Appendix (Part 1)

This article is part 126 of 131 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

Thoughts on the Three Matas

It has become common practice among us — notably among Brahmins — and especially among those who think they have understood the essence of a mata, to argue whether it is Dvaita, Advaita or Viśiṣṭādvaita, when they are faced with the prospect of understanding philosophical texts such as the Gītā or the Upaniṣads. When I translated Vedic texts such as the Puruṣa-sūkta into Kannada, many people would ask me this same question. I would reply in one of the following two ways :

  1. Dvaita, Advaita and Viśiṣṭādvaita are opposed to each other, they are just different and separate. It is not impossible to see all three of them in harmony.  People can choose any among the three according to their taste and experience and according to their desire. For the understanding of philosophy, in addition to the differentiating perspective of the three matas, there is also a perspective that harmonises. The latter perspective is our way. This is my first answer.
  2. My second answer might sound audacious to some!  It goes thus : I ask the questioners this — “Which philosophy have you studied, experienced, and internalized? If you can tell me where your knowledge is complete, I can give you a suitable answer”. I hope that the original questioners  took my return question in the right spirit. Experience is more important for the seeker of reality than mere book sentences. Those sentences need to be grasped according to experience.

The real nature of a mata is understood by its result. A tree is recognized by the taste of its fruit and the fragrance of its flowers. The mata should show itself in the day to day behaviour of the follower, bring tranquility to his mind and radiance to his daily life. Any bookish theory that does not seep into experience, and exists only for logical reasoning is not applicable to life despite being endowed with polemic heft; it might end up in intellectual satisfaction at most. Our basic belief is that the Gītā is useful in our worldly lives. We make sense of it based on that premise.


We should first keep in mind that Dvaita, Advaita and Viśiṣṭādvaita are all theistic sects — they are Āstika. None of the three endorse atheism.

What is āstikatā? Indeed, the word āstika comes from the verb asti — which means ‘exists’. The universe is not a void; life is not emptiness; the divine that is the basis of life and universe is not nonexistent. We exist.  The universe exists. Both have meaning. There is a master who is the great energy that rules both. Such a positive sentiment is āstikatā. Those who have this positive sentiment that it ‘exists’, are āstikas. The Bhagavadgītā is useful for them. Nāstikas are those who argue that there is nothing, that the universe is a heap of dust, that the divine is just a story, that the jīva is just an imagination, that dharma is a delusion, that in reality everything is just empty mounds of dirt and sand — that they exist now and don’t in the next. That is a negative sentiment. I cannot claim that the Bhagavadgītā can make āstikas out of those who have completely accepted nāstikya.

I feel that nāstikya cannot linger for long in people given to due deliberation. A nāstika can argue that the divine does not exist, but cannot say that about himself. He will definitely say that he exists. Descartes, the western philosopher, was an āstika. He said “Cogito, ergo sum” — meaning, “I think. Therefore I exist”. Indeed, a man who questions whether something exists or not should first exist himself. If he himself does not exist, who is the questioner? This is the beginning of āstikatā.

asanneva sa bhavati । asad-brahmeti veda cet ॥
asti brahmeti ced veda । santam enaṃ tato viduḥ ॥

-taittirīyopaniṣat, Ānandavallī, 6.1

A nāstika says ‘nāsti’ only about the divine that is separate from him; not about himself. This means that for a nāstika, he is himself the supreme divinity. This is because he believes in the capacity of his own intellect, that it is superior to everything else, that it can perceive everything, and that there is nothing it cannot grasp. He is nāstika regarding the divine, and āstika regarding himself.

I think it can be said that nāstika-vāda is fading away from the minds of today’s freethinkers. At a certain stage of the development of Western science, it seemed to encourage nāstikata.  Going further, it seems to be turning towards āstikatā. The belief then was that the human intellect could isolate, dissect, and examine each and every particle of the universe and unravel the secrets of nature. The scientist attained victory after victory in physical sciences. He penetrated the skies and set out to measure the movement of planets. He was able to concentrate and store electrical energy. He moved engines with steam. He created unprecedented medicines and materials for warfare using chemicals. He also created architectural wonders. He performed newer and newer surgeries for diseases. He separated out individual bones and nerves of the human body and counted them. Since science thus progressed in leaps and bounds, an intense confidence that there is nothing unavailable to human intellect, took root in humans.


However, amidst this succession of successes, the scientist still felt that there was something that was yet unknown to him. There were always some scientists who set forth to discover the source of the universe. Philosophers have always been there in the west for over three thousand years — even before Socrates. Such philosophers exist even among the scientists of today. Their research and exploration continue even today. The important ones among them are Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Schrödinger, Eddington, and others. They split matter into particles, broke them into atoms and penetrated the womb of the nucleus. Since they could not locate the energy of the universe in there, they conjecture it to be there somewhere in some form. There is something; it is intangible; it is within us, among us, but moves imperceptibly; but it is definite that it ‘exists’; it is also definite that it is hidden — thus some scientists are moving from atheism to agnosticism and from agnosticism to theism.

A story from the Upaniṣat comes to mind here. Take a banyan fruit. It is very small. Break it. Very small seeds are seen in it. Crush one of them. What do you see? Powder. What is in a particle of the seed-powder? There is an aṇu and a paramāṇu. We can see nothing else there. Then, what was the banyan tree born from? From the seed, of course. Within the powder of the seed, there is something hidden. We call that hidden energy the power of Brahma.
See this sentence from the Kaṭhopaniṣad :

yena rūpa-rasaṃ gandhaṃ । śabdān sparśāṃśca maithunān ॥
etenaiva vijānāti kimatra pariśiṣyate । etad-vai tat ॥ …
dehād-vimucyamānasya kimatra pariśiṣyate । etad-vai tat ॥

-kaṭhopaniṣat 2.1.3

“What remains after the destruction of all that aids in the perception of worldly things? That is this.” “etad-vai tat”. Thus, there are some scientists  who suspect that there is something, and believe that it cannot be grasped by the intellect even if it exists. Let us call them ajñeyakas or agnostics. They aver that “We cannot say that there is something divine. We cannot say that there is no divine. The thing that we can call ’divine’ is beyond our comprehension”. They keep the divine in suspense. How can we decide about something that is intangible and incomprehensible? Many scientists are in this category.

However, their view that clear knowledge is not possible is true especially from the point of view of Christism. In the Bible, the time of the birth of the universe is determined; the process of creation is described. Since the deduced age of the Earth does not match the age calculated by geological and other scientific experiments, scientists mistrust the Bible. Scientists need direct proof. They need to be able to prove everything in a physical plane. In Christism, there is an important idea that ‘God’ is in ‘Heaven’ — away from the world — outside and far away from humans — and rules our world from there, just as England’s king once ruled India. The scientist asks — “where is the basis for this idea?”. There is no direct proof for the existence of God. However, the scientist is not ready to completely refute the existence of the divine. This is because even he feels that beyond the aṇu and paramāṇu of the physical matter, there is a mysterious energy. He has the hope and expectation that it is hidden now, but it could be discovered later. Therefore, scientific theory stands equidistant between theism and atheism.

The doctrine of the Vedas and Vedānta does not endorse nāstikya. It does not even accept the aloofness of the scientist. It is a completely āstika sect. Therefore the Gītā is useful only for āstikas.

idaṃ te nātapaskāya nābhaktāya kadācana ॥

-BG 18.67

In the above line, na+abhaktāya means the same.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.


Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

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