By Maulavi Wahed Husain
In what sense did Raja Rammohun Roy use the words? ‘Unity’ and ‘Monotheism’? Did he use them in the sense in which Sankara used them, or in the sense in which Ramanuja explained them, or in the sense they are used in the Quran? Let us try to ascertain his views on the subject.
According to Sankara the Supreme Being is the Absolute. His metaphysical arguments reduce the Divine entity into a mere abstraction. As pointed out by Sir S. Radhakrishnan, Sankara’s Brahman is a luminous mass of consciousness, Motionless and action less and without initiative and control. Such a concept may come up to the visionary standard of an idealist or a dreamy metaphysician. But certainly it cannot satisfy the cravings of a religions mind. Sankara’s subtle exposition of the nature of the Absolute is an outcome of the ‘wonderful feats of an intellectual acrobat”, but it is incomprehensible as the “Divine Essence”. Sankara’s Supreme Being is not a personal God. “An action less and motionless being without any power of initiative and control” can hardly listen to the supplication of a devout soul and give it solace. A religious reformer like Raja Rammohun, can never remain an idealist only. Such a reformer must have a concrete idea of the Divinity. He cannot invite people to adore a Deity who is powerless to do anything for them. The world has no need of such an impotent and useless God. I am inclined to think that Rammohun’s conception of Godhead does not, in this respect, coincide with that of Sankara, and that his religion is a concrete theism.
His idea of the Divinity is more akin to what we find in Al-Quran. He called himself a Muwabid, which means a believer in ‘tauhid’, a word invariably used in the Islamic Scriptures. When Rammohun uses the word ‘Monotheism’ with reference to the teachings of the Upanishad, according to which “all this is Brahman, he does not forget to inculcate “Monotheism in Pantheism”, if I may be permitted to use the expression. Such a conception of Divine Unity is akin to what a section of the Sufis call Wahdat = ul-sajud i.e. the doctrine that “all existences make up one Existence” It is really the same in diversity which the Upanishad explains by saying Neha nama asti kinchan.
Ramanuja also is an authoritative commentator and expounder of the doctrines of the Upanishad. He has strongly criticised and controverter of the theory of Sankara. His conception of Godhead is Visishtadvaitavada, i.e. qualified duality; in other words, his divinity is not only an absolute Being, but a Personal God as well, who has power of initiative and control. This conception of Ramanuja’s Godhead is to a great extent in accord with that of Islam. Rammohun Roy very seldom refers in his writings to the opinion of Ramanuja. But it is evident from his works that he did not differ much from him. If this view is correct, it may be said that Rammohun Roy’s conception of the Divinity is in accord with that of Ramanuja, and consequently with that of Islam.
It is true that the quranic conception of the Divinity is
a concrete monism; and generally the acceptance of the import of
‘tauhid’ (oneness of God) implies a belief in a concrete Divinity as
contradistinguished from an abstract Essence. This is certainly the predominant
Islamic idea of religion. But the idea ofabstract monism also comes in
when the Quran speaks of God as an Absolute One. Such passages have misled some
writers, who have held that according to Islam the conception of the Divinity
is abstract monotheism. But the fact is that the Quran is replete both with the
realistic conception of God and idealistic descriptions of the Divine Essence.
However that may be, the most distinct feature of the quranic monotheism is an
acknowledgment of the existence of One God, involving a distinct denial of any
other Deities or Elements of Nature as either co-equal or co-eternal with God.
From the writings and views of Raja Rammohun Roy, it is evident that he is in
entire agreement with this feature of the Quran. In this respect it is more
correct to call Rammohun a follower of the Quarn than that of the Upanishad.
For the Upanishad sometimes admit the existence, and even mention without
objection the worship of minor god. There Rammohun distinctly differs from the
To be continued…