SRI TYAGARAJA-29, Tyagaraja & Philosophy (Post No.8131)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8131

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SRI TYAGARAJA-29,  Tyagaraja & Philosophy

Tyagaraja was not a philosopher. He was a mystic who practiced his devotion to his chosen deity in the light of the highest Hindu traditions as laid down in the Scriptures and as shown by ancient authorities like Narada, Vyasa and other Sages and Saints. He was not interested in questions of philosophy as such. However, Hindu religion in practice involves both theology and philosophy, even if  not explicitly stated. As such Tyagaraja too had to deal with some aspects of the question.

Hinduism is  marred by two  controversies. One  is the sectarian theological controversies;  the other is about the philosophical systems.

 Six systems of philosophy , called Astika Darshanas,  accept the authority of the Veda.. Vedanta is at the head: as the name implies, it is the logical end or conclusion (anta) of the Veda. The other systems complement it along the way- each one is helpful and necessary at some stage. All systems agree that Brahman is the Ultimate Reality. 


Vedanta  has three main divisions: Dwaita, Visishtadvaita and Advaita, though there are others, like Achintya Bhedabheda . Each one of them is further subdivided into many schools as philosophy gets mixed up with theology. This cannot be avoided in practical and living religion which keeps evolving; such divisions and subdivisions are natural and make the whole rich, provided the adherents do not turn fanatics. And provided they do not subject personal experience of the Ultimate to the vagaries of the mind.

When the source is one viz the Veda, why should there be so many ‘philosophies’ and theologies? There are only four reasons:

  • difference in the depth of understanding, perception/experience
  • difference in interpretation
  • difference in temperament and nature of the followers
  • human ego and personal prejudices or preferences.

The Truth is One. But it is experienced, interpreted, and expressed by less than perfect minds differently. Hence different systems arise. In course of time, each one gains its adherents and considers itself not only different from but even superior to others. This is the case in all religions: Christianity has more than 100 divisions, Islam about 70. Buddhism and Jainism, too. Why, even the modern Brahmo Samaj got split due to various reasons! Even political parties have factions. Learned Judges differ in their interpretation of even mundane law!


The Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras are the foundation of our philosophy. All theories have grown out of their interpretations.

But these are not dogmatic or sectarian “books”. The religious culture of the Hindus:

“set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward endeavour of the human spirit.”
“The Indian religious thinker knows that all the highest eternal verities are truths of the spirit.The Supreme truths are neither the rigid conclusions of  logical reasoning, nor the affirmations of credal statement, but  fruits of the soul’s inner experience.”

Sri Aurobindo:The Renaissance in India, 1997, p.179, 181

  But in course of time. the intellect triumphed over spiritual experience, and built systems of thought and belief. Conflicts followed. Those who experience do not indulge in argument: they KNOW. In the modern age, Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi are the outstanding examples of such Unity. Sadly, their followers have made ‘systems’ or ‘cults’ out of them,too.

Philosophical dispute

The arguments surround the ideas: Jiva, Jagat, Ishwara and the relationship among them. The bitterest arguments are between the Dwaitins and Advaitins. The dwaitins consider the world “real”, the Advaitins, “Unreal”, though in a purely technical sense. The dwaitins consider the world to be Bhagavan’s ‘Leela’ or play. The Advaitins- at least the school of Sankara- consider it as ‘Maya’. These are purely technical terms and one may spend a lifetime arguing about them  and arriving nowhere.  In this respect, the followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu are practical: they say it is all a mystery, beyond our intellectual capacity to understand- hence ‘Achintya bhedabhedam’.

Without getting into intricate ( and fruitless) arguments, one may attempt a brief sketch: There is One Reality (SAT) IN EXISTENCE. IT IS EXISTENCE.  This is called Brahman.The world is an expression of it. But the world is manifold, contains multiplicity. Often things seem contradictory or conflicting- the so called dualities. How has the One become the Many? This is the crux of the philosophical problem. Every argument makes it worse. The real Jnanis say: Has It indeed become many? Find out by personal experience!

Philosophy and modern science

We can find a parallel in modern science. It started with the idea of separation of mind and matter. Matter was taken as the fundamental unit of existence. Newtonian science is based on it.  In the 20th century, Science found out that there is ultimately no matter, but only energy, that too in a state of constant flux. Further, the whole thing is not out there as some objective reality, but is there in our consciousness. Somehow, what we perceive depends upon our consciousness! Now, while this is the ultimate scientific truth, we have to deal with matter for practical purposes. When you build a house, you resort to Newtonian science, not quantum physics, though  it is quantum physics which is the  ultimate truth. This is the practical situation. So, the controversy among the systems of philosophy is totally absurd. 

 For practical religion this means that while God alone is the Absolute Truth, we still have to live in this world and deal with it. So long as we have this body consciousness- ie feel hunger, thirst etc and need food, clothing and shelter for which we depend on the world, it is not proper to say the world is ‘maya’ or unreal.  Practical spirituality is how to live in the world in the consciousness of God as the sole and ultimate reality.  God is not denied, because He is not seen; the world is not taken as the absolute reality because it is perceived by our senses!

Such philosophical issues were there in his times and Sri Tyagaraja deals with them  in his kritis. They merit careful study.

Dwaita V. Advaita?

Dwaitamu sukhama 

Advaitamu sukhama

Chaitanyamavinu sarvasakshi

Vistaramugaanu delpumunato

Is Dwaita siddhanta ( which holds Jivatma and Paramatma to be separate) superior? Or is Advaita (which holds that there is only one Atma) better? O of the nature of Chaitanya ( ie Chit or Consciousness), please explain this to me in detail.

Gagana pavana bhuvanaad avanilo

Nagadharaja Sivendraadi suralalo

Bhagavad bhakta varaagresarulalo

Baga raminche Tyagarajanuta

O the one worshipped by Tyagaraja, the One sporting in Akasha, air,Sun, the various worlds,etc, and also in  Vishnu, Brahma, Siva, Indra and other Devas, and also with the best of the devotees, please tell me which of the systems is superior!

This kriti has to be interpreted carefully. Tyagaraja is very subtle here. We have seen earlier how in the Gita (7.4-5) Bhagavan talks about his apara (lower) prakriti consisting of bhumi, apo, analo,etc and also of his para  (higher ) prakriti- by which this creation is sustained. Bhagavan does not there spell out what this higher prakriti is- but authorities take it as Chit, or Consciousness. Here Tyagaraja calls Rama ‘Chaitanyamavinu’- of the form of Consciousness! So it is clear that for Tyagaraja this question cannot be resolved unless one realises God- who is Sat-Chit-Ananda!

Without consciousness, the world cannot be sustained or perceived. This is the conclusion of both our philosophy and modern Science! At that level, this dispute about dwaita-advaita is silly.

Which way to go?

Ae daari sancharintura ikabalkara

Anni taananu margamunanu janitae

nannu veedenu bharamani yanevu

Tannu brovara sada yante 

Dwaituda nevu

What path should I follow? Please explain this.

If I try to follow the idea “I am everything” ( ie, the idea Aham Brahmasmi or Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma or So’ham, etc ie the Self is everything), you will say ‘it is hard to leave you’. If I plead with you to save me, you will say ” why, you follow the dwaita way”. So, which path I should take? Please explain.

Sri Tyagaraja is again at his subtle best. What is his relationship with God? If he thinks everything is the Self, he will miss his personal intimacy with Rama. On the contrary, as a real devotee, can he afford to think he is separate from his Deity? He can seek protection only if he is separate, but is he? So, Rama will then say: Are you separate ( ie a dvaitin) that you ask for protection? ie Are you not already part of Me? Why do you then seek protection?

This is a splendid attitude. The relationship of the bhakta to Bhagavan is beyond all categories like dwaita, advaita, etc!

Bheda rahita vedantamulu delsi    (Enduku peddala)

Understanding the Vedanta which is beyond the differences.

(Tyagaraja is describing here the greatness of jnanis- the great  men. They have transcended differences as a result of their knowledge of true Vedanta by personal experience. )

Baguga maanasa bhavasagaramunu


This ocean of Samsara, which has originated in the imagination of one’s mind.]

Here Tyagaraja is touching upon one of the fundamental tenets of Advaita, in its extreme form. There is a debate among the Vedantins about the reality of the world. Some hold that the world is seen because it is real – srishti drishti vaada. Others adopt the opposite: that it is taken as real only because it is perceived- drishti srishti vaada. There is also the third view, called Ajata Vaada- that is, the world has not really been created (ajata), it is only an appearance in our mind. Here, Tyagaraja is indicating this position.

All this only shows how we view the world depends upon the state of our consciousness. As has been stated, drishtim jnanamayim kritva, pasyet Brahmamayam jagat.]

Advaita is not a dry doctrine. It is a state of realisation. Whatever the path followed, at the end of a sincere quest is the bliss where one feels the sense of absolute Unity, transcending all differences!

Sri Hari kirtanache dehadri indriya 

samuhamula marachi

So’hamainate chalu       (Inta kannananda)

Due to Sri Harinama Sankirtana, one forgets the body and all senses. One gets the feeling Sa Aham (So’ham – HE I AM). This is sufficient.

Here, Tyagaraja is reaching the zenith of Advaita. The ultimate realisation is total absence of any sense of differentiation. Tyagaraja indicates here that this is achieved through bhakti also, through Harinama Sankirtan!

This he reiterates in another kriti too.

Unity Consciousness

Aakasa Brahmamane

Atmaramuni ta sarijuchuchu

Lokadulu chinmaya mane …..

Jivan muktudau          (Sitavara Sangita jnanamu)

To realise that the Akasa constitutes the body of Brahman, that the worlds occupying that Akasa are of the form of Consciousness (Chinmaya) and then to perceive them as the Atmarama that is one’s own Self- this is the state of Jivanmukta (attained  through Sangita jnana)

Here again Tyagaraja is pointing out the state of realisation as seen by the Advaitin. Jivanmukti is the ultimate state of the Advaitin. There he realises Unity with the whole cosmos, but that is a state of consciousness experienced in and as the Self. There Rama too becomes Atmarama!

Paramatmudu Jivatmudu yokadai

Baragu chundu bhakta paradeenuni

Kalyanasundara Rama               (Karuna yela gante)

Rama is inclined to those devotees who function with the firm conviction that Jivatma and Paramatma are one!

Paramatmudu jivatmudu padunaalugu lokamulu

Nara kinnara kimpurushulu naradadi munulu

paripurna nishkalanka niravati sukha dayaka….

jnanamosagarada                       (Jnanamosagarada)

Can you not grant me the jnana that Paramatma,  Jivatma, the fourteen worlds, human beings, kinnaras, kimpurushas, Sages like Narada, and everything else is the Self?

Tyagaraja is making here the classic formulation of Advaita jnana- to realise that everything is the One Self: Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma! There everything animate, inanimate , men, gods and other forms of life are the varied expression of that single Reality!

Clean mind

But Tyagaraja is careful to add a classic qualification, too. The vedantins hold that we must first purify the mind (Chitta suddhi) to perceive the Truth. Tyagaraja says here that he has already purified his mind through devotional singing:

Nee namamuche namati nirmalamainati

By repeating your Names, my mind has been purified.

So, Tyagaraja is seeking sujnana through anuraga!

Even much religious learning  will not lead to clarity’

Veda sastra purana vidyalache 
Bheda vaadamulu teeraga bhramase vaarala
                                         (Ninne nera)

I have seen that) Inspite of much learning  in Veda, sastra and puranas, people are perplexed by conflicting arguments

Rama alone can confer clarity.

Vivaadi mada harana       (Nee daya rava)

You destroy the ego of those who indulge in vain disputes.

 Thus, Sri Tyagaraja is showing us a practical way out of the philosophical disputations. First let us get divine grace through devotion and then we will see which system is superior! 

 Above all, let us not forget that all philosophies are human constructs, and are not divinely ordained. What matters is genuine personal experience of Truth which is One. [Ekam Sat]

Note: In modern times, Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana Mahashi dealt with such questions in reply to earnest seekers. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and Talks of Ramana Maharshi should be studied in this context. Neither of them said the world is “unreal” in the common use of the term. Ramana Maharshi , considered to be an Absolute Advaitin, clearly said:

அத்துவிதம் என்றும் அகத்துறுக ஓர்போதும்

அத்துவிதம் செய்கையில் ஆற்றற்க – புத்திரனே

அத்துவிதம் மூவுலகத்தாகும் குருவினோடு

அத்துவிதம் ஆகா தறி.

உள்ளது நாற்பது-அனுபந்தம்-39

Supplement to Reality in Forty Verses

Retain at heart always the sense of non-duality, but never express it in action. My son, the sense of non-duality may apply to the three worlds, but it is not to be used towards the Guru.

Translation by Arthur Osborne.

 (This verse is a Tamil rendering of verse 87 of Tattvopadesa of Sankaracharya]

2.As for the state of Newtonian and Quantum physics, the nature of mind and matter, the following books may be read:

– Fritjof Capra: Tao of Physics

– Gary Zukov: The Dancing Wu Li Masters

-Gregory Bateson: Mind and Nature

3. Genuine sages who experience spiritual Truth first hand in all places and at all times attest to the common element in the spiritual quest, cutting across all sectarian theological divisions. This has been termed ‘The Perennial Philosophy” by Aldous Huxley in the book with that title. It deserves serious study.

4. Lot of muck is written in the name of Indian philosophy by persons-so called “scholars” even-  who have not studied the original sources, but simply rely on doubtful translations. For a critical and brilliant account of all branches of Indian philosophy based on the original sources,, see: Chandradhar Sharma: A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy; Motilal Banarsidass, 1960.


To be continued———————

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