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May 15, 1999   VNN3873  

Sri Gita: Feeling & Philosophy


EDITORIAL, May 15 (VNN) — (from Sanga wfd@efn.org)

"The idea that the Gaud"ya commentators' spiritual emotion (bhava) leads them to interpret the Gita in terms of Vraja bhakti is a charming one...

Feeling their emotion, readers will also get the feel of the G"t, and thus feeling for Krsna."

Part II, Introduction to the 'Bhagavad Gita: It's Feeling and Philosophy'
by Swami B.V. Tripurari.

Popular understanding holds that the Upanishads reveal a formless impersonal Absolute, approached through the wisdom of introspection as opposed to religious ritual. Although devotion can be employed, it is ultimately dispensed with. By popular understanding I am referring to the Advaita Vedanta of Sankara and his modern, neo-Advaitin followers.(1) Sankara's basic understanding of the entire corpus of the Hindus' sacred literature is so widespread that many believe it is Vedanta, unaware of the fact that Advaita Vedanta is only one strand of Vedanta philosophy, one that differs radically from the other five principal schools.(2)

Relevant to the present work is Advaitin Madhusudana Saraswati's Gdhrtha-d"pik commentary on Bhagavad-g"t.(3) In the interest of substantiating the plausibility of the Gaud"ya understanding of the G"t, I have cited Madhusudana Saraswati's commentary in places. As neo-Advaitins may think the Gaud"ya rendering a stretch in places, it will be useful for them to know that such a highly renowned scholar and guru of the Advaita lineage often agrees with the Gaud"ya interpretation of the flow of Sri G"t's verse and its emphasis on devotion.

Among devotional schools, the Gaud"yas are most recent,(4) and thus have the distinct advantage of being able to draw on the devotional wealth that came before them. The host of commentators in the devotional schools of post-Sankara Vedanta have all vociferously refuted his doctrines which include dispensing with God, the individual soul and the world, as well as his subjugating devotion to knowledge, all in the name of non-duality.

While the devotional commentators may have subtle theological differences that demarcate their particular schools of Vedanta, they are in sufficient agreement with one another to unanimously oppose these doctrines of Sankara.

Among the devotional commentaries of the G"t, that of Rmnuja's is notable. It has made significant inroads in academic circles where it has been recognized for exposing the speculative nature of Sankara's explanation. Rmnuja's commentary is brilliant in its demonstration of the coherence of the G"t's ideas and the post-liberated nature of devotion. In some places I have cited Rmnuja's commentary and in others I have followed his sense of the text. This is in keeping with J"va Goswm"'s policy of acknowledging venerable Vaishnavas, as discussed in his Tattva-sandarbha.(5) In the same vein, I have cited Sridhara Swm"'s Subodhin".

The commentaries of Visvanatha Cakravart" Thkura and Baladeva Vidyabhushana in the Gaud"ya lineage are, in comparison to Rmnuja's commentary, far less known. However, they have demonstrated an appreciation of the coherence of the text that rivals Rmnuja's. True to their devotion to the sweet Krsna of Vraja, their explanation of the G"t brings a charm to the text that Rmnuja's does not; moreover, they place greater emphasis on devotion, both in terms of its power to afford the highest salvation and its magnanimity in extending itself to the lowest section of society. I have cited these two principal Gaud"ya commentators throughout, and for the most part followed the sense of the G"t's coherence as experienced by them. Although Visvanatha and Baladeva occasionally differ, their differences remain within the parameters of the lineage's devotional conclusions (siddhnta).

Following the commentaries of Visvanatha and Baladeva in the Gaud"ya line are the modern-day commentaries of Bhakti Prad"pa T"rtha Goswm", Bhakti Rakshaka Sridhara Mahrja, and A. C. Bhaktivednta Swm" Prabhupda. The translations of these authorities often reflect the Gaud"ya purport that is not always apparent in the Sanskrit verse itself. Though some may consider this to be a shortcoming of these translations, their approach justifiable in that it is based on the rigorous work of the original Gaud"ya commentators, Visvanatha and Baladeva, who have elaborately demonstrated from their knowledge of Sanskrit and the entire corpus of sacred literature instances in which in some verses can take on a special meaning that is hidden from the vision of those whose eyes have not been tinged with the salve of love for Krsna.

Perhaps Gaud"ya commentators appear to go out on a limb more than anywhere else when they find Vraja Krsna speaking in the G"t, and this within the context of their own theology. According to Gaud"ya theology, 'dh"ra-prasnta' Krsna is not preoccupied with Vraja and the love of the gop"s. As much as 'dh"ra-lalita' Krsna is in no mood for an Upanishadic discourse, 'dh"ra-prasnta' Krsna is not typically in the mood of Vraja bhakti. However, several Gau"ya commentators experience dh"ra-lalita Krsna in the G"t text. The theological resolution to this apparent contradiction lies ultimately in the power of bhakti itself.

Devotees see Krsna in everyone and everything by the force of their love for him. Sr" Caitanya is said to have made the statement mora man vrndvan, "My mind is Vrndvana (Vraja)." He saw all rivers as Vraja's Yamun, all mountains as Govardhana. In Jaganntha, the universal Lord of Sri Puri Dhma in deity form, he saw Vraja Krsna, the beautiful dark boy, flute in hand, head adorned with the plume of a peacock. In consideration of this, it is hardly a stretch for the devotees of the Krsna of Vraja to perceive him, the dh"ra-lalita of Rdh, in the princely Krsna's words. The gap is further narrowed by the fact that the battleground of Kurukshetra where Krsna spoke the G"t (6) was the site where he had previously met with Rdh and the gop"s after a long and painful period of separation. Setting foot in that holy place again for the purpose of instructing Arjuna, Prince Krsna was surely reminded of Vraja bhakti, the highest spiritual love that he had discussed with the gop"s that day. Would it not then be natural for him to steer the conversation in the direction of Vraja and the highest expression of devotion? This seems particularly observable in the midst of his discourse on comparative religion, where bhakti effortlessly rises to the top as the cream of the milk of religion.

The idea that the Gaud"ya commentators' spiritual emotion (bhva) leads them to interpret the G"t in terms of Vraja bhakti is a charming one.

Their vision is not blemished by the prejudice resulting from their divine feeling. After all, is it not feeling for the G"t and love of Krsna that the text seeks to arouse in the reader? The Gaud"yas' feeling for Krsna arises out of a firm philosophical and scriptural foundation and is the most valuable thing one can hope to experience in the course of studying Bhagavad-g"t. Feeling their emotion, readers will also get the feel of the G"t, and thus feeling for Krsna.

In the present edition, I have adopted a more literal translation of that actual text of the G"t, keeping the Gaud"ya purport confined to the commentary. I have also taken pains to demonstrate the coherence of the G"t, its natural flow from verse to verse, which has not been a focus of other modern Gaud"ya commentators. I have ornamentally cited references to the G"t from the a-sandarbha of J"va Goswm" and Caitanya-caritmrta of Krsnadsa Kavirja Goswm", both of which precede the earliest Gaud"ya Bhagavad-g"t commentary, and I have done the same with Baladeva's references to the G"t in his Govinda-bhshya commentary on Vednta-stra.

The language is contemporary, and as much as possible I have tried to bring home the relevance of the G"t, and the Gaud"ya import in particular, for the times that are with us. In all of this I hope to make more clear the authority that underlies the previous modern editions and allow this edition to serve as a meaningful contribution from the Gaud"ya lineage, an indicator of its vitality at the turn of the twenty-first century.

While I am hopeful that both practitioners and casual readers will find this edition helpful, I initially undertook this work for my own edification and purification. In this, I feel that my work has been a success as it has given rise in me to real feeling for the G"t, Krsna, and Arjuna. It is this feeling that I have attempted to weave this into the text. I pray that careful study of this work will awaken such feeling in its readers as well, for it is this feeling that does not allow one to tire from hearing Krsna's ambrosial words, edition after edition, thrilled at every moment.


1. A short detour form the G"t's straightforward direction through the twists and turns of Sankara's doctrine of maya may be indirectly helpful in understanding what the G"t is all about, as well as why neo-Advaita Vedanta enjoys widespread, although perhaps undeserved popularity. However, to avoid the risk of losing some readers in the abyss of Sankara's Brahman at the onset, I have offered a stroll down Sankara's lane of Advaita Vedanta in the appendix.

2. Visistadvaita, dvaita, dvaitadvaita, suddhadvaita, and acintya bhedabheda.

3. Madhusudhana Saraswati was a contemporary of Sr" Caitanya yet never met him. It is apparent that he was influenced by Gaud"ya Vedanta enough to regard it as a viable alternative to Advaita, the doctrine of his own choice.

4. Sr" Caitanya appeared in the world in 1486 c.e.

5. See Swam" B. V. Tripurri, J"va Goswm"'s Tattva-sandarbha (Eugene, OR: Clarion Call Publishing, 1995).

6. SB. 10.78.

'The Bhagavad Gita: It's Feeling and Philosphy' by Swami B.V. Tripurari is scheduled for release in Spring, 2000.

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