“The self-evident Vedic literatures are the highest evidence of all, but if these literatures are interpreted*, their self-evident nature is lost.”
The Caitanya Caritamrta is an early-seventeenth-century Bengali and Sanskrit biography of the great saint and Vaisnava leader Caitanya (1486–1533 c.e.), by the poet and scholar Krsnadasa, who has been given by Bengali tradition the title Kaviraja—”Prince of Poets.” The text is of interest to theologians (Caitanya was, in Krsnadasa’s view, an androgyne of Krsna and Radha), philosophers (his theory was that aesthetic and religious experience are much the same in kind), historians of religion (the movement that Caitanya inspired has encompassed the great part of the eastern Indian subcontinent, and Krsnadasa has some interesting observations on his own times), and appreciators of literature (in Krsnadasa’s very long poem are embedded some lyric gems).
Harvard Oriental Series 56, Caitanya Caritamrta of Krsnadasa Kaviraja
A Translation and Commentary
Translated with commentary by Edward C. Dimock, Jr.
Edited by Tony K. Stewart
Chapter 2 – The Words of the Scriptures are the Final Proof
What is the meaning of amnaya vakya (authoritative statement or knowledge)? Concerning this, there is the following karika (verse):
amnayah srutayah saksad brahma-vidyeti visrutah
guru-parampara praptah visva kartuh hi brahmanah
Ämnaya refers to the scriptures called brahma vidya or knowledge of brahman originating from Brahma, the creator of the universe and passed down by disciplic succession.
That the knowledge was passed down from Brahma is stated in Mundaka Upanisad.
brahma devanam prathamah sambabhuva visvasya karta bhuvanasya gopta sa brahma-vidyam sarva-vidya- pratistham atharvaya jyestha-putraya praha yenaksaram purusam veda satyam provaca tam tattvato brahma-vidyam
Brahma, the creator of the universe and protector of the worlds, the first among the devatas, taught brahma vidya, the basis of all knowledge, to his eldest son Atharva. He taught that knowledge by which the indestructible Supreme Person can be known in his true form
Mundaka Upanisad 1.1.1, 1.2.13
Brhadaranyaka Upanisad says:
asya mahato bhutasya nihsvasitam etad rgvedo
yajur vedah sama vedatharvangirasa itihasah
puranam vidya upanisadah slokah sutrany
anuvyakhyanani sarvani nihsvasitani
From the Supreme Person’s breath came the four Vedas, the histories, the Puranas, the Upanisads, the verses and Sutras and all the anuvyakhyas (commentaries). The word “histories” refers to Ramayana and Mahabharat and other similar works. The word “puranas” refers to the eighteen major Puranas of which Srimad Bhagavatam is supreme, and eighteen secondary puranas (upapuranas). Upanisads refers to the eleven Upanisads such as Isa, Kena, Katha, and Prasna. “Verses” refers to the collection of verses in meters such as anustup composed by rsis. “Sutra” refers to the concise statements which explain the meaning of the Vedas, written by major teachers. Anuvyakhya refers to commentaries on the sutras written by great teachers. All of these are called amnaya. The primary meaning of amnaya is Veda.1
Caitanya Caritamrta also accepts the authority of the Vedas.
svatah pramana veda- pramana-siromani
laksana haite svatah pramanata hani
The self-evident Vedic literatures are the highest evidence of all, but if these literatures are interpreted, their self-evident nature is lost.
C.C. Adi 7, 139
pramanera madhye sruti pramana pradhana
sruti ye mukhyartha kahe sei se pramana svatah pramana veda yei satya kahe
laksana karile svatah pramanya hani haye
Although there is other evidence, the evidence given in the Vedic version must be taken as foremost. Vedic versions understood directly are first-class evidence. The Vedic statements are self-evident. Whatever is stated there must be accepted. If we interpret according to our own imagination, the authority of the Vedas is immediately lost.
C.C.Madhya 6, 135, 137
The works of the Gosvamis such as the Sandarbhas and Caitanya Caritamrta of Krsna das Kaviraja are included among the anuvyakhyas. Therefore Vedas, Puranas, histories, Upanisads, Vedanta Sutras, the commentaries by the Vaisnava acaryas are all considered authoritative knowledge. These sources of authoritative knowledge are glorified in the Bhagavatam.
kalena nasta pralaye vaniyam veda samjnita
mayadau brahmane prokta yasyam dharmo mad
atmakah tena prokta svaputraya manave yabhir bhutani bhidyante bhutanam patayas tatha evam prakrti-vaicitryad bidyante matayo nrnam
parasparyena kesamcit pasanda-matayo’pare
( Sri Krsna speaks to Uddhava)
I first recited the Vedic message to Lord Brahma, telling him about the ultimate path of pure devotion. That message is eternal. At the time of devastation, it disappears and at the time of creation I explain it clearly to Lord Brahma. Brahma spoke this knowledge to his son Manu and others. Thereafter, the devatas, rsis, and mankind all received this knowledge. The living entities and their lords are all different, receiving natures according to the three modes, goodness, passion and ignorance. According to these different natures, various philosophies have been produced by various interpretation of the meaning. O Uddhava, those who received the actual statements of the Vedas through guru parampara anuvyakhya (explanations) from Brahma have the real truth. All others philosophies have become the servants of various offensive teachings.
Here it is clearly understood that the Brahma sampradaya has existed from the time of creation. In this Brahma sampradaya, the pure message of the Vedas has come down through the guru parampara and has preserved the real teachings of bhagavat dharma. Thus these teachings are called amnaya (a + mna (to remember)+ ya: that which is learned by passing down) Those who do not accept the brahma sampradaya which is shown to be authoritative by such statements as “Brahma, the lord of the universe, is the first student of Narayana, Lord of Vaikuntha “3 are called preachers of irrelevant philosophy (pasanda mata) by Krsna. Though a person accepts the teachings of Lord Caitanya, if he cannot accept this parampara line, is he not most deceptive? The fortunate people consider this knowledge handed down in parampara as the best of proofs. This is Lord Caitanya’s first teaching. 4
In the Tattva Sandarbha (9.10), Jiva Gosvami says:
athaivam sucitanam sri-krsna-vacya-vacakata-laksana- sambandha-tad-bhajana-laksana-vidheya- tat-prema-laksana- prayojanakhyanam arthanam nirnayaya pramanam tavad vinirniyate tatra purusasya bhramadi-dosa-catustayatvat sutaram acintyalaukika-vastu-sparsayogyatvac ca tat- pratyaksadinyapi sadosani tatas tani na pramananity anadi-siddha-sarva- purusa-paramparasu sarvalaukikalaukika- jnana-nidanatvad aprakrta-vacana-laksano veda evasmakam sarvatita- sarvasraya- sarvacintyascarya-svabhavam vastu vividisatam pramanam
I have just mentioned sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana. In order to explain the meaning of these terms, I first will define the nature of authoritative proof. Mankind is by nature afflicted with the four defects (bhrama etc.) and therefore cannot understand inconceivable I, non-material matters. Direct sense perception will always be faulty, and therefore sense perception, inference and other normal means of knowledge cannot be considered as authoritative means of knowledge. The only means of knowledge (pramana) for persons desiring knowledge of the ultimate supreme object, the ultimate shelter, the inconceivable, endowed with the most remarkable nature, is the Veda. The Veda is perfect knowledge concerning both material and spiritual topics, handed down through a parampara of realized persons.
Having established the authority of the Vedic knowledge, Jiva Gosvami then shows how the Puranas contain the same message as the Vedas, and establishes the Srimad Bhagavatam as the best of all pramanas. The same qualities which make Srimad Bhagavatam the best of all knowledge are present in the words of Brahma, Narada,Vyasa, Sukadeva, and in the writings of Madhvacarya and his followers Vijayadvaja, Brahmatirtha and Vyasatirtha.
By all these statements, it is evident that the Brahma sampradaya is the sampradaya of Lord Caitanya and his followers. Ascertaining this, Kavikarnapura has written the sequence of the parampara in his work Gaura Ganodesa Dipika. The Vedanta Sutra commentator Baladeva Vidyabhusana also confirms this parampara line. Anyone who does not accept this parampara is without doubt the greatest enemy of the followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Concerning authoritative knowledge of the Vedas, the following should be especially noted. The Vedic statements are perfect and self-evident. There is no need for interpreting an indirect meaning. The meaning is understood by hearing the words with their direct meaning. “The son of Saci is directly the son of Nanda.” On hearing these words a person can understand that Lord Caitanya is none other than Krsna. The phrase “cowherd on the Ganga” however makes no sense by taking the direct meaning of the words. By indirect interpretation one can understand that the phrase means “A cowherd village on the bank of the Ganga.” In Vedic statements one should not resort to interpretation unless necessary.
In the Chandogya Upanisad it is said, “I surrender to the energy through Syama. I surrender to Syama through His energy.” When a sensible meaning can be derived from taking the direct meaning of the words, why should we infer that the words “syama” means “the impersonal Brahman in the heart,” as Sankaracarya does? Liberated persons worship the forms of Radha and Krsna. This is the real meaning of the statement. Because of this, in the Caitanya Caritamrta it is stated that by resorting to indirect meanings the value of the Vedas as authority is lost.
There are many varieties of interpretations. Jagadisa mentions in Sabda Sakti Prakasika that there are countless types of interpretation, such as jahatsvartha, ajahatsvartha, nirudha and adhunika.
jahat svarthajahat svartha nirudhadhunikadikah
laksana vividhas tabhir laksakam syad anekadha
However, none of these interpretive means can be used to define the nature of something spiritual. Rather, in doing so, they give rise to misinterpretation. Sankaracarya argues that direct meaning of words cannot be used in relation to indescribable phenomena; therefore, the indirect interpretation must be used for find the meaning of Vedic statements. Madhvacarya has objected to this as follows:
nangikrtabhidha yasya laksana tasya no bhavet
nasti gramah kutah sima na putro janakam vina
In examining the power of words, it is seen that where direct meaning is not accepted, interpretation also has no place. Where there exists no village, can one ague about its extent or size? Where there is no father, can one speak of his son? (Tattvamuktavali 22)
If the direct meaning is rejected in relation to spiritual matters, then what use is interpretation of the same words, which must depend ultimately upon the direct meaning? Therefore the intelligent man will reject interpretation and accept the direct connotative power of the words of the scriptures in trying to understand the absolute truth.
The following karika summarizes the point:
ya adikavaye tene hrda brahma-sanatanam
sa caitanyah kalau saksad amarjit tam matam subham
vipralipsa pramadas ca karanapatavam bhramah
manusanam vicaresu syad dhi dosa catustayam
tad-adhoksaja-tattvesu durnivaryam budhair api
apauruseya-vakhyani pramanam tatra kevalam
pratyaksam anumanam ca tad adhinataya kvacit
Lord Caitanya, who bestowed the Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahma, has appeared in Kali Yuga in Navadvipa. He has revealed the pure essence of the Vedas, freeing the pure Vedic philosophy from the contamination of Kali Yuga. The human being in concluding anything must certainly indulge in the four faults of error, omission, limitation and cheating. In relation to spiritual matters, even the greatest learned men cannot avoid these four defects. Therefore, in spiritual matters, the only authority is the word of Veda, which has no human author. All other proofs, such as sense perception, inference, simile and tradition, when they are in agreement with the Vedic word, can be useful and relevant.
*Beezone Note: Why would ‘interpreting’ Vedic literature lose the meaning of the text?
I believe simply put, this statement reflects the old saying, “the name is not the thing” or “the map is not the territory”. Meaning, once a reader of this ancient literature begins to read and then grasp some ‘meaning’ (conceptually) a certain type of ‘knowledge’ would be ‘understood’. This of course would be antithetical to what ancient wisdom ‘Vedic literature’ is about. Vedic literature is primarly about ‘realization’ and conceptual understanding (knowledge) second. Secondary understanding substitutes for the primary and “self-evident’ nature of what the text is ‘pointing to.’
This cautionary warning is to make sure the reader doesn’t get confused with thinking he, she, or they believes they “know” what the text is attempting to reveal. Remember, in the Vedic tradition, before the written word became a substitute for verbal expression (6th Century BCE), wisdom was always revealed by sitting at the feet of a Realizer.