Dvaitādvaita philosophy of Nimbārka

Dualism and Non-Dualism
Difference and Non-Difference with Brahman
Nimbārka Āchārya
Unknown,3096 BCE or 7th c. or 11th c.
Commentaries on Brahma Sūtras, Bhāgavad Gītā & Upaniṣads
devotional worship of the divine couple Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa as One Supreme God
About Nimbarka:
1. The life of Nimbarka Ācārya
2. Dvaitādvaita philosophy of Nimbārka

Dvaitādvaita philosophy of Nimbārka


Śrī Nimbārkācārya, the founder of Nimbārka tradition, is generally supposed to have flourished in the eleventh century A.D. after Rāmānuja.

Like other Vaiṣṇava Vedāntists, Nimbārka, too, admits three coeternal, equally real substances(tri-tattva), i.e. Brahman, cit or the sentient and a-cit or the non-sentient.

The highest Reality, or Brahman, he calls “Kṛṣa” or “Hari.” The word “Brāhman” literally means “one which possesses greatness” (from root. vh + man).

That is, that alone is Brahman which is the greatest Being, which has no one superior or equal to it, which is beyond all limits of space, time and the like, whose nature, attributes and powers are unsurpassed and incomparably great.

Brahman alone is the cause of this vast universe of souls and matter. The universe is originated from Brahman, sustained in Brahman and dissolved in Brahman. Thus Brahman alone is the material (upādāna) and efficient (nimitta) cause of the world.

Ordinarily, the material cause of a thing is different from its efficient cause, as the lump of clay is from the potter. But Brahman is both the material and the efficient cause of the universe:

It is the material cause because it transforms itself into the form of the world, just as the lump of clay is transformed into the form of the clay-jar.

Again, it is also the efficient cause, because it is its own self which transforms itself into the form of the world. Thus, the universe is a real transformation (pariṇāma) of Brahman.

Like other Vaiṣṇava Vedāntists, Nimbārka, too, propounds the doctrine of pariṇāma or real transforma­tion of the cause into the effect.


Brahman being the material cause of the universe is immanent in it.

Just as in a clay-jar there is nothing but clay, so in the universe, the effect of Brahman, everything is Brahman through and through.

All the various sentient and non-sentient objects, as found in the world, though apparently different from Brahman, are, as transformation of Brahman, nothing but Brahman in essence.

That is why, it has been said in the UpaniṣadsAll this, verily, is Brahman.”

The fact is that although Brahman is transcendent to, yet it is immanent in the world. Brahman is not a mere external creation of the world, as a potter is of the pot:

On the contrary although Brahman is not absolutely identical with the universe, although Brahman is higher and greater than it, as it cannot fully and completely manifest Brahman, yet Brahman abides in the universe and pulsates it as its inner soul and controller.

Several objections may be raised against this doctrine of the causality of Brahman. The first question is: Why should Brahman create the world?

All the philosophical systems of the world have to answer this important question at the outset. The acts of a rational being must be due to a definite motive or an end.

Now, creation is an act; hence this, too, must be due to some motive on the part of Brahman, the supremely rational Being. But what possible motive can God have in creating the world?

Our acts are due to some wants or imperfections, some unfulfilled desires or unattained ends. But Brahman is eternally perfect, eternally satisfied, eternally blissful—there can never be any incompleteness or insufficiency in it.

Hence the creation of the world cannot be for God's own sake, as He lacks nothing.

It cannot be also for the sake of individual souls, for the world, admittedly, is full of pains and sufferings, and the salvation of the souls consists in getting rid of this miserable mundane existence forever.

This leads to a second difficulty, no less formidable, i.e. Why should merciful God create the world and thereby plunge the souls into such infinite and intense sufferings?

If He cannot prevent pains and evils on earth, then He is not all-powerful; if He can, but does not, then He is not all-merciful.

Again, people undergo different circumstances in the world. The honest and the good often suffer; the wicked prosper. Hence, if God be the creator of the world, He must of necessity be charged with cruelty, partiality and unjustness.

In solving the first problem, Nimbārka, like other Vedāntists, has pro­pounded the famous Vedānta doctrine of “līlā” or creation in sport.

According to this view, the creation of the world by God does not imply any want of imperfection on His part, as it is but a mere sport to Him,

just as a king indulges in sports, not because he is in want of anything, but, on the contrary, because, as a king, he has all his desires fulfilled and can therefore indulge in pastimes at will.

In the same manner, God, the ever-perfect, ever-blissful Being, creates the universe out of the fullness of His nature, out of the abundance of His bliss. That is why Scripture describes the world as originating from bliss (ānanda), sustained in bliss, dissolved in bliss.

This līlā-vāda is, indeed, an ingenious attempt at explaining the motive of creation.

The dynamic conception of Reality as becoming (e.g. Hegel's) finds no difficulty in explaining creation because according to it the very nature of Reality is to transform and manifest itself constantly,

so that the Absolute and the world mutually involve each other from all eternity —it being the very nature of the Absolute to evolve itself into the form of the universe.

Thus the Absolute is not a static, unchanging, ever-complete Being, but is essentially dynamic, ever-changing and ever-evolving. Such "becoming" is the very nature of the Absolute.

The Absolute is neither unchanging Being nor non-existing non-being, but the synthesis of Being and non-being, i.e. becoming.

An object that becomes or is trans­formed into another object is neither pure Being nor pure non-Being, but both, e.g. the seed becomes the sprout—it is existent as seed, but non­-existent as sprout, yet must of necessity, from its very nature, become the sprout.

In the same manner, the Absolute must by nature become the world, there being no question of any motive on its part.

But the con­ception of Reality as an ever-perfect Being accepted by the Vedāntists, cannot avail itself of the above explanation, and thus is faced with the above formidable difficulty regarding the motive of creation.

If God be unchanging and self-sufficient by nature from all eternity, then why should He again create the world?

Here the Vedānta līlā-vāda does, indeed, afford an explanation: It denies the common view that all acts are due to some motives, wants or imperfections.

Some acts, like sports, are not of this kind. Sports do not aim at any gain, not even at the attain­ment of joy or pleasure. For they are rather due to the exuberance of joy than to any lack thereof.

When one's heart is full, when one's happiness is complete, then only does one safely relax and indulge in pastimes, for happiness has a natural tendency to overflow and express itself in external actions.

Thus creation, too, a sport on the part of God, is but an external expression of His eternal perfection and infinite bliss, and not an indica­tion of His insufficiency or incompleteness.

If we accept the view of ever- perfect Reality, this is the only way out, and credit must be given to the Vedāntists for having thought of it.

But another question remains here to be solved. The creation of the world may be a spontaneous sport, and not a necessity, on the part of Brahman, but to the poor souls it is not so.

How can God be called a merciful Being if He thus plunges the souls to infinite sufferings for the sake of sport only, not even for any essential necessity?

The answer is that God’s indulgence in this cosmic sport, though not serving His own purpose is not altogether arbitrary or motiveless, as it serves the funda­mental purpose of justice.

Justice or morality demands that every person should undergo the results of his own actions (karmas), good or bad. This is the famous law of karma of Indian Philosophy.

But as an individual cannot experience the results of all the karmas he does in one birth, he has to be born again for undergoing them,

and in that new birth he performs many new karmas, and is born again—this goes on and on until he gets rid of all karmas by moral and spiritual perfection and is free.

So the world, though ultimately rejectable, has yet a moral purpose—as it affords opportunities to the individuals to experience the results of their past karmas and thereby attain freedom,

provided in that new birth they no longer perform new karmas in a selfish spirit, but in an altogether unselfish way—for the fruits of the sa-kāma-karma or selfish acts alone are experienced, leading to further births, and not of the ni-kāma-karmas or the unselfish ones.

Hence God creates the world according to the past karmas of the individuals, and so cannot be held responsible for their suffering and varying circumstances—it is the individuals themselves who are really responsible through their own karmas.

As against the Advaita doctrine, Nimbārka takes Brahman to be sa-guṇa or possessing numerous auspicious attributes, which are of two kinds:

attributes of majesty, such as omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence; and attributes of sweetness, such as beauty, bliss and mercy.

Thus Brahman is transcendent yet immanent, all-powerful yet all-merciful, all-pervading yet abiding within the heart of man, ruler yet helper. God’s supreme might and majesty constitute no truer aspect of His nature than His infinite love and sweetness.

The nature and attributes of Brahman being thus determined, the next question is: What is the proof of the existence of such a Being or Brah­man?

The answer is that Scripture alone is the proof of Brahman. Hence Brahman is described in the Vedānta as one which can be known through Scripture. The entire Scripture, though apparently concerned with a variety of topics, really depicts Brahman and Brahman alone.

Brahman cannot be known either through ordinary perception or through inference. No senses can perceive Brahman; no inference can prove it, as inference is based on the similarity between things, e.g. when we argue:

All men are mortal.
Ram is man.
Ram is mortal,

Ram is taken to be similar to all other men, and that is why we can conclude that he too, like them, is mortal. But Brahman is unique and incomparable—so no inference is possible with regard to it.

Nimbārka frankly admits the limited capacity of ordinary human reason. Ordinary human beings, like ourselves, can infer or reason about ordinary, mundane and empirical objects only.

But what is extra-mundane and transcendent is beyond the scope of reason. It is here that Scripture becomes our sole guide.

But what is Scripture? It is nothing but the product of the sustained thinking and mature reflection, superb inspiration and profound realiza­tion of saints and prophets.

To them, to those extraordinary minds, minds that are wiser and purer than our own, nothing is a sealed book, and even transcendental truths are known directly through intuition or super-developed power of reasoning.

Thus Nimbārka does not deny that God can be known directly. He only draws a distinction between ordinary and extraordinary individuals.

In the former case, of course, the reason­ing faculty, being immature and imperfect, naturally fails to grasp God; as such, individuals have to rely on the Scripture, which, as pointed out above, is but the record of the elevated thinking and direct realization of wiser and maturer minds.

In the latter case, however, the reasoning faculty having attained its full development and culminating point has the intuitive power to realize God directly; and so here God can surely be known by reason or its super-developed form, intuition.

Hence it will be totally wrong to accuse Nimbārka, and for the matter of that, other Indian philosophers, of dogmatism—of a blind uncritical faith in authority or revelation alone.

In the first place, the Indian philosophers are frank enough to recognize different grades of human reason—its undeveloped and super-developed forms.

In ordinary life also, we have to admit this: what is intelligible to a father is not so to his son, and the son has to learn it through reliance on the father;

what is simple and easy to a scientist is not so to a layman, and the latter has to gain scientific know­ledge only through the help of the former.

In the same manner, without the help of the sages who themselves directly realized the truth, ordinary individuals can never hope to learn of God.

In the second place, even in the case of ordinary men, the Indian philosophers insist on the need of manana or reflection and logical reasoning, after śravaṇa or acquisition of philosophical truth from Scripture.

After that, there should be nididhyāsana, constant meditation for direct realization of that truth, first ac­quired, on trust, from Scripture and then logically tested.

Conscious and Non-Conscious Reality

The second reality, cit the sentient or the soul, according to Nimbārka, -is consciousness in essence and a conscious knower, a doer of deeds, and an enjoyer of the fruits thereof.

Against the Advaita doctrine of the soul's unity and universality, Nimbārka propounds the doctrine of the plurality and atomicity of souls.

According to him, the infinite number of infinitely small souls are identical neither with one another nor with Brahman. Even the freed souls retain their individuality or separateness, and are not merged into God.

Thus according to Nimbārka, salvation does not imply any annihilation of the personality of the soul; on the contrary, it means the full development of its real nature and attributes. When the soul acquires such a state of supreme self-development, it acquires the nature and attributes of God and is similar to Him. Such a state of salvation is attainable only after death, and not here and now, as held by the Advaitins.

As regards the way to salvation, Nimbārka points to the straight and narrow path of virtue which alone, according to him, can lead us to our cherished goal.

Nimbārka speaks of five sādhanas or spiritual means, i.e. work (karma), knowledge (jñāna), devotion and meditation (bhakti and upāsanā), self-surrender to God (prapatti), and self-surrender to guru or spiritual preceptor (gurūpasatti).

Works by themselves do not lead to salvation, but when performed in an unselfish spirit, they purify the mind and help the rise of knowledge and devotion in it.

Of these five sādhanas, the first three are meant for those who are confident of reaching the goal through their own efforts by hard study, deep meditation and ceaseless activity.

But the last two are specially meant for those who are too timid to place any reliance on their own efforts, but must constantly be led and helped by someone, God or guru, to whom they completely resign and dedicate themselves.

The third reality, a-cit, the non-sentient, according to Nimbārka, is of three kinds:

1. prākṛta or what is derived from prakṛti, the primal matter, the stuff of the world;

2. a-prākṛta or what is not derived from prakṛti, but from a non-material yet a non-sentient substance, the stuff of the world of Brahman; and

3. kāla or time.

Bhedābheda – Difference and Non-Difference with Brahman

The above is a very brief account of the fundamental tenets of the Vedānta system of Nimbārka.

There are five main Schools of the Vedānta, i.e.

1. Śankara’s “Kevalādvaita-vāda” or strict Monism,
2. Rāmānuja’s "Viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda" or qualified Monism,
3. Nimbārka’s “Dvaitādvaita-vāda’' or Dualism-Monism,
4. Madhva's “Dvaita-vāda'' or Dualism, and
5. Vallabha's “Śuddhā dvaita-vāda" or pure Monism.

The main question here is as to the relation between Unity and plurality, God and world:

Whether there is a relation of absolute non-difference(abheda) or absolute difference(bheda) or both(Bhedābheda) between them.

Briefly, according to Śankara, Brahman alone is true, the world is false, so that the latter is absolutely non- different from the former.

According to Rāmānuja, the world is real like Brahman, and both non-different and different from it, but here the stress is more on non-difference.

According to Nimbārka, too, the world is real and both non-different and different from Brahman, but here stress is equally on both non-difference and difference.

According to Madhva, the world is absolutely different from Brahman. According to Vallabha, the world is real and non-different from Brahman.

The system of Nimbārka is very similar to that of Rāmānuja. Still, it has been given a separate place and ranked as one of the five main Schools of the Vedānta

because of its new approach to the fundamental philo­sophical problem of the relation between the One and many, God and the world.

Nimbārka insists on taking both bheda or difference and a-bheda or non-difference between the two to be equally and simultaneously true.

This may sound self-contradictory. But Nimbārka’s brief yet entirely logical explanations dispel the doubt. He takes his stand on the cause-effect or whole-part relation:

The cause-effect relation is neither a relation of pure identity, nor that of bare difference, but one of identity-in-difference. Thus the effect is different from the cause because it has a peculiar nature and many peculiar functions of its own.

The clay-jar, the effect, for example, has a peculiar nature and form as a jar, and special functions, like fetching water, etc., not found in the lump of clay, the cause as such.

Again, the effect is also non-different from the cause because it being a modification of the cause is nothing but the cause. The clay-jar, for example, is non-different from the lump of clay, for it is, after all, nothing but clay and depends on it for its very origin and existence.

The cause, on its side, is different from the effect because it is not fully exhausted in it but something over and above. The lump of clay, for example, is different from the clay-jar, because it is not only the jar but a hundred other things, like clay plates, etc.

Still, the cause is non-different from the effect because it is the effect, so far as it goes, and permeates it through and through.

The lump of clay, for example, is non-different from the clay-jar because, after all, both are equally clay. Thus, the cause-effect or whole-part relation is one of identity-in-difference.

In the same manner, the universe of souls and matter is different from Brahman, as its attributes (i.e. impurity, grossness, finitude, etc.) and activities (i.e. selfish works, etc.) are quite different from the attributes (i.e. purity, omnipresence, etc.) and activities (i.e. creation, etc.) of Brahman.

But the universe is also non-different from Brahman because they, as modifications of Brahman, are Brahman in essence.

Again, Brahman is different from the universe because it is but one among its infinite powers and elements, and Brahman as a whole is not exhausted in a single world.

Brahman is no less non-different from the world because it permeates the world through and through as its cause.

Thus, according to Nimbārka, bheda or difference means:

1. difference in attributes and activities from the standpoint of the effect;

2. trans­cendence over the effect from the standpoint of the cause.

A-bheda or non-difference means:

1. non-difference of essence, from the standpoint of the effect;

2. immanence in the effect, from the standpoint of the cause.

If we understand difference and non-difference in this sense of transcendence and immanence, no contradiction will be involved in taking both of them to be equally real, natural and compatible.

Here, non­-difference does not mean absolute identity like the complete merging of a drop of water into the ocean; it simply implies sameness of essence and the immanence of Brahman in the world.

And difference does not mean absolute separateness or distinction, like that between a man and a table, but it only implies the difference of forms, attributes and activities, and the transcendence of Brahman over the world.

This is Nimbārka’s famous Svābhāvika-bhedā, bheda-vāda or Doctrine of Natural Difference and Non­-difference between God and the universe.

Thus from the philosophical standpoint, Nimbārka can well claim to have contributed something new to the history of philosophical specula­tion as regards the vexed question of the relation between the One and the many.

In some other respects, too, Nimbārka’s solutions regarding the fundamental problems of philosophy are really praiseworthy, especi­ally his doctrine of “power” (śakti-vāda) which enables him to unravel many a knotty and seemingly insoluble problem of philosophy.

From the standpoint of religion, too, Nimbārka’s contributions are no less noteworthy. What he repeatedly emphasizes is the essential need of a sweet, personal, intimate relation of love and comradeship between God and man.

Reverence for and awe at the grandeur and majesty of God constitute only the beginning of religion. But religion must of necessity consummate itself in a closer and sweeter personal relation of voluntary submission in place of external compulsion and coercion, of love and trust in place of fear and mere blind obedience.

Although one may at first be overwhelmed by the grandeur and majesty of the Lord, yet one cannot remain at a distance from Him for long, but is irresistibly drawn nearer by a bond of mutual love and living fellowship.

Thus Nimbārka, the first Vaiṣṇava philosopher to emphasize mādhuryya-pradhāna bhakti or de­votion springing from love at God's infinite sweetness,

in place of aiśvarya-pradhāna bhakti or devotion due to reverence at His incomparable great­ness as emphasized by Rāmānuja and Madhva.

From the ethical standpoint, Nimbārka emphasizes not empty external ritualism but the inner cultivation of the spirit—the acquirement of the ethical virtues of self-control, simplicity, purity and the rest.

According to Nimbārka, one need not give up the life of a householder to become free. It is the spirit in which one performs one’s duties that counts.

If a man performs the duties incumbent on his stage of life in a disinterested spirit, he is sure to reach his cherished goal of salvation whether he be an ascetic or a householder.

Thus the Vedānta doctrine of Nimbārka is indeed a valuable contri­bution to the history of thought from the philosophical, religious and ethical standpoints. The most noteworthy feature of Nimbārka’s system is its spirit of compromise and adjustment.

Perfectly equipoised and tranquil in his deep and comprehensive insight into the many-sided nature of Reality and into the multifarious impulses, inclinations and capacities of mankind, Nimbārka is ever eager to avoid the extremes and work out a happy synthesis between the conflicting claims of rivals and opposites.

That is why, in the sphere of philosophy, he tries to reconcile difference (bheda) with non-difference (a-bheda) or plurality with unity, by taking both to be equally real and compatible.

In the sphere of religion, again, he strikes a happy balance between the rigid intellectualism of Advaita- vāda which denies a personal relation between God and man—

and the impetuous emotionalism of later Vaiṣṇavism which over-emphasizes such a relation—by giving a proper place to both reason and feeling, but not over-emphasizing one at the expense of the other.

In the ethical sphere, no less, he manifests the same well-balanced judgment, the same commendable spirit of adjustment and broad-mindedness

by pro­viding for the manifold inclinations and capacities of the various types of human beings—scholars or workers, ascetics or householders, self- confident or timorous.

It is this emphasis on the golden mean, this spirit of toleration and accommodation, this open-hearted generosity and catholicity that has made the doctrine of Nimbārka one of the popular philosophic-religious creeds in India.