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How Baladeva Vidyabhushan validated Gaudiya Vaishnavism

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In a case held before the court of Raja Jai Singh, Baladeva Vidhyabhushan proved the legitimacy of the Gaudiya Sampradaya, which was being questioned by Ramanandi priests. The priests argued: How can Radha and Krishna be worshiped together since they are not married? And how can Vishnu be worshiped through Krishna?

Baladev Vidhyabhushan was sent to the court in Amber (Jaipur) to defend Gaudiya Vaishnavism by his shiksha Guru, the renowned Vrindavan scholar Shri Vishwanatha Chakravarti.

Radha+Govind+Devji+Deity+Darshan+13+Nov+2016+%281%29.JPG← Radha Govind Dev, Jaipur

In 1669, Aurangzeb issued a decree that the temples of Vrindavan should be destroyed and many deities were moved to the region now known as Jaipur. When Govind Dev arrived, Raja Jai Singh was overjoyed, as he had visited Vrindavan when he was  seven years old and had been naturally attracted to the Vrindavan way of worship. However, the Ramanuja priests, who had until then enjoyed official favour, felt that their position was being threatened.

At the time of hearing in which Vidhyabhushan established the legitimacy of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the political infighting had been going on between the Ramanandi priests and Gaudiya Vaishavas for many years. It had now reached the point where the Ramanandi priests demanded that Radha be removed from the main altar of Govinda Temple and be placed on a separate altar. According to their argument – Sita and Ram are married, so are Lakshmi and Vishnu, so they can be worshipped together, but there is no precedent for the worship Radha and Krishna together.

To appease the Ramanandis, Raja Jai Singh told them that he would ask the Gaudiyas to place Radha Rani in a separate room; explain their breach of Vaishnnava etiquette and prove their link with the Madhava Sampradaya.

Baladev Vidyabhushana was the perfect person to defend the Gaudiyas as he had been initiated in the Madhava Sampradaya during his youth; born in Odisha, the young Baladeva travelled to Karnataka in search of a preceptor. In the Ananda Tirtha (Madhava Sanpradaya) Matha, Baladeva studied Madhava Acharya’s commentary on Vedanta Sutra and perfected his debating skills. He then travelled on to Puri where he met Radha Damodar Das who explained that Gaudiyas are not interested in commentaries on Vedanta Sutra as they consider the Srimad Bhagavatam to be the natural commentary as it was written last.

Radha Damodar Das recommended that Baladev read Jiva Goswami’s Bhagavata Sandarbha. This work impressed Baladev, as it seemed to expand on Madhav Acharya’s writings, so he was convinced to join the Gaudiyas and travelled to Navadvipa then  Vrindavan.

sri-madhwacharya.jpg← Madhava Acharya

Baladeva’s study of Madhav Acharya’s commentary on Vedanta Sutra, was put to good use when he was called to defend the charge of the Ramanandis that Gaudiya Vaishnavism cannot be considered a legitimate sampradaya because it is not a system established by any of the four learned Vaishnava preceptors who wrote commentaries on the Vedanta Sutra to refute the commentary written by Shankar Acharya (788-820).

The four Vaishnava preceptors from whom the four main sampradayas – Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhava and Vishnuvami – each describe the connection of the universe and living entities to the Supreme. Shankarachaya interprets the Vedanta Sutra from a monist perspective, whereas Madhav Acharya’s interprets it from a Dualist perspective.

In the chapter “Baladeva Vidyabhusan: The Gaudiya Vedantist” in Journal of Vaishnava Studies Vol 1, no2, Michael Wright explains the difference in the interpretations of the Vedanta:

“Put simply, Shankara taught that only the Supreme is real or true, while the world of forms is an illusion; Madhava taught that the Supreme is indeed real and true, but the world is also real, not an illusion. Madhava asserted that while the world may be relative, temporary and non-absolute, it is nevertheless real in its own way.”

The Ramanandis who contested the authenticity of  Gaudiya Vaishnavism followed Ramanuja, the main proponent of Vishishtadvaita philosophy, a philosophy that is closer to Shankaracharya’s monism.

When Baladeva Vidyabhushan rose to give evidence before Raja Jai Singh’s court, the Ramanandi representatives tried to stop him from presenting his evidence by saying that they would not accept anything written by Gaudiya Vaishnavas, since they had no authorised sampradaya. In reply, Baladeva assured them that he was from the Madhava sampradaya but that Radha Damodar Goswami and Vishwanath Chakravarti of the Gaudiya Sampradaya were also his gurus.

The Ramanandis had to accept Baladeva as a qualified sanyasi and pandit  of an authorized lineage but argued that he argue by referencing Madhava Acharya’s commentary on Vedanta Sutra, as the Gaudiya Vaishnavas had no separate commentary. This put Baladeva into a dilemma as Madhava Acharya’s commentary does not directly justify the worship of Radha-Krishna as practiced by Gaudiya Vaishnavas. This dilemma led Baladeva to embark on an impossible task – to write a Gaudiya Vaishnava commentary on the Vedanta Sutra in only a few weeks.

Michael Wright describes what Baladeva did after a recess was granted so that a Gaudiya Vaishnava commentary could be produced.

“Baladeva went to Govindapur just outside Amber [Jaipur]. Presenting himself before the deity Govinda, he knelt and prayed, “O Govinda, your devotee Vishvanatha has sent me here to defend you and your devotees, but I cannot do it! I am just a soul fallen in ignorance. If you wish, you may empower me to write a Vedanta Sutra commentary that will glorify you. If you wish, I shall write the truths I have learned from your devotees and your scripture. And I have faith that by your mercy, thee truths will appear most logical.”

Then Baladeva began to write. Pausing scarcely to rest, he wrote and prayed and wrote again. Days and nights passed, but he did not stop. Some chroniclers of the tradition say he wrote for one month. Others say it took him only seven days. Either way, he soon accomplished the improbable, if not the impossible.

Baladeva returned from Govindapur with his commentary. By now, keep expectancy had been aroused in all the various parties. Jai Singh, hoping to see the Gaudiyas vindicated, was especially eager to see the commentary. The Ramanandis, however, awaited the commentary with some trepidation, hoping they could defeat it readily

…Baladeva then addressed each of the Ramanandis’ objections to Gaudiya worship. “I have expounded on every aspect of Gaudiya practice in chapter Three,” he said. “Since your criticisms concern our style of worship, you should turn to Chapter Three to see how Vyasa, the author of Vedanta Sutra has provided for our worship.

You object to our worship of Radha with Govinda,” Baladeva continued, “on the superficial grounds that they are not married. In verses forty through forty two, I have presented the true position of Radha in relation to Krishna. Radha is the eternal energy of Krishna and is never separated from him. Their relationship may be parakiya [married] or svakiya [unmarried], but that does not affect the eternality of their union. The separation of Radha and Govinda you have effected is artificial and therefore offensive to the Lord, who holds deep affection for his female energy.

“You have criticized our predilection for worshiping only Krishna , neglecting the worship of Narayana, Vishnu, which you say is mandatory for all Vaishnavas. I have addressed that point in my comments on verse forty three. According to the Vedanta Sutra , Narayana may be worshiped in any of his forms including Krishna. No scriptural injunction prohibits the worship of Govinda exclusive of Narayana.”

The Ramanandis had to accept Baladeva’s arguments and drop the case.

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