Part five of an overview of the Sat Sandarbha of Srila Jiva Gosvami

Lord Sri Krishna

IN THE FIRST THREE of his Sandarbhas (treatises), Srila Jiva Gosvami discussed the supremacy of Bhagavan, the Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan is superior to both the Brahman (impersonal) and Paramatma (Supersoul) features of the Absolute Truth.

Now, in the Krsna Sandarbha, he says we must decide the identity of Bhagavan, or rather the identity of Svayam Bhagavan, the original form of the Personality of Godhead. Why? Because there are many incarnations of the Lord but we must know which one is the original form of the Lord. The answer, he says, must be decided by careful analysis, and that is the subject of the Krsna Sandarbha.

Before the advent of Lord Caitanya, Lord Sri Krsna was not widely accepted as Svayam Bhagavan, only as one among many incarnations. His personal abode, therefore, along with His eternal associates and their eternal pastimes together, were not accepted.

Various statements in the scriptures imply that Krsna is not the original form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For example, somewhere it is stated that Krsna is a plenary expansion from Narayana, elsewhere that He is an incarnation of Maha-Visnu, and elsewhere an incarnation of the hair of Ksirodakasayi Visnu. Still elsewhere He is said to be an incarnation of Garbhodakasayi Visnu, of Vamana, or of Lord Rama. There are many other statements in this vein. This Sandarbha puts such statements in proper perspective. In fact, here in the Krsna Sandarbha Srila Jiva Gosvami displays his brilliant scholarship more than in any other book.

In the first chapter of the Bhagavatam the assembled sages put six questions to Suta Gosvami. One of them was this: "Please, O intelligent sage, tell us about the auspicious incarnations of the Lord." That request is answered in the third chapter, where the incarnations are listed. Only the chief ones are listed, however, because the Lord's incarnations are unlimited. Just as rivers flow from an unlimited source of water, unlimited incarnations appear in the world, one after another. To list them all is impossible. So the third chapter lists only twenty-two.

The Essential Verse

Following the list of incarnations, one of the most important verses of Srimad-Bhagavatam appears:

ete camsa-kalah pumsah
krsnas tu bhagavan svayam
indrari-vyakulam lokam
mrdayanti yuge yuge

This verse forms the basis of Sri Krsna Sandarbha. The verse says, "These incarnations are portions or portions of portions of the opulence of the Lord's purusa incarnations, but Krsna is the original Personality of Godhead. The incarnations descend in every age to please the devotees by removing the demons who trouble Indra."

Jiva Gosvami says that this is the key verse because it mentions the original Personality of Godhead (Svayam Bhagavan). Indeed, it states categorically that Krsna is that original Personality of Godhead. There are several verses in Bhagavatam about Krsna, but none are so definitive and clear. So he calls this verse the emperor verse, because it can defeat all others. He therefore analyzes this verse in great detail, word by word.

Ete, he says, means "these." Ca means "and," and it signifies "others." So ete ca refers to the twenty-two incarnations listed, and before Them the purusa avataras (the three forms by which Visnu oversees the Creation). It also includes the unlimited other incarnations not listed. Although these others are not directly mentioned, they are implied in the Sanskrit by the word ca.

The word amsa means "section" or "portion." It applies to expansions and expansions of expansions. The word kala means "opulence." The word pumsa means "person," and Srila Jiva Gosvami says that it is a synonym for purusa. So the verse states that all the unlimited incarnations come from the purusa avataras.

One of the six standard methods of analyzing a text is to see whether the opening statements and the concluding statements confirm each other. In this chapter of the Bhagavatam the opening statement refers to the purusa incarnation of the Lord (bhagavan), and the concluding statement is this ete camsa verse. So Sri Jiva says that if we study the first verse of the chapter and the first two lines of the concluding verse, we shall find that the two words purusa and bhagavan are used in both (pumsaand purusa being synonymous). Both verses, then, state that all the incarnations come not directly from Krsna but from the purusa avataras. And Krsna is Svayam Bhagavan, the Personality of Godhead Himself.

Krsna: Incarnation or Source?

So now we may ask, who exactly is Krsna? Earlier, the twenty-third verse of the chapter states that Krsna and Balarama appeared in the Vrsni dynasty as the nineteenth and twentieth incarnations. Now the ete camsa verse states that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But if Krsna is an incarnation, how then are we to conclude that He is the original Personality of Godhead, the source of all incarnations?

In reply, Srila Jiva Gosvami refers to the Purva Mimamsa, which says that in logic a later statement is always to be taken as more powerful than a previous one. A simple example illustrates how this works: If you ask for a glass of water and then say, "No, actually I would like a glass of milk," it is clearly understood that you want milk, not water.

On this reasoning, therefore, the latter statement that Krsna is Svayam Bhagavan, the original Personality of Godhead is definitive and final.

To leave no room for doubt, Jiva Gosvami studies the point from yet another angle. Again he cites the Purva Mimamsa, which lists six criteria by which one can determine the most powerful statement. By these criteria, there is a type of statement, called asruti, that is independent and needs no elaboration or interpretation for the full meaning to be understood. Such a statement stands as the most powerful.

By this guideline, the statement krsnas tu bhagavan svayam is a sruti. It is an unambiguous declarative statement, absolute and categorical. It needs no interpretation and in fact is more powerful than the earlier mention of Krsna as one of twenty-two incarnations.

Another point to note is that in the list of incarnations the word bhagavan is used only for Balarama and Krsna; it is not used anywhere else in the list.

But bhagavan, as used in that verse, applies to both Krsna and Balarama, so someone may protest that this creates ambiguity. If you put a lamp on the threshold, it gives light both inside and outside. Similarly, in the list of incarnations the word bhagavangives its meaning to both Krsna and Balarama.

Jiva Gosvami says, "Yes, but that is all right, because technically Lord Balarama is also not an incarnation."

They why are Krsna and Balarama listed as incarnations? Vyasadeva could have listed twenty incarnations and then stated at the end that Krsna and Balarama are Bhagavan. Then things would have been clear. Srila Jiva Gosvami counters that Krsna and Balarama are listed because there is some similarity. Just as the other incarnations appear and seem to take birth and so on, so do Krsna and Balarama. That's why Vyasa listed Them as incarnations.

Krsna Stands Apart

As Srila Jiva Gosvami continues his word-by-word analysis, he comes to the word tu, which means "but." It is a pivotal word, for it signals the reader or listener that what is about to come is different from what came before. In this chapter the topic is incarnations, so by using tu the author signals that Krsna is not among the incarnations.

The word tu is also used to indicate the beginning of a definitive statement. According to the rules of Sanskrit, tu is used for those definitive statements classified as sruti, or the most powerful statements, described earlier. In effect, therefore, tu gives increased force to the categorical declaration that Krsna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Now Sri Jiva Gosvami explains that in the list of incarnations and in the ete camsa verse the word bhagavan has the same meaning. It conveys that, in reality, Krsna is not an incarnation. In fact He is not even the source of incarnations. He is the source of the source of incarnations.

As Srila Jiva Gosvami comes to the third line of the verse, he says that it is not to be linked with the second. In this four-line verse, the second line stands alone, because its theme completely differs from what appears in the other three. The use of the word tu serves to separate the second line from the rest of the verse. Since Krsna doesn't come for the sole purpose of ridding the universe of Indra's enemies, His coming is not like that of the other incarnations. Therefore the line about Him stands apart from the other three lines, which speak about incarnations.

Srila Jiva Gosvami makes a grammatical point to support this view. The word mrdayanti is plural, and Krsna is singular, so Krsna cannot be included in the plural usage of mrdayanti vyakulam. In Sanskrit the subject and verb must agree both in gender and in number. Here they do not match in number, so the verse makes sense only if krsnas tu bhagavan svayam is taken as separate.

The Sutra that Stands Supreme

These conclusions are lucid and powerful, but Srila Jiva Gosvami wants to churn the subject more. He says that there are still many places in the Bhagavatam where Krsna is not called Svayam Bhagavan. He refers to the statements that He is an incarnation of hair, an incarnation of Visnu, or some other incarnation. Altogether there are fifteen statements of this sort.

Jiva Gosvami asks, "Why don't I consider those fifteen statements right and the one under discussion mere glorification? Why not consider krsnas tu bhagavan svayam just praise of Krsna? After all, Krsna is the topic, and so He is glorified at first, so that people will have faith and listen to this Purana. But in reality Krsna is not Svayam Bhagavan. Therefore we should interpret this statement in the light of those statements which are many whereas this is only one."

Srila Jiva Gosvami answers this objection very nicely. First he asks, are these objections based on the Srimad-Bhagavatam or on other sources? He says, we shall consider both possibilities.

First he counters the conflicting statements from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In the first chapter the sages ask Suta Gosvami six questions, and in the second chapter Suta Gosvami answers the first four. In the third chapter, which lists the incarnations, he answers questions five and six. Up to this point, Srila Jiva Gosvami points out, no ambiguous statement about Krsna has been made. And then He is clearly said to be Svayam Bhagavan.

Now, after this there may be many places where Krsna clearly seems to be called something other than Svayam Bhagavan; but in the scriptures you always find that when a topic is to be explained there is first a sutra, a terse statement giving the gist of what is about to be presented. Then the body of the work expands upon it. This is the standard procedure.

By definition, a sutra must be short, compact, yet it must hold no ambiguity. It should be clear in meaning and cause no doubt. It must be a statement of essence, clear in form and without defects.

When all these criteria are applied to krsnas tu bhagavan svayam, it fits very well. It is a sutra.

What kind of sutra is it? When a topic is unknown and then a sutra makes it known, the sutra is called a paribhasa sutra. Up until this verse, nothing has been said about who is Svayam Bhagavan, but now Vyasa says, krsnas tu bhagavan svayam.This is a perfect paribhasa sutra.

paribhasa sutra is supposed to be universally applicable. It doesn't get repeated within the same text, because its universal application is understood. That's why Vyasadeva did not repeat the sutra that says that Krsna is Svayam Bhagavan.

Whenever the paribhasa sutra and any other statement are in conflict, we must accept the paribhasa as superior; the paribhasa statement is always supreme. In fact, Srila Jiva Gosvami says that if a statement doesn't agree with the paribhasa sutra we must either reject that statement or interpret it. The paribhasa is like a ruling king, whom all others have to obey. If they don't obey, then it is our duty to make them obey.

Ornaments to the Emperor

So far, Srila Jiva Gosvami has dealt with statements from Srimad-Bhagavatam that seem to contradict the emperor statement. Now he wants to show that the emperor statement supersedes statements from other sources, such as the Vedas, Puranas,and Upanisads.

Among all such sources, he says, he has already shown in the Tattva Sandarbha that Srimad-Bhagavatam is the highest. It is the spotless Purana. Therefore we should have no doubt that its authority is above all others. Further, the spotless Puranasays in the opening verse that here reality will be revealed. Any other source may present so many topics and conclusions, but we cannot be sure which are real and which aren't. Srimad-Bhagavatam, on the other hand, is free from defects, and it is the essence of all the Vedas, Puranas, and Itihasas. Therefore, this emperor statement from the Bhagavatam krsnas tu bhagavan svayam defeats all contenders.

Srila Jiva Gosvami expands on the emperor metaphor. When a king, he says, returns from a victorious campaign, the king goes on a victory parade, and everyone turns out to see him, even former rivals. People even come to see him who have no direct relationship with him but are there simply to attend the parade. In this way they honor and acknowledge the emperor's supremacy. They become like ornaments to him.

Similarly, the statement krsnas tu bhagavan svayam can defeat any rival. So now that the Bhagavatam has defeated all other contenders in all other texts, the emperor statement goes on a victory parade, and the presence of rival statements in the parade are like ornaments to the emperor.

Every Speaker, Every Word

To further support these conclusions, Srila Jiva Gosvami says, "Now I shall examine the statements of all the speakers in the Bhagavatam to determine exactly what their thinking is about Krsna." The conclusion of his review is that they actually want to speak about Krsna, accepting Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They compliment their questioners, "Your question is glorious because you have asked about Lord Krsna."

This means that all the various speakers have one desire, to speak about Krsna, and the audience wants to hear about Krsna as well. That's why the largest section of Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Tenth Canto, devotes ninety chapters to Krsna and no one else.

Next, Srila Jiva Gosvami considers the opening and the concluding verses of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. He conducts his analysis along the same careful lines as with the ete camsa verse. The opening and closing verses, he concludes, show that theBhagavatam is only about Krsna.

He then follows through by looking at every canto. Again he concludes that each canto simply speaks about Krsna. In this way, he says, if you go to each chapter or to each verse or even to each word, the conclusion is that Srimad-Bhagavatam speaks only about Krsna. Thus, krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: Krsna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Having established this, Srila Jiva Gosvami next sets out to establish the supremacy of Krsna in Vrndavana, with Srimati Radharani. He says he needs to do this because whenever you speak about Krsna as Svayam Bhagavan people automatically assume you refer to Krsna in His opulent and majestic feature, as in Dvaraka.

Srila Jiva Gosvami also discusses Krsna's abode, Sri Vrndavana, because some sects don't accept Vrndavana at all. They say Vrndavana is not mentioned by name anywhere in the scriptures. To counter this, he quotes from the Vedas, Upanisads, and other texts to show that Vrndavana is mentioned and that it is the highest of all abodes in the spiritual sky.

The Krsna Sandarbha deals in detail with various other topics Vrndavana, Krsna, the gopis, and Srimati Radharani. It speaks of the intricate distinctions between Krsna's pastimes manifest (prakata) and unmanifest (aprakata). It also glorifies thegopis' superexcellent love for Krsna. This topic will be treated at length in the last volume, Sri Priti Sandarbha.

Srila Jiva Gosvami concludes the Krsna Sandarbha with an analysis of the opening verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He shows how this verse mentions Radha and Krsna and Their relationship of madhurya rasa. Radha and Krsna are in reality the object of meditation. Here again Jiva Gosvami gives a word-by-word analysis and reveals the opening verse of the Bhagavatam to be nothing but a meditation on Radha and Krsna.

He says that the conjugal pastimes of Radha and Krsna are so sublime that even great sages, acaryas, and demigods are unable to understand them. Yet Vyasadeva wrote about these pastimes in the Bhagavatam to give us some glimpse of the highest stages of love of God.

Satya Narayana Dasa and Kundali Dasa are living in Vrndavana, India, working on a translation of the Sat Sandarbha.