Advitiya Vishnu Vaada- I: How Advaita & Dvaita come together
Ever since the advent of Shrimad Ananda Theertha (better known as Madhvacharya) in the Indian philosophical firmament in 13th century, a great polemical war has been raging between Idealists (Advaitins) and Pragmatists (Dvaitins). The hundreds of concepts, books, debates, and discussion that have ensued has almost created a dogma – that Advaita and Dvaita are two parallel lines that never meet.
The ultimate truth is, parallel lines do meet, eventually.
Here is an attempt to evaluate the tenets of Advaita and Dvaita at conceptual dimensions and explore the harmony between the two great philosophical viewpoints.
Those scholars who think they are sure that these two are really different must have the Kenopanishad caution: नाहं मन्ये सुवेदेति नो न वेदेति वेद च। यो नस्तद्वेद तद्वेद नो न वेदेति वेद च॥ (I do not think I know it well; nor do I think that I do not know it. He, who amongst us knows it, knows it, and he knows not too that he does not know).
There are only three fundamental questions we face as we see this amazement called human life –
Who are we?
What is this universe?
And, where are we going?
Over the millennia many philosophers have hypothesized many views attacking the questions in their own perspective. In this Indian sub-continent, this cogitation produced six systems that accepted the sanctity of the Vedas, and six others that did not – the former being termed Astika and the latter Nastika. While traditionalists view Vedas as the breath of God, others view them as a corpus that evolved over hundreds of years as the human experience and piled up as the Vedic society developed from the mountains of Afghanistan to Gangetic plains. Either way, the Vedas are treasures of wisdom and experience over thousands of years and hence sacred, willy-nilly.
The Vedas contain history, geography, sociology, politics, and more importantly liberating thoughts in the form of Upanishads. They being in Sanskrit of yore, many interpretations have developed. Experiences can be repeated even if the meanings of words cannot. Herein lies the advantage of human intellect.
Shri Shankara Bhagavatpada’s response to the three fundamental questions was simple; he concluded that all the differences we perceive in this universe get merged into single entity called Brahman in the ultimate analysis. There was no need to explain the differences we see now, and after our ‘liberation’. What started first and hence will be the ultimate residual after dissolution is one single intelligent principle Brahman. “ब्रह्म सत्यं जगत् मिथा जीवो ब्रह्म एव न परः (Brahman is the reality everything else is a mistaken notion, while Jiva and Brahma are same)” was one line summary of his philosophy.
This was totally unacceptable to Shri Madhvacharya who strongly felt Vedas, Upanishads, Itihasa and Puranas do not support this conclusion.
He proposed his view स्वतन्त्रं परतन्त्रं च प्रमेयं द्विविदं मतं | स्वतन्त्रो भगवान् विष्णु निर्दोष अखिल सद्गुणः in Tatva Viveka (There are Two entities in ultimate analysis-Independent and Dependent. Bhagavan Vishnu is the Independent while all else are dependent on him). This was only a starting point of departure from Shri Shankara, as Shri Madhva started building his Tatva Vaada as an alternative to Advaita Vaada of Shankara. He went on debating and writing , elaborating his view points through 37 granthas; very many of them were commentaries on Brahma Sutra, Upanishads, Gita, Rig Veda, devotional slokas , and condemnation documents. He called his view point Tatva Vaada (Reality argument) as opposed to Shankara’s Maya or Mithya Vaada (Perception argument).
Many Advaitins generally state that Dvaita is included in their structure, after all, didn’t Shankara propose two layers Truth theory? He had proposed a Paramartika Satya for ultimate reality and Vyavaharika Satya for day to day mundane reality. Obviously the Dvaita Vaada was slotted into Vyavaharika Satya layer to be dismissed off in the ultimate analysis. This was seen and continues to be seen as a disrespectful treatment of Tatva Vaada Dvaita philosophy.
We should never be dismissive of any viewpoint; it must be understood that the core of Advaita is that the perceptions vary and none of them have any shade greater value than others as far as a particular individual is concerned. For that particular individual, his/her perception is the only reality that counts.
We will respectfully try to understand and evaluate the conceptual framework of Tatva Vaada Dvaita through the works of its great Acharya Shrimad Ananda Theertha Muni. If we maintain an attitude of a true seeker “Jignasi”, we will see the validity of his arguments, his great compassion and more importantly the alignment with Shankara Advaita.
Of the 37 books he wrote, FOUR would be the focus of our analysis – Tatva Viveka, Tatva Sankhyanam, Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya and Vishnu Tatva Nirnaya. These are his Ontological and Epistemological constructs that define his worldview. These are his views while the other Bhashyas, Khandanas, etc. are his views about somebody else’s views. These books give us a window to his mind, the reason behind his efforts and his long term view.
What are the Ontological and Epistemological constructs and why are they important? Why has Shri Shankara not given this?
Philosophers try to build Ontological and Epistemological structures to define their worldview. Ontological elements are like the Mendeleev periodic table, fundamental elements that together define all that we see. But how about how we feel and know? After all we have the intelligence principle that illuminates us. That is Epistemological structure. While Ontology defines knowledge, Epistemology gives our experience of this.
But who are we? We are both matter and non-matter. Matter, being our body that has evolved to be what it is today-and will perhaps continue to evolve. Then, we have our senses, our energy levels, our mind, our intellect and finally our Consciousness that acts as witness to all these. With this bundle of faculties we grasp the external world. Modern science tells us with evidence that we are constituted with elements that constitute the external world.
But the consciousness seems to have four ways of playing out. In our waking state, we clearly see the distinction between ourselves and the external world including others. This is a world of reality that Shri Madhva focuses on. But, in our dream state, we are the observer, we are the objects and so are we the process of observation. In the dream less state, the observation of any real or imaginary external world stops and we only have a recollection of ourselves, as it were. In the final state of Turya, even the perception of ourselves as an entity vanishes leaving just consciousness.
Our task on hand is to rationally conclude how the matter of the world including us came into being, how the consciousness came into being and what happens to our consciousness and body matter in the ultimate analysis.
This is where Shri Madhva built a Reality based Ontology, while Shri Shankara skirted the issue; for him everything we see is only a matter of mistaken perception and hence need not be explained. Shri Madhvacharya, rightly objected to this schema and insisted that what we see is Real and cannot be dismissed. But when he went on to build an ontological edifice bringing in the God principle, Vishnu and so many others, his Ontology became complicated. It appears that he felt it important to accommodate the worldview that existed in his Canara region in Ontology.
Shrimad Ananda Theertha’s Ontology is summarized in his short works – Tatva Viveka & Tatva Sankhyaanam (‘Enlightenment of Entities’ & ‘Enumeration of Entities’). We begin our journey to understand Tatva Vaada Dvaita with this works.
To recap, we have three entities to deal with-Our Consciousness, material reality that has a momentum of its own and our perception of it built through our own belief system .Of these three, Consciousness has a permanent reality, Material has a transformative reality, while the perceived world has a conditional reality based on our individual belief system.
Brevity of expression and reliance on sacred texts is the hallmark of Shrimad Ananda Theertha’s works. He starts with his Tatva Viveka thus: स्वतन्त्रं परतन्त्रं च प्रमेयं द्विविदं मतं | स्वतन्त्रो भगवान् विष्णु निर्दोष अखिल सद्गुणः ||
(There are Two entities in ultimate analysis-Independent and Dependent. Bhagavan Vishnu is the Independent while all else are dependent on him)
He changes this to svatantram asvatantram ca tatvam ishisyate in Tatva Sankhyaanam. Why did he change paratantram (Dependent entity) in Tatva Viveka into asvatantram (non-Independent entity) in Tatva Sankhyanam?
My guess is Shri. Madhvacharya changed it for a reason. He recognized that material world is neither caused (hence, dependent on Vishnu) nor independent of Vishnu and hence used the term Asvatantram while continuing Svatantro Bhagwan Vishnu, and provided a split for the Asvatantra entities. It is my premise that Vishnu he is mentioning is not a personal God Vishnu but the all-pervading Consciousness.
Children start as ‘dependents’ at young age, and become ‘non-dependent’ when grown but are ‘non-independent’ ever from parents. So do arts, crafts, even writings like this article-even when we have a creator like ourselves. Similarly there are millions of things in the world that are neither ‘Dependent’ nor ‘independent’ from several things. This is like the “don’t care condition” in Boolean logic.
Likewise, in the universe, there are ultimately three entities, the independent (Svatantra) observer, (asvatantra) non-independent matter world and a (Paratantra) dependent ‘impressions world’ created by the observer based on the mental models that an observer carries. The matter world is not dependent in true sense and yet not independent of the observer in a cognitive sense.
The matter world, while having a parallel existence in absolute sense (hence not dependent), is ‘defined in a particular way’ by the belief system of the observer (hence dependent). Modern science, through its cosmology, is grappling with the same issue. The origin of matter is being contemplated several different way – all came out of a big bang, or forever expanding universe, or string theory, dark energy, dark matter…it all depends on view points about an arbitrary concept called time =zero, mass =zero and dimension =zero, leading to the infamous singularity problem in the origin of universe. Similarly, in the behavior world, our worldview on same events appear different to different people depending on their belief system. Hence the observed world is a ‘dependent (paratantra)’ world, even as the matter world is ‘non-independent (asvatantra) world.
Who is the observer?
Shri Madhva continues in Tatva Sankhyaanam as :
“ स्वतन्त्रो भगवान् विष्णु भाव अभावौ द्विधा इतरत “-he indicates one independent principle Vishnu, and two dependent principles Bhava and Abhava , i.e., ‘being’ and ‘non-being’, both dependent on Vishnu by implication. A ‘being’ is with consciousness while a ‘non-being’ is without it. This means a ‘non-being’ can be a matter or non-matter without consciousness. Needless to say that “Vishnu” principle is all intelligence that is neither a ‘being’ nor ‘non-being’, as it is listed separately.
What is this principle that is neither a ‘being’ nor ‘non-being’, but with consciousness and be the source for all being, non-beings, matter and non-matter?
How can matter come out of non-matter, non-being? Matter can come out of ‘energy as a being’, but if it is propositioned that it came out of an intelligence principle that is not a being, does it not become a product of a magician, a Maya? The very same ‘Maya Vaada’ that has been disputed by Shri Madhva?
One way is for us to arbitrarily propose that Vishnu Tatva is above and beyond all definitions in the Ontology; but Shri Madhva brought this under Ontological structure himself. He also called him a Bhagawan in the verse, as he possessed six qualities listed in Vishnu Purana – Bhagawan is one who possesses complete sovereignty, valor, fame, luster, knowledge of all things (ऐश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य वीर्यस्य यशसः श्रियः ज्ञान विज्ञान्योश्रैव षणणां भग इतीरणा: VP 6.5.74).
It is not surprising that Vishnu Purana presents Vishnu as Bhagavan, the same way other Puranas will present Shiva, Ishwari, et al as Bhagavan in the respective puranas; so will other religions present other Gods as well. It is not people’s fault that Vishnu ‘chose to make an Avatar’ in India and for some people. If we claim that Vishnu dwells in all Gods and hence every one worships Vishnu only, so will every devotee claim about his /her God.
It is much more logical to argue that Vishnu is a Tatva , principle, not a personal God. It is a generic name representing the Ishwara concept in any belief system. In taxonomy, genus never has a form, while the species under it do have. For example, no one can see a ‘Tree’ tree, but can only see a palm tree or apple tree, etc.
It is also interesting that Shri Madhva used the term Vishnu as Svatantara and not Hari in the statement, in spite of his credo ‘Hari Sarvottama’. This is because ‘Hari’ means yellow gold while ‘vishnu’ means all pervading.
Consciousness is all pervading-yours, mine and every conscious being’s. Viewing from this meaning of Vishnu, it makes perfect sense: consciousness, as the observer is independent, material world outside is non-independent, while the observed phenomenal world is very dependent on the belief system we carry. Modern cosmology and cognitive psychology supports this.
This understanding of who Vishnu is and nature of Bhava and Abhava help us understand the statement “स्वतन्त्रो भगवान् विष्णु भाव अभावौ द्विधा इतरत” better.
In the next article, we will start slowly building the Ontological structure of Tatva Vaada Dvaita and see how it is aligned with Shankara Advaita.
Featured Image: Sringeri/ Wikipedia