Śrī Jīva Goswami’s purpose in writing the Sandarbhas

Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism has come to be associated with proselytizing in modern times. However, a deeper study of the foundations of the tradition appear to not support the notion that ‘preaching’ was the main purpose of Śrī Caitanya. I have written about this elsewhere. We can also discern this from a simple look at Śrī Jīva Goswami’s Sandarbhas which are really the foundations of the tradition. Is his primary purpose to ‘mark out’ the scope and territory of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism and defeat arguments in the process? Is it to establish and defend the fundamental principles of a new kind of sampradāya, which is known today as “Gauḍiya” Vaiṣṇavism? Is his purpose to prepare a preaching manual that his followers could use to convert others to Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism? None of these match the purpose he himself states in the opening pages of the Sandarbhas.

Every writer has an audience in mind before setting about the task of writing. Certainly, for a book with the vast scope of the Sandarbhas, Śrī Jīva Goswami must have had a clear idea of his intended audience. The adhikāri, or the person for whom the Sandarbhas are written, is described in the opening pages of Tattva Sandarbha, the first book of the six Sandarbhas. In the mangalācaraṇa, after paying homage to the teachers, he explains the qualification required of the reader before he or she can study the Sandarbhas:

yaḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-padāmbhoja-bhajanaikābhilāṣavān |

tenaiva dṛśyatām etad anyasmai śapatho’rpitaḥ |

This book may be studied only by one whose sole aspiration is to worship the lotus feet of Śrī Krṣṇa. All others are forewarned about the implications of this investigation.

Śrī Jīva’s Sandarbhas are for those whose primary desire is to serve Śrī Krṣṇa. By this, Śrī Jīva is explaining what the motive should be of a person who studies these Sandarbhas. They are not meant to be used to defeat or convert others, but to convert one’s own self. Śrī Jīva’s theology is not reducible to narrow goals. Instead, the Sandarbhas facilitate a student’s progress in a systematic and logical study of reality itself, as explained in the śastras. Śrī Jīva cannot be restricted by labels that seek to put him in a box: Vedantin, Gaudiya Vaiṣṇava or some other category.

The Sandarbhas are written to teach that person who desires to worship Śrī Krṣṇa, or who has the desire to desire in such a way. There are three objectives of the Sandarbhas:

  1. Teaching who or what param tattva or the Absolute Truth is. This is accomplished in the first four Sandarbhas.
  2. Teaching the method of sādhana, the means of attainment or abhidheya. This is done in Bhakti Sandarbha.
  3. Teaching the prayojana, or what is to be attained by sādhana. This is accomplished in Priti Sandarbha.

Śrī Jīva’s objectives are understood from Anuchheda 8 and 9 of the Tattva Sandarbha. In Anuchheda 8, Śrī Jīva presents a verse of his own composition:

yasya brahmeti saṁjñāṁ kvacid api nigame yāti cin-mātra-sattāpy aṁśo yasyāṁśakaiḥ svair vibhavati vaśayann eva māyāṁ pumāṁś ca | ekaṁ yasyaiva rūpaṁ vilasati parama-vyomni nārāyaṇākhyaṁsa śrī-kṛṣṇo vidhattāṁ svayam iha bhagavān prema tat-pāda-bhājām

In one feature, Śrī Krṣṇa exists as pure consciousness, with­out any manifest characteristics, and is referred to as Brahman in some portions of the Vedas. In another feature, He expands as the Puruṣa, who regulates the extrinsic potency (māyā) by His many plenary portions. In yet another of His principal forms, He is Nārāyaṇa, resplendent in the spiritual sky, Vaikuṇṭha. May that Śrī Krṣṇa the original complete Absolute Truth {Svayam Bhagavān), bestow love for Himself on those who worship His lotus feet in this world.

In the next Anuchheda, he writes

athaivaṁ sūcitānāṁ śrī-kṛṣṇa-tad-vācya-vācakatā-lakṣaṇa-sambandha-tad-bhajana-lakṣaṇa-vidheya-saparyāyābhidheya-tat-prema-lakṣaṇa-prayojanākhyānām arthānāṁ nirṇayāya tāvat pramāṇaṁ nirṇīyate |

Four topics were suggested in the verse from the previous anuccheda: Śrī Krṣṇa is the subject (viṣaya) of this book; the book’s relation (sambandha) to Him is that of signifier (vācaka) to the signified (vācya); devotional turning of all the faculties to Him (bhajana) is what is meant to be enacted in all circum­stances (vidheya) [lit., “that which is to be done,” or “duty”], also known as abhidheya, and unconditional love for Him is the ulti­mate completion of such devotional turning (prayojana). Now, in order to investigate these four topics, we should first determine a means of valid knowing (pramāṇa) (by which these topics can be ascertained].

The same theme emerges upon careful study of the other foundational books by the Goswamis. Take for example, the famous Bhakti rasāmṛta Sindhu by Śrī Rūpa Goswami. In his commentary on the very first verse of that book, Śrī Jīva writes that Śrī Rūpa compiled the book, overcome by desire to benefit all devotees (sakala-bhāgavata-loka-hitābhilāṣa-paravaśatayā). The book is not for any other purpose than benefitting one’s own self!

The Goswamis’ goals, personalities, and what they valued are beyond the reach of all petty ideas one might attempt to superimpose on them.

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