In this chapter of the Vishnu Purana, Prahlada is thrown off a cliff and into the sea by Hiranyakashipu's men. Unfazed by this, he prays to Vishnu:

I glorify the supreme deity Vishńu, the universal witness, who seated internally, beholds the good and ill of all. Glory to that Vishńu from whom this world is not distinct. May he, ever to be meditated upon as the beginning of the universe, have compassion upon me: may he, the supporter of all, in whom every thing is warped and woven, undecaying, imperishable, have compassion upon me. Glory, again and again, to that being to whom all returns, from whom all proceeds; who is all, and in whom all things are: to him whom I also am; for he is every where; and through whom all things are from me. I am all things: all things are in me, who am everlasting. I am undecayable, ever enduring, the receptacle of the spirit of the supreme. Brahma is my name; the supreme soul, that is before all things, that is after the end of all.

At least superficially, this sounds like a statement of Adi Shankaracharya's philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which equates the Jivatma, or individual soul, with Paramatma or the supreme soul. And the next chapter even says "Thus meditating upon Vishńu, as identical with his own spirit, Prahláda became as one with him, and finally regarded himself as the divinity: he forgot entirely his own individuality, and was conscious of nothing else than his being the inexhaustible, eternal, supreme soul".

Now Ramanujacharya's philosophy of Visishtadvaita Vedanta, according to which Jivatma and Paramatma have a body-soul relationship, has a way handling Advaita-sounding statements like this. Here is how Ramanujacharya interprets the passage in the Sri Bhashya, his commentary on the Brahma Sutras:

[T]he highest Self has the indiviual souls for its body, and ... hence words such as 'I' and 'thou,' which denote individual beings, extend in their connotation up to the highest Self... As the Rishi Vâmadeva perceiving that Brahman is the inner Self of all, that all things constitute its body, and that the meaning of words denoting a body extends up to the principle embodied, denotes with the word 'I' the highest Brahman to which he himself stands in the relation of a body, and then predicates of this 'I' Manu Sûrya and other beings--'Seeing this the Rishi. Vâmadeva understood, I am Manu, I am Sûrya' (Bri. Up. I, 4, 10). Similarly Prahlâda says, 'As the Infinite one abides within all, he constitutes my "I" also; all is from me, I am all, within me is all.' (Vi. Pu. I, 19, 85.)

I discuss Vamadeva's statements here, by the way.

But my question is, how is this passage interpreted in the Dvaita philosophy of Madhvacharya, according to which Jivatmas are totally separate from Paramatma? I have two guesses:

  1. Dvaitins could interpret in a similar fashion as they interpret the "Aham Brahmasmi" statement of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (which I discuss here), where it's interpreted as a statement of Brahman about himself, rather than a statement of an individual soul about Brahman. I'm not sure how that interpretation would square with the

  2. Dvaitins could interpret it by saying that since Vishnu is the supreme controller and guide, the names of all beings are ultimately glorifications of Vishnu. This is how Madhvacharya interprets other Advaita-sounding statements in this excerpt from his commentary on the Brahma Sutras:

    Sastra means ... the ruler within, the Lord Vishnu. The Padmapurana says, "Vishnu is declared by all the name of different things, for the reason that He rules all. There is no word whatever that names a thing without declaring Puroshothama (the Lord of Lords). Like the declarations of Vamadeva "I was Manu and Surya, etc.," Indra's speech is to be understood.

    I discuss Vamadeva's statement here and Indra's statement here, by the way.

In any case, are there any works of Madhvacharya or works or subsequent Dvaitins which interpret this statement of Prahlada in the Vishnu Purana?

  • 'As the infinite one abides within all, he constitutes my "I" also'. Isnt that basically the same as saying that Prahlada has no individuality of His own? Or have I understood it wrong? Thanks Keshav
    – Sai
    Jul 15, 2015 at 15:04
  • @Sai Well, how Ramanujacharya is interpreting Prahlada's words is that Prahlada, as a jivatma, is identifying Paramatma as his self, in analogy to how people call the jivatma the self of the body. In Visishtadvaita Paramatma is the self of the self, the soul of the soul. Jul 15, 2015 at 15:18
  • @Sai It's the same way Ramanujacharya interprets the words of Vamadeva: "As the Rishi Vâmadeva perceiving that Brahman is the inner Self of all, that all things constitute its body, and that the meaning of words denoting a body extends up to the principle embodied, denotes with the word 'I' the highest Brahman to which he himself stands in the relation of a body." By the way, I'm still confused about how the Upanishads interpret Vamadeva's hymn, as we were discussing in this question: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/4050/36 Jul 15, 2015 at 15:30
  • Here's something that might be helpful. See how Madhva interpreted the statement of the Isha Upanishad so 'ham asmi. It could be that in a similar manner he interpreted those statements of your question. Feb 21, 2016 at 1:41
  • @brahmajijnasa Madhvacharya's commentary on that Isha Upanishad verse doesn't address the meaning of So'ham as far as I can tell: gdurl.com/H7jn But the translator of the commentary translates the So'ham part of the verse as "He verily exists as the I and the Prime Existence in every creature." In any case, the fact that Madhvacharya is talking in his Bhashya about Vishnu being the indweller suggests that he interprets the So'ham along the lines of option 2 in my question. Feb 21, 2016 at 3:52


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .