Critique of Bhedaabhedavaada
By Phillip Hill

Posted 11/3/03

Bhedaabhedavaada Refuted in the Interest of Bhakti

(10) Upamaadhikaranam (3.2.18)

This Adhikarana removes another obstacle to Bhakti by refuting the possibility of a relation of Bhedaabhedavaada between Jiiva and Brahman. The reason is that like identity, Bhedaabheda relation is equally uncongential to Bhakti in its true sense (Iha Parameshavare Jiivasyaatyantikabhaktisiddhaye Bhedaabhedamatam Niraakriyate (Nyaayasudhaa 3.2.18) . The argument in favor of Bhedaabheda draws support from the consideration of the fact that the Jiivas are also sentient beings like Brahman and are its amshas like the Matsya and other forms) Jiivah: Paramaatmano Na Bhidyate Cetanatvaat Tadamshatvaad Matsyaadivat Ityanumaanasiddhatvaat (Tattvaprakaashikaa 3.2.18). Tho’ difference between Jiiva and Brahman has already been established in the Suutras, there is still scope for the combined relation of identity and difference (bhedaabheda) between them. For, in the bhedaabheda relation also the Jiivas remain as amshas of Brahman, but only in their totality. Individually and severally, however, they are both different from and identical with Brahman. The acceptance of this relation is not in any way antagonistic to their difference.

The argument to Bhedaabheda may be stated as follows. Brahman is the only self-established reality. It becomes Iishvara by contact with Maayaa which is not real. Iishvara is the all-knowing ruler and creator of the world. He assumes many forms like Matsya and others for the benefit of the world. The lordly attributes of Iishvara remain unobstructed in these other forms. The Jiivas are amshas of Brahman thro’the contact with the unreal Avidyaa. They are of nature of Cit like sparks of fire. In this sense, they are both different from and one with Brahman. They are, however, different from one another and from Brahman. and Iishvara. Brahman is the totality of selves and other than they. The forms of Brahman like Matsya differ from Brahman as sportively assumed forms for the benefit of the world. The lordly powers of the Jiivas are, however, obscured due to their separation from Brahman, by the adjuncts of body, senses, etc., due to the operation of beginningless Avidyaa, Kaama, Karma, etc. They therefore, suffer in Samsaara. Since their difference from Brahman is, however, due to the upaadhis, they attain equal status with the forms of Brahman once these upaadhis are liquidated by the combined effects of Jnaana and Karma. Just as the forms after having finished their work of doing good to the world attain Brahmanhood, the Jiivas also after successfully completing the programme of Jnaanakarmasamuccaya and being freed from the upaadhis of body, senses, etc., thro’ the destruction of their Praarabdhakarmas, attain their natural state of Brahman. The only plausible relation which the Jiivas can bear to Brahman is thus as units in that totality of beings called “Brahman”. This allows them to stand in a relation of Bhedaabheda to Brahman.

Even this relation of Bhedaabheda is bound to cut at the root of Bhakti in so far as the Jiivas have a natural identity with Brahman. The present Adhikarana, therefore, refutes this relation so a to provide full and unfettered scope for bhakti, with the aid of the concept of bimbapratibimbabhaava in place of Aupaadhikabheda. It is the relation of Pratibimbatva that is elucidated by the simile of the Sun’s reflected image (Suuryakopamaa) . This simile is used to draw out the true connotation and implications of the figure of Pratibimba applied to the Jiiva’s relation to Brahman.

This adhikarana is not rendered superfluous by the Prthagupadeshaadhikarana (2.3.28-29) . It may also be viewed as refuting the objection that just as it had been shown that difference of place makes no difference to the identity of Brahman and its forms, the Jiivas also may be accepted as identical with Brahman because of their standing in the relation of amshas to Brahman in the Bhedaabheda theory. It may also be taken to arise on the basis of another objection that tho’ the other forms of Brahman such as Matsya, do not have a material body, still in so far as Brahman is the totality of Jiivas and as the latter do have material bodies, the same may be true of Brahman – the Samudaaya, too. Since, on the Bhedaabheda view, reality of difference is also admitted, it will pose a direct challenge to the position taken in the Sthaanbhedaadhikarana (3.2.11-13) that there is no difference in the svaruupa of Brahman.

The philosophy of Bhedaabheda explains the relation between Jiiva and Brahman in the states of Samsaara and Moksha in different ways. One view is that the Jiivas are different from Brahman in Samsaara because of the evidence of texts like ‘Dvaa Suparnaa (Mund. Up. 3.1.1) and that they became identical with Brahman in Moksha as is seen from texts like Yatra Tvasya (Brh. Up. 4.5.15). Another view is that even in Samsaara the Jiivas are different-cum-identical with Brahman, but in Moksha they become absolutely identical with Brahman. A third view is that they are different-cum-identical with Brahman both in Samsaara and in Moksha.

The first view gets over the difficulty of the Jiivas not being in a position to intuit the blessedness of Brahmic state as their own, here and now, by appealing to Bhedaabheda. It accounts for Samsaara in view of the fact that there is no identity of the two in Samsaara. The second type of Bhedaabheda holds that the presence of difference in Samsaara explains why the Jiivas are not in a position to intuit the blessedness of Brahman as their own in that state. The third brand of Bhedaabheda claims that tho’ difference between Jiiva and Brahman continues to be in Moksha, it offers no serious impediment to the Jiivas intuiting the blessedness of Brahman as his own as it exist only in a rarefied form in the state of Moksha and is as good a s non-existent, like a burnt piece of cloth or like the antah:karana in the case of the Jiivanmukta.

Tho’ the refutation of Bhedaabheda is pertinent to the second Adhyaaya, it is also necessary to refute it in this Adhyaaya and Paada in the interest of clearing the way for Bhakti. However, one may still raise another objection here. It may be justifiable to refute the relation of pure identity between Jiiva and Brahman in the interest of Bhakti. What justification can there be in seeking to refute Bhedaabheda in so far as it concedes Bheda?Morever, as the reality of difference between Jiiva and Brahman has already been established in the Prthagadhikarana (2.3.28-29) where is the need to rebut Bheda over gains as part of Bhedaabheda?

The answer to this is that this Adhikarana directly refutes only the relation of identity of Jiiva and Brahman as it is the one which is directly opposed to Bhakti. The refutation of identity in effect amounts to a refutation of Bhedaabheda.

It is also possible to maintain that this Adhikarana refutes the relation of Bhedaabheda. For tho’ the relation of difference as such is acceptable to the Siddhaantin, difference integrated with identity is as repugnant to him as the waters of Gangaa stored in a bag of dog’s skin (Yadvaa Bhedaabhedaniraakaranamevaadhikaranasya Pratipaadyamastu Kevalagangoodakasyopaadeyatve’Pi Shvadrtisambaddhasya Tadabhaavavat Kevalabhedasyaanukuulatve’Pi Abhedasahitasya Tadabhaavaat Tiikaayaamabhedaniraasaadityuktistu Saakshaatpratibandhakatayaa Na Tu Kevalaabhedaabhipraayaa (Shesha-Taatparya-Candrikaa 3.2.18) . The refutation of identity relation prominently is meant to draw attention to the fact that it is most hostile to Bhakti. If the Bhedaabheda view which in its triple form is equally hostile Bhakti is ignored or left unrefuted, the interest of Bhakti will not be properly served in this Paada. However, as the conflict of interest between the Puurvapaksha and the Siddhaanta is chiefly in respect of the identity relation, the Suutrakaara is mainly directing his attention to it.

Puurvapaksha (Devil’s Advocate)

The Puurvapaksha is that the Jiiva is not absolutely different from Brahman because he is a Cetana and an amsha of Brahman like the Matsya and other incarnations of the Lord. This is not any way invalidated by the Shrutis affirming difference between Jiiva and Brahman quoted in the Prthagadhikarana. For these Shrutis can be taken as refuting the relation of absolute identity at all times, without taking into account the reality of difference. Or, the Puurvapaksha may be spelt out in this way: The Jiiva is identical with Brahman because he is a sentient being and an amsha of the Lord like the Matsya and other forms. This cannot be rejected as establishing something other than what is contemplated. For it is only the relation of Bhedaabheda that is sought to be established by this kind of argument. Or the Puurvapaksha may be put up as follows:that the Jiiva is both different from and identical with Brahman because he is a sentient being and an amsha of Brahman like the Matsya and other forms. It cannot be objected that this is tantamount to partially establishing the already established as the existence is not disputed by the Siddhaantin. For, Siddhasaadhana in part is a fault in argument only where the predicate consist of more than one determinant. In the present case, identity integrated with difference is treated as the predicate and its determinant (saadhyataavacchedaka) . Nor is the inference of Bhedaabheda barred by the absence of the predicate in the illustration. It has been shown in the Na Sthaanaadhikarana that there is identity between Brahman and its manifestation like Matsya. It can easily be shown by the use of Tarka mode of argument that there can be no talk of amshatva in the absence of Bhedaabheda relation.

It cannot also be objected that the kind of amshatva contemplated in respect of Brahman and its manisfestations is different from the one applicable to the Jiivas who are not Svaruupaamshas and that, therefore, the latter can only be put down as Pratibimbas of Brahman like the reflected image of the Sun in the water and that, therefore, only the relation of difference can be true of Pratibimbaamshas. The Puurvapaksha rejects this objection as baseless. The relation of Pratibimba is consistent only with the presence of limiting adjuncts or upaadhis. This can be seen in the case of the Sun’s reflection in the water. We cannot talk of the Jiiva being a Pratibimba of Brahman in the absence of such upaadhis. If we should, therefore, think of the Jiiva as a Pratibimba of Brahman, we should admit some limiting adjuncts in bringing about such a relation or reflection. In that case, the Jiivas would be dependent on those Upaadhis and will cease to be some day when these Upaadhis fall off. To prevent this consequence, we have to accept the Jiivas also to be Svaruupaamshas of Brahman like the Matsya and others, but susceptible to the relation of Bhedaabheda to accommodate the fact of their difference also from Brahman in the state of Samsaara (and even in Mokshaa, according to one school of Bhedaabheda) .


The Siddhaanta is that the Jiivas are not and cannot be Svaruupaamshas of Brahman like Matsya and other forms as otherwise they should be in a position to be completely rid of sorrow and suffering. We know from the Shrutis and Smrtis that whereas Brahman is conscious of its lordly attributes and freedom from suffering, the Jiivas are not conscious of any identity with Brahman or of the lordly attributes and freedom from sorrow as inhering in themselves. It cannot be said that the fact of their difference from Brahman prevents the Jiivas from being conscious of the lordly attributes of Brahman as inhering in themselves. There is no proof that it does any such thing. Otherwise, it should be equally open to the identity relation to retard the relation of difference and render it ineffective and make it possible for the Jiiva to intuit his oneness with Brahman even now. It cannot be said that tho’ such an awareness is available in Moksha, it is retarded in the state of Samsaara by the power of Ajnaana, but then, as Brahman itself is not under any such disability of Ajnaana, it should be open to it to intuit as its own the sufferings and limitations of the Jiivas. The Shrutis and Smrtis tell us that this is not the case at any time.

The words Ata Eva Copamaa Suuryakaadivat focus attention on one of the crucial points of distinction between the concept of Pratibimba as applied to ordinary reflections such as of the Sun in the waters and as applied to the ontological relation between Jiiva and Brahman. This distinction is summed up in the words Ata Eva “ on these grounds alone”. The emphatic particle Eva added to Atah: naturally implies – “but” not on any other grounds” Madhva identifies the precise reasons upon which the Suutrakaara rest the concept of Jiiva as a Pratibimba of Brahman on the three grounds of (1) difference of the Jiivaatman from Brahman. (2) his dependence on Brahman and (3) his similarity in some respects to Brahman. The grounds on which the conception of Jiiva as a Pratibimba of Brahman are ruled out by the force of Ata Eva are also identified by Madhva and his commentator as dependence on upaadhis, liability to destruction with the destruction of the upaadhis and insentiency.

The latter hold true of the Sun’s reflection in the water. As the Jiiva’s relation to Brahman as its Pratibimba is not at all due to the interposition of any Upaadhis such as Avidyaa, but is grounded in a certain measure of similarity he bears to it in respect of his essential attributes of knowledge and bliss, there is no fear of his ceasing to exist with the disappearance of Upaadhis.

The philosophy of Bhedaabheda is mainly interested in establishing an identity-relation between Jiiva and Brahman which it believes to be their difference, but confining it to the phenomenal state. The chief ground on which Bhedaabhedavaada takes its stand in support of the identity relation is that the Jiiva is an amsha of Brahman. It may be recalled that the Suutrakaara has already made it clear that in his opinion the Jiiva is an amsha of Brahman only in the sense of being an Aabhaasa or a Pratibimba. The ontological sense in which the Suutrakaara intends this term “Aabhaasa” to be understood has already been made clear under the Suutra Aabhaasa Eva Ca (2.3.50). Very naturally then, he uses this concept of aabhaasa to refute the position of the Bhedaabhedavaadin and links it with the illustration of the Sun’s reflected image in the waters:

Jiivo Na Brahmaabhinnah: Tadaabhaasatvaat Yo Yadaabhaasah: Sa Tenaabhinno Na Bhavati Yathaa Suuryakaadih; (Nyaaya-Muuktaavali 3.2.18)

As the Suutrakaara has already given aabhaasatva as the ground of inference in establishing himself in the present Suutra to supplying the illustration which would establish the conclusion. Lest the illustration itself should be stretched beyond its point, he has emphasized the words Ata Eva which by referring us back to what has been said by him on the subject of the Jiiva’s relation to Brahman in the Amshaadhikarana in the Suutra Aabhaasa Eva Ca (2.3.50) to make it clear in what sense he wishes the present illustration of the Sun’s reflected image should be understood and it what sense he does not wish it to be.