One of the more controversial points of doctrine in the Gaudiya Vaishnava school is the svakīyā-vāda which states in essence that Krishna and the gopis, especially Radha, are eternally married and that the marital relation forms the truest expression of their transcendental love. Though he has based much of his argument on the work of his predecessor Rupa Goswami, Jiva Goswami is generally taken to be the founder of the doctrine. In the century following Jiva's death, the primary thrust of Gaudiya Vaishnava theological writing was to promote the opposing parakīyā position, which holds that Radha and Krishna's loves find their ultimate expression in the unmarried state. Though the debate has flurried up from time to time in the subsequent three hundred years, it may safely be said that the parakīyā-vāda currently holds the upper hand among the followers of the school.
The purpose of this article is not to trace the history of the debate in anything more than a perfunctory way, nor is it to seek out its sociological or psychological aetiology, interesting and relatively unexplored an area of investigation as that may be. In other words, we shall not try to ascribe any symbolic value to this debate. Our main concern here is purely phenomenological: we want to know in as much detail as possible what exactly Rupa and Jiva Goswamis had to say on the subject and thus as far as possible shall thus limit ourselves to their terms of debate.(1)
Rupa's presentation of this particular doctrinal point may be considered somewhat unsystematic and therefore ambiguous. Nevertheless, he is looked to by supporters of both sides in the debate as the ultimate authority for their positions. We shall try to look at Rupa’s statements through Jiva's interpretations of them. These are to be found in his theological works, including commentaries on Rupa's Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (Durgama-saṅgamanī) and Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi (Locana-rocanī) and, most importantly, Sri-Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha.
Jiva not only took a theological stand in these works in favour of the svakīyā position, but made a point of rewriting the myth of Krishna's life in accordance with this vision in his magnum opus, Gopāla-campū (finished AD 1592), where his ideas find their most elaborate expression in a work that combines both literary and commentatorial forms.
For Jiva, the loves of Radha and Krishna represent the summum bonum of spiritual truth. Krishna is the supreme deity; his form is not something that is accepted by him temporarily but is identical with his self. Krishna, the supreme spiritual being, exists in a spiritual form that is his human-like body. Radha is the supreme expression of all of God's energies, which include everything other than himself. Since God's energies, or creation, are meant to give him pleasure, Radha, the supreme energy (śakti) brings him the purest and most intense pleasure. She is therefore called Krishna's hlādinī śakti.
None of these points are contested by any of Jiva’s theological opponents; the real point of contention lies in what constitutes the purest and most intense pleasure. For Jiva, the giving of pleasure requires union; for his opponents, the intricacies involved in the adulterous relation are considered to be a greater source of joy.
In Gopāla-campū, Jiva describes the return of Krishna to Vraja after his long absence in Dvaraka. Once back home, he marries the gopis whose previous marriages to other cowherds are revealed by the goddess Maya herself to have been illusory. Soon after the marriage, Krishna and all the residents of the cowherd community ascend into his heaven of Goloka, where he and the gopis remain united in eternal marriage. By giving an explicit and graphic description of what had theretofore been presented as mere theory, Jiva was considered to have interfered with the sacrosanct presentation of Krishna's biography found in Bhāgavata-purāṇa, the pramāṇam amalam, or flawless source of knowledge, and this excited an intense reaction.
Since the raison-d'être for Krishna's return to Vraja was his marriage with the gopis, our effort to understand Jiva's svakīyā-vāda necessitates an exploration of his extensive explanations for such a return. Both the arguments for the return and the marriage have, according to Jiva, a basis in scriptural, i.e., puranic, sources as well as in the aesthetico-theological ideas of Rupa Goswami.
(1) A good discussion of the subject can be found in Edward Dimock's The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism of the Vaishnava Sahajiya Cult (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
1.2 Rasa and siddhānta
At the beginning of GC, Jiva Goswami clearly describes the scope his work is to take:
yan mayā kṛṣṇa-sandarbhe
tad eva rasyate kāvya-
The ambrosia-like conclusionsKṛṣṇaS is the fourth volume of Jiva's major theological work, in which aspects of Krishna's nature are described, primarily according to the revelation of BhP but with the support of other puranic and tantric materials. Though in the above verse Jiva refers to the siddhānta or demonstrated conclusion of the arguments presented there as being ambrosia-like in its own right, which as a seasoned exegete he no doubt deeply felt, he also seems to admit the inadequacy of a purely argumentative approach to the truths he held dear. Thus, not totally satisfied with his previous efforts, he sought to give expression to these conclusions in a poetic form. Indeed, in view of the impetus given to the theological understanding of rasa by Jiva's predecessor Rupa, it would seem that such an effort was essential. Jiva's theological ideas had to pass a “rasa-test,” as it were, for Rupa had indicated that his theory of divine aesthetic was an objective criterion for determining the relative superiority of different forms of the supreme:
compiled by me in the Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha
can here be savored by the palate
that is learned in the poetic art.
"Though according to spiritual laws Narayan and Krishna are not different in essence from one another, nevertheless Krishna is demonstrably superior by the criteria of the divine esthetic; his form is the resting place of rasa."(2)This emphasis on rasa has its roots in BhP itself, which invites the connoisseurs of poetry (rasikas) to taste the poetic flavor of the Lord (bhāgavataṁ rasam).(3) Jiva also confirms the value of rasa as an independent marker of truth in his introduction to the Uttara-campū where he puts rasa and siddhānta on an equal footing in a dual compound:
We take shelter in the goddess of sound,
who takes the form of the Bhāgavata,
the essence of all the Veda.
Through her rasa and siddhānta
even a new work of poetry becomes authoritative.(4)
Finally, at the very end of the Uttara-campū, two verses again stress the word rasa:
I have humbly demonstrated the fulfillment of the rasasHere, though in the first verse Jiva takes a liberal position in indicating that the devotional position one takes is dependent on taste, and that one is free to choose whichever form or pastime of the Lord suits his or her fancy, he still emphasizes in the latter verse that he has arranged the līlā according to his understanding of their relative superiority, according to both rasa and siddhānta. The word for clever (vaidagdhya used here is particularly associated with the concept of rasa.
by following the sequence of Krishna's activities.
According to one's own personal enthusiasm for them,
let any one of them be venerated by any devotee.
Krishna, like a cook, achieves the fulfillment of rasa
for the pleasure of the rasikas
by following the proper sequence.
One who follows this sequence
and attains fulfillment on arriving at the end,
shows by attaining supreme success
just how clever he is.(5)
For all the importance placed on the word rasa in the above verses, Jiva's predilection for siddhānta, even the siddhānta of rasa, rather than rasa itself is nevertheless apparent throughout GC. In the discussion that follows, an attempt is made to delineate not only the salient conclusions of the KṛṣṇaS that form the backbone of GC (many of which are explicitly stated in GC itself), but also those found in the works of Rupa Goswami and Jiva's commentaries upon them. Indeed the latter discussion is perhaps of greater importance, for it is in these works that Jiva has defended his vision of Krishna on the basis of Rupa's conceptions and identified his views with those of his spiritual master.
(2) BRS i.2.59:
siddhāntatas tv abhedo'pi śrīśa-kṛṣṇa-svarupayoḥ
rasenotkṛṣyate kṛṣṇah rūpa eṣa rasa-sthitiḥ
(3) BhP i.1.3;
nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalam
pibata bhāgavatam rasam ālayam
muhur aho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ
(4) GC ii.1.7;
gīr-devīm anuyāmaḥ sakala-śruti-sāra-bhāgavata-rūpam
yad-rasa-siddhāntābhyāṁ navam api kāvyam pramāṇatāṁ yāti
(5) GC ii.37v151-2;
līlānāṁ rasa-purtir mayakādarśi kramād atra
sva-sva-grahatas tāsām kācana kenāpy upāsyantām nāma
rasika-jana-sukhārthaṁ sādhayāmāsa śaśvat
kramam anu rasa-pūrtiṁ sudavat kṛṣṇa-candraḥ
kramam anurasayan yaḥ pūrtim āpnoti pūrtyāṁ
saphalam iha param syāt tat tu vaidagdhyam asya
1.3 Presuppositions from KṛṣṇaS: aiśvarya and mādhurya
In the first 105 paragraphs of KṛṣṇaS, Jiva argues (on the basis of BhP i.3.28; KṛṣṇaS 28) that the "historical" Krishna, generally considered to be an avatāra of Narayan, is in fact svayaṁ bhagavān, ergo, the fountainhead of the numerous different types of avatāra: the līlāvatāra, puruṣāvatāra (which includes the vyuhas Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha), guṇāvatāra (i.e. Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu), manvantarāvatāra and yugāvatāras. This preliminary portion of KṛṣṇaS has little or no relevance for the GC other than as a general theological a priori for the narration of the events of Krishna's life.
Krishna's divinity (his aiśvarya), though undoubtedly basic to any understanding of him, is secondary to other aspects of his character as the supreme truth (i.e. his mādhurya). The relation of Krishna's "god-ness" to his "sweetness" or "human-ness", to use Jiva's own example, is that of the Saraswati to the Ganges at Triveni: it cannot be seen but its currents are known to flow there outside the range of vision.(6) Put another way, Krishna's mādhurya makes loving intimacy with him possible, but this great prize would have no meaning without his aiśvarya, for he would then be reduced to mere humanity. Nevertheless, it is matters related to Krishna's mādhurya, because of their greater potential for the emotional response or rasa, that are rather more important to the Gaudiya Vaishnavas in general, and this concern is reflected in GC.
Krishna's mādhurya is expressed primarily in his human-like relationship to his devotees, his parents, his friends and his lovers. The various ambiguities in these relations that appear in BhP are brought into the open and clarified in the latter portion of KṛṣṇaS. Jiva's main preoccupation there is to reconcile Krishna's supreme godhead, expressed not by a surfeit of aiśvarya, but of mādhurya, with his de facto treatment of his devotees as described in the authoritative scriptures, in particular BhP. To do this, he must also reconcile Krishna's activities as avatāra with his eternal activities or nitya-līlā in Goloka, his heaven.
To this end, then, once Jiva has identified Krishna as bhagavān, the supreme form of the personal godhead, full of six glories, he goes on to establish the scriptural basis for the existence of a suitable abode for him (paras. 105-116).
This abode, alluded to in a BhP passage (x.28.13-8) where Krishna gives Nanda and the cowherds a vision of their "ultimate destination",(7) is further described according to verses from BrS, HV, and other puranic and tantric sources. This eternal abode has manifestations in the earthly dimension, appearing there at the time of Krishna's avatāra in the same way that he does. Though Jiva accepts that Dvaraka and Mathura are eternal places of Krishna's residence, his main preoccupation is with Vrindavan where Krishna in his most human (two-armed, never four-armed) form abides. The original presentation of much of the material found in GC i.1, i.e. the nature of the realm of Goloka, including even a description of its topography,(8) is given in this portion of KṛṣṇaS.
Jiva next asserts (117-45) that the residents of Vrndavana, Mathura and Dvaraka are all Krishna's companions, similarly eternally associated with him in his realm. He compares Nanda and Yasoda to Krishna's "natural" parents in Mathura, Vasudeva and Devaki, on the basis of remarks made about each of them in BhP (146-52). Nanda and Yasoda are deemed to have a greater claim to be Krishna's parents than Vasudeva and Devaki, traditionally his "real parents," even though parenthood in a real physical sense is denied in BhP (x.2.18). After all, Krishna appeared to the latter in a four-armed form at his birth, showing the extent to which they were conscious of his aiśvarya, while the former only knew him in his mādhurya.(9)
In keeping with this siddhānta, Jiva narrates a complex tale in GC that places Krishna first in the womb of Yasoda before he is magically transferred to Mathura to merge with the Vasudeva form born to Devaki. This continued separation of the Krishna of the cowherds from that of the Yadavas is the essential theological guideline Jiva follows in his conceptualization of the Krishna story, and the GC is in effect a rewriting of BhP from this point of view.
Throughout the book, Jiva minimizes the relations with the residents of Dvaraka, except to point out their negative side.(10) Krishna says to Uddhava that the Vrajavasis are to the Yadavas as an object to its reflections: when Krishna was with the former, he was never reminded of their counterparts in Dvaraka; whereas when with the latter, he was constantly is reminded of the loving relations he enjoyed with the Vrajavasins.(11)
Madhurya, though existing in certain aspects of Krishna's life in Dvaraka such as his private relations with his queens (e.g., the banter Krishna enjoys with Rukmini -- BhP x.60) are completely dropped from GC as irrelevant to the concerns of the residents of Vraja.
Jiva's interest in Krishna and his life ends as soon as he returns to Vraja, two months after which he once again divides himself into two forms. In his cowherd form he ascends to Goloka, while in another form he returns to Dvaraka(12) to participate in the battle of Kurukshetra and speak the Bhagavad Gita, etc. These latter activities thus have no place in GC.
Interestingly enough, Jiva does note that Krishna lays down his arms after killing Dantavakra and Viduratha just prior to entering Vraja, an untold event of relevance to the events of MBh.(13)
6. PritiS 112.
7. This vision is described in GC i.20.36-46. The dhama is described in detail in GC i.1 and ii.37.
8. See Jan Brzezinski, “Goloka Vrndavana: A translation of Jiva Gosvamin's Gopāla-campū (Chapter One),” Journal of Vaisnava Studies, 1,1. Fall, 1992. p.98.
9. These matters are discussed in GC i.3.82ff.
10. Cf. Krishna's criticism of Yadava marriage customs (i.33.138), the behavior of the Yadavas in the Syamantaka affair (i.33v55-6, ii.17.17 etc.) and at the time of the Krishna's going to abduct Rukmini (ii.13.26).
11. GC ii.10v13;
manye gokula-sambhavam pitṛ-mukham premāvalambaṁ janam
bimbam tat-pratibimbam eva pura-janam yatrānubhūtiḥ pramā
purvasminn anubhūtatām anu gate nāntyaḥ kva ca smaryate
paścad-bhāvini yatavaty anubhavam pūrvam sarīsmaryate
12. PadP vi.279.15-6 states that Krishna spent two months in Vraja before sending the Nanda and the other men with their sons and wives (nandādayaḥ putra-dara-sahitāḥ) to Vaikuntha and returning to Dvaraka. Jiva interprets the word "sons" to refer to Krishna, since Nanda is not known to have had any other children. He further says that Krishna went to Dvaraka in another form appropriate to that place (ekena prakāśena ca dvāravatīṁ ca jagāmeti. KṛṣṇaS 175, p.93. Also GC ii.29.103: putra-dāra-sahitā iti pūrva-sūcita-tat-putratocita-rūpeṇātra sthitir eva yadupura-samucita-rupeṇa tu dvāravatī-praveśa iti sarvaṁ sa-deśa-rūpam.
13. GC ii.30.12; itaḥ paraṁ svīyam astraṁ na prayuñjīya kvacid apīti sañcakḷpe.