Sri Madhvacharya – Religious Reformer and Dualism Philosopher

Madhvacharya and Veda Vyasa

Madhva, also known as Madhvacharya, Purna Prajna, or Ananda Tirtha, was a great philosopher and preacher, the founder of the religious and philosophical tradition of Dvaita or Tattvavada, which is one of the central monotheistic schools of Vedanta of the Vaishnava canon.

The influence of Shri Madhvacharya on the development of world theistic thought was so great that to this day, everyone who is seriously interested in the devotional loving service of the Lord, one way or another, voluntarily or involuntarily, turns to his works written in Sanskrit, in the original and translations, in transcriptions, comments, and links.

Shri Madhvacharya Personality

Sri Madhva was a multifaceted personality with a strong physique. He was a good swimmer, always a winner in wrestling contests, skillful in mountain climbing, and, at the same time, he was a perfect brahmin and a great devotee of Lord Krishna.

According to biographers, his lineage returned to Lord Parasurama, the incarnation of Krishna in the form of a brahmin with the power of a Kshatriya. In addition to all his virtues, Sri Madhva had a pleasant voice, sang beautifully, and recited Srimad Bhagavatam captivating the listeners.

According to Trivikrama Pandit, Madhva had 32 qualities that characterized him as the greatest personality. After Sripad Shankaracharya, he became the next great Vedantist to found his own school. His Madhva-Vijaya consisted of many followers, speaking different languages and coming from different places, each of whom became a perfect guru.

Early Life of Acharya Madhva

Sri Madhvacharya was born in 1238 to a Brahmin family at Tulunada, 8 miles from Udipi in Karnataka. His parents were Naddantillaya and Vedavati, and he was Vasudeva. His whole life was surrounded by an aura of mystical and completely implausible stories. The legend says that Madhva killed a demon with his big toe at age five, which suddenly appeared before his mother as a poisonous snake. Then he turned a bag of tamarind seeds into a bag of golden coins and thus helped his father pay off his debts.

Spiritual Journey of Shri Madhvacharya

Having realized the goal of human life in early childhood, Madhva took sannyasa (renunciate way of life) at the age of 12 and left home, against all the persuasion of his parents.

Having received initiation from Acyutapreksha (sannyasa-guru), Sri Madhva received the name Purnaprajana Tirtha. Later, he became the head of his guru’s ashram and taught his disciples his personal interpretation.

He traveled extensively preaching in South India during the same period, from Udipi to Kanyakumari, from Rameshwaram to Sri Rangam. Visiting places of pilgrimage, he easily converted Buddhists, Jains, and followers of Shankaracharya into devotees of Vishnu.

Having completed his tour of South India, he went to the North. In the Himalayas, Madhva visited Badarikashram, where the great sage Veda Vyasa, the author, and compiler of Vedic literature, resides. He lives there to this day, but ordinary people cannot see him with their own eyes.

For seven weeks, Madhva subjected himself to severe austerities (fasting, offering prayers, and meditating), as a result of which he received darshan, a personal audience. After meeting with Maharshi Vyasa, he presented his commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita to him and was approved.

Vyasa gave Madhvacharya a saligrama-sila – Ashtamurti. With this blessing, he returned to his ashram. During a short philosophical discussion with his guru, he persuaded him to accept Vaishnavism. Thus, Acyutapreksha became the disciple of his disciple.

Madhvacharya recognized that the true essence of a person is his soul, but people identify themselves with the body, and therefore the soul is asleep. The Supreme Lord and His devotees can only awaken it.

He devoted his life to proving Vaishnavism philosophy’s superiority over Sripad Shankaracharya’s teachings. He wrote commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras and many philosophical works in Sanskrit.

In his ashram (in Udupi), he forbade animal sacrifice, replacing it with the offering of flowers, established the Deity of Krishna, and instructed the strict observance of fasting on Ekadashi.

Madhvacharya learning core knowledge of Vedas from Veda Vyasa in Uttara Badri
Madhvacharya learning core knowledge of Vedas from Veda Vyasa in Uttara Badri (source)

Contribution of Acharya Madhvacharya

He was distinguished by great humility and modesty, considering himself the lowest servant of God. The most amazing that made him famous as a great Vedantian scholar was that he shattered all the contemporary atheistic teachings. He refuted Buddhism, monism, etc., by establishing the principles of devotional service to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Distinguished by extraordinary intellectual abilities, Sri Madhva amazed the great pundits with his learning. His deep understanding of Vedic philosophy was unparalleled. Convinced of the futility of Sripad Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta, he advanced a theistic understanding of the Vedas.

The literary legacy of Acharya Madhva is enormous. He gave the world many volumes of books:

  • Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita,
  • Commentaries on 10 major Upanishads,
  • 10 philosophical treatises,
  • Dasa Prakaranas (one of the most important works),
  • Anu Vyakhana, a complete review of the Mahabharata (Moksha-dharma) Commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatam

At the end of his life, Acharya Madhwa wrote a commentary on the Niyaya Vivarana, Karma Nirnaya, and Krishnamrita Maharnava.

The philosophy of Madhvacharya (B.N.K. Sharma 1962, reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass 2014) is called Dvaita Vedanta. Its main points are:

  • The Supreme Lord – Vishnu, who is independent, possesses all qualities, and is not affected by illusion; he is the God of all gods.
  • The soul is His particle and servant, and its liberation lies through devotion to the Lord and the study of the Vedic scriptures. The material world is not an illusion or a dream; it exists.

Many disciples of Shri Madhvacharya, such as Narahari Tirtha and Satya Tirtha, continued the approach to Philosophy awakened by their mentor. The disciples of disciples Padmanabha Tirtha and Akshobhya Tirtha guarded the Acharya Madhva’s Advaita Vedanta knowledge.

Philosophy and Teachings from Shri Madhvacharya

Sri Madhvacharya developed a dualistic Hindu philosophy system from the Prasthana-Traya, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras. It is an unqualified dualism.

Madhva makes an absolute difference between God and animate and inanimate objects. God is the only independent reality. His Vedanta is the doctrine of absolute differences. It is an Atyanta Bheda Darshana (doctrine of absolute difference).

The main philosophy of Madhva Vedanta says:

  1. Liberation is the individual soul’s enjoyment of its innate bliss. This is Moksha, or the final emancipation. Bhakti, or devotion without fault, is the medium of attaining Moksha. Perception, inference, and the Scriptures are the 3 Pramanas or means of knowledge. Hari is knowable only through the Vedas. As taught in the Bhagavata Purana, the worship of Lord Krishna is the core of their religion.
  2. According to Madhva and Padartha, objective reality is of two types—independent (Swatantra) and dependent (Paratantra). God, the Supreme Almighty, is the only independent reality. God rules the soul and the world. Dependent beings are of two types—positive and negative. Conscious souls (Chetana) and unconscious entities such as matter and time (Achetana) are the two positive varieties.
  3. The world is not an illusion. Neither is it a transformation of God, as curds are of milk or divine-dependent reality. Madhva doesn’t admit that the world is the body of God. The difference between God and the world is absolute and unqualified. Therefore, the Madhva system is called Dvaita or unqualified dualism.
  4. Bhakti is the means of salvation. Souls attain salvation by the Grace of God. Such grace comes to the devotee through Vayu, the son of Vishnu. God cannot be reached directly. Vayu (Wind) is the mediator. The Lord’s grace is in proportion to the intensity of devotion.
  5. Worship of God is the indispensable condition for obtaining God’s grace. Knowledge protects the human soul, which depends on God and is under His control. Right knowledge results in love for God. Bhakti is the result of knowing the greatness of God.

Last Days of Sri Madhvacharya

In 1317, at the age of 79, on the ninth day of the full moon of Magh (January-February), Sri Madhvacharya left this mortal world and returned to the spiritual world for his eternal pastimes on the Vaikuntha planets. Dashami tithi of Ashwin Sukla Pachya is celebrated as Shri Madhvacharya Jayanti remembering his contribution to decoding the true nature of divinity and world structure. Shri Madhvacharya disappearance is often claimed by Bhaktas of the Madhwa Philosophy as he sets his journey towards Badri.