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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 Nyāyāmṛta, 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, Vaiśeṣika-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 Pakṣadhara Miśra, Vāsudeva Sārvabhauma, Vyāsa Tīrtha, Raghunātha Śiromaṇi, Vallabhācārya, Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, Haridāsa Nyāyālaṅkāra, Jānakīnātha Tarkacūḍāmaṇi, Mathurānātha Tarkavāgīśa, Rāmabhadra Sārvabhauma, Bhavānanda Siddhānta Vāgīśa, Harirāma Tarkavāgīśa, Viśvanātha Nyāyapañcānana, Jagadīśa Tarkālaṅkāra 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.
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 Vṛndāvana, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī (ca. 1513-1608 AD) was the only one who dealt with the views of different philosophical schools. Before going to Vṛndāvana, he spent over a decade studying in Vārāṇasī, where he acquired a sound background in Sāṁkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṁsā and Vedānta. He reveals his command of these systems in his Sarva-saṁvādinī, 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 Vidyābhūṣaṇa (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. Vidyābhūṣaṇa accomplished this by writing commentaries on standards scriptures such as the Brahma-sūtras, Daśopaniṣad 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 Vidyābhūṣaṇa is perhaps the second Vaiṣṇava contribution in the genre. Until then, the only renowned Vaiṣṇava work of the sort was the Paramata-bhaṅga of Vedānta Deśika, a compilation of fifty-four stanzas in Maṇipravāḷa (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, Vidyābhūṣaṇa 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-bhaṅga (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.”
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 Vidyābhūṣaṇa’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 Saṁvat 1815 (1758 AD), in which he identifies himself as a brāhmaṇa, the son of the minister of Kūrmācala. He not only copied most of Vidyābhūṣaṇa’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 Vidyābhūṣaṇa voluntarily engaged in his service. At the end of the text, we find the statement that this was a composition of Vidyābhūṣaṇa, “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 Vidyābhūṣaṇa 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 Vidyābhūṣaṇa.