Appendix (Part 5)

This article is part 130 of 131 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

The differences between the three matas are due to the various interpretations of the Śruti and not because of their acceptance or otherwise of Vedic testimony. The very aspect of Saṃskṛta language that is the reason for its beauty is also the reason for certain disadvantages. That it provides room for alternate interpretations by creative use of logic and grammar is simultaneously its merit and demerit. Let us look at a simple example. In his commentary on the Bhāgavata, Śrīdharasvāmi has written a śloka, as below :

mūkaṃ karoti vācālaṃ paṅguṃ laṅghayate girim ॥

Here, “mūkaṃ karoti vācālaṃ” might mean that Bhagavān’s kindness might make a dumb man speak, or also mean that it can shut up a ‘vācāla’ — garrulous man. Aren’t both of these useful for us? “paṅguṃ laṅghayate girim” might mean that it can make a cripple jump over a mountain; or make a mountain jump over a cripple. In the second meaning, there is room for creative interpretation. Why should a mountain jump over a cripple? If he is not a cripple and has legs and can run, the mountain that jumps might fall upon him when it descends. That is not a show of kindness. However, a cripple cannot walk far. He sits at one place. He will have the curiosity to see the full form of the mountain. Therefore, the mountain itself jumps up and down, and back and forth and shows all its views to him — just as a dancer to an audience. Then he is no danger. In addition, a jumping mountain is a thousand times more wondrous than a jumping cripple. Since the objective of Śrīdharasvāmi was to praise the wonderful kindness of Bhagavān, it is better to interpret this as “giriṃ laṅghayate”. Thus, we can argue for both sides to no end.

In the sixth chapter of the chāndogyopaniṣad, there is a statement as follows —

tatsatyaṃ sa ātmā tattvamasi śvetaketo ॥

This is a very famous statement. The following can be its interpretations —
tat + tvam + asi = tadevāsi — You are that.
ātmā + tat | tvam + asi — That is the ātmā. You exist
tad-adhīno-asi — You are subservient to that
tat-sadṛśo’si — You are like that.

This is an example of the fact that grammatical contrivances can make any meaning come out of any statement.

The Bhagavadgītā says —


-BG 2.24

This can be split into three words, as “nityaḥ, sarva-gatah, sthāṇuh”, or as “nityaḥ, sarva-gatasthaḥ, aṇuḥ”. Splitting it as “sarva-gatasthasḥ-ca aṇusca sarvagatasthāṇuh”, it can be interpreted as a valid samāsa[1]. Grammatical creativity in interpretations continues thus.

Dialectics of our śāstras follow this path in many places. They are logically tenable, but the mind might not agree.

Then, is it not possible to decide once and forever the actual meaning of the statements in the Vedas and śāstras? If the Vedas are so weak that they are in the grip of logical and grammatical trickery, what is the use of such a confusing pramāṇa? Is the Veda indecisive and say both sides of the argument are right, akin to a lamp placed on a short wall[2]? No, it is not like that. It declares out loud one truth again and again, clearly. That truth is that there is something that exists fundamentally in the universe.

yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante । yena jātāni jīvanti । yat-prayanty-abhi-saṃviśanti । tadvijijñāsasva । tad-brahmeti ॥

-chāndogyopaniṣad 6.9.4

(From where all these beings are born, because of whom they thrive, in whom they merge. Understand well, that that is Brahma)

brahmaiva satyam ॥

-svātma-prakāśikā, 17

(Brahma alone exists)

brahmaivedaṃ sarvam ॥ 

-bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 2.4.6

(All this is verily Brahma)

sarvaṃ khalvidaṃ brahma । tajjalān-iti[3] śānta upāsīta ॥

-chāndogyopaniṣad  3.14.1

(All this is indeed Brahma. Patiently worship that which produces, breathes, and absorbs).

ātmaivedagṃ sarvam ॥ 

-chāndogyopaniṣad 7.25.2

(All this is indeed the ātmā)

puruṣa evedagṃ sarvam ॥

-subālopaniṣad - 6.7

(All this is indeed the Puruṣa)

This is what we have summarised in the section called Īśvarāṅgīkāra. That is āstikatā. The universe and life in it are not voids. Death is not the end of life. If the sun and the moon dissolve, it does not mean that the story of the universe is over. There is an eternal, fundamental entity that always existed and always exists — before the universe, after it, outside the universe and inside it, within the timeframe understood by humans and in the eternal frame beyond time as well. That is Brahma. We are all in its body, as its limbs, as its own parts, as its instruments, or as its reflection or rays emanating from that light source — in any case, dependent on it and subservient to its authority. This instruction is common to all the three matas.

The Vedas are a house built for an āstika family. In that huge house, there are three possible relationships between the head of the family and others. One is the relationship between a master and a servant; another is the relationship between a father and his children; the third is the relationship between a husband and wife. All these three kinds of relatives have the right to call this huge house theirs. In this huge mansion that has the Vedas as its foundation, our bhāṣyakāras have built three rooms for three classes of their students. Dvaita, Advaita and Viśiṣṭādvaita are like three related families living in the same building.

If there are three families living in a tenement, it is natural to have three kitchens and three storerooms. But there is a common well; a common brindāvana; a common courtyard; a common backyard and a common gate. Thus, some things are common and some others are different. This is the state of our three matas. If we stress upon the fact that there are three separate kitchens and forget that the same well supplies water to all of them, the true understanding of the situation is lost.

In the uproar of arguments and counterarguments, the unifying aspects of the three matas fade out of our view. Let us briefly look at the principles that are common to them. They are ten in all.

  1. Bhagavān : There is an eternal infinite consciousness that is the origin of the universe. That is parabrahma or paramātmā. That itself is Parameśvara or Bhagavān.
  2. Jīva : Within each being is a sentience that is different from the body. That is the jīva.
  3. Prakṛti : is an entity that emanates from Brahma-consciousness and is subordinate to it. It is also the world that is  the substratum for all jīvas. Prakṛti also includes all physical material perceptible by the senses.
  4. Three guṇas: There are three different energies or paths working within prakṛti - sattva, rajas and tamas. Due to them are caused the works of māyā such as kāma, krodha, lobha, and moha.
  5. Without any beginning: Creation does not have a beginning. Jīva, jagat, prakṛti and saṃsāra are beginningless.
  6. Karma: There are two parts in a man’s karmapuṇya and pāpa. From karma are generated  auspicious and inauspicious results (śubha and aśubha), as well as svarga and naraka.
  7. Punarjanma: A jīva has multiple births according to its karma.
  8. Mokṣa: A jīva is relieved of all its difficulties, and obtains eternal bliss without even a hint of sorrow due to the experience of Bhagavān. This is mokṣa.
  9. Sādhanā: Dharma, bhakti and jñāna that are practised with self-control.
  10. Vedaprāmāṇya: The true nature and relationships between the jīva, jagat and Īśvara cannot be grasped by the independent thought and imagination of the human mind. Veda is the light that illumines the path to this secret. Our independent thought should flow in the direction lit by the light of the Vedas and not opposite to it.

All the three matas accept the above ten principles. In our haste to argue to point out the differences between them, we should not forget that their foundation consists of these common aspects. The differences in the three matas are just like the differences in the three rooms from our earlier example. The common foundation to all three is this stage of ten principles.

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.


[1]Samāsa is the conjoining of two or more words

[2]A lamp placed on a short wall illuminates both sides equally.

[3]Tajjalān is a method to describe the Brahma. It is composed of tat-ja, tat-la and tat-ana, which means that it is the producer, it makes the beings thrive and it absorbs them when their time has come.



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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