The Bhāgavata is known as the topmost pramāṇa for Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas. What this means, in practical terms, is that Caitanya Vaiṣṇavas do not accept those statements in other śāstras that are not line with the Bhāgavata, and/or try to interpret such other statements so that they are in consonance with the Bhāgavata. We see this approach play out again and again in the Sandarbhas. I examine Śrī Jīva’s justification for such an approach in this article.
Śrī Śuka taught Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to Śrī Vyāsadeva
Śrī Vyāsa is the compiler of the Vedas. It is therefore significant that Śrī Śuka taught the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to Śrī Vyāsa. Śrī Jīva writes in Anuccheda 26 of the Tattva Sandarbha:
atra yadyapi tatra śrī-vyāsa-nāradau tasyāpi guru-parama-gurū, tathāpi punas tan-mukha-niḥsṛtaṁ śrī-bhāgavataṁ tayor apy aśruta-caram iva jātam | ity evaṁ śrī-śukas tāv apy upadideśa deśyam ity abhiprāyaḥ |
Śrī Vyāsadeva and Nārada Muni were present in that assembly. Although these two sages were Śrī Śuka’s guru and grand-guru, respectively, when they heard Śrīmad Bhāgavatam issuing from his lips, they felt as if they had never heard it before. For this reason it is said here that he taught this most significant wisdom even to them.
Śrī Jīva concludes that this is one more proof of the superiority of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam over all other scriptures. These scriptures naturally include the Vedānta-sūtras, the Upaniṣads and the Vedas themselves. He writes:
yad uktaṁ,śuka-mukhād amṛta-dravya-saṁyutaṁ [1.1.3] iti | tasmād evam api śrī-bhāgavatasyaiva sarvādhikyam |
As mentioned earlier, “The Bhāgavatam is enriched with immortal nectar, having issued from the mouth of Śrī Śuka” ( śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava-saṁyutam , SB 1.1.3 ). Thus, in this sense also Śrīmad Bhāgavatam surpasses all other scriptures.
Bhāgavataṁ is svataḥ-pramāṇa
If we accept Śrī Jīva’s thesis that the Bhāgavatam surpasses all other scriptures, this has the startling implication that the the Bhāgavatam is svataḥ-pramāṇa or self-authoritative. Śrī Jīva explicitly acknowledges this implication next. He notes that the Bhāgavatam is called śruti, a word normally reserved for the Vedas in the following verse:
kathaṁ vā pāṇḍaveyasya rājarṣer muninā saha |
saṁvādaḥ samabhūt tāta yatraiṣā sātvatī śrutiḥ || [bhā.pu. 1.4.7] iti |
How did King Parīkṣit happen to converse with this great sage, as a result of which this Vedic text ( śruti ) for the pure Vaiṣṇavas ( sātvatī ) became available? ( SB 1.4.7 )
He notes that other Purāṇas are dependent on the Vedas for their authority, but not so for the Bhāgavataṁ. He concludes that it is actually the parama-śruti – the highest manifestation of śruti. This is because the Bhāgavatam is inclusive of what is in the Vedas, Purāṇas and other works:
vedāḥ purāṇaṁ kāvyaṁ ca prabhur mitraṁ priyeva ca |
bodhayantīti hi prāhus trivṛd bhāgavataṁ punaḥ ||
The supremacy of the Bhāgavatam is also confirmed by the words of both Muktā-phala [of Vopadeva] and Hemādri, its commentator: “The Vedas, Purāṇas, and poetic works instruct one like a master, friend, and beloved, respectively, but Śrīmad Bhāgavatam enlightens in all three capacities.”
The other justification for this is that the Bhāgavatam is the very representation of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, as expressed in the following famous verse:
kṛṣṇe sva-dhāmopagate dharma-jñānādibhiḥ saha |
kalau naṣṭa-dṛśām eṣa purāṇārko’dhunoditaḥ || [bhā.pu. 1.3.45] iti
After Kṛṣṇa’s departure to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, and so on, this Purāṇa [ Śrīmad Bhāgavatam ] has risen like the sun for those bereft of sight in the age of Kali. ( SB 1.3.43 )
So he concludes:
tasmān manyantāṁ vā kecit purāṇāntareṣu veda-sāpekṣatvaṁ, śrī-bhāgavate tu tathā sambhāvanā svayam eva nirastety api svayam eva labdhaṁ bhavati | ataeva parama-śruti-rūpatvaṁ tasya |
Consequently, while some scholars conclude that other Purāṇas are dependent upon the Vedas to derive their authority, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam explicitly refutes the possibility that it may be dependent in this way; rather, the Bhāgavatam stands on its own authority. For this reason it is in fact the highest manifestation of Śruti [the original Vedas].
Unlike other Purāṇas, the Bhāgavataṁ is self-authoritative and not dependent upon the Vedas for its validity. All other scriptures must be interpreted in line with it. This is ultimately because the Bhāgavataṁ is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, who is the source of the Vedas.