Tattvavada (Dvaita)

Tattvavada (Dvaita)

(Repost from https://sites.google.com/site/tattvavada/introduction-to-tattvavada )

nArAyaNAya paripUrNaguNarNavAya



satkAraNAya vitatAya namo namaste


yo vipralambaviparItamatiprabhUtAn

vAdAnnirasyakritavAn bhuvitattvavAdaM

sarveshvaro haririti pratipAdayantam

Anandatirthamunivaryamaham namAmi


Sri Madhvacharya also known as Anandateertha and Poornaprajna is the reviver of this school of Vedanta. The tradition regards him as the third incarnation of MukhyapraaNa – the chief Lord of life (the first two being Hanumanta and Bhima), who is extolled in the RgVeda, the Chandogya, Aitereya and Brihadaaranyaka Upanishads as the ‘shreshTha’ (foremost) among the dieties. The BrihadaraNyaka Upanishad narrates an episode to depict Sri Mukhyaprana’s superiority over other dieties in knowledge and being untouched by the demons (who represent incorrect knowledge). The incarnation of Sri Mukhyaprana as Sri Madhva finds mention not only in the Balittha sUkta (of RgVeda), but also in Garuda, kUrma and skanda purANAs.


He was born in 1238CE in a Brahmin family near Udipi, Karnataka and disappeared after seventy-nine years. Information on his life comes from ‘Sumadhva vijaya’, his biography, written by a younger contemporary, Sri Narayana Panditacharya. It describes Sri Madhva’s eventful and interesting life in a poetic and flowery language. A very conscipicuous characteristic of Sri Madhva’s life is that it is ‘vijaya’ everywhere; there is not a single episode where he was subdued, where he had to supress himself or where he had to flee from a tormenting king. His immense intellectual and physical strength is very clearly expressed. His calmness, fearlessness and above all, his unfailing devotion to Lord come out at many instances.


Sri Madhva has authored thirty-seven works. All his works carry his characteristic style of writing — a grand salutation to the Supreme Lord Narayana, flawless logic, no flights of reason, brevity and most important of all, interpretations or solutions backed by quotes from a wide array of vedic and puraaNic sources, ending with a salutation to the Lord. Those who study his works can readily attest that the only way to refute his logic is by becoming illogical! Though the logic looks common sense, it’s pretty rigorous and can only be understood with the help of commentaries on them. One another feature in his works is consistency. It will be preposterous to look for any differences of opinion within his works, as is sometimes done with the works of other Acharyas.


His works are:

(i) RgBhashya

(ii) Brahma-sutra-bhAShya, aNuvyAkhyAna, nyAyavivaraNa and aNubhAShya (four commentaries on Brahmasutras)

(iii) Gita bhAShya and Gita Tatparya Nirnaya (two on the Bhagavad Gita)

(iv) one commentary on each of the ten Upanishads.

(v) Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya

(vi) Bhagavata Tatparya Nirnaya

(vii) daSha prakaraNa (Vishnu-tattva-nirNaya, tattva samkhyAna, tattvodyota, tattva-viveka, pramANa laxaNa, kathA laxaNa, karma nirNaya, upAdhi-khandana, prapancha-mithyatva-anumAna khandana, mayavada khandana)

(viii) dvAdasha stotra, nakha-stuti, krishnAmrta maharNava, jayantI nirNaya, kanduka stuti, tantrasarasangraha, sadAchArasmriti and yati-praNava-kalpa.


The RgbhAShya brings out a special facet of Sri Madhva’s philosophy. The Vedas, including the karmakANDa, can be understood at three levels, each pertaining to Adhibhautic, Adhidaivic and AdhyAtmic ideas. The first level of understanding looks upon the verses as dealing with physical and material stuff. The next level (adhidaivic) is when the verses are understood to praise the abhimAni-devatas (indwelling gods) of this material stuff. The highest level is when the scriptures are interpreted as glorifications of the God of the gods, Vishnu. The first forty suktas of the RgVeda are discussed here with the above idea as the principle.

The Brahma-sutra-bhAShya, aNuvyAkhyana and nyAya-vivaraNa, all together, form the commentaries on the Brahma-sutras. Each has a specific purpose and is not superfluous. The same is true of his works on Gita too. In aNuvyAkhyAna, many important concepts on the dvaita philosophy and reasons for their acceptance over other philosophies have been mentioned.

In Mahabharata-tatparya-nirNaya, certain dhArmic ‘puzzles’ are solved. The daShaprakaraNas are polemical works, three of which, collectively known as ‘khaNDana traya’, are refutations on concepts which form the framework of Advaita.


Sri Jayatirtha has commented upon most of these works. Sri Jayatirtha is also known as ‘Tikacharya’ (the commentator), a unique feature among commentators. Tradition has it that he was ordained for this purpose. He has brilliantly and more importantly, sincerely rendered the pithy statements of his master, Sri Madhva, in lucid, flowery and simple language. His work, Nyayasudha, is a commentary over Sri Madhva’s aNuvyAkhyana. The importance of contents of this work can be easily guessed by the praise, ‘sudhA va paThanIya, vasudhA va pAlanIya’ — Either (nyAya)sudha should be studied or the earth should be ruled. (This is a variation of a similar line on Patanjali’s mahabhashya).


Sri Jayatirtha is followed by Sri Vyaasateertha who is known for brilliant hairsplitting analyses. His important works are works are Tatparyachandrika (a commentary on Jayateertha’s Tattvaprakaashikaa), Nyaayaamrta and Tarka-taandava (a treatise refuting the concepts of Navya nyaaya school). In tatparyachandrika, Sri Vyasatirtha shows how Sri Madhvacharya’s interpretations of the Brahma sutras are better than that of other commentators. In Nyaayamrta, various concepts of Advaita and its interpretations of some shrutivakyas are examined and refuted. Raamaachaarya has written a commentary on Nyaayaamrta called the Tarangini – a response to Madhusudana Saraswati’s Advaita-siddhi; which itself is generally ‘considered’ to be a reply to Nyaayaamrta.


Among others, Sri Vadirajatirtha, Sri Raghuttama tirtha and Sri Raghavendra tirtha are well-known. Sri Vadiraja tirtha has many works to his credit; important ones being Yuktimallika and Mahabharatha laxAlankara; wherein one-lakh verses concerned with knotty problems of Mahabharata are explained. Sri Raghuttama tirtha and Sri Raghavendra tirtha are held to be extremely benevolent. What is less known about them, however, is their glosses on Srimad Acharya or Sri Tikacharya’s works. Sri Raghuttama’s ‘brihadAraNyaka-bhAvabodha’ and Sri Raghavendra’s ‘gIta-vivrutti are good examples of the same.


More information on the scholars in the tradition can be found at http://www.dvaita.org/scholars


A very important section of Sri Madhva’s followers are Haridaasas; Sri Purandara Dasa, one of the founders of Carnatic music, and Sri Vijaya dasa are examples of Haridasas who preached the divine philosophy in a vernacular language – Kannada. The ‘dAsarapada’ (songs of dAsas), when heard properly and ruminated, are extremely effective in shaking one’s excessive attachment to everything else and bringing out devotion in the Lord.




Tattvavada stands out as the unique system based on the hoary tradition of the Vedas, which fulfills all the requirements of intellectual and emotional hunger of the human mind. Having been formally dilineated after the competing systems like Advaita and Vishishtadvaita had already been preached and hardened in their doctrines, it takes into full consideration all their tenets as Purvapakshas (doctrines for examination and refutation), before putting forward its own tenets. Such is easily observable in Sumadhva vijaya. Srimad Acharya writes his Brahma-sutra-bhAShya only after being requested to do so, by the contemporary people, who were thoroughly convinced by the fact that his critiques on other bhAShyas cannot be waved off; in fact, Srimad Acharya’s life was packed with debates, criticism and most importantly, upholding as to why his philosophy is superior.


This model of criticisms, debates and disputes within philosophies is, unfortunately, not only missing today, but also generally considered unhealthy and irrelevant to spiritual growth. It is not unusual to observe that many a gurus and babas of today are happy to make high-sounding statements ((like somebody said, ‘Love is the only religion’ or ‘Love is thy nature’) without ever bothering to give pramANAs or exposing one’s doctrine to logic. However, one should not be surprised if such find a lot of acceptance; for, the human ‘weakness’ to feel connected with and related to others is ‘stronger’ than the urge to know the truth. On the other hand, the older generations have given much weightage to debates over philosophies (vAde vAde jAyate jnAnaM).

After all, such disputes are certainly important, especially given the real world and its concerns. If not, then would one have to consider a philosophy that dictated that newborn infants be sacrificed to produce good crops, as also being (possibly) valid? It cannot be held that such absurd or egregrious examples may be excluded without any real analysis at all, because history is replete with examples where such bogus doctrines held wide sway and caused much harm. It is also the case that there are other harmful or incorrect practices in existing systems that proper analysis is essential to repudiate them. For example, animal sacrifice and the cruel treatment of animals is quite widespread in the present day, yet only Srimad Acharya makes the criticism and refutation of such, an essential and cogent part of his system.


Unfortunately, such a system is studied not as an independent school of vedanta, but only when as a comparitive doctrine is done. Such dismissal attitude by categorizing any doctrine as a ‘bhakti school of vedanta’ or ‘theistic philosophy’ is, perhaps, based on an impression that theism and philosophy are mutually exclusive. Most of the modern criticizers have unmindfully let their bias feature in their works; the criticism generally being that Srimad Acharya is the odd one out of the group; that his philosophy does not match much with the ‘standard doctrine’ advaita, etc. Such fallacies should only remind us always that it is only harmful to dismiss or excessively favour any doctrine, based on one’s presuppositions and biases for a particular achArya or a doctrine, even if it is science.


That is where Tattvavada differs. All the first principles are completely justified, not on beliefs of the day, but on rational grounds. A sample can be seen in Srimad Acharya’s treatment of an important topic: the existence of soul as diffrent from body. Unless such is proven, all spiritual pursuits would have no utility. Srimad Acharya establishes, on a logical basis, what would be either brushed off or blindly accepted as true. While most of the religions hold that soul to be responsible for activating the body, science believes that it is the ever-active brain to be the cause. In the latter case, there needs to be no ‘pursuit’ at all, for, there is nothing, be it Heaven or moksha, remaining after death to enjoy the benefits of such pursuits.


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 does not. But, why shouldn’t it be held that brain or mind is the experiencer who also ‘dies in death’? Brain/Mind cannot be the experiencer itself because, in ‘mUrccha’ (unconscious state) and in dreamless sleep (suShupti), there is no experience (of ‘I’-ness), though the mind is active. So, the experiencer is somebody else and that is the jIva. Further reasons are adduced, but the point is that the stuff the body is made of and the qualities seen in the soul, such as consciousness (self-awareness), indivisibility, ability to have feelings, do not match.


Please note that the above is a very simplistic explanation. The original and Sri Jayatirtha’s commentary on the same should be looked into for a more thorough and professional treatment of the subject.




Tattvavada considers that there are three (anu) pramANAs (three sources of knowledge) – flawless perception, flawless inference and flawless verbal testimony. The prAbhAkaras and advaitins hold that there are three more pramANas, but such 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.


But then why should scriptures be accepted as authoritative? [Edited this section on 4th July 2009, Instead pls see the link: apauruSheyatva of Vedas].


It may be wondered if such is the nature of vedic literature — with mutually contradicting statements, tthat Shankaracharya is trying to reconcile in his own way. Whether there are any contradicting statements or not is an issue discussed later, but the direction which the advaita-acharya is keen about, is definitely incorrect. An alternative to his way of reconciling by denigrating the status of a good chunk of scriptures as ‘non-truth telling’, is a positive and uniform approach. And that is supported by scriptures. See, in this regard, the Aitereya Aranyaka 2.2.2 (which says that it should be understood that all the vedas, all the sounds (ghoSha) laud the Supreme Prana) or the Katha Upanishad statement, ‘**sarve vedaa** yatpadamAmananti’. The Brahmasutras 1.1.4 and 1.1.10 and the beloved Bhagavad Gita’s dictum, ‘vedaishcha **sarvaih** aham eva vedyo’ support the idea.


After justifying the unquestionable authority to the apaurusheya vedas(shruti), 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.


Sri Madhvacharya holds Pancharatras as authoritative; unlike Shankaracharya. The Mahabharata (moksha parva) praises them (in comparision to the doctrines of sAnkhya, yoga and pAShupatas) as being narrated by the Lord Narayana Himself and that these contain ‘shreShTha jnAna’ (excellent knowledge). The statements such as ‘the Jiva was created’ are interpreted by Shankaracharya in a straightforward way, and hence considers them anti-vedic. (However, the same standard is not maintained when ‘asatah sad ajAyata’ — from the unreal was the real born — Taitt.Up) is interpreted). On the other hand, these are explained as ‘udbhava of samkarshana form of the Lord’ and all anti-vedicness is removed.


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’. So, 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.


In case of inference, stray logic should be avoided. Logical deductions have to be substantiated by either experience or shruti, in the absence of which the deduction should be considered a hypothesis.


Pratyaksha (perception) has a high place as an instrument of knowledge because of its uniqueness in terms of immediacy and spontaniety. An objection can be raised that pratyaksha is known to fail as a pramANa in the cases of erroneous perceptions, such as mirages, snake mistook as rope. Why is that this inherent weakness is forgotten when glorifying pratyaksha?


Here, it is being forgotten that it is only ‘flawless’ perception that is counted as pramANa (See K.Narain’s Critique of Madhva’s refutation of Shankara’s Advaita). This adjective ‘flawlessness’ is applied in case of other pramANAs too. The question of how in the first place this flawlessness (or validity) is determined takes us to the concept of ‘svatah prAmANya’.


The question here is pertinent to any branch of knowledge. How does one apprehend the validity of knowledge obtained through some source of knowledge? Generally a test is conducted to know if certain knowledge is correct or not. But that would not help us in any way; for, the accuracy (validity) of this test needs to be separately apprehended with the aid of yet another test. Thus, it can be easily seen that it is a never ending process (infinite regress – anAvasthA) if one were to depend solely on tests (Notice that this is a problem that science has not focussed on). However, 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 that validity of valid knowledge is apprehensible, the question remains as to when it is apprehended. This apprehension happens either at the time of perception itself (i.e. time of reception of knowledge itself) or at a later date. The latter option has the same fallacy of verification through tests (of one perception being validated by second perception, which in turn needs to be validated by a third one, so on and forth). Thus, it is that knowledge and its validity are known in the same instant itself, for, knowledge carries its own validity. In other words, validity is intrinsic to knowledge (svatah prAmANya). (The sentence ‘apaurusheyatvam cha svata eva siddham’ has to be seen in this light also.)


The above passages discuss the possibility of comprehending validity, the question of who is responsible for apprehending this validity still remains. The answer to this question is one of the important contributions to philosophy.  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 which will validate it. How do we know that all these theories are stable and hold good always unlike science, which comes up with a new theory frequently.

Definitely it is not the mind or brain which can be held responsible for grasping the validity of particular knowledge, because it is does not grasp the invalidity in erroneous perceptions. “Sakshi” is the being which apprehends both knowledge and its validity. It is the cognizing agent of the soul. It validates even the knowledge of entities such as space, time al (whichever Immanuel Kant defines as apriori knowledge AND the numerical theorems).

But then, if there exists something like ‘sAkshi’ which percieves the validity of knowledge and being a part of the soul, if it is ever active, why then was such a big argument given in favor of apaurusheyatva. No valid theory would ever need justification. The moment a theory is put forward, the sAkshi would percieve it to be valid; if it doesn’t, that theory is wrong. And the same holds good for this concept of ‘sAkshi’ itself. Since one is not convinced immediately of existence of such sAkshi, the concept invalidates itself — such is a possible objection. The answer to the objection is that it is that sAkshi comprehends only the knowledge and not its validity if there are any flaws of intellect. The moment, these flaws of intellect are removed, prAmANya is grasped. Once ‘approved’ by the sAkshi, such knowledge can never be sublated. For example, no amount of logic or any future experience can ever sublate the knowledge of one’s own experience of happiness. Here it is easy to see why ‘advaita’ (which accepts a single thoughtless consciousness as the final reality; for ‘who’ will be ‘convinced’ of such a ‘state’) is rejected. There have been many objections to this theory of sAkshi-pratyaksha. They are all based on the confusion between sAkshi-pratyaksha (cognitions of the sAkshi) that never errs and manas-pratyaksha that is liable to err.


The Doctrine (Hari 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 in terms of mind and matter. Also, dvaita has been generally spoken of as constituting two reals; which is not the case. Dvaita hold not one or two entities to be real, but many of them; all of them dependent on one Supreme real, in the words of Katha Upanishad, the ‘real of reals’, Sri Narayana.


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. He experiences infinite untarnished bliss, possesses knowledge of everything to the minutest detail, has energy and powers that are beyond the limits of thought of the greatest human intellect. He is never touched by even the slightest blemish such as dependence, misery 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.


He is the only being who is the primary referrent of all words (and sounds). This is understandable (to an extent) because he is the origin of all the virtues in all the devatAs and the source of all activity. 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.


He explains how the word ‘Brahman’ refers to Vishnu only. This might seem surprising because there are many scriptural statements that praise Rudra (Sri Rudram), Indra, Agni (many places in the vedas) and other gods. However, can one go just by the names mentioned in the mantras and conclude that monotheism is not the purport? That cannot be done because the scriptures themselves state that it is only ONE being who is extolled in so many ways and that He who is the ‘bearer’ of all names is only one (like ‘yo devAnAM namadhA eka eva’). Also, the nAsadIya sukta is very clear that there is a single being who is the source of all beings.

Sri Madhva identifies this being 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 diety 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 extolls 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. 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 referrent 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. Sri Lakshmi is said to bestow on him, his very qualities of Rudratva. ( A Similar stance occurs in RgVeda.7th — asya devasya mILhuSo vayA viSNoreSasya prrabhRthe havirbhiH | vide hi rudro rudriyaM mahitvaM yAsiShTaM vartirashvinAvirAvat || ) This verse is also the reason why 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 the other way around.

A detailed discussion on this can be found in Sri Madhvacharya’s Brahma-sutra-bhAShya and Sri Jayatirtha’s commentary on the same.


One important point to note here is regarding the interpretation of the word ‘Atma’ according to Sri Madhvacharya. While the word is generally interpreted as ‘self’ (referring the jIva), Sri Madhvacharya takes the context into account and interprets it (in most of the places) as Lord Narayana. Interestingly, even Shankaracharya while commenting on the Brahmasutra 1.3.1 (which says that the being referred by the word ‘Atma’ is the support of this entire cosmos) says that the word ‘Atma’ primarily refers to the Paramatma and not the jIva. 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 is your ‘AtmA’ (mAdhyandina shAkhA, antaryAmi brAhmaNa). This is a good example to note that the conventional meaning does not hold well always.


Sri Lakshmi


She is the Eternal consort of Sri Narayana and the presiding diety of the entire insentient matter. She possesses an in-destructible 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.

Sri Madhva interprets the word ‘axara’ (indestructible) that appears in many upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita as referring to Sri Lakshmi. This interpretation is backed by quotes from Samaveda and other purANAs. One of the meanings attached to the word, ‘mAyA’ is Lakshmi devi.




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. The equivalent of clay in this case 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 who has nothing left to be fulfilled(AptakAma) ever want (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).


Reality of world


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


However, there are some doctrines that opine that the world is not real, is illusory. A slightly different flavor of the same doctrine is that there is no external reality to this world and it exists in the consciousness.


Let’s analyse them. First and foremost, there is no pramana supporting the same. Pratyaksha (perception) does not deny the reality of this world. Moreover, nobody has ever had the experience of world disappearing. Inferences concluding with such are shown to be faulty (see ‘prapancha-mithyatva-anumaana-khandana). Such are of the nature, ‘This world is ‘mithya’ on the account of it being percieved, being limited etc, just like the silver in the nacre’ (Shankaracharya on Gaudapada karika, 2.4). Twelve different fallacies are pointed out (one being as simple as the possibility of forumalation of a stronger and opposing syllogism – The world is real, for it is percieved.) Also, such is opposed to scriptures – vishvam satyam (RgVeda) and in Gita, 16.8 (where it is said that demonaic people consider this world to be ‘asatyam’). 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. (More on such later in comparision with other doctrines).


The basic flaw is that these doctrines equate ‘eternality’ and ‘reality’. The 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 percieved 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.


It is easy to see that the point missed here is that even the ‘real’ rope was not percieved when the snake was percieved. So, does that make the rope unreal? In Advaitic terms, the ‘nirguNa Brahman’ (which is the ultimate reality) should have been unreal because it is not perceptible at present. 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.


According to tattvavada, that is real which is an object of valid cognition and is not superimposed. The validity of cognition is known by the sAkshi. At this point, it should be clarified that this concept of ‘sAkshi’ is not just in theory, but is seen in action too. In the given instance of ‘rope mistook as snake’ or the sea-shell mistook as silver, how does one even know that the rope/sea-shell is for real, while the snake or silver is unreal and not the other way around? How does one even know that the rope/sea-shell  is the substratum on which the snake/silver  was percieved and not the other way around?


Consider the above example of sea-shell mistook as silver. Contrast this with a situation where a silver article, say a silver vessel, has been displaced when the observer was not looking. In both situations, silver is not percieved later. However, it is only in the first situation that nobody searches for the now-not-perceptible silver, unlike the second situation where the observer is prompted to search for the same. Why is there this difference of reactions when the end result is same?

It should be admitted that this knowledge of rope as real in contrast to the snake is known quite intuitively. And only because it is the sAkshi who percieves this and validates the same to be true, no further questions are asked about which of rope and snake are real.


And in case of this world, there is the simplest problem that nobody ever has had the experience of this world disappearing. Even if that be the case, it is only likely that the person starts searching for it instead of philosophizing about its illusoriness.




There are infinite souls, each atomic in size and ever dependent on the Lord. They 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.


This categorization finds its justification not only logically, but scripturally too. In this regard, a look at the problem of evil, which has always stupified all philosophies — both idealistic and realistic — is necessary. The question is who is accoountable for the evil in this world? Who is to be blamed for crime, injustice and corruption?

All idealistic doctrines don’t take much notice of this problem, because the reality for them, generally, is not what is percieved. Since the sin or crime percieved is not what is present in reality, quite obviously so, the question either takes a backseat or is ignored.

On the other hand, all realistic philosophies are forced to look for a viable solution. While the non-theistic ones talk in terms of ‘bad factors’ affecting the ‘doer’ either temporarily or permanently as a solution, the theistic ones are not so lucky because the blame rests with the Lord for either having created these ‘bad’ souls or letting these souls do ‘bad’ work.

The problem turns trouble when one accepts that souls were created out of nothing at all by the Lord. In such cases, to quote Omar Khayyam, it should be the Lord who should be punished instead of the sinning person. It should be the Lord who should be put in Hell on the D-Day and not the poor soul. If it were to be answered that the soul has been given free will and powers to choose a course of action, still the problem would persist. Generally the choices and decisions one makes is a product of one’s upbringing, birth, social and economic situations one is in. What makes a difference here is the reaction to such situations in terms of attitude and perseverance. And the reaction or a response is an output of one’s nature, among other factors (which themselves are works of Lord). And since it is the Lord who has created a soul with a particular nature, He should be blamed.

Vedanta holds that souls are never created. They are eternal. Their nature, which is intrinsic to them, is also eternal. In other words, a soul’s intrinsic nature never changes, thanks to God.

With this, evil or sin can be traced to two sources: (i) the Lord for having created situations which forced a soul to sin and, moreover, letting the soul commit the misdeed (ii) the soul itself. Since the first option talks something about God, we have to look at scritpures to provide an answer; for, it is only the unauthored scriptures that can give us any knowledge of God and his dealings.  Now, what do the scriptures say in this regard? That the Lord is absolutely detached. What does this ‘detachment’ mean? Complete detachment not only in terms of love and affection to anybody in particular, but even in terms of hatred, angst and animosity. This is plausible because, otherwise, the Lord cannot be held ‘independent’ in all aspects and blissful always. The Brahma-sutras (2.1.34) say, in this regard, that the Lord cannot be accused of the defects of partiality, impropriety or affection towards anyone. He is absolutely impartial. In this regard, it needs to be noted that it is because of this impartiality that the Lord niether attempts to change a soul’s nature, for had he done so, he can be accused of being partial to ‘bad’ souls nor stops them from performing a misdeed.

With the Lord being out of question, it should be the man that is responsible for evil. 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 something totally opposed to the original teaching is conveyed to other demons. Indra, on the other hand, seeks more clarifications and gets the right knowledge. Now, what could be the cause of this difference in understanding, but their intrinsic natures?


See the Gita, 17.02.

trividhA bhavati shraddhA dehinAm sA **svabhAvajA**

sAttvikI rAjasI caiva tAmasI ceti tAm shRuNu

Which talks of the ‘dehinAm’ (the embodied, i.e. the souls) having three types of ‘shraddhA’, which itself is a characteristic of their nature.


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). This needs to be carefully understood. The Lord does nothing extra for the wicked. It’s just that the foolish won’t keep in mind the actual nature of the Lord as mentioned in scriptures, while the sAttvikas will. The foolish think that the Lord’s body is made of material stuff (to justify his getting killed) despite the Lord’s warning in Gita, that He is no ordinary mortal. A beautiful example is when the Lord Krishna shows his Vishvarupa when he goes to Kaurava camp for peace-negotiations. While the elders of the Kuru family, forgetting their prejudices and obligations, stand up at the spectacular sight in all humility and devotion, Duryodhana tells Krishna that he(Duryodhana) is aware of the Lord’s drama! Elsewhere in Mahabhaarata, Duryodhana himself admits that he cannot act in opposition to his own nature.


Often, this concept of eternal damnation has been criticized as demeaning and demoralizing. However, one needs to understand that it is demeaning or demoralizing to those who attempt to guess their intrinsic nature based on external deeds. This is not warranted because of atleast two reasons: ‘intrinsic nature’ is just one of the factors that determine the actions. When there is lack of knowledge of the other factors and their weightages, guessing or estimating is not warranted. Secondly, 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 not to indulge in such guesses, instead in performing one’s saadhana 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.


That all don’t reach the same place is clearly mentioned in Gita itself:

UrdhvaM gachchhanti sattvasthA madhye tishhThanti rAjasAH  |

jaghanya guNavR^ittisthA adho gachchhanti tAmasAH  ||

Upwards (to liberation) go those situated in sattva; the rAjasa-s stay in the middle; those situated in abominable qualities and deeds, the tâmasa-s, go to the lowest state.

Another instance is the Ishavasya Upanishad which bestows eternal hell who worship the Lord in an incorrect manner.




Vishnu is ever different from any soul; two souls from each other always; any soul from insentient matter and two elements of insentient prakriti from each other. These differences never merge or evaporate and are eternal. Though matter and souls co-exist with God and are real, they are so because of God’s wish (Bhagavata).


There is a gradation among them and it is seen in not only 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 beginningless 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 journey.




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 when one follows one’s varna-ashrama dharma devotedly with a sense of worship to Lord (svavihita vrittyA bhaktyA bhagavad ArAdhana eva paramo dharmah). Devotion (or Bhakti) to him is ceaseless pure love that arises only after the soul understands the Lord’s magnificient qualities and contemplates on them always to the exclusion of everything else including one’s own self. This knowledge of Him has to be obtained from a Guru not only to be effective, but also to be of any use.




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. There is no ‘sharing’ of bliss here.

Moksha can be obtained ONLY through Vishnu’s grace and mercy. His grace is obtained by being devoted to him and his devotees, the most important being Mukhyaprana. When such devotion is achieved, the Lord gives the jIva aparoxa-jnaana; after which the soul will be always aware of the Lord’s presence IN himself without the aid of external cognitions. Moksha is assured to such an aparoxa jnAni.

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


Comparision with other doctrines


Sri Madhva comes down forcefully on any doctrine that is contradictory to scriptures.


Advaita’s structural framework comprising concepts such as sadasadvailakshanya, upAdhi, saguNa/nirguNa brahmans are examined in detail and rejected not only on logical grounds but also on scriptural bases. He shows how advaita and Buddhism are the anti-vedic twin doctrines.



While Vishishtadvaita posits a relation of ‘aprithaksiddha’ between the Lord and His attributes (non-separability), Sri Madhva explains the relation as vishesha-visheshya bhAva (‘colorful’ identity between the qualified and the quality). Sri Vyasatirtha explains in nyAyamrta how the latter is not only better, but also more attuned to scriptural statements like ‘neha naanaasti kinchana’ (there is no difference here whatsoever — referring to the vyUha forms of Lord wherre different attributes of the Lord are highlighted in each vyUha form).

Among the important differences, the one that should be noted is that Sri Madhvacharya does not approve the concept of prapatti (which involves devotion without the necessity of knowledge) (tameva **vidvAn** amrta iha bhavati).


Achintyabheda-abhedavAda (Gaudiya)

Though this doctrine looks very similar to dvaita, it is only superficial similarity. Concepts such as differences in avataaras of Lord (Krishna is more powerful than Vishnu), existence of Radha and many others are rejected by Sri Madhva (much before Chaitanya took birth).


Shri madhvesha krishnarpanamastu

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