The 18 Points of Doctrinal Dispute | Śrī-Vaiṣṇavism
The Eighteen Points of Doctrinal Difference
between Vaḍakalai and Teṅkalai
The classical eighteen points of doctrinal dispute became codified during the 18th Century.
The Vaḍakalai scholars base their arguments on the works of Vedanta Deśikan and the Teṅkalai consolidate their position on the basis of the teachings of Pillai Lokāchārya and Manavallamamuni.
1. The Nature of God’s All-Pervasion
Everything in the universe is comprised of anus (atoms) which are the smallest particles of matter.
What we mean by God being omnipresent or “all-pervasive” is that God pervades everything in the entire Universe except the Jīva.
The Jīva is atomic in that it is the smallest particle of consciousness and subtle and as such cannot be permeated by God.
If it were so, the Jīva would no longer be subtle and would pertain to the category of a gross object.
Not so! God’s ability to permeate and pervade surpasses the human ability to conceptualise and to understand.
God is the greatest of the great and therefore pervades the entire universe. He is also the subtlest of the subtle and can therefore inter-penetrate even the Jīva.
The power of pervasion is like that of genera which co-inheres in every individual of a particular species. For example “cow-ness” is present in every member of the species.
2. The Nature of Lakshmi (Śrī).
Śrī has essential pervasion (svarūpa vyāpti), the same as Nārāyaṇa.
They are coeval in that they both share the same essential nature and together they form a dual entity with a co-operative identity.
Lakshmi is completely Divine as per the teachings of Lakshmi Tantra, and the personification of the Mercy of Nārāyaṇa.
Śrī has attributive pervasion (guṇa-vyāpti) and corporeal pervasion (vigraha-vyāpti) —
in other words she shares the same qualities or attributes as Nārāyaṇa and shares the same manifest iconic form and pervades the universe.
She does not have essential pervasion (svarūpa vyāpti).
This means that Śrī does not have essential divinity by nature as she is a Jīva, but has the divine function of Mediatrix as a gift from God.
The Mother-hood differs from the Father-hood and again differs from the child-hood:
The Jīva is the child who has attributive pervasion only; this means that the Jīva shares the qualities of bliss, consciousness, existence, purity and eternality with Śrīman Nārāyaṇa.
Śrī is the mother who has attributive pervasion as well as corporeal pervasion — which is physical pervasion of the universe.
The father is Nārāyaṇa who has attributive, corporeal and essential pervasion — which means that everything in the cosmos is a projection of Śrīman Nārāyaṇa and as such is pervaded by Him from within and without.
It is this pervasive character which differentiates between these three principles.
The function of Śrī is to mediate (puruṣakāra) between the Jīvas and God.
She is of the same nature as the other Jīvas but is Immaculate and without Karma, she is not subjected to Ignorance (avidya) and being such she is in a perfect position to act as the Mediatrix.
3. Powers of Śrī.
Lakshmi has equal power with Śrīman Nārāyaṇa to grant liberation. In other words she too can serve as the Goal and the Means, one can therefore surrender to Śrī only.
Śrīman Nārāyaṇa alone has the power to grant liberation.
Śrī is the Universal Reconciler, the Mediatrix between the Jīvas and Śrīman Nārāyaṇa.
She is not fully divine and therefore being a Jīva herself, she has a natural affinity and compassion for the Jīva.
She also has an intimate relationship with the Lord and therefore is in a position to influence Him to grant liberation but she herself cannot do it.
4. Concerning God’s Grace (Prasāda).
Divine Grace is co-operative, that is; it is earned through the performance of acts of merit (puṇya), it comes as a reward for the self-initiated efforts made by the spiritual aspirant.
Śrīman Nārāyaṇa can use any excuse He chooses for bestowing Grace, but it does not come completely freely without some good deed on the part of the individual, however slight it may be.
Divine Grace is irresistible it is the free gift from Śrīman Nārāyaṇa given to whomsoever He may choose.
It cannot be earned in any way through any form of spiritual or worldly practice such as good works, charity, sacrifice, worship, study etc.
But we do agree that Śrīman Nārāyaṇa does use yadrccha sukṛta (accidental good works*) as an excuse for bestowing Grace.
*Accidental good works are deeds that have unintentional positive effects:
For example weary travellers may use one’s veranda without permission for a rest. Or a man chasing a cow around a temple in order to catch it, is considered to have piously undertaken to circumambulate the shrine.
5. Concerning God’s “Maternal” Love (vatsalya).
The term “vatsalya” which describes one of the qualities of the Lord, conveys the idea of the love of a cow for its calf:
The cow in the stall bellows for its calf and out of natural love and concern allows the milk to ooze out even though the calf may not yet be sucking.
Śrīman Nārāyaṇa’s maternal love (vatsalya) for the Jīva means that He turns a blind eye to one’s faults and ignores the transgressions one has committed (doṣa-adarshitvam).
Although He also continues to ignore all the transgressions committed after Prapatti, He still requires some atonement and administers some form of light punishment to the errant Devotee.
The maternal love of Śrīman Nārāyaṇa is so overpowering that He actually relishes (as it were) the faults and errors of the Jīva (doṣa-bhogyatvam), because they present Him with a pretext (vyaja) for showing more compassion and forgiveness.
There is no need for atonement for transgressions committed after Prapatti.
6. Concerning God’s Compassion (dayā).
Śrīman Nārāyaṇa’s compassion is such that it produces in Him a desire to relieve the suffering of the creatures (para-dukha-nicakshire).
Śrīman Nārāyaṇa’s compassion is such that He cannot bear to see suffering and it actually causes a vicarious suffering in Him.
7. Works (karma yoga) and Wisdom (jñāna yoga).
These two paths taught in the Bhagavad Gītā are not a direct means (upāya) to God, they are ancillary to the path of Devotion (bhakti yoga), which is the principle means to Liberation.
They are integral accessories to Bhakti Yoga.
Any of these three means (karma yoga, jñāna yoga or bhakti yoga) may lead directly to liberation if done in the spirit of Self-surrender (Prapatti). In each case it is the motivation and mind-set of the individual which is the determining factor.
8. Taking Refuge in God. (Prapatti).
Prapatti is a self-initiated act (upāya) like bhakti, jñāna and karma Yogas and is therefore one among four ways or returning to Godhead, although it is the best.
Prapatti is the method par-excellence and the only valid means. It is the means and the end and therefore not a ‘method’ like other Yogas (Upāyas).
9. Who should resort to Prapatti?
Those who are incapable of following Bhakti Yoga and other means because of caste restrictions or gender (women), or sheer helplessness or despair should resort to Prapatti.
Prapatti is for everyone, be they capable or incapable of other means. Prapatti is the an essential condition of Salvation. To attempt to qualify it as better or worse and to compare it to the other means derogates from its greatness.
10. Conditions for taking Refuge
— Bhagavad Gītā chap 18; 66.
Sarva dharmam parityajya mamekam saranam vraja |
aham tva sarva-papebhyo mokshayishyami ma suca˙ ||
This verse means; —
“If you are incapable of following other paths (dharma) as ordained by the Scriptures (Śāstra), then give them up and surrender to me, I shall liberate you from the effects of all sins (Karma), fear not.”
Not so! It means;—
“If you are capable of following other paths (dharma) try as hard as you can. It is not capability alone that will save you. So why not lean on Me, rather than depend upon your own strength, deficient as it is.
The former is an attitude of self-assertion and self-perpetuation, the latter is one of self-effacement and self-sacrifice.
11. Qualifications of Prapatti
Question: — Does the development of qualifications (virtues)* required for the other paths of Jñāna, Karma & Bhakti Yogas also apply to Prapatti?
* These virtues or characteristics to be developed are enumerated in Gita chapters 12 and 13.
No! In fact they disqualify.
The only qualification that is required is the feeling of complete helplessness and despair and the realisation of the Jīva’s natural and essential intimate relationship with Śrīman Nārāyaṇa (Lakshmi Tantra chap 17; 70).
This spiritual relationship is one of dependency on the part of the Jīva and paramount on the part of Śrīman Nārāyaṇa.
12. The Components of Prapatti
The six-fold components of Prapatti are preliminaries for the reception of Divine Grace.
They are; —
1. A vow to live in harmony with the will of God.
2. Avoidance of unfavourable actions.
3. Implicit faith in the providence of God.
4. Supplicatory attitude.
6. Humility (destitution of means).
Genuine Prapatti stands in no need of any prelude. It is the substantive per-se which engenders the six components afore mentioned. They are therefore not postulates but corollaries of Prapatti — in other words they follow Prapatti, they do not come before.
The mere fact that one even considers taking refuge is indicative of the Grace of God.
13. Does Prapatti earn Grace?
Yes! In Karma Mīmāṃsā portion of the Vedas, all actions are taught as having an imperceptible residual seed (apūrva).
So in the path of Knowledge (jñāna yoga), Prapatti being the “seed” corresponds to apūrva and matures to produce fruit in the form of Liberation.
The Devotee requests the Lord’s Grace through the act of Prapatti and Śrīman Nārāyaṇa accepts and responds to that request (svagata-svikara).
Regarding Prapatti as a means of compelling Grace is tantamount to bartering with God! (“I will surrender to you if you will Liberate me!”)
Prapatti is an act of complete and unconditional surrender and resignation which leaves God the master of the situation. Śrīman Nārāyaṇa accepts the Devotee of His own free will, uncompelled and unasked (paragata-svikara).
The so-called seed of Apūrva is none other than the Grace of God.
14. Penalty for a lapsed Devotee.
If a Devotee, subsequent to the act of Taking Refuge, lapses into error, the atonement consists of repeating the act of Prapatti again and again, as often as one backslides.
Or one may also perform one of the several forms of atonement that are mentioned in the Dharma Śāstras in order to propitiate the Lord and elicit His forgiveness.
Not so! Prapatti is the act of Taking Refuge and freely and completely surrendering oneself to Śrīman Nārāyaṇa. It is done once and for all.
This one act contains all the potential for redemption and therefore cannot be cancelled by a moral lapse, or subsequent acts of folly!
The atonement for lapses consists of recalling in mind the saving Grace of the first efficacious act of Prapatti. This contrite repentance is enough, and the act of Prapatti remains intact and unabrogated. There is no need for penances or atonement.
15. Varṇa-āśrama — Caste and Social Duties
The duties and vocations (karma) prescribed in the Dharma Śāstras and Āgamas for each of the four castes (varṇa) and four stages of life (āśrama) are to be followed by the Devotee in accordance with his or her birth in order to please Śrīman Nārāyaṇa and should therefore be strictly adhered to with that end in mind.
It is presumptuous to think that the activities of the Devotee such as caste or social duties actually please Śrīman Nārāyaṇa. They may or they may not, it is not for us to judge the effects on Śrīman Nārāyaṇa of actions initiated by ourselves.
Prescribed caste duties and Dharma should be done as a way of setting an example to others and simply as service to God!
Philanthropy — the welfare of all sentient beings (Loka-saṁgraha) should be the motive behind our actions and not the pleasing of God, which is audacity on the part of the Devotee.
16. Concerning Caste Status and the Devotee.
Even after Prapatti, the caste distinctions as per the Dharma Śāstras are to be retained in respect of all Devotees.
A low caste Devotee is to be given only verbal respect by Devotees of the higher castes and they should never actually be treated like Brahmins.
Śūdras who become Vaishnavas are to be treated with greater respect than non-Vaishnava Śūdras but never on a par with Brahmin Vaishnavas.
All distinctions of caste are to be disregarded after Prapatti and all Devotees are to be given equal respect and treated with complete equality. There are no divisions of caste or status amongst the Devotees — all are to be treated with equality.
17. Concerning Grades of Bliss in Liberation (Moksha).
There are no grades of bliss whatsoever in Moksha.
Some variation does exist, but it is not qualitative or quantitative. The variation arises in respect of the duties assigned to various Liberated Jīvas (muktas).
18. The Nature of Kaivalya Moksha
This state of isolated Self-Realisation or state of Solipsistic Bliss achieved by the Yogis who follow the doctrines of Advaita and other impersonalist schools such as the Jains and Buddhists is temporary and can be a stage on the way to Final Beatitude consisting of dwelling in the Vision of the Divine.
Not so! It is a permanent state.
The individual yogi considered it, desired it, strove for it and actualised it. It is also accepted as a form of Final Liberation and there is no more rebirth for one who has attained Kaivalya Moksha be they Jain, Buddhist or Advaita.
Some Minor Points of Contention.
1. Who gains by the act of Prapatti, the Jīva or Nārāyaṇa?
Attaining and being reunited with Śrīman Nārāyaṇa is gain to the Jīva.
The Jīva is gain to Śrīman Nārāyaṇa because He has been reunited with His most precious possession.
2. Definition of Pervasion (vyāpti).
Pervasion (vyāpti) is a spatial relation.
It is not merely a spatial relation, but an internal and external presence of God which is inscrutable and inconceivable by the human mind.
3. Usage of The Sacred Mantram (Aṣthakshari).
When the sacred mantra (tiru-mantram) Om namo Nārāyaṇāya is taught to non-Brahmins and women and recited by them, the Om is to be omitted.
Not so! To be efficacious and remain complete the mantra has to be taught and recited by all as it is, without any modifications.
4. The power of Celestial Beings (Nityas and Muktas).
These two categories of beings have no power to create anything.
By the command of God they can do anything.
5. Location of Kaivalya.
It is located in some realm of the material universe.
It is per se a transcendental state, hence it must be located in some realm of the Spiritual Universe.
6. The Āchārya as mediator
Salvation is effected through the act of surrendering to the Lord under the guidance of the qualified Āchārya.
The function of the Āchārya is to see that all the components of Prapatti are adhered to and to guide the Devotee in the performance of proper service (kainkaryam).
Love for the Āchārya is paramount and surrendering to a qualified Āchārya can substitute for Prapatti to the Lord. The wise and enlightened Āchārya is especially loved by the Lord and is to be considered as a partial manifestation of God.
Therefore surrendering to a wise, skilful and compassionate Āchārya (āchārya-abhimāna) is actually better than surrendering to the Lord Himself.