This is my final article on the series of refutations of the newest theory of inherent bhakti-vāda- the idea that bhakti is inherent in the jīva. As I have discussed in this article, the new theory has gone far beyond inherent bhakti-vāda, to include all kinds of novel features. Below, I provide a summary and then some thoughts (which are entirely of my own) on this debate.
Summary of the theory:
The inherent bhakti-vādis view the jīva as a tiny Śrī Kṛṣṇa. As Śrī Kṛṣṇa is a possessor and user of taṭasthā-śakti, svarūpa-śakti, and māyā-śakti, the jīva similarly possesses and uses these same śaktis (although it never uses taṭasthā-śakti for technical reasons). As Śrī Kṛṣṇa is constituted of svarūpa-śakti, likewise, the jīva also has svarūpa-śakti at its essence. As Śrī Kṛṣṇa has a transcendental form that is inherent to Him, the jīva also has a transcendental form inherent to it. The only difference between the two is that because of its tiny-ness, the jīva comes under the thrall of māyā-śakti, while Śrī Kṛṣṇa does not. In that state, the svarūpa-śakti in the jīva becomes dormant. As such, the jīva does not use it to know, act and experience; rather, it uses māyā-śakti to know, act and experience. Release the jīva from the thrall of māyā-śakti, and it retakes its place as a tiny Śrī Kṛṣṇa, serving Him as does every one else in the spiritual world. In doing so, it experiences the bliss of its own bhakti, inherent to its svarūpa. Except that the release from māyā requires the grace of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and thus, bhakti is also bestowed on the jīva.
Summary of the refutations:
The jīva is but one type of śakti of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It is His taṭasthā-śakti. It is neither the possessor nor the independent user of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti and māyā-śakti. These two latter śaktis are exclusively under the control of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and the jīva is entirely dependent on Him in all circumstances. The jīva’s svarūpa-śaktis are not the same as Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti. Unlike the term ‘māyā-śakti’, which generally refers to Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s bahirangā śakti, the term ‘svarūpa-śakti’ is a common noun that requires a specification of its possessor. The svarūpa-śakti of fire is its ability to burn. The jīva’s svarūpa-śaktis include the ability to know, to experience and to act, and these are distinct from Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti, although not independent of it. Being part of its very svarūpa, the jīva’s svarūpa-śakti does not become dormant in any condition. But the jīva remains a dependent doer, knower and experiencer – its inherent śaktis cannot function without the instruments of the external mind and body which are composed of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s māyā-śakti in the material world, and of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti in the spiritual world.
The jīva’s svarūpa can be experienced by the jīva, and this experience is of two types. In the first type, one experiences the pure jīva, but does not experience Paramātmā, even though He pervades the jīva, and is the very foundation of the jīva’s existence. This first type of experience can be had in deep sleep, and one can infer from it several properties of the jīva, which include the absence of misery, and consciousness. The jīva’s experience of itself as a dependent part of Paramātmā (such dependence is its inherent nature), principally includes the experience of Paramātmā; this experience endows the jīva with Paramātmā’s bliss. Depending on the nature of sādhanā, the experience, which depends on the grace of Paramātmā, brings with it a mind/body composed of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti, or alternatively, the bliss of Brahman.
Thoughts on this debate.
Inherent bhakti-vāda has been around for some time now, but its proponents have not sought to demonstrate that these ideas are taught in Śrī Jīva’s writings. This new theory seeks to validate inherent bhakti-vāda through Śrī Jīva’s writings. Their approach is heavily biased, in the sense that they start with a premise, and then go about combing through his Sandarbhas to establish the truth of their premise. Every sentence or phrase that is construed to support the premise is brought to the fore, and parts that do not support it are explained away or just not cited.
Further, instead of interpreting latter writers like Śrī Baladeva in a way that is consonant with Śrī Jīva’s writings, their approach seeks to interpret Śrī Baladeva independently. The opponents justify this approach by trying to establish Śrī Baladeva as a ‘second Jīva’, which appears to me to be an ill-disguised attempt to supplant Śrī Jīva’s status as the founder of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism. Such an ‘appeal to authority’ is fallacious logic. Pious declarations of the greatness of this person or that does nothing to establish the truth of a given claim about the Sandarbhas. As the question is of a valid interpretation of the Sandarbhas, their author should be taken as the authority on them. (One can of course question the validity of the Sandarbhas themselves but I assume that all parties in this debate accept their validity). It seems to me that the need for crutches of subsequent writers perhaps arises when one does not have access to direct knowledge of and training in the Sandarbhas- and by that, I mean hearing each Sanskrit sentence, and asking questions for clarification, from one’s teacher who similarly learned it from his teacher.
This is of course not to say that anyone who has not directly learned the Sandarbhas does not have a correct understanding of the essential message of the Sandarbhas. Clearly the tradition has had a number of writers who have written numerous books. Luminaries like Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja toiled to express their message in Bengali for those who do not know Sanskrit. But even their works must be learned from a teacher, and not just by picking up a book and reading it. And when a dispute or conflict arises, as in the present case, it seems to me that caution must be exercised before criticizing the writings of a person like Babaji who has learned the Sandarbhas from his teacher, who in turn learned them from his teacher. The inherent bhakti-vādis freely admit that they have no knowledge of Sanskrit. Yet they have no hesitation in criticizing Babaji’s writings, while simultaneously citing his English translations to support their own mis-interpretations.
I am interested in direct knowledge of the Sandarbhas, free from the need to force-fit them into consistency with related writings by subsequent writers. The method of knowledge transfer through the paramparā is what ensures validity of a knowledge system in Vaiṣṇava tradition. If the method is proper, the knowledge will be transferred properly. And the method also ensures that the receiving individuals gain the qualification for subsequent knowledge transfer. This is knowledge flowing down the chain, not reconstructed going the other way.
What I am trying to say is this:
The true authority for Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism is Śrī Jīva’s Sandarbhas, and all subsequent persons are only important so long as they transfer the direct knowledge of the Sandarbhas faithfully. They have no independent significance.
I do want to state that I am not opposed to those who seek to establish their own narratives and own interpretations. What others do or follow or value is their own calling, driven as they are by their own mental programs, concerns and agendas. My concern is communicating the essential message of Śrī Jīva’s Sandarbhas as has been received in the Gadādhara parivāra, a message that is unfortunately now under attack.
I want to acknowledge Śrī Ananta Kṛṣṇa dāsa for his superb and prompt help in tracking references down. I consulted Śrī Babaji now and then when I was stuck in my writings, and I want to thank him for being gracious with his time whenever I requested it. Any defects in these refutations are exclusively my own as he has not read any of these articles.