We have examined previously that Bhagavān is the viśiṣṭa tattva. We also saw that Brahman is Bhagavān without attributes, or the viśeṣya tattva. Here we examine what viśiṣṭa tattva means in Śrī Jīva’s theology.
Śrī Jīva discusses absolute reality or tattva with an analysis of the famous verse from the Śrīmad Bhagavatām below (Tattva Sandarbha Anuccheda 51 and 52 and Bhagavat Sandarbha Anuccheda 1):
vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate: All those who have realized Absolute reality refer to that Reality as non dual consciousness. This reality is named as Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān.
This verse indicates that absolute reality is advaya- which means “one without a second”. If the worshipper has a non-personal concept of that reality, it manifests to that person as Brahman. If the worshipper has a personal concept, that same absolute reality manifests as Paramātmā or Bhagavān. Of course, all this requires the use of a legitimate process to realize either of them, that is, a method explained in the śāstras.
The difference between Bhagavān and Brahman is that of perception. Bhagavān is the viśiṣṭa or qualified reality, while Brahman is the unqualified reality, but reality is only one. This theology, then, appears similar to the viśiṣṭa advaita tattva of Śrī Rāmānujachārya (advaita means non-dual). However, Śrī Jīva has proposed that Absolute Reality is acintya bheda-abheda tattva. What’s the difference between these two theologies?
As we discussed in a previous article, an example of a viśeṣaṇa is the redness of a red rose. The redness inheres in the rose, and cannot be separated from it. This type of relation is called saṁvāya saṁbandha in nyāya. The brilliance of Śrī Jīva was in recognizing a potential problem with considering everything in existence as a viśeṣaṇa of Bhagavān. For example, Śrī Rāmānujachārya considers the material world as a viśeṣaṇa of Bhagavān. If the world is related to Bhagavān in a similar way as the redness of the rose, then the negative, inferior qualities of the material world become an inherent quality of Bhagavān. This, however, is not correct. Furthermore, the material world continually transforms, which would then mean that Bhagavān will transform but that is not the case. Bhagavān remains as He is, while His śakti, this world, can transform.
This is one purpose for why Śrī Jīva proposed acintya bheda-abheda tattva. The material world does not inhere in Him unlike redness which inheres in the rose. The material world is not a viśeṣaṇa of Bhagavān, because it does not inhere in Bhagavān; it is different from His svarūpa. This is bheda.
However, the material world is also a type of śakti of Bhagavān, and is dependent on Him for its existence. Therefore, it is a type of viśeṣaṇa of Bhagavān; here the word viśeṣaṇa carries the meaning of śakti. In this sense, there is abheda.
This type of simultaneous bheda and abheda is acintya or inconceivable, and only understood through śāstra (śāstra eka gamyam).
To summarize, acintya bheda-abheda differs from viśiṣṭa-advaita in the interpretation of the word viśeṣaṇa. The word viśeṣaṇa generally means qualifier of an object. In Śrī Jīva’s theology, it means śākti. The śaktis are inseparable from Absolute Reality but also different from Absolute Reality. This is acintya or inconceivable.