Karmayoga - Jñãnayoga in Rãmãnuja or Active Life - Contemplative Life in Aquinas.
A Meeting Point between Indian and Christian Thought

Mariano Iturbe

The Papal Encyclical Fides et Ratio has recommended a dialogue between Eastern and Western philosophy. Karmayoga (skilful management of actions) and jñãnayoga (true knowledge of God and man) according to Rãmãnuja (main representative of the Visistãdvaita Vedãnta School of Indian Philosophy) could be fruitfully compared with the doctrine of active and contemplative life in Thomas Aquinas. The Sanskrit word Karma primarily means action. Karma brings bondage or liberation. Rãmãnuja integrates Karmayoga, jñãnayoga and bhaktiyoga (devotion to God) as different stages in the progressive realisation of salvation. Human being is an embodied self made up of body and soul (ãtman), united due to the law of karma. The individual self is an eternal mode or part of Brahman. It is a centre of existence of its own but also an inseparable attribute of Brahman. Dharma (moral law), artha (wealth), kãma (psychophysical enjoyments) and moksa (final liberation) constitute the four purusãrthas, i.e. those end-values representing man's final goal as well as the path towards it. The key topic for Rãmãnuja is how a human action becomes a pathway for release instead of being a cause of perpetuating the life of bondage. To perform an action in the spirit of karmayoga means to convert it into a sacrificial act by forsaking its fruits (desireless action). Aquinas has also dealt with human action as an instrument to obtain man's final end of life. In itself, contemplation is more perfect than external action. However both should interact. Action leads us to contemplation and we act because we love and our love increases when we act. Despite their belonging to very different cultural milieus, which has influenced on their understanding of fundamental issues regarding God, man and the world, Rãmãnuja and Aquinas coincide in many basic points. Concretely, in them, there is a clear appreciation for the path of action, as something needed for our present condition of life and as a preparation for our final goal, i.e. the union with God through love. Rãmãnuja recommends the practice of actions united to the one of knowledge. This recommendation fits perfectly well within the system of a Christian author such as Aquinas.


1. Introduction.

2. Karma in Indian Philosophy.

2.1. Karma: Usages and etymology.

2.2. Evolution of the 'theory of Karma' in the schools of Indian Philosophy.

2.2.1. Pûrva Mîmãmsã.

2.2.2. Vedãnta philosophy.

2.2.3. Visistãdvaita Vedãnta philosophy.

3. The Concept of ãtman.

3.1. Meanings of ãtman.

3.2. Ãtman in the Upanisads.

3.3. Ãtman in the Systems of Indian Philosophy.

3.4. Ãtman in Rãmãnuja.

4. Moksa and the Purusãrthas.

5. Main Trends of Rãmãnuja's thought.

6. Nature of human action in Rãmãnuja.

6.1. The doctrine of Karmayoga.

6.2. The concept of binding action.

6.3. Human action as sacrifice.

7. 'Active life' and 'Contemplative life' in Aquinas.

7.1. Aquinas' Anthropology.

7.2. Action and Contemplation.

8. Conclusion.