Madhvacarya and Sri Caitanya

saints_of_india__sri_madhvacharya_wd69By Swami B.V. Tripurari

Gaudiya Vaishnavas accept Sri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and Sri Caitanya as Krishna himself, and their understanding is supported by sastra pramana (evidence from scripture). The supremacy of Krishna over Narayana is stated in the Bhagavatam (1.3.28) where it says “krsnas tu bhagavan svayam.”

It is often noted that Madhvacharya, whose lineage the Gaudiya sampradaya has a formal connection with, explains this verse differently. However, our tattva acarya, Sri Jiva Goswami, has substantiated the Gaudiya interpretation of this verse with over 300 points drawn from sastra in his treatise known as Krishna-sandarbha. Thus, the Gaudiyas are not lacking in sastra or reasoning when they interpret this verse as they do. They have also substantiated with sastra their understanding that Sri Caitanya is Krishna himself, drawing from many diverse sources.

On these and other points, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas differ from the experience of Madhvacarya and his corresponding interpretation of sastra. However, this does not mean that either the Gaudiyas or Madhva are wrong, but rather that Godhead has revealed himself to them from different angles of vision and has thus given them the power to support their respective visions with scripture.

Many of the followers of Madhva do not agree with the Gaudiya interpretation of scripture, nor do they agree with the interpretations of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, or Visnuswami, all of whom are respected acaryas representing Vaishnava lineages. Still they must respect the particular angles of vision of these acaryas because of their obvious spiritual standing and ability to support their experience with scripture. The present-day followers of Madhva should also show the same deference to Sri Caitanya and his sincere followers.

Although Sri Caitanya appeared formally in the Madhva line, he has revealed new insight. As Sri Krishna, he started the Madhva line of disciplic succession when he gave knowledge to Brahma, and he is free to adjust it if he so chooses in order to reveal something special later on. This is what Krishna has done through the revelations of Sri Caitanya. Thus while the Gaudiyas are formally in the line of Madhva, in substance they differ—not in terms of whether or not God is personal or impersonal, but rather in terms of which manifestation of Godhead is the sweetest.

Who is sweeter, Krishna or Narayana? Madhurya means sweet—save the sweet for the end of the meal. In essence, this is what Krishna has done through his connection with the Madhva sampradaya in the form of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. By sweetness we mean that there is greater potential for rasa in relation to Krishna than there is in relation to Narayana, and scripture tells us that Brahman is rasaraso vai sah, the reservoir of all rasa.

Is differing within an established lineage unprecedented? No, it is not! Madhva himself was initiated in an Advaitin lineage, but he evolved an entirely different doctrine. Although the Madhva sampradaya claims that he later accepted siksa directly from Vyasa, we are left to accept this on faith. There is no conclusive evidence to substantiate this point. However, the Gaudiya Vaishnavas do accept it on faith and honor Madhva, so much so that they claim that Krishna himself has chosen to appear again in Madhva’s lineage as Sri Caitanya.

Is it inappropriate to ask the Madhvas to accept that Sri Caitanya is Krishna himself—the Kali Yuga avatara—when the Gaudiyas also support their contention with scripture? Is it any more of a stretch than that which the followers of Madhva insist we must make in accepting that Madhva had the darsana of Vyasa or that Madhva was an incarnation of Vayu, Bhima, and Hanuman?

If we accept the Gaudiya vision of Sri Caitanya, where is the break in the disciplic succession and who can complain if Sri Krishna Caitanya decides to shed new light on the teachings of Madhva and the Bhagavatam? New light from Sri Caitanya does not extinguish the light of Madhvacarya, rather the appearance and teachings of Sri Caitanya have enhanced the position of the Madhva sampradaya throughout the world. Who can deny this fact?

Those who choose to follow Madhva’s teaching while showing respect to Sri Caitanya will no doubt be successful in attaining the goal of the Madhva sampradaya, which is Vaikuntha, the abode of Narayana. In Vaikuntha, the Madhvas will always think that Krishna is an avatara of Narayana.

At the same time, the Gaudiyas will attain the goal of Sri Caitanya which is Goloka, Maha Vaikuntha, the abode of Krishna. In Goloka, the Gaudiyas will think of Krishna as their friend or lover and of Narayana as God. Thus, in the end, the Gaudiyas and Madhvas agree in the sense that from the vantage point of their bhava in Goloka the Gaudiyas also accept Narayana as the supreme God and Krishna, who is their lover or friend, as subordinate to Narayana. Still, they love Krishna more, and who can deny that Krishna is more charming?

In the end, both sampradayas acknowledge the virtue of nama-kirtana and the importance of forgoing material sense indulgence. So we can focus on this and see which way our heart takes us.

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15 Responses to Madhvacarya and Sri Caitanya

  1. New light can always be drawn from shastra and the mantras. Srila Prabhupada also revealed a new conclusion that virtually went over the heads of most all his disciples and Godbrothers. As far as I know (but I don’t know much), Srila Prabhupada was the first Gaudiya acharya to explain Brahma-gayatri as worship of Mahaprabhu by explaining that savitur in the Gayatri mantra is Mahaprabhu.
    Brahma-gayatri has been transformed into worship of Mahaprabhu by Srila Prabhupada, departing from the traditional Vedic concept that Brahama-gayatri is in worship of Surya Narayana. In the books of Srila Prabhupada both concepts of Brahma-gayatri have been given, but obviously the Gaura Savita is the highest and deepest concept of Brahma-gayatri.
    My son Nitai Prasad is also showing a propensity to see new light and new meaning in shastra and the books of Srila Prabhupada. He sees things in the texts that others don’t see. After many years of my struggling with Bhagavat cosmology, my son comes along and understands it easily and clearly and explains it to me in a way that has enhanced my own faith and knowledge base considerably. Of course, my son has studied some of Sadaputa’s work and was able to grasp it easily and understand it. In some ways his understanding of Bhagavat cosmology seems to even surpass Sadaputa, Drutakarma and other leading disciples of Srila Prabhupada. It seems my son has a very unique propensity to understand and explain Bhagavat cosmology which he totally accepts as factual much to my great pleasure.
    Every once and while a person with a special gift is born to bring new revelation to shastra.

    • Pujyapad Sridhara Maharaja has also commented on the gayatri mantra:

      Radha-dasyam, the service of Srimati Radharani, is the ultimate meaning to be extracted from the gayatri mantra.”

      “The sankirtana of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu also reinstates us in out highest serving position. So brahma-gayatri in connection with Mahaprabhu comes to mean krsna-kirtana.”

      Full commentary is here:

    • Hare Krsna Prabhu.
      Please accept my humble obeisances and all glories to Srila Prabhupada.
      I would like to hear more of your son’s understanding of vedic cosmology.Please reply to me at
      Hare Krsna.

    • Haribol. Can I contact your son please? I would like to understand Cosmology from him.

    • I too would love to hear and/or read any insights into Vedic cosmology that your son has had. Has he written anything (even in correspondence)?


  2. I think that Tripurari Maharaja’s article is self-explanatory, in addition to its being illuminating. The saddest thing in all of this is that, knowing the typical mindset of most Tattvavadis, they will continue disrespecting Gaudiya Vaisnava Vedanta and our acaryas. It seems that they are unable to co-exist with any other faith, but instead, feel the urge to defeat any school of thought that happens to differ from theirs. However, this is part of life and we cannot be unduly concerned with what others think of us.

    To come back to the article, I shall say that this is a brilliant write-up indeed, and one which hardly any fair-minded person can take exception to.

    • The irony of course is that Madhvacarya’s line would be virtually unknown outside of India were it not for the work of acaryas in Sri Caitanya’s lineage. It seems a bit unbecoming that they would not acknowledge this reality. And while I can understand the need to feel that one’s path is the best, the “urge to defeat” other schools seems rather shortsighted in today’s global spiritual marketplace. Perhaps it’s a relic from ancient times when debates (and conversions based on who won) were the norm, which might be attributed to the Tattvavadis’ tendency toward insularity and resistance to modernization.

  3. I am under the impression that Madvhacharya has a different concept of the orgin of the jiva than Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Could someone clarify the difference for me?

    • One thing is for sure: Madhvaites do not hold, unlike a peculiar section of neo-Gaudiyas, that the jiva originates in Vaikuntha-loka. Thank God for that!

      • There are some parts or portions of the Bhagavat that do lend themselves very well to a “fall-from-siddha” interpretation.
        It is wrong to think that Srila Prabhupada invented the “fall from Vaikuntha” theory without any shastric support. Similar approaches to preaching via the allegorical story can be found amongst the teachings of Narada Muni as well.

        • All of these points have been tackled and resolved, to my satisfaction at least, by Satyanarayana and Kundali in their book, as well as by Visnu Maharaja in an extensive treatment of the subject that is available on the website. Besides, as is known, no other sampradaya supports this fanciful notion of souls getting illusioned in a realm in which Mahamaya is conspicuous by its absence.

          And this is the last I shall say on this fall/no fall topic.

        • Yajnavalkya dasa (ACBSP)

          I thoroughly disagree with your statement that “Mahamaya [in Vaikuntha] is conspicuous by its absence”. On the contrary, Mahamaya does not exist there, what to speak of being “conspicuous”. “Conspicuous” means “standing out so as to be clearly visible”.

        • “Conspicuous by its absence” means that it is clearly not visible/present, as one might think it should be. But I agree. It’s not present.

    • Where Madhvaites say the jiva originates from I don’t recall at the moment. An interesting related idea I’ve heard that they have is the concept that there are different types of jivas according to the gunas. Something along the lines of sattvic jivas who are eligible for mukti; rajasic jivas who will remain in the world; and tamasic jivas who are destined for hell.

    • Hari-bhakti,

      Vikram has taken us on a bit of a tangent here with his (unnecessary in my opinion) comment. What he means to say is that some Gaudiya’s today think that liberated souls fall from enlightenment (Vaikuntha) into the material world. Whereas the Madvas do not commit this error and are thus better (in his estimation) than such errant Guadiyas.

      KB has chimed in and pointed out that in some respects this Gaudiya controversey, as it has become, stems from Prabhupada, who sometimes said one thing and sometimes said another. However, with regard to the Bhagavatam that KB refers to, the question of how souls could fall come from Vaikuntha comes up directly only once. And in his purport Prabhupada sides with the previous acaryas comments by writing that no one falls from Vaikuntha.

      The instance I am referring to is Raja Praiksit’s amazement at the idea that the gate keepers of Vaikuntha could ahve fallen from there on the strength of the Kumaras’ (who were jnanis not bhaktas) curse. In the course of the narrative it is explained by the acaryas that they did not fall because of this curse, but rather the entire incident was instigated by Narayana who wanted to taste vira (heroic/fighting rasa) with the gate keepers and thus arranged for them to take birth in the material world and taste this rasa with three successive avataras. So the clear message fromt he Bhagavatam in this instance is that souls do not fall from Vaikuntha.

      KB aslo refers tot he 4th canto of the Bhagavata, where Narada speaks allegorically to a king. In the allegory God speaks to the souls and expresses his desire to have him return, etc. However, Sri Jiva and Sri Visvanatha both make it clear in their commentaries that the God speaking is Mahavisnu and that the state from which the jiva came from was susupti within Mahavisnu. In his Paramatma sandarbha Sri Jivas says that these verses are spoken by Mahavisnu. In his Bhagavata tika he says the souls referred to come from mahapralaya (susupti), and Sri Visvanatha says that they fell becasue of previous karma, a clear reference to susupti, not Vaikuntha.

      Furthermore throughout the scriptures it is stated that the souls of the material world proceed from Mahavisnu for his sristi lila (like sparks form a fire/eternal present), from which he seeks to take them to Vaikuntha through his descent, etc. Such souls are said by Sri jiva in his Paramatma sandarbha to be withouth the blessing of the svarupa sakti, which upon being blessed with they can never leave the Godhead, nor can he allow them to if they tried. Thus as Prabhupada states in his Bhagavata commentary, “No one falls from Vaikuntha.”

      Furthermore in 1970 Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter to his student Jagadisa explaining what in his mind it means to have been with Krsna and to have subsequently left him thus:

      Regarding your second question, have the conditioned souls ever seen Krsna? Were they with the Lord before being conditioned by the desire to lord it over material nature? Yes, the conditioned souls are parts and parcels of the Lord and thus they were with Krsna before being conditioned. Just as the child must have seen his father because the father places the child in the womb of the mother, similarly each soul has seen Krsna or the Supreme Father. But at that time the conditioned souls are resting in the condition called susupti which is exactly deep sleep without dream, or anesthetized state, therefore they do not remember being with Krsna when they wake up in the material world and become engaged in material affairs.

      So here Prabhupada’s comments are also in concert with the previous acaryas and we should follow this example.

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