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Reviewed by:
  • The Caitanya Vaịṣnava Vedānta of Jīva Gosvāmī: When Knowledge Meets Devotion
  • Alessandro Graheli
The Caitanya Vaịṣnava Vedānta of Jīva Gosvāmī: When Knowledge Meets Devotion. By Ravi M. Gupta. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. Pp. xiv + 225. Hardcover.

The religious movement established by Caitanya Mahāprabhu (1486–1524)—"Caitanya" or "Gauḍīya" Vaiṣṇavism—is mostly known for its ecstatic devotionalism (bhakti) and for a theology rich in aesthetic theories. One of the most influential Gauḍīya authors is Jīva Gosvāmin (ca. 1515–1610), who arranged and integrated ideas imbibed from Rūpa Gosvāmin and other senior members of his tradition into a systematic theological corpus. His opus magnum, the Bhāgavatasandarbha, is a scholastic presentation of rational theology in six books. The first four Sandarbhas (Tattvasandarbha, Bhagavatsandarbha, Paramātmasandarbha, and Kṛṣṇasandarbha) discuss the relation between God, his energies, and other entities; the fifth, the Bhaktisandarbha, describes the foremost spiritual practice, bhakti; the sixth, the Prītisandarbha, deals with the main human goal, love for God. The Sandarbhas have seldom been the object of academic study, a gap partially filled by the book under review.

The first part of the book is a general introduction to Jīva's life, works, theology, and exegetical strategies, while the second consists of a critical edition and an English translation of the closing section of the Paramātmasandarbha. This section of the Sandarbhas concerns the relation between the first verse of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, which is also a commentary on the Brahmasūtra according to Jīva and his tradition, and the first four Brahmasūtra aphorisms. The book ends with an appendix containing a brief summary of the six Sandarbhas, a bibliography, and an index. [End Page 306]

Throughout, Gupta focuses on the peculiar combination of Vedāntic erudition and bhakti devotionalism attempted by Jīva, which involves previous authors and traditions in an unprecedented dialogue and constitutes an interesting attempt to reconcile ratio and fides. The novelty of Jīva's contribution should be assessed on the basis of a historical survey, and in fact a major portion of Gupta's book deals with the influence of some older Brahmasūtra commentaries on Jīva's work, namely those by Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, and Madhva. Gupta underlines also Jīva's debt to the "Purāṇic commentarial tradition," referring to Śrīdhara Svāmin's commentary on the Bhāgavatapurāṇa. Notably, these traditions, as well as Jīva's own, are mostly considered static and monolithic entities in Gupta's book. For instance, Gupta often quotes the Caitanyacaritāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja's hagiography of Caitanya, apparently assuming—or at least giving the impression—that the arguments formulated in the Caitanyacaritāmṛta and presented there as Caitanya's direct teachings precede the theology organized in Jīva's works (pp. 36–37). Kṛṣṇadāsa's work, however, is more a theological treatise in vernacular than a historically reliable biography, and is actually largely influenced by the Sandarbhas themselves, which are a scholastic elaboration of Caitanya's ideas. One should note that Jīva and Kṛṣṇadāsa most probably never met Caitanya and that they wrote their treatises decades after Caitanya's demise, on the basis of secondhand information. Gupta's ahistorical treatment of traditions is more glaring when he quotes the views of Lalitācaraṇa Gosvāmī (pp. 17–18), a twentieth-century follower of the Rādhāvallabha tradition, to show how the sixteenth-century Rādhāvallabha group distinguished itself from Jīva's approach. Gupta, in fact, hardly provides the reader with any clues that Lalitācaraṇa Gosvāmī is a recent author.

In the reconstruction of the textual tradition of the Sandarbhas, which is one of the goals of Gupta's book, an important aspect is their intended audience and reception. Was Jīva's combination of Vedānta scholarship and bhakti devised to involve non-Vaiṣṇava or non-Gauḍīya Vedantists, too, or was it merely meant for members of his own tradition? Gupta does not specifically...