The Literary Work as Revelation

The Gaudiya Vaisnava Concept of Literature

Krsna-lila Dasi

In this article Krsna-lila Dasi examines methods of scriptural interpretation. She looks at the validity of modern literary theory in relation to literatures that are held as items of faith and describes the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. Krsna-lila finds that in the Vaisnava tradition a student of scripture can retain scholarly integrity without appearing to diminish the spiritual value of such works.




According to Jewish theology, men are of two kinds: the man of questions and the man of answers. The man of questions is the scientist who is constantly questioning the world, seeking to know its secrets, while the man of answers is the believer who is inclined to think that God has already given the answers to everything. Therefore, the latter does not ask questions; instead, he becomes absorbed in the answer - i.e. the revealed scriptures.


The keyword of the scientist is 'reason'; that of the believer is 'faith'. According to Descartes, science examines the way the world is, while religion tries to define how it should be. In days of yore these two aspects of cognition were inseparable. In their 'lovers' quarrel', religion and science sometimes turned their backs on each other; indeed they often threw harsh words at each other - but they were still aware of the fact that they could not do without each other.[1] The greatest split between the two took place with the advent of the Enlightenment, when science categorically declared independence from its partner in matters of knowing the world. With the Enlightenment, nature itself came to be regarded as the subject of examination and interpretation; there was no longer a need to ask the ultimate questions of human existence. Men of learning rejected all knowledge-acquiring methods that could not be backed by empirical evidence, and human reason was regarded as having a power akin to God's omnipotence. Thus science had embarked on its own career: industry and technology had begun to develop at a furious pace in order to make people forget the absence of the dismissed 'lover'. The triumphal progress of Reason reached its climax in the mid-nineteenth century with the advent of positivism. Positivism, as the intellectual successor of the Enlightenment, sought to find its solid basis solely in facts and observation. It entirely neglected religious or metaphysical explanations of the world. Thanks to the �Darwinian theory of evolution, God was no longer regarded as the rightful Creator, and later - on the basis of Nietzsche's analysis - God was declared to be dead.[2]


According to many, however, science has today given up much of its aspiration to the role of the redeemer. As the philosophy of science has developed, it has become more and more accepted that information coming from sense perception may be imperfect. One cannot claim that the information provided by the senses is objective; the interpretation of sensory information and the extra-perceptional activity of the mind by which it assigns meaning to these pieces of information, also greatly depend on the mentality and paradigm of the interpreter.[3] As a consequence, facts in themselves do not exist; they can only exist in relation to theories.[4Michel Foucault assumes that modern scientific thinking, which was thought to be objective and neutral, most often approaches its subject by means of a well definable world view: methodological atheism.


Methodological foundations


The aforementioned view is especially valid in modern literary criticism. One of the most important notions of the aesthetics of reception is that literature is a discipline of dialogue: there are no true or false readings. From within a certain paradigm everything is true, while from without, everything seems to be false. Literary theory is essentially based on understanding; therefore, the capturing of the meaning is only possible from a subjective position. Literary theory does not have a methodology which would form its reliable core; as the Hungarian literary critic B�kay Antal has put it, 'there is no such thing - and cannot be such a thing - as a universal theory of literature. We can only speak of a loose field of pluralistic readings.' (Bokay p. 22). Paul Ricoeur and the already mentioned Foucault have written that different ages and different cultures have their own types of speech, their own discourses, which are but determining worldviews - paradigms - in which the applied texts gain meaning in a specific way. According to Foucault, the reason why we can never be objective is that we do not merely know the discourse, but we live it, and this determines our judgments and actions without our being conscious of it. (And this is true for the simple reception of literature and its scientific research alike.) Taking this into consideration, and also taking into consideration the essentially pluralistic nature of literary theory, presenting the Gaudiya Vaisnava literature through the believer's paradigm is on an equal footing with, for example, presenting Indian literature through the paradigm of the non-believing Indologist-researcher. In the realm of social science, to apply the 'participant's' - the inner observer's - standpoint is a method that has become increasingly common and accepted during the past decade. This method takes for its basis the standpoint of the 'social player', i.e. the standpoint of the participant of the medium examined.


Using this as a starting point, I have assumed the role of mediator in the relationship of the two capricious 'lovers' - faith and reason - while presenting the Gaudiya literature from a specific viewpoint: that of the literary critic who has grown up with Western scientific thinking and at the same time that of the participant of the Caitanyaite religious tradition. I hope this twofold approach of reason and faith will result in an authentic and fruitful discourse both from the point of view of literary science and that of the Caitanyaite tradition. It is also my hope that the scientific doubts involved will induce the practising believer to deeper reflections, and at the same time those mysteries of the literature of the tradition that would not be revealed before the questioning of mere intellectual analysis may be revealed to the practising scientist.


Bearing in mind the suggestion of Earl Miner - a literary critic dealing with comparative studies of Far-Eastern cultures - I thought it more fruitful to carry out theoretical examinations rather than practical analyses of different works when presenting the Gaudiya Vaisnava literature outside India. My main interest lies in what the given tradition thinks of literature itself. (Miner p. 5) My research thus centres around the nature of Bengali Vaisnava literature and the examination of literature's basic component factors: the author, the work of art, the recipient, and their interaction. My conclusions are primarily drawn from studying works that serve as the basis for the tradition. These works constitute an important part of the Gaudiya literary canon, works that the Caitanyaite community has most often read and reread in the past five hundred years. From this point of view, besides the Bhagavad-gita and the Bhagavata Purana (also known as Srimad Bhagavatam), which contain the philosophical foundations of a worldview that gave birth to Caitanyaite art and literature, three other sources and their documented history of reception were especially important. These were works representing three different genres by three different authors who are probably the authors most accepted and appreciated in the Bengali Vaisnava tradition. These are Rupa Goswami's drama Lalita-madhava (sixteenth century), Bhaktivinoda's songbook Saranagati (nineteenth century) and Krsnadasa Kaviraja's biography known as Caitanya Caritamrta (seventeenth century).[5]


Notion, character and role of literature in Gaudiya Vaisnava culture


Literature is not something that can be defined once and for all. It means something different depending on the age, community and the person who approaches it. The works included in our literary canons are also of many kinds. For example, there is a considerable difference between the literary fictions of works produced in Western and Eastern cultures. Using the logic of Aristotle's Poetics as a basis, the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye makes a very interesting analysis. (Frye, pp. 33-5) The ancient theoretician classified the literary hero into three categories: the hero can be (a) better (stronger, more powerful) than us, (b) on the same level with us, or (c) worse (inferior, weaker) than us. Frye examines the type of heroes that characterise the literature and the modes of literary fiction of different ages. The central figures of epics, tragedies, legends and certain romantic works are in high mimetic mode. Here the hero is either qualitatively superior to others and to his environment - a kind of divine being whose story is a myth - or he rises in degree above others but not above his environment, and he is the leader. The lower mimetic mode is the mode of the realist novel and of most comedies. Here the hero is not superior to others or his environment. He is one of us, and we expect the author to apply the same rules of verisimilitude that we know from our own experience. An example of the ironic fictional mode is the absurd drama in which the 'hero' is inferior to, more schematic, more defenceless than us. After reviewing these categories, Frye concludes that in European culture during the past fifteen hundred years the centre of gravity of literary fiction has been constantly tending downwards. He adds that in his view Asian fiction was unable to move very far away from mythic and romantic formulae.


If Frye is correct in his assessment of Asian fiction, one is tempted to think about the possible reasons. From among Eastern cultures, it is Indian literature I have some perspective on. Although there are a number of modern literary works in India, the people of India still very much revere the ancient, unbroken tradition, which even today permeates everyday life to a great extent. The vision of time of this tradition is not linear but cyclic. Its essence is steadiness, the eternal repetition and experience of Transcendence, the preservation and transmission of spiritual knowledge. In its essentially traditional art, what is 'new' is not necessarily valuable; 'progress' is not a very relevant notion. Using Northrop Frye's categories, the Gaudiya Vaisnava literary tradition - the field of my research - nourishes itself from the art of high mimetic mode. This mode was also characteristic of the ages preceding modernity that started with the Renaissance and became consummate in the age of the Enlightenment. For Gaudiya literature, the ancient Hindu epics as well as the Bhagavad-gita and the Bhagavata-purana (of this latter, mainly the Tenth Canto, which presents Krsna's acts, or lilas) are highly important sources of inspiration. The 'centre of gravity' of literary fiction has not sunk at all during the centuries since the renaissance and the re-evaluation of Vaisnava tradition and the impregnation of its art brought about by the presence of Caitanya. The central figures of even present day Bengali Vaisnava literary works are primarily God - Krsna Himself or His incarnation Caitanya - and His close associates, or purified sages and saints who rise above the masses of ordinary people. The literature of Gaudiya Vaisnavism could best be compared to the literature of medieval Christian mysticism in Europe, in which the author - of whom it is held that 'God conceals nothing from his eyes' - would like to share the experience of his meeting with Transcendence with the open-hearted, receptive audience.


When participants of the still living Gaudiya tradition experience and express the world, they sense the secret of a spiritual and mystic essence behind everything. This consciousness, which sees everything in relation to God, makes every seemingly profane act sacred. Their way of deciphering the world is essentially transcendental: in the background of worldly chaos they presume there to be a coherent system of correspondence of the �Absolute. For them, phenomena have a significance beyond themselves: the events of their lives, the occurrences, their destinies have a cosmic meaning. The real space is the mystic space, the real time is the divine time. 'History' in the Western sense does not really have significance. It is the eternal and recurring events that convey the real importance, which become enacted again and again during festivals and similar celebratory occasions, thus demonstrating the stability of Transcendence. For Gaudiya Vaisnavas who take their tradition seriously, things are meaningful only if they are in connection with or can be connected to Transcendence. Everything else falls outside of their sphere of interest.


In such a context, art cannot exist for art's sake. As with archaic cultures, the concept of art and religion in Bengali Vaisnavism is that of unity. There are no distinct boundaries between the two. Here the goal of art, just like the goal of all human activity, is to establish the present-ness of Transcendence, to awaken the inherently female (prakrti) soul's loving desire for God (the man, the purusa), and finally, to promote their meeting again after so many births and deaths. The most important function of literature is to build a bridge between the immanent and the metaphysical worlds, so that the soul, which has fallen into this phenomenal world, may overcome the pains of material existence. Besides these, from the author's point of view the need to become spiritually purified by the process of writing is also important. Thus the informative and aesthetic values are both present in works of art. They are important sources of knowledge, education and entertainment.


According to the principal spiritual work of Caitanyaism - the Bhagavatam - the primary goal of artistic creation and writing is to bring pleasure to the Lord and to glorify Him, which simultaneously satisfies the soul.[6] In a broader sense, the Vaisnava tradition considers as canonised literature every written (or orally transmitted) work that directly or indirectly presents Transcendence and involves some siddhanta (metaphysical understanding) and is authorised as such by the authorities of the tradition. In a stricter sense, however, the Vaisnava tradition specifies the basic requirement for any literary work as the unity of rasa (aesthetic presentation) and siddhanta. A literary work of art can be beautiful only if it integrates rasa and siddhanta in a harmonious way. If the artistic form becomes more prominent, the work loses its authenticity in the eyes of the Vaisnava community; and if the balance is lost in favour of the siddhanta, then we cannot speak of a literary work in the strict or modern sense (but of a philosophical treatise bearing some literary elements).


Bengali Vaisnavism usually applies the notion of literature in the broader sense. In this approach, siddhanta, or the purity of the philosophical thought, is more important than rasa, the aesthetic function. Works which are imperfect in their composition or poetic form but are related to the Lord are included in its canon, while those works which, no matter how perfect in poetic composition, do not glorify the Lord but were written from some other personal motive are rejected as 'pilgrimage places of crows'.[7This means the primary role of literature is not to provide some aesthetic experience or to 'inform', but to 'transform'. Those works that were not conceived in a God-centred spirit are rejected and remain unread by the Vaisnava community, because in its view they would only increase the illusion and bodily consciousness of the readers and thus keep them entangled in material existence.[8The primary canon-making factors and authorities of the tradition are therefore the saints and the perfectly purified teachers. Tradition ranks among them the contemporary Vaisnava teacher Bhaktivedanta Swami who, referring to Vedic scriptures, states in a commentary to a Bhagavatam text that all literary works involving some authorised siddhanta which directly or indirectly deal with the glories of the Lord have to be considered sruti-mantra, or scripture. Therefore the same criteria apply to these literary works as to other revelations.[9] Bhaktivedanta Swami states that the literature of Caitanyaism is non-different from ancient scriptures. Outstanding authors like Rupa Goswami, Krsnadasa Kaviraja and Bhaktivinoda Thakura were purified souls, and all of them had a perfect vision of the Absolute. Their writings can therefore be considered as transcendental works - revelations.


The author


In the Gaudiya Vaisnava culture that author is considered a siksa-guru, or a bona fide teacher, who stands before the audience not only with his or her thoughts (pracar) but also with his or her personal example (acar). It is required that the author be a Vaisnava of spotless character, and also deeply religious, or at least sincerely aspiring to be so. He or she has to be a member of a bona fide disciplic succession and has to have the blessings of other Vaisnavas to engage in the process of writing. Therefore the poet and the writer has to be a transparent medium because according to Vaisnavas, the light of God can only shine through a humble and sincere heart. It cannot arise from personal motivations, the desire for fame and recognition, or material desires of other kinds.[10The Vaisnava author has a mission similar to that of Hermes: to mediate between the transcendent and the immanent worlds.


In regard to the process of creation, we have to distinguish between two methods. The first is when the author mainly relies on the commentaries, works and experiences of preceding Vaisnava teachers in his creative work. His or her intention is not to invent anything new but to shed new light on things already presented, to present them in more detail, or maybe to elaborate upon them in a more artistic way. Krsnadasa compares this to 'fluffing out the compressed cotton'.[11] This creative method can also be used by those Vaisnavas who have not yet attained the perfection of spiritual life. In the second method, which is applicable only by purified saints, the basis of creation and the source of inspiration is the mystical experience. These works communicate things the reader could not have read in earlier authentic writings. According to the tradition, the transcendental world is unlimited. For example, Krsna's acts, or lilas, are related in great detail in the Bhagavata Purana, but since these are continuously taking place and are recurring in unlimited time and space, it is impossible to fully describe them. Tradition says they can be seen and experienced by the pure devotee, who then can impart them to others.


The process of literary creation takes place in the following way: the transcendental world is revealed to the purified author in his or her meditation. By his or her spiritual realisation the author is able to see the Lord and His associates, and the Lord's so far unmanifested lilas manifest before him or her also. This is the process of lila-smarana (the process of visualisation and meditation). This creative method is quite widespread in Gaudiya Vaisnava literature. Literary works written in this way and authorised by the authorities are not held to be the products of mere imagination but are accepted as completely true. According to the tradition, until there are pure devotees of the Lord the gates of the transcendental world remain closed to earthly mortals. Through the medium of pure souls the Lord imparts ever-new truths and pieces of information to mankind. In this respect dramas, poems and other works are not merely products of the poetic imagination but revelations - unless the author explicitly states otherwise.[12]


The aesthetics of the literary work of art as revelation had been worked out by Rupa in his rasa theory.[13Niel Delmonico notes that by synthesising classical Sanskrit aesthetics, Rupa reverts to the transcendental understanding of rasa mentioned in earlier Hindu texts.[14] In the rasa theory, religious and aesthetic experiences are interwoven. The reason for this is that in Gaudiya theology art is a basic substance of Transcendence. The supreme object of religious devotion - God - is at the same time the source and supreme master of all art. The scripture most often quoted by Caitanya, Brahma-samhita, states that in God's realm everything is art: 'every word is a song, every step is a dance.'[15Therefore, if anyone wants to describe this in a truly expressive way, then, according to Caitanya, besides one's pure devotion, excellent poetic words are also required.[16Followers of the tradition opine that Rupa restores poetics' sacred nature, which had become profaned during the millennia. By doing so, he reinstates literature to its original, transcendental status. The Gaudiya tradition holds that Krsna's lilas are ever recurring in the course of past, present and future as a wonderful, endless drama in which God, together with His associates and the other souls, play their respective roles while experiencing unfathomable bliss. In Rupa's aesthetics, which are based on this concept, the goal of literature and religious practice is the same: to recognise, relearn and assume one's long forgotten role in this great drama, and to again - this time irrevocably - take part in this 'divine comedy' which ensures one perfect happiness.


The literary work


If we accept Frye's analysis as our starting point, as well as the fact that Bengali Vaisnava texts mainly draw upon the Bhagavata Purana, an interesting question arises: how do Gaudiya literary works relate to earlier sacred texts? What is the relationship between the literary and the sacred? Since a work of art as artefactum automatically means that it is some kind of artificial 'product', can a literary work be a revelation at all? Are the models referring to the interaction of the sacred text and the literary text valid as we know them in Western culture?


The Hungarian literary critic Tibor Fabiny differentiates three types of relationship between the sacred text and literature or the sacred text and its literary adaptations.[17He calls the texts that the given tradition considers sacred 'architext', and the individual literary works (the adaptations of sacred texts) 'supertext'. The three types of relationship between the architext and the supertext, i.e. between the sacred text and literature, are the following:


The first model applies to mundane authors who 'use' the sacred text. For them only literature is 'reality'; the sacred text is merely a 'pretext' to provide a topos for their literary work. According to Fabiny, in this case the integrity of the sacred text is damaged.


The second model applies to members of a religious community who deal with literature: for them it is the sacred text (the architext) alone that has real value, and literature (the supertext) becomes only a 'pretext'. Fabiny states this is an essentially reductive and deterministic view, similar to Marxism, which only 'uses' literature to propagate some �conviction or dogma. In this case it is the integrity of literature which suffers damage: it loses its autonomy because the value of the literary work is determined not by aestheticism but by external, ideological considerations which are alien to its nature.


It is the third model that Fabiny considers the ideal type. This treats both the architext and the supertext as real and valid. In this model the supertext is a re-creation of the architext. For the first model only literature has integrity; for the second, only the sacred text has integrity; and for the third, both the sacred text and literature have their own integrity.


I agree with Fabiny that it is not proper to judge a sacred text by literary standards or a literary text by theological ones. There is also no doubt that the approach adopted by Fabiny in his second model is to be found in the Gaudiya tradition. In this case the integrity of the philosophical message of the works (in their own terminology, the siddhanta) has a priority over the aesthetic form (rasa). The reason for this, as mentioned earlier, lies primarily in the fact that the notion of literature is used in a broader sense than in the modern understanding. In my view most of the works I refer to (e.g. Lalita-madhava, Saranagati) are characterised by the harmonious unity of rasa and siddhanta. This means they can be considered as authentic from the standpoint of the Gaudiya tradition and at the same time they can be interpreted as literary works. Now, the exciting question arises as to whether it is possible to consider a revelation a literary work and a literary work a revelation.


I will cite three examples in this respect. The first is Jayadeva's Gita-govinda. Although this work was written well before the appearance of Caitanyaism, it can be completely connected to its spirituality. The second is Rupa Goswami's drama Lalita-madhava, and the third Bhaktivinoda's songbook entitled Saranagati. If we wish to apply Tibor Fabiny's terminology, we could say the architext of these works is the Bhagavata Purana - the Vaisnava scripture presenting Krsna's life and acts. However, the three supertexts contain elements that cannot be found in the architext. For example, it is Jayadeva who in the Vaisnava tradition states for the first time what the Bhagavata only alludes to, namely that those who love Krsna have a power over Him. From among these persons the foremost is Radha, who later in the Gaudiya tradition will become one of the supreme objects of religious devotion. (Huberman, p. 76) The importance of our second example, Lalita-madhava, is seen by Jiva Goswami, the main theoretician of the Gaudiya tradition, in that here Rupa reveals the mystery of the difference between God's acts performed in the transcendental world (aprakata-lila) and those performed during his earthly descent (prakata-lila). In the third example, the author of Saranagati reveals his own position in the transcendental world, the personal relationship he has with God, whom he calls Krsna. According to the Gaudiya tradition - since the authors in question are saints - these pieces of 'additional' information are not simply the products of poetic imagination but are new manifestations of �Transcendence. Therefore, as with the Bhagavata Purana, tradition relates to these three works - the supertexts - also as sacred texts, or architexts.


Even if we agree to approach these texts as if they are sacred, it is proper to ask if these works can be considered as literature at all. Would it not be more appropriate to call them sacred works containing literary elements? I have not found any clear-cut analogues in Western literature for the interrelationship of architext and supertext that characterises Vaisnava texts. One possibility might be to compare the relationship between the Bible (as architext) and Dante's Divine Comedy (as supertext) to the relationship between the Vaisnava scripture Bhagavata Purana and the Vaisnava drama Lalita-madhava. I believe this analogy fails because the Divine Comedy is not a canonised work and is not regarded as a revelation within the Christian tradition. In the first case, a sacred text is in relationship with a literary work (even if the latter was no doubt inspired by the Bible), while in the second, according to the tradition two sacred texts (architexts) are juxtaposed.


Another analogy may be found by comparing the aforementioned Vaisnava texts with the Old Testament as architext and its 'adaptation', or supertext, the New Testament (or rather certain parts of it). This analogy cannot be wholly applicable with regard to the relationship of Bhagavata Purana and Lalita-madhava because the New Testament is more similar to the Vaisnava architext in character and style than to its supertext (which, as we have seen, also became architext). The Bhagavata Purana, the Old Testament and the New Testament can only be considered as literary works in a very broad sense. Although they contain literary elements in great number, aesthetic considerations did not play a major role in their composition. On the other hand, Lalita-madhava was written in accordance with the aesthetic rules of classical Sanskrit drama, as becomes obvious from Rupa's work on drama theory, Nataka-candrika. As regards its poetic language and composition, Lalita-madhava is no doubt a literary work in which revelation and metaphysical reality are present in such a way that these do not decrease the aesthetic value of the drama (unlike, for example, Reformation dramas, which are full of religious polemics but do not carry much aesthetic value).


On the basis of this analysis it is perhaps not too rash to state that these Vaisnava texts do not, or only partly, fit the tertiary model of the architext - supertext relationship - which to me seems somewhat Western-specific. Studying the mode of existence of these Vaisnava texts led me to think that it is necessary to create a fourth model, in which the supertext can be held a holy scripture and a literary work at the same time. In this case the sacred and the literary do not exist on an either-or basis but simultaneously, within the same text, in inseparable symbiosis.


The recipient


I am convinced that the mode of existence of these Vaisnava works is characterised by a complete intertwining of mysticism and aesthetics. Consequently, the dialogue of the literary work and the recipient can become most complete if in his or her approach the exegete applies the respective criteria valid for the sacred and the literary simultaneously. In my view it is when the recipient disregards this, considering these works carriers of only metaphysical ideas or only literary works, that their autonomy is damaged and they get placed out of their own context.


There are many examples for both types of reductive approach. I consider the former type the internal affair of the Vaisnava community; therefore, it is not appropriate to be dealt with in this forum. It is the second type of reductive approach that may be more interesting for the academic public, which, in my opinion, largely dominates Western literary criticism. I will mention a few typical examples in this connection. The work of the twelfth-century poet Jayadeva is a source of inspiration for a culture shared by hundreds of millions and permeates its spiritual and artistic world, while from the perspective of Western literary criticism, its plot is a banal series of events fit for a commonplace French comedy.[18While on the one side Rupa's drama is esteemed to be 'an endless flow of nectar', Western literary criticism condemns it for lacking in 'novelty' - a requirement Rupa never aspired to.[19] It is clear that if we want to analyse the values of a literature which is of a mystical kind within the context of modernity's discourse, we will have a different result than if we try to do the same from within the tradition. Modern man is just as unable to penetrate the work's mysteries as a medieval man would be stupefied before the ideal of beauty presented in Baudelaire's A �Carcass. Even in this case there would be some kind of communication between the work, the author and the recipient. Experience shows, however, that this could not reach such depths as would be possible were these factors in the same context, or as Foucault puts it, were they to live the same discourse. Given the completely intertwined nature of sacredness and aesthetics I think the most effective way to understand these works is to apply the standards of approaches relating to literary and sacred texts simultaneously.


In the course of any kind of research, the subject and the method should be in accord. The Vaisnava tradition rejects the historico-critical approach on the basis of the principle of methodological atheism. According to the tradition, this method is not suitable for understanding texts of religious subject matter because it tries to understand revelation from a standpoint outside the revelation. In their invocation (mangalacaranam), Gaudiya Vaisnava literary works very specifically determine what kind of attitude is required to understand them. If the exegete is willing to follow the methodological process suggested by the work itself, then - as Gerhard Maier very aptly puts it - we can speak of a 'hermeneutics of dependence'. (Maier, p. 115) Vaisnava works by their nature require the recipient to enter into the dialogue as a 'participant' of the tradition.




Naturally, each recipient has the right to decide what attitude they want to assume when approaching a literary work. The Vaisnava tradition also accepts the recipient-centred principle of plurality of modern literary hermeneutics. But, taking into account considerations of the work itself, it adds that besides the fact that each interpretation is equally justified, there are different levels of interpretation, which depend on who the recipient is and how he or she relates to the sacred. That's all very well, but what should the reader or the critic (the exegete) do if he or she does not want to become a member of the parampara, the Vaisnava disciplic succession, which would initiate one into the tradition? According to Vaisnava aesthetics, it is possible for one to get a deeper understanding of the work if one behaves as if one were a participant of the tradition, if at least during the time of reception one places oneself into the participant's paradigm by the help of a provisional, anticipatory faith (sraddha).[20I am convinced this interpretative attitude - which is based on the dialogue of reason and faith, and which I call methodological theism, while others call it the 'willing suspension of disbelief' - is capable of ensuring the ideal equilibrium necessary for a fruitful dialogue. Thus the autonomy of the literary work behaving as revelation (or the revelation behaving as literary work) and the inner integrity of the interpreter are both preserved.




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Popper, Karl. The Poverty of Historicism. London: Ark, 1986, 1961.


Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, Readings in Vedic Literature. The Tradition Speaks for Itself. USA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, 1990.



1 It was Harvey Cox, professor of religious studies at Harvard University, who used the expression 'a lovers' quarrel' referring to the relationship of religion and science. (Cox, pp. 52-69)


2 Reference to Friedrich Nietzsche's Zarathustra, the central idea of which is that 'God is dead', and it was us, modern men who killed him.

3 According to Thomas Kuhn there are no such things as objective scientific facts. Experimental data can be interpreted only within a certain paradigm. If we look at them through a different paradigm, they will yield different results. (See Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.) Karl Popper states that in reality science can confirm nothing, no truth can be proven (See Popper, The Poverty of Historicism.)

4 Facts exist only in their relation to theories, and theories are dashed not by facts, but by new theories, which better explain the facts. (Julian H. Stewart, in Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, p. 14.)


5 Naturally I would not like to suggest that the Gaudiya canon is completely unified. There can be shifts in the emphasis depending on the different groups within the tradition.

6 On the essence and role of scripture and literature, see the dialogue between Narada and Vyasa in the Srimad Bhagavatam (First Canto, Chapter 5-7).


7 See Srimad Bhagavatam 1.5.10.


8 'Hearing the poetry of a person who has no transcendental knowledge and who writes about the relationships between man and woman simply causes unhappiness, whereas hearing the words of a devotee fully absorbed in ecstatic love causes great happiness.' (Caitanya Caritamrta, Antya 5.107.)

9 See Srimad Bhagavatam. 1.10.20, Purport. See also: Madhva-Bhasyadhrta: 'The RgYajurSama and Atharva Vedas, as well as the Mahabharata, the Narada-pancaratra and the Ramayana - are certainly known as sastra. Those books that favourably follow in the footsteps of these authorised scriptures are also designated as sastra.' (Kundali Dasa p. 33.)

10 The requirements an author has to comply with are dealt with in detail in e.g. Caitanya Caritamrta (e.g. Adi, Chapter 1) and the Srimad Bhagavatam (First Canto, Chapter 5-7.).

11 Caitanya Caritamrta Antya 14.10.


12 According to June McDaniel Gaudiya theological treatises (like Rupa's Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and Ujjvala-nilamani) describe emotional states of mystical experience in a uniquely detailed and systematic way. The description is often so meticulous that the reader can almost experience it for himself or herself, and, indeed, according to McDaniel the goal of many of the descriptions is to enable the reader to attain these states. In McDaniel's view the Gaudiya tradition and literature construct a sort of 'ladder' to God, and one is encouraged to go step-by-step, until one reaches siddhi, or perfection in mystical experience. (McDaniel, pp. 283-4.)

13 In the conclusion of one of his papers Niel Delmonico notes that the rasa theory of Rupa allows one to have a unique insight into the world of not only the Gaudiya tradition, but of the religious-mystic experience in general. It does so by presenting in great detail how the religious experience is projected unto the everyday experience of the world. (Delmonico, Niel, 'Sacred Rapture: The Bhakti-rasa Theory of Rupa Goswamin'. In: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Vol. 6., No. 1. Winter 1998.)


14 Here Delmonico refers to e.g. the Taittiriya Upanisad, which states that 'raso vai sah', or 'the final truth is rasa'. (Delmonico, op. cit. p. 76.)


15 Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhuh 56.

16 'Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu praised the metaphors and other literary ornaments of Srila Rupa Goswami's transcendental poetry. Without such poetic attributes, He said, there is no possibility of preaching transcendental mellows.' (Caitanya Caritamta, Antya 1.198.)

17 Referee's report on: Krisztina Danka, The Literary Work As Revelation: The Philosophy and Poetics of Bengali Vaisnavism. Ph. D. thesis, Budapest, ELTE BTK, May 2000.


18 'The natural elegance with which man's divine ability to love constantly glimmers through the frolics of fickle Hari is enviable. On the other hand, it is difficult for the reader to suppress the sneering smile over the fact that on the plot's level the mythology-inspired hymnal tone is destined for nothing else but to make the staggering fact - which could as well be the subject of a commonplace French comedy - obvious, namely, that - what a horror! - Hari is serially unfaithful to Radha.' (Orban, p. 122.).


19 See Caitanya Caritamrta Antya 1.193 and Sushil Kumar De, Early History of the Vaishnava Faith and Movement in Bengal (Firma KLM, Calcutta, 1986). See also Jan Brezinski's paper Mystic Poetry. Rupa Goswamin's Uddhava-sandesa and Hamsaduta (Mandala Publishing Group, San Francisco, 1999. Introduction).


20 See e.g. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Introduction.