Dvaita (Kannada: ದ್ವೈತ; Devanagari:द्बैत) is a dualist school of Vedanta Hindu philosophy. The Sanskrit word dvaita means "dualism". This school was established as a new development in the Vedanta exegetical tradition in the thirteenth century CE with the south Indian Vaishnava theologian Madhvacharya, who wrote commentaries on a number of Hindu scriptures. The Dvaita school of philosophy is part of the Brahma sampradaya. It can be described as dualist monism or substantial monism.

In contrast with advaita (non-dualist), the most influential and widely followed philosophy expounded by Shankara, Madhva (who is also known as Madhvacharya) maintains that there is an eternal distinction between the individual self and the absolute. As explained by Gavin Flood:

Whereas the Advaita tradition emphasizes the non-difference (abheda) between the self and the absolute, Madhva insists on their complete distinction. Difference or bheda is a cornerstone of his theology and scriptural interpretation.

Dvaita philosophy

Madhvacharya espoused a Vaishnava theology that understands Brahman to be endowed with attributes and a personal God, Vishnu. By Brahman, he referred to Vishnu, as per his statement "brahmashabdashcha vishhnaveva" that Brahman can only refer to Vishnu. Madhvacharya states that Vishnu is not just any other deity, but is rather the singular, all-important and supreme one. Vishnu is always the primary object of worship, and all others are regarded as subordinate to Him. The deities and other sentient beings are graded among themselves, with Vayu, the god of life, being the highest, and Vishnu is eternally above them.

While each thing is unique, dvaita philosophy notes five categories of difference (bheda):

  • Between the Lord () and the self ()
  • Between innumerable selves
  • Between the Lord and matter (prakriti)
  • Between the self and matter
  • Between phenomena within matter

Despite these differences, there exists a clear and distinct relationship:

The Dvaita doctrine was summarized by Vyasatirtha as comprising nine tenets or prameyas, through his Prameya shloka.

Taratamya - Spiritual hierarchy

In this regard Dvaita is distinct from other Hindu movements.

Vishnu is accorded supreme status and Lakshmi is his consort. Brahma and Vayu come the next level with both on the same level. Their wives (Saraswati and Bharati) occupy the next level. Garuda, Shesha, Shiva, Indra, Kama, Surya, Chandra, Varuna, Nala, Vignesh and others occupy the succeedingly lower hierarchy.

Madhvacharya taught that the life in the world can be divided into two groups Kshara and Akshara. Kshara refers to life with destructible bodies while Akshara have indestructible body. Lakshmi is Akshara while others from Brahma and so on are Ksharas or Jeevas. Vishnu doesn't have a body that is made up of Prakriti. So he is exempted from this classification.


The basic tenet of Madhavacharya's philosophy is the existence of two kinds of realities, the independent reality (svatantra tatva) and the dependent reality (asvatantra tatva).

The independent reality (svatantra tatva) refers to "God". Four generic names are applicable to or associated with God, as stated in the Bhagavata Purana. They are Paramatman, Brahman, Para Brahman, and Bhagavan.

In general, Madhvacharya's message is that every word and every sound in this entire universe refers to God which he equated with Vishnu.

According to Madhva, only Brahman is independent in every sense of the word.

The dependent reality (asvatantra tatva) refers to the plurality of jivas and prakriti. Both the jivas and nature are dependent on Brahman for their very existence. This dependence is expressed metaphorically as bimba-pratibimba (source-reflection) relation. The reflection is in every way dependent on the source.

Philosophy of realism

Dvaita school belongs to the Realist school of Indian philosophy, in the same category as Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Purva mimamsa schools. They believe that the universe is a real creation of Brahman. The plurality of souls are bound by a "real" bondage due to beginning-less ignorance, and sadhana through Vishnu bhakti is the only way to be released from this bondage. Further, Madhva explains that Jnana or knowledge alone is not sufficient for the release from beginningless avidya or ignorance, since this bondage is sustained by the "Will" of Brahman and so needs Vishnu Prasadam, i.e., God's grace to ultimately break the bonds of Māyā.

Five differences

Dvaita, or Dualistic philosophy (known severally as Bheda-vâda, Tattva-vâda, and Bimba-pratibimba-vâda), asserts that the difference between the individual soul or jîva, and God, (Îshvara or Vishnu), is eternal and real. Actually, this is just one of the five differences that are so stated -- all five differences that constitute the universe are eternal.

The five are given by:

jiiveshvara bheda chaiva jadeshvara bheda tatha |
jiiva-bhedo mithashchaiva jaDa-jiiva-bheda tatha |
mithashcha jada-bhedo.ayam prapajncho bheda-panchakaH ||
- paramashruti
"The difference between the jîva (soul) and Îshvara (Creator), and the difference between jaDa (insentient) and Îshvara; and the difference between various jîvas, and the difference between jaDa and jîva; and the difference between various jaDas, these five differences make up the universe."
From the Paramopanishad a.k.a. Parama-shruti, as quoted by Ananda Tîrtha in his 'VishNu-tattva-vinirNaya'.

Another way of saying this is that these five fundamental real differences are between: Selves and Brahman; matter and Brahman; one Self and another Self; matter and Selves; and, matter and matter.

Contrary to the Idealistic schools like Yogacara, Madhyamika buddhism or Advaita, Dvaita maintains that difference is in the very nature of a substance. This is the reason why some refer to the doctrine of Tattvavâda (the preferred name) as Dvaita. However, Dvaita is thought to be inadequately representative of the true grain of Tattvavâda.

The doctrine of Tattvavâda is considered to be eternal (in a flow-like sense, just as Creation is eternal); in historical times, it was revived by Ananda Tîrtha, who is also known as Madhvâchârya. Because of this, followers of Tattvavâda are called Mâdhvas, meaning followers of Madhva.

Souls and their classification

Madhvacharya has hypothesized (based on vedic texts and yukti) that souls are eternal and not created ex nihilo by God, as in the Semitic religions. Souls depend on God for their very "being" and "becoming." Madhva has compared this relationship of God with souls to the relationship between a source (bimba) and its reflection (pratibimba).

Additionally, Madhvacharya differed significantly from traditional Hindu beliefs in his concept of eternal damnation. For example, he divides souls into three classes, one class which qualify for liberation, Mukti-yogyas, another subject to eternal rebirth or eternally transmigrating due to samsara, Nitya-samsarins, and significantly, a class that is eventually condemned to eternal hell or Andhatamas, known as Tamo-yogyas.

Madhva followers cite authorities such as Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, verses 2 et seq. "There are three types of inclination, which are the self-same natures of the souls, these being satvika, rajasa, and tamasa," Chapter 16, verses 19-20, "These cruel haters, worst among men in the world, I hurl these evil-doers into the wombs of demons only. Entering into demoniacal wombs and deluded, birth after birth, not attaining me, they thus fall, Oh Arjuna, into a condition still lower than that," for their concept of eternal damnation. Madhvacharaya was the second after Ramanuja in the recent years who revived the timeless Vaishnava tradition. There were 21 different Bashayas (commenteries) before Madhvacharaya. He was the first to establish the facts of tri-patriate classification of souls. By contrast, most Hindus believe that souls will eventually obtain moksha, even after millions of rebirths.

Answer to the problem of evil

By following the concepts of souls not being created by God and classification of the souls, Madhvacharya provides a lucid answer to the problem of evil by seeking a root cause like the intrinsic nature of the soul itself. Often, evil behaviour displayed in the world might not be just the nature of the soul but also depends upon the timeless actions (Karma) of the soul itself.

Interpretation of the caste system

Madhva 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 and vice versa. The caste system decided by birth is actually jaati and not varna. The varnas simply define the disposition of the soul, for example a soul classified as BrahmaNa varna is disposed towards learning, a kshatriya soul is disposed towards administration and a shudra soul is disposed towards performing service.

Impact of Dvaita Movement

Madhva's Dualistic view, along with Shankara's Advaita or Nondualism and Ramanuja's Qualified Nondualism,or Vishishtadvaita form some core Indian beliefs on the nature of reality. He is considered to be one of the influential theologians in Hindu history. He revitalized an Hindu monotheism in light of attacks, theological and physical, by foreign invasion. Great leaders of the Vaishnava Bhakti movement, in Karnataka, for example, Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa were part of the Dvaita traditions. The famous Hindu saints, Jayatirtha, Sripadaraya, Vyasathirtha, Vadirajatirtha, Vijaya Dasa and Raghavendra Swami and others were leading figures in the Dvaita tradition.

Madhvacharaya during his time not only established dvaita philosophy, but also displayed extraordinary strength and skills to show that he is the third avatara of Vayu, who came down to earth to help people suffering from delusional philosophies and guide them in the right path. Madhvacharaya at the age of 79, year 1317, disappeared from the eyes of humans and continue to reside in Upper Badari in his continuning service to his eternal master Sri Vedavyasa.

Narayana Panditacharya captures Madhvacharaya's life in a beautiful poetic verses in his "Sumadhva Vijaya" which is in 16 Sarga (chapters), this book is an authentic work composed during his own time. This is a very rare work, there is no evidence of anyone composing works on any major philosopher like this before or after him from other disciplines. "Sumadhva Vijaya" is a composition which captures life history of MahdvAcharaya.

Madhvacharya's theology heavily influenced those of later scholars such as Nimbarka, Vallabha, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. B. N. K. Sharma notes that Nimbarka's theology is a loose re-write of Madhvacharya's in its most essential aspects. Vallabha even "borrowed without acknowledgement" a verse from Madhvacharya's `sarva-shAstrArtha-sangraha'. The followers of Chaitanya claim a link to Madhvacharya, though such a link is not historically tenable or theologically plausible.

Madhvacharya's singular contribution was to offer a new insight and analysis of the classical Vedantic texts -- the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahma Sutra, Mahabharata, Pancharatra, and Puranas -- and place uncompromising duality, which had been ravaged by attacks from Advaita, on a firm footing. Before Madhvacharya, Nondualism was rejected by others such as the Mimamsa tradition of Vedic exegesis, and by the Nyaya tradition of classical logic. However, it was only he who could build a cogent alternative system of Vedanta that could take on Advaita in full measure.

Comparison to other sects of Hinduism

The teachings of Sri Madhvacharya were in many ways quite radical for his times. One example is his doctrine of eternal damnation, is generally not endorsed by most schools of Hindu philosophy. But Dvaita scholars argue that Madhva has derived these concepts from within the Vedic framework. There are many instances in the Upanishads and Gita that support Madhva's position. They also argue that since the knowledge of whether a jiva is Muktiyogya (liberation-worthy) or Tamoyogya (damnation-worthy) is not accessible to the Jiva himself, this philosophy does not discourage sadhana for anyone.

See also



  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further reading

  • Deepak Sarma, An Introduction to Madhva Vedanta. Ashgate, 2003.
  • B.N.K. Sharma, The History of the Dvaita School of Vedanta and Its Literature. 3rd ed., Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.
  • B.N.K. Sharma, The Philosophy of Madhvacharya. Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.
  • B.N.K. Sharma, The Brahma Sutras and Their Principal Commentaries. 3 vols., Munshiram Manoharlal, 1986.
  • Tapasyananda, Swami. Bhakti Schools of Vedanta.

External links

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