Other Religions in View of the Bhāgavata

QUESTION: I am wondering if you are able to shed any light on Jīva Gosvāmī’s (or any other important pre-colonial Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava author) views on non-Vedically aligned traditions, such as those of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc. 

QUESTION: I am wondering if you are able to shed any light on Jīva Gosvāmī’s (or any other important pre-colonial Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava author) views on non-Vedically aligned traditions, such as those of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc. 

I am interested in how other religions were dealt within the writings of earlier Gauḍīya authors such as Jīva Gosvāmī. I am interested in seeing how this compares with the approach to other religions adopted by later authors such as Bhaktivinoda, who attempts to accommodate religions such as Christianity and Islam within a broad Gauḍīya framework, suggesting, in some places (e.g. Kṛṣṇa-saṁhita), that they can be seen as expressions of rasas such as sakhya and vatsalya

Srimad BhagavataANSWER: To answer your question, let me say that Jīva Gosvāmī is very clear from the onset in Tattva Sandarbha. In his epistemological portion, he very explicitly establishes Śrīmad Bhāgavata as the supreme authority for understanding the Absolute Reality, tattva. In the very beginning of his book, he analyses the essential message of the Bhāgavata in a very methodical manner. He makes it very clear that only those explanations that match the fundamental concept of the Bhāgavata are acceptable. Everything else is not acceptable. He does not even accept those explanations of Śrīdhara Swami that do not match the Bhāgavata. Some neo-Gauḍīyas have criticized him for that, of course without giving much thought to his statements.

Therefore, as far as I understand, Jīva Gosvāmī has no such inclusive or pluralistic tendency. Rather, his synthesis is that the real purpose of all the Vedas, Purāṇas, Tantra etc. is only in priti for Bhagāvan, which is the heart of Śrīmad Bhāgavata. This he writes in Sarva-samvādini on Bhagavat Sandarbha. In Bhagavat Sandarbha (Anuccheda 98), he shows that directly or indirectly all the Vedas are speaking about Krishna. Thus his inclusiveness is not to accept anything that flouts the principle of Śrīmad Bhāgavata.

From this, it is understood that precolonial Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, such as Jīva Gosvāmī and later Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī and Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana, would accept only those religions or part of the teachings of these religions that propagate pure love of God. Anything which does not fit under this umbrella of love is not acceptable, be it heaven or liberation.

QUESTION: It may seem that Indic traditions have throughout the centuries displayed pervasive inclusivistic tendencies, i.e. subsuming and hierarching other traditions within their own frameworks (we might see the Gauḍīya acceptance of Brahman realization as valid but incomplete as an instance of this). This appears to have been restricted to the Indic religious fold. I would imagine that Bhaktivinoda’s universalizing inclusivism, i.e. the attempt to accommodate non-Indic traditions, is something new within the tradition? Though, at the same time, we do see in some pre-modern Gauḍīya writing, some validity being ascribed to Islam (e.g. Caitanya’s conversation with the Sufi Pir in Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.18). 

ANSWER: Here I would like to say that SB (1.2.11) clearly says that tattva is only one. That one tattva includes everything in it. Nothing can exist outside of it, whether Advaitavāda, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. Even asuras are part of God.  Brahman is one part of it. So Gauḍīya’s accept Brahman on the authority of the Bhāgavata. But it must be noted that the Brahman of the Bhāgavata and the Brahman of radical Advaitavada are not the same. Therefore Jīva Gosvāmī makes great effort to refute Advaitavāda, and not include it within the fold of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. The same is true with Buddhism. He makes no effort to accept Buddhism. He says we accept Buddha but not Buddhism. That is on the authority of śāstra. So Reality is one but it is not the way it has been presented by Advaitvāda or Buddhists or others. Others are partly true. We accept what matches with the Bhāgavata and reject the rest.

Śrī Caitanya did not validate Islam. He converted the Muslims to Vaiṣṇava dharma. If they had continued to disbelieve in the form of God, then He would not have accepted them. So inclusion is on the terms of Śrīmad Bhāgavata, not otherwise.

QUESTION: On a related note, it appears that essential to Bhaktivinoda’s universalizing strategy is his framing of Vaiṣṇavism as “jaiva-dharma,” i.e. the essential nature or religion of the self.  Other religious modes, on this view, can be seen as expressions, however limited, of this innate religion. Some prominent Indologists suggest that this conceptualization of dharma as “essential nature” is a nineteenth-century phenomenon. In your study of Jīva Gosvāmī, do you find anything akin to this notion of Vaiṣṇavism as the innate or essential nature of the self (jaiva-dharma), or would you agree that this is a modern innovation within the tradition?

ANSWER: I have already stated above that according to Śrīmad Bhāgavata, there is only one tattva. Jaiva dharma is prīti for that tattva. This is clearly stated in Prīti Sandarbha. In Tattva Sandarbha, Jīva Gosvāmī speaks about sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana. This applies to everybody, not only to Indians or Bengalis. He clearly writes that the only independent process is bhakti. No other process works without bhakti. Nobody can attain perfection without bhakti. Bhakti is the real jaiva dharma. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes that the basic disease of a conditioned living being is beginningless absence of awareness of God, and the only solution to this is awareness of God, which is bhakti. Kṛṣṇa also makes it very clear in Bhagavad Gītā that no one can become free from bondage to His māyā without taking to bhakti and the purpose of all the Vedas is to teach this message.

 

 

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Comments ( 13 )
  1. Divya vigraha Das

    Hare Krishna Maharaja
    Dandavat pranama
    śrīdhara-svāmi-prasāde ‘bhāgavata’ jāni
    jagad-guru śrīdhara-svāmī ‘guru’ kari’ māni
    Śrīdhara Svāmī is the spiritual master of the entire world because by his mercy we can understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I therefore accept him as a spiritual master. CC antya 7.133

    So how it can possible his siddhanta can differ from the siddhanta of srimad bhagavatam as you wrote “He does not even accept those explanations of Śrīdhara Swami that do not match the Bhāgavata.”

    But it is seen that in some point his opinion differs from the opinion of sad Goswami.
    So, to whom Mahaprabhu certified Jagada guru, how his siddhanta can be faulty.?
    How to balance this critical situation according to your opinion?

    • Babaji Post author

      This question needs elaborate explanation and is beyond the scope of this blog. It can only be answered in person.

  2. Bhushan

    Babaji,

    Thanks a lot for the thoughtful and interesting answers. Reading your answers, two verses came to my mind and it would be interesting to understand them in light of your answers.

    Bhagavad Gita 4.11
    In the commentary, Shri Vishvanatha Chakravartipada concludes by saying: “Therefore, not only devotees surrender to Me, but rather everyone, all men, jnanis, karmis, yogis, and worshippers of the devatas, follow My path (they surrender either directly or indirectly). Jnana, karma and other processes are all My path, since I am the essence of all those paths.”

    He also points out that jnanis who think Shri Krishna is material do not achieve anything. Can we also include sincere non-Vedic monotheists (Christianity, Islam, etc) in the above list (worshippers of devatas)? But even if they are sincere, their conception of God may not fully be in accordance with the Bhagavatam (maybe some overlap). So are they even indirectly surrendering to Shri Krishna?

    Rig Veda 1.164.46:
    Índraṃ mitráṃ váruṇam agním āhur átho divyáḥ sá suparṇó garútmān;Ékaṃ sád víprā bahudhā́ vadanty agníṃ yamáṃ mātaríśvānam āhuḥ.

    The word bahudhā́ is popularly interpreted to include all kinds of devatas, Vedic and non-Vedic. And therefore it is argued that Hinduism is pluralistic/inclusive. But the verse itself only mentions a handful of devatas, so I wonder if this interpretation is valid. What would be the correct understanding of bahudhā́? Is it possible to describe(vadanti) the One “ekam” using non-Vedic Gods which may have some overlap with “ekam” described in Bhagavatam?

    Thanks!

    • Babaji Post author

      “He also points out that jnanis who think Shri Krishna is material do not achieve anything. Can we also include sincere non-Vedic monotheists (Christianity, Islam, etc) in the above list (worshippers of devatas)? But even if they are sincere, their conception of God may not fully be in accordance with the Bhagavatam (maybe some overlap). So are they even indirectly surrendering to Shri Krishna?”

      A: Yes, they are surrendered but because their concept is not proper they do not get the proper result.

      “Rig Veda 1.164.46:
      Índraṃ mitráṃ váruṇam agním āhur átho divyáḥ sá suparṇó garútmān;Ékaṃ sád víprā bahudhā́ vadanty agníṃ yamáṃ mātaríśvānam āhuḥ.

      The word bahudhā́ is popularly interpreted to include all kinds of devatas, Vedic and non-Vedic.”

      A: That is a misinterpretation of the word bahudha. Why would the vipra describe sat in non-vedic terms? Vipras are those who follow the Veda.

      “And therefore it is argued that Hinduism is pluralistic/inclusive.”

      A: That is not true.

      “But the verse itself only mentions a handful of devatas, so I wonder if this interpretation is valid. What would be the correct understanding of bahudhā́? Is it possible to describe(vadanti) the One “ekam” using non-Vedic Gods which may have some overlap with “ekam” described in Bhagavatam?”

      A: Bahudha refers to various names, such as Indra. But Indra etc. are all forms of only that one sat. Ultimately the words such as Indra do not refer to the deva Indra but to Krishna.

  3. scooty ram

    Pranam

    Timely post on the eve of Christmas. pramanatva is important to start with and sradhdha is faith on scripture.

    An informative speech on similarity between religions.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9oVzDBR1wc

    Dasan

  4. Tapan

    Hare Krishna
    Pranama
    Very nice posting
    Is there any mention about Jesus Christ, that whether he is a nityasiddha associate or nityamukta Jiva coming from which spiritual planet? Means in spiritual world where Jesus resides? So that his followers can be destined to that loka?.

    Or everybody has to practice sanatana bhakti before going to any planet of spiritual world?

    Means directly by following Christianity and Islam strictly as per their holy scripture,are they are able to go any spiritual loka in that life or have to take another birth to practice bhakti?

    Is this Christianity a gradual process of their reformation towards sanatana dharma ? In the similar way Islam?

    • Babaji Post author

      Q: Is there any mention about Jesus Christ, that whether he is a nityasiddha associate or nityamukta Jiva coming from which spiritual planet? Means in spiritual world where Jesus resides? So that his followers can be destined to that loka?

      A: I have not come across any such reference.

      Q: Or everybody has to practice sanatana bhakti before going to any planet of spiritual world?

      A: Yes, because the other religions do not give much knowledge about the spiritual world, let alone the process to go there.

      Q: Means directly by following Christianity and Islam strictly as per their holy scripture,are they are able to go any spiritual loka in that life or have to take another birth to practice bhakti?

      A: There are various delineations of Christianity and Islam. I am not familiar with any delineation that propagates a practice to go to the spiritual world.

      Q: Is this Christianity a gradual process of their reformation towards sanatana dharma ? In the similar way Islam?

      A: This is a too general question because there are many varieties in each religion. My general answer is that there is no planned scheme in Christianity and Islam
      to bring their followers to sanatana dharma. In fact, their core beliefs are contrary to sanatana dharma. They do not believe in rebirth as per the sanatana dharma
      principles. So where is the question of gradual reformation?

  5. Vāyu.

    Please let me to say just a couple of words on Catholicism:

    Due to the historical confrontational attitudes with the Buddhists, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī certainly knew well the main principles of such a spiritual tradition. And given its social context, he undoubtedly gets first-hand knowledge about Islam and Sufis; he did it so even through his uncles Dabira Khāsa and Sākara Mallika. Jīva knew the al-Qurʾān very well. But can we say the same of his knowledge about Catholicism?

    If I do not know Sanskrit and Bengali, I cannot fully understand Jīva’s theology—which is the core of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism—nor Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī and Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana. In the same way, if someone does not know Latin and Spanish, he will not be able to fully understand the theology of Saint Augustine nor St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa de Avila (who were contemporaries of Jīva). The point is—if I really want to know the other, I will make an intellectual and emotional effort to achieve it; otherwise I will just fall into a limited value judgment, to say the least.

    Especially in the religious field, there is always the danger of objectification or understimate the other. However, bhakti finally shines by itself: Si enim non diligis fratrem tuum quem videtis Deum quem non videtis quomodo poteſt diligere (1 Jn. 4:20).

  6. Andrej

    There is a book entitled The Soul’s Long Journey, revealing the concealed or indirectly confirmed reincarnation and law of karma in the Bible and Christ’s teachings.

  7. Bhushan

    Babaji,

    Please accept my pranams and thanks for answering my questions.

    I was just reading Bhakti Sandarbha Anuccheda 283 (Arcana and Diksha). Shri Jiva Goswami writes:
    “According to the view of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the path of arcana, as outlined in books like the Pancaratra, is not required, because even without it one can attain perfection by following even just one of the limbs of bhakti, such as surrender.”
    Then he says that those who desire to enter into a relationship with Shri Krishna should accept diksha, that is the path followed by sages such as Shri Narada Muni. And then he quotes Agamas to establish his conclusion.

    My question is not on the necessity of diksha, but on the fact that Shri Jiva Goswami seems to “disagree” with the Bhagavatam and quotes Agamas to support his conclusions. But then in Tattva Sandarbha, as you mentioned, he establishes Bhagavatam as the supreme authority for understanding the Absolute. How do we understand this seemingly diverging points? If Bhagavatam is supreme authority, why quote Agamas to establish diskha as a necessity when Bhagavatam itself says that it is optional?

    You have written plenty of articles on diksha, and I accept what you have written so this question is not a challenge of the necessity of diskha. I am slightly confused as to how Shri Jiva Gosvami seemingly disagrees with the view of the Bhagavatam.

    Thanks!

    • Babaji Post author

      What is the disagreement and what are the diverging points?

      Please read carefully. Just before the sentence you have quoted, “According to the view of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the path of arcana, as outlined in books like the Pancaratra, is not required, because even without it one can attain perfection by following even just one of the limbs of bhakti, such as surrender”, SJG refers to verse SB 11.3.48, which speaks of taking diksha (labdha-anugraha Acaryat) and then engage in arcana. So how is SJG defying the authority of SB? You have not understood the above statement of SJG. He says that according to SB, perfection can be attained without arcana. By this, he does not mean that according to SB, perfection can be attained without diksha and that there is no need of diksha. He says that perfection can be attained merely by surrender. Why do you think that surrender means no diksha? Where does SB say that diksha is optional?

      Moreover, even if it is accepted that according to SB diksha is optional, that is only for attaining perfection without a special relationship with Krishna. That means you can get samanya bhakti without even having diksha, but if you want to attain special bhakti, which involves a specific relation, then you need diksha. So these are two separate processes. There is no contradiction.

  8. Bhushan

    Babaji,

    Thanks a lot for the answer. I did not reflect on the meaning of surrender. Shri Jiva Gosvami discusses surrender to Guru in Anuccheda 237 for developing special relationship with Krishna. I assumed that surrender spoken here meant something like the 6 symptoms of surrender to Krishna. And I conflated arcana with diksha and therefore I thought SB says diksha is optional. But I see the error in my thinking now.

    Thanks!

  9. purushottam das

    the confusion arises because some of the Gaudiya Vaisnava temples have Jesus photo on the altar, dress Radha Krishna as Mother Mary and Krishna as Jesus on x’mas day. all these practices will definitely confuse neophytes and such types of questions arise. there is no similarity between Abrahamic religion and Vedic religions. in practice, one may see some social conventions similar but theology and philosophy differed widely. please read Being Different book by Rajiv Malhotra.

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