I have previously stated in articles on this site that acintya means śāstraika-gamyam – knowable only through śāstra. śāstra states that there is neither bheda nor abheda between Bhagavān and His śaktis. As such, there is no option but to accept acintya bheda-abheda, even though bheda and abheda cannot logically exist in one place at the same time, like darkness and light.
I was asked about the source of the meaning of the word ‘acintya’ that I provided above. Another question was about how logic is allowed to be over-ridden by śāstra, given that logic is critical for understanding the meaning of śāstra. I will answer the second question in another article. Here, I examine the first question about the meaning of the word ‘acintya’.
The meaning of acintya as tarka-asaham
Śrī Jīva Goswami discusses the word ‘acintya’ in many places in the Sandarbhas. For example, in the Bhagavat Sandarbha Anuchheda 16.1, he first cites a verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa. I included the verse and translations by Śrī Babaji below. I have bolded the word ‘acintya’. I have deliberately left the word ‘acintya’ untranslated, anticipating Śrīdhara Swami’s commentary which I also provide below.
śakter acintyatvaṁ svābhāvikatvaṁ śrī-viṣṇu-purāṇe coktam—
nirguṇasyāprameyasya śuddhasyāpy amalātmanaḥ | kathaṁ sargādi-kartṛtvaṁ brahmaṇo’bhyupagamyate || [vi.pu. 1.3.1]
iti maitreya-praśnānantaraṁ śrī-parāśara uvāca—-
śaktayaḥ sarva-bhāvānām acintya-jñāna-gocarāḥ | yato’to brahmaṇas tās tu sargādyā bhāva-śaktayaḥ | bhavanti tapasāṁ śreṣṭha pāvakasya yathoṣṇatā || [vi.pu. 1.3.2]
That this śakti is both innate and acintyā is described in Viṣṇu Purāṇa , where the sage Parāśara responds to a query by Maitreya, who asked:
Brahman is free of material qualities, immeasurable, completely pure and spotless in essence. How then can we attribute to it the agency behind creation, maintenance and dissolution of the world? ( VP 1.3.1 )
Śrī Parāśara replied:
O best of the ascetics, the energies of all existent objects are acintyā but perceptible by intuitive knowledge, just like heat in fire. Similarly, know that Brahman’s śaktis, such as its creative power, are acintyā and beyond human intelligence. ( VP 1.3.2 )
Śrī Jīva Goswami cites Śrīdhara Swami in Anuchheda 16.2. I only reproduce how he glosses the word acintya in the compound acintya-jñāna-gocarāḥ:
loke hi sarveṣāṁ bhāvānāṁ maṇi-mantrādīnāṁ śaktayo’cintya-jñāna-gocarāḥ, tarkāsahaṁ yaj acintyaṁ jñānaṁ kāryānyathānupapatti-pramāṇakaṁ
In the material world, ‘the energies of all existent objects’ ( śaktayaḥ sarva-bhāvānām ), such as gems or mantras , are ‘acintya but perceptible’ ( acintya-jñāna-gocarāḥ ). The words acintya-jñāna refer to knowledge that confounds logic (tarka-asaham) and must be obtained by simple acceptance of the effects ( kārya-anyathā-anupapatti).
In this context, the meaning of the word ‘acintya’ is ‘tarka-asaham’ or ‘confounds logic’. The śaktis of all objects are acintya or beyond logic. If their existence is illogical, why must we accept it then? These śaktis must be accepted because the effects of gems or mantras, or in modern examples, the effect of a magnet on iron filings, cannot be explained in any other way. In like manner, Bhagavān creates the material world, and hence we must accept that He possesses śaktis.
The meaning of acintyatva as incapability of conceiving bheda or abheda alone
Śrī Jīva Goswami continues to cite Śrīdhara Swami in Anuchheda 16.2, quoting another explanation he gives for the word ‘acintya’ in the above verse:
yad vā, acintyā bhinnābhinnatvādi-vikalpaiś cintayitum aśakyāḥ, kevalam arthāpatti-jñāna-gocarāḥ santi
Alternatively, the meaning of acintyā is that the energy of objects cannot be thought of in terms of oneness with (abhinnatva i.e. abheda), or difference from (bhinnatva i.e. bheda), them, but understood only by presumption ( arthāpatti ).
Śrīdhara Swami is clearly teaching acintya-bheda-abheda – it is not possible to think (acintya) that the śaktis are different (bheda) from the śaktimān nor the same as the śaktiman (abheda). This is true for Bhagavān and His śaktis, and the verse is teaching an example of it using the ordinary example of heat and fire.
The meaning of acintya as śāstraika-gamyam
The specific meaning of acintya as śāstraika-gamyam is seen in the Sarva-samvādinī commmentary on the Paramātmā Sandarbha (bolded below). I translated the commentary here after consulting Śrī Ānanda Gopāla Vedānta-tirtha’s commentary on the Sarva-samvādinī.
tasmād acintyayā śaktyā niravayavaṁ sāvayavatvaṁ ca brahma tayaiva pariṇāma-mānam api nirvikāram eva tiṣṭhatīti śrauta-siddhāntaḥ | tasmāt tattvato’nyathā-bhāvaḥ pariṇāmaḥ ity eva lakṣaṇam, na tu tattvasyeti | dṛśyate cāpi maṇi-mantra-mahauṣadhi-prabhṛtīnāṁ tarkālabhyaṁ śāstraika-gamyam acintya-śaktitvam | tasmān nāsambhāvanīyam api |
Accordingly [based on the preceding discussion], the conclusion of the śruti is that Brahman is both without divisions and with divisions due to acintyā śakti, and that Brahman remains untransformed even as it undergoes transformation [as the world] by that acintyā śakti alone. Therefore, the definition of pariṇāma, or transformation is “a different state [arising] from the tattva” [tattva in ablative case], and not ‘a different state of tattva [tattva in genitive case]’. An example of this is seen even in the case of gems and medicine, which possess śaktis that are acintyā, understood only from śāstra, and cannot be established based on logic. Therefore, [simultaneous transformation and non-transformation] is not at all impossible in Him [i.e. this is to be similarly accepted as it is taught in śāstra alone and is beyond logic].
Here he states that even the power of mantras and gems is understood from śāstra alone. Śrī Jīva Goswami now summarizes the essence of this section:
tathā ca sarveṣām evācintya-śaktika-jagad-vastūnāṁ mūla-kāraṇasya tasyācintya-śaktitve sutarām eva labdhe śruti-dṛṣṭa-yugapad-vikārādīnāṁ sādhanāya tādṛśa-śakti-hīnānāṁ śukty-ādīnām iva vivartaḥ samāśrayitum ayukta eva | tathoktaṁ Śaṅkara-śārīrake’pi—patyur asāmañjasyāt ity adhikaraṇe āgama-balena brahma-vādī kāraṇādi-svarūpaṁ nirūpayati, nāvaśyaṁ tasya yathā-dṛṣṭaṁ sarvam abhyupagantavyaṁ [2.1.27] iti |
In this way, it is definitively established that the Supreme Brahman has acintyā śaktis as it is He indeed who is the root cause of all the objects of the world which possess acintyā śaktis. As such, in order to prove the teaching in śruti that Brahman simultaneously undergoes transformation [and remains untransformed], it is inappropriate to take shelter of vivarta-vāda [using examples like the appearance of silver in] conch-shells etc. which are entirely devoid of acintyā śaktis like those in Brahman. [That one must reject logic that goes against śruti] is stated even in the Śaṅkara-śārīraka commentary on the adhikaraṇa of the Brahma-sūltra, patyur asāmañjasyāt as follows [in 2.2.38]: the Brahma-vādīs state that Brahman is the cause [of the world] based on the authority of the Vedas. Logic that is opposed to the Vedas is irrelevant [in this regard]. Therefore, in all ways, what is stated in the Vedas is to be accepted”.
The word ‘acintya’ in the term ‘acintya bheda-abheda’ has the following related meanings:
- confounds [extra-scriptural] logic.
- Incapability of conceiving bheda or abheda between śaktis and śaktimān
- Known only through śāstra