Posted by: adbhutam | June 16, 2015


Traits of a True Vaiṣṇava

In order to get an idea of the traits of a true Vaiṣṇava one has to look at a sample of the works of the Advaitins, that include Veda Vyasa, Shankara, Madhusudana Saraswati, Appayya Dikṣita, etc. a few of which are presented here.

  1. The Vaiṣṇava believes that Viṣṇu, under an apparent ignorance, is the one in samsāra.
  2. The Vaiṣṇava believes that Hari and Hara are non-different; it is One tattvam appearing as two.
  3. The Vaiṣṇava believes that the upāsana, worship, of any deity of the purāṇic/vedic pantheon leads to liberation through chitta shuddhi since the worship is directed to Brahman that is what is the core of all deities.
  4. The Vaiṣṇava believes that all lokas, including Vaikunṭha, are not eternal, even in the creation sphere. For the Vaiṣṇava these are subject to pralaya.
  5. The Vaiṣṇava believes that all attributes, guṇas, of Bhagavan, Brahman, are superimposed by the shāstra on the Nirguṇa Brahman in order to aid the aspirant to reach the goal of securing the realization of the attributeless Brahman.

In the Viṣnu sahasra nāma bhāṣya Shankara brings out the first two of the above. For example he cites these verses:

In the commentary of Shankaracharya to the Viṣṇu sahasranāma (VSN) the following verses are cited for explaining the verse पवित्राणां पवित्रं यो……

सर्पवद्रज्जुखण्दस्तु निशायां वेश्ममध्यगः ।

एको हि चन्द्रो द्वौ व्योम्नि तिमिराहतचक्षुषः ॥

[Just as a piece of rope appears as snake and just as the single moon appears as two to a diseased eye..]

आभाति परमात्मा च सर्वोपाधिषु संस्थितः ।

नित्योदितः स्वयंज्योतिः सर्वगः पुरुषः परः ॥

अहंकाराविवेकेन कर्ताहमिति मन्यते ।

[…so too the Paramātman appears in all the upādhis.  He is truly the ever-emergent, self-luminous, all-pervading, Puruṣa the Supreme, owing to the non-discrimination between the ego and the Self thinks himself to be the doer.]


स्वमायया स्वमात्मानं मोहयन्द्वैतमायया ।

गुणाहितं स्वमात्मानं लभते च स्वयं हरिः ॥

[By his own Māyā, deluding himself with the illusion of dvaita, Hari Himself comes to see himself endowed with guṇas.]

Shankara further cites a few verses from the Harivamṣa 3.88. 61, 61, 62 which are addressed by Maheśwara during the Kailāsa yātra episode:

अहं त्वं सर्वगो देव त्वमेवाहं जनार्दन ।

आवयोरन्तरं नास्ति शब्दैरर्थैर्जगत्त्रये ॥

[I am thou and thou alone am I, O Janārdana.  There is no difference between us, by word or by sense in all the three worlsd.] That is being elucidated in the sequel:

नामानि तव गोविन्द यानि लोके महान्ति च ।

तान्येव मम नामानि नात्र कार्या विचारणा ॥

[O Govinda, your esteemed names alone are mine as well; no doubt need to be had in this regard] There Veda Vyasa, through Shiva, conveys that all the names of Viṣṇu, including the name ‘Nārāyaṇa’ are that of Śiva.  Thus the thousand names of Viṣṇu are also those of Śiva since there is no difference in name and sense between the pair Hari and Hara.

त्वदुपासा जगन्नाथ सैवास्तु मम गोपते ।

यश्च त्वां द्वेष्टि भो देव स मां द्वेष्टि न संशयः ॥

[The worship/meditation of You, O Gopati, let that be meditation of mine too.  He who hates you O Deva, hates me too, undoubtedly.]

At the end of citing these verses Shankara says that these establish ‘ekatva’, Oneness, Advaita, the core teaching of the Vedas and the Smrtis.

This is just a sample of such countless pronouncements of Veda Vyasa, based on the Vedas, across the Mahabharata and the puranas.

Shankara’s core message of the Upanishad bhāṣya too is none other than the above.  One can see that in the Brhadaraṇyaka 1.4.10 and others like the Praśṇopaniṣad.

We can see the above message carried on by Madhusudana Saraswati too:

  1. The opening (invocatory) verse of the Advaitasiddhi of MS is rendered thus by him:



सत्यज्ञानसुखात्मकः श्रुतिशिखोत्थाखण्डधीगोचरः ।

मिथ्याबन्धविधूननेन परमानन्दैकतानात्मकं

मोक्षं प्राप्त इव स्वयं विजयते विष्णुर्विकल्पोज्झितः ॥ इति   ।


The verse says ‘Viṣṇu’ (Brahman) who is innately satyam, jñānam and sukham, is the abode of the universe consisting of the unreal dvaita of knower, knowing and known conjured up by māyā, and owing to the akhaṇḍkāravṛtti-based realization of His native ānanda svarūpa, being freed from the apparent bondage shines as though liberated, free from all the vikalpa-s.’


Here MS is depicting ‘Viṣṇu’ as the way Brahman is done in Advaita: Brahman alone, owing to ignorance of its own nature, appears as a bound jīva, samsārin, and owing to the knowledge of its true nature, is liberated as though. A vaiṣṇava who is a bigot and a fanatic would never bear to think of the Lord to be subject to avidyā and therefore a samsārin.

  1. In the same work Advaita siddhi, MS has denied eternality to Viṣṇu lokas such as vaikuṇṭha. He admits only relative permanence to those loka-s. For a vaiṣṇava who is a fanatic the reality and permanence of vaikuṇṭha are non-negotiable.  However MS does not admit of such lokas as being outside the purview of creation-dissolution cycle.  He does not also admit of a real form for Iśvara/Brahman.  See an article on this topic here:
  2. A vaiṣṇava who is a fanatic does not admit of the oneness of Śiva and Viṣṇu and the non-difference of the trimūrtis consisting Śiva, Viṣṇu and Brahmā. For MS, however, the idea of Hari-Hara abheda and the trimūrti aikya are quite scriptural and therefore, admissible. MS has commented upon the famous work ‘Mahimna stotram’ of Puṣpadanta as applying to both Śiva and Viṣṇu.  At the end of the work MS composes a few verses depicting the Hari-Hara abheda:

भूतिभूषितदेहाय द्विजराजेन राजते ।

एकात्मने नमो नित्यं हरये च हराय च ॥ ६


Obeisance ever to Him, who is resplendent with His body adorned with vibhūti, ashes, and is of the complexion of camphor (or having the moon on His head), the One Atman that is both Hara and Hari.

हरिशंकरयोरभेदबोधो भवतु क्षुद्रधियामपीति यत्नात् ।

उभयार्थतया मयेदमुक्तं सुधियः साधुतयैव शोधयन्तु ॥ १

[With the benediction that the understanding of non-difference between Hari and Shankara may rise even in those with a lowly intellect have I, with effort, commented on the Shivamahimna stotra verses in dual-meaning mode (as applying to Hari and Hara). Let the noble ones accept this as admissible alone.]

See this page too for more inputs about Madhusudana Saraswati’s vision:

MS’s trimūrti aikya approval, on the lines of Veda Vyāsa and Shankara, is expressed in this verse-commentary of the Mahimna stotra:

बहलरजसे विश्वोत्पत्तौ भवाय नमो नमः
प्रबलतमसे तत्संहारे हराय नमो नमः ।
जनसुखकृते सत्त्वोद्रिक्तौ मृडाय नमो नमः
प्रमहसिपदे निस्त्रैगुण्ये शिवाय नमो नमः ॥३०॥

[Salutation to Brahmā in whom rajas preponderates for the creation of the universe, salutation to Rudra in whom Tamas preponderates for the destruction of the same.  Salutation to Viṣṇu in whom Sattva preponderates for giving happiness to the people (by preservation of the created universe).  Salutation to Śiva who is effulgent and beyond the three attributes. ]

The last line of the above verse is explained by Madhusudana thus:

प्रमहसिपदे निस्त्रैगुण्ये शिवाय नमो नमः – निर्गतं त्रैगुण्यं यस्मात्न्निस्त्रैगुण्यं तस्मिन्पदे पदनीये तत्पदप्राप्तििमित्तम् । कीदृशे? प्रमहसि प्रकष्टं मायया अनभिभूतं महो ज्योिर्स्मिन्स्था । सर्वोत्तमप्रकाशरूपत्रिगुणशून्यमोक्षनिमित्तमित्यर्थः ।शिवाय – निस्त्रैगुण्यमङ्गलस्वरूपाय  ’शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते ’ इति श्रुतेः । प्रमहसि पदे सथिताय इति वा । हरिपक्षेऽप्येवम् ।

The above means:  ‘Shiva’ is the tattvam, the Turiya, which transcends the three guṇas.  Why is Shiva to be prostrated? With a view to attain Him, His state.  What is His nature, state? The Supreme Consciousness, effulgence, unaffected, untouched by māyā is what He is. [Alternatively, He is established in such effulgence.] [’स्वे महिम्नि प्रतिष्ठितः’ Chandogya up.7.4.1] That is the supreme state of mokṣa which is free of all three guṇas.  For the word ‘Shiva’ the author cites the Mandukya 7th mantra: ‘shivam advaitam chaturtham manyante’ That pure auspicious essence that is free of the three guṇas which is non-dual, called the ‘fourth’ (Turiya).

Having explained thus to refer to Hara, Shiva, the commentator Madhusudana Saraswato, for whom Hari and Hara are non-different, says: the above explanation applies to Hari too in exactly the same manner.  Thus, for Madhusūdana the Supreme Brahman can be called Hari or Hara.  It makes no difference for the advaitins such as Veda Vyāsa, Shankara and Appayya Dikṣita.


We cannot but bow in admiration to Madhusūdana Saraswati’s broad vision that is conspicuous by its freedom from narrow-mindedness that is characterized by fanaticism and bigotry.  MS, just like the venerable Advaita Achārya Shankara (who too steered clear of all fanaticism and bigotry by expressing Hari-Hara abheda and trimūrti aikya in his various works including the Viṣṇu sahasra nāma bhāṣyam) stands firm in the tradition of Advaita Acharyas.

Madhusudana Saraswti has left no trace of doubt that he was not a bigot.  While his iṣṭa devatā bhakti was for Viṣṇu, he has not displayed the least intolerance that would normally go with a vaiṣṇava or even a śaiva.  MS has emerged as a true Advaitin whose primary, fundamental, allegiance was with the Advaitic Nirguṇa Brahman which is devoid of any attributes.  At the end of the 14th ch. commentary MS says: कल्पितस्य चाधिष्ठानानतिरेकाद्भगवतः कृष्णस्य च सर्वकल्पनाधिष्ठानत्वेन परमार्थसत्यनिरुपाधिकब्रह्मरूपत्वात्। [Since the superiposed is non-different from the substratum, Lord Kṛṣṇa being the substratum for all superimposition is the Absolute Reality since it is the very essence, Brahman, free of all upādhis. This reminds one of the Sri Lalitā sahasra nāma: sarvopādhi vinirmukta sadāśiva pativratā [She is free of all upādhis, the chaste consort of Sadāśiva].  In the sequel are shown a few instances from the works of MS in evidence of his mature thinking:

  1. In the BG 6.47 the Lord teaches:

योगिनामपि सर्वेषां मद्गतेनान्तरात्मना ।
श्रद्धावान्भजते यो मां स मे युक्ततमो मतः ॥ ४७ ॥

// 6.47 Even among all the yogis, he who adores Me with his mind fixed on Me and with faith, he is considered by Me to be the best of the yogis. //

In the commentary of Sri Shankaracharya we have:

6.47 Api, even; sarveṣām yoginām, among all the yogis, among those who are immersed in meditation on Rudra, Āditya, and others; yah, he who; bhajate, adores; mām, Me; antarātmanā,with his mind; madgatena, fixed on Me, concentrated on Me who am Vāsudeva; and sraddhāvān, with faith, becoming filled with faith; sah, he; is matah, considered; me, by Me; to be yukta-tamah, the best of the yogis, engaged in Yoga most intensely.


While most people, especially vaiṣṇava bigots, take the words ‘Rudra’ in the above commentary to refer to Lord Śiva, MS, of his own accord, even though the verse of the BG does not contain that word, chooses to write in his GD: योगिनां वसुरुद्रादित्यादिक्षुद्रदेवताभक्तानां सर्वेषामपि मध्ये मयि भगवति..[Among all the yogins who are devoted to the lowly deities such as the vasu-s, rudra-s and āditya-s, he who is devoted to Me…]  MS does not take the word ‘Rudra’ (and ‘Aditya’) in Shankara’s commentary to mean the well known Lord Śiva etc. as some like the author of the Tamil book ‘śankararum vaiṇavamum’ has done displaying their hatred for Śiva, verily non-different from Nārāyaṇa.  MS gives the correct clarification by taking them to mean the gaṇas such as the eight vasus, the eleven rudras and the twelve ādityas. See an article on this topic here:Āditya_in_the_Bh.g.pdf


Nor does MS compel anyone to meditate on any specific form of any specific devatā:


…संयम्य विषयाकारवृत्तिशून्यं कृत्वा मयि परमेश्वरे प्रत्यक्चिति सगुणे निर्गुणे वा चित्तं यस्य स मच्चित्तो मद्विषयकधारावाहिकचित्तवृत्तिमान्। [BG 6.14]


[One having controlled the mind, that is, making it free of taking any form, installing the mind in Me, the, Supreme Lord, who is the inmost self, either saguṇa or nirguṇa,…he is the one who has given his mind, chittam, to Me.]


In this commentary MS cites a number of Patanjali Yoga sutras.  One sutra, though not cited, but related to the means of attaining samādhi, is: yathābhimatadhyānād vā [Samādhi is attained by meditating on any object that is agreeable to the mind].  Of course, such an object should not be objectionable, as clarified by the commentaries.

That all devata-upāsanas have the Brahman in their core is brought out by MS in his BG commentary at the end of the 15th chapter:

शैवाः सौराश्च गाणेशा वैष्णवाः शक्तिपूजकाः। भवन्ति यन्मयाः सर्वे सोहमस्मि परः शिवः।।

[Those worshipers/meditators of the deities such as Śiva, Sūrya, Gaṇeśa, Viṣṇu and Śakti ultimately become one with That Supreme Consciousness that verily am I] MS is definitely not saying that he is the substratum of all these upāsakas.  All these upāsanas culminate in the upāsaka realizing his oneness with the Supreme Reality, Brahman.


This verse is reminiscent of the Mahimnastotram verse:

त्रयी साङ्ख्यं योगः पशुपतिमतं वैष्णवमिति

प्रभिन्ने प्रस्थाने परमिदमदः पथ्यमिति च।

रुचीनां वैचित्र्यादृजुकुटिल नानापथजुषां

नृणामेको गम्यस्त्वमसि पयसामर्णव इव॥ ७॥

The different practices based on the three Vedas, SaMkhya, Yoga, Pashupata-mata, VaishhNava-mata etc . are but different paths (to reach to the Greatest Truth) and people on account of their different aptitude choose from them whatever they think best and deserved to be accepted . But as the sea is the final resting place for all types of streams , You are the only reaching place  for all people whichever path,straight or zigzag, they may accept .  (7)

MS has written a very elaborate commentary for the above verse.

The early Advaitain Sri Vācaspati Miśra too, in his invocation to the famous ‘bhāmati’ commentary to Shankara’s Brahmasutra Bhashya says:

षड्भिरङ्गैरुपेताय विविधैरव्ययैरपि शाश्वताय नमस्कुर्मो वेदाय च भवाय च ॥३ ॥

मार्तण्डतिलकस्वामिमहागणपतीन् वयम् । विश्ववन्द्यान्नमस्यामः सर्वसिद्धिविधायिनः ॥४

ब्रह्मसूत्रकृते तस्मै व्यासायापरवेधसे । ज्ञानशक्त्यवताराय नमो भगवतो हरेः ॥५ ॥

The summary of the above verses is: Obeisance to the Veda and Bhava (Śiva).  That the author of the Bhāmatī was a great vaidika is brought out from his preference to offer his first namaskara to the Veda.  Then in the same breath he pays respects to Śiva, his iṣṭa devatā.  He seeks the grace of Sūrya, Subrahmaṇya and Gaṇapati and says that these deities are propitiated by the whole world, viśva vandyān.  Then his respects are offered to Veda Vyāsa whom he says is an incarnation of Bhagavan Hari.  From this triad of invocatory verses we come to know that the period during which Shankara and Vācaspati Misra flourished the Hari-Hara bhakti along with bhakti/worship of Surya, Skanda and Ganapati was extensively prevalent.  That very state of affairs is carried on by the savants of the Advaita tradition to this day where, too, like that period of Shankara and the Bhāmatikāra, we see devotion to all the gods of the vedic religion being practiced.  This is an important trait of the Vedic-Vaiṣṇava.  Even though a great opposition to this Vedic religion came from non-advaitic so-called vaiṣṇavas, the tremendous efforts of Vaidikas such as the illustrious Appayya Dikṣita could offer resistance to the downfall of the true vedic worship of the various gods and see it vibrant today.  One can easily see that the vaiṣṇavism that opposed this vedic religion is marked by bigotry and is truly a mockery of the very etymology of the word ‘viṣṇu’ which is ‘vyāpaka’ that pervades everything.  The opposing forces tried to finitize Viṣṇu by forging a non-existent divide between Hari and Hara and other devatās.

To conclude, the traits of a true vaiṣṇava are:

  1. The Vaiṣṇava believes that Viṣṇu, under an apparent ignorance, is the one in samsāra.
  2. The Vaiṣṇava believes that Hari and Hara are non-different; it is One tattvam appearing as two.
  3. The Vaiṣṇava believes that the upāsana, worship, of any deity of the purāṇic/vedic pantheon leads to liberation through chitta shuddhi since the worship is directed to Brahman that is what is the core of all deities.
  4. The Vaiṣṇava believes that all lokas, including Vaikunṭha, are not eternal, even in the creation sphere. For the Vaiṣṇava these are subject to pralaya.
  5. The Vaiṣṇava believes that all attributes, guṇas, of Bhagavan, Brahman, are superimposed by the shāstra on the Nirguṇa Brahman in order to aid the aspirant to reach the goal of securing the realization of the attributeless Brahman.

It is to the credit of Sri Amalānanda, a true vaiṣnava of the above characteristics, who is the author of the work ‘kalpataru’, a commentary on the Bhāmatī, who composed the following verse that elucidates the sense of the point no.5 above:

निर्विशेषं परं ब्रह्म साक्षात्कर्तुमनीश्वराः ।
ये मन्दास्तेऽनुकम्प्यन्ते सविशेषनिरूपणैः ॥
वशीकृते मनस्तेषां सगुणब्रह्मशीलनात् ।
तदेवाविर्भवेत्साक्षादपेतोपाधिकल्पनम् ॥ [Kalpataru]

The meaning is:

It is beyond the ken of many to realize the Supreme Brahman that is without any attributes.  The scripture talks about Brahman with attributes with a view to help these people, out of compassion.  Once their mind becomes attenuated by practicing saguṇabrahma disciplines, with not much effort the upādhi-free Brahman realization comes about.

This is the admitted view of the Advaita Vedanta tradition.  Shankaracharya has said a lot about this across the bhAshyam literature.  One such statement of His isthe Sutra bhashyam:

स्यात्परमेश्वरस्यापि इच्छावशात् मायामयं रूपं साधकानुग्रहार्थम् । (1.1.vii.20)

(Ishwara, out of compassion, takes on, by His Maya, a form to grace the spiritual aspirant.)



The above is the characteristic of a true vaiṣṇava who holds that the attributes [ananta kalyāṇa guṇa gaṇa] is an adhyāropa by the śāstram on Brahman which is by itself nirviśeṣa.  It is this characteristic that angered the neo-vaiṣṇavas who are unable to admit the fact of being unable to contemplate on the attributeless Brahman. That is the reason for their not accepting Shankara and those who followed him as vaiṣṇavas and therefore vaidikas.  For them the attributes of Brahman are non-negotiable. For them only avaidikas like Śankara can spell out such blasphemous concepts like the one articulated beautifully by Amalānanda above. Hence alone Amalānanda can never be a vaiṣṇava of their brand.  This above pronouncement of Amalānanda straight away makes him a fierce opponent of the Pāñcarātra doctrine that Śankara, based on Veda Vyāsa, refuted. This is because the pāñcarātra doctrine of the so-called vaiṣṇavas can never afford to give up the concept of eternal, inalienable, infinite auspicious attributes of Brahman. While, quite opposed to this, here we have Amalānanda bulldozing the very heart of pāñcarātra, by denying all those divine auspicious attributes as an adhyāropa, avidyākalpita, only meant for those who are incapable of rising to the heights of the Vedāntic Nirviśeṣa Brahman. This marks one of the several points that fundamentally divide the Vedantic Vaiṣṇava from the neo-vaiṣṇava of the non-advaitc brand. Thus, by no means can anyone call Amalānanda a friend of the pāñcarātra.  In the BSB 2.2.42 etc. of his own Śāstradarpaṇam, Amalānanda upholds Shankara’s view saying that there is this difference between the Śruti and the pāñcarātra in the aspect of jīvotpatti, the creation of the jīva.  While the śruti does not teach the creation of the jīva since the pāñcarātra teaches that, the latter’s view is inadmissible in the Vedānta.  Even though the ‘created’ jīva is non-contradictory to the absolute nirviśeṣa Brahman of the Vedānta, since in that state the jiva is mithyā, yet, from the point of mokṣa of the jiva, there is this contradiction with the śruti: the jīva, being created, will attain extinction, svarūpa nāśa, when the prakṛti of which he is a product is negated/destroyed. Thus Amalānanda never differs from Shankara not even in a single aspect.  Nor does he or any other advaitin accept the pāñcarātra as ‘devoid of defects.’  Appayya Dikṣita points out a vaikhānasa refutation of the pāñcarātra.  Those who are unable to bear the refutation of this (their) school by Veda Vyāsa, Shankara and all the other commentators who followed him, spread lies that ‘later advaitins’ have accepted this school.  A careful reading of all the commentaries available to this adhikaraṇam will reveal the emptiness of such desperate claims of such perpetrators of lies about Veda, Veda Vyāsa, Shankara and advaitins.

Om Tat Sat






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