Tattva Sandarbha is the first of six founding documents that literally define the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava school.
I dedicate this English rendition to common people without proficiency in Sanskrit or philosophical erudition. My goal was to translate each and every iota of philosophical meaning into English that is straight to the point, well-organized, clear, and as simple as possible. I believe that Basic Truths of Gaudiya Philosophy is a book that will empower "the masses" with direct access to the philosophical genius of Śrī Jīva Goswāmī, and the Vedāntic masterpiece that is Gauḍīya Philosophy.Paperback ($19.99) Kindle ($9.99)
After a short preface, Śrī Jīva Goswāmī presents his thesis statement defining life’s objective, the means of attaining it, and the result of attaining it. Then, to determine the accuracy of this thesis, he launches into a description of how to ascertain truth.
Śrī Jīva states that empirical observation has inherent flaws and limitations, and therefore, although it might serve as the foundation for empirical knowledge, it certainly cannot provide the basis by which Absolute Truth can be conclusively ascertained. He presents revelation as the solution to this problem, positing it as the basis from which observation and logic can bear reliable fruit. He presents the Veda as the primary verbal record of revelation, revealed by Viṣṇu to Brahmā and coming into its modern form by the hand and direction of Vyāsa.
He presents these points very briefly, without considering doubts or opposition, because these principles were widely accepted in his contemporary target audience, and other authors had already addressed the arguments thoroughly.
Śrī Jīva then admits of problems in using the Veda as the basis for ascertaining Truth, and presents the Purāṇas as the solution to these problems – for the Purāṇa are relatively intact, clear, and succinct. Some people, however, do not consider the Purāṇa a part of the Veda proper, so Śrī Jīva launches into a flurry of Vedic and Purāṇic quotes proving the Purāṇas to be Vyāsa’s fifth division of Brahmā’s original Veda.
He then returns to explaining why the Purāṇa are better than the other four Veda: because their express purpose was to complete and explain the other four; and because their meaning is intentionally made easier to comprehend.
Next, he admits a problem in accepting the Purāṇas as the primary foundation from which to ascertain Truth: they seem conflicted regarding the status of various divinities. He resolves this by presenting the Purāṇa’s own pervasive recommendation to grade them into four categories (tamasa, rajasa, sattvika, and mixed) with those that exalt Hari as sattvika and thus superior to the others.
A problem remains: Even among the sattvika Purāṇa there are various opinions and angles. How can they be harmonized? He suggests Brahma-Sūtra [“Vedānta-Sūtra”] as the solution, since Vyāsa wrote it specifically to harmonize the various angles in the Purāṇas and Vedas. But he decides that Brahma-Sūtra is too terse, mysterious, and easy to misunderstand. He therefore concludes that Vyāsa’s own sequel to Brahma-Sūtra, Śrī Bhāgavatam, encapsulates the best form of Veda to use confidently as the foundation upon which to ascertain truth.
Having presented Bhāgavatam as the supreme form of Veda, Śrī Jīva then conclusively identifies exactly which Purāṇa is the “Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.” The Bhāgavatam is the book that elaborates on the meaning of Gāyatrī, harmonizes the meanings of the Veda, reveals the meaning of Brahma-Sūtra, and completes the mission of Mahābhārata. Śrī Jīva now explains each of these points.
He says it is evident that the Bhāgavatam reveals the meaning of Brahma-Sūtra, because the author of Brahma-Sūtra wrote Bhāgavatam as an attempt to explain the meaning of the Sūtra. He says the Bhāgavatam completes the mission of Mahābhārata because the Mahābhārata’s central purpose is to draw people into discussion of the glories of Hari, and the glories of Hari are ubiquitous in Bhāgavatam. He says the Bhāgavatam elaborates on the meaning of Gāyātrī because Gāyatrī, like Mahābhārata, is essentially a meditation on Hari. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam thus harmoniously explains all the Veda, since the meaning of the Veda is encapsulated in Gāyatrī, Mahābhārata, and Brahma-Sūtra.
Bhāgavatam is therefore like the sun amongst the stars of the Veda, illuminating all meaning and empowering all other śāstra to shine with their greatest luminosity. Many, many great ācāryas concur. Bhāgavatam itself does not hide this fact either. Part of the reason it is so exalted is the exalted nature of its primary narrator, Śuka – the supreme scholar. Since the Bhāgavatam is the supreme Veda, it is identical with Krishna himself, the ultimate, supreme origin of the Veda.
Śrī Jīva now briefly explains the template on which he will write his Six Essays on Bhāgavatam. He explains that the essays are meant to ascertain the supreme objective of life, and will do so primarily by contextual analysis of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. The analysis of Bhāgavatam will be thematic, not sequential. Jīva will briefly introduce each theme, quote the Bhāgavatam verses pertaining to that theme, and then explain the meaning of those verses.
He will validate his explanations by showing its harmony with ideas presented in Vedic literature and by great ācāryas. In particular he will refer to three ācāryas: Śrīdhāra Swāmī, Rāmānujācārya, and Madhvācārya.
The conceptions held by an author would not be radically different from the conceptions they express in their writing. Therefore Śrī Jīva devotes his attention first to understanding the conceptions held by Vyāsa, Bhāgavatam’s author, and Śuka, its narrator.
The most significant aspect of Śuka’s realization is that he was attracted from impersonal monism to bhakti – indicating the Bhāgavatam’s message that bhakti is a goal superior even to impersonal liberation.
Śrī Jīva then shows how Sūta’s description of Śuka’s realization reveals Bhāgavatam’s concept of the ultimate goal, method and result: The ultimate goal is to experience Krishna’s līlā. The method is to hear Bhāgavatam’s descriptions of that līlā. The result is to experience the bliss inherent in that līlā, which is superior to the bliss inherent in monistic liberation.
Next, Śrī Jīva turns his attention to describing the realization that enabled Śrī Vyāsa to compose the Bhāgavata. Vyāsa realized the Supreme Conscious Being as Krishna. He saw Krishna complete with all potencies, three potencies in particular: māyā – the power of delusion, jīva – the power of consciousness, and bhakti – the power of love.
Śrī Jīva then discusses each potency.
Māyā fulfills an important task by generating the illusion that she belongs to those living beings (jīva) who desire to enjoy her. The jīva desires to enjoy her because it is mesmerized by her qualities and has no inclination towards the Supreme Person. It thus willingly constrains its pure sentience by investing it into her insentient objects.
Jīva Goswāmī then compares the pure sentience of the jīva with the pure sentience of īśvara, the Supreme Master – explaining that īśvara is the infinite source of the jīva’s sentience. The fragmental sentience of the jīva is subject to illusion, but the infinite sentience of īśvara is not. This segues into a detailed and devastating critique of monist theories that claim the distinction between jīva and īśvara to be a fallacy. This critique resolves with Śrī Jīva explaining that jīva and īśvara are the same in some respects, but distinct and different in other respects. He shows unequivocally that Bhāgavatam cannot be legitimately interpreted to support monism.
Finally, Śrī Jīva discusses Vyāsa’s realization of bhakti as the primary function of the internal energy and thus the most powerful way of extricating the jīva from its entanglement in the external energy. Vyāsa had experienced the efficacy of bhakti firsthand, and composed Bhāgavatam specifically to allow others access to bhakti.
Then Śrī Jīva discusses sādhana-bhakti – a practice of bhakti accessible to jīvas entangled in the external energy. He clarifies that sādhana does not create perfect bhakti (“prema”), but it makes the jīva a fit receptacle for prema’s self-causing manifestation. He explains that sādhana is also self-causing, in the sense that it has no pre-requisites or dependencies.
Though already self-realized, Śuka was eager to engage in the sādhana of learning Bhāgavatam from Vyāsa. This illustrates that bhakti, even sādhana-bhakti, can attract everyone – from the lowest reprobate to the highest enlightened soul like Śuka.
The Bhāgavatam describes the ultimate reality as consciousness – the essence, source and support of all that exists. There are two categories of consciousness – the supreme conscious source, and individual emanations of consciousness. The two are identical in that both are eternal, constant, and without conventional limitations. There are also distinctions between the two. One distinction is that the supreme consciousness is the self-manifest root of all the individual emanations of consciousness. Another distinction is that the individual consciousness sometimes experiences misery, but the supreme consciousness does not.
The sameness between the individual and the supreme is important to understand because it affords a way for the individual to begin grasping the supreme.
Consciousness is eternal, constant and unlimited, unlike the objects it is conscious of and the tools through which it becomes conscious of them. Although individual consciousness projects itself into a venue of temporality, change, and limitation, it remains distinct as the eternal, constant, unlimited observer.
Consciousness is not a byproduct of the senses, mind, intellect or ego. We experience evidence of this in the fact that consciousness continues with continuity even when, in deep sleep or coma, we lose all contact with our senses, mind, intellect, and ego.
Śrī Jīva concludes this first essay with an overview of the entire Bhāgavatam, by exploring its ten topics as both Śuka and Sūta define them.
The primary topic of Bhāgavatam is the tenth: āśraya – the Ultimate Origin of reality. The other nine topics clarify the tenth. The Ultimate Origin of reality is consciousness. Individual Consciousness is the origin and substance of its own subjective reality, but the Ultimate Origin of all reality is the super-consciousness, paramātmā.
The other nine topics explain how consciousness and super-consciousness manifest, develop, maintain, protect, and destroy the world throughout history.
With the Bhāgavatam thoroughly introduced, Śrī Jīva concludes his first essay.
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