects and as such called prakrti (i.e., root or origin) after the Svetdsvatara-Upanisad,the Puranas and Smrtis whose authority Ramanuja highly values.

This prakrti is admitted, as in the Sankhya, to be an uncreated (aja), eternal reality. But unlike the Sankhya, Ramanuja believes that it is a part of God and controlled by God just as the human body is controlled from within by the human soul.


During the state of dissolution (pralaya) this primal unconscious nature of prakrti remains in a latent, subtle (suksma) and undifferentiated (avibhakta) form.

God creates out of this the world of diverse objects in accordance with the deeds of the souls in the world prior to the last dissolution.

Impelled by the omnipotent will of God the undifferentiated subtle matter gradually becomes transformed into three kinds of subtle elements fire, water and earth.

These differentiated elements manifest also the three kinds of qualities known as sattva, rajas and tamas.


Gradually the three subtle elements become mixed up together and give rise to all gross objects which we perceive in the material world.

In every object in the world there is a mixture of three elements. This process of triplication is known as trivrtkarana.

Ramanuja holds, therefore, the creation is a fact and the created world is as real as Brahman.

Regarding the Upanishad texts which deny the multiplicity of objects and assert the unity of all things, Ramanuja holds that these texts do not mean to deny the reality of the many objects, but only teach that in all of them there is the same Brahman, on which all are dependent for existence, just as all gold articles are dependent on gold.


What the Upanisads deny is the independence of objects, but not their dependent existence (aprthaksthiti).

It is true, Ramanuja admits, that God has been described (in the Svetasvatara) as wielder of a magical power (maya), but this only means that the inscrutable power by which God creates the world is as wonderful as that of a magician.

The word ‘maya’ stands for God’s power of creating wonderful objects (vicitrartha-sargakari sakti). It also stands sometimes for prakrti to signify her wonderful creativity.

Ramanuja denies, therefore, that creation and the created world are illusory. To strengthen this position he further holds that all knowledge is true (yathartham sarva-vijnanam) and that there is no illusory object anywhere.


Even in the case of the so- called illusory snake in the rope, he points out that the three elements (fire, water, earth) by the mixture of which a snake is made, are also the elements by the mixture of which a rope is made.

So that even in a rope there is something of a snake and this common element really existing in a rope is perceived when we take it for snake. No unreal object is perceived then.

The constituent elements of every object being in every other thing every so-called illusion can be similarly explained away.

This theory of Ramanuja resembles in essential respects the view of some modern realists like Boodin, who hold that all immediate experience of objects is true on the strength of the quantum theory of Schrodinger.


According to which each of the electrons, which compose material objects, pervades the whole world, so that ‘Everything is imminent in everything else.

Ramanujan Criticism of the Advaita Theory of Maya Ramanuja, who lived long after Sankara as well as of these followers, commented on the theory of Maya, in the course of his commentary on the Brahmasutra.

We are indebted to him for exposing many of the obscure points of the Advaita School. Though the charges raised by Ramanuja have been replied to by the Advaitins, they have great value for understanding more clearly both Ramanuja and Sankara.

We shall mention here Ramanuja’s chief objections against the Advaita theory of Maya or ajnana and also show briefly how they can be met from the standpoint of Sankara.

Where does the Ignorance (ajnana), that is said to produce the world, exist? It cannot be said to exist in an individual self (jiva), because individuality is itself produced by Ignorance and the cause cannot depend on its effect. Neither can Ignorance be said to be omniscient.

The reply to this, in defence of Sankara, would be that even if Ignorance be said to be in the individual self, the difficulty arises only if we regard the one as preceding the other.

But if we regard ignorance and individuality as but the two interdependent aspects of the same fact, as a circle and its circumference, or a triangle and its sides, or fatherhood and son-ship, the difficulty does not arise.

But if, on the other hand, Brahman be regarded as the locus of Ignorance, even then the difficulty can be removed by removing a misunderstanding on which it is based.

Maya in Brahman is Ignorance only in the sense of the power of producing ignorance and illusion in individuals; it does not affect Brahman any more than the magician’s power of creating an illusion affects his own knowledge.

It is said that maya or ajnana conceals the real nature of Brahman. But Brahman is admitted to be essentially self-revealing. If Maya conceals Brahman it means that His self-revealing nature is destroyed by it and Brahman ceases to be.

The reply to this is that ignorance conceals Brahman in the sense of preventing the ignorant individual from realising His real nature, most as a patch of cloud conceals the sun by preventing a person from perceiving the sun.

So Ignorance does no more destroy the nature of Brahman than the cloud destroys the self- manifesting nature of the sun.

Self-manifestation means manifestation of itself in the absence of obstacles-and not in spite of obstacles. The sun does not cease to be self-revealing because the blind cannot see it.

What is the nature of the Ignorance? Sometimes the Advaitins say that maya is indescribable (anirvacanlya), it is neither real nor unreal. This is absurd. Because our experience shows that things are either real or unreal. How can there be a third category besides these two contradictories?

The reply to this is that maya, as well as every illusory object, is said to be indescribable owing to a genuine difficulty.

In so far as it appears to be something, an illusion or illusory object cannot be said to be unreal like a square circle or the son of a barren woman which never even appears to exist.

Again in so far as it is sibilated or contradicted afterwards by some experience, it cannot be said to be absolutely real like Atman or Brahman whose reality is never contradicted.

Maya and every illusory object have this nature and compel us to recognise this nature as something unique and indescribable in terms of ordinary reality or unreality.

To say that maya is indescribable is only to describe a fact, namely our inability to bring it under any ordinary category, and it does not mean any violation of the law of contradiction.

In fact, as ‘real’ means here the ‘absolutely real’ and ‘unreal’ ‘the absolutely unreal,’ they do not constitute a pair of contradictories any more than two words like ‘extremely cold’ and ‘extremely hot’ do.

Again sometimes, maya or avidya is said by the Advaitins to be positive ignorance (bhava-rupam ajnanam). This is also meaningless. Ignorance means want of knowledge, and how can it be positive then?

The reply in defence would be that as the illusion-producing ignorance is not merely an absence of the knowledge of the ground of illusion but positively makes this ground appear as some other object, it is properly described as positive in this sense.

Granting that maya is something positive, how can it be destroyed by the knowledge of Brahman? Nothing that positively exists can be removed from existence by knowledge.

The reply is that if the word ‘positive’ be understood in the sense given above, this misunderstanding would not arise.

In our daily experience of illusory objects, like the serpent in a rope, we find that the object positively appears to be there and yet it vanishes when we have a clear knowledge of the ground of the illusion, viz. the rope.

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