More on Tattvavada

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Any doctrine, more so a philosophical one, is obliged to have some utility, for it to carry some worth. This utility has to be justified on rational grounds without any dependence on the beliefs of the day. Consider the case of soul as an entity different from the body. Unless this is proven, all spiritual pursuits would hardly have any utility. Despite this concept having a wide acceptance (excepting the chArvakas), Srimad Acharya takes sufficient care to establish the same on reason, rather than on dogmatic assertions.

In his first work, Gita Bhashya, Srimad Acharya brings up this subject when commenting on the verses 2.12 and 2.13 of Gita. The soul as different from the body needs to be postulated because while the body changes, the experiencer/observer of these changes, i.e. this ‘I’ does not. Also, the qualities that the soul is supposed to have cannot exist in this body that has opposing qualities. The soul is said to have ‘jnAna (knowledge), ichChA (desire), kriyA (activity, initiative), which the body, rather a dead body, does not possess. (This is Ramanuja’s argument. See his commentary on Gita, 2.10). But, why shouldn’t it be held that some part of the body that is not changing unlike the rest of it is the experiencer? Why shouldn’t it be held that some part of the body, to be precise, the brain or mind who is responsible for the above qualities? Why shouldn’t it be that it is the mind that is the experiencer who also ‘dies in death’?
The reply lies in analysis of the states of ‘mUrccha’ (unconscious state) and in dreamless sleep (suShupti). There is no experience (of ‘I’-ness), though the brain is active. So, the experiencer is somebody else and that is the jIva. Mind is like a ‘tool’ (stores information), not to be confused with the ‘user/experiencer of the information’.


Tattvavada states that there are three (aNu) pramANAs (sources of knowledge) – flawless perception, flawless inference annd flawless verbal testimony. The bhATTAs and advaitins have three more pramANas, but those are shown to be special cases of inference.

In the last category, the Vedas, Mahabharata, Mula-ramayana (different from Valmiki Ramayana) and Pancharatraas are held as authoritative.

The Vedas are the primary authority while others derive authority on the account of being ancillary to the Vedas. The Vedas are authoritative because they are apaurusheya (unauthored).
The very concept of apaurusheyatva i.e., unauthoredness cannot be held illogical. In the absence of such unauthored works, no certain and firm knowledge about entities such as dharma, adharma or even God can be obtained.
These entities deserve attention because by definition, they are ‘atIndriya’ (imperceptible through sensory organs). The limitations of scope of human sensory organs should prevent hasty opinions such as, ‘If God exists, let Him be visible’. Moreover it is preposterous to insist for their perception when they are ‘supra-sensory’ by definition. This is true of all of them; dharma and adharma, heaven and hell.

Coming back, it is that ‘atIndriya’ entities need unauthored scriptures to establish them firmly.

  1. God and other such entities cannot be established just on the basis of logic. This is because every logical proposition in favour of existence of God can be countered by an equally, if not more, powerful one.
  2. Dharma or adharma should not be assumed. Statements such as “God wants me to be happy. And if I have to be happy, I should have a feast on Ekadasi” cannot be simply made. When nobody even knows what God is, how can His assent over our activities be ascertained?
  3. Considering that these entities don’t exist at all is of no use to anybody. (Here, the basic consideration is that any religion or philosophy should be beneficial to the aspirant.) Propagation of non-existence of absolute morals (dharma) would, ofcourse, result only in chaos and anarchy. The commonly heard ideals of morality in terms of not harming others or doing good to ‘mankind’ are subjective. With such, one would land up in an absurd situation of not punishing criminals who commit crime for the sake of sustaining oneself or for the sake of reducing population growth. Only non-human-made entities like dharma/adharma possess such absoluteness. Hence they should be accepted.
    But then, just because acceptance of dharma/adharma would bring in utility, it does not mean they exist. Just that a person is thirsty does not mean water exists somewhere. Here it should be understood that the arguments made so far are not meant to contend that atIndriya padarthas do exist for sure. Instead they are directed towards such doctrines, which contend that they do not exist for sure and when the same is preached, people will benefit from non-observance of unnecessary rituals.
    On the other hand, it is that their existence can be doubted at least. In addition, one should realize the limitations of the abilities of our senses. Eyes can only see and but not taste. Ears can only hear, but cannot smell. Given such, it is quite possible that there are entities beyond the grasp of these senses. (This is not a proof, but an observation).
  4. The significance of the adjective ‘unauthored’ is that authored works, however great the author may be, cannot be taken as authority on the account of possibility of the authors being ignorant or deceitful. Omniscience as such cannot be proven. It is not possible to know that some other person is omniscient when oneself is not so. Also, for authored sentences to be useful, additional assumptions such as absence of intention of deceit, willingness to give out the knowledge and more importantly, capability of doing the same, need to be done. Even considering God as the author of the vedas would not reduce the number of assumptions.

On the other hand, there is nothing to be assumed if one accepts apaurusheyatva. Apaurusheyatva implies flawlessness. The flaws in a sentence arise solely because of the author. Words as such are not flawed. It’s only the ignorance or other intentions of the composer that bring in flaws. Thus authorless sentences have no flaws.

Apaurusheyatva is proven by itself, only, i.e., no other pramANa can prove it. It’s validity is inherent in the knowledge, like any other valid knowledge (See the section of svataH prAmANya). Here, it should be understood that the Vedas have a special quality as being “known not to have any authors/creators”. Note that this quality is different from “authors/creators are not known”. It is only the Vedas (and other eternal entities) that fall in the first category, while folk songs and other anonymous literature come under the second category. For the entities in the first category, knowledge of lack of authors was present at all points of time. It is eternal. Such a quality cannot be attributed to any entity ‘over a period of time’. Whereas, for the entities in the second category, where there is lack of knowledge of authors, such a quality is temporal and cannot be said true in all past.

The possibility of spurious and secretive works attaining the status of apaurusheyatva is rejected on the basis of another quality of Vedas: an unbroken sequence of study by a student from a teacher. Secretly composed works lack this quality. And to filter out ordinary people claiming to have seen the Vedas and thus spurious works getting the status of scriptures, the qualities of a mantra-draShTa (seer of a Vedic mantra) are mentioned on the basis of from Brahmanda purana. Every mantra has three entities attached to it — Rishi, chandas and devatA. The Rishi is the seer, Chandas the meter and devata, the presiding deity of the mantra. This information should also help in the contention that the Vedas obtained the status of unauthoredness over time, though actually these Rishis are the authors. The fallacy becomes obvious when one works backward in time. If the Rishi were himself to be the author and known as such, it is unreasonable to expect that the concept of apaurusheyatva (which, according to the contenders, is chronologically at a later date to the mantras) could have gained momentum. Would, after, say 2000 years, Kalidasa be considered as the Rishi of ‘Meghadoota’ and not its author?

Karma-Kanda and Jnana-Kanda?

Mimamsakas give more weight to Karma-kANDa, while Advaita gives more importance to jnAna kANDa. However, it holds that even within the jnAna-kANDa, there are two types of statements; one set that eulogizes Brahman as possessing excellent qualities and the other set that speaks of Brahman as ‘nirguNa’ i.e., bereft of any qualities. The latter convey the ‘actual truth’ and give moxa directly, while the former talk of ’empirical truth’ (something which is true for present, but which will be proven as false upon dawn of knowledge at a later date) and are said to grant moxa, albeit indirectly.
Obviously, Such partitions have their basis in unwarranted presumptions about actual nature of truth. Even a scriptural statement encouraging such a division cannot be relied on, for, it is equivalent to a slight variant of the liar’s paradox (and also of Russell’s paradox), “Only statements A, B, C are true”. Thus, we have nothing but the words of the proponents of Advaita as the proof that only the above statements lead to moxa directly.
On the other hand, Tattvavada hold all statements in the shruti to be of equal importance. All portions of the Vedas, including the karma-kANDa, primarily, give knowledge of the Supreme Being.

Srimad Acharya attributes ‘conditional authority’ to all ancillary texts such as the smritis, purANAs, itihAsa (mahabharata). They are considered authoritative as long as they do not contradict the Vedas.
Priorities of pramANAs: Each pramANA has a particular scope and domain, within which it can be considered a pramANa. Pratyaksha (perception) can function as a pramANa in the matters of perceptible entities. It has to subscribe to the shruti in the matters of atIndriya (supra-sensory) entities like God, dharma and adharma. Likewise, Shruti cannot overrule experience.

“na cha anubhavavirodhe Agamasya prAmANyaM”

On the other hand if shruti directs that the emotions and feelings experienced have to be considered illusory or that they will be proved so later, the shruti has to be either summarily discarded or interpreted in some other way.

Validity of knowledge

It should be noted that it is only ‘flawless’ pratyaksha, inference and verbal testimony that are considered as ‘pramANa’. This flawlessness implies validity of knowledge obtained through these sources.

How is this ‘flawlessness’ determined? One might enumerate all the conditions that are necessary for flawlessness, but how does one know if the cognitions on whether these ‘conditions’ are met are flawless themselves?

The usual ‘scientific’ method of instituting a test to determine the validity of certain cognition (or perception) suffers from the same flaw; the accuracy (validity) of the test needs to be separately apprehended with the aid of yet another test. Thus, testing is not reliable when ‘absolute validity’ is the want.

Related questions are regarding “when” and “who” with respect to validity and ‘knowledge of validity’. When is this validity obtained? Is it obtained in the same cognition or in another cognition, for which the ‘cognizer’ has to wait? And most importantly, who recognizes this validity? There has to be some agency to ‘receive’ and cognise even the validity itself. Is it the soul or some other organ, like the mind, which is susceptible to error? The need for the existence of an entity cannot be undermined; for whatever be the doctrine, dvaita or advaita or atheism, there has to be some entity that will validate it. How do we know that all these theories are stable and hold good always unlike science, whose understanding of the world changes with time?

Tattvavada answers thus: Validity is intrinsic to the knowledge; i.e., knowledge and its validity are, both, cognised in the same cognition. If it were the contrary, i.e., if validity were to be ‘conveyed’ in some other cognition, as it would happen in case of tests determining the validity, one would land up with infinite regress.

Note that it is not that validity has never been apprehended at all. Consider the case of knowledge of self, ‘I-ness’. This is known as valid and so, at all times. Never was a test instituted to verify whether ‘I-ness’ exists or not.

Given the possibility of unerring knowledge being cognized, Tattavada considers ‘sAkshi’ (loosely translated as witness), which is nothing but the soul, as the cognising agent. Definitely it is not the mind or brain that can be held responsible for grasping the validity of particular knowledge, because the mind does not grasp the invalidity in erroneous perceptions. The introduction of this concept of ‘sAkshi’ is one of the important contributions to philosophy.

The role of the ‘sAkshi’ can be seen even in general scientific way of ‘testing’, where certain knowledge is understood to be valid without undertaking infinite tests. At one point of time, one understands the validity of test itself without having to perform another test. That itself is a proof that knowledge (obtained from the test) and its validity (of the test) are known in the same instance itself unless ‘blocked’.

In certain instances when there are obstructions, sAkshi comprehends only the knowledge and not its validity. These obstructions are due to various flaws like that of mind, like greed, expectations, agitation, doubt; or the situation itself: too far from the object of perception etc. Once these obstructions are removed, the validity is also cognised.

Once ‘approved’ as valid by the sAkshi, such knowledge can never be sublated or negated, even later. For example, no amount of logic or any future experience can ever sublate the knowledge of one’s own experience of happiness at a certain point of time.

Tenets of Tattvavada

1. Vishnu is Supreme (Vishnu sarvottamatva)

The first and foremost tenet is that of the absolute independence of Vishnu, who is set apart from everything else on the basis of this quality. Thus, we have two categories, independent and dependent. Thus dvaita talks of svatantra and paratantra, unlike the dualism of Western philosophy, which speaks of mind and matter as the two separate reals. Also, dvaita has been generally spoken of as constituting two reals; which is not the case. Dvaita holds not one or two entities to be real, but many of them, each of them dependent on one Supreme real, Sri Narayana (or Vishnu or Hari), who, the Katha Upanishad praises as the ‘real of reals’.

Vishnu is the Supreme Lord and knowable only with the aid of the flawless scriptures. He has infinite virtues, each virtue itself being infinite in magnitude (Defining God is not limiting him. After all, saying, ‘Infinite cannot be comprehended completely’ does not make infinite finite). He experiences infinite untarnished bliss, possesses knowledge of everything to the last detail, has energy and powers that are beyond the limits of thought of the greatest human intellect. He is never touched even by the slightest blemish such as misery, dependence etc. He is never comprehensible completely by anybody except Himself. He is the only independent being who exercises complete, absolute and thorough control over all aspects of all souls and insentient matter at all points of time.

It is not a sectarian impulse but a dispassionate reading that drives the conclusion of Vishnu’s supremacy. The Supremacy of others can only arise by special pleadings and fallacious reasoning that identifies all deities as one and the same, etc. It is not that a convenient lot is picked from the scriptures to decide on Vishnu’s supremacy. Srimad Acharya says such is the purport of the entire Vedas. While other gods are also praised, Vishnu is the primary referent of all words (and sounds). Aitereya Aranyaka and Upanishad are important sources for this concept. Sri Madhva explains this concept in detail in his Brahma-sutra-bhAShya and shows how a beatific harmonization of all scriptural (even seemingly self-contradictory) statements can be done to conclude the unconditional supremacy of Lord Vishnu only.

Brahman indicates Vishnu only

While the scriptures, on the face of it, seem to praise many gods like Rudra (Sri Rudram), Indra, Agni (many places in the Vedas), certain important ones indicate that it is only ONE being who existed prior to creation, the One extolled as the ‘bearer’ of all names(like ‘yo devAnAM namadhA eka eva’). Also, the nAsadIya sukta and many Upanishads are very clear that there is a single being who is the source of the rest.

This Being is Brahman, i.e., Vishnu. Sri Madhva identifies Brahman with Lord Narayana on the basis of ‘linga’ (indicative marks). In this regard, the following three quotes are significant:

  • The ‘ambhraNI sUkta’ (from RgVeda) where the deity speaks of her prowess in making a person brahma, Rudra or a sage or a wise man, as she pleases. It is her who makes ‘Rudra cut off the head of Brahma’. At the end of it, she indicates the source of powers to be ‘the Being on the ocean’.
  • Bhallaveya shruti says, “nAmAni sarvAni yamAvishanti taM vai vishhNuM paramamudAharanti”, which extols Vishnu is the Supreme Being who is primarily and invariably conveyed by all the words.
  • The RkSamhita talks of the worlds as being present in a lotus which itself is in the navel of the ‘unborn’ — ‘ajasya nAbhaAvadhyekamarpitaM yasminvishvA bhuvanAni tasthuH’

The speciality of these quotes is such qualities that identify Vishnu uniquely AND that are known generally, are mentioned.

Why not Rudra or Indra or other gods?

The first quote is an important one, for it answers many objections to Supremacy of Vishnu. In Sri Rudram, Rudra is praised as Supreme Lord. The referent therein is also praised with indicative marks such as, ‘neelakaNTa’ (blue-necked). Thus it must be Shiva who is the Supreme — such can be an objection. The answer to this lies in the first quote. More than verses extolling the devatas individually, this verse is important because it brings Lakshmi, Brahma and Rudra in its scope and compares them. Sri Lakshmi is said to bestow on him, his very qualities of Rudratva and she acknowledges her power to be the ‘Being on the Ocean’. A similar occurrence is in RgVeda.7th —

asya devasya mILhuSo vayA viSNoreSasya prabhRthe havirbhiH |
vide hi rudro rudriyaM mahitvaM yAsiShTaM vartirashvinAvirAvat ||

Thus Sri Rudram has to be interpreted in a different way (with Vishnu as the antaryAMi of Shiva) to suit the meaning of ambhraNi-sukta and not changing the interpretation of ambhraNi-sUkta to suit Sri Rudram.

The interpretation of the RgVedic sentence (ekam sad viprA bahudhA vadanti” The wise refer to the one Brahman in many ways) has to note that there are other Vedic sentences that assert the different deities to be afraid of the Supreme Brahman (R.V 2.38.9, Taittiriya Upanishad 2-8). Thus, it is also not the case that the gods mentioned in the above verse are different parts or forms of Brahman. They are different from Him and need Him for their powers. This is precisely what the Upanishads seek to convey; on His being present in Aditya (Sun), Vayu (wind) and controllers of elements found in nature.

The word ‘Atma’

While the word is generally interpreted as ‘self’ (referring the jIva), Srimad Acharya takes the context into account and interprets it (mostly) as Lord Narayana.

According to Brahmasutra 1.3.1, the being that is the support of this entire cosmos is the referent of the word ‘Atma’. Interestingly, even Shankaracharya while commenting on the same says that the word ‘Atma’ primarily refers to the Paramatma and not the jIva. Moreover, it is opposed to experience that the individual Jiva can be the support of the cosmos. And even Advaita accepts that ‘hundred shrutis cannot make a crow white or fire cold’.

See in this regard the statement in Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad — yo Atmani tiShThan AtmAnaM antaro yamayati, esha te atmA — He who is in the ‘Atma’ and controls the ‘Atma’ from within is the antaryAmi; He is your ‘AtmA’ (mAdhyandina shAkhA, antaryAmi brAhmaNa). This is a good example to note that the conventional meaning of the word, Atma, does not hold well always.

Sri Lakshmi

She is the Eternal consort of Sri Narayana and the presiding deity of the entire insentient matter. She possesses an indestructible and extremely subtle body (axara). She is also untouched by blemishes such as misery. However she is not independent and is considered the best devotee of the Lord.

What role does the Lord play in creation?

The Lord is the creator, preserver and destroyer and dispenser of other functions of the universe. He is only an efficient cause in the creation, i.e., that He is like a potter who does not transform Himself to create a pot; instead creates a pot out of clay, without Himself not undergoing any modification. Obviously, a sentient being cannot transform itself into an insentient entity with totally contradictory attributes.

The example of scorpions rising from the clay (given in Shankaracharya’s Brahmasutrabhashya) does not hold water, for, the clay itself does not transform itself into give birth to scorpions. And the verse in the muNDaka Upanishad (yathorNanAbhiH sR^ijate gR^ihNate cha: 3 instances given here, a spider spinning its web, the plants sprouting from earth and the hair rising from a man) only make it clear how the sentient being does not transform itself (i.e. it’s sentience) to produce insentient effects.

The equivalent of clay in creation is the mUla prakriti — insentient matter, out of which the universe is created and into which the universe dissolves. Creation is only modification of this prakriti, from its subtle state to more manifested grosser evolutes. The ever-benevolent Lord undertakes this creation because it is his nature to create. He has nothing to benefit from this creation; for, what can a Being that has nothing left to be fulfilled ever want (AptakAmasya kA spriha)? The Brahmasutras say that this world has been the created for the benefit of worthy souls (and this is the expression of Lord’s benevolence).

2. Reality of world

The world is real because there is no pramANa either (i) contradicting it or (ii) supporting the contrary.

Pratyaksha (perception) does not deny the reality of this world. Unlike the illusory experiences of rope-snake or silver in the nacre, where there is a sublating knowledge revealing the correct knowledge, nobody has ever had the experience of world being illusory, despite hoards of advaitins being extremely vociferous about it.

Inferences concluding the illusoriness are shown to be faulty. Such are of the nature, ‘This world is ‘mithya’ on the account of it being perceived, being limited etc, just like the silver in the nacre’ (Shankaracharya on Gaudapada karika, 2.4). Srimad Acharya points out twelve different fallacies; one being as simple as the possibility of formulation of a stronger and opposing syllogism – The world is real, for it is perceived. Moreover, ‘Atman’, the ultimate goal of Advaita, has to be perceptible else how would one know whether the goal has been achieved or not. If it is conceded as perceptible, it also should be held illusory.

Another argument found in the Gaudapada karikas is the analogy of dream-world and waking state. Since the spatio-temporal restrictions of waking state are overruled in dream state, the dream objects have to be unreal. Also, what is the essential difference in the objects perceived in the dream state and that in the wakeful state: Both have similar qualities of temporary-ness, limitedness etc. It is only that the illusion about dream objects is corrected more quickly than the illusion of objects seen in wakeful state.

The fallacy in this argument is this: To derive the unreality of dream objects, a presumption about reality of wakeful state (and the rules thereof) is done. In the absence of such a presumption, unreality of dream objects can never be inferred. On this inference, another deduction is made which negates the very presumption! Giving up the presumption would remove the very basis of inference of unreality of dream objects.

Tattvavada holds that the dream objects are real. Everybody agrees that they are a remix and replay of one’s vAsanas(impressions) of the mind. Unlike illusory objects, they do have a real causal substance, i.e, vAsana. Just like one watching a movie reacts to the characters seen on screen, the dreamer also reacts ‘confounding’ an equality between the objects seen in dream vis-a-vis corresponding objects in the wakeful state. Just as the screen, the light falling on it, its movements, are not unreal; even so the dream objects. The restrictions of wakeful state need not obviously apply to a screenplay.

Also scriptures oppose the concept of unreality of world – vishvam satyam (RgVeda) and in Gita, 16.8 (where it is said that demonic people consider this world to be ‘asatyam’). Even the Mandukya Upanishad verses, ‘prapaNcho yadi vidyeta nivarteta’ do not support the illusoriness of the world. After all, a few verses earlier, among the various theories of creation (including that which considers the world to be an illusion), the one that accepted this world to have been created by Lord merely by His will was praised as being ‘decisive’. And even the magician’s example given by Shankara in his MandukyaBhashya is inappropriate where he says that this world is like a magician’s creation. While a magician does not see his own creation, the same is not true of our creator, the Lord (Refer the Ishavasya Upanishad) who is very much aware of it. Moreover, if Lord were to be a magician, the shruti ‘tat shriShTvA tad anupraviShat’ (He created that and entered that!) will become nonsensical!

Eternality cannot be same as reality

The basic flaw is that these doctrines confuse ‘reality’ to ‘eternality’. Their argument in short is this: Given the illusory experience of a snake in the rope, how does one characterize the real? How is it different from the unreal? How does one know that the objects perceived at present are real and will not vanish later? It is only such objects that never vanish or rather; such that always exist is real. A corollary of this is that anything changes is not real.

Ofcourse, the point missed here is that even the ‘real’ rope was not perceived when the snake was perceived. So, does that make the rope unreal? If anything, the rope and snake should be equally unreal. Also, contrast the after-reactions in the cases of perception of illusory silver and a situation where an article, say a silver vessel, has been displaced when the observer was not looking. If ‘non-eternality’ were to be the criterion for unreality, the responses in both the situations must have been identical, which is hardly the case.

In addition, the difficulty of explaining how the imperceptible ‘nirguNa Brahman’ as the ultimate reality needs to be addressed. But if it were to be said that nirguNa Brahman exists always, though not perceived, the criterion for reality has to be changed; i.e., that which exists, even if not always, is real.

Then there is the theory that the illusoriness of this world will be known after more knowledge is obtained. That one is in illusion when perceiving the snake cannot be known while in the illusion itself. But after the sublating knowledge of the rope is obtained, the snake (in this case the world) is no more perceived.

The problem with this theory is that the source of this sublating knowledge cannot be determined. Even the scriptures cannot help since they are in the domain of this illusory world. Secondly, what is the nature of this sublating knowledge? Unlike in the rope-snake scenario (where the sublating knowledge is of the form, ‘This real rope is the substratum of unreal snake’), the knowledge cannot be of the form, ‘This Atman is the substratum of this world-illusion’, for the Atman is not only imperceptible (even to itself), but that there is no perceiving agent to perceive. Thirdly, by the same theory there is no guarantee that this theory would hold good forever.

Why is the world real:

According to TattvavAda, that is real which is an object of valid cognition and is not superimposed. The snake in the rope is not real because it is superimposed. The water in a mirage is unreal because certain factors contribute to making the cognition invalid. In simpler words, all that glitters is not gold. On the other hand, the rope is real because it is not superimposed. The reality of rope can stand further examination and is known through uncorrupted experiences.

It is here that the role of sAkshi in ascertaining the validity of these examinations itself. When there are no obstacles to knowledge, such as similarity between silver and the seashell, the sAkshi is capable of comprehending the validity of knowledge. And since it is the sAkshi, whose ‘approval’ is irrefutable, that validates the reality of world the question of some other knowledge sublating the world later doesn’t arise.

Ofcourse, it is the untamed conditioned mind, which has other hindrances like greed, anxiety, that triggers the actions upon the perception of unreal objects. This mind, which is a major factor in our responses, is the main culprit and not the sAkshi, which is the ‘witness’ to these misperceptions. Reflexive actions, ignorance of body movements in sleep and examples of involuntary actions prove that all the actions are not necessarily driven by the soul (and that the soul is different from mind/brain).

To summarize, this world is real because there is no pramANa opposing it or supporting the contrary. And it has been the object of many a flawless perception. Just that there are perceptions of unreal entities does not make the world unreal.

3. Souls:

There are infinite souls, uncreated essentially and eternal. Each is atomic in size and ever dependent on the Lord for its ‘sattApratItipravR^itti’ (i.e., existence, knowledge and activities).
There is a gradation among the souls and it is seen not only in the sAdhana performed but also in the intrinsic knowledge possessed and intrinsic bliss experienced by a soul in moksha. The souls are bound from beginningless time and have beginning-less ignorance about the Lord and their own selves. The Lord in accordance with the souls’ instrinsic nature and anAdi karmas guides the souls through their spiritual journey. Their intrinsic nature is fixed and does not change. Never does the soul lose its individuality.


jIveshvara bhidA chaiva jaDeshvara bhidA tathA
jIvabhedo mithashchaiva jaDajIvabhidA tathA
mithashcha jaDabhedo.ayam prapancho bhedapaNchakaH || (from the paramashruti)

The difference between the jIva and the Lord, between jaDa (insentient) and the Lord, the difference between various jIvas, the difference between jaDa and jIva and the difference between various jaDas (like sattva, rajas and tamas) — these are the five differences that make up the universe.

These differences never get sublated or submerged into each other. Plain experience justifies this theory in this world. Scriptural statements like ‘amritasyaiSha setuH’ (He is the ‘bridge’ to moksha), ‘so.ashnute sarvAn kAmAn saha brahmaNA’ (enjoys along with the Brahman) and “sveNa rUpeNAbhiniShpadyata” rule out merging of a jIva with the Brahman or other jIvas in liberation.

The souls are of three kinds: mukti-yogya (who are fit for liberation), nitya-samsaarinaH (ever transmigrating) and tamo-yogya (damnable). This categorization is based on intrinsic yogyata (fitness, ability) of a soul and not on the behaviour and actions exhibited in a lifetime alone.

Problem of Evil

This categorization finds its justification in the problem of evil. The question is who is accountable for the evil in this world? Who is to be blamed for crime, injustice, corruption and other adhArmic activities?
All idealistic doctrines don’t take much notice of this problem, because the reality is not what is perceived. So, the question either takes a backseat or is ignored altogether.
On the other hand, all realistic philosophies are forced to look for a viable solution. This problem is more pronounced with the theistic doctrines because the blame seems to rest with the Lord for either having created these ‘bad’ souls or letting these souls do ‘bad’ work. The former option (as in Christianity) would leave the God guilty of creating either evil souls or such circumstances. The problem would persist even if it were considered that the soul has been given free will and powers to choose a course of action; for, even the choices one makes are determined by, among other factors (which themselves are works of Lord), one’s nature.

On the other hand, Vedanta holds that souls and their intrinsic nature are never created are eternal and are changeless. With that, the problem is either that there are actually bad souls or that the Lord prompts certain unfortunate souls to do bad work. The second option is ruled out by the Vedas, which proclaim that the Lord is absolutely detached in terms of love, affection, hatred and angst. The Brahma-sutras (2.1.34) say that the Lord cannot be accused of the defects of partiality, impropriety or affection towards anyone. In this regard, it should be understand that the Lord, being absolutely impartial, neither attempts to change a soul’s nature nor stops them from performing a misdeed, for, such would imply partiality to ‘bad’ souls.
That leaves us with the unpalatable, but a true, situation that there are actually some tAmasic souls (See Gita, 17.02 which talks of souls having intrinsic nature). The Lord instigates each jIva according to its innate worth, its karmas etc.

Demoralizing theory?

It should be emphasized that the theory of traividhya does not force anyone to be excluded from spiritual pursuits. Despite that, the concept of eternal damnation has been criticized as demeaning and demoralizing. It becomes demoralizing only if one attempts to guess one’s intrinsic nature based on external deeds. This is unwarranted because both past and future actions are not known. Since there is no guarantee that present lifetime’s actions reflect the past in entirety, there is insufficient data to make a reasonable guess.

Given such conditions, it is best to indulge, not in such guesses, instead in performing one’s sAdhana as mentioned in the scriptures. A person excusing himself from doing his sAdhana just because some people are tAmasic in nature has no justification to offer just as a student who does not study just because it is known that some students will fail.

Misleading the wicked?

Also, many a time in Sri Madhva’s philosophy, ‘misleading the wicked’ is adduced as a reason to some specific instances (like Sri Krishna getting ‘killed’ by a hunter or Sri Krishna praying to Rudra for sons, while He Himself was able to create one, without the help of Rukmini and others, in the war-field).

The Lord does nothing extra to mislead the wicked. It’s just that the foolish don’t keep in mind the actual nature of the Lord as mentioned in scriptures, while the sAttvikas do. Both scriptures and experience provide ample evidence for this. There is a story in the Upanishads about both Gods and demons sending their representatives, Indra and Virochana, to learn from Prajapati. They are taught the same thing; but Virochana misinterprets it and he conveys to others that which is totally opposed to the original teaching. Indra, on the other hand, seeks further clarifications and gets the right knowledge. Now, what could be the cause of this difference in understanding, but their intrinsic natures?

4. Sadhana

The aim of this life is to obtain Vishnu’s grace; for it is only Vishnu’s grace that can deliver a soul from bondage. That can be obtained by following one’s varna-ashrama dharma devotedly with a sense of worship to Lord –

svavihita vrittyA bhaktyA bhagavadArAdhana eva paramo dharmah |

All actions should be performed according to one’s varNa and Ashrama in mind. The scriptures are sources of knowledge on what is dharma and what is not. However, the objective in all actions should be to attain Vishnu’s grace, for which, devotion in every dhArmic action is necessary.

Devotion (or Bhakti) to him is ceaseless pure love that arises only after the soul understands the Lord’s magnificent qualities and contemplates on them always to the exclusion of everything else including one’s own self. It should be noted that Jnana (knowledge) and Vairagya (detachment) are essential components of bhakti.

Bhakti without knowledge is blind faith and not sanctioned in the scriptures. There is no shortcut to devotion without knowledge. The scriptures very clearly mention that only the knowledge of Lord can help one attain moksha – taM eva vidvAn.h amrta iha bhavati | nAnyaaH panthA vidyate ayanAya | (There is no other way).

Aparoxa jnAna

This is an important event in the jIva’s sAdhana. The Lord is perceived clearly, without the aid of ‘external’ sensory organs as one’s inner controller. Shrutis such as ‘pashyate rukmavarNam’ confirm that the Jiva perceives the Lord (in a Golden hue) in one’s inner most self. Such an Aparoxa jnAni is ever aware of the presence of Lord in oneself and everything. He/she will take further births to get rid of the prArabdha karma. Moxa is obtained after such prArabdha karma gets accounted for. This is the concept that ‘resembles’ advaitin’s concept of jivanmukta (who will curiously wait for the unreal karma to keep him in unreal samsAra, despite having full knowledge about its unreality), but is far from it.


Moksha is enjoyment of bliss intrinsic to one’s nature and the absence of all miseries (This is for ‘mukti-yogya’ souls). This bliss is not external, i.e., it does not come from the Lord or any other source. There is no ‘sharing’ of bliss here.

Merging (after which one loses one’s individuality) with the Brahman is ruled out even by scriptures that advaitins consider as upholding unity. ‘pare avyaye sarve ekIbhavanti’ (they become one in the changeless ‘pare’ ) is one example, where the word, avyaya (changeless; not possible in case of mergers) is ignored.

Moksha can be obtained ONLY through Vishnu’s grace. The scriptures emphasize on different means to Moksha. Some emphasize on knowledge as the sole redeemer (such as in taM evam vidvAn amrita iha bhavati, nAnyaH panthA ayanAya vidyate), some on the role of the Lord in ‘choosing’ the devotee (yaM yevaiSha vRunute tena labhyaH tanUM svAM) (this should also answer questions such as, ‘Who gives the knowledge which is said to be the redeemer in above statements’, ‘Am I independent to obtain knowledge on my own’?), some of the role of bhakti (yasya deve parA bhaktiH) in obtaining liberation.

Tattvavada understands these statements to be giving emphasis on various aspects of a spiritual sAdhana and harmonizes them to conclude that it is unadulterated bhakti (devotion coupled with jnAna and vairAgya (dispassion)) that moves the Lord to shower his grace to a soul.

The difference between the souls from each other and from the Lord exists even in moksha. Liberation is of four-types –

  1. Saalokya or residence in the same place as God
  2. Saamipya or proximity to God
  3. Saaruupya or having the external form like that of God
  4. Saayujya or in a very close association with the Lord.

The type of moksha attained is based on one’s nature. The soul is dependent on the Lord even in moksha for it is Him who enables every soul to enjoy its intrinsic bliss. The soul enjoys all that it wishes and ‘moves around freely as it desires’ (Chandogya Upanishad). However, the bliss it enjoys is infinitesimal compared to that of the Lord.

shrI bhAratIramaNamukhyaprANAntargata shrIkriShNArpaNamastu 1

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