Position Paper on ISKCON by the Poornaprajna Vidyapeetha

References were made by many members of the Cyber Mâdhva Sangha regarding many points of conflict between their understanding of Tattvavâda and the interpretations being offered by ISKCON claiming to have the sanction of Achârya Madhva and the Tattvavâda philosophy he propounded. The subject was discussed at length at the Poornaprajna Vidyapeetha, Bangalore over several sessions. It was felt that the Tattvavâda position should be fully clarified for the benefit of the genuine followers of Achârya Madhva's Tattvavâda philosophy. This note represents the results of these efforts. The subject has also been discussed with the late Sri Sri Vidyâmânya Tîrtha of Phalimâru/Bhandârakeri Matha, who was then camping in Bangalore. He has approved this effort as a correct rendering of the Tattvavâda position. Those people who feel that any further clarifications are needed may write to Vidwân A. Haridasa Bhat (Poornaprajna Vidyapeetha, Bangalore 560 028) or to Sri N.A.P.S Rao.

ISKCON and Tattvavâda

Some essential clarifications

Tattvavâda (Dvaita) is a system of Vedânta philosophy which was clearly enunciated in the 13th century AD by Achârya Madhva. This system is one of the trinity of traditional systems based on the Vedâs, which have the largest following and have been recognized widely as authentic, alternative, and complete systems. There has been a continuous and intensive interaction between the systems, which have opposed each other vigorously in debates held according to traditionally accepted norms, with many erudite compositions by accomplished scholars critically examining the rival systems to show that they are invalid and to prove their own systems as valid according to mutually acceptable standards. This process of searching & cross examination has helped refine the systems with regard to internal consistency, clarity of ideas, acceptability with reference to all "evidence" adduced, etc. Though there were some variations introduced in the finer details of concepts with efflux of time in Advaita, the oldest system, there has been no major change with regard to the basic tenets of each of the systems from those enunciated by the founders. Tattvavâda enjoys the unique position of having taken on and vanquished the other two rival systems in numerous debates from the date of its origin.



1.   Relationship between soul and Supreme

2.   Authoritative sources

3.   Other Doctrinal Digressions

4.   Peculiar views of tradition



The Gaudiya school of Navadvîpa (Bengal) was founded in the early 16th century by Sri Krishna Chaitanya, essentially as a school based on the primacy of intense and emotional love for the Divine preached by the founder. Though the claimed genealogy of the ascetic order to which Chaitanya belongs traces itself from Achârya Madhva (at least as far as the group now known as ISKCON is concerned), the early history of the Bengal Vaishnava school shows a mix of allegiance to other founders of Vedânta schools like Sankara and Râmânuja as well. The details of the philosophical system underpinning the cult of emotional devotion were delineated gradually, not by the founder himself (who is not credited with any written compositions), but by the three famous Goswamis of Vrindavan, (Mathura) -- Sanatana and Roopa (two brothers) and their nephew Jîva. Unlike the traditional approach of analyzing the prasthâna traya -- Brahma Sûtras, Gîtâ, and Upanishads -- the school took the supreme authority of the Bhâgavata Purâna as an axiomatic truth and derived their system based on it. This approach was justified on the strength of the statement that the Bhâgavata is the quintessence of all the shastras and thus possesses the supreme authority, as it is accepted as Vyâsa's own commentary on the Brahma Sûtras (composed by himself). Jîva Goswamy also discounts all other sources of valid Pramânas except Shabda (revealed Word) as only the last named can never be sublated by any other Pramâna. Thus, while all other systems were defined substantially by the founders writing their own commentary on Vyâsa's Brahma Sûtras according to their own tenets, this school did not even have any such commentary at its formative stage, and one was written (with several points of significant difference with Madhva's Bhâshya) much later by Baladeva Vidyabhushana in the 18th century. The basic approach of the system was pinning its faith on a single main source -- Bhâgavata, generally reducing the importance of all other sources accepted by the other schools of Vedânta. Its lack of critical examination by rival schools in debates has resulted in a system which is essentially not capable of being sustained in traditional disputation, as there are no accepted common ground rules essential for debate with the three main systems.

Even among Gaudiya schools themselves, there are differences in approach and only some of them consider themselves as adherents of Madhva Vedânta -- with considerable modifications. Of them, one group has gained some popularity in the recent past due to growth of its movement ISKCON in foreign countries. As a group accepting many of the tenets of Dvaita and as Vaishnavâs, it is sometimes felt that the differences in doctrines are minor and can be allowed to coexist, as they are, in the larger interest. Very similar arguments can be used to superficially justify the essential commonness of approach with Srivaishnavâs and Tattvavâdins, but numerous disputes in the past by illustrious ascetics and scholars have shown certain essential differences in doctrines which cannot be modified or given up without departing completely from the basic tenets of the systems. The philosophical position of ISKCON vis-a-vis other feuding Gaudiya denominations is unclear due to differences among the different groups themselves, as well as a lack of clarity in the doctrines, compared with Dvaita, which is a well-defined system. The object of this note is to define the Tattvavâda position with respect to those of the doctrines which are different as per the claims of the ISKCON school claiming to be allied to Madhva Sampradâya. Some of the ISKCON claims which Tattvavâda does not accept, such as the defeat of the Tattvavâdi Achâryas in Udupi by Sri Krishna Chaitanya, and his identification with the Supreme Being, etc., also have been included to avoid misunderstandings owing to falsehoods given in published ISKCON texts.

The points of difference have been mentioned briefly along with references to the Pramânas (valid sources of textual statements) which are relevant in the context.

1.   Relationship between soul and Supreme

1.1   Unthinkable difference-cum-identity, versus five-fold difference

ISKCON says that they follow a doctrine of Achintya Bhedâbheda with regard to the relationship between the Supreme Being and the Souls. Tattvavâda follows the doctrine of pancha bheda -- difference between God and the Souls, between the Souls, between God and Inert Matter, between the Souls and Inert Matter and between Inert Matter items themselves -- (Paramâtma-Jîva, Jîva-Jîva, Paramâtma and Jada, Jîva and Jada, and Jada and Jada.) The doctrine is well summed up in the following shloka of the Mahâbhârata Tâtparya Nirnaya of Achârya Madhva (Chapter 1, Sarva Shâstrârtha Sangraha, shloka 71):

   paJNchabhedA ime nityAH sarvavasthAsu sarvashaH  |
   muktAnAM cha na hIyante tAratamyaM cha sarvadA  ||

The fivefold differences (between Souls, God and Jada) defined above are eternal, absolute and exist under all conditions, even after Mukti. The gradation (among souls) is also eternal. ISKCON has tried to argue that the concept of Vishesha used by Achârya Madhva to explain the simultaneous Identity and difference between an object and its qualities is a similar tenet to their Achintya Bhedâbheda, which is a further extension of the same idea. But there is a fundamental difference. Vishesha is a part of the essence of the object possessed by all -- Souls, Inert matter (Jada) and the Supreme Being (in whom it is also called achintya shakti) and has absolutely no relevance to the doctrine of Achintya Bhedâbheda -- which ISKCON uses to explain the relationship between the Soul and God -- being the quality of the latter. The difference between the Soul and God according to Tattvavâda is Bheda or Absolute difference. In fact, the concept of Bhedâbheda in one context is also accepted by Tattvavâda -- in the difference-cum identity between, e.g., a pot and its constituent clay. However, there is no Bhedâbheda in appearance of the various and infinite forms of the Supreme Being, which are all identical in essence, and each of which, though appearing to be different, is the complete Supreme Being with all His attributes and aspects. On this issue, ISKCON has a different concept, where some forms of the Lord are considered to be more complete than the others -- which is totally repugnant to Tattvavâda.

1.2   Vishesha, or the quality of specialty

The concept of visheshha as used by Achârya Madhva can be further studied by reference to Chapter VII of Mahâmahopâdyâya B.N.K. Sharma's book -- "Philosophy of Sri Madhvâchârya" -- (Motilal Banarsidass, 1986 edition). Comments on the differences between Achintya Bhedâbheda and Vishesha are discussed in Appendix V of Dr. Sharma's book -- "History of the Dvaita school of Vedânta." The concept of Bhedâbheda of different types between the Supreme Being and the Souls has been clearly and specifically rejected by Achârya Madhvâ in many compositions -- including the khandana traya, Anuvyâkhyâna, Vishnutatvanirnaya, etc. Mm. B.N.K. Sharma has opined that the two basic concepts of achintyAdbhuta shakti of the Supreme Being to explain the apparently contradictory qualities in Him (such as being both aNu (atomic) and mahat (Infinite) -- at the same time) and savisheshâbheda which is used to account for the simultaneous identity & difference between the properties of a substance and its essence has been mixed up "beyond its legitimate jurisdiction" to derive the concept of Achintya Bhedâbheda between the Supreme Being and the Souls, which is emphatically rejected by Achârya Madhva.

Achârya Madhva's quote from the Brahma Tarka (a presently unavailable composition) is also used erroneously to "justify" the concept against his clear enunciations.

2.   Authoritative sources

2.1   Scriptural authority versus authoritativeness in general

ISKCON argues that all testimony other than Shabda (revealed scriptural authority) is unreliable. Though pro forma homage is paid to Vedâs, and BrahmaSûtras, it is argued that the Bhâgavata composed by Sri Veda Vyâsa himself is a commentary on the latter and hence should be considered as a Parama PramâNa (most superior authority). Only convenient Shruti texts are used and others are not discussed, as it is considered that they are already interpreted in Vaishnava Purânas, chiefly the Bhâgavata. Thus while the Gîtâ prasthâna is used, along with the Bhâgavata, the Upanishad and Sûtra Prasthanas of the traditional Vedânta schools are neglected. In Tattvavâda, Achârya Madhva recognizes three valid sources of knowledge: pratyakSha, anumAna, and Agama. He is also unique in giving due recognition to pratyakSha in its own domain -- such as in proving the reality of the world.

2.2   Bhâgavata versus Brahma Sûtra and the rest

As far as Agama is concerned, the Tattvavâda approach is exemplified by the following shlokas from the Mahâbhârata Tâtparya Nirnaya of Achârya Madhva:

   R^igAdayashcha chatvAraH paJNcharAtraM cha bhAratam.h  |
   mUlarAmAyaNaM brahmasUtraM mAnaM svataH smR^itam.h  ||

The four Vedâs beginning with the Rg Veda, Pancharâtra, Bhâratha, Mûla Râmâyana and Brahma Sûtras are accepted to be self-sufficient authorities.

   aviruddhaM tu yattvasya pramANaM tachcha nAnyathA  |
   etadviruddhaM yattu syAnna tanmAnaM kathaJNchana  ||

Whatever is not contradictory to these is also an authority and not otherwise. Whatever is opposed to them is not an authority under any circumstances.

   vaishhNavAni purAnani paJNcharAtrAtmakatvataH  |
   pramANanyeva manvAdyAH smR^itayo.apyanukUlataH  ||

The Vaishnava Purânas (such as Bhâgavata) which establish the supremacy of Vishnu are also authorities as they also convey whatever is being conveyed by the Pancharâtra. Smritis like that of Manu and others are also authorities, as long as they are consistent with these.

In the Anuvyakhyana, Achârya Madhva says :

   AptavAkyatayA tena shrutimUlatayA tathA  |
   yuktimUlatayA chaiva prAmANyaM trividhaM mahat.h  ||

   dR^ishyate brahmasUtraNAM ekadhA anyatra sarvashaH  |
   ato naitadR^ishaM kiJNchit.h pramANantamamishyate  ||

Since the Brahma Sûtras determine by valid Yukti (logical analysis) the import of the Vedâs (which, being Apaurusheya, i.e., authorless, are totally without defects), and have been composed by an Âpta, well qualified person, i.e., Sri Veda Vyâsa, they are the best authority and there is none comparable to them as the Supreme Authority for the purpose.

Thus we find that although Achârya Madhva has used all the valid Pramânas including the Bhâgavata, his most decisive works are based on the Mahâbhâratha and Brahma Sûtras. To the extent that Bhâgavata is correctly interpreted, there is no reason why the doctrines derived thereby, should differ from Tattvavâda. But ISKCON's dependence on the Bhâgavata alone, with almost no attention being paid to the Upanishads and Mahâbharata, leads to many serious differences between Tattvavâda and their doctrines. The same texts, when interpreted by Achârya Madhva in consistence with the rigid rules of interpretation and relevant statements made in other authoritative texts give the correct meanings without any conflicts. The definitive Tâtparya Nirnaya composition on Bhâgavata by Achârya Madhva resolves many apparent points of discord between the Mahâbharata and Bhâgavata and also provides correct and consistent meanings of many texts capable of different interpretations, some of which could be taken to support Advaita by taking their superficial meanings. The approach of Gaudiya authors is entirely different. Jîva Goswami acknowledges in his Bhâgavata Sandarbha that he has taken into consideration a composition of a Bhatta friend from the South who had compiled it by referring to the writings of Vriddha Vaishnavâs such as Sri Râmânuja, Sri Madhvâchârya, Sri Sridharaswamin and others. Sri Râmânuja himself has not referred to the Bhâgavata in his writings. Thus, Gaudiya schools including ISKCON do not consider that the Tattvavâda interpretation of the Bhâgavata based on Achârya Madhva's composition is the only valid one. The Pramâna basis of ISKCON is thus substantially different from Tattvavâda both in its range of authorities as well as fidelity of approach.

3. Other Doctrinal digressions

3.1   Differences in the manifestations of the forms of the Lord.

Tattvavâda has an essential doctrine that all the `svarUpAmsha'-s of the Lord, such as Matsya, Kurma, etc., and the Original (Moola) form are identical in all respects. The Shrutis such as neha nAnAsti kiJNchana and the Brahma Sûtra na sthAnato.api parasya ubhayaliN^gaM sarvatra hi state clearly that there cannot be any difference or gradation among the forms of the Lord. ISKCON has many concepts which are fundamentally against this concept. Some of these are briefly mentioned:

  1. The two-handed from of the Lord Krishna is superior to all other forms of the lord such as Narayana, Vishnu, etc. This is based on a statement in the Bhâgavata (1.3.28) -- kR^ishhNastu bhagavAn.h svayam.h. According to Jîva Goswami this shloka indicates the primal position of Sri Krishna and all other statements which indicate otherwise should be interpreted to sustain this position. The other text used by ISKCON is ahaM sarvasya prabhavo (Bhagavad Gita 10.8), where `sarva' is interpreted to include other forms of God like Nârâyana. Though it is admitted that the forms are identical in terms of `tattva' (essence), they differ in `rasa' or more complete manifestation of the capabilities. All these concepts are not only totally against Tattvavâda, but are classified as major sins (`nava-vidha dveshha' -- indicating the nine forms of hatred of the Supreme Being, by denying His unique greatness and freedom from all defects and limitations) which lead to eternal hell. The texts used by ISKCON are perfectly capable of being correctly interpreted to support the doctrine of total identity in all the forms of the Lord and indeed have been done so by Achârya Madhva in his compositions. Incidentally, ISKCON claims identity of the two-handed form Krishna with their founder Sri Krishna Chaitanya.
  2. ISKCON also believes that there are three different features of the Lord and realization of Him by the soul will be higher for Bhagavan than for Brahman or Paramathma. The same quote from Bhâgavata mentioned earlier is used to "prove" this. Tattvavâda makes no distinction of any such kind as realization of the Supreme being is essentially based on the Swaroopa of the soul and its Jnana, Karma, etc. In his AnuBhâshya, Achârya Madhva clearly enunciates:

       sachchidAnanda Atmeti mAnushhaistu sureshvaraiH  |
       yathAkramaM bahuguNaIH brahmaNA tvakhilairguNaiH  |
       upAsyaH sarvavedaishcha...  ||

    The auspicious qualities of the Lord are infinite in number & extent and cannot be visualized or even understood by anyone else. Mukti Yogya souls are required to understand and worship Him as Sat, Chit, and Ananda as well as Atma (their own inner controller). Superior souls with higher Svarupa abilities will worship gradually increasing numbers of the qualities, while Chaturmukha Brahma has the intrinsic capacity to worship all the infinite auspicious qualities of the Lord.

  3. The manifested forms of the Lord do not yield different results depending on which one is worshipped.

    3.2   Jîvas a part of the Supreme Being?

    Tattvavâda considers that the Jîvas are bhinnAMsha-s of the Lord -- based on the faithful interpretation of the Gîtâ text -- mamaivAMsho jIvaloke jIvabhUtaH sanAtanaH and the Brahma Sûtra -- ata eva chopamA sUryakAdivat.h. A clear distinction has to be made between the Self-Same Forms of the Supreme being, like Râma, Krishna, Matsya, etc., which are not only the same in essence but also have equal capabilities and auspicious qualities in all respects (mentioned earlier). Jîvas are like images of the Lord with many similar qualities but are essentially different from Him. These differences which are intrinsic to them will persist even after Mukti is attained. The most important and basic differences, like the atomic nature of the souls and their eternal and total dependence on the Supreme Being, will never change since they are a part of the soul's essential nature.

    On the other hand, ISKCON accepts that the living entities are part and parcel of the Lord. Their concepts are based on a totally different interpretation of the Gîtâ text mentioned earlier, the matter not being fully cleared among themselves. But Sri Prabhupada translates the Gîtâ text XV-7 as follows :

    The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmented parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling with the six senses, which include the mind. In his purport for that verse, which begins with, "In this verse, the identity of the living being is clearly given. The living entity is the fragmented part of the Supreme Lord -- eternally.

    This concept is entirely unacceptable to Tattvavâda because it is against the Shruti Pramânas and others considered in the Brahma Sûtras.

    3.3   A Question of Gradation

    A cardinal doctrine in Tattvavâda is the gradation among souls, with Chaturmukha Brahma and Mukhyaprâna being considered the highest -- Jîvottama. The differences in the positions attained in creation, period of sâdhanâ, degree of devotion, knowledge, etc. are due to their intrinsic superiority (svarUpa uttamattva). All the Jîvas have their svarUpa qualities which remain unaltered throughout their eternal existence including Mukti, when they enjoy bliss according to their capacity. Unless this feature is accepted, it will be impossible to accept that the Supreme being is free from the defects of vaishamya and nairghR^iNya (partiality or neglect). The position of Tattvavâda is well-supported by numerous Shrutis & Smritis like the Gîtâ and Brahma Sûtras. For example, the Brahma Sûtra

       vR^iddhihrAsabhAktvamantarbhAvAt.h ubhayasAmaJNjasyAdevam.h

    can be quoted.

    The concepts of ISKCON are not clear in this respect and where expressed they seem to have major differences. For instance, the interpretation of the Sûtra Anandamayo abhyAsAt.h is made thus:

    Both the Lord and the living entity, being qualitatively spirit-soul, have the tendency for peaceful enjoyment. However, when the part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead that is the living entity unfortunately wants to enjoy without Krishna, he is put into the material world, where he begins his life as Brahma and is gradually degraded to the status of an ant or a worm in stool.

    This concept suggesting a fall from an exalted condition of the Jîva (though it is part of "the Supreme Personality of Godhead") does not have any scriptural support. Though târatamya (Gradation) is not specifically rejected, its importance in the scheme of things is also not clearly understood in ISKCON as the same Jîva is thought to be capable of being both Brahma and a worm. According to Sri Madhva, ISKCON's philosophy is therefore incapable of causing mukti, because he says:

       tAratamyaM tato j~neyaM sarvochchattvaM harestathA  |
       etadvinA na kasyApi vimuktiH syAt.h kathaJNchana  ||

    In other words, the gradation of souls is to be understood, and the quality of Hari as the Supreme to be understood based on this (that is, that Hari is not merely blandly superior, but is superior even to the highest of Jîva-s), and that without this understanding, no mukti is possible under any circumstance.

    3.4 The Unknown `Panchama Purushârtha'

    According to Tattvavâda, like all other schools of Vedânta, Moksha is the Supreme Purushârtha or objective of the Soul. The realization of one's own nature of bliss for eternal enjoyment is by the grace of the Supreme Being. By His Aparoksha, the veils obscuring the Jîva's own swarupa and that of the Supreme Being are removed. The intense love of the Supreme Being, called devotion, continues in Moxa as well. Since it is natural and is of the essential nature of the Jîva himself, it transforms itself into Bliss.

    On the other hand, ISKCON considers that there is a fifth purushârtha even superior to Moksha, which a true devotee of Krishna will seek. This is prema bhakti, of the same kind as the Gopis had for Krishna in His incarnation. This devotion involves performing some service to the Lord, which will continue even after liberation. This appears to be based on a superficial reading of a verse from Bhâgavata extolling the love that very exalted devotees have for the Supreme being by saying that their devotion is so natural and intense that they do not have even Mukti as their objective. They say that this love will continue even after Mukti and is not a substitute thereof. This concept is not accepted by Tattvavâda, as Achârya Madhva has quoted in Gîtâ Bhâshya (Chapter 2 -- shloka 50 ) --

        na moxasadR^ishaM kiJNchid.h adhikaM vA sukhaM kvachit.h  |
        R^ite vaishhNavamAnandaM vAN^mano.agocharaM mahat.h  ||
    -- ityAdeshcha brahmAdipadAdapyadhikatamaM sukhaM cha mokSha,
       iti siddham.h  ||

    Similarly ISKCON admit that even intense hatred for the Supreme being can result in Liberation giving the examples of Shishupala etc. But Tattvavâda holds that only devotion can get Mukthi and never dvesha or hatred for God, The examples quoted in the Bhâgavata are explained by the concept of Jîva Dvayâvesha -- Shishupala having the swarupa of Jaya (the gate keeper at Vaikuntha) who was afflicted with a life on Earth due to a curse by a Rshi. There was an âvesha or superimposition of an evil Jîva who was actually responsible for all of Shishupala's temporary hatred for God. So only the good deserve Mukti and obtain it.

    3.5   Four Correct Traditions?

    ISKCON also believes that four Vaishnava Sampradâyas are valid and base their conclusion on a shloka from Padma Purâna (which is not found in standard editions):

       atah kalau bhavisyanti catvarah sampradayinah | 
       sri-brahma-rudra-sanaka vaisnavah ksiti-pavanah  ||
       ramanujam srih svcakre madhvacaryam caturmukhah | 
       sri-visnu-svaminam rudro nimbadityam catuhsanah  ||

    Tattvavâda does not accept the validity of this shloka, which seems to hold that different Vedânta schools which have been arguing over the correct interpretation of Vedânta Shrutis since their inception are all valid -- in spite of essential differences. The same confused approach of ISKCON is also seen in their acceptance of the Bhâgavata Bhâshya by Sridhara Swamin, which tends to interpret many texts according to Advaitic tenets, while they claim to follow Dvaita school whenever it's convenient. According to Tattvavâda, the only correct school is that of Achârya Madhva -- ante siddhastu siddhAnto madhvasyAgama eva hi in the words of the revered saint -- Sri Vâdirâja.

    4   Peculiar views of tradition

    There are also some beliefs peculiar to ISKCON which are not shared by any of the three major Vedânta schools. These are:

    4.1   Identification of their Founder Sri Krishna Chaitanya with Lord Krishna

    4.2   Râdhâ -- a bogus deity

    There are other concepts based essentially on Brahma Vaivarta Purâna allegedly glorifying Râdhâ as superior even to Lakshmî (eternal consort of the Lord), the superior position of Goloka, etc. None of these find a place in Tattvavâda, and these quotes are all equally bogus.

    4.3   False attribution of Madhva's Authorship

    A completely bogus text called Tatvamuktâvali or Mayâvâda-Shata- Dushani, written by an 18th century scholar called Poornânanda, has been wrongly attributed to Achârya Madhva. There are authentic and traditional documents which clearly show that this is totally incorrect.


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    This page was created on May 23, 2001, and was last modified on January 16, 2006.