The Illustrious Emperor of All Scriptural Evidence

By Swāmī Bhakti Praṇaya Padmanābha

To speak about any tattva in Gauḍīya Vedānta is no less than a daunting task, a task that requires proper addressing of the issue at hand with all its present-day complexities as well as some acquaintance with the means to approach and theologize about it in contemporary terms. From both sides of the discussion, this demands the intervention of players who may be distinctly progressive but very traditional at the same time, knowing how to deal with the many current archetypes but doing so with a clear frame of reference coming from revelation—knowing about the need for epistemic hierarchy.  

Simply put, epistemology is a philosophical department that deals with how we know what we know. This constitutes a methodology that determines the course of almost every investigation not only in the realm of Vedānta, but also in modern philosophy, science, and other areas of research. Without a preliminary discussion on the hierarchy and application of pramāṇas—in this case, sources of scriptural evidence—it is nearly impossible to come to a proper understanding on this or any other multifaceted topic. 

While pramāṇa thus refers to the ideal means of knowing in Gauḍīya Vedānta, whatever is proven through it will be known as prameya. Therefore, before attempting to ascertain any philosophical issue (prameya) in the Gauḍīya sampradāya, first and foremost we have to determine the proper means to arrive at the desired conclusion (pramāṇa). In other words, pramāṇa is that particular method we choose in order to corroborate any specific conclusive truth, and prameya will refer to that truth which will be ascertained through pramāṇa. Unfortunately, this classical approach has been somewhat neglected in most contemporary Gauḍīya debates, which nowadays circle around prameya without any resolve, since pramāṇa has not been properly established first—once we have established pramāṇa, only then is it possible to understand what is prameya, since prameya comes from pramāṇa.1 And while most Vedāntic schools possess their own epistemic hierarchy to arrive at their particular conclusions, here I will briefly describe why and how Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas embrace a slightly different but no less remarkable system, which they consider the crest-jewel of all pramāṇaŚrīmad Bhāgavatam.Śrī Caitanya, the very founder of the Gauḍīya sampradāya, mainly referred to the Bhāgavata as the supreme source of revelation. This text establishes its own ultimacy by describing how its author, the legendary Vyāsa, felt unsatiated even after he compiled the entire range of Vedic revelation. Then, under the guidance of his teacher, Śrī Nārada, Vyāsadeva finally composed his masterpiece in the form of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, through which he reached a sense of ultimate achievement by establishing the sovereignty of uttama-bhakti above any other goals and processes as well as the position of Śrī Kṛṣṇa as Svayaṁ Bhagavān, the nondual personal Absolute.  On the basis of this elaboration and in terms of epistemic hierarchy, Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas have always turned their attention toward the Bhāgavata as the preeminent source of revelation, considered as it is to be the natural commentary on Vedānta.

Despite what has been presented above, at this point some may contend that the Vedānta-sūtra should still have priority over the Bhāgavata because of having been written earlier, the Bhāgavata being an elaboration on Vyāsa’s original sūtras. That said, and taking into account what secular scholarship may be able to establish in terms of chronology, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is considered by Gauḍīyas not as a book or as a mere record of historical events, but as an eternal reality manifesting itself in human history at some specific point in time and in earthly circumstances but remaining untouched by any relative influence whatsoever. Being nondifferent from Bhagavān himself, the Bhāgavata is viewed as being possessed of eternal existence, beyond time and without beginning or end. According to the book itself (1.3.40), this work constitutes the literary incarnation of the Godhead, so if we suggest that Śrīmad Bhāgavatam depends on what the Vedānta-sūtra says in order for it to make full sense, then we must remember that just as Bhagavān is the supremely independent entity—svarāṭ—so the same degree of independence (and therefore epistemic autonomy) should apply to the Bhāgavata, the supreme scriptural authority for the followers of Śrī Caitanya.

Since we invoked his most sacred name, let us share what Śrī Caitanya himself had to say about the Bhāgavata’s status in the realm of Gauḍīya revelation:

  • When scolding Devānanda Paṇḍita, Śrī Gaurasundara established the superiority of the Bhāgavata above the Vedas, saying that “The four Vedas are like yogurt, and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is like butter. Śukadeva Goswāmī churned, and Parīkṣit Mahārāja relished the result.” (Caitanya Bhāgavata 2.21.16)2
  • In one of the very few verses ascribed to Mahāprabhu himself, he has said that the sounds of the Upaniṣads are far away from where the ambrosia of hari-kathā can take us—śrutam apy aupaniṣadaṁ dūre hari-kathāmṛtāt.3 Here the Upaniṣads are representative of the Vedic dictums, while hari-kathāmṛta refers to the Bhāgavata—a turn from brahma-jijñāsā to rasa-jijñāsā. Then Śrī Gaurahari further qualifies his statement by saying that “In them [the sounds of the Upaniṣads], there is no melting of the heart, no trembling, no tears, and no hair standing on end [as there is in connection to the Bhāgavata].” Since no one exhibited these ecstatic signs to the degree that Gaura himself did, this speaks of how seriously he embraced the Bhāgavata as the supreme pramāṇa, he himself embodying both the “person Bhāgavata” and the divine euphoria that comes as a natural result of hearing—and living in—the Bhāgavata.
  • When requested by Prakāśānanda to unpack the meaning of the Vedānta-sūtra, the Golden Lord took this golden opportunity to establish the glories of the Bhāgavata.4 He said, “Vyāsadeva collected whatever Vedic conclusions were in the four Vedas and 108 Upaniṣads and placed them in the aphorisms of the Vedānta-sūtra. In the Vedānta-sūtra, the purport of all Vedic knowledge is explained, and in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam the same purport has been explained in eighteen thousand verses. Therefore, it is to be concluded that the Vedānta-sūtra is explained vividly in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Also, what is explained in the verses of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam has the same purport as what is explained in the Upaniṣads.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.25.98–100) Then Gaura declared, “Śrīmad Bhāgavatam gives the actual meaning of the Vedānta-sūtra. The author of the Vedānta-sūtra is Vyāsadeva, and he himself has explained those aphorisms in the form of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.25.142) Quoting a famous section from the Garuḍa Purāṇa, Śrīmān Mahaprabhu continued, “The meaning of the Vedānta-sūtra is present in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. The full purport of the Mahābhārata is also there. The commentary of the brahma-gāyatrī is also there and fully expanded with all Vedic knowledge. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the supreme Purāṇa, and it was compiled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead in his incarnation as Vyāsadeva. There are twelve cantos, 335 chapters, and eighteen thousand verses.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.25.143–144)5 Reaching the end of his presentation, Śrī Caitanya said to Prakāśānanda, “Śrīmad Bhāgavatam gives direct information of the mellow derived from service to Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is above all other Vedic literatures.” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.25.150) Finally, Gaura Bhagavān advised Prakāśānanda Saraswatī, “Study Śrīmad Bhāgavatam very scrutinizingly. Then you will understand the actual meaning of the Brahma-sūtra [Vedānta-sūtra].” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.25.153)

Besides the crystal-clear opinion of Śrī Caitanya on the supremacy of the Bhāgavata as the distilled essence of all forms of Vedic revelation, the Bhāgavata itself validates within its pages its own ultimacy in comparison to other forms of revelation, at both the beginning and the end of its discourse. This is known in classical Vedic hermeneutics as upakrama-upasaṁhāra, where the true purport of a text is determined by paying close attention to whatever has been said at its very beginning (upakrama) as well as during its conclusion (upasaṁhāra).6 Regarding upakrama, right at the Bhāgavata’s very onset, its vastu-nirdeśa-śloka (1.1.2) establishes the book’s supremacy.7 And after glorifying its content in utmost detail, it declares, kiṁ vā paraiḥ: “What need is there for any scripture other than this?” Arguably, Vedānta is included in this bold statement since its own author is the one declaring such a thing here. Then, the following verse (1.1.3) describes the Bhāgavata as nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalaṁ, the fully mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literature. Very soon after this, verse 1.2.3 depicts this work as śruti-sāram, the cream of all śruti. Then, in its next chapter (1.3.41) Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is described as sarva-vedetihāsānāṁ sāraṁ sāraṁ samuddhṛtam, or the cream of all Vedic literatures and histories of the universe. Next, and in reply to Śaunaka’s question about where dharma had taken shelter now that Kṛṣṇa had left for his own abode, Sūta Goswāmī replied that in Kṛṣṇa’s absence, the Bhāgavata will act as the sun in the age of Kali, providing light to the people of the world. In other words, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam will act as Bhagavān’s representative or proxy (pratinidhi), taking his place when he is absent from the vision of the world. The intended sense thus is that the Bhāgavata is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa.

In terms of upasaṁhāra, in the very last chapter of its very last volume, the Bhāgavata puts its homily to rest by delivering a wonderful and profuse praise of its content,8 referring to itself in verses 12.13.12 and 12.13.15 as sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ—the essence of all Vedānta—and also labeling this Gauḍīya grantha-rāja in verses 12.13.16–17 as “the greatest (anuttamā) of all Purāṇas.” Finally, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is beautifully portrayed and immortalized in verse 12.13.18 as the immaculate Purāṇa—śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ purāṇam amalaṁ. In this way, even while the Bhāgavata may have expressed some level of regard for Vedānta in some of its sections, the highest regard of the Bhāgavata goes to the Bhāgavata itself, as has been shown here.9

Another example of the Bhāgavata’s epistemological ultimacy—as well as the importance of establishing it as pramāṇa before trying to ascertain any type of Gauḍīya siddhānta—comes from Śrī Jīva Goswāmī, the tattva-ācārya of the Gauḍīya sampradāya. He has shown by his example how we are to establish any conclusive truth through the lens of the Bhāgavata in his monumental Ṣaṭ Ṣandarbha, by first establishing in the very beginning of his first Sandarbha (Tattva Sandarbha) how Śrīmad Bhāgavatam constitutes the topmost source of scriptural support in the whole Gauḍīya sampradaya. Like Śrī Jīva, Śrīla Sanātana Goswāmī passionately glorifies Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in verses 412–416 of his Kṛṣṇa-lila-stava where, among profuse and extended praise, he addresses it as “the nectar from the ocean of all scriptures,” (sarva-śāstrābdhi-pīyūṣa) “the singular fruit of all the Vedas,” (sarva-vedaika-sat-phala) “the rich mine of the precious gems of all conclusive truths,” (sarva-siddhānta-ratnāḍhya) “the life air of all the Supreme Lord’s devotees,” (sarva-bhāgavata-prāṇa) “the exact image of Śrī Kṛṣṇa,” (śrī-kṛṣṇa-parivartita) “whose every syllable pours down a flood of prema,” (prema-varṣy-akṣarāya) “you who are Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself,” (śrī-kṛṣṇāya) and “my only friend, my constant companion, my spiritual master, my great wealth, my savior, my good fortune, my source of ecstasy!” (mad-eka-bandho mat-saṅgin mad-guro man-mahā-dhana man-nistāraka mad-bhāgya mad-ānanda).In this way, the Gauḍīya sampradāya has unequivocally established Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as its supreme pramāṇa based on what its very founder has said, of what the Bhāgavata itself has said, and, last but not least, of what the Goswāmīs have established along with their writings, all of which constitute another crucial aspect of the Gauḍīya’s epistemology due to them revolving exclusively around Śrīmad Bhāgavatam—the illustrious emperor of all scriptural evidence and crest-jewel of all epistemic hierarchy.

  1. This system is not only followed by Śrī Jīva Goswāmī in his Tattva Sandarbha but by most schools of thought in India, like Yoga-sūtras and so on. []
  2. In ancient India, butter was churned from yogurt and not from cream as is usually done in the West. []
  3. This verse is quoted in Bhakti Sandarbha 69 and attributed to Śrī Caitanya by Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī. []
  4. See Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.25.91–166 for a full presentation on this topic. Here I will quote only some brief excerpts of this section. []
  5. The verses from the Garuḍa Purāṇa referred to here are also invoked by Jīva Goswāmī in Tattva Sandarbha 21 as cited by Śrī Madhvācārya in Bhāgavata-tātparya 1.1.1. []
  6. Apart from these two (which are actually considered one single aspect), there are five other considerations when establishing the ultimate meaning of a book: what is repeated throughout the text, what is original to it, what is ascertained to be the result, what is praised, and what is established by logical argument. []
  7. A vastu-nirdeśa-śloka is one of the three main components of a maṅgalācaraṇa, or auspicious invocation. In this particular case, it is a verse (śloka) that points to (nirdeśa) the very essence (vastu) of the Bhāgavata. See Bhagavat Sandarbha 95 for a thorough explanation of this verse, as well as Śrī Jīva’s description of the Bhāgavata’s incomparability. []
  8. See Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.13.11–18 for the full glorification. []
  9. For more on the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as the supreme form of Gauḍīya evidence above other śāstra, see Tattva Sandarbha 19–26. []


About the Author

16 Responses to The Illustrious Emperor of All Scriptural Evidence

  1. Sastra-Vani Dasa

    Dear Padmanabha Maharaja,

    Thank you for your illustrious article. You have nicely brought out the prominence of Srimad Bhagavatam as the ultimate pramana.

    In the article, have little issue with the following:
    “According to the book itself (1.3.40), this work constitutes the literary incarnation of the Godhead, so if we suggest that Śrīmad Bhāgavatam depends on what the Vedānta-sūtra says in order for it to make full sense, then we must remember that just as Bhagavān is the supremely independent entity—svarāṭ—so the same degree of independence (and therefore epistemic autonomy) should apply to the Bhāgavata, the supreme scriptural authority for the followers of Śrī Caitanya.”

    I think that we can’t have both things. Either we embrace Srimad Bhagavatam wholeheartedly because it is Vyasadeva’s commentary on his own Vedanta-sutras, or we don’t accept it as Vyasa’s commentary on Vedanta-sutras.
    We cannot say that Srimad Bhagavatam is Vyasadeva’s commentary on his own Vedanta-sutras but is independent of the Vedanta-sutras. This is logically inconsistent.
    Also Maharaja, we must remember that the Bhagavatam, being a Purana, is not independent of other Vedic texts. The Puranas are said to explain the meaning of the Vedas and therefore are called the fifth Veda.
    I hope my words make sense.
    Thank you.

    In service,
    Sastra-Vani Dasa.

    • Swami B. P. Padmanabha

      Dear Sastra-vani,

      Thanks for your words of appreciation and insight.

      Regarding your main point, I personally do not have a problem with considering the Bhagavata as totally independent and also as Vyasa´s commentary to Vedanta, revealing chronologically later than the sutra in this world.

      As I mentioned, Srimad Bhagavatam is non-different from Bhagavan himself, so all of Bhagavan´s qualities are to be applied to his grantha-avatara as the Bhagavata. So as Krishna was born from Nanda and Yasoda and at the same time he is the father and mother of all, we could also say that although the Bhagavata exists eternally being non-different from Bhagavan (or that it was revealed at the dawn of creation to Brahma), it then manifested in this world after the Vedanta-sutras, as their naturally commentary, although its existence predates Vedanta.

      I try to include both perspectives, since the two of them are mentioned is sastra, so therefore we have the need of sangati, or reconciliation of apparently contradictory statements.

      Yes, the Bhagavata appears in a Puranic setting and conforms to the “burocracy” of those types of texts but, again, for us Gaudiyas that´s only a relative/secondary consideration. As I shared some quotes in the above article, the Bhagavata is the ultimate essence of Vedanta, Puranas and Vedic wisdom, so although it appears in their context and defers to their structure, it still remains as independent to them as our grantharaja.

      • Sastra-Vani Dasa

        Dear Padmanabha Maharaja,
        Pranaams,

        Thank you for your reply.

        I thought about the points you made. Here is my reply.

        When we consider Bhagavatam as an eternally existing sastra, we have to also consider all the Vedic literature as eternally existing. Bhag. 3.12.37-39 states that the four Vedas, the upavedas, Puranas, and Itihasas, all manifested from the mouths of Brahma. Here, in verse 39, Itihasas and Puranas are called the pancama-veda, the fifth Veda. Vishvanath Cakravarti Thakura says in his commentary to that verse that “their [manifestation was done] because they are the explanations of all the Vedas.” Thus, the eternally existing Bhagavatam derives its authority from the eternal Vedas. For the purpose of analogy, just as the sun and sunlight can be considered ever-existing, still the sunlight is dependent on the sun, the Bhagavatam is dependent on the Vedas.

        If the Bhagavatam is considered independent of the Vedas then there would be no authoritativeness of the Bhagavatam. Only that which is Vedic in nature has the ability to give correct knowledge about the Absolute Truth. For eg: In the Gita 2.45, Kṛṣṇa tells that the Vedas deal with the subjects of the three guṇas of nature and tells Arjuna to transcend the guṇas, etc. Śrīla Viśvanātha, in his commentary to the verse, says that in that case the Vedic instructions pertaining to nirguṇā bhakti such as “bhaktir evainaṁ nayati…” “yasya deve parā bhaktir…” and the instructions of Pañcarātra and Smṛti texts which describe nirguṇā bhakti would be rendered unauthoritative as they would be considered non-Vedic (because Krishna described the Vedas as dealing with only three modes of nature, whereas bhakti is transcendental, and thus non-Vedic). Then VCT says that Krishna told Arjuna to transcend only those instructions of the Vedas that deal with the 3 modes, which are the instructions on karma and jnana, and told Arjuna to always abide by the bhakti instructions of the Vedas. Thus, Maharaja, we cannot consider any text describing shuddha bhakti, including the Bhagavatam, as independent of the Vedas.

        Maharaja, you said in your reply that:

        “Srimad Bhagavatam is non-different from Bhagavan himself, so all of Bhagavan´s qualities are to be applied to his grantha-avatara as the Bhagavata”

        This does not seem proper to me. Not all qualities of Bhagavan can be applied to the Srimad Bhagavatam. For eg: Bhagavan is the source of the cosmos. The Srimad Bhagavatam is not. The reason that Srimad Bhagavatam is said to be non-different from Krishna by our acharyas is that it describes Krishna in all His completeness, and that by hearing the Bhagavatam one can gain prema for Krishna.

        Yes Maharaja, as you said in your reply, the Bhagavatam is the ultimate essence of Vedanta, Puranas and Vedic wisdom. But this does not mean that it is independent of them.
        Also, being the grantharaja does not mean that is independent of other sastras. We have to understand the reason why the Bhagavatam is called such. The Bhagavatam is called the grantharaja because it is the best of all scriptures and the most important of all of them; not because it is independent of them.

        I hope my words make sense.

        Thank you.
        Pranaams.

        • Swami B. P. Padmanabha

          Pranama Sastra-vani.

          Thanks for your thoughtful words.

          Of course, I agree that not only the Bhagavata is eternal, but the Vedas as well. That said, if they are eternal we cannot speak about them as one being dependant on the other, or one being the commentary of the other in eternity. While that may take place on earth, this does not happen in eternity. For example, Sri Jiva mentions that there is a longer version of the Bhagavata in Svarga, so by this, we could further say that in eternity the Bhagavata is not necessarily the same version that we know on earth. Our Guru Maharaja makes the point that the Bhagavata is the love life of Bhagavan and thus an ongoing and dynamic narrative, which eventually takes the form of Caitanya Bhagavata in connection to Sri Gaurasundara. Again, what Sri Visvanatha says has mainly to do with the manifestation of those eternal sastras on earth, and not necessarily of their dependence on one another in eternity.

          I am not saying that the Bhagavata is independent of the Vedas, I´m just saying that it´s its ultimate essence. The very Bhagavata begins its narration by saying kiṁ vā paraiḥ: “What need is there for any scripture other than this?” I think Vyasa is quite clear in this regard here.

          The Bhagavata is the source of the cosmos in the sense that it is non-different from Bhagavan, as Sri Nama is, and so on. And when I say that the Bhagavata is “independent”, again, I do not mean to dismiss the whole Vedic canon, but just convey the notion that the Bhagavata in itself is capable of bestowing the ultimate prayojana, as you yourself have said: “That by hearing the Bhagavatam one can gain prema for Krishna.” Therefore I insist: “What need is there for any scripture other than this?”

          Of course, we have the Goswami-grantha which is as important or even more than the Bhagavata, because it is a natural extension on the Bhagavata and revolves around it. So in that spirit we Gaudiyas see all other literature: revolving around the Bhagavata, and not vice-versa.

          • Sastra-Vani Dasa

            Also Maharaja, although the Bhagavatam is the best pramana for us to understand about the Absolute Truth, and although we look at other Vedic scriptures from the point of view of the Bhagavatam, that does not mean that the other scriptures derive their validity from the Bhagavatam.
            The Bhagavatam helps us to see what is of ultimate value and thus helps us to separate the essence (bhakti) from the non-essential (karma and jnana) when we consult the other Vedic scriptures. This is what we mean when we say that all Vedic literature revolves around the Bhagavatam, and not that the Vedic scriptures derive their authority from the Bhagavatam.

            Bhagavatam is what it is because it is the essence of the Vedas, their mature fruit. It is the Bhagavatam that is derived from the Vedas, not the other way around.
            I hope you get the point.

  2. Sastra-Vani Dasa

    Pranaams Maharaja,

    I have no issue with your insistence in your reply that there is no need for any other scripture besides the Bhagavatam. But you have to acknowledge that the Bhagavatam is the mature fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge, as said in the very next verse “nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam”. You wouldn’t have the fruit without the tree. Even though one may not be interested in the tree (Vedas) at all, that doesn’t mean that the fruit (Bhagavatam) is not produced from the tree.

    Regarding your statement, “if they (Vedas and Bhagavatam) are eternal we cannot speak about them as one being dependant on the other, or one being the commentary of the other in eternity,” I reply that we can speak of one being dependent on the other in eternity. Just as Krishna is eternal and the jivas also eternal, and these eternal jivas are eternally dependent on the eternal Krishna, similarly the eternal Bhagavatam is eternally dependent on the eternal Vedas for its authority.

    You said, “The Bhagavata is the source of the cosmos in the sense that it is non-different from Bhagavan, as Sri Nama is, and so on.”
    Please provide a sastric reference that directly says that the Bhagavatam or Harinama is the source of the cosmos.
    Although the Bhagavatam is non-different from Krishna, this does not mean that it has all the attributes of Krishna. I have already explained this in my earlier reply.

    Thank you.

    In service.

  3. Sastra-Vani Dasa

    I posted my replies on two different threads by mistake. I apologize for it.
    So that readers do not get confused by it, I am posting Padmanabha Maharaja’s reply and my combined reply to it together.
    I apologize for the re-posting.

    Padmanabha Maharaja’s Reply:

    Pranama Sastra-vani.

    Thanks for your thoughtful words.

    Of course, I agree that not only the Bhagavata is eternal, but the Vedas as well. That said, if they are eternal we cannot speak about them as one being dependant on the other, or one being the commentary of the other in eternity. While that may take place on earth, this does not happen in eternity. For example, Sri Jiva mentions that there is a longer version of the Bhagavata in Svarga, so by this, we could further say that in eternity the Bhagavata is not necessarily the same version that we know on earth. Our Guru Maharaja makes the point that the Bhagavata is the love life of Bhagavan and thus an ongoing and dynamic narrative, which eventually takes the form of Caitanya Bhagavata in connection to Sri Gaurasundara. Again, what Sri Visvanatha says has mainly to do with the manifestation of those eternal sastras on earth, and not necessarily of their dependence on one another in eternity.

    I am not saying that the Bhagavata is independent of the Vedas, I´m just saying that it´s its ultimate essence. The very Bhagavata begins its narration by saying kiṁ vā paraiḥ: “What need is there for any scripture other than this?” I think Vyasa is quite clear in this regard here.

    The Bhagavata is the source of the cosmos in the sense that it is non-different from Bhagavan, as Sri Nama is, and so on. And when I say that the Bhagavata is “independent”, again, I do not mean to dismiss the whole Vedic canon, but just convey the notion that the Bhagavata in itself is capable of bestowing the ultimate prayojana, as you yourself have said: “That by hearing the Bhagavatam one can gain prema for Krishna.” Therefore I insist: “What need is there for any scripture other than this?”

    Of course, we have the Goswami-grantha which is as important or even more than the Bhagavata, because it is a natural extension on the Bhagavata and revolves around it. So in that spirit we Gaudiyas see all other literature: revolving around the Bhagavata, and not vice-versa.

    My Reply (combining two replies):

    Pranaams Maharaja,

    I have no issue with your insistence in your reply that there is no need for any other scripture besides the Bhagavatam. But you have to acknowledge that the Bhagavatam is the mature fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge, as said in the very next verse “nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam”. You wouldn’t have the fruit without the tree. Even though one may not be interested in the tree (Vedas) at all, that doesn’t mean that the fruit (Bhagavatam) is not produced from the tree.

    Regarding your statement, “if they (Vedas and Bhagavatam) are eternal we cannot speak about them as one being dependant on the other, or one being the commentary of the other in eternity,” I reply that we can speak of one being dependent on the other in eternity. Just as Krishna is eternal and the jivas also eternal, and these eternal jivas are eternally dependent on the eternal Krishna, similarly the eternal Bhagavatam is eternally dependent on the eternal Vedas for its authority.

    You said, “The Bhagavata is the source of the cosmos in the sense that it is non-different from Bhagavan, as Sri Nama is, and so on.”
    Please provide a sastric reference that directly says that the Bhagavatam or Harinama is the source of the cosmos.
    Although the Bhagavatam is non-different from Krishna, this does not mean that it has all the attributes of Krishna. I have already explained this in my earlier reply.

    Also Maharaja, although the Bhagavatam is the best pramana for us to understand about the Absolute Truth, and although we look at other Vedic scriptures from the point of view of the Bhagavatam, that does not mean that the other scriptures derive their validity from the Bhagavatam.
    The Bhagavatam helps us to see what is of ultimate value and thus helps us to separate the essence (bhakti) from the non-essential (karma and jnana) when we consult the other Vedic scriptures. This is what we mean when we say that all Vedic literature revolves around the Bhagavatam, and not that the Vedic scriptures derive their authority from the Bhagavatam.

    Bhagavatam is what it is because it is the essence of the Vedas, their mature fruit. It is the Bhagavatam that is derived from the Vedas, not the other way around.
    I hope you get the point.

    Thank you.

    In service.

    • It is true that the fruit is dependent on the tree, but only to a point. Once it is ripe, it no longer needs the tree and all that the tree has and more is in the fruit . So there is also a sense in which the fruit is not dependent upon the tree. Later ideas are dependent upon earlier ideas on which they build but often also retire in doing so.

      In what other sense is the Bhagavatam dependent on the Vedas? It is sruti saram, and as such it is the Veda. How does it derive its authority from the Vedas if it is the Veda? Does one Veda derive its authority from another? The Yajur Veda was divided into four and that which was leftover is the fifth Veda, but these are just divisions of the same thing arranged by Vyasa. In his Tattva-sandarbha, Sri Jiva argues that the Puranas have the same source, authority, and nature as the Vedas. What is their source? The breath of God. And among the Puranas, the Bhagavatam is supreme.

      “The Rg, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas appeared from the mouth of Bhagavan along with the Puranas and all the devas residing in the celestial planets.” (Atharva Veda 11.7.24)

      “Indeed, Rg, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva are the names of the four Vedas. The Itihasas and Puranas are the 5th Veda.”(Candogya Upanisad 7.1.4)

      “The Itihasas and Puranas are Vedas” (Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.9).

      So according to the Vedas, the Bhagavatam/Purana is one of five Vedas and is not dependent upon the other four for its authority. All five originate from God. The Bhagavata says the same thing that the other four Vedas say or imply but says it better and directly.

      • Sastra-Vani Dasa

        Dandavats Guru-Maharaja,

        Thank you for your comments.

        Thank you for acknowledging that the fruit (Bhagavatam) is dependent on the tree (Vedas). I have no problem with accepting that there is no need for the tree (Vedas) once you have the fruit (Bhagavatam).

        Guru-Maharaja, you said, “It is sruti saram, and as such it is the Veda. How does it derive its authority from the Vedas if it is the Veda?” Also, from the rest of your reply it seems that you are seeing the remainder of the Yajur-veda, that was used to make the Puranas and Itihasas after its division into four Vedas, as an independent fifth part.

        Here, you seem to contradict your previous statement that the Bhagavata Purana is the fruit of the four Vedas and thus dependent on it.

        Although the Bhagavatam and other Puranas are eternal and have manifested from the breath of Bhagavan and are thus Veda, they are of the nature of explanations of the four other Vedas. THIS IS HOW they are dependent on the four Vedas.

        For that matter, even the four Vedas are not independent of each other. They are all interrelated. The Rg-Veda is composed of rk-mantras that are chanted by hota priests in a sacrifice, the Yajur-Veda has the Yajur statements that instruct about the details of the sacrifice, the Sama-Veda has the praises that have to be sung in the sacrifice, and the Atharva-Veda contains miscellaneous rituals that should be performed in day-to-day life. All of them together act as one unit. Each Veda also has Upanishads connected to it that contain the culmination of Vedic thought.

        The role of Puranas and Itihasas is to explain the message of the four Vedas and Upanishads in an easily understandable manner, and also explain the things that are not directly stated in the four Vedas but are covertly mentioned.
        In Tattva-sandarbha, Jiva Goswami states that the Bhagavatam is the best pramana for understanding the truth because (1) It is Vedic in nature (as you have said), (2) Is the essence of all the Vedas, Puranas, and Itihasas, (3) Is dependent on the Brahma-sutra, (4) and is available in its complete form on Earth.

        You seem to be focussing only on the first point and not on points 2 and 3.

        Furthermore, if we consider the Puranas and Itihasas as an independent fifth Veda, then we would also have to consider the other four Vedas as independent of each other. This is not the case, as I have explained above. The four Vedas are all interdependent.
        Thus, the Puranas and Itihasas, and therefore also the Bhagavatam, have to be seen as related to the four Vedas as their explanations.
        This is how they derive their authority from the Vedas. A text that is an explanation of another text, while bringing out the truth clearly and more directly than is seen in the root text, is nonetheless rooted in the main text by its virtue of being an explanation of that text.
        There are quite a few examples of such texts in Sanskrit philosophical literature that by their virtue of being highly significant, they cast a shadow on the foundational texts of that philosophical system. But that does not mean that they are not rooted in or dependent on the foundational texts.

        I hope that I have got my points across with this reply.
        Thank you.

        Pranaams.
        In service.

        • I think that the Bhagavatam as the fifth Veda is dependent upon the Vedas in one sense, while in another sense the Vedas are dependent on the Bhagavatam, which is a way of saying that the Bhagavata is independent of the Vedas. Commentaries are dependent upon the verses they comment on, but the verses are dependent upon the commentary for them to be fully understood. So as I said, in one sense the Bhagavatam is dependent, while in another sense, it is not. But it emphasizes its relative independence in declaring “What need is there for any other book?” It is also worth noting that Krsna spoke the Bhagavatam to Brahma in four verses at the dawn of creation and from them the rest of the Vedic knowledge flowed into his heart.

          • Sastra-Vani Dasa

            Dandavats Guru-Maharaja,

            I am happy that you have accepted that the fifth Veda, which includes the Bhagavatam, is dependent on the other Vedas.

            As you said, the other Vedas are dependent on the fifth Veda. But this is not in the same way as the fifth Veda is dependent on them. It is the understanding of the other Vedas that is dependent on the fifth Veda. The text of the other Vedas is not dependent on the fifth Veda. But it is the text of the fifth Veda that is of a dependent nature with regards to the four Vedas by virtue of its being the explanation of the four Vedas.(See the footnote at the bottom)

            Of course, the Puranas and Itihasas that constitute the fifth Veda do not depend on the Vedas for their explanation. The foundational text does not explain or throw light on the explanation; it is the other way around.

            Furthermore, the Srimad Bhagavatam, because of its being such a clear, comprehensive, and rich explanation of the essence of all the Vedas and Upanishads, makes the other scriptures look irrelevant. That is why it is said, “There is no need of any other shastra”.
            But this does not mean that we should not acknowledge the fact that it is dependent on the other shastras as we have seen earlier.

            Guru-Maharaja, you have written in your reply: “It is also worth noting that Krsna spoke the Bhagavatam to Brahma in four verses at the dawn of creation and from them the rest of the Vedic knowledge flowed into his heart.”
            I would like to mention here that the Vedic knowledge did not flow automatically into the heart of Brahma after hearing the four essential verses of the Bhagavatam. As it is said in Bhag. 1.1.1, it is Bhagavan who manifested the Vedic knowledge within the heart of Brahma, and as said in Bhag. 2.4.22, it is Bhagavan who while inducing the memory of the process of creation in Brahma’s heart, revealed the Vedic knowledge to him.
            As chapter 9 of 2nd Canto states, Brahma did not have the knowledge of the process of creation, and thus he meditated on Bhagavan following the ‘tapa’ instruction. Bhagavan revealed himself in all his fullness and blessed Brahma. Then Brahma said that while creating the world, he did not want to be proud that he is independent of Bhagavan. Thus Bhagavan spoke the essential knowledge of the Bhagavatam by which Brahma would remember Him in all His glory and thus not become proud.
            That Brahma received Vedic knowledge from within his heart does not seem to be a consequence of his hearing the four essential verses of the Bhagavatam. He required the knowledge of the Vedas because he had to create the Vedic sacrifices, duties of people, etc. That is why Bhagavan bestowed that knowledge on him from within his heart.
            Otherwise, it would imply that anyone who realizes the four essential verses of the Bhagavatam would automatically know all things mentioned in the Vedas, etc. We know that this is not the case. Those who have realized Krishna in all his brilliance may not know the details of Vedic sacrifices, rituals, etc. Moreover, such knowledge is of no use to them unless they are engaged in a particular service that requires such knowledge.

            Thank you.
            Pranaams.
            In service.

            (Footnote: I would like to mention here that the Puranas and Itihasas that constitute the fifth Veda do not explain the rituals and sacrifices of the Vedas, etc. They explain the intrinsic truth of the four Vedas, i.e. the path of dharma and the path of moksha.)

          • I am glad that you agree with me that in one sense the Bhagavata is dependent on the Veda and in another sense it is not, or the Vedas are dependent upon it. The latter notion has more feeling and as such is more appealing and arguably more conclusive, as it is a more rasik perspective.

            Regarding SB 1.1.1—tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye—is thought to refer to Brahma’s enlightenment in the Bhahmavimohana lila (krsnas tu bhagavan svayam) or to when he heard the four verses of SB. The former is a follow-up to the latter. If we take this verse to be speaking about Vedic knowledge for creation, we would have Bhagavan giving this kind of knowledge to Brahma, when in fact this type of knowledge was given to him by the Purusa, who is involved with creation (see Krama-sandarbha 2.9.19). But it was Bhagavan from the paravyoma who gave Brahma knowledge of himself and the means to attain him in what constitutes the essential verses of the Bhagavtam. But it does seem that Brahma received this creation-related Vedic knowledge before receiving the essential Bhagavatam verses.

  4. Sastra-Vani Dasa

    Since there was no reply button in the latest comment of Swami B.V. Tripurari Guru-Maharaja on this post, I am replying to his comment on a new thread.

    Here is my reply:

    Thank you for settling the issue, Guru-Maharaja.

    Regarding SB 1.1.1, I have no issue if “tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye” is interpreted to mean Krishna, the svayam-bhagavan, enlightening Brahma at the end of Brahma-vimohana lila. But in such an interpretation, you would have to look at the whole SB 1.1.1 as referring to Krishna as the svayam bhagavan. Thus, the opening words of the verse, “janmadya say yatah”, cannot be interpreted to mean He from whom the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the cosmos takes place because these activities are associated with the Purusha/Paramatma, not svayam bhagavan who only engages in wonderful pastimes in his eternal abode of Goloka.
    Also, it is totally correct to interpret “tene brahma hrda ya ad-kavaye” to mean that the satyam param (as stated in the verse, meaning the Absolute Truth) imparted Vedic knowledge through the heart of Brahma. This is also how Srila Sridhara Svami, and Srila Jiva Gosvami himself have interpreted it. Jiva Gosvami has interpreted this verse (SB 1.1.1) in two ways in his Krama sandarbha. Both of them are equally valid. One is regarding the Absolute Truth in general, the other is regarding that Absolute Truth as Krishna, the svayam bhagavan. In this second interpretation, he (Jiva Gosvami) says that “tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye” refers to Krishna’s manifesting the knowledge of His pastimes in the heart of Vyasa-deva, the adi-kavi, in order for him to write the Srimad Bhagavatam. Also, Vishvanath Cakravarti Thakura, in one of his five interpretations of this verse, has interpreted “tene brahma hrda…” to mean Bhagavan in his form as the Purusa inspired Vedic knowledge through Brahma’s heart. I am not against the valid interpretation that Krishna inspired the knowledge of Him being svayam bhagavan in the heart of Brahma at the end of Brahma-vimohana lila, but I am just saying that interpreting it to mean the Absolute Truth (Paramatma) enlightening Brahma from within his heart is also perfectly in line with Gaudiya acharyas and their teachings.

    The Krama sandarbha reference 2.9.19 quoted by you says that it was Bhagavan in the form of his amsa who manifested Vedic knowledge in Brahma’s heart. He does not totally disconnect the Purusha from Bhagavan. We must remember that all forms of the Absolute Truth (Vishnu-tattva) are same in their svarupa but differ only in their moods (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.59. Although this verse differentiates Krishna from only Narayana, we can apply the same principle to all His other forms).

    Also, in their commentaries on SB 2.4.22, both Sridhara Svami and Vishvanath Cakravarti support the idea that Sukadeva is praying, “He who inspired the Vedas in the heart of Brahma while extending the knowledge of creation, may also inspire me to speak about His pastimes.” Vishvanatha also quotes SB 11.14.3 to substantiate it where Krishna says to Uddhava that it is He who gave Vedic knowledge to Brahma at the beginning of creation.
    Thus, it is not always good to consider Krishna and His other forms as totally separate.

    In service.

    • Yes, there is more than one correct way to interpret SB 1.1.1. In this discussion, I have chosen the one that is sweeter. The amsa of Bhagasvan referred to by Jiva Goswami is the Purusa. Of course he is one in tattva with svayam bhagavan. That goes without saying. What is being stressed is the emotional difference between them. Typically the Purusa will not instruct Brahma in raganuga bhakti, which we find in the four essential Bhagavata verses. Thus they are spoken by Bhagavan. But given his srsti-lila the Purusa is well suited to instruct Brahma with regard to creation. If we take SB 1.1.1 to refer to this Purusa, who is one in tattva with svayam bhagavan, when we do so we are referring to what Krsna has done in the form of his Purusa avatara, his amsa. But when we interpret SB 1.1.1 to refer to Krsna imparting the essential verses of the Bhagavatam, we also interpret the entire verse in this light, including “janmädy asya yato.” For example, “Let us meditate on Kṛṣṇa, from whom arises madhura-rasa through meeting and separation . . . ” Again, the latter is sweeter and goes to the heart of the Gaudiya Vaisnava perspective.

      That said I think this discussion has run its course.

  5. I am grateful for this enriching exchange and I can only say Krsnas Tv Bhagavam Svayam, Beautiful! Dandavats Pranama =)

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