Monday, November 25, 2019

Vedanta-syamantaka Release

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राधारसिकरायेज्यं विद्याभूषणशिष्यकम् ।
राधादामोदराख्यं तं वन्देऽहं देशिकोत्तमम् ॥

rādhā-dāmodarākhyaṁ taṁ
vande’haṁ deśikottamam

“I salute the most exalted spiritual preceptor named Rādhā-Dāmodara, whose worshipable deities are Rādhā-Rasikarāya, and whose foremost disciple is Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa.”

                The Brahma-sūtra composed by the sage Bādarāyaṇa, better known as Vyāsadeva, forms the basis of the Vedānta system, which methodically presents the philosophical conclusion (anta) of the Vedas. Each of the four VedasṚg, Sāma, Yajur, and Atharva — consists of the Saṁhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka, and Upaniṣad portions. Thus, Vedānta is also known as Uttara-mīmāṁsā, “examination of the subsequent,” since it is concerned with the Upaniṣads, the portion of the Vedas that deals with spiritual knowledge (jñāna-kāṇḍa). This designation contrasts with the Pūrva-mīmāṁsā, “examination of the antecedent,” a system propounded by Jaimini, which is concerned with the ritualistic portion (karma-kāṇḍa) of the Vedas, as seen in the mantra portion of the Saṁhitās as well as in the Brāhmaṇas. This also implies that Vedānta surpasses whatever falls within the scope of Pūrva-mīmāṁsā, whose results are limited to earthly and heavenly delights.

Among the multiple philosophical systems that originated in ancient India, Vedānta has been enjoying the foremost position for more than a thousand years and has played a central role in curbing the influence of other systems that once thrived, some of which, consequently, no more exist as part of a living tradition at present. The total corpus of all Vedānta schools, including the treatises that have been lost, is so extensive that it would not be possible to exactly ascertain the numbers, which may easily amount to over a thousand texts, or even more. The philosophical production of other systems in India is nowhere close to such numbers, which continue increasing even now, both in Sanskrit and vernacular. Complete commentaries on all aphorisms of the Brahma-sūtra are relatively few, but there are many hundreds of Vedānta-prakaraṇas, philosophical treatises that deal with particular topics on Vedānta. The Vedānta-syamantaka is one of such treatises.

The Authorship
The authorship of the Vedānta-syamantaka has been under dispute for the last two centuries. Out of nine different publishers, only two attributed the text to Rādhā-Dāmodara, while six of them credited it to Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa in their respective editions. This happened in great part because the first publisher, Kālidāsa Nātha, for reasons known better to him, decided to give Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s name as the author when he printed the text in 1886 AD. He not only avoided justifying this claim but also refrained from writing even a single line as front matter.

On the one hand, Vidyābhūṣaṇa clearly signed each of his works, with the exception of Govinda-bhāṣya, Siddhānta-ratnam, and Prameya-ratnāvalī, all of which are well-known as his compositions, and in whose commentaries Vedāntavāgīśa directly mentions the name “Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa” as the author. On the other hand, every single manuscript of the Vedānta-syamantaka ends with the following verse:

vipreṇa vedānta-mayaḥ syamantakaḥ
śrī-rādhikāyai vinivedito mayā
tasyāḥ pramodaṁ sa tanotu sarvadā

“This Syamantaka-like treatise on Vedānta is offered to Śrī Rādhikā by me, a brāhmaṇa named Rādhā-Dāmodara. May it always give her joy.”

Style and content-wise, since the work itself abounds in quotations and is in good part based on other treatises, it is somewhat difficult to sort out idiosyncratic patterns that could point to only one of these authors. Moreover, at present there are no other philosophical treatises written by Rādhā-Dāmodara that could serve as a means of comparative study. The matter becomes even more complex by the fact that Vidyābhūṣaṇa extensively elaborated on the same topics in the Siddhānta-ratnam.

                Out of the multiple manuscripts consulted, there was only one (entered below as ‘ba’) in whose colophon an unidentified scribe voices his opinion on the matter. He claims that the author of the Vedānta-syamantaka is Vidyābhūṣaṇa, and that he wrote the name of his guru instead of his own “in order to attain Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.” I would take these words seriously if the scribe had at least attempted to justify such a claim, which he did not. His whole transcription is so flawed that it is obvious that he was clueless about Sanskrit, an impression further corroborated by those few lines in the colophon, all of which are grammatically incorrect and full of spelling mistakes, which means he was no scholar. Moreover, I fail to grasp the reasoning here. If the desire to attain Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa was Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s motive for writing a book under his guru’s name, we may assume that he did not entertain such a desire in any of his other many books. Also, I am unaware of any tradition in which the means to attain Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa is to write books under the name of one’s guru. Had the scribe actually been acquainted with Vidyābhūṣaṇa and his works, he would have known about the gloss written by him and included it in his transcription, which he did not. What is indeed remarkable is that since the manuscript is dated Śakābda 1730 (AD 1808), it is clear that as early as that, there was already confusion regarding the authorship of the text.

                The fact is that in the Vedānta-syamantaka there are a few idiomatic constructions, sources, and references that do not seem to be present in Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s works. While there is no doubt that this text was handed down through the hands of Vidyābhūṣaṇa, there are no justifiable grounds to doubt the literal meaning of the verse quoted above. Further evidence shall be discussed below, in the section about the gloss.

The Author
Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara Gosvāmī belonged to the seventh generation in the Gauḍīya disciplic succession:
1. Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Nityānanda Prabhu
2. Gaurīdāsa Paṇḍita
3. Hṛdaya-caitanya Ṭhākura
4. Śyāmānanda Prabhu
5. Rasikānanda Murāri
6. Nayanānanda Gosvāmī
7. Rādhā-Dāmodara Gosvāmī

There is hardly any available information about his life and contributions, but we can infer that he was born around the middle of the 17th century. From Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s invocation in the beginning of his commentary on the Chandaḥ-kaustubha it is clear that Rādhā-Dāmodara Gosvāmī was his guru:

arcita-nayanānando rādhā-dāmodaro gurur jīyāt
vivṛṇomi yasya kṛpayā chandaḥ-kaustubham aham mita-vāk

“All glories to my guru, Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara, who worshipped Śrī Nayanānanda as his spiritual master. By his mercy I am writing this commentary on the Chandaḥ-kaustubha in a few words.”

Vidyābhūṣaṇa further clarifies: atha nayanānanda-padāravinda-sevāsādita-nikhila-śāstrārthaś chando-vidvad-vṛnda-vandyaḥ śrī-rādhā-dāmodarābhikhyaḥ kānyakubja-vipra-vaṁśāvataṁso mahattamaḥ kaviḥ. “The greatest poet named Rādhā-Dāmodara is the crest-jewel of the dynasties of brāhmaṇas from Kānyakubja. He is venerable to all those learned in prosody, and by serving the lotus feet of Śrī Nayanānanda he obtained knowledge of the meaning of all scriptures.”
At the end of the Siddhānta-ratnam, Vidyābhūṣaṇa writes the following verse:

vijayante śrī-rādhā-dāmodara-pāda-paṅkaja-dyutayaḥ
yābhiḥ sakṛd uditābhir vinirmito me mahān modaḥ

                “All glories to the splendour of Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara’s lotus feet, which upon being seen, suddenly gave me great joy.”

Vedāntavāgīśa explains this verse in the following words: atha sva-mantra-deśikotkarṣaṁ maṅgalam ante pradarśayati — vijayanta iti. rādhā-dāmodaraḥ kānya-kubja-vipra-vaṁśottaṁsaḥ svasya mantropadeṣṭā mahattamo vidvad-agraṇīs tasya pāda-paṅkaja-dyutayaḥ. mahattamatāṁ dyotayituṁ sakṛd iti. modaḥ parattvāvagati-hetukaḥ sat-sabhānukampā-bhājanatā-hetuko nṛpendra-sabhā-jana-hetukaś ca. Here at the end, the author presents an auspicious verse about the excellence of his mantra-guru. Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara, the author’s mantra-guru, is the crest-jewel of the dynasties of brāhmaṇas from Kānyakubja, the greatest and foremost scholar. The splendour of his lotus feet is praised here. To elucidate his greatness, the author says ‘sakṛt’ (suddenly). The word ‘modaḥ’ means the joy caused by understanding the Supreme, by being an object of mercy among the congregation of saints, and by being a member of the king’s court.”

Rādhā-Dāmodara’s great scholarship is self-evident in the Vedānta-syamantaka and Chandaḥ-kaustubha, and also by the fact that he converted such a genius as Vidyābhūṣaṇa into Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, which in due course of time proved to be his greatest preaching achievement. He spent the last portion of his life in Puri, Odisha, where he was appointed as the head priest of the Kuñja Maṭha, one of the temples belonging to the Śyāmānandī line, and dedicated his life to worshipping the deities, Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Rasikarāya, and spreading the philosophy of Lord Caitanya. His samādhi is said to be located next to the temple. Being described by Vidyābhūṣaṇa as a great poet or wise man (kavi), and being renowned for his profound discourses on Jīva Gosvāmī’s six Sandarbhas, it is possible that Rādhā-Dāmodara may have written treatises on different topics, but at present, Chandaḥ-kaustubha and Vedānta-syamantaka are his only available works.

The Text
                In the tenth book of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (chap. 56), we find the episode about the Syamantaka gem, which was given by the sun-god to Satrājit, a resident of Dvārakā. Although small enough to be worn on a necklace, that jewel emitted powerful rays which resembled those of the sun. It was also able to produce a large amount of gold daily and prevent all sorts of calamities. Similarly, the Vedānta-syamantaka is very short, but each of its chapters is like a ray that dissipates the darkness of ignorance about the truth pertaining to the essential nature of various elements. The knowledge propounded here enables one to check the calamity of material existence and ultimately attain the lotus feet of Lord Hari, as stated by the author at the end of the text. Thus, the knowledge offered herein is actually the most valuable jewel, more precious even than the Syamantaka gem itself, which produced only temporary, mundane benefits.

                The first ray-like chapter deals exclusively with Vaiṣṇava epistemology. Valid knowledge (pramā) can be acquired only through an effective means (pramāṇa), or evidence. Drawing from Jīva Gosvāmī’s Sarva-saṁvādinī, the author here elaborates on the various kinds of evidences, defining and illustrating each of them. He substantiates that what may seem to be different kinds of evidences is indeed correctly classified within three major pramāṇas: direct perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), and verbal testimony (śabda), either individually or combined. Since the first two are subject to failure, the conclusion is that verbal testimony proceeding from the infallible Vedas is the most reliable means of knowledge.

                Each of the subsequent rays discusses a different object of knowledge (prameya). The second ray explains the nature of Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme Lord of everything (sarveśvara). He is endowed with eternal and unlimited transcendental attributes that are intrinsic to His svarūpa, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and so on. His multifarious potencies are also inherent within Him and act in various capacities. All these are non-different from the Supreme Lord, yet function as if different on account of viśeṣa. Lord Viṣṇu is superior to all demigods, is the source of all of them, and is the worshipable Lord of all of them. He is the Supreme Soul within all beings, and surrender unto Him is the means of liberation. He is manifested in many forms, such as two-handed, four-handed, and eight-handed, all of which are eternal and spiritual. His various manifestations are always accompanied by His eternal consort, Lakṣmī, who also manifests herself in conformity with His form. Just as Kṛṣṇa is the original form of all Viṣṇu-tattva manifestations, Rādhā is the original form of Lakṣmī-tattva.

                The third ray describes the original nature of the individual soul (jīva). All individual souls are minute consciousness and eternal parts of the Supreme Lord. The ‘I’ remains existing even after liberation, for all jīvas are eternal servants of God in their pure, spiritual state. The individual soul is a doer and is accountable for its own deeds. By performing devotional service under the instruction of a spiritual master, one becomes liberated. The various monistic theories that equate the individual soul with Brahman are all mistaken, for they are self-contradictory, and contradict both logic and the scriptures. If the souls were all one, the very existence of an instructor and an instructed person would not be possible.

                The fourth ray delineates material nature (prakṛti) and its elements. Prakṛti is eternal, devoid of consciousness, and it consists of the three modes (guṇas). It is the source of the universe and the material bodies of all living beings within it. The unbalanced state of the three modes gives rise to the mahat-tattva. Due to its contact with the modes, the mahat-tattva becomes threefold and gives rise to threefold ahaṅkāra. From the ahaṅkāra in the mode of ignorance emanate the five tanmātras, from which emanate the five great elements. The Supreme Lord divides and combines (pañcīkaraṇa) the five great elements, which gives rise to all the planetary systems. The primordial elements gradually unfold to make a total of twenty-four elements. Yet the substance of these elements is considered as non-different, since cause and effect are merely states of the same element.

                The fifth ray briefly defines the nature of time, which is an insentient element devoid of the three modes. Time is eternal, all-pervasive, and manifest as past, present, future, quick, long-lasting, and similar conventions. It is the cause of creation and destruction and controls everyone within the material world. Yet time is controlled by God and exerts no influence on His abode.

                The sixth ray outlines karma (material activities). Karma is beginningless and divided as pious and sinful. Pious activities are classified as optional (kāmya), regular (nitya), occasional (naimittika), and expiatory actions (prāyaścitta). Sinful activities are those condemned in the scriptures, such as murder. Spiritual knowledge annihilates the results of both pious and sinful deeds. Knowledge about Lord Hari qualifies one to become liberated and attain His abode. Knowledge can be direct or indirect. Direct knowledge is characterized by the realisation of bhakti, while indirect knowledge is mere scriptural knowledge.

The Gloss
Of all the consulted manuscripts, the one entered below as ‘ai’ has the most accurate readings and is the only one that has the complete gloss written by Vidyābhūṣaṇa. Although his name is not written anywhere on this manuscript, several factors corroborate his authorship. First of all, the gloss was penned by Dayānidhi, who served as Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s scribe for many years. Secondly, this is one of the four manuscripts that were gifted to King Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743 AD), the others being Tattva-dīpikā (also penned by Dayānidhi), Brahma-sūtra-kārikā-bhāṣya — both written under the King’s order — and Kāvya-kaustubha, all of which are part of the King’s private library, the Khasmohor Collection. As it was Jai Singh’s wish to become familiar with the Gauḍīya philosophy, Vidyābhūṣaṇa also presented him with a copy of his guru’s work and added his own gloss to it to clarify whatever he judged appropriate. This is confirmed by the manuscript ‘ḷ,’ which seems to be an earlier and shorter version of the gloss that was later revised and expanded. On its colophon, we read ‘iti śrī-vidyābhūṣaṇa-varṇite vedānta-syamantake (…) ṣaṣṭhaḥ kiraṇaḥ,’ “Thus ends the sixth ray of the Vedānta-syamantaka explained by Śrī Vidyābhūṣaṇa.” There are no known instances of Vidyābhūṣaṇa explaining or glossing any of his own writings, but he did so on works of ācāryas like Rūpa Gosvāmī, Jīva Gosvāmī, Rasikānanda, and Rādhā-Dāmodara. This is a further indication that the Vedānta-syamantaka was not composed by Vidyābhūṣaṇa. Any reader going through the gloss will promptly understand that its author must be different from the author of the main text, as most of the notes could have been directly inserted within the main text if the author were the same person. On the other hand, to make one’s own writing clearly distinguished from the original text is the etiquette and standard when glossing on someone else’s work. Furthermore, despite its brevity, the whole gloss is very consistent with Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s style and scholarship.
Several other manuscripts share some of the gloss found in ‘ai,’ while others have different notes as well, obviously written by different and unidentified people. It seems that a manuscript with some of Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s earlier draft may have been copied and circulated, to which others added their own notes. The final and complete version submitted to Jai Singh was confined to his personal collection, and as it was the case with other texts there, it was not accessible to others to be copied. Some of those notes may have been initially written by Vidyābhūṣaṇa while teaching the text to his students. There are yet other manuscript copies that have notes not at all related to those written by Vidyābhūṣaṇa.