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Tattvavada (Dvaita)

nArAyaNAya paripUrNaguNarNavAya
satkAraNAya vitatAya namo namaste

I salute, again and again, the Lord Narayana, who is an ocean of complete virtues, Who causes the creation, sustenance and destruction of the universe; Who gives knowledge and happiness to the wise (good) and misery to the evil, Who is the kind cause and is beyond complete comprehension.

yo vipralambaviparItamatiprabhUtAn
vAdAnnirasyakritavAn bhuvitattvavAdaM
sarveshvaro haririti pratipAdayantam
AnandatIrthamunivaryamaham namAmi

I salute the foremost among saints, Srimad Anandatirtha, who propounded the Supremacy of Hari and Tattvavada, the doctrine that dispels all ignorant and deceitful positions.

Sri Madhvacharya also known as Srimad Anandateertha and Poornaprajna is the reviver of this school of Vedanta. The tradition regards him as the third incarnation of Sri MukhyapraaNa - the chief Lord of Life (the first two incarnations being Hanuman and Bhima). Sri Mukhyaprana is extolled in the RgVeda, the Chandogya, Aitereya and Brihadaaranyaka Upanishads as the 'shreshTha' (foremost) among the deities. The BrihadaraNyaka Upanishad narrates an episode to depict Sri Mukhyaprana's superiority over other deities in knowledge and being untouched by the demons (who represent incorrect knowledge). The incarnation of Sri Mukhyaprana as Sri Madhva finds mention in the Balittha sUkta (of RgVeda) and in the purANas such as Garuda, kUrma and skanda purANAs.

Srimad Acharya, as he is generally referred, 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 Srimad Acharya 's eventful and interesting life in a poetic and flowery language. A very conspicuous characteristic of his life is 'vijaya' everywhere; there is not a single episode where he was subdued, where he had to suppress himself or where he had to flee from a tormenting king. His immense intellectual and physical strength, calmness, fearlessness and above all, his unfailing devotion to Lord come out unfailingly even during times of opposition.

Srimad Acharya has authored thirty-seven works. Every work of his carries an opening verse that encapsulates the content of that work, be it an original text or a commentary. He does not waste words, and the opening and closing salutations are also opening and closing remarks that convey his case clearly and precisely -- no more and no less. He justifies all his theories with scriptural sources and logic. Perfect internal consistency is yet another striking feature. No statement of his contradicts any other statement in another work. It is but preposterous to search for any differences of opinion within his works, as is sometimes done with the works of other Acharyas.

Works by Srimad Acharya:

  1. Rg-Bhashya
  2. One commentary on each of the ten Upanishads.
  3. Brahma-sutra-bhAShya, aNuvyAkhyAna, nyAyavivaraNa and aNubhAShya (four commentaries on Brahmasutras) Gita bhAShya and Gita Tatparya Nirnaya (two on the Bhagavad Gita)
  4. Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya
  5. Bhagavata Tatparya Nirnaya
  6. daSha prakaraNa (Vishnu-tattva-nirNaya, tattva samkhyAna, tattvodyota, tattva-viveka, pramANa laxaNa, kathA laxaNa, karma nirNaya, upAdhi-khandana, prapancha-mithyatva-anumAna khandana, mayavada khandana)
  7. dvAdasha stotra, nakha-stuti, krishnAmrta maharNava, jayantI nirNaya, yati-praNavakalpa, 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 glorifying the Supreme Vishnu. The first forty suktas of the RgVeda are discussed here.

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 tenets of the doctrine and reasons for their acceptance in preference to 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 framework concepts of Advaita.

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

Sri Jayatirtha is followed by Sri Vyaasateertha, known for brilliant hairsplitting analyses. His important 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 its core statements such as 'Tat tvam asi' 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 Raghuttamatirtha and Sri Raghavendratirtha are well known. Sri Vadirajatirtha has many works to his credit; important ones being Yuktimallika and Mahabharatha laxAlankara; wherein one-lakh verses concerned with some knotty problems of Mahabharata are explained. Sri Raghuttamatirtha and Sri Raghavendratirtha, considered extremely benevolent to devotees, have written illuminating glosses on the works of Srimad Acharya and Sri Tikacharya. Sri Raghuttama's 'brihadAraNyaka-bhAvabodha' and Sri Raghavendra's gIta-vivrutti are good examples of the same.

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) provide an excellent neutral view of a man's materialistic propensities. They, when heard properly and ruminated, are extremely effective in shaking off one's excessive attachment to everything else and bringing out devotion to the Lord.

Introduction to the Doctrine

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 delineated after the competing systems like Advaita and Vishishtadvaita had already been preached and hardened in their doctrines, it is only expected that the polemical literature in Tattvavada definitely anticipates and answers more objections from rival doctrines than is found in that of other doctrines.

In Tattvavada, refuting rival theories is given just as much importance as clarifying and explaining one's own theories. Apart from following the Ishavasya Upanishad that condemns non-opposition to wrong theories, it is that faith and conviction in a particular doctrine's ideas must come after disposing alternate theories. After all, it is only analysis in the form of debates and discussions that distinguishes well-formed scientific theories from blind belief and zealotry.

Unfortunately, these debates are renounced for no good reason these days. Whatever appeals to one's sensibility becomes a doctrine. There is hardly any pramANa that corroborates with sweet statements like, 'Love is the only religion'. Yet such doctrines are accepted without a question. It is only the unwillingness to real analysis that has allowed harmful philosophies like, say, one that dictates newborn infants to be sacrificed to produce good crops for the benefit of the world, to perpetrate. And such examples do not become absurd or egregious simply due to the harm caused. History is replete with examples where such bogus doctrines held wide sway and caused much harm. It is also the case that proper analysis is essential to repudiate such other harmful or incorrect practices in existing systems.
For example, animal sacrifice and the cruel treatment of animals is quite widespread even in the present day, yet only Srimad Acharya makes the criticism and refutation of such, an essential and cogent part of his system.

Is Tattvavada just another path to salvation?

The reasons for its exclusiveness will be explained later. However, now a day, the very claim to exclusiveness of a particular doctrine is scoffed at. The idea that all paths lead to salvation is the cause for such non-analytic opinions. They are based on superficial equality of purpose of most of religions and doctrines. While it is true that nearly all of them accept a singular God as the keeper of this Universe, the limitations of man etc., the similarities don't go much further. The very concept of salvation and the means to it vary in different doctrines.

The Vedas mention that knowledge obtained from them is mandatory for moksha. Such exclusiveness is present in nearly every religion. Ignoring such critical concepts in order to bring all religions in one umbrella might count in for open-mindedness or zeal for spiritual unity, but that is hardly the objective in a spiritual pursuit.

Also, it is not uncommon to come across opinions that every doctrine propounds a different aspect of reality and is correct in its own right. God is so benevolent that He has made different religions to suit the diverse tastes and abilities of people. Wouldn't it be preposterous to claim absoluteness to one's own and reject others?

However such is not supported by good analysis. Without knowing (or understanding or even defining) reality as such, how can it be said these doctrines propound reality from a different viewpoint. And more often than not, the respect held for gurus of those doctrines or their immediate followers is responsible. To say that each is valid in his own way is actually acknowledging the respect and not the doctrine.
Regarding all experiences being correct, consider the acceptance of an experience of '2=3' might have. Would it be treated as a different aspect of reality? If logical analysis helps one dismiss such as absurd, shouldn't the same criteria be applied to statements like 'Love is thy nature'?

The lowest rung of the Ladder?

Most of the times, Tattvavada is studied only for comparison and not as an independent school of Vedanta. Then too, it is looked down upon as a 'bhakti school of Vedanta' or 'theistic philosophy'. Perhaps this is based on an impression that theism and philosophy, which is expected to comprise abstract conceptions, do not go hand-in-hand. While such a bias, if held by the uninformed is understandable, it is surprising to see that even the learned critics carry such concepts forward. Many a time, such notions are born out of a wish to see Advaita as the standard doctrine, the doctrine against which every other doctrine can be compared.

A famous form of this bias is the idea of dvaita being the lowest in the ladder of spirituality. According to the contenders, dvaita says that the Jiva is different from God. The soul, upon expanding its knowledge and abilities, realizes itself to be a part of God; which is Vishishtadvaita. Finally, it realizes that it is no different from the God Himself; which is Advaita according to them. (However it is not even the Advaita propounded by Shankaracharya). So, thus one keeps moving up this ladder as and when one obtains more knowledge - this idea propagated by all the modern gurus is only laughable.

This notion is understandable when all the polemics of Tattvavada against Advaitic Nirguna Brahman, jIvabrahma-aikya and jaganmithyatva are conveniently ignored. And this ignorance precisely reflects in the works and talks of such gurus. Vivekananda, for instance in Jnana-yoga, talks of dvaitins being vegeterians because they don't want to harm animals. This is actually a Jaina position. In this regard, He is rather poorly informed about Srimad Acharya's bhAShya on the Brahmasutra (in particular 3.1.25) and Sri Vadiraja's criticism of Jaina's ahimsa theory.

Pointers to sites on the Internet:

Basic principles of Dvaita:
Some Gita verses interpreted:
Ishavasya Upanishad Translation:

Dvaita Texts:

Dvaita scholars:

shrI bhAratIramaNamukhyaprANAntargata shrIkriShNArpaNamastu