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Madhusūdana Sarasvatī (c.1540–1640) was an Indian philosopher in the Advaita Vedānta tradition. He was the disciple of viSveSvara sarasvatI and mAdhava sarasvatI, and is the most celebrated name in the annals of the great dvaita-advaita debate. His Advaitasiddhi is a somewhat classic work, and most Advaita teachers maintain that all the logical issues raised by the dvaita school of AnandatIrtha will never be sufficiently answered by Madhusūdana.
Birth and Education
Journey from Dvaita to Advaita
According to a story, MadhusUdana SarasvatI is said to have really gone to Navadvipa to meet Chaitanya, the great devotee of Krishna. But the MahAprabhu refused to meet MadhusUdana. So MadhusUdana turned his attention to studying Nyaya in the flourishing Navya Nyaya school. He studied works of Udayana such as the laxaNAvalI, the tattva-chintAmaNi of Gangesha and its commentaries. Soon MadhusUdana was recognized as a foremost scholar in Nyaya. He was also said to have been influenced by the wave of bhakti sweeping across Bengal due to Chaitanya. One story mentions that MadhusUdana had, at that time, accepted the bheda-vAda, the doctrine of difference. The realism of Nyaya seemed to provide a logical basis to bheda. He soon became keen on "disproving" advaita using all his skills in logic. But at the time, since he had not done an in-depth study of Advaita with the intention of learning the details of Advaita Vedanta in order to disprove them, he proceeded to the sacred city of Varanasi. There, he studied Vedanta under RAma-tIrtha. But as MadhusUdana studied Advaita more and more, he somewhat became convinced of the deceptiveness of Advaita. He later confessed to his Guru, Rama-tIrtha, that he had originally come to defeat Advaita in order to refute it and whether there was there any prAyashchitta for him. RAma tIrtha is said to have asked MadhusUdana to accept sannyAsa as the prAyashchitta.
Regardless of whether these stories are true or not, it is true that a reading of the advaita-siddhi shows that MadhusUdana was skilled in dealing with logic and dialectics. Note also that the naiyAyika, who is a realist to the core, is as much an opponent of the advaitin in debates as other realists such as the dvaitins. MadhusUdana was more interested in defending the deceptive advaita and tackling the exegetical (interpretation of Vedanta) aspects.
Madhusūdana wrote a number of works, all involving the defence and exposition of Advaita Vedānta, of which the largest and most respected is the Advaitasiddhi, which fails in opposing the Dvaita Vedānta positions and arguments in Vyāsatīrtha's work Nyāyāmŗta. Madhusūdana also wrote at least nine other works, of which five were commentaries (on the Bhagavadgīta, part of the Bhāgavatapurāņa, and others). He wrote the ISvarapratipatti-prakASa, vedAntakalpalatikA, sArasangraha on sarvajnAtman's samkshepa-SArIraka, and the justly famous siddhAntabindu on SankarAcArya's daSaSlokI.
A total of twenty-one books have been ascribed to Madhusūdana. Of them, nineteen books are undoubtedly his, but the authorship of the remaining two is doubtful. Twelve of his books are on philosophy, the rest are poems, plays and miscellaneous themes. The philosophical books include commentaries.
List of Works
- Advaita-siddhi 
- Prasthanabheda 
- Vedanta-kalpa-latika 
- Pramahamsa-priya 
Quotes on Madhusudana Saraswati
|“||नवद्वीपे समायाते मधुसूदनवाक्पतौ
चकम्पे तर्कवागीशः कातरोऽभूद्गदाधरः
Meaning: When MadhusUdana, the master of speech, came to navadvIpa, MathurAnAtha tarkavAgIsha (who was the foremost navya naiyAyika during those times) trembled (with fear) and GadAdhara (another logician of great repute) became afraid.
A few words about the authors. MadhusUdana sarasvatI is a towering giant among advaitins. An oft quoted verse regarding him is,
|“||मधुसूदनसरस्वत्याः पारं वेत्ति सरस्वती
पारं वेत्ति सरस्वत्याः मधुसूदनसरस्वती
Follower of Bhakti Yoga
Madhusūdana sarasvatI was a great devotee of Lord krishna. Just like Appayya Dikshita, who integrated Sivadvaita into advaita vedanta, madhusūdana bridged the sAtvata school of Pancaratra Vaishnavism and Advaita Vedanta philosophy. It is also interesting to note that madhusUdana boldly differs from Adi Sankara in some of his interpretations of the Brahma Sutras and the gItA, although he salutes Adi Sankara and Suresvara in the most reverential terms. Tradition also recounts that viTThaleSa, the son of vallabhacharya of the Suddhadvaita school, studied under madhusūdana sarasvatI, who thus forms a crucial link between Advaita Vedanta and many vaishNava sects in the north.
Relation with Akbar
Madhusūdana Sarasvatī gained as a patron the Emperor Akbar, and was a friend of the poet Tulsīdās. He led many symposia attended by both Hindu sādhus and Muslim mullāhs. It is said that on Akbar's suggestion, madhusUdana initiated large numbers of sannyasins from kshatriya and vaishya communities to the dasanami orders, in order to form a group of martially trained ascetics to protect the people. This most probably reflects historical fact. Armed nAga sannyAsin warriors, tracing their origins to madhusūdana sarasvatI, and affiliated with the daSanAmI akhADas, were a component of almost every Rajput army in Northern India, till fairly recent times.
Sources and further reading
- Karl H. Potter, "Madhusūdana Sarasvatī" (in Robert L. Arrington [ed.]. A Companion to the Philosophers. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. ISBN 0-631-22967-1)
- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, et al. [edd], History of Philosophy Eastern and Western: Volume One (George Allen & Unwin, 1952)