Posted in Vatsya Varadaraja

Tattva Sara of Vatsya Varadaraja – A Synopsis

Vatsya Varadaraja or Nadadur Ammal was born in the Tamil year parthiva in the month chithirai in the asterism chithirai in the year 1165 A.D. to Devarajacharya and Lakshmi Ammal at a place called Nadadur near modern day Kanchipuram. His grandfather was Nadadur Alvan, a nephew of Ramanuja and also one of the 74 simhasinathipathis appointed by the latter to carry the dispensation of Srivaishnava scholarship forward.

Tattvasara is a metrical treatise comprising a total of 104 verses. The first 48 verses are devoted to the polemical exegesis of 13 of the 156 topics (adhikaranas) that form a part of Ramanuja’s Sri Bhashya. Verses 49 to 70 put the fundamental concepts of Advaita such as the attributeless nature of Brahman, identity of jiva with Brahman, non-reality of the world and the self-luminous nature of Brahman through critical examination. In addition, the author refutes the advaitic concepts of Avidya, Adhyasa and Jivanmukti with brilliance and clarity in this section. Verses 71 through 97 are devoted to establishing the Supremacy of Sriman Narayana while the last verse sets forth the genealogy of the author and the purpose for composing this work.

Tattvasara establishes the ontology and epistemology of the Ramanuja school of Vedanta by engaging in a polemical discussion of various topics present in the Vedanta Sutra. We shall discuss the contributions through some prominent examples in the paragraphs below:

(i) Establishing that the Supreme Brahman can be known through the Vedas and can be meditated upon for procuring Salvation:

In the interpretation of Jijnasadhikarana, Ammal challenges the Prabhakara School that holds the view that Brahman, an existential entity, cannot be known as it does not relate in any manner to action. They cite the example of how a child learns the meanings of words by observing the actions of elders and opine that Brahman cannot be apprehended as it is not associated with an action. Ammal contends their view by stating that there are other ways of learning the meanings of words, as evidenced by parents teaching their children the relationship between a name and an entity by uttering the names and displaying the entities with their hand movements. Similarly, the author establishes that an enquiry into Brahman through the Upanisads is possible. In the context of Janmadyadhikarana, the author denounces the Advaita concepts of the world being illusory (maya) and the Supreme Lord being devoid of attributes (nirguna). Pointing to the term imani from the Taittariyopanisad, the author hints at the wonderful nature of the ‘real’ world that establishes a creator with noble qualities behind its creation. He opines that these very qualities can lead one to enquiring into the nature of Brahman. Further, in his exposition of the teachings of Samanvayadhikarana, the author challenges the Prabhakara and Bhatta schools of Mimamsa on the non-utility of the knowledge of Brahman. The author asserts that the Veda — with its injunctions, hymns and recommendatory texts — all point to the Supreme Lord as the final essence, thereby making Him the Supreme Human End. Further, the author clarifies in his explanation of Arcitadyadhikarana that when a spiritual aspirant pursues this Supreme End based on the injunctions and recommendations of the Vedas, he will proceed to liberation in the path of light (archiradi marga). Such liberation will be characterized by (i) the termination of misery and (ii) the performance of eternal service to Brahman (as indicated in the author’s exposition of Jagadvyaparavarjadhikarana). Thus, the author establishes the fact that the Supreme Entity can be known by the Vedas and when meditated upon, can lead us to liberation.

(ii) Dismissing the Naiyayika Logic of Simplicity:

In the Sastrayonitvadhikaranam, the author takes on the simplistic Naiyayika view (of inferential cognition) that any entity composed of parts has to be an effect and the presence of such an effect should prove the existence of a cause (God) who brought forth these objects concomitantly. In addition, the author also refutes the Naiyayika view of a God vested with the powers of volition, creating the world essentially from its constituents (atoms) through His knowledge of creation and a desire to bring about the world. The author’s refutations in this topic are three-fold: (a) The author questions the very concept of simultaneous creation due to lack of real-life correspondence (vyabhicari). (b) The author challenges the concept of volition by pointing out that God’s volition, being eternal, does not require in Him a knowledge and desire for creation. (c) The author denounces the Naiyayika view and establishes that the Lord does have a body even though it may not be manifest at the time of creation.

(iii) Establishing ‘Darkness’ as a substance (Dravya):

In the antayamyadhikaranam, the author establishes darkness (tamas) as an independent substance (dravya) which forms the body of the Supreme Lord. In this topic, his arguments are primarily directed towards the Nyaya-Vaiseshika school which interprets darkness as absence of light and not an independent substance in itself.

(iv) The Status of the Devatas or Demigods:

In the Devatadhikaranam, the author makes a clear distinction between demigods like Indra, Rudra, Varuna etc. and the Supreme Brahman. The demigods possess a body and are liable to suffering arising from different kinds of pain. They are aware of the fact that supreme enjoyment is to be found in the Highest Lord who does not have an iota of imperfection. The knowledge of the Supreme Lord, as One endowed with auspicious qualities, enable them to meditate upon Him and attain liberation. Further, the author attributes the terms like ‘Indra’ to a configuration (akrti) and not a generic attribute. In the process, the author explains that there is no universal category (jati) that exists apart from the configuration. Since such a configuration of an object is inseparable from the object, the term used to convey the configuration will convey the object as well. For example, the term ‘soul’ conveys the Supreme Lord having the soul as His body. Similarly, every such term conveys an organic relationship between the term and the Supreme Lord, i.e. the term becomes the object of Him.

(v) The Nature of a Soul’s Free-Will:

In the Parayatadhikarana, the author establishes the concepts of free-will and determinism of the soul according to the Visistadvaita school of thought. At the beginning of every action that the soul performs, it is (first) given the independence to decide its course. When it chooses to conduct itself in the path advocated by the scriptures, the Supreme Lord, as its internal controller (antaryami), directs it to perform deeds that will result in good karma (and thereby eventually leading it to salvation). On the other hand, when the individual soul conducts itself in a manner not recommended by the scriptures, the Supreme Lord directs it to perform interdicted actions. If the agency of directing a soul’s actions is present on the Supreme Lord, a question might be asked about His partiality in rewarding some and punishing the others. Thus, the author makes it clear that the Lord is perfectly neutral as He dispenses the fruits of the actions in accordance with the latent impressions and the free-will exercised by the soul in the beginning of every action.

(vi) The Refutations of the Mayavadis (Advaitins):

In this section, the author refutes the Advaitic claims related to non-reality of the world of objects, self-luminosity of knowledge, the doctrine of Avidya and the concept of Jivanmukti. First, he denounces the inferential advaitic logic that tries to establish the non-real nature of the world as suffering from the fallacies of absurdity (badha) and limitation (upadhi). Further, the author draws similarities between Advaita and the Buddhist doctrines to establish that certain Advaitic concepts lack support of the Vedas. For example, the author proves that the advaitic concept of illusion is influenced by the Vijnanavada school of Buddhism, their concept of cognition is identical to the Yogacara school of Buddhism and that their concept of Maya or Avidya is similar to the Madhyamika school of Buddhism. Second, the author discredits the inferential advaitic concept of self-luminosity of knowledge as suffering from the fallacy of siddasadhana – i.e. establishing through inference what is already known through other sources (pramanas). Third, the author challenges the advaitic view that claims Brahman can be concealed by the twofold process of concealment (tirodhana and viksepa). He claims that Brahman, which is manifested as Pure Consciousness, is opposed to erroneous knowledge and cannot be subject to such concealment. In the process, the author establishes the visistadvaitic concept of attributive consciousness (dharma bhuta jnana) of the soul, which exists independently of the soul and is subject to expansions and contractions based on the soul’s karma. It is this expansion and contraction of attributive consciousness that prevents a soul from knowing its true nature and leads to its faulty association with the physical body (erroneous knowledge). Thus, the author proves that ignorance stems from a soul’s association with the body (prakriti sambandha) and not through a process of concealment as pointed out by the Advaitins. Fourth, the author refutes the Advaita concept of Jivanmukti which claims that self-realization (or knowledge of Brahman) removes all the accumulated merits and demerits of the soul and prevents the further rise of them. The author opines that if one achieves immortality by gaining knowledge of the Self, then he should not experience misery in the body thenceforth. However, we see in the real world that one who has gained knowledge of the self continues to experience misery. Thus, the author concludes that mere knowledge of the Self does not lead to immortality.

(vii) Establishing the Super Eminence of Sriman Narayana:

In this section, the author draws upon instances from Taittariyopanisad, Mahopanisad, Subalopanisad and the Purusha Sukta to explain that the Supreme Brahman possesses unbounded greatness. It is clearly stated in the Mahopanisad that Lord Narayana is the material and efficient cause of the world and that He alone is manifested at the time of dissolution (pralaya). The Svetasvatara Upanisad, on the other hand, does not explicitly state the eminence of Sriman Narayana but reveals that ‘a Great Being’ grants liberation. Since Sriman Narayana is claimed to possess unbounded greatness in Mahopanisad, the author justifies that this Great Being should refer to Sriman Narayana and as a consequence, the powers to grant liberation rest with Him. He goes on to add that the term ‘Siva’, signifying ‘Granter of Bliss’, should again apply to Sriman Narayana alone. Elsewhere, the Svetasvatara text claims ‘Siva’ to be the cause of the universe and that He alone was manifest prior to creation. Since Mahopanisad establishes Sriman Narayana as the cause of the universe, the author claims that the term ‘Siva’ in this context too should refer to Narayana alone. Similarly, the author interprets the text of Atharvasiropanisad (that ascribes the prowess of creation to Siva) by pointing to the all-pervading nature of Sriman Narayana as the indwelling spirit of Siva. The author extends the same logic to prove that the texts of Chandogya Upanisad that prescribe meditation of the Sun, Vasus etc. too essentially hint at their indwelling spirit, Sriman Narayana. In the process, the author establishes that the demigods and Sriman Narayana are related to each other in a body-soul (organic) relationship.


[1] “Tattva Sara with the Ratnasarini Commentary”, Karappangadu Venkatacharya Swamin.

[2] ‘The Tattva Sara of Vatsya Varadaguru’ by Sri. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, Geethacharyan Publications, 1995.

3 thoughts on “Tattva Sara of Vatsya Varadaraja – A Synopsis

  1. Jai Srimannarayana,

    please explain this, is not it the same with vishista advaita ?

    In the Sastrayonitvadhikaranam, the author takes on the simplistic Naiyayika view (of inferential cognition) that any entity composed of parts has to be an effect and the presence of such an effect should prove the existence of a cause (God) who brought forth these objects concomitantly.

    1. No this isn’t the VA position. I have stated the reason there itself – it lacks real-life correspondence, vyabicari. This is meant to be a synopsis post, so I thought a mere mention is sufficient.

      I will clarify this in detail in my Sri Bhashya blog when I get to this adhikaranam. Please wait until then.

      1. Jai Srimannarayana, thanks for swift response, will wait for your Sri Bhashya analysis, please give me the link when you write that…you were very clear on the attributive consciousness/ dharma bhoota jnana and Jiva being dharmi which is pretty nice and clearly explains that only because of other things being vishaya in dharma bhoota Jnana, dharmi is not known clearly. Anyway, also if possible explain the ‘ concept of volition’ volition as in ‘Paramaatma Sankalpa’ ? The only section that was confusing to me in this post II and III ,

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