When different religious groups have their own scriptures how is the authority of Vaishnava scriptures to be established?

by Chaitanya CharanJuly 29, 2014

Transcribed by: Argha Maji

Question: When different religious groups have their own scriptures how is the authority of Vaishnava scriptures to be established?

Answer: So the word scripture in Sanskrit is sastra. Sastra is that which does shashana , administration or guidance or governance. That book which deals this is called sastra. Natya sastra , that which gives guidance about dramaturgy. Bharat muni has written natya sastra about how drama is to be performed. So now not all sastra is of the same level. So there is niti sastra. There is artha sastra , Chanakya has written it, which talks about financial management. That is not necessarily spiritual or divine. So the word sastra doesn’t necessarily mean that everything that goes on in the name of sastra is a revelation. That’s the first point.

Second point is there is a hierarchy in the scriptures which is told by scriptures themselves. Mimamsa is one of the six systems of philosophy and in mimamsa , it has been analysed that sometimes scriptures give contradictory statements, so how do we resolve. It says there has to be a sastra taratamya . Taratamya means hierarchy. And in the sastra taratamya there is a nirnayak sastra and there is nirnaitara sastra.

Nirnayak sastra means that which is a decisive scripture, nirnaitara sastra is that which is to be decided.

So, on what basis is this done. It is based on the message from scriptures itself. For example , there are eighteen puranas , and in the puranas themselves, in matsya purana it is mentioned, that six puranas are sattvic, six puranas are rajasic, six puranas are tamasic. Now there is a verse from skandha purana. Skandha purana is shaivite purana and that says if there is contradiction between what vaishnavite scripture says and what shaivite scripture says , then vaishnavite scripture should be considered higher. So, now another point is apart from such statements we can also look at the content of scriptures.

We see that Srimad Bhagavatam, it is described that Vyasadeva wrote all scriptures and still he was discontented and then he wrote bhagvatam. So, it is the same sage who compiled the scriptures , then his spiritual master narada muni tells him that


yaso bhagavato ‘malam(SB 1.5.8)

you have not told the pure glories of supreme lord,. Please tell that. And then samadhinanusmara(SB 1.5.13)So Madhvacharya explains that scriptures are of different types. There are aitihasik sastra and there is samadhi sastra.

Samadhi sastra means those which are spoken , they are spoken when the seer has gone to samadhi. So Bhagavatam clearly describes after Vyasadeva wrote all other scriptures, then he wrote the Srimad Bhagavatam. And when did he write the Bhagvatam, when he went to samadhi. It says

samyak pranihite ‘male

apasyat purusam purnam

mayam ca tad-apasrayam(SB 1.7.4)

He went deep into samadhi , he saw the Supreme Person and then he saw maya under his control. He basically got the vision and based on that , he wrote the scriptures.


So what is the way to know the hierarchy, one is the scriptures themselves talk about sattvic, rajasic, tamasic.

Second is from the point of view of their own compilation. The Bhagvatam is what is the last word by the compiler(vyasadeva). That’s why the Bhagvatam is amala purana. Jiva Goswami called it as the sarva pramana chakravarti bhutah. There are various scriptures among which Bhagvatam is chakravarti , chakravarti means emperor.

And then beyond that, we can also look at the content. Jiva goswami gives tatparya linga. Linga means symptoms.

We often use the word linga to indicate gender. But gender is basically indicative of the person’s nature. So, its a symptom.

Tatparya linga means science about the meaning of a book. So, he says if you want to look at the meaning of a book, what’s the way to know it. He says that look at the beginning, look at the end, look at what is the repeated message, look at what is the unique message and look at that which is most emphasised in the scripture. Five things. So he says if we look at the anukrama(beginning) and at the end, so we will see most of the scriptures begin with specific questions, say for example the purana which tells please tells the glories of Shiva or please tell the glories of Devi or please tell the glory of Kashi.

But he says if you look at the Srimad Bhagvatam, the Bhagavatam begins with universal questions. It is asking there are so many scriptures, what is the essential message of the scriptures , there are so many dharmas, what is the dharma which will lead to the highest goal. So even from looking at the seminal questions, seminal means that which reveals the whole meaning, just like from semen the whole person comes. So seminal question means that question from which the whole book unfolds. So the seminal question for the Bhagvatam is a universal question.

In fact the Srimad Bhagvatam also begins with a verse which is universal, it doesn’t identify the supreme lord directly.

Om namo bhagvate vasudevaya is actually an invocation , it’s not a part of the verse.

Verse is

janmady asya yato ‘nvayad itaratas carthesv abhijnah svarat

tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye muhyanti yat surayah

tejo-vari-mrdam yatha vinimayo yatra tri-sargo ‘mrsa

dhamna svena sada nirasta-kuhakam satyam param dhimahi(SB 1.1.1)

So its a very non-sectarian description of the absolute truth. That which is param satya, who is the source of everyone , who is aware of everyone , by whom the enlightener of everyone is enlightened. By whom even the wise are put into illusion , by whom the illusory appears real and lives in the supreme reality and who by mediation on whom we can attain the supreme reality , I meditate on that absolute truth

So its a very nonsectarian description of the Absolute Truth. Srimad Bhagavatam deals with nonsectarian universal questions. So therefore by looking at the hierarchy given in the scriptures itself, by looking at the chronology of the scripture. Hierarchy means sattvic, rajasic, tamasic puranas. Chronology refers to how SB was written at maturity by vyasadeva and looking at the seminal questions of the scriptures, we can determine the taratamya of the scriptures. And therefore we understand that Srimad Bhagavatam is the amala purana.

Now Bhagavad Gita is of course the word of Krishna himself. And all the acaryas have accepted it as an authoritative book. So now some shaivites claim their own scriptures such as Shiv Purana , the impersonalists may claim their own scriptures. We have to understand that the vedic tradition is a tradition of inclusiveness. Inclusiveness means that it is not that if somebody is worshipping Shiva , they are doing something wrong, they are simply not doing the best. But even if somebody is not the best, that doesn’t mean that person has to be rejected.

The world’s religions can be divided into two broad categories.

The religions that have evolved in India , they are called the dhamic religions.

They focus more on understanding universal truths of life.

Religions which have come in the middle east, they are called Abrahmic religions. They all accept Abraham as one of their founding prophets, so historically Judaism, Christianity and Islam are related. The abrahamic religions are very history centred. Some specific event happened. God took the people from Egypt to Jerusalem, that’s the defining event of Judaism. Jesus appeared and was crucified. That’s the event of Christianity. Mohammed came and he won Mecca, that’s the defining event of Islam. But the dharmic religions are not history centred. They are trans historical . And that’s why it is not limited. Christians have the idea that you don’t accept Jesus , then you are going to hell. It is not like that. If somebody doesn’t worship Krishna , that doesn’t mean that he is going to hell. Both Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita describe that there are three modes and depending on the way the person is living, the consciousness that the person is cultivating, that person will attain the destination accordingly. So if somebody is a Shaivite worshipping Lord Shiva , and such a person is also interested in Krishna Consciousness, what can we do at such a time , if we tell that you are worshipping Shiva, you are a fool. You can’t worship Shiva, you can worship only Krishna, that’s not the vedic tradition. We can encourage a person and tell whoever you consider supreme you pray to that person and He will reveal depending on the sincerity and will get elevated. So if somebody is a faithful worshipper of lord Shiva, by lord Shiva’s mercy he will get elevated. Don’t disturb the minds of others. If you can elevate then then that’s well and good. So now we see that there are many incidents in history and somebody was a sincere worshipper of Lord Shiva or Durga or of other devtas, who by guidance of devtas have come to worship of supreme Lord. There is a story of Chandidasa, he is a great Vaishnava poet, but his name was Chandidasa. So why he was called Chandidasa because previously he was a great worshipper of Chandi. And his brother was a Vaishnava and by the blessing of Chandi, Chandidasa was very wealthy, he had a big house, big garden with many flowers in it and his Vaishnava brother was very poor. And he was worshipping his Vishnu Salagram Sila . So one day his brother asked him, ‘You have so many flowers in your garden, can I just take one flower and use it for my salagrama’ and he told that all the flowers are meant only for Chandi. You cannot touch one flower. His brother accepted this and next morning, he was coming from his bath and saw the beautiful flowers and thought if he could offer this to Vishnu. And in his mind, he was thinking I will offer this to vishnu , this is so nice. And in that way, he performed manas puja , then Chandidasa took the same flower and offered it to Chandi. And then he was chanting the prayers of Chandi and then suddenly Chandi appeared. She said, ‘I am pleased with you so what do you want.’ So he said, ‘I will ask for blessing but just tell me I have been chanting this same mantra for so many years how is that today you became pleased with me.’ She replied, ‘Today you have offered me the mahaprasad of the Supreme Lord.’ ‘But what do u mean’ and she told the whole story. ‘You mean to say that worship of Vishnu is better than your worship.’ ‘Of course, Vishnu is the lord of my lord. My lord is Shiva and Vishnu is his lord.’

‘Why did you tell this to me’, ‘You never asked to me’, she said ‘You have been only asking, dhanam dehi and all that but you have never asked me the absolute truth.’ ‘But today because of your unknown devotional service, I am pleased with you.’ But Chandidasa didn’t reject her, he didn’t do like that. He kept the name of Chandidasa gratefully accepted Chandi as his guru who had guided him to Krishna. And later he wrote beautiful poetry glorifying Krishna and that poetry was so glorious that even Caitanya Mahaprabhu recited and heard that poetry so we don’t have to create conflict. If somebody is worshipping a devta, we encourage them to continue that worship and be more open minded. And if they are devoted to Lord Shiva and that’s what they want to continue then let them continue. But if somebody is open minded then we can explain how there is a hierarchy in scripture and how the highest revelation of scriptures comes in the Srimad Bhagavatam. Thank you. Hare Krishna.

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Chaitanya Charan

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