Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tattva-dipika Release

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         Celebrating the fifth year since the Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa Project has been launched, I am glad to announce the release of the Tattva-dīpikā, an indispensable treatise for those who wish to acquire a deeper understanding of Lord Caitanya’s philosophy in comparison with other schools of thought. For the first time this 18th century manuscript has now been published and this edition includes the original in Sanskrit followed by a lucid English translation and extensive notes.

       Although Vaiṣṇavas do not stress logic over devotion, under the pressure of their social environment and the need to present consistent arguments in light of their theological views, many of them have given substantial contributions in the field of philosophy. From their very founder-ācāryas up to the present day, the Śrī-sampradāya and the Mādhva-sampradāya are distinguished for having some of the greatest scholars in history. The entire asset of their literary legacy amounts to hundreds of books concerning various branches of knowledge. Among the Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, Śrī Vedānta Deśika (1268-1369 AD), the greatest exponent of Viśiṣṭādvaita after Śrī Rāmānujācārya, authored more than a hundred works, including several important books on philosophy, such as the Nyāya-pariśuddhi and the Nyāya-siddhāñjana, in which he utilizes the dialectical approach and terminology of Nyāya to syncretize the conclusions of Vedānta, and the Seśvara-mīmāṁsā, a Vaiṣṇava interpretation of the Mīmāṁsā-sūtras of Jaimini. Among the Mādhvas, Vyāsa Tīrtha (ca. 1450-1550 AD) wrote the Nyāyāmta, which presents dualist thought with sophisticated logic. At the other extreme, the Advaitavādīs’ philosophical exploits surpassed that of the Vaiṣṇavas in scope. Not only did they write original treatises and commentaries on the Brahma-sūtras as most Vaiṣṇava scholars did, but they also commented upon all major traditional philosophical works such as the Nyāya-sūtras, Vaiśeika-sūtras, Yoga-sūtras, Sāṁkhya-kārikā, etc. In course of time, this earned them ample recognition in scholarly circles all over India and consequentially furthered their cause to a great extent. In one sense, this may be seen as an astute preaching stratagem. The widespread and lasting outcome of such scholarly enterprises are felt even today, for while most Indian universities offer Advaita Vedānta as a major discipline, relatively few offer Vaiṣṇava Vedānta as an option.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu appeared in a very prolific phase in the history of Indian philosophy. Navadvīpa, in West Bengal, was then known as a major centre of scholarship, where youths from different parts of the country thronged for higher studies. The influence of Buddhism and Jainism had already waned centuries before, and the systems of Sāṁkhya and Pūrva-mīmāṁsā had become obsolete. Nyāya and Vedānta, however, were flourishing, and renowned scholars like Pakadhara Miśra, Vāsudeva Sārvabhauma, Vyāsa Tīrtha, Raghunātha Śiromai, Vallabhācārya, Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, Haridāsa Nyāyālakāra, Jānakīnātha Tarkacūḍāmai, Mathurānātha Tarkavāgīśa, Rāmabhadra Sārvabhauma, Bhavānanda Siddhānta Vāgīśa, Harirāma Tarkavāgīśa, Viśvanātha Nyāyapañcānana, Jagadīśa Tarkālakāra and Jayarāma Nyāyapañcānana all lived within a hundred years of Lord Caitanya’s era and compiled important philosophical treatises and commentaries, particularly on Nyāya. According to one traditional account, Mahāprabhu Himself also authored a commentary on Nyāya. It is said that when a great logician resident of Nadia saw that commentary and realized that it was far superior to any of his own writings, he became very morose, which led Mahāprabhu to throw the text into the Ganges in order to appease his distress.[1]
       Despite many hundreds of years of philosophical legacy behind them, Lord Caitanya’s main followers did not take much interest in directly discussing orthodox philosophy. Among the Six Gosvāmīs of Vndāvana, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī (ca. 1513-1608 AD) was the only one who dealt with the views of different philosophical schools. Before going to Vndāvana, he spent over a decade studying in Vārāṇasī, where he acquired a sound background in Sāṁkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeika, Mīmāṁsā and Vedānta. He reveals his command of these systems in his Sarva-savādinī, written as an auto-commentary on the Bhāgavata-sandarbhas

        It was only in the eighteenth century that the Gauḍīya sampradāya was blessed by a philosopher who could second Jīva Gosvāmī, and a third one is yet to be seen. The appearance of Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaa (ca. 1700-1793 AD) was indeed timely, when there was a necessity to establish the legitimacy of the Gauḍīya lineage and philosophy when they were being disputed. Vidyābhūṣaa accomplished this by writing commentaries on standards scriptures such as the Brahma-sūtras, Daśopaniad and Bhagavad-gītā. Besides these, he also authored original treatises like the Tattva-dīpikā. Although the concept of a short exposition dealing with different philosophical systems had already been considerably explored previously, this work of Vidyābhūṣaa is perhaps the second Vaiṣṇava contribution in the genre. Until then, the only renowned Vaiṣṇava work of the sort was the Paramata-bhaga of Vedānta Deśika, a compilation of fifty-four stanzas in Maipravāḷa (Sanskritized Tamil), in which the author briefly describes and refutes fifteen non-Vaiṣṇava philosophies and finally establishes the superiority of Viśiṣṭādvaita. In a similar fashion, at the end of the Tattva-dīpikā, Vidyābhūṣaa establishes the superiority of Acintya-bhedābheda. Yet it is remarkable that, despite their fierce criticism of so many philosophies, neither of them criticized other Vaiṣṇavas, as it has become common nowadays. This is skilfully explained by Vedānta Deśika in the Paramata-bhaga (10):

veṟiyār tuḷavuḍai vittagaṉ taṉmaiyiṉ meyyaṟivār
kuṟiyār neḍiyavar enṟu oru kuṟṟam piṟarkkurayār
aṟiyār tiṟattil aruḷ purintu āraṇa naṉṉeṟiyāl
ciṟiyār vaḻigaḷ aḻippatum tīṅgu kaḻippataṟkē

“Those who are completely devoted do not find fault with Vaiṣṇavas who are learned and absorbed in the transcendental qualities of the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa, Who wears fresh Tulasī garlands. On the other hand, just to protect innocent people from proponents of misleading philosophies and deliver the latter from their sinful deeds, such merciful Vaiṣṇavas conversant with the Vedas smash their fallacious arguments.”

Although it is unlikely that Vidyābhūṣaa was acquainted with Deśika’s work, since it was confined to a local vernacular, it is quite evident that he knew Mādhava’s (14th century AD) Sarva-darśana-sagraha, a classical philosophical compendium comprising summary studies of prominent theistic and non-theistic systems, from which he seems to have borrowed not only the conceptual structure of the text but also several definitions, classifications and arguments. In this short but intense composition, Vidyābhūṣaa displays the heights of his outstanding scholarship in very refined language and reasoning. Most of the schools of thought presented here have to their credit many traditional texts with commentaries and sub-commentaries, and for centuries they vied with each other on the validity of their concepts and conclusions. Vidyābhūṣaa masterly refutes each of them by pointing out flaws and internal contradictions as well as by using arguments given by the opponent schools of a particular system. Therefore the readers should keep in mind that the author is not always retorting from the Vaiṣṇava standpoint, which he keeps mostly for his grand finale. In the sections on Buddhism and Jainism, for example, he more or less follows the argumentation of Śakarācārya, who was notable for vehemently defeating Buddhism and re-establishing Vedic religion in India. It should also be mentioned that in these two sections, Vidyābhūṣaa does not refer to primary sources. This means that he is describing these systems in the same way that they are presented by the Vedāntīs, which may not portray their original texts verbatim. At the end of his introduction, the author makes a sort of disclaimer – perhaps to make it clear that he never intended the atheistic systems to sound meaningful at all.   One may wonder what motivated Vidyābhūṣaa to write this book, which, for the most part, does not directly deal with topics concerning Lord Kṛṣṇa, the only thing that Vaiṣṇavas actually hanker to hear and speak about. Although the manuscript has no dedication, since it belonged to Sawai Jai Singh II, the King of Jaipur, it is possible that Vidyābhūṣaa may have written it for the King’s personal studies. It is very clear from available historical documentations that Sawai Jai Singh had a genuine interest in philosophy, particularly Vaiṣṇava philosophy, and not only commissioned several treatises but also authored some of his own. Moreover, Vidyābhūṣaa did not send copies of this text to different places as he did in the case of many of his other books, which seems to suggest that he had a particular purpose in mind. There seems to be some indications that this text may have been composed before the Govinda-bhāṣya, where the author again deals with many of the topics discussed here, but in a more elaborate manner. If this was the case, since the Govinda-bhāṣya overshadowed the Tattva-dīpikā, it would be natural for the author to give preference to the propagation of the former. Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaa may also have felt the urge to dissuade innocent souls from the allurements of philosophical systems that do not lead to the ultimate goal of life, as expressed by Vedānta Deśika. Furthermore, in his concluding words, he wishes that his work may bring joy to the learned. He makes a similar statement at the end of his Siddhānta-darpaa, wherein Nanda Miśra commented that the author intended that his book would bring relief to the devotees who were hurt by the words of fools. Vaiṣṇavas naturally feel pain when they hear a philosophy that opposes the principles of pure bhakti (unalloyed love for Kṛṣṇa). It is expected that such devotees will feel delight upon hearing the refutation of each non-Vaiṣṇava philosophy here, just as the inhabitants of Vndāvana felt joy when Kṛṣṇa killed each demon that attacked Him.   

The Manuscript and Its Authorship

Despite extensive search through many states of India, only one manuscript could be located for consultation to prepare this edition. It is part of the Khāsmohor Collection, accession number 5693, preserved at the Mahārāja Man Singh II Museum, Jaipur, and belonged to King Sawai Jai Singh II, who ruled from 1699 to 1743 AD. Although it is undated, there are reasons to infer that it was most probably written in the last decade of the King’s life, if not in his very last years. The name of the scribe is not mentioned, but it was unmistakably penned by Dayānidhi, who was Vidyābhūṣaa’s main scribe for many years. We know his name from a manuscript of the Govinda-bhāṣya preserved in Gopiballabhpur, the Śyāmānandi-pīṭha in West Bengal, dated Savat 1815 (1758 AD), in which he identifies himself as a brāhmaa, the son of the minister of Kūrmācala. He not only copied most of Vidyābhūṣaa’s works but also wrote several of his personal letters, and his copies can be found all over India. Given the fact that he was noticeably neither much skilled in Sanskrit nor a very proficient scribe, we may assume that he was a disciple of Vidyābhūṣaa voluntarily engaged in his service. At the end of the text, we find the statement that this was a composition of Vidyābhūṣaa, “who is totally dependent upon the lotus feet of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu,” and also a precatory verse that appears in his Śyāmānanda-śataka-ṭīkā and Sāhitya-kaumudī, in which he alludes to four generations of ācāryas preceding him in the Śyāmānandi-parivāra. There is also another verse that appears at the end of his Siddhānta-ratna, in which he salutes his śikṣā-guru, Pītāmbaradāsa. Moreover, the style and scholarship peculiar to the other works of Vidyābhūṣaa are distinctly seen throughout the Tattva-dīpikā. On the basis of all this evidence, there is no scope to doubt the authenticity of the manuscript and its authorship by Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaa.

[1]  This incident is narrated in the Advaita-prakāśa (chapter 19), attributed to Īśāna Nāgara. There is a popular belief that the scholar referred to here was Raghunātha Śiromai.