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Acharya Madhva

Contributed by: Jay Nelamangala

Acharya Madhva's philosophy is his enquiry into Brahman. Brahma-Mimamsa is popularly called 'dvaita'. Madhva was born in 1238 AD near Udupi. He is called Madhva because he expounds the philosophy that gives Ananda, pure happiness. For the same reason, he is also called Ananda-tirtha. For the reason he knows Brahman, Purna, he is called pUrna-prajnya and Sarvajnya. He says in his works that he is Mukhya-vayu, the Vedic deity of vital breath and he has made thorough study of all subjects for and against Brahma-Mimamsa.

As he says, the circumstances that led him to expound Brahma-Mimamsa is the following:

The highest good of creatures is happiness untainted by misery. It is realized by the grace of Brahman, the complete Reality that underlies all. The way to the knowledge of Brahman is the knowledge of Brahman culminating in unconditioned devotion to it. Veda is the only source of the knowledge of Brahman, because the sources of knowledge are limited to the finite world. Veda is therefore authorless. Hence it is free from the defects of authors. Its validity is therefore self-established. Without it Brahman can never be understood. Veda is a vast literature dealing with problems that transcend normal experience. Its solutions are complex and comprehensive. To fix the meaning of a Vedic word needed an expert mind. To achieve this end Badarayana composed Brahma-sutras.

To understand the Brahma-sutras also needed expertness. Several attempts were made to understand them. But they were vitiated by the one or other kind of pre-possession. The teaching of sootras remained unknown. This circumstance led AchArya Madhva to interpret Brahma-Sutra consistently with the intention of the author of sootras.

Madhva's works

Madhva wrote 38 works in all. Of them, Brahma-sutra-bhashya (commentary), anu-vyakhyana, nyaya-vivarana, and anu-bhashya expounded the thought of the Brahma-sutras. The position expounded by these four works governs the rest of his works. In illustration of this fact, he wrote ten Upanishad-bhashyas, ten prakaranas, rg-bhashya, Gita-bhashya, Gita-tatparya-nirnaya, Mahabharata-tatparya-nirnaya and Bhagavata-tatparya. The rest of his works deals with the practical side of his teachings.

In the light of this teaching his philosophy, epistemology and ontology may be briefly indicated.

Madhva's theory of knowledge (epistemology):

Theory of knowledge is the only passage to the theory of being. To understand theory of knowledge, Madhva insists on "fittedness", adhikara (requisites) consisting in being completely free from all predispositions and in being completely devoted to the understanding of Truth. To understand truth presupposes the formulation of the source of understanding. To fix this source, Madhva examines the whole field of knowledge. Subject-object relation essentially characterizes knowledge. Subject-less knowledge and knowledge-less object are meaningless.

Validity (pramanya) of Knowledge:

Knowledge is valid by its own merit. It cannot be made valid. Knowledge which is neither valid nor invalid is inconceivable. There is nothing higher than knowledge and nothing independent of it. For, if there were any, then it must be understood in terms of knowledge. Valid knowledge is that knowledge by which the object is grasped as it is. This means that the object is as its knowledge is.

Invalidity of knowledge is caused by defective environment of knowledge. It is illusion. Taking for example the shell-silver illusion, the defective eye is its cause. It grasps a shell as something shining. At this stage the impression of silver works on the mind. There results the illusion 'This is silver'. Of shell and silver, shell is real and silver is unreal. In illusion, the real shell is mistaken for the unreal silver. To mistake therefore the real for the unreal, or the unreal for the real constitutes illusion. This theory of illusion is called abhinava-anyathakhyati. The lesson from this analysis is that things are either real or unreal. There is no midway between the two, as something that is both real and unreal or that is neither real nor unreal and so on.

A genuine circumstance of knowledge is itself enough to cause valid knowledge. Similarly a genuine circumstance that apprehends knowledge is enough to apprehend it as valid. Validity of knowledge both in its origin and in its recognition is thus unconditioned. It is "Svatah" - Is Itself.

The case with invalidity of knowledge is different. To produce invalid knowledge, defect in the circumstance is necessary. To apprehend it, there is need for external agencies such as sublation, and unsuccessful activity. Hence invalidity is paratah. Invalid knowledge negates itself and valid knowledge establishes itself.

The source of knowledge is its proximate cause. Its validity is explained by the validity of knowledge. Acharya Madhva calls knowledge kevala-pramana and its proximate cause as anu-pramana. There are three cases of the proximate cause of knowledge sense-organ, inference (or proof) and verbal testimony. The different sources of knowledge enumerated by different thinkers are brought under the one or the other of these three.

Every case of knowledge is determinate, savikalpaka, because its object is qualified. To make distinctions in knowledge as substance, attribute is unwarranted. Each is implied in the other. An object is an identity. Identity is such that it enables usages of distinction as substance and so on. Thus, identity, abheda is itself savishesha. This means that the so called indeterminate Nirvikalpaka knowledge, is unreal. The idea of indeterminate, property-less, or Nirvishesha is therefore unwarranted.

For one who is after knowing the One principle of all, Veda becomes indispensable. The principle that underlies all cannot be known by other means. In presenting this principle, Veda presents both the subjective and the objective elements of the whole universe as coming this One principle. The recognition of this truth gives the ruling that knowledge of the world is valid in so far as it makes this one principle indispensable. From this it follows that Veda governs not only the different sources of knowledge but also the whole world of thought. The final implication of this is that Veda is the One source of knowledge and other sources are valid only in so far as they operate in harmony with Veda. Acharya Madhva says:

"Pramanam veda evaikaha. Tatpramanyam cha sadhitam"
(There is one source of knowledge. It is Veda. Its validity is established).

To hold that Veda is valid has in view the determination of the meaning of Veda in the light of the reason presented by Brahma-sutra. The process of this determination is called jignyasa in Veda. It is a case of enquiry in a specific sense. It is a never ceasing activity of mind promoting an infinite growth at every stage. Three aspects may be distinguished in this continuous process, they are Shravana, understanding the meaning of Veda, Manana, removing all discrepancies by means of reflection and nidhidhyasana, dedication of life to this enquiry. With this dedication there appears devotion to what is thus known with equal sacrifice. This devotion is called Bhakti. It gives a tone to jignyasa, because its intensity follows that of jignyasa. This gives rise to shravana, of a more comprehensive disposition. Thus the whole process of jignyasa is ever developing. When once it is commenced, man is absorbed in it and there is no going back. This is Brahma-Mimamsa. This is the teaching of Acharya Madhva.

Acharya Madhva's teaching thus traces the manifold universe to a single principle to its full expression. For him this very thought is Ananda.
Contributed by: Jay Nelamangala
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