A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of defence of pluralism (bheda): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifth part in the series called the “a general review of the philosophy of madhva”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.


The difference between God and the individual (jīva) is perceived on our side by us and on God’s side by Him. We know we are different from Him, and He knows that He is different from us; for, even though we may not perceive God, we may perceive our difference in relation to Him; the perception of difference does not necessarily mean that that from which the difference is perceived should also be perceived; thus even without perceiving a ghost one can say that he knows that a pillar is not a ghost.[2]

Again, the difference of the individuals from Brahman can also be argued by inference, on the ground that the individuals are objects of sorrow and suffering, which the Brahman is not[3]. And, since the Brahman and the individuals are permanent eternal entities, their mutual difference from each other is also eternal and real. It is argued that the suffering of sorrow belongs to the limited soul and not to the pure consciousness; it is this pure consciousness which is the individual (jīva), and, since the suffering exists only so long as there is limitation, the difference ultimately vanishes when the limitation vanishes, and cannot therefore be real. But the Madhvas do not consider such individuals, limited in nature, to be false, and hence the difference depending on their nature is also not false. There being an eternal and real difference between the nature of the individuals and that of God, namely that the former suffer pain while the latter does not, the two can never be identical. The individual souls are but instances of the class-concept “soulhood,” which is again a sub-concept of substance, and that of being. Though the souls have not the qualities of substances, such as colour, etc., yet they have at least the numerical qualities of one, two, three, etc. If this is once established, then that would at once differentiate this view from the Śaṅkara view of self as pure self-shining consciousness, leading to differenceless monism. The self as a class-concept would imply similarity between the different selves which are the instances or constituents of the concept, as well as difference among them (insomuch as each particular self is a separate individual numerically different from all other selves and also from God).

The supposition of the adherents of the Śaṅkara school is that there is no intrinsic difference among the selves, and that the apparent difference is due to the limitations of the immediately influencing entity, the minds or antahkaraṇas, which is reflected in the selves and produces a seeming difference in the nature of the selves, though no such difference really exists; but Vyāsa-tīrtha urges that the truth is the other way, and it is the differences of the selves that really distinguish the minds and bodies associated with them. It is because of the intrinsic difference that exists between two individual selves that their bodies and minds are distinguished from each other. The Upaniṣads also are in favour of the view that God is different from the individual souls, and the attempt to prove a monistic purport of the Upaniṣad texts, Vyāsa-tīrtha tries to demonstrate, may well be proved a failure[4].

This defence of difference appears, however, to be weak when compared with the refutations of difference by Citsukha in his Tattva-pradīpikā, Nṛsimhāśrama muni in his Bheda-dhikkāra, and others. Citsukha goes directly into the concept of difference and all the different possible ways of conceiving it: difference as the nature of things (svarūpa), difference as mutual negation (anyonyā-bhāva, e.g., the jug is not cloth, the cloth is not a jug), difference as distinctness (pṛthaktva), difference as separateness of qualities (vaidharmya), and difference as manifested in the variety of categories, each of which has its own separate definition (bhinna-lakṣaṇa-yogitva-bheda); but Vyāsa-tīrtha does not make any attempt squarely to meet these arguments. A typical example of how the notion of difference is refuted by these writers has already been given in the first volume of the present work[5].

Footnotes and references:


The materials of this section are taken from Vyāsa-tīrtha’s Bhedojjīvana and the Vyākhyā-śarkarā of Śrīnivāsa.


sapratiyogika-padārtḥa-pratyakṣe na pratiyogi-pratyakṣaṃ tantram... stambhaḥ piśāco na ity ādau vyabhicārāt.
p. 13.


jīvo brahma-pratiyogika-dharmi-sattā-samāna-sattāka-bhedādhikaraṇaṃ brahmaṇyanusaṃhita-duḥkhānusaṃdhātṛtvād vyatirekeṇa brahmavat.
p. 15.


He refers to the Upaniṣad text dvā suparṇā, etc.


A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I, p. 462.

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