Ramarayakavi (1875-1914) belongs to the group of illustrious commentators on the basic texts and commentaries on the basic texts and commentaries on Advaita Vedanta. Though he lived only for thirty-nine years, his writings, which are available to us, are very impressive. Since his writings are lucid and profound, closely following the writings of Adi Sankara, he has been revered as “Abhinava Sankara”. It may be noted that his writings are helpful not only to the beginners, but also to scholars deeply immersed in the classical texts to Advaita Vedanta.
This volume, Sariraka-catussutri-vicara by Ramarayakavi, brings out the central ideas of the first four sutras of the Brahma-sutra, also known as Sariraka-sutra, on the basis of Sankara’s commentary. It is a good introduction to the study of Sankara’s entire commentary on the Brahma-sutra. The question-answer method in the dialogue form which Ramarayakavi adopts in this book makes it interesting. The major part of this book is devoted to answering the question why inquiry into Brahman, which means inquiry into the inward Self of every one of us, is necessary. If the proper study of mankind is man, then no other problem is so important as this one, which engages the attention of Ramarayakavi.
R. Balasubramanian, Ph.D. and D.Litt. (Madras University), Vacaspati (Honoris Causa), a specialist in Advaita, Phenomenology and Existentialism, started his career in 1950. He taught in Besant Thesophical College, Vivekananda College, and Annamalai University before joining the faculty of Radhakrishnan Institute for Advanced Study in Philosophy, University of Madras, of which he was the Director for a number of years. He started Sri Aurobindo School of Eastern and Western Thought at Pondicherry University and was its first Chairman for five years. He was Chairman of Indian Council of Philosophical Research for a term. He is at present Chairman, Indian Philosophical Congress.
It is difficult to fix the date of the emergence of the philosophical systems in India. Scholars are of the view that the formulation of the different systems should have taken place sometime between second century B.C. and second century A.D. The systematic presentation of the ideas in the form of sutras (aphorisms) serves as the basic text of a system. Because of the brevity of the sutras, it is difficult to understand the sutra-work without the help of a commentary. Then came the commentaries and sub-commentaries of various kinds called bhasyas, vartikas, vrttis, karikas, and tikas explaining the various texts which were interconnected starting from the basic sutra-text.
It must be borne in mind that a commentary is much more than an exegesis. It is also creative while doing the work of interpretation. One should first of all "understand" the text before interpreting it. The "understanding" that serves as the basis for interpretation is a preliminary interpretation. The choice of a text as well as its identification as such-and-such involves interpretation; and the method one adopts in the analysis of the text also involves interpretation.
Ramarayakavi (1875-1914) belongs to the group of illustrious commentators on the basic texts and commentaries on Advaita Vedanta. Though he lived only for thirty-nine years, his writings, which are available to us, are very impressive. Since his writings are lucid and profound, closely following the writings of Adi Sankara, he has been revered as "Abhinava Sankara''. It may be noted that his writings are helpful not only to the beginners, but also to scholars deeply immersed in the classical texts of Advaita Vedanta.
This volume, Sariraka-catussutri-vicara by Ramarayakavi, brings out the central ideas of the first four sutras of the Brahma-sutra, also known as Sariraka-sutra, closely following Sankara's commentary. It is a good introduction to the study of Sankara's entire commentary on the Brahma-sutra. The question-answer method in the dialogue form which Ramarayakavi adopts in this book makes it interesting. The major part of this book is devoted to answering the question why inquiry into Brahman, which means inquiry into the inward Self of every one of us, is necessary. If the proper study of mankind is man, then no other problem is so important as this one, which engages the attention of Ramarayakavi.
It is first of all necessary to acknowledge my indebtedness to Professor N. Veezhinathan, who has been supporting and encouraging me in all my publications. I express my thanks to Professor S. Revathy for helping me in the press work. The Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre has sponsored this publication through the funds provided by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, for which I am thankful to both these institutions. In this connection, I should specifically mention the support given by Sri Ramdevan V. Krishnaswamy, President, and Sri R. Chandrasekharan, Secretary, of the Advaita Research Centre, for bringing out this volume.
My publication of any academic work involves corrections and revisions of drafts from time to time, testing the patience of Jayanthi, who has been entrusted with the computer work. This is the occasion to express my thanks to her. The emotional support I have received from my children has kept my motivation undiminished; and if I look forward with positive thoughts, I owe it to them.
Though the writings of Ramarayakavi are extensive, covering Sahitya, Vyakarana, Tarka, and Vedanta, what we know about his life history is meagre. There are not many biographies on him. This is really surprising, because he lived only a century ago. Ramarayakavi did not record any of the major events in his life. The information about his life, which is recorded by the editors of his works in the form of preface and introduction, contains the names of the works he composed. But they seldom touch on his personal life. Perhaps, like the ancients, he did not project his personality by writing autobiographical notes; nor did his disciples record the details of his life.
Ramarayakavi was born on December 27, 1875, and passed away on October 27, 1914. Though he lived only for thirty-nine years, his writings, available to us, are very impressive. He was born in a small village in Narasaraopet Taluk in Guntur District. His parents were Mohan Rao and Hanumamba. He was a Niyogi Brahmin of the Sri Vaisnava tradition, and belonged to Bharadvaja-gotra. His life was an epitome of the cultural tradition and spiritual heritage inherited from his parents and forefathers.
It appears that his ancestors migrated from Bellankonda to Pamidipadu in Guntur District. It is not surprising that the family retained "Bellankonda" as its surname. The forefathers of Ramarayakavi were very rich owning thousands of acres of land, and also had small villages under their control, which they got as Inams from the rulers. The village had irrigation tanks on the Northern and Western sides, and also a temple dedicated to Ramavallabharaya. His forefathers were great Sanskrit scholars, taught Sanskrit to innumerable students, and also fed them in their own houses following the traditional practice. Education was not restricted to only male members. Even women in the family tradition were highly proficient in Sanskrit and Vedanta. When he lost his father at the tender age of six, he came under the care and custody of his paternal uncle by name Kesava Rao. After his Upanayana, he was initiated into the study of Sanskrit. Apart from what he learnt from his teacher, he was able to study on his own some of the literary works.
Even as a young boy, he was interested in the worship of Lord Hayagriva (Visnu in the form of Horse-faced God). It was his practice to carry the Hayagriva-salagrama, which was worshipped by his ancestors for several centuries, to the Ramavallabharaya temple, and worshipped it along with other deities of the temple. He wore the urdhvapundras (three vertical lines forming the caste mark of the Vaisnavites), and led a pious life. Subsequently, he was lucky enough to be initiated into the mantra-upasana of Hayagriva by a competent Acarya. After studying some Kavya works under the guidance of his Sanskrit teacher, he discontinued his studies with him as he was not satisfied with his teaching. Subsequently, he continued to study on his own some of the advanced level Kavya works. In the meantime, he was married to Adilaksamma. The marriage celebration, following the tradition, was conducted for five days; and as it was the occasion to honour scholars and Vedic pandits with gifts, as was customary, many scholars who were invited for the occasion were honoured in cash and kind.
A brief account of the daily activities of Ramarayakavi will show how he was deeply involved in the worship of Hayagriva. He would get up in the early morning and do some meditation. Then he would go to a nearby well, take bath in it, and standing in the neck-deep waters of the well, he would recite some Vedic mantras. Once again, he would take a bath, perform Hayagriva-pancayatana-puja in the house. Resting for sometime after his food, he would teach his students some Kavya works. Again, he would perform his religious rituals, and then would study some texts on Vyakarana and Tarka. He felt the need, from time to time, to study these texts under the guidance of some competent teachers.
Two outstanding scholars on Vyakarana and Tarka happened to stay with Ramarayakavi on their way to Gadwal for receiving annual rewards from the Raja. He requested them to teach him some advanced level texts on these disciplines. Though they were happy to oblige him, they had their own doubts whether they would be fulfilling his real needs, as he was a prodigy. Ramarayakavi studied the Siddhanta-kaumudi under the guidance of Rama Sastri, and Tarka under Subrahmanya Sastri. After sometime, the teachers got back to their native place, giving the young scholar all the books they had with them. When Ramarayakavi set up his family in the village, once again, the two teachers came back and stayed with him at his request in order to teach the remaining portions in these two disciplines. When he requested them to accept gurudaksina, they declined the offer saying that to teach him the two subjects was gurudaksina for them. When Ramarayakavi persisted with his request, Rama Sastri suggested that he could acknowledge his name in one of his works. But his other teacher, Subrahmanya Sastri, asked him to write a comprehensive commentary on the Bhagavata-campu of Abhinava Kalidasa. The disciple accepted the suggestions of the gurus and fulfilled his promise as commanded by them. It may be noted that his knowledge of both grammar and logic was of a high level, which one could attain only through divine grace.
It is necessary to mention in this connection the turning point in the life history of Ramarayakavi, On one occasion he happened to see a copy of Vidyaranya's Pancadasi with Narasimha Sastri, a former student of his. He borrowed it from him, enjoyed reading it, and then returned it within two days. In order to share his appreciation of the masterly exposition of the teachings of Advaita in the Pancadasi, he asked Narasimha Sastri to give the meaning of a verse (1.50) in the text. As Narasimha Sastri was not able to bring out the dialectics contained in the text, Ramarayakavi explained the full significance of the verse. Later, Sastri had the good fortune to study the entire text with Ramarayakavi.
The study of the Pancadasi kindled the interest of Ramarayakavi to read the works of Sankara. It may be noted that Sankara was the source for all the post-Sankara Advaitins including Vidyaranya, Ramarayakavi made a beginning with Sankara's commentary on the Bhagavad-gita. It must be borne in mind that Ramarayakavi was not unfamiliar with the Gita text as he has already studied it with Ramanuja's commentary thereon. As he belonged to the Vaisnava tradition, he has also studied Ramanuja's Sribhasya, the celebrated commentary on the Brahma-sutra. But he was greatly disturbed after reading them. Ramanuja's exposition, so he thought, was not consistent with the ideas contained in the original text. Now he has commentarial texts of the two traditions-those of Sankara's works belonging to the Advaita tradition and of Ramanuja's belonging to the Visistadvaita tradition-for a comparative study. Earlier, he thought that Ramanujas commentaries were faultless and that, wherever he found difficulties in understanding the texts, he would attribute them to his inability to follow the texts. Now, he realized that Sankara 's commentaries were faithful to the texts and that they are free from inconsistencies. He openly expressed to Narasimha Sastri the difficulties he found in Ramanuja's writings. He did not stop at this stage. In order to oblige his disciples, who were keen on understanding the texts, he agreed to read the commentaries of both Sankara and Ramanuja on the Bhagavad- gita side-by-side, as it would give a clear picture of the differences between them. Finally, when he was requested to write his findings in the book form, he readily agreed and prepared the script. In order to strengthen his Advaita perspective, he supplemented his knowledge by studying some of the polemical Advaita works such as Advaita-siddhi. It may be noted that the more he studied Advaita works, the more he disliked the philosophy of Visistadvaita.
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