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A. J. Appasamy and his Reading of RāmānujaA Comparative Study in Divine Embodiment$

Brian Philip Dunn

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198791416

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198791416.001.0001

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Recovering Rāmānuja’s Tradition

Recovering Rāmānuja’s Tradition

(p.180) 5 Recovering Rāmānuja’s Tradition
A. J. Appasamy and his Reading of Rāmānuja

Brian Philip Dunn

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 5 is an exploration of how Appasamy’s reading of Rāmānuja has changed over the course of his career. His early construction of Rāmānuja as ‘philosopher’ is contrasted with his later understanding of him as a ‘theologian’. Following a synopsis of the mature Appasamy’s understanding of Rāmānuja’s theological system, as was done for Appasamy and his Anglican tradition, through scholarly proponents of the Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition Rāmānuja’s system is reconsidered in his Śrīrangam context. An emphatically temple-based devotion emerges in contrast to Appasamy’s more philosophically abstract constructions of Rāmānuja’s Vedānta. More specifically, the ‘five modes’ of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas shed light on the centrality of the arcavatāra, the ‘supreme’ but ‘accessible’ temple deity of Śrīvaiṣṇava bhakti. Appasamy’s Christian application of the avatāra is then reconsidered in view of this and along with it the need to recover a narrative frame for theology.

Keywords:   Rāmānuja, Śrīvaiṣṇava, Śaṅkara, Pāñcarātra Āgamas, temple, Viśiṣṭādvaita, mūrti, arcāvatāra

The previous two chapters have been an attempt to ‘see through’ Appasamy’s text, following the leads he has left for us back to the devotional tradition that has shaped him. Between Gore’s Lux Mundi and Streeter’s Foundations-era churchmen, both writ large in his pages, Appasamy can now fairly be characterized as inhabiting the space between Anglican modernism and liberal orthodoxy. By locating him within his devotional tradition, it is also evident that Appasamy’s detractors have entirely misread him if indeed they have even read him at all. His Body of God is neither ‘more Hindu than Christian’, ‘synthesis of Christianity and Vedānta’, nor ‘Hegelian Idealism’. It is a uniquely post-Oxford Movement Anglican combination of an emphasis on the pre-existent and immanent Logos, on the Incarnation more than ‘redemption’,1 the Eucharist as ‘extension of the Incarnation’, and the Church as sacramental community. Add to this his version of the ‘sacramental principle’ in which, on the basis of the Incarnation, all meals, life, and indeed the whole world becomes sacramental, and it would seem as though all of the major ingredients to his four-fold Body of God doctrine have been identified and located from within his Christian tradition.

In Bhakti Marga Appasamy envisioned that the ‘double heritage’ of the Indian Church would produce an ‘attitude of the Indian Christian to the scriptures of India [that] would be very different. He will learn from them’ with the possibility that a ‘new emphasis on different truths of the Christian religion may be suggested by them’.2 In Mokṣa, he further asks whether ‘we should rethink our fundamental [Christian] (p.181) ideas in relation to them [bhakti ones]’.3 But how successful has Appasamy been in demonstrating this as his approach? Although he has referred to the Body of God analogy as being Rāmānuja’s, it would seem as though the Bishop might just as well have taken the analogy straight out of Gore: ‘Nature is one great body, and there is breath in the body; but this breath is not self-originated life, it is the influence of the Divine Spirit.’4 Even regarding his later more sacramental approach, through the Incarnation the Divine Spirit:

Claims for His own, and consecrates the whole of nature…Thus the humanity of Christ, which is the Spirit’s perfect work, exhibits in its perfection how every faculty of human nature, spiritual and physical, is enriched…by the closest conceivable interaction of the Divine Energy.5

As compelling and engaging as Appasamy’s four divine embodiments may be, the question finally needs to put to the Bishop himself: what exactly has he learned from Rāmānuja? How has he allowed Rāmānuja’s tradition to help him ‘rethink’ his ‘fundamental ideas’? He already had a strong teaching on divine immanence in his own tradition. Following his work chronologically, an important observation can and now must be made. Where his earlier Logos Christology is replete with references to Rāmānuja, in his later emphasis on the living Christ and the Spirit in the Eucharist and the Church, Rāmānuja is almost entirely and conspicuously absent. The more tradition-specific and practical his theology must become, the fewer analogues he can find between himself and the Ācārya, and for obvious reasons. Rāmānuja did indeed have much to say concerning the nature of the universe and its relationship to the Puruṣottama, the ‘Supreme Person’ who is both Antaryāmīn and Avatāra. But, of course, he has nothing to say about a Eucharistic meal, or a living Christ that flows from the vine to its branches, the Church. If the sacramental practice of an Anglican devotional tradition is the practical outworking of Appasamy’s Body of God, then what is Rāmānuja’s? Just as we have had to situate Appasamy as the Bishop of Coimbatore, so too, must we now find Rāmānuja to be the Śrīkarya6 of Śrīrangam. Appasamy’s (p.182) detractors have misread him precisely because they have missed or ignored his tradition-specific devotional structures. He has argued strongly against Radhakrishnan’s advaitin reading of Jesus’ oneness statements and been equally critical of Śrī Parananda’s Eastern Exposition of St. John as essentially making John out to be a Śaiva Siddhantin. But has Appasamy done the same, reading Rāmānuja’s śārīraka-mimāṃsā, as being essentially and ‘more or less’ like Anglican sacramental theology? Like Radhakrishnan and Sri Parananda, has he simply found himself in Rāmānuja’s text?

This present chapter is an attempt to explore Rāmānuja within his tradition, understanding the more Vedāntic bhāṣyas not as a tradition-transcending philosophical theology, but as tradition-specific treatises written for and in the context of a temple-based worshipping community.7 The goal here is not to attempt yet another outline of the Ācārya’s viśiṣṭādvaitin system. Others much more adequate to the task such as Carman, Lott, Lipner, Bartley, and van Buitenen have already done this. As was stated in the introduction to this study, the focus is on Appasamy and his text and how he reads it alongside Rāmānuja. What is intended in this present chapter is, first, to outline how Appasamy’s understanding and characterization of Rāmānuja change over the course of his career; second, to explore the mature Appasamy’s attempt to read Rāmānuja’s śarīra-śarīri-bhāva in context; and third, to identify the tradition-specific realities that Appasamy seems to have missed or deliberately ignored in his reading of the Ācārya.

Appasamy’s Rāmānuja: From ‘Philosopher Par Excellence’ to ‘Theologian’

Beginning with his earliest publication, his 1922 thesis, Appasamy characterizes the Ācārya as being a Vedāntin ‘philosopher’, the ‘philosopher par excellence of bhakti mysticism’. He remains deeply committed to this construction of the Ācārya as three decades later (p.183) he is still found proposing a ‘Christological reconstruction and Rāmānuja’s philosophy’. Appasamy was certainly not alone in casting Rāmānuja as ‘philosopher’, and in many ways, he was simply reflecting concurrent scholarship. Following Neo-Vedāntin apologists such as Swami Vivekananda, and later Radhakrishnan, a new generation of Hindu thinkers had been championing Śaṅkara’s Advaitin version of Vedānta as normative ‘Hindu philosophy’. Often entirely ignoring any of the other darśanas even within Vedānta itself, post-1893 Chicago World’s Parliament of Religions, ‘advaita’, ‘vedānta’, and ‘Hinduism’ became to the uninitiated virtually synonymous. Seen as such it could also then be successfully re-branded as a ‘higher’ form of Hinduism, ‘philosophy’ cast as the rational alternative to the ‘religion’ and ritualism of image worship. Radhakrishnan, Aurobindo, and others more widely acknowledged in Western academic circles worked quite comfortably within this designation. ‘Theology’ is what Christians do while ‘philosophy’ is more of a Hindu endeavour. In this regard the neo-Vedāntins were simply reflecting trends that have already been seen in the then regnant ‘Encyclopaedia’ approach.

Rāmānuja apologists, as well, seemed quite happy to continue to cast Rāmānuja as philosophical antithesis to Śaṅkara. J. B. Carman points out that in this sort of framework Rāmānuja’s work was initially and somewhat crudely considered as being little more than antithesis to Śaṅkara’s advaita, his ‘chief significance as a thinker…his effort to refute Śaṅkara’.8 The early work of Rudolf Otto on the subject can certainly be included as one such proponent of this view.9 Although respect for Rāmānuja grew over the next few decades, the characterization of him as philosopher remained unchanged. Appasamy’s contemporary, Bharatan Kumarappa, writing in 1933, refers to Rāmānuja’s writing as being the ‘loftiest philosophical expression’ of Indian thought.10 A decade later, P. N. Śrīnivasachari published a hefty tome for the Theosophical Society entitled The Philosophy of Viśiṣṭādvaita. It would take a later generation of predominantly Western scholars to begin to question such categories, recasting Rāmānuja as being better described as a ‘theologian’. Carman’s title, (p.184) The Theology of Rāmānuja, is a fairly unambiguous declaration of this. In explanation of his position Carman also acknowledges his own debt to the earlier influence of J. A. B. van Buitenen who, he says, offered a ‘more balanced picture of Rāmānuja’s thought to the world of Western scholarship’ as opposed to simply being ‘loyal opposition’ to Śaṅkara. Both make the case that not only should Rāmānuja be ‘understood as a theologian, but also that the whole of Vedānta is, in Western terms, “theology”’.11 In van Buitenen’s words, there is:

An unfortunate misunderstanding of the typically theological character of Vedāntic speculation as a whole…On the Western side there is often apparent a certain aversion to theology as such and an inability to keep in mind that the soteriology of Vedānta is not ‘philosophic’ in purpose, but religious, inspired and borne out by scripture and revelation.

A philosophical reading of Rāmānuja fails to ‘take into account the importance of the tradition of exegesis, of its method and rules’. A. A. Macdonell agrees, stating in no uncertain terms that, ‘[Rāmānuja’s] chief claim, the reconciliation of the doctrines of the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavadgītā, the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas, with his own religion and philosophy, was theological rather than philosophical.’12 More recently, in his comparative work outlining three very different Vedāntic Approaches to God, Eric Lott comprehensively describes not just Rāmānuja, but the whole of Vedānta (including Śaṅkara) as being:

Essentially a theological discipline, and many of the basic questions it raises are those raised in Western theological discussion. The nature of divine transcendence and its relation to cosmic immanence, ways of knowing that transcendent Being, description by way of analogy, the relation of the transcendent Being to human action and the question of divine grace…these are but some of the topics as central to Vedānta as to any theological system.13

In agreement with all of these, because the Ācārya is reasoning with reference to revealed text and in the context of a confessional (p.185) tradition, there is no good reason why Rāmānuja’s Vedānta should not be considered as theology, or for that matter, even primarily as theology.

The characterization of Rāmānuja as ‘philosopher’ still seems to persist, however. In Religions, Reasons and Gods John Clayton attempts to follow up on Wilhelm Halbfass’ and later Paul Hacker’s proposal for a ‘comparative philosophy’. It would be, he envisions, ‘a new kind of philosophizing, one grounded in an immediate knowledge of both Indian and European sources’ and that such ‘philosophy would be greatly enriched by immersion in the main texts of a variety of reflective traditions’.14 Clayton mentions that Halbfass, under a mode of philosophizing that he calls ‘dialogic comparison’, expressed his desire to see ‘imaginary conversations between major thinkers of the European and Indian traditions on philosophical topics’ such as between Śaṅkara and Descartes or Nāgārjuna and Aristotle.15 In his own context Clayton attempts to do the same between Rāmānuja and Hume. As he starts to explore the Ācārya’s writings, however, he must admit that, unlike with Hume, Rāmānuja is writing within a devotional tradition. The śrībhāṣya is written, he says, through a ‘system of layering of commentaries and meta-commentaries in the Brahmanic tradition of reflection’. More than this, these are in fact considered ‘authoritative’ to that community because they are the hermeneutical ‘lens through which the normative Sūtras are read’.16 In short, Rāmānuja’s śrībhāṣya fits within a commentarial tradition on Scripture, an authoritative text that then becomes the systematic resource for a devotional worshipping community. The devotional tradition that is its natural habitat will not yield its riches that easily to Hume, Appasamy, or anyone else for that matter. It is a text that is supported by other texts. Not only is it expressly a commentary on the Upaniṣads, a ‘revealed’ text in the sense that it is śruti (‘heard’), but flowing just beneath the surface of its discourse we find a readily apparent stream of devotional tradition around the Viṣṇu/Nārāyaṇa narratives of the viṣṇu purāṇa and tantric practices of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas. There is an attention to devotional detail (p.186) that is required here that alone can do justice to the strata of meaning in Rāmānuja’s text. The term ‘philosophy’ in the Western conventional Plato-Socrates-Hume sense of the word, is simply inadequate for its description precisely because the vādins are always working within the realm of revelation, and therefore a textually inscribed and circumscribed universe. Worse, if it comes freighted with the connotations that many Western proponents of philosophy apply to it, as antithesis to ‘religion’ or ‘theology’, it is downright misleading.

By 1942, although Appasamy is still describing Rāmānuja’s system as a ‘philosophic exposition of the doctrine of bhakti’, the descriptions that follow sound increasingly theological. Rāmānuja’s viśiṣṭādvaita is a:

Systematic doctrine of God who is regarded as being full of the auspicious qualities of love, goodness, truth, mercy, justice and power. Men are different from Him; they are not identical with Him. They wholly depend upon Him as the body depends upon the soul. They must worship Him with love and devotion. In the future life the highest bliss which is in store for them is the knowledge and enjoyment of God. They are not merged in God; they have their own separate existence but dwell in the bliss of God’s Presence and devote themselves to His service.17

And yet his ambivalence over whether to call Rāmānuja a ‘philosopher’ or a ‘theologian’ is then perfectly encapsulated in the summary statement that follows. ‘The work of Rāmānuja is important as it gives the teaching about bhakti a great place among the philosophic systems of India…The doctrines of Bhakti, when fully worked out, form a complete and elaborate system of Theology.’

After his Episcopacy, however, concurrent to what van Buitenen had already said, and anticipating both Carman and Lott, it seems that the mature Appasamy has finally come to think of Rāmānuja more consistently as a theologian. As the title of his penultimate publication would have it, it is the Theology of Hindu Bhakti. Despite Appasamy’s recognition of Rāmānuja’s thought as ‘theology’, he is, nonetheless, still quite committed to presenting his version of bhakti as a philosophical sort of theology floating above sectarian traditions. ‘With infinite toil,’ Appasamy says, ‘he expounded his ideas of God, Man, Bhakti and Moksha’ through the ‘study of the accepted Scriptures of the Hindus…carefully with all the canons of the theological (p.187) learning of his day’.18 The best we can say, even in this later context, is that to Appasamy Rāmānuja is a philosophical theologian, a system builder that belongs to the wider pan-Indian tradition, and bhakti, to Appasamy, seems to incorporate both. Again concerning Rāmānuja: ‘here speaks not the philosopher engaged in subtle argument nor the theologian developing careful doctrine but the genuine bhakta with an intimate and vital religious experience.’19 What Appasamy does not seem to want to admit, however, for reasons that shall be examined below, is that the bhakta’s ‘intimate and vital experience’ is both temple-based and image-focused.

Rāmānuja as Polemic against Śaṅkara and Caitanya

Every apologetic, no matter how irenic, has a polemic that is latent to it. And so, just beneath Appasamy’s argument for the Ācārya, a surprisingly sharp argument can be found against Śaṅkara’s advaita. Rāmānuja is his ‘philosopher par excellence of Bhakti mysticism’, precisely because ‘he makes it the main aim of his Śrī Bhashya to refute the Advaita doctrine of Śaṅkara’.20 When Appasamy describes Śaṅkara’s system, however, he always manages to render it in its starkest form. There is no hint of the nuanced role that devotion actually plays in Appasamy’s potted versions of him, and his descriptions of the Advaitin position border, at times, almost on caricature: ‘Brahman in His own real nature has no love or any other quality, good or evil. It is only a false idea on the part of man to ascribe any quality to Brahman.’21 In Mokṣa he states that: ‘To think of God as the Absolute beyond all our categories of knowledge has, when followed to its full extreme, resulted in a cold and barren intellectualism.’22

(p.188) He seems also at times to be preaching to certain sectors of Indian Christianity on this point. So strongly does he disagree with the advaitin position that he is willing to state, categorically, and in likely reference to the Bengali Catholic theologian, Brahmbandab Upadhyay, that ‘a keen Advaitin, for instance who accepts Christianity and sincerely believes that Christianity is Advaita might offer an interpretation loudly proclaiming it to be Indian Christianity. Indian it certainly will be but not Christianity.’23 Although Śaṅkara’s advaita, he says, is a system of thought in which ‘the speculative genius of India reaches its highest flights’,24 far from being a ‘higher Hinduism’, a philosophical system that transcends ‘idolatry’, to Appasamy, it is quite the opposite. Just as medieval mysticism in Europe developed as a reaction against what he calls ‘scholastic obsession’, so too, he claims, ‘in India the Bhakti movement gained a new ascendancy in view of the cold impersonal abstraction of thought to which Śaṅkara had reduced religion’. Far from his system constituting a ‘higher Hinduism’, to Appasamy, Śaṅkara’s system has actually ‘reduced’ it.25

There is, evidently, a second corrective role that Appasamy sees Rāmānuja as playing as well. To him, the Ācārya’s other great contribution was in curbing some of the ecstatic and antinomian excesses of what he calls the more ‘extreme bhakti sects’. In contrast to their ‘puerile mythology’,26 it was Rāmānuja, he says, who ‘called a halt to this movement [ecstatic bhakti] and gave Bhakti the strength and virility that comes of restraint. He made it more a type of intellectual meditation, accompanied by love, but deprived of the extravagances of rapture and ecstasy.’27 Rāmānuja’s more ‘restrained’ Tamil devotion to Viṣṇu/Nārāyaṇa, therefore, he sets in contradistinction to Caitanya’s Bengali Kṛṣṇa devotion. As he frames it: ‘While Luther was stirring Europe with his powerful teaching, Chaitanya was spreading Vaisnavism in India by his magnetic personality and rapturous Bhakti.’28 Rāmānuja’s approach, he claims, is much more consonant with what he describes as the ‘soberness and restraint…of the Fourth Evangelist’.29

(p.189) What exactly does he mean by this? As with Luther, he says, Rāmānuja’s brand of bhakti is a decidedly moral one. He knows that it is ‘sheer hypocrisy for a man to creep into a corner and think “Oh, I will love God”’ and then make no moral efforts towards substantiating such a profession. Caitanya’s bhakti, on the other hand, was of a rather more ‘rapturous’ and ‘ecstatic’ kind of expression, prone to what he describes as ‘trance-like’ states. ‘He trembled, perspired, wept with joy, stood still, changed colour—now showing remorse, now grief, now stupor, now pride or meekness.’30 This brand of bhakti, although rich in emotional and artistic expression, did not, according to Appasamy, share the same sort of moral rigour as could be found in Johannine, Rāmānujan, and now, strangely, Lutheran bhakti. Of Caitanya’s bhakti Appasamy claims: ‘Such a method of showing one’s love for God is utterly foreign to John.’ John’s bhakti is, by contrast, ‘steady joy which is born of devout action’.31 Appasamy sums up the Ācārya’s moral teaching as saying, ‘Is God good? So shall we be. Is God just? So shall we be. Is God loving? So shall we be.’32 This is more than simply the distinction between a ‘sober’ and ‘ecstatic’ form of devotion, however, for beneath his distaste for Caitanya there becomes apparent a significant disapproval of what he also calls its ‘erotic symbolism’. Caitanya’s devotion, he notes rather euphemistically, emerges from what he calls a ‘lower form’, encouraging the ‘base passions’ of the sexual and sensual kind. While many writers, Appasamy admits, try to explain this away as not being sensual, but rather metaphorical33 he would rather not even associate with such connotations at all. Bhakti has failed, according to the Bishop, if it has not purified the devotee,34 and in much the same way as his Christian tradition might describe ‘lordship’ or ‘discipleship’.

In 1932’s Temple Bells he takes even more precise aim at Caitanya’s text, at the bhāgavata purāṇa’s more sensual accounts of the youthful dalliances of the Kṛṣṇa avatāra. This may, at least in part, account for the fact that he so rarely uses the bhāgavata in his long pericopes of bhakti text. Where he will readily and extensively acknowledge (p.190) Rāmānuja’s use of both the bhagavad gītā and the viṣṇu purāṇa as being important and central to the Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition, he is not quite sure what to do with the bhāgavata. The BP, he initially claims, dates back to the tenth century.35 With the Śrīrangam community being the centre for Vaiṣṇava learning that it was, the Ācārya would almost certainly have had access to it. Appasamy, in his early thinking, thus understands the absence of BP references in Rāmānuja as being a very deliberate exclusion. While not giving explanation for this, the subtext and projection here is that Rāmānuja has deliberately excluded it because it is ‘ecstatic’ and ‘erotic’, inimical to his more ‘quiet’ and ‘meditative’ approach. In Appasamy’s later writings, however, as he identifies the BP as being the primary text of the Caitanya sect in Bengal, he starts seeing it as belonging to a very different tradition than Rāmānuja’s Śrīvaisnavism. The implication here is that the Ācārya would likely not have wanted to invoke the sectarian texts of another tradition in support of his own, albeit another Vaiṣṇava one. By 1970’s Theology of Hindu Bhakti, however, he has rethought even this. Departing from his earlier position on the bhāgavata’s date of writing, he takes the absence of BP references in Rāmānuja as being evidence that it had not even been written yet.36 What is at issue here is not the accuracy of Appasamy’s claims about the BP, but how he casts it in reference to Rāmānuja. He wants to both endorse bhakti as well as to circumscribe it by identifying what are his own Christian limitations in that endorsement.

His acceptance of the viṣṇu purāṇa and aversion for the bhāgavata is, however, somewhat misplaced and artificial. For although the VP’s telling of the Kṛṣṇa story tends to be more martial in nature, depicting Kṛṣṇa as being the young conquering hero, it must also be pointed out that it is not exclusively so. The VP 4.13, for example, contains an extended description of Kṛṣṇa’s play and dance with the gopis, narrative material that found its way into the BP either as its source or as having drawn from a common set of narratives. Appasamy’s discrimination between the viṣṇu and the bhāgavata purāṇas, therefore, is not so much one of actual content but of association. And neither is (p.191) he even consistent in his rejection of the latter, for despite distancing himself from it, he is not averse to quoting it and using it from time to time as and when it happens to fit his apologetic purpose.

Appasamy’s Explanation of Rāmānuja’s System

Appasamy’s penultimate publication, 1970’s Theology of Hindu Bhakti, begins with the challenge for ‘all students of Christian theism’ in India to undertake a ‘careful study’ of Rāmānuja’s writing, for in doing so, ‘they will see how a definitely theistic system arose in Indian soil and how it met the difficulties of Hindu thinkers’. This is why, he explains unapologetically, the majority of his book is focused on ‘Rāmānuja’s central experiences and ideas’, and his ‘carefully written philosophical and theological treatises’.37 Rāmānuja’s writings, he explains, are what finally won for the bhakti traditions in general, and for the Śrīvaiṣṇavas more particularly, a measure of ‘status and dignity’ among the more widely accepted Vedic and Vedāntic ones. The development that is most immediately apparent here is his attempt to understand bhakti theology more in historical context. In his earlier work he was prone to lifting texts outside of their historical settings, juxtaposing Śrīvaiṣṇava passages alongside Śaiva Siddhānta and Patristic ones to give the impression of a rough parity. In Theology he wants to situate Rāmānuja within a system and genealogy of thought.

Rāmānuja’s Brahman, says Appasamy citing the SB 1.1.52 and 54:

Is free from sin, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger, free from thirst…These and other Scriptures declare that Brahman, who is self-illumined, has in his very nature good qualities such as the possession of knowledge, and that He is free from all evils.38

But like Appasamy’s Johannine Theos, Brahman is also ‘love’, as he finds in the SB 2.1.35. Creation is the proof. ‘The immediate object of creation is to provide souls with a sphere in which they can work out (p.192) their karmas.’39 But this is not a retributive justice, for ‘the ultimate aim of Brahman is to increase the happiness of men to the highest degree’. Rather, in his paraphrase of SB 2.2.3:

He wants them to enjoy the utmost bliss. If they are to do this the consequences of their deeds stand in the way. Therefore He provides them with a world in which they can work off the consequences. When the fruits of their actions are exhausted they are ready for union with Him. Thus the object of creation, though determined immediately by the law of retribution, has as its ultimate goal the joy of the soul. It is thus Brahman’s great love which leads him to create the world.

And thus, says Appasamy, not unlike his reasoning in John’s Gospel, the only reasonable response to a loving God is in the absolute bhakti response of prapatti, complete surrender. For God so loved the world, bhakti calls us to so love God in response. With reference to the GB 18.66, ‘Giving up all rites, surrender to me alone…the expiatory rites capable of removing [sins] are of various kinds, innumerable in number and impossible to be carried out by you…Give up, therefore, all rites and seek me alone.’40

The doctrine of the avatāra, he says, is further evidence of this divine love. ‘Here Rāmānuja maintains that God becomes incarnate in response to this deep-felt desire [to know God]. Out of His abundant love He takes human form so that men may satisfy their earnest longing to see God.’41 The avatāra takes on a real body. It is no mere theophany, he says, as a ‘shadow or phantom’. And yet, unlike the real humanity of Christ, it is still docetic in that although ‘it looks like the body of men, it is formed out of the same substance of which God’s body is always formed’. Brahman, although Spirit, has a body of ‘divine substance’,42 not ‘composed of the matter which we know’. ‘The incarnate body, therefore, is no shadowy thing but a real body. In the category of the divine substance it is as real as Arjuna’s body is real in the category of the human substance.’43 Why must this be the case in Rāmānuja’s system? Because all human births in physical bodies are karmically conditioned, the result of karmic acts, (p.193) good or evil, none of which can be ascribed to Brahman.44 ‘In taking an incarnate body Brahman does not give up His sinlessness and all the other good qualities which constitute his divine nature. In the incarnate body His divine purity is maintained intact.’ With reference to the nirguṇa passages of the Upaniṣads, and in contrast to Śaṅkara’s interpretation that ‘Brahman is without any attributes whatever’, Rāmānuja’s ‘neti neti’ means that ‘Brahman is without any bad qualities.’45 The six kalyanaguṇas46 of the ‘ancient classification of the Purāṇas’47 require that the avatāra not be tainted by taking on ordinary human flesh. It is a logical impossibility. And yet the deity still ‘descends’ as avatāra because he is ‘love’.

From the GB 15.15 Appasamy identifies Rāmānuja’s Brahman as being:

The soul that dwells in the heart of all beings. I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings. I am seated as the soul of all beings who constitute my body. The soul is that which is the entire support, ruler and enjoyer of the body. Thus it is said: I am seated in the heart of all and from me come memory, knowledge and reason.48

As before, he has found this in the BrU 3.7.15: ‘He who dwells in the soul, He who is immanent within the soul, He whom the soul does not know. He whose body is the soul, He who rules the soul from within, He is thy soul, thy immanent being, thy immortal one.’ These should all be familiar passages by now. In his present usage, however, there are two notable developments. First, here is also his fullest treatment of Rāmānuja’s doctrine of prakṛti49 and (p.194) jivātman50 as the prakāras (‘modes’) of Brahman. And second, for support he makes one of only two references in all of his writings (to my knowledge) to Rāmānuja’s vedārthasaṃgraha:51

‘Let me enter into animate creation in the form of soul,’ shows that the Supreme Soul, in the form of individual souls, enters all animate things to give them individuality and to endow them with name and form. The individual soul, being the body of the Supreme soul, is its mode. Hence it has the Supreme Soul as its soul. And so they are bodies, and hence modes, of the Supreme Soul.52

It is because prakṛti and jivātman are ‘modes’ of God that Rāmānuja can also argue that:

Words such as god, man, demon (whether friend or foe of the gods), domestic animal, wild animal, tree, creeper, dry wood, stone, grass, pot, cloth denote at first the various things having the various forms which are commonly understood as being denoted by them. Then they go on to denote the souls which possess the various forms and still further the Supreme Soul who is immanent in the souls.53

The modes can thus, in this qualified sense, be identified with Brahman, whence the term ‘qualified non-duality’, viśiṣṭādvaita.54 This modal connection between Brahman and the body, he says, is a ‘simple and yet effective way’ for Rāmānuja to continue to maintain that ‘God and the world are different and yet that the world is wholly dependent upon God. Just as the body can achieve nothing without the soul, so the world can achieve nothing without God.’ Transcendence and immanence are equally maintained, for:


The soul is not external to the body. It does not stand outside the body and influence it. It dwells within the body and controls it as its inner ruler. God likewise is not external to the world. He lives within the world, both within the world of men and the world of nature. From his dwelling place, within the heart of man and within the heart of nature, God determines what may and what may not happen.55

There are a number of connotations, he notes, to the word ‘body’ in the Indian traditions. First, it can denote ‘the means by which Karma and its fruits are experienced’; second, it can refer to ‘an aggregate form of the elements’; and third, it can refer to ‘the seat of the senses of the means of happiness and grief’. Rāmānuja does not use the word ‘śarīra’ for his śarīra-śarīri-bhāva in any of these senses. According to a key passage in SB 2.1.9: ‘Whichever object can be completely controlled for his own purpose or held by an intelligent being or has its essential nature subordinate to him such an object is the body.’56 Everything, therefore, that:

Is completely controlled or held by the Supreme Person for His own purpose or has its essential nature subordinate to Him; all intelligent and non-intelligent creation is His body. The texts ‘without body, He lives in body’ and so on means to refute the idea that He has a body caused by Karma. Because we hear the Scriptures declare that everything is His body.

It is in this specialized and modal sense that Rāmānuja can say that ‘the souls of men are also the body of God’.57 This is also why he has rendered the chāndogya’stat tvam asi’ passage as he has.58 According to the SB 1.1.13, as Appasamy paraphrases it:

The God immanent in the individual soul (tvam) is identical with the Brahman who is the author of all creation (tat). The individual is not identical with the author of creation. For the individual soul can never create. The word of creation is only possible for Brahman. But the (p.196) God who resides within the individual souls is the same God who creates the universe.

Similarly, in the chāndogya’s ‘may I become many. May I grow forth.’ The ‘One’ Brahman has become ‘many’ in the sense that the individuated selves and matter are its prakāras:

Oh beloved, all these creations have this Being as their cause, this Being as their seat, this Being as their support. All these have this Being as their soul…before creation there was no difference in name and form, that for creation of the world the Brahman, who is spoken of as ‘the Being’ did not desire any cause but itself, that at the time of creation it made the unique decision, impossible for any one else, to become many in the form of endless immovable and movable things.59

Although subordination and control of the body is integral to Rāmānuja’s understanding here, he wants also to maintain two interrelated doctrines—human agency and divine impassibility. Brahman is all and in all, and yet remains unaffected by karma and evil.60 The jivās, on the other hand, due to ‘beginningless karma’61 are assigned their births according to previous merits or demerits.62 Concerning present and future acts, however, Appasamy sees in Rāmānuja an appeal to Brahman’s ‘permissive will’ that yet ensures that the divine remains undefiled by the karmic acts of the embodied selves.63 Divine impassibility and human freedom are thus two sides of the same coin to Rāmānuja. As the Ācārya puts it in SB 3.19.20:

Just as the ether though separately connected with things such as pot, jar, etc., which pass through increase and decrease and just as the sun though seen in lakes etc. of different contours is not touched by their increase and decrease, in the same way this Supreme Soul, existing in different inanimate things such as earth and in animate beings, is not touched by their evils of increase or decrease; thus, though present in all, (p.197) he remains the same everywhere as a mine of noble qualities without even a particle of evil.64

The jivā is both dependent on Brahman as its essential being, while at the same time not morally determined by it. ‘They cannot complain that anything external is influencing them. The physical environment has been awarded them by Brahman in return for their deeds and in a sense it is their own doing.’ In this regard Brahman is simply the sakshi, ‘the witness’,65 who as:

The inner ruler, gives permission…Though the other gives the permission the actual responsibility for the action rests with him who first decided to transfer the property. In the same way whatever is done by man is done by the individual soul. Brahman as the inner ruler only gives His permission.66

At this point, Appasamy draws an interesting comparison to the parable of the Prodigal, to the Father who watches and waits for the son to decide to return. Sin is always, according to Appasamy’s reading of Rāmānuja in the SB 2.3.40–1, ‘because of [the individuals] independence’. This must necessarily be the case, for if individual selves were to be entirely determined and controlled by a divine will then ‘the scriptures laying down rules, positive as well as negative, would become meaningless. For he only who is able by his own intelligence to begin action or to give it up is fit to receive commands. Therefore the activity of the soul is because of its independence.’ Similar reasoning has already been seen in Appasamy’s discussion on the bhakta’s response to the loving initiative of the Logos and the Spirit.

To say that Brahman permits a limited human agency does not mean that the divine will is not sovereign. Neither should it mean that Brahman is unable to sovereignly intervene. ‘Though the Lord is able to prevent evil deeds, his permitting them may not mean that He has no sympathy.’67 Citing the kauṣītāki upaniṣad 3.9, ‘Indeed He alone causes him whom He desires to lead upwards from these worlds to do (p.198) good deeds. Only He causes him whom He wishes to lead downwards to do evil deeds.’ It would be wrong to assume from such verses ‘that the Lord causes a man to do good and bad actions’. Freedom is maintained. The human subject makes his or her own decisions. But Rāmānuja seems to be saying that once there is self-determination in a particular direction, this sets the trajectory and the ‘Inner Dweller’ merely helps them along. In the SB 2.3.40–1:

That man who begins to act with the determination to be wholly on the side of the Supreme Person, the Lord favours him and Himself creates in him a taste for such actions only as are a means of attaining Him and are extremely good. But he disfavours the man who begins to act with the determination to be wholly against him and creates in him a taste for such actions as stand in the way of attaining Him and lead him downwards.68

Still from the same śrībhāṣya reference, but commenting on BG 10.8.10–11, this is the sense that is intended in Kṛṣṇa’s statement: ‘I throw such into perpetually recurring births and deaths and into the wombs of the demons.’ As Appasamy summarizes it, ‘Brahman enables a man to achieve right or wrong according to his own decision. If he once decides, Brahman helps him in whatever path he chooses to tread. In this way Rāmānuja emphasizes the heavy and definite responsibility of the individual soul.’69

Rāmānuja’s Soteriology: Bhakti and Mokṣa

Bhakti is the supreme choice of the human subject towards union with Brahman. In this regard the bhakta increasingly reflects the object of his or her devotion. Because Brahman is bliss, so should the bhakta’s experience be also. In the second of his rare references to the vedārthasaṃgraha, Appasamy reads Rāmānuja as saying that we become increasingly like what we worship. ‘He himself is universal Lord, with the individual soul as His subject. On the realization by the individual soul of this mutual relationship the Supreme Soul becomes an object of extreme love and Himself leads the individual soul to reach Itself.’70 The Upaniṣads, he says, more consistently declare that (p.199) jñāna is the way of union with Brahman. In the gītā it is bhakti. Rāmānuja’s solution, says Appasamy, is to claim that the jñāna of the Upaniṣads refers properly to the sort of knowledge that the gītā calls ‘bhakti,’ ‘not mere knowledge’, but meditative, devoted knowledge.71 It is knowledge through meditation in a specialized sense on the śarīra-śarīri-bhāva: ‘Brahman should be meditated on as verily the soul of the one who meditates. This means that he who meditates should meditate on the Supreme Brahman as his own soul, just as he himself is the soul of his body.’72 Bhakti is the surest way to mokṣa according to the SB 4.4.17–22 because it is through such meditative devotion that Brahman ‘removes the ignorance which is the sum of Karma’. In the Ācārya’s words: ‘Because he, longing to unite with me, has taken me as the supreme goal. He who knows at the end of many births that the Lord is everything and takes refuge in me, such a great-souled one is very rare.’73

Thus bhakti itself is soteriological, the surest path to mokṣa. The individual self in mokṣa is as it appears ‘in its essential character. Its real being is now made manifest.’ As the ‘glow of a gem is not newly created when the dirt of the gem is washed off, so also the wisdom of the soul is not newly created when the evil of the soul is washed off’, so too, according to SB 4.4.3, does the wisdom and bliss of the self become apparent. ‘The bond of karma then perishes.’74 The self in mokṣa is still conscious, and still individually distinct,75 as in SB 4.4.17–22. Neither does the ‘body’ in Rāmānuja’s specialized sense as Brahman’s prakāras ever collapse into simple unity. Even in the pralaya state,76 ‘during the period of dissolution, the body becomes subtle and quiescent but wakes up into new life when the age of dissolution comes to an end…it cannot be said that the body is resolved into its original cause.’ Just so, says Appasamy, although ‘it is (p.200) completely attached to the Divine in a subtle manner…individuality still continues’.77 And finally with regards to mokṣa, in SB 4.4.4 he reads: ‘the enjoyment of the qualities of the Supreme Soul by the individual soul whose nature has already been described’ means that ‘the individual soul enjoys thus along with the Supreme Soul, of which it is the mode’.78 The released self enjoys all the divine attributes save one: ‘Rāmānuja takes great pains to teach that the released soul becomes like Brahman in all respects except one, namely, lordship of the world.’79

Analysis of Appasamy’s Reading of Rāmānuja

This, then, is Rāmānuja as the mature Appasamy finally understands him, the great ‘philosopher’, ‘theologian’, and ‘system builder’ of bhakti ‘theism’. As a whistle-stop tour through Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣyas, and predominantly his vedānta sūtras, it is by no means complete. He does not even begin to get into any discussion around Rāmānuja’s pūrvapakṣins and uttarapakṣins.80 But neither, for his purposes, does he really need to. As far as summaries go, he seems to cover all of the major points of divergence and convergence between himself and the Ācārya’s, and at the very least demonstrates evidence that he does indeed love and actually read Rāmānuja’s text.

Appasamy has written this in 1970, fifty years after his initial invocation of Rāmānuja as his dialogue partner. But where was the particularity of his engagement with the Ācārya in reference to his own views on divine embodiment? There is the possibility that he has Rāmānuja’s prakāras in mind with his exegesis at John 1.11–13. He has told us that the passage means that there is already ‘metaphysical’ ‘kinship between God and men’ even if bhakti has yet to call them ‘children’, perfecting them with ‘moral union’. Although he does (p.201) not make the connection to Rāmānuja’s doctrine of the jivātman as prakāra of Brahman, and having found no apparent source within his Anglican influences, it is not unlikely that it has shaped some of his thinking. Appasamy is much more successful in applying his metaphysical/moral distinction in his later discussion around the Johannine mahāvākyas. There are also parallels between what he understands the Ācārya to say about the ‘love’ (a very Johannine term) that leads the Creator to create as well as to incarnate. What he has said earlier in his bhakti reading of John, he seems also to have found here in his framing of the śarīra-śarīri-bhāva. And finally, there is evidence of influence between what he has said concerning a ‘realized eschatology’ and presently outworked karmic causation. Apart from these three points, however, he has not really engaged much with the actual ontological difference of Rāmānuja’s system.

His use of the so-called Rāmānujan analogy has been an attempt to transpose his tradition’s sacramental practice, an Anglican ‘sacramental principle’, for the benefit of his countrymen and with the help of embedded Sanskrit terminology and concepts. But let us be clear. This is not Rāmānuja’s analogy. It is Appasamy’s analogy. Despite Appasamy’s best attempts at providing an Indian vocabulary for his tradition, and despite what he has claimed by way of parity between himself and the Ācārya, his use of the Body of God analogy is fundamentally different than Rāmānuja’s śarīra-śarīri-bhāva in one crucial distinction. In short, it is the distinction between ‘analogy’ and ‘homology’. As Appasamy has been forced to acknowledge over the course of his career, the Ācārya is actually saying something both theologically and ontologically very different than what he is professing. This, precisely, is why in his later ‘theological’ summary of the Ācārya’s system he has abandoned all attempts at trying to fit it into his Christian perspective.

What is meant by this distinction between ‘analogy’ and ‘homology’? In the introductory essay to his translation of the Upaniṣads, Patrick Olivelle discusses a Vedāntic understanding of the nature and meaning of the body. ‘Although ritual and cosmological speculations abound in the Upaniṣads,’ says Olivelle, ‘the focus of their enquiry is the human person—the construction of the body, its vital powers and faculties, the cognitive processes, and the essential core of a human being.’ As he explains it: ‘In ancient India…the human body was invested with unparalleled cosmological significance and parts of the (p.202) body homologized with cosmic phenomena.’81 By this he means that the body itself is understood as being interconnected and, therefore, also representative of the universe, as microcosm to macrocosm. The body is not simply like Brahman; it is in some form also metaphysically Brahman by direct albeit modal correlation. It is in this sense that the differentiation is made between ‘analogy’ and ‘homology’. An ‘analogy’ is a comparison between one thing and another, a conceptual juxtaposition of two similar yet ontologically distinct things for the purpose of explanation or clarification. ‘Homology’, on the other hand, assumes an ontological continuity, a same-ness in relation, relative position, or structure. It is, importantly, a statement of interconnected difference-within-identity, as, for example, homo-ousios denotes a ‘sameness of substance’. Because there is an intimate and indeed ontological relationship between ātman and Brahman, Vedāntic meditations on the body as pattern, and recursive shape of the universe itself, can be rightly and very precisely defined as ‘homological’ in nature, and so Olivelle’s accurate observation.

Appasamy, on the other hand, cannot say the same, for he has told us in no uncertain terms that ‘Bhakti arises when man, who is not God, but in whom God dwells, seeks with eager love to attain a full experience of that God’.82 Similarly, of the natural world, the Bishop says: ‘It should be remembered that the mountains and the rivers, the sun and the ocean are created by God. They are not God.83 The jivātman and prakṛti are, emphatically, not God. Not only does this make complete and utter nonsense of the Gurukul group’s ‘pantheist’ accusations of him, but it also very clearly requires his Body of God to be understood as nothing more than an analogy, a comparison of two different yet similarly structured realities. God indwells in a way analogous to the manner in which the spirit indwells the body. Jivātman and prakṛti, according to Appasamy, can never be called ‘God’, neither in a literal, modal, nor correlatively predicated sense. In sum, Appasamy’s Body of God is an analogia fidei,84 whereas Rāmānuja’s is an ontology—an explanation of tattvas, of reality and being as it is. (p.203) Even from the supra-traditional perspective of philosophical theology, there is foundational difference. How much more so in the deeper infrastructures of Rāmānuja’s thought, the narrative and ritual substructure to the Ācārya’s famous analogy?

Bhakti is, to Appasamy, primarily a tradition of the heart, a devotional practice that, somewhat problematically, he wants to distinguish from what he calls ‘ritualism’. From his 1922 thesis to 1970’s Theology of Hindu Bhakti we find this familiar theme, the denial of ritual and ceremony as being formative and normative to it. ‘Religion at its best,’ he says, ‘is not doctrines or ceremonies. Doctrines and ceremonies belong to the surface of religion; they are not its heart.’85 But it is this sort of thinking that has obscured to Appasamy some vitally important aspects of Rāmānuja’s reasoning—thinking that has allowed him, and indeed required him, to keep Rāmānuja’s lived tradition at arm’s length. Love and devotion bhakti may be, but love and devotion to what? He has already argued, against Śaṅkara, that one cannot worship ‘cold and barren’ apophatic negations. So to what or to whom, positively speaking, is it to which the bhakta is devoted? Despite what he calls the Ācārya’s ‘fundamental grip upon the personal character of the ultimate Reality which pervades the universe’, he expresses disappointment that Rāmānuja should have allowed himself ‘to believe in the usefulness and necessity of images as a means of approach to God’. Immediately following the above outline of Rāmānuja’s system, in fact, in which divine transcendence and immanence are carefully maintained and explained, he goes on to claim that Ācārya:

Went astray in the matter of image worship. With all his lofty conception of God he was devoted to image worship…It is unfortunate that Rāmānuja carried the doctrine of Immanence to this extent. He would have done well if he had recognized the folly of image worship as clearly as he recognized the folly of Pantheism and Monism.86

‘Even such a clear thinker as Rāmānuja,’ he states rather incredulously, ‘combined the highest type of Theism with low ideas of image worship.’87

This is perhaps not quite as stark as it initially sounds. For similar to St. Paul’s reasoning on Mars Hill in Acts 17.30, Appasamy also (p.204) wants to emphasize that this should not be held against Rāmānuja. In an earlier context he makes the case that ‘idol worship’ should, in fact, not be held against any of the bhaktas, for although it is not to be condoned, it is merely indicative of a lower level of spiritual understanding. Revelation is both given and received at the level appropriate to spiritual attainment. The Ācārya’s idolatry is thus comparable to earlier stages of the progressive revelation in the biblical text as well. To this end he makes this interesting appeal:

We do not dismiss the Old Testament because the story of Israel is tainted with idol worship…The bhakti religion of India may be considered to belong to the spiritual level which is represented by the Old Testament. The faith and devotion and love which have been lavished on idols must be directed towards the one true God, especially as we know Him through His Incarnation in Jesus Christ.88

Appasamy seems, thus, to have split Rāmānuja in his thinking. His ‘knowledge of Brahman’ as a ‘personal theistic God’ corresponds to the rigorous monotheism of the Prophets and the New Testament, whereas the temple-based sectarian worship of the Śrīrangam community corresponds to the more local and ‘tribal’ versions of the deity. Here we have yet another iteration of the same strategically placed wedge that he has earlier employed between a ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ Hinduism.89

Within this structure he also seems to have prioritized certain avatāras as being more believable and acceptable than others. Kṛṣṇa of the bhagavad gītā and the mahābhārata, and Rāma of the rāmāyaṇa are to be respected and considered in devotional interaction, as being revealers of a saguṇa brahman. Whereas, of some of the other avatāras described in the VP, we are told:

We need not take seriously the idea that of the Incarnations commonly attributed to Viṣṇu, the first three are of animal shape…to believe that (p.205) God took an animal shape or a semi-animal shape belongs to the early forms of religion.

And he appeals, once again, to the ‘educative word’ and a pedagogical approach to revelation for justification:

All scholars are agreed in thinking that men’s beliefs are at first crude and primitive and then only gradually become more spiritual and elevated…no modern Hindu really believes them to-day. The belief in divine Incarnation in animal and semi-animal forms cannot be considered as a part of the working faith of any educated Hindu at present.90

Even the more recognizably human forms that he has prioritized above the animal ones do not escape his anti-idolatry polemic, notably even the Purānic portrayals of Kṛṣṇa. In an article entitled ‘Weakness of Hindu Bhakti’ Appasamy will go so far as to name, disparagingly, some of the most beloved deities of popular devotion:

Practically all the devotion of the bhaktas centres round one or the other of these gods. It is impossible to see how the bhaktas could have been stirred to such fervent piety by these gods. Śiva is a terrible god who embodies the destructive forces of the universe. In spite of our best efforts to study Krishna with sympathy we fail to appreciate him.91

This is Appasamy at his most polemic. Richard Hivner has made the helpful observation that this 1942 article became, in fact, much of the raw material for chapters 13 and 14 of Theology of Hindu Bhakti, some of which has been outlined above. Noting the dissonance between the above-cited quotation and Appasamy’s usually more irenic appreciation for the bhakti traditions, he also makes the interesting observation that, in this later context, this strikingly polemical passage has been removed.92

And yet despite his antipathy for the idols within them, Appasamy knows just how central the temple is to Hindu bhakti. On a number of occasions, in fact, he draws positively on temple references in explanation of his Christian version of bhakti. In What Is Mokṣa? we are told that ‘again and again God is described as dwelling in the (p.206) temple of the heart’.93 Similarly in Christ in the Indian Church: ‘He is the life of our life, the soul of our soul. He is bound up with our inmost being…We are the temple; He is the God within.’94 In another context, the Bishop suggests a more humble approach towards the sharing of Christian faith with his countrymen. ‘Just as we seek to enter their religious sanctum so we ought to invite them to enter our inner shrine.’95 The Christian Church service is, thus, the nearest Christian equivalent to what is happening in the Hindu mandir. But he never seems to be able to reconcile his appreciation for the temple as bhakti metaphor and his clear disdain for the ‘idolatry’ that is going on within them. This has seriously limited his understanding of Rāmānuja himself, for although he is happy to read Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣyas, he does not want to see them localized. Bhakti must transcend the temple, says Appasamy, for in his discussion on John 4.21–4’s teaching that God is Spirit whose worshippers must ‘worship in Spirit and truth’ Appasamy says:

We are here led away from all controversy about temple and ritual into the very heart of religion. Over every church and temple should these words be inscribed in letters of gold. Every man seeking to approach the Divine and to realize his presence must treasure them in his heart. No idolatry of any sort, whether it be that of image or rite or liturgy, is permissible in the holy shrine in which we meet God face to face.96

Temple, ritual, idolatry, image, liturgy—these all belong to the outer shell of religious traditions, their controversial and divisive exteriors. ‘Worship in spirit and truth’, on the other hand, is where the individual bhakta, quite apart from all those cultic externals, experiences the divine mystery—the ‘very heart of religion’. All of this, once again, sounds suspiciously like Encyclopaedia’s assumptions. As representative of ‘Tradition’, however, the argument here is that the ‘very heart of religion’ most certainly cannot be abstracted from image, rite, and liturgy. These are the very semiotic systems, the language, and idiom of ritual that shapes experience of the divine. Bhakti can never be disembodied.

(p.207) In his doctoral thesis Appasamy notes somewhat disparagingly that: ‘They [the bhaktas] do not speak of the idols as aids to worship, but really adore them, thus implying that they conceive of them as containing the real presence of God’ (emphasis mine).97 What is so notable, indeed fascinating, about his choice of words here is the complete lack of any conceptual connection back to his own Anglican sacramental tradition. What, if not the physical mediation of the ‘real presence of God’, is believed to be going on in the Anglican Eucharist? Is it the perceived fixity of wood and stone as opposed to the perishable and consumable stuff of bread and wine that makes the one an ‘idol’ and the other a ‘sacrament’? Here is another fruitful avenue of comparative interaction that he has entirely missed. Despite his extended discussion on Sacrament and ‘sacramental principle’, it is remarkable that he seems entirely unwilling to allow Rāmānuja’s devotion to being expressed normatively, and even primarily, in ritual itself—localized in liturgy and communal worship. Why indeed must a tradition’s ‘doctrines and ceremonies’ be in opposition to the ‘heart religion’ of ‘worship in spirit and truth’? What if the very ceremonies that he is disavowing are the heart of the ‘actual experience of men and women who lived with God’? Just as has been done for Appasamy and his Anglican tradition in the previous chapters, it is time to look at the details that Appasamy has been relegating to the footnotes and appendices,98 to begin to reconnect Rāmānuja’s ‘philosophy’ and ‘theology’ with the devotional practice of his sectarian tradition. The logic of sacrament and the logic of the murti are not too far off, the juxtaposition of which would provide fruitful encounter for future comparative study.

A Temple-based Devotion: Rāmānuja in his Śrīrangam Context

In his thesis, as Appasamy describes it, Rāmānuja’s goal was to give his Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition a certain ‘status and dignity’, and so, set for (p.208) himself the task of translating what was essentially a Tamil tradition into Sanskrit.99 Clooney refers to this Śrīvaiṣṇava linguistic mixture as maṇipravāḷa ‘a splendid but intricate combination of the gem (maṇi) and the coral (pravāḷa) of the Tamil and Sanskrit languages taken together’.100 Rāmānuja’s tradition is also a maṇipravāḷa of devotion, an intricate combination of Tamil Ālvār devotion and the more Vedāntic, Purānic, and Agamic texts. In 1887, concurrent with the three charter documents of Macintyre’s three rival versions of moral inquiry, and two years before the publication of Lux Mundi, N. Bhashyacharya, published his English translation of a Śrīvaiṣṇava charter document, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy of Sri Ramanuja Acharya. Bhashyacharaya is the quintessentially emic voice with authoritative tradition-defined credentials. ‘Being a Vaiṣṇava Brahmin myself, and a descendent of one of the 74 Vaisnava priests (Acharya Purushas) appointed by Sri Ramanuja Charya,’ says Bhashyacharya, ‘I have had opportunities of studying systematically the philosophy under my own learned Guru.’101 His catechism begins with an extended section recounting the life of Rāmānuja, revealing the interesting priority that narratives about the Ācārya are just as important as his system and its teachings. Following this, the catechumen asks: ‘Upon what authorities are the writings of Sri Ramanuja Acharya based?’ The answer reveals the above-described devotional maṇipravāḷa in a complexity of interwoven narrative and discourse:

On (1) The Vedas…(2) The Smrtis, especially that of Manu…(3) The Pancharatra Agamas, so far as they relate to the Vedānta…(4) ‘Mahabharata,’ ‘Bhagavad Gita’ and ‘Visnu Purana’…(5) The commentaries on Brahma Sutras, by Dramidacharya and Bodhayana.102

Only a few questions before this, the Catechumen is also led through an extended section on the importance of the Tamil Ālvār103 poets (p.209) and their collected hymns in the Nalayira Divya Prabandham. The images of the Ālvārs, the catechumen is told, ‘are worshipped in the Vaiṣṇava temples of Southern India’, with Śrī Satagopa ‘otherwise called Nammalwar’ among these, being ‘much revered’. Here, again, is that ‘intricate combination’104 of root traditions as well. Bartley describes the Śrīvaiṣṇava complex of beliefs as:

The integration of the sectarian Tantric (i.e. non-Vedic) Pāñcarātra temple ritual and theology, the emotional devotionalism (bhakti) towards a personal deity with qualities (saguna) of the Tamil Ālvār poets and classical Vedāntic elements. The ritual life of the sect is structured by the Pāñcarātra scriptures (Āgama). There is an emphasis on the immanent presence of the divinity in the world in the temple image (Arcāvatāra).105

It is to the latter of these influences that this study now turns, the sectarian textual authority of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas. Śrīvaiṣṇava scholars such as Narasimhacharya and Rangachar want to make the case that these are not only the true source of Rāmānuja’s Vedāntic discourse but that these are founded on the ancient authorities of the Vedas themselves. On Śrīvaiṣṇava reading, the Body of God doctrine comes straight out of the Āgamas, which in turn are sourced in the ancient Vedas, particularly the ṛgveda 10.90’s puruṣasūkta. With this as a root narrative, at least for the Āgamas, the universe can quite literally and ontologically be called the ‘Body of God’, the deity itself being the sacrificed one in its cosmogony. Puruṣa is none other than the Puruṣottama. This also, he says, is well attested in the scriptures, for ‘the puruṣasūkta and the gītā are in full support of this’.106 He is thus both ‘different from all the individual selves’, while at the same time the One in whom all beings ‘consist’, although these are but an ‘infinitesimal part of His unlimited glory’.

Varadachari has made the similar claim that Rāmānuja’s embodiment exegesis is substantially rooted in the Āgamas.107 He describes the Āgamas as a ‘branch of study which serves as a means to realise (p.210) God and His nature and to worship Him. It is representative of the Vedic principles of practical religion and thus is pro-Vedic.’ Although he also admits that ‘in its evolution, it reveals certain features which could not be traced to the Vedas’.108 Rangachar wants to claim not only Vedic influence to the Āgamas but their much more ancient provenance as well. His claim is that ‘in fact the Pāñcarātra doctrines are associated with the Puruṣasūkta of the Rigveda. The Rigveda with its Puruṣasūkta is considered the foundation stone of all later Śrīvaiṣṇavism and Vaiṣṇava philosophy.’109

Another claim that the Śrīvaiṣṇava scholars make is that Rāmānuja’s magnum opus, his vedānta bhāṣya, is substratively dependent on Yāmunā and his āgamaprāmāṇya, a defence of the ‘authority’ of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas,110 a body of texts that they are also keen to argue can be taken on ancient Vedic authority. In Narasimhacharya’s book, Contribution of Yāmunācharya to Viśiṣṭādvaita, the author highlights the close conceptual connections that can be made between Rāmānuja’s system as taught in the Bhāṣyas and the writings of his ‘grand-teacher’ Yāmunācharya.111 He notes how Rāmānuja, on a number of occasions, even quotes Yāmunā verbatim, while ‘several others are paraphrased with slight modifications’.112 His claim, in fact, with specific reference to the Body of God analogy is that:

The relation subsisting between man and God, the śarīra-śarīri-bhāva and the śeṣa-śeṣi bhāva traced in Yāmunā’s works, gained new impetus and stress at the hands of Rāmānuja. The commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā by Rāmānuja is chiefly based on the Gītārthasaṃgraha of Yāmunā.113

To this he also adds that Yāmunā’s śarīra-śarīri-bhāva concept ‘finds fuller expression and consummation in Rāmānuja’s works’.

(p.211) Although Rangachar admits that ‘Rāmānuja did not take the opportunity to treat this aspect of the Āgamas in any of his works’, he is convinced that it is important to him nonetheless. ‘On the other hand,’ he says, ‘the practice of prapatti and daily worship of the Lord in one’s house are treated by him in the Gadyatraya and Nitya respectively. Self-surrender as described in the Gadyatraya was practiced by him before Śrī Ranganātha.’ These too, Rāmānuja’s nityagrantha, his ‘daily practice’,114 comes straight out of the temple-based Āgamas.115 Just how important these were to Rāmānuja himself is difficult to say. Rangachar and Narasimhacharya and Varadachari all seem to say that they were central and integral. Bhashyacharya’s catechism as well acknowledges that they are indeed an integral part of the Śrīvaiṣṇava system, although he still seems to want to focus more on Rāmānuja’s system in the Bhāṣyas. Whatever is the case, there seems to be a consensus among the emic voices that Rangachar’s conclusion is correct: ‘The Pāñcarātra Āgama has very much influenced the viśiṣṭādvaita philosophy and the Vaiṣṇava tradition. In fact it forms the hard core of Śrīvaishnavism.’ And nowhere is this more clearly found than in the arca form of the avatāra, ‘the images of God in temples’.116 In addition to establishing Rāmānuja’s śarīra-śarīri-bhāva as Agamic, Śrīvaiṣṇava scholars want to then argue that the Āgama traditions and praxis from which he is drawing, is undoubtedly a temple-based devotion.

What exactly is the content of the Āgamas? While many still remain untranslated, those that are accessible to outsider scholarship reveal a range of subjects from temple plan and construction, ritualized cosmic reconstruction in yantras, mantras, and maṇḍala, and the deification of practitioners through daily ritual enactment and re-enactment on the body. Varadachari’s summative claim is that: ‘The Vaiṣṇava Āgamas deal mostly with the construction of temples and icons to be housed there and with the methods of worship.’117 Rangachar has similarly summarized them: ‘The forte of (p.212) the Pāñcarātra Āgamas is the installation and consecration of the idols, prescription of details of daily worship and periodical rituals, celebration of festivals, construction of temples and so on and so forth.’118 So the temple and the temple deity are undoubtedly at the centre of sectarian concern. The emphasis in the Āgamas, he continues is ‘the worship of a personal God who cannot be bereft of qualities…[who] resides in the hearts of individuals as also in consecrated idols’.119 The Āgamas also seem to have much to say concerning temple construction. Again, according to Rangachar, special instructions are given concerning fabrication and positioning of kshetra (‘location’), tīrtha (‘sacred tank’), maṇḍapam (‘Pavilion’), vimanam (‘dome of the sanctum’), nadi (‘river’), nagara (‘town’), and araṇya (‘forest’). In much the same way that Moses, in Ex. 25.9, received and gave instruction for tabernacle construction ‘in accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle and of all its furniture’, the express purpose of a number of such Śrīvaiṣṇava Āgamas was to emphasize precision in temple construction for ‘the temple in its form should prima facie represent the Godhead within’.120

Another aspect of Agamic content and practice that can be identified is the divinization of the human subject, a ‘mapping’ and inscription of the text on the body.121 Similar to Olivelle’s Upaniṣadic homologization of the body’s microcosm to the universe’s macrocosm, Flood has identified this as being the primary ritual praxis of the jayākhya saṁhitā of the Pāñcarātras.122 In an elaborate process in which the practitioner is ritually reconstructed as deity, four stages are identified: First, the purification through ritual ‘destruction’ of the physical elements; second, a divine body created through visualization; third, the mental worship of the newly constructed divine self; and fourth, external worship through offerings.123 The ritual itself is a daily reminder to the bhakta of the intimate connection between the devotee, the deity, the cosmos, and the temple, a connection that is made through the visualization of the divine emanations (vyūhas) that bring the universe into being. Associated with this, and indeed (p.213) the very reasoning for ritual destruction and reconstruction of the body, is the Śrīvaiṣṇava cosmological belief and distinction between a ‘pure creation’ and a presumably impure ‘material creation’.124 As the creation has emanated from the subtle elements of sound to the gross material elements (earth, air, fire, water, and ether), the process described in the jayākhya seems to be the symbolic reversal of the emergence of the cosmos, ‘intended to return the sadhaka to the source of the cosmos’.125 Sound being the subtle element from which the material creation has emerged, the process is, throughout, wrought by mantra, ‘the key concerns of the jayākhya’, but also involves visualization and maṇḍala construction.126 Further exploration of Agamic divinization of the human subject would be tangential at this point, and is beyond the scope of this study. It is mentioned here, however, to identify some of the close connections that the Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition makes between deity, cosmos, temple, and bhakta. These are further reinforced with the vyūha cosmology, and even more so through the intimate centrality of the temple and the temple deity.

The ‘Five Modes’ in the Pāñcarātra Āgamas

Although in some ways all of this fits within the complex of Śrīvaiṣṇava embodiment theology, the Pāñcarātra’s ‘five modes’ of the godhead are of particular importance and interest to this study. Appasamy is very much aware of these as in his earliest writing, his doctoral thesis, in fact, after describing particular avatāras from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, he mentions in passing the importance of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas to the Śrīvaiṣṇava system.127 Further in his thesis he outlines the five ‘different modes of God in the Vaishnavite system’, a system very much sourced in the Āgamas: 1) Para the ‘Transcendent’; 2) Vyūha, the Para ‘assumed four forms’; Vasudeva, Sankarṣana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha ‘for convenience of worship and for creation’; 3) Vibhāva, referring to the more Purānic daśāvatāra; 4) Antaryāmīn ‘in which mode he lives in the heart and accompanies individual souls even when they go to heaven or hell’; and 5) (p.214) Arcāvatāra, ‘idols or images set up in the shrine’.128 So it would seem as though Appasamy is at least cursorily aware of all this, and that he knows from the outset that the Antaryāmīn and Avatāra (particularly in arca form) mean something rather more tradition-specific than he has presented it. It is not insignificant then that, apart from this early mention, he never once mentions these again over the more than fifty years of his writing career. This is, to him, ‘abstruse philosophy’ dealing in ‘speculative questions’.129

Varadachari, again claiming Agamic primacy, makes the interesting statement that the ‘Pāñcarātra system did influence the Viṣṇupurāṇa, which in its turn exerted a profound influence on Śrī Rāmānuja’,130 and most clearly in the five divine modes. ‘The Āgama concept of God as Para, Vyūha, Vibhāva, Arca and Antaryāmīn’,131 has been particularly formative of the Ācārya’s thinking. Not unlike Appasamy’s proposal for a four-fold divine embodiment, the five divine modes provide a simple systematic theological structure to bridge the distance between what Carman identifies as divine ‘supremacy’ and ‘accessibility’, the paratva and saulabhya aspects of God.132 It is an incremental bridging between ‘transcendence’ and ‘immanence’, in fact, established by the unique function that each of the divine modes performs. Rangachar’s definition and explanation of these, in distinctive Śrīvaiṣṇava analogy, that is particularly illuminating as it also comes couched in narrative.

The ‘supreme’ para form, he says, is like a king ‘an all-powerful Sovereign who has absolute suzerainty over the entire earth’. This is the Para-Svarūpa the ‘supreme form’, self-existent before and apart from all of the created order.133 But this king then ‘establishes courts of justice to punish the offenders and provide redress to the honest (p.215) and the good’. These he compares to the second Svarūpa, the vyūha mode.134 That same monarch at times must go on hunting expeditions to protect his subjects from ‘animals that are the source of menace to the peace-loving denizens’. This corresponds to the Vibhāva Svarūpa and refers to the Purānic avatāras, the ‘incarnations the Lord has assumed and the form of Rama, Krishna…to annihilate the wicked and provide succour to the good.’135 That same king also goes out ‘unnoticed amidst his subjects incognito, in disguise just to know for himself their loyalty or otherwise’. This refers to the unseen presence of the deity ‘in each and everyone of the living beings, and primarily in men’. Here, of course, is the Antaryāmīn. And finally, ‘fulfilling his routine responsibilities of daily administration the king’ goes out among his subjects ‘with his select retinue for purposes of recreation and relaxation’, corresponding to the fifth and final mode, the Arcāvatāra, ‘God in the form of idols is often enshrined in famous temples…highly sung in praise by the Alwars of Śrī Vaishnavism’.136 Rangachar’s explanation here is of a theological system that epitomizes a ‘traditions’ approach, both embedded in narrative and embodied in practice.

Of these five Appasamy has had something to say about the para form, God in the ultimate and transcendent sense, the vibhāva form, in the avatāras137 discussed above, and of course, his most beloved of all the Rāmānujan epithets, the Antaryāmīn. The latter of these Rangachar defines as the ‘Lord being imminent in all and controlling all’. Interestingly, his references for this are all Upaniṣadic and Purānic, and indeed passages that Appasamy himself has invoked, notably the BrU 3.7:


He who dwelling in the earth, is within the earth and whose body is the earth—He is the Antaryāmīn. He who is dwelling within the Self, but whom the Self itself does not know, He or whom the Self is the body, who rules the self from within, He is thy real self. He is the ruler within, the immortal, the Antaryāmīn.138

So too, the TU 3.24 ‘he who has entered within, the Ruler of beings, the Self of all’ and the VP 1.17.20 ‘the omnipresent ruler of all souls, seated in their hearts’. Appasamy’s version of the Antaryāmīn, to his credit, therefore, is not too far off from what Rangachar is saying: ‘Finally Brahman Himself entered into these souls according to His wish and thereby He constituted their Inner Self (Antaryāmīn).’139 At the very least it can be said that Appasamy is reading the same source texts for the doctrine’s classical provenance. But Rangachar goes on to say that the Antaryāmīn is more than simply ‘Divine Pervasiveness’. It includes, more specifically, Rāmānuja’s idea of the jivātman and prakṛti as ‘modes’, prakāras, of the Antaryāmīn. These are also known as cit and acit, or as Rangachar says, ‘divine permeation or imminence in all living and non-living existences (cetana and acetana) in the subtlest form’.140 Śrīvaiṣṇava theologians similarly marvel, as Appasamy has done, in the mystery of the para become immanent: ‘The Lord elevated in His all transcendent form, is imminent in the heart of embodied souls for the purpose of enabling them to contemplate Him and be saved.’141 Although not exactly a Johannine pneumatology, it is not too far off from Appasamy’s earlier reading on the Logos as the light that enlightens all men.

The two divine modes about which Appasamy has said nothing at all are the vyūha and arca forms, so these should be further explored. Concerning the vyūhas, and revealing the same cosmological concerns identified above in the divinization of the body, Varadachari says:

One important aspect is that creation is to be classified as pure, impure and mixed. Pure creation is needed for the purpose of maintaining the nature of the physical bodies of the four vyūha deities as unsullied by matter. Otherwise, these deities should be no better than enlightened mortals.142

(p.217) Varadachari’s description of a reality that is ‘unsullied by matter’ becomes an integral part of his explanation of the vibhāva forms of the human avatāra in real but non-human bodies. Appasamy was found to have noted this as well. But this is why, says Varadachari, and unlike Appasamy, ‘the word “vibhāva” should be rendered by the English equivalent, “divine descent”, in preference to the Christian word, “incarnation”’.143 Unlike Appasamy, Varadachari does not want anyone to get the impression that the ‘divine descents’ were ‘made like us in every way’. The vyūhas are emanations from the para form. Rangachar wants to clarify this as well, as evidently to him it is a point of contention:

The barbed broadside sometimes delivered that the Pāñcarātras advocate a plurality of Gods namely the four Vyūhas of Vasudeva, Samkarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha and that this plethora is presented by Bādārana who believes in one Brahman…is revealing itself of the colossal ignorance about the philosophy of the Pāñcarātras. It is well-known that the Four Vyūhas are successive emanations of the ultimate one and that God Para. Vasudeva is the one and the only ultimate reality of the Pāñcarātras.144

Further, despite Appasamy’s desire to distance the higher svarūpa from the ‘idolatry’ of the temple, the vibhāva form is not to be separated from the arca form, the temple deity. For this too is considered as avatāra, an emanation of pure matter from the para brahman. And it is the arcāvatāra that is the focal point. Rāmānuja, in the context of his temple-based Śrīrangam devotion to the temple deity, is a devotee of Lord Ranganāth, the arcāvatāra of Viṣṇu. According to Varadachari:

Since the arca form of God is recommended for worship in both the Āgamas [presumably here he means both the Vaikhanasa and the Pāñcarātra], it is evident that devotion forms the basis for offering worship to God…Rāmānuja has adopted all these in full.145

There is a direct line of divine emanation, from ‘transcendence’ to ‘immanence’, from the para to the arca form, with the vyūha and vibhāva providing the increments between them.

(p.218) Paratva and Saulabhya: ‘Supreme’ but ‘Accessible’ Temple Deity

Anthropologist Paul Younger describes two contemporary Śrīrangam festivals in which the paratva ‘supreme’ or transcendent form represented in the inner sanctum of the temple is made saulabhya,146 ‘accessible’ by procession to the devotee.147 The Adi festival is a theo-drama celebrating four ‘hero’ trips that the arcāvatāra makes around the riverine island of Śrīrangam. The second, the Adhyayanotsava Festival, celebrates a ritual singing of the ‘Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 4,000 hymns of the ālvārs or Tamil Vaiṣṇava saints’.148 This too follows a procession in which the inner sanctum of the temple, representing Vaikuntha, the celestial abode, is made accessible to the bhaktas. Rangachar puts it succinctly: ‘God can no longer keep Himself out of sight from man, can no longer hide Himself in His ivory tower of Paramapada.’ The arca is truly avatāra in that it ‘descends’ and is ‘brought to the public forum and is made easily accessible to any petitioner’. It is for this very purpose that the arcāvatāra, ‘the presence of the Holy in the image [is] consecrated’. Far from denying or downplaying image worship, Rangachar says, quite unapologetically, that Śrīvaiṣṇavas ‘extol idolatry and temple worship’, for ‘God’s presence is brought into the idol consecrated and the temple is made the abode of God.’ It is ‘heaven on earth as it contains within itself the living presence of the Holy as conceived in terms of His avatāra or descent or in terms of His choice revelation to the seers and sages’.149

The arcāvatāra is, according to Rangachar, ‘the best manifestation of God for the benefit of man’ for it is the humblest of all ‘descents’ the ‘descension [sic] into worshipful forms, into the visible and tangible forms of idols or images in temples and homes’.150 Where the Purānic avatāras are bound in time, appearing only for a lifetime, the ‘Arcāvatāra has no such time limit…As long as the devotee (p.219) wants Him in the idol, He stays in it.’151 In language similar to Appasamy’s ‘mystery in the mundane’, Rangachar also argues for the accessibility of the arca because ‘in Arcāvatāra the image of God can be made of any material. There is absolutely no “vastu” niyama. In fact the images, the “Devata Mūrtis” may be made of stone, wood, metal or even sand or mud.’152 This is ultimate ‘accessibility’ the ‘Saulabhya-simabhumitvam’:

It is Arcāvatāra that provides a visible and tangible object for those who want to meditate on His Svarūpa…It is only in Arcāvatāra and not in any of the rest of the four forms of God that Dhyana Soukarya, facility for easy meditation on the Svarūpa of God is provided…to all kinds of souls without any distinctions of high or low, caste or career or even of sex…‘Sarvaloka saranyatvam’ is the dominant characteristic of Arcāvatāra.153

One last feature of the arca is also noted. In the para and Antaryāmīn state, it is the jivātman that is the ‘mode’ and the property of the deity, that which the ‘Inner Controller’ controls. In the arcāvatāra, this is actually reversed. ‘The same God in Arcāvatāra makes Himself of [sic] the property of the individual soul and is always associated with the Jivā.’154 Appasamy has told us that Christ ‘depends’ on the Church to be his body. Even so, in the arca form, the deity ‘submits himself to the devotees’.155 In what is probably the clearest encapsulated defence not only of the five modes but also of the arca we will give Rangachar the last word on the subject:

Para is the God of the eternals…like the rain drops in the skies. Vyūha is the Lord of the Milky ocean and is difficult to approach. Vibhāva is the Lord of the Avatars, chiefly Rama and Krishna…Antaryami is like the spring in the earth, deep inside and difficult to obtain. But Arca is like the water in the tank, very easily and conveniently accessible. It is the true reservoir of Love.156

Unfortunately, Appasamy’s aversion to ‘idolatry’ does not want to go anywhere near this. He wants a less messy bhakti, a devotion of the (p.220) heart that somehow transcends the temple. But Rangachar is unapologetic on this point, as I am sure Rāmānuja would also have been, in saying that the ‘greatest of men, the Saints and particularly the Alwars have rejoiced and revelled in the worship of God in Arcāvatāra—in the form of installed and consecrated images in various temples’.157 Rāmānuja’s Bhāṣya may be about Brahman, but his daily worship is to Lord Ranganāth, his arcāvatāra. ‘Idolatry and temple worship’, says Rangachar, ‘are the forte of the Pāñcarātra Āgamas.’ And how does the image of stone or metal become the Body of God? Strikingly, like that of a Eucharistic transubstantiation:

The idol, the image of the deity may be made of stone, metal wood or even mortar…the material component of the image is not bare Prakṛti or ordinary matter. It is said to obtain ‘Suddhasattva’ character after consecration by the invisible effect of installation, Pratistha ceremony and also by the presence of the deity in it.158

How is this all that different than Thomist discussions about ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ in the transubstantiated Roman Catholic Eucharist? ‘The material of a consecrated and installed image’, he continues, ‘is not ordinary matter constituted by Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, but superior or pure matter called suddhasattva, sattva matter or ethereal matter.’ Perhaps a Tamil Anglican’s consubstantiationnist sacramental theology might have more to say in this regard? There is clearly proximity between the logic of sacrament and the logic of mūrti. In fact, the closest Christian analogue available to the mūrti is in the ‘real Presence’ at the consecration of the Eucharist, the deity mysteriously made ‘easily and conveniently accessible’.

Appasamy’s Application of the Avatāra Reconsidered

Chapter 3 followed Appasamy’s reasoning in proposing an Indian Christian use of the word ‘avatāra’ with reference to Christ. And yet his discussion on it led immediately to a lengthy list of disclaimers for clarification, leaving one with the honest question as to what the (p.221) purpose might be in adopting avatāra terminology in the first place. Sumithra has summarized Appasamy’s disclaimers as four-fold: First, in Hindu bhakti the avatāra is incomplete; to Appasamy Christ and Christ alone is the pūrṇa avatāra. Second, in the Hindu traditions the avatāra returns to an original state; the Incarnation in Christ is a permanent one. Third, in the bhagavad gītā we are told that the purpose for the avatāra is for the ‘destruction of the wicked’; in Christ it is for their salvation, the ‘righteous for the unrighteous’. Fourth, in a number of Hindu conceptions these embodiments are more like theophanies; Christ has a real physical body, the same stuff of which any other human beings is made.159 All of this leaves the Indian Christian in the intractable situation of being told to use the term avatāra, and yet to use it in no sense that a Hindu bhakta would recognize or understand. At what point does this cease to become useful for any apologetic purposes? Is this not a classic example of the paradox of Theseus’ ship? The oars are all new. The planks, timbers, and masts have all been replaced. At what point do we have to admit that it is no longer the same ship? In substantial disagreement, then, with Appasamy’s statement that ‘the doctrine of the Avatāra is akin to the Christian doctrine of Incarnation’;160 it most certainly is not.

Appasamy’s argument for Christian adoption of the word is that, like mokṣa,161 it is a widely held and readily understood concept in popular and devotional Hinduism. This argument cuts both ways, however, for precisely because it is a widely held and readily understood belief in popular piety, the moment any Christian begins to apply the term to Christ and not to Kṛṣṇa, Hindu listeners will simply fill the theological gaps of the Jesus story with the Kṛṣṇa one. In this regard I am in agreement with Klostermeier, who has argued that certain theological terms are simply too embedded to be appropriated for other systems and contexts.162 In Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, Klostermeier makes it clear that he has little sympathy for the (p.222) sort of approach that Appasamy is espousing. ‘They introduced Christ as an “avatāra”—the “only” and “exclusive” avatāra,’ but says Klostermeier, ‘this, for a Hindu, is sheer nonsense…In Indian theology there must be many avatāras. If Christ is an avatāra, he cannot be the only one!’163 Further, he states that ‘even an elementary knowledge of bhakti theology will show at once that the Church’s understanding of Christ would exclude the use of a term like avatāra’. Appasamy clearly has more than an elementary knowledge of bhakti theology, but this is precisely why he knows he has to replace every salient feature of the original doctrine in support of his exclusive claims about Christ.

The argument here is that theological language and idiom have a natural habitat, and considerable distortion must take place when they are extracted from it and pressed into the service of another. Klostermeier is not against casting Christianity as a bhakti tradition, for ‘Christianity is a religion of love—a Christbhakti’. Bhakti in this sense is a more general term, not being owned by a particular tradition. All that he is insisting on is that the particularity of tradition-specific beliefs is respected. ‘Krishna is the centre of Krishnabhakti and Rama is the centre of the bhakti as practised by devotees of Rama. Christ is not identical with Krishna and Rama—the Hindus, too, know that.’164 Bhakti to a deity, he says, is always specific, and generally not overly speculative. It is wrapped up in the narrative of that deity and its involvement in human history. No less than Appasamy’s Gospel of John, to the Hindu bhakta, the ‘purāṇas are not a collection of legends and myths, but redemptive history—descriptive of the redemptive activity of God in his various advents’. Again, I find myself more in agreement with Klostermeier on this.

Appasamy’s doctrine of divine embodiment has been a remarkable and courageous theological endeavour, no doubt; a carefully considered sacramental theology contextualized in culturally appropriate devotional idiom and done with consistent fidelity and commitment to his Anglican tradition. As much as he was ahead of his time, however, upon reading his work chronologically, it becomes readily apparent that he was also very much a product of his time. Even as he attempted to dismantle the metonymic construction that ‘Hinduism’ had become for his Christian readership, at the same time he has, (p.223) himself, indulged in constructions of ‘Hinduism’ according to the needs of his theological project. It is not to be understood, for example, as the neo-Vedāntins would have it, as shorthand for the philosophical ‘pantheism’ (Appasamy’s word) of Śaṅkara. Similarly he has downplayed and even denigrated the ‘polytheism’ and ‘idolatry’ of popular worship that inspired both the fear and fascination of the colonial imagination. In place of these he has emphasized the theistic strains of bhakti for interaction with his own devotion to Christ. But in doing so, he seems to have replaced one ‘ism’ for another. For bhakti is not a tradition-transcending belief system. This too is an outsider’s construction. The devotional conceptions to which Appasamy appeals must first and foremost be situated within the particularity of traditions. This is as true for Appasamy’s sacramental version of the ‘Body of God’ as it is for Rāmānuja’s śarīra-śarīri-bhāva. Bhakti has always been expressed, defined, and therefore also experienced in the particular—in localized forms of sectarian text and practice. As surely then as, historically speaking, there is no such thing as a religion called ‘Hinduism’, there is also no such thing as what he has identified as ‘bhakti religion’.165 There are only Hindu traditions, most of which also happen to be bhakti traditions.166

Recovering a Narrative Frame for Theology

Rangachar’s definition and explanation of the five divine modes, in distinctive Śrīvaiṣṇava analogy of the multiple roles of a cosmic king, is particularly illustrative as it comes couched in narrative. There has been narrative substrative to Rāmānuja’s work as well, including his more philosophical Vedāntic exposition. The Śrīvaiṣṇava scholars have identified this above. It should also be noted that Rāmānuja’s Śrīvaiṣṇava doctrine of divine embodiment is not developed with (p.224) reference to any and all other Vaiṣṇava texts, but to particular ones that have been identified by the community as formative of its worldview. The bhāgavata purāṇa is not Rāmānuja’s narrative. The viṣṇu purāṇa is. His devotion is to Viṣṇu/Nārāyaṇa and his arca, Ranganāth, the temple deity at Śrīrangam, not to the Kṛṣṇa of the bhāgavata purāṇa in the Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavism, and guru paramparā of Caitanya. Can something similarly be done for the divine king of Appasamy’s text, the King of the Jews in the Gospel of John?

Much of the foundational thinking for today’s comparative theology has come out of the so-called ‘Yale School’ of theology and has been strongly influenced by Hans Frei’s landmark book, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics. As a proponent of more of a ‘Tradition’ approach, Frei also traces the development and trends of post-Enlightenment thought from the ‘precritical interpretation’ of an earlier age to the form, literary- and historical-criticism in late nineteenth-century European scholarship. He demonstrates how the literal and historical ‘realism’ of the precritical age gave way to a widening gap between the sacred narrative and the secular ones of post-Enlightenment ideology, in other words, the assumed a priori of what MacIntyre called Encyclopaedia. Where older scholarship mapped the narrative onto experienced realities, in the critical age to which he refers this order was reversed. Extra-biblical philosophical and ideological structures were increasingly being imposed on the biblical texts, i.e. ‘religious experience’, mysterium tremendum, or Appasamy’s bhakti theology, the inevitable result being the near complete concealment and ‘eclipsing’ of the Bible’s narrative(s):

Literal and figural reading of the biblical narratives, once natural allies, not only came apart, but the successors looked with great unease at each other—historical criticism and biblical theology were different enterprises and made for decidedly strained company.167

Eclipse is an exploration into this breakdown, arguing strongly in the end for the post-critical recovery of narrative in a ‘realistic’ reading of the biblical text that is ‘history-like (though not necessarily historical)’. Because ‘meaning and narrative shape bear significantly on each other,’ Frei argues ultimately for the ‘indispensability’ of recovering (p.225) that narrative shape in the reading of biblical texts, particularly the Gospels.168 Gerard Loughlin, summarizing Frei’s position, states that:

Frei insists that theology must begin with the scriptural word; with the particular story that the Bible has to tell. It is because there is this particular story that there is theology at all. (In this sense, all theology is narrative theology.) Rather than starting with a theory of the narrative self, of which Christ’s story is but an example, it is the scriptural story that comes first, upon which individual and communal stories are then shaped.169

This calls, as well, for the recognition of a plurality of sources within the authoritative texts themselves. Post-critical narrative theology, while not prepared to relativize, atomize, or make a pastiche of the biblical narratives as Genealogy might wish, recognizes that the Bible is not so much a text but texts, a plurality of stories interwoven and produced by multiple communities of faith. Rather than attempting to tell a single harmonized story called the ‘life of Christ’ then, culled from all four Gospel witnesses and conforming to a single ‘orthodox’ and institutionally sanctioned Christology, a narrative theology that reads particular texts will read each of the Gospel witnesses as distinct compositions emerging from distinct communities. A Christology that emerges from the Johannine communities, for example, will be unique and distinct from one that might emerge from Pauline or Petrine ones, precisely because it is rooted in a very different sort of Jesus narrative. To the Johannine communities that read and practised the Johannine text, the Jesus of John’s Gospel was the Jesus that they knew, their devotion lived in accordance with the shapes and contours of the story that the ‘Beloved Disciple’ tells.

The individual and communal shaping ‘realistic narratives’ that the Gospel witnesses construct come in sharp contrast then to rival traditions and societal configurations. These, too, are all narratives of course, but which of these claims primacy to the interpreter? Lindbeck, as Frei’s disciple, applies this to comparative engagement:

Christians believe they cannot speak of these apart from telling and retelling the biblical story…[but this] is not at all the same as denying that other religions have resources for speaking truths and referring to (p.226) realities, even highly important truths and realities, of which Christianity as yet knows nothing and by which it could be greatly enriched.170

Clooney agrees and, citing Lindbeck, notes that a properly Christian theology must also necessarily be a biblical theology: ‘For those who are steeped in [canonical writings, scriptures], no world is more real than the one they create…Scripture creates its own domain of meaning…the task of interpretation is to extend this over the whole of reality.’171 Thus to the biblical theologian the universe and its inhabitants are completely inscribed within the text; ‘the Christian has to “read” the non-Christian within the Christian horizon’,172 thus ‘reading the world in Christ’.

As Loughlin puts it, the narrative goes ‘all the way down’. They construct, as it were, both the human subject as well as the world that he or she inhabits. This inevitably leads the Christian comparativist to, as Clooney says, read ‘the non-Christian within the Christian horizon’.173 Appasamy would likely have worded things similarly. But if comparative theology is ever to be a truly interreligious discipline, and not simply the latest comparative project that Christians are doing, then it should go without saying that a Caitanya Vaiṣṇava understands him or herself to be ‘reading the world in Kṛṣṇa’, with a horizon that very much belongs to the pūrṇa avatāra of Viṣṇu. In that case it is a world that is inscribed by the narratives of the bhāgavata purāṇa and reasoned in the discourse of the bhagavad gītā. And so must the comparativist take as seriously the narrative, ritual and textual dynamics of the other tradition as well:

If a text praises a deity and is intended to draw readers into relationship to that deity, religious readers from outside the tradition will have to take these textual dynamics seriously, without attempting to render the text safe and ineffectual. They will have to respect the potency of the text of the other tradition, and in turn think more deeply about their own religious identity as textually mediated.174

Unless the comparativist is ready and willing to do this, there is little to defend him or herself from the charge of neo-colonialism, a (p.227) plundering and acquisition of the other’s ideas in order to enrich one’s own. The colonial enterprise, after all, is nothing more than the justified theft of another’s raw materials.

This is the only way that meaningful comparative dialogue can happen. As Williams puts it, if we are to recognize the real otherness of other faiths, the seeker must understand ‘their integrity as systems—and the possibility, therefore, of surprise and of conflict as well as of discovery and self-questioning—we need some further means of reflecting on what we, as Christian believers, bring as our foundational commitment’. At the same time as ‘it locates Jesus, as the focus of faith, within a very specific context of ethnic, religious and political history’175 it must allow other systems to define their horizons, to do so narratively, and to allow them to fully encompass and map their world.

Only ideological pluralists raised in the secular traditions of Encyclopaedia and Genealogy hold exclusive truth claims against proponents of Tradition. Fellow bhaktas, no matter their tradition, understand the logic of exclusive, world-encompassing devotion.


(1) In Ramsey’s analysis, the space between Gore and Temple, more or less the thesis of Ramsey, From Gore to Temple.

(2) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 167.

(3) Appasamy, The Johannine Doctrine of Life, 20.

(4) Gore, ‘The Holy Spirit and Inspiration’, 232.

(5) Gore, ‘The Holy Spirit and Inspiration’, 239.

(6) Bhashyacharya tells us that upon hearing of the death of the Jaina Cōla king who had opposed him, Rāmānuja ‘went to Śrīrangam and reorganised the worship in the great temple there’. Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita, 36.

(7) The Bhāṣyas are but two of Rāmānuja’s nine traditionally and historically attested texts. The Gadyatraya and Nityagrantha in particular describe, more specifically, his liturgical and sacramental (samskaras) practice. See Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 45.

(8) Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 199.

(9) Carman notes that in Otto’s later work, after a trip to India during which he had met the Śrīvaiṣṇava scholars of Mysore, he comes to see Rāmānuja in his more tradition-specific theological setting.

(10) Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 200.

(11) Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 200–1.

(12) Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 201.

(13) Lott, Vedāntic Approaches to God, xi–xii.

(14) John Powell Clayton, Anne M. Blackburn, and Thomas D. Carroll, eds, Religions, Reasons and Gods: Essays in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 101.

(15) Clayton, Blackburn. and Carroll, eds, Religions, Reasons and Gods, 102.

(16) Clayton, Blackburn, and Carroll, eds, Religions, Reasons and Gods, 107.

(17) Appasamy, The Gospel and India’s Heritage, 11.

(18) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 44.

(19) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 47.

(20) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 39. Not even Śaṅkara was pure philosophy as Hume would have liked, for in Śaṅkara, deities and devotion, even saguṇa Brahman, may be ‘provisionally’ and ‘conventionally’ the case even if it is not ultimately so. This is why, although conceptually it is always understood as subordinated to the ultimate knowledge of undifferentiated nirguṇa Brahman, Śaṅkara’s Gītā commentary reads in a surprisingly conventional way. Love, worship, and devotion all have their place.

(21) Appasamy and Francis, The Christian Bhakti of A. J. Appasamy, 45.

(22) Appasamy, The Johannine Doctrine of Life, 110.

(23) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 21.

(24) Appasamy and Francis, The Christian Bhakti of A. J. Appasamy, 45.

(25) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 227.

(26) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 6.

(27) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga. 25.

(28) He seems to be getting this from J. N. Farquhar’s Outline of the Religious Literature of India. Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 62–3.

(29) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 58 and 60.

(30) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 62.

(31) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 63.

(32) Appasamy and Francis, The Christian Bhakti of A. J. Appasamy, 128.

(33) Appasamy and Francis, The Christian Bhakti of A. J. Appasamy, 198.

(34) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature,’ 129, and 133–4.

(35) A. J. Appasamy, Temple Bells: Readings from Hindu Religious Literature (London: Association Press, 1931), 10–11.

(36) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 98. So much for the paucity of Bhāgavata Purāṇa references in Appasamy: what are we to make of its conspicuous absense in Rāmānuja’s writings? That is indeed a significant question, but one that is well beyond the scope of this study.

(37) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 3 and 5.

(38) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 56.

(39) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 58.

(40) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 58–9.

(41) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 60.

(42) Bhashyacharya calls this Suddhasattva, ‘not composed of ordinary matter’. Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 78.

(43) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 60.

(44) ‘According to Sanskrit lexicography the term guṇas signifies the three qualities of Prakriti—satwa, rajas and tamas. Brahmam is not subject to the qualities of Prakriti and is therefore said to be nirguṇa (devoid of guṇas).’ Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 74.

(45) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 61.

(46) These are fairly consistently applied to the Śrīvaiṣṇava para mode, the transcendent form of the deity. See Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 64.

(47) These he identifies as ‘exalted wisdom’, ‘unequalled might’, ‘complete sovereignty’, ‘limitless valour’, ‘supreme power’, and ‘celestial glory’. Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 61.

(48) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 62.

(49) This should not be understood simply in the materialist sense, for in Rāmānuja’s system, in addition to the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and ether, mahat (‘intellect’) and ahaṃkāra (the ‘ego’, literally the ‘I-maker’) arise from prakṛti as well. Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 84–5.

(50) According to Bhashyacharya the jivātman is ‘not material’. ‘It is eternal, not produced by anything else, and different from Achit and Isvara. The Jivātma in each individual is different from that in another.’ It is Brahman in anu (‘atomic’) form. Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 93.

(51) ‘The Summary of the Meaning of the Vedas’, as Carman says, is ‘a small work with an impressive title’ and probably the earliest of Rāmānuja’s works. Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 49–50.

(52) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 63.

(53) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 63.

(54) Bhāshyacharya identifies these as the cit and acit tattvas, or in another iteration, the atma and anatma. ‘These three, Chit, Achit and Parabrahman, do not exist separately, but, like substance and quality, in inseparable union with one another. Brahman is compared to substance, and Chit and Achit to quality—as colour, dimension, etc.’ Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 68.

(55) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 63.

(56) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 64.

(57) ‘Though matter is the material basis (upadana Karana) of the universe, it cannot exist without Parabrahman, being its attribute or Śarīra. Thus Parabrahmam may itself be said to be the material basis of matter which is its śarīra itself evolving many forms.’ It is the ‘material cause’, but as an attribute of Parabrahman, in a ‘dependent or secondary’ sense. Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 95.

(58) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 64–5.

(59) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 65.

(60) His reference here is to the Śrībhāṣya 3.19.20.

(61) He returns to this part of Rāmānuja’s argument more critically in a later context, saying that the ‘doctrine of beginningless Karma mars at its source the effective character of Karma as a moral system’. Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 87.

(62) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 67.

(63) With reference to the kauṣītāki upaniṣad 3.9: ‘Just as the Sun, the eye of the world, is not defiled by outward faults of vision, so the one Inner-Soul of every being is touched not by earth’s pain, being outside it.’ Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 68.

(64) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 66–7.

(65) ‘Iswara is not the individual cause, but the general cause of everything and is therefore, from the individual stand point, perfectly neutral. Every Jivā is, on the other hand, individualised and hence subject to the result of its own actions.’ Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 122.

(66) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 67.

(67) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 68.

(68) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 69.

(69) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 69–70.

(70) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 81.

(71) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 74.

(72) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 75.

(73) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 89.

(74) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 89–91.

(75) Bhashyacharya wants to emphasize that mokṣa is ‘entire separation of Jivā from all connection with matter, and complete destruction of Karma whether good or bad’. Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, 152.

(76) ‘All gross bodies perish, the only real things are the sukshma particles which are uncreated and indestructible and, in that condition, unknowable. That is to say, in Pralaya, the three guṇas, Satwa, Rajas and Tamas are inactive…A pot may be broken and the pieces reduced to dust, but the atoms forming the dust cannot be destroyed. In this sense the universe is real.’ Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 114.

(77) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 91.

(78) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 92.

(79) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 93.

(80) I have found Bartley’s discussion on these particularly helpful in Bartley, The Theology of Rāmānuja, chapter 1 and passim.

(81) Patrick Olivelle, Upaniṣads, World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), xlix.

(82) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 49.

(83) Appasamy, Christ in the Indian Church, 22.

(84) Not primarily an analogia entis as some might be tempted to caricature him, for his starting place is, throughout, the Logos of the Prologue and the ‘bodies’ of God explicitly identified by the New Testament writers.

(85) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 3.

(86) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 70–1.

(87) Appasamy, The Theology of Hindu Bhakti, 123.

(88) Hivner, ‘The Christian Society for the Study of Hinduism’, 216–17.

(89) Christians were not the only ones in Appasamy’s day disavowing ‘idol worship’. As an apologetic strategy on the ‘Hindu’ side it is one of the founding principles of Svāmi Dayananda’s Arya Samaj, and a number of neo-Vedāntin intellectuals had been pressing Śaṅkara into its service as well. According to Vekathanam, for example, Raja Rammohan Roy’s cause was to ‘fight polytheism, idolatry and superstition at the popular level and monistic pantheism at the level of the Hindu elite’. Vekathanam, Indian Christology, 375.

(90) Appasamy, The Gospel and India’s Heritage, 256.

(91) Appasamy and Francis, The Christian Bhakti of A. J. Appasamy, 198.

(92) Hivner, ‘The Christian Society for the Study of Hinduism’, 208. Appasamy was both contributor and editor of the C.S.S.H.’s journal, The Pilgrim, the journal in which the ‘Weakness of Hindu Bhakti’ article was first published.

(93) Appasamy, The Johannine Doctrine of Life, 81.

(94) Appasamy, Christ in the Indian Church, 50.

(95) Appasamy, The Johannine Doctrine of Life, 13–14.

(96) Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, 153.

(97) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 54.

(98) The first substantial attempt at doing this is in the appendix on various views of mokṣa in Appasamy, The Johannine Doctrine of Life, 236–46. Another would be his taxonomy of Hindu theologies in Appasamy, The Gospel and India’s Heritage, 6–12.

(99) This, arguably, is analogous to what Appasamy is also trying to do for his own Christian tradition in his own South Indian context eight hundred years later. Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 4.

(100) Clooney, Seeing through Texts, 117.

(101) Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy. The quotation is from an unnumbered page in the ‘Author’s Preface’.

(102) Bhashyacharya, A Catechism of the Visishtadwaita Philosophy, Question 62.

(103) Appasamy has great love for the Ālvārs, citing them frequently, and being Tamil, has even offered his own translations of some of their works, particularly in 1930’s Temple Bells. But he always seems to keep Rāmānuja separate from these.

(104) Flood has an excellent summary of the multiple tributaries that comprise the Vaiṣṇava traditions. For his full exposition of these see Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism, 114–27. See especially figure 4 on page 118.

(105) Bartley, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 1.

(106) Narasimhacharya, Contribution of Yāmunācharya to Viśiṣṭādvaita, 77.

(107) Rangachar argues that the Āgamas function to the Śrīvaiṣṇava as an a priori, ‘not much discussed, but simply taken for granted’.

(108) V. Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, in Studies in Rāmānuja, ed. Sri Rāmānuja Vedānta Centre (Sriperumbudur: Sri Rāmānuja Vedānta Centre, 1979), 119.

(109) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 28.

(110) Rangachar tells us that ‘it is called Pāñcarātra as it gives a detailed description of the prescribed rituals and worship five times a day…The Pāñcarātra stipulates five periods of the day.’ Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 51.

(111) Bartley has a good section on this as well in Bartley, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 52–6.

(112) Narasimhacharya, Contribution of Yāmunācharya to Viśiṣṭādvaita, 307.

(113) Narasimhacharya, Contribution of Yāmunācharya to Viśiṣṭādvaita. 309.

(114) He finds six other features in Rāmānuja’s Nityagrantha rooted in the Agamic texts including proscribed forms of worship, objects of worship, yogic āsanas, mantras, and mudras and again, the eight-limbed ashtanga ‘prostration to God’, all of which we heard nothing about from Appasamy. Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 129.

(115) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 129.

(116) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 54.

(117) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 128–9.

(118) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 55.

(119) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 209.

(120) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 219.

(121) Flood, The Tantric Body, Flood’s language throughout, but see 10 and 99–119.

(122) G. D. Flood, ‘The Purification of the Body’, in Tantra in Practice, ed. D. G. White (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 509–20.

(123) Flood, ‘The Purification of the Body’, 509.

(124) Flood, ‘The Purification of the Body’, 510.

(125) Flood, ‘The Purification of the Body’, 510.

(126) Flood, ‘The Purification of the Body’, 511–12.

(127) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 4.

(128) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 24.

(129) Appasamy, ‘The Mysticism of Hindu Bhakti Literature’, 4.

(130) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 121.

(131) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 125. Rangachar enumerates these as well, but goes so far as to say that this is Vedic and Vedāntic in origin: ‘Both in Purusha sukta and Narayanopanishad it is expressed that Narayan, the Supreme God Himself desired to be worshipped in his five forms namely Para, Vyūha, Vibhāva, Antaryami and Arca.’ Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 49–50

(132) Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 77.

(133) Concerning God as Para, the one he calls Paravasudeva corresponds to ‘the ultimate reality namely the Supreme Brahman…always a qualified Brahman. Shadguṇya Paripūrṇa, with the Six Great attributes’, what Rāmānuja calls the kalyanaguṇas.

(134) ‘The term Vyūha is made up of the two roots “uh” and “vi”—the root “uh” meaning “to push out” or “eject” and the root “vi” meaning “apart”…[a] distinct many having emitted out or darted forth from the one unitary Divine source.’ Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 139. See also 140–1 for his fuller description of these.

(135) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 137.

(136) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 138.

(137) The Agamic view of these is far more complex than in the Purāṇas. As Rangachar describes it: ‘It is God’s descent into any form of a member of the class of Deva, Tiryak, Manushya or Sthavara. It is God’s Avatāra or Incarnation in the form of a super-human, human, animal or any other type of being. It is believed that God’s Vibhāva avatars are so numerous that no accurate enumeration is possible.’ More commonly, however, ‘They are considered as the principal manifestations, Avatars or descents, that is incarnations of God the Supreme or of His Vyūhas or even of His Sub-Vyūhas.’ Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 154.

(138) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 176.

(139) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 174.

(140) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 180.

(141) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 181.

(142) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 125.

(143) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 125.

(144) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 35.

(145) Varadachari, ‘“Āgamas” and Sri Rāmānuja’s Philosophy’, 126.

(146) J. B. Carman emphasizes these Sanskrit terms rather than the more Western ‘transcendent’ and ‘immanent’. See Carman, The Theology of Rāmānuja, 77–87.

(147) Paul Younger, Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 54.

(148) Younger, Playing Host to Deity, 80.

(149) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 56.

(150) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 183.

(151) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 185.

(152) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 185–6.

(153) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 187.

(154) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 189.

(155) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 184.

(156) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 225.

(157) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 54.

(158) Rangachar, Philosophy of Pāñcarātras, 55.

(159) Sumithra, Christian Theologies from an Indian Perspective, 110.

(160) Boyd, ‘An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology’, 302.

(161) In the appendix to Mokṣa he makes a somewhat more cautious argument for use of bhakti in soteriological terms. ‘I plead that likewise Christians should use this popular and ancient Hindu term [mokṣa] to indicate the distinctively Christian idea of eternal life.’ Appasamy, Johannine Doctrine of Life, 236–46.

(162) Chapters 9 and 10 of Klostermeier’s book contain his collected meditations and conclusions. Klaus K. Klostermaier and Antonia Fonseca, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban (London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1969), 100–18.

(163) Klostermaier, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, 115.

(164) Klostermaier, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, 114.

(165) Klostermaier, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, 8.

(166) In agreement with Frank Thompson here, the Christian bhakti authors represent a narrow range of the total bhakti traditions. ‘Are the positions they take vis-à-vis realities of Indian religion well-supported by the foundational theology of what is, in some way, a centered tradition?’ Coward, ed., Hindu-Christian Dialogue, 177.

(167) Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 8.

(168) Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, 12–13 passim.

(169) Gerard Loughlin, Telling God’s Story: Bible, Church and Narrative Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 67.

(170) Loughlin, Telling God’s Story, 47.

(171) Loughlin, Telling God’s Story, 67.

(172) Loughlin, Telling God’s Story, 68.

(173) Francis X. Clooney, ‘Reading the World in Christ—from Comparison to Inclusivism’, in Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered, ed. Gavin D’Costa (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), 68.

(174) Clooney, Comparative Theology, 63.

(175) Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 95.