Exposition of Philosophy of Brahman | Madhva


Philosophy of Brahman is the process of finding out the inner richness of Vedic teaching and thereby infinite and absolute perfection of Brah­man.

Clash between knowledge and different levels of non-knowledge and establishment of knowledge against it accounts for this richness.

The reason (yukti) employed in bringing out this richness is purely Vedic. It transcends the empirical. It has nothing to sublate it. It is marked by an integral spiritual outlook. It is, therefore, self-established.

But the same reason employed empirically involves contradiction. It falsifies itself. For on the empirical level nothing is absolute and nothing complete.

On the general basis of these ideas the leading features of Madhva’s philosophy may be briefly indicated.


The sense of imperfection leads to the idea of perfection. In some cases it leads one to doubt the existence of perfection, i.e. Brahman.

Doubt is the source of philosophy. The doubt whether there is Brahman, whether there is any source of the knowledge of Brahman makes philosophy indis­pensable.

But to hold that Brahman is self-evident in the sense that it is not an object of knowledge negates philosophy. But such negation pre­supposes some philosophy. It therefore contradicts itself.

Philosophy is possible so long as the standpoint of Brahman is kept in view. Any modification in the viewpoint makes philosophy fallacious.

Desire for emancipation does not lead to philosophy. Desire is misery. Illusion is its cause. Illusion and philosophy are incompatible. Illusion is due to prepossession. But philosophy presupposes nothing. It is the out­come of joy. It is in itself joy.

This joy is transcendent. It is not conditioned by the empirical. It is the expression of dispassionateness which again results from the conviction that nothing other than Brahman commands love. Everything is relative and falls short of the highest.

Philosophy is not the creation of man. It is rather the expression of the divine element in man. It is the result of the grace of Brahman.

Philosophy is the process of finding out the highest source of knowledge and highest Reality as its object. The word Brahman means both.

Brah­man as source of knowledge is indispensable (nitya), defectless (nir-doṣa), self-valid (svataḥ-pramāṇa) and impersonal (a-pauruṣeya). In this sense it is called the Veda.

Brahman as Reality is All-complete. The All-Complete is All-powerful which is the giver of reality to all. Reality implies (1) The thing itself (svarūpa),(2) its objectivity (pramiti), and (3) its functions (pravṛtti). As the doer and giver of all Brahman is called Viṣṇu.

Philosophy of Brahman becomes thus philosophy of Viṣṇu. To ignore this is bondage. To understand it is emancipation. Both are the works of Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu is both the means and the goal.

The Veda recognized as pure philosophy is the only source of this knowledge. In the presence of this knowledge every idea and every word become expressions of the truth of God, so that the whole existence becomes dedicated to God (Viṣṇvarpita).


Brahman (Viṣṇu) as All-Complete is beyond comprehension. But it is eternal and indispensable. It is made intelligible by seeing that it is the origin of all.

The world consists of conscious souls or knowers and unconscious objects.

Individual souls are many. They pass through eight states— birth, existence, destruction, relative position, knowledge, ignorance, bondage and freedom. Different individuals have them in different degrees.

All souls influence one another. Hence no one is completely free. The in­fluence of one on others may be very great though each has an ontological status of its own.

To be subject to change is to be dependent. Hence every conscious or unconscious entity in the world is found to be dependent (para- tantra) in its very nature.

Just as the dependent does not explain itself, it does not explain others. Therefore the dependent presupposes the Independent (sva-tantra).

To negate the dependent or to hold that it is illusion is to posit negation or illusion in its place. But negation or illusion is dependent. At least as its source there must be the Independent. Hence the dependent is in some sense or other real.

The Independent is therefore the real source of the real world. It is self-established in all its aspects. It manifests itself through its effects from which, therefore, it can be known.

It is Eternal and All- powerful. It is the doer of all. It is the doer of doers. As All-doer It is all. It has all aspects. Every aspect is Independent. It is devoid of all distinc­tions within itself. But it is even distinguishable from the dependent.

To posit the dependent against it is to negate it. But to negate It is to estab­lish It. In recognition of these truths the Veda speaks of Its identity with the dependent as well as Its distinction from the dependent.

The idea is that identity and difference each opposed to the other are irrelevant to the distinction between the Independent and the dependent.

Plurality, variety, grades, levels, kinds, activity, etc., of things are all due to the Independent. Independent is complete in all these aspects. All-doership therefore proves All-Completeness.


The truth that Brahman is All-doer is opposed to empirical ideas based on the wrong belief that every thing existent is self-active. Hence philo­sophy is the only source of this knowledge.

A dependent entity, conscious or unconscious, is dependent in all its aspects. It cannot, therefore, cause anything. That alone can be truly said to be self-active which has the power of doing, undoing and doing differ­ently.

This power must possess:

(1) ability to avoid evil and do good, (2) freedom from exhaustion, anxiety, failure of memory, misery, etc., (3) freedom from dependence, (4) ability to accomplish what is desired, (5) intelligibility, (6) absence of dissipation of energy and (7) self-suffi­ciency.

None of the things of the world can be said to possess such power and cannot therefore be said to be a real doer.

Brahman alone is possessed of such power and is the All-doer. It is Independent. Doer, doing and done of the world are Its work. They amplify Its creative power. The world of activity is not therefore opposed to the All-doership, i.e. Viṣṇu.

All-doership consists both in creating things and in making them do things. The world is the result of All-doership, i.e. doing and making doers. This signifies that just as that which is done is not a doer, the doer is not a doer. For doer and done are finally the same.

So whether a thing is presented merely as being done or as doer it is the manifestation of Viṣṇu's creative activity. It is an expression of Its All-doership. The Veda is the expression of this truth.


The true meaning of a Vedic teaching is determined by the philo­sophy of Brahman. This point may be illustrated by taking, for example, Madhva's interpretation of the science of the Independent (sad-vidyā) of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad.

This passage begins with the Independent, the Real (sat), as the origin of all. It concludes with the idea of that which gives being to all (satya) as well as the idea of that which is All-complete (ātman). It emphasizes the All-pervading character of the Independent.

With the application of this truth even the smallest entity like a banyan seed is recognized to be an expression of the Independent.

“That thou art” (Tat-tvam-asi) is the expression of the result. This expression signifies that before this truth is realized the individual is taken to be independent of the Independent.

But with this realization the individual is recognized as being entirely derived from the Independent. This realization constitutes emancipation.

Uddālaka, the teacher, praises this knowledge as being all-inclusive and therefore indispensable. The whole weight is given to this knowledge. Lastly, the Independent as the origin of all presents the reason that ex­plains the whole passage.

The truth of the unaffected position of the Independent is further illustrated by means of nine examples.

Taking the example of salt into consideration, it is obvious that salt is salt whether it is seen or unseen. Similarly, whether there is creation or no creation the Independent is Independent. It is therefore distinguished from all.

So the real meaning of the passage is brought out by the method of inter­preting a passage by considering its beginning, its conclusion, its point of emphasis, the result, the weight and the reason.

With reference to the same passage Madhva notes further the higher significance of Truth Independent.

The passage illustrates the creation of the Independent from Itself as “The Independent intended: Let me be infinite in form. Let me create.”

Consistently with this, whenever Madhva speaks of creation he has in view two types of creation: (1) Infinite forms of Viṣṇu coming from Viṣṇu, and (2) the corresponding things of the world coming from Viṣṇu. The former is the explanation of the latter.

This idea can be applied to any passage on creation. Take the passage ‘‘From Ātman space came.”

According to the meaning (1) Ātman is Viṣṇu. Space also is Viṣṇu. According to the meaning (2) Ātman is Viṣṇu and space is empirical space. The whole idea is that space came from Viṣṇu, the space complete coming from Viṣṇu, the Independent.

Applying the same idea to the present passage, i.e. the science of the Independent, it may be seen that all words that are applied to the things of the world really mean different forms of Viṣṇu complete with reference to the attributes that characterize the respective things.

These forms are the immanent principle of the corresponding entities of the world. There are entities because of these forms.

The same idea may be applied to the concluding statement of the passage, “That thou art.” “That” means Viṣṇu. “Thou” means Viṣṇu, the source of the individual, i.e. Śvetaketu. “Art” means the identity of the two.

This is what is meant by seeing identity of Viṣṇu throughout creation. Identity is Viṣṇu Itself. This is seeing All-doership and this is understanding All-completeness.

God (Viṣṇu), the Independent, is thus the primary meaning of every word. To apply a word to other things is negation of God or Viṣṇu.

In explaining this truth Madhva considers first why at all a word is applied to a thing. The usual science of language is based on convention. It pre­sents no reason. So he gives the correct approach.

A word by nature means something which comes to mind immediately after the hearing of the word. Hence there is something in the nature of the thing that determines the application of the word to it.

It is this inherent and underlying nature and principle of the thing that makes the thing what it is. This implies then that the application of a word to a thing is, in the ultimate analysis, the application of the word to the prin­ciple that governs the thing.

But this principle is nothing but God. He is therefore meant by every word.

The same rule applies to sounds inarticulate. The sound of the flow of a river produces the feeling of wonder, the principle underlying which is also God. So sound means God.

In this connection Madhva studies the process of linguistic developments and comes to the conclusion that the Veda is the highest form of language because it presents Viṣṇu. He therefore calls the Veda perfect language (saṁskṛta).


To hold that Brahman is beyond consideration is itself consideration. Brahman is thus essentially an object of knowledge. There is nothing that conditions Brahman. Brahman is bliss. Its creation is bliss. Attainment of bliss is emancipation.

Madhva concludes “Brahman, i.e. Viṣṇu is complete, defectless, object and goal.”