Found in Sanga, Sanga 1999.

“It may be worth pointing out to the Sanga members that these kinds of dialogues are not just for reading. Those interested in advancing in scriptural knowledge would do well to study this type of dialogue, look up the verses cited and the words they don’t understand. I am also available for questions. The value of increasing one’s scriptural knowledge is that it increases one’s resolve and faith in chanting, etc., which in turn brings about our spiritual advancement. It removes anarthas, such as misconceptions about what bhakti is, thus enabling us to embrace it more fully. This kind of exercise is what spiritual community is about. It provides us with something relevant to say in spiritual circles. It is a form of Hari-katha. Really we have no other business in this world, certainly none more important. All of us should be focused on one thing: going back to Godhead.” —Swami B. V. Tripurari

What follows is a discussion between Swami B. V. Tripurari and a Sanskrit scholar on an academic Internet conference.

Scholar: As for the supposed uniqueness of Caitanya’s “gift of vraja-bhakti,” I personally have never been able to appreciate this particular feature of Gaudiyaism. I’ll leave it to those who do to reconcile it with the pramanas.

Swami Tripurari: Where else is manjari-bhava available in Kali-yuga, that which Krishna himself craves?

Scholar: This is precisely the Gaudiya peculiarity to which I was referring—the hierarchical arrangement of different rasas, bhavas, etc. I don’t share this view.

Swami Tripurari: What is your view?

Scholar: That of Ramanuja. Otherwise everything depends on divine grace. As far as I know, all schools of Vedanta —even Advaita—accept the primacy of divine grace. We cannot attain knowledge of the self any more than love of God without his initiating it (yam evaisa vrnute, tena labhyah). And yet self-knowledge is seen as ever-existing, shining forth with the removal of ignorance. Why should it not be so with love of God?

Swami: Self-knowledge involves more than the removal of ignorance in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatam syad. As the problem is devotion to another, the solution is devotion properly reposed, not merely the removal of ignorance. With the removal of ignorance, in the context of devotional service, some positive prospect comes to light.

Scholar: Dvitiyabhinivesa is not really “devotion to another,” but rather “clinging to (the idea of) a second,” i.e., perceiving duality in what is really one. As you are no doubt aware, quotes from the Gita and Upanisads could be produced by the dozen to show that self-knowledge is in fact attained by the removal of ignorance, adityavaj jnanam prakasayati tatparam, etc, etc.

Swami: Yes, I was just citing the Gaudiya understanding with which you may disagree. But I do not believe you can say is not accurate. It is accurate in the context of the entire Gaudiya approach to the Bhagavata. Have you studied Sat-sandarbha?

Scholar: Let’s talk about the Gita. Yamunacarya has explained very nicely in his Gitarthasamgraha how the first six chapters teach jnana and karma yoga for the attainment of self-realization (atmanubhuti), and the next six teach bhakti yoga for the attainment of God realization. In his view, bhakti yoga is produced by, and therefore rests on, the other two yogas (jnana-karmabhinirvartyo bhaktiyogah), and may lead the aspirant who “has seen the self” (drsyvatmanam) to the attainment of God’s feet—but all the yogas may also lead to mere self-realization (kaivalya), if that is desired. I like this balanced explanation.

Swami: Are you implying here that the Gaudiya commentaries, with their emphasis on devotion mixed or unmixed as the only means to any type of salvation, are not balanced?

Scholar: I am saying—without any offense intended, and I humbly beg the forgiveness of those who may still feel offended—that a tradition that explicitly engages in jnana-karma-ninda (this is a Cc quote from memory; I’m sorry I can’t give the exact reference) does not correspond to my idea of a balanced spirituality, and seems very far removed from the Gita. Gaudiyas may (and occasionally do) reply that their understanding is indeed above the Gita. I beg to disagree.

Swami: I don’t believe that Gaudiya Vaisnavism explicitly engages in jnana-karma ninda. It does however, stress that the desire for jnana or karma are impediments to its goal. This was the point raised by Jiva to one scholar when the latter questioned Rupa’s verse in Brs.(1.2.22) in which Sri Rupa appears to call jnana and karma witches (pisaci).

Bhakti covered by jnana and karma is not the kind of bhakti the tradition advocates. Otherwise we are told not to blaspheme (ninda) sections of the scripture dealing with jnana and karma, as they are important for those who do not have the adhikara for bhakti.

As for the Gita, we revere it. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami has cited it more than thirty times in the Caitanya-caritamrta. He cites it in several places to support his idea that devotion itself is the best means, as opposed to karma and jnana. You may be referring to the following verse of Cc with regard to karma-ninda: karma-ninda karma-tyaga sarva-sastre kahe, karma haite prema-bhakti krsne kabhu nahe, “All of the sastras voice condemnation of karma, advising karma-tyaga, for by fruitive work krishna prema-bhakti can never be attained.” (Cc Madhya 9.263) In support of this claim, Krishnadasa cites Bg. 18.66 along with SB 11.11.32, 11.20.9, 3.29.13, 6.17.28. His verse follows a citation of SB 11.2.40 in which stress is given to chanting the Holy Name by which all perfection is attained. On the whole, Krishnadasa does not overtly blaspheme religious work or the culture of knowledge, but he does stress that para-bhakti awakens in one who has experienced the divine grace of Krishna in his or her life, contrasting this with the paths of karma and jnana.

Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura in his Gita commentary understands the first six chapters to be an advocacy of niskama-karma-yoga, the middle six bhakti mixed and unalloyed, and the final six to be dealing with jnana. Both karma and jnana become meaningful when seen as tributaries entering the main stream of bhakti. When viewed as independent means to salvation they are misleading.

I don’t believe that Gaudiya Vaisnavism explicitly engages in jnana-karma ninda.

Scholar: Yes, it does. The Cc verse you quote is not the one I was referring to. The context, if I remember correctly, is Advaita praising the Yogavasistha (or some such text) in order to rouse Caitanya’s anger and enjoy his “blaspheming jnana and karma.”

Swami: The section you are referring to portrays Sri Caitanya as irate with Advaita for his advocacy of jnana over bhakti, not his taking pleasure in “blaspheming jnana and karma.”

Bhakti covered by jnana and karma is not the kind of bhakti the Gaudiya tradition advocates.

Scholar: The very word “covered” shows the Gaudiya bias. In the view of the Gita, true bhakti rests on a foundation of wisdom (jnana), and the Gita is full of praise for jnana, udarah sarva evaite jnani tv atmaiva me matam.

Swami: The word “covered” (jnana-karmadi-anavrtam) with regard to jnana and karma is found in Brs.1.1.11. Much of Sri Rupa’s book springs from this verse. It does not imply a mundane bias, rather proper balance.

With regard to jnana, “covered” means that one’s bhakti should not be influenced by jiva-brahma-aikya jnana, or knowledge of oneness of jiva and Brahman that admits no distinction between the two, as this is opposed to bhakti. Otherwise, tat-parartha-jnana and tvam-padartha-jnana, or knowledge of the position of Bhagavan and the jiva respectively, which are not opposed to uttama-bhakti, are to be cultivated. I do believe that all Vaisnava sampradayas are at odds with jiva-brahma-aikya jnana.

Regarding karma (prescribed duties), for Gaudiyas the only appropriate karma is that which is seva-paricarya, service and attendance to the Lord. Fear on the part of the sadhaka that not performing prescribed duties will result in sinful reactions, and the notion that performance of them will result in bhakti or that their performance is required for attaining bhakti are what Sri Rupa is referring to by the word covered. Should one engage in prescribed duties, such as observing the sraddha ceremony for deceased relatives, without this misunderstanding in the course of cultivating uttama-bhakti, such a sadhaka is not in violation of Sri Rupa’s principle.

Anavrta (covered) has been used rather than sunya (void), because only jnana and karma that obscure bhakti are prohibited. Therefore we accept jnana and karma that help to nourish our bhakti.

Again, we are told not to blaspheme sections of the scripture dealing with jnana and karma, as they are important for those who do not have adhikara for bhakti.

Scholar: Actually, only the realized soul has the adhikara for pure bhakti. (brahmabhutah prasannatma … madbhaktim labhate param.) How is that realization achieved? By the practice of bhakti yoga with its angas, jnana- and karma-yoga.

Swami: Realized souls have extended the adhikara for pure bhakti, as has the Bhagavatam in the concluding verse of rasa-pancadhyaya. The Gita can also be cited in this regard. Para-bhakti is liberated bhakti, but bhakti can also be practiced by the non-liberated.

Scholar: The Gita does not see jnana and karma as rival paths, but as a unity. This is amply evident from an unbiased study of the text. Why should Krishna misleadingly glorify jnana and niskama-karma for so many chapters if they weren’t to be practiced?

Swami: They are to be practiced by those who do not have faith that the scriptures advocate, as difficult as it may be to believe (particularly for those versed in the religious and salvific sections of scripture), that bhakti alone is sufficient if not more expedient and more far-reaching in its scope of deliverance, and that it is available for only the price of one’s faith. It may sound cheap, but who has it? Faith in the efficacy of bhakti alone is hard to find in India or anywhere else. Bhaktivinoda Thakura sought to curb the antinomianism that the Gaudiya doctrine lends itself to though the implementation of daiva varnasrama (varnasrama for those treading the paramahamsa marga but who are themselves not such).

Scholar: It is certainly hard to imagine aspirants with less adhikara than we Western converts—though I have met many in ISKCON and CSM who sincerely believed they were “transcendentally situated,” above the brahmajnanins, just because they wore Vaisnava tilaka. This is the bizarre consequence of jnana-karma-ninda.

Swami: Superiority of the kanistha-adhikari in his or her immediate reality is to be understood in relation to the sadhaka’s prospect (sadhya). It should not be abused. Prabhupada used to say that his only fault was that he initiated so many unqualified disciples.

Scholar: You said, “On the whole Krishnadasa does not overtly blaspheme religious work or the culture of knowledge, but he does stress that para-bhakti awakens in one who has experienced the divine grace of Krishna in his or her life, contrasting this with the paths of karma and jnana.”

Oh, so other types of yoga are not initiated by the Lord’s grace?

Swami: What I meant here is that the Lord’s grace alone is sufficient independent of one’s position in varnasrama or self-knowledge.

I think you have to remember and respect the fact that the Gaudiya acaryas have shown uncommon love for Krishna, which causes them to speak in this way. The very fact that they speak so strongly is evidence of their uncommon love for Krishna. Who else could say that he is more beautiful than Narayana, etc., than those who love him the most. No one speaks so flatteringly of Krishna, Alvars included. While charges of fanaticism may be voiced, the Gaudiyas have certainly done an adequate job of making the effort to support their claims from sastra, and their personal experience and power to generate love of Krishna is common knowledge.

Scholar: Uncommon exclusivism, I would say, and even intolerance. Their ideas of Krishna being superior to Rama, Narasimha, and all other forms of the Lord; of Vraja Krishna being superior to Mathura or Dvaraka Krishna; of srngara-rasa with this Vraja Krishna being superior to sakhya-rasa; etc, etc, seems to me merely secteristic.

Swami: Ironically that which you label exclusivism, elitist, and intolerant has posited a scripturally-based doctrine that makes salvation and love of God open to all. If for no other reason, the Gaudiyas are justified in claiming the superiority of their path in that it is open to all regardless of birth, learning, etc. Comparatively, Advaita Vedanta, Dvaita and to a lesser degree Visistadvaita are much more exclusive and elitist. The Gaudiya claim to the highest truth when combined with its accessibility to all makes it most accommodating, inclusive, and tolerant.

Scholar: You said, “No one speaks so flatteringly of Krishna, Alvars included.”

They didn’t extol him by putting down His other forms, no.

Swami: Gaudiya Vaisnavas do not put down other forms of the Lord. They appreciate them exactly as such—other forms of Krishna. The basis of the spiritual world is more partisan than not. Without such there would be no spiritual world, only nirvisesa brahma. The bias of Hanuman for Rama, etc. is the beauty of the spiritual world. It is a spiritual bias, not a material one that the Gaudiyas voice.Thus our leader Sri Rupa has said: siddhantatas tv abhede ‘pi srisa-krishnasvarupayoh rasenotkrsyate, krishnarupamesa rasasthitih “According to siddhanta and tattva, Krishna and Narayana are one, but if we analyze according to rasa, Krishna is superior.”

This is hardly deprecation of the other forms of the Lord.

On a personal level I feel I have greater respect for other sampradayas that you have expressed for the Gaudiya sampradaya. Perhaps your position is primarily influenced by experience with misrepresentations of the tradition, of which there is no dearth.

End of Part 1

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