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January - March 2023

Concept of Avidyā in Dvaita Vedānta Dr. R. Saraswati Sainath

Dvaita Vedānta was formulated by Madhvācārya, also called Ānandatīrtha. Madhvācārya, Jayatīrtha, and Vyāsatīrtha are the three major preceptors of this school. This article outlines the concept of avidyā in Dvaita Ve dānta.

Jayatīrtha in his Nyāyasudhā states that familiar causes such as kāma, karma, etc., cannot be attributed to the state of bondage. It is because kāma, karma, etc., have a beginning. Even assuming that each previous stage of kāma, karma, etc., begets the next one and so on, it should be said that the individual self gets back its original and essential characteristic of self-luminosity in the states of deep sleep and universal dissolution when there is no desire or activity. Hence some principle distinct from our actions (karma) and desires (kāma) must be regarded as concealing the essential nature (self-luminosity) from time immemorial. That principle, is, therefore, identified with māyā which is referred to as avidyā and prakṛti. It obscures the self- luminous consciousness; it is an insentient principle; it cannot be said to function independently and of its own free will. Thus, we are led to accept that ultimately it is God himself that obscures a part of the essential nature (svarūpa-caitanya) of the individual selves by means of the principle called prakṛti which is made up of the three guṇa-s of sattva, rajas and tamas and by his own wonderful and inscrutable power (acintyādbhutaśakti). Madhva explains that the bondage of selves is due to the power of prakṛti controlled by the Will of God. The text of the Bhagavadgītā (7.14) also substantiates this view:

This mysterious power or will of God is known by the names of ‘prakṛti’ and māyā. It has two aspects by which it obscures the individual self from comprehending its own essence in full and prevents the self from having the vision of the Lord. Of these, the former, namely, the power of God which conceals from the self its true nature is known as svaguṇācchādikā (in respect of jīva). This is somewhat similar to the power of veiling (āvaraṇaśakti) of avidyā admitted by the Advaitin. But the difference between the view of Advaitin and Dvaitin lies in this that according to the latter, God who is all-powerful casts his veil over the selves which are finite and under his control, whereas according to the former, Brahman-the pure consciousness is concealed by avidyā. The latter is called paramācchādikā.

Madhva adds that the theory that avidyā or ajñāna has for its locus-jīva, and acts as a veil around it, does not invite any of the difficulties as in the Brahmājñānavāda of the Advaitins. Madhva characterizes his theory of bondage in the case of the selves as svabhāvājñānavāda.

It may be added here that Padmanābha Sūri in his Padārthasaṅgraha refers to a four-fold division of avidyā which is as follows: (i) jīvācchādikā or svaguṇācchādikā-the ignorance which stands in the way of the self from recognizing its true nature; (ii) paramācchādikā– the ignorance which hinders the self from recognizing God; (iii) māyā– the ignorance which invokes false

perception in the form of ‘I’ and ‘mine and (iv) śaivala– the ignorance which falsifies true knowledge. This is similar to a water plant (śaivala) which covers the water of a pond and thus, makes it appear green in color.


Based on proofs such as perception, inference, etc., Advaitins admit that avidyā is positive in nature. The Dvaitins too are not opposed to the concept of avidyā as a positive entity. However, while the Advaitins admit avidyā to be an indeterminable entity either as real or non-real or both at once, the Dvaitins view it to be real. The Dvaitins argue that the concept of anirvacanīyatva or indeterminability as something different from real (sadvilakṣaṇa) and non-real (asadvilakṣaṇa) or both (sadasadvilakṣaṇa) needs to be examined. The formulation of the definitions of anirvacanīyatva centers around the notion of the two terms sat and asat. The Advaitins have defined sat as that which would never suffer annihilation. Brahman alone would satisfy this definition. Asat is that which would never be presented in our cognition such as a hare’s horn etc. The world and shell-silver are excluded from the scope of sat and asat because they are sublated and are given in perception.

Vyāsatīrtha in his Nyāyāmṛta points out that this kind of difference from sat and asat (sadasadvailakṣaṇya) in a restricted sense would in no way help to establish anirvacanīyatva. On the other hand, it only ascertains that the world is different from Brahman which is sat, and hare’s horn which is asat. Further, the terms sat and asat if understood in the ordinary sense as understood by the Dvaitin, then the two being opposed to each other, the absence of both cannot remain in one and the same. Therefore, Vyāsatīrtha concludes that the definition of anirvacanīyatva as sadasadvilakṣaṇatva is unsound.

Madhva in his Viṣṇutattvavinirṇaya mentions that the letter “a” means Hari and hence

avidyā refers to the knowledge of the, the Dvaitins based on strong arguments maintain that avidyā is real and it is a wonderful and inscrutable power of the Lord.

Thus, the Dvaitins based on strong arguments maintain that avidyā is real and it is a wonderful and inscrutable power of the Lord