Advaitavada and Gaudiya Philosophy
Questions & Answers

Advaitavada and Gaudiya Philosophy

Sadhu at Jiva

Question: Recently some people have spoken with me about Advaitavāda and Māyāvāda. One person said that Advaitavāda is different from Māyāvāda. He accepts Advaitavāda and says that it cannot be defeated, but he does not accept Māyāvāda. 

What is the difference between Advaitavāda and Māyāvāda? Throughout your Sandarbha commentaries, the word Advaitavāda is used synonymously with Māyāvāda. Is there a subtle difference between them? 

Answer: There is the primary meaning of a word and then secondary meanings. The words Advaitavāda and Māyāvāda are primarily used for the school of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya. They mostly call themselves Advaitavādīs and not so much Māyāvādīs. The first reference to the term Māyāvāda is found in the writings of the eightth century scholar, Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara. He refers to Śaṅkarācārya’s philosophy as Māyāvāda and points out that this is borrowed from Buddhism. Later, Vaiṣṇavas began to refer to Advaitavāda as Māyāvāda, generally in a derogatory manner. The person who says that these words refer to different schools must explain the difference. Maybe he is using the words in a different sense. In that case, he must define them. Otherwise, I see no difference.

Question: The Māyāvāda theory brings the Supreme Lord to the position of the jīva by saying that the body of Bhagavān is material or māyā and that mānava-sevā is Mādhava-sevā, etc.

Answer: This is also the concept of Advaitavāda. According to Advaitavāda, Brahman conditioned by the avidyā potency of Māya is the jīva, and Brahman conditioned by the vidyā potency of Māyā is Iśvara.

Question: Advaita literally means nondual or oneness. In acintya bheda abheda tattva also, the qualitative oneness of the jīva with the Supreme Lord is there. In that sense, isn’t Advaitavāda also present in acintya bheda abheda? Therefore, Advaitavāda should not be criticized; only Māyāvāda needs to be criticized. This was one of the arguments presented. 

Answer: This does not make any sense. Ultimate reality is only one (See SB 1.2.11). This is accepted by all Vedāntīs, personalists as well as impersonalists. Śrī Rāmanujācārya’s philosophy is called Viśiṣṭa-advaitavāda, and that of Vallabhacārya, Śuddha-advaitavāda. Both of them strongly refute Advaitavāda.

Question: One of the members of Pañca-tattva is Advaita Ācārya. What is the meaning of this name? In India, many persons are named “Advaita.” 

Nityānānda Prabhu, in his joking conversation with Advaita Ācārya, criticizes him (Madhya-līla 12.193): 

nityānanda kahe,—tumi advaita-ācārya
‘advaita-siddhānte’ bādhe śuddha-bhakti-kārya

When Advaita’s name is criticized by Nityānānda Prabhu (as a vyāja-stuti), why are names such as Advaita given by Vaiṣṇavas to their children (here Advaita Ācārya)?

Answer: As far as the name of Advaitācārya, He is nondifferent from Ultimate Reality and thus is advaita.

 

Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentaries

 Question: The Gauḍīya sampradāya holds Śrīdhara Svāmī in high esteem and all the commentaries on the Bhāgavatam evolve around his commentary. This could lead one to the conclusion that the Gauḍīya philosophy itself accepts parts of Advaitavāda. I would like to know how Gauḍīyas view Advaitins and smārtas.

Going by text one of Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, one may speculate that the Gauḍīyas were originally pro smārta and Advaitin while their later texts evolved due to the external influence of other Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas.

Answer: I am not aware of anyone speculating that Gauḍīyas were originally pro smārta and Advaitin. This is the first time that I have heard someone raise such an issue. My guess is that such a view is rooted in the biased thinking of the questioner. I have heard a well-known Advaitavāda ācārya trying to prove that Caitanya Mahāprabhu was a staunch follower of Advaitavāda and the present-day Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas are misrepresenting him and are committing a big offense. This is a gross misunderstanding and is not supported by any of the biographies of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

I will cite three ślokas from the maṇgalācarana of Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī’s commentary on the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, which is the first book of the Gauḍīya sampradāya. He was a close associate of Mahāprabhu and was personally instructed by the latter. From these verses, one can draw one’s own conclusion.

svāmipādair na yad vyaktaṁ yad vyaktañcāsphuṭaṁ kvacit
ṭippaṇī daśame tatra seyaṁ vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī

“What has not been explained by Śridhara Svāmī or has not been stated very clearly, that should be known from this comment on Tenth Book (of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) called Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī.” (11)

Please note the name of his commentary, Vaiṣṇava-toṣaṇī. It means that which brings pleasure to Vaiṣṇavas. Does it give any indication of Advaitavāda?

vaiṣṇavāparitoṣaḥ syād yatra yatra tatastataḥ
lekhyaṁ vaiṣṇava-siddhānta-dākṣiṇyenaiva kiñcana

“A Vaiṣṇava would feel dissatisfied by reading (Śrīdhara Svāmī’s commentary) in different places, therefore, I am writing something extra with the dexterity of vaiṣnava-siddhānta.” (12)

The commentary of Śrīdhara Svāmī is strewn with Advaitic ideas. Sanatana Gosvāmī disregards all that and gives an explanation as per Vaiṣṇava-siddhānta. He makes this very clear here.

śrīmadbhāgavata-vyakta-bhaktyeka-puruṣārthinām
nābhedavāda ity eṣa nālekhi kṣamyatām idam

“This commentary is written for those whose puruṣārtha is only bhakti as explained in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. The purpose of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is not to establish Abhedavāda. Therefore, it is not written (in my commentary). I may be forgiven for this (by Śrīdhara Svāmī).” (13)

Sanatana Gosvāmī was known for his humble demeanor. For this, you can investigate Caitanya Caritāmṛta. Therefore, he acknowledges the help he got from the commentary of Śrīdhara Svāmī. But he is not a blind follower. He rejects all those parts that convey Advaitavāda. And he boldly proclaims that he will write as per vaiṣṇava-siddhānta.

 

Bhakti through different Lenses

Question: How does the bhagavad-bhakti proposed by Śaṅkarācārya compare with the bhakti of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava? Śaṅkarācārya, in his book Prabhoda-sudhākara, has given a step-by-step progression to reach Kṛṣṇa according to his philosophy. Apart from knowing the self, his other philosophy seems to be like rāga bhakti. 

Answer: There is no similarity. Jīva Gosvāmī’s exposition of bhakti is based upon the pāramārthika distinction between the jīva and Bhagavān. Śaṅkarācārya does not have any such distinction. Jīva Gosvāmī accepts Bhagavān with vibhūtis at the pāramārthika level. Bhakti defined by Jīva Gosvāmī is the pāramārthika śakti of Bhagavān. Śaṅkarācārya does not accept that. His Brahman is nis-śāktika. So, there is no similarity from the very beginning. According to Śankaracārya, Kṛṣṇa Himself is not transcendental. He is also a product of māyā, but the vidyā aspect of māyā. There is the famous verse from Pañcadaśī (6.236), a popular work on Advaitavāda: “Māyā is a Kāmadhenu (wish-fulfilling) cow. It has two calves. One is called īśvara and the other jīva. Drink the milk called dvaita as much as you like but know that the Reality is only advaita.”

 

7 Comments

  • Satanama March 27, 2024

    I some related questions that are baffling me regarding the eternal fragmented nature of Jiva -“sanatanah”. Also, Jivas relationship with Krsna, Vaikuntha and the material energy.
    Basically if Jiva is an eternal fragmented entity how is Krsna God ?
    If Jiva is eternal i.e. has no origin or point of creation and has always been and always will be and similarly, if Vaikuntha is eternal as is the material prakrati there is no scope for an original person or source of creation.

    (Creation would only be an effect of the material energy which is Maya, and is only giving the appearance of creation, maintenance and destruction to eternal Jiva.Yet even the material energy is eternal in that its effect is constantly changing appearance much like water turning to ice and vice-versa)

    This also begs the question at what point do qualities such as superior and inferior enter the equation between Jivas as any such divisions placed on a pure eternal Jiva would suggest a point of origin or creation (which are an effect of material Kala) as such, to suggest a a pure spirit soul has such qualities seems like projecting material concepts of duality into the spiritual realms….?

    Best Wishes.

    • Babaji April 1, 2024

      Basically if Jiva is an eternal fragmented entity how is Krsna God ?

      A: What is the problem?

      If Jiva is eternal i.e. has no origin or point of creation and has always been and always will be and similarly, if Vaikuntha is eternal as is the material prakrati there is no scope for an original person or source of creation.

      A: Yes.

      (Creation would only be an effect of the material energy which is Maya, and is only giving the appearance of creation, maintenance and destruction to eternal Jiva.Yet even the material energy is eternal in that its effect is constantly changing appearance much like water turning to ice and vice-versa)

      A: Yes

      This also begs the question at what point do qualities such as superior and inferior enter the equation between Jivas as any such divisions placed on a pure eternal Jiva would suggest a point of origin or creation (which are an effect of material Kala) as such, to suggest a a pure spirit soul has such qualities seems like projecting material concepts of duality into the spiritual realms….?

      A: There are no gradations in pure souls. Gradations are external.

  • Satanama March 27, 2024

    I have some related questions that are baffling me regarding the eternal fragmented nature of Jiva -“sanatanah”. Also, Jivas relationship with Krsna, Vaikuntha and the material energy.
    Basically, if Jiva is an eternal fragmented entity how is Krsna God?
    If Jiva is eternal i.e. has no origin or point of creation hads always been and always will be and similarly if Vaikuntha is eternal as is the material prakrati there is no scope for an original person or source. This also begs the question at what point do qualities such as superior and inferior enter the equation between Jivas as any such divisions placed on a pure eternal Jiva would suggest a point of origin or creation (which are an effect of material Kala) as such, to suggest a a pure spirit soul has such qualities seems like projecting material concepts of duality into the spiritual realms.

  • Satanama April 2, 2024

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my questions.

    Basically if Jiva is an eternal fragmented entity how is Krsna God ?
    A: What is the problem?

    The problem I have is the proper understanding of Krishna’s position if He is not creator of Jiva, Vaikuntha or prakriti how is Krsna God?
    The concept of Godhead is held in relation to a supreme controller or creator or as Srila Prabhupada would often give the description, Krsna the original or supreme personality of Godhead. Yet if all is eternal the term original person is a misnomer as there is no origin rather everything is sanatanah. This leaves Krsna more akin to a Bodhisattva type of figure. Hence, my question if Krsna does not create Jiva, Vaikuntha, or the material universes what is the special attributes that one would deem Him superior and worthy of worship and ultimately complete surrender? As opposed to Jiva saving oneself through self inquiry.

    Again thank you for taking the time to reply it’s very much appreciated.

    Best wishes.

    • Babaji April 5, 2024

      Since you referred to Srila Prabhupada, let me give his example.
      He was honored, respected, and worshiped in ISKCON by his followers. He controlled everyone.
      But he did not create the followers. It is not necessary to be the creator to be the controller.
      One who has more power and superior qualities can be the controller of others.
      Kṛṣṇa is God because no one is equal to or superior to Him – na tat-sama-abhyadhiakśca śrūyate.

      In fact, if Krsna were the creator of the jivas, Vaikuntha, etc., then He could not be the eternal God, because before creating jivas etc. whose God would He be?

  • SATANAMA April 6, 2024

    Thank you for your patience and Kindness in replying.

    A>>”Since you referred to Srila Prabhupada, let me give his example.
    He was honored, respected, and worshiped in ISKCON by his followers. He controlled everyone.
    But he did not create the followers. It is not necessary to be the creator to be the controller.
    One who has more power and superior qualities can be the controller of others.”

    Q. More power and superior qualities among pure sanātanaḥ Jivas refers back to my previous comment that surley such division or graduations cannot exist in the spiritual realm or platform?

    You previously stated :
    >>”A: There are no gradations in pure souls. Gradations are external.

    Since Srila Prabhupadas example was given He himself also states in the Purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.23.31
    […] There is no duality between Visnu and the Vaishnava this is called advaya-jñāna.

    Although we see such divisions exist materially and the three Gunas “could” be said to control Jiva. Yet, Jiva ultimately remains superior although at times ignorant of this fact. Jiva himself chooses which Gunas to interact with according to his particular desires for sense enjoyment and Karmic accumulations. As such, it could be said the material energy actually serves Jiva and when Jiva desires genuine freedom from material bondage such is actually achieved by His own willing.

    A. >>”In fact, if Krsna were the creator of the jivas, Vaikuntha, etc., then He could not be the eternal God, because before creating jivas etc. whose God would He be?”

    Q. Exactly, as Jiva has never been created it seems this answers the question ultimately He cannot be God. Only if, He actually created Jiva would the term God the creator be applicable. Maybe the problem is abrahamic concepts of monotheism have entered the Vedic literatures?

    If all elements involved are eternal there is simply no scope for superior and inferior postions amongst spiritual entities or activities. Yet such has been proposed when Krsna is presented as the Supreme controller or most powerful as opposed to say a compassionate Bodhissatva or avatar of Vishnu.
    One could say He is the Supreme controller of Maya but this is different from the superior all powerful controller of Jiva. Indeed it could be argued He is serving Jiva via the material energy in accordance to Jivas desires. As Brahama oversees the Universal affairs his position is also as server.

    C.C Adi 2.65 advaya-jñāna tattva-vastu kṛṣṇera svarūpa
    brahma, ātmā, bhagavān–tina tāṅra rūpa

    BG 15.7
    mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke
    jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ
    manaḥ-ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi
    prakṛti-sthāni karṣati

    These two verses appear completely contradictory.
    Hence, my original dilemma in understanding Jivas actual position.

    Best wishes,

    • Babaji April 10, 2024

      I think you are paying stress only to some statements and neglecting others. The relation between jiva and Krsna is both of oneness and difference.
      Unless you grasp this, your doubts will not be dispelled. If this is not understood you will see many contradictions in sastra.
      Even in Gita Krsna says mat-sthāni sarva-bhūtāni (9.4), and just in the next verse He denies it – na ca matsthani bhūtāni.
      There are plenty of such statements in Gita – 13.14-17 etc.
      If you think that Kṛṣṇa is right and not a confused person, then His words need to be harmonized.
      This is only possible when you see both sides of the equation.

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