Starting work on Bhakti Sandarbha: Entering the first anuccheda

As anyone following me will know, I am working as part of a team with Satya Narayana Das Babaji of the Jiva Institute in his great project of making an authoritative and comprehensive translations of the Bhāgavata Sandarbha or "Six Sandarbhas," Jiva Goswami's principal contribution to the world of Indian philosophy and theology. The first three volumes have been published and my work on the Krishna Sandarbha has been completed, and so I am now turning my attention to the fifth book, Bhakti Sandarbha.

The first four deal with sambandha, the fifth with abhidheya and the sixth with prayojana. The first anuccheda, or section, (of which there are 382) is introductory in nature and serves to act as a bridge between what has gone before and the subject of this book, which is the abhidheya.

The word abhidheya is an interesting one in itself and seems to have acquired its technical meaning in the context of the anubandha-catuṣṭaya, or four things that an author sets out to clarify before starting a book, where it is the equivalent of the viṣaya or subject of the treatise. In Sri Jiva’s case, he is establishing the meaning of the Bhāgavatam. In this context abhidheya means that which is intended purpose of a text. Since the purpose of a text is to get you to do something, to undertake a particular instruction, the word abhidheya becomes, for most Gaudiya Vaishnavas, bhakti itself.

What this means is that any knowledge, i.e, that of a certain set of conditions or relations (sambandha) implies an action, and any action has a purpose to fulfill (prayojana). But the important thing, as it was for Arjuna at the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, is “What do I do?” That is what we need to know.

The first thing Jiva does is to summarize the first four books, i.e, sambandha-tattva, in one very dense sentence.

अत्र पूर्वं सन्दर्भचतुष्टयेन सम्बन्धो व्याख्यातः । तत्र पूर्णसनातनपरमानन्दलक्षणपरतत्त्वरूपं सम्बन्धि च ब्रह्म परमात्मा भगवान् इति त्रिधाविर्भावतया शब्दितमिति निरूपितम् । तत्र च भगवत्त्वेनैवाविर्भावस्य परमोत्कर्षः प्रतिपादितः । प्रसङ्गेन विष्ण्वाद्याश्चतुःसनाद्याश्च तदवतारा दर्शिताः । स च भगवान् स्वयं श्रीकृष्ण एवेति निर्धारितम् ।

"The first four books taught the sambandha, which is the Supreme Truth -- characterized as complete, eternal, and the highest bliss. This Supreme Truth is known by its three nomenclatures, which are a result of its three manifestations as Brahma, Paramatma and Bhagavan. Of these, it was established that the manifestation as Bhagavan is superior to the three others. In the course of explaining this His avataras like Vishnu and the four Kumaras were also shown. And also it was ascertained that Shri Krishna is the Self-form of Bhagavan."

Next, he summarizes the position of the jiva, which was one of the topics discussed in Paramatma Sandarbha--

परमात्मवैभवगणने च तटस्थशक्तिरूपाणां चिदेकरसानामपि अनादिपरतत्त्वज्ञानसंसर्गाभावमयतद्वैमुख्य-लब्धच्छिद्रया तन्माययावृतस्वरूपज्ञानानां तयैव सत्त्वरजस्तमोमये जडे प्रधाने रचितात्मभावानां जीवानां संसारदुःखं च ज्ञापितम् ।
"When enumerating the various energies or opulences of the Supersoul, it was told that the jivas, who are His marginal potency and are in reality pure consciousness, experience the misery of material existence because of His illusory energy which covers their knowledge of their true nature and makes them identify with this unconscious material world composed of the three qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance. This is possible because she is able to find the defect of the jiva in his beginningless lack of any connection to knowledge of the Supreme Truth."

Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji notes here: “ The exact word used here for ignorance is saṁsarga-abhāva. This is a term used in the Vaiśeṣika school of philosophy. Saṁsargābhāva is of three types: prāg-abhāva, pradhvaṁsa-abhāva and atyanta-abhāva. The type of ignorance referred to here is prāg-abhāva, or “pre-nonexistence.” This refers to the absence of an object before it is acquired or produced. It implies that the absence had no beginning but comes to an end once the object is acquired or produced. In the present context prāg-abhāva refers to an absence of knowledge of the Absolute Reality. It means that this ignorance, although beginningless, will come to an end when a particular living entity attains knowledge of the Absolute Reality.”

So right away, the question of the jiva’s having once been in Goloka, as it is often framed, is settled. No, the jiva never had knowledge of the Supreme Truth, and due to that he became susceptible to the influence of Maya, which has the dual function of covering his knowledge of his own nature and to make him identify with the material energy. These are generally called āvaraṇa and vikṣepa.

Now here he quotes a verse from the Eleventh Canto, which is thus the first quoted verse of the book, but not the principal verse of the anuccheda. I may already have mentioned that each section will have one verse from the Bhagavatam as its principal pramāṇa. So this verse is not the principal verse, but is meant simply as a summary statement of what he has just said and also to serve the function of taking us into the subject of abhidheya, “What is to be done?”

आत्मापरिज्ञानमयो विवादो ह्यस्तीति नास्तीति भिदात्मनिष्ठः।
व्यर्थोऽपि नैवोपरमेत पुंसां मत्तः परावृत्तधियां स्वलोकात्॥ इति।

This verse is not overly difficult, though it has a few problems for the translator. Let’s take it word for word and see what happens.

ātmāparijñāna-mayo vivādo
hy astīti nāstīti bhidārtha-niṣṭhaḥ

I read this as astīti nāstīti bhidārtha-niṣṭho vivādo hi ātmāparijñāna-mayaḥ. “‘It is’ ‘It is not’: this controversy fixated in the sense of difference is full of ignorance of the Self.” That is my bare-bones translation.” This is also the way that Shridhar Swami reads it.

Madhva has a bit of a different take. He reads the first part as ātmā parijñāna-mayaḥ, i.e., “the Self is composed of complete knowledge.” The rest is then another sentence. Here again he reads bhidā as an instrument meaning “topsy-turvy” (viparyayena) “Arguments as to whether it is or is not always end up with a meaning that is topsy turvy, i.e. “What is is said to not be, what is not is said to be.”

The second half :
vyartho ‘pi naivoparameta puṁsāṁ
mattaḥ parāvṛtta-dhiyāṁ svalokāt
“Even though serving no purpose, it will never come to an end for those human beings whose minds are turned away from Me, who am their own abode.”

This is Babaji’s translation as it now stands: “The controversy over whether the Self as distinguished from the universe exists or not is the result of not knowing the ätmä or the Supreme. Although it is useless, it does not cease in the case of men whose mind is turned away from Me, their real Self.” (11.22.34)

He has obviously borrowed from the Gita Press [all the more reason to revise it]: “The controversy over whether the Self as distinguished from the body exists or not is the result of not realizing the Self. Though meaningless, it does not cease in the case of men whose mind is turned away from Me, their real Self.”

BBT: The speculative argument of philosophers — “This world is real,” “No, it is not real” — is based upon incomplete knowledge of the Supreme Soul and is simply aimed at understanding material dualities. Although such argument is useless, persons who have turned their attention away from Me, their own true Self, are unable to give it up.

The BBT translation is following Vishwanath. Well, I am still at some distance from understanding exactly what is going on with this “is, is not” controversy. For that I need to understand the context better. Indeed, Vishwanath reads the previous verse together with this one, and it is clear that we need a larger overview. So this is where I leave off my thinking out loud for the moment. Jai Radhe.


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