The word ‘anādi’ is a simple word. Yet, in recent decades, much confusion has surrounded it owing to novel interpretations offered for it by some modern sects of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism. Here we examine what it means according to our ācāryas like Śrī Jīva Goswami and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti.
anādi means absence of a prior cause
The word anādi consists of a prefix, ‘an’, and the word ‘ādi’. The word ‘ādi’ means beginning, and the prefix ‘an’ is a negative. Thus, anādi literally means ‘no beginning’. Kṛṣṇa uses this word in the Bhagavad Gita in chapter 13:
prakṛtiṁ puruṣaṁ caiva viddhy anādī ubhāv api
vikārāṁś ca guṇāṁś caiva viddhi prakṛti-sambhavān
Primordial nature and the living beings should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the guṇas of nature are phenomenal arisings out of primordial nature. (Gita 13.20)
As any cause precedes an effect in time, anything that has no beginning, naturally has no preceding cause. Śrī Viśvanātha explicitly defines anādi as something without a cause in his commentary on this verse:
paramātmānam uktvā kṣetra-jña-śabda-vācyaṁ jīvātmānaṁ vaktuṁ kutas tasya māyā-saṁsleṣaḥ, kadā tad-ārambho’bhūd ity apekṣāyām āha prakṛtiṁ māyāṁ puruṣaṁ jīvaṁ cobhāv apy anādī na vidyate ādi kāraṇaṁ yayos tathābhūtau viddhi anāder īśvarasya mama śaktitvāt | ..tayoḥ saṁśleṣo’pi anādir iti bhāvaḥ
Translation: Having talked about Paramatma, to explain the jīva who is [also] indicated by the word kṣetra-jña, he [Krsna] answers two questions: why did the jīva become conjoined with māyā? When did this happen? Know both prakṛti (māyā) and puruṣa (jīva) to be anādi. [anādī means] they do not have an ādi, meaning [prior] kāraṇa or cause. This is because they are each a śakti of mine, the anādi īśvara. [In other words, I have no prior cause, and they are my śaktis, and so they also have no prior cause]… As such, their conjunction is also anādi [has no prior cause].
So simple and clear is the meaning of the word anādi, that it has been repeatedly used by Śrī Jīva Goswami in various contexts to establish various key concepts. It is therefore amazing that in modern times, this term has been mangled beyond recognition by confused minds. I examine some of these novel interpretations below.
Tortured interpretations of the word anādi
anādi does not mean time immemorial. Some proponents translate anādi as ‘time immemorial’. The idea is that an entity which is anādi came into being at some point in the past. But this event was so ancient, so far back in time, that it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when it happened.
This translation of anādi contradicts the very meaning of the word anādi. anādi means no beginning. There is never a time, even theoretically, when a given anādi entity did not exist. The ‘time immemorial’ interpretation renders meaningless the various commentaries written by the ācāryas who use the term anādi to explain the ontology of entities like Bhagavān, the jīva and māyā – these are all anādi.
anādi still (even today) means absence of any prior cause. Another tortured interpretation offered by some for the word anādi , is that an anādi state of existence is beginningless, but it still has a spiritual cause. For example, to explain the beginningless state of existence of the jīva in the material world, these proponents insist on the existence of a ‘spiritual cause’ – a choice on the part of the jīva to enter the material world. In their view, some jīvas decide to enter the spiritual world, while others decide to enter the material world, and this choice occurred at a time without beginning. To understand this, imagine that we went back in time- we could keep going back, but we would never be able to witness the moment when the jīva made its choice. And yet, the jīva did make a choice.
This novel interpretation unfortunately directly contradicts Śrī Viśvanātha’s very definition of the word given above: anādi means without cause. The jīva’s choice is a cause which brings about a result- entry into the material world. This directly contradicts Śrī Viśvanātha’s explanation that the jīva’s presence in the material world is without a cause.
Novelty does not imply fidelity with the ācāryas’ teachings – it implies the opposite as in this case! There is not a single instance in all the writings of the ācāryas like Śrī Jīva, Śrī Viśvanātha, or Śrī Baladeva, where they ascribe the jīva’s presence in the material world to an anādi choice it made. And yet, proponents have no qualms in inserting such words into their mouths, manipulating their writings, and interpreting them in a way that was never intended.
Faced with objections, the proponents of such tortured interpretations respond by citing any verse, and any commentary in any context, that they can conceivably twist to match their views. For example, proponents cite the first verse of the Brahma-saṁhitā, which says:
īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ
anādir ādir govindaḥ sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam
Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the supreme īśvara. His form is sac-cid-ānanda. He is Govinda, the beginningless source, the ultimate cause of all causes.
This verse contains the word anādi, ādi, and sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇa! Clearly, Kṛṣṇa is the cause of all entities, including Mahā Viṣṇu! And He is ādi of the anādi- beginning of the beginningless! Why then can the jīva’s anādi sojourn in the material world not have a spiritual cause, specifically its own choice to enter the material world?
The problem with this tortured interpretation, of course, is that Mahā Viṣṇu, being anādi, has no cause. Kṛṣṇa is not His cause. Instead, what is meant in this verse (as explained by Śrī Jīva) is that Mahā Viṣṇu is not independent of Kṛṣṇa. What sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam means here, is that it is by Kṛṣṇa’s śakti or grace alone that Mahā Viṣṇu can act as a cause, because Kṛṣṇa is the aṅgi and Mahā Viṣṇu is the aṅga. Thus, Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate cause of creation, while Mahā Viṣṇu is a more proximal cause.
Another problem with such tortured interpretations is as follows. As Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the cause of all causes, if the jīva’s original choice is the cause of its existence in the material world, then Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the cause of the jīva’s choice. As such, Kṛṣṇa is ultimately responsible for the existence of the jīva in the material world, and is also the cause of all the suffering in the world. This proposition, unfortunately for this theory, is strongly rejected by the scriptures.
The simple meaning of anādi is beginningless. As a cause precedes its effect, anādi means without prior cause. This is directly explained by ācāryas like Śrī Viśvanātha and used by all of them to great effect in their commentaries. The jīva did not make the choice to be in this world. The idea of choice is similar to the Christian idea of ‘original sin’, but it finds no place in Indian tradition- whether Vaiṣṇavism, Advaita Vedānta, Sāṅkhya, or Buddhism.