Tattvatraya | Manavala Mamunigal

Maṇavāḷa Mamunigal
1370 Tamil Nadu, India
Śrī Vaiṣṇavism
One of most important Teachers,
especially in Teṅkalai
or Southern tradition of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism
Follower of:
Piḷḷai Lokācārya
19 works (Grantha) ,
3 in Sanskrit, rest in Tamil
1. Tattvatraya
Works About Maṇavāḷa Mamunigal:
1. Maṇavāḷa Mamunigal and Tamil Śrī Vaishnavism

What follows next in 3 chapters – is the English translation of an important treatise on philosophy of Śrī Vaiṣṇavism written by the famous Āchārya Manavala Mamunigal (1370–1443).

Manavala Mamunigal is known as the leading Light of Teṅkalai or Southern school of Tamil Vaishnavism in 15th century and closely referred and studied up to this day, along with his root preceptor - Pillai Lokacharya (1205–1311).

The current work of Manavala Mamunigal – Tattvatraya or The Three Principles of Truths – is dedicated to the 3 Essential Principles or Truths constituting the Universe – namely (clickable):

1. Cit – Sentient Beings;
2. Acit – Non-Sentient or Material Things;
3. Īśvara – the Blessed Lord, Bhagavān, Controller of All.

(The Three Entities of Truths)

by Mañavāḻa Mamunigal (1370–1443)

Salutation to Mañavāḻa Mahāmuni, the repository of Śrī Śaileśa’s grace, the ocean of devotion and other auspicious qualities and the very personification of love for Rāmānuja, the prince among ascetics!

Salutation to the great preceptor, Lokacharya, son of Krishnapada, and Saviour of those stung by the deadly serpent of Samsāra!


Chit or Sentient beings

1 - 2. Tattva jñānān mukti, that is, Knowledge of the Tattvas (fundamental truths or principles) is essential for attaining salvation (mokṣa). This is a creed to which all Vedāṅtins subscribe.

The Aspirant to Moksha should, therefore, acquire a knowledge of Tattvatraya, the 3 fundamental truths or principles or entities, as the word Tattva could be interpreted, at the time of attaining salvation.

The 3 principles are:

1. Chit (Sentient beings);
2. Achit (non-sentient matter)
3. Īśvara (The Lord).

No doubt, it is rightly held that even sub-human species such as animals, birds and the immobile trees etc., totally devoid of the capacity to know these truths, can attain salvation if only they had the good fortune to come in contact with a Śrī Vaishnava and be graced by Him.

There is, however, no inconsistency in this, inasmuch as the possession of the knowledge in question is enjoined on the Śrī Vaishnava and it is only the contact with a person so qualified, which will be fruitful.

But then, it might be asked in the light of the Upaniṣadic text whether knowledge of Godhead alone would not suffice and where exactly is the compulsion to know all the three principles.

The point to be emphasised here is that the Lord is to be comprehended as different from the other two entities, namely, sentient souls and non-sentient matter, pervading them, supporting and controlling them as the supreme Ruler and Master of them all.

These are the three entities, whose detailed knowledge one ought to possess for attaining salvation.

3 - 7. Chit (sentient beings) refers to the individual souls. The essential nature of the individual soul is as indicated below:

- It is distinct from the body, the sense-organs, the mind, the breath and the intellect.

- It has an inherent sense of awareness and is blissful, and eternal.

- It is of the size of an atom, unmanifest to the senses, non-comprehensible in the sense that it cannot be thought, of like matter, without parts and immutable.

- It is the substratum of knowledge and is directed and supported by the Lord to whom it is subservient.

The soul is held to be different from the body, mind, senses etc., because the soul is the subject-matter of the word ‘I’ (aham)

while all the rest are referred to as its possessions and/or attributes, as “My body”, “My mind”, “My sense”, etc.,

bringing out the distinction between the, possessor and the objects possessed, even as “My father”, “My son”, would indicate the father as different from the son. And, then, the possessions are denoted by the word “This” or “These” and the soul by the word “I”.

At this stage, it might be argued that because the soul is referred to as “I”, the expressions “I am stout”, “I am lean” could also refer to a stout/lean soul:

This doubt is resolved by interpreting these expressions as “I have a stout/lean body” the quality of being stout or lean being that of the body and not of the soul, even as “I am a man”, “I am a Deva” would mean “I have a human/celestial body”.

Further, the souls consciousness of a stout or a lean body enveloping it subsists only during the wakeful period and not during sleep when the consciousness of the body altogether disappears.

Again, birth marks the appearance of the body and death, its disappearance, whereas the. Soul is an everlasting single entity and therefore it is, that one could claim:

“This is the result of the deeds performed by me in a previous birth”.

The Soul, is thus comprehended as different from the body etc.

Even assuming that there are limitations and/or shortcomings in intellectual reasoning of the kind, the Scriptures come to our aid in pinpointing the soul as an entity apart from the body etc.

8. The essential nature of the individual soul has been set out earlier (aphorism 4). Now, the several attributes mentioned therein are being elaborated upon, one, by one.

By the souls native sense of awareness is meant that it is in a position to project or manifest itself, unaided by external knowledge; in other words, the soul is self-luminous, even as Light reveals itself and does not need another to reveal it.

9 - 10. When it is said that the soul is of the form of bliss, it means that by itself, the soul is blissful or delectable.

To understand this doesn’t require a special effort or the aid of the scriptures:

When a person who wakes up after a spell of sleep, says “I slept happily”, the happiness in question should obviously be assigned to the soul which, during sleep, has no contact whatsoever with anything external.

To stretch it to mean that the person slept so as to produce happiness afterwards would amount to going beyond the meaning of the words in the statement “I slept happily”:

Such an interpretation would be as perverse as explaining, “I sang sweetly” to mean “I sang so as to produce sweetness afterwards”:

Does it mean anything but that the singing itself was sweet and sweetness was a concurrent experience of the singer as distinguished from something produced or experienced after the singing was over?

11 - 12. The soul exists at all times, and that is why it is said to be “eternal”.

To the query why then there is birth as well as death, the answer is:

birth only means association of the soul with the body and death means disintegration of the body or dissociation of the soul from the body. It is the body that comes and goes while the soul stays on for ever - c.f. (Gītā II-20):

It (self) is not born and it does not die at any time.
And it does not again come into existence by being born.
It (self) is birthless, constant, eternal and ancient; it is not slain when the body is slain.

13 - 17: How is the soul considered to be atomic in size?

It has been stated in the scriptures that the soul is located in the region of the heart, then leaves it, goes to the upper worlds and then comes down.

Hence the soul is understood to be of the size of an atom. The relevant scriptural texts need be referred to in this context.

Well, if the soul is merely of the size of an atom and stays in the Heart’s region, how does it experience, all at once, pain and pleasure, from head to foot, (i.e.) all over the body?

Such an experience of the atom-sized soul, seated in the heart, is due to the permeating, all over, of its inherent attributive knowledge, from where it is seated.

This is like the dispersal, in different directions, of the rays of the gem, the Sun and the lamp, located in a particular place.

Apart from this experience of a pervasive knowledge inside the same body, even the simultaneous assumption of a number of bodies by one and the same individual, as Sage Saubhari did, is achieved only by this very process, namely pervasion of the soul’s attributive knowledge.

18: The Soul is Unmanifest, that is, it cannot be apprehended by the sense-organs of sight, etc., in just the same way as they apprehend pots, clothes, etc.

The soul can be apprehended only by the mind.

It is, however, not on a par with the mythical sky-borne lotus, the horses horns, or the son of a barren woman, which too cannot be comprehended by the sense-organs, because these things just do not exist.

19: The soul cannot be thought of, as belonging to the same class or category as the non-sentient things, c.f. - Gita II-25:

This (self) is said to be unmanifest, unthinkable, and unchangeable;
therefore, knowing it to be such, you ought not to grieve.

20: The soul is not an assemblage of parts - like the material things.
It has no parts or limbs but is made up solely of knowledge, (vijñānamaya).

21: The soul is immutable, that is, non-changing.

Unlike the non-sentient matter, which undergoes modifications in form and size, the soul remains in one and the same state and does not undergo changes, c.f. Gita II - 25.

This (self) is said to be unmanifest, unthinkable, and unchangeable;
therefore, knowing it to be such, you ought not to grieve.

The soul is denoted by the word Akṣara - the non-changing.

22: The soul being as described above, it is beyond the mischief of sharp instruments, fire, water, air, etc. Instruments shall not cleave it, fire cannot burn it, water cannot drench it, nor can air dry it or the Sun wither it out.

c.f. Gita (II-23-24):

Weapons do not cut it, fire does not burn it, water also
does not moisten it, and wind does not dry it.
| 23

This (self) is indeed incapable of being cut, incombustible,
incapable of being moistened and of being dried; it is
eternal, all pervading, stable immovable, and primordial.
| 24

23 - 25: The Jains hold that the soul is of the size of the body, so as to account for the souls experience of pain and pleasure in different parts of it:

But this is at variance with the Vedic texts which declare the soul as Akṣara (i.e.), non-changing - and atomic in size.

Again, the soul, according to its dessert (fruits of its actions) acquires the body of an elephant or of an ant.

If the soul should be co-extensive and co-expansive with the body it takes on, from time to time, it has to alternately bloat up to the enormous size of an elephant or shrink down to the size of the tiny ant, which sounds ludicrous indeed.

Further, this view will not accord with the essential nature of the Sages and Yogis, who, by dint of their special attainments, assume different forms at different times:

It would be nothing short of fantastic to imagine their expanding or being cut to size, to fit in with the different bodies they assume. This has been refuted, at great length in Śrī Bhāshya.

26-37: The soul is the substratum of knowledge, that is, the repository or seat of knowledge.

The Upanishads say that the soul is knowledge itself and also the seat of knowledge. This is like unto the light and its source, the lamp, of which are bright.

That the soul is the residence of knowledge is supported Vedic texts.

If however, the Soul is only “knowledge” and not its source, as Buddhists and certain others hold, the expression “I know” has no meaning or relevance and it should be reshaped as “I am knowledge”.

But expressions such as “I have grasped this meaning”, “I quite follow this”, etc., are very much in vogue. This means, the individual soul is receptive to all that knowledge.

And when it is said that the individual soul is the Knower, it should be deemed to have been said, by implication, that the soul is also the Agent (Doer) for the acts of commission and omission flowing from such knowledge and the Experiencer of the fruits of those acts.

The Sānkhyas say that the doership rests only in the Guṇas (Sattva, Rājas and Tamas), the components of Prākriti (non-sentiment matter), and not in the individual soul, who however, tastes the fruits of the deeds.

This cuts across the obligation of the individual soul to obey the dictates of the scriptures:

the soul experiencing the fruits of the acts committed by the Guṇas, for which the individual is not responsible, would be meaningless and irrational.

The scriptures (Śāstras) are those that ordain by instilling the requisite knowledge to do certain acts and to refrain from doing certain others:

This knowledge can be imparted only to the knowledgeable individual and not to the inert matter, which is devoid of the faculty of perception and understanding.

The dictates of the Śāstras, which are in the form of Do's (Do this, that and the other) and Don’t-s (Don’t do this that and the other) can hardly be addressed to the Prākriti (guṇas) which are non-sentient.

He who enjoys the fruits such as going to Swarga or ascending the heavens ought to be the doer, to merit those fruits.

The Sānkhya concept is opposed to the teachings of Gītā.

Having established that the doership belongs to the individual soul, will all, that he does, be in accordance with his essential nature?

No, whatever he does in regard to the enjoyment of worldly pleasures, he does under influence of, rather than in association of Guṇas.

The question posed next is whether the agency (action) of the individual is dependent on the Lord or independent of Him:

As knower (Jñātā), doer (Kartā) and enjoyer (Bhoktā) the individual soul possesses a consciousness, which expresses itself in such states as thinking (Jñāna) desiring (chikīrsha) and striving (prayatna).

But these states are controlled by the Lord without whose assent, the thinking etc., cannot blossom into action. The individual doership is, therefore dependent on the Lord.

At this Stage, a doubt might Arise As to why, in that case, the individual should at all be affected by the merits and demerits of such acts:

The freedom to Act is no doubt the Lord's gift to the individual soul as to enable the latter to utilise it for his good.

The Lord as the Antaryāmī, the universal controller residing inside every Soul, remains neutral or passively quiescent in regard to the initial effort of the individual in the exercise of this gift of freedom of action.

Thereafter, the Lord not only watches approvingly the progress of the individual and makes him prosper in his earnest endeavours (i.e.) those which conform to the scriptural injunctions, but also infuses in him, in an ever-increasing measure, the relish for doing good acts.

On the other hand, when the individual moves in the retrograde direction, the Lord visits on him His displeasure and disapproval in the form of punishments (sorrows and sufferings), thereby giving him a chance to Correct himself and tread the right path.

If the soul the sub-stratum or seat of knowledge is, why is it mentioned in the scriptures as knowledge?

As explained earlier, the soul is able to project itself, unaided by external knowledge.

Even as knowledge is self-revealing and makes other things known, the soul is self-luminous knowledge as well as the possessed of attributive knowledge, which makes other things known.

Hence it is denoted as knowledge; c.f. the lamp and the light it throws all round, both of which are luminous.

38 - 41: The Lord, Who pervades all things that exist, rules and guides them all, by being the support, the ground and substance of all existence.

By the souls subservience to the Lord is implied that he should endear himself to the Lord like flowers, sandal paste, betel leaves etc., to be used by Him and His devotees, as they please.

Unlike the houses, lands, the son, the wife, estates, household servants etc., belonging to a person staying apart from him and capable of being known independently, the souls subservience to the Lord should be like that of one’s body, incapable of existing and being known independently.

42 - 45: The individual souls at the different levels of Unfoldment fall under 3 categories, namely

(1) those still in bondage (Baddhas), caught up in the terrific involvement of birth and death;

(2) those liberated from bondage and residing in the High Heavens, the land whence there is no returning (Muktas);

this Category also embraces those released from the bondage of Saṁsāra but, who prefer to remain isolated in enjoyment of their own selves, (Kevala) and

(3) the Ever-free Celestials (Nitya Sūrīs) like Ādi Śeṣa, Garuda and Viṣvaksena, who never passed through the gruelling mill of samsāra with its involvement in the cycle of births and deaths.

46 - 47: The soul, with its inherent qualities of bliss and intelligence, got entangled in the bondage of Samsara, engulfed by ignorance (avidya), the fruits of actions, good and bad (karma), impressed tendency (vāsanā) and predilections (Ruchi), owing to its contact with the non-sentient matter, the seat of the Three Guṇas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas).

This is similar to water, which is cool by itself, acquiring heat and sound, when it gets into a vessel kept on fire.

The super, imposed ignorance etc. will, therefore, clear off when the soul is dissociated from the non-sentient matter and its components.

48 - 60: Innumerable are the souls of each of the three categories, referred to above.

But then some (the Advaitins) say that there is no distinction among souls and actually, there is only one soul.

If this be correct, when one person enjoys pleasure, another should not feel pain:

It is, however, seen that, I when some enjoy pleasures, others are afflicted by pain and sufferings. The distinction between the souls has, therefore, to be admitted.

The argument that the varying experiences are incidental to the assumption of different bodies by the same soul, will not also hold water,

seeing that Sage Saubhari who assumed 50 bodies all at once and married 50 princesses did not have such alternating experience simultaneously, despite his ubiquitous appearance in different bodies.

If there is no distinction between souls and One and the same soul is manifest in different bodies,

one should not be bogged down the throes of Samsara while another attains salvation, one cannot be a teacher imparting instructions and another, a disciple receiving instructions,

- so on, and so forth, pitted in diametrically opposite situations.

Nor could there be such a vast range of unequal creations, a motley crowd as Devas, men, beasts etc., some moulded in felicity and others hurled in misery.

Further, the concept of a single soul, that is, oneness of the soul comes into conflict with the scriptures, which declare the multiplicity of souls:

Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (VI-13) says that the Lord, Who is the Eternal among the eternals, the Intelligent among the intelligent, singly fulfils the desires of the many

It would not be correct to hold that the scriptures refer only to the differences due to the limiting adjuncts, inasmuch as the differences persist even on the yonder side of heaven, in the state of salvation. Scriptures tell about numerous beholders of the Lord in heaven.

No doubt, so far as the liberated souls are concerned, differences such as those obtaining on this side of heaven, namely, humans, devas, etc., do not exist; nor are they differentiated by passions like anger, lust, etc.

Despite this kind of parity in their essential nature their multiplicity is a pronounced fact, in the same way as that of several gold pots, gems, or grains of rice of the same quality, weight and size.

The multiplicity of the individual souls is thus established, both by reasoning and the authority of the scriptures.

61: It will be seen from the essential nature of the individual soul, set out in aphorism 4 ante, that there are some features which differentiate the individual soul from Matter and certain others, which differentiate the soul from the Lord.

There are also certain features common to (A) the individual soul and Matter and (B) the individual soul and the Lord.

A common characteristic of all the three entities is that they are all eternal.

- Being controlled and supported by the Lord and being dependent on Him are common to the individual soul and Matter.

Bliss, intelligence, being unmanifest to the senses, non-comprehensibility, non-changeability are all properties common to the Lord and the individual soul.

The unique attribute of the individual soul, that stamps it out exclusively from the other two entities is, however, its knowledge harnessed to dependence (Śeṣatva) on the Lord.

Knowledge is common, to both the soul and the Lord, while, dependence on the Lord is common to both the soul and Matter.

It is only dependence-based or dependence-oriented knowledge that is the characteristic attribute of the soul.

62 - 68: The knowledge possessed by the individual soul is, like its essential nature, an eternal substance, luminous and blissful.

The difference between the Soul’s essential nature and its attributive knowledge is, however, as follows: -

Essential nature of the Soul:

1. It is the possessor of knowledge as an attribute.
2. It is incapable of undergoing changes of contraction and expansion.
3. It is self-luminous but does not reveal anything other than itself.
4. It is atomic in size.

Attributive Knowledge:

1. It is an attribute of the soul.
2. It is capable of contraction and expansion
3. It reveals objects other than itself
4. It is expansive and infinite in size.

Although (4) above, depicts the natural tendency of knowledge, the actual position is that

- the knowledge of only some (the ever-free Nitya Sūrīs) remains infinite at all times,

- the knowledge of the bound souls is not infinite at any time but very much contracted,

- while the knowledge of the Released souls (Muktas) is infinite at certain times (i.e.), after Liberation from the bondage of Samsara and contracted at other times, that is, in the pre-liberation period.

If knowledge is eternal, as stated a little earlier, how is one to appreciate statements such as “knowledge has dawned on me” and “knowledge is extinct”?

It needs to be clarified that, on attaining salvation, the knowledge of the individual becomes infinite and is thus capable of comprehending everything -

But, while in a state of bondage, knowledge gets alternately contracted and expanded, according to the incidence of Karma and its productivity and the nature of comprehension through the sense-organs.

The knowledge that is apprehended through the sense-organs, though in effect, one and the same, appears to have different facets, relative to the particular sense-organ employed - seeing, hearing, tasting, etc., and the knowledge of form, sound, taste, respectively, projected thereby.

69 - 72: The attributive knowledge of the soul is treated as a substance because it is:

1. the sub-stratum of actions like contraction and expansion,
2. the sub-stratum of qualities like conjunction and disjunction and
3. self-luminous (ajaḍa).

Knowledge, though self-luminous (ajaḍa), does not manifest itself during deep slumber, swoon, etc., because there is no scope for it to spread, there being nothing to be comprehended then.

73 - 76: While concluding this section, let us examine why this attributive knowledge is said to be blissful: It is blissful when it reveals the objects comprehended by it.

A doubt might instantly arise whether it is so, in all cases, and whether, for example, comprehension of objects like poison, lethal weapons, etc., is not terrifying:

This is resolved by pointing out that such a feeling is due to lack of correct perspective on the part of the individual, whose vision is blurred, being bound over by his Karma.

He suffers from the illusory notion that the body is the soul and fails to perceive the Lords immanence in all things that exist.

Due to their association with the Lord, who is the soul of all substances, all of them should naturally be desirable

and if, however, they are apprehended differently by different persons, the defect lies not in the things themselves but in the individuals, because of their limitations.

But then, it might be asked whether a thing is not desirable by itself, irrespective of its association with the Lord (e.g.), Sandal paste, flowers, etc.

The answer is:

One man's food is another man’s poison; the very things, which are relished by an individual, at certain times and in particular places, are eschewed by him at other times and at other places. So then, this is not the natural state of things.

All substances forming the bodies of the Lord are inherently sweet and desirable and, viewed this correct perspective, knowledge is blissful, when it reveals the objects comprehended by it.

Summing up, this section deals with:

(1) Indispensability of the knowledge of Tattvatraya, the three fundamental truths, to the Mumukshu, the aspirant to Moksha (Salvation);

(2) The 3 fundamental truths (principles or entities) namely,

(a) Sentient beings (Chit),
(b) non-sentient matter (Achit) and
(c) The Lord (Īśvara);

(3) The essential nature and attributes of the sentient beings (individual souls);

(4) Multiplicity of the individual souls - refutation of the argument that a single soul manifests itself through different bodies;

(5) The unique characteristics of the individual soul;

(6) Difference between the essential nature of the soul and its attributive knowledge;

(7) The 3 categories of souls and the disparities in their standards of knowledge; and

(8) Elucidation of the self-luminosity and blissfulness of knowledge.