Articles further exploring bhakti in the jiva

Exploring the context of contemporary understandings

written by Swami BP Padmanabha

articles about the nature of bhakti in the jiva

Jāmātṛ Muni’s Influence in Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī 

  • Part 1: The Difference Between Disturbing and Nourishing One’s Faith
    Jāmātṛ Muni’s Influence in Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī 

    Is bhakti inherent in the jīva or not? Did all of our ācāryas agree on this particularly complex topic? How to deal with apparently contradictory viewpoints in this regard? Some arguments in favor of bhakti’s inherence have recently come to my attention, most of which revolve around some of my statements about this topic as well as the role of Jāmātṛ Muni in Jīva Goswāmī’s ontology of the ātmā and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s own presentation. In trying to address these points and for the sake of conciseness, throughout this chapter, I will refer to the main exposer of these arguments—as well as whoever may agree with his conclusions—simply as “the pūrvapakṣī.”1

    However, first I would like to contextualize my presentation by reminding my readers that any genuine Gauḍīya debate—like the one I am trying to participate in throughout this series—is not actually a popularity contest orchestrated with political intentions, nor has it anything to do with highly engineered public presentations to rally the masses. Although it may be easier to paint enemies than to be intellectually honest, Gauḍīya debate is precisely the latter—a progressive conversation to be engaged in from a consensual platform of a universally accepted scriptural canon. In other words, we are expected to ascertain Gauḍīya siddhānta by taking shelter in that which is deemed as the ultimate pramāṇa for all Gauḍīyas without exception, and not by merely referring to certain statements exclusively related to one’s specific parivāra or even other sampradāyas—as the pūrvapakṣī attempts to do, trying to justify inherence through the lens of another Vaiṣṇava school. That is in itself a separate conversation, one that needs to take place after having first established the ultimate Gauḍīya siddhānta and which will address whatever one’s ācāryas have said in the spirit of properly honoring, understanding, and reconciling their words with the ultimate śāstra-pramāṇa for the entire Gauḍīya sampradāya: Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Goswāmī grantha.2

    Unfortunately, the initial part of the pūrvapakṣī’s presentation closely resembles the principle of ad hominem, where an argument mostly tries to decry its presenter and whoever may agree with his position through different intimations, rather than dealing with the actual points presented by him. In this connection, it has been said that I am inferring that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s presentation is apasiddhāntic, discontinuous from the Gauḍīya tradition, and in stark contradiction with Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī. This has created a false dichotomy in the Gauḍīya community. The pūrvapakṣī continues by saying that those who dare to think like that actually represent a threat to the whole sampradāya and thus Bhaktivinoda’s legacy needs to be protected from such people. I do not consider any of my statements to fit the above description. Thus, in a prayerful attempt to remain impartial and dispassionate while trying to ascertain our Gauḍīya siddhānta, I will next reply to the main implications in each of these allegations.

    To begin with, I do not propose that stalwarts like Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda or Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda—the two main ācāryas quoted by the pūrvapakṣī in this connection—are in contradiction with Jīva Goswāmī. I have only spoken in terms of apparent contradictions. Thus, when declaring that a false dichotomy was created by “pitting Śrī Jīva against Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and asking the reader to choose between one of the two,” the pūrvapakṣī is actually creating a false dichotomy himself since my statements have never put them against each other. Rather, I try to “bring them closer,” by presenting different ways of appreciating the Ṭhākura’s presentation in alignment with Jīva Goswāmī’s ultimate intention.

    The pūrvapakṣī has also said that “we should study the books of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, rather than trying to show that they are full of contradictions.” While I totally agree with this postulate, when applied in connection to statements I have made his statement represents yet another unfounded dichotomy: if the result of thoroughly studying the books of our contemporary ācāryas is that some of their statements show themselves in clear need of harmonization—as it happened when I studied their works—then such a healthy exercise has nothing to do with trying to prove how those books are “full of contradictions.” Therefore, the pūrvapakṣī’s statement is an exaggerated public accusation of something that has never been used in my presentation. Interestingly enough, after emphasizing that “contradictions do not exist in the writing of our ācāryas,” the pūrvapakṣī says that he agrees that there may be some preaching strategies, but not in the case of bhakti in the jīva. This is a contradiction in itself, which I will unpack next.

    Tightly bound up with the inherence issue, we find two well-known examples regarding outreach techniques in connection to the apparent fall of the jīva. At least overtly, these two examples contradict śāstra’s ultimate siddhanta. They are Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statement that we fell from the spiritual world3 and Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda’s presentation about falling from a taṭastha region.4 We must first note that the pūrvapakṣī repeatedly stated that he embraces the concept of anādi, or beginningless conditioning, but this is a notion that clearly goes against the apparent statements by Śrīla Prabhupāda and Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda. The pūrvapakṣī even declared that Śrī Bhaktivinoda never disputed the idea of anādi, which, as I will demonstrate in my forthcoming book, is not precisely the case. Although the Ṭhākura indeed spoke in terms of anādi at times, he also mentioned the possibility of falling from a taṭastha region. Indeed, in his Śrī Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā 2.41 he even suggested that we fell from Vaikuṇṭha! Thus, he clearly said different things at times. But when asked about why Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda spoke about a fall from a taṭastha region, the pūrvapakṣī said, “I have not looked at it in detail. I can say that some Vaiṣṇavas say that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is just trying to explain it in a way that is simple, and not to get too hung up on it. . . . I think it is only one phrase, one sentence in Jaiva-dharma, perhaps it is found elsewhere as well, but it is not something I have studied.” Apart from not fully addressing—or studying—this important connected topic, while dismissing the question by saying that “it is only one phrase,” ironically the pūrvapakṣī seriously contradicts himself again since, as we will see, he will eventually try to make his main case on the basis of not even “only one phrase,” but one word—śeṣatva.5

    Another claim made by the pūrvapakṣī was that discussion of these topics will create further division in the Gauḍīya community. Although this may happen in some unprepared cases, to not engage in proper devotional discussion and claim that siddhānta should just be only taken from one’s chosen sources—instead of the consensual Gauḍīya canon—is a far more troublesome viewpoint. Indeed, many of the same arguments employed by the pūrvapakṣī, which I will analyze next, can be easily applied to the fall of the jīva. In other words, many of the reasons the pūrvapakṣī gives for why our present topic should not be taken as a preaching strategy could be easily used for discussing the fall of the jīva, always circling back to whose interpretation do we accept. Since a topic such as the fall of the jīva has already caused many schisms and thus can no longer be avoided, the mere possibility of a further division should not be a reason to avoid discussing bhakti in the jīva in a mature and śāstric way. Indeed, the personal experience for those who have embraced this healthy challenge has not been exposure to the terrible consequences of aparādha to Śrī Bhaktivinoda and others—consequences which would be relatively easy to detect. Rather their śāstriya-śraddhā in the Bhaktivinoda parivāra has increased exponentially.

    The pūrvapakṣī has also said that to suggest that some of our ācāryas resorted at times to outreach techniques—an idea he actually accepted as plausible—is tantamount to downplaying and relativizing them. But he contradicted himself again by saying that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s philosophical zenith was reached in his Jaiva-dharma, and that we can see a clear transition in the Ṭhākura’s works before and after dīkṣā. Both statements imply some form of improvement and refinement in the thought of the Ṭhākura.

    Thus the following question naturally arises: How does the suggestion of an outreach technique downplay our ācāryas but the suggestion that they went through different transitions or developed their theological thought constitutes protection of their legacy? I have tried to show in my previous presentations and forthcoming book how these two options are possible without any form of mutual downplaying, therefore, here again, the pūrvapakṣī is creating a false and avoidable dichotomy.

    Similarly, when speaking about how to deal with siddhānta, the pūrvapakṣī explained the famous “siddhānta baliyā citte…” verse in a relatively unusual and personal way. He mentioned that its actual meaning is that we should not be lazy “just because it is siddhanta.” Then he said that this is one of the most misused verses because people interpret it wrongly by considering that it speaks about not being lazy in discussing siddhānta, but actually “that is not at all what it says.” While his novel interpretation may be grammatically possible on some level, his claim that the most classical interpretations of this verse are wrong goes directly against how most of our pūrva-ācāryas have understood it—we should not be lazy in dealing with siddhānta.6

    For example, Śrīla Prabhupāda comments on it by saying, “One should be particularly careful to understand the truth about Kṛṣṇa. If because of laziness one does not come to know Kṛṣṇa conclusively, one will be misguided about the cult of devotion. . . . Conclusive discussion about Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His potencies is absolutely necessary. . . . other false devotees think that studying books of the previous ācāryas is unadvisable, like studying dry empiric philosophies. But Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, following the previous ācāryas, has inculcated the conclusions of the scriptures in the six theses called the Ṣaṭ-sandarbhas. False devotees who have very little knowledge of such conclusions fail to achieve pure devotion for want of zeal in accepting the favorable directions for devotional service given by self-realized devotees. Such false devotees are like impersonalists, who also consider devotional service no better than ordinary fruitive actions.” Similarly, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī comments, “Hearing siddhānta is necessary, and those who do not know siddhānta will misidentify who is a jātā-ruci-bhakta. If siddhānta that is favorable for bhakti is considered unfavorable, then one will fall away from Kṛṣṇa bhakti.”

    In a similar vein, the gist of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s commentary is that “some people who seek bhakti may think the siddhānta presented by Kavirāja Goswāmī in this section is not a limb of bhakti and thus be lazy about trying to carefully understand it, but this is not good, and rather by understanding sambandha-jñāna the mind becomes firmly fixed on Kṛṣṇa. Sat-siddhānta is the basis of śuddha-bhakti.” Finally, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura comments on this verse7 by saying, “Regarding siddhānta, do not be lazy in mind out of fear of tarka [logic] and so forth. Avoid unfavorableness [the unfavorable form of tarka that can occur in discussion of siddhānta] and seek only favorable siddhānta. As the mind becomes most firmly fixed on Kṛṣṇa only by hearing siddhānta, so through this siddhānta one learns the greatness of Caitanya. Then, because of [this] knowledge of [his] greatness, the mind becomes firmly fixed on him. Knowledge of [his] greatness comes through siddhānta, and from that comes firm fixity of mind. Thus, hearing siddhānta is necessary.”

    In other words, the pūrvapakṣī feels the need to protect the sampradāya from some supposed detractors that caricature our contemporary ācāryas, but he himself has implied that all of the above ācāryas were mistaken while commenting on this most important verse with the same focus in mind—do not be lazy in properly discussing siddhānta.

    As I mentioned above and will develop later in this series, a significant part of this conversation has to do with protecting the integrity of our guru-varga. To do this we go to our guru-varga itself, beginning with our śāstra-gurus and seeing what they have said on this topic. Then we try to harmonize whatever seems to have been said to the contrary. In other words, to suggest that there has been a circumstantial adjustment in connection to this topic—one of my three main hypotheses presented in my forthcoming book8 I have less conviction about at the present moment—does not necessarily go against protecting the integrity of our guru-varga or even attacking it, as some may suggest. Indeed, by using this type of language we may be indirectly creating an unreal sense of enmity in connection to whatever may challenge our faith—and this in the name of preserving the sampradāya. In fact, proper recognition of the many circumstantial adjustments present even in śāstra will be part of not only acquiring further integrity but recognizing such integrity in others as well.

    In this connection, the pūrvapakṣī shared that “he stands against a general erosion in the culture of faith in our more recent ācāryas.” We totally agree although the practical application of this idea may take different forms. While we should fully support siddhāntic engagement for the exclusive purpose of nourishing our saṅga and śraddhā, if someone feels that something is disturbing their faith, there is a possibility that it may be actually challenging their faith. And, in certain stages, our faith needs to be challenged in order to grow. If we are not “sacredly disturbed” by this exercise and are thus invited to think deeply about revelation, we may be falling into an area of complacency—complacent faith—where we end up accepting a whole series of absolutized dogmas, and whoever endorses those notions may be seen as a nourisher, although he may be actually keeping us in a toxic comfort zone. In these cases, we need to rethink in deeper ways by properly resorting to revelation, since our faith is to be nourished by śāstraśāstriya-śraddhā. However, if proper quoting of śāstra disturbs someone’s faith, then that will speak more about his own lack of śāstriya-śraddhā than about the so-called disturber.


    1 The term pūrvapakṣa refers to an opposing view, while a pūrvapakṣī is the one who presents the pūrvapakṣa. In this series, I will resort to the main points Simon Haas—the principal pūrvapakṣī in this case—has shared in two public online presentations, Is Bhakti Inherent in the Soul? Defending Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Legacy and Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura – Bhakti & the Nature of the Soul. []

    2 For more on this, see chapter 1 of my forthcoming book, Inherent or Inherited? Bhakti in the Jīva According to Gauḍīya Vedānta. []

    3 One example of this could be found in his purport to Śrīmad Bhagavatam 4.28.53. In diametrical opposition to this, Śrīla Prabhupāda declares that no one falls from Vaikuṇṭha in his purports to Śrīmad Bhagavatam 3.15.48, 3.16.26, 3.16.29, 5.11.12, 7.1.35, and 7.13.6, among others. []

    4 In chapter 15 of his Jaiva-dharma, Śrī Bhaktivinoda declared that this idea was presented by him as a non-literal tool to conceive of something that is difficult to comprehend. []

    5 For more on śeṣatva, see part 5 of this series. []

    6 The verse under discussion is Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.2.117. []

    7 This commentary is actually attributed to Śrī Viśvanātha. []

    8 The other two are connected to the possibility of translational issues and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s own theological unfolding. []

    This article originally appeared on The Harmonist

  • Part 2: Can Nitya-siddhas Speak Relative Statements and Not be Downplayed for That?
    Jāmātṛ Muni’s Influence in Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī 

    One of the underlying reasons for the type of psychology depicted in my previous article is the belief that every single ācārya in our lineage must necessarily be a nitya-siddha, or an eternally liberated soul who has directly descended from the spiritual world. This thinking carries the subtle implication that everything a nitya-siddha says must be always absolutely true and correct. But this apparent exhibition of strong faith in our guru-varga may reveal a lack of capacity in dealing with statements that may put our faith to the test, which can cause us to be overridden by an emotional disposition and use evasive mechanisms. To put it simply: while a kaniṣṭha’s perspective on faith will contemplate śāstra through the lens of his emotions, a madhyama will analyze his emotions through the lens of śāstra—and the uttama’s emotions are in themselves śāstra. Let’s next further unpack this complex underlying phenomenon.

    As a matter of fact, the notion of the guru always being a nitya-siddha does not constitute our Gauḍīya siddhānta but speaks of a blurry and hazy concept not fully unpacked by those who claim such a possibility. What do we actually mean by nitya-siddha? What are the assumptions we make when we invoke such a term? One may feel the urge to make one’s guru a nitya-siddha and then extend that template to everyone else in one’s lineage, but this is not necessarily the actual reality. Indeed, after describing the attributes of a topmost spiritual master in his Bhakti Sandarbha 203, Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī says, “Because a guru of this caliber may not be available, some people accept many teachers, desiring to learn the fundamentals of logical analysis and the philosophical distinctions between different wisdom schools.” Thus, he hints at the possibility of the guru not being a nitya-siddha in every case. By making this point I do not intend to downplay anyone’s actual standing or deny the possibility of some gurus actually being nitya-siddhas. But it is important for us to understand that this is not an absolute rule in every single case. A guru can be a nitya-siddha, but he can also be a sādhana-siddha or even an advanced madhyama-sādhaka. And this should not be a problem for any of us.

    For the sake of further insight, let’s for a moment hypothetically imagine that someone like Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda was a sādhana-siddha—as he depicted himself—and not a nitya-siddha. How do we feel when contemplating such a possibility? If we feel uncomfortable and consider this a serious problem, then we have a problem because we are creating a false sense of hierarchy in the realm of siddhas. As Śrīla Prabhupāda is said to have once declared when asked about who was superior among these two types of siddhas, “The important word here is siddha!” Thus, there is no need to forcibly position all ācāryas as nitya-siddhas in an attempt to make them more of what they already are, but, indeed, we could benefit enormously by contemplating the possibility that some of them may not be nitya-siddhas. For example, by studying Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s sincere expressions in his unique songs, we can find deep hope in our personal journey, instead of just dismissing them by saying, “He wrote them for us, but he was not actually feeling those things, since he is a nitya-siddha.” While he indeed was, we cannot deny the fact that he really felt those things himself. Is Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura less of a siddha because of his background with the prostitute Cintāmaṇi? Is Prahlāda less of a siddha due to his activities in his previous life? If properly addressed, such examples have the potential to fully inspire us in our progressive journey as sādhakas, so there is no need at all to reject them.

    However, it is possible that some subconscious bias may still force us to feel the necessity for an ācārya to be the highest possible personality, this generally according to what we understand as the highest. This is similar to the idea that all ācāryas must be drenched in mādhurya-rasa to be fully authentic because if they are in a “lower” rasa, this may represent a problem. And indeed, this represents a problem, but only for us, in the form of rasism—being racist in the context of rasa. Therefore, although it may seem a totally separate topic, it is highly possible that this kind of underlying background may be intimately connected to the need to prove how everything Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura said was perfect, and then forcibly—and problematically—trying to explain whatever the Six Goswāmīs said in such a way that it may fit our purpose, so our faith remains reassured but unchallenged.

    We may convince ourselves and others about our strong śraddhā due to not allowing for the possibility of our ācāryas having presented something relative at times. And we may claim that those who dare to do so are possessed of weak faith, or even something worse than that. But such a viewpoint could actually be a very tender faith which feels the need to absolutize even the relative, because it does not have enough strength to deal with the realm of paradox. On the other hand, a more mature form of śraddhā is open for these things to happen and has the capacity to accommodate such challenging statements without being diminished in its conviction, but growing exponentially.

    As with most of our actions, subconscious influences generally define many of the things we do or say without ourselves even being aware of these influences. Could it be that the pūrvapakṣī’s resistance to bhakti not being inherent in the jīva, is a resistance to the possibility of accepting that some of our ācāryas may have at times said something that is not absolute? This could be drawn from his main emphases on the point that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is a nitya-siddha. While I do not disagree with such a notion, the context in which it has been repeatedly placed was to imply that whatever the Ṭhākura said must be perfect in every sense. And, therefore, Śrī Bhaktivinoda could have never said something different from siddhānta or contradicted himself by saying different things in different places. But as we have already seen, at least overtly, certain things that the Ṭhākura and his successors have said—for example, that bhakti is inherent and also that it is not—cannot be both absolutized simultaneously without experiencing some form of conflict. Thus, deep reconciliation is still required.

    To protect and worship the legacy of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura means to study it comprehensively, as Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself says in Bhagavad-gītā 18.70, “Those who study this conversation worship me through their intelligence.” This is my humble pursuit, which attempts to honor and protect the Ṭhākura’s legacy not through an absolutistic glorification which does not fully acknowledge every conceptual puzzle and tries to solve them, but by properly understanding and reconciling any apparent contradiction in the light of our original Gauḍīya siddhānta.

    We consider Śrī Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda the Seventh Goswāmī, which implies that he is to be understood on the basis of what the first six said. The Ṭhākura’s authority is derived from the Six Goswāmīs, and not vice versa. Why? Because the founding ācāryas and śāstra-gurus of the Gauḍīya sampradaya are the Six Goswāmīs, not Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. This in no way downplays the Ṭhākura’s role but, understood in its proper context, represents praise that he himself will find extremely pleasing. Similarly, by saying, for example, that Śrīla Prabhupāda is not the founder ācārya of the Gauḍīya sampradaya we are not lessening his position in any way, but presenting an objective fact in our attempt to connect him with his own lineage. He is the founder ācārya of ISKCON, which is one of many branches in the Gauḍīya sampradāya. If this is not enough for us and we thus feel the need to make some of our ācāryas even “bigger,” then we may fall into what could be termed ācāryaism.

    Basically, ācāryaism refers to the stance in which one specific ācārya—especially contemporary—is the be-all and end-all of all ācāryas, to the point that we no longer feel the need to resort to the sampradāya and founding ācāryas he represents, since that particular ācārya is seen as the sampradāya incarnated. Such a viewpoint is not at all healthy for the development of any sādhaka, since there is an absolute need to take nourishment from the entire sampradāya. However, the pūrvapakṣī has hinted at this notion of ācāryaism by prominently concentrating his main arguments not on the foundational canon of the Gauḍīya sampradāya but almost exclusively—as we will see from the next section onwards—in more contemporary ācāryas. Even more problematic is his is focus on other Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas. An example of this is his introduction to this subject, where he said that the topic of bhakti in the jīva is a central pillar in Śrī Bhaktivinoda’s presentation as well as that of other ācāryas after him, especially Śrīla Prabhupāda. Interestingly, he never mentioned that such a topic is equally important for the founding ācāryas of the sampradāya, who unanimously pointed in the direction of noninherence.

    It is through this spirit of ācāryaism that the pūrvapakṣī has conflated whether bhakti is inherent or not with possible reasons for Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s presentation, although one thing is not synonymous with the other at all. As already explained, that is a separate conversation. However, the pūrvapakṣī clearly avoided speaking about whether rasa or siddha-deha is inherent by arguing that these topics constitute a separate conversation. But he tried to fuse into one single conversation two different topics that actually require two different conversations—whether bhakti or prema is inherent in the jīva, and why Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and others seemed to have said otherwise at times.

    Any Gauḍīya representative should be able to establish the siddhānta of bhakti in the jīva independently of the reasons why the Ṭhākura or others occasionally made their particular presentation. An example could be given in this regard: If I am discussing with Vaiṣṇavas from another sampradāya about whether bhakti is inherent or not, I do not need to explain to them why Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura said what he said at times. The way to establish this siddhānta is to first go to our śāstra-gurus and then view other’s statements in the light of the Goswāmī grantha. We should not force a superficial interpretation of the Goswāmīs’ conclusions by limitedly resorting to some statements of our contemporary Gauḍīya ācāryas. And further, to also bring in other sampradāyas confuses the conversation and deflects our focus from what is important to us and our sampradaya, as we will see in the next article.

    This article first appeared on The Harmonist

  • Part 3: The Notion of Prīti in the Śrī Sampradāya
    Jāmātṛ Muni’s Influence in Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī 

    In a nutshell, the central argument of the pūrvapakṣī 1 suggests that Jāmātṛ Muni—a well-known ācārya from the Śrī sampradāya—is the ultimate authority on jīva-tattva for Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī. Further, since Śrī Jāmātṛ seems to propose that bhakti is inherent and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is seen to closely follow Jāmātṛ Muni, therefore Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura must be totally following Śrī Jīva, who must be also following the doctrine of inherence. There are several flawed points of this proposition.

    As mentioned in my previous article, if we engage in siddhāntic debate with some Gauḍīya from outside the Bhaktivinoda parivāra, we should be ready to establish our points by resorting to our consensual mutual canon, which is the Goswāmī grantha. We should be able to demonstrate that bhakti is not inherent—or that it is—without the urge to quote Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda or any of our own present ācāryas. This is not an offensive dismissal of any of them, but the proper etiquette to deal with other lineages—as well as ours—while respecting their particular sources of inspiration and scriptural authority. However, the pūrvapakṣī does not take this consensual Gauḍīya canon—Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Goswāmī grantha—as his main pramāṇa. Instead, he chooses Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda’s writings and, surprisingly, with even stronger emphasis, the statements of Śrī Jāmātṛ Muni—a heterodox system which attempts to justify the Bhāgavata’s and Goswāmī grantha’s stance on the topic, and not vice versa. Indeed, when trying to make his case, as his main evidence the pūrvapakṣī has rarely quoted from the Bhāgavata and basically quoted only one word from Śrī Jīva.

    The pūrvapakṣī concentrates his claim on the fact that Jāmātṛ Muni considers prīti—a term that for Gauḍīyas is synonymous with prema—inherent. And since Śrī Jīva has quoted Jāmātṛ Muni in his Sandarbhas, he then should be in total agreement with the Muni on this point. We should take note that whether bhakti is inherent or not is a topic that caused a great schism in the Śrī sampradāya, dividing its followers into two parties. Therefore, instead of analyzing in detail whether the Śrī sampradāya accepts that bhakti is inherent or not—when it is evident that they do not fully agree on this even among themselves—I will rely on the way siddhānta is established in the Gauḍīya sampradāya, by referring to our founding ācāryas and their statements.

    But just for argument’s sake, I will address a few points in connection to the pūrvapakṣī’s stance, explaining how (a) the notion of prīti in the Śrī sampradāya is not the same as in the Gauḍīya sampradāya, and (b) if for some members of the Śrī sampradāya prīti is inherent, that does not mean that it should be for Gauḍīyas as well. Thus, instead of trying to justify inherence through the lens of another sampradāya, I will concentrate on the possible reasons why Śrī Jīva quotes Jāmātṛ Muni and why Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda may have followed the Muni’s notions at times, all of this on the already established basis that bhakti and prīti are not inherent in the jīva as shown in my forthcoming book, Inherent or Inherited? Bhakti in the Jīva According to Gauḍīya Vedānta.

    At the beginning of his presentation, the pūrvapakṣī has promoted his findings as “groundbreaking,” mentioning that he has uncovered some very rare texts (referring to those of Jāmātṛ Muni) that may “change the course of history in Gauḍīya Vedānta.” However, under close scrutiny this does not seem to be the case at all: Jāmātṛ Muni’s writings were not only already well known in his own sampradāya, but readily acknowledged in the larger Vaiṣṇava community. Thus, those texts have been available to the Gauḍīya sampradāya for centuries, but its members have totally ignored them. Why? Because Śrī Jīva Goswāmī has already informed us of all that we need to know about Jāmātṛ Muni and his teachings. In other words, it is important to note that just because Śrī Jīva quoted Śrī Jāmātṛ does not automatically mean that Śrīla Goswāmīpāda agrees with the Muni in toto. After all, Śrī Jīva Goswāmī also quotes Śaṅkarācārya, Madhva, Śrīdhara Swāmī, and others he does not always fully agree with. Thus, the very point of “textual reuse”—a term employed by the pūrvapakṣī—is that it is selective and, in this particular case, context-specific, as we will see later in this series.

    According to the pūrvapakṣī, Jāmātṛ Muni states that prīti is inherent in the jīva and, therefore, since Śrī Jīva quotes him in his Paramātma Sandarbha, prīti must be inherent for Gauḍīyas as well. But Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī never mentions that prīti is inherent in the jīva—he says exactly the opposite. But before turning to what Śrī Jīva says about prīti in his Sandarbhas, let’s for a moment analyze Jāmātṛ Muni’s possible conception of it. Since he belongs to a different Vaiṣṇava sampradāya with a different sambandha, abhidheya, and therefore prayojana, the Muni’s conception of prīti cannot be the same as the Gauḍīyas’. Indeed, it would be a considerable stretch to think Śrī Jāmātṛ meant what is spelled out in Prīti Sandarbha, which had not been written at the Muni’s time. As a matter of fact, when referring to their goal, Śrī Vaiṣṇavas mostly speak in terms of mokṣa or devotional mukti. So even if we want to speak in terms of prīti concerning their ultimate goal, their notion will be totally different from the Gauḍīya idea of it, which deems all forms of liberation as inferior in comparison to the very unique type of Gauḍīya prīti, clearly delineated by Śrī Jīva in a whole treatise dedicated to this topic—Prīti Sandarbha.

    Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī conclusively delineates in his Prīti Sandarbha, the last of his Sandarbhas, the proper conception of prīti for Gauḍīyas, and therefore his opinion should be indisputable above any other notions of prīti presented elsewhere. There, he basically defines prīti as parama-puruṣārtha, or the highest attainment and ultimate potential for a jīva, while also differentiating it from mundane affection by declaring that mundane love is made up of māyā-śakti while prīti is constituted of svarūpa-śakti, which is not present in the constitution of the taṭastha-jīva. Interestingly, Śrī Jīva also lists six main attributes of prīti, all of which confirm its noninherence in the jīva: (1) It is the realization of the jīva’s specific quality of love, known by the names prīti, bhakti, and so on, that is considered topmost. (2) By this love alone is suffering dispersed once and for all. (3) Without this prīti it is not possible to realize his [Bhagavān’s] svarūpa and other attributes. (4) Whoever has that love certainly has direct realization of these [Bhagavān’s svarūpa and other attributes]. (5) One will have such realization in proportion to the extent of his or her love. And (6) as one is in the process of experiencing Bhagavān’s svarūpa, etc., or after one has attained it, prīti also manifests in greater quantity. 2 Thus, despite whatever notions of prīti other sampradāyas may entertain, here we can unequivocally see how the canonical Gauḍīya notion of prīti has nothing to do with it being inherent in the jīva. This has been done by Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī’s speaking about the possibility of not having prīti, by describing different levels of acquiring it, and so on.

    If we would like to add further spice to this siddhāntic masālā, we can invoke still another important definition of prīti from our Gauḍīya sampradāya, one that is probably even more popular than that of Śrī Jīva—Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī’s official definition of prema/prīti in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. While in verse 1.4.1 he describes prema as a condensation of bhāva (bhāvaḥ sa eva sāndrātmā), in verse 1.1.17 Śrī Rūpa mentions that bhāva is sudurlabhā, or “very difficult to attain.” If this is so with bhāva, how much more difficult then would it be to attain prīti? And how could something so difficult to attain for the jīva be inherent in the jīva? As we can see, the various definitions of Gauḍīya prīti are very precise and specific, so they cannot be reduced and oversimplified to the notion of prīti that may be held in one particular section of the Śrī sampradāya, much less to exclusively rely on their interpretation of prīti to make a full case for bhakti’s inherence in the Gauḍīya sampradāya. Thus, we are to conclude that Śrī Jīva’s use of Jāmātṛ Muni’s conceptions about the jīva is mostly utilitarian.

    Still, the pūrvapakṣī insists that Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī has accepted Jāmātṛ Muni as his ultimate authority in regard to jīva-tattva. This he concludes mostly by how Śrī Jīva refers to him in Paramātma Sandarbha 19, when he said that “the intrinsic characteristics (svarūpa-lakṣaṇa) [of the jīva] were imparted by Śrī Jāmātṛ Muni, a very senior teacher of the Śrī sampradāya in the line of Śrī Rāmānujācārya, who has followed the Padma Purāṇa.” While Śrī Jīva’s words clearly praise the Muni and posit him as an authority on jīva-tattva, that is not tantamount to his accepting Śrī Jāmātṛ as his own and ultimate authority in jīva-tattva, as the pūrvapakṣī tries to convey. Śrī Jīva’s highest authorities on jīva-tattva and any other tattva are the supreme Śrīmad Bhagavatam, as he himself established in his Tattva Sandarbha, as well as his own guru, Rūpa Goswāmī, his other elder Goswāmīs, and their foundational scriptures, all of which categorically establish prīti’s noninherence. 3

    In this same anuccheda of his Paramātma Sandarbha, Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī quotes Jāmātṛ Muni’s list of twenty-one qualities of the jīva, based on a list coming originally from the Padma Purāṇa. Interestingly enough, nowhere in Śrī Jīva’s explanation of these qualities throughout anucchedas 20 through 37 does he even remotely suggest that bhakti or prīti is inherent in the jīva, as the pūrvapakṣī seems to read. Indeed, if Śrī Jīva were actually favoring inherence, why then would his opinion not have been clearly broadcasted throughout his writings and especially his Sandarbhas, or at least in this specific section? Thus, we can again conclude that Jīva Goswāmī took what he needed from Jāmātṛ Muni and used it as he felt served his purpose. So even if the idea that bhakti is inherent is central to the Muni’s teaching, it was not something central to the teaching of Jīva Goswāmī. And if we choose to look for a moment at Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s apparent chastity to Śrī Jāmātṛ, as the pūrvapakṣī claims, the following question immediately comes: Why then does Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura never mention Jāmātṛ Muni in his writings, not even once?

    In this connection, there is one possible reason for the pūrvapakṣī’s taking the Śrī sampradāya as his main pramāṇa for establishing Gauḍīya siddhanta. Over the years, it has been seen that whenever most devotees from the Bhaktivinoda parivāra try to understand a siddhāntic point that in their own lineage has not been clearly understood by everyone, they almost never turn to other Gauḍīya parivāras, since they are generally considered sahajiyās, deviants, or aparādhīs. So where do they turn? To other Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas like the followers of Madhva and Rāmānujācārya, and I do not think this is entirely an exception to that rule.

    Interestingly, other Gauḍīya parivāras who think that bhakti is not inherent because of their exposure to the Sandarbhas for centuries suddenly find some members of the Bhaktivinoda parivāra teaching otherwise, but most of them do not make an issue of it. Then a generation or two later, some of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s contemporary followers label these other parivāras as pseudo Vaiṣṇavas for teaching bhakti is not inherent! This topic is a good example of what we should not do, in the sense of how many of us end up taking antithetical stances with regard to other Vaiṣṇava communities. Indeed, besides whatever deviations we may occasionally find in some of those groups, as it happens in any Gauḍīya group, the proper etiquette is to avoid Vaiṣṇava aparādha, the path of spiritual devastation. And these considerations should be much more important to today’s sādhakas than whether we are inherently destined to be a gopa or gopī.


    1 The term pūrvapakṣa refers to an opposing view, while a pūrvapakṣī is the one who presents the pūrvapakṣa. []

    2 This is a brief summary of what has been shared from Prīti Sandarbha in chapter 7 of my forthcoming book, Inherent or Inherited? Bhakti in the Jīva According to Gauḍīya Vedānta. []

    3 For more scriptural evidence on prīti or prema being not inherent, see the section “Supporting Evidence for Prema being Not Inherent (as Discussed in Chapters 6 to 8)” in the Appendix of my forthcoming book, Inherent or Inherited? Bhakti in the Jīva According to Gauḍīya Vedānta. []

    This article first appeared on The Harmonist


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