Reinterpreting Dwaita versus Adwaita

I have always felt the Dwaita (Duality between god and man , as separate entities apart from other dualities), and Adwaita (Unity of the divine and the gross) debate dogging South Indian Brahmins for the last 700 years, was an utter waste of time for those interested in personal spiritual evolution. I believe although Madhwacharya and Adi Shankaracharya were extremely god realized people and had seemingly contradictory views on the surface, perhaps they were talking about different facets of reality. I felt intuitively uneasy following this line of dogged debate being undertaken by contemporary pundits, as I felt it had zero productivity when it comes to my own spiritual growth. Although I must admit that it is an interesting topic of debate for completely academic purposes...

Madhwacharya attained Samadhi 1317 AD

Just out of curiosity I gave it a shot. Both the masters are great geniuses giving different points of view, I felt rather than take a confrontational approach as most Indians tend to prefer, and have taken for the past 700 years, I felt it helps if you actually merge the two views thus, helping us get a better three dimensional stereoscopic vision to the issue of Duality/Non duality, between god and man.

I see a completely new meaning in Madhwacharya’s teachings, in a way I have never heard any other Madhwa Brahmin interpret. It may distress some fellow Madhwas to agree with me, But to me it is the simple non complicated truth

I fail to see any distinction between Madhwacharya and Shankracharya’s teachings. I see the distinctions as semantics of language and expression.

This gives an opportunity to revere and respect both great saints. Without having to join the current band of followers who for the last 700 years have been obsessing, and joining forces on opposing camps.

Please read on. The paragraphs in italics are excerpts of some of the core teachings of Madhwacharya as explained by an expert and proponent of Madhwacharya. My own comments are in normal font..

Sri Madhvacharya is extolled in the Vedas to be the third incarnation of Vayu, the most powerful, knowledgeable and supreme among all souls. He served Bhagavan Vishnu in His three incarnations. He became Hanuman when the Lord incarnated as Rama. He was Bhima when the Lord appeared as Krishna and he came to the earth as Madhvacharya to serve Bhagavan Vedavyasa.

Adi Shankracharya attained Samadhi 821 AD

Sometimes the most complicated puzzles in life have the very simplest of explanations. I find this fact about Madhvacharya interesting. The greatest devotee of Vishnu (God of sustenance of the universe in Hindu tradition) of all time is Madhvacharya. As Hanumana, as Bhima in his previous births .

Madhvacharya is said to be the reincarnation of Vayudewa or Hanumana. To a being who is so completely devoted in love and service to his supreme lord, I find it impossible that the greatest devotee of Vishnu of all time, has any intentions of merging with Vishnu. or would ever accept or acknowledge he is god (adwaita). His love is so pure. He lives to serve the lord eternally. His very essence is that. I would assume it impossible for him to accept that he could merge into his lord and become one with him.

To me it looks like even if it were true that one day we could merge with the lord (enter the void and merge with it), Sri Madhwacharya would be the kind of person that would say, I refuse unity Lord Let me live as a separate entity and serve you for eternity. We are talking about lord Vishnu’s greatest devotee, who refuses to stop serving his lord.

Maybe Madhwacharya created the concept of Dwaita to serve the lord forever and ever. That in essence, is love beyond self. He is creating the self as separate from the supreme being to serve the lord. Not as a reflection of the true nature of the universe that came from and will dissolve into the supreme being.

He ascribes all phenomena of our experience, ultimately and fundamentally, to the power and grace of a single, supreme, Independent Reality, namely God, whom he calls ‘Vishnu’ or Narayana, Vishnu in Samskrita means Omnipresent and Omnipotent. Narayana means a repository of infinite perfect qualities, devoid of all defects and the goal to be realized and reached by all good souls.

No doubt, the supreme being by whatever name you choose to call him, imbibes those qualities.

Vishnu or God is ‘Guna-poorna’, or full of infinite good qualities. He is free of all limitations. He is the absolutely Independent Creator, Sustainer, Controller, Destroyer Enlightener and Liberator of everything else. He is quite distinct from all other beings, who totally depend on Him”.

By definition we are less than perfect so we can’t merge with the supreme being in such a state. Because merger could cause the supreme being to be impure or imperfect through our impurities, This is impossible. Our impurities keep us distinct. ………..But then again god is without limitations, he can create destroy, merge or burn our impurities. God is,…..we must remember…. the creator and is’ the TOTAL universe i.e. all the good and even the bad have to depend on him for its existence.. Only he can let bad be created and only he can dissolve it. …….So, Bad and Sin, is just an illusion in our minds and god is beyond it (nirgun)…….. He perhaps lets bad exist in the gross world of maya (Hindu\Buddhist word for illusion that this entire universe is), for us to be punished by the bad, we create by our own wrong choices and actions ……the virtue of sin and punishment to exist is that it serves as a tool for us to learn to overcome and become pure over time through lessons learnt from our mistakes and our constant efforts to correct them. As a lot of Seers say, consider suffering a boon, For only when we suffer we search for answers and turn to God, If everyone were happy always, god would have been forgotten.

Bad and evil, may be just that, a tool invented by god to teach and guide us, just as we spank our kids lightly to discipline them.

In his work, “Anu-Vyakhyana”, he proclaims : “Any proposition which is inconsistent with the sovereign independence of God should be rejected as false. Consistency with Divine majesty is itself the criterion of truth. All proof and authorities should be interpreted in the light of the Supremacy or Sarvotthamatva of God, which should not be compromised at any cost”.

The above statement is beyond debate and one of the accepted foundations of all eastern thought on God.

Let me illustrate the statement above with an interesting analogy:

All water arises from the ocean. The ocean creates clouds. The clouds create rain; the rain feeds and creates rivers/ice. Ultimately water, after leading an independent existence for some time, as a cloud, as rain and as a river., as ice (Which I would equate to a dwaita or duality state). All water on this earth drains back to the ocean and finally merges with it and becomes adwaita (unity state). Just as god is supreme but is independent of everything he creates, ….The ocean too is supreme and is independent or the clouds, rain and the rivers it creates. At no point of time is the ocean dependent on the clouds, the rain, and the rivers for its existence to be an ocean. It’s the clouds and the rain, snow and the rivers that depend on the ocean for the sake of their existence. Not the other way around.

In the same way, though we are created by god, he is not dependent on us. It’s we who are dependent on him for creation, and finally we, merge into the universe, which is him after leading a period of independent existence.

God is infinity and zero at the same time. Hindus say God is infinity, and Buddhists say he is Shunyata or the ultimate emptiness. In pure math, Infinity and Zero are absolute values and are one and the same in terms of their properties, and not subject to change. It’s between these two digits all other forms of existence or perhaps using math as an analogy, any other digit can exist. Bothe extremes are one and similar. Zero and Infinity mean the same thing. For those who are familiar with Mobius strips, understand extreme opposites are the same.


Duality and unity are alternating states Dynamic opposites of the same. Without Duality, Unity can’t exist. Without Unity Duality can’t exist. So both are true.

In a famous hymn called ‘Dwadasha Stotra’, Madhwacahrya proclaims as follows:

“Past actions, ignorance, afflictions, time, modes of nature etc. are not the primary factors of human bondage. For it is well known that these are not sentient. The scriptures declare that it is God alone who controls the entire universe of living and non-living beings in every context”.

This is a profound statement.

If past actions is not bondage that means your Karma is not bondage either, in a permanent sense……. It’s just maya (illusion),…and can be refilled or burnt off like money in your bank account.…. which I explained before. . Nothing is real in this universe in a permanent sense. Even bad karma and sin is not real and permanent.. As Madhwacharya above says in his own words, it’s not sentient. …………..So what does all this mean?

To use an analogy…….. Life is like living in a simulator. Situations are created by god to test us, and given to us to let us make mistakes and learn from them. The mistakes we make from such simulated situations are not real in a long term sense Just like a pilot flying a plane in a simulator. At the moment we are going through adverse situations in a simulator, it all seems so real, and we have intense emotions. But, when it over. It is as if it never existed, it was make believe. Yet from that illusory experience we came out as a better human with better survival skills.

It is the same with life, karma of past actions. Afflictions of the impression time is permanent, Although these are all illusory phenomenon, These afflictions are forced upon us repeatedly, till we learn from them and are finally free to go past them. Once we are masters of overcoming such situations, we are freed from having to face those Karmas again and again, as we have learnt the lessons emanating from those situations again and again. So although the Vedas claim the world is an illusion, the reactions to these illusory circumstances are real. Illusion and reality are woven into one another.

Just as Madhvacharya says, “these are not primary factors of human bondage and are not sentient”. The supreme being controls your maya, and can forever banish any impurity or Karma or imperfection if he so feels necessary to do so. It’s called “Hari kripa’ or, ‘Gods mercy’ ‘Divine intervention’, or whatever terminology you choose to use.

Furthermore, he advocated love, respect and devotion to all higher values of life and all higher beings. Therefore he has prescribed worship of several minor gods, rishis, manes and angels of the Hindu pantheon. But he has strictly enjoined that, this worship should not compromise one’s highest devotion to the Almighty. All other gods, rishis, saints etc. are dependent on the Supreme creative power of the Almighty. They are mere superior souls – superior to human beings – but infinitely inferior to the Supreme Divinity. Their abode is not a state of salvation or heaven in the true sense of the term. They should be loved and adored as superior devotees of God, and as the Divine retinue – ‘Parivara’ – who guide us on the pathway to God.

Even the realm of the (lesser) gods is not permanent. All that matters is Paramatma, the supreme god head. The Buddhists and Jains go further; they worship and have compassion for animals, and insects. All gods creatures are treated as equal.. It’s we Hindus who created a cast system and recommend a ‘hierarchy of superiority from the highest god to the lowest casts”. We worship all those above due to fear of divine retribution and ill treat ‘lower casts’. I understand this is not divine sanction in Hinduism but a certain convoluted manipulation of the texts. The Udupi Krishna temple is a classical example of Lord Krishna paying permanent tribute to his greatest devotee Kanaka Dasa.

Madhvacharya however seems very clear in expressing his views on the cast system. Your Varna he says is not merited by birth, but your daily actions. He does however distinguish between Jati and Varna. Jati is a social classification of cast and has no spiritual basis, merit, currency or consideration. (It was invented by man and is the outcome of mans lower needs of negative political and social power plays). Varna on the other hand, is the propensity of your soul, and is what has spiritual significance in genuine original Hindi philosophy.

It is interesting to the Madhvas who are die hard supporters of the concept of Dwaita (I come from such a stock), suddenly fall silent on this aspect of Madhwacharyas preaching. We obviously love to show our faithfulness to his teachings by screaming the parts that define us as his followers to the world, and avoid the parts that may cause us inconvenience.

Chaturvarnyam maya sr^ishtam gunakarmavibhagashah
tasya kartaramapi mam viddhyakartaramavyayam. 4-13

For this Shri Madhvacharya has explained in his bhashya that the chaturvarnya system mentioned by Krushna is not the caste system prevalent in today’s society but they are varnas of the jiva!
varna means colour (varna = banna in kannada). It’s used in the same sense of “avana banna bayalayitu”
varna is intrinsic to the jiva svarupa of a mukti yogya manushya chetana

Madhvacharya interprets the concept of Varna mentioned in the Vedas (Purusha Sooktha) as not being defined by birth, but by the nature of a soul. For example a soul having the nature of a Brahmin could have been born as a Shudra but become a Brahmin by choice and vice versa. The Varnas simply define the disposition of the soul or a propensity to be of a certain character, for example a Soul classified as Brahmana Varna is disposed towards learning, a Kshatriya Soul is disposed towards aggression to defend the society we live in and a Shudra Soul is disposed towards performing administrative service.

What greater proof could the great Madhwacharya give that he did not believe in the cast system, in words and deeds? How many of us Madhwas have the courage to follow our very Gurus teachings?

If we can’t understand something as simple as this, how do we propound to be great experts in understanding the concept of Dwaita and Adwaita?

Different stages of Bhakti and Divine Grace have been distinguished by the Acharya in Anu-Vyakhyana and other works are as follows:

1) First, the devotion and Divine grace which precede the general understanding of the teachings about God found in the scriptures.

2) Second, the devotion and Divine grace which follow a critical study and correct understanding of the supremacy of God, found in the scriptures.

3) Third, the devotion and Divine grace following deep meditation on God’s supreme majesty, leading to direct vision of God.

4) Fourth, devotion and Divine grace following direct experience of God’s supremacy, with the utmost warmth of love and attraction .Such devotion and Divine grace bring about salvation.

Devotion in the state of salvation becomes spontaneous, and an end in itself.

Madhvacharya actually does not mention religious rituals at all as a necessary step for the realization of God.. On the contrary he mentions Dhyana (meditation), bhakti (devotion to god), reading and understanding the scriptures as the necessary steps for having a direct vision of god.

Hinduism however, in spite of repeated corrections by Gurus, Yogis and Monks, continues to remain a primarily ritualistic practice.

Five fold difference: ‘Bheda’

Another important feature of Madhwa’s philosophy is its emphasis on the innumerable differences among the phenomena of this universe, and the unique difference between God and His creation. Accordingly, Madhwacharya’s philosophy is characterised as a variant of dualism and pluralism. He classifies the innumerable differences in the cosmos into five major categories, called ‘Pancha Bheda’ as follows:

1. Differences between God and individual souls.

2. Differences among individual souls.

3. Difference, between individual souls and material objects including their mortal bodies.

4. Differences between God and material objects such as language, scriptures, space, time, physical nature and all products of nature.

5. Differences among material objects.


Individual souls, according to Madhva are quite distinct from God as well as their mortal, material bodies. They are eternal and their spiritual essence is not mortal. They are in a state of continuous dependence of God in bondage as well as salvation. God is the prototype of everything else. All living and non-living beings are images of God, quite distinct from him.

Reality Of The World – Monotheistic Realism

The scheme of five-fold difference spelled out by Madhva implies that this diversity of the world, perceived by our senses, is not an illusion or magic or Maya. Madhva is never tired of quoting numerous statements from scriptures, confirming the creation, preservation, regulation and control of the world of matter and souls by a Supreme Divinity. The material world is the field or environment provided by God for the spiritual development of individual souls encased in mortal bodies. God cannot, possibly, provide and illusory condition for real development. He is immanent in the material world and in every soul, though He transcends all limitations of mortal life

This is 100% accurate. I, however, have my doubts about the popular interpretations used by people.

Let us go back to the analogy of the ocean, clouds, rain and rivers.

They are all real, and yet transitory in nature……….. Except the ocean, which is real and permanent. So in simple terms some events are REAL BUT TRANSITORY and some are REAL AND PERMANENT.

1. The clouds are real. (but it’s never the same water in the clouds). So it’s real and transitory and therefore unreal. They always exist, but are never constituted from the same material or shapes.

2. The rain is real (But it’s never the same rain with the same intensity in the same place) So its nature is transitory as well, though permanent in existence.

3. The same story for ice and snow and rivers. They are all real in their presence ……….yet……………..they are transitory , changing and never constituted of the same molecules , though in essence they are based on the same base matter called H2O molecules , These molecules can change their form from a cloud to rain to rivers.

Yet all the forms above though always existing in nature, their core constituents mutate from one form to another. And it all emanates from that constant unchanging thing called the ocean.

So in summary to this perhaps most important passage of Madhwacharya. I say, he is 100% right. However I interpret his saying as follows.

Yes everything is real and permanent, as the rain, ice, clouds, rivers etc are real. However their individual constituent natures are fleeting, transient and temporary, Just as humans will remain on earth, but it’s a passing and changing composition as it’s never the same person who will always remain on earth, but it’s a moving population. It is only God (ocean) that remains changeless and constant. It provides all the other forms of bheda bhava, but does not depend or is effected by them.

At this point, I ask was Shankara meaning god is the only truth, and the rest are maya, as they are not constant in composition and therefore can’t be permanent?

And did Madhwacharya mean they are real as they constantly exist on earth, and therefore have to be counted as real entities as long as god exists?

This is where I feel; maybe it is we who are arguing on semantics, Both are right, It all depends on how you define the vision in front of you

In the same picture Adi Shankaracharya was referring to the impermanence in what he sees, and Madhwacharya was referring to the permanence of what exists before him.

Here is an interesting observation as well. To agree or not agree with the above discussion is of zero significance to your personal evolution as a human.

To believe in dwaita or adwaita, is not critical in getting you Moksha. At least both Madhwacharya and Shankracharya agree on this, It’s the bhakti, meditation and divine grace that will get you there. The 4 practices to god realization mentioned by Madhwacharya.

To spend the rest of your life arguing whether god is Dwaita or Adwaita is a colossal waste of time. It’s more like a Big boys football fans club, where people don’t play the game itself, but are standing on the sidelines cheering their teams. Madhwacharya and Shankracharya I assume did not want cheer leaders but real players and followers of their rules of Dharma.

He has unravelled the elaborate hierarchy of Gods, rishis, manes, angels, men, animals and demons who are instrumental in the process of manifestation and dissolution of the universe. In this cosmic process, a soul with a lower degree of worth in the spiritual hierarchy is subject to control and guidance by souls of higher degree of worth. For instance, the spiritual evolution of normal human beings is guided and controlled by angels, manes, rishis, and gods, who function from higher planes of devotion to the Almighty.

This doctrine of spiritual gradation should not be confused with any cult of social or political stratification, which permit exclusive religious privileges to a few persons or groups. It is not at all a social, political or legal ideology. It is a purely spiritual insight, revealing and appraising the spiritual capacity of a person to love God and his fellow-beings. Greater the capacity and intensity of love and devotion, the greater is the rank of a person in God’s dispensation. Compassion, generosity, love and devotion to God are the very essence of a good soul. God’s grace is bestowed on a person, strictly in proportion to his capacity to love God and His creation.

Here Madhwacharya gives wise words for the Hindus. No superior souls and no higher or lower casts. Only Bhakti decides merit, and only rishis and gurus assist spiritual guidance.

Dwaita or adwaita in my opinion is a totally non-consequential and side issue to the core of Madhwachary’s teachings. I am unable to comprehend why 700 years were utterly wasted debating something similar to, sub clause 5 section c in annexure 2 in some document.

I think he gives incredible and simple directions on how to reach god. That is all that matters.

He is against cast and rituals,

Madhvacharya stands for Bhakti (devotion), acquiring the right knowledge and meditative practices. This is something every Spiritual master has repeated again and again.

To try to get a better perspective of what Madhvacharya was saying , I will use two concepts called Maya in Hinduism, and the Buddhist concept called ‘emptiness’, which are one and the same.

In deep meditative practice, sooner or later you hit this vision where you see the inherent nature of all Prakrit as illusory. You realize the entire physical nature of the universe is just pure energy manifesting and masquerading as matter.

It is to this illusion that we react as we assume it is real. The emotions and all other forms of reaction by are nervous system to this illusory play in front of our eyes are REAL. While the object of perception may be unreal, the reaction is real. So to that extent it is real and unreal at the same time. For that reason too, Karma is always real and permanent.

The Buddhists call it emptiness, where you realize that there is no inherent form to what you see in front of you.

The Hindus call it Maya.

Madhvacharya would be right in saying, treat this illusion as real as it causes an emotional reaction in the mind that is real and determines your Karma, So treat it seriously.

Madhvacharya so brilliantly puts it

"Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoh" [Mind alone is the cause for Man's bondage and liberation] - Acharya Madhva

In my humble opinion, all Madhvacharya was saying was, Treat this illusion of Samsara as real as it causes a reaction in your mind that is the only reality that lives with your soul forever. Hence Duality

And Shankaracharya was saying as the Buddhists say. It’s an illusion so don't react and get tied down to Samsara as if it was real hence non reality

The important point is to get both messages as prompts to a bigger reality in life......How to evolve as a better human through your emotional reactions

That, both Madhvacharya and Shankracharya agree is the ultimate goal of human existance.

It is such a sad waste of time trying to argue the pointless difference between duality and non duality, till the end of time.

Start practicing Dhyana. Bhakti and correct interpretation of Vidya, Get rid of cast and according to me depending on who you follow Madhwacharya or Shankracharya, you will get greater punya and the gurus blessings

About Author - In search of the ultimate truth beyond concepts and notions, in that silence, after 20 years in soulless corporate board rooms.!/sanjayrao1010

Also see –
Pictures of Krishna temple at Udupi

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