Śrī Jīva Goswami justifies acintya bheda-abheda

Given the popularity of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism these days, there is much use of the term ‘acintya bheda-abheda’. I am not sure if the popular descriptions of this term are accurate. I therefore decided to collect the precise language that Śrī Jīva uses to justify the use of acintya bheda-abheda below along with my translations.

The term ‘acintya bheda abheda’ is explicitly mentioned by Śrī Jīva Goswami in his Sarva-samvādinī commentary on the Paramātmā Sandarbha.

apare tu, tarkāpratiṣṭhānāt [ve.sū. 2.1.11] iti nyāyena bhede’py abhede’pi nirmaryāda-doṣa-santati-darśanena bhinnatayā cintayitum aśakyatvād abhedaṁ sādhayantas tadvad abhinnatayāpi cintayitum aśakyatvād bhedam api sādhayanto’cintya-bhedābheda-vādaṁ svīkurvanti |

Others accept acintya bhedābheda vāda on the basis of tarkāpratiṣṭhānāt. They recognize that accepting bheda or abheda, each, gives rise to the fault of being devoid of conformity with śruti. [They accept acintya bhedābheda vāda realizing the futility of] seeking abheda because of the impossibility of conceiving bheda, [and] similarly seeking bheda because of the impossibility of conceiving abheda.

This mirrors Śrīdhar swami’s commentary that Śrī Jīva Goswami has cited in the Bhagavat Sandarbha Anuccheda 16.2:

yad vā, acintyā bhinnābhinnatvādi-vikalpaiś cintayitum aśakyāḥ, kevalam arthāpatti-jñāna-gocarāḥ santi

Alternatively, the meaning of acintyā is that the śakti 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 ).

We see the same language in the following passage in in his Sarva-samvādinī commentary on the Bhagavad Sandarbha, where we see an additional important concept:

tasmāt svarūpād abhinnatvena cintayitum aśakyatvād bhedaḥ | bhinnatvena cintayitum aśakyatvād abhedaś ca pratīyate iti śakti-śaktimator bhedābhedāv evāṅgīkṛtau | tau cācintyau iti ||

Therefore, because it is impossible to think of the śakti as being non-different from the svarūpa, bheda is apparent. And. because it is impossible to think of the śakti as different from the svarūpa, abheda is apparent. As such, bheda and abheda alone must be accepted between the śakti and the śaktimān. And this bheda and abheda is acintya (known through śāstra alone).

The main thing to take away is as follows.

In the term ‘acintya bheda abheda’ –

bheda is the denial of abheda,

abheda is the denial of bheda,

– between śaktimān and śakti.

The word ‘acintya’ indicates that all this is known only from śāstra.


In the term, ‘acintya bheda-abheda-vāda’:

1. the word ‘bheda’ is a denial of ‘abheda’ between śaktimān and śakti.

2. the word ‘abheda’ is a denial of ‘bheda’ between śaktimān and śakti.

3. These denials ensure that statements of śruti that propound bheda are not rejected, and statements of śruti that propound abheda are also not rejected.

4. Point 3 implies the word ‘acintya’, meaning denial of bheda and the denial of abheda is known only from śāstra.

Categories: Bhagavān, concepts

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3 replies »

  1. I think that one difference between acintya bheda-abheda and svabhavika bheda-abheda may be as follows:

    In Svabhavika bheda-abheda, I assume both bheda and abheda are accepted. This leads to the criticism that bheda and abheda cannot exist in the same locus.

    In acintya bheda abheda, bheda and abheda are each denied. This may avoid the defect of bheda and abheda in the same locus.

    The denial brings to my mind the Advaitin denial of ‘jada’ and ‘duhkha’ in Brahman. They dont say what it is, they say what it is not.

  2. Another pramana that can be added is Ahirbudhnya samhita(3.2-3)(of Pancharatra):

    शक्तयः सर्वभावानामचिन्त्या अपृथक्स्थिता।
    स्वरूपे नैव दृश्यन्ते दृश्यन्ते कार्यतस्तु ताः ॥
    सूक्ष्मावस्था हि सा तेषां सर्वभावानुगामिनी ।
    इदंतया विधातुं सा न निषेद्धुं च शक्यते ॥

    Could you translate this? It seems to convey a similar instruction as Vishnu Purana verse.

    • The saktis of all objects are acintyA, not situated separately. They are not seen in the svarupa, but seen from their effects.

      That sakti is the subtle state of all objects, and follows all objects. She cannot be designated in this [specific] way, nor can she be denied.

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