The Nature of Jīvas
Question: One thing you could confirm is the definition of adrṣtā within Gaudīya Vedānta. I’m looking at Govinda Bhāṣya 2.3.49 onward. The discussion is regarding the difference between jīvas. They are not similar on account of their adrṣtā and karma. However, their essential nature is the same. I have checked that in Prameya Ratnāvali too, Śrī Baladeva accepts certain doctrines of Madhavācārya. He accepts there is a hierarchy of jīvas, but bases this on their accomplishments, whereas I am aware that Dvaita-Vedānta accepts actual inherent and intrinsic differences between jīvas. Dvaita-Vedānta say some jīvas are sāttvika, rājasika, and tāmasika. Vallabhācārya’s Śuddhadvaita Vedānta also accepts intrinsic differences between baddha-jīvas as far as I can ascertain, often using Chapter 16 of the Gītā to substantiate this. Whereas, Rāmānuja and ourselves do not agree with this at all and rather accept the uniformity of all baddha-jīvas.
Further Baladeva in 2.3.49 tīkā says: svarūpa-sāmye’pi tad-adṛṣṭānāmaniyamātnānā-vidhatvāt. I don’t have a word for word translation of Govinda Bhāṣya. I have Ṡrīsa Candra Vasu’s, where he adds many words himself. My understanding of this tīkā is as follows: the svarūpa, or essential being, is sāmya (the same, uniform), only due to adrṣtā (karma, the unseen) are there differences seen.
If there are any mistakes in my understanding, please correct them.
Answer: We do not accept gradations in the essential nature of the jīvas. This is discussed by Ṡrī Jīva Gosvāmī very clearly in Paramātma Sandarbha. We concur with Ṡrī Rāmānujācārya on this. Therefore your understanding is correct.
The Nature of Absolute Reality
Question: According to conventional thought, there is an objective cosmos independent of its observers. But Vedānta says that there is only one Supreme Self and everything else is the manifestation of His energy. Doesn’t this mean that the universe is subjective or that the universe exists in the subject? Isn’t this idea of Vedānta Solipsism [the view that the self is all that can be known to exist] on a cosmic level?
Answer: It is not Solipsism at a cosmic level, but a combination of both, subjectivity and objectivity. The basic nature of reality according to Vedānta is neither completely subjective as understood or propagated by Solipsism, nor completely objective, as understood by the Newtonian physicists. Vedānta says that Absolute Reality is one, but it has variety in it. It has its own intrinsic and extrinsic nature. This gives rise to both subjectivity and objectivity. Both of these exist simultaneously without any contradiction. This is the unique characteristic of the Absolute Reality, which cannot be understood by empiricism alone.
The Function of Brahman
Question: I cannot understand the purpose or function of Brahman. It is jnāna-mātra but it is unchanging, so I don’t know how that jnāna-mātra could be put to any use.
Does Brahman have any relation at all to what we are and what we experience? Is ātmā a specific and active instance of Brahman? Is Kṛṣṇa brahman, param-brahman? Is it that Brahman is the constitutional substance of all things, but in its raw form it does nothing at all? If it does nothing at all, why does it exist?
Answer: If you can understand that Brahman is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa, a specific aspect of Him, then all your questions will be answered automatically.
Your questions are being asked thinking of Brahman as an independent entity. Brahman is like seeing the ocean from high up in the sky and Kṛṣṇa is seeing the ocean while standing on the beach or rather being within it. Brahman is like knowing a rose without its color and form. The rose without color and form is nondifferent from the rose with color and form. Please read the first five anucchedas of Bhagavat Sandarbha for clarity on this topic.
Relationship with Bhagavān
Question: Do we have any prior relationship with God as such or do we need to establish one through His devotees or by direct bhakti?
Answer: We do not have any specific relation at present. Every living being is part of God and in that sense, we all have a relation of part and whole, or regulated and regulator. But to actualize even this relation we need the blessing of a devotee. Nobody is independent of God.