Devanagari Invocation of Isha Upanishad

Invocation of Isha Upanishad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sarva Darshana Sangraha

by Madhava Vidyaranya,

Chief Of Sringeri Math and Author Of Panchadasi

14th Century AD.

A compendium of all thought and 16 belief – systems that men have lived with over extended period,

that they chose over others for obtaining a life and values perspective to guide themselves through … 

Chapter V : Madhva’s Eternal Dualism

Madhva, also known as Madhvacharya or Anand-Tirtha “Purna Prajna,” accepts much of Ramanuj’s Qualified Monism but irrevocably departs in his principle of eternal dependence of individual souls on the one Supreme that alone is independent. He agrees with Ramanuj’s belief system of atomic size of the soul and its subservience to Supreme entity, the authenticity of Vedas, the self-evidence of the instruments of knowledge, the triad of evidences, dependency upon the Panch-ratra, and the reality of plurality in the universe. 

But in his doctrine, ultimate principles are dichotomised into the one independent and the many dependent; as it is stated in the Tattva-viveka : Independent and dependent, two principles are received ; the independent is Vishnu the Lord, exempt from imperfections, and of inexhaustible excellences. He brushes aside the interpretation of the absolute principle being void, in the face of proofs positive of duality : perception, for example, of “This” – the individual being – is different from “That” – the Universal being.

The Pure Monists (Advaitin) rejoin : Do you hold that perception is cognisant of a perceptional difference, or of a difference constituted by the thing and its opposite ? The former will not hold : for without a cognition of the thing and its opposite, the recognition of the difference which presupposes such a cognition, will be impossible. If the latter alternative : is the apprehension of the difference preceded by an apprehension of the thing and its contrary, or are all the three (the thing, its contrary, and the contrariety) simultaneously apprehended ? It cannot be thus preceded, for the operation of the intellect is without delay (or without successive steps), and there would also result a logical seesaw (apprehension of the difference presupposing apprehension of the thing and its contrary, and apprehension of the thing and its contrary presupposing apprehension of the difference). Nor can there be a simultaneous apprehension (of the thing, its contrary, and the difference) ; for cognitions related as cause and effect cannot be simultaneous, and the cognition of the thing is the cause of the recognition of the difference; the causal relation between the two being recognised by a concomitance and non-concomitance (mutual exclusion), the difference not being cognised even when the thing is present, without a cognition of its absent contrary. The perception of difference, therefore (the Monists conclude), is not easily admissible. 

To this Madhva replies as follows : Are these objections proclaimed against one who maintains a difference things in themselves, or against one who maintains a difference between things as subjects of their attributes ? In the former case, you will be, as the saying runs, punishing a respectable Brahman for the offence of a thief. In considering the Upanishad saying, “Thou art That,” if the difference is in their essence, then an actual cognition of “That” is unnecessary; the difference is eternally underscored since the difference presupposes a contrary counterpart. 

If the difference is by their attributes, which form the determinate usage (name and notion) we have of them in our understanding, then too their essential contrariness remains as actual contrary counterparts; for example, the essence of a thing so far as constituted by its dimensions is first cognised, and afterwards it becomes the object of some determinate judgment, as long or short in relation to some particular counterpart (or contrasted object). Accordingly, it is said in the Vishnu-tattva-nirnaya : Difference is not proved to exist by the relation of determinant and determinate ; for this relation of determinant and determinate (or predicate and subject) presupposes difference; and if difference were proved to depend upon the thing and its counterpart, and the thing and its counterpart to presuppose difference, difference as involving a logical circle could not be accounted for ; but difference is itself a real predicament (or ultimate entity). 

For this reason (viz. because difference is the thing in itself), Madhva continues, it is that men in quest of a cow do not act as if they had found her when they see a gayal, seeing which they do not recall the word cow. Nor let it be objected that if difference be a real entity between, say, milk and water, then the same difference should be perceived in a mixture of milk and water as well; for the absence of any manifestation of, and judgment about, the difference, may be accounted for by the force of some obstructions that hinder the perception viz. aggregation of similars and the rest. 

Thus it has been said (in the Sankhya-karika, v. vii.) : From too great remoteness, from too great nearness, from defect in the organs, from instability of the common sensory, from subtlety, from interposition, from being overpowered, and from aggregation of similars.

There is no perception respectively of a tree and the like on the (barren) peak of amountain, because of its too great remoteness ; of the collyrium applied to eyes because of too much proximity ; of lightning and the like because of a defect in the organs; of a jar or the like in broad daylight, by one whose common sensory is bewildered by lust and other passions, because of instability of the common sensory ; of an atom and the like, because of their subtlety ; of things behind a wall, and so forth, because of interposition ; of the light of a lamp and the like, in the day-time, because of its being overpowered ; of milk and water, because of the aggregation of similars. 

Difference (duality) is also ascertained by inference. Thus the Supreme Lord differs from the individual soul as the object of its obedience ; and he who is to be obeyed by any person differs from that person : a king, for instance, from his attendant. For men, desiring as they do – let me have pleasure, let me not have the slightest pain – if they covet the position of their lord, they do not become objects of his favour; nay, rather, they become recipients of all kinds of evil. He who asserts his own inferiority and the excellence of his superior, he it is who is to be commended; and the gratified superior grants his eulogist his desire. 

Therefore it has been said : “Kings destroy those who assert themselves to be kings, and grant to those who proclaim their kingly preeminence in all that they desire.” 

Thus is the statement of those (Advaita-vadins) in their thirst to be one with the Supreme Lord, that the supreme excellence of Vishnu is like a mirage. Through offending this supreme Vishnu, they must enter into the hell of blind darkness (andha-tamasa), as is laid down by Madhya-mandira in the Mahabharata-tatparya-nirnaya : 

” Daityas, enemies of the eternal Vishnu, cause his anger to wax great ; He hurls the Daityas into the blind darkness, because they decide blindly.” 

This service (or obedience of which we have spoken) is trichotomised into (i) stigmatisation, (2) imposition of names, and (3) worship. Of these, stigmatisation is (the branding upon one self) of the weapons of Narayana (or Vishnu) as a memorial of him, and as a means of attaining the end which is needful (emancipation). Thus the sequel of the Sakalya-samhita : “The man who bears branded in him the discus of the immortal Vishnu, which is the might of the gods, He, shaking off his guilt, goes to the heaven (Vaikuntha) which ascetics, whose desires are passed away, enter into.

Imposition of names is the appellation of sons and others by such names as Kesava, as a continual memorial of the name of the Supreme Lord. 

Worship is of ten kinds, viz. [A] with the voice : (1) veracity (2) usefulness (3) kindliness (4) sacred study ;

[B] with the body : (5) almsgiving (6) defence (7) protection ;

[C] with the common sensory : (8) mercy (9) longing and (10) faith. 

Worship is the dedication to Narayana of each of these as it is realised.

Thus it has been said : ” Stigmatisation, imposition of names, worship; the last is of ten kinds.” 

Difference (or duality between the Supreme Being and the universe) may also be inferred from cognisability and other marks. So also difference (or duality) may be understood from revelation, from texts setting out duality in emancipation and beatitude, such as : ” All rejoice over truth attained ; truthful, and celebrating the gift of the divine Indra, they recount his glory ; among those that know the truth, Brahman is in the universe ; He is the true spirit ; true indeed is individual spirit ; truth is duality, truth is duality … in me is illusion, in me illusion, in me illusion.” 

Again : “After attaining this knowledge, becoming like unto me, in creation they are not born again, in retractation they perish not” (Bhagavad-gita, xiv. 2). 

Nor should suggestion be made that individual spirit is God in virtue of the text, He that knows the absolute becomes the absolute; for this text is hyperbolically eulogistic, like the text, “Worshipping a Brahman devoutly, a Sudra becomes a Brahman,” i.e. becomes exalted. 

If people urge that according to the text : “If the universe existed it would doubtless come to an end,” this duality is merely illusory, and in reality a unity, and that duality is learnt to be illusorily imagined ; it may be replied : What you say is true, but you do not understand its meaning ; for the real meaning is, if this world had been produced, it would without doubt come to an end; but since it does not, it is everlasting, a five-fold dual universe. Illusion is deemed to be the will of the Lord, in virtue of the testimony of many passages such as : 

” The great illusion, ignorance, necessity, the bewilderment … The originant, ideation, thus is thy will called, Infinite. 

The originant, because it originates endlessly ; ideation, because it produces all ideas. The illusion of Hari, who is called a-, is termed (a-vidya) ignorance : Styled (vidya) illusion, because it is pre-eminent, for the name vidya is used of the pre-eminent. The excellent knowledge of Vishnu who, though one, is calledby these names; for knowledge of Hari is characterised by spontaneous beatitude it bestows.” 

That in which this excellent knowledge produces knowledge and effects thereof is pure illusion, as known and sustained by the Supreme Lord; therefore duality is not illusorily imagined. For in the Lord illusory imagination of the universe is not possible, illusory imagination arising from non-perception of differences (which as an imperfection is inconsistent with the divine nature). 

If it be asked how then that (illusory duality) is predicated, the answer is that in truth there is a non-duality that is real; Vishnu, being better than all else, has no equal and no superior. Accordingly, the grand revelation : 

” A difference between soul and the Lord, a difference between the unsentient and the Lord, a difference among souls, and a difference of the unsentient and the soul, each from the other. Also the difference of unsentient things from one another, the world with its five divisions. This same is real and from all eternity ; if it had had a beginning it would have an end : Whereas it does not come to an end ; and it is not illusorily imagined : For if it were imagined it would cease, but it never ceases. That there is no duality is therefore the doctrine of those that lack knowledge ; and this doctrine of those that have knowledge is known and sustained by Vishnu.” 

The purpose, then, of all revelations is to set out the supreme excellence of Vishnu. With this in view the Lord declared : 

” Two are these beings in the universe, the perishable and the imperishable ; the perishable is all the elements, the imperishable is the unmodified. The other, the most excellent person called the Supreme Spirit, is the undecaying Lord, who pervading sustains the three worlds. Since, transcending the perishable, I am more excellent than the imperishable (soul), hence I am celebrated among men and in the Veda as the best of persons (Purushottama). He who uninfatuated knows me thus as the best of persons, he all-knowing worships me in every wise. Thus this most mysterious institute is declared, blameless (Arjuna) : ” Knowing this a man may be wise, and may have done what he has to do, Bharata” (Gita, xv. 16-20). 

While merit, wealth, and enjoyment are transitory, emancipation is eternal ; therefore a wise man should strive unceasingly to attain thereto. And emancipation is not won without the grace of Vishnu, according to the text of the Narayana Upanishad : Through whose grace is the highest state, through whose essence he is liberated from transmigration, while inferior men propitiating the divinities are not emancipated ; the supreme object of discernment to those who desire to be liberated from this snare of works. 

According to the words of the Vishnu-purana : If he be propitiated, what here may not be won ? Enough of all wealth and enjoyments. These are scanty enough. On climbing the tree of the supreme essence, without doubt a man attains to the fruit of emancipation.

And it is declared that the grace of Vishnu is won only through the knowledge of his excellence, not through the knowledge of non-duality. Nor is there in this doctrine any connection with texts declaratory of the identity (of personal and impersonal spirit) such as, That art thou; for this pretended identity is mere babbling from ignorance of the real purport. 

“The word That, when undetermined, designates the eternally unknown. The word Thou designates a knowable entity; how can these be one ? “ 

And this text (That art Thou) indicates similarity (not identity) … Not essential unity, for even when one is emancipated it remains different.” The difference is in the independence and completeness of the Supreme Spirit and thesmallness and dependence in the individual spirit.

Vishnu is the refuge of liberated souls, and their supreme ruler. 

There is no proof anywhere, then, that the world is unreal. Besides, we would ask :

Is the statement that the world is false itself true or false ?

If the statement is true, there is a violation of a real non-duality.

If the statement is untrue, it follows that the world is true. 

Perhaps it may be objected that this dilemma is a kind of fallacious reasoning, like the dilemma :

Is transitoriness permanent or transitory ?

There is a difficulty in either case. As it is said by the author of the Nyaya-nirvana : The proof of the permanence of the transitory, as being both permanent and transitory, is a paralogism. And in the Tarkika-raksha, “When a mode cannot be evinced to be either such and such, or not such and such, the denial of a subject characterised by such a mode is called Nitya-sama. “

If you (Advaita-vadin) reply : We accept the unreality (or falsity) of the world, not its non-existence, this reply is about as wise as the procedure of the carter who will lose his head rather than pay a hundred pieces of money, but will at once give five score. 

For falsity and non-existence are synonymous. We dismiss further prolixity. 

Shivalli Brahmins

Shivalli Brahmins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Buddhist Fallacy


Though occasioned by a few conversations I had on social media, the topic has been with me for about two decades now : the fallacy in Buddhist thought, if one is looking for truth. For our world of action, there is no better subscription than the Buddhist way. For, it is in the very tenor of what the great Buddha himself presented in the new path : action … terminate absolutely the (lower) desires to end misery in your life and the world about … evolve out of even the (higher) desires to end absolutely the cycle of karma and rebirth.

Keeping the context of cultured thought of the times in which Buddha stood up and presented his own is important, if one is not to merely imagine and project one’s own meaning to what Buddha held forth in his assemblies. He disdains the rituals of Vedic or the later Sindhu-Sarasvati religious culture and he is silent on the ” God ” concept that tradition was then full of. It simplifies much in people’s life, freeing their attention to concentrate on the job at hand : action, on what to do, how to live one’s life, what to believe of what is manifest, which to regard as right or the correct path, how to decide … the entire life and values perspective in short that enables us to critically view our life and situational instance, and act in its accord.

What I see instead is that people, both hard core and romantic subscribers of Buddhist way, are reposing more and more of their quest for truth in it. It just leads to a jumboorie of imagined truths, the kind that Carl Jung warns us about : Enlightenment is not a matter of raising clouds of light within us; it is to illumine the very darkness all about.

Truth, in Buddhist way, can only be speculative, which in itself is a fine thing to do. But since it says, “overcome the self,” its followers presume that the directive means “negate the self.” It implies that the self is either a non-existent entity that we regard as existing through ignorance or that it exists but only until we are able to “eliminate” through our effort.

The first implication is a philosophical one, and still begs the question : So, what exists, in truth ? The second categorically means that the self does not exist in truth, and leads us back to the first. Without attempting to answer the ultimate question, let us revert back to the original directive Buddha proposes : Overcome the self. To me, in its context, it means that we become more powerful than the desiring self, the one which takes us over and commits acts that leads to misery for ourself and the world around us. That, we should win it over and make it subservient to our dictates, to the values perspective that Buddha clearly lays out. It is not a call for negating our very self, for there has to be one even for “overcoming the self.”

To sum : Buddhism could be a great way to action, to live and reduce misery, if not end it. But there is no truth in.

Personally, I find the Buddhist way a trifle too contradictory to something that I regard as non-negotiable : Life is; embrace it.

How is one to embrace life, if all of life and the world is nothing but misery ?

How does the anecdotal Buddha recommend joy, and advise us to enjoy our wealth but with offerings to others ?


Journal : Awakening … Into The Truth


The world capitalises on our need to be happy in a variety of ways : by the economic order in which food is available to those who either have land and money for inputs to grow and harvest or have the money to buy it in the marketplace; it keeps billions on our planet hungry and deprived, and enslaved. There are regions where water is sold by owners of fresh water bodies and clean air to breathe can be had only in costly air-conditioned areas. Governments and oligarchs big and small buy up natural resources held untill then in common and, as “property owners,” do as they please untill the environment is too polluted and is no longer self-generating, leaving the “public” more in want of fish, firewood and animals, even air and water that was earlier consumable and freely available till then.

Then, there is the ubiquitous media and “urban” advancements – food, gadgets, civic amenities, security, transport, communication, entertainment, lifestyle – that get propagated to multiply people’s needs, create where there was not, which again ropes in a much larger population that perpetually feel disatisfied, constantly aspires to enter the set graded channels and end up either enslaving, being enslaved, or becoming mediates in between.

The apparent priviledges of the masters too is less real than it seems : they might have more than they need, but the needs multiply, with real risks to their wealth and income; that it all might disappear in a jiffy or diminish alarmingly for any number of causes, leaving them rather poor. If not enslaved by bigger cats in business, there would be robbers and killers on the prowl, or taxmen and politicians who may or may not be humoured unless the stakes are met on the high. Money itself begins to enslave the masters and dangerously too, like a man astride a tiger !

Apart from material causes, rather as perceived material causes, images or impressions in memory, or imagination, trigger the same persistent emotional distress – pain, want, anger or despair, nowhere thoughts, darkness in awareness and inadequacy of being. Every craving that issues of recall and takes us over, everytime we are lost in the maze of thought or are unable to extend it to light, we suffer the same smallness of the slave, of being a mere for-other distressed robot under remote control. Occasionally, some of us meet a guide or chance on our own the ability to hold the dissatisfaction in our very hand and summon the intuitive will to take the grapple on to the next level, where our purity of being fills us with manifold more moral strength and intellectual acuity required to wring the truth out of matters in our subconscious and those thrown up by out mental ground.

Few are fortunate and sagacious enough to remove themselves from this worldly game of being in the master-slave trap, of ensnaring and entrapping others into it. But it continues blatantly for the billions in every secular and religious walk of life; yes, every ‘faith’ plays by it, more or less. 

In the Sanatan way, its varnashrama society codifies the “householder” period of life during which the man is expected to fulfill two goals : acquire income and wealth and attain physical pleasures and sensuous joys. The period covers approximately 25 years, one-fourth of the total, after he has gone through the rigours of leading a celibate life and educating himself in a whole range of disciplines including dharma, which equips him with moral clarity, ethical norms, and a well-etched perspective of matters in truth and the ability to discriminate between right and wrong.

Unlike the contracted souls of bleak, colder climes in the West with fewer hands, less sunshine and deficient resources, which conditions tethered them to survival-induced barbary amongst themselves and compelled them to colonise faraway lands and its populations, the agriculturally rich energy-surplus tropical lands fostered far more expansive and embracing ways of life in the Indian subcontinent. The Sanatan way evolved with the refinement of the thread of thought from Vedic antiquity, its culmination in the Upanishad era and popularisation through the Epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Puranas and, above all, the Bhagavad Gita. 

Though there were codified norms laid out by various authorities for public behaviour and conduct in private, the evolution of both the community and the individual was more an integrated and inherited affair, with rules and values perspective even the unlettered were aware of. The elite and the laity grew into the Sanatan way without an elaborate enforcement bureaucracy or judicial vertical, and fell in step in accord with their nature and station. The community was responsible for the welfare of its people; and individuals for themselves, for each other and the community. 

A community of people that lives responsibly must have collective institutions and agreed processes to educate and skill its people in diverse arts and sciences. It must also value truth : as God to theists and as pure knowledge to atheists. The truth is self-evident to the man unified with himself, his day and his environment, his people and his time. How the man’s being expands with thought and action issuing from the unified self, and contracts of segregagtion or alienation, also yields his moral and ethical values. The book merely records them and makes it formal.

The Sanatan way, and the Hindu country, produces scriptures and saints. Untill history began with kings and monuments, and truth was no longer evident : it only remained in debates and arguments. People were no more responsible for their karma, for living out the consequences in their awareness in order to learn, know and remember, and transcend with their awakening. Instead, men and women came to be seized by concerns of wealth and power, slave and enslave !

Karma is the thread vibrating between our immortality and now, over the seen and unseen. It spans the five sheaths of our being across the three great spaces, in our life and death and beyond through umpteen iteration of forms gross, making or unmaking the subtle untill its unity with the causal and ultimate turning away for liberation absolute. Our preoccupation with the body, with material possessions and worldly station only distracts us from the primary task here and now : of attending to the karma pulsating in the unseen. The shrink is of no help … for he only takes his norm and references from the mundane.

Journal : Awakening … Into The Truth


The ontological perspective of the Supreme Truth is important, nay, crucial as the rudder is to the boat we are taking across the waters. Though a truncated and adhoc aggregate, even the animalistic version in the belief of indigenous people, who are not introduced to an intellectually cultured religion, serves to raise a backdrop to comprehension of objects in our sight, of beings included in our action, of phenomenal events in our experience, apprehensions in our vitality and thought, and extrapolatory impressions that embed in our intellect.

The context for hunter-gathers and forest dwellers would have been limited to immediate issues or short-term concerns of survival, security or perpetuation… But even they would have had to bear themselves through the continuity of time, the before and after times to emotionally draining experiences or happenings requiring physically absorbing engagements. It is the background of beliefs that provide us with much needed meaning to unify ourselves with our mornings, surroundings, natural goings on, human and animal companions, contemporaries friendly and inimical, and with our selves.

If Vedas is the entire deck of cards, Vedanta is the “joker” that consorts harmoniously with every bit of creation. It stands by every perspective : impersonal, personal, dual, non-dual, form, formless, theist, atheist, action, devotion, knowledge, experience, spirit, mind, body, temple, synagogue, wilderness, ritual, prayer, reason, irrational … All individuals of diverse persuasion and proclivity would find something or other in Vedanta that agrees with him, from where he could set himself up for the rest. Nothing contradicts Vedanta, except dogma and bigotry that also violates reason and experience. Vedanta will accept moral failures umpteen times without condoning it. It will not cease to demand ethical conduct and exhort one to go beyond the instant reference in belief and thought. And it will never offer a lie to appease us; it will instead wait with us untill we are ready, even suggesting ways we could prepare ourselves for the rendezvous.

The apparent irreconciliable dualism or reiterating cyclicity between experienced extremes is the least of the problem in Vedanta … mere symptoms it would say ! In its expanse and focus, it is capable of including any and all inconsistencies that reveal points of singularity in our knowledge of where, in and with what, do we exist, and in our understanding of who or what we are in the universal and particular frames of being, what our moments mean alongwith all that they include … and what, why and how are we to act. Vedanta is the ocean in which we can come to rest, be and perfect ourselves in truth, far beyond and without any framework even remotely akin to what we understand as ” religion.”

It is necessary to underscore that Vedanta is not thought or belief, as it occurs with us, though it is presented as one out of sheer necessity imposed by our limited means to articulate and express. English language, and every one of which that has evolved in the West, takes its spiritual scope from the man and his Bible. The next best communication alternative we have is that expressed as science – mathematics, physics and biology, which however keep the man and his book completely out from its discourse and, instead, restricts itself within the realms of physical space, matter and time.

But that is not what truth is limited to : it is, above all, to include the man – the doer, experiencer and observer. It must include his values, relationships, actions, his mind and his conscious being. And, in speaking of it, the book dilates on spiritual dimensions of our being, at the origin of which our individuated being is sprung, the call of which we maintain in our conscience and the nature of which we rediscover in our universal moral values, and our unity with which we announce through our ethical conduct. Truth must reconcile us with the consequences of our actions we experience and live through, and reflect in the conclusions we arrive at of this whole business of life, living and death, this being in world and in our mind within.

That is what Vedanta covers, without the language commensurate with its inclusive domain. The body of the being in truth is brought alive in the Vedas – Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. The mantra or hymns of Samhitas invite us to relate one-to-one with existence, the being in it before, about and within us. The Brahmanas explain, define and specify the details of that occasion we are called upon to initiate, build up and complete in action, speech and thought. The Aranyakas or Upanishads – Vedanta, in short – zero down on the conscious self at our origin, in the witness within us, and the revelations it scribbles in our intellect. What is uttered, what we read and hear and contemplate upon is still about the being in truth before, about and within us, as it is.

That is what is Vedanta about : the universe, ourself and the universe within us, in the very way of life. Comparatively, religion as it means in the West is easy, a mere affiliation to a book of tenets, loyalty to a deified historical prophet, a place of worship to recall our faith, and human intermediaries who demand belief on their interpretations of the whole business, who insist upon obedience, almost always unquestioning. The affiliates are then covered with an identity in common with others, distinct from other religions.

This undertaking intends to expose in contemporary terms a few glimpses of key discoveries from the immense unraveling edifice of Vedas and Vedanta, which require a lifetime to master.


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