MEET MADHUSUDANA SARASVATI (Author of Advaitasiddhi) by Dr.B.N.K.Sharma  E-mail

(The following article appeared in the work : MY LATEST FOUR RESEARCH PAPERS by Madhvamunipriya, Mahamahopadhyaya, Late. Dr. B. N. K. Sharma, M.A. PhD. D.Litt.)

Prof. Maheswaran Nair has made a distinctive, long awaited contribution to the world of Vedanta scholarship by bringing out a first English translation of Vyasatirtha's Nyayamrta and its criticism the Advaitasiddhi side by side. It fills a great gap, as till now no complete translation in English of either has been available for modern scholars specializing in Vedanta dialectics. But this edition suffers from want of a perspective index, which is absolutely necessary for a modern work of such great importance.

The Dvaita known to Gaudapada and Sankara was not an Aupanisada Darsana. It was Madhva who gave the final shape to Vedanta as a robust Theism of the Prasthanatraya – the triple canon and brought Dvaita - Advaita philosophical polemics to contemporary attention with his monographs on disputed themes like Mayavada, Upadhi and Mithyatva besides re-interpreting the ten Upanisads, Brahmasutras and Gita. Jayatirtha and others after him continued the polemics on the home front.

It was Vyasatirtha the Saint - Philosopher of the Vijayanagar Empire who took Dvaita - Advaita philosophical polemics to an All - India Forum in his Nyayamrta by widening the range and scope of the subject and its dimensions, by placing in the hands of his contemporaries a New Agenda for a more complete, comprehensive and fruitful study, discussion and assessment of the credentials and credibility of the contending systems.

Much of the credit given to Madhusudana Sarasvati for having ushered in a Neo - Advaita, in its traditional setup, must really go to Vyasatirtha, as has been handsomely acknowledged by the late Mm. Anantakrishna Sastri, long ago. In dealing with the subject, Vyasatirtha had set for himself a very high standard of parliamentary decorum and discipline in the use of controversial language and vocabulary which was scrupulously adhered to by the Tarangini in its reply to the A-siddhi, in glaring contrast with the style of writing of both Madhusudana and Brahmananda. The Tg in its replies invariably begins with the words Atra vadanti and replies strictly to the point without heat or passion. Not so Madhusudana and his commentator who freely indulge in invective rhetoric, discourtesy, derision and abusive language, to the extent of unprintable insults as on pages 50 and 119 in the translation. Dr. Nair should have taken the responsibility to delete all such jarring notes in the English translations by using his discretion and better judgment.

While paying dutiful respects to his Vidyaguru, Diksaguru and Paramaguru at the outset, Madhusudana has omitted to do so in respect of the Adiguru of Advaita namely Adis´ankara – which is in glaring contrast with the example set by Vyasatirtha.

Madhusudana wantonly twists and misconstrues Vyasatirtha's statement : Yadrsam brahmanah satvam tadrsam syat jagatyapi for the sake of jeering at his adversary, by resorting to a Chala, by cutting a bad joke at his expense in the form of a foolish suitor to the hand of a maiden, answering her father's question of what his gotra may be, by telling him "it is the same as yours, Sir".

What the statement of Vyasatirtha actually means and is intended to convey is that like B the world too has an existence and a reality, in the same way as B, though it may not be self luminous (svaprakasa) like B. It is doubtful however if the Advaitabrahman can be self - luminous, because it is claimed by Sankara that it cannot know itself (atmani-svakriya virodhat). That apart, the term yadrsam merely refers to a similarity of nature and not identity. Vyasatirtha's statement does not mean that the material world has no reality apart from B's. Vyasatirtha has clarified:

There is nothing in this for Madhusudana to jump to the conclusion that the world and B. share one and the same reality. Evidently, Madhusudana is not aware of the fact that Dvaita Philosophy does not accept anugatasatta- among existents –

Bhinnasca bhinnadharmasca padartha nikhila api (AV)

Difference and resemblance are both unique and sui generic to each particular, tho made out thro their counter - correlates. That apart, are we to take it that Madhusudana does not understand the difference between Nitya and Anitya, as explained by Vyasatirtha in the same work? No wonder, the Tg pulls up Madhusudana : Bhava - anavabodhat.

Most Advaitins and their modern apologists continue to believe and accuse Dvaita Philosophers of deliberately confounding the Vyavaharika and the Paramarthika stand -points of S's Philosophy. Dr. K. Narain, in his Critique of Madhva refutation of the Sankara school of Vedanta, had done so and Prof. Nair has committed the same mistake. It is all very well for him to insist that "the practical reality of the world is never negated. What is negated is its absolute reality." (P. 40 translation). But, the more important question is from which angle or standpoint is the practical reality sought to be negated. The Nym. has actually raised this moot question - whether the vyavaharika prapanca is negated from the Vyavaharika or the absolute point of view. Negation of the practical reality from the practical point of view would be suicidal. The negation has to be from the absolute point of view. But that is beset by an inextricable logical fallacy of mutual interdependence (anyonyasraya). That is where the shoe pinches and there lies the heel of Achilles. The words of Nym. are crystal clear on the point. For Paramarthikatva, as defined by Advaita, consists in uncontradictedness (abadhyatva). Only when one has a complete knowledge of what is Paramarthika, as not open to sublation with reference to all the three periods of time, can one understand the nature of Mithyatva of the Vyavaharika as liable to be negated with reference to all the three periods of time. Unless one has such a knowledge of Mithyatva, one cannot understand what Paramarthika reality is as not open to negation at all. After quoting faithfully from Nym : Napi dvitiyah Abadhyatvarupa aramarthikatvasya – badhyatvarupa mithyatvanirupyatvat anyonyasrayatvat, the Logician in Madhusudana is forced to admit tamely - Maivam Svarupenaiva traikalika nisedhasya prapance suktirupye ca angikarat (A – siddhi Sri Vidya Press Edn). This lets the cat out of the bag. This outspoken confession of Madhusudana, in dealing with second definition of falsity in his A-siddhi, is nowhere to be found, in Prof. Nair's English translation of the text of the Asiddhi. One wonders why. Anyway, the frank confession of Madhusudana that both the illusory silver and the practical world (Prapanca) are negated per se in respect of their own respective forms of appearance as such (Svarupena as Asad – vilaksana = Mithya) would consequently reduce them to an essenceless void - as pointed out by Vyasatirtha –

The reader of the English translation is entitled to know what Madhusudana's reactions are to the crucial point raised by Vyasatirtha. The translation is silent on the point. Madhusudana is prone to play tricks with evidence, in dealing with the Advaita interpretation of Ekameva - advitiyam he adverts to the Nasadiya - Sukta (R.V. X, 129) where in the opening line, there is reference to Tadanim with reference to the existence of Time in Mahapralaya. Madhusudana, therefore, proceeds to shift it to the next line to avoid a survival of Time as a reality in Mahapralaya. But, the shifting of the term tadanim to the next line can serve no purpose as the context remains the same Mahapralaya. However, he also says the words Sat and Asat in the opening line should be construed in what he calls their well known (Prasiddhartha) usage of Paramarthika and Aparamarthika instead of in their scriptural meanings of Murta and Amurta, as suggested by Madhva on the basis of the Brh. Up. (II.3, 2-3). The undesirable consequence of Madhusudana's move would be to reduce even the surviving residual B. in Mahapralaya, as the one Sat breathing windless by its own power (anid avatam svadhaya tadekam) to a state of anirvacaniya. To avoid this, Madhusudana proposes to call to aid some other Srutis from elsewhere, which is quite unnecessary, if Sat and Asat are understood as Murta and Amurta as supported by Brh. Up. As a Sastrajna, Madhusudana is expected to adhere to the principle of interpretation of Sastric words in their scriptural connotation : Sastrastha va tannimittatvat, as far as possible. What surprises one is that Madhusudana has not even cared to adhere to Sankara's interpretation of the words Sat and Asat, used in Prasna Up. (II. 5) as Murta and Amurta, respectively. Are we to suppose that Madhusudana had not read even Sankara's own bhasya on the Upanisads? If he had, why has he not stuck to them here?

After valiantly fighting for the establishment of B's formlessness (nirakaratva), Madhusudana seems to have had a guilty conscience and seems to have hastened to make amends by saying "I know of no other higher than Murali Krsna : Krsnatparam kimapi tattvam aham na jane." This verse is relevant to the present section and not to the beginning of the one as printed here. The Kumbakonam edition places it at the end of the present section. The same is the case with the abusive verse - Iha kumatih atatve tatvavadi varakah which should appear in the Epilogue and not where it is found in Prof. Nair's translation.

The trouble taken by Advaita to castrate B of its vital essences of Satyam, Jnanam and Ananda and other metaphysical attributes by Akhandartha surgery is an unfortunate exercise in futility by taking it to the brink of Apohavada. Intellectual sophistry cannot go beyond Akhandartha by smothering the Upanisadic Brahman with a number of gags without a single gap of attributes for it to breathe. When one reads the thrilling and sonorous description of B in the Taitt. Up. as Satyam jnanam anantam B, followed by an assurance that one who realises it reaches it along with the enlightened Brahmadeva, one hardly suspects that it can be twisted and mangled into so many negatives and exclusions of their opposites only (atadvyavrtti). No wonder, even a sincere Advaitin like Dr. P. K. Sundaram recoils from interpreting satyam, jnanam etc. as the absence of existence, absence of ignorance and absence of pain - a dark emptiness and blankness and bankruptcy of being. The profound depth of existence of B is not conveyed by denial but by affirmation, not by is not, but by is. A reality which is said to be Satyasya satyam cannot be an essenceless Vacuum (P. 6-7 E. T. of Istasiddhi). There must be some linking agency, some internal mechanism in the constitution of B to admit of a differenceless identity which however facilitates a distinction of reference without necessitating a distinction of essence. It cannot fall outside B's ontological essence or an expression of it or one alien to it. The name Svarupavisesa given to it in Dvaita philosophy is most appropriate, signifying its own internal dynamism.

Karl Potter has made it clear that tho Advaita thought looks upon self-knowledge as not given by any Pramana and is an immediate intuition, still the precise nature of its content has to be gathered from the sruti. Thus ultimately, it has to look upon scripture and language, as its critical means of proof of its truthfulness of such anubhava (Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies Vol - II P. 98). S too endorses the same : Brahmatmabhavasya sastram antarena anavagamyamanatvat (BSB I, 1, 4).

It is for this reason that Vyasatirtha has given top priority to the discussions of over twenty Advaita Srutis, with special reference to their context, language, wording, syntax, concord and significance of the illustrations given. Of these Madhusudana has dealt with only Aham Brahmasmi and Tattvam asi (Akhandartha) and has skipped Neha nanasti, vacarambhanam, Prapanco yadi vidyeta and such other crucial texts and giving cursory attention to Ekameva Advitiyam and a few others. Prof. Nair sums up his comment on Ekam eva Advitiyam in two or three sentences. We cannot, therefore, admit Prof. Nair's plea that Madhusudana "does not explain all these other Srutis for fear of inordinate length of the discussions" (P 74). He could have given more attention to them, instead of enlarging on the topic of Vipratipatti pradarsana at the beginning, which has no interest to modern scholars. The Nadi Samudra drstanta in Tattvam asi has been thrown out by Vacaspati Misra Bhamati on BSB I.4.22). The illustration of salt dissolved in water, the invisible power hidden behind the tiny banyan seeds ordered to be cut open (broken), the thief and imposter with stolen property caught red handed and brought to trial, the dying man on his sick bed are all hard nuts to crack, from an Advaita point of view. A baffled Madhusudana beats a hasty retreat, saying that illustrations do not run on all fours, or that they are not transparent, or do not refer to any differences as really existing and lastly, and above all, that they are indifferent alike to the existence of real difference or real identity (between Jiva and Brahma - Vastavabheda abhedayor audasinyena, P. 836 N. S. Press Edition). Prof. Nair's Translation has drawn a black curtain over all such irresponsible and facetious pleas of Madhusudana, in his translation. Such replies are evasive. The question is whether the illustrations given by Uddalaka support the thesis of difference between Jiva Brahman or their identity. They cannot do both. Neither can they be neutral and indifferent to both. Yet, nothing daunted, Madhusudana coolly says they do neither!! This is no compliment to the Sruti or to Uddalaka or to our intelligence.

Advaitasiddhi-a critical study by Prof. K. Maheswaran Nair

- Kerala University - India Book Centre, 40/5, Saktinagar,

Delhi - 7 (1990)