Question: I’m currently exploring Bhaktivinod Thakur’s understanding of the nature of sastra. He seems to suggest that sastra (Veda) is an expression of the inherent knowledge of the jiva. Here is a fairly clear statement expressing this position (from ch. 3 of his Vaisnava-siddhanta-mala):
Q: How can one know the truth about the Lord (bhagavat-tattva)?
A: He can be known by the soul’s own self-manifest innate knowledge (svataḥ-siddha-jñāna).
Q: What is self-manifest knowledge (svataḥ-siddha-jñāna)?
A: There are two types of knowledge: (1) self-manifest, or svataḥ-siddha-jñāna and (2) that which depends on the senses, or indriya-paratantra-jñāna. Self-manifest knowledge is that which is inherently a feature of the pure soul’s original spiritual form, or svarūpa. It is eternal, just like all spiritual reality. This inherent self-manifest knowledge is called Veda or āmnāya. This pure knowledge, or svataù-siddha-jïäna, has appeared along with the conditioned soul in the material world in the form of the Vedas, namely the Ṛg-veda, Yajur-veda, Sāma-veda, and Atharva-veda. Ordinary people collect knowledge of various objects by the help of their material senses. This is called indriya-paratantra-jñāna.
Q: If Bhagavān is attained through the soul’s own self-manifested knowledge (svataḥ-siddha-jñāna), then what is the necessity of studying the Vedic scriptures?
A: It is true that the Veda is present in every pure spirit soul in the form of svataḥ-siddha-jñāna. However, that self-manifest Vedic knowledge awakens in the heart in proportion to the soul’s freedom from bondage. It is manifest completely in some, and present in a covered form within others. In order to make that svataḥ-siddha-jñāna available to everyone, the Vedas have appeared in this world.
Q: We have heard that Bhagavān is perceivable only through bhakti (devotional service). If this is true, then how can we say that He is perceivable by jñāna (svataḥ-siddha-jñāna)?
A: This svataḥ-siddha-jñāna is another name for devotion (bhakti). It is not different from devotion. Some refer to realization of the Absolute Truth as jñāna, while others call it bhakti.”
Question continued: As far as I understand this is something of a departure from what earlier Gaudiya authors taught regarding the nature of sastra. Are you able to provide some clarification about this view of Bhaktivinoda Thakur in relation to Jiva Gosvami’s philosophy.
My reply to the above query was as follows:
Answer: Śrī Jiva Gosvami is very clear that there is no knowledge of śāstra or Veda in the ātmā. In Paramātma Sandarbha 44, Bhakti Sandarbha 1, and Prīti Sandarbha 1, he clearly writes that there is no knowledge within ātmā.
The same topic was also discussed in another blog in which my name was mentioned, and I was requested to comment. I did not intend to get into this discussion for two reasons. One, it is not my interest trying to refute the understanding of other Vaiṣṇavas which does not match with my own understanding. I have my understanding which I received from the study of śāstra under the guidance of my guru, and I don’t need to impose it on anybody. I do not suffer from difference anxiety. But if someone is sincerely inquisitive and interested in studying from me, then I am also not inhibited about sharing my convictions. The second reason I avoid any such discussions on controversial issues is that they are very time consuming and are an interruption to my seva.
Even though I tried to avoid getting into this particular controversy, an anonymous writer kept pressing for an answer, claiming that I was trying to evade the discussion. Therefore I decided to take it up and reply to the comments of Anonymous.
My reply below contains two parts [which we will post in four installments]. In the first part, I present my understanding based on the works of previous ācaryas, primarily Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī. In the second part, I specifically answer to the comments by Anonymous.
In Paramātma Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has done a lengthy analysis of the constitutional position of the living being in sections 19 through 47. In Anuccheda 44, he cites verse 11.22.10 of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.
svato na sambhavād anyas
tattvajño jñānado bhavet
“Self-realization for the jīva, who is saddled with beginningless ignorance, is not possible by his own efforts. It is possible only if knowledge is imparted to him by another who knows the reality.”
In this verse, Kṛṣṇa tells Uddhava that knowledge about the Supreme comes from an external source, who is referred to here as tattvajña, the knower of the Absolute Reality. Jīva Gosvāmī comments that this “another” is none other than Īśvara. He also writes:
“The word jñānada (bestower of knowledge) here informs us that Bhagavān is distinct from both knowledge and the knower. Uddhava will similarly say further on [in the same chapter of the Bhāgavata], tvatto jñānaṁ hi jīvānāṁ pramoṣas te’tra śaktita. The jīvas’ knowledge verily comes from You, and it is stolen away by Your [māyā] potency. (SB 11.22.28)”
Knowledge of the Absolute also indicates knowledge of the Veda, because the essence of the Vedas is to know Kṛṣṇa (Gītā 15.15). The word used in SB 11.22.10 is jñānada, the giver of jñāna, or knowledge. It does not say that He makes the pre-existing knowledge in the ātmā manifest. Rather, the verse clearly says that the jīva is ignorant without beginning (anādi avidyā). This is further fortified by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī in section 47 of Paramātma Sandarbha, where he again says that the conditioned jīvas have beginningless indifference to Bhagavān, anādita eva bhagavat-parāṅmukha. In Bhakti Sandarba, Anuccheda 1, he clearly says that the conditioned jīva, who is conscious by nature, is devoid of knowledge of Bhagavān since a time which has no beginning – taṭastha-śakti-rūpāṇāṁ cideka-rasānām api anādi-para-tattva-jñāna-saṁsarga-abhāvamaya-tad-vaimukhya. He repeats the same point in Prīti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 1, taj-jñāna-saṁsarga-abhāva-yuktatvena. In these two references of Bhakti Sandarbha and Prīti Sandarbha, the compound word saṁsarga-abhāva refers to pre-absence (prāg-abhāva). Pre-absence is well-known to mean that which has no beginning but can come to an end. Thus, saṁsarga abhāva implies that a jīva has never had knowledge, but he can acquire it. This view is in line with what is spoken in 11.22.10 in which Kṛṣṇa says that a jīva has absence of knowledge without beginning, but that it can be brought to an end by another person who is jñānada and tattva-jña.
(to be continued)