Sri Madhvacharya was born in the year 1238 A.D, on the Vijayadashami day of the month of Aswayuja in a village about three miles from Udupi in South Canara. His father was a pious brahmin belonging to Bhagavata Sampradaya and a pauranic by profession. Sri Madhvacharya was born at a late period in his father’s life after constant prayer and dedication of vows to Ananteswara in Udipi.
A true saint
Sri Madhvacharya, right from his childhood, showed signs of divinity. He was completely detached towards mundane worldly pleasures. This was natural to him as he was always immersed in meditation of the Almighty. At a very young age he made his mind to renounce this world and accept sainthood. This, he thought, is the best way to fulfill his life’s objective of uplifting the noble souls by imparting divine knowledge. Though decimating evil forces is the prime objective in all his incarnations he knew that by the will of God, Goddess Durga will incarnate in the near future for that purpose. Thus, unlike his previous two incarnations where he single handedly destroyed most of the evil forces he chose to launch a peaceful attack through his works and discourses.
An ardent devotee
Madhvacharya’s devotion towards Vishnu is unflinching and insurmountable. He is the best example of a true devotee of the Almighty. He doesn’t even spend a moment without remembering the Almighty. He asks for nothing except service of the God. He is the perfect follower of Bhagavata Dharma. In his eyes, Vishnu is the supreme master. All others are His servants. He composed and devotionally sang several songs and stotras praising Vishnu’s supremacy. When he was touring from place to place his entourage would dance and proceed in front of him singing his melodious compositions in praise of Vishnu.
A great reformer
Madhvacharya was a great reformer of his times. He was not subdued by the onslaught of Advaitic thought so predominant during his times. He took a fresh look at the Vedas and its ancillary literature. He revived the age old Bhagavata dharma based on Vedic teachings in the light of the Brahma Sutras. Once he went against the practice of killing animals during Vedic sacrifices. He recommended that offering Pishta pashu or a figure made out of flour should be practiced instead in this kaliyuga. He claimed that this is truly Vedic. He prevailed over the scholars and made his brother successfully perform a sacrifice using the pishta pashu.
An extraordinary thinker
He was an extraordinary thinker who revolutionized the Vedic thinking by his fresh and sound ideas supported by stern logic which cut across all kinds of dogmatism. He was firmly set against the notion of accepting doctrines just because of their wide public acceptance. He refused to accept that it is possible to derive a meaningful spiritual system based on any but the apaurusheya texts and their adjuncts. At the same time he gave due importance to perception as a valid means of knowledge. He also dismissed claims that only part of the Vedas are useful, and showed that even the so-called karma-kanda portions of them are only meant to worship Hari. We find in some of his thoughts answers to even the most demanding problems of the Modern Science. His definition of an atom as an indivisible particle which has at least 10 parts greatly appeals to the modern logical mind. The concept of sakshin and vishesas are some of his significant, unique and original contributions to the Indian philosophical thought.
A prolific commentator
Madhvacharya was an exemplary commentator and critic who reviewed all the 21 commentaries on the Brahma Sutras and brought their shortcomings into light. He presented his own version of the Brahma Sutras gaining support from innumerable puranas and ancillary texts. He composed more than 37 works of highest spiritual standard. His style is simple yet profound – readily understandable by the beginners yet difficult to digest even by the men of strongest intellect. He is said to have composed his magnum opus Anuvyakhyana by dictating each of the four chapters simultaneously to four of his disciples. Sri Jayatirtha, the celebrated commentator of Madhvacharya, records in appreciation of Anuvyakhyana – my mind acts as a bee towards the lotus called Anuvyakhyana. In each word of this great work Sri Jayatirtha could see multitudes of meanings. Though he is tempted to move forward to comment on the next word his mind doesn’t allow him to do so just as a bee wouldn’t want to leave the lotus. Attracted by the beauty and depth, it still revolves around the same previous word, bringing forth yet another shade of hidden meaning. Such is the depth of thought carefully packed by Madhva in each of his words. A spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power Madhva was a spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power. At a very young age, when his father was teaching him how to write alphabets he questioned his father as to why he is repeating what was already taught the previous day. Much to the incredulity of his teacher, he once recited the remaining portions of a Vedic mantra which was not yet taught by the teacher to his class. He boldly accepted a challenge thrown up by a group of highly learned scholars and began to discourse 100 meanings of the single name Vishwa, the first among the 1000 names of Vishnu. But he laid a condition that the assembly would reproduce what was told. The assembly of scholars was dumbfounded by the grammatical, etymological prowess of Madhva which is impossible for even the devatas. Just as a group of wells would fail to hold the vast waters of annihilation, the assembled scholars could not hold in their heads even a portion of the vast range of meanings explained by Madhva. They prostrated at his feet and asked for forgiveness. The hailed him as Sarvajna – an all knowing saint. Madhvacharya was also known to be very strongly built and blessed with supernatural powers. He is said to have once lifted a big boulder weighing tons with a single hand and placed it on the banks of the river tungabhadra for protecting the people from the gushing waters. There are many more episodes accounted in his biography where he performed lot of miracles and showed his supernatural powers. We are not presenting them here for the sake of brevity. Interested readers may kindly refer to his biography Sumadhva Vijaya for a detailed account of his great powers and miracles.
A compassionate teacher
Madhvacharya was a very compassionate teacher. He wished from the depths of his heart that all eligible souls should get the divine knowledge and attain liberation. He personally taught those who very fortunate to be his direct disciples. He composed several works for the benefit of all such eligible souls who are to take birth in future. Through his works and discourses he taught them the reasons for their sorrows and the ways to get rid of them. He sometimes used kind words and some times warned them of the consequences like a kind doctor imparting the medicine to his patients. He granted liberation to a noble man who donated a cow when Madhva was a child. The old man was born again as his own grandson and learnt secret knowledge of liberation from Madhva. He toured throught the length and breadth of the country to spread his divine messages to every individual soul. He composed many a valuable text at the behest of his disciples.
Teachings of Madhvacharya
1. The soul is bound in this samsara and experiences sorrow because of its ignorance
2. Escape from all sorrows is achievable only by the grace of Vishnu. Therefore one should strive to earn the grace of Vishnu.
3. The benevolence of Bhagavan Vishnu which is the primary cause for liberation can only be achieved by Bhakti. Vishnu will be pleased only by Bhakti and not by any other means.
4. Bhakti is that incessant flow of love, which greatly supercedes all other objects such as oneself, ones relatives etc. and which does not recede inspite of thousands of obstacles and which is coupled with the knowledge that Bhagavan Vishnu possesses unrestrained, infinite, blemish-less, auspicious attributes.
5. Bhakti will not develop until Bhagavan Vishnu is seen
6. Bhagavan Vishnu, who is obscure by nature, cannot be seen by any means except through his blessings.
7. The blessing of Bhagavan Vishnu which is the only means to His vision is not possible without meditating upon His blemish-less, suitable form [according to one’s eligibility] for a long duration, with utmost respect and continuity.
8. Meditation is not possible until one undertakes a self-study of the textual instructions received [from a qualified guru]; otherwise one would not be free from doubt and wrong knowledge.
9. Therefore self-study after receiving spiritual instructions from a qualified guru is to be taken up as it is the means to liberation through meditation and god’s grace. Today, a large part of the world remains oblivious of this divine personality and the knowledge imparted by him. As a result, mankind has found itself in a severe crisis. This is inspite of all the technical advancements. Therefore, even today there is a great need to propagate the ancient, divine and impeccable knowledge preached by Madhvacharya to every living soul.