New Publication: Tattva-dīpikā by Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa

tattva-dipikaFor the first time, the 18th Century manuscript Tattva-dīpikā (Light on the Truth) of Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇahas now been published by Jiva Institute. This edition includes the Sanskrit text followed by a lucid English translation by Dr. Demian Martin and extensive notes.

The following is a part of the introduction by Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa:

The Tattva-dīpikā of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa is another book in the doxographical genre written by a Vaiṣṇava. Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa was a distinguished ācārya and scholar in the Gauḍīya school of Vaiṣṇavism. He was a prolific writer and wrote many commentaries on original scriptures like Bhagavad-gītā, Upaniṣads, Śrīmad-Bhāgavata Purāṇa, as well as on the works of previous Gauḍīya ācāryas, such as the Sandarbhas of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī. He also wrote independent works like Siddhānta-ratna, Prameya-ratnāvalī, Kāvya-kaustubha and Siddhānta-darpaṇa. However, he is specifically remembered and honoured for his Govinda-bhāṣya on Vedānta-sūtra.

The immediate followers of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu did not write any commentary on Vedānta-sūtra but primarily wrote commentaries and independent works based upon Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which they accepted as the explanation of the sūtras written by the author of the sūtras himself. Because of this lacuna, a controversy arose in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and the Gauḍīya school was challenged in the king’s court to produce its bhāṣya on Vedānta-sūtra to prove its authenticity. Were it not able to do so, the sect would not be recognized as a legitimate Vedāntic sampradāya and would be barred from serving the deities of Śrī Śrī Rādhā Govindadeva housed in the royal palace. Since Govindadeva was the deity of Rūpa Gosvāmī, one of the leading authorities and inspirations of the school, this was a major crisis for the Gauḍīyas. Śrī Baladeva took up the challenge and produced Govinda-bhāṣya in a very short span of time. According to him, the bhāṣya was produced on the order and by the grace of the Deity Himself. That is why he named it Govinda-bhāṣya.

Tattva-dīpikā is another unique work by this esteemed scholar. Most likely taking his cue from Mādhavācarya’s Sarva-darśana-saṅgraha, the author attempts to establish the acintya-bhedābheda-vāda of Śrī Caitanya as the best school of darśana, taking all other systems as its pūrva-pakṣa.

While commenting on Tattva-sandarbha (Anuccheda 1) of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa writes, “Out of lethargy people will not read an elaborate commentary, therefore I am only writing briefly on this esoteric composition.”

He has truly followed this same principle of brevity while writing Tattva-dīpikā, even more so than in his Tattva-sandarbha commentary. Tattva-dīpikā is extremely terse, and that is probably the reason that it never became popular even among Gauḍīya followers. Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas are more inclined to engage in nāma-kīrtana, nāma-japa, līlā-smaraṇa and vigraha-sevā than the study of philosophical texts, especially those of outside schools. Thus it is no surprise that a work like Tattva-dīpikā remained unknown. Its lack of expansiveness might also have prevented it from achieving widespread circulation.

Summary of Tattva-dīpikā

The author begins by dividing all the schools of darśanas into the two basic groups of non-believers (nāstikas) and believers (āstikas). Those who do not accept the authority of the Vedas and God are the non-believers, and those who accept are the believers. Interestingly, Śrī Baladeva lumps even the believers who disagree with Vedavyāsa with the non-believers. The reason for this is that if they do not accept the conclusion of the Vedas and propagate the theories spun in their own minds, their acceptance of Veda is nothing more than lip-service. It cannot, therefore, bring the ultimate welfare described in the Vedānta. Thus the author refutes their conclusions for the benefit of a serious spiritualist. Unless one is free of all doubts and very clear about the process, sādhana, one will not be inclined to follow it wholeheartedly. The specialty of Tattva-dīpikā is that it gives the principle of a school and its refutation simultaneously, whereas in the case of Sarva-darśana-saṅgraha, the refutation only comes later when the next school is described.

Usually three schools are given as those of the non-believers, viz., Cārvāka, Buddhism and Jainism. Generally such compendia begin with Cārvāka, since this is the most materialistic philosophy. Śrī Baladeva, however, is an exception and puts Cārvāka third in the list, perhaps because none of its works are available and there were no real adherents of it during his time. He thus only mentions it later in the context of describing the soul.

Baladeva begins his work with Buddhism. He describes its five-skandha theory and the principle of four types of atoms that constitute the external world. He refutes these ideas by arguing that atoms themselves cannot combine to create the world. They need a sentient agent. However, Buddhism does not accept God as the agent behind creation. If it is argued that the Buddha is the creator, then that is also not possible because he has no purpose in creating. Moreover, in Buddhism the soul is not an eternal entity but only a transient, momentary consciousness. The soul of the Buddha is no exception to this principle. Thus it is not possible for him to create. The author also invokes the standard argument of cause-effect relation used against Buddhism. He refers to the famous four-fold reflections or bhāvanās of Buddhism, namely svalakṣaṇa-bhāvanā, kṣanika-bhāvanā, duḥkha-bhāvanā and śūnya-bhāvanā. To refute these, he refers to Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. This seems a bit odd since the Buddhist scholars do not accept the authority of the Vedas.

So refuting them on the authority of the Veda cannot be expected to make a convincing argument to the Buddhists. However, as said in the beginning of the book, the primary intention of the author is not to refute the Buddhists or other opponents but to instil faith in the adherents of Vedic knowledge so that they do not become fascinated by the non-Vedic schools. The author proves that without the acceptance of a permanent soul, distinct from the mind-body complex, the idea of getting rid of suffering is futile.

With this he introduces the Jain school, which does accept a permanent self in the body. He specifically refers to two of its principles, namely, the size of one’s soul being that of one’s physical body, and the seven-fold predication known as sapta-bhaṅgī-nyāya. He refutes them both by logical arguments and the practical difficulty in accepting these principles.

Next, he introduces the Cārvāka school, but not as superior to the Jain. Rather by analogy, he seems to put Cārvāka in the same category as the Jains. Mysteriously, he does not hint at why Cārvāka is third in his list. He uses very harsh words for the Cārvākas, such as calling them mūrkha (foolish). As is seen in Yamunācārya’s Siddhi-trayam, he makes further divisions in the Cārvāka school and refutes them all.

After this, he briefly introduces the Mādhyamika school of Buddhism, which holds the view that the ultimate truth is the Void, śūnya. Śrī Baladeva says that the Void cannot be said to exist or not exist. If the first of these is accepted, then it goes against the very definition of voidism, and if the second is accepted, then it cannot be the goal of one’s spiritual practice. No existent being aims for a non-existent object.

With this he introduces the first Vedic system, the school of Vaiśeṣika. After speaking about the seven categories of this system he talks about the sixteen padārthas of the Nyāya school (usually referred to as a connected or complementary system of thought), and the process of liberation propounded by it. He also describes the four means of attaining valid knowledge accepted by the Nyāya school. He mentions an interesting argument given by the Nyāya school to distinguish the soul from the body. Anything that is made up of material parts is meant for other and does not exist for itself, for example, a table or a chair. The body is made up of parts, but the soul is indivisible. Thus the body is meant for the soul. The enjoyer is different from the enjoyed, hence the soul is distinct from the body. This also proves the eternality of the soul because an object without parts cannot be destroyed.

Our author agrees with the Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, and Prabhākara Mīmāṁsā schools that the soul is eternal and distinct from the material body it occupies, but these schools believe that the soul is all-pervading (vibhu), which is not acceptable. Śrī Baladeva takes resort to Upaniṣad statements as well as to Vedānta-sūtra to refute the idea of the soul being all-pervading, and establishes that it is atomic in size. He also points out that whenever the ātmā is stated to be vibhu in the scriptures, the reference is to the Immanent Being, Paramātmā, and not to the individual self. Moreover, the above-mentioned schools aim only at cessation of suffering but not on attaining happiness. In fact, the Nyāya school counts happiness as one of the twenty-one types of suffering. Suffering, even if removed, can reappear. Śrī Baladeva also refutes the atomic theory of creation propounded by the Vaiśeṣika school.

The next school discussed is Sāṁkhya, which accepts two basic principles of Prakṛti and Puruṣa, matter and consciousness, both of which are eternal. Prakṛti further evolves twenty-three elements when animated by the conscious principle, Puruṣa. Along with this Baladeva also introduces the Yoga school of Patañjali, which is based on the system provided by Sāṁkhya. Śrī Baladeva refutes both these schools with the argument that the combination of Prakṛti and Puruṣa is not possible because of their opposing natures, the soul being conscious and Prakṛti inert. Therefore, the famous analogy of Prakṛti being a blind woman and Puruṣa a lame man is not applicable.

The author here makes a brilliant argument against the popular principle of satkārya-vāda accepted by these two schools. According to satkārya-vāda, nothing is really created or destroyed. The cause and effect exist simultaneously. Effect is nothing but the cause revealed, and cause is nothing but the effect concealed. If this theory is accepted, then suffering could never come to end, but would always exist in some form or the other. Thus there is no possibility of liberation. On the other hand, however, if liberation is a transformation of suffering, then there is no difference between the two and liberation cannot be the goal of life.

Next, the author describes three different denominations of the Mīmāṁsā school. This includes the Aikabhavika, Prabhākara, and Kumārila Bhaṭṭa schools. Aikabhavika is not a well-known system. It is mentioned in the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya on Brahma-sūtra 3.1.8. Thus it is a bit of a mystery why Śrī Baladeva bothered mentioning and refuting it in such a concise work. Since the Mīmāṁsakas base their systems exclusively on the karma-kāṇḍa part of the Vedas, he refutes them by using the Upaniṣadic statements.

This is followed by a refutation of the Bhedābheda school of Bhāskara. According to this school, the soul is different (bheda) from Brahman in its conditioned state but merges into Brahman at the time of liberation. One must note that the Bhedābheda of Bhāskara is radically different from the Acintya-bhedābheda of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, which holds that the soul continues to maintain its individuality even in the liberated state. Śrī Baladeva stresses the ontological identity of the soul in both its conditioned as well as liberated states. This is the basis of bhakti.

Śrī Baladeva also briefly mentions the Pāśupata and Hiraṇyagarbha schools. It would have been helpful for the reader if he had shed a little more light on these two systems. However, he appeared to be more interested in focusing on Advaita-vāda, which he considers as his main opponent and expends maximum effort in its refutation. First he gives the basic principles of the two primary divisions of Advaita Vedānta, namely Pariccheda-vāda and Pratibimba-vāda. The primary defect of these schools is their misinterpretation of śruti statements and accepting imaginary concepts such as the absolute oneness of the ātmā and Brahman. Śrī Baladeva begins by refuting the desire for liberation in this system by logical arguments. Then with trenchant logic he severely attacks the identity between jīva and Brahman as propounded by both Pariccheda-vāda as well as Pratibimba-vāda. He goes on to scrutinize their concepts of the falsity of the world, and the validity of the very concept of monism. He has very beautifully and briefly culled his arguments, which need a lot of deliberation to grasp them. It is indeed a pleasure for Vaiṣṇavas to study all of these arguments in one place.

Having briefly described the basic principles of various schools and shown their incompleteness or imperfections, Baladeva moves on to discuss the true intent of the scriptures as presented by Bādarāyaṇa in Vedānta-sūtra. According to Vedānta, he writes that there are three ontological categories, namely, Īśvara (God), jīva (individual living being) and māyā. Māyā is a real energy of God and consists of three guṇas called sattva, rajas and tamas. Īśvara, jīva and māyā are all eternal, the last two being under the control of God. Thus it is only the jīva who is influenced by māyā, and never God. Śrī Baladeva gives numerous citations to prove these points. The important thing to be noted here is that these references do not need any interpretation, unlike Advaita Vedānta, where it is necessary to resort to tricks like bhāga-tyāga-lakṣaṇā to prove the identity of jīva and Brahman. The distinction between jīva and Īśvara continues even in the liberated state. This uproots the basic inspiration of Advaita Vedānta, which considers both jīva and Īśvara to be products of māyā. It also defies the theory of the Bhedābheda school of Bhāskara, which says that the difference between jīva and Brahman exists only in the conditioned state. The author also gives the true purport of the śruti statements that seem to indicate absolute oneness between the jīva and Brahman. The oneness mentioned in these statements informs us of the similarity of the two, both being inherently conscious. The statements that proclaim that there is only one Reality, Brahman (e.g., Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad 2.65) should not be taken literally. They mean that there is nothing superior or equal to Brahman.

The author gives a unique interpretation of the famous mahāvākya, tat tvam asi – “You are That.” It means that God is the supreme object of love, just as one loves one’s own self. Thus this mahāvākya teaches union or oneness in love and not ontological oneness. He further elaborates on this theme of love. He concludes that love for the Supreme, and not liberation is the ultimate goal of human life, puruṣārtha. This is the novel contribution of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu to Indian philosophy and Śrī Baladeva brings it out very crisply.

The author cites and comments on five verses of the Gītā (15.16-20), which show that the above conclusions are taught by Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa Himself to Arjuna. He raises arguments against the principles of distinction between jīva and Brahman and then refutes them. The author makes the point that by the grace of God one gets a spiritual form at the time of liberation and lives eternally with God in His abode. Then one is never subjected to the law of karma and thus never has to take another material birth. He supports his conclusions with copious citations from varied scriptures.

The conclusions of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa can be summarized as follows:

1. There are three fundamental categories of Reality, namely Īśvara, jīva and māyā.
2. All three are eternal.
3. Īśvara controls both jīva as well as māyā.
4. Īśvara is never influenced by māyā.
5. The bondage of jīva has no beginning.
6. A jīva can never become Īśvara or Brahman.
7. Only by surrendering to Īśvara can a jīva become free from the bondage of māyā.
8. At the time of liberation, the liberated jīva is granted a spiritual form suitable to serve God in His abode eternally.
9. Love of God is the highest human pursuit.
10. The jīvas and māyā, being part or energy of God, are simultaneously different and non-different from God. Such a relation is trans-rational, acintya. It can only be ascertained from the scriptures. This is called acintya-bhedābheda-vāda.

About this translation

Until now this book has remained hidden from the eyes of scholars as well as the general public. Hardly anyone even knew of its existence. There is no mention of it in the popular lists of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s works. Dr. Demian Martins, who has been tirelessly working singlehandedly in search of various manuscripts of the works of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa while travelling to different parts of India, came across a rare manuscript of Tattva-dīpikā. He was more than thrilled by the discovery and took upon it himself to bring the book to light. He has a done a great service to the whole Gauḍīya school and to scholars in general. For the benefit of English speaking readers he worked hard to translate the book into English. There was only a single manuscript rife with scribal lapses and the translator had to struggle to make sense of them. Thus he occasionally has had to make assumptions based on the context and make corrections in the reading. Moreover, the writing of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa is very terse. He assumes a lot while making an argument. Consequently, it was no easy task to grasp the author’s view and translate it into comprehensible English. On the whole the translation is very close to the original, with just some words being added for the sake of clarity.

Additionally, to help the reader to grasp the line of thinking of the author, Dr. Martins has added apt titles and subtitles which are missing in the original work. He has also given copious footnotes. I hope that in the future he will also write a lucid commentary on this work to enlighten the interested reader. This being the first edition of this work in English, it will certainly elicit the interest of scholars, and I hope that they will appreciate his sincere effort. He deserves praise and encouragement for this wonderful service to the scholarly world, and especially to the Gauḍīya Sampradāya.