Published on September 7th, 2022 | by Harmonist staff52
The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 1: The History of the Debate
By Vrindaranya Dasi
Is bhakti bestowed upon a jīva by God or a devotee at some point in material time or is it already part of the jīva’s constitutional nature, albeit covered by māyā? Or can it be both, in which case bhakti is inherent but needs to be bestowed because the jīva is covered by māyā and thus lost to his true nature?1 Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura expressed the third option (that it is both), and following his lead, so have those in his parivāra. During the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, the well-known Rādhā Ramana Carana dāsa Bābāji, among others, agreed with Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s interpretation of Jīva Gosvāmī’s Sandarbhas concerning this topic. For example, he wrote, “Similarly, one has only to remove the impurity of the heart by means of sadhana-bhakti to see and feel that prema is already there.”2 That said, not all Gauḍīya parivāras embraced this understanding. Nonetheless, there is no evidence I’m aware of that anyone objected to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s interpretation during his own time. And as we shall see, the Ṭhākura clearly derives his interpretation of Jīva Gosvāmī from previous ācāryas such as Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa and his Madhva heritage, which the Brahma-Madhva-Gauḍīya lineage is derived from in some respects. Furthermore, as I will show in my fourth article, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s interpretation runs through the other four Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas as well.
Thus, we should be clear that non-inherency versus simultaneous inherency and bestowal is not a debate in which Jīva Gosvāmī and the rest of the Gauḍīya sampradāya are on one side of the divide and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and his parivāra stand alone on the other side. Although the example that I gave in the previous paragraph refers to the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, the same holds true after his disappearance. For example, David L. Haberman states in his groundbreaking work within academia, Acting as a Way of Salvation, that when researching his book in Vraja he came across two distinct perspectives embraced by Gauḍīya sadhus in regard to the siddha-deha: inherent and non-inherent.3 It is notable that he was referring to parivāras other than that of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.4 Dr. Mahanamabrata Brahmachari, who travelled to the United States from India in 1933, did a PhD thesis called Vaiṣṇava Vedānta: the Philosophy of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī for the University of Chicago and became a mentor of Thomas Merton. In this deeply philosophical dissertation, the author presents an implicitly inherent and bestowed perspective.5 In a more recent academic publication, Barbara A. Holdrege, in her well-researched and insightful Bhakti and Embodiment, also implicitly takes an inherent and bestowed perspective regarding the meditative siddha-deha of the aspiring devotee.6
However, when Jīva Gosvāmī’s Sandarbhas were first published in English, some devotees in parivāras outside the Bhaktivinoda parivāra questioned, based on the Sandarbhas, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s writings that state that bhakti is the jīva’s svabhāva (natural state or constitution) and particularly that the jīva’s siddha-deha is inherent within a jīva. Those within the Bhaktivinoda parivāra have mostly discounted these questions, but some have argued in support of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s position, and thus a debate has raged on for years, mostly on Internet forums. While most of those in the Bhaktivinoda parivāra have continued to support simultaneous inherency and bestowal, some have modified their positions—particularly those who have closely examined the arguments of the opposing side. For example, some have a qualified understanding of simultaneous inherency and bestowal, some have argued that bhakti is bestowed and not inherent and thus there must be a reason why Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura preached this understanding, and a few have even left his parivāra altogether.
My inspiration for this series of articles was another series of articles by Swāmī Padmanābha published on the Harmonist website as well as several podcasts, in which he expresses an openness to Socratic dialogue on the topic of whether bhakti is “inherent or inherited,” as well as a podcast and in-depth presentation made by Sundara Gopāla dās that answer that call for dialogue. Swāmī Padmanābha’s position was that bhakti is not inherent, and he thus opines that only Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s statements that establish that bhakti is bestowed are in full alignment with Jīva Gosvāmī and those statements that indicate inherency “beg for proper reconciliation.”7 He argues that the primary meaning of such statements is inappropriate because he asserts that Jīva Gosvāmī is unequivocal that bhakti is not inherent.8 As I was writing this series of articles, Swāmī Padmanābha came out with a book, Inherent or Inherited, based on his series of articles from the Harmonist.9
In his presentation based on research for his PhD dissertation at the University of Oxford, Sundara Gopāla dās upheld that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that bhakti is both inherent and bestowed.10 Vigorously disagreeing with Swāmī Padmanābha’s contention that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s position was merely a preaching strategy, Sundara Gopāla provided extensive evidence to establish that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s statements that bhakti is the dharma of the soul (jaiva-dharma) was not a provisional concept but rather a foundational aspect of his teachings. He also gave historical evidence that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had studied Jīva Gosvāmī’s Sandarbhas extensively, thereby dispelling any doubt that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura might not have been aware of Jīva Gosvāmī’s position. Perhaps the most ground-breaking revelation of Sundara Gopāla’s presentation was that Śrī Jāmātṛ Muni, whose verses form the basis of Jīva Gosvāmī’s explanation of the characteristics of the jīva, also maintained that bhakti is inherent as well as bestowed. Furthermore, Sundara Gopāla substantiated that while Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was in Jagannātha Purī, he studied Jāmātṛ Muni’s books under the guidance of scholars in his line. Sundara Gopāla also discussed the different types of inherency in both the Western and Vedic traditions, and he presented the revolutionary idea that the inherency that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura spoke of is a teleological inherence—the purpose for which something exists.11
On account of a preponderance of evidence, Sundara Gopāla was successful in establishing that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura held a deeply reasoned conviction that bhakti is both inherent and bestowed. Indeed, after this presentation, Swāmī Padmanābha adjusted his stance on whether Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s position was a preaching strategy.12 Nonetheless, although Swāmī Padmanābha came up with a few alternative suggestions as to why Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would present something that Swāmī Padmanābha felt differed from Jīva Gosvāmī, such reasons fell short in answering why Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura preached both inherency and bestowal.13 About the revelation that Jāmātṛ Muni maintained that bhakti is inherent as well as bestowed, Swāmī Padmanābha argued that Śrī Jāmātṛ Muni’s understanding of his own verses was irrelevant because it is untenable to conclude that Śrī Jīva is in full agreement with the Muni’s opinion even in the specific cases when he quotes him.14
Furthermore, Swāmī Padmanābha held firm in emphatically dismissing the notion that bhakti could be inherent: “What we find here is a totally unclear and convoluted notion—the idea of remembering or regaining one’s svarūpa.”15 He even suggests that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura himself “cancels” such a possibility with his statements that bhakti is bestowed.16 Swāmī concludes by affirming: “But one thing remains beyond question: The undisputed and consensual siddhānta of the Gauḍīya sampradāya is that bhakti is not inherent in the jīva—neither physically, nor etiologically, nor teleologically.”17
Although Swāmī Padmanābha provided impressive support that bhakti is bestowed, the problem with his approach was that the support for the bestowal of bhakti was not under contention—at least not by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Comprehensively answering the question of whether bhakti is both bestowed and inherent is not a simple matter of producing quotations that support the point that bhakti is bestowed. There are quotations that support both inherency and bestowal for the simple reason that Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī and, following in his lead, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura establish that bhakti is simultaneously inherent and bestowed. Therefore, producing hundreds of quotations to establish that bhakti is bestowed does not settle the argument because both sides agree on that point.
Furthermore, I was rankled by Swāmī Padmanābha’s contention that he was bringing Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Jīva Gosvāmī closer together by presenting “different ways of appreciating” Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s understanding that were in line with Jīva Gosvāmī’s ultimate intention.18 As far as I was concerned, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Jīva Gosvāmī were already in perfect alignment, and it was Swāmī Padmanābha’s understanding that needed adjustment. Moreover, I had always found certain implications of the bestowal-only argument to be distasteful. For example, the bestowal-only argument holds that the soul has no inherent knowledge or ānanda—only consciousness and a lack of material suffering.19 Thus, essentially this understanding posits that the soul is impersonal without the bestowal of bhakti.20 It holds that the soul is simply a quantum of consciousness that powers a material or spiritual body, much like a battery that powers a car. As such, the soul does not constitutionally have any personality at all. Its personhood in the state of perfection, such an interpretation postulates, resides in the siddha-deha and its śaktis, which this theory understands to be constitutionally different than the soul. This argument further holds that the soul never actually contacts the siddha-deha directly because in this understanding such contact would cause the soul to transform. Thus, essentially the theory considers that after an eternity of wandering in the material world, the sojourn of the jīva culminates in merely identifying with something other than what it is.
It was for these reasons that I began considering how I might respond to the contention of Swāmī Padmanābha that “the undisputed and consensual siddhānta of the Gauḍīya sampradāya is that bhakti is not inherent in the jīva.”21 I thought that something that had not been done was to show how Jīva Gosvāmī establishes the inherency of bhakti in the Sandarbhas. As the bestowal of bhakti has already been shown by Swāmī Padmanābha and others, this addition would show that Jīva Gosvāmī established both inherency and bestowal of bhakti in the Sandarbhas. Such an undertaking would thus add considerable weight to the argument that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was perfectly in line with Jīva Gosvāmī.
In the scriptures, there are many apparently contradictory concepts. For example, that God has form and is formless and that we are one with God as well as different from God. Statements about the inherency and bestowal of bhakti are similar: although the statements seem contradictory, you can find many instances of both. The genius of the ācāryas of Vaiṣṇava Vedānta, as opposed to the understanding of Śaṅkarācārya, is that they embrace scripture in its entirety rather than asserting that some scriptural statements cancel out other statements, as Swāmī Padmanābha did when he suggested that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura cancels the possibility of inherency with his statements that bhakti is bestowed.22
It took me a year to complete my undertaking. I am posting this article on the auspicious appearance day of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, a perfect day to begin my humble attempt to serve the devotees by elucidating his Sandarbhas. Tomorrow is the appearance day of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, whose profound insight was the inspiration and guiding force of my writing. On this day, I will present a summary of the points I will make in the articles that will follow. I pray that my articles may please these two great Vaiṣṇavas, as well as the devotees who read this series. Please keep in mind that the Sandarbhas can be abstract, terse, and difficult to comprehend. As such, a substantial argument based on the Sandarbhas will also be similarly challenging. In this regard, as well as for any shortcomings in my presentation, I beg the indulgence of my readers.
Additional articles in this series: Part 1: The History of a Debate, Part 2: A Road Map, Part 3: The Swan, Part 4: Vaiṣṇava Vedānta, Part 5: The Twenty-One Intrinsic Characteristics of the Jīva, Part 6: The Search for Bliss, Part 7: The Soul is a Servant of Bhagavān Hari, Part 8: A Servant of God (Śeṣatva), Part 9: Unmanifest Qualities of the Soul, Part 10: Intrinsically of the Nature of Knowledge and Bliss, Part 11: Jīva Gosvāmī on Taṭasthā-Śakti, Part 12: Understanding Śakti, Part 13: The Bliss of the Jīva, Part 14: The Soul Is Not Subject to Transformation, Part 15: Identity/Oneness (Tādātmya), Part 16: The Manifestation of Śakti, Part 17: Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s Govinda-Bhāṣya, Part 18: Concluding Words.
- I use the masculine pronoun for the jīva because that is the gender that is used in Sanskrit. If I were to use the female pronoun, for which a strong case can be made, there would be a difference in gender between that of my writing and most of the quotations I present from other authors, and I thought readers would find this difference confusing. [↩]
- Kapoor, Dr. O.B.L., The Life of Love: Biography of Sri Srimat Radharamana Charan Das Deva (Caracas: Srila Badrinarayana Bhagavata Bhushana Prabhu, 1993), 203. [↩]
- Haberman uses the terms “inherent theory” and “assigned theory.” Haberman, David L., Acting as a Way of Salvation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 119–22. [↩]
- Examples of the “inherent theory” are from interactions with Gaurāṇga Dāsa Bābājī and Rāmadāsa Bābājī. [↩]
- For example, in contrast to those who say that the soul is merely a quantum of consciousness without personality, Mahanamabrata Brahmacari says that the true self is not impersonal: “The impersonal self forms a ‘halo’ as it were around his true self.” “[The soul] has to reach his true personality which sits high on the throne beyond impersonality.” He also says, “Each monad is a miniature God. But both God and a monad are integral beings. God’s Being is absolute and completely free, that of a monad is derivative and in that sense dependent. But so far as a monad is a unity it is an individual and possesses a striking similarity to the Individuality of the God-head.” Brahmachari, Mahanamabrata, Vaiṣṇava Vedānta (Calcutta: Das Gupta, 1974), 138. Monad is a term that modern philosophers, principally Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, adapted from Greek philosophy. The Pythagoreans believed that the Monad is the Supreme Being, from whom all things come. Leibniz held that monads were “souls or soul-like entities.” (Look, Brandon C., “Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University. [↩]
- Holdrege, Barbara A., Bhakti and Embodiment: Fashioning Divine Bodies and Devotional Bodies in Kṛṣṇa Bhakti (New York: Routledge, 2015). [↩]
- “It is overtly clear that the Goswāmīs shared a consistent view on bhakti’s noninherence, while the Ṭhākura and other contemporary ācāryas presented a more nuanced narrative which begs for proper reconciliation.” harmonist.us/?p=12671 Note: It seems likely that Mahārāja meant “varied” rather than “nuanced” since he doesn’t give any indication that the statements in question are more nuanced than those of Śrī Jīva. [↩]
- ibid. [↩]
- Padmanabha, Swami Bhakti Pranaya, Inherent or Inherited? (Gainesville, FL: Inword Publishers, 2022). [↩]
- youtube.com/watch?v=E2UQKReAnPM [↩]
- Sundara Gopāla dās is thankful to Prema-prayojana Prabhu for this observation. Swāmī Padmanābha argues that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura does not mention “teleological inherence” anywhere, and that this is something that has been thought up creatively. However, “teleological explanation” is the same thing as a “functional explanation” (see The Oxford Companion to Philosophy , pp. 324 and 911). In Jaiva-dharma, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura clearly articulates the eternal function of the soul. [↩]
- “Although I do not personally feel so strongly about some of Bhaktivinoda’s statements regarding inherent bhakti being an outreach technique anymore, there is nonetheless place for such presentations, and we should be willing to resolve those apparent contradictions by allowing ourselves to acknowledge them, instead of forcibly absolutizing anything that our ācāryas have said.” harmonist.us/?p=12672 [↩]
- “We will engage in spiritual conjecturing by presenting in this chapter three main hypotheses related to the reasons for the Ṭhākura and his successors having said what they said at times: (1) they presented a circumstantial adjustment due to some very specific situations they were in, (2) their seeming advocacy of inherence was a natural way of expression in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Calcutta, where the language of inherence was ubiquitous, and (3) some of their apparently contradictory statements were part of their own theological evolution.” Padmanabha, Swami Bhakti Pranaya. Inherent or Inherited?: Bhakti in the Jiva According to Gaudiya Vedanta (pp. 229-230). Inword Publishers. Kindle Edition. [↩]
- Swāmī Padmanābha: “In other words, the proposal is that while Śrī Jīva may not accept Jāmātṛ Muni in toto, at least in those specific cases when he quotes him, we should conclude that Śrī Jīva is in full agreement with the Muni’s opinion. Next, I will analyze why this logic is remarkably untenable.” harmonist.us/?p=12668 [↩]
- harmonist.us/?p=12671 [↩]
- harmonist.us/?p=12670 [↩]
- harmonist.us/?p=12672 [↩]
- “Rather, I try to “bring them [Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Jiva Goswami] closer,” by presenting different ways of appreciating the Ṭhākura’s presentation in alignment with Jīva Goswāmī’s ultimate intention.” harmonist.us/?p=12665 [↩]
- Those who advocate bestowal-only interpret a statement of Jīva Gosvāmī to say that the cit of the soul is consciousness and the ānanda is only the lack of material suffering. I will refute this understanding in part 10 of this series. [↩]
- Although those who advocate bestowal-only say that the soul has the potential to be a knower, doer, and enjoyer, they say that this potential actually resides in the svarūpa-śakti, not the soul. Therefore, in their understanding, the soul is never directly a doer, only indirectly by identifying with either the māyā- or svarūpa-śakti. These topics are discussed in more detail in parts 12, 14, and 15 of this series. [↩]
- harmonist.us/?p=12672 [↩]
- harmonist.us/?p=12670 [↩]