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Dvaita: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Table of Contents

  1. What is "Dvaita"?
  2. Why is Dvaita known as Tattvavâda?
  3. What are the five differences in Tattvavâda?
  4. Why are the five differences important?
  5. Who is the founder of Tattvavâda?
  6. What are the tenets of Tattvavâda?
  7. Why does Tattvavâda emphasize debate with and denunciation of other doctrines? Can it not just just state its own tenets?
  8. Isn't Dvaita the mere opposite of Advaita?
  9. Isn't Dvaita the first step towards learning Advaita?
  10. Why are scholars and devotees of Sri Madhvâchârya's school referred to as "prachchhanna târkika"?
  11. How does worship by Mâdhvas differ from other Vaishnava worship?
  12. What is the Tattvavâda concept of moksha?
  13. Why does Tattvavâda deny jîvan-mukti?
  14. What is the concept of scripture, according to Tattvavâda?
  15. Who are some of the leading scholars of Tattvavâda?
  16. What are the Mâdhva institutions of the present day?

What is "Dvaita"?

Dvaita, or Mâdhva siddhânta, is the name for the doctrine of Vedanta that asserts the eternal and immutable difference between the individual soul, or jiiva, and the Supreme Lord, or Iishvara (also known as Vishnu).

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Why is Dvaita known as Tattvavâda?

Because that is the correct, and preferred name; the doctrine asserts five differences, not just the one referred to above, and its scholars and proponents call it the "doctrine of reality," where the three kinds of entities in the universe (insentient or jaDa, sentient or chetana, and Vishnu or Iishvara) are all real, and the differences between any two are also real. Hence, 'tattva' means real entity, and 'Tattvavâda' means "doctrine of real entities." Some have also referred to Tattvavâda as Bheda-vâda (doctrine of difference), and also as Bimba-pratibimba-vâda (doctrine of object and image -- to be explained later), etc. These names are not in normal use.

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What are the "five differences" in Tattvavâda?

Simple -- by considering the three types of entities in pairwise fashion, one can derive the list of differences between them, which are: (i) jîva-Îshvara-bheda, or difference between the soul and Vishnu; (î) jaDa-Îshvara-bheda, or difference between the insentient and Vishnu; (îi) mitha-jîva-bheda, or difference between any two souls; (iv) jaDa-jîva-bheda, or difference between insentient and the soul; and (v) mitha-jaDa-bheda, or difference between any two insentients. Here, "insentient" is used to refer to _all_ entities which are not 'chit' or having consciousness, such as matter, energy, etc. -- including so-called "living bodies" of creatures, and also such other insentients as space, linguistic or mathematical entities and their symbols, etc.

To clarify: Îshvara is a sentient Being, and the jîva is sentient also. However, this does not imply that both are fully alike; Îshvara is totally independent, while the jîva is completely dependent. It is the energization by the Îshvara that is the responsible for the activity of the jîva.

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Why are the five differences important?

The understanding of these five differences is seemingly trivial, but upon careful consideration, one sees that to properly understand all of them, one needs to know the significant properties of every kind of entity in the whole universe! Thus, such understanding is not easily gained, and it is said that all misery and unhappiness is due to one's lack of understanding of one or more of these differences.

For instance, if one acts in ignorance of the Supremacy of Lord Vishnu, and suffers as a consequence, then one can be said to have falsely arrogated to oneself His unique and irreproducible properties like independence, potency, etc. Similarly, the grief one experiences due to loss of physical beauty, strength, vitality, etc., or due to the passing of a loved one, is due to the false identification of the insentient and ever-changing body with the sentient, immutable soul. In the mundane world, mistaking copper for gold, glass for diamond, etc., which are also failures to perceive difference, are known to bring grief. One who correctly and fully perceives and understands all the five differences can be said to have attained knowledge, and to be fit for mukti (liberation).

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Who is the founder of Tattvavâda?

As has been noted in the general FAQ, no school of Vaishnavism can be said to have been "founded" in a true sense; in historical times, the doctrine of Tattvavâda was revived by Ananda Tîrtha (1238-1317), also known as Sukha Tîrtha, Pûrna-bodha, and Pûrna-prajna. Srimad Ananda Tîrtha is identified with Madhva, the third avatâra (incarnation) of Mukhya Prâna, the god of life. This identification comes from the Balitthâ Sûkta of the Rg Veda, and many other sources. Srimad Ananda Tîrtha is also referred to by his devotees as Srimad Achârya, and by everyone as Sri Madhvâchârya, based on the identification with the Vedic deity Mukhya Prâna, the god of life, who is also known as Vâyu.

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What are the tenets of Tattvavâda?

There are nine important points-of-note, given by a verse by Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha:


—which translates approximately as: "In Shrîman Madhva's school, (i) Hari (Vishnu) is supreme; (î) the universe is real; (îi) the [five] differences are real [and are the properties of the differents]; (iv) the leagues of jîvas are cohorts of Hari; (v) and are with superiority and inferiority [among themselves]; (vi) mukti (salvation) is the experience of [the jîva's] own innate joy; (vî) that is achieved by flawless devotion to the Supreme and correct knowledge; (vîi) the three pramâNas are aksha, etc., (pratyaksha, anumâna, âgama - sense-perception, logic, and scripture); (ix) Hari is the only entity [primarily] described in all Âmnâyas (Shrutis or Vedas)."

A slightly more detailed treatment of the verse can be seen here.

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Why does Tattvavâda emphasize debate with and denunciation of other doctrines? Can it not just just state its own tenets?

In order to correctly understand the tenets of any worthwhile doctrine, is it essential that one be exposed to conflicting views, and be convinced of the truth of said doctrine. Therefore, Srimad Achârya's school has always held that one needs must understand all relevant countervailing hypotheses, and must reject them only after careful analyses and consideration. Mere dogmatic repetition of facts that are accepted too readily either by accident of birth or inability to think, is not acceptable as such cannot lead to conviction; a critical examination of all Tattvavâda precepts with a detailed analysis of alternative theories in each case -- to arrive at the truth based on valid proof -- is itself part of the tradition of Srimad Ananda Tîrtha's school. Though this practice has been followed earlier by Sri Shankarâchârya and Sri Ramanujâchârya, among others, also in essence, their criticisms of rival theories were not complete and comprehensive.

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Isn't Dvaita the mere opposite of Advaita?

Such misperception is one of the reasons why some reject the use of 'Dvaita' to refer to the doctrine of Tattvavâda. While it is true that Advaita and Tattvavâda have had many debates over hundreds of years, and that the latter denies the jagan-mithyatva (illusory nature of the universe) that is one of the fundamental tenets of Advaita, it is certainly not the case that there is disagreement everywhere, nor is it the case that one can derive Tattvavâda merely by taking the opposite of everything claimed by Advaita. But it can be said with full certainty that on most fundamental issues such as the nature of Îshvara, jîva, attainment of mukti, etc., the two have total and irreconcilable differences.

Even so, the doctrines are not polar reciprocals in the conventional sense—it is not the case that they assert logically opposite tenets at every point.

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Isn't Dvaita the first step towards learning Advaita?

If it is, then it is a quite large, reverse, first step! While adherents of Advaita say that by nature and everyday experience one believes in the reality of the universe, etc., and that such belief must be got rid if one is to attain complete union with the nirguNa-Brahman, no serious scholar of Advaita claims that studying Tattvavâda is a first step towards learning Advaita. For one thing, it is a rule of all learning that things learned first must not contradict things learned later; for another, Tattvavâda specifically examines and denounces many Advaita concepts, and hence, one who has learned Tattvavâda first cannot possibly accept Advaita later. In fact Advaita has not built up a credible system of analysis where the pûrva paksha or the initial proposition of Tattvavâda is examined and rejected thereby establishing Advaita. The exact reverse obtains today.

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Why are scholars and devotees of Sri Madhvâchârya's school referred to as "prachchhanna târkika"?

This tongue-in-cheek appellate was allegedly affixed by some followers of Advaita, who were piqued at being called "prachchhanna bauddha" (disguised Buddhists). This latter designation was used because of the great similarity between Buddhism and Advaita (both schools do not accept the reality of the universe, both deny that the Creator is an eternal real, etc.). In turn, Advaitins labeled devotees of Srimad Âchârya as "prachchhanna târkika" (disguised logicians) because of the latters' use of logic to show that Advaita is inconsistent.

However, the designation of "prachchhanna bauddha" was not created by Mâdhva scholars—it was current before them. For instance, while Advaita claims to follow the Pûrva-Mîmâmâ school of Vedic exegesis, scholars of that tradition like Parthasarathi Misra (10th cent.) completely dismiss such a notion, holding Advaita to be just a re-working of the Buddhism that they are completely set against as anti-Vedic.

There is also not even a superficial similarily between the Nyâya school of logic and Tattvavâda in its basic tenents (and the former has been thoroughly critiqued and repudiated by Srî Vyâsa Tîrtha and others), so no one holds that Tattvavâda is a re-working of the Nyâya doctrine.

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How does worship by Mâdhvas differ from other Vaishnava worship?

According to Sri Madhvâchârya, Vishnu is "worshippable by all (other) deities, and by everyone, to their best ability." Thus, in common with other Vaishnava traditions, Mâdhvas worship other deities only as iconic representatives of the Lord, and not as independently authoritative figures. However, Mâdhvas believe that all deities except for Vishnu's eternal consort Lakshmi, are amukta-jîvas (un-liberated souls) performing service to Him. Tattvavâda also does not acknowledge that worship of other claimed deities or prophets is usesful—the shâstra is determined based on authorities (whose authoritativeness must itself be established first), and the only correct instructors are those who convey the truth. Faith and reverence are thus derived from truth and correctness, rather than the opposite as is common elsewhere.

Mâdhvas recognize a "târatamya" or divine hierarchy of deities after Vishnu, which is derived from shâstra sources, and said hierarchy is very important in considerations of worship, since each lesser deity is worshipped as the iconic representative of the next higher one (rûpam rûpam pratirûpo babhûva, as the Veda says), with the idea being that all worship is ultimately meant for Vishnu only. Thus, Mâdhvas acknowledge a hierarchy of worth among deities other than Vishnu, and say that each lesser deity is akin to an image in a mirror, of the one higher. This concept of images captures both the notion of difference (since the object and its image are not identical) and an hierarchy of worth (since the image is never of the same worth as the object), and is what causes Tattvavâda to also be referred to as Bimba-pratibimba-vâda (doctrine of object and image, as mentioned previously).

Worship according to Srimad Achârya's tradition also differs from certain other kinds of worship, since the icons or images used for worship are considered to be completely distinct from the Deity who is the actual object of worship. The icon is an adhishthâna, or location symbol, while the Deity is invoked for purposes of worship. Tattvavâda emphasizes that it is important to understand the difference between the adhishthâna (Image) and the âvâhita (invoked Diety), and to keep it in mind at all times -- one should never worship the icon itself as the Lord, as that would be violative of jada-îshvara-bheda, one of the five kinds of difference.

According to Srimad Ananda Tîrtha, icons are of two kinds: "chala-pratimâ" or "moving icon," and "achala pratimâ" or "non-moving icon." The "chala" icons are one's elders, Gurus, other deities besides Vishnu, etc., while the "achala" icons are statues, statuettes, pictures, sâligramas etc., that may also be used as icons for worship. Of the two kinds of icons, the "chala" have a naturally higher rank than the "achala" -- therefore, service to elders, one's Gurus, etc., when performed as worship of the Lord, is of greater importance than the worship of stationary symbols. However, at all times, it is important to be aware that the object or person to whom one offers service or respect, is neither the Lord Himself, nor is authoritative independently of Him, but is merely His icon.

A detailed account of worship at the Krishna temple in Udupi can be seen here.

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What is the Tattvavâda concept of moksha?

Under Tattvavâda, the soul upon liberation does not lose his distinct identity, which is different from Vishnu, nor does he become equal to Him in any respect. While the mukta does become free of all suffering, his enjoyment is not of the same caliber as His, nor does said mukta become independent of Him.

The mukta experiences the joy which is his own nature, in mukti; whereas in daily life, joy derives from the contact of senses with sense-objects and is therefore transitory and mixed with suffering (which is also caused by the contact of senses with sense-objects), joy in mukti is due to the jîva's own immutable nature. And because such joy is the jîva's own nature, it does not fluctuate or end, and it is not mixed with pain. Since the nature of the jîva is different from that of Îshvara, his joy is also of a different nature than His, even upon mukti. Even the joy which is intrinsic to the nature of the jîva can only be realised due to the grace of the Supreme being.

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Why does Tattvavâda deny jîvan-mukti?

Because a mukta, or liberated person, should not even be physically present in the material universe, unlike the un-liberated. A person who is living in the world cannot be said to be free of sorrow born of material contact, and also cannot be said to experience the joy of his own nature at all times. The very act of living in a gross material body entails things such as eating, sleeping, pleasure and pain, etc., which cannot be accepted in a mukta.

The Advaitic concept of a jîvanmukta is also absurd because a person who has surmounted the realm of perception and realized the Absolute (as Advaita holds of a mukta) should not continue to exist within and interact with the realm of perception that he has realized as being not-Real—no one continues to perceive a snake after realizing that the object of his perception is actually a rope. The suggestion that such bondage to the world of perception continues for a while after the occurrence of Realization, because of past attachments, is not tenable—such attachments themselves are artifacts of the perceived world that has supposedly been sublated, and should not continue to besiege the consciousness of the Realized. If they do, then we have to either reject the Realization that is said to have occurred, or else reject the notion that the world of perception, as manifesting through the attachments on a supposedly Realized person, can be sublated. In either instance, the notion of jîvanmukti is not meaningful.

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What is the concept of scripture, according to Tattvavâda?

The apaurusheya-âgama-s, or unauthored scriptures, are the primary sources of all knowledge of the atîndriya (extra-sensory) entities. Only those paurusheya-âgama-s or authored scriptures that closely adhere to the former have value as explanatory sources of knowledge about the atîndriya. Independent powrusheya texts are considered to bring ignorance and delusion, if used to learn about the atîndriya.

In common with other schools of Vaishnavism, Tattvavâda considers the prasthâna-traya (the triad of the Brahma-Sûtra, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Vedas and Upanishads) to be canonical texts. Srimad Ananda Tîrtha however denies claims that part of the Vedas, the so-called "karma-kânda" or "mantra" portions, are of no use as scripture, and claims that even those parts are only meant to educate us about Hari. His school, following his lead, also does not accept that any part of the Vedas teach anything but the truth, and says that arbitration of apaurusheya texts, as "true-saying" and "false-saying" is impermissible logically and spiritually. All canonical texts must be considered, and a coherent meaning found without imposing one's own biases upon the evidence obtained.

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Who are some of the leading scholars of Tattvavâda?

Historically, there have been many great scholars and saints in the tradition of Srimad Âchârya. Some of them are:

Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha—is considered the senior-most scholar of Tattvavâda after Srimad Ananda Tîrtha himself; his works include the Yukti-Mallikâ, the Rukminîsha-Vijaya, etc., and a number of well-known stotras; he has also translated Srimad Âchârya's Mahâbhârata-tâtparya-nirnaya into Kannada, and has composed a number of devotional songs in that language.

Sri Jayatîrtha—has written commentaries on a number of Srimad Âchârya's works, earning him the title of Tîkâchârya and the fond esteem of all Mâdhva scholars, who recognize his outstanding importance in understanding the tradition. He is known for his extremely pleasing style, brilliantly elegant yet unaffected, of writing and argument. His magnum opus, the Nyâya-Sudhâ, which is an exposition of Shrîman Madhvâchârya's Anu-Vyâkhyacirc;na commentary on the Brahma-Sûtra, is an outstanding example of his scholarship, and is certainly one of the greatest works in Vedânta, standing unchallenged to this day.

Sri Purandara Dâsa—is widely renowned as the father of Carnatic music; is less widely known as the founder of the Hari-Dâsa tradition, that seeks to propagate the doctrine of Tattvavâda through music, in a language that ordinary people can understand. A contemporary of Sri Vâdirâja Tîrtha and Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha, he is regarded by Mâdhvas as an outstanding scholar and devotee.

Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha—wrote further commentaries on the works of Sri Jayatîrtha and Srimad Ananda Tîrtha; is known for his extra-ordinary ability to run any opponent down by force of argument; he ranks as one of the most renowned polemical scholars of Vedanta.

Sri Raghavendra Tîrtha—is widely known today, possibly more so than anyone else in the tradition, thanks to his reputation for providing succor in times of major crises. Although he can be seen to be a first-rate grammarian and expositor, and thus ranks as one of the greatest scholars of Tattvavâda, he is better known and worshipped by millions as an infallible source of support when one is faced with dire circumstances.

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What are the Mâdhva institutions of the present day?

The most important one is probably the temple of Krishna at Udupi, in south-western Karnataka, India. There are eight matha-s, called the Udupi-ashhta-matha-s, that were created to serve Krishna, at Udupi and elsewhere. Besides these, there are several other important maThas, like the Uttarâdi Matha (which is claimed to be the institution of Sri Jayatîrtha), and the Mathas of Sri Vyâsa Tîrtha and Sri Raghavendra Tîrtha, known by their names.

Unfortunately, as B.N.K. Sharma notes in his "History of the Dvaita School of Vedânta and Its Literature" (Motilal Banarsidass, 3d. ed., 2000), most Mâdhva institutions of the present day are overcome with sloth and other weaknesses, and are hardly what they need to be.

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