Careful study of Sri Jiva Goswami’s Sat-sandarbha reveals that he was fully aware of the arguments of both Sankara and Ramanuja but not entirely satisfied with their explanations as to why consciousness is the ultimate undeniable reality (in the case of Sankara), and why the objective world and jiva souls are also real (in the case of Ramanuja), even while accepting both of their insights. Sri Jiva Goswami sensed that there was something essential in consciousness that had not been addressed by these acaryas that offered more compelling insight and further confirmed their realizations. After all, the reasoning cited by Sankara and Ramanuja in support of their positions on these points does not tell us much about the nature of consciousness in terms of its positive content.
Sankara tells us that reality is consciousness because it is that which cannot be denied, for denial itself requires consciousness. Sankara posits a purely subjective reality that denies the objective world, for all material manifestations can be denied in the sense that they do not endure.
Thus he denies the objective world. Ramanuja, however, insists that consciousness requires an object that it is conscious of for it to have any real meaning. It also requires a conscious entity. Whatever is revealed by consciousness or within consciousness is real. Thus Ramanuja acknowledges that reality is a unity of consciousness that includes the world and the jiva souls, which he considers attributes of Brahman (the substance).
While Sri Jiva Goswami does not deny these explanations, he takes what he considered the best from both in his quest for something more compelling about the essence of consciousness. In the course of pursuing his own investigation into the nature of being, Sri Jiva found himself inspired to find out exactly what the fundamental nature of consciousness is. For an answer that corroborated and clarified his insight he turned to Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.8: parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate. In a word it is “sakti,” and it is upon this one word that his entire worldview hangs.
Jiva Goswami’s doctrine of acintya-bhedabheda is based on the idea that in order for something to exist it must have power. “Being exists,” is a tautology that we all nonetheless voice and accept. The power by which being exists and expresses itself is one with it and different from it at the same time.
Reality is both static and dynamic at once (one and different). It is static in the sense that it is still. It has no purpose to fulfill, no necessity, and thus no need to move. However, it is at the same time dynamic and thus moving. It is dynamic in the sense that in its fullness it expresses itself. It expresses itself not in search of fulfillment, but rather in celebration of its fullness. It has a necessity not because it is incomplete, but rather one born of its fullness. Thus its dynamism is a necessary fact of its static nature.
In Sri Jiva Goswami’s vision, the Absolute is a unity of love, which is stillness and motion at once. One in search of love never rests until love is found, yet once finding love, that very love sets one in a motion of its own. The Absolute moves and it does not move, it is near and far at the same time, tad dure tad vantike(Isopanisad 5). It is nondual consciousness, and in Sri Jiva’s realization the consciousness of this consciousness is love. It exists for no purpose inasmuch as love knows no reason. There is no reason to the rhyme of the world. Reality exists for the joy of itself, and it is out of joy–out of love–that the One becomes many and the world issues forth–lokavat tu lila kaivalyam. Because it is about joy (ananda), it not only exists (sat) but is also cognitive (cit)–sat cit ananda. From this, the reality of the jivas and the world follows. They constitute the intermediate and secondary powers of the Absolute, respectively.
Thus in the vision of Jiva Goswami, understanding the positive content of Brahman/consciousness lies in knowing Brahman to be a unity of love between itself and its power. This he feels tells us more about consciousness than merely stating that it exists because it cannot be denied, or that it must include an object that it is conscious of for it to have any meaning. In the opinion of Sri Jiva, the idea that Brahman is a unity of love between itself and its power that causes it to express itself in lila or divine play offers us more compelling insight as to why it exists in the first place as well as why it includes within itself the world and the jivas.
Whatever exists must do or cause something. Brahman exists because it is a unity of love, in love with itself. It includes the world and the jivas because they constitute expressions of this love, and the two—Brahman and the power by which it expresses itself—are one and different simultaneously, just as a person and his power are both one with and different from him at the same time.
If the Absolute’s power is only different from it, this would compromise the nonduality of the Absolute. If its power is only nondifferent from it, what need is there to call it anything such as “power,” and in this way distinguish it? Sri Jiva Goswami answers that because it is impossible to conceive (acintya) of the power of the absolute as different from it, we call the Absolute one (abheda), and because it is equally impossible to conceive of the power of the Absolute as identical with it we call it different (bheda). Brahman is its power and is not its power. The two are thus interpenetrable and not entirely distinct, as are attributes from their substance despite their inseparability.
Brahman is neither absolutely one with nor absolutely different from its saktis. Were Brahman absolutely one with the world and the jivas, their faults would be those of Brahman. Were Brahman absolutely different from the jivas and the world, this would constitute dualism contradicting the scriptural account of Brahman’s nonduality. As Sri Jiva explains with logic and scriptural support the simultaneous identity and difference of Brahman and its saktis, he stresses that knowing that both identity and difference coexist in the same object does not tell us how they do so. Logical thinking precludes their simultaneous presence in the same object. The inconceivability of the relation between the bheda and abheda of Brahman is evident from the contradiction it involves.
Thus the acintya of the Gaudiyas is not an illogical notion seeking to do away with logical discourse on the nature of being. It is central to an angle of vision—Gaudiya Vedanta—in which, arguably, something interesting if not more about the Absolute is revealed than that which we learn from other forms of Vedanta, such as those of Sankara and Ramanuja.