Opinion

The need to study Śrī Jīva Goswami’s original works

Of the many amazing teachings of Śrī Jīva Goswami are his superb explanations of bhakti yoga, and its total difference from karma yoga and jñāna yoga. I heard these terms and frustratingly fruitless discussions about them from many others years ago. For example, in one current and prominent view in the Caitanya tradition, karma yoga in the Bhagavad-Gita is virtually the same as bhakti yoga. But press the proponents on this view, and they will weasel out of it by arguing for difference. Which one is it? They are the same or different? The answer typically dances around the issue- its ‘both’ by some tortured way of reconciliation which invokes differences in ‘context’, or some other imagined explanations.

When one tried to understand or ask questions, the discussions generally ended in: “when you advance more, these things will be revealed to you” or “keep reading and things will become clear in due course” . The implied and sometimes explicit sense was that not only could I not understand given that I was a beginner, but that it was even theoretically impossible to understand. And this applied not only to bhakti yoga and karma yoga, but practically all topics in śāstra.

And yet the promised understanding never dawns. One venerable sannyasi told me, “99% of devotees do not understand śāstra”, candidly including himself in that category. I would venture to say that 99% of the 1% who think (and others think) that they understand also do not understand śāstra, and they do not understand because they do not study Śrī Jīva Goswami. So much hand-wringing and pointless confusion, and the propagation of false notions, could have been avoided in the Caitanya tradition if people had only stuck to the Sandarbhas. As Śrī Babaji has written,

संदर्भा येन नाधितास्तस्य भागवते श्रमः संदर्भा येन चाधिता नास्ति भागवते भ्रमः

One who has not undergone comprehensive study of the Sandarbhas must struggle to assimilate the message of the Bhāgavata. One who has studied the Sandarbhas, however, will have no misgivings about the essential meaning of the Bhāgavata.

What a genius Śrī Jīva Goswami was! He settled every śāstric question one can imagine, and was consistent. His theoretical framework has no place for internal contradictions. You would be hard-pressed to find Śrī Jīva mix up karma and bhakti yoga anywhere. He does not explain karma yoga in one way in one place and in another place because of difference in context or for any other reason. The same can be said about Śrī Viśvanātha. These ācaryās are unerringly consistent, and make modern proponents in the tradition look like confused schoolboys in comparison.

If only modern sādhakas would learn from Śrī Jīva instead of breaking their heads against blind walls in blind alleys.

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