Criticism leading to Philosophy of Brahman | Madhva




Madhva holds that correct knowledge (pramā), as well as correct source of knowledge (pramāṇa), is that which grasps its object as it is (yat-hārtha). Both knowledge and its source grasp their object as it is. Both are therefore correct. To dispute this is to make knowledge impossible.

No knowledge is objectless. No object is unknown. Each is an element in the system implied by the other. To hold that knowledge is objectless is to make it baseless.

To hold that the object is superimposed on knowledge is implicitly to recognize the object, for otherwise superimposition becomes impossible. Without recognizing real silver, superimposition of silver on a shell (in illusion) is impossible.

Abstraction of knowledge and object, each from the other, is responsible for wrong theories, like one-sided idealism or objectivism.

False cognition is that which apprehends its object as what it is not. It is no knowledge. Its cause is some defect in its condition.

Knowledge or true cognition is independent of false cognition. The latter presupposes correct knowledge. Mistaking a shell for silver involves the correct know­ledge of a shining something.

True knowledge is characterized by intel­lectual and volitional harmony. Yet without any reference to any such criterion such knowledge directly presents itself as true. The truth of any knowledge is thus self-evident.

Only in cases of doubt, harmony as a criterion helps decision. False cognition is marked by the absence of harmony. Falsity is inferred from this absence.

It is wrong to say that the truth of knowledge is inferred from the soundness of its source (e.g. sense organs, data, etc.). For it makes truth (prāmāṇya), which is the very essence of knowledge, dependent on condi­tions external to knowledge.

If knowledge were not essentially true (i.e. that which apprehends its object as it is), then it would imply: (1) That knowledge is objectless and it has nothing in it to explain itself, and (2) that knowledge is dependent on external conditions.

Knowledge grasps its object as it is. It is evident to the self as “witness” (sākṣin). Every person has a “witness.” The witness apprehends all that occurs to every thinking being.

Self, knower, knowledge, “witness” and their self-evident nature are only distinctions in unity. If they were altogether different, then they could never be brought together.

It is absurd to insist on pure identity or non-duality in respect of knowledge. Pure identity is contradiction in terms. Every case of identity necessarily involves distinction of things identified. Every case of identity is thus qualified (sa-viśeṣa). The division of things into substances and attributes is also unwarranted.

The “witness” is the self itself. It endures in all states. In the waking state it witnesses the knowledge caused by perception, inference and verbal testimony.

Perception is the result of the operation of some organ of knowledge like “witness,” mind (manas), eye, ear, nose, tongue, and touch.

But an organ does not work by itself. It is directed by the self. The self is thus an active principle. Analysis of perception shows that the self is not deter­mined by things that are external to it.

Inference is the knowledge of the major term (sādhya) from that of the middle (hetu) on the basis of the knowledge of the invariable concomitance between the middle and the major and that of the presence of the middle in a relevant minor (pakṣa). Concomitance is determined by repeated observation. It is expressed as “if the middle, then the major.”

Verbal testimony(āgama) is the source of the valid cognition of what is intended to be expressed by words. Its validity consists in the unsublated character of the knowledge yielded.

In the waking state mind (manas) causes memory on the basis of past impressions. In dream also mind functions on the basis of past impressions. The dream objects are actual as such. But they do not possess the same status as objects perceived in the waking state.

Mind and external sense organs do not function in deep sleep. This proves that they are different from the self which endures even then.

The awareness produced by the senses and mind is always of some object and it is apprehended by “witness” as a "this,” being external to self. In all cases of such objective awareness there is a modification of mind, a psychosis of the form "this.”

In dreamless sleep the witness alone functions. It apprehends the self as having sleep, happiness caused by sleep and duration of happiness. This is evident by the later memory "till now I slept happily.”

The follow­ing are the points of difference between knowledge by "witness” and knowledge through the modification of mind.

The former grasps its object as it is but the latter occasionally does not do so. The awareness of "I” as "I” and awareness of happiness as enjoyed by "I” are never falsified. But an awareness like "this is silver” may not sometimes be correct.

Further, knowledge by "witness” is independent of knowledge as a modification of mind. But the latter is ever dependent on the former.

Awareness of "I” is independent of mind. But the knowledge of an object like "this is silver” necessarily involves the knowledge of time which is due to the witness.

The knowledge of time cannot be the work of mind. For, though the mind does not operate in dreamless sleep, there is still the knowledge of time.

Further, "witness” is self-evident. It presents itself while presenting its object. But the modification of mind is not self-evident.

Moreover, its object is specified as a particular. Specifi­cation is not its work. It is the expression of distinction of the particular from the rest of the universe.

Therefore it presupposes the general aware­ness of the rest of the universe. But this general awareness of the rest of the universe falls outside the jurisdiction of the knowledge by mental modification limited to the particular object to which mind is related through sense organ. It must therefore be the work of "witness.”

Distinction is not something externally imposed on a thing. It is the explanation of the thing as thing. To deny it is self-contradiction. The denial must be distinct from non-denial.

Knowledge is never indeterminate. It is wrong to suppose that per­ception at the first instance is indeterminate being devoid of all deter­mining factors.

This supposition is falsified by the fact that perception involves modification of mind which is not independent of witness and witness by nature grasps its object as it is (with its characteristics).

Further, to hold that indeterminate knowledge can be had from reflection and meditation is also not correct; because the contributions of mind and witness even to such knowledge can never be denied.

Hence the claim for indeterminate knowledge is inconsistent with the very nature of knowledge.

Indeterminate knowledge is inconsistent with the nature of the object also. Every object is a system containing different elements within itself. It is also a member of a system of objects. It is in itself a unity of dis­tinctions.

With reference to the rest of the system of which it is a member it is a distinction in unity. To abstract it or its aspect from the system of which it is a member is unwarranted. But without abstraction indeter­minate knowledge is impossible.


Scripture(Āgama) receives special treatment in Madhva.

He does not regard it as an authority or command. Authority and command arrest knowledge. They only prescribe courses of action. A spiritual text is essentially a source of knowledge.

Under verbal testimony Madhva chiefly considers the Vedas and the Upaniṣads. He points out that perception, inference and verbal testimony form the different levels of an identical process of understanding.

He holds that the knowledge of Reality that is all-inclusive and self-explanatory can be had from the Vedic scripture.

To understand the Veda in this sense, Madhva points out, is to under­stand that it is indispensable (nitya) for all true knowledge. Perception, inference and even verbal testimony yield the knowledge of partial reality.

But with the help of the Veda they become able to present the whole reality. The Veda is, therefore, the language of Reason. It has in view the whole of Reality.

The different passages of the Veda appear to state things that are opposed because of the distraction of mind. Distraction results from attraction to partial reality.

To appreciate identity of purpose in the Veda is to realize the identical purpose of all sources of knowledge and therefore of life itself in all its aspects. With this realization one cannot abstract or over-emphasize particular portions of the Veda against others.

After the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad Madhva distinguishes between two types of Vedic interpretation—lower and higher:

The lower consists in giving the common-sense meaning to the Veda.The higher consists in seeing that the Veda presents the Truth Imperishable (a-kṣara).

This higher meaning is not necessarily opposed to the lower. It includes in itself the significance of all that is lower.

For after all it is seeing the Imperishable in the perish­able. For this reason the Muṇḍaka concludes: “Every Vedic passage gives rise to the knowledge of the Imperishable.”

To see the Imperishable as the meaning of the whole Veda presupposes great insight and deep study. This insight or study is not one among many insights or studies. It is the insight or study which is the origin and goal of all insights or studies.

It is in this sense that the Muṇḍaka arrives at the conclusion: “The Philosophy of Brahman is the origin and aim of all knowledge.”

To see the Imperishable as the only truth taught by the whole Veda is the result of a regular process of thinking involving, in order—understand­ing texts (śravaṇa), reflection (manana) and assimilation (nididhyāsana). This is the process of appreciating the inner harmony that governs the whole Vedic thought in all its aspects.

So the Veda, according to Madhva, is not authority, command, instruction or revelation.

It is not the exposition of Truth in its different grades or aspects by different persons according to their light. It is not a verbal testimony composed by different poets or philosophers according to their own beliefs.

It does not teach different grades of discipline like action (karma), faith (bhakti) and knowledge (jñāna). It does not uphold different gods as the rulers of the world and recommend their worship. Nor does it hold different theories of the world or of its elements.

After the Kaṭha Upaniṣad Madhva notes that to miss the real teaching of the Veda is to miss spiritual peace (Śānti). Emancipation is the culmina­tion of spiritual integrity. If it is possible, then the Veda is indispensable.

Acceptance of the Veda (Veda-svīkāra) presupposes not only rejection of common-sense ideas as applying to the Veda but also conscious recognition of indispensability of higher reason, i.e. Veda.

Further, to have Veda is to see the inner harmony that pervades the Veda and thereby the All- pervading Truth as its meaning.


Madhva recognizes that this requirement is satisfied by Bādarāyaṇa’s Brahma-sūtra, i.e. Brahma Mimāṅsā, i.e. philosophy of Brahman.

“Brahma-sūtra” is the language of reason that brings out the unity of the Veda. It is the deciding principle. It discovers the real meaning of Vedic texts. Without it the Veda is unintelligible.

Brahma-sūtra and the Veda are therefore one unit of thought. Each is unintelligible without the other. The former, being the expression of inner harmony of the latter, merges itself in the latter so that what remains is only the Veda in its true essence.

All works of Madhva aim at achieving this end. Under each aphorism (sūtra) he shows on what principle the aphorism decides particular texts of the Veda the meaning of which is misleading and self-contradictory without the application of this integral principle.

For an example, take the ordinary meaning of the passage in the Puruṣa-Sūkta which says: “One who knows the self (Puruṣa) in this manner becomes immortal.”

Appar­ently this passage will be thought to say that knowledge is the cause of immortality. But this would imply the negation of Brahman, the ground of all. For the Taittirīya Upaniṣad says: “From which all these creatures arise. . . . That is Brahman.”

If Brahman is the cause of all, how can knowledge cause immortality? Or if knowledge cause immortality how can Brahman be the cause of all? Hence the idea that knowledge causes immortality is opposed to the truth of Brahman.

The apparent meaning is attributed to the passage owing to the influ­ence of common language.

But taking an integral view of things the first aphorism of Brahma-sūtra, in order to counteract the evil influence of common usage,

shows that the true knowledge from philosophical enquiry (jijñāsā) arises through grace (prasāda), independent Will, of Brahman and therefore immortality is the result of this Will.

With the application of this governing principle given by Brahma-sūtra the passage in question naturally means that the attainment of immortality by means of know­ledge is also ultimately due to the grace of Brahman.

In the same connection Madhva examines carefully and thoroughly all possible views that are opposed to his position. He shows that their defects consist chiefly in self-contradiction.

For example, he shows the defects of the view that action (karma) or faith (bhakti) is the way to liberation:

Action presupposes knowledge. It is therefore an expression of dynamic character of knowledge. Faith is the element of devotion in knowledge. It is therefore an expression of intensity of knowledge.

Abstraction of action from knowledge presupposes doership on the part of the individual. It is therefore the negation of the truth that Brahman is the All-doer. To abstract faith from knowledge is to uphold non-spirituality.

In the language of the Īśāvāsya Upaniṣad, abstraction or partial know­ledge is delusion (avidya) and knowledge is integral awareness (vidyā).

Knowledge cannot properly be appreciated without understanding de­lusion as delusion. But to concentrate on either alone is to miss the real significance of both.

Brahman (Īśa) is the author of both. It creates de­lusion to justify knowledge. To create delusion is to create all circum­stances that make delusion effectively oppose knowledge which may finally shine in all its perfection.

In recognition of these ideas Madhva defines knowledge not as a case of passive awareness but as an active process of understanding, reflection and assimilation in order.

This process must involve: (1) the rejection of delusion, (2) the substantiation or appreciation of knowledge and (3) the retention of the element that makes continuity of the process inevitable.

Delusion is rejected because the ground that supports it is found to be logically defective. Knowledge is established because the principle that justifies it is recognized to be defectless.

In the act of establishing know­ledge against the agnostic, Madhva adopts two standards:

The upholder of non-knowledge is totally unfamilar with knowledge. So non-knowledge is criticized from his own point of view. Knowledge has its own standard. In full satisfaction of this standard he establishes knowledge.

The speciality of knowledge is such that once it is appreciated there is no going back. In full appreciation of this fact he shows that non-knowledge is condemned by itself, i.e. by the self-contradiction it involves.

Self-establishment characterizes knowledge. To become fuller and fuller is its tendency. Madhva thinks that the recognition of this fact is the highest discipline (tapas, upāsanā or dhyāna). He says:

“Not even for a moment one ought to be without knowledge, i.e. philosophy of Brahman (jijñāsā). If there is a break owing to sleep, etc., immediately after one comes to consciousness one ought to recontinue the same."

The whole process of philosophy illustrates how action and faith are in essence knowledge.

They are the language of the movement from understanding to reflections and then to assimilation. An appreciation of this truth enables one to see unity of purpose running throughout the Veda.


Madhva shows that to emphasize the Veda against the philosophy of Brahman leads nowhere.

The theories (of Śankara and Rāmānuja respec­tively) that Brahman is attributeless (nir-viśeṣa) and that Brahman is the soul of the world (śarīrin) illustrate this truth.

These theories are based on the apparent meaning of particular statements of the Veda. They are therefore cases of dualism and they create more problems than they solve.

The attributeless is opposed to that with attributes. To maintain the attributeless is to negate itself. Nor does nescience (avidya) explain dualism. If Brahman is attributeless, it cannot support nescience.

Nescience is then baseless. Nescience and the attributeless Brahman cannot go together. Emphasis on nescience makes it independent and ultimate over against Brahman.

The other theory that Brahman is embodied is an expression of dualism. It is the dualism of substance and attribute. Every idea of relating them confirms dualism.

Madhva sees that the application of the philosophy of Brahman to the interpretation of the Veda results in an entirely different conception of Brahman. In formulating this position he brings Vedanta thought to its culmination.

The conception of Brahman according to him is something arrived at only by means of philosophy in its application to the Veda. Hence it is Vedic. To be attributeless and to be Vedic are a contradiction in terms.

The conception of Brahman as embodied is based on empirical distinctions, substance, attribute and their relation. But Brahman as taught by Veda transcends all empirical distinctions.

The Veda as a source of knowledge transcends all other sources of knowledge. It does not negate them. It gives them fresh significance.

To illustrate, perception is commonly supposed to present an external object. If in the capacity of pure philosophy the Veda shows that the object is an expression of Brahman, its -underlying principle, perception ceases to be independent of the Veda.

In this circumstance in place of common object it presents Brahman, the principle of object. In this experience awareness of object is merged in the knowledge of Brahman, the ground of object; and the object is merged in Brahman, its ground.

So the Veda transcends all other sources of knowledge without exclud­ing them. Similarly Brahman transcends all other objects without ex­cluding them. Hence no source of knowledge exists unenlightened by the Veda.

Similarly no object exists outside Brahman. The Veda is the source of the sources of knowledge. Similarly Brahman is object of objects.

The Veda is the highest source of knowledge. Similarly, Brahman is the highest Reality. The Veda is thus the supreme source of knowledge. Similarly, Brahman is the only Reality.

Madhva points out that this position can be arrived at only through philosophy. As philosophy, the Chāndogya comes to the conclusion “Brah­man is secondless.” (ekam evādvitīyam Brahma).

Those that hold that Brahman is secondless, therefore the world is unreal, or that Brahman is identical, therefore the world is its body, take Veda as a mere verbal testimony and attribute common-sense meaning to it.

To hold that the world is unreal is to make the very consideration impossible. To hold that the world is body is to limit Brahman by some­thing external. Hence these conclusions cannot withstand the philosophy of Brahman. Neither of them is, therefore, the position of the Veda.

The position of the Veda that Brahman is secondless is the result of the philosophy of Brahman. It implies that the world is real so that it gives rise to the problem of finding out its real ground.

The reality of the world implied by the Veda is such that it makes the philosophy of Brahman indispensable.


That Brahman ought to be arrived at through the philosophy of Brah­man is the one position of the Veda illustrated by expressions as “Enquire into That,” “Enquire with devotion into Brahman,” etc.

The Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad defines the philosophy of Brahman as “If Ātman were to be realized, then it ought to be understood, studied and assimilated.”

Brahma-sūtra brings out the implication of those statements by defining knowledge as philosophy of Brahman consisting of understanding, reflec­tion and assimilation in order.

Understanding is that of Brahman as it is expounded by the Veda. It takes place on finding out the insufficiency of all empirical explanations.

The subject-matter of reflection is that which is understood. It consists in criticizing understanding with reference to all passages of the Veda so as to see the application of understanding to the whole Veda.

Assimilation is the process of application of what is under­stood and criticized. It is this process that is called meditation or worship(dhyāna or upāsanā).

Meditation or worship in the usual sense of fixing attention on what is already known is the act of obstructing spiritual progress. Philosophy of Brahman is thus the expression of freedom from passions and it is marked by spiritual progress.

So philosophy creates mental equipoise. This enables the student to appreciate Brahman as is being expounded by the Veda. This is another reason why Madhva calls philosophy the highest discipline.

Philosophy is thus the process of finding out the Veda, the language of Brahman. It is not assuming some statement as the Veda and justifying it by philosophy.

It is rather recognizing the language of Brahman as the Veda. Philosophy and the Veda are therefore the expressions of the absolute Mind.

In the order of understanding philosophy comes first, takes the form of the Veda and makes further philosophy on its basis inevitable.

In recognition of this truth Madhva describes himself as one who is not influenced by the Veda (tyakta-veda), i.e. one who is not a theologian. Consistently with this Jayatīrtha observes that Brahma-sūtra is not composed after the Veda though it defines or finds out the Veda.

It may, however, be noted that to understand Madhva’s thought, i.e. Brahma-Mimāṅsā, in the light of the foregoing ideas, is difficult.

But Madhva says that it is indispensable. He notes that to understand Brah­man is finally to understand that it is only Brahman that understands Brahman.

Using the Vedic terms, philosophy of Brahman is the way in which Nārāyaṇa, the Highest, knows Itself as Vāsudeva, the All-compre­hensive.

In recognition of absolute All-comprehensiveness of Brahman, Bādarāyaṇa, Nārāyaṇa or Vasudeva is characterized as Viṣṇu by Veda.

Hence the process of Brahman understanding Itself as Viṣṇu is the philo­sophy of Brahman. It is the plan according to which creation takes place. There is, therefore, nothing apart from philosophy.

In recognition of this truth Madhva calls philosophy the science of Viṣṇu. It is this that makes this science so comprehensive that it is the origin and goal of all sciences— branches of learning.

Its study is the highest discipline including the merits of all disciplines. With a view to justifying all these ideas Madhva expounds the philosophy of Brahman.