Tattva-sandarbha address, Part 1

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”]Part 1 of a talk on “Tattva-sandarbha:Jiva Goswami’s Philosophy of Ecstasy” given in the summer of 1996. The author was invited by Gaia, one of the leading spiritual bookstores on the West coast, to discuss his new title. The talk was given to a rapt, overflow audience of Berkeley students, intellectuals and seekers.[/box]

We yearn for unity, but we also yearn for diversity. So if we move from one polar opposite to the other, is this uncommon knowledge? To deny diversity in the name of unity is a shallow idea of unity. In musical terminology, we see harmony. What is harmony? Is it one note? No, it is many notes. The more notes that are harmonized, the better. It is one song, but it is full of many notes. So, systems of thought, like Adwaita Vedanta, say that relative to this one note, you and I, we are all that thing and that’s the end of the story. Jiva Gosvami says, that’s true, we are that, but there’s a whole lot more to the story. And this more makes for a truth that is inherently beautiful, a truth that we can live in and easily embrace.


We’re all seeking love. We want beauty and love that is truthful. Which means it endures, sat. It isn’t here today and gone tomorrow. It won’t change it’s face at some point, turn against me, which is our experience in the worldly pursuit of love and beauty. The face of this world is changing, it doesn’t endure. Jiva Gosvami’s treatise is seeking to answer the heart’s desire of every soul, since every soul seeks unity and diversity at the same time. Unity and diversity, oneness and difference; we have oneness over here and then difference over there. To have them both at the same time, that is hard to conceive. But Jiva Gosvami says this is what all the sacred literature of India is talking about. A truth that brings us from the falsity of the world and from the duality of our material conception, and brings us into a unity and a oneness which is full of variety and doesn’t compromise that unity. This is a very profound idea.

He has called his doctrine “acintya-bhedabheda,” oneness and difference simultaneously and inconceivably. It means it is inconceivable to our rational mind. This tells us that for comprehensive knowing there is a better means than reasoning. The Veda sings of a means of knowing that is transrational. And what will we come to know? We’ll come to know about a truth that is beautiful. Variety, it is said, is the spice of life. Variety makes for beauty. So oneness with variety at the same time. What is the implication? This is Vedanta, which means truth, conclusive truth, based on sacred India’s literary tradition, that will afford us a life of love in transcendence. Not merely entrance into transcendence and eternal quietude—shanti, shanti, shanti—but a dynamic experience within transcendence. Jiva Gosvami says that Brahman, the Absolute, is full of movement. Now, other traditions of Vedanta, like Adwaita Vedanta, tell us a different thing. And it’s very reasonable. They tell us that if you move, you must be unfulfilled. If you desire, you’re incomplete. If you’re happy, why move? If you’re full, then you have no want. So how can the Absolute, and the attainment of it, be an experience of movement in which there’s desire and love? If it is love, they say, it must be a very abstract form of love. A very different notion of love than what we experience in the world. But Jiva Gosvami says, yes, this Absolute realization is very different from our experience of love, and very similar at the same time. Because what we experience here is a reflection of ultimate reality. As the Bible says, man (and woman) are made in the likeness of God.

The building is the same, but the foundation is different, that’s all. Everything we know to be love, every nuance and emotional experience of love, has its expression in transcendence. This is the idea of the Krsna avatara. You have seen the picture of Krsna playing the flute? He has nothing to do. He’s not in meditation like Lord Siva, with something to accomplish. Or like the four-headed Brahma. Brahma has four heads, he’s got a lot of things to do, looking everywhere in every direction. He’s the universal engineer. Visnu, who is an avatara of Krsna, he has four arms. He doesn’t have that much to do, yet he doesn’t personify the highest fun, the highest joy. But the conception of Krsna—Krs-na, Krs-na—these two syllables, it has such immense meaning. Deep, deep, deep meaning. So much meaning that our Hare Krsna friends don’t realize what it means! Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, it has deep, deep, deep meaning. And it means the personification of joy. That is why great saints like Jiva Gosvami and Rupa Gosvami have depicted Brahman, the Absolute, as Radha-Krsna. They are one, and two at the same time. They are Krsna, energetic, and Radha, energy. Krsna, potent, Radha, potency. These two are one. There’s no meaning to energy without energetic, there’s no meaning to potent without potency. But they’re also two. I am a person, and I have potency. I have sakti. All of us have some kind of energy. If you talk about me, you may talk mostly about my energy. “Oh, I know Swami, he speaks like this, he wrote this book, he lives here, he does this.” You’re speaking about my energy. At the same time, you’re speaking about me. You can speak about me and my energy, and they’re one and they’re different at the same time. So Radha Krsna means potency and potent.

Krsna is depicted in art playing the flute, dancing with Radha. So what Jiva Gosvami has given in Tattva-sandarbha is the canvas on which this masterpiece of love is drawn. This is Vedanta, the philosophy of ecstasy. This philosophy, which, if we imbibe as our conceptual orientation and follow accordingly, is called bhakti, devotion. And by this bhakti we will realize the truth that is inherently beautiful and Absolute, a conception of Brahman, ultimate consciousness, that is dancing. It is not sleep and silence, absolute quiet, with nothing to do. No, there we can enter that dance. Now, one may say, if the absolute is moving, it must be incomplete. If it has desire, then it must not be full. If you have movement, then there’s something to achieve. Lokavat tu lila kaivalyam, Vedanta sutra says. Lokavat tu, it is not like that. And Jiva Gosvami has explained this sutra so nicely. It is not like that. It is not that the Absolute is moving out of incompleteness, out of want, out of being needy. The Absolute is moving out of necessity, yes. But what is that necessity? The Absolute is moving out of celebration of its fullness! It’s so full, so complete, that it is celebrating! That is divine lila. That is Krsna lila, Radha and Krsna.

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