The King of Scriptures
Prominent among the followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan: Rupa, Sanatana, Raghunatha Dasa, Raghunatha Bhatta, Jiva, and Gopala Bhatta. Jiva Goswami, the nephew of Rupa and Sanatana, was the youngest of the group. Unlike the others, he never received direct instruction from Lord Chaitanya, but his contribution to the Lord’s sankirtana movement was immense.
Because of his vast philosophical writings, Jiva Goswami is known as the siddhanta-acharya – the teacher of the philosophical conclusions – of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. At a young age he left his home in Ramakeli, Bengal, to join his uncles in Vrindavan. Before leaving Bengal, he met Lord Nityananda, Lord Chaitanya’s chief associate, at Navadvipa, where Lord Chaitanya had spent His youth. Lord Nityananda took Jiva on a tour of the places of Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes in Navadvipa.
On his way to Vrindavan, Jiva studied philosophy in Benares. He mastered all the traditional philosophies of India, and his depth of learning is evident in Sri Shad-sandarbha (“Six Treatises”), his magnum opus, also known as Sri Bhagavata-sandarbha because these works are in essence an extensive commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam, the scripture most treasured by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu for the breadth and depth of its wisdom and devotion.
The first of Sri Jiva’s six treatises, Sri Tattva-sandarbha, establishes Srimad-Bhagavatam as the basis of the philosophy taught by Lord Chaitanya, which Sri Jiva sets out to explain. He begins by showing that the Vedic scriptures are the most reliable source of knowledge, the alternatives all suffering the primary defect of being part of the material world. He then establishes that the original Vedas (Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva, with their many subdivisions) are impossible for us to clearly understand today, and that the Puranas, the major part of “the fifth Veda,” present the same truths as those contained in the original Vedas but are more accessible. Finally, Sri Jiva, citing Vedic and Puranic texts, shows that among the Puranas, Srimad-Bhagavatam stands above the rest. It is the perfect source of knowledge about the Absolute Truth.
Because the Vedic literature is overwhelmingly vast, choosing which part to look to for spiritual guidance can be daunting. An aspiring student of these books of wisdom, not knowing where to begin, may choose arbitrarily and be rewarded only with confusion. When Lord Krishna descended as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, He delivered a simplified spiritual process suitable for our troubled age. Two essential aspects of that process are chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and studying Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srila Prabhupada included Srimad-Bhagavatam class as an essential part of the daily morning program in all his temples. He would sometimes say that anything we need to know can be found in Srimad-Bhagavatam, praised as grantha-raja, “the king of scriptures.”
For those of us who have gained some familiarity with what the various parts of the Vedic literature are about, it’s easy to see why Lord Chaitanya and His followers would treasure Srimad-Bhagavatam. More than any other work in the Vedic library, it focuses on Lord Krishna. Krishna’s devotees naturally love to hear about all His activities, whether in His original cowherd-boy form or in His forms as incarnations. And His devotees also get great satisfaction in hearing philosophical arguments in support of Krishna’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srimad-Bhagavatam provides robust philosophy as well as moving accounts of Krishna’s transcendental acts.
– Nagaraja Dasa