The school of Dvaita philosophy of Madhvacharya believes that Brahman is not the material cause of the universe, but only the efficient cause.

But at the end of chapter 2, section 2, the Brahma Sutras refute the Pasupata school partly on the grounds that it rejects Brahman as being the material cause of the universe.

If this is the case, how can the Dvaita school support the Brahma Sutras? In other words, how do they interpret the sutras where it suggests Brahman being the material cause?

1 Answer 1


Here is how the Dvaita philosopher Madhvacharya interprets various parts of the Brahma Sutras which other commentators interpret as saying that Brahman rather than Prakriti is the material cause of the Universe:

  1. Most commentators interpret Adhyaya 1 Pada 1 Sutra 5 as rejecting the view that Prakriti is the material cause of the Universe spoken of as Brahman in the Upanishads:

    īkṣaterna aśabdam

    The Pradhana of the Samkhyas is not the cause of the universe, because it is not mentioned in the Upanishads, which fact is clear from the fact of seeing (or thinking).

    Now Madhvacharya would agree that Prakriti is not the one referred to as Brahman in the Upanishads, but he also believed that Prakriti is the material cause of the Universe.  In any case, he interprets the Sutra completely differently than others; he thinks it's saying that Brahman is perceptible:

    "He (by virtue of the initiation received) from the most exalted of souls sees the perfect Being, the Lord of lords pervading all bodies.  He shall find the Lord within himself.  Having received a clear notion from the preceptor or by means of Scripture, he shall endeavor after direct realisation." From these and like statements, it being declared as perceptible, is positively declared by the word. Since it is a thing revealed by the Upanishads, it's perception cannot arise by means other than words.... The statement that Brahman is indescribable, etc., however proceeds from the absence of thorough comprehension of Brahman.... The interpretation put by other (commentators) upon the word Asabda in this Sutra cannot be justified.

  2. Most commentators consider Adhyaya 1 Pada 4 Sutra 23 as saying that Brahman is the material cause of the Universe:

    prakṛtiśca pratijñādṛṣṭāntānuparodhāt

    Brahman must be the material cause as well, so as not to contradict the proposition and the illustration.

    But Madhvacharya interprets this Sutra as saying the word Prakriti is a name of Brahman (in addition to being a name of the entity posited by the Samkhya school):

    That also the words denoting feminine things primarily declare the Lord only, the Sutrakara says[.]... "Verily this person alone all the names declare; just as all the rivers going to the sea, flow towards and enter it, so do all names enter and declare the Perfect Being." Thus agreeably to the argument and illustration given, the same Lord is necessarily denoted by the word Prakriti also.

  3. Most commentators interpret Adhyaya 2 Pada 1 Sutra 1 as saying that the view that Brahman is the material cause should not be rejected just to avoid contradicting the Smritis of the Samkhya school, because that rejecting that view would require contradicting other Smritis:

    smṛtyanavakāśadoṣaprasaṅga iti cet na anyasmṛtyanavakāśadoṣaprasaṅgāt

    If it be argued (that from the acceptance of Brahman as the cause of the universe) arises the defect of the (Samkhya) Smritis being left without any scope, then not so, for otherwise will arise the defect of other Smritis losing their scope.

    But Madhvacharya interprets this Sutra as saying that the Vedas should not be rejected just because they contradict Smritis composed by Shiva, instead the Vedas should be accepted because they're consistent with the Smritis composed by Vishnu:

    (It may be stated that) Rudra and others are known to be perfectly wise; hence being contradictory to their statements, Scriptures should lose its authoritativeness. But this cannot be, because there are other Smritis derived from Vishnu and others who are absolutely perfect in wisdom; hence the superiority of Scripture becomes settled.

  4. Most commentators interpret Adhyaya 2 Pada 1 Sutra 3 as saying that the Yoga school is wrong because just like the Samkhya school, it thinks that Prakriti is the material cause of the Universe:

    etena yogaḥ pratyuktaḥ

    Hereby is refuted Yoga.

    But Madhvacharya interprets it as saying that the Yoga school is wrong because just like the Smritis composed by Shiva, it promises results which do not materialize in the time promised:

    It is not to be supposed that the fruit of Yoga practice is in actual experience; for though the practice is made according to injunctions, the effect is not realised exactly in the declared periods of time

  5. Most commentators interpret Adhyaya 2 Pada 1 Sutra 6 as saying that the fact that Brahman and the world are dissimilar does not imply that Brahman cannot be the material cause of the world, because we see other examples where the material cause is dissimilar from its effect:

    dṛśyate tu

    But it is seen.

    But Madhvacharya interprets this Sutra as saying that the powers of the Devas are seen by Rishis:

    Their superior power is seen by the Great. Also in the Bhavishya Purana, it is said, "the Deities presiding over the Earth, etc., are of great powers, which are conceivable, and as such, they are (actually) seen by sages. And they who are present everywhere, eternally depend on Vasudeva."

  6. Most commentators interpret Adhyaya 2 Pada 2 Sutra 41 as saying that the worldview of the Shaiva Agamas is wrong because by saying that Shiva is the efficient cause but not the material cause of the Universe, it would either imply that Shiva is mortal or that Shiva is not omniscient:

    antavattvamasarvajñatā vā

    God will be subject to finitude or loss of omniscience.

    Surprisingly, Madhvacharya interprets the Sutra the same way, but he thinks that this objection does not apply if Shiva is replaced by Vishnu:

    For if he should have a body, then his existence would also be limited as that of Yagnadatta.  If not, there would result the absence of knowledge. For observation shows that endowed with a body and organs acquires knowledge.  But in the case of Vishnu all objections and difficulties are removed by scripture itself as follows: "Of what is the glorious Lord made?  (Of that) His form is made for of what is the Lord made? He consists of intelligence and glorious power." "We now tell you of the Lord's being endowed with knowledge, mind, body, and limbs; He is of imperishable body; He is fragrance; He is radiant with knowledge; He is of unthwarted prowess, of immense wisdom, of immense bliss; He is the Lord Vishnu, supreme and imperishable", and so on.

These are just a representative sample of the Sutras that assert that Brahman is the material cause.  Bottom line, the way Madhvacharya can claim consistency with the Vedanta school is by interpreting the Sutras of the Brahma Sutras dramatically differently than other commentators, to the point where all other commentators think a Sutra is about one topic but Madhvacharya thinks it's about a totally unrelated topic.


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