Śrī Jīva Goswami presents what he calls a paribhāsā sūtra of the Bhāgavata in Anuccheda 28 of Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha. He states that this sūtra, like a great heroic emperor (महावीरराज) overrules hundreds of opposing statements, assimilating them into itself. The emperor statement are the words kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayaṁ – but Kṛṣṇa alone is Bhagavān Himself – in the famous verse below:
ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam All these are either portions (āṁśas) or minute portions (kalās) of the Puruṣa, but Kṛṣṇa alone is Bhagavān Himself. (SB 1.3.28)
The word ‘tu‘ here is important. Śrī Jīva Goswami writes that the word tu indicates that Bhagavān is distinct from the aṁśas and kalās of the Puruṣa and also from the Puruṣa Himself (atra tu-śabdo’ṁśa-kalābhyaḥ puṁsaś ca sakāśād bhagavato vailakṣaṇyaṁ bodhayati). Here Puruṣa refers to Paramātmā mentioned in previous verses.
The statement shows that Kṛṣṇa is the very source of the Puruṣa Himself. Kṛṣṇa has already been mentioned as the twentieth avatāra previously, but the fact that He is Svayam Bhagavān is unknown. This additional information is now provided in the present verse. The word svayam – in and of Himself – signifies that Kṛṣṇa is not an avatāra of some other Bhagavān, but is Bhagavān Himself – that is is His intrinsic quality.
Śrī Madhvācārya‘s interpretation of kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam
Śrī Madhvācārya and his followers vehemently disagree with Śrī Jīva’s explanation of the verse. One of his followers even writes that Śrī Jīva is confused (bhrānta). The Caitanya sampradāya is not really a continuation of the Madhvā sampradāya, as the two sampradāyas have fundamental disagreements, not only on this point but many other issues. Of course Śrī Jīva gives enormous respect to Śrī Madhvācārya throughout the Sandarbhas and so do his followers. Here he notes that Śrī Madhvācārya disagrees with his interpretation, because he reads the words ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ as ete svāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ. This makes a world of difference! So Śrī Madhvācārya’s translation would read as follows
ete svāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam indrāri-vyākulaṁ lokaṁ mṛḍayanti yuge yuge All these svāṁśa-kalās of the Puruṣa, are indeed the Supreme Puruṣa Bhagavān Himself, who engladden the world tormented by the asuras in every yuga (SB 1.3.28)
Note here that Śrī Madhvācārya reads the entire verse as one sentence. Further, he interprets the word ‘tu’ to mean ‘eva’. Śrī Jīva takes the literal meaning of the word ‘tu’. Thus he disagrees with Śrī Madhvācārya, because he notes that the word ‘tu’ – but – breaks the verse up into two parts. The first part was translated above where I purposefully omitted the second part. The second part stands by itself. The subject has to be supplied to this part which contains the plural verb mṛḍayanti; the subject is ‘the avatāras’.
As we will see below, Śrī Madhvācārya and his followers differ from Śrī Jīva owing to different reading of cāṁśa as svāṁśa. Owing to this reading, Śrī Madhvācārya is forced to interpret the word ‘tu’ as ‘eva’ (only) , and to interpret the word ‘Kṛṣṇa’ as ‘Parama Puruṣa’. As we see below, Śrī Jīva is aware that Śrī Madhvācārya reads cāṁśa as svāṁśa, and disagrees with this reading on the grounds that it renders superfluous the words kṛṣṇas tu.
Śrī Jīva’s comment on Śrī Madhvācārya’s reading
In Śrī Madhvācārya’s interpretation, he interprets the word ‘Kṛṣṇa’ in kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayaṁ as ‘Parama Puruṣa’. But Śrī Jīva does not accept this interpretation (Interpreting Kṛṣṇa as Parama Puruṣa does seem like a stretch of the imagination to me). Rejecting this interpretation, Śrī Jīva next notes that the word kṛṣṇas tu would become superfluous given that one could simply say,
ete svāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ bhagavān svayam – All these svāṁśa-kalās of the Puruṣa are Bhagavān Himself.
Thus, he does not agree with reading cāṁśa as svāṁśa. Śrī Jīva cites a verse from the Varāha purāṇa which Śrī Madhvācārya quotes-
svāṁśaś cātha vibhinnāṁśa iti dvedhāṁśa iṣyate | aṁśino yat tu sāmarthyaṁ yat svarūpaṁ yathā sthitiḥ || tad eva nāṇu-mātro’pi bhedaḥ svāṁśāṁśinoḥ kvacit | vibhinnāṁśo’lpa-śaktiḥ syāt kiñcit sāmarthya-mātra-yuk || iti
Aṁśas, or portions, are of two types: self same (svāṁśa) and differentiated (vibhinnāṁśa). A svāṁśa is defined as a portion endowed with the same prowess (sāmarthya), the same intrinsic nature (svarūpa), and the same existential status (sthiti) as the whole (aṁśi) that encompasses it. There exists not even an atom (aṇu) of distinction (bheda) between a svāṁśa and its aṁśi. The vibhinnāṁśa, on the other hand, has minute potency and limited prowess.
Śrī Jīva writes –
atrocyate—aṁśānām aṁśi-sāmarthyādikaṁ tad-aikyenaiva mantavyam | tatra yathāvidāsina ity-ādau tasyākṣayatvena tāsām akṣayatvaṁ yathā tadvad aṁśāṁśitvānupapatter eva | tathā ca śrī-vāsudevāniruddhayoḥ sarvathā sāmye prasakte kadācid aniruddhenāpi śrī-vāsudevasyāvirbhāvanā prasajyate | tac ca śruti-viparītam ity asad eva | tasmād asty evāvatāry-avatārayos tāratamyam |
In this regard, the following is to be said: The aṁśa’s identity of prowess, nature, and so on with that of the aṁśi is to be understood as due specifically to their oneness [of categorical being, jātiyatva]. This situation is comparable to that of rivulets flowing from an inexhaustible lake, where the inexhaustibility of the rivulets is due to the inexhaustibility of their source; otherwise, it would be impossible to distinguish between the part (aṁśa) and its all-encompassing whole (aṁśi).
In other words, there is a reason the words aṁśi and aṁśa are used in these contexts! Saying that the aṁśi and aṁśa are identical would render these words meaningless! Further, Śrī Jīva cites direct statements which show hierarchy (tāratamya) between the avatāra and avatārīs. As such, a hierarchy definitely exists which is made explicit in this verse, and cannot be simply wished away.
Śrī Madhvācārya’s explanation of kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam
I decided to examine Śrī Madhvācārya’s commentary, which is further commented on by his followers. I have provided slides below containing the commentaries, color coded by Śrī Madhvācārya’s own commentary and commentaries on his commentary by four of his followers. I also provide my English translation in separate slides, although I did not color code that, except for distinguishing between Śrī Madhvācārya’s commentary and those of his followers. My English commentary does not contain transliterations for the Sanskrit because I ran out of steam! Hope these are useful to understand their view.
Śrī Jīva Goswami, in my (biased) view, gives a very reasonable explanation of kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam which is consistent with the overall context in which the verse appears. Śrī Madhvācārya’s explanation relies on a different reading of the verse, which Śrī Jīva Goswami is aware of, and considers but rejects. This vākya acts as a paribhāsā sūtra for the Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas, which sheds light on how to interpret the entire Bhāgavata. Those who criticize Śrī Jīva Goswami have not fully understood his explanation nor his extensive treatment in the Sandarbhas.