Ramanuja comes away from the Shankara’s position, while describing the Ultimate reality, though they both base their theories on the same Prasth?natray? viz. the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras, and the Bhagavadgita. Ramanuja attempts to synthesize Absolutism with personal theism by bringing in imports of Bhagawat – Puran into his interpretation. According to Ramanuja knowledge involves distinctions and there is no pure undifferentiated pure consciousness. Shankara’s opines wrong in saying that Brahman is a pure difference being. The ultimate reality cannot be indeterminate, undifferentiated, quality-less substance. It is determinate and qualified. When the Upanisads speak of Brahman as ‘devoid of qualities,’ they only mean that Brahman has no bad qualities and not that it has no qualities at all. Brahman is the abode of all good qualities and is the incarnation of all perfection.
Brahman is God, and he is not a formless identity but an individual, a person who is always qualified by matter and soul which forms His body. All individual souls are spiritual substances which are pervaded by God and form His body. The Absolute is an organic unity, an identity which is qualified by diversity. It is the concrete whole (vishishta) which consists of the interrelated and interdependent subordinates elements which are called visheshanas and the immanent and the controlling spirit which is called visheshya. Unity means the realization of being a vital member of this organic whole.
Thus Ramanuja recognizes three things as ultimately real – achit (matter), chit (souls) and God (Ishvara). Though all are equally real, the first two are absolutely dependent on God. Though they are substances in themselves, yet about God, they become his attribute. They are the body of God who is their soul. The relation between the soul and the body is that of inner inseparability – aprthakasiddhi. It is like the relation between a substance and its attributes, between parts and whole and may be between one substance and another. It is an inner inseparable, vital and organic relation. Matter and soul are called attributes of God. They are the controlled, the supported, the parts and the accessory means, while God is their substance, controller, support, the whole and the principal end. They are eternal with God, but they are not external to Him.
Heterogeneous (vijatiya) difference is the one that differentiates a class of objects from the other. For example, the difference between a cow and a not cow is heterogeneous. The difference between one cow and the other cow is homogenous (sajatiya), but the difference between different parts of the same cow is internal or svagata. Now Brahman is devoid of sajatiya and vijatiya bheda but svagata bheda exists in Him, as his organic body is made of real and diverse elements like matter and soul.
God is both material and instrumental cause of the world. He is the immanent as well as transcendent ground of the world. He is immanent in the world as its inner controller and yet in his essence, He transcends the world. He is a perfect personality. He is full of all good qualities – Existence, Knowledge, Bliss; Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Lustre, Love, and Power.
Some Upanisadic passages also extend support to Ramanuja’s triune unity of chit, achit and Ishwara. Svetasvatara Upanisad reads –
There are three ultimate existences – the eternal and all knowing and all powerful God, the eternal powerless soul and the eternal matter, and these three constitute the Absolute.” The same Upanisad further tells – “This alone needs to be known and there is nothing else to be known – that there are three entities, the enjoyer, the enjoyed, and the mover, which constitute the Absolute. If a man knows these three, he knows Brahman.” And finally adds, “The one God who runs through all beings, who is all – pervasive and who is the immanent controller of all beings is the Supreme Reality. There is nothing greater than He, there is nothing external to Him, He fills the whole universe.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad further describes Him as the running thread which binds together all the worlds and all the souls. He is the immanent inner controller of all. He is present in matter and yet He is different from matter; matter does not know Him; matter forms His body; He controls matter from within; He is the Supreme Soul; the Antaryami, the immortal.
Ramanuja’s concept of the Ultimate Reality identifies itself with God. God can be understood both as cause and effect. During the state of dissolution, God remains as the cause with subtle matter and unembodied soul forming His body. The whole universe lies latent in Him. During the state of creation the subtle matter becomes gross and the unembodied souls (except the nitya and mukta souls) becomes embodied according to their karmas. In this effect – state the universe becomes manifest. The former state is called the causal state, while the latter is the effect – state of Brahman. Just as in the case of an ordinary individual, the soul does not undergo any change though the body might go through many changes and mutations, God does not go through any suffering though the individual souls might go.
Finally, taking resort to Bhagawat – Puran, Ramanuja identifies the Absolute with Lord Vishnu. He tries to fuse the immanent Upanisadic Absolute with the transcendent God of the Pancharatra or Bhagawata – theism. He is Narayana and lives in His citadel Vaikuntha which is made of pure sattva or nityavibhuti.
Though one in Himself, He manifests himself to help his devotees. In the first form, as the immanent soul of the universe, He is antaryami. In the second form, He is para or Supreme. As the creator, preserver and destroyer, he reveals himself through four – fold vyuha in the third form.