Sri Madhvacharya evolved a dualistic system of philosophy out of the Prasthana-Traya, viz., the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Brahma Sutras. It is an unqualified dualism. Madhva’s Vaishnavism is called Sad-Vaishnavism, in order to distinguish it from the Sri Vaishnavism of Ramanujacharya.
Madhva makes an absolute distinction between God, and animate and inanimate objects. God is the only independent Reality. The animate and inanimate objects are dependent realities. Madhva’s Vedanta is the doctrine of absolute differences. It is an Atyanta-Bheda-Darsana. He insists on five great distinctions (Pancha-Bheda), viz., (i) the distinction between God and the individual soul, (ii) the distinction between God and matter, (iii) the distinction between the individual soul and matter, (iv) the distinction between one soul and another and (v) the distinction between one material thing and another. Madhva’s philosophy is a philosophy of distinction. Every follower of the Madhva school should have a firm belief in this fivefold distinction, known as the Pancha-Bheda.
You can clearly grasp Sri Madhvacharya’s philosophy if you study his commentary on the Brahma Sutras and Anu-Vyakhyana, his commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, and his glosses on the Mahabharata (Bharata-tatparya-nirnaya) and on the Bhagavata Purana.
Madhva’s philosophy has many points in common with those of Ramanuja. In Madhva’s system of philosophy, Hari or Vishnu is the Supreme Being. The world is real. Difference is true. All the Jivas are dependent on Hari, the Lord. There are grades of superiority and inferiority among the individual souls. Liberation is the individual soul’s enjoyment of its innate bliss. This is Moksha or the final emancipation. Bhakti, or devotion, without faults, is the means of attaining Moksha. Perception, inference and the scriptures are the three Pramanas, or ways of knowledge. Hari is knowable only through the Vedas. Worship of Lord Krishna as taught in the Bhagavata Purana is the centre of his religion. This is the quintessence of Madhva’s teachings.
According to Madhva, Padartha or objective reality is of two kinds—independent (Svatantra) and dependent (Paratantra). God, the Supreme Being, is the only independent Reality. The soul and the world are dependent realities. God rules them. The dependent beings are of two varieties—positive and negative. Conscious souls (Chetana), and unconscious entities like matter and time (Achetana), are the two varieties of the positive. Unconscious entities are either eternal like the Vedas, or eternal and non-eternal like Prakriti, time and space or non-eternal like the products of Prakriti.
The Supreme Being And His Consort
The Supreme Being is Vishnu or Narayana. He is the personal first cause. He is the Intelligent Governor of the world. He lives in Vaikuntha along with Lakshmi, His consort. He and His consort Lakshmi are real. Brahma and Vayu are two of His sons. One can know His nature through a study of the Vedas. He manifests Himself through various Vyuhas or Group-forms, and through Avataras. He is present in the sacred images. He is also the Antaryamin or the Inner Controller of all souls. He creates, maintains and destroys the world.
God is free from Doshas or faults. He is endowed with all auspicious qualities. He is omnipresent or all-pervading and independent. He is beyond time and space. He is greater than Lakshmi. There is no other who is greater than Lakshmi. She is the foremost of the dependents. Lakshmi is the Lord’s Sakti or energy. She is the personification of His power or creative energy. Lakshmi can put on various forms without a material body. She is co-eternal with Vishnu and all-pervading. She beholds the glory of Her Lord through eternity. She is Nitya-Mukta, i.e., eternally free from Samsara. She is not affected by sorrow and pain. She is intelligent.
Prakriti—The Material Cause Of The World
God is the efficient—but not the material—cause of the world, because Prakriti which is the world-stuff is different from Him. Prakriti is the material cause of the world. It evolves into the visible world. All the objects, bodies, and organs of the souls are made out of Prakriti. God energises Prakriti through Lakshmi. Then there is creation.
The three aspects of Prakriti are presided over by the three Powers: Lakshmi, Bhu and Durga. Avidya is a form of Prakriti. It obscures the spiritual powers of the individual soul. It forms a veil which hides the Supreme from the vision of the individual soul.
Mahat, Ahankara (egoism), Buddhi, mind, the ten senses, the five sense-objects, and the five great elements are the modifications of Prakriti. These exist in the primordial Prakriti in subtle forms before their evolution.
The World—A Reality Distinct From God
According to Madhva, the world is not an illusion. It is not also a transformation of God, as curd is of milk. Madhva does not admit that the world is the body of God. The distinction between God and the world is absolute and unqualified. Hence the system of Madhva is called Dvaita or unqualified dualism.
The Individual Soul—A Distinct Entity
Plurality of Souls
There is plurality of Jivas. They are all of atomic size. The entire universe is filled with Jivas or individual souls. Every atom of space is filled up with Jivas. Madhva says in his ‘Tattvanirnaya’: “Infinite are the souls dwelling in an atom of space.”
No two Jivas are alike in character. They are essentially different from one another. There are different grades amongst them even in their enjoyment of bliss after salvation.
A Real Distinction Between Jiva And Brahman
The Jivas are different from God, and from matter. Madhva regards the distinction between Brahman and Jiva as real.
Though the Jiva is limited in size, it pervades the body owing to its quality of intelligence. The Jivas are active agents, but they depend on the guidance of the Lord. The Lord impels the Jivas to action in accordance with their previous conduct. They are eternal, and by nature, blissful. But, the connection with material bodies due to their past Karma makes them suffer pain and undergo transmigration. So long as they are not freed from their impurities, they wander about in the Samsara. They pass from birth to death, and from death to birth. When their impurities are removed, they attain salvation. The natural bliss of the soul becomes manifest at the time of Moksha or salvation.
Salvation Does Not Entitle the Soul to Equality With God
The soul does not attain equality with God. It is entitled only to serve Him.
Even in heaven, there are essential differences among the Jivas. The classes of souls in the realm of bliss are various. There are different grades also. The liberated souls are not all equal; but, there is no discord among them, because they all know Brahman and have no faults.
Classification of Souls
Madhva accepts Ramanuja’s classification of the souls into Nitya or eternal (like Lakshmi), Mukta or liberated (the gods, men, Rishis, sages and fathers), and Baddha or bound ones. The third group consists of two classes: (i) those who are eligible for Moksha (Mukti-yogya) and (ii) those who are not so eligible. Of those who are not eligible for salvation, there are two classes again: (a) those who are bound to the cycle of Samsara forever (Nitya-samsarins) and (b) those whose destiny is hell, the region of blinding darkness (Tamo-yogya).
Some are pre-ordained for the final emancipation by their inherent aptitude. Some others are eternally destined either to wander in Samsara without end, or to go to the world of darkness. The Sattvika souls go to heaven, the Rajasa souls revolve in Samsara and the Tamasa souls fall into hell.
Bhakti—The Means To Salvation
Bhakti is the means to salvation. Souls attain salvation through the grace of God. That grace comes on the devotee only through the mediator Vayu, the son of Vishnu. God cannot be approached directly. Vayu is the mediator. The grace of the Lord is in proportion to the intensity of devotion.
Worship of God is the indispensable preliminary condition for obtaining the grace of God. The soul is saved by the knowledge that it is dependent on God and is under His control. Correct knowledge results in the love of God. Bhakti is the result of knowledge of the greatness of God.
Ankana, Namakarana, Bhajana and Smarana
The worship of Vishnu consists in: (i) Ankana, marking the body with His symbols, (ii) Namakarana, giving the Names of the Lord to children, (iii) Bhajana, singing His glories, and (iv) Smarana, constant practice of remembrance of God. Madhva says: “Form a strong habit of remembering God. Then only it will be easy for you to remember Him at the moment of death.” He pointed out that when the Lord incarnated, no Prakrita Deha or material body was put on by Him. Madhva has prescribed a rigorous kind of fasting to his followers.
Practice of Sadhana
Good moral life is a preliminary for Moksha. The aspirant should equip himself with the study of Vedas, control of the senses, dispassion and perfect self-surrender, if he wants to have vision of the Lord. Renunciation, devotion and direct cognition of the Lord through meditation, lead to the attainment of salvation. The devotee attains direct intuitive realisation of God through meditation and divine grace. Then he is freed from the round of births and deaths.
These are some of the important teachings of Sri Madhvacharya, the renowned exponent of the dualistic school of philosophy.(Excerpt from “All About Hinduism” by Yogi Sri Swami Sivananda)