Vanity thought #1702. Is there really a rift?

I hope this is the last post on tattvavāda apparent rejection of Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself as declared in SB 1.3.28. I’ve come across this issue as a reverberation of some internet activism of fifteen-twenty years ago. If there ever was a rift between us then it certainly isn’t there now and tattvavādīs themselves stopped attacking us long time ago.

Whatever appears on the internet, however, stays there for the eternity and so our contemporary critics dug those old arguments, dust them off, and present them as something new and decisive. Since their motives are other than pursuit of the Absolute Truth they are bound to commit errors of judgement, they display clear bias, and, as it appears to be in this case, twist the words of tattvavāda ācāryas to fit with their present day narrative.

I think it’s worth repeating it again – our opponents quietly omit existence of tattvavāda commentaries on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and on this verse in particular but picked on the śloka being quoted in Madhvācārya’s commentary on a verse from Bhagavad Gītā. This changes the context – in Gītā the point was to differentiate between Kṛṣṇa’s vibhūties, opulences, and Kṛṣṇa’s incarnations. This is why Madhvācarya brought this verse in the first place, but our opponents take it to mean that suddenly the subject matter of the purport has changed and Śrīla Madhvācārya decided to argue that Kṛṣṇa’s is nothing special and is a mere incarnation of Viṣṇu instead.

Continuing from where I left off – Madhvācārya’s part of the tattvavāda commentary was over. It proved the point I was making above – the Kṛṣna’s vibhūties are not bhagavān svayam, and there were a couple of cryptic sentences whose meaning eludes me.

Next we have the commentary by Jayatīrtha, the tīkācarya of tattvavāda. This Jayatīrtha is also listed in our disciplic succession so we can’t say that he was outright wrong but we do have to remember what he was doing and for what purpose. Afaik, he was a disciple of Madhvācarya himself but he is listed third in his line because of seniority and śikṣā relationships among Madhvācārya’s most prominent followers. He wrote extensive commentaries, hence the title of tīkācārya, but his commentaries were on Madhva himself, not on the original texts, at least these are the commentaries he is most famous for.

This should give us the context – Madhvācārya’s original comments are often terse and incomprehensible so to make them accessible to common people (don’t forget that “common” here is qualified brāhmaṇas, not commoners per se) Jayatīrtha explained the meanings of Madhva’s cryptic messages. Could he always succeed? Yes, in as much as his mission would go, but now we are using his words to argue issues that didn’t exist in his time at all and so we should be careful with extrapolations of his views into modern arena.

Prior to appearance of Lord Caitanya no one thought that Kṛṣṇa is the original and Supreme Personality of Godhead, the source of all other Viṣṇu emanations, which are also non-different from Him in any way that matters to us. We, as Guaḍiyā vaiṣṇavas, worship Kṛṣṇa, but we still call ourselves vaiṣṇavas because drawing a wedge between Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa is a stupid idea. There are some people, however, who tend to take it very seriously and need to argue about relative positions of Krṣṇa and Viṣṇu. It has become an issue only with the appearance of these people and with relative success of our preaching. It’s their reaction to our success and it’s driven more by envy than by anything else.

Neither Madhvācārya nor Jayatīrtha have anything to do with this and so we/they are bound to take their words out of context they were speaking, as I said. So, Jayatīrtha explanation of Madhvācārya’s comment (source):

    As their being endowed with fragments or energy is stated, the
    ones stated as `kalAH’ are only energized; they are not the self-same
    Lord. By `ete svAMshakalAH’, the ones stated to be the self-same
    amsha-s are the real kalA-s. They are not merely stated as previously
    merely for the sake of usage. [An objector asks:] But in the
    Bhagavata, other incarnations such as Varaha, etc., are only small
    parts of the Supreme Being. Krishna is the original form, the
    Lord Himself, thus is the standard meaning.
    So how is this stated
    purport? This would make the word `tu’ useless in meaning — to
    answer this, it is stated, `tushabda’, thus. The following is the
    meaning of the same: these incarnations such as Varaha, etc., are
    all svAMshakalA-s (the self-same natures of the Lord). So what
    is the meaning? Just as Krishna, the Supreme Being, is the Lord
    Himself, so are these. And why should this be so? — on account of
    its agreement with the Shruti cited in this context
    (by Srimad Acharya). The lack of sensibility of the other
    interpretation is also stated: `anyastu’, thus. By this is meant
    the interpretation that Varaha, etc., are the fragments, and that
    Krishna is the original, thus. That here, the specialty is not
    appropriate, such is indicated, `aMshatvaM’, thus. By `tatrApi’
    is meant, “even with Krishna” (it would have to be said that He
    is only a fragment and not the whole).

First of all, it’s written in broken English so we can’t trust this translation to convey nuances of the meaning. Secondly, check the emphasized part where Jayatīrtha admits that our reading is the standard meaning. Well, “thus is the standard meaning” is wrong but the point is clear. Or is it? The objector understood that other incarnations such as Varāha are only small parts of the Supreme Being but it’s not how we, the Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas interpret Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam at all. It’s the wrong kind of objector and so Jayatīrtha argues not with us but with someone else. This illustrates my earlier point that we can’t use Jayatīrtha’s words in debates on different issues.

Check this Jayatīrtha’s conclusion, too: “So what is the meaning? Just as Krishna, the Supreme Being, is the Lord Himself, so are these.” Here he explicitly admits the standard reading mentioned above – “Kṛṣna, the Supreme Being, is the Lord Himself”. He just argues that other incarnations are in no way lesser. We won’t argue with that, why? It’s our position as well.

Hmm, Jayatīrtha’s comment continues and touches on something else, on the rest of the Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam verse, but I’m not in the mood to start another line of discussion right now. Next time.

Vanity thought #1701. Eva Tu

Continuing with tattvavādīs’ argument against Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam. Yesterday I said that their attacks on ISKCON is just some internet activism not supported by their leadership or by their doctrine. I think real tattvavādīs had put a stop to it because their site hasn’t be updated in years and it’s mostly broken. The part about Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam is a commentary page on Bhagavad Gītā 10.41 instead of Bhāgavatam which should naturally be suspicious because they have Padaratnāvalī and also Madhvācārya’s own commentary and if nothing is said there then they should admit that their ācāryas had no clear position on this issue. It would be even worse if their ācāryas agreed with our translation but they omitted it.

Going with what they present I said that the context of that Gītā verse and the purport is to distinguish between manifestations of Kṛṣṇa’s vibhūtis and actual, fully transcendental forms of the Lord and I quoted the relevant part from Śrīla Madhvācārya comment on Gītā and said that we’d agree with it one hundred percent:

    He alone is the Bhargava, the Dasharathi, Krishna, etc.; other (great) jIva-s are endowed with His amsha,” thus says the Gautama-khila.

    “The R^ishhi-s, the Manu-s, and the devatA-s, the kings who are the sons of Manu, are all, along with Brahma, to be known
    to be energized by Hari, only; the forms [of Vishnu] like Krishna, are the self-same Lord,” thus says the Bhagavata.

    Having stated that the sages, etc., are endowed with the energy of the Lord, the incarnations like Varaha, are stated to be His own self-same nature…

One could object that it contains the phrase “the forms [of Vishnu] like Krishna, are the self-same Lord” but it’s the translation of SB 1.3.28 by the author of that webpage, Madhvācārya simply quotes Sanskrit there, which is “Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam” and doesn’t have “[of Viṣṇu]” or “like Kṛṣṇa”. The fun begins afterwards.

Now, we should remember how 1.3.28 verse fits in Bhāgavatam narration – first there’s a long list of avatāras with brief descriptions of their pastimes. There are twenty two of those and Kṛṣṇa is listed as the nineteenth. Then there’s a verse about ṛṣis, Manus and demigods, descendants of Manu, Prajāpatis etc. In that verse these particular manifestations are called kalāḥ — “portion of the plenary portion” in our translation, and then comes 1.3.28 and it begins with “ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ” – “all of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord…”

If Śrīla Madhvācārya wanted to stress the difference between avatāras and vibhūtis this would be the right verse to do so – Manus etc in 1.3.27 and bhagavān svayam in 1.3.28. That’s what the last line in the above quote from his commentary on Gīta say – sages are endowed with the energy of the Lord by incarnations like Varāha are of His own self-same nature. That is why we have nothing to argue here but our attackers decided to make this about Kṛṣṇa’s relative position among other avatāras.

So the quote continues:

    The word `tu’ is used in the sense of `eva’. There is no other specialty that could be indicated by the use of `tu’. Even for him the same would be indicated, as in the statement `udbabarhAtmanaH keshau’ (he plucked his hairs). By `mR^iDayanti’, the use of the plural would be inappropriate (if Krishna alone were the Bhagavan). Indeed, it is never seen that having stated something vastly different later, without considering what has been stated, some use is indicated of the previous.

I suspect it doesn’t faithfully follow Sanskrit:

    tushabda evArthe | anyastu visheshho na kutrApyavagataH |
    aMshatvaM tatrApyavagatam.h “udbabarhAtmanaH keshau” iti |
    mR^iDayanti iti cha bahuvachanaM chAyuktam.h | na hyantarA.anyaduktvA
    pUrvamaparAmR^ishya tatkriyochyamAnA dR^ishhTA kutrachit.h

In “the use of the plural would be inappropriate” the words “(if Krishna alone were the Bhagavan)” are definitely not there but are an addition by the translator. There could be other reasons why Śrīla Madhvācārya thought the use of plural was inappropriate and it’s not clear what he even meant there because we do have “yuge yuge” – in different ages or millennium after millennium. If Madhvācārya’s point was that it’s one Lord who incarnates in different forms at different times then we have no objections.

The last sentence in that quote is too cryptic to understand and it’s expressed in somewhat broken English which indicates we are dealing with a subpar and therefore unreliable translation.

Let’s look at the essence of the argument: “The word `tu’ is used in the sense of `eva'” – no objections, if Madhvācārya meant it that avatāras are CERTAINLY non-different from the Supreme. The verse doesn’t say they are parts of Kṛṣṇa – “ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ”, parts of the Supreme. No objections if he meant Kṛṣṇa is CERTAINLY bhagavān svayam either – now this is funny because our opponents want to prove something quite different.

I’m sure it’s a speculative reading on my part but if you substitute “tu” with “eva” you’ll get exactly that – Kṛṣṇas eva bhagavān svayam while our opponents argue that Kṛṣṇa is nothing special. It looks as if Madvhācārya’s own words completely agree with our Gauḍiyā siddhānta but to our opponents they appear to mean something else. This isn’t unusual in Vedic literature where sometimes outright blasphemy by demons can be read as a subtle glorification of the Lord instead.

“There is no other specialty that could be indicated by the use of `tu’..” – if we are talking about the phrase Kṛṣṇas tu/eva bhagavān svayam then Madhvācārya meant Kṛṣṇa IS bhagavān svayam and there’s no other specialty to be screwed out of it. Not what our opponents want to prove again.

“Even for him the same would be indicated, as in the statement `udbabarhAtmanaH keshau’ (he plucked his hairs).” – again, too cryptic to decipher. This sentence, however, points to some other reading of the previous ones, which still remains elusive.

Our opponents take it to mean that the word “tu” is put there erroneously but surely Śrīla Madhvācārya didn’t mean to correct śāstra or alter its original meaning. That would be convenient for them but it’s still only a conjecture. Understanding Madhvācārya is hard and his commentary on Gītā is known to be terse so the confusion is natural.

What happens next is that different people see different things. Those who want to prove that Madhvācārya argued against clear reading of SB 1.3.28 have done so. I would rather see the passage in overall context of trying to prove that avatāras are not vibhūtis and are the self-same Lord. It is possible that Madhvācārya had shifted his attention to proving that Kṛṣṇa is NOT bhagavān svayam but it’s unlikely – he was speaking on Gītā and not Bhāgavatam and he was quoting SB 1.3.28 to support his point on Gītā, not to start a different discussion.

Next we have Jayatīrtha’s commentary on Madhvācārya’s commentary and I’ll discuss it later.

Vanity thought #1700. Madhvacarya is not our enemy

I’ve found tattvavādī explanation of Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam verse so I want to get back to that subject before continuing with criticism of Gauḍiyā siddhānta by fellow vaiṣṇavas from Madhva sampradāya.

First of all, in Madhva sampradāya they don’t believe in freely disseminating their texts, and by freely I don’t mean as in free beer but that only qualified brāhmaṇas should be allowed to read them and no one else. Consequently, there isn’t much to go on here for us, especially without knowledge of Sanskrit (because Sanskrit pdfs are at least easier to find). I don’t think anyone in that sampradāya is eager to translate them to English. In fact, knowledge of Sanskrit is probably one of the necessary qualifications for reading and English translations would go contrary to their doctrine.

Secondly, some Madhvas got the internet bug and realized that without English they won’t get anywhere so they manually translated relevant passages which poses a problem – are they translating ALL relevant passages or are they hiding something they don’t want us to see? It’s a question about their intentions and their bias and it has to be answered first. As I said last time and as I plan to discuss again – they don’t look like acting in good faith and on the orders of their authorities, just as self-appointed internet activists.

We should also keep in mind that Madhvācārya is listed in our paramparā and therefore we can’t say that he was wrong about this verse. Nor can we say that his genuine followers are wrong, too, though those who descend into criticizing other vaiṣṇavas are a fair game.

In this light it should be immediately suspicious that their refutation of our reading of Kṛṣṇas to bhagavān svayam comes not from commentaries on Bhāgavatam but from commentaries on Bhagavad Gītā.

It appears that Madhvācārya skipped this verse (SB 1.3.28) in his commentary on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – this isn’t stated by our critics, however. It would have been a nice admission or, if Madhva commented on this verse indeed, it would be an inexcusable omission. Maybe Madhva’s commentary is mentioned in Jīva Gosvāmī’s Krama Sandarbha but I don’t think we have an English translation of it yet. This means that we don’t know what was Madhva’s position on Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam and have to deal only with his followers.

Okay, the most prominent commentary on Bhāgavatam in that tradition is by Vijayadhvaja called Padaratnāvalī but we don’t have it in English, too. Somehow our critics do not quote from it either even if it’s more than likely to contain an explanation of this verse. It could be that Vijayadvaja’s purports were included in Bhāgavatam edition Śrīla Prabhupāda used for translation himself but it’s rather voluminous so probably not.

In any case, we don’t have a proper presentation from our critics, explaining how this verse has been understood by their most prominent commentators on Bhāgavatam itself, but they rather give us a link to a commentary on Bhagavad Gītā 10.41. This link itself is like twenty years old and the entire site hasn’t been updated in years, which I understand to mean that either Kṛṣṇa Himself or the true keepers of tattvavādī tradition put a shush on these useless arguments.

Anyway, what do we have there?

First half of the page deals with Bhagavad Gītā’s verse itself, there’s an introduction by Rāghavēndra Tīrtha and some comments from Jayatīrtha, one of the most prominent followers of Madhvācārya who is listed in our paramparā, too. Then suddenly there’s Bhagavatam verse 1.3.27 followed by the first line from 1.3.28, which is Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam. It’s preceded only by the word “bhAshhya” without attributing it to anyone. There are these three lines, Sanskrit commentary, English translation, and then another commentary from Jayatirtha’s “prameya-dIpikA TippaNI” with English translation, then summary by the author of the page itself.

It took me a while to understand the structure of the page – first there’s intro, then Gītā 10.40, then Gītā 10.41, then purport by Madhvācārya (I guess, it’s unattributed) which in itself is split, and then sentences and paragraphs from Madhva are commented by Jayatīrtha, and then the author of the page adds his own two cents and these are addressed to us. I’d say we don’t need this change and we can look at what Madhvācārya and Jayatīrtha had to say ourselves.

The context is important – Madhvācārya and Jayatīrtha weren’t discussing Kṛṣṇa’s position among other forms of Viṣṇu but BG 10.41: “Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.” It was about establishing the superiority of viṣṇu-tattva as opposed to various creations manifested in the material world.

When looking from this perspective one should naturally establish that Lord’s incarnations such as Matsya or Kurma must not be equated with relatively inferior beings such as Manus, ṛṣis and devās. These three categories come from SB 1.3.27 and in that chapter they are inserted there between the list of Viṣṇu avatāras and declaration that Kṛṣṇa is God Himself. From Madhva’s point of view it needed to be proven that avatāras are higher than ṛṣis and Manus and they are viṣṇu tattva, not vibhūtis from Gita 10.41.

I should note that viṣṇu tattva is not the term normally used by tattvavādīs here so it’s our translation but the point is the same – we need to see the difference between Viṣṇu and His vibhūtis. Just look at Madhācārya’s uninterrupted line of thought:

    • He alone is the Bhargava, the Dasharathi, Krishna, etc.; other (great) jIva-s are endowed with His amsha,” thus says the Gautama-khila.

“The R^ishhi-s, the Manu-s, and the devatA-s, the kings who are the sons of Manu, are all, along with Brahma, to be known
to be energized by Hari, only; the forms [of Vishnu] like Krishna, are the self-same Lord,” thus says the Bhagavata.

Having stated that the sages, etc., are endowed with the energy of the Lord, the incarnations like Varaha, are stated to be His own self-same nature…

What have we got to disagree with here? Absolutely nothing. We would subscribe to this point of view one hundred percent. The paragraph doesn’t end there, however, and it’s from the continuation as well as from Jayatīrtha’s commentary that our modern day critics screw out there meaning. Is it fair to do so? I’ll address this in another post.

Vanity thought #1698. More of the same

There are two more verses in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam offering so called proof that Kṛṣṇa isn’t the original Personality of Godhead but by now it’s easy to guess how it will go – yes, words svayam and bhagavān are mentioned together but it would take quoting them out of context and serious twisting of meaning to build an argument against Kṛṣṇa.

First up is SB 7.1.1. It’s a question by Mahārāja Parīkṣit about Lord’s impartiality. If the Lord is equal to everyone, why does He side with demigods in their disputes with demons? Fair question, and in response Śukadeva Gosvāmī explains this point philosophically first and then tells a story of Śiśupāla who was killed by Kṛṣṇa but still attained salvation. The question is the prelude to Jaya and Vijaya falldown story.

    śrī-rājovāca
    samaḥ priyaḥ suhṛd brahman
     bhūtānāṁ bhagavān svayam
    indrasyārthe kathaṁ daityān
     avadhīd viṣamo yathā

    Word for word:

    śrī-rājā uvāca — Mahārāja Parīkṣit said; samaḥ — equal; priyaḥ — beloved; suhṛt — friend; brahman — O brāhmaṇa (Śukadeva); bhūtānām — toward all living entities; bhagavān — the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu; svayam — Himself; indrasya — of Indra; arthe — for the benefit; katham — how; daityān — the demons; avadhīt — killed; viṣamaḥ — partial; yathā — as if.

    Translation:

    King Parīkṣit inquired: My dear brāhmaṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Viṣṇu, being everyone’s well-wisher, is equal and extremely dear to everyone. How, then, did He become partial like a common man for the sake of Indra and thus kill Indra’s enemies? How can a person equal to everyone be partial to some and inimical toward others?

As expected, the words bhagavān svayam are there but so what? Grammatically every commentator links svayam not to bhagavān but to the verb avadhīt – killed. Why did the Lord kill daityāns Himself? It has absolutely nothing to do with relationships between Kṛṣṇa and Viṣṇu. The name Viṣṇu doesn’t appear in the verse but Śrīla Prabhupāda translated bhagavān here as “the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu” anyway because it has absolutely nothing to do with the question of “superiority”.

This whole debate is senseless anyway because there’s no difference between Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu forms. It matters only to those obsessed with choosing the best God for themselves. If Kṛṣṇa is the origin of Viṣṇu then their worship of Viṣṇu becomes inferior, they think, which is nonsense.

For many hapless followers of Madhvācārya it’s unthinkable how a simple cowherd boy from a village in India can be superior to Viṣṇu, the Lord of the whole universe, and how Kṛṣṇa’s simple village girlfriend is a source of Lakṣṃī, the goddess of fortune. It’s a lot easier for them to imagine that Kṛṣṇa is simply Viṣṇu having fun by playing a kid. Let them think this way, what does it matter to us? We know that neither Kṛṣṇa nor Vṛndāvana are parts of this world and that Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are eternal and it’s rather going out and being God either in the material or spiritual world that is taxing for Him. Not that He has any difficulty but it spoils His fun.

We do not think of Kṛṣṇa as someone similar to us – work first, play later. He doesn’t live for karma, it’s us who have to earn the right to imitate Him first. By imitate I mean indulge in sense enjoyment. We don’t think of Viṣṇu working as God to earn the right to relax with His intimate friends in pastoral settings.

Finally, there’s this verse from the Eighth Canto (SB 8.5.4):

    patnī vikuṇṭhā śubhrasya
     vaikuṇṭhaiḥ sura-sattamaiḥ
    tayoḥ sva-kalayā jajñe
    vaikuṇṭho bhagavān svayam

    Word for word:

    patnī — the wife; vikuṇṭhā — named Vikuṇṭhā; śubhrasya — of Śubhra; vaikuṇṭhaiḥ — with the Vaikuṇṭhas; sura-sat-tamaiḥ — demigods; tayoḥ — by Vikuṇṭhā and Śubhra; sva-kalayā — with plenary expansions; jajñe — appeared; vaikuṇṭhaḥ — the Lord; bhagavān — the Supreme Personality of Godhead; svayam — personally.

    Translation:

    From the combination of Śubhra and his wife, Vikuṇṭhā, there appeared the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vaikuṇṭha, along with demigods who were His personal plenary expansions.

Vaikuṇṭho Bhagavān Svayam – nailed it! Almost exactly like Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam. Q.E.D.

Except that this chapter describes descendants of the fifth Manu and how various ṛṣis, kings, demigods etc appeared in his dynasty. Among them, from the marriage of Śubhra and Vikuṇṭhā, appeared the Supreme Lord Himself and His name was, appropriately, Vaikuṇṭha.

Once again, it has nothing to do with Vaikuṇṭha being the original Personality of Godhead. It simply says that God Himself appeared as Vikuṇṭha’s son.

Alternatively, the word svayam could refer to the verb jajñe – He appeared Himself. This is apparently the interpretation in other, non-Gauḍiyā commentaries.

Alternatively, the word svayam could refer to sva-kalayā – Himself through His plenary expansions. In this reading it’s through sva-kalayā or as sva-kalayā rather than with sva-kalayā. If big ācāryas whose explanations are included with Śrīmad Bhāgavatam apparently disagree on the exact meaning it doesn’t make Prabhupāda wrong and it still doesn’t make our Gauḍiyā siddhānta wrong either. They most likely never given it a second thought because this verse isn’t controversial in any sense, there aren’t issues there to argue.

Another thing about this verse is that it’s not clear which Vaikuṇṭha appeared here. It can’t possibly mean Vaikuṇṭha as planets in the spiritual sky and sura-sat-tamaiḥ, which Prabhupāda translated as demigods, weren’t liberated residents of the spiritual world. The name was a mere coincidence and was derived from mother’s name rather than from spiritual Vaikuṇṭhas.

Arguing that this Vaikuṇṭha is bhagavān svayam implies that this form eternally exists in the spiritual world, too, from where it descends into our realm. This could be said about various forms of Nārāyaṇa but in this case the spiritual identity of this avatāra remains hidden, He never gets mentioned again, and we are expected to believe that He was the origin of all Viṣṇu forms?

That’s screwing out the meaning that is simply not there, again, and it all comes from obsession with superiority. It doesn’t matter which form of Nārāyaṇa is the original one, which is svayam. If it so happens that our original spiritual body is a servant of Lord Nārāyaṇa in Vaikuṇṭha then it won’t matter if Kṛṣṇa came first – we will always be at the lotus feet of the form of the Lord we are meant to be with. It’s as silly as arguing which father to choose because he is “better”. “Better” can be measured objectively but the choice is simply not there.

Vanity thought #1697. Svayam Bhagavan Narayana

Let’s look at the second “proof” that Kṛṣṇa isn’t “bhagavān svayam”. It’s SB 5.24.27:

    tasyānucaritam upariṣṭād vistariṣyate yasya bhagavān svayam akhila-jagad-gurur nārāyaṇo dvāri gadā-pāṇir avatiṣṭhate nija-janānukampita-hṛdayo yenāṅguṣṭhena padā daśa-kandharo yojanāyutāyutaṁ dig-vijaya uccāṭitaḥ.

    Word for word:

    tasya — of Bali Mahārāja; anucaritam — the narration; upariṣṭāt — later (in the Eighth Canto); vistariṣyate — will be explained; yasya — of whom; bhagavān — the Supreme Personality of Godhead; svayam — personally; akhila-jagad-guruḥ — the master of all the three worlds; nārāyaṇaḥ — the Supreme Lord, Nārāyaṇa Himself; dvāri — at the gate; gadā-pāṇiḥ — bearing the club in His hand; avatiṣṭhate — stands; nija-jana-anukampita-hṛdayaḥ — whose heart is always filled with mercy for His devotees; yena — by whom; aṅguṣṭhena — by the big toe; padā — of His foot; daśa-kandharaḥ — Rāvaṇa, who had ten heads; yojana-ayuta-ayutam — a distance of eighty thousand miles; dik-vijaye — for the purpose of gaining victory over Bali Mahārāja; uccāṭitaḥ — driven away.

    Translation:

    Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued: My dear King, how shall I glorify the character of Bali Mahārāja? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of the three worlds, who is most compassionate to His own devotee, stands with club in hand at Bali Mahārāja’s door. When Rāvaṇa, the powerful demon, came to gain victory over Bali Mahārāja, Vāmanadeva kicked him a distance of eighty thousand miles with His big toe. I shall explain the character and activities of Bali Mahārāja later [in the Eighth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam].

The “contentious” part is highlighted in Sanskrit and English. When we look at the translation there’s nothing suspicious there at all, there’s no case to be made, so it’s all in manipulating Sanskrit to mean something else. The śloka is quite long and translation ends with the beginning (“I shall explain … later”) because that’s how often Sanskrit sentences are formed. Never mind that, what we are asked to look at is the Sanskrit “yasya bhagavān svayam akhila-jagad-gurur nārāyaṇo dvāri gadā-pāṇir avatiṣṭhate” which means “at whose door someone stands” (speaking of Mahārāja Bali) and the “controversy” is in the identity of that someone.

This then distills to “bhagavān svayam akhila-jagad-gurur nārāyaṇo” and we can possibly subtract “akhila-jagad-guru”, too, because it’s simply an adjective describing Nārāyaṇa as a master of three worlds. That’s how we get “Bhagavān svayam Nārāyaṇa” which is offered as proof that it’s Nārāyaṇa who is “bhagavān svayam”.

Once again, I’ve heard that other commentators explained this verse in the same way as Prabhupāda, which is to be expected, so what’s the problem? It lies in the self-appointed Madhvas who took it as their mission to discredit not only ISKCON but the entire Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism, too, starting with the Six Gosvāmīs. I guess they spare Lord Caitanya because He didn’t write anything and it’s the Six Gosvāmīs who expressed our Gauḍiyā siddhānta.

When we cite commentators from other sampradāyas agreeing with our interpretation they say that we reject them when it suits us. Well, Srīla Prabhupāda used an edition of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam which contained several Sanskrit commentaries, most notable of which was Śrīdhara Svāmī’s who was clearly not Gauḍiyā because he lived a few hundred years before Lord Caitanya.

On that note, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī explained that when translating the famous kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ verse (SB 11.5.32) Śrīdhara Svāmī separated tviṣākṛṣṇāṁ into tviṣā and kṛṣṇam – black color instead of tviṣā akṛṣṇam – NOT black color because he wasn’t aware of the future advent of Lord Caitanya and so thought that it was Kṛṣṇa Himself who was spoken of in that verse. The arguments in favor of this interpretation of Śrīdhara Svāmī’s “mistake” are not the subject of this post, however.

Anyway, we have the right to disagree with commentators from other traditions on issues of our siddhānta but it doesn’t mean we reject their ability to understand Sanskrit altogether. This verse isn’t controversial and it does not deal with the topic of hierarchy among various avatāras the way our reliable “ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam” which specifically refers to the preceding list of incarnations – ete, and contrasts them with Kṛṣṇa. We would argue with alternative interpretations of this verse but are not going to question our siddhānta because of a random phrase spoken in completely different context elsewhere.

Now, does this different interpretation of “bhagavān svayam nārāyaṇa” make sense? Nope, not to my eye. I won’t argue for the word order in Sanskrit because I’m not qualified on that but the turn of the phrase and the context make the meaning very clear:

Someone was standing, guarding the door of Bali Mahārāja, and it was none other than God Himself, Nārāyaṇa. That’s the whole point of the glorification of the Lord here – that He took a menial position in service to His devotee. It’s not about Nārāyaṇa being “bhagavān svayam” but about God Himself coming to guard the door. The alternative interpretation diminishes the beauty of this verse.

Alternatively, svayam there could refer to “akhila-jagad-gurur” to further stress that it was the master of three worlds Himself who took this service to His servant. In this reading it’s not only that Nārāyṇa is Bhagavān that produces the effect but also that it was the teacher of the three worlds Himself, which adds to the glory of the Lord submitting to His servant in the gesture of deep appreciation for Bali’s surrender.

All in all, it’s a typical screwing own fancy meanings out of otherwise clear verses. This one is quite famous by itself because it highlights the most impressive features of Lord Vāmanadeva – that He took guard service at the door of His servant. The other one, about kicking Rāvaṇa, is not very clear because I don’t think it’s in Bhāgavatam at all. It’s well known story anyway, even though I’m too lazy to trace its origins right now.

Anyway, after running in troubles with Hanumān and other monkeys Rāvana went to Bali and got stopped by Vāmanadeva at the entrance. He tried to squeeze in but Lord Vāmana put His foot on him and nearly crushed him. This was the moment when Rāvaṇa’s body got the mercy of Viṣṇu’s lotus feet and became qualified to be killed by Lord Rāmacandra. After purifying Rāvaṇa this way Lord Vāmaṇa let him in and it was in that conversation with Bali that Rāvaṇa was shown a mountain of gold bedecked with jewels that turned out to be a mere earring that fell off Hiraṇyakaśipu. Rāvaṇa couldn’t lift it and Bali told him that Viṣṇu has killed demons much bigger than him, just so Rāvaṇa knows. There’s nothing there about Vāmanadeva kicking Rāvaṇa, however, maybe to give him a boost to ascend back to the higher planets, I don’t know.

Vanity thought #1696. Bhagavan Svayam

We all know the verse – ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (SB 1.3.38). It’s our main proof that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself and not a mere incarnation of Viṣṇu. It must, however, be controversial to the other vaiṣṇava sampradāyas who do not consider Him the source of all other avatāras. Nimbārka sampradāya and followers of Vallabha ācārya are with us on this, we should not forget that. Still, as a branch of Madhva sampradāya, it’s a pretty big disagreement on our part.

I guess the main point of followers of Madhva is that Kṛṣṇa is listed as an eighth incarnation of Viṣṇu and they just go with that. There’s another story that Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma were born out of black and white hairs from the head of Viṣṇu when Brahmā and others came to beg for protection from evil Kaṁsa so they clearly must be incarnations of Viṣṇu and not the other way around.

Our answer is that Kṛṣnas tu bhagavān svayam and all apparent inconsistencies must be resolved in accommodation of this overriding principle. We say that Kṛṣṇa appears here as an avatāra of Viṣṇu due to respect for the predominating deity of the universe. We say He comes through Viṣṇu, not out of Viṣṇu. That is also the answer to the black and white hair theory. We also say that Kṛṣṇa merely displays His pastimes for us, He doesn’t actually incarnate and He never leaves Goloka Vṛndāvana. Vṛndāvana simply becomes visible and how it fits with the evolution of the universe it’s not His problem, let Viṣṇu deal with public reasons for the appearance.

There’s another argument against our interpretation and it’s based on us reading too much into this “bhagavān svayam” phrase. It appears four other times in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, they say, and there it doesn’t refer to Kṛṣṇa at all so Kṛṣṇa is not special. Let’s have a look at these verses.

First up is SB 2.7.21

    dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam eva kīrtir
     nāmnā nṛṇāṁ puru-rujāṁ ruja āśu hanti
    yajñe ca bhāgam amṛtāyur-avāvarundha
     āyuṣya-vedam anuśāsty avatīrya loke

    Word for word:

    dhanvantariḥ — the incarnation of God named Dhanvantari; ca — and; bhagavān — the Personality of Godhead; svayam eva — personally Himself; kīrtiḥ — fame personified; nāmnā — by the name; nṛṇām puru-rujām — of the diseased living entities; rujaḥ — diseases; āśu — very soon; hanti — cures; yajñe — in the sacrifice; ca — also; bhāgam — share; amṛta — nectar; āyuḥ — duration of life; ava — from; avarundhe — obtains; āyuṣya — of duration of life; vedam — knowledge; anuśāsti — directs; avatīrya — incarnating; loke — in the universe.

    Translation:

    The Lord in His incarnation of Dhanvantari very quickly cures the diseases of the ever-diseased living entities simply by His fame personified, and only because of Him do the demigods achieve long lives. Thus the Personality of Godhead becomes ever glorified. He also exacted a share from the sacrifices, and it is he only who inaugurated the medical science or the knowledge of medicine in the universe.

Dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam, they say, is a clear indication that “bhagavān svayam” is not exclusive to Kṛṣṇa, contrary to our claims. The verse doesn’t end there, however, the line continues to include svayam eva kīrtir and in Prabhupāda’s translation svayam relates to kīrtir – “simply by His fame personified”. It might not be so clear from word-for-word but that’s how the full translation reads.

Could it be read any other way? Possibly, but, I’ve been told, Śrīdhara Svāmī and another commentator from Śrī sampradāya explain this verse in the same way. We traditionally consider Śrīadhara Svāmī the foremost authority on Bhāgavatam and if he says svayam refers to kīrtir here then who are we to argue?

It doesn’t stop our opponents, however, because they are not obliged to accept Śrīdhara Svāmī’s word as final. They also argue that Śrīdhara Svāmī’s edition of Bhāgavatam is incorrect and the “true” śloka end the line with “svayam āsa devo” instead of “svayam eva kīrtir”. In “svayam āsa devo” reading svayam should refer to Dhanvantari and not to anything else, say.

It’s hard to argue with this without knowledge of Sanskrit and without relevant books at hand – there are two editions of Bhāgavatam with accompanying commentaries that show the difference. I don’t think our opponents are Sanskrit scholars either, just amateurs who picked up something on the way. Still, let’s give it a shot.

Looking at the words themselves – “svayam āsa devo” can simply mean God Himself without references to particular hierarchy among avatāras. It still svayama āsa devo, not bhagavān svayam. Or it could be bhagavān svayam who then āsa devo – became a deva, an incarnation. The line then would then read “Dhanvanari was a God Himself who incarnated as a deva”. Once again, I cannot say anything definitive here without knowing how all these words should be connected to each other according to Sanskrit rules.

In Sanskrit it’s “dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam eva kīrtir” or “dhanvantariś ca bhagavān svayam āsa devo”. Ca means “and” and it refers to the list of incarnations described in that chapter. The second line is about curing people – “nāmnā nṛṇāṁ puru-rujāṁ ruja āśu hanti”. Nāmnā is “by the name” and it makes sense that it’s connected to svayam eva kīrtir – svayam eve kīrtir nāmnā, which is how Prabhupāda translated it – simply by His fame personified.

If we take the other version of the verse and the opposing explanation then “āsa devo” becomes hanging. I can’t see it any other way as “bhagavān svayam” became “devo” who by “nāmnā” cured people. What else does āsa refer to? Bhagavān svayam āsa – bhagavān svayam became…? It would make sense only if Dhanvantari wasn’t an avatāra but a source of an incarnation that then cured people and which is referred here simply as “devo”. This reading, however, is clearly nonsensical.

More importantly, whenever anyone challenges us like that we should ask them to state their allegiances first so that we can determine whether engaging them is worth the effort or not. If they rely on academic studies of the books and on that ground can easily dismiss an authority like Śrīdhara Svāmī if they find some alternative editions then we will never come to any understanding. We represent the authorities. When we don’t know something we refer to them and if someone accuses us of incorrect interpretations we, first of all, check with our authorities, not with academics and wannabe Sanskrit scholars. We are not going to argue Sanskrit meanings better then Jīva Gosvāmī, for example, and if these people think they can understand Sanskrit better than Him they are simply trolls stirring up trouble.

Perhaps this fundamental approach to our challenges should have been discussed first but making sure our translations stand firm is a lot more fun. Let’s see if it would as easy with three other “svayam bhagavān” verses.