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Discussions on the doctrines of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Please place practical questions under the Miscellaneous forum and set this aside for the more theoretical side of it.

Language and Meaning in Gaudiya Vaisnavism -

braja - Tue, 08 Feb 2005 18:18:22 +0530
This thread evolves from recent discussions on mayavada/sunyavada and interpretation of language. Therein evakurvan made statements such as:

QUOTE(evakurvan @ Feb 5 2005, 12:37 PM)
Sankara is not contradicting himself when he turns around and says there must be a saguna brahman. He is speaking about mystical things in a Socratic way. First he is laying out the foundation to make people understand abheda, or nirguna brahman. This is because grasping that on it's own is hard. How can we grasp non-distinction when all of material life is based on duality and distinction between me and you and this and that.

So, he explains abheda, which is hard to do, best he can, makes people grasp what it -could- be, and then JUST AS HE HAS THEM SORT OF GRASPING IT, he turns that around on its head, like thesis anti-thesis, to show to people: Okay now you that you have understood nonduality, let me teach you how it's impossible for non-duality to exist alone. There is also, equally so, DUALITY, or Saguna Brahman.

QUOTE(evakurvan @ Feb 6 2005, 06:07 PM)
Words that you should know are there as echoes of other words. For example in mayayana, every time you see 'no,'† really it stands there as a codeword for both 'no and yes.' If people like you read books on it, they will see 'no' and see it just as being 'no' and then go around† arguing with me by repeating: but it says no! what are you talking about!

Obviously the approach toward sastra and the use of language shown here differs from that generally seen in Gaudiya Vaisnava circles. Ignoring for a moment the other genre of discussions on literality that we have frequently seen here at Gaudiya Discussions, I'd like to briefly examine language and meaning as seen in Sri Caitanya's biographies and followers.

Four types of interpretation come to mind:

1. Direct versus indirect meaning
2. Paroksavada - secret teachings
3. "Goddess Saraswati has spoken"
4. Extrapolation

1. Direct versus indirect meaning

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, after hearing Vedanta from Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, criticizes Sankara's interpretation of Vedantasutra, claiming that the direct meaning is very clear. The terms Mahaprabhu uses are perhaps a deliberate reapplication of the terms used by Sankara himself. [More on that later.]

2. The Bhagavatam speaks of the superiority of paroksa-vada, or indirect teachings:

This text is part of the famous Uddhava-Gita and gives an interesting, esoteric explanation of the Vedic path. (Bh.P. 11.21.35-42).

veda brahmatma-visayas tri-kanda-visaya ime
paroksa-vada rsayah paroksa mama ca priyam

"The Vedas, divided into three divisions, ultimately reveal the living entity as pure spirit soul. The Vedic seers and mantras, however, deal in esoteric terms, and I [Krishna] also am pleased by such confidential descriptions.

Cited here.

There is a context here, of course, but the principle is sometimes extended beyond that of a reference to the Vedas such as when the name "Radha," conspicuous by its absense from the Bhagavatam, is found in the aniyaradhito verse. (Bhag 10.30.28). Visvanatha Chakravartipada cheekily compares paroksa-vada to the superiority of seeing the outline of a woman's body through her wet clothing over seeing her naked body directly.

3. "Goddess Saraswati has spoken"

In some exchanges, the literal interpretation of someone's speech is denounced but a more esoteric meaning is attributed to Goddess Saraswati. That meaning is derived from a reapplication of grammar and meaning, e.g. the sandhi-s are moved, perhaps leading to the negation of the intended word, etc.

4. Extrapolation

The prime example of this would be Mahaprabhu's explanation of the atmarama verse. Each word and combination of words leads to a new meaning.

Obviously I'm not going in to these too deeply here--and indeed, haven't ever given them much thought before--but a cursory glance leads me to believe that all of the above means of interpretation share one thing in common: the goal is predominant, the means is secondary. As we find in the statements of the Bhagavatam (Dhruva?), all the letters of the alphabet are a call to Krsna. There is certainly a corollary in the approach of the Buddhist or Advaitan, but their goal differs. Language is used to overcome the ego of the practitioner. Of course, there are also differences in approach toward divine language, sastra. For Vaisnavas and classic Advaitists the principles of "sastra yonitvat" and "apaurusheya" hold prominence.

Anyways, just a few thoughts.

braja - Thu, 07 Apr 2005 20:02:16 +0530
[I've been meaning to update this for a while, even if it is only interesting to me! ]

5. An explanation for a particular audience, e.g. Jiva Goswami's presentation of svakiya and parakiya. (I read this explanation a couple of month's ago but don't recall where. If someone has the reference, I will type it in.)

And moving out from the realm of direct language used just by Sri Caitanya and his followers to more general examples of indirect/clever/covered speech:

6. Veda/Purana/Sahitya

This has been posted previously but the atmosphere here is more tanda than vitanda so I'll risk posting it again.

Q: Is there any sense that some of the stories of the Bhagavatam are not literally, historically true, for example this story where Krsna jumps of the mountain which is 8 yojanas high, for there is no mountain which is 8 yojanas high, or Aristasuraís hump was touching the clouds. Is there any sense that sometimes there is poetic license that is taken like when Ugrasena gave crores and crores of servants more than the whole population of India today in charity. Are some of these incidents not to be taken literally?

A: There is no sense in the story, there is no use of taking the literal meaning and you cannot prove anything historically from these stories. But the stories are just like the carriers to teach something. The author has an intention which he wants to convey to his audience, and for that he uses a means. What is his purpose?

There are six ways to understand that purpose of a sastra:

1) To analyse the introduction of the book,
2) the concluding statement,
3) what is repeated,
4) what has been established with logic,
5) what is the most extraordinary thing and
6) what is the fruit which has been stated in it.

These six items have to be analysed to understand what is the sastra which he has written and what he wants to convey with it. Otherwise one will just misunderstand it, trying to take the literal meaning.

There are three ways the instructions are given in sastra:

1) One is like the vedas, which speak like the king, codana, that They just speak like that, they donít even explain why it should be done.

2) The other is the puranic style, where they speak like a friend.

3) And the third is the sahityic style (implied meaning). And sahitya means that you make up things in it, there may be exaggerations, there may be different ways of saying it.

So bhagavata uses all three styles in it. Itís a literature, you probably know about aestetics, all this XXX kavita... XXX, these books explain it. So bhagavatam uses these techniques, and therefore the literal meaning has no sense in it.

Q: If that is the case, is there anything which is historically literal or accurate at all?

A: Yes, something. Thatís what Iím saying because it has all three things, some are there and some are just exaggeration. The first thing you should understand that bhagavatam is not trying to tell you anything about history. If you try to prove any historical fact from it, then it is not the right book. Itís purpose is to establish Krsna as svayam bhagavan. And thatís what he (Vyasa) said right in the beginning: Ąsatyam param dhimahi.ď And that satyam is a name of Krsna. And he wants to explain what bhagavan means. Bhagavan means one who is complete in sat-aisvarya, XXX quote XXX sometimes he has to show his aisvarya, his knowledge, his beauty etc., all these things have to be established. And to establish that he may use the sahityic style. That doesnít mean that Krsna himself doesnít exist, but how he (Vyasa) is establishing that fact, that may not be a literal explanation.
So that has to be studied.

The main thing to be understood is that the purpose of Bhagavatam is to establish Krsna as svayam bhagavan and ultimately to establish uttama-bhakti or braja-bhakti. That is the real purpose of the author behind it. The other things are all secondary, there may be some historical things or they may not be.

Q: If we undermine or deconstruct the historicity of the events in the Bhagavata purana, then what validity does that give to the so-called lila in Goloka Vrindavan?

A: Itís not that they donít exist at all. Itís not that this mountain doesnít exist at all, which is mentioned there. But if youíre going to measure it, you will not going to find it 8 yojanas high. Itís not that Govardhana is not there at all and everything is just concocted, Govardhana is there but the way it is described it may not be that way.

Q: So then it is up to the individual to decide which parts of it are real and which parts are not?

A: No, itís not up to the individual, thatís what you have to study from parampara. You have to actually know the style of sastra to understand it. Why are you giving just these examples? If you take like this right from the beginning everything can be doubted. Just take in the very beginning the instance of Sukadeva Gosvami, itís said that he was 16 years in the womb of his mother. Who is going to believe that he was 16 years in the womb? And then right after birth he started running away. How can somebody right after birth walk? And then also why he has to run only towards the forest? Because if he was brahman realized what was the need for him to run anywhere? Itís said that he was not distinguishing between men and women, but he knew the difference between home and forest? And how is it that he didnít study one word, but when he heard the Bhagavatam verses he could understand them, and then he came back and studied?

The same is with Govardhana, because it says that Krsna lifted Govardhana. Now you try to imagine how he lifted it? Because to lift it, you have to go under it, and to go under it you have to lift it. So which happened first? And how did he keep it, after lifting it? And how is it, then when he lifted it, it didnít fall down, not even the stones, have they been glued together or what? Especially when the rain was coming from the top. And there was so much rain coming, but there was no mud. How is that?
Ultimately the thing is that there is a style of sastra, which explains things. And that style has to be learned. This vedic literatures are not the way western people try to analyse and study them. But there is a whole system you have to understand first, and then you will know what these things imply basically.

Q: Letís say one learns that style, at what point does one identify something as being part of the sahitya style and at what point does one identify something as being something which actually took place historically. Isnít that a personal decision?

A: If you know the shelley in which you have to study, then this doubt will not come. Because then you understand what is the shelley, which is being used, means the style or the process or the mechanics of explaining things or conveying his point. These things poets use all the time. You have to study that and have an experience of it.

Itís basically a language just as you have computer language. So you have to study the language, then you know what the terms may mean. If somebody just knows english, in english they may also have terms like that, e.g. , what does it mean ? Or there is a >mother board> ...
In Bhagavatam 10th canto there is a description or mention about the gopis, but in the whole book there is no mention about their birth or how they grew up or even their names. Not even one name of any gopi or their parents or husbands is mentioned. This is the sahityic style, because the author is not interested in giving their names or this or that. That you can figure out from some other place. But his thing is that he wanted to show the bhava, that is the prominent thing.
Rasa-lila is supposed to be the explanation of the gayatri-mantra. But now you try to figure out what rasa-lila has to do with gayatri? But this is the sahityic way of giving the meaning. But unless you know the shelley you will not understand it. But everybody can relish Bhagavatam in their own manner, historically there are some historical things in it, poetically you can see that it is a nice poetry, or those people who are interested in stories there are phantastic stories there. But what the author wants to speak, that he has explained in the very beginning. For him other things are secondary.

Like Krsna has chastised the Kaliya snake, all these descriptions cannot be explained historically. What about the cows? Itís said they had unlimited calves. Where did they exist? You have a few cows and such a big problem. And Nanda Maharaja had 9 lakh cows and also Vrsabhanu, everybody seemed to have 9 lakh cows, and they were always 9 lakhs, they never grew. This is all sahityic style, the number 9 signifies something.

Q: What are the principle sahityic sastras, which discuss these poetic conventions, one would read to become familiar with this genre.

A: There are many. If you want to see in our Gaudiya-sampradaya then we have Alankarakaustubha by Kavikarnapura, Kavyakaustubha by Baladeva Vidyabhusana Swami and Bhakti-rasamrta-sese by Jiva Gosvami. There are many books in our own sampradaya, Maharaja has printed and commented some of them.
And if you want to see from the material side, then you have Sahitya-darpun, Kavyaprakash, Dhahunyaloka, there are so many of them.

(Room conversation between Haridas Sastriji, Satya Narayana Das Babaji, and disciples)

7. [pretty obscure and not directly GV] Babara Stoler Miller, in her introduction to "The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva" gives an example of a poet using puns and palindromes in a poem about Radha to reveal his own name.
Gaurasundara - Thu, 07 Apr 2005 20:09:46 +0530
Could I ask, what is meant by "shelley" ?
Madhava - Thu, 07 Apr 2005 20:18:15 +0530
QUOTE(Gaurasundara @ Apr 7 2005, 03:39 PM)
Could I ask, what is meant by "shelley" ?

I suppose it means "genre". I have no idea where that word is taken from. Perhaps "within the shells of a particular genre" is a "shelley"? smile.gif
Madanmohan das - Thu, 07 Apr 2005 20:24:07 +0530
testaceous ; of shells or shell fish; with hard continuous shell. Hence " Shelley" I guess biggrin.gif and then there's the poet but I'm not so keen on the romantics tongue.gif
braja - Thu, 07 Apr 2005 20:31:43 +0530
In Old English it apparently means "a clearing on a bank." Where is our revered Baisnab Bard, Madan Mohanji, when we need him? Of course, he'll think of the other Shelley.

MONARCH of Gods and Dśmons, and all Spirits
† † † But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
† † † Which Thou and I alone of living things
† † † Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
† † † Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou
† † † Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
† † † And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
† † † With fear and self-contempt and barren hope;
† † † Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
† † † Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn,† † † † † † † † 10
† † † O'er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.

Maybe the typist just misunderstood the word.

(Doh! He's right here already.)