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Interpolation in Scripture

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Interpolation in Scripture


posted Sat, Jun 21, 2008 at 1:00 AM


Q & A with Swami B. V. Tripurari


"Even if there is interpolation in the book Bhagavata, one cannot add

or subtract to the devotee Bhagavata, who is the principal agent of

divinity in our lives."


Q. Considering that Gaudiya Vaisnavas accept Srimad Bhagavatam as

perfect scripture, my question is how can we be certain that over the

centuries Srimad Bhagavatam has not been altered? If the Bhagavatam has

been changed or interpolated what significance would that have?


A. Objective studies of the Bhagavatam show that there are variant

editions. In his translation of Sanatana Gosvami's Sri Brihad

Bhagavatamrita, Gopiparanadhana dasa lists a number of variations found

in different manuscripts of both the Bhagavatam and the Bhagavatamrta.

Therein he writes, "For some verses of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila

Sanatana Goswami's commentary gives a text that varies from the one

given in the Bhagavatam edition published by the Bhaktivedanta Book

Trust." He lists 32 verses that appear differently, explaining that

these differences almost never significantly change the meaning of the



Variations may be attributed to language, geography, and the influence

of time (ancient India had numerous independent kingdoms and hundreds

of different languages). However, more importantly the very nature of

the Puranic texts such as Srimad Bhagavatam lends itself to variation

over time. As opposed to the Vedas (sruti), which are considered to be

directly manifest from God without human authorship, the Puranas

(smrti) acknowledge human agency.


For example, in the opinion of Jiva Goswami, Vyasa composed the

Bhagavatam twice, once in the context of compiling all of the Puranas

and a second time after being inspired by Narada to emphasize bhakti,

by which Narada rightly concluded Vyasa's heart would be satisfied. In

the present-day edition of the Bhagavata, we find that it was spoken by

Sukadeva and at a later date by Suta. The text also reveals that it was

spoken at another time by Sankarsana to the Kumaras. Such is the nature

of the Puranaic literature. While sacred and authoritative, adjustments

that are made in consideration of time and circumstance are not viewed

as deviant. The Puranas, after all, are literature that seeks to

present the essence of the Veda in an easily understandable format. To

accomplish this task, the Puranic literature must be fluid. Such

fluidity, however, does not amount to interpolation, but rather attests

to the ongoing nature of revelation. This also explains why it is

particularly difficult to assign a date to the authorship of the

Bhagavatam. When was it written? The correct answer is perhaps that it

is not finished yet.


An example of this fluidity is Sri Vrndavana dasa Thakura's hagiography

on Sri Caitanya, heralded by the Gaudiya community as the "Caitanya

Bhagavata." By naming Vrndavana dasa's work such, the Gaudiyas

acknowledged that while the Bhagavata was compiled thousands of years

earlier, it was nonetheless an ongoing narrative concerning the

esoteric life of Sri Krsna. This narrative had in essence been

continued by Vrndavana dasa to describe Sri Krsna's appearance as Sri



As opposed to ongoing revelation, interpolation refers to deliberately

and anonymously inserting text into a book to suit one's purpose. Some

Vaisnava sects believe that chapters 12 through 14 of the 10th canto of

the Bhagavatam are examples of interpolation because these chapters do

not conform to certain aspects of their understanding of the

Bhagavata's theology. To Gaudiya Vaisnavas these chapters are

particularly important as they establish within the context of the

narrative of Krsna lila a pivotal point: krsnas tu bhagavan svayam,

"Krsna is the origin of the Godhead." (SB 1.3.28)


Needless to say, we Gaudiyas do not find the arguments of these sects

to be convincing. Sri Jiva Goswami refutes them by pointing out that

the chapters in question conform to the overall ontology of the

Bhagavatam and have already been accepted by ancient renowned

Bhagavatam commentator Sridhara Swami, as well as other great acaryas.

In his treatise Krsna-sandarbha, Sri Jiva cites over three hundred

points, primarily from the Bhagavatam itself, confirming the Gaudiya

interpretation of krsnas tu bhagavan svayam.


Near the turn of the previous century, Thakura Bhaktivinoda encountered

academic opinions about the Bhagavata that did not conform to the

teachings of the tradition. While not dismissing these opinions

altogether, he emphasized that regardless of their merit, the essential

philosophy and theology of the Bhagavata represented the crown jewel of

spiritual insight. Why? Because we see that those who embrace its

message wholeheartedly attain the rare jewel of prema , which is the

prayojana of the text.


Furthermore, careful study of Bhagavatam commentaries reveals that

today's manuscripts do not differ significantly from the manuscript

that Gadadhara Pandit showered with his tears of love as he read and

commented on the text for the pleasure of Sri Caitanya. Among the

Gaudiya commentaries, the seminal commentary of Sri Sanatana Goswami

reveals that the Bhagavata itself acknowledges Sri Caitanya to be Krsna

reappearing in the present age. Thus if one studies the manuscript Sri

Caitanya himself embraced, one need not be concerned with



It is also important to note that Gaudiya Vaisnavas acknowledge two

Bhagavatas: the book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata. Sri Krsnadasa

Kaviraja describes them as follows, "The two brothers (Sri Caitanya and

Prabhu Nityananda) dissipate the darkness of one's heart by arranging

for one to meet two Bhagavatas. One Bhagavata is the Bhagavata sastra

(Srimad Bhagavatam) and the other is the devotee absorbed in

bhakti-rasa. These two Bhagavatas then open the door of one's heart to

bhakti-rasa, and thus the Lord, in the heart of his devotee, comes

under the control of the devotee's love."


Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja liked to refer to the person

Bhagavata as the active agent of divinity and the book Bhagavata as the

passive agent of divinity. While the two are invariably intertwined,

the person Bhagavata is arguably more important than the book Bhagavata

because he or she exemplifies the ideal of the Bhagavatam. Alone, the

book Bhagavata is insufficient for the sadhaka, as guidance from the

person Bhagavata is essential to fully understand the deep meaning of

the text. Thus, even if there is interpolation in the book Bhagavata,

one cannot add to or subtract from the devotee Bhagavata, who is the

principal agent of divinity in our lives.


It is important to underscore that, like the Goswamis, we are concerned

with the essence of the Bhagavatam. This essence is delineated in Sri

Caitanya-caritamrta and has little to do with ancient social customs

and dated cosmology, but everything to do with the metaphysic of

acintya-bhedabheda (inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and

difference), the primacy of Krsna among the Visnu avataras, Radha's

love for Krsna, and so on. The Srimad Bhagavatam tells us how to live

by way of telling us how to die. It speaks to us with a sense of

urgency and demands our complete attention, nityam bhagavata sevaya.

Those who truly understand the essence of the Bhagavata will die an ego

death to live forever in love.


[see also Arya Samaj and the Bhagavatam:

http://www.swami.org/pages<wbr>/sanga/2002/2002_2.php ]


Q. If Krsna is as important as Krsna's devotees claim, why doesn't his

name appear in the principal Upanisads that Sankara commented on?


A. Krsna is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanisad (3.17.6) as

Devaki-putram, the son of Devaki. The Chandogya is one of the ten

Upanisads that Sankara commented on. Sankara has also praised Krsna

above all other avataras and glorified him in his poetry. In the

lineage of Sankara, Krsna is considered to be the purna avatara, the

most complete manifestation of the Godhead. In his Abhilasastaka

Sankaracarya writes, "I desire to be in Vrndavana so that I may sit on

the bank of the Yamuna and pass each long day of my life in the

twinkling of an eye, meditating on Lord Krsna."


A near contemporary of Sri Caitanya in Sankara's lineage, Madhusudana

Saraswati, whose scholarship and spirituality are considerable, writes

about Sri Krsna thus in his Gita commentary: "I do not know any other

reality than Krsna, whose hands are adorned with a flute, whose luster

is like that of a new rain cloud, who wears a yellow cloth, whose lips

are reddish like the bimba fruit, whose face is beautiful like the full

moon, and whose eyes are like lotuses. . . . Those fools who cannot

tolerate the wonderful glory of Krsna are condemned." It is also

important to note that according to the Vedic tradition the

Bhagavad-gita, spoken by Sri Krsna, may be appropriately referred to as

Gitopanisad. It is not less important than the ten principal Upanisads.



The Upanisads are best understood through the Puranas, which are

sometimes referred to as the "fifth Veda." The Puranas explain the

essential meaning of the Upanisads and are thus considered learned and

realized reflections on the significance of the Upanisads. It is within

the Puranic tradition that the divinity of Krsna is most clearly

explained, and again, this explanation is directly related to the

Upanisads and should not be thought of as separate or unrelated. Among

the Puranas the Srimad Bhagavatam is indisputably in a class of its own

in terms of its literary content, theology, philosophy, sociology, and

so on. The text itself declares it to be the ripened fruit of the tree

of Vedic literature, and its claim is objectively verifiable. It is in

Srimad Bhagavatam that the entire significance of Krsna is brought out.

This book should be studied under the guidance of a spiritually

advanced soul.


Outside of the Bhagavatam, there are numerous indisputable references

to the divinity of Krsna found in 5th and 4th century BCE texts, both

in India and Greece. The Heliodoros column found in North India stands

as significant archeological evidence from the 1st century BCE of how

people at that time regarded Krsna as the supreme Deity. The column

furthermore attests, as per its inscription, to the conversion to

Krsna-bhakti of a significant Greek envoy, Heliodoros.


Thus the apparent lack of evidence in what is sometimes referred to as

the ten principal Upanisads concerning the divinity of Krsna must be

understood in relation to the entire scriptural tradition. Furthermore,

the notion that the ten Upanisads Sankara commented on are the

principal Upanisads is debatable. Indeed, from the Puranic record in

which Sri Krsna is crowned God of gods, it would seem that those

Upanisads in which Krsna's divinity is emphasized are among the most

important of the 108 principal Upanisads. The foremost among them,

Gopala-tapani, is available in English with a contemporary commentary.




Questions or comments may be submitted at www.swami.org/sanga/

or email the moderator at sangaeditor@swami.org.


To , please reply with "" in the subject line.


Back issue archive: www.swami.org/archives/

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It is important to underscore that, like the Goswamis, we are concerned

with the essence of the Bhagavatam. This essence is delineated in Sri

Caitanya-caritamrta and has little to do with ancient social customs

and dated cosmology, but everything to do with the metaphysic of

acintya-bhedabheda (inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and

difference), the primacy of Krsna among the Visnu avataras, Radha's

love for Krsna, and so on.

Just "take the essence" and don't worry about the other things which are just there as ornaments surrounding the essence in pretty patterns like pure Gold is sometimes set in ivory not to glorify the ivory but to add contrast to the gold so it's beauty may stand out that much more. And then secondarily the beauty of the ivory is enhanced by association with the gold.

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