Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. Swamiji, in Sanga Volume V, No. 11 you explained that the Gaudiyas are not satisfied with the term aprthak-siddhi (inseparability), by which Ramanuja attempts to logically explain the relationship between Brahman and the world/jivas.

For this and other reasons the Gaudiyas have articulated their own metaphysic of acintya-bhedabheda. I read a response to your article, the main points of which are:

Ramanujacarya has given the best explanation of Vedanta, one that is truly logical, scriptural, and following the sages of yore.There is no need to postulate the illogical, and scripturally unsupportable notion of acintya sakti.You need to study the doctrine of Ramanuja (in English). Gaudiya Vedanta leaves many questions unanswered.

The entire article is long but here are some excerpts:

“Swami Tripurari has written: “In this regard, the Gaudiya acaryas have determined that this logical shortcoming of Sri Ramanuja’s metaphysic is resolved with the concept of acintya, or inconceivability with regard to the nature of ultimate reality and its being simultaneously one and different.”

“This is quite funny. Whatever logically established in the Sastras is done away with and an illogical siddhanta is brought in — Is this a way to “resolve” things? If Bhagavad Ramanuja is said to have foregone logic, is the explanation involving inconceivability (acintya) with logical contradiction of simultaneously being one and different any better? It has to be noted that, if the term “acintya” may have any significance at all in this context, there certainly has to be a logical contradiction. When there is no logical contradiction in this context, there will be nothing to be given up as inconceivable. Since Bhagavad Ramanuja has clearly explained the issue, there is no acintya in that case.

“The author (Swami) has well displayed his ignorance regarding the siddhanta of Bhagavad Ramanuja. As questioned above, is it (acintya sakti) an improvement? By the way, it is evident as to who is struggling to understand Brahman and finally giving up to be filled with contradictions and safely covering up one’s inability by explaining Brahman to be acintya in the above sense. This is akin to how advaitins cover-up their siddhanta by attributing inconceivability to their pet “maya” — No one should question on that — the repeated answer is maya will be both true, false, etc.”anirvacaniya.”

I do not expect you to read the entire article but could you please respond to these accusations?

acintyah khalu ye bhava na tams tarkena yojayet/
prakrtibhyah param yac ca tad acintyasya laksanam//

“That which is transcendental to material nature is certainly inconceivable and thus not understandable through argumentation.

Since argumentation cannot touch transcendental subject matters, one should not try to understand transcendental subjects through it.”

(Mahabharata, Bhisma parva 5.22)

I have read the entire article, and it borders on personal insult and involves flagrant disrespect for Gaudiya Vedanta. In this sense it demonstrates little if any actual realization of Vedanta, and thus it is hardly representative of Sripada Ramanujacarya. It also betrays, if not admits to, little understanding of the Gaudiya doctrine coined acintya-bhedabheda by our tattva acarya Sri Jiva Goswami in his Sarva-samvadini.

The author, a follower of visistadvaita, would like to debate acintya-bhedabheda versus visistadvaita. His principal point is that Sripada Ramanujacarya has perfectly and logically explained with scriptural support the relationship between Brahman and the world/jivas leaving no room for doubt or second opinion. Thus he concludes that there is no need for any other explanation of this reality, especially not the Gaudiya explanation.

Never mind that other Vedantists disagree with the logic of the faithful visistadvaitins. They are simply wrong, illogical, etc. How so? Just study Sripada Ramanuja and it will be clear. This is not a good argument.

In my original article I merely stated the fact that both scholars and acaryas of other sampradayas have concluded that Ramanuja’s term aprthak-siddhi (inseparability), while attempting to logically explain the relationship between Brahman and the world/jivas, does not do so to the satisfaction of all concerned and that Gaudiya Vedantins feel that their concept of acintya sakti (inconceivable power) better addresses this relationship.

Because the Gaudiyas envision the world and the jivas to be saktis of Brahman that are one and different from it, rather than attributes of Brahman, they do not agree that the relationship between the world/jivas and Brahman can be logically explained by the concept of inseparability. In the Gaudiya vision, Brahman and its saktis are interpenetrable and thus the fact that Brahman has sakti does not compromise its nonduality by causing it to have internal difference (svagatabheda), as does Ramanujaís vision of an Absolute that is qualified by its attributes.

This vision of the Gaudiyas is in keeping with the Srimad-Bhagavataís statement as to the nondual nature of the Absolute (advaya jnana tattva). Although followers of Ramanuja have explained this statement of the Bhagavata differently, Ramanuja’s school has not embraced the Bhagavatam as closely as the Gaudiyas, for who it is the ultimate in scriptural evidence. Accordingly, Sri Jiva Goswami has dedicated a good portion of his Tattva-sandarbha as well as practically the entirety of his Bhagavata- and Paramatma-sandarbhas to justifying the Gaudiya understanding of this statement.

Thus while Sri Ramanuja’s concept of inseparability may seem entirely logical to his followers, rather than satisfying the Gaudiyas it speaks more to them of an attempt to logically explain what they perceive as the simultaneous identity and difference of the Absolute with its saktis that is in fact inconceivable.

Indeed, Ramanujacarya himself states that the world cannot be absolutely one with or absolutely different from God (Bs. commentary 2.1.14, 2.1.22). He also advocates a form of identity in difference (Bs. commentary 2.3.42). However, he criticizes the relations of identity-and-difference and identity-in-difference as inadequate in arriving ultimately at his notion of inseparability. From this it appears that he is attempting to logically resolve the identity/difference/ immanence/transcendence of the Absolute. Accordingly, the Gaudiyas feel that when Ramanuja speaks of inseparability he is really pointing to something that is inconceivable and in fact forgoes logic himself when he invokes the concept of inseparability, as scholars Datta and Chattergee in their Introduction to Indian Philosophy state: “This (Ramanuja’s concept of inseparability) is merely giving up the game of logical understanding.” By this we do not mean to say that Ramanuja is illogical, but rather that in reality exactly how identity and difference inhere in Brahman is not possible to explain within the limits of logic.

Sri Jiva Goswami was well acquainted with the entire system of Ramanuja’s Vedanta, yet saw the need to postulate the doctrine of acintya-bhedabheda based on Srimad-Bhagavatam, even while respecting deeply the insight and devotion of Ramanuja. His is not a criticism of Ramanuja, but rather another angle of vision. Let me briefly explain the Gaudiyas’ position and how Sri Jiva Goswami arrived at it after thoroughly examining the schools of Sankaracarya and Sri Ramanuja in particular. By doing so, I shall briefly explain the logic for the Gaudiya concept of acintya, which is hardly illogical, nor is it unsupportable from scripture. Indeed, the sixfold treatise of Sri Jiva Goswami in which he explains his doctrine with overwhelming support from scripture has never encountered any serious challenge since the day he completed it and offered it to the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya, whose spiritual reality it explains in great detail.

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 Goswamiís 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 its 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 a logical one supported by scripture. It is central to a different angle of vision from which arguably something more about the Absolute is revealed.

Let the interested reader study Sat-sandarbha and reach his own conclusion as to the scriptural basis and overall worthiness of Jiva Goswami’s pursuit. His work reveals the importance of Srimad-Bhagavatam to the extent that it brings into question the need for the many Brahma-sutra commentaries that came after this Maha Purana. Citing Garuda Purana Sri Jiva establishes the Bhagavata Purana as the most perfect commentary on the Brahma-sutras—artho yam brahma sutranam—one written by the author of the sutras.

In this text that is central to the Gaudiya doctrine and embraced more heartily by the Gaudiyas than any other lineage, we find ample evidence for the doctrine of acintya-bhedabheda. Indeed, Vyasa himself tells us in the text of his own samadhi that gave rise to acintya-bhedabheda and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Do we really need someone else to tell us what Vyasa is saying in his sutras, especially when such an explanation ignores Srimad-Bhagavatam altogether? Perhaps we do not, yet still the Gaudiya Vedantins respect those who have offered their own explanations. However, those who claim to represent such acaryas yet disrespect Gaudiya Vedanta do not in my estimation represent their acaryas well.

True Gaudiyas are not party to the centuries of fighting between the different sects of Vaisnava Vedanta. Indeed, our acarya Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura established the murtis of all of the principal Vaisnava acaryas in Sri Dhama Mayapura. Furthermore, comparatively speaking true Gaudiyas do not take as harsh of a position as other Vaisnava sects do towards Sripada Sankaracarya.

In my original answer to the question regarding why the Gaudiyas see the need to posit the acintya sakti of Brahman to explain its simultaneous identity and difference I showed no disrespect for Sri Ramanujacarya or his doctrine. Indeed, all Gaudiyas and especially the particular branch of Gaudiya Vedanta that I am affiliated with hold Sri Ramanuja in the highest regard. We do, however, feel that his immense contribution is not the only possible valid way of explaining the nature of being. Still, this is not the place to debate the two doctrines in detail. Moreover, time spent in debating with one who is not well acquainted with one of the doctrines nor respectful of that doctrine and its acaryas is not well spent.

Furthermore, both of these doctrines are now well-established schools of Vedanta and it is unlikely in the least that followers of either school will ever agree or that there will be any conversion resulting from discussion. Each school has produced genuine saints, and this is the most compelling evidence for their spiritual validity, regardless of their different explanations of that experience. For that matter, no explanation of ultimate reality can be complete and perfect in all respects without diminishing the very nature of that reality. It is best to honor the spirituality of both sects and differ as one likes with regard to whose explanation is better. Thus the fact that the Gaudiyas feel their explanation is best need not be taken as an affront to Sripada Ramanuja and his community of devotees. We live in times that are religiously plural.

In closing, as the author has suggested that I read (in English) works that exhaustively explain the doctrine of Sri Ramanuja, I suggest that he read (in Sanskrit) the first three essays of Sri Jiva Goswami’s sixfold treatise on Srimad-Bhagavatam: Tattva-sandarbha, Bhagavata-sandarbha, and Paramatma-sandarbha. There he will find answers to all of the questions he feels the Gaudiyas need to address. I also suggest that he read Krishna-sandarbha and Priti-sandarbha to better understand the superexcellence of the Gaudiya doctrine in its emphasis on Krishna and love of Krishna. After doing so, should he care to enter the sublime culture of krishnanusilanam, I highly recommend the reading of Sri Jiva’s Bhakti-sandarbha. Krsne matir astu.

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