Srila Jiva Goswami

Srila Jiva Goswami

SRILA PRABHUPADA considered the Sat Sandarbhas (Six Treatises) the most scholarly and exacting of all texts on the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. They put forward a rigorous analysis of Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this first installment of a seven-part series on the Sandarbhas, we shall give some background on the life of the author. Further, so that readers can better appreciate why the need arose for such an exacting work, we shall also give a sketch of the main philosophical systems of India.

Whoever hankers for a precise and flawless presentation of theology can find it in the Sandarbhas. In describing the transcendental abode of God and how its intricate affairs are conducted, the Sandarbhas go deeply into detail, leaving hardly a query or doubt left unanswered. No loose ends, no nettlesome inconsistencies. For the author, Sri Jiva Gosvami, leaves nothing to chance. Indeed, in the nearly five hundred years since the Sandarbhas were written, no one has attempted to refute them, and no one seems ready to try.

Jiva Gosvami was born in 1511 in the village of Ramakeli in Bengal. Anupama, his father, a sold-out pure devotee of Lord Ramacandra, passed away while Jiva was still young.

When Lord Caitanya visited Jiva's uncles, Rupa and Sanatana, Jiva was four or five years old. Later, when his uncles left Ramakeli for Vrndavana, Jiva went to Navadvipa, Bengal, where he met Lord Caitanya's associate Lord Nityananda. Jiva was only fourteen. Lord Nityananda took him on what became the first pilgrimage tour encircling Navadvipa. Afterwards the Lord sent Jiva to join his two uncles in Vrndavana.

On his way to Vrndavana Jiva went first to Benares, which was and still is one of the great seats of learning in India. Jiva became a student of Madhusudana Vacaspati, a renowned scholar in many branches of Vedic knowledge. This scholar is said to have been a disciple of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, whom Lord Caitanya had defeated and converted in Jagannatha Puri.

Under Madhusudana Vacaspati's tutelage Jiva Gosvami quickly mastered various Sanskrit grammars, the Vedas, astrology, the six systems of philosophy, and other fields of scholarship. When finished with his studies, Jiva went on to Vrndavana, where he became the editor for his uncles, Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana. Later he wrote commentaries on some of their works and wrote numerous other works as well.

Srila Jiva Gosvami was the most prolific of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana. His books together are said to equal the eighteen Maha-puranas.

His way of writing is worthy of mention. He would compose a verse in its entirety within his mind. Once he had it complete he would write it down. It is said that he composed and wrote so rapidly that he would not wait for the ink to dry on the page; he would write the next verse on a new page while the first page was drying. By the time he finished the second verse, the first page would be dry, and he would write the third verse on the back of the first page. Once he committed a verse to paper, he never edited or changed it.

In beginning the Sat Sandarbhas, Srila Jiva Gosvami says that another of the Gosvamis, Srila Gopala Bhatta, composed a work of this sort but did not complete it. Jiva, therefore, for the pleasure of Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana, set out to complete the task.

To appreciate his motive fully, we need to know something of India's philosophical development up to Jiva's time, which coincides with the Renaissance in Europe.

Indian philosophy in the early sixteenth century was quite developed, compared to the philosophical traditions of the West. Even before Lord Buddha, who appeared five hundred years before Christ, Indian metaphysics was already far ahead of what was developing in Europe.

In India, philosophy is usually divided along two main lines, theistic and atheistic. Buddhist and Jain philosophy, and the materialistic philosophy of Carvaka Muni, are counted as atheistic or unorthodox because they do not accept the Vedas. The Vedasare commonly accepted by their adherents as having originally emanated from God, not from any imperfect human intellect or speculative source. So in the Indian tradition any system of thought not grounded in the Vedas, even if it includes belief in God or gods, is automatically counted as atheistic.

Opposing the three atheistic systems, then, are the six theistic systems, which do accept the Vedas. These six systems are as follows:

1. Sankhya. The central idea in this system is that a living being can become free from ignorance by understanding the twenty-four elements that constitute matter. (There are two types of Sankhya philosophy one theistic, the other atheistic.)

2. Yoga. In this system, mind is the cause of bondage and also the cause of salvation. By meditation, one should control the mind and thus transcend matter. This system was propounded by the sage Patanjali.

3. Nyaya. This is a system of logic. It states that there are twelve knowables and four means of knowing. With their help one should understand ultimate reality and attain salvation. Nyaya was propounded by Gautama Muni.

4. Vaisesika. This system was developed by a sage called Kanada. He taught that there are nine elements and twenty-four qualities and that understanding these leads to self-realization.

5. Purva Mimamsa. The gist of this system, taught by Jaimini, is that one attains perfection by performing sacrifices according to the Vedic injunctions.

6. Uttara Mimamsa. This system is more commonly known as Vedanta, which means "the supreme end of knowledge." Its writings were compiled by Vedavyasa, the guru of Jaimini. It has two branches. In one, devotion is the means to perfection. In the other, one realizes oneself by understanding the all-pervading, impersonal Absolute Truth.

Because certain of the systems complement one another, the six systems are generally paired into three groups. Thus we have Sankhya and Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisesika, and Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa. Despite this arrangement, however, the Uttara Mimamsa, or Vedanta-sutra, is widely accepted as the apex of all six systems because it deals exclusively with the Absolute Truth. It does not concern itself with any feature of the mundane world.

Originally the Vedas were too vast for a person to study and assimilate in a single lifetime, what to speak of discerning their conclusion. Therefore Srila Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedas, summarized their essence in Sanskrit sutras, terse codes. And so the Vedanta-sutras, also known as the Brahma-sutras, set forth the essence of Vedic wisdom.

Various thinkers have focused their attention on understanding and explaining the Vedanta-sutras through elaborate commentaries. These commentators fall into two general categories Advaita-vadis and Dvaita-vadis.

The Advaita-vadis interpret the sutras to mean that the Absolute Truth is formless. Having no personal attributes, the Absolute is an eternally conscious but otherwise featureless state of existence, to which all variegated manifestations are inferior. This view held by the Advaita-vadis is called the impersonal conception. The favorite slogan of the Advaita-vadis is brahma satyam jagan mithya: impersonal reality is the only truth, and all else is illusory or false.

Dvaita-vadis interpret the same sutras to reach the opposite conclusion: The Absolute Truth is a person. He has a spiritual form and many variegated attributes. The impersonal feature described above is but the brilliant light emanating from the transcendental body of this Absolute Person, Lord Sri Krsna. This is the personal conception of the Absolute Truth.

Srila Vyasadeva himself has written his explanation of Vedanta, the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Therein he establishes that the Absolute Truth is indeed a person. All who come in the line of Srila Vyasadeva, including Srila Jiva Gosvami, accept, therefore, that the Srimad-Bhagavatam is the natural and authoritative commentary on the Vedanta-sutras. It is the final word on the matter, having flowed from the pen of the original author. After all, who could know the mind of Vyasa better than Vyasa himself?

Yet the Sanskrit grammar of the Bhagavatam is so complex that it lends itself to being twisted in any number of ways. Predictably, the members of the impersonalist school have gone in for such twisting.

To further complicate matters, the personalist schools, of which there are four, stand in broad agreement about the personal nature of the Absolute Truth yet differ on many fine details. Hence the need arose for a thorough going analysis of the Srimad-Bhagavatam that could put to rest the many thorny issues of interpretation.

Finally, five hundred years ago, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu ordered His chief followers, the six Gosvamis, to write books about unalloyed devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. So the Gosvamis wrote many books on the glories of pure devotional service, giving from many angles of vision the true purport of spiritual life.

Among these many texts, Srila Jiva Gosvami's six analytical treatises on the Srimad-Bhagavatam hold a special place. In his introductory words, Srila Jiva Gosvami says that he will now reveal the heart of Srila Vyasadeva. He then proceeds to analyze the Bhagavatam with such rigor that he leaves little room for doubt: Srimad-Bhagavatam does reveal the highest feature of the Absolute Truth, who is indeed a person, and the identity of that person is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The Sandarbhas are so profoundly satisfying that no matter how many times one may have read the Bhagavatam and relished it, reading it again in the light of Jiva's analysis puts the experience on an entirely different plane. It raises one to new heights of spiritual relish and delight. A single reading should be enough to convince one that Srimad-Bhagavatam is indeed a spotless revelation, with not a tint of mundane ideas or futile speculations.

As already mentioned, there are six parts or books, each delving into a different aspect of the Bhagavatam philosophy. First is the Tattva Sandarbha, which has two divisions. In the first division Srila Jiva Gosvami sets forth the pramanas, or the epistemology of the personalist school. Here he tackles such questions as What are the means of attaining knowledge? and What is the evidence or proof in support of those means? In the second division he gives the prameya; that is, he explains the object to be realized by knowledge.

Bhagavata Sandarbha is the second book. Here Srila Jiva Gosvami speaks about the Personality of Godhead, His abode, and His associates. In the Paramatma Sandarbha Srila Jiva tells of the various Supersoul manifestations of the Supreme Lord and describes how the Supersoul is related with each individual soul in the material world. Srila Jiva also describes maya, or the external potency of God.

In the Krsna Sandarbha Srila Jiva shows that the form of Lord Sri Krsna is the original Personality of Godhead and explains why He is the object of loving devotional service. Then, in the Bhakti Sandarbha, Jiva establishes the path of devotion as the sole means to direct God realization. Finally, in the Priti Sandarbha, he analyzes prema-bhakti, devotional service in pure love of God, and shows how it is the supreme goal of life for all living beings.

In the next installment we shall give a synopsis of parts one and two of the Tattva Sandarbha.


Satya Narayana Dasa was born in a family of devotees in a village between Vrndavana and Delhi. He holds a postgraduate degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology. While working in the United States as a computer software consultant, he joined ISKCON in 1981. He later received spiritual initiation from ISKCON leader Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami. He now teaches Sanskrit at the Bhaktivedanta Swami International Gurukula in Vrndavana and is translating the Sat Sandarbhas.

Kundali Dasa joined ISKCON in 1973 in New York City. He has taught Krsna consciousness in the United States, India, the Middle East, and eastern and western Europe. He has written many articles for Back to Godhead and is now editing Satya Narayana Dasa's translation of the Sat Sandarbhas.