A Few Interesting Debates in Mādhva Philosophy


The philosophical system proposed by Shri Madhvāchārya comprises many novel contributions to the field of Vedanta. His system tries to answer many critical questions which were overlooked or discarded by many other philosophers despite their importance. It addresses multiple subtle issues in unique and highly convincing ways with sound logical arguments and strong supporting evidence. 

Some of the interesting issues addressed efficiently in Mādhva system are as follows: (i) handling the relationship between the भेद and धर्मी by proposing the concept of विशेष, (ii) Dealing with सर्व-शब्द-वाच्यत्व of Lord VISHNU without forgoing the वेद-वाच्यत्व for objects other than Lord VISHNU by proposing multiple शब्द-वृत्तिs, (iii) answering the questions in the topic of प्रामाण्य-स्वतस्त्व, which are otherwise unanswered, by establishing the concept of साक्षी, (iv) establishing the consensus (एकवाक्यता) between all the Vedic and Puranic texts without compromising their validity (प्रामाण्य), (v) proposing the concept of अन्विताभिधान to explain the ways of language acquisition (शक्ति-ग्रह) and cognition through words. The aforementioned list is by no means exhaustive as there are plenty other issues (such as जीव-त्रैविध्य, भेद after मोक्ष etc.) that are successfully dealt with by Shri Madhvāchārya. 

However, as with any school, in the Dvaita system too there are some interesting debates that demand a good amount of attention from the scholastic world. The purpose of this article is to list a few such interesting issues which are not very often discussed but yet subtle and worth a look. The reader of the further sections of this article is assumed to possess some expertise in the studies of Mādhva philosophy.

The समन्वय status of words occurring in Vedic सूक्तs

In his commentaries to the ब्रह्मसूत्र, Shri Madhvāchārya proposes a distinct theory to explain the division of pādas in the first (समन्वय) chapter of ब्रह्मसूत्र. He explains – the pādas there are divided as per the ‘nature’ of the words that are proved to be referring to Lord VISHNU (समन्वयितव्याः शब्दाः). That is, the first and second pādas deal with the words which are famous as referring to someone (or something) other than Lord VISHNU (अन्यत्र-प्रसिद्ध-शब्दाः), the third pāda deals with those words which are common between both Lord VISHNU and others (उभयत्र-प्रसिद्ध-शब्दाः). The last pāda looks at those words that superficially appear, as impossible to be referring to Lord VISHNU (अन्यत्रैव-प्रसिद्ध-शब्दाः). It is beyond the scope of this article to explain all the aforementioned terms in detail. However, the nature of words in fourth pāda is explained below briefly to form a ground for the current topic of interest. 

Sri Vyāsatirtha, in his work Tātparya Chandrika defines अन्यत्रैव-प्रसिद्धि as follows – बलवत्-श्रुति-लिङ्गाद्यैः अन्येष्वेव प्रसिद्धता. This means – These are the words which fall under the category of अन्यत्रैव-प्रसिद्ध-शब्दाः, which apparently seem to refer to objects other than Lord VISHNU being backed by strong (बलवत्) Shruti and lingas. He further explains what is strength (बलवत्व) for shruti and Lingas in that definition, as following – सिद्धान्ते अपरम-मुख्य-वृत्त्या अन्य-परत्वं विना अनुपपद्यमानत्वम्.  As a prelude to understand the aforementioned fact, let us consider in brief what is meant by अपरम-मुख्य-वृत्ति.

As mentioned in the introduction section, Mādhva philosophy proposes multiple courses (शब्द-वृत्ति) through which a given word convey some meaning. Two of them which are of current relevance are परम-मुख्य-वृत्ति and अमुख्य-वृत्ति; the former is the primary or important course through which all the words refer Lord VISHNU and the latter is the secondary or minor course through which the words refer objects other than Lord VISHNU. For instance, the word Agni – refers to Lord VISHNU through परम-मुख्य-वृत्ति (because he is the one who moves everything: अगम् नयति इति) and deity Agni (the famous one) through अमुख्य-वृत्ति. 

Now as per definition given by Sri Vyāsatirtha, अन्यत्रैव-प्रसिद्ध words are those which, in सिद्धान्त, if not assumed to refer objects other than Lord VISHNU even through अमुख्य-वृत्ति, poses some discrepancies. This is best explained by a couple of examples as follows – Consider the Shruti discussed in the आनुमानाधिकरण (4th pāda – 1st अधिकरण): “अव्यक्तात् पुरुषः परः”. This sentence though referring to Lord VISHNU as per the logic evolved in सूत्रs such as “समाकर्षात्”, “तदधीनत्वादर्थवत्”, is assumed to refer to the deity of प्रकृति through अमुख्य-वृत्ति because otherwise the concept of hierarchy of Gods (तारतम्य) conveyed by this sentence (and the preceding ones) would not have been established. Similarly the shruti – “ज्योतिष्टोमेन स्वर्गकामो यजेत” is established to convey Lord VISHNU through परम-मुख्य-वृत्ति in ज्योतिरधिकरण of 4th pāda. Here the words ज्योति, यजेत etc. should refer to the famous sacrifice through अमुख्य-वृत्ति, if for otherwise (it only conveys Lord VISHNU), the Vedic sacrifice ज्योतिष्टोम would not have been established by any means since is to be known only through Vedas. 

Given the above discussion an interesting question which arises is – Which category (which class of words) do the words like Agni, Indra, Pavamāna appearing in Veda संहिताs (सूक्तs) fall into? Or in other words, what सूत्रs  should one make use of to convey words (perform समन्वय) occurring in सूक्तs as pertaining to Lord VISHNU? 

On the face of it, one would tend to tag these words under the अन्यत्र-प्रसिद्ध category (1st pāda). However, a deeper analysis reveals its non-trivial nature – It seems that these words fall into the category of अन्यत्रैव-प्रसिद्ध-शब्दाः (4th pāda) as justified by the following explanation – If these words (such as Agni appearing in samhita mantra “अग्निमीळे  पुरोहितम्”) do not convey objects other than Lord VISHNU through अमुख्य-वृत्ति (The Deity Agni here), the attributes ascribed to those objects in those Shrutis (such as देव-पुरोहितत्व in the case of Agni, सहस्राक्षरत्व for Indra) which are in fact agreed to be correct in सिद्धान्त would not hold good. This is true for most of the mantras in संहिताs. Thus all those words fit into the regime of अन्यत्रैव-प्रसिद्ध-शब्दाः. Hence, these words refer Lord VISHNU as per the logic (such as समाकर्ष) derived in 4th pāda alone. Also, the words which are proved to be conveying Lord VISHNU in first three pādas (all those appearing in the objective sentences, or विषय-वाक्य of all सूत्रs in first three pādas) do not refer to objects other than Lord VISHNU even in the minor or अमुख्य sense rather only refer to Lord VISHNU due to the presence of निरवकाश VISHNU लिङ्गs and श्रुतिs.  

The status of प्रामाण्य-स्वतस्त्व in the case of illusions

Most of the Vedanta schools adhere to the view of प्रामाण्य-स्वतस्त्व – in which it is hypothesized that, barring exceptions, when a ज्ञान (cognition) is cognized, its validity (प्रामाण्य) is also cognized by the same tool (साक्षी) which cognizes the cognition (असति प्रतिबन्धे ज्ञान-प्रामाण्यस्य ज्ञान-ग्राहक विषयत्व नैयत्यम्).

An interesting question that would arise here is the following: What is the status of प्रामाण्य-स्वतस्त्व in the case of illusion, i.e. what cognizes the validity of an illusion required for one’s rigid actions? One cannot say that this is done by the same साक्षी which cognizes a valid cognition as साक्षी is assumed to be presumably valid (नियत यतार्थ). To answer this question, Shri Madhvāchārya proposes that it is the mind (मनस्) which vouches the validity of an invalid cognition or illusion.

Here comes a question – what establishes the validity of that mānasa cognition which vouches the validity of an illusion? (भ्रम-धार्मिक-प्रामाण्य-ज्ञान-धार्मिक-प्रामाण्य-विषयकं किम्?) It can readily be seen that it cannot be the साक्षी because of its invariable validity (नियत यातार्थ्य). That is, साक्षी cannot say that the mānasa cognition which vouches the validity of an illusion is valid. Thus, one has to forcibly conclude that it is again one more mānasa ज्ञान that vouches the validity of the initial mānasa ज्ञान which vouches the validity of an illusion. One can invoke the same question in this mānasa ज्ञान too which leads to an infinite regress (अनवस्था). 

This question is answered in three ways in the work द्वैत-द्युमणि. However due to the lack of space, only the most convincing one is illustrated below.

It is acknowledged that it is the manas which refers to the validity of a cognition that refers to the validity of an illusion. However, there is no infinite regress since it is assumed that for someone to accomplish a deed (प्रवृत्ति), there is no need for cognizing the validity of a cognition which cognizes validity of some other cognition (प्रामाण्य-ज्ञान- धार्मिक-प्रामाण्य-ज्ञानम्). 

One may ask: why doesn’t this argument be extrapolated to the case of a valid cognition too and avoid the problem of infinite regress? What is need for accepting the साक्षी?  In that case, what is the difference between the schools of प्रामाण्य स्वतस्त्व and परतस्त्व? 

The above question could be answered this way – While it is true that the logic can be extrapolated to the case of valid cognition too, it cannot be done in all the cases. For example, to accomplish something which requires extreme effort, like in the case of salvation, it is necessary to validate the validity of a cognition which cognizes the validity of the initial source. It is in these cases, the difference between the two schools exist for in प्रामाण्य स्वतस्त्व case, the regress stops with साक्षी but it doesn’t in the case of the other school. 

The truth value of the objects in dreams 

Mādhva philosophy proposes that the objects appearing in the dreams are real since they are said to be created by the Lord. It is said that an entire अधिकरण (3rd adhyaya, 2nd pāda 1st अधिकरण) is dedicated in ब्रह्मसूत्रs to establish this fact. The second सूत्र there (सूचकश्च श्रुते:…) describes that the objects in dreams are real because certain dreams acts as omens and those which do so cannot be false. As a counter example, the objects of illusions such as rope-serpent cannot bite! 

However, the Vedic texts referred to in that context seem to convey that it is the cognition of the objects of dreams that symbolize the omens and not the objects themselves. For instance some texts there reads – “पुरुषं  कृष्णं कृष्ण-दन्तं पश्यति”, …स्त्रियं अभि-पश्यति..: Here, the word पश्यति,  referring to the marker of the futuristic event, particularly refers to the cognition and not to the objects. Thus, how would one conclude that they are real based on the aforementioned argument as the object of cognition may be unreal despite the cognition being effective of performing some deed? For example, even though the rope-serpent is incapable of biting, its cognition can nevertheless make someone fearful.

This question is answered in the गुर्वर्थ-दीपिक of श्री वादिराज-तीर्थ as follows – It is assumed that it is the object which acts as the omen and not its cognition. Though the aforementioned texts seem to suggest that the cognition is the cause, there is one more text which is quoted in  that sequence which clearly refers to some objects of the dreams as the omens – “यद्वापि ब्राह्म्हणो ब्रूयात् देवता वृषभोपि वा”. Here, is can be seen that the sayings (वचन) of ब्राम्हण etc. are the omens which are objects but not cognitions. Thus it can be concluded that the objects of the dreams are real based on the fact they point of the futuristic events with the support of the aforementioned text.

Conclusion and acknowledgments

In this article, three subtle and interesting topics within Mādhva philosophy have been examined by reiterating the problems and solutions suggested in some of the authentic works. Even though the solutions seem convincing apparently, they demand further enquiry and debates from the serious students and scholars of philosophical schools. Despite such minor queries, Mādhva philosophy remains the best universal system which explains most of the questions arising within and beyond the purview of this universe. 

I wholeheartedly thank my teachers Vidwan Shri. P S Sheshagiri Rao, Vidwan Shri. Dr. C H Srinivasa Murthy and Vidwan Shri. Haridasa Bhatt for all the invaluable guidance they have given me which has enabled a part-timer like me to pursue this wonderful field of philosophy with some rigor.

श्री मध्वेशार्पणमस्तु

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